Wednesday, March 20, 2019

You don't have to write every day to be a real writer

I took a creative writing class once, several years after I graduated college and had been slogging it in the workforce and dreaming of writing a novel. My teacher in this class said that the way to write a novel is to write 500 words a day. Don't miss a day. Butt in chair, fingers on keyboard. Do the thing. It worked for him, and clearly, you know, if it worked for one person, it'll work for everybody. Right?

Er, except no.

Still, even after I knew it wouldn't work for me, that 500-words-a-day advice was so baked into the aspiring-writer dogma that I didn't dare question it. I kept going to workshop after workshop and reading craft book after craft book -- even Stephen King's canonical On Writing, ffs -- that insisted the only way you can be a legit writer is to set a daily word count goal and meet it. Every. Day.

Hell, the cult of NaNoWriMo is built on this philosophy.

I started to think that because this advice did not work at all for me, I wasn't a real writer. There was surely something wrong with me. I was the only person who failed at NaNoWriMo annually, who joined and chronically and consistently failed at those daily word-count accountability groups. I wrote two books on deadline believing completely that because I didn't draft them in daily, predictable word chunks, I had done them all wrong.

If you can imagine how fun all this failure and self-loathing were, you can also understand how amazing and liberating it was when I found out the write-every-day advice was utter horsepucky.  Here's how it happened: I took a writing productivity course called Write Better Faster, taught by Becca Syme. The course starts out with students taking a series of personality tests -- Myers-Briggs, DISC, and Gallup Strengthsfinder -- and then Becca helps you tweak your process to best fit the way your brain works.

Y'all people, the Eureka hit me so hard I was literally crying.

My highest strength on the Gallup Strengthsfinder is Intellection*. This means that I do a lot of my best creative work when I'm not actually working. So all that time I spend driving around and thinking about my plots and characters and conflicts and trying out what-ifs and never writing them down? IS work time. IS writing time. Even though no words make it onto the doc, I am still working.

I was a writer. I am a writer.

My process just doesn't look like Stephen King's process or the NaNoWriMo bulk-word-vomit process. Slow and steady does not and will never win my race. I'm a think about the book for three months, get a strong handle on the kind of story I want to tell, which characters will best tell that story, what the jump-off conflict is, and how I plan to resolve it by the end. And at that point, when all of that work is complete and lighting up the inside of my skull, I can sit down and burn through a year's worth of accountability-group words and not even count the suckers.

Counting the words, writing every day, scheduling my creative brain, stalls me fatally. Which is why I hate hate HATE that piece of writing advice.


* Becca Syme did a whole video about us high-Intellection weirdos. If you think you might be one, I highly recommend taking her classes ultimately, but you can also preview a little of her wisdom here. Full disclosure: I'm in the video and it looks like there's something seriously wrong with my mouth. Not to worry. That was just nerves.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Don't Write What You Know

"Write What You Know" is the tritest advice ever exhorted in conventional creative writing classes. How boring. How restrictive. How cruel. How utterly ridiculous. It's a surefire way to reinforce the cultural status quo. It traps us in an ouroboros of classic and popular fiction built to exclude Other. It limits scope and imagination. It sets up failure at conception.
Don't write what you know. Write what interests you. Write that which provokes your curiosity and pushes your boundaries of comfort and knowledge. Get into the minds of people you're not, understand their desires and their conflicts. Expand your empathy by creating circumstances in which you would never find yourself. Explore environments that are the antithesis of yours. Challenge the concepts of normal and acceptable. Grow as a writer and you grow as an individual.

Feed your weird.  

Monday, March 18, 2019

It had to happen...I diagree with Jeffe.

"I don't think so. Name a piece of writing advice you do not agree with and explain why."

Go read Jeffe's post from yesterday. 

My entire counter-argument is this: I hate the boring parts when I'm reading. It will often make me put down a book. 

I kid, Actually, the only part that normally makes me crazy is the redundancies. If I read fifteen pages of a book and al that happens during those pages comes down to," We are far from home, walking through the mountains and I miss home" You cold cut about fourteen pages. Sometimes it's setting the mood and sometimes it's just too damned long.

Here's a piece of writing advice that I USUALLY disagree with. "Consider the feelings of the reader."

Nope. Not a chance. I start worrying about whether or not I'm hurting someone's feelings, especially as a horror writer, and I'm doomed. My first rule has always been write the story that you want to read. I can't write what Dan wants to read. I'm not Dan and would never presume to know his desires, even if he wrote them down on paper for me. I most assuredly can't write a book for Sarah, either. I'm not her. I write for me. To entertain me. To examine the issues that bother me. 

I can only write for me, and hope that what I write entertains others.

So, yesterday I was at the Writers Coffeehouse New England. About every three or four months, me and Christopher Golden try to host a gathering of writers at all levels of achievement in the industry. the entire point of this is to meet our peers, and, if we can, to offer a little advice. We are not alone in this. It's not about the two of us offering a Q and A session. It's about having open discussions about the things that writers are working on getting to understand better. We are not there to preach so much as we are there to facilitate and occasionally learn a few things ourselves. 

This is always done at either a library or a bookstore. This time around it was done at a great place called AN UNLIKELY STORY in Plainville Massachusetts. A delightful store owned by the creator of the DIARY OF A WIMPY KID series the amazing Jeff Kinney. What a wonderful store and what a spectacular staff. I can't thank them enough for having us.

We were joined by a lot of authors, including Hillary Monahan among others.

Hillary is always at the cutting edge for me. She is wise, she is sharp, she is direct and she is talented. She also brought up something that I, as a guy, almost never consider. That is trigger warnings. 

Okay, let me get this out there right now: I don't normally care about trigger warnings. I write horror, My usual philosophy is, if I make you uncomfortable, I'm doing my job. You may rest assured that the comment is normally meant with tongue firmly planted in cheek. I write about a lot of dark subjects, but as a rule I very seldom get graphic. If I lead you to the scene the right way I don't need to get explicit and I prefer it that way.

However, after giving Hillary a copy of BOOMTOWN to read if she so desires, I also listened to her words. She often puts a foreword in her books, a warning about the sort of stuff that will be encountered in the books, because in this day and age it's far too easy to trigger someone. 

On teh off chance that you;'e not familiar with the term, triggering a person comes down to making them remember something traumatic that has happened in their past. Again, I don't usually consider this.

Here's the thing: BOOMTOWN is a weird western. I set it in a fictitious version of the western expansion and at the end of the American Civil War. Things tended to get very ugly historically speaking, and I did not flinch from them in the book. There are Native Americans being done wrong, women being done wrong, ex-slaves being done wrong. Hell, there are just plain a lot of people being done wrong, because it was a genuinely ugly time in American history, no matter how much we might want to pretty it up. Any crimes committed against those poor, innocent settlers back in the day were very likely earned. Not necessarily by that group of settlers, but certainly by others.  The things that were done to Native American women by Caucasian men during those times were horrific and "justified" in the eye of those very same men because the women they were dealing with were considered savages who were only possibly better than animals. Here's one to consider: if the things done to those women had been done to livestock, the men responsible would have been hanged.

So, that said, I make mention of several sexual acts of savagery. Rape, that is, and worse. I do not take my time to get graphic with these scenarios, but they are mentioned. I felt I'd done enough as I didn't handle them "on screen" as it were. Still....

I gave it a bit of thought abd decided to add a foreword in this one case. As a rule, I don't mention rape, etc when I'm writing, the idea is to write an escape, not to make someone suffer. 

This one time, I'm aking an exception, I make mention of dark deeds, the sort that, unfortunately happene back then and still happens today. If I lose a few sales and manage not to cause someone any trauma in the process, I'm okay with that.

here, for your perusal, my one exception:

Warning Shots

I don’t normally give a warning on my books. I write horror and dark fantasy. I usually assume that is enough of a warning. I mean, seriously, if you come to a horror novel with the notion that you aren’t going to be made uneasy at some point, you’re maybe reading the wrong horror.

There are exceptions to every rule. There are scenes in BOOMTOWN that involve violence against children and sexual assault. In the case of the latter, it is mentioned but none of the scenes are “on screen” as it were. That’s deliberate. I don’t believe that sexual assault should ever be taken lightly and I certainly have no desire to stimulate any fantasies. The point in the story is simply that, sadly, in both the past and the present these sorts of assaults happen. They are not, I believe, truly sexual in nature. They’re a dominance play, a power trip and a way to make someone suffer.  I find them loathsome.

That said, it’s best to remember, even when you write horror, that some horrors hit too close to home. As this is a western, you can expect shoot-em-ups. As this is a book with monsters, you can expect fangs. As this is a novel that, as I feel all books do, investigates the human condition in one form or another, there are human monsters, too. I mostly avoid sex in my novels. I make mention of it, but there’s no reason for gratuity in these cases. Not for me, at least.

That said I want readers to be warned: there is mention of rape in these pages, and mention of children being hurt. I step into taboo areas, because I write about dark things, many of which make me uncomfortable, too. So, no surprises here, not when they might cause genuine pain rather than a chance to tell a tale.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Really, but No

Happy St. Patrick's Day! David and I are both from Irish families. You can see it in those smiling eyes, yes?

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is "I don't think so. Name a piece of writing advice you do not agree with and explain why."

Some of you might be able to guess which bit of advice I'm going to say. It's been on my mind lately and I've mentioned it often enough that I already have a tag/label for it.

It's this one: "If You're Bored Your Readers Will Be Too."

Really, but no.

When I've posted about this before (Looks like I did nearly a year ago, so that's not TOO recent), people have argued with me. "People" meaning other writers. They contend that they must FEEL the feels in the story or their readers won't. I can't argue with anyone else's process - the First Rule of Being a Writer is Own Your Process - but I don't think the writing experience should be conflated with the reading experience.

The two are VERY different. In the most basic sense, reading is faster than writing. I suspect if we did a cage match of the slowest reader with the fastest writer, the reader would still prevail. Also, absorbing a story is different than creating one. Finally, "boredom" is a relative term.

I'm going to focus on this last one.

Anyone who's been a parent, or spent any time around kids, is familiar with the "I'm so boorrrrred" complaint. It's usually ill-timed, delivered when the adult is working hard on some necessary but unexciting task of their own.

Merriam-Webster - the dictionary with the most politically on-point Twitter feed of its ilk - defines boredom as the state of being weary and restless through lack of interest. That "weary and restless" part is what makes the complaint from kids irritating. They're expressing a restlessness of youth, and the weariness is mostly emotional. The usual temptation is suggest various household chores to absorb their energy, but we all know that doesn't answer the complaint.

What they need to do is solve their own problem, and find something to invest their energy into.

I argue that "boredom" in writing is much the same. When we feel weary and restless while writing, it's a sign that we're working on a problem that needs our attention and energy. When a reader is bored, it's a sign that we've failed to engage their interest.

See how these are two totally different problems?

That's why I think it's terrible advice. If the writer is bored, they need to work through it, knowing that feeling restless with the slow pace of writing is part of the process. If you're worried about the readers being bored, then you need to look at other factors, like plot, pacing, emotions, investment in the characters, and so forth.

Éirinn go Brách!

Saturday, March 16, 2019

There Is No Club But You Can Be a Fan


As an author I certainly hope for people to discover my books, enjoy them and not stop until they’ve devoured my entire backlist (scifi romance, fantasy AND ancient Egyptian – hey, I can dream, can’t I?) and are clamoring for MORE. That’s the daydream…

But I’m the type of author who writes her books very much alone, at my great-grandmother’s desk (on a laptop though!), and doesn’t seek input or suggestions or want people to proffer names for characters or suggest plot points or what-have-you. I don’t like to discuss my plots while the books are being written, not even with my best real life friend of 30 years. I don’t have beta readers, critique partners or share details of works in progress.

 I’m very self-contained. I do have a wonderful editor and respect her inputs but she doesn’t see the stories until they’re done and I’m not likely to make any major structural changes. I have added things at her suggestion or clarified plot points…on KIERCE, my upcoming book, I added about 5K words in total after receiving her notes. There were adds and subtracts of course.

So while I may enjoy reading the daily Facebook posts from some of my own favorite authors, I shake my head and marvel at how much they seem to share, not only about the books but about their personal lives. But that’s genuinely ‘them’ to do…

That’s not me, folks.

Sometimes even the topics here on SFF7 make me squirmy as requiring too much of a glimpse into what I regard as personal and I deflect those or pass on writing a post that week.

I’m not going to get into all the background of why I am the way I am…I haz reasons…but I am pretty set in my ways.

What I do enjoy very much is being a member of several groups on Facebook oriented to scifi romance, both for readers and for authors, and participating in the conversations there. These groups are general, not dedicated to any one author (I don’t belong to any one author’s group for their books) and at times the discussions get lively, but not personal. I love connecting with readers in these groups and have made a number of really good friends over the years, speaking in social media terms. We’ll probably never meet in person but they’re lovely people and we’ve had great conversations, primarily around shared interests like scifi romance, books, movies, TV shows, pets…

I absolutely do not mind if a reader asks me questions about my books, either via the Contact Me form on my blog, or on FB or twitter. I try to give good thoughtful answers. I really appreciate the kind remarks readers have made about my books on social media. I LOVE the lady who has done some gorgeous fanfic drawings of scenes from my ancient Egyptian novels!

I call these ‘grace notes’ and I love them when they happen – they brighten my day. But I’m not going to set up a private group to try to cultivate more of these. Spontaneity works for me.

I also don’t want and will not read communications with story suggestions or plot ideas. I have my own, more than enough to last me a lifetime and I’m never going to be as enthused about an idea coming from someone else as I am about the ones bubbling in my own brain.  I have a general overview of the timeline in all my various ‘universes’ and no one but me knows who is going to do what, when, where.

Also, sadly, in the current crazy publishing environment, where many people don’t understand that ideas cannot be copyrighted, that there are no truly unique ideas (or very rarely), that genres and tropes have existed for years…well, I can’t afford to take the chance of reading someone’s well-meant  plot suggestions in order to be polite.

I’m on twitter and love it for the most part…

I’m in a couple of Goodreads groups but I tread warily and try to be super respectful that it’s a reader space, not for me as an author…

If I set up a group, would I then have a group of super dedicated readers/fans and thereby rocket my book sales into hyperspace? We’ll never know…but I do know I treasure every single reader, enjoy each reader interaction and am grateful for all the readers!

In the meantime, you can find me at the SciFi Romance Group,  the Pets In Space Readers group or the SFR Brigade on Facebook, and at on twitter, or my blog.

Happy reading!

Friday, March 15, 2019

The President of My Fan Club

Suuuuuuure I have a fan club! This is the president. Look at those smoochable lips. Unfortunately, these fans aren't readers. At all. And it turns out, they really seem to enjoy impeding the work in favor of being held while they snooze. Negotiations are underway on that front. 

As for reader groups, in a way I have one - it's a pre-existing group of people in a cat group. You're surprised, right? They've known me and my writing since long before I'd been published. They pulled for me and encouraged me. That group are AVID readers and these days there are weekly conversations about what everyone is reading. We have at least three authors in the group. Each time one of us publishes something, the group descends upon it. It's amazing and lovely and heartwarming. It's nothing formal, of course. It's simply my friends being awesome and helping keep my cats in kibble. 

Other than that, there's a Facebook author page which I update once in a blue moon because I refuse to pay FB's extortion that would allow the people who followed that page of their own free will to actually SEE that page. I've done my best to shift those followers to my actual friends page because right now, that's the only thing that isn't being held hostage. There's also an Instagram account that has a bunch of followers, and while I'd originally set it up to be *my* author account, the cats took it over. Entirely. I think out of 300+ photos, one is a book cover. Maybe two. Regardless, that account generates a lot of conversation regarding feline rescue efforts, so when I do post something specific to the human behind the IG curtain, there're always a few 'hey cool!' comments. But if we want to be honest, that group are fans of my cats. Not me.

I had a Twitter account. It's still there, but I have had to accept the fact that Twitter doesn't work for me. My brain just handles information in a way that Twitter wasn't designed to accommodate. And that's okay. So I don't go out there much. Tumblr was fun until it got nerfed. Now it's just -- a sad shell, really. I have a terrible secret about social media, too. I'd MUCH rather talk to readers in person. I so much prefer the energy exchange of meeting someone face to face and getting to talk books and stories. Mine, anyone else's - it's all good. But trying to do that via a couple hundred characters or via a one way newsletter? Not my happy place. Maybe one day, I'll have so many readers, I'll change my tune because newsletters and Twitter are the best ways of letting that many people know what's going on. I would love to have that opportunity. Until the day I cannot possibly meet ALL THE READERS I'll keep doing my best to engage in personal relationships with the ones I do have. Cause they are wicked cool people.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Fan groups, wikis and eligibility

So, a while back, I was chatting with an old friend who is far more business/marketing minded than I am capable of being, and he was talking about giving readers the opportunities tone more than fans, to "live" in Maradaine-- in the sense that there is more for them to engage in beyond the books. Partly that's encouraging things like fan art and fanfic (which: yes, especially fan art.) Partly that's merchandise. But largely it's about engagement and community.

I'm not entirely sure how to go about that, but I do know that some fans have been working on a Maradaine wiki, which is AMAZING. If you are interested in helping out with that project, I highly encourage it:
ALSO, since I've been asked, here's are my eligible works for this year's Hugo nominations, which are due on the 15th:
  • Best Novel: WAY OF THE SHIELD 
  • Best Series: MARADAINE (the whole saga, not any of the individual series)
  • Best Related Work: #BelgariadLive Read
All right, back into the word mines for me. No use having fans if I'm not putting out the work, right? Right.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Come play in my vortex (reader group)

Following the accumulated wisdom of How to Be a Writer in Public, I have developed all the things a writer is supposed to have: web site, at least two social media presences, newsletter, public Facebook page, and so on. But the common thread on all those is pushiness: I'm pushing info at folks. Even worse, sometimes I'm just pushing info out into the void, like "buy my book" pollution that nobody's ever going to pick up.

It's hard for authors to get a handle on the value of some of these one-way communication paths. We can count our followers or likes or whatever, but it still feels, to me, very bleak.

My goal in writing has never been to make money or get awards. It has always been to connect with other people, via a story. I can't even tell you how exciting it is to write a thing -- any thing -- when I know for certain that someone is going to read it. Even better when I know someone is looking forward to reading it. Those people make this sometimes dismal job worthwhile.

And I will never meet them by shoving out news items into email inboxes and swiftly flowing Twitter feeds. So I made a place where they could hang out, and I could hang out, and we can talk. People who might have an interest in my stories or worlds can tell me what they like, what they don't, what they would be interested in reading in the future. We exchange recipes and pet pics and memes and fandom and science info.

That place is Viv's Vortex of Readers and Space Vodka. It's not a fan group per se. It's more of a gathering of friends. I think we all know each other, and we welcome new members rarely enough that anybody joining is going to get a lot of attention.

The coolest part of the group so far is that I've noticed friends from one area of my life (for instance, my fandom friends from way back) meeting folks from another area (like my writing friends), and interacting and forming relationships that detach from me completely and grow into awesome things on their own.

I don't run contests in the group. I don't have rules about posting or reviewing or any of that. I make no demands on your time. We're small enough that we don't even have rules about members promoting their own work (though I wouldn't be against that... we should discuss). It's as close to a safe place on the internet as I've found.

You are cordially invited to join.