This Is Not Writing Advice

I try not to offer “writing advice” on this blog – although at times the temptation to do so may be strong.  The reasons I might attempt to abstain from offering “writing advice” should be obvious: I cannot lay claim to any authority on the subject.  I’m not published in any meaningful sense of the word (I have a single publication credit – a nonfiction piece).  I can’t claim to be any good at writing, much less able to tell others how they can improve their own.  Likewise, I have almost no direct experience in the publishing industry, so there is little I can say on that matter that would stand against that “subject matter authority” test. 

Sometimes, admittedly, I may say something on this blog – with regards to writing or to publishing – that might sound an awful lot like writing advice.  It’s not.  Whenever I think I’m treading that line, I usually try to include a disclaimer.  This is how I am currently thinking about this topic.  This is what I would do in this situation.  This is what I am doing or what I currently plan to do in the future.  That’s the only subject over which I have any real authority: this is who I am and this is what I do.  The fact of the matter is, I’m flying as blind as the next guy, or blinder.  If you came here looking for writing advice, you came to the wrong place, and there are other places and other blogs likely to serve you better in that regard.

Even so, I am often quite opinionated about matters that touch on these topics.  And as such I will tend to blather on about them from time to time.

All of this is a rather circuitous introduction to an interesting post I read recently on the subject of writing advice: “Ten Bits of Advice Writers Should Stop Giving Aspiring Writers” by Nick Mamatas.  It lists ten common pieces of “advice” that professional writers (especially professionals that are young in their writing careers, it would seem) often give to aspiring writers (i.e. that class of people which include me, my singular publishing credit notwithstanding).

There is a very tiny, only slightly above infinitesimal chance that I might someday be in that category of persons who might be called “neo-pro authors”.  If, perchance and against all odds, I do find myself in that position and apparently inclined to offer “writing advice”, would you be so kind as to link me back to this, my post of today, as a reminder against the futility of offering such “advice”?  I would be ever-so-grateful.

That aside… as a short commentary on Nick’s own bits of advice: I have to say I agree with much of what he says, though not all (again, illustrating the crux of his own argument vis-a-vis the futility of writing advice).  Craft advice like “Show don’t tell”?  That’s so overbroad as to be meaningless advice when it comes to the specifics of actual storycraft.  Career-oriented advice like “Don’t give up?”  Heck, I don’t preclude the possibility at some future point that I advise myself to give up, if I find success is so illusory as to be an untenable goal as compared to the stress and anguish spent in its pursuit and not succeeding.  Sometimes giving up is the right thing to do (though I would never suggest to my hypothetical self that I ever stop writing; but that’s a different matter, I think). 

Yet I may quibble with certain bits of his counter-advice, of course, like not advising “Watch What You Say on the Internet”.  I think the latter is a rather nice bit of advice, even if it’s easy to generate counter-examples of people who have been very successful despite being complete tools on the Internet.  But that’s because I think it would probably make for a more pleasant internet experience if more people followed such advice.  Or not advising  to “write everyday”.  Well… maybe not (I don’t write every day), but the gist of the advice, it seems clear to me, is to make a regular and frequent habit of writing, which it would seem correlates positively (though by no means exclusively) with career success in writing.  If the latter is your goal, the former (i.e. regular, habitual, frequent writing) seems about as close as you can get to a necessary prerequisite.

But at the end of the day, it’s all subjective, right?  Or, what, intersubjective or something?  Wait.  What does that even mean?  Anyway.  You get the gist.  Our individual experiences as writers – be we long-time pros, neo-pros, or aspirants – are not universally demonstrative of anything.  All any of us can do is our individual best – and to try to push ourselves to redefine our own individual bests – and to set goals and try to achieve goals that are compatible with our own individual values and dreams.  And when we talk about those things, they will always be highly inflected by the personal nature of our experiences, goals, and dreams.  But that’s just my opinion.  It’s not writing advice, or anything.

Writing Progress: Week Ending January 28, 2012

Another highly productive week of writing is behind me.

Book of M:

  • Background Notes Wordcount: 3,241 words

Grand Total: 3,241 words

Once again, my progress for the week was well-distributed across multiple writing days, demonstrating the fact that if I have the time to write, I can, in fact, write.  And these last two weeks I’ve been able to smuggle a lot of time across the border, so to speak, and I’ve been really productive.  The reverse will sometimes be true, I expect, in the coming few weeks  – because Dear Wife and I will need to focus a lot of our limited time-resources on planned House Projects, the current phase of which we want to finish roughly by the midpoint of February.  Pursuit of these joint-2012 goals – which are otherwise irrelevant to this blog – rank higher in importance, and I’m excited for this work to get done.  But nevermind that.  What about the writing, you ask?

Well, as I reported last week, I missed my self-imposed deadline for completing my prep-work for “Book of M” again.  I still haven’t finished the outline (at least… not as of the end of last week).  But I’m really quite close – in the last 10% of the book close, or so I think.  When last I visited with my characters, I was pondering the plot problems presented when one airship is reportedly significantly faster than another – and yet to have the final climactic moment happen at the prescribed time and place, I needed said second, faster airship to catch up with the first much more slowly than it’s speed would indicate.  In other words, the first, slower airship needed a bigger head start.  I’ve thought about it since then, and come to what is probably the answer as I realized that I still had one major plot thread that wouldn’t be adequately resolved in the final climax – I needed to resolve it first, and doing so would probably resolve that relative airship speed dilemma.

Anyway, that’s a bit specific with regards to the plot.  But you get the idea.  I’m right on the cusp of outlining out what happens in the climax.  And the great part: I have some idea exactly what that climax is.  When I started this outline, I really wasn’t sure where I was going to end up.  I had a few inklings, but no firm idea.  Now… I’m pretty sure I do know.  So that’s some big progress.  And while I’m truly excited to start the next phase, I do have that nagging voice in the back of my head that’s telling me: this is really good, but it’s not great.  You’ll have your work cut out for you in revisions, that’s for sure.  First I still have quite a bit to do, though, if I want to finish this by month’s end, and finally, finally start writing that first draft…

That was my week in writing.  How was yours?

My Post-Holiday Addictions

So… I discovered a few things after the end of the holidays, going into the New Year.

First, there was Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess.  It was a Christmas present, as I mentioned before.  And I mentioned I have a history, and a love-love relationship, with Zelda games in the past.  (There are several I may never have finished, but I loved playing them even when I didn’t beat them.)

Well, from the moment I fired up Twilight Princess, it was love-at-first-sight-all-over-again.  I was lost.  For hours.

What is it about Zelda games that so  unfailingly capture my heart and attention?  Is the comforting familiarity of a new adventure with a new-but-really-the-same Link and a new-but-really-the-same Zelda?  Is it the exciting new ways to retell the same story?  Is it just an overpowering sense of nostalgia that erupts in my heart whenever I start humming the original Zelda Theme in my head (and do at the start of every Zelda game, even if the one I’m playing eschews that theme?  I’m looking at you, Ocarina of Time, with all your wonderful, series-defining tunes except the original theme!)  (P.S. Orchestrating it only makes me salivate more.)  (Point being: you want to brighten my day?  Start humming the opening bars of the Zelda theme.)  Whatever it is, it’s like a drug.  I can’t not be in love with a Zelda game.

I had two or three sessions with Twilight Princess before I knew I had to put it away for a while, or I’d never get any writing done.  I’m still working out a reward scheme mechanism whereby I permit myself a play session after I’ve completed a certain amount of work on the book.  I haven’t settled on a firm line-in-the-sand amount that I need to do to get some Zelda time, but it’ll probably be something like 3,000 words or 4,000 words – to encourage me to exceed my proposed 2,000-words-per-week minimum.  But I’m holding off until I finish the outline, anyway.

What else did I discover after the holidays?

Cinnamon M&Ms.

Or should I call them Crack-flavored M&Ms?  Because it’s basically the same thing.

These I discovered on a trip to the store trolling for some post-holiday 50%+ off holiday merchandise deals.  You know, when the retailers go in a mad scramble to clear the Christmasy-stuff off the shelves because they have to start stocking up for Valentine’s Day.  And there they were on the left-over Christmas candy aisle.  Beckoning me.  I had never seen such a thing before.  I had to try it!

I grabbed like ten bags.  You know, the big 10-oz bags, not the snack-size bags.  Then I put all but two back.  Because, hello greedy.  Then Dear Wife and I tried them.  And it was like, whoa…

Why have I never heard of these before?

If that’s because they’re new then Why have these not existed before?

Dear Wife went back to the store herself a couple days later, as we were obviously experiencing withdrawal symptoms by that point.  She came back with ten bags.  No joke.

Since then, I’ve tried to be a little more judicious in my consumption of these, as I do not desire to experience said withdrawal symptoms again, and who knows how long it will be before we see Cinnamon M&Ms on the shelves again…

2012 Goals Update & A Request for Recommendations

Yesterday was the self-imposed deadline I had set for myself to finish my outline and prep-work to start writing the actual first draft of “Book of M”.  I thought I should report on my standing relative to that goal.

Unfortunately, I failed to reach my goal.  Failed, yes, but I’m so close.  As of last night, I believe I’ve reached somewhere between the three-fifths and three-quarter mark of the plot.  There’s a lot going on and a lot of pieces coming together.  I’m getting super-excited for writing this book, because I really like the direction the plot is going.

I think it might be amusing to also point out that as it stands the unfinished outline is nearly 9,000 words long, by itself, and is split between two separate word documents (it’s… complicated).  The length, at least, I can explain: the outline includes a lot of asides, notes to myself about changes to make to the outline, and especially a few internal dialog question-and-answer sessions that I’ve used to help me figure out some difficult plotting.  The upshot: this is definitely not a short story that I’ve blown up into a novel, here.  There’s a lot of ground to cover. 

I’m still optimistic that I can keep this a relatively short book (my target is 125,000 words, but I’m mainly hoping for anything under 185,ooo).  Realistically speaking though… at an artistic level I’m fine with a book that stretches to 250,000 words.  I enjoy works of that length.  And I don’t discount the possibility that this book could go as much as that long.  My shorter-length goal is based more on concerns for marketability – notwithstanding my prior analysis of wordcount lengths in my chosen genres, showing a distinct market preference (vis-a-vis the market of readers) for longer works, the advice of professionals in the business is still to write shorter, roughly 100K-length books.  Still, I won’t sacrifice my artistic integrity to force my book into artificial constraints.  I’m just trying to set a target, so I know what to work toward.

Considering how close I am to finishing my outline, I’m resetting my goal with a fairly short new deadline: to have all this prep-work done by January 31st, which will allow me to start the month of February diving straight into the actual First Draft.  I’ll definitely be able to finish the outline by then, and more than likely I’ll be able to tie a bow on some more character work as well.

Anyway, something became clear to me last night (which I tweeted about) as I was adding scenes – both new scenes that occur earlier in the book to foreshadow and support the direction the plot is moving, and additional scenes that moved said plot closer toward the climax and the end of the book.  At this point, I’ve got 4 POV characters. Continue reading

A Map of Fantasy

Just a quickie link for today.  Because I know you’re going to love this as much as I did.

The Fantasy World Map

Who knew that all the world’s fantastic tales all coexisted in the same secondary world?  Now we know.

Not Exactly the Apple Of My Eye

I’ve talked a lot about Amazon on this blog.  I haven’t said much about Apple.  Mostly, that’s because the subjects of “Apple” and “Writing” rarely cross paths in the news.

But they’ve crossed paths, recently, with the reveal of the new EULA for Apple’s iBooks Author platform.  And the early reviews are, shall we say, not stellar.  Says techie guru Ed Bott from ZDNet (a prominent tech industry web-zine), this EULA is “mind-bogglingly greedy” – effectively forcing the users of Apple’s iBooks Author platform to sell publications created in that platform exclusively through Apple’s iBooks/iTunes store. 

To follow that up, they appear to be taking aim at ebook publishing standards with the probable goal of removing the open standard EPUB version from competition with their new iBooks format.

And of course… you’ll need a $500 iPad to buy those fancy new iBooks.  Because, hey, cool, interactive books!  Who doesn’t have half-a-grand to drop just for the right to maybe purchase interactive books sold exclusively by Apple?  (Answer: I, for one, do not yet own an iPad, nor any other variety of tablet/slate computer.  So do a lot of other people.  And I’m not exactly on the “poor” end of the rich-poor spectrum.  I’m not on the “rich” end, either, but I’m still on the “can’t afford to spend frivolously on an iPad” end.) 

So lest it be said that I’m simply an Amazon-hater because of the many posts that I’ve written about Amazon that are potentially read as negative, let it therefore be shown that it’s not Amazon, per se, that get’s me: it’s anything that hurts writers and/or readers and favors corporations who have nothing to do with either and/or which is anticompetitive.  Those sorts of things?  I’m not a fan of them.  I’m a really huge un-fan of them.

Writing Progress: Week Ending January 21, 2012

Well, I had a really good writing week, and all-things-considered, I’m feeling pretty good:

Book of M:

  • Background Notes Wordcount: 3,495 words

Grand Total: 3,495 words

My progress for the week was pretty well-distributed across several good writing days – despite having several other days off due to other ongoing committments.  And I made good strides toward my goal of finishing this outline process by the 25th – i.e. by Wednesday.

At this point, I anticipate that I’ll miss that deadline/goal.  But not by much.  I’m still learning, at this stage, about what I can accomplish in a given time period, and about how fast I actually write.  This will have been at least the third time I’ve missed a self-imposed deadline on getting the prep-work for “Book of M” done so I can start the actual draft.  This time, though, I’m really close.  In my outline I’m at approximately the 50% mark, or just a little short of it, for the novel. 

I’m guesstimating, of course, because I’ve reached a very murky part of the plotting for this novel.  The weird thing about this story is, since the very beginning I’ve had a very clear vision of how this story starts, and that vision has only gotten clearer.  But I’ve never been entirely certain where it goes from there.  I had a small catalog of scenes and goalposts in my head, but no connecting thread.  The hard work I’m doing now is sussing out that connecting thread to see where it leads.  So I still don’t know how this thing ends.  I’m finding out as I go.

I suspect that means, as I reach the end of the outline, that I’ll actually have to go back and revise some elements of the outline earlier on.  Actually, I’ve done that already – going back and adding notes about things I want to show or foreshadow at earlier points in the story.  And that’s before I’ve gotten past the halfway.

As things progress, I’ve also become aware of two peripheral things: (1) I’m really in love with this world.  It feels rich and alive to me.  That’s probably consequent to the long time I spent writing out it’s whole history. (2) I’m really worried about the direction of the plot, as a whole, and about the potential reader’s attachment to main character. Continue reading

A Writer’s Ambitions

Author David B. Coe recently blogged about the topic of writing and ambition on the Magical Words blog community.  It was a thought-provoking post.  As it happens, this is a topic about which I’ve spent some thought, myself.  And as it further happens, when I see a thought-provoking post on a topic on which I’ve already spent some thought, I decided I should subject you, my faithful readers, to the rest of my thoughts on the subject.

Coe suggests three kinds of ambition in his post, and I’m going to address the three types with regards to my own ambitions. 

Fame! Fortune! Critical Acclaim! Bestseller Lists!

The first type he calls “Material Ambition“, by which he means the ambition to win awards, make tons of sales, gain recognition and fame for our work, to make more than a comfortable living on it, and so on.  Of this type I say: what writer doesn’t have this sort of ambition, and in spades?  I’ll tell you at least one who does: this guy.  And by “this guy” I mean me.  Yeah, I’m sure it comes as no surprise.  I want to win awards.  I want to be recognized for my writing.  I want to be a bestseller.  I want to live off the income my writing generates.  But I frankly take this as a given.  Nobody sits down to write and says: “I want to labor in total obscurity and anonymity.  I don’t want anyone to read this, and heavens forbid anybody should praise it as being of value or worth!”  Continue reading

Making It Work: The Financial Life of a Neo-Pro Author

Author Myke Cole (Shadow Ops: Control Point, an urban fantasy book about military special ops in a post-return-of-magic Earth) recently blogged about how he stretches his finances and makes things work on the income of a first-time author.  His post was very instructive, and you should read it here.

The points that stand out to me:

  • He’s living a very spartan life.  Not just “no cable” spartan (Dear Wife and I live without cable, for example) but “no TV” spartan.  Run-down appartment spartan.  No car spartan. 
  • He’s single
  • He lives in a dangerous urban area in a run-down appartment, which he makes work by being a physically imposing individual (seriously, check out the author photo on his bio page: he’s significantly more ripped than your average doughy author (yours truly included – I’m fairly thin but I’m all bone and squishy bits, and you’d be forgiven for laughing if I tried to “flex my muscles” for I have none to speak of)), meaning nobody messes with him
  • He makes healthcare work by being a military Reservist

I think about the finances thing a lot. Continue reading

Writing Progress: Week Ending January 14, 2012

Based solely on wordcount, it was a pretty good week – not spectacular, but pretty good.  However, for me it was really something of a home run:

Book of M:

  • Background Notes Wordcount: 1,446 words

Grand Total: 1,446 words

I’ve mentioned a few times over the past several weeks that I was struggling with something of an intractable plot problem.  I’d reached the start of what I plan to be the eleventh chapter of the book… and I wasn’t sure what to do next.  I wanted certain circumstances to force the protagonist and co-protagonist apart in chapter 11, but I needed to solve a world-building question in order to explain how it came about.  And I struggled for weeks to find a solution.

You could say I had writer’s block, but I don’t.  I still made progress, I just switched gears to focus on other things – the character profiles, primarily.  In the intervening time, I let my subconscious work on the problem, expecting a solution to come to me in a flash of brilliance.

At this point, I’d already discarded a couple simple half-solutions – ideas that seemed like they could be good ideas, but which didn’t feel right for the story.  But I was ready to sit down this week to continue working on my outline, and yet the real solution still hadn’t presented itself to me.  I resolved to write.

I’ve discussed before how I don’t really “believe” in writer’s block.  How it’s a convenient fiction, or an excuse: a phrase we use to describe a number of different creative challenges that writer’s often face but each of which can be solved and overcome.  If there is one great panacea to that malady we call “writer’s block”, it is this: to just sit down and write.  BICHOK, I’ve heard it called: Butt In Chair, Hands On Keyboard.  This, then, is what I did.

And I solved my problem!

But you saw that coming, didn’t you? Continue reading