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Friday, July 25, 2014

Workshop...Friday?: When You Can't Write

Riddick never understood why I stared at "that box" so much.
Technology drama: we've all dealt with it. This week, I had a combo of a non-functioning laptop, mostly dead cellphone, and a busy schedule to juggle, and while I'm not whining about that - please don't let me be whiney - one of my acknowledged neuroses as a writer is the need to write. In my post about introversion a couple weeks ago, I touched on an introvert's need for moments of quiet in which to recharge and let the creative juices flow. But there isn't always time for that. And sometimes, our technology works against us and we're forced to live with words unwritten for days on in - a painful process for manic writers like me.

So what do you do when your writing time just isn't happening?

- The simple answer is read instead. If, like what happened to me yesterday, you have a small chunk of time in which to write, but your devices aren't working, find a good book and read a few chapters. Writers have to read, and often times we don't read enough, because we're so focused on the writing.

But if that's not cutting it...

- When my phone is working (and it is now, hallelujah) but I'm too busy to sit down and really tackle a block of writing, I have on-the-go email conversations with myself. Gosh, that's a social networking fail, isn't it? "Who are you emailing, Lauren?" "Me." But it works. You could be in the middle of the grocery store, and have a great idea for a line. That happened to me two days ago. Mercy's voice popped into my head, all happy and Cajun, and I HAD to write it down. So I sent myself an email on my phone, and then later, I can fold that line into a story chapter. Send yourself a note, a memo, just write it down. It's surprising how much that feels like progress when you're running around. I'll write myself paragraphs of story, whole scenes, on a phone email, and then I have it, crystalline and straight from the original thought.

- I let my phone help me in another way, too. Do you ever get a chance to write a scene, but then you have to shut down the computer and fly out the door? No chance for on-the-spot revision or reflection. I'll copy/paste what I've written and email it to myself. Later, oftentimes when I'm in bed at night, I'll open up that email and read it on my phone. It feels different, on the phone screen, like it isn't anything I've written, but a little snippet of story someone has sent me. It helps me detach myself from the process and just read the story as a reader, and not its creator. If I get to the end and wish it continued, I know I've got a winner on my hands. If it's boring, it's time to scrap the project.

Even when writing time is tight, I try to keep my mind engaged with the story. I make soundtrack playlists and listen to them while I muck stalls. I jot tidbits on discarded envelopes and napkins. I tell people all the time that I think writing is an addiction, and I stand by that. We've got to get our fix in any way we can.

Hopefully, if you're short on time and cooperative tech like me, you can use your phone, or pen and paper, to get you through the rough patch. Until then, grab a great read and feed your mind.

And hopefully, I can get my laptop sorted and get back to regular posting!

Happy Friday. Be on the lookout for a sample of Keeping Bad Company.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

I'm Alive

Really and for truly. Want to see a writer go stir crazy? Kill her laptop battery and her cell phone at the same time. I think my fingers were typing in my sleep. But I'm back fully-powered. I've got a Workshop Wednesday to catch up on. Back in a bit.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Friday Randoms

Little puppy feet. Little big puppy feet. There's not a whole lot cuter than puppy feet. Viktor's taken to sleeping under my chair when I write, lest I had any doubts about Dobies being Velcro dogs.

I'm getting ready to start Beach Music for September's book club meeting. It was originally the August pick, but seeing as it's a whopping 800 pages, we pushed it back to the following month. I have a thing for long books. Thick chunky books that are too heavy to tote to school (but which I did anyway, despite the extra weight on my poor back). Books that you have to hold with two hands while reading. Sweeping character epics that devour you, rather than the other way around.

Apparently, I'm going to have plenty of time to read, since a monsoon is on the way.

I'm currently working on something that begins with this debatable Nietzsche quote:

“There are no facts, only interpretations.”

It should be interesting.

See, I told you: random. I'm a bit too sleep-deprived to be bothered with details like clarity of message or quality of content. Happy Friday, everyone.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Workshop Wednesday - I Know You Are, But What Am I? An Open Rebuttal For Writers Trashing Other Writers


An Open Rebuttal 

Yesterday, I read a blog post by an author who was, apparently, traditionally-published, and the entirety of the post was a scathing verbal beat-down on self-published authors as a unit. The language, inflammatory and all-caps, sought to crush self-published authors, while acknowledging that the majority of the blog audience was indeed composed of these self-pubbed victims of this tongue-lashing. There seemed to be no point to this rant, only the urge to tell all this writer's self-published readers that they shouldn't be self-publishing because all self-published novels are, quote, "atrocious." No advice, no helping hand, just both barrels' worth of insult. Now, I'd like to say that I was shocked, because I'd never seen such shameless lambasting. But the truth is, I've read more than twenty blog posts of this very nature, by various small indie authors across the web. Rather than leave comments on their posts, I decided to be stupid and controversial and write an open rebuttal. I'm not defending self-publishing, or condemning traditional publishing. I'm defending artists who just want to get their art on, and condemning the confused writers who think ripping their fellow writers to shreds is a good way to promote their books.

Part of the problem, I think, is the current socio-political culture of nastiness. The world's bitter and nasty right now. Money's tight for everyone, and that makes people grouchy. All writers - indie published, self-published, traditionally-published - do their share of advertising. You have to; that's part of the game. But what I'm noticing across the board, among writers of all categories, is this tearing down of other writers. I'm not talking about a genuine critique of a particular book; I'm talking about writers whose platforms include a broad-spectrum ripping-apart of the topics and styles of other groups of writers. You know it happens. You know someone has done this in front of you: "Unlike those other crappy writers, I do..." etc.

This is an ineffective technique. Why? Because nastiness turns people off. Differentiating your work is all about saying unique and interesting things about your books, not about trash-talking the competition. No one cares what you think about everyone else's work - sell YOUR amazing work by talking about IT. And that's another point - there is no "competition." The book market is like a crowd waiting in line at Baskin-Robbins - each customer has her own taste, and wants something different. Lucky for them, there's lots of flavors. Some other author's success doesn't limit your own potential for success, and being overly critical of others appears unnecessarily competitive.

To traditionally-published authors, I would say this: No one is arguing that traditional publishing isn't the optimal situation. Anyone who seeks to diminish your success through hurtful speech is just being a jackass. But as a traditionally-published author, how are the self-pubbed authors harming you in some way? I ask this, because the attacks I've read - and they ARE attacks - feel so personal and so impassioned. You are not helping anyone, least of all yourself, by ranting about self-publishing. Write and let write. Self-published authors aren't taking away your success. You are not the publishing police. What are you hoping to accomplish? You aren't going to end self-publishing; the horn-tooters will ignore you, and the shy, quiet, truly talented emerging authors will be crushed and swamped with self-doubt after reading your inflammatory posts. Your arguments are about as logical as a franchise jeweler blasting small-time jewelry makers selling their wares on Etsy. If someone's work isn't up to snuff, then it won't perform well, and this writer will learn that lesson without your cruelty. And if readers want to purchase and read a self-published author's work - then they should be able to do that. That's their business. Writing is, after all, about keeping the readers happy, not about pleasing other writers. If your readers are happy and their readers are happy, you know what it is? Not your problem. No one is getting hurt. And let's stop talking about the "right" and "wrong" way to write books. Writing is art. ART. It's not cardiothoracic surgery. If someone does something "wrong," no one DIES. Self-publishing doesn't hurt anyone.

Then there's the flipside. To the self-published authors, I would say this: Stop ragging on each other. Stop telling the world that all self-published authors suck except for you. This is a stupid statement. You haven't read every self-published author; you don't know this; you sound desperate. Stop ragging traditionally-published authors. Just be a sweet, genuine person, promote your work in a positive way, and stop tearing down your peers. Seeking to elevate yourself by bad-mouthing those struggling to reach the same dream as you is a low-class move, and I have no respect for it. When someone advertises by being a snot about other writers, it never convinces me of a writer's talent. In fact, when someone trash-talks, I make a mental note to never read that author's work. I will not support a jerk. Your books are what set you apart, not what you say about them.

There's lots of great, educational material out there on the web. I'm a big believer in constant education, the study of literature - both classic and contemporary; I believe authors should always be learning, striving to hone their craft. And I believe in writers helping other writers. What I can't abide is this culture of cruelty. Especially when this cruelty is used as a marketing tool. Just stop. No one holds the magic key to writing the perfect novel. We're all just finding our different roads, finding what works for us. Like I said before: write and let write. Focus on your work, and your best efforts. It's a lot less frustrating that way. And guess what - there's "atrocious" books in all categories. I could walk into Barnes & Noble right now and pull ten books off the shelves whose pages I wouldn't use to line a bird cage. I read a book by a major author who misattributed the Trojan War. I'm reading a traditionally-published book now chock full of typos. There's mistakes and imperfections on both sides.

Some food for thought:

Famous writers who self-published.

Best-Sellers Initially Rejected

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Shy Like Me

This is the Viktor I have on my hands at home. The Viktor of three a.m. wakeup calls and afternoon shenanigans: chewing on the new hosta, wet from ears to tail because he decided jumping through the hose while I was watering was a riot. Okay, it was kind of a riot - it was pretty freaking adorable. At home, little man is bouncy, barking, happy, playful, and all about flashing those needle teeth. He's not just a handful - he's fast getting too big for that - but an armful of wriggling Puppy Chow-breathed ferocious cuteness personified.

Imagine my surprise, then, when he met some visiting family for the first time, and he morphed into this bashful, frightened baby that wanted to crawl inside my shirt and hide. I know he's still only seven weeks old, and that his fright is to be expected at this stage, but I hadn't counted on that. It reinforced the necessity of getting him out and about, meeting lots of new people and dogs - once he's had his 10 week shots, of course. I took him with me to the feed store yesterday, where he didn't touch the ground and there were no dogs, only people. And then stopped to visit my mom at work and meet her friends. Here he is after we got back, after he'd crashed and burned from his little adventure.

It was the first of many such adventures we'll need to make in the next year, socializing, socializing, and socializing some more (that's so important with these strong breed dogs). But I admit that his reactions gave me a moment of pause; his behavior brought out a secret worry. I'm very shy by nature; what if my unconscious energy will rub off on him? What if merely existing in my presence will turn him into me? Riddick had a little trouble with strangers at times, and while that is a characteristic of the breed...what if it was also because of me? What if sensitive, intelligent dogs such as these become their owners over time? It definitely added fuel to my fire when it comes to the issue of human children - I shouldn't be allowed to have any. It left me with the resolution that Viktor and I will have to conquer that shyness together; or, rather, I'll have to conquer it in order to set a positive example for him. Socializing him won't be the problem; overcoming myself, that might be.

Why am I rambling about this? It circles back around to writing - doesn't everything?

I have a professional fa├žade that I bring out of its drawer, shake into shape, and slide on over my head sweater-style when I need to wear it. I'm not shy when it comes to knowledge-specific points of interest. Get me talking horses, and I'll never shut up. But I always have this reservation, this shy assumption that people don't care what I have to say. Hence the verbal diarrhea on the blog - I'm making up for things unsaid. That feeling gets the best of me at times; it launches a full-scale assault at my confidence, one that can't be thwarted by anyone saying, "Believe in yourself." I'm having one of those moments now. My third Russell novel isn't anywhere near ready to be seen by readers. Poor, patient readers. It needs so much more work. And in the back of my mind, I hear the angry chanting of the bloggers who trash-talk non-traditional publishing; I see imaginary sneers and scowls.

When it comes to puppy-rearing, I know just how to boost his confidence and encourage him to go bravely out into the world. When it comes to my own ambitions - where lies the line between unnecessary obsession and legitimate worry? When confidence in oneself is a constant problem, at what point does one tune out the anxious voices and say, "I'm satisfied with this"?

The fact that I'm even asking these questions if probably a major clue.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Viktor Pics

Guess who slept through the night last night. That's right, this guy. Play hard, sleep hard, that's his motto. Little monster :) As you can tell, the camera already loves him. Photogenic boy that he is. He turns seven weeks tomorrow, and he's already gained two whole pounds since last weekend! Eating like a champ and running like crazy. He already sounds like a horse galloping through the house. Watch out, world.

Hope everyone has a great weekend. I've got to make a hay run, and spend lots of time with this little dude, so don't expect to see me much until next week. I'm so looking forward to getting KBC out on the market, and I've got a new project to announce soon, so stay tuned for that. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Likeness

Book club read The Likeness for tonight's discussion, which I recommended. I hope they liked it. I hope I don't sound like a blithering idiot when I tackle the discussion. It's the second in a series of books I'm sure you've heard me talk about before. This is the third time I've read it, and each time, I come away with something new. This time, I think I've finally put my finger on why I love Tana French's writing so much.

In chapter one, Cassie tells us, "Someone else may have dealt the hand, but I picked it up off the table, I played every card, and I had my reasons." Cassie, like all of French's characters, continually lies to herself (and don't we all do that?). But never does she pretend she had no choice in the matter. French's characters are never the victims of circumstance, chaos, chance, happenstance; they make decisions. The stories are a web of decisions that affect each and every character.

I like that. I love that. I believe that to be true.

On top of that, this novel is full of misdirects, spooky notes of subtle suspense, intense and rich details that create an atmospheric thriller that is more literature than genre fiction.  I can't recommend it enough.