Archive for January, 2008

Good Advice

A former student called me last week, completely down in the mouth about her writing. She said, “I’ve been working for years and seen no success at all, just one rejection after another. I think I ought to quit.” I told her that if publishing was the reason she was writing, then maybe she should quit, but if publishing was the main reason she was writing, then she’d probably never be published anyway. Publishing is the result of perseverance, luck and talent, and it should be almost totally removed from the urge to write.

That advice, to separate the business of writing from the act of writing, is from James Van Pelt. The entire article can be read here, and is worth reading, even though it was written back in ’98.

The few times that I’ve been asked what I’ll do if I’m never published, my response has been the same. I will continue writing, probably for the rest of my life. I don’t write to get published. I write to tell stories. I seek publication so hopefully I can eventually dedicate more time to this one thing I enjoy.

The Van Pelt article goes on to describe how the long odds of being published get considerably shorter with perseverance. How learning from each failure will eventually push your work to the top of the slush pile. Another intriguing thing he says is this:

In fact because publishing is so unlikely, it gives me the freedom to write anything I please.

I like that attitude. It totally flies in the face of “conventional” wisdom, which says to study the markets and get to know what’s been published recently. He is saying that since he’s probably going to be rejected anyway, why not write what he wants to write, instead of what he thinks magazine editors or book publishers want him to write? Indeed, I would think that such an attitude would allow a writer to focus on what really matters: plot, character, voice, etc. Separate the business from the art.

The Van Pelt article is posted on the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America site. They have a lot of useful information about writing and publishing. There are two particularly useful pages, one has writing tips, the other has things to watch out for (scams, mostly.) The info is not SF/Fantasy specific, so could be useful to anyone interested in writing.


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A Vision Of…

Last night I created a new page for posting some of my stories. I uploaded a short piece that I wrote last summer, called Unbridled. Feel free to check it out, if you like, and leave a comment here or on the stories page.


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Seven Methods For Seven Novels

A couple nights ago, while wandering around online, I happened across the web site of Randy Ingermanson. I had never heard of him before, but he has a ten-step method for writing a novel. The “snowflake method,” he calls it, because it’s based on how a fractal snowflake is generated, by starting with a simple shape and step-by-step adding complexity. After finishing Book One (many years ago,) I decided to try a different method for Book Two. Book One took ten years to write, partly because I incorporated the revision / editing process into the writing of the rough draft, slowing things down considerably. I decided to motor through Book Two without stopping to edit along the way. Whenever I hit a spot of trouble with the continuity or forgot a detail, I just made a note to fix it later and moved on. That helped shorten the writing time, but it was still something like three years.

Randy claims that his method will produce (or enable someone to produce) the first draft of a novel in 150 hours. I think I’m going to try that for Book Three, which I am aching to get started on. At this rate, I’ll use a different method to write each novel I produce. (Disclaimer: Please note that I am in no way affiliated with Randy Ingermanson, and this should not be construed as an endorsement of him or any of his products.)

I’ve decided on which story I want to polish up and send out into the world in the hope of finding publication. The other story I was considering will be posted here, just as soon as I can get it ready. I worked on it last night, but hit a glitch with my word processor. I plan to try again tonight.

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I finished editing Book Two this morning. (Whoo-Hoo!) I sent a copy off to a friend who has been a trusted reader / technical adviser for quite a few years. I can’t wait to hear what he thinks of it.

Now I need to move on to the next step, which is… dang, I don’t know. A couple years ago, I formulated a plan that I thought would help move me toward being a full-time writer.

  1. Finish writing the draft of Book Two. -Check.
  2. Edit Book One to fix inconsistencies with Book Two. -Check.
  3. Write new stories while working on novels. -Check.
  4. Send one or more stories to magazines and journals in the hopes of getting published.

Hmm. OK, I haven’t completed step 4 yet. Perhaps that’s what I should concentrate on next. It’s sure to add to the pile of form rejection letters, but that’s part of the process, right? Keep collecting “No’s” until you hit upon a “Yes.”

On the other hand, though, I have two completed novels (the first two books in a series, at that.) Maybe I should turn my attention toward trying to find an agent. I’ve always thought that having short stories published was the best way of getting an agent’s attention, but maybe I should try anyway.

I think I’ll sleep on it and get a fresh start in the morning.

Resolution Update:

That’s right, nineteen days strong.

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Whenever I read about the process of contacting agents or editors in order to pitch my novel, I am told that I should be familiar with the market. I need to know what books have been published lately that are similar to mine, and how my novel will fit into the current marketplace.

This seems like good advice. After all, book publishing is a business, and agents and editors are part of that business. Problem is, for me, writing is not a business. When I’m crafting a story, I don’t think about markets. I don’t think about movie rights or foreign rights or what’s hot at the time. I think about writing the story that needs to be written. If I wanted to be pretentious, I’d say that writing is an art.

It’s too late to change the novel now. It’s been written and re-written and revised and re-revised. Plus, it’s Book One in a series, so making a major change would sort of screw up the whole chain of books. What if no books like it have been published recently? Does that mean that nobody will touch it because it’s a dead end, or that there is a huge potential in an untapped market? Do I have to spin the story so it seems to fit into the market? Should I try to spin the market to fit the story?

It gives me a headache thinking about it. Maybe I’ll just concentrate on writing for now.

Resolution Update:

It is now 13 days into the year, and I have worked on writing every day. I think this is the longest I’ve ever kept a resolution. I’m on page 237 of Book Two. I figure I should have the editing finished in another week or so. Then I’ll have to think more about the business of writing. *Cringes.*

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All Alone, Except In My Head

In the current (I think) issue of Writer’s Digest, there’s a review of Erica Jong’s memoir, Seducing The Dream. I’m not familiar with Jong’s writing, but there is a quote from her that caught my eye.

“Writing a book in your twenties that becomes a worldwide phenomenon hardly prepares you for the silence and despair of a writer’s life.”

It’s hard to deny that the act of writing is a solitary effort. When I write, everything around me peels away and there’s nothing but the pen scratching out the words on the page. I’ve never equated it with despair, though. For me, writing is a compulsion and at every stage in my life, I’ve eventually isolated myself from those around me, in deference to it. I’m not a recluse or anything, though if I didn’t have to work for a living, who knows.

I have always been averse to writing in groups. Not from being antisocial, but because I know what my vision is, and collaborating has never facilitated the realization of that vision. In fact, it usually ends up producing some watered-down half-hearted kludge that I invariably distance myself from. Maybe I just haven’t had the benefit of writing with the right group. Unfortunately, I’m pretty soured on the whole experience, so the odds of it happening are pretty slim.

Good thing for me I like being alone.

New Year’s Resolution Update: We’re seven days into the new year and so far I’ve kept up with my goal of working on writing every day. I’ve added 5 or 6 pages to my manuscript and revised about 55 pages. (I’m on page 81 out of 405.) I’ll probably just keep plugging away until that’s done, and then see what’s next.

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The Road Ahead

As I sit here on the first of January, with the 366 days of 2008 spread out before me like so many blank sheets of paper, I think that my goal this year will be to type something meaningful on each one of them. Whether it is something small or large does not matter.

“I edited 50 pages of my novel.”

“I wrote 3 sentences in my story-in-progress.”

“I sent Story X to such and so magazine.”

“I found an agent.”

However seemingly insignificant, I want to do at least one thing every day to bring me closer to my goal of quitting my day job and being a writer full-time. I guess the greatest thing about New Year’s Day is that it offers a chance to look inside one’s self and see the potential of the coming year; the resolve to meet that potential; and at least on this one day, the belief that it can be done.

Here’s to 2008.

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