Yesterday we talked about George Carlin and training your brain to be your creative partner. Which got me to thinking about the new novella I’m working on, which starts out bleak and just gets darker and darker. It felt good to write it – not unlike the purgation of negativity I recently attempted on this blog – but it made me wonder: has there ever been a documented case of a writer being killed by the thing they’re writing?
I mean this: if you’re writing something so filled with hope, and your mind is getting more and more trained to find darkness and futility, and in a way it makes you feel good because it’s what you’re looking for…
I don’t mean driven to suicide (so many examples of that). And I don’t mean a Steven King scenario in which the evil character knocks on your door. I mean something else… what if your brain just gave out? Overloaded by the search for darkness?
Hmm. I’m now revising the new novella – again, it’s the bleakest thing I’ve written, by far. I almost can’t imagine reading it again, let alone going through the words, sentence by sentence. Maybe it will only work if I view this as a sort of scientific experiment. Will it be the same process as writing it the first time (which I survived, of course). Better? Worse? What approach will my brain take?
Le Guin mentions getting an early boost from Ace Doubles, a series by Ace Publishing that sought to put out two short novels combined in one book. I love this idea – and what great covers they had! Worth a roam through the Internet to read about this cool series from the ’50s.
I was also struck by the helping hand Le Guin got from her father:
When you began sending your work out into the world, did you have some idea of the writer you wanted to be?
I knew by then that my main shtick was fiction, but that I would always write poetry. My first publications were all poetry, and that’s partly because of my father. He realized that sending out poetry is quite a big job. It takes method and a certain amount of diligence and a good deal of time. And he said, I could help you do that, that would be fun! He got interested in the subculture of the little magazines and realized that it is a little world, with rules all its own.
So he studied it anthropologically?
He was curious about everything! And he actually did some of the mailing-out stuff.
Most writers I know are a little overwhelmed with all the stuff you have to do around your writing. And – let’s face it – even your most supportive loved ones might scratch their heads sometimes, trying to be helpful but not knowing where to begin. And that’s if they like your work! If they don’t… well, they still have love to give, and um, sweaters, I guess.
So if that’s you – if you have a writer in your life and are in the mood for showing a little support, why not offer to take something off their hands? Handle some of the mailing, or the tweeting, or the formatting for eBooks, or the cover design, or the interactions with the editors, or the research, or the web design… well, anything that you think might be useful. (And also give them something nice they can open, of course, so you don’t feel like a little kid trying to get away with giving “chores” as a present.)
This is national novel writing month (NaNoWriMo), which isn’t something I’ve ever participated in, mainly because I write fiction year round and don’t need any extra incentive. What has struck me this year is that there are such strong opinions AGAINST it. Even purported supporters often give NaNoWriMo participants the back of their hand – suggesting that these people are delusional, they’re churning out garbage, they don’t realize how hard writing is, they give agents and editors headaches, they’re unrealistic about the prospects of instantly earning millions of dollars, they’ve turned writing novels into a lark, they should be READING and not writing. I won’t link to these articles to give them any more traffic than they deserve, and because I’m trying to stay positive here.
But to answer each of those criticisms I say:
We have democratic voting system for a reason. Take a close look at a single voter and you think this is crazy, how can we let this idiot decide? Multiply that ignorance by the number of people voting and you almost feel ill. But abstract yourself from that voter, think about the alternatives, and you’re left thinking, what a wonderful crazy system that lets everyone in on the game, this is so much better than the alternative. Same thing with the jury pool. You don’t have to spend much time picking a jury before you start wondering if we should just flip coins instead. But then you meet a horrible judge and you think thank god this guy doesn’t have any more power than he already does.
Look, I may go through life without ever reading a novel written during NaNoWriMo. I don’t care! I support it anyway! And not because I think the act of writing a novel is any better than playing the piano or building a bookshelf or learning to cook Indian food or binge-watching Game of Thrones. All worthy endeavors! If a few people turn into real novelists, fantastic! If a few others get frustrated and decide never to read a work of fiction ever again, that’s okay too. If (as I suspect happens most often) people scratch an itch they’ve always had, and in the meantime learn more about the process, have fun exercising their brain in a certain way, gain new respect for the authors they love, feel like they’re part of a community of people undertaking the same thing, and have the satisfaction of someone completing a diet or an exercise routine, then that’s fine too.
I can’t find the quote, but I think Tolstoy once said that the difference between being a professional writer and being a concert violinist is that every amateur thinks they can write as well as the professional, but nobody thinks they can just pick up a violin and star in an orchestra. So maybe NaNoWriMo leads to some self-awareness. I hope it’s not too painful to get the wake-up call, if that’s the result. I suspect most people can handle it.
Final word to the critics of NaNoWriMo: last year there were 300,000 participants. Last night there were 9 million people watching CSI. (900,000 watched a repeat episode of Hoarding.) Enjoy the NaNoWriMo buzz. Or ignore it. It is not a threat to you.
Readers! I’m pleased to announce I’ve joined the ranks of writers who have managed to complete all the steps to make one of their books available to the world. And with actual sales! Hooray!
But this is not about me. It’s about YOU. You may be sitting there, as I was, wondering how in the world you’re ever going to get it done. I’ve been there! I know!
Because – as every writer knows – writing a book is hard enough, even if it’s something you enjoy doing. In writing a book you’re forced to make a million decisions. Question after question after question. What happens next, who is the narrator, why is this conveyed in dialogue and not description, what’s the title, how should this chapter end, is this character a stereotype, is that phrase a cliche, is this too long, is this too short, why this word, why this comma. Exhausting!
And then you’re faced with building the rest of the book and you think: how am I supposed to do the rest of this? Editing? Beta readers? What? Cover design? ISBN? Kobo? Mobi? EPub? Kboards? Huh? What?
You know how this feels!
You’re overwhelmed by the idea:
Maybe I can do this – but how am I supposed to know how to do it right?
It’s like redesigning a kitchen. Maybe you’re good at that and relish the prospect. Or maybe you’re like me and spend six weeks picking out a color for the walls and think, “This is just the first of many, many decisions” and you find yourself deciding that living with your tiny kitchen with the gravy-colored walls is okay after all.
Don’t do it! Don’t live with your tiny kitchen!
Here’s the secret to How To Get It Done: others have already done the thinking for you.
These are the early days of self-publishing for e-books, but you’re not a pioneer. There are other people out there who have gone through this, and who have talked about it, and whose example you can use. And I’m not just talking about how-to articles, although those are often very helpful. I’m also talking about using them as examples. What did they do for their own books? If you find the right person to use as a model, you’re all set.
For me, it was the fabulously helpful Joanna Penn. You may find someone else – there are many others to choose. But for me, every time I was faced with a tough decision, I would traipse back to Joanna Penn’s site to find out what she had decided to do. She’s wrestled with all these decisions, she has good judgment, she talks to a million people, and she has experience with what works and what doesn’t. I’m not writing in the same genre as Joanna, so I adapted a few things here and there, and I tailored some other things based on what seemed to make sense for me. But in the end I figured that if I kept moving forward, and basically followed her lead, I could get it done.