Sunday, March 31, 2013

Excuses, Excuses, Excuses

As I write a novel, I come up with numerous excuses why I can’t possibly get up before 5am and write…even if it is just for 15 minutes. I decided to share some of these excuses in an attempt to defuse their usage.

1.      I’m too tired. I say this a lot. The work week is hectic. But, if I can ignore this persuasive argument, I always feel so much better after creating. The world is brighter, my attitude is lighter and I am suddenly not so drained. Fight fatigue with creativity, sounds good to me!

2.      I’m too busy. Jobs and life always gets in the way, so the “busy” button is an easy one to push. My defense is to remind myself that, when I do have time, I find distractions like movies, reading, sitting on the porch admiring a sunset, etc. In other words, if the incentive isn’t there, then I can have all the time and still not write.

3.      Everything I write is coming out horrible. It’s frustrating when the words don’t seem to flow. I think it is even more demotivating because, as a writer, it is supposed to come naturally. The blank page shouldn’t frighten me. But, especially after long absences, the words come stifled. I could write a sentence and think it is the worst sentence I have ever written. The key is to continue and I will eventually find my groove. And, when that happens, I can always go back to edit.

4.      I am stuck. This is the biggest reason I encounter writer’s block as well as the biggest reason I hear people don’t finish their work. My philosophy? Power through. Writing, on many levels, is not easy. If it was, then everyone would be cranking out novels. It’s hard to finish a book, especially in the middle when critical plot turns begin to demand attention. But, if I can work my way out of the plot issue, then the reward is well worth the tears and frustration I had to endure.

5.      I don’t know what to write about. Recently, I have been inundated with the philosophy that writers need compelling characters to write a novel. If the characters are strong, then the plot will just develop itself. I think this is overly simplistic, but there is some truth to it. Follow the characters and see where they lead. The first few chapters may need to be cut later, but at least it’s a starting point. If characters don’t exist, then there are plenty of prompt books. It won’t have to do with a particular novel, but at least it’ll involve writing.

The number one advice I heard time and time again as I pursued publication was to just write. I think all of the ways out of these excuses adds up to that advice. Just write. Because you have to. Because it makes you happy. Because it is who you are. Just write.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Loner vs The Superstar

At conferences and book signings, I meet two types of authors; the boasters/natural spotlight grabbers and those who slink into corners avoid the casting glare. Of the bestselling authors, I feel this would be the category of Stephanie Meyer and Stephen King. I have seen numerous TV interviews with the vampire novelist, but have only heard quotes from the king of horror. On the few pieces of interviews I have seen, King seems to tolerate the exposer while Meyer greets it with open arms.

I think when people picture a writer, they imagine a loner one might turn in to security as a weirdo. Can you imagine in today’s frightened era of school shootings what they would think of a child writing topics like Stephen King? I once wrote of a family’s mass murder when I was in the eighth grade. My mother, who knew I loved to write, even raised an eyebrow at this one. The stereotype of the socially awkward introvert is understandable. Writers have to practice their craft alone. Writing stories just doesn’t seem to work with a lot of distractions.

It seems to me more writers tend to be boisterous…at least those hanging out at conferences and signings. If it weren’t for Stephen King, I would believe my success as a writer failed at birth. In high school, I wanted to be invisible. I was perfectly content alone, creating the world of Atlantis. The characters in my head were my friends, which I know sounds horribly sad. But they never betrayed me or created unnecessary drama. And, when I needed them, they were always there to hang out. Not a bad friendship…except that the exclusion of real relationships is detrimental on numerous levels.

Anymore, the industry seems to push writers toward marketing their work. For me, I feel at a disadvantage. I can’t meet five people on a bus and by the time I exit have them aware I’m a writer. If taking bets, it would be good wager they could only conclude that I am a girl. I want to push myself out there, but something is engrained deep inside that stops my words. When writing, everything flows. When speaking, my knees shake and my mind refuses to cooperate. I have often asked myself how much I have to change for the industry. On some levels, I feel I have changed a lot. I actually spoke to a room full of adults about my books last summer. But, deep down, I am still the same shy girl I was in high school. I prefer solitary with the curser sweeping across a previously blank page.

But I am willing to change if it means people discovering my characters. I may not become at ease with the spotlight, but I am willing to stand tall and proclaim that my books are just as good as any other. I think that is the point. Adapt to the demands, but stay authentic.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Judge a Book by it's Cover?

I was sitting in a waiting room this week and started noticing the readers in the room. Two had books proclaiming the title and author’s name. Then there was me, with my Kindle, my book unknown to the room. The drive for e-books frightens publishers on a new level. How can traditional publishing adapt or compete with the growing market? Are they even needed anymore? In the author world, the possibilities are spoken about with hope and excitement. The industry is changing every day and they are along for the ride.

But I wonder if there is an angle authors haven’t thought about, at least I hadn’t. Isn’t the front cover part of marketing a book? You’re sitting on an airplane and someone notices. It’s a conversation starter. Or it even joins two people together when one has read the book and loved it. With book’s new format, there is nothing to proclaim to the world what is being read. I once had someone say to me they like their Kindle for this reason. They didn’t want to be disturbed while they were reading. I thought at the time they were being more anti-social than even I can be. But I am starting to wonder about it from an author’s perspective. It eliminates an avenue of marketing. When readers are asked how they select books, a lot will say they judge them by the cover art. I think this is why we earned the popular phrase. Some of the first writer’s conferences I went to stressed the importance of the publisher designing the cover and picking the book’s title. They devoted people to this. I think this is why I am slightly bothered by the obscurity of e-book reading. It means I have to work even harder to get the book noticed. People won’t happen on it by chance, but more than likely have to be looking for it.

I guess some authors may like this. How many people read Fifty Shades of Grey in e-book form because they avoided outside judgment? When did reading become secretive? I suppose someone could still ask me what I’m reading. But, for me, that would take more dedication to starting a conversation. For instance, in this waiting room, I notice a gentleman reading a book I love. I got all excited about it. I wanted to discuss it with him.

I would be curious to know how many books are chosen as a result of seeing the book in multiple places. I always used to think a way to know an author has “made it” is by checking the grocery store’s bookshelf. What does it mean for books if the cover becomes less important? On the other hand, maybe it’s not so dire. Maybe it’s like everything else in the publishing world: changing and open to endless possibilities.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

A Fantasy Life?

A friend of mine and I were having a conversation this week regarding the amount of time “celebrities” spend working. Even hour-long programs must spend so much more time behind the scenes to generate the program. It got me to think about the fantasies I had of the writer’s life when I was little. I dreamed that Stephen King, Marry Higgins Clark and the like had the best life ever. Heaven on earth. They wrote all morning and then read all afternoon by the poolside of their mansions. They had ample time to spend with family and hiking and enjoying life. I think what I really imagined was retirement but they wrote on the side. I remember thinking that the real work was in getting published. After that, it was sit back and watch my books soar to number one on the New York Times bestseller.

While my view showed my sixth grade understanding of the world, I think a lot of new authors believe a scenario close to this. At the most simplistic, I never thought I would have to market my own work, set up signings and…gasp…sell myself to strangers. However, I always imagined I currently work crazy hard because I carry a full time job as well. After my conversation, I began to wonder if I still carry a somewhat adaptive—but still unrealistic fantasy—vision of the “full-time” writer.

All authors have to promote, which means mingling where the targeted audience hangs out. For me, this is social websites. I have yet to master this art, but am learning every day. There are other things I don’t think I’ve considered. What about promoting a brand? I know Twilight and such sold T-shirts, but I wonder how many other authors participate in similar adventures. Pens, bags, bookmarks (of course), etc. Authors are a brand, as weird as that sounds. I wonder how many speaking events authors attend. Writer’s conferences are great ways to find readers, I think. I know my bookshelf is filled with books belonging to conference speakers and presenters. I actually don’t mind the possibility of presenting writing topics at conferences. I think it speaks to the teacher in me. Then there is the time to edit and, don’t forget writers have to actually produce a book. Some, like Jim Butcher, tend to do two in a year.

The website we were discussing is run by a woman with a cooking show on Food Network. Her blog was detailed recipes (along with pictures) posted once a week. Then she had a photo contest on her gallery, a spot to highlight clothing, children’s books along with recipe books, a Q and A section, and other avenues. I can see this in a writer’s website: writing contests to help promote the site or maybe challenges to send in the best pictures depicting scenes from a book. The possibilities are endless, and time consuming…. Am I horrible to say it is also enthralling and exciting? I can’t wait!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Days of Doubt

Only 15 percent of writers can make a living at the profession. I heard someone tell me this once. I, of course, am convinced—along with the other 85 percent, that I will be in this category someday. The trouble is most advice comes from the 15 percent, or those pretending to be. They provide hope, but never discuss the bumps in the road. They never discuss their doubts along the way.

This leaves me wondering if other writers go through stages like I do. I work a full time job and insist on writing/promoting on the side. This basically means I work about seven days out of the week. I am not unique in this aspect. Some of the writers I admire do the same. In this business, I find there are few “successes.” Pulitzer prizes are rare, as is the New York Times bestseller. Five Star reviews boost to the ego, but then a rejection letter comes and outweighs even three awesome reviews.

Sometimes I wonder if writing therefore is worth the emotional effort. I also ponder where my life would be if I had never discovered this passion. What would I be doing now? Where would my ambitions lie? I, for one, believe if I hadn’t discovered my passion for writing in middle school, that it would have come out eventually. Because, when I question why I desire to be in this business, I often ask myself what is my life without writing? What if I woke up one day and stopped creating? Would I continue to live? Yes. Would I still be happy? Probably. But would my life be enriched? Would I feel it had value? I have a hard time believing it would.

Writers do not discuss their doubts. They never publicly admit they question their ability. It’s like admitting this is equivalent to saying we are worthless, that all the rejection letters were on to something. But here’s the kicker. No rejection letter has ever told me I suck and should just stop writing. Okay, that may be unrealistically harsh, but none has even hinted in this direction. I, for one, love to hear a big time movie star admit their insecurities. It tells me that uncertainty means nothing more than human nature. It means that I will survive the days of doubt. I will pick up the pieces of rejection and I will continue forward, because, eventually, I may be in the 15 percent. I just wish more of those writers would talk about the bumpy road to success. They didn’t wake up one day on the bestseller list, and maybe I never will get there. Maybe I will live selling my work to a few thousand. I need to remember the number of sales doesn’t value a work. There are plenty of horribly written pieces that have sold millions. Let me strive for greatness. And, in the days of doubt, I want to remember that I will always be a writer.