Writing

The Holy Grail – a contract

For a writer, a contract is the Holy Grail. I’ve turned down two in the last few weeks. Why? They weren’t right. The first was an Indie publisher, who, when I asked them questions about their company, only replied by changing their contract, all other queries about them, the company and what they meant to me, as a writer, were not responded to. So I refused their contract.

The second was a large christian publishing company in the states. They wanted to change my content so it was appropriate to their ‘mission’, no profanity and other content changes that weren’t specified. I don’t write nice, at the best of times. I write dark, often showing the good man can attain, but it’s still dark. They also wanted four grand out of me, refundable once they had sold the 1000 book. This is not usually how publishers work.

Nothing like being excited and disappointed at the same time.

I’m still submitting, and writing, and I will continue to look for a publisher that respects me as a writer.

It was a ten-dog day today, meaning lots of love from the furry, and their owners.

Editing

I’ve done a lot of editing in the past fourteen years. Both to my own work and others. And I’ve noticed that all authors have their own brand of mistake that they can’t see through. They may even critique it  in other groups, about other authors, without noticing it in themselves. This is normal. It’s not hypocrisy. Writers have blinders on when it comes to their work. It takes a long time to notice these mistakes and train themselves out of them, and a first draft, no matter how long the writer has been writing, will have these weaknesses. They crop up. Especially if the writer is trying to finish something in a certain period of time.

Here’s a few examples: Spelling. Personally I’m terrible at this and rely heavily on spell check and online dictionaries. Missed commas, missed words, repeated words in a few sentences that don’t reinforce a need or emotion in the characterization or plot.

This is why editors exist, grammar Natzi’s, if you wish. Harsh as that sounds.

But editing is more than grammar, more than copy, it even goes further than sentence structure and flow. There’s structure for a novel that comes into play – developmental editing is a term I keep seeing lately. For the best book on novel structure – in my opinion – see Larry Brooks Story Engineering.

What I see some editors miss, especially those not formally trained, is that the author has a voice and a style and a way of saying things that needs to be respected. Something to be noticed. And this style needs to be acknowledged in the editing, and the note taking for changes to be made in a manuscript. It’s not just a matter of deleting, changing, or modifying sentences, paragraphs or whole chapters of a book. Good editors, truly involve the author in the process.

If your editor isn’t doing this, it may be unconscious, or ego, or training, so give him or her a break, let them know. Don’t take everything they do as gospel, but, stay open to their ideas and suggestions. This has some of the same components of a writing group. It takes a certain amount of bravery. And in the case of an editor, you’re often paying for a service. This means you get to define the experience before it starts. So take part.

A good editor is like a good therapist, they take time to find. Look well.

Hug something today, rocks and walls don’t count.

Writing Groups

I’ve been going to three writing groups a month for ten to twelve years. That’s a lot of critiquing, editing, and being critiqued. Of course, I sometimes take a break as well, from one or another of them. It’s growth work to sit in a room and have people tear holes in your work. It builds a thick skin. It makes you vulnerable. It leaves you open to grow, not only as a writer, but as a person. You see, you have to keep your mouth shut to really appreciate what other people are saying, to not defend your work or your reasoning behind the work. Why? Because your readers will do the same thing and if you defend or retaliate to the validity of your work, you will lose a reader. At least, I think so. I’ve seen writers get so defensive on line that the comments they get in return become caustic. And it just gets worse. Best just to say thank you and move forward.

A critique group is one of the best tools in the world to learn to be a better writer. Of course you’re going to get every type of personality and ego out there. That’s part of the charm and the curse of writing groups.

Some will be grateful that you shared with them, and a piece of your soul; some will be joyous at the effort it took for you to share. Some call that bravery. I do. Especially if you’re shy or introverted, or both. Some are happy to help you improve your writing. They do this with suggestions to make your writing better: how to change your voice; words choices to make stronger sentences; ways to improve characterization, and heaven forbid, grammar and punctuation changes. The last is a slippery slope as far as I’m concerned. It doesn’t matter in a group because if you care about your work, it’s the last thing you do to make your work polished. You may even pay an editor to do this for you, but in a critique group, you’re showing first and second drafts and at that point, it’s all the other stuff that needs details to improve your story.

You will also meet people who will tell you their way of writing is the only way; people who don’t care because it’s not in their genre, and have nothing to say to improve the writing, so it becomes a “why did you write that,” kind of thing; and those that don’t know how to be positive.

Go back to the first paragraph and see the comment about thick skin.

Writing holds a lot of rejection. Get used to it. Learn from it. Listen to the things that most people reinforce, this means it’s being noticed and there may be something wrong there. Things mentioned only once, may really be only personal opinion, and everyone knows what that means on the grand scale of things.

But a writing group should point out your strengths and weaknesses. That’s the important thing. That’s how you grow. It takes time. Be patient.

Give yourself that chance.

Hug someone today.

Things Change

I’ve spent the last several months rewriting a book for an editor. It was on spec, and only a look see, but I thought the effort worth while. Well, he’s left the house that might have been interested and gone to another house that only deals with licensed works, which is not mine. And while my time wasn’t wasted — I have a much better product — I was disappointed. I think that this is how things work in the publishing word, or even most creative worlds when it comes to marketing.

Things change. People move to different jobs. I’ll still write though.

Hug something, today!

Voles in a Cage

Put two voles in a cage together. I dare you. The analogy here, it’s like mixing writing and what happens in life together in a beaker, waiting for it to explode.

This was a good writing weekend though.

No voles were damaged. No beakers exploded.

There were, however, assassins.

I Want More

So, I’m officially a ghostwriter now. I’ve finished my first contract and looking for more. I continue to write my own stories. I continue to edit and assess manuscripts. I have references that state my competence. But I want more. Yes, the money is part of it, there is no way around that. I do this for a living now. I want my own work published and I have work in with agents – my biggest default is that I don’t submit enough – but I still have about eight rejections this year, so far.

There will be more.

But right now, I want more. More from life, more from myself.

I wish you well, be kind. Smile.

Oh, and write, please, please, write. Don’t give up, it’s the only way you get better.

One Word

Everything starts from one word. A subject, an action, a sentence, and then a paragraph, a page and a chapter. Do it again and make another chapter, and then…

A book is a series of short steps that add up to a walk that details a favorite season or a glimpse at a world you’ve never seen and it doesn’t have to be an imaginary place. Just a never before seen event or moment. Something new, something old told a different way.  Whatever the moment, place or thing it does have to make you feel exactly what you should in that moment. Or more correctly, exactly what the character your reading would in that moment. You need to feel what it’s like to skydive if you’ve never done it before. What’s it like to belong to the mile high club? Live like a prostitute? Be a man, or a woman, an architect, or a priest; a Point of View you’ve never experienced before. How close do you get your readers to this state of existence.

If you’re not making your reader forget her problems for the ten minutes or tens hours it takes to read your work then you’ve done something unnecessary. Too much detail slowing the action. Not enough, making the world to sparse to see and touch.

This is your goal as a writer. Or one of them, at the least. There are a lot of parts to writing a book, all of them solvable, all of them possible, and in many different ways. Dependent on how you learn. This is a very individual thing, but like anything there are rules and structure that make it easier. Recipes if you will.

Step up and put a word on the page, add a sentence, then a paragraph. At first, don’t look at the four hundred pages it takes to make a book. Look to knowing the steps that you need, but don’t be daunted by 60,00 words or 80,000 or more. Just write. Figure out your outline and write towards that, a beat sheet to progress through. An ending. It’s important to know where you’re going, but you may not know right away what it is or how to get there. It helps to figure it out. I’ve learned a compromise. I’m an organic writer, which means most of my stuff flows from the writing itself, just the act of putting words to a page. I’ve spent a lot of time on works in progress only to find that I rewrote things to find something out that  would have been easier if I knew where i was going. With the help of books on craft and structure, I’ve learned to find the ending of a story by plotting it out, and it doesn’t have to be in absolute detail. It just helps too know it. Another tool to use.

Don’t deprive yourself. Work with how you learn: figure out how to compromise; learn a new trick, tool, or system. Add them together. Throw out what doesn’t work for you. Don’t stop.

Be kind to the world, to your self. Take a step, whether new or old, take a step.