I was watching an interview with R.A. Salvatore. To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of his writing. However, he is successful, he sounds like a great guy, and at the very least he’s wise. I don’t like horror, but I still am glued to anything Stephen King says. You don’t need the author that has you stuck to the pages to find an author who can give sound advice.
Salvatore was asked once what the best college degree would be for a writer. The response left me puzzled.
Why engineering? Maybe if you wanted to write about architecture? Either way, there was a lot of confusion.
You can’t write when hungry.
In this age of self-publishing, if that’s the path you will be taking, it also costs money to make money. You are your sole investor. It’s $200 for an editor on a novel, often times more, rarely less. Even more rarely if you want quality.
An artist is at least $300 for the cover art. Sure you can do the layout. Of course you can go with stock photos that look immensely generic and someone else may have used. However, don’t you want something original? Something tailored specifically to your book? It just looks better.
Then there are book fairs, conventions, writer friend hangouts, and buying enough books up front so you can sell them at different events. This isn’t cheap. Don’t even get me started on the investment in marketing.
Guess what you can’t do if you’re a starving artist? Any of this. You’ll perpetuate the starving part and art will be a miserable endeavor for you. I have friends in this boat. They can’t sell out. Getting a job outside writing will nullify their dreams (marketing, guys, you are all marketers of some sort).
I sell restaurant equipment. This is what I am known for. I sell restaurant equipment and go on mission trips. I work about 50 hours a week. Fortunately in outside sales there’s a little fudge room. I am struck by my muse and 4:30 and nothing is happening? As long as I get caught up on emails before 8 am the next morning, I’m good. I’ve gone on a writing rampage to answer emails at 1 am.
However, this job is my literary life blood. With it I was able to go to a convention in Utah where I learned, networked, and met a friend I’d known online for around three years. I was able to buy original cover art which will eventually become metal bookmarks. And marketing. I so hate marketing.
All of this was because during the day I sell restaurant equipment. I work a normal job. One writer I met in Utah was a lawyer. His hours were significantly less forgiving than my own and he had a family.
The world works on money, and money from a primary source makes it easy to fund the writing (or drawing, painting, sculpting, etc.).
The short of it? The whole Bohemian thing is really cute. Now get a job.
Well, I finished the rough draft of my second major paper to write this month. Now I’ve just got the two papers to edit, the GRE and MAT to study for, classes to teach, church to help with, etc, etc, etc. At least I’m making some progress though… a little… right? Anyway, enough of my complaints. I have a story challenge, and it’s time for my favorite story challenge. I’m going to give you a series of criteria including genre, theme, some character archetypes, etc. Your job is to write a story that includes all of the features required in the challenge. If you intend to post it here, please keep it short. However, the complexity of this challenge often requires a longer story.
Genre: Historical, Fantasy, Modern
Setting: Your setting can be whatever you want, but it has to have something to do with work. You could write about a turn of the century factory, an ancient grain mill, a fantastical mine the churns out magical ore, or a modern office. You could even write about working from home.
1) The Self important Co-Worker
2) The Knowitall
3) The Boss
4) The Hard Worker
1) A product (whatever it might be)
2) A commonly used tool (this could be anything from a pick-axe to a stapler)
Obviously, that’s an unfair question. To a serious writer in any type of writing, the answer should be “both.” The act of writing itself is essential because it gets you into practice and gives you raw material to work with. While your first draft probably won’t be great the very moment you put it down on paper, at least doing so gives you a draft that you can revise and improve later on. That’s where editing comes in. Even if your first draft is crap, editing lets you refine it and hone in on the good parts while weeding out the bad. Editing and revision, especially after you’ve gotten some feedback or taken some time to come at your work with a fresh perspective, are what can turn a decent story into a good one, or a good one into a great one.
For a good writer, writing and editing should of course go hand in hand. Without the act of first writing something, editing wouldn’t exist at all. And without the act of editing and continual revision over time, writing couldn’t be nearly as good as it is. So it seems impossible to answer the question of which one is more important.
And yet, nonetheless, I’m still trying to answer that question now.
Well, maybe I’m not asking which is more important–just which one I should work on now. Here’s why.
If you’ve read some of my other posts on this blog, then you might know that, with some exceptions, I haven’t worked on writing novels in a long time. Two years of grad school and other responsibilities will do that to you. Yes, I’ve still been writing throughout all this time, and not just for school. But since my free time has been sparse for a while, I’ve focused my attention more on shorter works, such as poetry, blogs, articles, parodies, and maybe one serious short story. While I once dreamed of writing best-selling novels (or even halfway decent ones), I’ve barely worked on any for at least two years–probably closer to three, really.
But now, all that could change. I finished my graduate degree last month and, for the first time in about two decades, have absolutely no intention of continuing my studies in the fall. It’s summer and I have plenty of free time to catch up on reading, Netflix, and perhaps even writing. I have at least a few friends (and/or family members) who are using this summer to work on novels, and I want to join them because at least a part of me misses it.
But there’s a couple of problems. First, I’ve been out of novel-writing for so long that I’ll really have to re-cultivate my motivation for it if I’m going to make any progress at all. Secondly, there are two different large projects that I’ve wanted to work on, and I don’t know which one to start with or to give my attention to first. And that’s where my conflict between writing and editing comes in, because one project is a full novel that needs editing, and the other is an unfinished novel that needs writing.
I’ll give you a quick summary of both:
My full-length novel is a superhero story, tentatively titled Fractured Heroes (although I’m still not fully satisfied with that
name). It follows an ensemble cast of seven main protagonists, all superheroes or crime-fighters of some sort, with various personalities and character flaws. Some are brutal and violent; some are cold and detached; some use the outlet of heroism to seek redemption from a past of guilt and shame. But when they uncover a dangerous super-drug and a plot to destroy their city, this disjointed group of heroes has to band together and rely on something greater than their individual selves. I wrote this story throughout 2010 and 2011 (it was long enough to be two NaNoWriMos, and then some), and it’s gotten good reviews from a few friends and online forum readers. At some point in 2012, I had a trusted friend read through it and make comments or suggestions about how it could be improved. So I have a large document full of my friend’s comments…and I have made very little progress since then in going through those comments or revising my story at all. However, I would love to revisit it and get it good enough to send to a publisher one day.
And the other story I’m working on is a futuristic, dystopian one called The Joining. A couple centuries into the future, society is built almost entirely upon romantic relationships and physical pleasure. On their eighteenth birthday, everyone is expected to choose a partner and be joined with them for life. But one seventeen-year-old boy doesn’t fit into his society’s customs and doesn’t like feeling rushed to commit so soon . What is he to do with his Joining ceremony fast approaching? I started working on this story sometime in 2012. I outlined the entire plot, so I know more or less what I want to write. And in all that time I’ve written a walloping two chapters, about ten pages or so. I’ve got a story in me and I want to get it out, but I just haven’t had the time!
Of course, I want to work on both of these projects eventually, so maybe this dilemma is a bit redundant. If I really planned it and worked at it this summer, then I could certainly do some of both. Still, since I haven’t done that yet, I’m a little torn, and I’m opening it up to input.
Which one do you, my faithful readers and fellow writers, think I should focus on more so? And why? Is it better to get a new story idea out of my head or to hone the one that’s closer to a finished product? Which story sounds more interesting to you? And do you have any wise advice for a long-dormant novelist trying to get back in the game?
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Thanks for reading.
So, my fiancee just beat me horribly at a game of monopoly… seriously, my luck in this game was just plain pathetic… and I might have made a bad trade call that effectively ended the game… still, with better luck I could definitely have pulled it out. Anyway, I was low on money, and even mortgaging my properties wasn’t going to pull me out of the hole I was in. A lot of us have been at this point in real life as well. I know I have… honestly, most of my friends are tired of hearing my story about the time I could only afford to eat a can of green beans (which I got for free) a day. It was rough, and when things are rough it’s easy to put your faith in stories. As writers, most of us have heard about how J.K. Rowling was living on the British welfare system until the first Harry Potter novel brought money flowing in, or we hear about some self-published author who’s making a living wage off of one book that sells for $.99 a copy. Now, I’m sure that there’s more to each of these stories than we often think. I have no doubt that a lot of sweat, tears, and yes, possibly even blood went into the books that sent these author’s into the literary stratosphere. However, even if you are willing to put in the work, which most of us generally aren’t, and have the skill, which most of us probably don’t, something similar still probably won’t happen to you.
Consider that Rowling is a truly excellent writer. Of course, there are plenty of published author’s whose works I pick up and the first thing I think is ‘I can write better than this.’ This is the first lie that we tell ourselves – 1) even if it isn’t a very good author, if I’m honest I can probably write as well as that author, but maybe not better. We all tend to exaggerate our own skill, especially when comparing it to someone we don’t like reading very much. The second lie we tell ourselves is ‘this will happen to me.’ Note, we often phrase this as ‘this could happen to me.’ However, I have to admit that when I decided to self-publish my first book I did a lot of research. I knew the stories of several self-published authors whose work took off, but I also knew that most self-published books were lucky to sell ten copies. Even though I knew that, there was a little part of me that said, ‘I’ll be the exception.’ My book will sell, people will love it, a publisher will find out about it and beg to give me a huge contract to write a series, and soon stickers will be put on my books that read ‘2 Million Copies Sold’… …my book sold about a hundred and thirty copies, give or take ten.
Publishers receive tens of thousands of manucripts a year, and even with an agent (and your chances of getting an agent for a first novel aren’t incredible), you book isn’t likely to get published. Further, even if it does, most works of fiction don’t stay on the shelves for very long. The books that stay on the shelves are the ones that sell. Often the ones that sell are the ones that 1) are written by household names or cult favorites, and 2) the ones that are advertised out the wazoo and receive stellar reviews from influential critics. So, even if you do get a book published, don’t expect to make a living off of it. I met an author a couple of years ago who was a good writer… he’d written over 150 books and most of them were out of print. When I met him he was working on two different projects just to keep a reasonable income. On top of this, even if you book does sell fairly well, it’s likely that you’ll never receive royalties that overrun your forward. If you do publish a book the company will generally pay you for the right to publish it and make money off of it up front. I’m told that this is usually about $5000 for new fiction authors. That sounds like a lot, doesn’t it… how long did it take you to write that book? Now consider – most people make over $20,000/year, and you’ll probably never make more than that first $5000 off of your book.
So, with all of these challenges, why would anyone write, much less try to make a living writing? Well, first of all, the majority of authors in the world don’t make a living writing. Most authors have a day job and write because they love it. They don’t expect to live off of their income from writing and this is actually less true now than in the past. Further, most writers who do make a living writing actually write non-stop, and they’re good at it. I remember reading a passage from Terry Goodkind… he pointed out that he generally spends 12-14 hours a day writing. Also, many writers who write for a living are journalists, not fiction authors. Writing magazine articles is a lot different than writing novels. So, as a writer, don’t expect to make a living off of your writing. Keep your day job (at least until you’re making enough to live on).
Second, as I mentioned in a post a few weeks ago, writing is worth it even if you don’t make money. The point of all writing should be, in the words of Aristotle in Poetics, ‘to entertain and to educate.’ If you make a little money along the way, that’s great. However, the best works of fiction are those with a point. Think about Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Herbert’s Dune, Dante’s Divine Comedy, or Asimov’s I, Robot. Here we have two works of moral philosophy, a work of philosophical theology, a work of theology, and a work of speculative science and philosophy in the guise of fiction. Truly great books have something to say and what the author’s are trying to say is more important than making money. Now, this isn’t to say that we should sacrifice story for message, but it is to say that writing for money masks the real purpose of writing – to say something meaningful to the world.
Third, writing is catharsis. I mentioned this as well a couple of weeks ago. The book I wrote was, honestly, as much for me as for anyone else. I think it’s a worthwhile novel with a worthwhile message, a good story, a strong voice, and an original world. Those who’ve read it seem to agree. However, it also helped me deal with some serious questions I’d had, and with a difficult time in my life. Write for yourself and your message first, money is a bonus.
I had another post I was working on for today, but between Christmas preparations, hours of thesis writing, and mental exhaustion from a very stressful semester, I wasn’t able to get it finished in time. You’ll probably get to see it for my next post in a couple of weeks. Instead, I have some original poetry to share with you that I wrote for a poetry seminar a few months ago. Enjoy.
My Bedroom Dresser
The four overstuffed drawers squeak in protest
every time I shove one shut without bothering
to fold the floral mini-dress I wore when he was
home on leave last time. Blue dust shrouds
the still-full picture frames and the paint-chipped
Captain Picard perched on Malory’s Mort d’Arthur.
The single surface of the dresser not sick with dust
is the red Codeine bottle, still full from last week’s
visit to General Hospital’s emergency room.
If the dresser had been within arm’s reach last night
“You’re doing NaNoWriMo, right?” people keep asking me.
“Uh, no,” I reply. “Not this time. Sorry. I’ve got too much else going on right now.”
“Come on! You should do it!”
“I mean, maybe I’ll try a little bit. But, realistically, I just don’t see it happening this time.”
“Lame!” they chide me.
And I almost wonder if they’re right. NaNoWriMo (or National Novel Writing Month, for those unfamiliar) is designed to help you actually write something even in the midst of your busy schedule by setting reasonable goals for each day and having many people all writing at once to help keep each other accountable. And I know I’ve been the one on the other side of the spectrum at times, encouraging and/or pressuring my friends to be as gung ho about creative writing as I am. So what does it say about me that I’m not willing or able to put forth the effort this time around?
I did participate in and successfully complete NaNoWriMo three years in a row, but that was back when I was still an undergrad. Now that I’ve moved up in my education and taken on more commitments, this is my third year in a row not doing NaNo, and I do kind of miss it. I even have a plot outline in my brain that I’ve been wanting to get out on paper for some time now. But it’s looking again like this November is not going to be that time.
The good thing, though, is that even though I’m too busy to do NaNoWriMo, it doesn’t mean that I’m not writing. It doesn’t even mean that I’m not writing for fun. As I touched on in another post, while it’s been a while since I’ve tackled any larger works of fiction, I’ve shifted my attention in recent years toward shorter prose of various different styles. In addition to writing for this blog, I write articles for an ezine, I’ve dabbled or tried my hand at other online magazines and forums, I recently put out a few posts full of lighthearted anecdotes on my personal blog, and have of course been writing academic papers for my grad classes too. While part of me looks forward to the day when I can work on my novel(s) again, I dare say that I’m not exactly being slack in my writing right now.
Maybe you’re like me, and you want to stay in practice with your writing, but the thought of a huge, lofty project seems daunting or unrealistic right now. If that’s the case, then you may benefit from hearing what I’ve been doing to try to stay in practice even in the busy times of life:
Be disciplined. We’ve probably all heard before that good writing requires discipline and dedication. I don’t really have anything new or profound to add to that conversation, except that I’ve been finding that it really is true. While it’s not a novel, working on short prose and academic writing like I’ve been can be plenty daunting on its own, especially if you’ve taken on several different projects like I have. This week I put out two posts on my personal blog, because they had been in my head for a while and I wanted to get them out into the world, but I also had this blog post due and the next article for the ezine, along with at least five pages of a rough draft for a grad paper. How do I do it all in the same week? The only answer I can really give is discipline and making writing a priority. Lately, after all my other homework and reading is done, I’ve usually been using the last hour or so (sometimes more) of my day before bedtime to write, instead of to watch TV or whatever. It’s a good time for me to get a lot of thoughts out in a relaxed manner (as long as I go back and edit later when I’m less tired). Of course, each person’s schedules and habits are different, but I’m willing to bet that you have time to write in your day if you just work a little bit and prioritize to find it.
Be flexible. Being flexible can incorporate a few different things. For me, working on several short pieces at once, it means that I have to be able to go back and forth easily; sometimes I’ll work on two or three or four different pieces in the same day or night, and I have to be able to focus on each one without letting the mental shift feel too jarring. But flexibility also means writing what you can when you can. If you’re not sure what to write in the absence of one grand, overarching project, then just take whatever smaller opportunities come your way, or start a journal or blog about your own personal experiences. If you don’t have a huge block of free time in your day that you can devote to writing, then use the smaller times you do have, and cram it into five or ten minute slots wherever you can. Since there’s no one definite formula for good or consistent writing, you need to find whatever works for you and be willing to do it, even if what works for you is drastically different from one day to the next.
Be creative. If you’re used to writing creative fiction, then the idea of shorter prose may not appeal to you as much at first. But writing blogs, articles, and other short works doesn’t mean you can’t still be creative and let your own unique voice shine through. There’s not room in this post to delve thoroughly into what constitutes the genre of creative nonfiction, but it’s basically telling a story the same way you would in fiction–except that the story just happens to be true. You can still give things your own interpretation and your own personal spin and narration. Just because you’re writing something short and (arguably) more serious doesn’t mean you can’t express yourself and have fun with it, too.
I realize I haven’t said anything particularly profound and new here, but this is what has been working for me recently. Still, if anyone has any good tips on how to balance writing short projects with everything else in life and also work on a novel somewhere in there too, I’d be glad to hear them! 😛 But whatever you’re writing this month, keep at it and be consistent! You never know how it might help you stay “in shape” as a writer and improve your craft for the future.
I’m sorry this post is late. I managed to crash last night without even realizing that I’d forgotten to put one up for today! So, we’ve been talking about concepts of labor and a fair wage recently, and I’d like to add a third wrinkle: retirement. Consider: the vast majority of retired people work in some form or fashion. I remember when I was a security guard I worked with a retiree. I figured he was working part-time because he needed the money. However, as I got to know him better I found out that he had over a million dollars in the bank (well… I imagine it was probably invested somewhere, but you get the picture). When I asked why he was working for the (admittedly horrible) company that we worked for his response was that he ‘just wanted something to do’. This attitude seems to be pervasive. Regardless of whether we get paid, regardless of whether we need the money, we all seem to have a need to be productive in some way. The only other choice seems to be complete apathy, which is an even worse feeling than working. So, here is your question: why do we work? Is it a ‘god-given need’? Do we have a divine mandate to work? Is it simply a way to stave off boredom? Is it just a way to pay the bills? If it is, then how can we explain people like the man I knew at my security job?
Moving can get in the way of writing. Well, actually, a lot of things can get in the way of writing. Packing, moving, school, romance, work, etc. We all have a plethora of distractions and I haven’t really been good lately about making sure that I take time to write. I’m working on a novel at the moment (in chapter two… so we’ll see if I have the stamina to finish), and I’ve been considering writing a short text on trusting God. I plan on titling this ‘On Trusting God’. Original isn’t it?
Like in academic work, something that can help us with writing is taking the time to plan ahead. Part of the reason that I haven’t gotten very far in Chapter two of the novel is that I’m not entirely sure what needs to happen. There’ve been a few problems with the story that I’ve worked out so far (simplifying it some was a good idea), but at the moment I have a timing problem that I’m working on. I have a basic three part outline for the short work that I’m thinking about writing, but again, it needs to be much more detailed.
So, why is prep work important?
1) It helps us identify problems before we’ve actually done hours of writing. This is good because getting half-way through a chapter before realizing that one of your characters actually just doesn’t work is kind of a bad thing.
2) It makes writing faster. Amazingly, when you actually know what you’re writing (I mean you have a detailed plan, not just a general idea) the writing goes a whole lot faster.
3) It makes the story flow better. Again, if you work out details before hand and you know where you are going it is easier for you for avoid getting lost in your own writing or losing yourself in characters that aren’t really that important to the story.
So, why don’t most of us plan ahead?
1) It’s hard work. Writing is supposed to be fun, right? It’s supposed to be enjoyable, not hard, drudging work. However, putting together a chapter plan can be hard, drudging work. It’s not necessarily much fun, which means that a lot of us don’t really like it that much.
2) It’s not spontaneous. Most of the writers I’ve met (myself included) feel (and I do mean ‘feel’ here, not think or believe) that writing should be spontaneous. This seems to make it more artistic, from the heart, and meaningful. Honestly, through editing my own work, I’ve learned that spontaneous writing really tends to just be sloppier.
3) It takes too much time. Let’s be honest, figuring out what happens next in the story and how it needs to happen is generally what takes the longest. So, why would I try to do all of that at the very beginning of the chapter when I can spread out the lengthy pauses and figure things out as I go? Well, mostly for the reasons above :).
So, what I really need to do is sit down and plan out my chapter. This is going to take some time, and take some hard work, but it will probably make the chapter better and easier to write. I also want to sit down and write an outline for the smaller work as well. That probably won’t take as much time though.
Welcome to Sunday, everyone! I certainly hope that you’re all having a wonderful week. So, as you know, we take Sundays off here at the Art of Writing (or at least off from the blog… I know at least Selanya and I will be working today. However, I’ve found a truly wonderful picture for you today. It’s reminiscent for me, and I hope that its thoroughly reminiscent for you as well.
I went up north for a writing get away. I was having issues with my opening and what I wanted to do with it. Try as I might, it was an elusive devil. So I went into our local “big town” where they had a book store. I picked up five fantasy books and a fantasy – sci fi anthology. I went to the local beer garden (I love Wisconsin), had beer and a brat, and started reading. I tried reading three pages into each book and about one page in the anthology. I marked what was good and bad, then outlined what I wanted for my own story. It was a research day.
While we all have different areas requiring this attention, we all do require research. That day I had issues with opening. Other days I just want something interesting that no one has done before. Maybe the city you built is so generic it bores even you, and you have to look into what has made villages and the like fascinating throughout history. Tolkien researched languages. George R.R. Martin researched history. If you want to be a great writer, you need to do your research.
Research has many forms. The most interesting is experience. You want to know what it would be like to walk through a hot forest when it is 90 degrees with high humidity? Travel to Missouri and go for a hike with a heavy backpack with provisions. Bring lots of water and a cell phone. By the end you will be exhausted, sweaty, and feel absolutely miserable. Remember that, because in most fantasy novels these individuals are heavily armored and it doesn’t seem like they’re all that uncomfortable. I’m doing Tough Mudder in large part to help me better understand what it is like to make your way through mud, to be uncomfortable, to exert yourself until your body is screaming at you to stop, and you’re telling it, “Two more miles and three more obstacles! I believe in you!” And your body’s telling you, “If I think hard enough that you don’t exist, do you disappear?” Obviously killing a dragon, dueling someone to the death, doing hard drugs, and other such experiences should more likely be read about and researched in other methods, but there are so many aspects of an adventure we really can experience that we get lazy about.
You can always interview someone. There are plenty of people out there who have done a number of interesting things you would never try. Ask them to describe the experience. My friend who went to war, I asked him all about it. Sure he didn’t see a lot of front line action, but he still saw plenty to give an idea of the reality of war. When you do this, don’t be shy to ask questions. Figure out where they’re coming from, ask for clarification, and most of all listen. If you’re asking about something sensitive, know when to back off. These experiences can be unbelievably personal and leave numerous bad scars. Don’t go beyond what they’re comfortable with. No means no, and no amount of alcohol should be used to change minds. This isn’t college.
Finally, you have books and the internet. We should all be familiar with secondary and primary resources. If you need a brief summary of a topic, go for a secondary. You don’t need to learn about physics to write science fiction, but it sure does help to have a broad overview of nanotechnology. On the other hand, when you are going to be delving deep into the information, go for primary. If you want to comprehend war and that is the focus of your story, pick up some journals from warriors throughout the ages, from today to Genghis Khan. I’m not sure if he had a journal, but it’s amazing what information there is on war doing those periods. George R.R. Martin actually used some of the information on his people to create the Dothraki. History is full of amazing stories that are nearly impossible to fathom. Science has incredible plot hooks throughout it. See how you can take an event or theory and turn it into a story. Since it is a story, take liberties with it. Make it yours.
So research diligently and write great works!
Let us know how you research and what tactics work for you. Do you go to the library? Have you gone on hikes for the sake of research? Would love to hear how you go about it.