Writing

Savor the Moments

Good morning!  I’m not actually online today.  This week I’m writing these blog posts from the past!

Except for today, because I didn’t actually write this one.  Today’s post was written (also in the past!) by Jon Gibbs, author of the novel Fur-Face, and founder of Find A Writing Group.

Jon also maintains an interesting and useful writing blog, one I’ve been following for a while now.  My thanks to Jon for helping to fill in this week while I’m away.

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I’ve been a fan of Jim’s writing and blogging skills for a long time, so you can imagine how thrilled I am to be posting an entry here on his blog.  I hope I can justify his confidence in me.

Savor the Moments

A career in writing is not for the faint of heart.  Writers go through a huge amount of negative before they ever get published, and (I suspect) even more of it afterwards. 

Before he/she ever makes that first short story sale, a writer can expect to receive rejection after rejection from editors and slush readers, most of whom offer little or no feedback or encouragement.  Critiques from fellow writers, however well-meaning, tend to focus on what doesn’t work, and though that’s to be expected (it’s the point of them, after all), they too can be a bit of a downer. 

Then there’s a writer’s family and friends.  I’m fortunate in that the people who matter in my life are incredibly patient and supportive about my fiction habit, but many folks aren’t so lucky.  Spend some time around other writers and you’ll hear plenty of stories about family and so-called friends either belittling, or even mocking their efforts.

“If there’s so much negative, why bother?” I hear you ask, as if we could ever stop making up stories.

In truth, many folks do give up.  You may well know some of them.  They got to a point where they couldn’t take the negative anymore, so they told themselves whatever they needed to hear to justify giving up on their dream, and settled for something less.

How can we avoid that same fate?  I can think of three ways, which I’ll offer in reverse order:

#3  Never refer to yourself as ‘unpublished.’
Whether you’ve just started writing, or you’ve been submitting stories and novels for thirty years without a single publishing credit to your name, you’re not ‘unpublished’ you’re a ‘not yet published’ writer, and don’t let anyone tell you different.

#2  Spend time with other writers.
It doesn’t matter whether it’s a critique group, a workshop, a conference, or even hanging out with like-minded scribblers online.  So long as those folks aren’t having a pity party, spending time with them will do your confidence the world of good. 

#1  Learn to savor the moments.
“Moments?” you say.  “What moments?  I’ve never even been published.   I’ve never had a moment.”  Oh, you have them all right, but do you stop to enjoy them?  Remember that feeling you get when a new story idea comes to you, or you come up the first few lines of a new project, or print out a finished first draft?  Most other folks could never do those things (though a surprising number seem to believe they could if they only had the time).  Take a few seconds to appreciate that.

Every time you submit a story, take a ‘moment’ to feel proud of yourself.  Heading out to a writing group or some other writerly-type meeting?  When you pull up in the car lot, sit back awhile and savor the feeling of a dream pursued.  

When you get a rejection with a ‘not this time, but please try again,’ make sure you appreciate what that means.  That editor’s telling you he/she liked your writing.  Your story didn’t suck, it just wasn’t right for that publication at that particular time.  Every now and then you’ll get a hand-written note of advice/encouragement (or the email equivalent), sure, it’s still a rejection, but someone thought enough of what they saw to offer you some encouragement.  Set some time aside to enjoy that feeling.

Non-writer might question why any of the above is worth celebrating.  Ignore them.  Taking pleasure in your minor achievements helps you stay positive and fortifies your dream.  That’s always a good thing.

How about you?

What moments will you savor in the coming weeks?

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Born in England, Jon Gibbs now lives in the USA, where he’s the founder and proud member of The New Jersey Authors’ Network and FindAWritingGroup.com.  His debut novel, Fur-Face (Echelon Press) is available from Amazon.com (Kindle) and in other e-formats at OmniLit.com.

When he’s not chasing around after his three children, Jon can usually be found sitting in front of the computer in his basement office. One day he hopes to figure out how to switch it on.

The Ego Shelf

I think I’ve mentioned the Ego Shelf once or twice before.  We joke about authors and their egos, and there is some truth to the jabs.  Authors do tend toward the egotistical.  After all, we think our words are good enough that you should pay money just to read them.

But the ego shelf isn’t about feeding the ego.  (Not just about that, at least.)  It’s not “Look upon this shelf and bask in my awesomeness!”  It’s not about whose shelf is longer.  It’s about … let’s call it positive reinforcement.

That shelf holds a copy of almost[1. I never received my author copy of the French edition of Goblin Hero, and I haven’t quite convinced myself to shell out the $30 to order a copy.] every magazine, anthology, and novel (both English and translated) I’ve ever done, along with my Writers of the Future trophy there on the left.  And you know what?  I’m damn proud of that shelf.

I’ve been told pride is a sin, and I realize pride can get you into trouble.  But I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with taking a moment to feel good about what I’ve accomplished over the past fifteen years.  It’s a good reminder, something to get me through the slumps.  I’ve spent ten months working on The Snow Queen’s Shadow, and it helps to look up and remember that in a year or so I’ll be adding another book to the shelf, and people all over the world will (I hope) be reading and enjoying it.

I’d love to someday have an entire Ego Bookcase.  And it would be fun to add a few more trophies.  But no matter where you are in your career, I think it’s important to recognize and honor the work you’ve done, to feel good about that.  Even when I only had a few semi-pro magazines on display … heck, back before I sold anything, I taped my rejection letters up because I was proud of them too.  Because they meant I was writing and submitting and working, dammit!

Writing is hard.  It’s okay to be proud of your work.  Not only okay, I think it’s important.

Oh — and those of you with keen eyes or good monitors might have spotted something there on the right.  Let me give you a close-up.

Oh, yes.  Author copies of Red Hood’s Revenge [B&N | Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon] have arrived at the Hines household, and there was much rejoicing.  Don’t they look pretty all lined up together like that?

To celebrate, I’ve updated my web site with the teaser for The Snow Queen’s Shadow.  This is the same text that appears in the back of Red Hood.  If you want to see what’s coming next summer, feel free to take a peek.

Reading Reviews

A discussion came up on one of my author e-mail groups about reading reviews of your work.  The point was made that positive reviews can lead to a swollen ego.  Negative reviews bring you down.  Neither of these are good things.

It’s a valid point.  When I saw the (ahem) starred Publishers Weekly review for Red Hood’s Revenge, it certainly pumped my ego up a notch.  “Transcends its predecessors”?  “Worth visiting again and again”?  Oh, heck yes!  On the other hand, Harriet Klausner called the plot thin and only gave me four stars at B&N.com.  (Klausner almost always gives five stars.)

I don’t consider Klausner as serious or influential a reviewer as Publishers Weekly, but the review still stung.  (Which is okay — it’s the reviewer’s job to review the book, not to coddle my feelings.  The reviewer’s obligation is to their readers, not to me.)

I’ve always read my reviews, both from major reviewers and casual bloggers.  (Thank you, Google Alerts.)  I plan to continue doing so.

Partly it’s ego and insecurity.  I want to know whether people are talking about my books.  Positive or negative, as long as people are reading and discussing, that’s still better thing than radio silence.

I also realized I could learn from reviews, though it’s a little tricky.  The problem is, everyone reacts differently.  One reviewer says a book is the best thing I’ve ever done.  Another throws it across the room after only one chapter.  Who’s right?  Both.  Neither.  Heck if I know.

But occasionally I read a review that just clicks.  Someone will point something out that makes me go, “Oh, wow.  They’re right, and how the heck did I miss that?”  I commented yesterday about the way I wrote Talia’s character in Stepsister.  It was a comment at a review that first got me thinking about that issue.

In addition, as I read more reviews, I start to see patterns.  I’m not the brightest guy in the world, but eventually it clicks that a lot of people were bored by this part, or a certain scene didn’t work for them, or everyone keeps complaining that I overuse this piece of description…  It reminds me of workshop critiques: if one person says there’s a problem, I can take it or leave it.  If many people point out the same issue, then it’s something I need to look at.

Some authors point out that in the case of reviews, it’s too late to change the book, so why bother?  They’re right of course.  But I can apply those lessons to the next books.

It’s not always kind to my ego, especially when people jump in and start agreeing with a negative review in the comments.  I also have to fight the occasional urge to argue with reviewers.[1. If you call my character “Little Lady of the Red Hood,” I won’t argue with you, but I will roll my eyes like … um … like a crazy eye-rolling thing.]  Overall though, I’ve learned a fair amount from reviews, and I very much appreciate everyone who takes the time to write them.

Writing About Rape, Part II

In April of last year, I did a post on writing about rape, and how we as authors often do it badly.  Recently, I received an e-mail from one of my readers asking if I could do a follow-up on how to write about rape in fiction and do it well.

I’m not going to sit here and proclaim The Right Way to write about rape.  What I can do is talk about how I’ve written about rape in my fiction. I’m not saying I did it right, but maybe this can be a starting point for discussion.

~Spoilers for some of Jim’s fiction beyond this point~

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Marion Zimmer Bradley vs. Fanfiction

Most writers, both commercial and fanfic, have heard some version of the Marion Zimmer Bradley “cautionary tale” regarding fanfiction.  In one version, Bradley was a generous, nurturing author who encouraged fanfiction until a greedy fanfic author tried to sue her, torpedoing a book in the process.  In another, Bradley had was preying on helpless fanfic authors, using their ideas to perpetuate her publishing empire.

If we’re going to toss this story around every time we talk about fanfiction, it would be nice to have a few facts to go with the fourth-hand accounts, guesswork, and rumors. Michael Thomas and opusculus have both posted about the MZB incident lately, and provided inspiration and starting points for my own write-up. But I wanted to dig deeper, and to avoid the wiki-style sources which in my opinion aren’t as reliable for this sort of thing.

To put my own biases out there, one of my first sales was to Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine.  I later sold a story to Sword & Sorceress XXI.  In addition, I’m published by DAW, which also published Bradley’s work.  I’ll leave it to you to read and decide whether this influences my research and write-up.

First hand statements are in red.  I’ve included links wherever possible.

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Saying No to a Publisher

At the start of the month, I posted about a possible secret writing project.  Wizards of the Coast asked me and a few other authors to write sample pages for a book they’re planning.  I was excited about the idea, and as a long-time gaming geek, I thought it would be a lot of fun to be a WotC author.

On May 11, I got an e-mail from the editor at Wizards.  She loved the sample and invited me to write the book.  On May 18, my agent received the official offer.

Yesterday, I turned them down.

Back in 2002, I sent sample pages to Wizards, hoping to write for them.  I’ve been playing D&D for most of my life (one of the reasons I said I’d be perfect for this project).  I have a number of friends who write for WotC and seem happy.  I was excited about being able to join them.

So why did I say no?  Ultimately, it’s because we couldn’t agree on what my time, energy, and writing were worth.  I was hoping to be able to negotiate a deal that would work for both sides.  Without going into detail, this didn’t happen.

It’s a strange feeling, saying no to a major publisher.  A strange feeling, and a scary one.  Did I make a mistake?  Have I burned a bridge?  Oh-God-what-the-hell-did-I-just-do???

At the same time, it’s empowering.  I don’t believe my ego has gotten out of control (yet), but I have developed more confidence in both my writing and my worth.  I don’t have to say yes to a deal I’m not comfortable with.

It’s important to be able to say no.  If you can’t, people can and will take advantage.  Sometimes your willingness to say no can result in a better deal.  Sometimes it helps you avoid a bad one.  Sometimes it helps you prioritize, because time is finite and there’s a limit to the number of stories anyone can write in their lifetime.  (With the possible exception of Jay Lake.)

A tie-in for Wizards would have been a lot of fun, and would have added something new to my body of work.  (Not to mention that I would have written one seriously Kick Ass book!)  On the other hand, this lessens my stress for the next few months, and frees up time to finish putting together the pitch for my next series.

I have no hard feelings or ill will toward Wizards.  I’m disappointed things didn’t work out, but it’s not the end of the world, or even the end of my career.

Questions and comments are welcome, as always, but be aware that I signed a nondisclosure agreement about the project, so I can’t get any more specific about the actual book.

Writerly Ambition and a Secret Project

Last Wednesday, I received an e-mail about a potential writing project. I haven’t had a Secret Project in quite some time, but if I were to do this one, it would certainly qualify. I’ve already signed a nondisclosure agreement and everything.  (So don’t ask me about the details.)

To say I’m torn would be an understatement.  I’m already working on The Snow Queen’s Shadow, which is due October 1.  I’ve also got a short story for an anthology due in a week.  The deadline for this new book would be the end of this summer.

Before I go any further, I should clarify that I don’t have an offer or a contract yet.  I was asked to write up sample pages to see if I’d be right for the project.

The invite brought to the forefront something I’ve been struggling with lately.  I want to be writing more.  I’ve turned down several short fiction projects over the past month or two.  I was talking with Tobias Buckell back in January about how cool it would be to try doing a YA novel, but I just didn’t know if I could pull it off.  It’s frustrating, to say the least.

Then this invitation shows up, offering me a shot I would have killed for ten years ago.  For a book that, with all due modesty, I’m pretty much perfect for.

So I spent Saturday writing and revising a 2000-word sample chapter.  I’ve sent it in, and we’ll see what happens.  Maybe they won’t like my style, in which case, problem solved.  Maybe the offer won’t be something I’m comfortable with.  Maybe they’ll discover my blog post from last week and decide I’m too fat for their book.

In some ways, life would be simpler if this fell through.  My life is pretty full already.  Two young kids, a full time job, a house to maintain, a wife finishing grad school, a book a year with DAW…  This is where I’ve been for several years now, and it’s worked pretty well.

At the same time … this new book could be an awful lot of fun.  And there’s a part of me that wants to prove I can do it.  There’s a hunger to being a writer.  As great as my career has been so far, I want more.  I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my schedule for the next four months.  Based on the time it took to write and revise the first chapter, I believe I can make this work.

We’ll see what happens.  Like I said, there’s a chance I won’t even get the offer.  But even if I don’t, this has certainly gotten me thinking about my career and where I want to be, and that’s a good thing.

Wish me luck!

Pseudonyms: A Chat with “Benjamin Tate”

Each year, Brenda Novak runs an auction to raise money for diabetes research.  Last year, she raised more than a quarter of a million dollars.  Among the items and services up for bid are a short story/chapter critique by yours truly, as well as an autographed copy of The Stepsister Scheme.

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Jon Gibbs recently interviewed Jig the goblin for the Find a Writing Group blog.  The interview is posted here.  I enjoy this sort of thing, and it was fun to get into Jig’s voice again.

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Benjamin Tate‘s new book Well of Sorrows [B&N | Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon] is out this week from DAW.  My investigative goblins have discovered that Mr. Tate is in fact a pseudonym for another fantasy author.

Pseudonyms are common practice.  Sometimes an author will use them to write in different genres — someone who wants to write YA and erotica both, for example.  Other times it’s a way to reboot a career.  I shot Mr. Tate a few questions about his choice to adopt a new identity.

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Day Off

Sigh.  So I missed at least two more of my friends’ books that were out this week.  I plead squirrel brain.

David B. Coe’s novelization of the new Robin Hood [B&N | Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon] movie is first up.  Coe posted at SF Novelists about the challenges of doing a work like this.

Also out is Janni Lee Simner‘s latest YA title Thief Eyes [B&N | Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon].  Icelandic fantasy for those tired of traditional pseudo-European settings.  Read an excerpt here.

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So yesterday I took the day off of work.  I’ve maxed out on my annual leave, meaning I’m at the point where I either use it or lose it.  Here are the things I managed to accomplish:

  • Got the boy off to school.
  • Paving stones placed beneath gates to stop dog from digging out of the back yard.
  • Lawn mowed.
  • Front yard weeded and feeded.
  • Weeds in driveway sprayed with liquid death.
  • Oil changed and car washed.
  • Dishes put away.
  • Interview with Jig the goblin written and turned in.

What didn’t I do?  Any writing at all on Snow Queen or for the anthology invitation that showed up Wednesday night.  And this is why the idea of quitting the day job and going full time as a writer isn’t as simple as it looks.

I needed to get all of that stuff done, especially since I’ll be away this weekend at Penguicon.  But it’s still frustrating that, in many ways, it’s easier for me to get writing done when I’m working than it is on a day off.

If I ever do go full time, I know I’ll have to make some changes.  Basically, I’ll have to treat it just like I do my day job, with scheduled work hours.  I’m thinking a two-hour block in the morning, and a 2-3 hour block in the afternoon.  (Yes, I think about this a fair amount.)  It wouldn’t be a full eight-hour work day, but it would be a lot more than I get now, and would leave time for blogging, e-mail, and other related activity.

But hey, at least my car is clean 🙂

Everybody was Kung Fu Writing

Okay, so I’m actually studying Sanchin-Ryu, not Kung Fu, but I liked the subject line.  I spent Sunday afternoon at our first spring workshop.  Hundreds of students, lots of senseis and masters, and three hours of instruction and workout.

Lately, I’ve been thinking more about the parallels between writing and martial arts.  I riffed on this a year ago with a Writer as Martial Artist post at SF Novelists.  Both writing and martial arts require a great deal of practice and discipline.  With both, while many people dabble, far fewer stick with it to the point of mastery.

What I’ve been noticing a lot in martial arts lately is that I’m walking away from classes feeling lost.  Back when I was a green belt, I had a pretty good idea what I was doing.  I was learning the moves, getting the forms down, and feeling pretty confident.

What a foolish little green belt I was.  I’m now at third brown (which is the lowest rank of brown belt).  Remember those forms I thought I knew?  Now we’re breaking them down.  It’s one thing to do choreographed movements.  It’s another to perform part of a form with speed, power, and proper technique against someone who just grabbed your gi and hauled off to punch you in the face.

It’s frustrating.  My brain wants concrete right answers, and that’s not what I’m getting now.  Two masters will show me the exact same form, but they’ll do it differently.  Is one way right or better than another?  That depends on the situation, the effect I’m trying to create, and how much I’ve practiced.

Sound familiar?  Tell me, what’s the right way to write a story?  (Seriously, please tell me.  I’ve been doing this for 15 years, and I still don’t know!)

One of the lessons I learned yesterday was that I think too much.  My partner throws a punch.  I step in, strike the arm, throw the kick … and stop.  The kick didn’t go where I expected it to.  So I pull back, trying to figure out what to do differently.  The master we were working with jumped on this.  Better to do something than to do nothing.  The last thing you want to do is train yourself to stop while fighting.  Throw the kick, and if it misses, follow up with something else.  Misses can open up opportunities as well.

Strange how well this matches my personal writing process.  I can’t revise when I’m working on a first draft.  I’ll think about the story on the road, or lying in bed, but when I’m writing I write.  If I write crap, that’s okay — keep writing, and see what I come up with.  Some of that crap will have to be fixed.  Some will create new ideas and opportunities.

They say the more you learn, the more you discover how little you know.  It’s a pretty saying.  In real life, it’s frustrating as heck 🙂  It’s also true.  Will I ever reach a point of mastery, in either Sanchin-Ryu or in writing?  I have no clue.  But I have to trust that I’m getting better, even when I feel completely overwhelmed by it all.

Especially when I feel overwhelmed.

Jim C. Hines