Always Wanted to Write a Book? Do Tell!

So, you’ve always wanted to write a book? Isabel is at her leisure to listen.

Me? Well, that depends. 

Don’t get me wrong – I’m willing to help aspiring authors. I mentor through several organizations and do my best to be generous with helping people looking to build careers as writers. 

The problem comes in when people are only talking and not wanting to do the work. That’s why this week’s topic at the SFF Seven is phrased the way it is: What do you want to tell someone who says ‘I always wanted to write a book’?

Come on over to hear those things I never say out loud. 

Living the (Scary) Dream w/ Jeffe Kennedy (and GC #Giveaway)

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If you’re in the New York City area, I’ll be reading at Lady Jane’s Salon on Monday, August 1. Would love to see you there!

Today I’m over at Suzanne Johnson’s blog, kibbitzing with her on the uncertainty, scariness and utter thrill of writing full time. Already a good conversation going, if you’d like to chime in with making your own dream come true – and there’s a gift card, just saying. 

Treasured Writing Rituals I’ve Discarded

signing pic 2

In honor of this week’s topic –  a writing routine we used to depend on but changed and why – I dragged out this old photo of me at my very first book signing. That’s January of 2004, when my essay collection, WYOMING TRUCKS, TRUE LOVE AND THE WEATHER CHANNEL, came out. I look so fresh-faced and excited. You can practically see the visions of sugarplums and lucrative multi-book contracts dancing in my head.

~pets past self~

At any rate, I’m over at the SFF Seven, talking about my old writing rituals, which ones have gone by the wayside, and why.

The Value of Being Flexible

Jeffe Kennedy & Connor GoldsmithHere’s my agent, Connor Goldsmith of Fuse Literary, and I at World Fantasy Con. In the bar, of course. He tweeted this as “the beautiful people” and, as this was the very beginning of the conference, that was pretty accurate.

LOL

 I recently ran across a post on an Indie Author loop where a writer I didn’t know, in a piece of advice on an unrelated topic, offhandedly mentioned that she changed the pen name on her books five times until she found one that sold well. That absolutely fascinated me. First, it never occurred to me to think of my author name as a sales tool. Then the fact that she had such a totally different frame of mind, a business-minded detached approach to the question, that it took me aback.

I’m very attached to my name. Arguably it’s my brand now, but even during my brief flirtation with a pseudonym, I didn’t like it not being ME.

I think this is a way that Indie authors have an advantage over authors like me. I tend to get bound up with my books being my art and an extension of myself. She seemed to have a greater level of detachment where it didn’t matter which name she published a story under, except that it be one that sold well. Finally, she also exhibited what I consider to be an enviable quality of mixing up what she’s doing and trying again.

A while back – I was going to say a couple of year ago, but it was omg 2011 – I wrote a blog post about The Guy in the Pink Suit. It’s still one of my favorite posts and something I refer to fairly frequently. It probably worth reading, but I’ll summarize so as not to max out your TLDR threshold.

The Guy in the Pink Suit trolled the sidewalk in Las Vegas for a good two hours while we ate lunch. Over and over he’d approach people, shake their hands, be charming. Sometimes they’d take pictures with him, less often they’d give him a tip. We thought he might be pimping a show because the cash intake didn’t seem to justify the effort. Regardless, I learned a great deal from him about handing rejection. Nothing dissuaded or discouraged this guy.

At least, that was my take-home message then. And it’s still an important one.

But this Indie author who changed her pen name five times to find the one that sold best made me think of him. Instead of the message being about persevering in the face of rejection, however, I realized there’s also value in mixing things up, trying a lot of different approaches until you find one that works.

A writer friend of mine recently told me about a Twitter conversation she saw between two other writers. Those two bemoaned that they were slow writers, comparing themselves to elephants with enormously long gestation periods. (We writers love our analogies.) In comparison, they described faster writers as sea turtles – who lay lots of eggs and abandon them on the beach in the hopes that  few might make it to the water and survive.

Yeah, it irritated my friend, the fast writer. Understandably so. Though that’s not my point here.

The slow writers were unhappy, saying that their slow production rate might condemn them to extinction while the sea turtles presumably take over the world. Of course, the analogy breaks down immediately at this point, as anyone with a passing understanding of biology will point out that elephants and sea turtles don’t occupy the same ecological niches. There’s room for both in the world. But, more important, I think what these slow-gestation writers see as careless abandonment of huge batches of books is actually a willingness to diversify. Yes, being a faster writer lets us produce more books. (I’ve already meditated on the perception that faster means lower quality, so I won’t go into that here.) Producing books faster also lets a writer try more different things. New ideas, upside-down tropes, maybe some riskier heroes and heroines.

Those of you who paid attention in biology will recall that more variety – heterogeneity – creates stronger individuals who are more likely to find a niche they can survive in. The more specialized an organism, the narrower its ecological niche, the more vulnerable it is. Thus we lose Spotted Owls when we lose old growth timber. But the species that are flexibly, that can move into many changing niches – like the coyote – are the ones that thrive through change.

Flexibility means survival. Not a bad quality in a publishing market that sends authors and genres into extinction faster than global climate change ever could.

Finding the Formula Machine

Sunrise 10_16_2014 Santa FeI had a Twitter conversation yesterday that went like this. Because these gals crack me up, I’m sharing a bunch of it. It, of course, started because I was being a smart ass. Though you can see that Maisey Yates was snarky first.

Then Lexi Ryan chimed in.

 

We riffed for a while, with various gripes on this theme, then dwindled off. Lexi came back a few hours later.

The thing is, if you know these authors – or follow the links I thoughtfully provided 🙂 – you’ll recognize them as highly regarded, very prolific and bestselling authors. I know these gals and they work amazingly hard and produce wonderful books that, not incidentally, sell very well. And that saw about Harlequin providing its authors with the Magic Formula that Maisey references has been making the rounds for-fucking-ever. I remember my mom saying something to me along those lines when I was much younger and she thought romance were trashy literature that I shouldn’t be reading. No, Harlequin does not tell us the characters should kiss on X page and have sex on Y page. Yes, editors do give direction on story structure. However, the guideline that the first act climax should occur somewhere around the first 25% of the story and all the stakes should be set at that point applies to pretty much every entertainment genre. Maybe books in the Literary Genre don’t do that, but they’re arguably going for something other than storytelling and entertainment.

There’s a pervasive idea that writing a book takes a REALLY long time. And, in truth, writing a first novel CAN take years. Because of the learning curve. I wrote a post the other day about trying to be creative on deadline and a big piece of that is building the craft and skills to do it. However, the belief persists that quality writing should be a long, slow process. With the reverse assumption being that quickly produced work is shallow, low-quality and – yes – written to a formula. I saw a blog post by a writer the other day who championed the many virtues of writing his novels by hand, with pen and paper. He proudly stated that he could draft an entire novel this way in “only” 14 months. I also saw a tweet yesterday from a writer advising that everyone has their own process and you don’t HAVE to “churn out” 2 books a year.

While I respect both of their perspectives, I’m bothered by the implicit lack of respect for my process. It took me 84 days to write the 91,000 word first draft of The Tears of the Rose, which just received a Top Pick GOLD review from RT Magazine. I take that to mean it’s a pretty decently written book. I worked really hard on it. Yes, I structured the story about major plot points, with major events occurring at the act climaxes. Nobody gave me a formula.

It surprises me still when people call me a prolific or fast writer. It doesn’t feel that way. At the same time, taking 14 months to write out a novel long hand sounds excruciatingly slow to me. I had (or will have) five books come out in 2014 and I don’t feel like I’ve “churned out” anything. Every one has taken long hours of concentrated work, extensive crafting and pieces of my soul. I realize this is an enviable place to be and I count my blessings that I’m able to write fast.

That said, I’ve also put in a lot of effort to make sure I can. I keep my brain as uncluttered as possible. I remove all distractions, rather ruthlessly. I put in long hours. So do these other gals. They also manage to take care of small children at the same time, which I can’t even fathom.

This turned into more of a rant than I intended. I think my point is that I’d really love to see the end of this concept of the anguished author who spends years writing his magnum opus. It feels fueled to me by the sort of person who wants to be seen as someone artsy and glamorous – the Writer – rather than putting in the time to get the work done. I don’t see anything admirable about not getting the book written. We like to fetishize artists, but other kinds of work don’t get this shiny gloss on what is, ultimately, not doing the job. The grocery store checker who never quite manages to get all the groceries in the bag loses his job. The stockbrocker who just can’t overcome her personal agony to sell those stocks won’t be a stockbroker for long.

I blame the artist for this, really. We’re incredibly good at spinning convincing stories from our pain. That symphony we never delivered? IT WAS THE VOICES OF DEMONS! That studio full of blank canvases? THE BLEAK DESERT OF MY SOUL! That novel I spent ten years writing while I hung out in coffee shops and debated the shivering joy of the sound of a fountain pen on good paper? STILL NOT WRITTEN BUT LOOK HOW PROFOUND I AM.

Eh. Okay. I guess what I’m getting at is, don’t buy the song and dance, people. A creator creates. Buckle down and do the work. Don’t throw stones at people who do it faster. Don’t succumb to the temptation to glamorize what’s bogging you down. Solve the problem, take the stone out of your shoe, get to work.

Which I’m going to do now.

Happy weekend, everyone!