Sunday, October 28, 2012

Different Hats

I just finished editing/re-writing one of my older stories. Now, I’m on to making corrections from a reader on my latest novel before sending it to the editor. I guess I have on the editor’s hat. When I first started writing, I never used to consider the necessity. Why would I edit? Aren’t there professionals for that? Well, yes, but editors will only go so far. Mine has blessed me in her thoroughness. She actually called me lazy in one of my earlier works because I described something in a few sentences instead of taking the time to do it justice. But I need that. I need someone telling me where I can push myself. It’s tricky. Some people will trash work to feel better about their own (or just because they don’t know how to affectively critique). I have to be careful because, after a while, I might believe their exaggerations.

But, while my editor is great, she does charge more if there are a LOT of corrections. Not to mention, it’s an ego thing. I never felt more pride than when she returned my third novel and stated it was pretty clean. I have an English major, but I could care less what this phrase is called and how to use commas versus ellipses versus whatever other literary devices authors use. I am more focused on the plot. I have places to drive my characters toward. Who has time to consider if, when speaking, we really should use semi-colons? (I’ve been told the answer is no, in case you were wondering)

Before my novels, I never realized how much editing an author actually does. The first edit comes as I write. I’ll read the previous chapter, more if blocked, before writing the new section. This is mainly content, making sure it says what I imagined the day before. After all, when the words are flowing, everything sounds award winning…not so much retrospect. But, I can only strengthen by looking at deeper edits. Those close know I struggle with homophones. To me, they are the universe’s evil plot against language. I cannot edit my own work, not with accuracy. I read what is supposed to be there, not what is actually there. I have read numerous editing tips, none of which associated with how to avoid this problem. The only one that I have heard is to read the story backwards: read the last sentence, the one before that, then one before that, etc. There is just something about the thought of doing this that makes me cringe. It might work…but I probably will lose my sanity. 

I wish they had better way to train a brain to switch from the writer’s hat to the editor’s hat. This would certainly save a lot of money. But, then again, I would rather rest on an outside source, one that does not live in my head and therefore can have an objective viewpoint on the pieces’ worth.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Over in a Flash

There is a new craze in the writing world known as flash fiction. I think it is an idea that came out of blogging. The theory, for those interested, behind blogging is to keep postings short. What I’ve read is to keep them below 500 words. Why? Because most people reading on the internet won’t read anything much longer. We live in a generation with hectic lives. Various responsibilities pull for our time. In fact, the more technology comes out to make work “easier” the more work we are able to cram into a day. Very few have time to sit and read a 2,000 word essay on why I think writing is awesome…at this point I’m not sure I could stand to write that long of an article on the topic, but hopefully you get the point. We need it now, short and sweet.

So, naturally, flash fiction comes out. In a class I took last January, we read one boasted as the best example. Because I keep everything, I have the link to the story for your own enjoyment. Flash fiction is defined as a story under 1,000 words. I have tried writing competitions that limit word count to 2,000 words. For me, this is hard. I know many who would readily take 1,000 words over 2,000, but let me pose something to you. You must write coherently. It can’t be a gibberish rant of 1,000 words. It must have somewhat of a beginning, middle and end. Tell a story and wrap it up in a page, maybe two. It must be concise because every word matters.

Talking with writers, I often find a phenomenon that remains true. There are those who can master the short work, whether it be the traditional short story (anywhere under 20,000 words) or flash fiction. They can write in the short term. They come up with wonderful tales with hidden motifs. William Faulkner comes to mind here. There are those writers who have mastered the super short, for example poems. And then there are those writers who have mastered the long works. I know some who cross into all realms, which pushes me to keep trying. But I think they even have a favorite.

My novels typically run around 110,000-120,000 words. Naturally, I struggle to be short. My plots become too complicated. I struggle to be concise. I just wrote 300 words for a school magazine. It took me two hours. I know, I hang my head in shame. But my mind does not work that way. But that’s okay because others can crank out 300 words in a half hour and yet can’t keep it going for a novel.

Everyone has their nook. I see it in teaching as well. There are those made for elementary (God love them) and those for secondary and those for collegiate. We are each made for something different. I would not want to live in a world where this wasn’t true.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Fun of Signing Events

I spent yesterday at a multi-author book signing at the Gadsden Hotel in Douglas, Az. The event was hosted by a committee wanting to celebrate the state’s centennial. Multi author events are always interesting. Over the years, I have been to a variety of events. Most take place within hotels, but I have been to some at colleges as well as malls. (The malls are the best because you never know what characters will walk by.) There are a lot of challenges in participating in these events. The biggest is how to stand out amongst the authors. One sweet woman I was next to yesterday had on a sparkling pink cowboy hat. She said people have found her at other events by recognizing her hat. I laughed, not sure if I could bring myself to do something like that. Perhaps some sort of centerpiece on my table? Or maybe I should just let go of my introverted nature and dress in costume like one gentleman.

One thing I know, I can expect typical sales of my books to decline when in a large crowd like that. It’s a logical consequence. Readers will only buy so many books in one sitting. But, I don’t tend to do the events for the sole purpose of selling books. The first is interacting with readers. I love talking with them, even if it’s not about my books. I love to hear what interests them as well as see the love of books glowing from their eyes. Likewise, I enjoy interacting with the other authors. I have picked up valuable marketing advice as well as how they interact with potential readers. Not to mention, I love meeting with other authors who not understand the craft but also the public perception. They understand the struggles and the quirkiness of the profession.

It is inspiring to me, to look amongst the tables. There are authors with one book strategically scattered, just starting out. I remember the scared teenager at my first signing and smile with nostalgia. There are authors with large posters promoting their books. There are authors with festive decorations covering their table. It is the authors who sit behind a pile of different books that inspire me. They have what looks like a promotional table for a library, and yet every book has the same name…theirs. I look at their tables and feel rejuvenated. Are they a “bestseller?” Are they “famous?” Maybe in some circles. But they have a large body of work, an immaculate display of creativity to present on their tables. And, more importantly, they have a lifetime of writing to present. They must be successful to showcase such a spread. It reminds me that in the midst of a world proclaiming the toughness of the profession, amongst the voices of those who say making it in the industry is as likely as getting struck by lightning, these authors have survived. And, more importantly, they are doing what they love to do. How wonderful is that? I cannot imagine a better life for myself. When I feel discouraged, I remember their tables and know I can do the same.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

What is Success?

This week, Writer’s Digest had an interesting article that asks “How do you as an author define success?” I have found this question plaguing me as I go through my 20’s. I don’t have a husband and kids. I have the degrees that some circles define as success, but still struggle to make ends meet. I also find different circles in society disagree on what defines success. So it comes down to my definition, but it’s tough to answer. Yet, over the yeas, my viewpoint of success has always gone back to my writing. Am I writing consistently? Am I attending conferences and book signings? Am I active in my pursuit of the dream?

I always talk of the dream of writing, but I think it is a good idea to know what that dream entails. Is it a publisher? Is it a few book signings in a year? Is it simply writing stories? When I was little, when people would ask, I proclaimed I wanted to be a New York Times Bestseller. This response always elicited the same response, a slight giggle and endearing look. When I really started listening, I figured out just how limited this dream is. Something to long for? Sure. Something to rest the definition of success on? Maybe that’s too unrealistic. Okay. What about a big NY publishing house? Not as selective, but some horror stories start to suggest maybe taking the time to achieve this would not necessarily guarantee “success.”
Bottom line, I want to be a writer. I want to file my taxes and put that as my profession. I want to sit on a plane and that be my answer when the person next to me asks what I do for a living. I don’t want to maintain two categories: the writing life and the work life. Therefore, my definition of success is being able to sustain myself on my novels. I have met many who proclaim that even this dream is farfetched. There are a lot of books out there. There are a lot of authors out there. And, more importantly, there are a whole lot of aspiring writers out there. The odds are not promising. But I know my drive. I could have thousand followers on Twitter and sell books in my home town but still feel something missing. It’s not that these things wouldn’t mean anything to me. I love the followers I currently have. They keep me pushing. But “success” by my definition is to make writing more than a hobby done in spare time. I want it to be my only job. Then, I will feel successful….

However, all who know me are probably calling me a liar. Because, when this goal is achieved, I will strive for something more. It is my nature to never be satisfied with my current achievements. I’m hoping that is the key in my pursuit of a dream I’ve had since I was twelve.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Good Workout

Recently, I had to take two weeks off from working out at the gym. I had a lot of great excuses keeping me away those two weeks, but it was rough to get back into the routine. To start, my mind was no longer focused in that direction, which is a nice way of saying I got lazy. It’s easier NOT to go than to actually drag myself there, my schedule a little looser. This is funny because, when in the habit, I crave going to the gym. How quickly the mind falters. When I finally drag myself back, the inevitable happens. It is super hard. The speed in which I used to run decreases and the duration I used to be able to accomplish seems like an unachievable goal. It is harder to move my legs and harder to find sync with my steps. The weights I used to lift, in fact the same weights I was debating on increasing, now feel like semi-trucks. It was just two weeks. When compared to the months I spent going, this seems minute. How quickly our body stumbles.

Why bring up my workout routine in a blog about writing? Because, as I struggled to achieve a respectable workout today, I was presented with a physical example of what happens to those who stop writing. While involved in a routine, things come smooth. Words flow onto paper, our little muse whispering words of brilliance…okay that might be an exaggeration, but you get the point. Everything is happy. During this time, I begin pushing myself further, challenging my ability and growing, just like increasing weights or running speed. Things are great. Then life comes. It has some really awesome excuses. Things hinder my routine and soon I “take a break.” I dive into life and plow through without ever turning back to writing. Then, what used to be something craved turns into something that must be planned for. It’s time to schedule time to get back, it’s time to force myself to write…imagine making this statement about something I love, yet it is no less true then the gym.
Then I’m writing again and, just like the gym, things come slow and stifled. My muse is daydreaming and not speaking. I may have to snap its attention back a few times, urging inspiration to come to me. Even worse, those things I was pushing toward seem unreachable as I backslide in ability. I don’t know if many writers think of this, I never used to. I think, because the writing ability is relatively abstract, we forget that it needs to be nurtured just like a good workout. The older I get, the more this rings true to me. I would like to say that, after having a perfect physical example laid before me, I would promise never to stray from my writing routine ever again. But this would be foolish and a flat out lie. After all, life does create some very good excuses.