X Marks the Spat

Chess Board - TwitterI managed, with my usual aplomb, to find myself in the middle of a discussion that turned into a mild argument– on Twitter. It takes extreme talent to argue on Twitter and I don’t advise it. Better to admit my inadequacies and move on: I need far more than 140 characters to really get my teeth in a topic.

However, the point isn’t the dispute, but the subject of dispute. We were discussing gatekeepers and whether or not indie writers should have them (or writers in general). I’m going to set forth my reasoning here (in far more than 140 characters or even 140 words), but I would love to hear from you as well. Comment here. Knock me up on Twitter (although I do expect help raising the baby). Send me an email if you’re feeling a bit shy. I’ll put all my contact info at the bottom.

Do I think that big publishing houses have too much control over what we read and they tend to be directed more by the almighty dollar than the best in reading material? Yes. Not all of them, all of the time, but a significant enough amount to not ignore it.

Do I still think that published writing needs a gatekeeper? Yes, unless it’s free.  Why?

  • Because we– you and I– spend money on books. Sometimes it’s just the $0.99 e-book. Sometimes it’s the splurgy $19.99 hardback. But our money goes into books. When you’re not Real in the first place and coming by real money can be a bit of a trick, this is a serious thing. I care about where my money goes.
  • Because we spend our time on reading books and most of us have far less time than money. If you have more money than time, please send some to me directly and I’ll solve that issue.
  • Because we invest a bit of our souls in the books we read (or at least I do… one Horcrux per book and I can never die. Voldemort and JK Rowling should be quite jealous).
  • Because the more bad books that are out there, the less expectation there is for anything good. People stop reading. I like people reading.

I know. You’re sitting there thinking “he’s not the boss of me” and very likely taking all your toys and going home. This is, of course, your right. But hear me out: I’m not saying you shouldn’t write. I want every last person on this planet to experience writing. In fact, I want to take writing to alien planets. I even think every person has a right to publish what they write. It is, after all, their sanity. If they want to throw it away to briefly declare “I am Writer”, I can’t judge. My sanity took the bullet train to Elsewhere a long time ago.

However, I don’t feel everyone should be charging for their books. Hey! Stop throwing things. You’ll only damage your screen and I am not buying you a new one. Hear me out.

  • Do you think the Girl Scout with a First Aid and CPR certification should charge you if you are kind enough to let her practice on you?
  • Do you think your child/ niece/ nephew/ random kid who gives you hand-drawn art should be charging you for the free décor?
  • Do you think the singers in a karaoke bar should get tips for singing in public?

Most of you will have answered “no”. Any children, Girl Scouts, or aspiring karaoke singers may have said “yes”. The reason is simple: all of these are amateurs who are practicing their craft. They aren’t masters or even journeymen. They haven’t reached the point where they’ve earned the right to sell their craft.

Once, this was an easily understood concept. A child with promising talent would become an apprentice. Apprentices practiced, all day long, and received instruction, but no pay. Then the apprentice became a journeyman at the approval of a master. The journeyman might sell a few things, but always at a discount because it was widely accepted that the quality wouldn’t be as good. Only a master could promote someone to a master. It meant that the buyer had the right to expect a certain level of quality in the work that followed.

We’ve done away with the apprentice system (unless you’re Donald Trump– if you are, please ask Russia to bring it back for the rest of us). We no longer have any way to tell who is the master and who is the rank amateur without investing our precious time, money, and energy in that person. As I’ve said, I don’t have endless amounts of time, money, and energy to invest. Because of that, I’m very wary of many indie authors, even though I read more indie works than anything else. Reviews are often useless, since finishing a book means five stars. This means I am far less likely to take a chance just after a bad choice.

Read the blurb and/ or free sample. You can figure it out from there.

Sometimes I can. Sometimes a book starts out good and dies, midway, like it tried to storm a beach and forgot sunblock. (There was a logical analogy in there somewhere.) Sometimes you simply can’t tell without reading the book that, although it flows beautifully, there’s no plot to it and the characters are cardboard cutouts.

Follow trusted reviewers.

Then I have to figure out who to trust, which is another investment of my time.

Do you see the issue? It’s not that I want someone saying, “No! Your book can’t be published because it’s not the current zombie/ post-apoc/ romantic triangle/ superhero trend and we can’t be sure we’ll sell it”. It’s that I want someone saying, “Not yet. Maybe go back and practice as an apprentice a little longer. Get some journeyman time. Make some corrections.” Then I’ll happily buy, read, and review the book.

But someone has to say “not yet”… and, as of yet, I don’t know who that should be. How about you?

Comments?
EMAIL: zanzibar7schwarznegger@gmail.com
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TWITTER: @zanzibar7writer
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Why on Wednesday: Why Are YOU Writing?

Chess Board - TwitterThere’s a crazy notion out there right now that everyone should publish a book. I’d like to break this down logically, but I’m a Figment, so I’ll break it down Figment-logically:

  1. Everyone should birth a baby. Yeah, that makes sense. Those who can’t birth a baby (men, women with fertility issues, small children, the elderly, aliens, and animals), those who don’t want to birth a baby, and those who shouldn’t birth a baby makes a pretty compelling argument against this. The same thing goes for book publishing: some can’t (lack of skills, finances, commitment, etc.); some don’t want to (which is perfectly valid); and some simply shouldn’t (I’ve read a few published “books” I wish hadn’t been published because… ugh).
  2. Everyone should sell a piece of art/ craft work. Really? Because not everyone will ever be good enough to sell something.
  3. Everyone should become a rocket scientist/ brain surgeon/ marathoner/ concert pianist.  All ridiculous, right?

I am not saying people shouldn’t write. Everyone should write. Anyone who wants to should write a book. Hurrah! I’m also not saying we should stop anyone from writing a book or publishing it.

But there’s a big push out there to get everyone to publish a book. It comes from companies that make good money off fledgling authors. I do not think it comes from anyone wanting the best for someone. It’s not in everyone’s best interests to publish a pile of steaming vomit mixed with crap spew. It’s, in fact, not in anyone’s best interests.

So, that brings me to that big question: why do you write?

  • Enjoyment
  • Mental stability/ emotional release
  • Growth/ learning
  • Memoir/ memory aid
  • Publication

There’s a lot of reasons (including many I didn’t list) to write, and most of them don’t lead to publication.

If you want to publish– especially if you want to be a “professional writer”– you should treat it with the same seriousness, the same intensity, that you would treat becoming a brain surgeon/ rocket scientist/ marathoner/ concert pianist. It’s a job, even if it’s not the job that’s paying the bills.

But if you just want to write to write to write to write (I got a little carried away there), then, please, write! Write to the sun and beyond. Enjoy that writing.

I’m not going to stop anyone from publishing. I’m just going to ask that you treat my career choice with the same respect you want yours given.

How to Write a Book: Outlining

Chess Board - TwitterI am aware that I just lost a lot of pantsers. I’m going to ask you to come back and give me an opportunity to woo you. I’ll even hold your hand if you want, but I’m running at the first sign of a restraining order. Stick with me through this post. Let’s see what we can do about this outlining idea.

There’s a reason we learn to outline in school: it’s a very useful skill to have, even if you’re not a writer. If you are a writer, it can be invaluable.

But, Zan, I hate outlining.

Here’s a thought: if you hate it, maybe you’re not doing it right.

But I’m a pantser. I like to just let the story flow.

There are people who can do this. If you’ve already finished books and published, ignore me. If, however, you either can’t finish a book or you get stuck in forever edits, let me try to help you. It might not work. The fun thing about anything artistic is that there is no real right way or wrong way; there’s only the way that works for you.

So, how do you outline a novel?

Start with the basics. Every book (except some really trippy random stuff) has a similar form to it. You have the opening, the first inciting moment, the second inciting moment, the faux climax, the oops moment, the third inciting moment, and the finale. (Yes, some of these are my own very technical terms.)

I didn’t outline for Veneri Verbum, but I did have these major plot points figured out. I’ll use that as an example. If you haven’t read it, you can still get an idea of what I mean.

If you are new to outlining, you hate outlining, or you’re a pantser and really against having the book set in stone (which it isn’t, but that’s a different post), just get down these key points:

  1. The opening. Get the who, the where, and the how at the very least. For me, it was Christopher, at his computer, trying to write a novel in one month.
  2. The first big moment. It’s not set in stone. If you really feel like writing it down limits you, write down several possible first big moments. You’ll end up with more of a flow chart than an outline… and that’s okay. For VV, it was Christopher realizing he’s not in Kansas (or at his computer) any longer.
  3. The second big moment. This will be the one that propels the story. In Christopher’s case, it was realizing that he had to get home or he would destroy the known universe.
  4. The faux climax. This is when your reader briefly thinks that big moment #2 is being resolved. In my story, it was getting everyone– almost– on the train.
  5. The big oops. Okay, the story isn’t resolved. Almost everyone got on the train.
  6. The third big moment. This is the one that has everyone sitting on the edge of their seats, holding their breath, waiting to see what happens. I think I sort of skipped through this one without touching down. Veneri Verbum is weaker for it.
  7. The finale or true climax. This is when everything comes together in a neat little package. That final chapter wraps it all up with a bow if you do it right. When Christopher… wait. That would be a major spoiler. Nope, not revealing that one. Sorry!

So, there you have it. Seven steps. Seven little bitty tiny steps. You can do that, right? (Note: if you’re using the flowchart method, then you’ll branch off at each inciting point, so you might have more than seven steps. “Might” in this case means “will”.)

There’s your homework. Go do your outline. No, no whining. I already told you this is not a safe zone. I will have to mock the whiners and that takes away from my writing time. Shame on you. Just do the thing. You’ll thank me later.

Probably.

How to Write a Book: Getting Ideas

Chess Board - Twitter

 

Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any.” – Orson Scott Card

I once belonged to a writing group. It was a mixed group, with experienced, published writers shuffled in with complete newbies. There was one thing that often made the newbies stand out. They’d come in, participate for a while, and then say, “I need help. Does anyone have a story idea I can use? I can’t come up with any.”

This is a relatively safe place. I try to not mock much…. Wait. Who am I fooling? I write humor, parody and satire. Mocking is my middle name. So if you are a sensitive soul who doesn’t like being the butt of a good poking (but not a poking in the butt; that’s just rude), you may want to pull out your blankie.

A good writer learns to see the millions of ideas out there. You cannot be a good writer unless you can come up with ideas.

The good news is that fourth word: learns. This is something that can be learned. I’m here to help you learn how to see the ideas out there.

1. Take a tip from Shakespeare

Shakespeare wrote 37 plays and 154 sonnets. He was writing all the time. Most of his stuff is taught in classrooms and still performed on the stage. Most of his stuff also came from somewhere else. Chaucer inspired Troilus and Cressida. Plutarch inspired Julius Caesar. In fact, it’s quite possible only three of his plays are original.

The point of this is that there is nothing wrong with getting ideas from elsewhere. Veneri Verbum and Beta Beware owe a lot to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass. Just be sure that you’re only using other sources for ideas, not for actual stories. There’s a fine line between inspiration and plagiarizing!

2. Read the news

There’s a saying: truth is stranger than fiction. There are plenty of writers who have gotten their inspiration (or an entire book deal) out of real life. Read the news on a regular basis and make a note of any stories that jump out at you. Be sure you reference the original article.

3. Play the “what if” game

I have a favorite game. I will go out in public, suitably disguised so my fans don’t chase me for autographs, and I will play a “what if” game. What if zombies suddenly appeared in this mall. What would the bored girl in the food court do? What about the jock boy who’s busy bragging to his friends about what he did this weekend?

You can play the same game. Get a notebook, go out somewhere in public (you don’t have to talk to someone), and write down some “what if” scenarios. If you don’t have your own, there are cards and books that will get you started.

4. Use story prompts

I’m not going to link you to story prompts because I don’t use them. However, if you search “story prompts”, you’ll get more than you could ever use in a lifetime.

5. Take part in a writing competition

Usually, competitions will give you the topic. How’s that for easy?

6. Use photos for inspiration

Go look around the internet and see how many photos can spark a story idea.

 

There are plenty more ways to get ideas, but these are good ways to start. One key to this is to always keep something with you so you can write (or voice-print) your ideas. You get ideas in the shower? (Lots of people do.) Get a waterproof pad, because you will forget by the time you get out. You get ideas in the car? Get a voice recorder. I always have my phone (with a notetaking app), a notebook and pen, and a voice recorder with me. Always. I also go through an inordinate amount of sticky notes.

Keep a file (paper, electronic, or both) of your ideas. Even if an idea is just a snippet, it can be invaluable.

There you have it. Six easy ways to get story ideas. Your assignment this week is to try all six ways. That’s right. Go do something to improve your writing. Then come back to tell me what worked best for you.

By the way, when you’ve been doing this long enough, you’ll start to see story ideas everywhere. I call them plot bunnies. Be sure to stab them. They are both voracious and extremely fecund. You will soon be overrun.

The Self-Publishing Furor

Z7 Profile Pic

(This post originally appeared on the NaNoWriMo group on Facebook.)

My social reality person was actually good for a post today:
 
Write, don’t write. Publish, don’t publish. The furor.
 
It happens every year. Someone reposts the articles about why people should not write. Every year, there is a big fuss because every year there are new writers.
 
Those of us who have been writing for years and who self-publish LOVE new writers. We don’t fear competition because we don’t compete with each other. My biggest writing support comes from other writers. People like Jeffrey Cook, Renee Fournier, Ronnie Virdi, Erin Blair Roberts, and Ellie Mack (and so many more; I know I left names off!) have encouraged my writing journey and I try to encourage theirs. So when I see posts that say “You’re just afraid of competition when you tell us not to self-publish”, please understand that I was never competing in the first place. Indie writers work with each other, not against.
 
When I beg you not to publish before you’re ready, it’s not because I’m afraid someone will download your book and like it better than mine. Hurrah! Someone is reading and indie writers just got a new advocate. No, that’s the best case scenario. What I fear is someone will pay $2.99 for your work and you won’t have done enough work to justify that cost. They will read the book, hate it, and be prejudiced against indie authors because maybe, just maybe, we all don’t do our due diligence. I’m not worried about competition. I’m worried about the state of the industry in general.
 
There ARE a glut of books out there. There are books so truly terrible that I’m pretty sure my cat could write a better book, if she deigned to deal with such things. I’m not afraid of those books. Those books make me look FANTASTIC. However, maybe a lot of readers aren’t going to read my book– or Jeffrey’s– or Ronnie’s– or any other independent writer’s work because they just read $2.99 worth of vomit mixed with excrement.
 
Even if you’re doing this part-time (a lot of us have other jobs to pay the bills), be a professional. Use the Starbucks model, even if you don’t like Starbucks’ coffee. Expect to go in every day and relate to your customers. Expect to learn your product because, however many hours a week you put in at writing, you are a Professional Writer and should behave like one.
 
Anyone can– and SHOULD– write. Please write. Improve. Hone your craft if that’s what you want or just enjoy it as a hobby. But if you want to publish, please take the time to respect this profession for those of us who consider this more than a hobby.
Write away! Write with abandon! Then publish with an absolute sense of awe and wonder that you even have this right to foist your creation off on the world. Because if you don’t feel any of that responsibility, maybe it /doesn’t/ belong out in the great wide somewhere. Not yet.