Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Physics Of Writing

I work for a bookseller - the best job ever for a bibliophile, especially one who's also a writer - and today I came across a book on motivation. Since I can't pick up a book without opening to a random page and reading at least one sentence, I found this one full of pictures - well, stick figure drawings- and brief but clear bits of information about what keeps us from doing what we want to or know we have to do.
     The page I opened to had drawings and words to depict the concept of inertia. It first used half the definition of inertia to explain why it's hard for us to get started moving, at all or in a certain direction. Simplified scientific statement: an object (body) at rest tends to remain at rest without a force to move it.
     This made me think of how hard it is to start a writing project. The book pointed out that sitting on the couch, wishing, hoping, desiring, dreaming about what you want or need will not help you get it. While thinking about your writing and putting the words together in your head is a good and often useful thing, it accomplishes nothing if you don't make yourself actually write (or type) the words.
     The other half of the simplified scientific statement is: a body in motion tends to stay in motion. This made me think how much easier it is to keep going with a WIP when you do it everyday or at least regularly. Even more, it reminded me of how hard it is to get back into working on a story or book when you've had some time away and lose momentum.
     To keep the physics analogy, words don't move themselves from your head to the page. They need a force - you - to put them there. So, like most things, inertia can be your friend or your enemy, depending on how you use it. My suggestion is to make it work for you, rather than against you.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

When Less Is (often) More

I spend a lot of time thinking about description - because I'm so bad at it. Particularly "sensory" description, since I am a visual person. Even for a human, I have a poor sense of smell. Really, there is just so much going on in my head all the time, I'm not always aware of noise around me.
Think about it: When you are in any situation, do you notice (as many fictional characters seem to) what you see, smell, hear, taste, feel? I mean, all of it? Maybe it's true of mystery or detective-type people or characters because they are trained to or just naturally pay attention to everything.
     I feel people are more like me: Sometimes, I may walk into a room and notice that it's cold or quiet or smells really bad. Often, whatever strikes me most or strongest gets and holds my attention. I don't immediately think, "There's an awful smell in here", and start focusing on what the room looks or feels or sounds like. It is true (especially in fiction) that on occasion a person might walk into a place that is dark and cold and smells bad and is either freakishly quiet or overwhelmingly loud and make note of all these facts. But not always.
     Anyway, I generally only notice what I see and sometimes can't focus on that enough to be able to describe it later. So that's how I write my characters. They mostly only notice how something looks, but not always, and rarely anything else unless it's something out of the ordinary.
     However, I do appreciate good description and try to learn from writers who have a gift for it. I am envious of authors who can use simple, powerful descriptions.
     For example, one of my favorite descriptive phrases is from a Sookie Stackhouse novel (Southern Vampire Series) by Charlaine Harris. Sookie comes across her ex-boyfriend, Bill, who has been tied up and tortured. As I remember, aside from mentioning that he's been grievously hurt, she didn't detail all his injuries or describe how he looked. She noted, "He had one unbroken finger" (that he used to point with). Just from those five words, any reader with imagination will suffer mental images of what else might have been done to Bill.
     You would think - at least I would think (or hope) - since I can only focus on one thing at a time, that I would be able to describe at least that one thing well. Or, even better, concisely. Unfortunately, I can't. Yet. It is just another of the many things I continually strive to improve in my writing.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Self-publishing And E-publishing

I, and several members of Living Writer's Collective (the world's greatest writing group), recently attended a seminar on self-publishing and electronic publishing hosted by author Ramon Presson. He highlighted the pros and cons of various forms of publishing: POD (print on demand) self, vanity, traditional.
     The fact is that traditional publishing is becoming less and less of an option for new writers as publishers just don't have the resources to take risks on new books and new writers. Of the other options, POD and self or e-publishing are much less expensive and have better rewards than vanity press.
     A key thing that many writers are not aware of is that even successful writers who have traditional publishers are turning down advances from publishers and giving up their contracts in favor of publishing their work themselves. They do this because it allows the author to keep all profits and because having a publisher no longer benefits writers the way it used to. Today, even if you have a publisher, YOU have to do all the PR and marketing yourself, the same as if you were self-published.
     Ramon spoke about a friend's experience with publishing on Kindle and how easy and quick his friend said it was. It amazes me that more people haven't looked into this.
     I am the most tech and computer challenged person you could meet. I can now send an email with attachments, but until several months ago I had to call my husband and ask how to do it (again) each time I needed to. Even so, I have successfully e-published several stories and one novel for both Kindle and Nook. NOTE: Kindle and Nook pay you a percentage of royalties on sales of your work, but there is NO COST to you at all to publish with them. It's a win-win.
     I thought I would share the details of how easy this is. The first thing I did was "attend" a FREE webinar by Daniel Hall, about how to publish a book to Kindle through Amazon's DTP (Direct To Publish) site. The webinar lasted about an hour and not only walked you through the process and explained every step in detail, but offered lots of information and advice on marketing and format and other things I don't know the actual terms for. Hall has another webinar about publishing to Nook using Barnes and Noble's Pubit! program.
     Following this instruction, I was able to publish my work for both Kindle and Nook and the whole process is very quick and simple. I started out, as an experiment, publishing a short story and now have several short stories and my first novel available for my many (all four of them) fans to purchase and download to their e-readers. I highly recommend all writers try this form of publishing.
     As far as I know, you can still Google Daniel Hall's webinars for self e-publishing and view them FREE. Hall has lots of webinars on many subjects regarding writing, marketing and promoting your work (not all of them free, but his clients that pay for other services is what allows him to offer some things to the rest of us at no charge).
     I advise everyone to do this with some of their writing just because it's a great experience. Ramon suggested it also looks good on your writing resume. And once your work is out there, it may become wildly successful. What have you got to lose?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The 26 characters

I'm not referring to fictional characters, but the 26 letters of the alphabet. I read an article some weeks ago (wish I could remember where) about how it was so hard to create a story, a world, people, emotions, events, etc., using mere words. It mentioned a famous writer, I want to say it was Toni Morrison, who expressed it more definitively: "using just the 26 letters of the alphabet."
     Astonishing when you think about it. It reminds me of  ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, where a few pictures and symbols were able to do the same thing: tell a story, describe a culture, recount history. I can't imagine how they could do that without all the millions of written words we use today. But if you consider that all our millions of words are created with just 26 symbols, it's a whole different concept.
     It seems incredible when I think about how the same letters can be used to make many different words that have totally different meanings: thought, though, through, trough, thorough, tough. And that's one example out of hundreds. Most people who are not linguists, or whatever they are called, never see the magic in this. Even  writers often take words for granted when we are using them to create our masterworks.
     I don't know that there's any benefit to considering what I see as the magic of letters and words, but it does add a dimension of awe to the act of writing. And we can all use a little magic.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Another Lesson Learned Again

     As I've mentioned here several times, I am in the middle (literally) of revising - hopefully for the last time - my second book. And a few weeks ago, after it was going along smoothly and, to my great relief, needing no more than minor corrections, revisions and edits, I hit a big snag. It was one section, but in it I manged to have no less than four problems with the plot line. They weren't huge issues, but they were connected and each was big enough that finding a solution was daunting. So I struggled for weeks, picking at it, thinking, debating and brainstorming - but not actually dealing with it.
     This is so familiar. If you read my post mentioning my experience with revising my first book, you know this has happened to me before, more than once. And my way to handle it, or not, is to worry about it so much that I don't want to face it and refuse to actually work on it until I have a perfectly clear idea in my head about what I'm going to do. This rarely works. Maybe never works.
     On at least three occasions in the last weeks, I opened the document, looked at my notes, my questions, the troubled part of the manuscript and then gave up in frustration. But I'm a writer and we can't not write. So I refused to let myself go on to another project and just kept worrying over the current one. And a couple days ago, I again sat down with the scrambled parts of my book, my notes and my questions! Just reading over the same things again, this time I knew the answer to not just one question, but how to fix all the snags that had created a snarl in my work. And in ten minutes, it was smoothed out and the way is cleared for me to continue my revisions.
     Here's the lesson I have to keep learning and feel I have to keep passing it on: The problem didn't get fixed by ignoring it. It didn't get fixed by thinking about it while doing something else (although that sometimes works for many people and I am in favor of trying it). I didn't get fixed the first time I studied and read over and cussed at it. Or the second time I struggled with it. Or the third...but then I conquered it. And I probably could have done so sooner and not missed three weeks of valuable time if I hadn't avoided it because I was frustrated and insecure.
     Here's the lesson, again: Perseverance is essential. Insecurity is the enemy (though not the only one). Write every day, persist in your writing even when it's hard and doesn't seem to be going anywhere, sit down at the computer and face your WIP demons. They will not go away or suddenly conquer themselves if you ignore them. If you keep at it, you will succeed.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Well, Darn.

In my post, "Welcome Visitors! So...Who Are You?", I noted (having just learned about blog 'Stats') the astounding number of page views my blog has had in the past several months. I wondered who all these people were and how they had come across my blog.
      I played around with stats again recently and found you can see what part of the world your views are from.  When I investigated, I learned fascinating things.
     Of the 482 view to date, only 321 are from the US. Of the other 161, 95 are from Russia (!), 25 from Germany (Yay! I like this because I was born in Berlin - to American parents, but my grandparents were German - and lived in Bonn the first several years of my life. German was my first language.), 2 from France, and between 3 and 6 views from Latvia, India, Malaysia, Canada, Ukraine and Qatar. I am geographically challenged and couldn't find most of those last ones on a map. And I've never heard of Qatar.
     This leads me to the disappointing conclusion that a large percentage of my viewers came across my blog by accident and probably didn't even glance at it. This should not surprise me. How often when am I trying to navigate the web do I end up somewhere I didn't mean and never expected to be? But it took away a lot of the fun I had thinking of all these viewers reading and being encouraged, inspired, and entertained by my posts. I now know most of them were probably just very annoyed.
     This feels similar to having your writing rejected after encouraging success (even if only imagined), but I know how to deal with that. Just keep producing the best work you can and never give up sending it out into the world.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Extroverted Writer

They do exist. I'm sure I've met one. Sometime.
     But overall, writers are shy, quiet, introverted types.  And we are certainly, even after we've been writing and improving our craft for years, painfully insecure about sharing our work with others, even people we know. For the most part, we are not outgoing individuals, especially with strangers or acquaintances.We dread the idea of putting ourselves "out there", at least in person as we are told we must to promote our writing.
     Most of us are much more comfortable expressing and presenting ourselves in writing. Therefore, when we do "talk" about ourselves in writing, we need to be willing to really show our personalities. No one wants to be seen as strange, but face it: writers - and creative types in general - are an odd group. We are unusual. The LWC ( writers' group I am a member of has a website, blog and fb page that describe us - perfectly - as an "eclectic group" of writers.
     In my last post, I wrote about how "meeting" an interesting author often makes you want to read their work in a way that a description of their work often does not. We need to take advantage of this. Avoid writing bios in the third person. Let your quirky sense of humor and unique perspective show through your writing, both in your stories and novels and "non-fiction" bits and pieces in areas such as social media. Don't try to present yourself as bland, normal, or just like everyone else. Make people see how fascinating you are and they will expect that your plots and characters are as well.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Writer Vs. Synopsis

I was recently referred by a writer friend to check out an author of horse-related mysteries that I had never heard of. I googled and found a brief synopsis of her latest work and a description by the author about how she met her main character - inside her head.
     The synopsis read just like every other mystery synopsis: main character (description) discovers/becomes involved in some problem or the other to solve with the help of secondary characters (description) and against whoever the villains are and whatever impediments exist. Even if your characters and plot are fascinating, it's hard to make that evident when it has to be presented in the usual formula.
     So her synopsis sounded like her book was just another mystery, but her depicting of how she 'met' her character in her own words was interesting. She was interesting and those paragraphs offered insight into how she writes. And because I liked her writing style and her personality, I was inclined to check out her book, despite the boring synopsis.
     I have had this experience with other writers. Whether I had read their books or not, reading what they had to say about themselves, their experiences, their writing and the world in general, made me want to read more from them. (This is where writer's websites and blogs are really valuable). If the writer sounds like someone you want to spend time with, chances are the writer's characters will be, too.
     There's an important lesson here. When creating a synopsis or any kind description of your book or story, try to put some of your own personality into it, rather than just stating the facts about the plot and its characters. This is a place where a writer needs to ignore how things "should be, are, or have always been" done and do things their own way.
     This is something to keep in mind when giving biographical information as well. Bios are typically presented in the third person, but first person is a better way for readers to "meet" writers. When you are expected to give just the facts, writing them in your own voice, the way you create your stories, is more effective.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Welcome Visitors! So...Who Are You?

     This month, March 2012, is the one year anniversary of my blog. Which seems amazing to me, probably because it started out as an experiment and grew from there. From March through September, 2011, I posted an average of less than twice a month. In October 2011, when I decided this would be a worthwhile endeavour, I set a schedule and have since posted twice weekly on a regular basis, averaging 8-10 posts a month.
     When I first started my blog I wasn't sure about it at all - or about myself, in regard to blogging. I agonized over the first three posts last March. I had already determined that I wanted all my posts to be well-written and insightful. Insightful is kind of ambitious, but there's nothing wrong with aiming high. My anxiety over the first few posts was ridiculous, utterly, because no one was going to read them: I hadn't told a single person that I had a blog.
     When I eventually decided that my posts were acceptable, I told three of my writer friends and two family members. I immediately had five faithful followers. Now, one year later, I have the same five faithful followers. Which is fine with me. But this creates a fascinating puzzle for me.
     A couple of weeks ago (have I mentioned often that I am as computer challenged as anyone?) I learned about "stats", where you can check the number of page views your blog has had. The results were astounding. In April, 2011, when I had made one post (and three posts in March) I had 2 page views. No posts or views in May; June: 3 posts/10 views, July: 5 posts/15 views and so on. In September 2011, I was astonished to see that I had 39 page views. Since October 2011, the number of views per month has ranged from 52-92, averaging 74 per month. (Ouch, all these numbers! Even simple math is painful to me.)
     Since I have no more than five people I know who occasionally read my blog, even if all five read every post, that accounts for 45 page views and leaves me with a question: Who are you people?
     Another confession: I just this week learned about labels, which I'm told helps people who google subjects I might have posted about to be directed to my blog. I haven't tried that yet, which leaves me with another question: How did you find your way here?
     I am delighted to that you are here. I hope you find something encouraging, inspirational and/or informative in my posts, and hope you will visit again. I would appreciate it if you would leave a comment, so I can get to know a little bit about you and perhaps learn something new that you have to share.