Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Writing Well is no Longer all it Takes


I wrote previously my Six Organizing Tips for Writers and have tried to follow my own advice. While commenting at Karen Woodward's blog last night, I realized the enormous task that I faced.
The market for ebook writers is wide open at the moment and genres don’t matter as much. We writers have the latitude to choose the writing we want to do- with commercial considerations our guide or our passion. Hopefully, the passions we have as writers will be enough to bring commercial fulfillment and we don’t have to sacrifice one for the other.
That said, the freedom is illusory. There are so many considerations for writers, so many balls to juggle, that many nights after my real job, I spent my time not writing so as to, in some twisted road to the promised land, become a successful writer.
  • I spent time on Twitter, learning the ins and outs, trying to follow and be followed
  • I image surfed, Pinned images for Pinterest, for my blogs
  • I worked on designs for my blog (because really, it kinda sucks life right out of a creative person’s head and thanks Blogger for the bland basic design)
  • I discovered again that I am not a web designer and spent time searching for tips
  • I continued to work on the basic, ‘straightening shit out’ for both my blogs
  • I spent time learning the basics of promotion
Those are some of the things I did. I managed to take about a half hour amongst the frustration to smoke a cigar and drink a finger of Talisker Whisky with my wife on the front step. Then back inside to try to earn everything that I don’t know.
Freedom? Only if you enjoy and have an aptitude for advertising, web design, networking, research and so much else. Writing well is no longer all that it takes. We must become one person publishing houses and sometimes, sometimes I think I might need more than a stiff drink to get me through.


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Mini Milestone: My Big 50! (Blog Post)


I should have balloons. Everyone loves balloons, and little balloon animals, and helium balloons might be best of all. For some reason I seem to recall my first encounter with helium balloons in relation to McDonalds. Maybe a birthday party, but I was hardly more sociable as a five year old than I am now, so I can't verify that memory. That's the trouble, isn't it? Thirty years ago seems short except when you try to reconstruct the moment.

Sorry, I guess that with no balloons, and no other special hoody-do for my 50th blog post, I have am left with not much else.

I have been thinking about where I am in relation to where I started with blogging. I feel like there is progress, but looking to the future, I see the road is long. I guess that is good in a way, that I have a long way to go, that I haven't quite broke in my blogging shoes, yet.

As a writer, it is better to be in the journey rather than at the end of the road. At least I think so.

At 6 AM, I can be pensive, I feel justified. My inspiration today is planning my honeymoon to New Zealand.

I'll look at some pictures, meditate, and maybe later I will have something better for everyone. Whizzbangery, balloons, mystical insight that will make you taller, a better lover and better looking by 12.5%.

Image from The Telegraph Newspaper
Stay tuned.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Six Organizing Tips for Writers


I am chronically (hopelessly?) poor with my organizing skills, which is surprising considering my love of lists. And charts. And data bases. It is with the interconnections and the upkeep where I go wrong. Horribly, horribly, wrong.

Twenty lists and none of them cross-referenced and none of them helping to support each other. Poor organization leads to poor plotting with stories and articles and I find that often, where I intend to go, is not where I end up. That is not necessarily bad if the destination is logical in relation to the starting point, and if it doesn’t take me so long to get somewhere.

When I wander in the deep, that is a problem, for me, the reader, the story and the article.

So, today I organize. (Huzzahs all around! Grand trumpets proclaiming my savvy declaration of ‘getting my shit together’. And etc, etc.)

I’ve read other people’s lists on how to, ‘Be A Successful Blogger’. I, of course, do everything the opposite to what wisdom says, as if I live in a perpetual state of opposite day. However misguided I may be, I do have a few thoughts on how I might tackle my issue with organizing (so in fairness, I added the fact above that I may be delayed intellectually by not following basic do’s and don’ts and what follows should be absorbed with that in mind).

Here goes, the six things a blogger needs to organize:

  1. Who do you link to on your blog? You should have a list of ten to twenty blogs or relevant sites that you personally visit on a regular basis. Your readers will appreciate your links more if the sites feel connected in style or subject matter to the blog you write. Make sure you link to blogs that are informative, professional and active and only request a link back to your site after reading this article for more information on linking.

  1. Daily blogs require daily content. You need ideas in the hopper, so to speak, and it doesn’t hurt to have ready to go ‘fillers’ on file for the times when you are stuck for inspiration. A plan in advance means less disruption and more reliability for the readers who will be turned off if you miss too many days, or have an inconsistent schedule for updates. Even blogs that regularly post as few as one new post a week should have material ready to go because inactivity kills readership.

  1. Gather information. A writer needs essential information in an easy to find place with as much information centralized as possible. Notes for future posts, contacts for bloggers who might write guest posts, the blogs and sites where you get ideas, all this should be at your fingertips. I prefer a physical binder, but of course a more digital version works just as well. Make certain that there is a backup for all the links and bookmarks you have so that you don’t have to try to rebuild the information from memory in case something happens to your computer. This link explains how to back up bookmarks for Chrome. A web search can help you find the best way to back up bookmarks on the browser you use.

  1. Promotion; what have you done, what works, what do you plan to do in the future? Writing a blog is easy, but if you write a blog, you should give thought as to whether the effort of writing that blog is worthwhile. You need to drive traffic to your site. If you write well and write informative content you are ahead of the game, but you also need to be able to quantify progress. You also need to be an active participant in the community of writers, which means that you should be reading and commenting on other blogs. It doesn’t hurt to buy the books of the bloggers you read as a way to gain some positive karma and to support your fellow writers in the ways you wish to be in turn supported.

  1. Write your goals.  Twenty daily readers? How do you get twice that number? Which posts are popular and why? Which get the most comments? Remember to state, at least for yourself, what your blog is about and the purpose of the blog. Ask, ‘What is my six month goal, my goal for next year, for five years from now?’ Be realistic. Thousands of readers would be great but, really?

  1. How much time do you blog?  Take into consideration the time you spend reading other blogs, commenting, preparing content and actually maintaining your blog. All this takes away from your writing time. There has to be a benefit. If you find that you are spending two, three or more hours a day on blogging and getting less than a hundred hits a per day to your site, you have to consider whether your time is being used in the best way.

This is where I will begin today. I have a binder, I have a plan, I have motivation. Now I just have to get it done. How about you?


Sunday, August 28, 2011

Sweet Red

“What are you drinking?” My wife looks at the bottle of wine on the counter. I had just gone to town for a few supplies ahead of hurricane Irene. “Does that say Sweet Red?”

“Well...” How to answer the smirk, because really, the bottle of wine indeed was labeled Sweet Red; no merlot, shiraz, just Sweet Red. And I was already a glass into the bottle. “It was an impulse buy.” The smirk stayed in place; I had to look away. “It was on an endcap, and it is a sweet wine and-”

“It's red?” She guessed and I swear I could hear the smirk now, even with my back turned.

“Yes.” I was defeated.

But really. For being $2.77 a bottle at Wal-Mart, the headache this morning is hardly noticeable.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Writer Responsibility

I have been thinking about the role a writer has in respect to the reader. What is reasonable in that relationship? I read JA Konrath, who often states that his goal is to help other writers by providing information, mostly of a business nature. He certainly helps, but sometimes I feel his help is far too specific. He has an agenda and a vision for himself that he sees as the only logical path to success for everyone.
Konrath's focus on the business side is in a narrow (but widening) area of writing: e-books. (Yes, e-books are the future, but far from the only game in town in the present.) His advice has been helpful to be sure, yet I often feel unsettled after reading his blog, like little shadow doubt-devils are capering just behind my eyeballs. I ask why and so far, I have no answer that makes those doubt-devils explainable. Or go away.

I felt yesterday closer to an answer when I read Karen Woodward, who had a simple idea for her 200th blog post. She asked her readers if they remembered the first story they wrote. So I thought back and it was amazing how the process lifted my mental funk. I didn't think about business, sales or getting readers. I thought about being a writer. I thought of the joy of having the ability to craft a tale from my mind. The fun of writing is the act of writing, the language, the twists in the stories that only the subconscious knows.

I liked being a writer yesterday. I'll leave the business for tomorrow.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Slog


No one reads what I write. Then the other voice whispers, Because everything you write is bad.
And then I wonder to myself if the slog is worth the effort, if I should just go back to writing in secret, on weekends, if maybe the shy teenage me made the smarter choice all those years ago. Back then I sat in a quiet place, turned off the world around me, and just wrote and never cared if it appealed, never thought about reactions and demographics, branding or finding my audience.
There never used to be a slog.
Of course, there was never such a thing as second drafts and the words were tantamount to chiseled words of God- to me. Now I worry about you and it does something in the head, that whisper of the critic. The thing is, and this thing is a real bitch, I have to listen to that whisper, take it serious. I have to find a way to make that whisper work because though there never used to be a slog, I still love to write.
I have to consider that my efforts, greater than they once were in consideration for quality, will make me a better writer. Better motivation, however, is the quieter whisper in my head, the one that I barely hear, that urges, Get better, get known, do this all the time.
The carrot for my march of obscurity is the possible end of the road where I make enough money from writing to do this full time. With that comparison, the slog seems trivial. So my few readers, what say you? The slog of life, not just in writing, exist for most of us.
Do you have a goal at the end to make it all worth while?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Excerpt of First Draft


This feels better than it actually reads, if that makes any sense. I can sense the story but it isn't quite there yet. It is there, I just need to do some more digging. So, here is Pablo and Alicia:


I saw Pablo first.
I find that strange now, seeing only Pablo for those many weeks, always alone and sad and running. He was so ordinary in comparison, and yet, I can see, so far removed in time, him; his every position of form just by closing my eyes.
Maybe because his life was so entwined with my own, so much a part of who I became, his vivid clarity should not be so odd and perhaps would not be such if it were not for her. Ordinary in Pablo meant in comparison to her, he was a firefly in a burning desert, for nothing burned as bright or hot as did Alicia and so he chased after her with knowing futility that he ran at a mirage.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Boobs!

I hate dishonest marketing... but the temptation of a writer, especially a self published indie writer who lacks the marketing push of even a moderate sized corporation to drive traffic, is to compromise a certain amount of writing integrity in order to get readers.

Adding controversy adds interest. People want to be shocked and awed, to borrow a phrase that seems apt in this particular application. It is like politics today, where people are, I believe, more aware of the political arena because of the extremists in both major parties arguing, not because of centrist policy makers who attempt to find common ground. What fun is there for casual observers when folks get along and agree?

We want scandal and titillation. We want to hold onto false indignation and be offended by something, no matter what that something is, or whether or not our feelings are honest. Same thing with writing. To draw in readers of today, there has to be a hook, some controversy, manufactured if needed. Even if that cheapens and undermines the writing produced.

So yeah, boobs. Aren't we all boobs, for valuing sensation and fluff more often over the more satisfying substance of finely crafted literary works?

Of course, there is a place in life for the other kind of boobs... there must be balance in all things; substance and integrity is but one.

On  a side note, tomorrow I will include my first installment of Pablo and Alicia, an experiment in short installment fiction.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Writer, Read and Be Healed!

Writers who read are better writers.
We have all heard that and we tend to believe it with a no questions asked attitude. The question I had recently is whether what a writer reads matters. I spent the weekend alternating between laying on a beach getting sun and lazily reading a David Baldacci novel, the first I ever encountered. It’s a beach book, no question. Nothing wrong with that, but I have found myself reading mostly beach books.
So I ask myself, “Hey you! Hey. What are you doing? Can’t you find something more challenging? Shouldn’t you be tackling something… of substance… something to stimulate your shriveling brain? You need something.”  
So, is that voice right? Is reading that important to a writer and if so, does it really matter what a writer reads. Or is that voice just a mocking and insensitive monkey who deserves to get smacked? Right in the kisser, hard and with some animosity.
I don’t have an answer. I did order  Busy Monsters: A Novel by William Giraldi. It seems a step up from the current stream of books I’ve been reading. Maybe it will make me a new Hemingway.
Probably not.

Monday, August 22, 2011

American Prude?

The conversation begins with JA Konrath over at his blog A Newbies Guide to Publishing.
Okay. Have you visited, have you decided to come back? Maybe you are well aware of Mr. Konrath, and you probably are if you have any interest in independent publishing. His blog is a nexus for those who are trying to find their way in this new world of self publishing and he has proven, for me as well as others, an inspiration. I would recommend that his blog is added to your daily read (though he rarely blogs daily, so I suppose weekly might be more accurate).

For many months, I have read Mr. Konrath to glean insight and helpful tips on what it takes to write, to publish, to navigate a world that is increasingly electronic and independent. Lately, though, I have found myself reading his blog posts, thinking about them and then deciding that his advice is relevant to me only if I think or do the opposite.

I still agree with Mr. Konrath on many points, but the attitude of delivery is often off-putting and the me against them dynamic can also get tiresome. In his latest post, he discusses sex and again, I find the discussion useful, but maybe not in the way Mr. Konrath intends.

Are Americans sexual repressed? That is the general point Mr. Konrath asserts as a way to explain the e-mails and fan letters that question (loudly and forcefully, I assume), the inclusion of explicit sex in many of his latest novels. Is it sexual repression, or is it a case of people used to set genres, people who are used to picking up a sci-fi novel and get sci-fi and not graphic alien blowjob descriptions? It can be jarring and seem unnecessary, especially if not handled well. George RR Martin does the sex and genre like a master in his A Song of Ice and Fire series (HBO's Game of Thrones).

Prudishness may be less an answer than is craft. And maybe we all have to just accept the fact that not everyone is the same. Diversity applies to everyone and it is maybe okay that a reader does not want to read about sex. That doesn't necessarily make them repressed. I don't like veal, but that doesn't make me a vegetarian. Everything has a place and a time.

So, read Mr. Konrath and take what you will from him, because there are lessons there. And read George RR Martin. I can add an extra period after that last statement. He is that good.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Everything is Green

So what do you listen to as you write? Is that a relevant question? I sometimes assume that everyone prepares for writing in the same way that I do and I need to have music playing in order to get my mind right. Gotta have the tunes or the pump just can't get primed.
In high school I wrote a fantasy novel while continuously replaying a cassette tape of Buju Banton, a reggae artist, the first reggae I ever heard. Not surprising as a white Mainer during the mid-1990's. I don't often listen to reggae nowadays (not Banton especially, who it turns out was singing in one song about beating gay men, which to anyone should be distasteful), though I found reggae to be great background noise with lyrics I hardly understood, but an energy that kept me cranking out the words.

And now? I'm listening to the album Muppets: The Green Album. Funny how I know all the songs, already. Isn't nostalgia (a bitch) great.

What are you listening to, then? What are you writing?

Friday, August 19, 2011

French Kissing in Quebec Taught Me Alot

After spending a few days on a mini-honeymoon following my marriage I do’s last week (actually, being a catholic wedding, there were several yes’s, but I am assured as a non-catholic, that the end result is the same), I have discovered something as a truth in regards to writing that I had stubbornly dismissed previously. I have a tendency to dismiss the things that I wish were false, or that I am too lazy to do, not motivated to accomplish, and etcetera.
I have a natural inclination to avoid disruption to routine, which is one reason why I am thirty-five and newly married for the first time (great woman to put up with me, by-the-by). Travel is part of the routine breaking that I have always tried to avoid. As a writer, I have told myself that travel is not necessary, even if I want to write about far away places. It is unrealistic to travel to every locale that appears in fiction. Besides, there is always local flavor to fall back on as well as a wealth of research to fall back on in libraries and on the internet.
Right?
Yes. Research is important. Writing what you know is, well, a tired but true statement, if somewhat constrained by an overly literal translation by most. All that being said, there is nothing like physically walking a street and smelling the air, interacting with the people who level in that land of ‘away’, as we say in Maine.
So. Quebec City was amazing and foreign, though only a five hour drive from the coast of Maine. It was experience and folks, there is nothing that trumps experience. Get while you can. Of course, I might need to add a disclaimer to the end of this piece as I am still giddy from my nuptials and, well, cough… I was on my honeymoon. Quebec was great but, maybe I didn’t experience as much of the city as I could have in the three days I was there. It’s a start, though.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

People are Stupid: (And Many Smell Bad, Too!)

     Do you think that maybe everyone is stupid? A little or a lot? All the time, or just once in awhile? I think so, but then, it is raining again., I'm getting married in a few days and I am nervous, my neck is so sore I can barely type and I am generally grouchy. This is how life goes and how opinions form.

     We are not always rational or positive or thinking thoughts of springwater purity. Our bad days inform who we are as much as the good days, and often more because I think at the core we hold grudges, and grudges are old hoary beasts that burrow in deep. Grudges are twisted things and any small slights are amplified down in those deep burrows.

     That dark stuff can be used! Use it, don't let it cripple you as a person, and certainly not as a writer. You can use everything wherever it may come from and whatever form it takes.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Your Brain: Tell it to Eff Off

"Please excuse me."
"Well certainly, you're excused."
So goes the conversation between the brain and the brain. And so goes writing efficiency and productivity. The new writing dynamic states that volume is the key. That is the wisdom of today. A writer can't expect to survive on one book a year, or several short stories or a few blog posts. A writer today must have volume.

Yet, life happens, especially for those individuals who are not making enough money to survive solely as writers. What to do? Listen to the brain, or tell the brain to shut the f*ck up? I say, tell your damn brain to go diddle itself.

Excuses are for never-beens and wannabes. You're not one of those, are you?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Blink and You Missed It

Blink and you missed it, or so they say, those buggers who always seem to be saying something. Only, most annoying, they tend to be right. The thing with writing is that though there is plenty of time to write and hopefully you all have long lives, the moments are transitory. If you don't seize the moments as they occur, you miss them.

Writing is topical even when it manages to transcend the time period when it was written. To be a writer, you have to take advantage of the moments you have. You have to write.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Something I Believe

     There is something that I believe to be true when it comes to posting a blog; you can control your words only. After posting, the reactions and comments of others are their reactions and comments. I don't believe that a blogger is a dictator, nor should they try to be.
There are times when someone needs to be a Voice of Reason. That is understood in this world where face to face conversations have been replaced by computer interactions. There is a new dynamic, not just in writing, but in our social attitudes. it is okay for many people to be crass and rude when they have the security of the internet to filter their interactions.

     The question I keep asking myself is if this is a bad thing. There is a new dynamic and change is happening. We can't change, change. Nor can we as writers and bloggers, take control of the internet, not even our own sites, without become mini dictators. Threats of harm are a no-no and language without merit (useless name calling, race/ sexual orientation/ religion- baiting, etc.) are equally subject to control, but there is freedom on the internet and it needs to be free, I think.

     As I said, there are exceptions, and as a responsible blogger, if there are comments that step over the line, then those posts need to be blocked and perhaps users banned. Yet there is latitude that a blogger should allow for that I sadly see attacked repeatedly, especially on blogs that have a political slant.

     I am conservative politically: non-religious, socially centrist, and fiscally, further to the right. If I choose to post something in my writing blog with a comment about politics, I expect there to be comments from across the political spectrum. It is ridiculous to expect otherwise and I would not feel it is my right to exert the control as blog-creator and try to ban/block certain, opposing, viewpoints. That is my job as long as comments are reasonable and no one is going beyond the line (and that line is a judgment call, as it ultimately must be).

     So, comments on what is written is fair game and if my politics show, then comments are expected. I don't want to be a dictator and I wish others would do the same. It is a new world. Discourse is the only means of change that matters. To be a part of the great unified tomorrow, we must become integrated, and that means that barriers must be cast aside and the freedom of words encouraged, not discouraged.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Who Ruins Who?

Reading a post yesterday at The Passive Voice on whether indie publishing is bringing about the demise of the publishing industry by devaluing the quality of published word in favor of quick turn-around  which then undermines the quality of writing as a whole. This was, and is, a popular refrain from established publishers, who have some understandable bias toward the indie world , the people trying to make established publishers obsolete.
So which camp is correct? I would like to think that there is no merit in the corporate bigwigs. They make easy targets, especially in the current environment where no on e really cares what is said about people who make a certain amount of money. The popular cry is that ‘they don’t care about anything but money”.   Maybe that is true, maybe the big publishers don’t care about anything except the money they make, but then again, I’ve never turned down a paycheck.
Have any of you turned down a paycheck?
Publishers are businesses, and if they don’t have an eye on the bottom line, they would be out of business. Now, does this excuse taking advantage of writers? Of course not, but the argument that the publishing world is full of unfeeling money-grubbers is false. There are good people in traditional publishing, as well as bad, just as there are good and bad people who make their livings as writers. It is hypocritical of a writer to assail traditional publishers for trying to make money, because most of us are trying to maximize our earning potential, and instead of most of the profits that traditional publishers take, we writers want all of the money.
Our work, our profits.
I imagine that traditional publishers think much the same as writers. Our work, our profits. Who is right? A little of both.
I know, a cop out, to choose the middle ground. You suck! I can hear someone say, or make a choice, you gutless toady (which would be a harsh thing to say, but some people are cruel).
The writer who becomes independent takes on a great responsibility, for their career, and ultimately for the careers of those who come afterward. If the quality of the writing being put out by indies is consistently poor (*and admit it, there are many, many, many duds out there that should never have found their way to print) then casual readers will be turned away and even die hard fans will go to only a few, trusted sources.
This brings up a future post, “THE RISE OF ANOTHER PUBLISHING MONOPOPLY”.
So does the indie movement in the publishing world spell the doom of publishing as an industry? It has the potential unless writers prevent that from happening. Crap in, crap out. Remember that, folks.
*(JA Konrath refutes this statement, and his argument is reasoned, though I believe too simple to be entirely trustworthy. Sorry Mr. Konrath)

Thursday, August 4, 2011

No Writer an Island

           No writer can go it alone. That sounds like a rule. So, that being said, it is subject to scrutiny and, ultimately, dismissal, like all rules. But like all rules, there is a truth in the original formulation of the rule.
            It is difficult to be a writer, an editor, a proofreader, a critic, cover designer and all the other associated jobs that go along with being an independent e-book producer. People need people, and though writer is a solitary profession by and large, the need to have good people around you is critical for success.
            Now, I don’t want to get into the business side of the e-publishing debate, mainly because I have very little first hand knowledge, and JA Konrath has mountains of data to support his various notions on e-publishing which are far more informed than anything I might say. However, whether you pay someone to help to produce your work for publication, or if you just have a trusted circle of friends, a writer who goes it alone is not as good, nor are they as productive, as they can.
            Get a friend, get a business associate, get someone, but as a writer, you do yourself a disservice if you try be everything, all of the time. Control is nice in the independent publishing world, but readers don’t often reward bad writing and as a writer, do you want to produce sub par writing?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Fear is the Mind-Killer

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain. 
-Frank Herbert, Dune

            Is there a stigma for writers, or is the stigma a construct to excuse sloth and a lack of discipline. Someone who gives into fear when it concerns their writing cannot be considered a writer in fact, only in their own minds. Fear is a persuasive condition, difficult to overcome. Yet that fear may be easier to manage in this new world of e-publishing.
            It comes as a relief to know that the written word produced will have a destination other than the bottom of a drawer, if the writer desires for the wider world to see what has been committed to some organized state, whether a novel, short story, or poem. The fear is not wasting time writing something that will never be read; the fear is having a single person decide if what is written has merit and worth. That should be for readers to decide. As a writer, I want a fair chance, and sending out manuscripts seems unfair and the fear I have, always have had, is that I will be judged and dismissed and denied a chance to do what I love.
            I imagine other writers have a similar fear. We don’t know about trends, about what is hot in the publishing world, what traditional publishers think will sell in six months, a year, or longer, from the time they buy and eventually publish what they purchased from the writer. I fear getting older and chasing my dream and waiting for a chance that has less to do with my writing and more to do with some stranger’s bottom line.
            I don’t need to sell a million copies of a book, or even a thousand. A hundred copies would be great, or, the truth, even one would be a kick in the ass.
            Let my skill be the guide to my success. If I produce a book, I feel as if that is my ticket to the show and I should be able to enter the publishing fray on merit and then see how the chips fall. In the new world of e-publishing, we can all play on more equal footing and do so without fear that we will never get our chance to swing the bat.