31 August 2009

It's My Book, Dammit, Not Yours

So, some recent drama over at a blog I read (The Over Educated Nympho, great read), has brought a few things to mind. Primarily, the notion of entitlement. A lot of readers will tell you that once they read a book, or a story, that it no longer belongs to the author. Hell, a lot of authors will tell you the same thing.

They are all completely wrong.

No matter what happens with it, anything you write is yours. Not only in a legal sense, but in a more personal, wholly intangible way.

When a reader has their mind blown, or their life completely changed by a book, they will hold it up as an example of great writing. Hell, I consider Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea to be the absolute pinnacle of English literature, unsullied by lesser hands. It has completely changed my life, and the way I approach the English language.

But it's not mine. Not even a little bit.

It's Papa's, and it always will be.

A writer puts more than just mental effort into their work. It's far more than just words on paper to them. It's far more than a moving story that punches you in the gut and fucks with your mind.

It is them. Body and soul goes into it, and a good writer, one who takes their craft seriously, will be able to look at any passage in one of their works and tell you everything about the moment when it was written down. Where they were, what they were feeling, what was going on around them. Which one of their kids was sick that day, and whether or not they were fighting with their spouse.

There is a connection there, existing between a writer and his work, that transcends just about every other. The only comparison I can make that would do it justice is that of a parent and child. It's fundamental, and forever.

So yes, you paid your $15 to have a copy, and you've read it three dozen times. But it's not yours. Physically, you own a copy, but it belongs to the author entirely.

28 August 2009

The Wait

So you've finished your masterpiece. You've polished it, and edited it, and trimmed it down to a level of awesomeness that astounds even you, it's creator.

You've taken the advice that is offered on every writer's website, and waited three months before reading it again, just to make sure.

You've selected a viable publishing house, filled out the paperwork, and sent it off to them. And now you wait.

And wait.

And wait.

It takes most houses at least three months to get to a submission. Three months, if you're lucky. Most times, it's more like six. Most also ask, and most how-to guides agree, that you not submit it elsewhere in the meantime. If, by some chance, they want it, they don't want to get into a bidding war over it with another house. Which is understandable.

So you sit, and wait. You check your mail three, four times a day, hoping for that envelope. It's interminable. Your stress level winds tighter and tighter with each passing day that it does not arrive. You come to hate weekends, solely due to the lack of mail delivery. You count down the days, and do complicated math in your head, trying to determine how much longer it will take, based on the distance it had to travel, the number of submissions you suppose the house gets, and the length of your submission itself. You start to fantasize about the reasons it is taking so long. Perhaps they loved it so much, they are having a series of meetings with their VPs, trying to settle on just how many millions they want to pay you. Perhaps they hated it so much that they burned it, and refuse to contact you, hoping that if they ignore you, you'll go away.

And then it arrives. By the time it drops into your mailbox, you don't even care anymore. Not really. You're down to checking the mail just once a day, sometimes even skipping it for a day. You've convinced yourself that it doesn't matter what they say in the letter, as long as they say something. When you see it in the mailbox, though, your heart skips a beat. You take it in trembling fingers and read the return address a few times, just to make sure you're not deluding yourself.

Much like a college application response, you try to gauge the response by the weight and thickness of the envelope. Is there a contract in there? Could it fit? Perhaps a cheque....

When you finally do open it and read the first few lines, your reaction here will determine your future. I'm serious. Chances are, it's a "thanks, but no thanks" letter. Don't kid yourself, my friend; Hemingway you ain't.

Now, how you respond to this is very, very important. And you can't really prep for it, either. You can break down, and give up. Let's face it, this is the option that most people take. Or, you can set the letter in your desk drawer, fire up your word processing software, and start in on the next chapter in your latest work.

That second option? That's the one that Hemingway would take.

Just so you know....

27 August 2009

Stephen King is a Douchebag

Alright, that may have been a bit strong.....

The man has some talent. Well, more specifically, he had some talent, got ridiculously wealthy, and has spent the rest of his life rehashing the same money-making techniques that got him rich in the first place. Which is fine for him, really. Whatever works, right?

But what pisses me off is his fans. Ever talked to a Stephen King fan? They're like fundamentalists. You can't get through to those people. You can lay out exactly why King has lost it, and where (about 200 pages into Firestarter, if you're interested), but it won't matter. You'll be shunned as a non-believer forever more.

He's a hack, writing the same stories over and over again, using the same half dozen or so characters, and always ending with some ridiculous deus ex machina that is proof positive that the man has no idea what he's doing.

Which brings me to my point:


Yes, I went all Billy Mays there, but I felt it was important enough to justify it. Plan your stories out, from start to finish. Get your characters in your head, flesh them out, and live in them for a while before you ever set pen to paper or fingers to keys. by "live in them" I mean just that. Spend a few days acting like your main characters. Approach every situation in the real world and ask yourself, "How would Protagonist deal with this?"

Know the story that you want to tell. Know how you want to tell it. Write all of that down first, and then fine tune it. You can tweak it as you get to the actual work, but if you do it right, you shouldn't have to do much of that at all.

The actual writing of the story should be the easy part. If you do enough preparation, it should just fall out of your fingers onto the page.

You should have notes. Reams of notes. You should have more notes than the actual work itself. That's fine. What you do with them when you're done is up to you. Personally, I try to keep mine, but scraps get lost here and there. Which kind of adds to the magic of it, I guess, but that's for another post.

As are Harry Potter fans. Fuck those people.

25 August 2009

Essential Tools

So, there are a few things that you need in order to write effectively. The first, obviously, is an idea. But we'll assume you have the idea, you have a basic layout of where you want to go with it, and so on.

So, you have The Story.

Now you just need to write the damn thing.

Here are some tools that I have found very helpful in this process.

1 - An extensive library. You've all heard it before, from any number of successful writers. If you want to write, you need to read. A lot. The reason you keep hearing it is because it's true. Nothing will make you more aware of how to do it than to experience it at somebody else's hand. Writing is one of the rare activities where practice does not make perfect. Unless you read somebody else's work, you'll never get better with your own. Just try to make sure that what you're reading is not close in style/theme to what you're writing. You'll copy it whether you intend to or not.

2 - Paper. And lots of it. I don't care that you're writing this on your laptop. You could be scribbling it with charcoal on the walls of your bedroom. Doesn't matter. You will need notepaper, and a lot of it. I use a Moleskine notebook for mine, and carry it with me everywhere. There are three pens tucked into it, and it is wrapped in an elastic. It doubles as a carrying case for essentials (smokes, lighter, pens, bus pass, etc...), but it's primary function is to write down ideas wherever they come to me. I have two books almost completely laid out in that Moleskine, and the bare bones of several others. Snippets of dialogue that I don't even know where they'll go, scenes that popped into my head and could be useful down the road, all sorts of things. Always, always, always have notepaper with you, and something to write with.

3 - Privacy. If you have a spare bedroom in your house, convert it to an office. Get a desk, some bookshelves, and set it up as your writing room. Let everybody else know that when the door to that room is closed, the only reason to interrupt you is imminent death. Get a lock on the door if you can, but stress that no one should be knocking on that door unless it is a dire emergency. There is nothing worse than being in a groove, with words flowing out of you in a torrent, only to have your concentration broken by a knock on the door, or someone barging into the room. People who do that should be shot, in my opinion. There is no going back to it, you've lost the moment, and there is no way to get it back.

That's pretty much it. Personally, I use a lot of music, as well, but that's just because I'm a huge audiophile. Some people like silence when they work, and that's fine too. I get bored when it's quiet, though. As well, I need a squeaky chair. Not for the noise, not really. It's weird, but if I lean back in my chair to take a breather, and I don't hear the squeak, it throws me completely off my game.

Tiny Pirates have Tiny Adventures

So, this started with a dream I had one night, and it's been kicking around in the back of my head for quite some time.

I'm working on a kids' book. Not, you know, actively working on it, but laying some groundwork, getting some ideas down, that sort of thing.

The problem is, I have another one, definitely not a kids' book, that I have more fleshed out. I have chapter outlines, a full plot, character sketches, etc.... And I really, really want to do that one, as well.

I'm torn.

Not to mention several others that are little more than ideas popping around in the back of my head.

Now that I have an office again, I'm going to get myself back into the swing of things, and get some words down on paper. I'm looking forward to it.