Friday, January 27, 2012

Great Shot Kid! Don't Get Cocky

That's the best single line from "Star Wars Episode IV." Luke Skywalker has just obliterated one of the TIE fighters that are swarming around the Millennium Falcon, and he can't believe his luck. He flashes a childish grin and says, "I got him! I GOT HIM!" But in six little words, Solo brings him right back down to earth.

"Great shot kid! Don't get cocky."

I love that scene. So I'm biased. But to me, it's a perfect metaphor for writing. You can write a great turn of phrase, or your main character can do something cool and unexpected that takes your breath away, and there's a part of our brain, a very human part, that thinks it has just seen shades of the next Grace Paley.

Which, let's be honest, is probably garbage.

Take me for example. I had a great writing day today. I mean super-fantastic-megasweet. The words flowed, and I filled up page after page, rattling off sentences as if only by sheer force of typing I would fend off an asteroid headed straight for earth. It was a tremendous writing day. I feel immensely satisfied with it.

Which is why I need to shut my trap and get right back to work tomorrow.

As a younger writer, I would've taken tomorrow off. Basked a little in the afterglow of my achievement. Slept in till noon and then watched basketball all day long.

Not anymore. There's no time for that kind of complacency. You wrote like Toni Morrison on speedballs today? Great. Bully for you. Now get down from your high horse before it bucks you off. Sit your keyster right back down on that lumpy office chair you got at Staples ten years ago for $19.99 and start pounding the keys.

And you can bet that your magnificent contribution to arts and letters from yesterday will soon be a long lost memory. And that's OK. It's as it should be. You take the good with the bad. You take your lumps. Just hang in there and keep writing. And then, some day, you'll be done.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Breaking News: Self-Pubbing Is Nothing To Be Ashamed Of

I got a Kindle a few months ago. I knew I'd love it, but never expected to fall so hard for it. I love buying good books for cheap and then buying more. There's something inherently American about that, isn't there? Finding a good deal and a good author, all in one fell swoop.

This is what self-pubbing is all about.

Two of my current faves, Kendall Grey and J.L. Bryan, fit this category to a T. If you're anywhere near twitter and plug "indie author" into the search criteria, undoubtedly you've run across them. They're prolific tweeters. I love their brand of writing: incredibly copious attention paid to details and motivations, a mastery of the language, and a great sense of humor.

Alas, if we play the odds, these good writers probably wouldn't have been published by legacy publishers. Maybe they would've, who knows? But odds are, no. They write in genres that are packed with other writers (dystopian young adult/speculative/urban fiction), and they're relatively new authors. Without the kindle and self-publishing, I never would've found them. Or rather, they never would've found me.

Which leads me to my premise: there is absolutely, positively nothing wrong with self-pubbing.

I know, I know. Your mother hates the idea. Aunt Suzy says you didn't pay all that money for college just to publish drivel. Shakespeare is rolling over in his grave. Whatever. Listen, you've got to get yours. You've put a TON of effort into your writing. You've sacrificed sleep and time with your loved ones. You write on the bus and subway when every normal human being is trying to catch a few extra Z's. You've missed all of Season 15 of The Bachelor. And all just so you could put in the extra effort necessary to make your WIP perfect. Now, it's time to reap the rewards.

And I don't mean reap in the sense that you only make 17% on the sales of your book and don't get to choose your cover art.

Um, no.

What I mean is you need to self-pub. Just so you know where I'm coming from, I'm insane. It's taken me almost two years to get to the point where I'm almost done with my first draft! OK? So I'm assuming it'll take me at least another year of editing to get it to the point of where I won't be embarrassing my family's good name by releasing it in book form.

I want to be rewarded for this Hurculean effort. This is only logical.

Even if it only takes you 10 minutes to write a novel, I still say self-pub unless you get some massive advance from a publisher. Just do it. And then use social media wisely (don't tell me about every time you get a drink of water, in other words) and work hard to sell books. This is the advice I'm giving myself, too, by the way. Because we're all in this together.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Getting Smacked in the Face by Woody Allen

That's what watching Allen's latest film, "Midnight in Paris" , was like. A big old right cross. If you're an artist of any kind, do yourself a favor and watch it. You won't be the same afterwards.

On one level, the movie unfolds like a typical Woody Allen hobbyhorse: the main character Gil (played brilliantly by Owen Wilson) is unsatisfied with his very cozy life: he has a beautiful fiance namede Inez (Rachel McAdams), he's a rich Hollywood script rewriter, and, as the film opens, he's visiting his favorite city, Paris. All to the good. But he quickly makes clear that he's bored being a "Hollywood hack" and yearns to finish a novel he started, wanting to give "actual literature" a try.

It becomes obvious early on that he and Inez are ill-suited for each other--she loves the glitz and glamor of Paris, the shopping for expensive $18,000 chairs and dining in chic restaurants, while Gil wants only to walk the city streets in search of that je ne sais quoi that has infected French-based artists for centuries.

And he finds it. While strolling home alone after a dinner date with Inez's former professor Paul (a super-duper annoying Michael Sheen), he's whisked away by a car-full of Parisians dressed like they're straight out of the twenties. From that moment on, Gil goes back in time several different times, meeting some of his greatest literary heroes--Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald--along the way, eventually gaining the confidence to take a shot at his dream.

I like Woody Allen. Ever since I saw "Manhattan", I've been hooked. But this movie takes the cake. I've been in desperate need of artistic inspiration lately, and this film smacked me in the face with it. It's so real-seeming, you so feel Gil's angst over the competing interests of making lots of money and artistic satisfaction, that after the final credits roll, you cannot wait to get back to work on your novel.

Have you seen it? Let me know what you thought of it if so.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Past the Giving Up Point

Well, I've passed that point in the writing process where I usually give up. That, in and of itself, is an accomplishment. By this time--that is, towards the end of the first draft if not before--is where I look myself in the mirror and ask the eternal question:

Can I see myself spending the next couple of years with these characters?

The answer, more often than not, is no. If "no" is my gut reaction, then I scrap the whole project. I know what you're saying: So you spent the whole last year writing this novel, and now you're just tossing it? What a waste of time!!

Au contraire. Any amount of writing you do is good experience. It keeps your brain limber and the fire of creativity stoked in your heart.

What it comes down to is this: I believe that if you become bored of your characters and/or story, it translates to the page. And the last thing you want to do is bore your audience. Now, if you're near the end of a first draft that's several hundred pages long, you should not make this decision lightly. If you've written that much material, chances are you cared about your story for a long time before something went haywire, and it's probably worth your time to reverse engineer the thing to see where it went off track.

But if you dig to the heart of your manuscript and still find a rotted pit where the heart's supposed to be, then you're probably wasting your time trying to extract it from the jaws of death.

What's the longest thing you've written but decided to scrap? Mine was 612 pages long. Beat that!

Oh, and by the way: Happy New Year!