Friday, July 29, 2011

The Trap of Being Too Clever

Finger Wag Alert Level: 6

I just saw a trailer for a new Justin Timberlake movie (he's not annoying enough in music and on SNL, now he thinks he's an actor?) that has my head spinning. It's called "In Time" and it also stars Amanda Seyfried. From what I can gather, it's a near-future dystopian film where everyone has a cap put on
their lives of 25 years of age. After that, they kick it. So that people can gauge where they are in their life, each human has a digital-hologram-like countdown clock implanted on their wrist, and the numbers are ever descending. Once you hit 25, you can buy more time if you have the money, or you're dead meat.

Ok, mildly interesting. But here's where it gets dumb real fast.

In the interminable trailer I watched (note to trailer-makers: please keep trailers under 2 minutes; this one lasted a whopping 4 minutes!!), Timberlake (ugh) is a poor man who can't extend his life, and he's on the eve of his death birthday. So he runs away. Then he somehow meets a guy who has bought himself a century of more time, but some other bad guy wants that time, and Timberlake finds himself helping the century guy escape. *Pauses to take a breath* Ok, then the random century guy uploads his time to J.T. and then throws himself off a bridge.

Why? I guess because he doesn't want to be hounded by the bad guy. I don't know; the audio was bad.

Now J.T. has a century to live, but not really, because all these bad guys want to steal his time, including Cillian Murphy (who I happen to like). Did I forget anything? Oh yeah, J. to the T. ends up kidnapping some rich guy's daughter (Mamma Mia Seyfried) for some reason and holding her hostage so that people don't steal his life or whatever.

Ok, timeout. This has already gotten out of hand, and we're just talking about a trailer. Can you imagine sitting through a whole movie of this, trying to keep track of what the hell is going on? To me, this movie seems to have all the makings of the next "Inception", a movie I'm not afraid to say I hated from minute one. I know it makes you sound like you're not smart if you didn't enjoy it, if you didn't just love love love it, but I found Inception incredibly talky and, yes, totally impossible to follow. I felt like I was doing homework the whole time, and it wasn't fun.

As I said in an earlier post, don't be an imagination dictator. There's so much explaining in the "In Time" trailer that I almost fell asleep. "I'm kidnapping you because you'll help me to stay alive," J.T. intones at one point, trying really hard to seem deep and troubled (dude, you were in N'Sync--get over yourself). And there are a bunch of other expository lines like this that made me cringe.

Bottom line: it's too clever for its own good.

Remember "Blade Runner"? Sure there were some talky lines in there, but by-and-large, Ridley Scott trusted enough in the intelligence of his audience that they'd figure out what he was doing. He didn't feel the need to explain every little thing. And the movie is brilliant because of that.

This is a lesson us writers can take away from a pre-tragedy like "In Time": trust your audience. You don't have to explain every little thing. If you do, your reader will hate your guts. Because you're implicitly saying, "You're too dumb to get what my world is all about, so I'm going to run you through all of the bullet points."

Instead, let the drama speak for itself. Instead of Timberlake saying in his narration "I just want to wake up and not have to worry about my life winding down" or whatever dumb line he says, just show the clock on his arm. Show people--young people--dropping dead when their clock expires. Bang! You've just communicated to your audience that once people reach a certain young age, they die. And you didn't tell them. Show, don't tell--remember your third grade teacher telling you that?

Anyway, now I'm getting overly talky, so I'll leave you to the rest of your day. Good luck!

Thursday, July 28, 2011


Skip ahead to the 2:20 mark to see this guy's genius at work. He makes it look easy, but doubtless this guy has spent hundreds and hundreds—more likely thousands—of hours relentlessly training himself to be able to have the dexterity to play the keys this way. Combined with his great voice, it's a sight to behold.

I don't have a lot to say about this, other than the fact that if this guy can achieve his dreams, you can too. There is literally no excuse. You may be facing tough odds (I don't want to presumptuous because I don't know you), but you'd be hard-pressed to be facing tougher odds than this guy.

So next time you think you can't do something, next time you're so frustrated that you just want to quit, think about him. If you watch the video from the beginning, you'll see that he swims, puts his clothes on by himself, and brushes his own teeth. And then he goes out and sings the hell out of songs.

I don't know about you, but I feel super inspired after seeing him go!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Why Artists are the Best People in the World

Ok, that’s a little grandiose. There are several artists I can think of right off the top of my head who are or were horrible a-holes (I’m looking at you, Paul Cezanne). Frigging two-timer. Anyway, what sets (most) artists apart from other people is our ability to speak the truth and appreciate beauty. This is an undervalued trait that should make people wish they were an artist.

I live in Washington, DC. For the most part, I try to ignore politics. But that’s a little like living in Minneapolis and trying to ignore Prince—hard to do. Right now, I’m sick to death of these moronic politicians trying to out-posture each other for the sake of getting what they want during the debt ceiling fiaso/crisis/crapstorm. This macho inability to show flexibility and acknowledge that each side has to give a little in order to make the deal work is so depressing, and it’s all happening mere miles from where I now sit.

But enough about politics. A true artist doesn’t have the luxury of “posturing”; they have to produce work that people will either like or dislike. It’s extraordinarily simple. They cannot utter platitudes and empty phrases and hope people will take them seriously. They cannot rely on an unthinking cadre of robots who have been conditioned to do anything they say. An artist has to put up or shut up. And this is a beautiful thing because you owe no one anything, and they don't owe you anything, but you have exchanged love in the bargain.

So thank the universe every day that it made you the way you are. Because what’s the alternative? I love this Tom Robbins quote:

“Disbelief in magic can force a poor soul into believing in government
and business.”

Amen. Believe in the magic within you. You have the power to make people forget their troubles and give them hope, and that’s more power than any dopey politician has.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Genre Shmanre

Like most things in life, genres can be good or limiting concepts depending on how you look at them. From a consumer’s perspective, genres are helpful: they give the purchaser a snapshot of what a book/movie/play offers in terms of content, which helps them make a decision on what to buy.

From a writer’s point of view, genres can also be a good thing, depending on what type of writer you are and the goals you set for yourself. If you want to set out to tell a story that fits snugly within a certain set of parameters, if you want to emulate a certain author’s style and expand on their universe (and, of course, if you want to try and hit it big and make lots of money), then genres can provide you with the markers necessary to stay in bounds.

But if you’re anything like me, the concept of genres is an incredibly annoying thing. I’ve tried to write within genres before, but I always end up throwing fantastical or thriller or true crime elements in at the weirdest places, shaking things up (probably out of the boredom that comes from hewing too close to a formula) and thereby destroying the neat picket fence I’d constructed around my story.

Even now, I’m in the middle of writing what most people would probably call a young adult fiction book, but its got highly-whimsical aspects to it, as well as philosophical overtones, that I don’t think make for a snug fit in the YA genre. But you know what? I’m not sweating it.

Because rules were made to be broken. I once had a writing teacher who told me, “Don’t try to write within a genre. Once you’ve finished writing your book, let other people decide where it fits.” Like many other bits of wisdom from this teacher, his words have proven to be incredibly helpful over time. From a marketing perspective, writing exactly how I want to write without regard for genre may cause me headaches, but to me, what good is writing if you can’t do it exactly how you want to do it?

Look, we’re told how to live our lives 24 hours a day by people who claim to know better. We have to dress up nice and play within in the rules of a game in which we have absolutely no say throughout the better part of our lives. Why would I want to worry about playing by the rules when it comes to writing? “Because you won’t sell any books, that’s why!” you might say. “Readers won’t know what to make of your book unless it’s spelled out for them!”

Bah. I believe that readers are sophisticated enough to get what I’m saying, even if I don’t wave a huge red flag in front of their eyes with the words “YA Lit” screen printed on it. And as for making money? Well, that’s a value judgment, an extremely subjective point. Would be great if I could get an agent and a publisher to publish my writing? Sure. But in the age of self-publishing, I have options.

For my part, I don’t care about not becoming hugely wealthy from my writing. Becoming a millionaire is not why I write. I write because I want to express who I really am, what I really believe. If I can make some money while doing that, then bonus points for me. But it’s not what drives me.

Let me hasten to add that I don’t think my writing is groundbreaking or mind-bending; perhaps you’d look at it and say, “I don’t get what all the hoopla’s about; this is YA, hands down.” My point is that I would never go into writing a project thinking about how I’m ultimately going to market it. For me, that destroys the creative process. Marketing is important, don't get me wrong, but in my opinion, you should wait until you’re closer to finishing your novel before you start thinking about to whom you're going to market it.

At least, that's the approach I'm taking. And I'm very happy with that approach. For now, my advice is to just write. And don’t edit yourself too much as you write your first draft. Just live in the writing moment and worry about the business side of things later. Good luck!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Do or Do Not: There is No Try

Ah, Yoda. You have to love him. Even all these years later, whenever I watch Empire and/or Jedi, I still think, "Dag, that puppet looks so real!" Forget CGI: Yoda makes computer graphics look weak.

But still, the best thing about Yoda isn't how cool he looks, nor how much he may or may not resemble my sixth grade social studies teacher; no, it's the wisdom he dishes out. (And yes, I'm using the present tense on purpose because I believe his ghost still walks the swamps of Dagobah). My favorite line from Empire? "Do. Or do not. There is no try."

These are words to live by. When I was a kid I thought these words seemed over-simple and ignored them, choosing instead to concentrate on the flashier elements of Empire, like Cloud City and Luke getting his hand chopped off. But over the years, the little green guy's words have come back to me. And I believe they are absolutely right: there is only "do," there is no "try."

Even though my last blog post was called "Just Try", I really should've amended it "Just Do", but then I thought the Nike folks might sue me (joke). Set your mind to what you want to do and just do...well, you know the rest.

Given all of the distractions we encounter in life, you have to set your jaw and attack your goals head-on. You have to carve out time for them on days when there seems no time available, putting off that haircut so you can shoehorn a half-hour writing session into you day, whatever. You can't just dream it: you have to know that you will succeed.

Ever since I've adopted this approach, I've felt a huge sense of purpose in working on my WIP. And I've been much more productive. Even though I haven't published anything yet, I know without a doubt that I will, and I get one step closer every day. And I have a 900 year-old talking iguana to thank for it!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Just Try

It sounds simple. Just try. Every day, day in and day out. Whatever you've set your mind to doing—starting a garden, writing a novel, organizing a charity event—just try, and be consistent in your efforts. You don't have to be perfect. The reason the notion of "just trying" is so important is because most people don't. At least, most people are not trying to do what you're trying to do. And if they are giving it a go, most won't stick with it.

So you have to stick with it. That's the key. And also don't go through the motions: really try. I used to teach English to adults, and that was the biggest criterion that separated "A" students from "F" students: is this person trying? Rare was the student who came into the class knowing how to write at the college level. Most started at ground level.

I once gave an "A" to a guy from another country who couldn't string two sentences together without shredding the language. His ideas would start out great, then quickly disintegrate into a jumble. At least in the beginning. But he came in a few times before class for one-on-one help, he emailed me outside of class if he had any questions, he visited the school's writing lab, and he always came to class ready to participate, showing that he'd read the material. And his writing improved a little. Not a lot, but a little. And he walked out of my class with an "A".

Grades are subjective things and not at all a good judge of someone's intelligence. But a big component of intelligence and a great indicator of future success is if someone gives a damn. If they make a commitment and see that commitment through to the end.

That being said, you also have to recognize when to give yourself a break. If you don't feel 100% up to the challenge on a given day, don't berate yourself and get frustrated and quit. Quitting doesn't make you dumb, but it will make you unsuccessful. And no one wants you to be unsuccessful (all right, maybe there's some jerk out there who doesn't want you to be successful, but they're an idiot and you should ignore them).

All this is to say what Woody Allen said so succinctly: 90% of life is just showing up. In other words, if you just show up, if you show you give a damn, that's a great start. The other 10% is where the wheat is separated from the chaff. But you have no wheat—heck, you don't even have chaff (whatever that is)—if you don't show up.

Me? I write one hour every day. And for that hour I try to stay completely focused on writing the best hour's worth of writing that I can. Some days I'd rather do anything other than write. But I force myself to write anyway, and you know what? Those are usually the most rewarding writing days once I'm done. I know that writing only one hour per day is not ideal, but it's all I can manage in my hectic life, so I make the most of it. Some people would look at one hour and say, "That's not nearly enough time to write something great," and they'd give up. But I choose to see it as an opportunity. Yeah, it might take me longer to finish my novel, but I'm determined to write it and I'm going to make it happen.

Be as good as you can possibly be, but also realize that no one is perfect and be kind to yourself. You can do it. So do it!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Nerd Alert: Things That Bug Me

Nerd AlertNerd Alert Rating: 9

I'm a grouch. Especially when it comes to writing, lots of stuff bugs me. I know I'm a grouch because the puppeteer who voices Oscar the Grouch, Carroll Spinney, gave the keynote address at my brother's graduation. And he did much of it in character, hoisting Oscar out onto the podium and telling the kids in that gravelly voice about how, if they didn't work hard after graduating, they might end up in a trash can like him. And all the while I sat there in the audience, watching Oscar the Grouch and thinking, "Heh, this guy's an amateur."

Ask anyone: I'm a grumbling old codger when it comes to grammar and writing. So here are a few things that I've noticed lately in the books I've been reading that annoy the holy hell out of me. As much as I hate giving writing advice, maybe my observations will help you avoid these pitfalls in your own writing.

1.) Repetition of words
2.) Zero sense of humor
3.) No effort at plotting
4.) Overuse of the "to be" verb

Let's take them one at a time. I'll use the two most recent books I've read, "Through the Looking Glass" and "A Wrinkle in Time" as examples.

Repetition of words

These two books have a lot to recommend them: interesting characters, original ideas, and brisk pacing. But I have to say, Madeline L'Engle should've bought a thesaurus in 1961. She uses derivations of the word "pulse" so often that if she uses it one more time, I'm going to throw the book out the window. Everything pulses, for cripes sake: building roofs, people's eyes, planets: everything. How about using another word, Maddie? Like, I don't know, "quiver" or "tremble"? I'd avoid "throb" because that sounds gross. But seriously, there has to be another word in your repertoire that you can use.

Lewis Carroll is somewhat better at this, but then again, he's English. His people invented the bloody language.

Zero sense of humor

Again, Carroll wins out here, because his books are funny. So leave him aside for the moment. For as original and interesting A Wrinkle in Time is, one thing it's not is a laugh-a-minute jokefest. And that's OK. It doesn't need to make me laugh every 3.2 seconds. But seriously, just one laugh would've been great. This book is so dour and self-important that I needed to step away from it for a while. Which is weird, because I remember loving it when I was a kid. Why did I like it so much? I mean, it's super creepy, so I guess there's that. But I couldn't imagine spending even ten minutes with the Murry's, they're so humorless.

No effort at plotting

Not to make this sound like a contest, because it's not, but plotting is where L'Engle's advantage lies. She's good at keeping you turning the pages. You cannot guess what's going to happen next, and everything leads inexorably yet unpredictably to an end point. All the threads tie neatly together without any corners being cut (yes, I know I just mixed my metaphors: learn from my mistakes).

Carroll, on the other hand, isn't interested in plot. Which is why it became a slog for me to get not only through "Alice in Wonderland" but also "Through the Looking Glass". You can only meet so many borderline-Autistic characters until you just throw your hands up. "What," you may ask, "you didn't like Tweedledee and Tweedledum? You didn't like the knight at the end of the story who couldn't stop falling off of his horse? It was a hilarious commentary on the invariable hypocrisy in the heart of every person." Or whatever. To which I say, "I did not."

Give me a story. I know there are lots of people out there who like to read about weird characters essentially sitting around talking, which is fine. To each his own. But to me, character is revealed through conflict and action. When you push a person to the edge, how do they react? Do they run away or fight? Do they help those around them or sell them out to save themselves? This is why conflict is so crucial to good storytelling. Don't get me wrong: there's plenty of conflict in Alice's dream world, but what it boiled down to is a series of people standing around talking.


Overuse of the "to be" verb

I left this one till the end because it is the most forgivable offense. And both books I reference above use it so much that I wonder if the "to be" verb has only recently gone out of favor. I understand and agree with the principal behind minimizing it: use of "was" or "are" or "am" encourages passivity. In other words, instead of writing an active sentence ("Johnny punched Joshua.") using the "to be" verb makes the sentence passive because the action isn't assigned to anyone ("Joshua was punched in the mouth.").

I say split the difference: you're not going to avoid using "to be", so just try to minimize it as much as possible. But don't get cute, constructing elaborate, weird sentences just to avoid it. I can't think of any good examples of that at the moment, but I know I've run up against it in my own writing. I say if you have to think about how to avoid the dreaded "to be" verb for more than a minute, just go ahead and use it and move on.

Hopefully my rant has helped you on some level. Let me know if you agree or disagree!

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Secret to Success: Don't Die

At least according to an old writing professor of mine, that's the secret. He had a way of taking your doubts and pulverizing them beyond recognition. His complete equation for finding success as a writer, which he imparted to us during class once, went like this: just keep writing and don't die.

I like that. What he's talking about is persistance and never wavering from the straight path and minimizing the distractions in your life. All of that is in there, but reduced to digestible proportions. And, in a weird way, he's right. And also, the alternative is death and really, once you die, you won't have to worry about writing anyway. Because you'll be dead. Everyone wins!

Of course, this is the same man who wrote some of the most depressing stories I've ever read (chock full of alcoholics and collapsed marriages) and proceeded to cheat on his wife of several decades, with whom he had lots of children, and run away with his mistress. So take it with a grain of salt.

I think that completing stories is also important. Don't just start one story/poem/screenplay/whatever after another without completing anything. I'm guilty of this, but I've decided to stop. Once I get going on a project, I've resolved to see it through to the end, even if it's not going well. Finishing is a huge component of success, in my estimation, so that's important too. Now go forth and conquer!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

It Doesn't Matter If No One Believes In You

It really doesn't. I'm lucky because I now have someone in my life who does believe in me, and that's a blessing. But for years and years I did not. And yet I wrote like my life depended on it, publishing magazine and newpaper articles and working on tons of other projects. And I'm still standing here, working hard on my WIP, a YA fantasy novel that I hope to publish by 2012. Would it be great to have been considered a child sensation, publishing my first book at the age of 15? Would it have been incredible to have sparked bidding wars over the diary I kept while writing my first bestseller? Sure. Is it necessary? No.
Because what it comes down to is how you feel about yourself. And your writing. There are plenty of published writers who get all the accolades in the world but who, at the end of the day, feel as though they're frauds. I remember a story a friend of mine told me about a relatively famous writer who will go unnamed. Writer X, a well-known crime/mystery novelist, was a good friend of his family's. He'd sold millions of books in his career and had legions of fans.
Great, right? Not so, at least not for Writer X. You see, X was tired of churning out mystery novel after mystery novel, having done so for over 20 years and, in the end, finding himself, against his will, pigeon-holed by his publisher. He felt like a hack and yearned to break free, to write something of "substance."
Lots of people believed in him, gobs of folks bought his books, yet where did it get him?
Which is to say that it wouldn't much matter if even Mahatma Gandhi himself, reanimated by a secret Army experiment deep in the heart of the Congo, slipped free from his captors, booked a flight to your hometown, and laid palm fronds before you as you walked. If you didn't believe in your heartiest of hearts that you were writing what really mattered to you, you'd lose respect for Frankenstein Gandhi.
Look: it's probably a good sign that not a ton of people are throwing themselves at you. It's cool to strike a nerve and have everyone talking about your work (I'm guessing), but again, it's not necessary in order to live a satisfied life.
No one will get what you're doing until you've published it. And even then, even if Virgil found a wormhole from his dimension and slipped through time and space and, on his way back to Rome, took a pit stop in your backyard and then, upon landing, he read your book and declared, "I hereby give my mantel of greatest poet of all time to you" and literally took his gold metal of poetry from around his neck and put it on you--even then, if you didn't like your own book, who cares about the gold metal of poetry?
Don't listen to anyone else but your own inner writerly voice. Trust it. If it tells you that your book is on the right track even though no one else likes it, stick with it. Because everyone has moments of doubt. It's those who push through that doubt who reap the rewards.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Give Us Us Free

Remember that line from Amistad, the Steven Spielberg movie? When the slave Cinque stands up in that colonial courtroom and screams "Give us us free!" over and over again? It's a very poignant and genuine moment in the midst of an awful overall film. But it's stuck with me.

I like the simple, direct, and profound sentiment tied up in his statement. Cinque's intelligent eyes darting back and forth, trying to cobble together what little English he knows. This is the deepest desire of every human being on earth. We all just want to be free.

I just saw an old clip of George Carlin doing his thing. He was great, I loved him a lot. This particular routine involved him telling the audience point blank that we're all owned by corporations, and these corporate overlords are making it increasingly hard for us to live happy lives. Want an education? You'd better be ready to go into indentured servitude to afford it. Want to work only one job and maintain a healthy lifestyle? Keep dreaming.

This, I think, extends to us as writers. Do we really want to tie ourselves to huge conglomerate corporations just to stroke our vanity, just so our book can be seen in every Walmart in America? Just to become rich? Some of us do, and I'm not judging. But as for me, as I get older, I just don't want that. I want to be able to write what I write and not have to restrict my content to whatever a company tells me to restrict it to.


I work hard to pay my bills and try to scrimp and save where I can. But I refuse to let any company touch my art. I won't do it. It's mine. It's what keeps me free.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Agents: Meh

Lately I've been noticing lots of people on the intertubescape bemoaning the fact that literary agents suck. They suck because they won't look at writers' work unless they're already published. They suck because they live in New York. They suck because the economy sucks…or something. I wouldn't know based on experience, since I've never courted a real-life agent. Usually it's people who have gotten tons of rejection letters who hold a deep grudge against agentdom. But I've even seen honest-to-goodeness published writers lashing out against these gatekeepers. And it leads me to ask a very simple question.

Why do you care if agents suck?

I can't believe that all agents suck. If they did, people would've found a way around them a long time ago. They still serve a function. And yes, some of them probably aren't the greatest people in the world. There's probably a lot of pressure on them to represent the most bankable books right now since that's all that publishers are buying since, well, people aren't spending much dough on books these days.

So the situation sucks for writers who want to expand their imagination and be super creative. Ok. Now what? I don't begrudge anyone their need to vent, but once you're done freaking out, it's time to hit the IDGAS button.

I've talked about the IDGAS button before here. It's the ever-useful I Don't Give a Sh!t button. It can be deployed in a variety of situations, after you've bitched and moaned and reached a place where bitching and moaning won't get you one inch further toward your dreams. If you've tried and failed at getting an agent (which I admire, since I've never even tried), take some advice from me: hit the IDGAS button.

That's what it's there for.

If your book is anything like the one I'm currently writing, it doesn't fit comfortably into a genre. It's not that I'm writing radical post-modern fiction. It's a lot more like Alice in Wonderland with a modern twist. But have you read Alice in Wonderland? It's a regular freak-fest. I don't even know if it would get published today. I can't imagine an agent looking at that book and being like, "The world needs a book about a queen who's actually a playing card who wants to cut off everyone's head! Start the presses!"

My point: my book is weird and I don't automatically expect any agent to fall in love with it. Well, maybe they'll love it but I doubt they'll see dollar signs when they read it. Which leads me to the part of this blog post where I massively generalize:

There are two choices here: either write a book in a very formulaic way so you can increase the odds of publishing traditionally, or write from your heart and let the chips fall where they may.

Decoded: don't expect to get an agent if you're going to take a chance and write what you really want to write. That's not to say that people who get published all write to some crappy formula; obviously some unique books break through. But if you're not following an instruction manual to write your book, odds are, in this broken economy, no publisher will take a chance on you.

So take a chance on yourself.

Go ahead and self-publish. If you can get enough people to like your books, agents may become interested in your stuff. And then you'll be in a position of strength, because you can pick an agent who doesn't force you into a box.

Look, if we were actors instead of writers, we'd be up a creek much more clogged with fecal matter than our creek is. We can self-publish. We can even give away our stuff for free and we're virtually guaranteed an audience. What does an actor do? Tapdance on a piece of cardboard on some sidewalk? Make YouTube videos of themselves reciting soliloquies from Hamlet?

I mean, come on. We have it really, really good. If we pay a few hundred bucks, we can have our words formatted and printed in book form with an awesomely-designed cover.

Caution: I talk from zero experience when it comes to agents, but my gut tells me that if they don't like your work, that's actually fine. Take it as a sign that your work is original and someone somewhere will be excited and moved by it. You'll still have to get it edited by a professional because, news flash, you're not Ernest Hemingway. You need help. Give your novel to writers you trust and get their opinion. Because the last thing you want to do is publish a crappy book.

The great news is that once you have a solid book, you can take your business online and almost definitely make money. I'm still writing my WIP so I'm not in agent mode yet, but will be soon. I haven't decided if I'll be going the traditional legacy route or the self-pubbing route yet, but I'll keep you posted!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Are You Waiting for an Invitation?

This is a question I often ask myself.  For years I wrote at a leisurely pace, unwilling to rush myself because I thought that, much like catching a big fish or taking a good nap, writing should not be rushed.  I’d work on two or three projects at once without giving myself any timetable for finishing. 

I’d finally finish a screenplay or a short story, not like it, and trash it, comforting myself by saying, “Oh well, I’ve got these other manuscripts going over here.  This one didn’t work out, but maybe these other ones will!”  But guess what?  They sucked, too.

Then I had a realization.

Maybe I’m a slow learner, but it never dawned on me that I’d be best served by pouring my heart and soul into one manuscript at a time.  More is better, I thought.  Multi-tasking is king!

But it’s not.  At least not when it comes to writing.  Not when you’re first starting out.  Was I thinking that an agent, of his/her own volition, would come to my apartment and knock on the door with book contract in hand?  That I could write an endless string of mediocre novels/short stories and then sit on them in the hopes that a friend would hook me up with his publisher?? 

It’s all good and well that Neil Gaiman likes to hammer away at multiple projects at once.  But until you get to his level, I’d recommend what I’m currently practicing: the one-at-a-time approach.

Just so you know, this is not the most satisfying approach in the world.  If you’re like me, story ideas present themselves to you all the time.  You see a squirrel run across the road and you think, “Oh, man!  That would make a great story: a squirrel who has to cross the world to find the golden acorn!”  And they just keep coming and, much like Lord Byron, you have to unload these ideas out of your brain or else you’ll go crazy.

Here’s what I suggest: incorporate these disparate bits of inspiration into the work currently in front of you.  If there’s no place for a squirrel and a golden acorn in your current work (believe it or not, not every story lends itself to both a squirrel and a golden acorn), then use the spirit of that idea.  Or maybe even use it as a metaphor to describe a situation your protagonist finds themselves in: “Maggie had to scramble across the park like a squirrel scampering across the road."  Or whatever.

Maybe it’s a consequence of getting older, but looking back, I wish I’d had more discipline and put my focus on one manuscript and just gone to town on it.  At any rate, that’s what I’m doing now and it’s working really well. 

Believe me, I know it sounds cool to have several things in the works, to have a dozen pots boiling at the same time.  But as I told my students back when I was a teacher, you can’t plumb the depths of any one story—of any one character, even—when you have so many distractions hovering over you.  So just cut down the background noise and get to work!

Friday, July 1, 2011

New Website!

Hi all,

I just set up a new website where you can find all of my old posts and, going forward, new ones, too. I'll be shutting this blog down soon, but you can now find me at Thanks!