Writing Versus “The Writer”

Certain conceits waft around people who write. I see these a lot, and I’m sure you could name some, too: writers worship coffee. Writers are drunks. Writers are broken in some way. Writers see the world differently/have skewed points of view/are special snowflakes. These can be some of the more poisonous beliefs. Then you have the trappings that are shorthand for “writer”: the pen, ink, the typewriter, the bottle. They provide an easy set of symbols to reach for, and a temptation to use them as a quick sketch to define your personality. You know the ones. “Oh, I get all crazy about adverbs, that means I AM WRITER.” “Up until three AM editing, another sign I AM SURELY WRITER.”

And so on.

I need to start with these misconceptions because, as I wrote in my last post, I have very little interest in being “a writer”. Some folks questioned what that meant exactly, and that is your answer: a shorthand for a lifestyle that some people use to define themselves. I’m not interested in that lifestyle and I’m especially not interested in defining myself by it.

This all kind of came to a head last night when I watched the fantastic documentary Shut up and Play the Hits, about the band LCD Soundsystem’s farewell show at Madison Square Garden. For those unfamiliar with the film and/or the band, LCD Soundsystem had a rather large cult following, had done a few profitable tours, and basically stood on the cusp of breaking through as a major act when leader and founder James Murphy decided to call it quits. The movie examines his motives and what the repercussions would be for his life. It’s really fantastic as both a slice of life and a music movie, I highly recommend it, but one his biggest points is talking about the rock star lifestyle and while he never overtly states it, it sounds like his biggest struggle is separating who he is in his day-to-day life and this concept of “the rock star”.

This is highly relevant and for whatever reason, something that I struggle to do myself. In my previous life, for lack of a better term, I embraced the concept of the writer/author as a handful of those things above. In retrospect I never felt 100% comfortable with the idea, but it became easy to hand wave away as a price of trying to make it. I could throw on the cloak and be something that I might not necessarily be if it meant reaching a larger audience. I could easily discard some misgivings here or there.

It could not last, though. In the last few months of my “writer” persona, I found myself increasingly irritated with the stereotypes, in addition to some of the things that I saw indie writers justifying in the name of making it big. Underhanded dealings, review puffing, and a lack of commitment to quality. Nothing spoke more to my increasing alienation to the indie community than when I witnessed a successful indie romance writer counseling a new writer to simply release his rough draft in an effort to increase his volume and visibility, then release the proper draft to the readers later.

Perhaps I’m flawed here, but to me that’s nothing more than fraud that goes beyond a lack of dedication to your craft.

Pull Quote

I stopped visiting that writing forum shortly thereafter out of disgust and found myself and my values farther and farther away from how I saw the authors around me defining “writer”. Perhaps, I thought, the problem was mine. Maybe I didn’t have “what it takes” to get ahead in the industry. Time to reassess my position and figure out what I wanted from my career.

I’m well aware that part of this speaks to my own personality flaws. Not every indie author does these things, probably not even the majority. I’ve met some fantastic people in the community, people who stand up and do the right thing every single time. I admit I jumped to some poor conclusions about indie authors and no longer feel these things – you might sense some of that in my hesitation and difficult with even defining these terms. People will be people in any walk of life and my withdrawal had more to do with the fact that I had jumped in without really thinking about or planning out what I wanted from my career.

Call it a failure of imagination.

I still reject the term “writer” and the stereotypes, but am comfortable with saying that I am someone who writes, and that I want those stories to be bought, read, and yes, maybe even be eligible for some awards. The latter not for the cause of ego but my belief in the stories that come to me. They deserve better than what they’ve had so far. This all comes down to marketing, ultimately, and ways to do it and life with myself.

You can see how this somewhat relates to my indie-versus-traditional decision, which I’ll speak about in the near future. In the meantime, I’m happy to redefine my public persona as something more in line with my personal values. That’s still in flux, but evolving. More to come.

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The Curious Case of A Mirror Untrue

Did you know that I once spent over six years on a novel? True story. The first draft of the first chapter was completed on July 31st, 1998. I was 22 years old and living in Blacksburg, Virginia. I can still remember the day that I birthed the concept – a hot sunny July afternoon, when this character just started pouring out of me Kerouac style (of course, some drugs might have been involved in this process). This story would be the one to put me on the map, a contemporary fiction work that combined showed a man’s slow descent from idealistic naivete to cold-blooded murder, with plenty of questions about the nature of art along the way. Hell, that’s the nature of the title, that what we see in the mirror rarely reflects what we feel on the inside, and it’s even more true in William’s case as he’s convinced himself that he’s still an idealistic outsider artist when in truth he degenerates into something of a scumbag who needs to redeem himself.

Part of the book is set in 1972 and is a rumination on idealism and the loss of innocence. A pack of 1972 baseball cards represents an idealized childhood that the protagonist never had in the first place.

Part of the book is set in 1972 and is a rumination on idealism and the loss of innocence. A pack of 1972 baseball cards represents an idealized childhood that the protagonist never had in the first place.

I abandoned the book at the end of 2003, which makes a whole lot of sense, as 2004 kind of marked the beginning of what I see as my “fallow period”. Words would come off-and-on for the next seven years, but the unbearable pain and confusion in my personal life overrode artistic concerns. I suspect there was also a great deal for mourning for Mirror Untrue, this fabled story that would never be told.

I made a few attempts over the year to punch it back into shape – my writing files show a trail of tears from revision to revision. The last major version to be completed was the second draft, though there are six more semi-complete versions of it floating around out there. The most recent attempt to revive it appears to have dated to July of 2011, and even then my notes make it look more like a half-hearted effort rather than any real reboot. I had Corridors and I had Room 3 and I really didn’t need a third book that didn’t fit into that sort of genre.

Well, that’s changed. I’ve recently made the discovery that critiquing and revising a few pages before writing a few pages and then repeating the cycle is an incredibly effective way to get the creative juices flowing. I started by critiquing the work of an Internet stranger, then rolled into my critique group, and then found myself with nothing to critique. Why not open up some old files and see what was hiding in there, maybe put some ideas in and see where they go?

I started yesterday by digging up the last version of Mirror Untrue and reading through the first chapter. I didn’t expect much.

It shocked me. The writing itself is a bit raw and needs work, and I obviously hadn’t learned a whole bag of tricks that I now carry around, but by God the concept itself – and the characters – are good, if I do say so myself. My final concept had been to layer the 1972 story in between the “modern” story, which I’m now going to leave in early 2001, as it was such a different world. But by God I think I’m going to breathe life into this old project and get it out the door. I’m not sure when or how, as this is a side-side project, but it might make it out there before the 20th anniversary of its inception. We’ll see.

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Burnout and the Ambition Room

Good Monday, all. It’s been a work since you heard from me and let me tell you, it was one odd week. Burnout is always a looming specter when you write on the side of a full-time job, and it’s been looking over my shoulder quite a bit over the last few weeks, poking its bony finger into my shoulder every time my guard drops for even a minute. It’s not easy to guard against it, either, as writing moments are so often snatched from thin air, conjured when walking to my car or waiting in a crowded elevator. Those little moments add up in terms of word count and story development, but they also add up when it comes to burnout, too, and I reached saturation point on Friday.

This has been a difficult novel to write, and I’m well behind the schedule that I maintained for Room 3. It doesn’t help that with each passing day I feel as if the writing world itself might be leaving me behind. I can’t keep up the same pace as many other writers, and I know this about myself but I can’t seem to accept it. A part of me always insists that I could crank out more words if only I did this or did that, that the key to success is accepting “good enough” and not worrying about lingering issues like plot holes or consistent writing, but that just doesn’t seem right, and so it ends up taking far more words than usual to craft a story; City of the Dead, for instance, has easily 110,000+ words of material out there right now, but the novel itself is sitting at 83,000 words. Some of that excess is re-usable for future works (one deleted scene in particular is earmarked for Portal of the Dead), but you can see how frustration sets in.

Frustration, and doubt. I don’t know whether my problem is what fellow author Aniko Carmean refers to as “The Ambition Room”, but it does become rather easy to doubt the validity of what you’re doing in the absence of a growing readership. I’m well aware that it’s become more difficult than ever to capture that audience, but there are times that it can’t help but settle on your bones.

Anyway, that’s where I am at the moment – trying to ward off burnout and stay on target. Been here before and gotten through it, so now it’s just a matter of pulling through once again.

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Status Update: Sick but Fighting

Hi folks, thought it might be time to do another status check. Things are rolling right along in Qwendellonia Publishing HQ, but this is going to have to be a real quick update, as some Iranian food from yesterday afternoon has knocked me down a peg or two. Kids, it ain’t cool to have IBS. Trust me.

First of all, I’m confirmed for the Gaithersburg Book Festival on May 18th. Check out the schedule/events tab for more information on that one, and as always I’ll keep you up-to-date on my plans there. I’m trying to arrange something for the long stretch between June and September, but I may take some time off from appearances to finalize City of the Dead then.

Speaking of which, City is coming along well. I just sent a batch of pages to my critique group for review and have finished my second draft of the first section. It’s going to be a long book, no lie about that; might surpass Room 3, but I’m not sure just yet, as the back third of the book is still in motion. Just rest assured that I’m working hard on it and have about 70,000 words in the can. You’ll see it this year, promise.

I also had a fantastic idea for a new novel that’s a little different from what I normally write in subject matter, but not structure. It’s called 7:30 Thursday Morning. It’s about the accidental death of a businessman and the ripples of cause and effect that both lead to the death and go outward from the event. It’s all set within one day and is a non-linear story, in that you’ll jump around in order to see the causes and effects in their logical groupings rather than a time-based grouping. Don’t worry, I think I’ve worked out a way to keep the reader from getting lost, and it’s not going to be an especially long book. No timeframe on this one, but I’ve already written a chunk of material for it. I’ll let you guys know more as it progresses.

That’s all for today. Now back to suffering. Hope you had a great weekend.

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Down in the Weeds: My Dirty Writing Habits

Happy Friday, folks. I don’t know about you, but I find shortened work weeks to be a mixed blessing; confusing at best and frustrating at worst. Oh, I enjoy the extra day off, don’t get me wrong, but…well, I deal in something that’s quantitative just as much as qualitative. I have a word count goal no matter how many “work days” we have in a given week. I know it would seem that a day off from work would give me more time to chew through that word count, but I’m also human. I’d like to enjoy that occasional day off, and that can throw a real wrench in the works. Guilt and/or frustration can build up and before you know it, I’m beating myself up for just wanting to take a break. It’s an unhealthy habit.

Which brings me to today’s topic. You see, I have some bad writing habits. I admit it. I’m a Bad Writer. I do things that probably shouldn’t work. For example, I don’t keep a set time to write, as is suggested in most writing manuals. I find that doing this transforms writing from something fun to an ongoing chore. So I grab writing time where I can. Sometimes it’s at my desk, with a cup of tea or a Mountain Dew, my mind locked into some story. Sometimes I write on the elevator, when a particularly good conversational exchange has popped into my head. I’ve written on trains, when a particularly vivid image grabbed me, and I’ve written during walks. I manage to get a good amount of writing done even with this strange schedule, for I believe in making writing itself a part of your daily routine, something that you don’t just visit once in awhile, like a country, but part of a lifestyle.

I don’t have an action plan. Oh, sure, I have a rough schedule in my head, and I know which books fit into my writing future in roughly which order, but I don’t have a plan that specifically states “you will start on Friday February 22nd and write 2,000 words a day. This manuscript will be 60,000 words and thus you will be finished by X date.” I know, that’s supposed to be a Good Writing Habit. I’ve tried it. It actually made me write less because, again, the whole thing became a mechanic, another function, rather than a living breathing thing.

My writing space is a mess. People say your surroundings are a reflection of your inner world and…well, yeah. I have to admit that’s accurate in my case. I’m not talking hoarder levels of mess or anything, but for a number of reasons I do tend to spread out and my organizational skills could certainly use some work. The damn thing is that that’s how my brain works. That’s where I find things like the random image of someone clutching their chest in a dramatic turn of events – my mind is filled with clutter, and every so often I turn it over and find something incredibly useful. Sometimes it feels like I’m one of those junk artists who pulls all that crap together to make something more valuable. I’ve been told that this is a common state of mind for us ADHD sufferers, and the trick is to learn how to live with it and be productive rather than letting it destroy things.

For a long time, I thought that these bad habits made me deficient somehow, that I couldn’t do what other writers did and therefore would find limited productivity and success. I realize that’s crap now. My number one lesson is learning that writing, for me, is a spiritual exercise. Creativity is about communion with something greater than oneself, whether you consider it the collective subconscious, upper or lowercase god, or simply unrealized self. When you think of it that way, doesn’t this make a whole lot more sense? For some folks, the best path to spirituality is through organized, rigorous practice – and I think that’s just fine. For other folks, like me, spirituality is best found through the vicissitudes and messiness of ordinary life, a series of events that slowly accumulate into a whole much greater than the sum of those rough-and-tumble parts.

To put it simply, my creative and spiritual processes, for whatever reason, defy categorization and standardization. That troubled me for quite some time, but I think that I’ve come to terms with it. No, better, embraced it, and I can now be proud of being a “Bad Writer”.

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The Gratitude List

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our day-to-day lives (especially the stress of our routines) that it becomes nigh-impossible to slow down and appreciate the moments that not only shape our lives but show us the beauty of the world around us. I’m ever-so-slowly coming to realize how important it is to – even in the face of stress and pressure – take the opportunity to stop and check the amazing gifts that I have in my life. So, simple as this post might be, it’s the right topic at the right time for me. Below is a list of ten people/places/things that I’m grateful for right at this moment, at least as they pertain to my writing career. Please understand that even if you didn’t make this list, it has nothing to do with you – if I listed every one of my friends and their influence on me this list would grow exponentially. You all mean a lot to me. I’ve also left out critique groups because I’ve written about them recently and my gratitude toward them should be abundantly clear.

Oh, and first I want to give credit where credit is due: this list began with an overheard conversation at a Supermarket in Herndon, Virginia, so hey anonymous stranger sharing a list of gratitude with his girlfriend and/or wife.

internet-bear

The Internet. This is a broad topic and some of my other topics might be included here, but humor me. The Internet has changed how writers do their jobs, from the very beginning of the idea through research and on to publication. I might capture the spark of an idea in my email account or on Evernote and later pull that information out to paste into a document on Dropbox. I then take that idea to Wikipedia or Google and research any topics that don’t immediately come to mind. I use Google Maps to plot the course that my characters’ travels take and can zoom down to the street level so I more authentically understand that part of the world. As I write, I maintain the document on Dropbox so that it’s available at just about any location that has Internet access (and I can plan for when that’s not available as well). Once I’m finished, I use online-based tools to clean up the document and prep it for release. When that’s done I upload the files to my service of choice, and customers can then purchase it through that service. The changes that the Internet have brought to the average writer’s life cannot be overstated – and I am incredibly grateful for these changes. Continue reading

Thinking Around the Corner: Five Reasons You Need a Critique Group

Yesterday I hosted the first meeting of my critique group at my house and had a blast. My wife and I enjoy entertaining, and had fun setting things up so that the folks in the group could have a good experience. I mean, how can you go wrong with a spread like this?

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I’ve been doing this critique group thing for a few months now and finally feel a bit qualified to speak about it, especially since I’m seeing very material improvements to City of the Dead thanks to these folks who are so generous with their time and brainpower. I see now just how important a critique group can be for a writer and that writer’s career. That in mind, I thought I’d talk about the reasons that YOU (well, you the writer, maybe not the reader) might want to consider a critique group in addition to your beta readers.

Book

5. Beta readers are fantastic, but they’re not always writers. This is more important than it might seem. I do have some beta readers who are writers, but it is far from the most important requirement; that would be having people from different walks of life/who read different genres. Getting the perspective of someone who reads mainstream literary fiction is more important during the beta reading phase than talking to someone who better understands the structural significance of some choices. This is where the critique group comes in. A critique group can not only tell you that a scene is not working but why that scene is not working, and suggest improvements. Continue reading

The Ugly Baby: Why QA is so Important

Monday already, huh? All right. I’m up for that challenge.

I apologize in advance for the scatter-shot nature of this post. You see, a few things have been bouncing around my head since this weekend and I need to get this out of the way before I descend into Full-On Horror Mode for the rest of the week (Coffin Hop, what up).

My current train of thought begins with one central event: I attended a conference.

© Photographer: Gina Rothfels | Agency: Dreamstime.com

Yes, on Saturday I got up at the asscrack of dawn – well, okay, before dawn – so that I could attend the 2012 Maryland Writers Conference. This was my first such incarnation of this beast.

I suppose I went in with some expectations based on stories that I’ve heard in the past, and I’m not sure it lived up to any of those. One of these days I’ll learn to go into things with zero expectations, but for now, this is the best I have.

My personal frustration with logistics aside (seriously, they didn’t plan for parking in Baltimore), I found myself on the outside looking in. It’s a customary position for me, but I also suppose it’s normal, given that I’ve only been a member of the MWA since September. If I attend next year, I imagine it might be much different. At least, I hope so. I had fun, but found it really hard to connect since just about everyone seemed to already know one another.

Thankfully the conference wasn’t just about attending – they offered classes, as well, and I enjoyed the few that I attended. I found them quite informative, and learned a few things. The classes aren’t really the core of what I’m getting at here. It’s the impression that I got from those classes, and indeed from the whole conference, that I feel is worth speaking about. Continue reading

A Word About Silence

Just a heads-up, this is going to be something of a quiet week here on the site. I have several posts planned, but I’m not sure I’m going to have time to do much with them, as I’ve been in crunch mode both in my fiction writing and at work. I just sent my anthology story, On the Air, to the editor for inclusion, and am now bearing down on getting Room 3 finished, so those things must take priority right now. So it sucks for the site at the moment, but it’s good for my fiction. And I’ll be back. Promise!

As way of apology, please accept this kitten.

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Some News and Early Sample of “On the Air”

You know, this would typically be the weekly TESSpecFic update, but it’s been a fairly quiet week within the group – and for good reason. Some of us have had family health scares, others are still recovering from the fires in the West, and some have just been swamped. Life seems to have struck again for most of us. Rather than go with a sparse update, I thought I’d share some news on what’s going on with me and offer you an exclusive glimpse at a story that will be appearing in an anthology sometime in the Fall.

The fact that I’m posting fiction on two posts in a row could be a hint of a slight shift in focus on this blog. I intend to continue writing about writing, the publishing industry, and all that fun stuff – still have lots of ideas for things to talk about there, but I also realized that any readers of my fiction might be feeling a bit left out. I’m also looking to expand my repertoire of writing tools, so I figured it might be a good idea to combine the two. I could offer some more flash fiction on the site and offer some more value to my readers. Worth a shot, right? Anyway, the eventual goal is to collect all of this ephemera into something coherent, but that’s a ways down the road. For now, expect to see part 2 of the Rudest Man in Rock next week, with some other stories coming down the pike.

In other news, I have a tentative interview with a podcast lined up next week. I’ll have more information once it gets closer to broadcast, but definitely expect to hear more in the near future. I’m also joining the Maryland Writers Association (MWA), an organization dedicated to helping Maryland writers gain greater visibility and help one another out. They seem to be indie-friendly so far, and I’m looking forward to being an active participant in the group. You, the reader, will benefit from this as I’ll share some of my education from the organization.

Room 3 is coming along well, and I’m aiming for a mid-to-late August release. I realize this is four months out from its original release date, but at this point I’ve turned a 60,000-word story into 100,000-word story, and I still have a great deal of new material to come. Think of it as adding the sequel on to the original story – kind of two books in one, and it becomes a little more apparent why I needed another four months to get there. I think the final version is a lot stronger for it.

For those who read Corridors of the Dead and want more, this has not significantly impacted its sequel, City of the Dead. I already have 30,000 words in the can for that project, and have entered the second “act” of the first draft. So far, it’s some of my strongest first draft material to date.

I don’t know, writing is so funny. I’ve written so much in the last year, but how many releases do I have to show for it? Not a whole lot. That’s about to change, sure, and I’ve written enough for two novels when it comes to Room 3, but progress is measured in such odd increments when it comes to writing and especially editing. How do you tally it all? What does that tally even mean? Probably a topic for a future blog post, not a news post. Continue reading