June 18, 2005

The Business of Writing

What does writing fiction have to do with business? Everything! Unless, of course, you don't care about being published. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. But there's a difference between writing for pleasure and being so arrogant that you think your self-determined talent puts you in an imaginary bracket of writers that don't have to be concerned about the business side of things.

A lot of newbie writers take rejection personally. This is understandable, but usually after collecting a nice binder full of NO slips, they tend to either give up or develop the necessary thick skin required to continue. What's worse, is a writer that takes the publishing industry machinations personally. "Why should I have to make sure my manuscript doesn't have any typos? Why should I bother finding out the name of the agent/editor I'm sending my work to? Why should I follow the format EVERY OTHER PUBLISHED WRITER ON THE PLANET follows? My talent is so immense that shouldn't matter. How dare they!" Joe Newbie then ironically follows this with a diatribe on the arrogance of them. (Them being anyone who would dare try to apply any type of metric to Joe's work, instead of just sending him a fat check and a box of hardcover editions of his book.)

The silly part of this is that unlike a lot of other areas of writing, everything is laid out perfectly for the writer. Every publisher and agent provides guidelines describing exactly what is required to submit to them. There are reams of material on how to write book proposals, query letters, synopsis' and outlines. And despite spending months (sometimes years!) writing their masterpiece, some writers won't take five minutes to look for any of this. The old Comedy adage "it's all in the delivery" would be well taken by newbie writers. Heck, I've been telling my daughter since she was five that it's not enough to be smart, you have to show it.

Like it or not, writing is a business. While publishers, agents and editors may indeed love books and writers, the bottom line is they need to make money. Just like any other business. As a writer, you have to wear two hats: an artist's beret and a businessman's fedora. If you can't be bothered, then write your masterpieces and stick them in a drawer. It will make the wait time for the rest of us shorter.

June 17, 2005

A Novel Experiment

Just wanted to say I haven't forgotten about the novel experiment I mentioned a while back. I still intend on trying it, but it's going to be about a week or so to rewrite an old story, get it off to market, and then revise/polish the story I just finished before getting it off to market as well.

Once I've done that, we'll start the experiment. But, I have to say working on the story I wrote this week was quite enlightening. It helped to remind me how I write. Outlines seem to stifle me. Don't get me wrong, writing without one is scary as hell. But it's a cool scary.

First Draft Done

Well, after a couple of false starts I finally found my way into the short story that wanted out. Just finished the first draft. It came in at 6,137 words. No title yet. Which is strange for me, since I usually have the title first.

I think it came out pretty well. There was more than a few times my muse tried to lead me down cliche lane, but I think I managed to wrestle it back each time. Needs polishing, of course. But first, I need some distance. So into the drawer it goes for a week or two.

I've got an older story I want to rewrite for the same market I just wrote this for, so I'll start on that tomorrow. Now that the cogs are catching again I don't want to give it a chance to bog down when I'm not looking.

June 13, 2005

Internal Editor Wanted -- to shutup!

One of the hardest things for me -- and for a lot of other writers -- is turning off the internal editor. Maybe part of it is that we're afraid if we did finally succeed in shutting them up, they wouldn't be there for subsequent drafts when we really need them. In any case, a lot of stories and novels never happen because of second guessing, rewriting and endless reworking that keeps us messing around with page two or chapter one or that opening sentence that "just isn't right". While I can't tell you I've found the secret on/off button (I wish!), I have found something that helps.

First, a disclaimer: This trick involves Microsoft Word. Please do not take this as an enthusiastic endorsement of Word. Most of the time I use it partly because I use it in my day job, and partly because if I wander off to find something else to use, I'll end up spending weeks doing tests, comparisons, etc. The fact is Word is always sitting there on my machine, if you stay away from the bells and whistles it doesn't suck too badly, and almost every editor that takes electronic submissions asks for an attached file in Word format. So, we'll have that argument later, but if you can't stand the idea of Word, don't read on. On the otherhand, this "trick" can be extrapolated to any other package with very little thought.

If you're like me, you print out what you've written after the day's writing is done. This can be where the internal editor comes to life and sends you into rewrite hell. Typical manuscript format leaves lots of room for notes, tweaks and scratchouts (as it should). What I've found is if for the initial writing you use a proportional font with single line spacing, you won't stop the internal editor dead in its tracks, but you can throw some nails in front of its tires and slow it down. There's no space to do more than maybe a little spellcheck. (That's the part of the trick that can be extrapolated almost anywhere.)

One of the problems with this is that pages are massive and you can feel like you're not getting as much done. But if you reduce your page size to booklet form, not only will you feel like you're getting more done, but your printout will be easier on the eyes and each session will resemble a little chapbook. Now printer software has been able to do this for a while by shrinking down your full-sized pages and jamming them into half the size your layout intended, but I find this less than elegant. Since Word 2002, there's been a better solution at your fingertips. Here's what to do:

  1. Open a new, blank Word document.

  2. Choose File > Page Setup.

  3. On the Margins tab, select Book Fold from the Multiple Pages drop-down.

  4. Change your Top, Bottom, Inside and Outside margins to .5 inches.

  5. Set your Gutter to .25 inches.

  6. Click OK and you're now not only working in booklet form, but you're actually typing into a page the size of one booklet page! (Make sure your using Print Layout view, of course.)

Now just choose a good looking proportional font, and you're off. (I use 12pt Times New Roman because it resembles the font used in traditional paperbacks and it's freely available almost everywhere, but feel free to play around with it. Don't forget if the page or font seems too small, you can adjust your view zoom to help.)

For printing, you'll ideally want to duplex. If your printing doesn't provide automatic duplexing, most printers come with instructions on how to manually duplex. Check your manual.

To simplify things in the future, save the document as a template. For submissions, just copy the text out of your finished document and paste it into your normal manuscript template.

Good luck!

June 8, 2005

Bad Muse! Bad!

And just when you've tired of waiting for your muse to get its shit together and you've decided to make him do something (jesus, anything!), he jumps up and does something on his own. Of course, not what you were going to make him do, but words are words.

Wrote 500 words on a new short story last night. We'll see where it goes.

June 6, 2005

Up to the lab to see what's on the slab

I think it's time for a little experimenting.

I've been reading a lot lately (and discussing online) about the approach to getting a novel out of a writer's head and down on paper. The approach, mind you, not the development of the idea in the first place. (Some writers call the latter step composting, but I don't like the concept that my ideas are rotting, so I think I'm going to call it stewing or simmering.)

Now, there's a LOT of different views on what's best. Some like to outline laboriously before ever putting a single word under the Chapter One heading, whereas others prefer to strap in, grip the keyboard and see where the sucker takes them. I don't think any one approach is "right". There's an old saying that what works, works because it works. But the reason I'm looking into this now is that ever since writing my first novel, I've been actively filling a box (and hard drive) with partials. Even on my first novel, things were...um...uneven.

For the first one, I just started writing with no idea where I was going. This actually went pretty well for a while. Then, at about the 3/4 point, I stalled. It sat like that for over 6 months. Finally, at the urging of some good writer friends, I went at it again. I went back and outlined what I'd done, and then continued the outline to the end. Then I sat down and did my best to follow the outline. It got done, but I'd much prefer a less time-consuming and soul-wracking approach.

In a previous post, I spoke about The Snowflake Method of writing a novel. This is one of the many systems out there which provide steps to follow from idea to finished novel. In theory, all it does is break the task of writing a novel up into digestible chunks. But, there is a map to follow.

So, the experiment I'm launching myself on is this: I'm going to start writing two novels pretty much at the same time. One, I'm going to outline a little, do a little character sketching, figure out a few high points (all of this is actually done already) and then I'm just going to start writing.

For the other, I'm going to try and stick religiously to The Snowflake Method. We'll see how it goes. If nothing else, I think this will show me the way I function best. Worse case, I'll have some more partials for THE BOX. Best case, I'll have two novels written by the end of the summer and some insight into how my muse works. (Most likely I'm going to end up with one novel and a slightly heavier box, but what the hell.)

I'll keep you posted.