Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Commitment (or: How I Got Published, Part 3)

Note: this post presumes general knowledge of discovery writing vs. outlining, but for those who aren’t familiar, here’s a brief explanation: discovery writers (aka “gardeners”) write without the structure of an outline or any ending in mind, letting the story/characters develop organically and dictate what they write next. Outline writers (aka “architects”), obviously, use an outline, and plan their story (and, usually, characters) from beginning to end before they begin writing the prose. Keep in mind that this is a sliding scale, and writers can (and usually do) fall anywhere between those two extremes. For more info just google “discovery writers vs. outliners” or “architects vs. gardeners” and you’ll learn a lot more.

After my post last week about desire, let’s follow things through to the next logical progression: beginning a novel.

I’ll be honest with you: at least for me, *beginning* to write a novel is a pretty easy process. Ideas are a cheap commodity in this business—I have an evernote folder with literally hundreds of ideas for stories, novels, plot points, characters, etc., and I’m constantly adding to it.* Writing those ideas out—turning the flint and tinder and smoke into a candle flame (or a bonfire, or a MASSIVE EXPLOSION [why not follow through with that metaphor?])—is the real work.**

That’s why beginning with any given idea is so easy for me—the idea’s already there, or at least some inkling of it. Unfortunately, this is also the reason why many beginning writers (myself included) make the following mistake: we write the first few chapters, but then get distracted(by a new character or concept that comes up)/bored(by where the idea ends up going at first)/frustrated(by where the story should or is going from that point)/or otherwise disillusioned by the catalyzing idea, scrap the whole thing, and move on to another project that strikes our fancy. That, generally, is the problem that discovery writers face when they want to begin a project: they love to start projects because the idea is what drives them, but often have trouble finishing things because they get distracted/bored/frustrated. They’re stuck writing infinite first drafts.

Outliners aren’t exactly immune to this sort of malady, however—it just affects them in a different way. Outliners, predictably, tend to get stuck in the outlining phase of projects (a phenomenon known as “worldbuilder’s disease” in many writing circles). Their outline grows and grows and grows, they create character ID sheets and maps and histories and magic systems and plot twists and turns, but never actually begin writing.

I’m a discovery writer, and as I mentioned in my previous HIGP post, I’ve started many different novels. At least a dozen were intended to be actual novels, but if you expand that number to include short stories, novelettes, etc., it triples—at least (and that’s a pretty mild manifestation of this problem, based on some conversations with writers I’ve had). But I’ve also seen the worldbuilder’s disease side of things.

The first draft of Duskfall began as a project for a class I took from Brandon Sanderson. It was not the first novel I’d begun writing; I’d say it was maybe my sixth or seventh. I wrote about 20K words of that draft, but then stopped working on it when the class ended. When I graduated and didn’t get into any MFA programs, I suddenly had time on my hands and chose to return to Duskfall, but I knew immediately that it had too many issues to continue writing without major, major revisions. So I decided to scrap all I’d written, and do some worldbuilding first. I created some magic systems. And some governments. And some religions. And wrote some history. And created lots and lots of characters. And, before I knew it, six months had gone by and I hadn’t actually written anything in the novel—I hadn’t even begun it. I realized at that point that I had a problem, and resolved to sit down and just plow through Duskfall, come what may.

That, it turns out, was the most important decision I made. I’d done a good share of worldbuilding and I’d already written a beginning to the novel, but when I sat down to start Duskfall anew, I had to commit. And now, for me, that’s what beginning a novel means: it’s a commitment. I need to make that clear to myself when I begin any project, because if I don’t, the temptation to jump to something else or get stuck worldbuilding is too strong for me to handle!***

So if you’re a discovery writer stuck continually writing first drafts of first chapters, commit to finishing a project. Hold yourself responsible to that idea. Follow through with it, and don’t allow yourself to jump ship to the first fancy idea that comes along. Your first chapters do not have to be good. More often than not, I make serious changes to my first chapters when I revise, if I decide to keep them at all. Just get through them, and then get through the middle, and then get through the end. Trust me, it’s worth it. And if you’re an outliner, let go of the worldbuilding. Some of it is necessary, of course. But at a certain point you, too, have got to commit. Make your outline and stick to it (Or don’t for all I care, I’m a discovery writer! But at least keep writing forward.), and just start writing!

Trust me, it’s worth it. I mean, it’s fun to worldbuild, and it’s fun to pursue all the pretty ideas racing through my head, but there’s not a lot of fulfillment there. Finishing a novel, though—that’s something. And that’s what I’ll talk about next week.



* Only slightly depressing is the fact that I will never get even close to fleshing out every single one of these ideas in my lifetime. It would be impossible in the most literal sense of the word. But I mean it with the “slightly.” Having too many ideas is a pretty nice problem to have as a writer. Way better than not having enough time to write, for example.

** Incidentally, this is why most writers scoff when people say “hey I’ve got a great idea, you should totally write a book about it and give me x amount of the profits!” Ideas really are cheap. If you have a phenomenal idea that you just can’t wait to share with the world, good for you! Go write it yourself and you’ll find out what I mean when I say that writing the thing is the real work.


*** For the recored, I’m still not perfect at this. But these days, if I set aside a project I’ve already begun but haven’t finished, it’s most likely because there’s some other more important project calling my name (in terms of agents/publishers/monies), and I usually have every intention of returning to said left-behind projects in the near future.

Friday, March 27, 2015

#FIF: The War of Art

I’m not big into motivational/self-help speakers or books. I mean, I appreciate being motivated as much as the next human, but when it comes to what I spend my time consuming media-wise, there is just way too much content for me to commit to that kind of thing. For me, reading a mind-blowing story or gorgeous prose or learning about something really really cool can be just as motivational as…er…that motivational stuff I’m talking about.*

But there are exceptions to everything, aren’t there? For me, the exception in this category is The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.


Pressfield describes the Artist’s Dilemma** perfectly: an artist, by definition, has some kind of art that he or she needs/wants to create. Pressfield paints this picture with the broadest of strokes, which is an obvious attempt at making the book a bit more marketable, but nevertheless ring true to me. The artist could be a writer agonizing over finishing a novel or a painter creating a painting, but it could also be an entrepreneur starting a business, or a fledgling runner wanting to train for a marathon. Basically, if you have a Thing that you’ve always wanted to do but have never done it, Pressfield’s book addresses why that may be and how that Thing might be accomplished. (That said, Pressfield chiefly frames his narrative from a writer’s perspective, and for obvious reasons I’ll do the same.)

     There’s a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don’t, and the secret is this: It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write.
     What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance. (The War of Art xi)

Basically, Pressfield uses the blanket term “Resistance” to define everything that stops a writer from finishing that elusive book—or from sitting down to write at all. The entire first half of The War of Art is devoted to recognizing Resistance in its many forms: from the obvious things, like procrastination, self-doubt, and fear, to the perhaps less obvious, like self-dramatization, victimhood, addiction, and sex. The second half of the book proposes that in in order to defeat Resistance, a writer must make the transition from “amateur” to “professional”; he/she must begin to take writing (and Resistance) seriously.

     Someone once asked Somerset Maugham if he wrote on a schedule or only when struck by inspiration. “I write only when inpsiration strikes,” he replied. “Fortunately, it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.”
     That’s a pro. (The War of Art 64)

I love The War of Art because it embodies the work ethic I’ve been developing for myself over the past few years. I used to be the kind of writer that relied heavily on “the muse.” I was a total writing mystic, all about the flashy stuff and not about the work—because “art” shouldn’t be work! I wrote only when I “felt like it” (aka when “the muse struck”), which was depressingly rare. Well, news flash to my old self, and anyone else out there that may be deluding themselves in like manner: THAT’S THE WRONG WAY TO GO ABOUT WRITING, YA’LL.


Jeff Winger knows what I’m talkin bout.

That’s not to say I didn’t produce anything worthwhile during that period, but I strongly believe now that I did not produce nearly the amount nor the quality of writing that I could have done then. I mean, it worked well enough when I was in college, and couldn’t really devote as much time to writing as I would’ve liked (wrong again—I could’ve, I just didn’t). It started to become less feasible when I started an MFA program in Creative Writing. I pushed up my work ethic slightly when that happened, but I still ended up writing stories by pulling an all-nighter the night before they were due. It’s really kind of embarrassing when I think about it. And, when I graduated with an MFA in 2012 and went to writing full time, my productivity fell apart. I suddenly had so much time to write, and yet was actually sitting down to do it less than I had in years. That is the Artist’s Dilemma, my friends. That is the War of Art. Resistance is real, folks, and it kills dreams. I’m not kidding.

But the thing about Resistance, as Pressfield establishes, is that it isn’t all-powerful. If I sit around and wait for the muse to show up, I may be waiting a while. I may be waiting forever. But if I put in the work every day, a crazy thing happens: the muse starts to show up, and pretty consistently, in fact.

     …the most important thing about art is work.  Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying. 
     Why is this so important?
     Because when we sit down day after day and keep grinding, something mysterious starts to happen. A process is set into motion by which, inevitably and infallibly, heaven comes to our aid. Unseen forces enlist in our cause; serendipity reinforces our purpose. (The War of Art 108)***

I’ve had some real “come-to-Jesus” talks with myself over the past few years (Pressfield’s book was the catalyst of more than one of them). And, slowly, I’m developing a routine and ethic that I think really works, and for which I’m profoundly grateful. It’s all still a work in progress, but it has progressed pretty damn far, and I’m happier for it.

If you’re an artist pining after something that you just haven’t created yet—or just someone who has a Thing they really want to do but for some reason has never made the time to do that Thing—I suggest you read The War of Art. If it helps you even a fraction of the amount it’s helped me, I think you’ll be happier for it, too.



* Of course, sometimes the “motivational stuff” that I’m sort of lumping into one big stereotypical category can teach really interesting things. It can probably tell mind-blowing stories, and for all I know there are some self-help writers who really do have beautiful prose. I recognize I’m maybe drawing lines where lines don’t need to be drawn, but just follow along with me, here. This is all just set up to talk about an awesome book, anyway.

** I’m totally making up that phrase, but, well, it sounds pretty accurate to me.

*** Pressfield’s book is definitely not religions in any specific sense, but it does address the spiritual aspect of creation in some interesting ways. Because, ultimately, artistry and creation are full of mystery and crazy things and feelings and, yes, even spirituality. But I’ve learned that those mysteries and serendipitous things don’t occur on their own—I’ve got to put the work in to see them happen.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Fun with banners

I've been experimenting with different content that I'll include in my eventual website, and came up with these! Each file is a banner for one of the five main books in the Chaos Queen Series. They're certainly not professional on any level, but I feel pretty good about them given the minimal time I put into them and my minimal experience doing this sort of thing.

Just to clarify: these are not nor shall they be the covers of the books; Titan Books will take care of that, and within the next year or so I'm sure I'll be happy to reveal the cover of Duskfall to you all! But, for now, I figured these might make for interesting content--or, if nothing else, a practice in very very rudimentary graphic design for yours truly.

As you may have noticed in each of the banners, the current plan is to release a book each year, starting with Duskfall in 2016. As of now I don't see any reason why that plan will not work, but I suppose many authors have made similar statements (famous last words...) and, well, some books just take longer than others, I suppose. But I am committed--I feel confident in my production ability, and I think the schedule is more than just do-able.

(Speaking of which, I'm closing in on the ending of Dark Immolation, book two in the Chaos Queen Series! So things are sort of ahead of schedule, there--although revisions historically are a more arduous process for me than writing a first draft, so time will tell, my friends...)

If you've been around the blog or any of my social media sites, you've certainly seen the first banner, but the others should be new to you. So check them out!







~

Attributions:

"Duskfall banner," is a derivative of "Foggy woods" by Freedom to share.

"Dark Immolation banner" is a derivative of this work on pixabay by Utoplec.

"Midnight Void banner," is a derivative of "Fractal Texture spiral Dark Web Abstract Nether" by TextureX-com, used under CC BY. "Midnight Void Banner" is licensed under CC BY by Christopher Husberg.

"Fear the Stars banner," is a derivative of "Crux (Southern Cross) from Hobart, Tasmania" by Edoddridge, used under CC BY"Fear the Stars banner" is licensed under CC BY by Christopher Husberg.

"Dawnrise banner" is a derivative of a photograph courtesy of Brad Husberg.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Desire (or: How I Got Published, Part 2)

Well, it’s Tuesday, which means I’m going to post another How I Got Published* thing! Let me tell you, however, that this was not the post I intended on writing. Funny how things work out that way. Either way, here ya go!

~

Writing for a living has been something I’ve had my eye on for some time, now. I’ll spare you the soporific details, but my love of writing began with my days writing fanfiction in elementary and middle school—and, of course, reading all sorts of amazing books.

I wrote a lot growing up, and I started writing even more in college, where the desire to do the writing thing for a living sort of congealed. By the time I graduated with a degree in English, I was pretty sure that’s what I wanted to do for a living. But, I had one major issue:

I still hadn’t finished a book.

Oh, I’d started books. I’d started at least half a dozen between middle school and high school, and in college I’d started (with slightly more serious attempts…that still got nowhere) three or four more. All in all I’d started about ten novels, and other than some scraps of world-building, a few opening chapters, and some character bios, had nothing to show for it.

Which isn’t to say I hadn’t finished anything—in college I remember reading an interview with GRRM where he said that the best thing a beginning writer could do was write short stories. So that’s what I did. I wrote not quite a dozen short stories/novelettes during my undergrad, and not quite a dozen more afterwards.

All of this is to say that, for me, the desire to write had been ingrained in my psyche for quite some time. And while we focus a great deal on the discipline and process of writing (and finishing!) books—as we should, because that’s really where the magic happens, isn’t it?—sometimes we neglect that first, catalytic sentiment of desire. Because I generally don’t do things I don’t like to do. If I don’t like hiking, I’m probably not going to vacation in a National Park. If I don’t like heights, I’m probably not going skydiving. And if I don’t like writing, or if I don’t like reading, or if I decide I don’t like a certain idea that’s been forming a story I’ve been working on, I’m probably not going to write.

So, for me, that was the first and one of the absolute most important steps towards writing a novel, finishing a novel, finding an agent, and ultimately getting published. I had to have a desire to write something. That desire comes from different places for me at different times; sometimes it’s from a story that feels so personal, or so poignant, or so epic, that I can't help but write it down. Sometimes it’s a desire for other people to read and be interested in the thing that I wrote, because it contains ideas or concepts that may be meaningful to me, or because I simply want to connect with others** (writing and reading, I’ve found, is a fantastic way to connect with other people, other circumstances, other ways of life and points of view). Sometimes it’s a desire to reveal the characters themselves, to introduce them to everyone else I know and love, or to people I don’t know simply because I know and love the characters.

What matters is that there’s almost always some kind of driving desire behind what I’m writing. That doesn’t mean I don’t have off days; writing is work, after all, and every day can sometimes be a struggle just to get words on the page. But one of the things—and sometimes the only thing—that keeps my butt in the chair and my hands on the keyboard is this desire.

If you’re reading this and are looking to write a novel or be published someday, or if you already have been published, I know you’ve felt the desire I’m talking about. The scary thing about this desire is that I, as a writer, have never outgrown it. As far as I can tell, it is always going to be a necessary ingredient to my writing. But here’s a fortunate thing: if I can sit down and start typing, that desire always, always comes. It’s one of the many happy miracles of writing, and being a writer.



* In case you’ve forgotten, this is an ongoing series where I talk about the factors that contributed to me ultimately getting published. What I did right, what I did wrong, etc. As a general rule for the series I don’t plan on dispensing a ton of outright advice, but hopefully ya’ll can learn something from my experience.


** As Stephen King said is his book On Writing, writing and reading are perhaps the only real-world way we have to communicate telepathically: I have an idea in my head, and I sent the general concept of that idea into your head without speaking to you or showing you anything or even knowing who you are. Magic!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Why I have the greatest agent in the world.

So Nathan Brandsford* a while back wrote an article on how to know if you have a good agent.

Well, just for the record, my particular agent hits the ball out of the park on every one of those things. Not to mention the fact that it's because of him that all of this publishing stuff is going down for me.

So, Sam...this one's for you (ESPECIALLY those first five seconds...O.o). You make my dreams come true!







* An agent that is (or was? I'm not entirely sure) like, kind of a big deal. Anyway, he has a really popular blog.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Paying it Forward (or: How I Got Published, Part 1)

Writing, at least in my particular genre, is a wonderful thing. Most writers that I've met, published or not, seem to accept that the business is not a zero-sum game--just because one author does well and sells a lot of books does not mean that he or she takes sales away from another author. While this may be the case on occasion, for the most part the opposite tends to be true: if an author is selling well in a certain genre, chances are that particular genre as a whole is going to sell well. George R.R. Martin exemplifies this at the moment: more people are reading fantasy now than ever, and that's in part because the TV series based on his books is so freaking popular right now, which means his books are selling more than ever, which means fantasy is selling more than ever, etc.

Most authors I've met understand this, and therefore have a very generous, pay-it-forward, give-it-back kind of attitude. Writers who find success--even small amounts of success--tend to give back in many ways, from writing articles online that might be helpful to new writers to teaching classes to attending conferences and sitting on panels to creating podcasts and holding workshops and more. The writing retreat I went to a few weeks ago was a form of this: a great author and an awesome guy decided to open up his home to a few fellow authors, some of them (ok, mainly one of them--me) being rather green, but he had the resources and was willing to do it, and that's pretty cool I know it was something for which I was grateful.

Of course, there are other motives for doing these things than simply helping fellow authors. Like most things we do as human beings, a host of different stimuli drive us to any given action; a lot of the aforementioned things help the writers hosting them them to gain some publicity, network more, etc. While that's certainly a perk, from what I've seen and heard from most writers I know, that sort of benefit is mostly a happy accident. Because everyone, more or less, has to go through the same gauntlet (or a gauntlet of one kind or another)--every author I know got to where they are because other authors before them paved the way, gave them advice, taught them a class, introduced them to an agent, or something. So paying it forward seems to be the thing to do, and I guess that's pretty cool.



Yeah. Anyway.

This leads me to two things: (1) I chose a great business to participate in, so, pat on the back for me! and (2) I suppose it's never too early to start this paying-it-forward stuff, so I think I'll begin my first attempt now.

Basically, I'd like to start a new series on this blog that talks about how I got published. Something I searched for often but rarely found were stories of authors getting published, what exactly they did, how things worked, etc. There is a lot of advice out there, don't get me wrong, but there's not a lot of, I don't know, just people sort of straight-up talking about their experience.

I'd like to do that.

I mean, I'm not going to go into any excruciating detail or anything, or talk specifics about people I interacted with (especially not anyone with whom it went or ended badly). But I do just want to share how the process worked for me--what I did wrong, what I did right, what did and did not help, and so forth. I know I would've liked to read something like that when I was researching the industry, so hopefully this can be helpful to some of those up-and-coming types that might stumble across my blog.

So, without further ado, I present to you my blog series "How I Got Published." I'm planning to put up a new post on this every Tuesday (because hey, at least it'll motivate me to blog more if nothing else), roughly following but certainly not limited to this outline:
  1. Writing a Novel
  2. Finishing a Novel
  3. Revising a Novel
  4. Writing Groups and Alpha/Beta Readers
  5. A Ready (not finished!) Manuscript
  6. Conventions and Conferences
  7. Networking (or: being nice)
  8. Getting an Agent
  9. Waiting
  10. Writing While You Wait
  11. Finding a Publisher
  12. More Waiting
  13. More Writing (and Revising) While You Wait
  14. Getting Published
I'll be honest, I'm excited to explore this series. My experience has been typical in many ways and less typical in many more, and I'm interested to see how that all comes out in writing. I'm happy to share my experience, and hope that it, in some way, does help some of you aspiring writers out there. And, once you get your break, hopefully you can do the same.

It's the little things...

...like seeing someone talk about me and my books on a webpage that I have not made nor had any hand in making. Check out the official announcement from my friends in the UK (DID YOU KNOW I HAVE FRIENDS IN THE UK WELL I DO), Zeno Literary Agency! DUSKFALL has officially sold both UK and US rights!