Essentially, Reading is…

Answer me this: Where has this month gone? It seems that every time I blink a week goes by – thankfully it doesn’t, but it sure feels that way.  I didn’t want to start this year talking about resolutions because, well, I can’t keep them.  My mind, body, and soul typically rallies to defeat such silly notions like well thought out plans. I can’t even blame it on procrastination, because it isn’t even that simple – I don’t put off working toward my goals, I run away screaming.

So, no resolutions. I resolve to not make resolutions. Hear that universe? Hows that for some top-notch reverse psychology? I plan to not make plans I could possibly stick to and have every intention to fulfill.

My first post of the year wasn’t going to be about what I wanted to do in the next 365 days. Everyone does that. Instead, I’d like to talk about some of the great stories I’ve read lately.

Birds gotta fly. Fish gotta swim. Writers gotta read. We shouldn’t want to read because the act of reading is the key to understanding what’s popular. We shouldn’t want to write because we’re filling some desire to become wealthy or famous or both. No, we should want to read and to write because it is part of who we are. Because words resonate against the minerals deep within our bones. Because to do otherwise would be denying an essential part of our being.

That’s what it is for me. If one day I make some sort of name for myself, then great. But will that in itself be the defining moment of my life? Will that be what I measure my success against – that I got a huge contract or movie deal? I don’t think so. What I’m working for right now is the ability to infect the minds of others with images and concepts my own mind created. To tell at least one compelling story that forces my readers to agonize and hold their breath to the very last word. To come back to my story and point at the page while telling their friend: you hafta read this! I wonder what will be the touchstone for me for which I’ll measure my success, will it be a certain number of stories, will it be one runaway smash hit, or will it be something I won’t even realize before I draw my last breath.

Each new and great story I read shows me markers in which to measure myself against.  Writers shouldn’t compare themselves to others because no two writers are alike. I know this, and the comparisons I draw are more for technical mastery than tide markers for my ego. With that said, here are some of the stories I’ve read lately that have taught me a thing or two.

Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – technical precision in using 1st person present tense. Beautifully done and the movie really did well to keep up with Collins’s vision. The sequels are on my TBR list and I’ll tackle them soon, I hope.

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami – spellbinding world building and use of hypnotic techniques to deliver a dreamlike story. Drawing parallels from Carroll’s Alice and Wonderland and  Orwell’s 1984 the twists and turns of his tale kept me from wanting to put the book down. Though there were a couple spots that drew me out of the story and I felt the ending was a bit too abrupt, the story on whole was magnificent with each scene very carefully constructed. The time it took to read the three part book was well worth it.

Wool by Hugh C. Howey – Fantastic dystopian world building on a small scale – at least for the first book, the rest of the series is on my TBR list. I’ve tried to wrap my mind around world building on occasion and my ideas are often on a grand, world-wide scale. Howey shows us in this first installation of the series that it doesn’t have to be huge to feel that way. In just one silo the struggle for life rages on and the psychological effect of the microenvironment has some interesting outcomes.

Novelets in 2013 November-December issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine: Hell For Company by Albert E. Cowdrey; The Soul in the Bell Jar by KJ Kabza; Baba Makosh by  MK Hobson. Each of these stories have what I would call flawless deliveries of very creative narratives. Not one thing in these stories drew me out of them. I was delighted to read a story with Samuel Clemens in it – there needs to be more  like Hell For Company. The Soul in the Bell Jar was a fantastic dive into the notion of what if science had taken a detour somewhere gory – a healthy mix of steampunk and gaslight, at least in my opinion – KJ Kabza made a fan of me with this story. And I would go as far to say that MK Hobson created a timeless piece with Baba Makosh. I don’t know much about Russian mythology but if Hobson’s story was any indication – it’s something I’ll need to read more on.

Dogs by Miwa Shirow – Manga. A very bizarre dystopic tale of science gone wrong – very wrong. After reading all of the 9 graphic novels available at the local library I’m still not sure where this story is going, but I’m enjoying the ride.

I’ve had the pleasure of reading some great works from fellow authors in my writing group and several other stories that are well worth mentions, but I’ll save them for another day. For now I’ll leave you with this from the King:  “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

Advertisements

Flow

Ever have something that you’ve written just suck? Just stink worse than the worst gooey, festered french cheese? And, just as you’re getting ready to scrap the mess you’ve made someone comes along and tries to talk you off of the tower-o-whiteout? They say, no wait, save it. It could come in handy later.

Did it stop you from hitting delete?

If your answer is yes, my follow-up question is, why?

Maybe I’m just brutal with my stories. If something doesn’t work for me, I don’t copy said section and carefully tuck it in between files hoping that on a rainy day it will cease to suck. No. If something doesn’t work for what I’m working with I highlight that son-of-a-gun and wipe that muther out.

No mercy. That’s how I roll.

I am the slayer of sucky script, the tick-tock bomber of tacky text, the…well you get the point. Let’s face it, as a single mom with a day job, I don’t got time for that. Ain’t nobody got time for that. (sorry, couldn’t resist) I really only have time to move forward – to work with what works and ditch the rest. If it’s good enough to include in something else, trust me, it’ll resurface. If it’s “great” and you forget it, well, that’s awfully telling isn’t it.

What matters most to me is flow, how the story works. It’s one of the things that I catch people in writing when I peer edit. If something blocks the flow, cut it out. If there’s fluff getting in the way of the story moving forward, delete. If the ending doesn’t work with the flow of the rest of the story, erase it and start again.

I recommend that to others and I catch myself on it too. I wrote a story recently that, once it was done, I hated the ending because it didn’t flow like the rest of the story. It was abrupt and killed the affect of the story as a whole. It made a creepy horror short into something tacky and it had to go. Because I was more concerned with the flow of the story I didn’t have any trouble dropping the last 4-5 paragraphs and re-writing them.

And because I threw out what didn’t work and took the time to re-write, my readers came back with positive reviews. And It got accepted into an anthology and should be published in the next couple of months. Yay! Whoohoo! Hoorah!

But I digress…

What are the key points that tip me off to something arresting the flow of a work? Whether it’s exposition or dialogue, whatever is being said has to be important and relevant. The shorter the story the more important the details become. Even if it’s a critical detail, another key point is: does it move the story forward, or does it adversely affect the pace? Even a critical detailed placed in the wrong spot at the wrong time can make a story stumble.

If you’re in an action scene, you’re writing short, concise, abrupt sentences. It ratchets up the tension. If you drop in a paragraph long mega sentence you’ve just effed up your flow. Rewrite.

If you’re in an scene where a character is being introduced and you have the other characters thinking about how they’d rather being elsewhere AND you want this new character to be important, you’ve just effed up your flow. If you’re going to divert attention from the new character there has to be an excellent reason for it. Otherwise rewrite.

If you’re at the beginning of your story and you’re hoping to hook your audience, then hook them dammit. If you spend your first 10 pages or so talking about randomness because your MC has focus issues worse than a tweaked out junkie, you’ve effed up your flow. Time to rewrite. Especially with beginnings, you have to be focused and concise – what you set up as flow here will set the tone for the whole story.

(The adverse is true too, if your first ten pages are too slow, good flow or not, you’ll lose the reader.)

If you’ve come to the end of your story and you feel like everything just fell into place…almost too easily… step away for a day, and come back to it to read it through. Most likely, if the ending comes easily, you’ve effed up the flow and dropped that ending like a frozen turkey into a vat of boiling oil.

There’s lots of ways to mess up the flow of your story, but only one way to fix it. Be courageous. Be bold. Dust off that delete key and don’t be afraid to rewrite.

 

Beta Readers

The ironic aspect of crafting a novel is that the writing it is not the largest or most daunting part of the project. Even or especially for the enormous epic fantasies. No, in my opinion the editing and rewriting are the largest and most daunting, overwhelming, and sometimes soul-crushing tasks for writers (new writers especially).

So you’ve gotten to that magical phrase “The End,” now what? Well that’s easy, re-read and edit yourself to the best of your ability. For some, this is not terribly difficult because we’ve written to the best of our ability so there’s only so much we can edit. Ah see, there’s the problem. Did you catch it? We can only edit ourselves to the degree of skills in which we have. There are no easy buttons that a writer can push to enable the Super-Duper Editor mode, so likely the amount that we can catch on ourselves is not a terribly large amount. We’re limited, and often feel like we can’t see the forest from the trees.

In fact, there is only one “tool” that I’ve heard repeated at length that seems everyone agrees, from young to old, that works the best and that’s reading your work out loud. It sounds like common sense, but it doesn’t occur to most writers.

Even then, it might sound great to you after a few tweaks here or there. But most likely, it still isn’t submission ready. You need another set of eyes.

Keep this in mind, this is the most important word of advice for ANYONE in creative fields – Don’t ask your family for editing work. (unless your last name is King and your father’s first name is Stephen; or Asimov, and Isaac, etc) If you have famous writers, or well rated editors or other industry insiders in your family you’re obviously playing with a better hand than the rest of us and this rule doesn’t apply to you. And the rest of us huddling in the cold of non-superior writer’s family hate you for your good fortune. Ha, I’m kidding…maybe.

It’s likely you’ll have to join the rest of the lowly regular Joe writers and find someone else to peer or Beta-edit for you and there are a couple of options: Free or paid.

Paid editing is probably the safest, but really you get what you pay for and good editors are going to charge you a good amount. (good in their terms, not necessarily yours) If you want to pay for it, web searching “manuscript critique” should put you on the right path. Why is this the safest? Well, it’s because these editors probably want to stay in business so they do their all to ensure you’ll get a quality product and protect your confidentiality and property. If they don’t, their reputation and future income is on the line.

But say you’re like me and money is more of an obstacle than you’d like to admit – and well an pro editor is kinda sorta definitely out of the question. What then? What’s worked for me so far is a couple of different things: allowing time and publication rejections to tell you how far you need to come, though this along with harsh reviews once your work is published is the most painful way to learn. The least painful and probably most enjoyable is getting out into the writing community by way of participating in a local writing group or writing organization. There you’ll connect with others who share your passion and likely have more experience than you. If you take your time and commit to your group in a friendly and whole-hearted way chances are that you’ll pick up a couple of friends who could point you in the right direction.

Probably the most risky way of trying to find peer editing is joining purely on-line writing communities. Now, I’m not talking about small on-line forum groups (less than fifty members), I’m talking about the groups that count their members in the thousands. While these are great ways to share creative passions and connect with like minded folks, participating in huge on-line forums can open your work up to big risks. Just like with any other on-line activity, you don’t know who is on the other end of the line, and there isn’t any real way to protect your work if you run in to someone with less than honest intentions. I want to say that such people are rare, but how many would need to steal your work for it to have been catastrophic for you? One. So be careful. And it’s not just the stealing that you have to worry about – some might claim to have great skills but when it comes down to it, they could give you poor advice that could take you down the wrong path.

The safest – free – option would be to trust your work to a writer you know in person, someone whose work you’ve read and enjoyed. If they have time in their schedules to lend you advice then it’s worth it’s weight in gold.

For more information, I found these sites to be helpful:

Belinda Pollard at Small Blue Dog Publication

Chuck Sambuchino at Writers Digest

and author Lindsay Buroker

One of the tips I saw on these sites for finding authors was to reach out through Twitter. I haven’t tried this yet and I’m not a huge twitterer but this sounds like an interesting idea. Has anyone tried finding a Beta reader this way and want to share?

There is one HUGE aspect to beta reading that must be kept in mind…well maybe two. If you’re not paying for it, pay it forward once you get good enough at your craft. Beta read for others and they’ll (in theory) be more likely to beta edit for you. And two, be patient. They’re doing you a favor by reading and commenting on your work for free. It could take them some time to get back to you and you should respect that. If you have something that needs immediate attention let them know up front so they can decide if your work can fit in their schedule. If it can’t, you have to be okay with that.

Well, that’s all I have for this Technique Tuesday. I hope you found it helpful and will join me next week.

Best,

Kierce

Not Wasting Time

One of my favorite bands, Muse, says it best in their song Knights of Cydonia:

Don’t waste your time,

Or time will waste you.

Like many (most) writers I have to hold down a day job to make ends meet. The whole “Starving Artist” thing sounds like fun and all… it really, really isn’t. It’s not just the starving part that happens to the jobless (free) artist, it’s also the hole-riddled-clothing artist, the too-broke-to-get a-coffee artist (sooooo not an option), the couch-surfing-taking-up-too-much-space-pain-in-the-ass artist (which is really only cool from the ages of 18-25 maybe), and worse, the having-to-mooch-off-of-the-parents artist. None of which are options by the time you get to my age (not that they ever were anyway). So, yes, I hold down a day job and do my best to put words to paper afterwards… and by after I mean after my commute, after dinner and subsequent chores, and then after spending time with my family. I might get an hour or two a night if I concentrate. I might get an hour or two if I’m not so dogged tired I can do nothing but go to bed.

I learned a long time ago, fatigue is not my friend.

I’m not the only person out there that has to hold down a day job to pay for life. Even Clark Kent had to do it, so I’m in pretty good company I think. Well, one of the ways I don’t waste all of that time between my day job, my commute, and home life also happens to be an activity that helps to build my skills in writing: I listen.

Not to music.

Not to the news.

Not even to audio books (though that’s not a bad way to build skills either).

I listen to podcasts about writing.

Every weekend I load about 8 episodes of my favorite podcasts on a flash drive and listen to them over and over again until I have them just about memorized. (with my memory, or lack there of, this process takes a while). That’s forty minutes each way, every day listening to powerful, useful, and insightful information from successful people in the business.

This helps me in many ways:

  • Makes me forget about my day job giving me a solid break from my working life and my writing life.
  • Gives me great and useful information.
  • Gets me excited about writing (anyone wondering how this works only needs to attend a meeting with a writing group – others’ excitement is indeed infectious).
  • Gives me a reason to get through the more tedious aspects of family responsibilities (chores specifically).
  • Makes me not want to give into that after-work fatigue.

In fact, one of the podcasts I listened to recently talked about what some writers do to break up their day. Especially the ones who work jobs that use the same sort of segment needed for writing as they use for their day job. Part of my job is super creative so this discussion was particularly relevant for me. One writer said they do tedious chores, like yard work, dishes, folding clothes, etc. (they didn’t have the “option” of a commute – must be nice), Another said they use their commute as a way to break their day up. At which point I told my radio that’s exactly what I was doing…because they could totally hear me…yeah.

Moving on.

My job is multifaceted, so while this sort of “break” is useful for separating or redirecting my creative focus, it also works for the parts of my working life that have nothing at all to do with creativity. The other part of my job is very tedious so this break sort of re-energizes my focus to the creative.

One day I hope to have only one job – and have that one job be completely writing or creative related. But until that happens, since I do have to split my life into different pieces, I take the time to not waste my time and put all of my effort in to utilizing dead-space to suite my goals.

I’d love to hear from all of those work-a-day writers out there. How do you manage your non-writing time to your advantage?

 

 

Crowdfunding Fiction

A few months ago I stumbled on to a great project where two architecture students designed and developed emergency housing for people caught in natural disasters. Their invention, the Ablenook, is a tool-free, modular housing structure that is sustainable regardless of terrain, resilient to low level hurricanes, and expandable so many families can be provided for at once, and schools and businesses can be temporarily relocated.

Here’s a clip if you’re interested:

Many of these projects are necessary, important, and relevant to humanity. Some, well, not so much:

But that’s cool. It’s okay to want to do creative wacky things. That’s one of the great things about living is that sometimes you’ll see some whimsical facets that make you forget about the horrors. It’s all necessary.

Sites like Kickstarter have become hugely popular and people in every walk of life and in many diverse fields have found every which way to exploit them.  The writing and publication fields are not to be excluded. There has been a surge in recent years for authors to look to crowdfunding to kick off their projects. It’s sort of a way to replace or offset the ever elusive advance money.

Now, before I go on I should explain that when it comes to writing the term ‘crowdfunding’ is not new. Crowdfunding could mean anything from collaborative group projects, mass prompt competitions, to simply someone who’s willing to provide story ideas to someone else who wants to write them (an idea man). But with these money raising sites, these participants who contribute to crowdfunding really take on a roll similar to a patron, a donor or a sponsor. They put up the money in hopes of having the “honor” of contributing to the project. In return they may get special credit for their contributions, or the ability to host an exclusive event, or maybe even a chance to be immortalized in the work itself – the ultimate bragging right. “Oh yeah, you got your name on a brick in a park? Well I was written as a character in this year’s New York Time’s best selling master piece. So there!”

The site PenUltimate has a treasure trove of terms relating to crowdsourcing and writing. Click here to learn more.

Someone left a comment on a blog post I read recently regarding how a writer could possibly achieve success in this sort of activity. A gentleman named Ted Thomas wrote:

1. Gain some success doing self-published writing in one or more fields.
2. Pitch your next fiction novel on 
crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter, where only the highest approved (see below) bidders win the privilege of having their own real life stories woven into the plot, with the chance to share in the revenue once a certain sales figure is reached.
3. Bidders fill out detailed questionnaires and privately post interviews, which become the source material for both the author’s final picks and the backstory of the novel.

3. The funders become beta readers and editors.

4. The novel is 
epublished in serial form on a platform such as Amazon; the funders are trained by the author to become the main promoters of the book.
5. If the novel fails, the funders lose out, but have a privileged spot for the next attempt. If it succeeds, the funders get both a modicum of fame and some return after book sales reach a pre-arranged level.

See what he did there? That Thomas is a genius if you ask me. Not only does he propose that these folks contribute money to a story that hasn’t even been written yet, but he’s signed them up to be PR mules too.  *golf claps*

Wow, right? This sounds like a bitchin’ idea!  Let’s go out and get started!

Woooah! Wait-a-sec. Before we rush off, this seems like one of those too good to be true thingies. Yep, it is. There are some poignant cons to this sort of scheme.

  • First…you haven’t written the story yet. I don’t know about you by my oh-shit-I’ve-written-myself-into-a-corner stack is greater than my fuck-yeah-I-finished pile. You’ll have to come up with a contingency plan for what could happen should the story go south. Even if you finish it, the chances of it being successful equates to a crap-shoot unless you’ve really got something going.
  • Second, it’s possible that your work could be disqualified for awards down the line. It’s just speculation from what I could find, at least in the monetary funding of the work, but sometimes these speculations can turn into something. More risky in this aspect is the crowdfunding where collaborative endeavors are at issue. Be sure to investigate everything having to do with your intellectual property to save yourself grief down the line.
  • Third would be that there’s a lot of talk from places like Forbes and Geekwire sounding alarms about the laws or lack there of concerning crowdfunding. What may seem like a good idea now, when you’re starting off, could drastically change by the time you’ve made enough of a name for yourself to get some larger sponsorships.

And that brings me to what keeps me on a fence about this. So, it makes sense that you need to make a name for yourself in order for this to be a successful project, so if you’re at that point why would you need to crowdfund your work? There’re still many stories out there about new and rising authors scoring 5-6-7 figure signing deals with major pub houses.  If you’re on the upswing in your writing success, why would you want to beg for money? (yeah, I know – starving bill collectors in India…)

Maybe I’m just a helpless optimist – if you work hard, and learn to write well, and focus on what you love about writing, money will come.

What do you think?

Out of the Office

Hey all. I interrupt the regularly scheduled Technique Tuesday to give you my apologies for not keeping up with my posts as planned. Life has been pretty hectic lately as far as my day job is concerned and most days I come home so tired I haven’t the energy for fun things like writing. On top of that I’ve been fighting what I thought were random and frequent bouts of tummy troubles, but I now believe that my illnesses weren’t illnesses at all, but a wheat or worse, gluten allergy. All of my symptoms lead to that. Know what that feels like? Its being in constant pain after meals, being woken up in the middle of the night with acid in your lungs and sinuses, and always feeling tired and run down for no obvious reason. I’ve kept my intake of wheat to a minimum these last few days and I’m feeling so much better.
Suffice it to say that my writing life has really been lacking lately while I deal with this.
With a move on the horizon, at the end of May to be specific, I don’t see my schedule taking before June.
If you all will excuse my absence for a few more weeks I’m confident I’ll have some goodies to share with you in June.
I’ll try to post between now and then, but it might be a bit scattered. Bear with me.
Until next time,
Kierce

Authentic Descriptions

A major pitfall in writing is glazing over a topic because of obstacles or incompetencies. An obstacle would be something like a word count limit, or a time limit, or fear. It’s anything that would stand in your way of delving more into your topic. An incompetency would be simply not knowing enough about the subject matter to write it fully. Sometimes all of the research in the world won’t convince the most discerning of readers.

Many of these roadblocks in the writer’s path are real and immovable. A word count restriction, for instance, is definite. If you’re submitting for something that calls for a set amount of words, you will have to obey that restriction or face rejection. A time limit is when your editor needs your follow up piece by a certain date. This, while some may be flexible, is another obstacle to heed. The solution to these restrictions requires that the author make careful decisions in their calculations on what to include in the story and what not to include. They’ll have to spend their time wisely and push forward to meet the demands.

small__96776343When the blocks of delivering authentic scenes are due to emotional resistance, a writer must do their all to push through that. It might be that the scene calls for some hot romance but the writer is a bit of a prude, or it might be that writing that scene brings up bad memories or hurt feelings from earlier in life, or maybe the block is fear – there are many things writers will pen for the sake of the story that if their readers believed they’d done something similar in their real life, it would be embarrassing. Many romance writers face this with a sly grin, while others hide behind pen names and obscure identities. The best writers will put the words on the paper regardless of how they feel. They know that if something they write makes someone emotional, then they’ve done their job. They also know that the brief moments of embarrassment, or unease, will pass when people appreciate their stories.

If it’s an emotional block, you’ll have to decide if it’s worth it to you to push through with that scene. If it is too much for you to bear to write the scene authentically because you’re not ready to face your emotions then you have two choices: cut the scene entirely and work your characters around the scene so it makes sense (not the best choice because readers can usually pick up when the writer has changed gears), or you could take this opportunity to pour all of your emotions into the scene and see where it takes you. The later choice often creates magical moments in writing.

Writing scenes authentically means to write it as though it really happened. It means that the writer of the story has to put themselves in the place of the characters and feel the scene, to see the scene with their mind’s eye, to embrace the scene with their hearts. They have to breathe the scene in order to make it live. If it means resorting to physical memories that the author experienced in real life, or if it’s information garnered after hours of research, when writing an authentic scene, a writer will do what it takes.

So what happens if you write a scene as authentically as you are able to but your intentions don’t translate to the reader? You could beat your head against a wall and wonder why the cues you set out weren’t picked up. It probably won’t get you very far very quickly. The better way is to read the trouble scene critically. Chances are that you limited the scene for one of the reasons stated above and the choices you made to counter the obstacles weren’t the best choices. If it’s a word count limit, go through scenes and cut anything unnecessary in order to make room to expand on your troubled scene.

Creating an authentic scene is sort of a misnomer, in the way that often our first tries at authentic scenes may not work out. In drafting, you will find yourself laying the foundation or bones of the story. You more mold your authentic scenes than create them.

Considering the point with writing is to offer the readers an emotional ride, it’s the author’s duty to make it as deep, and authentic of a ride as possible. Don’t you think?

Until next time,

Kierce

[photo credit: madamepsychosis via photopin cc]