Tag Archives: amwriting

FOMO, Writing & Creativity

FOMO, in case you haven’t heard the term, stands for “Fear Of Missing Out,” and I think it’s something every artist – every person, really – feels from time to time.

Back when I used to buy each year’s edition of the Writer’s Market, I would pore over its pages for hours on end, highlighting the magazines and publishers that sounded like good matches – thinking wild thoughts about how I could submit to each of those opportunities, but never finding the time to act on what I had selected. And meanwhile, the things I did write seemed impossible to match to a market.

wpid-img_20150110_011616.jpgThe internet has only intensified this problem. Along with constant updates of word counts and projects and successes from other writers (and I’m happy for them, don’t get me wrong) there’s a constant deluge of opportunity  – and without having pinned down a calendar of those opportunities that lets me plan ahead, it can be tricky to take full advantage of all the opportunities on offer.

Playwriting opportunities, calls for work with low pay but fascinating concepts – there’s almost never enough time between finding an opportunity and writing down (let alone revising) my work into something I can send out, which isn’t helped by the fact that I see most opportunities just days before their deadlines. And when I do end up with a workable idea, I’m just as likely to save it and self-publish (like with Short Frictions, purchase link to the right), which is a terrible habit that I need to break. At the very least, I should be sending those pieces out to online (and print, though it seems there are fewer of those every day) venues in the hopes of making sales before collecting pieces and publishing them. (For example, after sitting on Blutnacht for over a decade, I saw an opportunity it would have been perfect for…but it doesn’t accept reprints, so that’s that.)

wpid-img_20150222_092153.jpgPart of the problem is my attention span – which is, I’ll admit, woefully flighty at times. Part of my excitement over The Peggy Carter Project is that it’s going to stretch out over time, with enough small pieces, that I can flit from makeup to hair to sewing to shoes to lipstick to other details as I please, constantly working towards a cohesive, finished product.

wpid-img_20150110_181302.jpgBut part of the problem is that I have a hard time anchoring myself in one piece for as long as it takes to complete, these days. There’s so much I want to do. And recently my creative outlets have been non-verbal just as much as they have been about the written word.

I can stand in my kitchen and throw paint on a canvas for an hour or two and have a finished result that I can hang up to decorate the walls of my house. I can spend half an hour gelling and pinning up curls then laze around the house waiting for them to dry, then wet my hair down again and tackle the problem spots (which I’m still maintaining revolve around my hair being shorter than is ideal).

wpid-0217151935.jpgI’ve even started to resurrect my old interest in creating complicated, nuanced cocktails…even though these days I barely ever drink them.

I’m not complaining about any of this – not by a long shot. But it is a re-adjustment, to go from being creative with my words at home, at night, and feeling like a total zombie in my previous day job, to having a fulfilling day job with exciting projects that engages my creativity and then coming home at the end of the day and feeling like I’ve gotten a lot of words out, had some fun, and can explore other avenues of artistry. (Again – this is NOT a complaint – I know how lucky I am to have a job that doesn’t leave me feeling sick with dread every Sunday night, with colleagues who are engaged with what we’re doing, where I’m able to be a creative writer for a living every day).

wpid-0217152332.jpgAll that said, I have a writing project right now – a sitcom about expat Americans in Scotland – that is in desperate need of a rewrite and a second draft. So at some point this week I want to print that out, and that way when I’m practicing my pin curls next weekend I can double-task and go through a full rewrite on that. (Though it wouldn’t hurt to be working on a computer that ran at faster than a crawl to make that happen, quite honestly, since Final Draft isn’t available for Chromebook and I’ve yet to find a comparable program.

Anyways – more updates on pin curls and makeup tutorials coming soon – probably later this week – but I wanted to take a minute to pause and talk about the other kinds of creative work I’m up to just now.

How do you balance your creative outlets? If you’re a writer, do you maintain interests in other art and craft forms? If your “home” medium is more visual or tactile, do you explore other ways of expressing yourself? And for those of you lucky enough to be working on passion projects for your day job, do you get all your creative juices flowing at work or are there things you save just for yourself? Looking forward to answers in the comments.

Writers! A Place to Keep Your Plot Bunnies

Image: Bunny, a Creative Commons Attribution No-Derivative-Works (2.0) image from aigle_dore's photostream

Image: Bunny, a Creative Commons Attribution No-Derivative-Works (2.0) image from aigle_dore’s photostream

If you’re a writer, and you’re anything like me, you’ll be working on a scene for one piece when – POW! – a plot bunny pops into your head. Suddenly, you’re stuck trying to decide whether to press forward with what you’re supposed to be working on, or start writing down the new idea before it bounces away. The other morning, I was noodling around in Google Docs when I hit on an idea: what if there was an easily-searchable database where I could store those ideas until I was ready to use them? By reviewing the ideas periodically, I could keep my inspiration topped off and make sure that significant moments I wanted to include didn’t get left behind as the story surged forwards. Plus, since the answers fall into a Google Sheets (think Excel spreadsheet) document, they’re sort-able and easy to search! Obviously, not every idea is going to make it into the final draft, but at least when I’m staring at a blank scene I’ll have somewhere to look for ideas I’ve already had. Anyways, I thought other writers might like using this form as a tool. Here’s how: 1. Click “Edit form”Capture 2.Go to File -> Make A Copy (As I understand it, this will both give you access to editing the document AND make it’s own back-end spreadsheet for you to access.)Screenshot 2014-07-17 11.04.43 3. Save it to your Google Drive. (Change the name however you’d like.) Screenshot 2014-07-17 11.25.14 My advice is to copy the form to your own google drive, edit the fields and questions to suit your project, and go from there. Use it to organize ideas for a single narrative arc, or add another field and track all your plot bunnies for every project! Happy writing! PS – if there are any additions you think the basic template needs, or anything that isn’t clear from the above, let me know, and I’ll be happy to modify this blog to reflect them when I have time.

Thoughts on Succeeding as a Modern-Day Author

 Image by "Lynn Gardner on Flickr":http://www.flickr.com/photos/grandgrrl/5240360344/ and used with Creative Commons License.

Image by “Lynn Gardner on Flickr”:http://www.flickr.com/photos/grandgrrl/5240360344/ and used with Creative Commons License.

A couple things happened in the world of eBook sales the last few weeks, and I thought it might be useful to write down some thoughts on the matter.

Massive Report On Amazon Sales Released

First, Hugh Howey, bestselling author of the Silo Saga, released a report on Amazon’s sales figures. If you’re trying to sell eBooks, particularly as an independent author, I highly recommend you read the report. The report goes into detail, examining how different types of authors do when selling their books on Amazon, including numbers of books sold, amounts of money made, and changes in which authors are walking away with the biggest slices of the publishing pie. In the end, the report (and other articles I’ve read that riff on it) make it sound as if, for new authors, self-publishing is the best way forward. Going with the big five only seems to benefit writers who are already established, particularly since (more and more frequently) marketing duties fall to the writer in both cases.

Apple Adds iBook App to iOS8, reducing purchasing friction

Secondly, I’ve just read an article on how iOS8’s inclusion of an iBook app does away with an important point of friction for buyers on the iBook platform. Knowing this, and having glanced a few times at my Smashwords sales reports, I took a moment to head over to my Buy My Books! page and enter in additional links direct to each platform that had reported sales. This included Kobo and iBooks,

Value Added By Traditional Small Publishers Continues To Lessen

The third point I want to mention is that a friend who works primarily in self-publishing, but also had a publishing deal with a small press for a horror novella, recently had an interaction with her publisher regarding their agreement and the number of copies that had sold during the two-year term of her contract with them. The email she received in return was disappointing: vague regarding actions they’d taken (which they were contractually obligated to undertake), nonspecific about the number of sales her book had seen over the past two years, and essentially tepid about continuing to sell and market her book. When she asked my advice about whether to keep or dump her publisher, my take was that they didn’t seem to be adding value.

Because value is what it’s all about, as an indie publisher, isn’t it? We spend our time and often our money finding ways to add value to our work: covers that pop, ads that reach our intended customers, giveaways that grow both awareness and mailing lists. While publishing houses might offer individuals with specific publishing expertise, if that only results in a few press releases being sent around a state – and no interviews or reviews – is any value really being added? If Smashwords can upload your eBook to numerous growing retailers (particularly those, like Apple, who are moving towards eliminating friction in the purchasing process), or Amazon actually pays you significantly more than a writer with a Big Five contract…what real value do you get from pursuing a traditional path to publication? One friend, who works closely with an Agent, even reported that if he couldn’t get his clients a good deal within six months, he recommended they self-publish then re-shopped their work once they had sales figures to back it up – and then got them much better offers. While we’re not all fans of marketing, and staying on top of the latest trends takes time many of us would rather spend in polishing our drafts, the reality is that self-publishing lets us make more money and saves the Big Five the problem of dedicating resources to authors who won’t sell.

In short, it’s looking more and more like writers who want to succeed have to be prepared to do so in a self-publishing space.

How Do You Pick Music To Write To?

2013-11-07 22.13.50I’m of two minds when it comes to music and writing. On the one hand, it can be a helpful shortcut to get me into a consistent emotional space for a particular story, cutting through whatever else is going on in my life to make sure I’m on the same “page” when I set pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). On the other, I often find that once I’ve started writing, the lyrics of a song can be a distraction. Sometimes I solve this problem by listening to instrumental or electronic music once I get underway, other times I just shut the music off once I’m in the headspace I was looking for.

What I generally find challenging, however, is putting together a playlist to support the writing of the actual piece. A piece can have a “soundtrack,” but it takes vastly more time to write a few pages than it does to listen to one song, which I find can have an almost schizophrenic effect on the tone of a novel.

In working on a current project, I’ve found that each character has a few songs that help me find the feeling I need to write sections of their stories, but when it comes to assembling new playlists for new characters (each segment of the story is told from one character’s point of view) it can be challenging. Sometimes the songs that put me in the mind of a character are quite different from the songs a character would like or listen to, and sometimes I can’t think of more than one or two songs that fit, right off the bat. It’s annoying and unproductive to have to keep thinking of another song to add to a playlist, but putting one tune on repeat for an hour-long writing session is the best way to guarantee you will never want to hear that song again. (I used to have the same problem when I made fan music videos – hey, I was young once. I still can’t listen to some of those tunes without wincing.)

How do other authors put together their playlists? Is it instinctual or calculated? Do songs fly from your mind to your Spotify or iTunes? Do you use different playlists for writing than what you use for the “playlist” that’s eventually publicized to readers? I’m curious about how this process works for other writers, and hope some will comment to add their two cents.

Writing Spaghetti

Right now my “writing plate” feels like it’s full of a dense, stodgy pile of concept-rich spaghetti. Everything is tangled up with everything else, and once I get through this plate of stuff I know it’s going to take a long time to digest.

I try to do three entries a week here, and after the pointed focus of the recent vaginathon, it’s been tricky to find a topic that doesn’t feel self-indulgent and limp by comparison. It’s because of where my various projects are at, I know: that frustrating time between initial brainvom and settling-in.

I have two short stories that need to be worked on; in putting together a collection for this fall, I’ve wound up with little screaming chunks of fiction waving their arms and running around my mental writing desk. I’m trying to keep them in a drawer and only take them out one at a time. Working on one becomes a distraction from the other, then working on the other takes some of the tension out of working on the first.

One, I have to go back through and re-thread a point, because of something I took for granted that turned out to be false. It reminds me of the maps they make of the London Underground – disproportionate, based on connections. I can choose a different point – something that fits the descriptions and scenes I’ve already written (in which case the tapestry of the story still needs to be reviewed in full, to make sure the patch doesn’t show) or I restitch the scenes from the ground-up. Either option will work. I’m just not sure, yet, which choice will result in the stronger story.

The other has a distinct theme in my mind that isn’t coming out yet in the text. The full text of the second story has not been written yet. So this is okay, if gelatinous.

A friend’s novel needs proofread. I should go to the gym. I should be out in the city, enjoying today’s gorgeous weather, doing something instead of home and hunched over the computer, particularly given the abatement of the heat wave of the last few days.

At the very least, I should take a shower.

I’ll start with the shower.

An Exercise in Editing, or, Why The Hunger Games Makes My Eyes Bleed

From the back cover of THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins. The following quotes, from other writers in what one might call “related genres,” are meant to draw attention to the positive features of Collins’ work.

Go ahead. Read ’em.

Note that each of these quotes, from luminaries and sources including Stephen King (Entertainment Weekly), Stephanie Meyer (OMG she’s OBSESSED), and John Greer (The New York Times Book Review), talks about the plotting and structure of THE HUNGER GAMES.

Not a single one of the back cover comments brings up the question of the quality of the book’s prose. 

There are many reasons this might be the case: the marketing team may have learned that putting quotes about suspenseful page-turners sell more copies and left out things like “Collins’ prose challenges some of the greats of our era with its artistry and subtle evocation of the stresses that authoritarian governments manufacture to maintain control of their populations.” They could have left out, “Her words added an emotional depth and clarity to this packed, well-paced story.” They could have left out lots of things. I haven’t looked up the full reviews.

My personal feeling is that they cherry-picked quotes about pacing because THE HUNGER GAMES suffers from a case of seriously bad writing.

Which brings us to this blog entry. Collins is an author who presumably worked with an editor to get her words to this pointI presume they both considered it publishable. (And charge-for-able). Editors do a lot of different things when it comes to getting manuscripts ready for publication. One of those things is language. And I think both Collins and her editor fell down hard on that front.

My background with THE HUNGER GAMES:

I read chapters 1-4 on my Kindle when @tyyche gifted me a copy. I was at the tail end of two weeks of intensive editing work on Hot Mess, and while I could certainly see why Collins’ story was an entertaining one, the actual quality of the writing made it impossible for me to continue. I said at the time, and continue to maintain, that my guess is the book translates better to the screen than most adaptations. If I ever see the film, I’ll make sure to let you all know.

Anyways, fast forward to the end of May. My roommate’s copy is lying on the kitchen counter and it’s Memorial Day Weekend and after walking past the book a few times, I think, well, maybe I should pick that up and just breeze through it, so at least when people start defending it on Twitter I can come back with a more informed opinion than the one I have now, which is based on reading four chapters of the thing on a Kindle.

There was no way in hell I was going to start reading the book from the beginning again. I backtracked about a paragraph into chapter 4, then continued with chapter five, which was badly written but at least kept moving, then headed into chapter six. It wasn’t until the last page of chapter six that I became aware of a string of paragraphs I probably would have let go through without too much rewriting: page 85 in my edition, from the point where the Avox girl is picking up Katniss’ unitard (UNITARD!) to the end of the chapter. This was the first time that the spare, simple voice beneath Collins’ prose really came out to me, and one of the first times (only 85 pages in!) where I felt like Collins had really hit her stride.

Then it was into chapter seven, and that wasn’t any bloody fun at all.

By this time, half of Twitter had figured out that I was actually reading the book I’d been complaining about for months, and I started getting snarky comments from my co-writer, Eric, particularly because I’d given him such a hard time back when he did the reviews of the first book for The Masquerade Crew. One thing led to another and when I started talking about how what I actually want to do is a top-to-toe rewrite on the entire thing, and I half wanted to do red marks all over a page from the book and show people what my editing process was like, Eric challenged me to do precisely that.

So everything after the break is his fault.
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