A series of haiku. Not intentionally, they seem to have a theme, so I gave them a title.
Outside the porch screen
The crow squawks, hidden in trees
Warning or promise
Change creeps like a deer
silent tiptoes through brush and
saplings, to appear (more…)
Chuck Wendig does occasional flash fiction challenges on his blog. Wanting an excuse to stop fretting over the novel I’m bashing my head against, I decided to give it a try.
My new book, Truth is a Drug, is live on Kindle today. I’m supposed to be excited, right? I’ll be the quivering heap in the corner catatonic with anxiety.
Anyway, I’ve always listened to music while writing. Often, it’s the best thing to get me in the headspace for the fictional world. For Truth is a Drug, this was especially the case. If Hollywood ever comes calling, I have the soundtrack. SMH
If you want some music while reading, or want to see what was going into my ears during the writing, here’s a playlist of the songs that are on Spotify:[Top]
So, I’m trying out Nanowrimo again this year. It’s never worked out very well for me in the past, but what the hell? I need practice at writing consistently day by day, so I’m focusing on that and letting the 50,000 word goal for the month fall where it may.
I came to a point in the manuscript where a character was reading entrails. As you do. And it’s easy to find an article online about the history of haruspicy (hello, Wikipedia), but I needed a little more information on how it was actually practiced. For verisimilitude. I’m not planning on sacrificing any sheep or chickens. As far as you know.
And I came upon this nice explanation of the ritual and translation of the quadrants of the liver that were used for divination. Of course, it’s a little weird in that it suggests you use an egg instead of a sheep’s liver to perform your own modern ritual. I figured it was a pagan website of some sort, which is cool. But then I noticed the url. UTK.edu. University of TN-Knoxville. Apparently, it’s the website of an associate prof, although not in Classics as you might imagine, but electrical engineering and computer science. You just never know.
Anyway, it was exactly what I needed for research. So go, alma mater, you stay weird.[Top]
This weekend on the drive to DragonCon, my wife and I were listening to an audiobook: Ann Patchett’s excellent essay on writing, “The Getaway Car,” in her collection This is the Story of a Happy Marriage. I had heard it before, but wanted to share it with her because Patchett perfectly sums up my experience of writing:
The book is my invisible friend, omnipresent, evolving, thrilling. During the months (or years) it takes me to put my ideas together, I don’t take notes or make outlines; I’m figuring things out, and all the while the book makes a breeze around my head like an oversized butterfly whose wings were cut from the rose window in Notre Dame. This book I have not yet written one word of is a thing of indescribable beauty, unpredictable in its patterns, piercing in its colour, so wild and loyal in its nature that my love for this book, and my faith in it as I track its lazy flight, is the single perfect joy in my life. It is the greatest novel in the history of literature, and I have thought it up, and all I have to do is put it down on paper and then everyone can see this beauty that I see.
And so I do. When I can’t think of another stall, when putting it off has actually become more painful than doing it, I reach up and pluck the butterfly from the air. I take it from the region of my head and I press it down against my desk, and there, with my own hand, I kill it. It’s not that I want to kill it, but it’s the only way I can get something that is so three-dimensional onto the flat page… Imagine running over a butterfly with an SUV. Everything that was beautiful about this living thing – all the colour, the light and movement – is gone. What I’m left with is the dry husk of my friend, the broken body chipped, dismantled and poorly reassembled. Dead. That’s my book.
When I tell this story in front of an audience it tends to get a laugh. People think I’m being charmingly self-deprecating, when really it is the closest thing to the truth about my writing process that I know. The journey from the head to hand is perilous and lined with bodies.
“That’s so sad,” said my wife. “Don’t kill the butterfly.”
“I have to,” I said. “That’s the only way.”
(Quote copied & pasted from here. Thanks for typing it up!)[Top]
I’m tired of thinking about writing.
(I almost said that I’m tired of writing, but I’m not doing any, so how could that be the case?)
It seems like a few years ago all of the writing blogs I read were on the art and craft of writing. Now they all seem to be stuck on the business of writing. Not that I mind business, but enough is enough.
A lot of pixels have been spent on how much money everyone is or isn’t making, or should be making. Everyone either wants to be the next Stephen King or the next Hugh Howey. Publishing, marketing, money, money, money. Blah, blah, blah. Few talk about what goes into making the “product”.
I once heard Harlan Ellison describe a metaphor from someone else (whose name I’ve forgotten) that Hollywood was like climbing up a mountain of manure to reach a rose growing at the top. By the time you reached the summit, your nose would be too filled with the stench of shit to smell the rose.
I think that metaphor applies to more than Hollywood, and I’ve been feeling that way about the entire publishing business lately. In fact, I can’t get the publishing business out of my brain long enough to think about my own writing.
But here’s the conclusion I’ve come to: there is more than one rose. Everyone is so focused on the one at the top of the mountain of shit, that they forget about the rest of them. You may not get any credit for going and smelling one of the others. But at least you’ll still be able to smell it.
Confession: I don’t really care for the Olympics. Nevertheless, I was watching women’s figure skating the other night because I was sick, and the other channels were interrupting their programs for wall-to-wall thunderstorm coverage. According to the commentators, the Italian Carolina Kostner had a bad run at the Vancouver Olympics and had planned to give it up except for her mother telling her to continue for the love of skating. And Kostner nailed it that night. I don’t pretend to know how scoring works in figure skating, except that even people who know better think it’s rigged. She got a bronze nevertheless.
Now I know it’s not a perfect metaphor, because she’s a professional skater anyway, and would have continued skating even if she gave up competition. But the ease and grace with which she skated reminded me of the Zen archer’s koan to “be the arrow”. She appeared to be in the moment and enjoying the hell out of it rather than worrying about winning a medal.
And because everything is like writing, that’s what I want to find again. To forget about the “medals” of publishing and financial gain and accolades, and to simply do it because I want to do it. Because I love it, and because it makes me feel like a better, fuller human being.
To go and smell the roses, and leave the mountain of shit to those who still think that lonely rose is the only rose worth smelling.
That’s what I want. But it’s a hard thing to convince myself. That all this effort might be worthwhile, even if no one ever read a word.“Now, it all comes down to numbers. Now, I’m glad that I have quit. Folks these days just don’t do nothing simply for the love of it.” – Don Henley, “A Month of Sundays [Top]
Chuck Wendig wrote a post yesterday in which he basically said that self-publishers need to stop half-assing things. Then he followed up today by saying it’s not the readers’ job to be the new gatekeepers.
I read them, and had the little argument in my head like I normally do with articles that happen to trigger my bullshit detector. Normally, that’s enough, and the effort to type out a response doesn’t seem like it’s worth it. But what the hell.
To quote his own summary of his first post: “blah, blah, blah.” It’s not that there’s anything revolutionary in there, it’s that it’s such painfully bland advice that it seems hardly worth stating except to get the usual crowds to shout, “Rah! Rah! That self-published shit on Amazon needs to get its act together!”
Right. There are lots of crappy self-published books on Amazon. They should try harder. Art harder, as Wendig himself said so well. Get a good cover, learn to sling a sentence, fix the fucking typos, and stop acting like it’s goddamn amateur hour.
I hate to break it to you, Chuck, but these poor slobs think they’re playing in the majors. They think their book is pretty damn good and they love that cover they threw together in a half hour with PowerPoint.
Nobody sets out to make a shitty book. Somehow, most people manage to. Some of those people manage to get their shitty books published by The Big However-Many-Are-Left. Some of those people slap their shitty book up on Amazon like a toddler discovering that their poop makes good paint. Most people shove their shitty books in the drawer and never do anything with them.
I celebrate all the shitty books being published on Amazon. Because some of them aren’t. Maybe a few of them are good. Their authors probably can’t tell the difference–hopefully they get some input that can guide them toward writing better before they press the publish button. But let’s be honest–the books that pass through agents and editors on their way to the publishing houses often suck, too. It’s a magical and mysterious process that cannot be simplified into a formula or Hollywood movies would be better than they are. Some of those who are edited to hell and back will still not end up with a very good book, and sometimes a writer will create a classic with little to no editing.
So more is better. More self-publishing means that the crappy books will proliferate, but so will the good ones. The authors who publish crap will probably not know, and they may never get any better. Look at auditions for shows like American Idol. The poor saps who come in and think they are sirens but sound more like frogs should have had someone to tell them how bad they were before they stood before nationally broadcast cameras. But even if they’d been told they sucked, they still probably would have thought they were good. The other thing you notice in such competitions is how often the talented people cannot believe it. This is because incompetent people overrate their competence, and the highly competent underrate their own. Science!
The signal to noise ratio is terrible, but then it always has been. Hundreds of thousands of books are published a year and there are some 130 million books ever published. Most readers will never venture beyond what they are recommended by their friends and see on the bestseller lists. Those brave souls who delve into the depths of the hundreds of thousands of self- and pro- published books will have to develop thick skins. They will either laugh or weep and gnash their teeth at the dreck they find. And there will be many self-published books that will never be discovered. I have one on Amazon at the moment. I think it’s alright. But it’s not burning up any charts.
Most readers are much better “editors” than the traditional gatekeepers give them credit for. If they read the back cover and the first page or two, and don’t like it, they won’t buy it. Once or twice getting burned with giving a self-published book a try will teach them to judge them just as harshly as they would a traditionally published book. I just hope they don’t think that all self-published books are bad because of one bad experience. I hope instead they learn the proper lesson: don’t dish out your money unless you think you will like the book, or someone has recommended it to you: the same common sense judgment we apply to every other source of media.
(And I have a whole other thing about how the self-publishing argument has devolved into a discussion of money, but that’s another rant for another time.)
So yeah, I don’t exactly celebrate mediocrity or half-assing things, as the person Wendig quotes (Emily Cantore) says. If you are writing a book: Try your best. Try not to write shit. Ask other people what they think of your writing. If you have trouble with grammar or typos, get it fixed. If you think your book is good, and want it to get noticed, give it a good cover. I hope this is all self-evident. Sometimes these things aren’t. If you’ve never written much before, and this stuff sounds like Greek, study up on it before you press “publish”: Don’t be like those people who think they are more competent than they are.
But don’t wait forever, either. Because maybe it’s time. If you’ve covered all the basic steps, and you’ve researched all the stuff you need to know to put your best effort out there, then maybe you should pull the trigger.
I don’t celebrate half-assing it, but I do celebrate all of the people putting their asses out in public. Because it’s not easy for some of us, and sometimes you will get it handed back to you. I celebrate taking a chance on yourself.[Top]
I went for a run this morning.
On Saturday, I’d run in my ninth 5k of the year and had my fastest time yet. 26:12. Any serious runners out there are probably snickering. But by some stroke of luck, the serious runners were in the other age groups instead of mine this time, and I placed first in my age group (younger than dirt, old enough to know better). But I tweaked my knee a little bit, probably by not following my usual routine of stretching afterward, and decided to take it easy today.
Easy was two 9:30 miles. That’s my new baseline. Six months ago, it was slightly under eleven minutes per mile. I was struck this morning by how clearly I could remember those eleven minute miles feeling like my limit. At the time, I thought that was as fast as I could run without pushing myself.
Someday, maybe, I’ll get my head game straightened out, and I’ll be able to push myself to faster times on race days. That’s what I thought then. Well, let me tell you, I am still all up in my head pretty much constantly. The little demon, the little blerch, still sits on my shoulder most of the time I’m running, and he tells me that I could quit at any time, nobody is making me run, it hurts and it’s not fun and you could just walk.
But I didn’t stop. Most of the time. Sometimes I have to pry my ass out of bed with a crowbar to hit the pavement. Sometimes I stop running and walk because I feel like I need to, and sometimes that’s the truth and sometimes that’s the demon winning. But more often than not, I fight through the resistance and I put one foot in front of another at least a few days a week.
And now I can run 9:30 miles without really trying (except for ignoring the demon whispers).
I don’t know when it happened. I’m not a natural athlete, so I thought maybe I was immune. I hate sports, so I thought maybe the sports god wouldn’t bless me out of spite. But apparently bodies have their own internal mechanisms that work based on the inputs we give them. Mostly physical inputs. No matter how much I think I won’t improve, if I keep running, I keep getting faster. Just like I can’t make my car start by thinking it should, I have to turn the key (although I hear Google is working on that).
A couple of months ago, my baseline went from 11 minute miles to 9 minute miles. And it was sudden, at least to my awareness. After one run, I looked at Runkeeper, and thought, Holy shit!
About a month ago, I also looked at my writing output for the year and thought the same thing, Holy shit! But for the opposite reason. I’m too ashamed to even tally up how many words I’ve managed. And I have no excuse. Time management is one of my biggest issues. Facebook is my greatest nemesis.
But there will always be a nemesis. Ten years ago, it was late night infomercials. And it’s really neither of those. It’s the blerch, the writing demon, who says the same kind of shit that the running demon does, You’ll never be good enough. No one will like what you write. You’re going to offend people. You’ll be ashamed or embarrassed. You will fail.
So why don’t you watch this advert for Insanity for the tenth time? Or hit the refresh button on Facebook for the tenth time?
It’s not all gloom with my writing this year. I’ve submitted more work than ever before. And every time I hit send, the demon tells me that it’s pointless. And every time I get a rejection, he says, see? But I keep prying myself off the couch with the crowbar, and I keep hitting send.
About two weeks ago, I ran across Chuck Wendig’s no bullshit writing plan for a novel in a year. 350 words a day, five days a week. In my head, it sounded an awful lot like my plan to run three to four times a week for 20-ish minutes with occasional hour long runs.
The last two weeks, I’ve kept to the plan. I’m sure I will fuck up and miss some days or weeks. I did with running, too. But all I have to do is keep fighting through the resistance, again and again and again and again, and eventually I will be writing more often and more easily.The baseline will move.
And it will feel like it happened magically, out of nowhere.[Top]
The last couple of months have been packed with travel and sickness and visiting family and work on the business. I found out that I didn’t even make it past the pitch round of the Amazon novel contest, and with all the busy-ness, I haven’t come near my writing goals recently. I’d just gotten over the lingering funk of a bad cold and now allergies are massing for the attack. While not all bad and having some very good moments, these months have been trying.
But none of that matters today, because today is Publication Day. My short story “Spider Without a Web” is live on Abyss & Apex. This is my first publication in mumble-mumble years, plus it’s got a fun little POV trick that I’m fond of (if I do say so myself). Hope you enjoy it![Top]
My friend Robert recently posted a writing exercise he’d done from the prompt: “What is your metaphor for the fear of writing that first line?”
Well, it seems I face that fear with every line when I first sit down to write, whether it’s the first or halfway through, so when I couldn’t come up with a next first line for the story I’m working on, I wrote this instead:
And here is the OCR’d version, with minor edits:[Top]