Monthly Archives: October 2011

Ready Or Not, Here I NaNo

Or, What I Hope National Novel Writing Month Will Do for Me

Tomorrow’s the day.  T minus 16 hours for those late-night scribblers (in my time zone) who are planning to start at midnight.  I am not a late-night scribbler.  I am an early morning before work–before my ADD makes a mincemeat of my ability to hold a line of thought for more than 10 seconds–writer, so I will not be starting until 4 or 5 a.m. tomorrow….a good 21 hours for me.

At this point, I have not gotten done everything I would have liked to get done before November.  I am also not going to care.  I am putting my novel writing first for a month, instead of somewhere in the last quartile of my priorities.

And that is, essentially, what I want NaNoWriMo to do for me: to give me a reason (or an excuse) to take care of my writing goals before any others. 

I have found in the past six months that making time to write is harder for me than I expected, and harder than I think it should be.  Some of the difficulty has been, perhaps, in spending time on stories about which I wasn’t really enthusiastic enough to get swept away by.  Some of it, however, is also just poor time management and prioritization skills on my part.  Putting writing goals at the top of a list two pages deep really isn’t the way to get them done, because all the rest of it–the obligations and overextensions on other work and other hobbies, and the simple realities of daily life–are nipping at that writing time’s heels, eating into it in five-minute chunks here and mental energy exhaustions there.  This month, I have two things on my to do list: 

1.  Write daily word goal.

2.  Friends and family time.

I am not even keeping a “would like to do” list for the other stuff.  If it’s that important, it will hit me in the face, force me to deal with it, and then be done.  If it’s not important enough to force me to look at it, then it was never that important.

So for one month, novel writing comes first.  I am hoping it works for me to get my production where I want it to be. I hope that I learn a few things about prioritizing, and about what can be done with a spare 20 minutes when that is my first and only priority for the time, so that even when I allow other pulls on my time again I can still keep a better focus on my writing.

What about all y’all out there NNWMing with me–what perennial problem do you hope the month of November will allow you to overcome?

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The Curious Schizophrenia of a Fiction Writer

I had a very odd moment of insight into my WIP and its main character the other day.  My epiphany had to do with the heroine’s reasons for her behavior, and, more importantly, her feelings upon doing what humans naturally and constantly do–contradicting herself by behaving in a way that went against what she considers her personal standards. 

Every character is, to one extent or another, a reflection or inversion of the author who creates them.  There is no other way to write a character except through the lens of one’s own understanding about human nature and human emotion and human logic. If you were to look at all a writer’s characters, you’re basically seeing the funhouse of a thousand mirrors view of that person’s psyche.

But I think the degree to which an individual character contains recognizable pieces of the author varies. This heroine has never felt like a particular analog to me, but I am slowly realizing that she and I have much more in common than I initially believed.

Hard on the heels of that revelation about her was an intense protective feeling for her.  Not in the sense that I (as the author) am going to make her path less difficult or her choices less hard; her story is set, her choices already laid out before her.  But I feel an, I don’t know, an empathy for her that makes me want to see her triumph, to see her laugh in the face of that adversity and emerge from the (psychological/emotional) battlefield triumphant.  As I would with any of my friends, I want to see her win at life.

Is this some distorted reflection of my own desire to vanquish similar dragons in my own life projected onto her? Is that what all writing really is, the exhorcising on one’s own demons through character avatars? Or do I care about her simply because she’s an admirable, relatable character with whom readers will easily identify, and that is coming through even in the drafting stage?

This is the insanity of being a fiction writer. You can never tell when you care about your character because they are worth caring about, or because they are a means for you to write yourself out of your own psychological corner. Oh well. As long as readers can’t tell the difference, I am not sure it even matters. Not even, in the end, to me….

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Will Digital Backlists Bring “Author’s Cut” Novels?

I was struck by a thought that I can’t quite let go of about traditionally published authors choosing to self-publish digital reissues of their out-of-print books. I think it was a crashing together of that trend with all the speculation about what “extra content” ebooks will start adding to either justify a higher price or entice some of the print holdouts into the digital market.

Specifically, I’m wondering if any of these reissues will be done, not as “published novel plus author notes” or “published novel plus new epilogue” bundles, but rather as the book equivalent of a director’s cut DVD.  And I don’t mean the lame director’s cut that every DVD now has, where it’s like one extra scene just so it can be marketed as something different and worth an extra $10, but the serious director’s cuts that represent a substantively different vision of the film, such as the Bladerunner director’s cut, or the redux of Apocalypse Now.

I would not have wondered this six months ago.  Before I started keeping up with the online communities of authors/agents/editors/self-publishers, I assumed, naively perhaps, that an author wrote a book, their editor made sure it was as tightened as it could be and free of errors, and that the final published version was roughly commensurate with what the author originally wrote and intended the book to be.  In some–maybe even most–cases I’m sure that’s true. But I think there are also plenty of books out there which were changed to please an editor’s aesthetic or a perceived market appeal.  I wonder, do the authors of those books still have their original drafts, the first version that was closest to what they wanted the book to be?  And will those begin to make their way into the world, at last, as digital backlist reissues?

I know of at least one case where a publisher actually published the original version of the novel when it was reissued some 30 years later–Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War, which had a rewritten middle section in its originally published (and reprinted till the reissue) form–so it’s hardly beyond the bounds of possibility that many such “compromised second drafts” (as Jeffrey and I like to call them) exist.

Personally, I think the creative freedom now open to authors is absolutely beautiful.  I don’t mean the idea of creative freedom to be an argument against editing, revising, or rewriting a rough draft to better capture the author’s intent. Those things are different from being asked to change part of your book in order to sell it.  I have elements in a couple stories in my To Be Written file that a publishing house editor would probably ask me to remove because they don’t fit the common bounds of romance. If my only avenue for publication was through that editor, I can see the appeal in giving in–otherwise, this story that I had put my heart and soul into writing would never be seen by anyone. I think a lot of writers over the years have given in. I wonder how many regret it? My guess is, many to most.

I hope that all of them get their rights reverted and choose to share their original vision, either as a package with both editions of the book (theatrical cut on one disc, director’s cut on the other bundle style) or as standalone works that are clearly marked as being the author’s original intent.

If any of you know of authors who have done this with their backlist, please let me know. I’m quite curious to see how widespread this kind of editorial bullying really is, and if most authors, after time to forget the work and come back to it almost objectively, agree with the changes or feel they betrayed their own story by giving in.

This is the fifth in a series of articles about the digital revolution in publishing.  I welcome any comments, links, dissension, and, of course, if you liked the perspective please check back for future installments!  I plan to blog about this at least once a week for the next couple months.  Thanks for stopping by! ~Lily 

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10.29.11

I just saw this post at Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s blog that supports my sense of how much this compromising HAS happened. Now we just have to find the authors who are *actually* pulling out their original visions and putting them up for sale!

http://kriswrites.com/2011/10/26/the-business-rusch-believe-in-yourself/

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First Interview Goes Up Today! – now with link!

The gracious and lovely Dana Sitar asked to interview me a few weeks ago, mostly, she said, to get another perspective on self- and ebook-publishing, which is something she has recently decided to try. Naturally I was delighted at the chance to pontificate on such matters to a new audience (among other things). The results are scheduled to go up today on her blog, http://danasitar.com/.

I will update with an excerpt and the link once the Q&A is live. Thanks again to Dana for the opportunity!

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If you want to just hop directly to the interview, you can access Part 1 here.  Part 2 (since apparently I rambled enough to warrant a split interview. Writers…I know right?) will be up next Thursday, and I will link once it’s live.

Here is a pithy appetizer for you to play “guess what the question  was” with–full context and the rest of my weekly moment of nerd at Dana’s site!

 As a writer I find romance enjoyable and inspiring to write. For me, the obvious constraints of the genre help foster ideas, because the infinite possibilities for stories have been narrowed down to this really deep infinity. Not to go full nerd here, but I’m going to use a math analogy: If you just sit down to write “a novel” and have no constraints on you, you’re looking at a number of possible ideas equivalent of the infinity of all numbers. If you sit down to write a romance novel, you’re looking at the infinity of decimals between 0 and 1. Still an infinite number of possibilities, but because it exists in such a tiny space — the constraints of the genre — it’s easier to find a new story, because it doesn’t have to be so different from everything else that has been done in the genre before.

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My Publishing Echo Chamber Is Not Yours

So I read this post from Terrible Minds when someone in my Twitter feed or blog list linked it–I’ve read and enjoyed several of Chuck’s posts on writing and tangential topics before, also when someone has linked them–and the point he was making is a good one: all writers are in this storytelling thing together.

What really struck me, however, and what I wanted to post about today, is simply that his list of publishing vs. self-publishing blogs is not at all the same as mine. I am guilty to some extent of creating an echo chamber for myself of bloggers whose opinions and honesty I respect, who I see presenting various sides of various issues or who have a very strong point of view which seems valuable to me to consider. I am sure that I gravitate to the people whose opinions dovetail most closely with my own. But I also do read articles that I disagree with, or that make me think or reconsider. Probably at a 1-1 ratio, or close to it. 3-2 maybe, slightly weighted in favor of my point of view but not heavily so.

Anyway, what gets me about some of the rants I see like this about the so-called strident self-pubbers, or the alleged “indie or die!!!” (yes with three exclamation points, always) set, is that the people described always strike me as being…well…hypothetical. I don’t know who these people are. I do not read their blogs or follow them on Twitter.

The self-publishers I am familiar with, whom I interact with (or lurk behind) do not have this attitude that Chuck (and a couple other people) describe. The discussion I am familiar with is about why self-publishing is better right now, while we’re waiting for the publishing landscape to shift and reconfigure in the wake of the digital revolution. The discussion is about how important quality is, and how unnecessary (and unappealing) hard-sell marketing is.

I’ve said before that I have a long view with my self-publishing trajectory. I don’t really care if my work is selling a handful of copies a month right now instead of hundreds or thousands. I believe that my work is quality, and that eventually word will get around that it is. I believe that if I keep putting new work up, and keep having a web presence that is, essentially, my only real marketing push, then more and more people who would like and respond to my work will find it and discover that they like it and respond to it. I have never seen the point of playing the “I’ll fake review you if you fake review me” game; all the reviews I have were generated either from a reader motivated on their own to talk about my work or from a reviewer whom I approached for a review or who approached me without any expectation (or even discussion) of an incestuous reciprocity of reviews.

Basically, I am approaching my self-publishing in exactly the same way I would if it were traditionally published work: professionally.

I expect to be paid for my work (hence why my ebooks aren’t free, even if they are priced with considerations of their length and my lack of publishing history in mind).

I expect to be judged on the merits of my work. If I have a substandard, unprofessional product that is poorly formatted and unattractive, then I expect that to be pointed out, and rightfully so. I don’t think that being self-published excuses me from the need to create a professional product–a reader isn’t going to know just from a glance at my book on a website who published it, and in my opinion they should not have to think about it once they start reading.

I take my writing seriously, and I expect to be judged on the quality of my writing. Perhaps my stories would end up more polished under a “producer” type editor like trad publishing (supposedly) utilizes, or perhaps they would be no different from the products I ended up with after my team of first readers and copyeditor had gone through the manuscripts.

All of the self-publishers I listen to have this same approach, and are taking it because they believe they can create a product on par with what comes from a traditional publisher, and that right now it is in their best interests as career-oriented writers to publish themselves some or all of the time. I haven’t heard anyone talking more about marketing than about writing or editing or formatting; I haven’t heard more than a couple easily ignored peeps on Twitter about solidarity pacts. I am not trying to publish alone, with no community–I feel I’m establishing connections to other writers, both traditionally and self-published, out there, as well as to other bloggers and reviewers.  I am simply trying to handle myself as I would if I were writing with the same “legitimacy” and “professional status” as someone who sold a novel for an advance to people who were going to take care of the rest of it.

So who are these other self-publishing people I keep hearing about? And how long before they are no longer the face of self-publishing?  If the digital revolution is the new frontier, the Wild West of the book world, then I am the adventurous but genteel lady who is brave enough to go west from St. Louis, but who refuses to abandon her manners, her morals, or her decorum along the journey. And I am not the only one. So sing a song for the six-shooters; civilization is on its way.

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For the record, my self-publishing blog list is fairly short. I’m not linking because I’m feeling lazy and these are all very Google-able people if you are so minded.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Dean Wesley Smith

David Gaughran

Derek Haines

AmWriting.org community blog (NOT a single-author blog nor even a small enough group blog to consider homogeneous; has a mix of self- and traditional-published writers, including small-press authors)

Some or all of the above have outlooks I take with a grain of salt. But none of them are advocating anything less than professionalism.

Neither is the community on The Passive Voice, which is kind of a watering hole for interesting links and the only place where I comment regularly enough to have a sense of the general attitude of its readership.

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October Is Like Carnival Season for Writers

Or, Lining up all my ducks in a row to shoot down before NaNoWriMo

I decided a week or 10 days ago to give NaNoWriMo a try this year. A legitimate, uncompromising, dead-sprint try. 

The upshot has been that suddenly I do not have time to even pretend to write on my story. I am too busy getting everything ready in my life so that all my spare time and energy can go to writing for thirty days, starting in exactly one week.

This is everything from pre-writing blog posts so that I have at least a few things next month that are not directly related to NaNoWriMo progress reports, to clearing out my backlog of commissioned articles to ghost write, to getting my Ren Faire costume finished now (when I should be working on my Halloween costume, but that one may just have to shrivel on the vine this year), to getting done stupid life chores like the cat’s annual vet visit and my oil changed and my prescriptions for next month filled sooner rather than later, to fleshing out my outline and characters even further so that when I write I know what to write, how to write, and where to write it toward.

It is exhausting, and the worst part is that what I want to be doing is writing on my story. For me, the second I am no longer able to choose not to write, it floats to the forefront of my mind as what I most want to do. 

But I’m not letting myself unless I have every one of the day’s chores already done (has happened only once). I think if I enjoy (“enjoy”) a gluttony of not-writing for a couple weeks before NNWM, then I will be so tired of not writing that it will seem a relief to go full-tilt.  It’s sort of like Mardi Gras season in reverse–instead of gorging on things I can’t have during Lent, I am hoarding all my creative energy to have greater reserves for the marathon ahead.

Because I am like Marianne Dashwood: I do nothing by half-measures. If I commit to something, I commit. I am doing NaNoWriMo. For me this means I will finish my WIP by November 30, and I will finish it in a usable form that will need only polishing revisions not substantive rewrites, and I will not let anything get in my way–not my job, not my life, not myself.

To quote the inimitable Al Bundy, “Let’s rock.”

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Small, Perfectly Beautiful Moments

I woke up late this morning. The sky was still gray, but only barely and only because of the date–three weeks ago the sun would have been peeping over my windowsill.  If it had been, I’d have missed a rather beautiful sight: the crescent moon, silver and coy, flirting with the cloud cover. The first thing I saw when I looked out from behind my dreams was that moon.

So lovely.

And then the word of the day from dictionary.com turned out to be “anoesis – A state of mind consisting of pure sensation or emotion without cognitive content.”

Something akin to what I felt to simply lie back and let the beauty of the sky fill my eyes and my mind for a few minutes.

And my only sorrow is how inept my words seem to be this morning for capturing that kind of moment. I think this “anoesis” must be the most elusive of all sensation to adequately convey in words. Words are thought. Words forcibly take the mind away from the experience of that pure sensation. Words are cognitive content.

Alas.

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