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The Many Moods of Writing

We’ve done all of these and more! How about you?

 

Why Writers Shouldn’t Read Reviews

The agony and the ecstasy. That’s the best way to describe what it is like for authors to read reviews of their books. It’s natural to want to know what readers think of your story, but, overall, it is better to give it a miss. Why? Reviews will eventually affect your writing.

But isn’t that the point, some folks will ask. Don’t reviews help authors improve, point out flaws, show them the strengths and weaknesses of the story? Not necessarily. Reviews reflect the personal experience of the reader and every reader’s experience is unique. Readers bring their own ideas, fears, prejudices, and emotions to any book they read and will interpret the story through the filter of their own perception.

No writer can write to meet the expectations and beliefs of every reader. Louis May Alcott in her book Little Women describes the character Jo’s struggle with this very problem. Jo has written a book and everyone around her has made helpful suggestions about how she can make the book better. She rewrites the book according to these criticisms and the book is published.

Well, it was printed and she got three hundred dollars for it; likewise plenty of praise and blame, both so much greater than she expected that she was thrown into a state of bewilderment.

“You said, Mother, that criticism would help me. But how can it, when it’s so contradictory that I don’t know whether I’ve written a promising book or broken all the ten commandants?”

It can be very confusing to read some of the comments reviewers make. Some reviewers praise our book for being great science fiction. Others say it is pure fantasy. Still other rail that it should be one or the other. One reviewer complained that we used too many “ten dollar words” while another reader lambasted us for having a limited vocabulary. Some love the story, claiming it was the best book they ever read. Others attack with such nastiness that you might think our book was going to be the cause of the fall of western civilization.

Bewildering, indeed.

The worst part is that when an author sits down to write, these reviews rattle around in his head subtly, and sometimes not-so-subtly, tainting his writing. Gee, someone really loved this; I’d better give them more of it. Hmm, someone really hated that. Better leave it out altogether. And on and on.

Reviews can get in the way of creativity. They obscure the unique perspective an author brings to her book. Part of the joy of writing is the creating a story for the love of telling a tale your own way. If an author begins to try to write to suit other people’s visions of the story, the uniqueness is lost.

The joy of reading comes from interpreting the story from your own viewpoint. Each reader takes away a different experience from a book. Reviews are nothing more than an expression of each reader’s unique view of the world. So, authors, don’t take it to heart.

Living your life according to what others think is best for you is dust and ashes. Creating stories according to what others think is best is the same.

The Future: If You Blink, You’ll Miss It

We were recently asked if it was difficult to write science fiction in a world where the future quickly and persistently becomes the present.

You betcha!

How lovely it must have been to be a sci-fi writer one hundred years ago. The inventions and devices you imagined and described were unlikely to show up not only in the near future but in your lifetime. Your futuristic world would remain just that, an imaginative journey into a far-off place.

Not so today. When we wrote the first draft of Time’s Edge twenty-five years ago, the future we imagined included wireless mobile computers, touch screens, voice-activated devices, quantum physics… Well, you get the picture. Flash forward twenty years. We haul out the manuscript, begin to polish it for publication, and notice a big problem. The future we described had pretty much become the present.

We rewrote the story and have since added two sequels, but we wonder how long it will be before the devices and ways of life we described become part of our present lives. And then we wonder what it will be like for the science fiction writers of tomorrow. Technology is evolving so quickly, the future will be happening as they are writing it!

FUTURE WRITER: Let’s see. Orion steps into his personal protection pod (PPP) which will shield him from the harmful rays of the sun that shine through the depleted ozone layer, filter the smog-laden air, protect him from the chemicals that saturate the ground…

NEWS FLASH: Get your very own Personal Protection Pod. Don’t put yourself at risk of our deadly environment again! PPP’s will shield the sun’s deadly rays, filter your air, protect you from toxic chemicals…

FUTURE WRITER: Sigh. I wish I lived in the 21st century. Life was so much simpler then. Let’s see. Maybe Orion could just wear a special suit. Wait a minute. An ultra-thin fabric, transparent yet tough, which provides all the protection he needs from the environment. It will be practically invisible, so no one will know he is wearing it… I’ll call it WonderFabric…

NEWS FLASH: WonderFabric, now available from fine eOutlets everywhere. Transparent yet tough, invisible to others…

FUTURE WRITER: I’m switching to historical fiction.

 

 

 

 

 

We’ve Been Editing Our New Book

Sung to the tune “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad”

 

We’ve been editing our new book

all the livelong day!

We’ve been editing our new book,

and the time has slipped away.

We can see the deadline looming

so we rise up early in the morn.

We can hear each other shouting

“Damn it, cut some more!”

 

Damn it, cut some more!

Damn it, cut some more!

Damn it, cut some more and more, more, more!

Damn it, cut some more!

Damn it, cut some more!

Damn it, cut some more, more, more!

 

Someone has to check for grammar.

Someone has to check for form.

Someone has to check for style.

While rewriting it some more!

 

We’re singin’ “Gee, why did I write this?

Gee, this piece has to go-o-o-o-o.

Gee, why is editing so damn hard?

Wish we were strummin’ on the old banjo!”

Why Book Promotion Sucks

1. It’s tedious. Not at first. At first it’s new and exciting. Kind of like falling in love. But as time passes, monotony sets in. How many ways can you say “buy my book”? How many times do you have to say it? The answer? Forever! It’s an endless Groundhog Day of tweets, blurbs, and blogs. (Groundhog Day. The movie with Bill Murray where he lives the same day over and over. Just rent it and watch it. You’ll see what we mean.)

2. Everyone else is doing it. Yep. Me, you, our plumber, your mother-in-law, and everyone else on the block. The result? A cacophony of white noise in which nearly everyone’s attempts to be heard are lost. Like The Cricket in Times Square. (A book by George Selden. Go to the library. Borrow it and read it. You will see what we mean.)

3. It’s time consuming. Hours and hours every day. Must post. Must blog. Must check stats. It eats loads of time. Time that could be spent writing. Most authors are aware that the more books you write, the more income you bring in. And writing is what authors love to do. But who has time to do it? (Yes, we can already hear the writers who will say, I network, raise children, sew my own clothes, bake my own bread, and write ten novels a year. We admire you. We also promise to send flowers when you drop dead from over-work.)

4. It’s painful. In several ways.  Physically. (Repetitive strain injuries from being on the computer too much. Also headaches from banging one’s head on the desk. ) Mentally. (I can’t possibly think of one more blog/post/tweet. Plus my head hurts from banging it on the desk.) Emotionally. (Riding the roller coaster of feelings as we watch our stats rise to new heights only to tumble back, dashing all our hopes. And the drama of restraining each other from banging our heads on the desk.)

5. We suspect it is not quite as necessary as everyone believes it is. Do our tweets, blogs and posts really make a difference? Probably not. We don’t have enough followers on any site to claim that we have reached a broad range of people. And yet our books are selling; sales are steady. (Phew. We can stop banging our heads on the desk.)

The bottom line? Ratings, reviews, and pricing seem to matter the most in promoting a book. What do authors do when they want their books to be noticed? They cut the price and have a sale. Some give a book away for free, knowing this will draw attention to their work. The hope is that if readers like the free book, they will be willing to pay for other novels by the same author.

We are going to try an experiment. (Actually it is already underway.) We are cutting back on all the social networking. Not abandoning it, just reducing the amount of time spent on promotion so we can spend more time writing. for when it comes right down to it, a good quality story is the best promotional tool of all.

 

How Writers Exercise

You would think that sitting at a computer all day would mean that writers get darn little exercise. Not so! Using just a few objects found in any house, writers can stay fit. Here’s how:

1. Cat. Preferably, more than one cat. Sit at the computer. Begin to type. At the sound of a loud crash in another room, jump up and race to the scene. Clean up broken vase/lamp/knickknack. Return to computer. Begin to type. When loud hissing and snarling breaks out, run to the next room. Observe cats sitting calmly washing themselves and looking at you as if wondering why you are breathing so hard.

2. Washer and Dryer. Throw a load of clothes in the washer. Run back upstairs. Sit at computer. Begin to type. Remember fabric softener. Run back downstairs. Add fabric softener. Run back upstairs. Sit at computer. Actually type a few pages. Washer buzzer sounds. Run back downstairs. Transfer load to dryer. Start second load. Run back upstairs. Begin to type. Remember dryer sheet. Run back down stairs. See washer spilling water all over the floor. Grab mop and begin aerobic mopping.

3. Stove. Place main course in oven. Sit at computer. Begin to type. Jump up and run to kitchen to start the potatoes. Return to computer. Begin to type. Jump up and run back to kitchen to turn down potatoes which are boiling over. Return to computer. Begin to type. Buzzer sounds. Jump up, run to kitchen and turn meat over. Return to computer. Begin to type. Encounter really exciting scene which is flowing so beautifully you are transported. Come to when smoke alarm sounds. Race madly to kitchen to put out the fire.

4. Spouse. Get married. Sit at computer. Begin to type. Spouse calls from basement. Jump up and run downstairs. Answer perfectly simple question about what to do with old box of junk. Run back upstairs. Begin to type. Spouse calls from garage. Run out to garage. Help lift several heavy boxes of junk to make room for new box of junk. Return to computer. Begin to type. Spouse calls from front yard. Get up and run outside. Cat escaped while spouse was carrying box of junk to the garage. Spend next twenty minutes jogging around the yard chasing the cat.

5. Kids. Self-explanatory.

6. Telephone. Sit at computer. Begin to type. Phone rings. Jump up, since it is the land line in the other room, and run to see who it is. A telemarketer. Return to computer. Begin to type. Cell phone rings. Jump up (because the phone is in the bedroom on the nightstand) and run. Friend texting silly joke. Return to computer. Begin to type. BOTH phones ring. Answer cell phone (which you have cleverly brought with you) while running for the other line. Friend wants to know if you received the funny text. Telemarketer wants to sell you a gym membership. Laugh so hard it counts as aerobic breathing.

 

Writing in Layers

The first draft of Time’s Illusion is nearing completion. And the next step? You’d think it was editing, right? Nope. It’s layering.

When we write, we look at the first draft as the basic structure of the book. It establishes where the action is, who is present, how the characters move through the story. A bare-bones, action-and-dialogue scenario. A lot of experimenting goes on in our first drafts, a testing of story boundaries and character limits.

Upon this base we add layers. This process fleshes out the details that really bring the tale to life. Descriptions are expanded. Dialogue is enhanced. This is the five-senses phase, when we get to play with color, sound, and sensation. Like a stage production, we decide what our characters will be wearing, we paint the scenery, adjust the lighting. The worlds we have created come alive.

For those who aren’t into play production, think of it as baking a cake. The cake itself is the basic story. The icing holds the story layers together. The fancy flourishes give the tale depth and beauty. When it is complete it is a feast for the eyes. It smells delicious. Your mouth waters in anticipation. The first bite makes you want to take a second bite.

Just like a good book.

5 Good Blogs About Writing

Over the past few years we’ve read some great blogs that offer excellent advice for writers. Here are some that are worth checking out:

1. Creativity? Train Your Brain to Be an Idea-Generating Machine.  by Cheryl Craigie

2. Why You Shouldn’t Follow Trends by Nathan Bransford

3. George Orwell’s 5 Rules for Effective Writing by Erin Falconer

4. Writing Exercise: Switching Points of View by Jodi Cleghorn

5. Want Some Advice? Ignore Any Advice by Russell Smith

Genre Busting

Every book has a genre, right? Or perhaps not. Trying to describe the particular genre of a book these days is not as cut and dried as some may think or even want it to be. When is a mystery not a mystery? When it’s suspense. But aren’t mysteries by definition, full of suspense? And what if a mystery novel also has a romance? Then it’s romantic suspense. Throw in something supernatural? Paranormal fiction. Add some magic and set it in the present day. Urban fantasy.  But what do you call a book that has mystery, romance, and a little magic? A paranormal urban fantasy suspense novel? Sheesh! Labeling can be taken too far!

Many folks want books to fit neatly into one major category, and we understand readers’ desires to find books in genres that they love. But good stories often have details that fall outside “the genre”. We love tales that include a little mystery, a little romance, a little adventure. Unexpected elements add interest and depth to a story. And if that means the book doesn’t fit neatly into one genre, so what? Most things that happen in life don’t fit neatly under one subject heading. Why should our books?

Of course, we know books must be classified in some way or searching for something to read could become very much like Indiana Jones searching for the Lost Ark. What we are applauding are writers who stretch the boundaries and take their particular genres for rides down new roads. Sure this may befuddle the people who love tidy labels, but the rest of us get the fun of enjoying stories that challenge our expectations.

Our book, Time’s Edge, is basically labeled sci-fi/fantasy. One review claimed it was pure fantasy, while someone else praised the book for being great science fiction. One called it a sci-fi romance, another a sci-fi/fantasy adventure. But several readers realized the book didn’t fit neatly into one particular genre. A recent review on Amazon said “I enjoy reading mystery books, science fiction books, fantasy books, and good ol’ fashioned shoot ’em ups. This book literally had all of these in there somewhere, plus a healthy dose of romance and, dare I say, lust thrown in for good measure.” Now this is our kind of reviewer. He understands that the line between genres has become blurred and what’s even better, he doesn’t seem to mind.

Never Moon an Editor

If you ever want a good laugh get a bunch of authors together to talk about rejection letters. Over the past few weeks we have encountered other authors at various functions and heard rejection stories so silly, we just have to share them.

One author related that an editor told her that the genre her book fell into was saturated. We giggled when we heard this. Did it mean the genre needed no more books? Was it simply too full? Did he honestly believe that no one anywhere, ever would buy another book in this genre? For that matter, we wondered just how full does a genre have to be before it is considered saturated? How many titles? And just who decides that a genre can hold no more?

And then there was the author who spoke on the phone to an editor who ripped the author’s book to pieces. It was too long, it was badly written, the plot was weak, it was simply the worst mystery story ever written. The author was puzzled. He had submitted a fantasy story.

Another author, who happened to be attending a book conference, was told during the course of the day by various editors that his book was too long, too short, too edgy, not edgy enough, too dark, too light, too slow, too fast-paced, not original enough, and (you guessed it), so different that it defied genres and would, in consequence, be too hard to sell. Apparently, that plain old genre known as “fiction” wasn’t good enough.

We, too, have had our share of silly rejections, but the best was the editor who read three pages of our book and encountered a description of a planet that had two moons. He immediately ceased reading and wrote us a letter stating that he NEVER published books with planets that had two moons. As soon as he saw the two moons, he knew he would dislike the rest of the story. To this day, we fondly relate this tale as the time an editor rejected us because we mooned him.

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