To go or not to go

Joe’s Post #153 —

headerThat is the question.

I’m talking about the Surrey Writer’s Conference. Oct 23rd -24th.

It’s a toss-up this year. Pros and cons.

So I did what I do when I can’t decide.

I make a list. And drink. Here’s the list.

the authors

My best writing buddies, The Five

Top 6 Reasons to Go

  1. I could pitch 2 books to an editor who’s interested in my genre.
  2. There are 3 agents there I could take to about my books.
  3. 9/10 times I get inspired.
  4. The food’s pretty good.
  5. I love to learn and there’s always something to learn.
  6. My best writing buddies are there.

 

Top 5 Reasons Not To Go

  1. don maassDon Maass is NOT there. See #3. He is my biggest inspirer.
  2. No Chuck Wendig, so that means I won’t spend 2 hours laughing my ass off and I do love to laugh my ass off.
  3. It costs a lot of money at a time that I don’t have that money.
  4. Most of the agents showing up don’t want to look at the books I write, or I’ve pitched to them and they’ve rejected my brilliant stories.
  5. I can’t find a full day of things I want to do. There’s a bit Friday and Saturday, but that’s a huge cost for basically 2 half days.
  6. My best writing buddies will not be there. Joe sad.

I tell ya, it’s a tough call. Not that there aren’t some great people there, not that there aren’t a few good workshops, and it’s always amazingly well organized, but this year, I may choose not to go. The weight of the list is clearly on the No side, but then there’s #1 on the Go side.

Is it worth it?

Thoughts?

 

Writing as a moving target

snail

Silk’s Post #129 — There’s a time and place for writing. But getting the time, the place and the motivation all in synch so the words practically jump onto the page by themselves … well, that’s the trick, isn’t it? We all feel daunted at times.

 The Place

The colourful image of the solitary writer holed up in his creative domain has evolved from the bearded scribe dipping his quill by candlelight, to the whiskey-drinking novelist hunched over his Remington typewriter in a smoky garrett, to the cyberspace dweller keyboarding prose at a nighttime inner city kitchen table.

Their lairs all share one thing in common: each is a private comfort-zone, a retreat apart from the distractions and vagaries of the world. A stillpoint.

There’s plenty of advice to would-be writers on how to set up their own distraction-free writer’s space with the objective of becoming focused, organized and happily productive. Chuck Wendig recently wrote a great blog post from his own purpose-built writing spot, which he calls The Mystery Shed, extolling the virtues of creative writing habitats. I would put money on the probability that most professional, full-time writers do the majority of their writing in their own comfort-zone workspaces. 

The Time

The next challenge is clearing space in your calendar to get your butt in the chair and get to work. This, too, is all within the writer’s control. Let’s face it: it’s all about choices. Even the busiest person can find time to write if she truly wants to, even if it’s not every day, or not in long blocks, or has to be scheduled very late at night or very early in the morning.

The 5writers have probably written more about finding time to write than any other single topic (or, more accurately, about not finding time). So, obviously, it’s not always easy to integrate a productive writing schedule into a busy life.

It really comes down to priorities.

If you read my recent post, This day we write, and the 5writers debate it sparked, you may have found my inner pep talk as a lapsed writer to be a little bit hard-assed …

As much as I cherish that writing flame within, being a devout, practicing writer really requires only one thing. And it requires it absolutely, as an article of faith.

You must write.

Even if it’s shit. Even if you don’t feel like it. Even if your life is full of good, or bad, distractions. Even if you question your calling and are struggling to believe in yourself. Even if you’re overcommitted and all your time is spoken for. Even if you’re bored or uninspired. Even if your routine is disrupted. Even if you’re so consumed with guilt about your lack of productivity that you’ve gone into avoidance mode. Even if you’re too stressed, or too sad, or too worried, or too tired to care. Even if you’re consumed by some other seductive passion that demands your attention. Even if you fear your words have left you.

You must write anyway.

Or forget being a writer. Do something else. Find another route to spiritual, emotional, intellectual fulfillment.

My premise is simply that “writer” is a self-defining title: if you don’t write, you’re not a writer. But I didn’t mean to suggest that a writer must write constantly, or every day, or with complete disregard to the other circumstances in her life. I’m a realist, not a sadist!

The Choice

Everyone has demands on their time: job, family, household, health, financial or other life necessities that simply have to be attended to. We get to make lifestyle choices like whether to have kids, how many cars or houses or other stuff we own, and what (if not writing) we do to make ends meet. These choices (along with whatever kind of luck we’re having at the moment) dictate how much time our non-discretionary responsibilities will gobble up in our lives.

But whatever discretionary time we have left over – whether that’s a little or a lot, whether it occurs daily or irregularly – we get to choose how to spend it. It’s in our control.

The Moving Target

There are two notable kinds of disruptions are not in our control: motion and emotion. These can be managed but, in many cases, not avoided.

By “motion” I mean not only travel, but anything that moves you away from your comfy writer’s workspace.

We live in a mobile world. Unless you’re a hermit, you’re going to find yourself physically on the move for short or long periods, for all sorts of reasons. Attending your kid’s hockey practice. Vacationing in Tonga. Attending an out-of-town conference. Going to the laundromat. Visiting family. And you can’t just stop writing every time you’re temporarily uprooted from your favourite desk.

Some writers can focus in the middle of chaos, are able to wrap themselves in their own portable comfort-zones and concentrate on their work, oblivious to distractions. Mothers who learn to write on a park bench to the sound of playground shrieks. Urban bards who like to scribble at a crowded coffee house or nightclub. Travellers, like Paula, who love to take advantage of remnant time spent waiting in airport lounges. (Check out her excellent advice about Writing on the road.) Nomads by choice, like Alison and Don, who are adept at making themselves “at home” in new landscapes and cultures. (Their guest post on Finding time to write is a great read for inspiration.)

For the rest of us, writing while away from our home base – often with little control over our schedule, or the outside demands and distractions we encounter on the road – is a challenge.

I’m doing it right now, at my best friend’s kitchen table 3,000 miles from home, while the rest of the household sleeps (including the snoring yellow lab at my feet, my pal Brady). It’s exactly midnight here in Boston, and the first real chance in a week I’ve had to sit by myself and concentrate on the 5writers blog.

Thus, my Monday post has become a Friday post … a moving target, finally hit.

Writing on a Rollercoaster

The original meaning of “emotion” back in the early 17th century was “a (social) moving, stirring, agitation” from the Old French emouvoir (stir up), which derived from the Latin emovere (move out, remove, agitate).

There’s no doubt that an emotional disruption to “normal” life can transport a writer far outside his comfort zone – even while his body remains planted in his usual chair. When change or stress overwhelms normal routines, the mind often can’t “settle”; creativity, inspiration and motivation can become elusive.

When “life happens” it may cast a shadow, or shine a blinding light. Either way, it can play havoc with a writer’s equilibrium. What might at first seem like forward progress can turn out, on second reading, to have been spinning in circles.

But that’s what second drafts are for. And sometimes, when the ground is shifting beneath your feet, the act of writing is the lifeline that anchors you, the balm that heals.

This Day We Write Anyway

Though writing can be a journey full of starts and stops – sometimes slowing to a frustrating crawl, other times speeding ahead at a dizzying pace – one thing that’s sure is this: the journey will end in limbo if we stop writing and sit still too long.

Writing wants a rhythm, even if it’s an irregular one, and it’s hard to get going again from a standing start.

Maybe “this day” is not the day we write. Maybe it’s tomorrow, or next week. Even a snail gets where it needs to go eventually (or there wouldn’t be any snails left).

But every single day that we get words on paper “anyway” – no matter the hurdles – is a great day to be a writer.

 

 

The dirt on Clean Reader

censorship

Silk’s Post #125 — Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat, excoriated it on her blog on March 23rd. Chuck Wendig flung ferocious profanities at it on his Terrible Minds blog on March 25th. Cory Doctorow called it “stupid” on March 30th but defended readers’ rights on his blog boingboing, the same day that Jonathon Sturgeon worried about its contribution to the dystopian future of reading on Flavorwire. Even Margaret Atwood and Ian Rankin tweeted their objections to it.

It has been the rage for a couple of weeks across the blogosphere, in the twitterverse, and on the book pages of the great newspapers that care about literature.

clean-reader“It” is Clean Reader, for the few of you out there who may not yet be aware of the furor. Clean Reader is a new app for e-books that automatically scrubs out all the offensive words to the specifications of the reader. “Read books, not profanity,” its slogan urges. You can set it for “clean”, “cleaner”, or the totally sanitized “squeaky clean”. It swaps out “bad” words and substitutes innocuous ones, sometimes with unintentionally hilarious results.

Some of the most quoted examples are “freak” for “fuck”, “witch” for “bitch”, “heck” for “hell”, “chest” for “breast”,  “groin” for “penis”, “pleasure” for “blow job”, and (quite confusingly) “bottom” for the whole array of undifferentiated lady parts down there.

Can you imagine trying to write a love scene where the only words available to describe the erogenous zones of the female body were “chest” and “bottom”?

“Jesus Christ” is also automatically expurgated, which seems wildly counterintuitive. The assumption that his name is likely to be used in stories for blasphemous reasons (rather than for devotional reasons) earns the Son of God a place on the “bad word” list. Does anybody besides me find that paradox just plain weird?

Clean Reader was developed by a Christian couple from Idaho whose young daughter was disturbed by some “bad words” in a book she was otherwise enjoying. Apparently, they had an epiphany: why not find a way to expurgate all the words in e-books that right-minded people (presumably Christians) would disapprove of, and (bonus!) make some good coin from it?

(I confess to having a somewhat jaded view of their publicity story about Clean Reader’s genesis. It’s my observation that usually kids only get disturbed when they come upon “bad words” if they’ve been taught shame by their elders, and they know they’ll get holy “heck” if they’re caught. My recollection of my now-distant childhood is that kids were more likely to actively seek out the raciest books available for the express purpose of mining the pages for “bad word” gems. Maybe that’s why I turned out the way I did.)

Be all of that as it may, Clean Reader instantly created what would be described as a “crap storm” in its own euphemistic language. Writers revolted. They removed their titles from the clutches of Clean Reader’s expurgation machine. The rhetoric went nuclear. The most obvious, and loudest, objections were focused on censorship, free speech and violation of copyright. The collective fist of writerdom was shaken in outrage.

How dare you “freak” with our words, Clean Reader!

Amazingly, the writers won. Clean Reader was more or less forced to shut down its online book-selling operation. “Hooray!” the writers cheered. Joanne Harris called it “a small victory for the world of dirt.”

So. Problem fixed. Story over. Tempest in a teapot, right?

Wrong.

It’s waaaay more complicated than that. Not the morality of it – that’s the simple part, at least according to me.

The complicated part – the terrifying slippery slope – is a two-headed dragon.

The first dragon’s head is called The Law. Not everyone believes Clean Reader actually violated any laws by providing its profanity-scrubbing “service”, including, of course, the parents of Clean Reader. And their lawyers. Oh, yes, they anticipated all this (which, incidentally, makes their professed shock at writers’ outrage seem pretty phoney). In consultation with their legal advisors, they developed and sold this product in a manner designed to sneak through the cracks in the laws that are supposed to protect free speech and copyright, and prevent censorship.

The scheme is convoluted, but the centrepiece of the app is technology designed to mask over the “bad words” with substitutes, while leaving the original words within the original e-book file. The author’s actual words are invisible, but they’re still “there”, hiding in shame beneath cyber fig leaves. Thus, Clean Reader’s inventors claim, they actually haven’t censored anything. It’s the perfect crime – a way to violate the spirit of the law while staying within the letter of it.

But The Law is a strange beast that never walks in a simple, straight line. Cyber guru and activist Cory Doctorow, has suggested that outlawing what Clean Reader does violates the rights of readers, who should be able to choose what they consume. The right to free speech, he says, includes the right not to listen. Although he disapproves of Clean Reader’s aims as “offensive”, he cites the many ways we use computers to filter what we receive and claims it’s the readers’ right to change what they want to put in front of their own eyeballs.

This is where it gets even more complicated.

If a reader chooses to take a censorship marker to a printed book that they’ve bought for their own use, that’s presumably not illegal (or at least enforceably so) – it’s just stupid. (Fortunately, stupid isn’t illegal yet, or most of us would find ourselves in jail at some point in our lives).

But is the use of Clean Reader really the same thing?

While it probably would need to be tested in court, this proposition is “iffy” at best. The Society of Authors has stated, “… the app contradicts two aspects of the author’s moral rights, namely the right of integrity and the right of false attribution.” Moral rights include the right of an author to object to derogatory treatment of a work. Note that the Society’s statement places the blame on the app, not the reader who uses it.

And there lies the twist. Apparently, at least some people interpret Clean Reader – which was, up until March 26th, also retailing e-books on its website, as well as giving away free downloads of its app – as a real censor, even if virtual. According to reports, e-book distribution channels such as Inktera (a subsidiary of Page Foundry) and Smashwords pulled their titles off the Clean Reader website, citing terms of book selling agreements that do not give retailers permission to alter the works. Ultimately it was this marketplace reaction that caused Clean Reader to shut down its e-bookstore.

At the moment, the tap has been turned off on Clean Reader’s big profit centre. They’ll now have to somehow change their technology and/or their business proposition to meet the standards for moral rights demanded by writers and the broader book publishing and distribution industry … or else look forward to a potentially expensive test of their product’s legality from the challenges sure to come.

So the marketplace works! This should bring joy to the hearts of all capitalists! We can all rest easy now, right?

Wrong.

There’s that other dragon’s head, and it’s called Cyberspace. In cyberspace, we can do many wonderful and terrible things that were never possible in regular space, a.k.a. the real world. It’s an incredible new universe: a free-for-all frontier, full of promise and peril. And we’re really only at the dawn of figuring out the rules in this everything’s-possible universe.

Cyberspace challenges the order of everything. It gives power to the powerless, which is both wonderful and horrible, depending on what the newly empowered do with it. Cyberspace is a great leveller, where the small can become big, and the big can become small, in an instant. Cyberspace brings the world to us – and us to the world – with virtually no restrictions. In doing so, it explodes the boundaries of privacy and rights.

One of the first casualties of the Cyberspace dragon was the very nature of ownership of intellectual property, and the moral and economic rights of its creators. Artists, musicians, photographers, writers … every member of the creative community is working in a completely new world, where the old regulations are struggling to keep up with the new technologies.

The focus of this upheaval in the arts has mostly been economic. Whole industries, including publishing, have been turned on their heads. Creatives are having to find new ways of making a living from their work, forging new pathways as the old solid ground crumbles beneath their feet. And a huge part of that “solid ground” had to do with ownership and rights – not just the right to be paid for original work, but the right to protect it from censorship, misuse and corruption.

In The Guardian, a couple of days after Clean Reader closed its online book store and retreated to the drawing board, Sam Leith wrote a piece titled, “Clean Reader is a freaking silly idea, but in the end you can’t stop your audience being philistines.” Maybe. It’s certainly tempting to ridicule the inanity of replacing the word “vagina” with the word “bottom” and thinking you’ve somehow made the world a cleaner, better place.

But I’m afraid we can’t make light of the bigger issues Clean Reader raises. Cyberspace is a universe without boundaries, a place that may prove to be ungovernable altogether. That’s where we’re now sending our words – the books and stories and blogs we pour our hearts into and stay up all night writing. We hit “send” or “publish” and blast them off into this new frontier.

If it’s up to anyone, it’s up to us what happens to them after that.

The rights we have – or think we have – as writers may not survive long if we don’t defend them.

Bootcamp for writers

Joe’s Post #135

i dont know butWhat do you do when you’re stuck in a non-writing groove? Maybe you look at a writing bootcamp.

Not the kind of bootcamp where you get yelled at by an angry-looking marine or go around singing martial marching songs. “I don’t know but I’ve been told, if you don’t write, you don’t get sold. Sound off, one two, sound off, three four…”

Nor the kind where you leap over logs and end up running through mud. Nope, a writing bootcamp is where you, ah, write.

It’s something the group is considering. What better way than to get together, unfurl our laptops, and grind out page after page? We can be there for support. For advice. Or simply for company.

stephen kingThere are, of course, some variations on this theme. I think the Hemingway version involves a lot of scotch. Certainly the Hunter S. Thompson version would include a lot of blow and hookers. I imagine Stephen King’s would involve graveyards and listening to thrash metal music and something that would probably scar me for life.

Some are structured (from Writer’s Digest). Some are fun and spontaneous (from Capilano College). Some set goals (like the one I went to in Oregon as part of the Oregon Writer’s Network, where we set a goal of writing a book in a week). Some just get together to write.

What’s important is that all of them motivate writers to write. And that’s what we need to do.

When I went down to Oregon, I was with a houseful of professional writers. That alone added a huge incentive for me not to sit there and play Minecraft or go for a walk on the beach and gaze at the waves. And I wrote my ass off. 400 odd pages in 6 days.

Now, I’m not saying it was the greatest novel I’d ever written, and I ran into a huge plot flaw problem on day 5 that I couldn’t fix in the time allotted, but I wrote, and wrote a lot. I didn’t even spend much time with the other writers, talking about ideas or methods or just the best way to make a cup of tea. It’s something I actually regret, but (again) I didn’t get distracted from my reason for being there.

So, I think it’ll be a good thing for us to gather together and write.

I don’t know if we’ll set goals as a group or as individuals.

I don’t know if it’ll be some place fancy like Palm Springs or my backyard.

structured writingI don’t know if it’ll be all structured and organized (like get up at 7am, pee from 7:10-7:11, dress from 7:11-7:30, coffee and breakfast 7:30-8:00, heavy drinking from 8:01-11:15, write…. 8:10-8:20 crying and swearing time. 8:30 bed), or we’ll just wing it day-to-day.

But I do know that if we get together for the purpose of writing, we will write. The peer pressure will be there. The support will be there. The encouragement for getting sh*t done will be there.

So I ask you all: What would your writing bootcamp look like? How would you set it up?

******

Best show last week – Seasonal finale of the Walking Dead. Brilliant stuff.

Book that I’m reading at the moment –  Shadow’s Edge. Brent Weeks. Nearly done and it’s his best book so far. But why, Joe, why? It’s because he gave his hero a nice cost to using his uber powers. A brutal cost, but an effective one.

Pages written on new book  I’ve now officially committed to the group to write 10 pages a week. A low total for a professional writer, but it should be me started.

Social media update – Finally finished my epic journey as a chaperone on my step-dad site. Check it out.

Health  Still functionally deaf at the moment due to an ear infection. F*ing hell. It’s like living in a bubble.

Best thing last week  I found out I’ll be getting more time to write. Let’s hope I can use that time effectively.

Worst thing  Nothing. Life is good.

Links to other writers and bloggers to check out….

Ok, I asked everyone to check out this guy, but if you haven’t, then now’s the time….

chuck

Chuck Wendig

http://terribleminds.com (it is NSFW, but funny as hell!)

Where to begin

From astrolog.com

From astrolog.com

Where do you start a book?

It’s something that still causes me a bit of confusion. And with confusion comes consternation and with consternation comes stress and panic and whammo, fun goes out the window like a cat fleeing the vacuum cleaner.

So, finding this answer, well, it’s part of my ‘return to the fun of writing’ quest.

It all started after I finished a book that made me think, gosh, they really didn’t start this in the right place. I remember back to a workshop that I took where the presenter looked at my first 20 pages and put the first 15 aside and said, start here, page 16.

Both stories had the same problem.

Both started with a lot of explanation or backstory. It’s like the author saying, ok, hold on a second, before I begin, there’s some stuff you gotta know or else the story isn’t going to make sense. Now, I know it may be a bit boring and may even lack context, but trust me, once the story begins, it’s awesome.

In fact, I think I sent a query like that. Dear Agent, this story is amazing, but you’ll have to read past the first 30 pages, ok, and then, like, it’s super good and you’ll love it.

fire in fictionHey, I get why those opening pages are hard. Look at what my man, Chuck Wendig says. Or read Don Maass. Or do a quick google search.

You have to have conflict and stakes and a strong setting and dialogue and a great opening line and no exposition and surprise and mood and tension and introduce the theme and main character and have a unique voice and…

Come on, is it any wonder we get all stuffed up on the first pages?

I think it’s easier to quantify, though equally hard to do.

Don’t bore the reader.

Ha. That’s like saying just write a great opening chapter, right? What an asshole suggestion.

But here’s the thing. Here’s what makes a good book for me:

Does your character have a problem that needs solving? It doesn’t even have to be the main plot problem. It can be a simple want, like Vonnegut said, your character ‘wants a glass of water.’ Is there something that buggers up his world?

Sure, it can have a bit of backstory. It can lack a wicked opening line. It doesn’t have to have zippy-zappy dialogue. It doesn’t have to have poetically beautiful descriptions or a gun battle with a shark.

But it does have to interest me. Engage me.

There’s a host of ways to engage the reader. All are good. But there’s no magic bullet.

All I can say is that you don’t have to do it all.

Simple as that.

However, you have do something right. Maybe two things. Three would be even better.

That’s the key, I think. I don’t have to do a hundred things in my opening, but I do have a do a few things well. So I’m going to pick my strengths and run with them.

And now here’s my last piece of advice, advice from someone who’s just written the opening three times.

It’s ok to write out a few ideas and see if one is better than the other. Sort of ‘what if?’ yourself. What if I start on the docks rather than the ship, what if I start in rain instead of sun, what if there’s a time factor? Explore the possibilities.

Hey, not all of us are Hemingway or Atwood or King. And who really knows how much they toss away, anyway. Am I right?

Believe it’s ok to toss stuff away. To have some fun with the opening.

And if you don’t get it right, that’s ok, too. You can go back and do your own, ‘wait, cut these 15 pages and start here,’ thing. Everyone’s got their own process. Just get started, get yourself interested in the story, and keep on writing. Have some fun with it.

Cuz if it ain’t fun on some level, it’s about a zillion times harder to do.

I’ll have more on this next week.

But in the meantime, what do you do for your openings? Bev? Sheila? Lisa? I’m looking at you.

******

Best show last week – Nothing to report, but this week the Walking Dead starts. OMG excited!

Book that I’m reading at the moment – Finished Alan Furst’s, Mission to Paris. I dunno. Sometimes I just don’t get why a book gets published.

Pages written on new book   Not sure but writing every day. I’ll do up a count for next week. Add up the chapters. Change the font to 16. Add a lot of page breaks. I’m hoping the number will look good.

Social media update – Last week’s post on research generated a lot of discussion on Linkedin. Thanks to everyone who participated.

Health  Still sick. But almost better.

Best thing last week  Stepdad blog. 

The BEST book he's written so far IMHO.

Ok, this will be the last time, but Unforgiven is out in Canada. Written by the politically incorrect, Sean Slater, I honestly believe it’s his best book.

So if you see it anywhere, buy it. Or hit the Amazon link below.

Slater

Researching research – part 2

Joe’s Post #118

By the way, please check out this site by William Cronon -   http://www.williamcronon.net/researching/

By the way, please check out this site by William Cronon – http://www.williamcronon.net/researching/

kerrSo it’s begun. The researching. Or more accurately, the research has begun to pay off. My first books began to arrive, including a history on Amsterdam. I dug out my old books on WW2 like Anne Frank, The Iron Heel (Jack London), and the Bernie Gunther novels by Philip Kerr (about a German detective before and during the war.)

People have begun to email me back. One amazing gentleman gave me links to the Dutch police during the war. Later in the week, a person at the Dutch Resistance museum led me to a half dozen sites about the resistance.

But the biggest haul was from my friends. They sent me links to look up. They hooked me up with parents or grandparents who had been in Holland during the war. They phoned people on my behalf, brainstormed people or organizations I could contact (like the Dutch consulate!).

Wow. I mean, wow.

I have to say that two weeks ago, I was lost as to how to get the research done. Then I did something us introverted writers hate to do. I talked to people and I asked for help. With the exception of one person, so many people have been keen to help out.

And how cool is that?

So what have I learned?

Without a doubt, an amazingly beautiful woman.

Without a doubt, an amazingly beautiful woman.

Audrey Hepburn was in Holland during the war and that’s super odd since, in my mind, she was the face of the love interest in the book. The policing in Holland was a mess of organizations. That plays well into the story. When the Germans occupied the country, being Germans, they cleaned up who did what, making it all efficient, but before that, it was like the FBI, DEA, state police, local police and the park rangers all trying to figure out who had jurisdiction.

There’s still a lot more to learn. Like I said in my last post, the most important being those details that bring a world to life. Food. Social structure. History, myths and legends. And Helga may be right, the best way to get those is to visit a place. If only I had the money.

If only I had a time machine.

Wait, is there one on Amazon? If not, maybe one of the world traveling 5/5/5 could go in my place!

In the meantime, I have juggle two competing interests. I do love history. Love-Love-LOVE it, but I could spend the next two years looking stuff up, talking to people, following links and get exactly 0 pages written.

So I took another stab at the first 10 pages.

They sucked. AGAIN!!! But at least I’m trying, right? That’s important, right?

In my mind, these first 10 pages were awesome and amazing and something Hemingway would have said, “Dang, yo, you nailed it.” But somehow, when I actually put pen to paper, it came out all crumply and awkward.

Does that ever happen to anyone?

Check out Chuck Wendig’s funny-ass blog on the subject.

So that was the week. Nothing earth shattering in the way or writing or research, but a good start. With all that’s going on in my busy, amazing new life, a ‘start’ is good.

Anyone who may have links, suggestions, questions, or people I can talk to, please reply, write me an email, give me a call or contact me telepathically.

******

Best Show Last Week – Big Hero 6. We loved it more than the kids. It made me laugh, it made me cry. It made me want to have a balloon-shaped robot.

Book That I’m Reading At the Moment – Gone Girl. Holy sh*t good!

Outlines Done – 0

Pages written on New Book minus 10. I consider what I wrote so bad that it actually sucked the life OUT of the book.

# Turkeys eaten – 1 but somehow I forgot the stuffing!!!!!!!!!!!

# of new friends made on Twitter – 21

# books ordered for research – 0 (Books arrived – 2)

Health – so so. Can’t shake this damn cold!

Best Thing Last Week – The information about policing in Holland, but I also got my library mostly done!

Worst Thing – Damn cold

 

 

Cheering on NaNoWriMo mojo

nanowrimo

Silk’s Post #108 – This year, I’m just an observer. Sitting in the bleachers with my binoculars, watching the ambitious competitors run the NaNoWriMo marathon. It’s awe inspiring. And terrifying.

For those of you who are not familiar with the phenomenon called NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month, for the uninitiated – it is an annual mass writing event that takes place every November in which participants commit to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. That’s 1,667 words per day. Every day. For a month.

It’s unthinkable. It’s audacious. It’s intimidating.

Why in god’s name would anyone sign up to do this? There must be a huge prize, some kind of write-it-on-my-tombstone glory involved. Big bucks! Medals! Guaranteed fame!

But no.

There is no podium. No gold, silver and bronze medals. Not even those awkward little bouquets that the victors don’t know what the hell to do with. Because this is not a hierarchical competition designed to deify the most elite of the elite after a brutal process of elimination, leaving the rest of the striving masses gasping and heartbroken on the field.

In the writing world, we leave that job to the agents and publishers.

To win NaNoWriMo, an entrant must do but one thing: make the word count. Fifty-thousand of them, or about 200 double-spaced pages of 12-point type. There is no limit to the number of NaNoWriMo winners in a given year. The entrants compete against the clock, against the calendar, against their own writer’s block, against procrastination and self-doubt, against the desire to eat and sleep and have a normal life during the month of November.

But not against each other.

And they cheer each other on along the way, tweeting encouragement, trading jokes only writers could possibly appreciate, blogging survival guides and pep talks and tactical hints.

30-days-in-the-wordminesDon’t you love it? I do. Think about it: a cooperative competition where everyone can be a winner if they put in the time and effort, and everyone supports everyone else. Writer, “Terrible Minds” blogger and irreverent icon Chuck Wendig even published 30 Days in the Word Mines, which he calls an Advent calendar for NaNoWriMo madness.

Does this not sound like the way the whole world should be run? Damn right.

I’ve been aware of NaNoWriMo for several years – vaguely aware. I’m not proud of the fact that my curiosity took so long to kick in, but it wasn’t until this year that I overcame my (mostly wrong) assumptions and educated myself about this crazy writers’ race with the laughable name.

My first reaction to the whole concept was … yeah, right! I’m gonna write a whole novel in November. And in December, I think I’ll take up rocket science and fly to Mars.

Contrary to my previous impressions, I now know that NaNoWriMo: a) is not a stunt, like some crazed reality show, b) is not just for unpublished and/or amateur writers, c) is not a quixotic quest, but is achievable with good planning and preparation, d) actually leads to some high quality, publishable novels.

In fact, once I started reading about it on the NaNoWriMo website, I couldn’t stop. Talk about a page-turner. I read the non-profit organization’s entire archived history, year by year, from its beginning in San Francisco in 1999 as a kind of 21-writer “noveling binge” to the 2013 competition, which drew 310,095 participants.

Impressive.

Then I read the list of published “Wrimos”, as they call the happily obsessed writers who complete the mission. “Since 2006, dozens of novels first drafted during NaNoWriMo have been traditionally published,” I read. “Countless more have been self-published.” I was shocked to note that I had read, and loved, two of the “featured Wrimos” just last year – Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, and Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, both bestsellers – and I recognized many of the other titles on the very long list of published works.

Mind blowing.

This year I was unprepared to enter the competition, since I didn’t really wake up to NaNoWriMo until I attended this year’s Surrey International Writer’s Conference in late October where I became infected with the buzz. But I met some of the players and, as a Twitter fledgling, am following the #NaNoWriMo community.

And that community has some kind of mojo. Rah Rah Rah Sis Boom Bah … Go Wrimos! 

I’m rooting for all of you crazy, creative people.

 

Graphics courtesy of National Novel Writing Month.

10 best things I learned at Surrey International Writers’ Conference

Surrey International Writers' Conference banquet

Surrey International Writers’ Conference banquet

Silk’s Post #106 — I’m still coming down from a three-day weekend up in the cloud where writers live. Sometimes that cloud is a lonely place. Sometimes it rains for weeks. Sometimes thunder and lightning make you want to crawl under your desk.

But at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference – #siwc2014 or #siwc14 – the sun is always shining when hundreds of writers and their gurus come out to play for three days every year. It rocks!

Bar time with Trish, Karalee, Silk, Joe and Chris

Bar time with Trish, Karalee, Silk, Joe and Chris

While I’ve been recovering (okay, the late nights in the bar and various social gatherings did have something to do with that), Joe has already done two excellent posts on his SIWC experience, and he only came for a day. I better get with the program.

This was my eighth SIWC. So here are a couple of fair questions:

  1. How come I keep going back – haven’t I been-there-done-that?
  2. How come I don’t have a book published by now?

First answer: I keep going back because every year I learn new stuff I need to know, and because it recharges my writing batteries, and because I’ve come to know and love the citizens of SIWC, and because it’s one of the best writers’ conferences in the world (even the big-dog presenters from New York say this).

Second answer: I don’t have a book published yet because I’m still a learner and I haven’t yet achieved a polished manuscript that’s ready to put in front of an agent or publisher. When I embarked on this second career after I wound up my design/advertising agency, I came to the party with 35 years of writing experience. I thought I’d be churning out a novel a year in no time. HAH! I must have missed the Steep Learning Curve Ahead sign when I turned onto that road. Oh, alright alright, my questionable post-retirement work habits and tendency toward procrastination does factor into it too.

That’s why I love the SIWC log line: This Day We Write! This came from a conference keynote a couple of years ago by bestselling author Robert Dugoni, who graciously let SIWC adopt it as their own. It’s the perfect rallying cry in this nebulous writers’ cloud we all live in, tucked away by ourselves most of the year, but connected to each other in a kind of virtual community.

This year at SIWC I attended one 3-hour Master Class, 4 keynotes, 3 panels, 5 workshops, 3 luncheons, 2 banquets, 1 agent pitch, 1 blue-pencil session, 1 theatrical presentation, 1 cocktail party, 1 book fair, and a late night book launch. Plus bar time.

Seriously, I really did need a day to recover.

I also took rather voluminous notes, and will share some of this rich trove in more detail in future posts, but today I want to give you my 10 top take-aways – some new things I learned, some things I thought I knew but now finally understand, and some things that just resonated with me.

1. Emotional impact trumps everything else in fiction. Story, setting, premise, characters, action, plot, voice, style, and subject are all important ingredients – but the real magic only happens if you can cause the reader to experience a powerful emotion. (Thanks to Don Maass for this insight from his Master Class “The Emotional Craft of Fiction.”)

2. To avoid obvious and clichéd emotional reactions in characters, evoke rather than report. We’ve all heard “show, don’t tell”. This is a kind of corollary. Make big emotions – the ones with a lot of gravity – like dark stars that affect everything around them without being overtly visible. (Inspiration by Don Maass, weird planetary analogy by me.)

3. A writer’s number one platform on the Internet is his/her own website. It’s the one thing in cyberspace that’s totally in your control, where you own the space and content. Think of it as the centre of your own online community. Use whatever social media and other channels you are comfortable with – and have time to keep up – to steer people to your website. (This point was driven home repeatedly by multiple social media experts, including two of the best: Sean Cranbury and Sarah Wendell.)

4. The most powerful social media tool a writer can use is (wait for it) … email. There are 3 times more email accounts than Twitter and Facebook combined. 92 per cent of adults use email, and 61 per cent of them use it every day. Email is 6 times more likely to get a click-through (to your website or blog) than a tweet, and 40 times more likely to generate new clients/relationships. (Thanks to Sarah Wendell for doing the math).

5. The 3 most important things that build your social media currency are: generosity, consistency and authenticity. Joe already mentioned this, but it’s so important that it can’t be said too many times. Social media are, first and foremost, about relationships and sharing – not marketing opportunities. Don’t be the person who only reaches out to others when you want something from them. Do more giving than receiving. If you support and share with people 90 per cent of the time, you get to talk about yourself 10 per cent of the time. What a surprise … cyber life is just like real life! (This theme was universally emphasized by experts Sarah Wendell, Sean Cranbury and Chuck Wendig in their “Social Media Smackdown” panel).

6. Characters drive story. Characters need to have agency. Active characters push the plot around, they don’t just get pushed around by the plot. Every character has to have a problem (a want) to be solved (fulfilled). In the gulf between the character’s problem and its solution is the story, which must wind its way from the problem to the solution through a minefield of complications. (While these principles have been repeated by many, in many different ways, Chuck Wendig in his “Kick-Ass Characters” workshop, brought terrific clarity and insight to these essential concepts).

7. To create tension, the writer has to walk a tightrope between withholding and revealing information to the reader. Tension occupies the space between what the writer allows the reader to know, and what the writer allows the character to know. The reader always needs to be slightly ahead of the character, which stimulates worry … but not so far ahead that the character seems slow-witted. (A great panel of suspense writers, Hallie Ephron, Robert Wiersema and Chevy Stevens illuminated this dark corner of writing in their discussion, “Tension: More Than the Edge of Your Seat”).

8. Planting questions makes readers turn pages. While this seems like the simplest and most obvious piece of advice in the writing world, it is a deliberate technique that’s hard to remember when you’re in the flow of writing, and easy to make too obvious when you strew questions around retroactively. The compelling need to know “what happens next” is the most delicious form of tension for the reader. (Another trick of the trade from the “Tension” panel).

9. Dialogue should only consist of things that need to be said, or are inherently interesting. Another seemingly obvious principle that gets wantonly violated by throwing all sorts of debris into dialogue such as backstory, pointless conversation meant to mimic “real life” and other content the author didn’t know what else to do with. (Thanks to Outlander author, Diana Gabaldon – the mistress of dialogue – for this reminder).

The one and only Jack Whyte

The one and only Jack Whyte

10. Read aloud. SIWC’s favourite Scottish icon, author Jack Whyte, is probably the best reader I’ve ever heard. With his rich baritone and dramatic flair, he can make the telephone book sound like gorgeous literature. Listening to him read the finely-crafted opening of his new book, The Guardian, at a special pre-release book launch on Saturday night, I was reminded of another excellent piece of advice that I’ve often received and always forget to do. Read your book to yourself out loud, especially key passages or dialogue that needs to be “just right” to the reader’s ear. It’s amazing how every awkward turn of phrase, bit of unnatural dialogue, misplaced word and run-on sentence will suddenly become obvious.

To wind this post up, I want to share the best word I heard at the conference, and its context:

Avoid online douchebaggery.

Surrey International Writers Conference – social media

Joe’s Post #116

Ok, so there’s like twitter and linkedin and tumbler and blogs and youtube and something called vines and snap chat and *head explodes*.

dressupNow, understand that I grew up in a world where we had to actually get up off the sofa to change the channel from Mr. Dressup on the CBC to whatever the heck the other channel was, where our phones were connected to a wall, where computers that now fit in our iphones filled entire buildings, and where we read newspapers to get our news.

So all this new technology and social media is a bit of a challenge, especially for a writer trying to figure out how to expand his online presence.

Fear not! On Friday, I had a lot of this explained to me.

I want to thank Sean Cranbury, Sarah Wendell, Chuck Wendig and KC Dyer for helping demystify it all and make it all seem possible.sarah So let me condense what I learned. First from Sarah Wendell. She said simply, remember this is SOCIAL media. Be social. Be authentic. Be generous. Be consistent.

It’s the generous part I’ve not done a good job at. Being on social media is about connecting and I think I’ve been more about entertaining (even if I failed at it) than connecting. I’ll try to do better.

She also said that writers may have to find their readers in different areas of social media. Joining a FB group that talks about Justin Bieber would be a great place to go if you want to sell a book about the death of an annoying boybrat. Ok, just kidding, it would be a great place to go if you were writing about him, but less so if you were writing and wanting to comment about the state of affairs in Iraq.

See, every form of social media has an audience. Know who that audience is. Within that media, there are groups. Find those groups. But don’t just connect to sell a book. Connect to connect. Connect to be social.

ce9f6e7f0564dc2ff07723effcd89b2c_biggerSean Cranbury said the same thing when I had the great pleasure of chatting with him for 20 minutes.  His advice, give to the community. The writing community. The reading community. The book community. Make a difference in people’s lives.

Be social.

Hard for an introvert to hear. Harder for one to do.

But I’ll try.

Lastly, when the three titans gathered on a panel, we all were given more boat-loads of great advice. Let me share a few of them.

  • Be the best version of yourself online.
  • Don’t ever buy mailing lists, make the connections yourself.
  • Follow, watch and see how great communicators do it. On twitter, try following comedians. They’ve learned how to be funny in 140 characters.
  • Social media should never be an obligation. Do it because you want to do it. If you don’t want to, then hey, don’t do it.
  • Listen.
  •  Promotion is not a dirty word. Sometimes it’s nice to know when you have a book out or what you’re reading. It’s ok. Just don’t do it as your only thing – then it’s just noise.
  • Talk about other people’s books more than your own. Be authentic.
  • On FB you are the commodity. No problem with that, just realize it.

I hope that helps out a bit. All of this is a good place to start. I still have a lot more to learn but somehow it doesn’t seem that scary anymore.

Blogs to check out:

Felicia Day –  http://feliciaday.com/blog (from The Guild). Funny. Honest.

Sarah Wendell – http://smartbitchestrashybooks.com. So much cool stuff here and a great example of a successful blog. She’ll make you lol for real.

Chuck Wendig  – http://terribleminds.com. Love him or hate him, he’ll get you thinking and laughing.

Sean Cranbury – http://seancranbury.com (and a host of other links accessable from his website). A wow site.

Best Twitter recommendations… all the above. Plus John Oliver. Sarah Silverman.

New word of the day. Dickbar (thanks Sean Cranbury). Ok a second one. Doxing. (It’s basically punishing people you disagree with online by publishing their home addresses for everyone to see.)

Some of the best tweets, check out #siwc14 or siwc2014:

Submit your work. You’re already unpublished; the worst that can happen is that you stay that way. quotes

“It tastes like dead Druids.” Scotch, with ”.

Information Doesn’t Want to be Free, ‘s keynote at cc:

Have a great writing week!

Tomorrow I write!

 

 

 

 

The age of the hybrid

hybrid

Silk’s Post #91 — Quick, what’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear “hybrid”?

Cars that run on gas and electric power? You’re probably ecologically-minded.

More productive strains of corn and tomatoes? You’re probably a farmer or a gardener.

Alien lifeforms arising from cosmic cross-breeding? You’re probably a sci-fi fan.

Your next book? Wait a minute. What do hybrids have to do with books and authors?

Possibly everything.

As part of my preparation for our next crazy 5writers challenge (launching September 5, 2014 … watch for it!), I’ve been doing yet more research on the publishing industry. This may seem redundant, since the five of us – as wannabe-published authors – have tried to  proactively inform ourselves about what it takes to get in print. Many books, many articles, many blogs, many discussions with published authors, many scans of online writers’ groups, many workshops, and many writers’ conferences later, we thought we were on top of it.

Think again.

What my latest web scan revealed is that publishing opportunities yesterday are already very different from publishing opportunities today, and I mean that literally, not figuratively. Whatever received wisdom you believed about publishing, say, six months ago, it’s probably wrong now.

Because we’ve now entered a new age: the age of the hybrid author.

Here’s how Chuck Wendig, in his February 2014 Writer’s Digest Magazine article “Case Study: Becoming a Hybrid Author”, describes this new creature we are all probably going to morph into:

“A hybrid author is one who refuses to accept that there exists One True Way up the Publishing Mountain and who embraces all the methods available. The hybrid author prefers a diverse approach to getting her work out there, which means utilizing both the traditional system of publishing and also acting as an author-publisher in order to retain control and self-publish her own work.”

This may not sound new to you. Self-publishing has been going on forever. But here’s what’s different in the new hybrid world:

#1 – There ain’t no taint to self-publishing

The headwinds buffeting the traditional book publishing industry are blowing away some old musty ideas. Historically, self-published authors who resorted to “vanity presses” to see their own words in print were presumed to be – forgive the expression – permanent rejects. Tainted. Writers whose work was never going to be good enough to get out of the slush pile. Budding authors were warned that self-publishing was the kiss of death with agents and “real” publishers.

Now, let’s be realistic. Is there some real sh*t out there among self-published works? Yep. Lots of it. (Of course, it’s self-evident to the discerning reader that traditional publishing is not exactly sh*t free, either). But self-publishing a book is no longer considered a literary felony, sentencing the author to automatic disqualification from working within the traditional publishing system on other projects.

Writers who evolve to this new hybrid author state may be the survivors in this new publishing environment.

#2 – In today’s marketplace, all writers need to be entrepreneurial

I don’t think I’ll stir up a lot of disagreement when I suggest that the publishing industry is undergoing massive change. I’m no economist, but it’s easy to see industry after industry becoming revolutionized in our newly networked, globalized world.

These factors have accelerated the free-market cycle, where businesses spring up, compete and grow in the lush times, then consolidate when things get leaner and meaner. The strong swallow the weak, gaining control of the marketplace (for instance, only a handful of publishing empires now control most imprints you’ve ever heard of). Ouch. There are so many reasons to worry about powerful monopolies that are bottom-line by nature, serving shareholders first, customers second, and suppliers/producers (often) last. This is especially sensitive in industries that sell creative products.

Monopolies that calcify can become vulnerable – more fragile than they seem. Enter the independent challengers: the Amazons and Apples of the world who move fast, break the rules, and build new business models (and monopolies of their own) on a large scale. But this upheaval also leaves space for many new players: the smaller-scale indies. They’re like economic phytoplankton, the profusion of life at the bottom of the food chain that keeps the whole ecosystem alive.

This pattern is already well underway in the music industry, in the movie industry, in magazines and newspapers, in radio and television. Virtually everything that has to do with news and entertainment is in flux.

The book industry is following suit. Where once there were clear rules, standards and pathways to success, now virtually anything goes. Anything that works. There will, of course, be winners and losers (and I truly mourn the decline of the comforting, beautiful, traditional bookstore). There will be good and bad outcomes. The deserving will not always be rewarded. And the roadmaps that will help authors find their way to the goal of publication and success are still being drawn.

Hybrid authors will need to become creative opportunists.

#3 – There are more reasons to self-publish than rejection

Increasingly, writers with their ears to the ground will hear strange tales of bestselling authors choosing to self-publish a project. Of new authors turning down traditional publishing contracts in favour of going the indie route. Of agents working with hybrid authors in new ways, and seeking new talent among the latest crop of successful self-published writers.

Heresy!

Where will you find these weird anomalies in the books of advice for writers on your groaning bookshelf? You probably won’t, unless the book was published very recently. You may begin to hear hints and rumours at a writers’ conference workshop. But if you look in the right places online – where trends now show up first – you’ll discover that the hybrid author is already alive and well. And comes in every shape and size.

So why would any author actually choose self-publication over the traditional route – except rejection? Isn’t traditional publishing the holy grail we’re all seeking? Here are just a few possible reasons:

Creative freedom — An established writer may want to do a project her traditional publisher is not interested in. Maybe it’s outside the writer’s usual genre, or it’s experimental, or for some other reason the publisher doesn’t think it will fit their list or profit expectations. What choice does the writer have but to follow the creative dictates of her publisher? Yep. Become her own publisher.

Money — A writer, whether previously published or not, may put on his business hat and take a close look at the numbers. Shockingly, he discovers that he can make more money – sometimes a lot more – if he self-publishes than if he signs a contract with a traditional publisher, based on realistic estimates of sales and author revenue likely to be generated by the two different routes. Careful, though. Risk-reward ratio is not an easy calculation to do, even for the experienced. Better rattle some chicken bones and throw in some eye of newt for good luck. Welcome to entrepreneurship.

Choice and control — A writer may want to keep certain publishing rights – such as e-book rights – and sell other rights to a traditional publisher. The author may have already self-published electronically, but now has an opportunity to take her book to market with an interested publisher. Or she may have been traditionally published and now wants more control of a new project and an opportunity to share more of the profits. This is where the new hybrid agent and the new hybrid author may need to have a meeting of the minds. Tricky new territory, but early pioneers could be creating the pathways and precedents for many hybrid authors to follow.

Career direction — A published mid-list writer may be dropped by his traditional publishing house, and now must either self-publish, or find another publisher (and not many traditional publishers are dying to sign up lots of new mid-list authors who have been dropped elsewhere). Of course, she could always take up another career such as brain surgery, which might be less daunting. Getting back on the horse may require becoming a hybrid author.

So that’s what I’ve learned from my research to date. I know just enough to know that I need to learn a lot more about hybrid authorship. It’s a brave new world out there.

What do you think about it? Was any of this news to you?

Does it fill you with excitement and hope … or does it seem fearfully overwhelming?

We’d love to hear your comments.