Sunday, July 31, 2005

Working toward the new novel

Aletta from Kat Among the Pigeons

Kat Among the Pigeons is about ¾'s of the way toward ready to write. I'm really pleased with how well the material is going together for this one and excited about the story. I like the characters, the setting (Rocky Mountains, and areas I've been to several times over the years!) and the plot. The head of the 'bad guys' is really turning out to be fascinating, and the woman on his side just made an appearance for me and I have a good idea of her attitude and feelings.

I've written about 10k in notes and collected almost twice as much in information from the Internet. I need to sort through my own pictures still, and I fear that I'm not going to get a chance to do that before I start writing. I could put off the start and spend time sorting through boxes of pictures, but somehow that doesn't seem like such a good idea.

I not only know about the 'real world' things, but I also know motivations, weaknesses, plans and the way in which it all falls together. I could probably start writing today, but I'm going to hold off for a while longer so I can get a few other things out of the way and then have a straight run at it. And I want to work on the outline, which is still nebulous. Well, all right, less than nebulous. I have a 'start here' and 'finish here' sort of layout with two minor scenes written out in the middle.

Many people don't like outlines. I worked for years without them, but I learned that I do much better at keeping the story in line and making it readable and interesting if I have a good 'roadmap' of where I want it to go. Letting the characters wander all over and do what ever happens to come to mind that day was always fun, but it also made vast tracks of boring story line that went no where and didn't help the novel move forward.

My later novels don't suffer much from that problem, though there are still times when I write in scenes that I think are essential only to realize on the read through that I can cut some big (and usually dull) scene and summarize it better.

Many writers don't need outlines. They have the ability to plot and keep the story on line without directions. Many new writers working on their first novels don't think they need to outline when they really should have a roadmap, or at least a few cue cards, to keep them heading in the right direction. It's easy to get lost out there, especially if you make the mistake of believing that your characters are talking to you and telling you what needs to be done. Your imagination is a wild, untamed power and it's job is, in many ways, to lead you astray. Your imagination leaps from what you are working on to 'imagine' something different, and if you trust it without question -- and without any controls -- it's going to move off into directions that can sometimes ruin the story because there is no logical way back and no logical end. So the writer gets there, sees no way out, and abandons the novel.

The important thing to remember is that every great idea does not have to go into THIS book. Even if you imagine it with the current set of characters, chances are that you can adapt it to a different story later. Just make a note of it somewhere (I keep notebooks and files just for this purpose) and go back to keeping your characters moving along the plot line you want to tell.

It's hard to see that some ideas are not good to throw in while you're writing without an outline, though, because every idea seems a logical outgrowth of what you've already done. And since you have no idea where you want the story to go, there's no reason not to move off into another direction. I've worked that way and sometimes you get really great material. Other times you end up out in the Mojave Desert without a trail when you thought you were heading for Key West. The only way to get there is to retrace your steps, cut the material that took you off into an area from which there is no storyline resolution, and cut it out of the manuscript.

A shame about all that wasted time, of course.... (And I've done enough of it to know!)

Outlines won't automatically make a novel perfect. I've certainly written plenty of bad novels both ways. It won't even guarantee that you'll get through the novel without problems. I just look at it as a little extra insurance.

Some people are not going to do well with outlines at all. But if you're like me, and your imagination likes to run rampant at the worst times, having a sheet of paper with a few lines of directions on it is not going to hurt.

Monday, July 25, 2005

The myth of writing every day

Rhino head from Ashfall, Nebraska

Anyone can write every day. It's not difficult. You just have to sit down and do it. A few hundred words -- it's easy. There is no reason why anyone here can't find that much time to work on material.

But it's not what everyone should do. There is no rule that says you can't be a published writer if you don't work every single day. I know many published authors who take time off, either in huge chunks or a month or so, or a few days a week. Writing every day is not the sign of a successful author. It's a choice, and there are other choices that will work just as well.

Some of you may find that you work best if you think about your story for a week, work up everything in your mind, and then sit down on Saturday night and write a few thousand words. Others may find that they work best if they can get away from everything distracting for a day, and that may not always be possible, so their work is sporadic. Writing the rest of the time is dull, annoying work interrupted too often by other people, which can cause them to lose their enthusiasm for the novel.

Writing everyday is fun for those who think writing is more important and exciting than anything else they could be doing. It means giving up something else in life -- an hour of TV, gardening, knitting, or maybe even family time. Maybe you can write for a little while during your lunch break at work -- but that might mean cutting yourself off from time with your co-workers, and that's not always good or wise. Some people get up an hour earlier each day and write before they get ready for work or before the rest of the family is up.

If you want to write every day, don't let anything stop you. If you aren't used to writing often, start with a small word count and work your way up. You don't have to leap into 2000 word days. The truth is that your brain probably isn't going to be able to supply you with enough writing ideas to keep you going. Start small. I started at 250 words and my goal now is only 1k a day, though I usually do much more.

It is far better to give yourself a lower word count goal and exceed it than to give yourself a high count and often fail. Continual failure doesn't help you write your novel. In fact, few people will keep coming back to the work if they have this idea in their mind that they keep failing in some way. In this case the failure would have nothing to do with your actual writing, but only in an unrealistic goal you set for yourself.

This is just a game you are playing and there are no other people in it with you. It doesn't matter if someone in your critique group is writing 2k a day or if I am writing 5k a day. We are not you; we do not have your ideas, your free time or your mind. You don't have to worry about what any other writer is doing. You are giving yourself goals just to keep yourself moving forward. Those goals can be daily, weekly or monthly. Yearly goals only work if you keep a short term goal that will build up to that yearly goal.

But the real goal is to finish your work. It doesn't matter how long it takes you as long as you do the best you can with it. Some of us write more than others; that is not a sign of talent, just that we have more time to write and really don't want to do other things. (grin)

Friday, July 22, 2005

Moving from novel to novel

I have finished Silky 2! Yay! This one took longer than I expected -- mostly because of person a life stuff -- but I'm happy with the reworking of the tale. I even have some very solid thoughts for the last book in the trilogy, which I really think it's about time to write. Though not right now. Just soon. Although 'soon' for me is probably not what other people think. It could be sometime in the next four or five years.

I have turned more of my attention to the background material for the next novel on my list. This one is Kat Among the Pigeons. I know a good amount of the 'who and what' but I'm still working out some of the 'why' parts. And 'how' -- the plot line -- is nebulous still, with hardly more than a few key points jotted down. As I learn more about the others I find that pieces of the story are dropping into place. I will probably take the last few days of this month and work on all the material. I think I'll write a few short stories as well. I've been rather lacking in those this year, and I love a quick writing adventure now and then!

However, I can't remember a time (at least after the age of 13) when I was not working on a novel. I start a new one every January 1 so that I get my year going right -- sort of a good omen and a lot of fun. I spend more time working on outlines and background material for upcoming novels than I do on writing short stories. I like short stories and I enjoy writing them, but over all I'd much rather be working on something more substantial.

Novel writing was my first love, and it still draws me in. I love the depth of novel writing, and the amount of research and worldbuilding that goes into developing a really good plot. Kat Among the Pigeons is one such story. Once I had a clear idea of whom my antagonist is, and what he wants, the amount of research I needed tripled -- but it's going to make this a much better story for taking that time and for doing the homework. It would have been far easier to just leap into the story at almost any point since the idea hit me, but this way I am far more assured of having something that holds up.

Stories aren't just about the characters, of course, but the characters had better be interesting enough to carry the plot and keep the attention of the reader. In this case I'm going to have an array of human and animal characters and a lot of conflicting personalities. I love this set and working out who they are has been a lot of fun. Since my main character can understand certain animals, those creatures are developing very specific and comedic voices. When I started telling Russ about one of the small birds with a very tough attitude, Russ suggested I call him Harlan. (grin) I think I'm going to call him Harley, in fact.

My antagonist is a historical figure. One of the great joys of having several thousand books at home (and about half of them nonfiction history) is that I was able to look up nearly all the information that I needed for him. The only problem I have is that I haven't sorted out my books and arranged them properly since Russ took his stuff to the second house and I spread out onto his shelves. I just pulled things from various places and shoved them into the shelves. I know I have a couple more books that will have pertinent information -- I know because I read them. Finding them.... eek.

I may have to take some time to arrange books just so I don't go nuts. It might be a nice change, in fact. Maybe I can even get some of the trim up on the bookshelves. Hmmmm..... Not that I really need something else to do, but the idea of physical work while letting my mind play with the story development at the same time could help out.

My mind hasn't quite moved fully from one project to the next. My projects are distinct pieces and it's not always easy to leap from one to the other, especially after working on a novel. Novels are not like short stories (duh): They have far more 'world' to live in and longer time spent with the characters. They take more time in the set up as well as in the writing and they linger even after I'm done.

If you're writing for yourself (which I do sometimes, just because it's fun), you needn't worry so much about the background working right, or the characters being fully fleshed before you leap into the work. However, if you are working on something that you hope to publish, the more work you put into the set up, the better the chances of creating something coherent and interesting, with characters who have depth and a storyline that pulls the reader along. Usually the best plots are the ones that have some amount of preplanning. It doesn't have to be an extensive scene by scene outline, but a few steps written out that will lead you from the first chapter to the last line can be helpful.

Doing the pre-work to a novel can take a lot of time. There's no reason to rush. Let your mind work on the story and the characters, and do whatever research you think you need. Planning ahead will allow you to make certain interesting things are going to happen to your characters and they are not going to just go wandering around clueless looking for trouble. Chances are that you'll end up researching more as you get into the novel, but getting the obvious stuff out of the way is helpful!

Not everyone works this way, obviously. And some do quite fine without much planning. But I've worked both ways and I know my weaknesses in this area. I know where not planning a novel and getting most of the background worked out ahead of time can lead. And I've seen a lot of new writers fall down and lose interest in their novels because they don't have enough information to keep them moving to the next step. Even if they finish, they often find that their characters have wandered around doing nothing of importance for large stretches, or they took off into storylines that could have been saved for another book.

Sometimes you just have to experiment to find out what works for you. However, the one thing I think is true -- it never hurts to know more than you need, even about your novel. (grin)

Monday, July 18, 2005

And a nice sale

Happy Cricket

Mirrors, one of my two NaNo Novels from 2003, is going to Zumaya as soon as I get and sign the contracts. I've already seen the contract, so I don't think there will be any trouble there! This will be an ebook and print version, due out in 2008.

Zumaya is one of those new style publishers that I'd been looking at for some time, trying to get a feel for what they might like. I had wanted to try one of the publishers who do both print and ebook versions to see how well it works, and I knew at least one person working at this publisher, so I had some trust in them from the start.

They are also interested in making this a series of books. Good thing I had one or two more ideas, though I haven't written them.

It's a good day, in general. Russ is home, at least for a few days, and Princess Cricket is back from the vet after her weekend stay. She's better now, though not really happy with us. She is finally sitting here half blocking the screen and purring like mad. It's good to see her in such a better mood.

As expected, getting the news of the sale set me off on other things and I haven't gotten nearly enough writing done yet today. I'm going to be getting to that in a few moments... though maybe I should just wait until after dinner now.

I'm almost through Silky2. I think I might have another 10-15k to go, so I don't expect it to take too much longer. I'm working on my nonfiction chapter for an upcoming book on fantasy writing, though most of that is still in the planning stage, working out the listing and what I want to say. I'm still working on the notes for Kat Among the Pigeons, too. That one, I think, is going to be a lot of fun to write.

It's going to be another week of madness here. We've barely recovered from my mother's death and the visit by my sister and niece! Russ's sister will be here on Thursday or Friday, then the two of them will go out to visit their other brother for a couple days, come back, and she leaves on the following Monday. Russ will leave again the following Friday or Saturday.

It would be nice to have a weekend with Russ, or at least a day. There hasn't been one in quite a while for one reason or another.

Still, all in all, I can't complain too much. I think we'll go out and have a nice celebration dinner tonight. I'm looking forward to some time with Russ again!

Friday, July 15, 2005

I love writing

I love writing. I really do.

Some of you have known me for many years, so you're pretty much aware of how much of my life I dedicate to writing. In the last few years that hasn't been just for my own work, either. So far I've had five wonderful years with Vision, and while DTF is quite a handful, I really enjoy it.

And there is Forward Motion, of course. Overall it is filled with very good people who are interested in talking to others about writing and learning what they can from each other. Writers are really lucky in one respect: they know how to communicate via written words. Not everyone can.

The Two Year Novel Course has been a real challenge for me. I'm currently reading yet another book on editing to glean more material I can offer. This is very difficult because there are at least four fiction books on my shelf that I want to read RIGHT NOW. Only 22 more class posts to make and we'll be done. Then I get to rework the entire 104 classes into something presentable and see if someone would actually like to pay me for this. (Laughs)

I like talking to new writers, finding things that can occasionally help them, and seeing them finish their first stories and make their first sales. That's a really wonderful experience. It makes all the work at FM worth it.

There is, however, nothing better in my world than writing. I don't care if it's a short story or a novel, articles or even an occasional bit of poetry. I started out thinking I was a natural novelist and that's what I would stay. I wrote at least forty novels before I managed anything shorter -- but one day the art of short stories came to me, and now I write both without much worry. (That's not to say that the stories all work, of course!)

I've written long novel series of eight books and I've written flash fiction -- which, by the way, is often considered a vignette -- a moment in time, not a full story. Some of them are complete stories, but many are just brief looks into an event. They're mood pieces. And they are fun to write if you can. I have not had a lot of luck getting them right, though I did get a couple published at Ideomancer a few years ago. I've added a flash fiction section to the two month dares since a number of people wanted to try their hands at them. I think they're fun!

I write words every day, despite all my other side interests, including photography and the interesting work with 3D rendering programs. I love setting up scenes in Daz and Bryce. It's a whole new way of looking at the material I've written. Character's faces are coming clearer now. I didn't expect that of 'people' I've lived with for years.

My sales have not been spectacular, but they've been pretty steady. Since June of 1999 I've had about 75 sales and 81 publications (with a few of those still upcoming). The difference in the numbers is because I have given some stories to a few of my favorite online ezines that didn't pay. Dark Moon Rising was one such. Shadowkeep was another.

My rejections, of course, are well more than triple the number of sales I've made. I have, however, averaged about a sale a month since my first publication. I've accepted the rejections for what they are -- an indication that I'm a writer trying to make sale, and that if you don't try, you aren't going to get anywhere. Rejection is a part of the job description for writers. It's nothing personal, and quite often it isn't even a condemnation of the work. Stories sometimes just don't fit, or the magazine is overstocked in a particular kind of story, or that this particular editor just doesn't like that kind of work. Sometimes, of course, it also means the story sucks and the writer is too blind to realize it. I've had a few of those, too, of course. We all do.

My climb has not been spectacular, but it has been steady. And I've learned a great deal from the copyeditors I've worked with over the years. I've seen changes in my writing because of it.

The way I have worked has been good for me. It is, however, the long way around to a career. Many people consider electronic publication in much the same way as pulp fiction was viewed back in what we now call the golden age of sf and fantasy. (grin)

I like being part of a new frontier. I find it rewarding in ways that do not include money. But that's just me. Like everything else, I don't expect it to work for others. In fact, I tell new writers that they should always try for the top first. If you want a career you have to go for the money and fame.

I make my own submissions to various places all along the spectrum of publishing. I submit to places that interest me. Sometimes I think I have something that I'll try at the places up top, and sometimes not. People have even occasionally come to me asking for material. I wish that would happen more often. (Laughs.)

I make two submissions a month and I have for years. Sometimes I make far more. I find that if I have a real schedule of that sort that I hate to break a record. This one goes back nearly ten years now.

In all of this there are some things I've learned, and the most important is that people have to find their own paths to whatever they consider success in writing. Some people who have tried to write every single day have burnt out on it and others have thrived. Some people work well with outlines and others don't. The only way to find out what works for you is to try.

And keep trying until you find what you are comfortable with -- what allows you to work without losing that creative spark by making it too much of a factory work feeling.

Most of you are going to do far better than I ever have. But I think I can guarantee that none of you will ever love writing more than I have had. (grin)

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Writers write

This is one of my best hawk pictures, taken just a few days ago -- and the reason why I take my camera everywhere I go.

Today was my day to try and get caught up on some of the DTF work and the Vision work. I did a fair job, to be honest. I still have to print out some checks and envelopes for Vision, but mostly I’m caught up there. And I'm almost doing as well on the other. I at least have all the novel submissions listed on the tracking page finally!

Now I need to get back to writing work for the night. I've kind of had to move everything else off my desk so that I don't get distracted by things I think I should be doing instead.

Hmmm... I've discovered that doesn't actually work if you have something like a link to Bryce sitting on your desktop and you suddenly remember something you MUST try..... (Okay, forced myself to close that EVIL program down before it sucks up any more of my time!)

Just can't remember how to do it. Have to go look that part up again, but not right now. Right now I'm going to do some writing.

On that note...

People are probably wondering why I'm still interested in the 'wannabe' conversation. Part of it is just that I enjoy finding out what others think and trying to see what makes their vision of the world different from mine. As many of you here know, you aren't required to agree with me. I will not call you jerks or demand that you don't post on my blog if you say something contrary to what I believe. It's a big world and I'm not a little 'artiste' who has to be pampered. People disagree with me all the time.

One of the sayings at Forward Motion -- one that Holly had put up there -- is 'Writers write.' At FM there was never any other qualification to call yourself a writer. There's a lot more to being a published or professional writer, but that's true of many professions. I knew a singer who started out performing at fairs and open mike nights at local clubs. She now has a few paying gigs. She was, nonetheless, a singer before she was paid. I've known people who draw pictures or paint who do so only for themselves, but they are still artists. I've known some incredibly good photographers who have had less material than me printed, and they are quite obviously photographers.

Why should writers be any different? Why do you have to be a wannabe if you have not been paid for the work yet? What makes the difference in you if something you wrote six months ago is suddenly published? How can you suddenly -- having had no further contact with that story -- suddenly be transformed from a wannabe to a writer by the acceptance? Does that mean you weren't a real writer when you wrote it? And now, suddenly, you are changed. You no longer want to be a writer. You suddenly are!

It just doesn't make sense to me. In some ways, I suppose, even aspiring writer or any of the other terms, have the same problem -- just less of the negative impact that wannabe has for some people.

I think this is the interesting point in the discussions going on the last few days. One attitude seems to come from a need for outside vindication of the work and the other comes from an acceptance of the work as important just for itself. Both groups will still keep moving toward the same goals, but (at least I feel) the ones who accept that they are already writers have a more Taoist approach to the work, in some ways. The work flows over them, and they become part of the work. They're not worried about whom they will sell it to later. The work alone is what matters.

Or maybe that's just my approach. Personally, people, I think if you are out there writing stories, you are writers. If it helps, remember that in my own little way, I am also an editor and a publisher. I give you permission to be writers. (grin)

With continued hard work you'll all be published writers, too, and likely do far better than I have. I've read material from some of you. I know you have talent. You are not wannabes. You are writers. Some of you just aren't published writers yet.

It works best if you have a lot of time to experiment and you're willing to write something that may not get published. You write for the love of writing, in other words, and sometimes you find the right story and the right place to sell it.

I'm not driven by publication. I love being published, but it is not what makes me a writer. I have stories to tell. I like it when others enjoy them, and I enjoy selling a few now and then -- but if I have an idea I want to write, I never consider whether there is a market for it or not. I just write it.

And writing is what writers do. (grin)

Monday, July 11, 2005

Every writer is different

I'm not sure how this term can ever be considered arrogant, but there it is. It is apparently arrogant to admit that what I do may not work for other writers, and what they do will not always work for me. It's arrogant to admit that everyone has to find their own path when they learn to write, and while some things I do may help others, not everything I offer will. We are not all the same writers working on the same stories, with the same free time to work, and the same abilities and needs. I've spent most of the last eight years working with new writers, and I think I'm pretty well qualified at this point to say that there is no single answer. Is it arrogance for me to admit that I have some qualifications in making that statement? No more so than saying that I've lived the last eight years with cats, and they're not all the same either. It's a fact and nothing more.

Personally, I think it's arrogant to accuse other writers of obviously not trying to improve if they don't improve in your own certain way. (Which is what happened at FM.)

Or maybe it's arrogance to believe that if a number of people don't happen to agree with you, that they are all the ones obviously in the wrong -- even when they repeatedly post that what you call yourself doesn't matter, but applying a term like wannabe to others can be taken as negative, and here's why. Ah, but some people are unwilling to admit that they could learn something from others, that they might not be totally correct, and that -- yes, having used the term and gotten a negative response from a few people -- that really does seem to be the case.

I really liked Linda's line: 'The dictionary is a record of what words meant when the dictionary was written.' I love words and looking up both what they mean and what they meant in the past. The Urban Dictionary -- filled as it is with definitions from people using the words right now -- is a wonderful resource for both contemporary writers and science fiction writers.

If someone says 'if you aren't making sales you obviously need to change the way you work,' is it arrogant to point out that you (and several of the people he was addressing) have had many sales, and don't work in the way that he does, so it's obvious this is not the path for everyone. And for that matter, asking if he has made any sales, since that was the point he brought up. (I had not read his blog at that point and didn't realize he had only recently adopted this new form of writing. I do expect him to be published. He writes very clean sentences, is knowledgeable in grammar and punctuation -- and that puts him a head up over a lot of other people. I cannot say if he actually knows how to tell a good story, though.)

Every writer is different. I guess that's pretty arrogant to admit that none of us has all the answers -- and probably even more arrogant to be willing to help others where you can with what knowledge we have gathered.

Here's some real arrogance for you -- this is a note from an acquisitions editor whom I had worked with before at a different small press/ebook publisher. She now has one of my novels and is reviewing it for another company:

[i]BTW, unless you've lost your touch since last I read something of yours, this reading is rather a formality--I won't keep you waiting long.[/i]

I told her that meant she would absolutely hate the book by the time she was done, but I appreciated the comment.

Yes, I am going to talk about my publications now and then. In fact, I don't do it often enough. Because I'm mostly working in electronic and small press, that means I should be out pushing my work more. What I need is a marketing plan, and I thought this year was going to be the one I got my act together -- but FM, DTF, and Vision have taken every free non-writing moment I have.

My new chapbook has the quote from C.J. Cherryh on it again -- she said to use it on this one too since it was so appropriate for the work. Honor Bound was the first one and Star Bound is the second. They're available from Yard Dog Press, a wonderful micro-press company with a good record for sales and awards.

I will have a short story out in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine soon, too. I am really looking forward to that one!

I have three more novels in the Dark Staff series to go. I think the next one will either be late this year or early next year. I have also sold the second Singer and St. Jude novel to DDP.

I have only five things out at the moment, but I've made seven sales so far this year. I have two novels almost ready to go out (Muse and Glory for those keeping track).

I have written 80 class/posts for the two year novel course at FM. I have the last 22 listed out and some partially outlined.

I have three more novels outlined and I've started the research on another one -- a very intricate piece that I'm really looking forward to writing, though it may not be until next year.

So far this year I've written eighteen articles, ten short stories, two full novels and three half ones (yes, number of novels is down, and yes I need to get them done!). I've edited two full novels and part of another one.

I write every single day and I have for DECADES.

I have two other rules that I live by -- finish everything you start, and finish it with a year of starting it.

I do not expect the rest of you to adopt any of those rules. I know that you don't work the way I do, and what I find helpful and a good prod to keep working isn't what you will find works for you.

Every writer is different. Don't anyone ever make you believe otherwise.

Edited -- It is beyond arrogance to ignore the fact that nearly everyone who has posted here or at FM has said that it doesn't matter what a person calls himself, but for many people the term wannabe is negative and will get a bad result. You cannot change the fact that these people have that reaction. It's a statement of fact. No one fears the word wannabe; they don't like it. There's a big, difference. I would expect someone who claims to be a writer to be able to read and see that difference.

Oh hold it -- You aren't a writer. You're a wannabe writer: someone who wants to be a writer, so that means you can't be one now. I guess that's the problem. I don't know what you're doing with all those words, but it's obviously not writing after all. I was willing to give you the benefit of the doubt, but I could be wrong.

I had just thought you were an unpublished writer, but if you insist on being a wannabe, I guess that's what you are.

You can call yourself an armadillo road kill writer for all the rest of us care, but if you call others the same you best be prepared for the reactions.

Friday, July 08, 2005

More on 'Wannabes'

Cat's know nothing about gravity....

This is in answer to the comment on my post about wannabes a few days ago.

It doesn't bother me that he's put up the link to this blog because people will make up their own minds after reading both sides. In fact, I would rather people are able to look from his blog posts to mine in something related like this so that they can see both sides of the issue. I find the circle of communications that goes on over blogs and such rather fascinating, in fact, and I never expect accord. I'm sure there are a number of people who agree with him. That's not going to change the definitions that I found, or the way in which his use of the term provoked some people at FM.

But on this subject of 'wannabes' and definitions, I find it interesting to see someone deny common usage of a term as though we all live and speak strictly by Webster's dictionary. Last time I checked, English wasn't a dead language; it is still evolving and meanings change with the times. I find it very strange to see a writer ignoring the way in which a term -- when applied to others -- can be taken as an insult, as though he doesn't want to understand how language works. No number of dictionary definitions will change that reaction.

Writers should always be open to learning about language and how it is used in dialogue. Living by the dictionary and grammar books isn't always the right answer.

Being part of a large group of writers, I think I'm probably more aware of how different people interpret words than he is. I had the impression -- and this might be wrong -- that he's had this kind of trouble with written communications elsewhere on the Internet, and it might just be an inability to look outside his own definitions and decisions. Almost everyone I know has had some problem with misunderstood posts at one time or another, but most of us are willing to admit that we did not explain things clearly.

However, as I've said from the start, it's not going to matter what a person calls himself. In fact, the only real point of contention over 'wannabe' in my side came when he used the term at FM. A few of the members took exception -- especially when the statement was made in such a general way that it included people who are not 'wannabes' by anyone's definition. But, again, he pointed out to us that the fault was not in the original statement but in our interpretation of it.

Isn't that communications? Isn't the person making the statement the one charged with being certain the people on the other end will clearly understand what he's saying? And if the communications is not understood by a number of people, then the fault has to be in the communications.

Personally, I'd rather err on the side of politeness when addressing others who are working at becoming published writers. I do use the term to describe those people who occasionally wander into FM looking for someone to write up their great ideas for them. Those are the wannabes in my book -- the ones who want their names on the covers, but don't want to do the work. They'll sometimes talk about the great idea they have, which almost inevitably turns out to be some sort of clone of whatever happens to be the most popular movie or TV show at the time.

So there it is. We all make mistakes in communications and most of us admit to our part in the misunderstanding and try to clarify. Most of us are aware of how language changes and adapts to the times, and how the use of that language can affect others.

Most of us also use terms for ourselves that we would not apply to others, because we have our own definitions or humorous responses to those terms. What we say of ourselves is not always the things we should say about others, however. Most of us know the difference.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Are you really a wannabe?

Sometimes things that bug me stay with me for a while, surface again, and even sometimes hit at a point where I can consider it. This morning, still curled up in bed, I had one of those moments and realized that there was a site on line where I could look into the definition of a word that would not normally turn up in a dictionary. (See Note at bottom of post.)

About a month a go or so we had a slight disagreement about the term wannabe on the Forward Motion site. The person who used the term didn't understand the current negative connotations. I wondered if there was more to the word than I was thinking so I finally went to the wonderful Urban Dictionary ( and copied a few of the more than twenty definitions:

1. Desperate person who wants another persons identity so does a pathetic impersonation

2. a person who acts like someone that they are not.

3. Someone who wants to be what they are not. (This is the most upbeat use of the term I could find.)

4. Someone who wants to be something else and fit in a crowd, someone who tries to act like someone they want to be even though it's obvious that they're just a stupid wannabe.

5. an individual who tries really hard to be someone their not, often by copying others

6. Anyone has the potential to be whatever they want, but Wannabes aren't willing to go the extra mile yet claim to already be there.

7. People who want to be something they can't.

The person apparently couldn't understand why at FM we don't call new writers wannabes. We don't because the term has become a judgment call on the person's ability to write, not a statement of their potential. According to the current definitions, wannabes are people who have failed, not people just exploring their skills.

Of course if people want to call themselves wannabes maybe they can get the term shifted to a better meaning. But right now it has a very negative connotation. I could call a new horror writer a 'wannabe Stephen King' and it would not be praise. People use terms in ways that suit them, and that's how the language evolves. But at the same time, a person -- especially a writer -- needs to be aware of how the words are currently perceived.

New writers -- the term we usually use at FM -- are just that: people who are new at the work of writing. Some of them will find that writing is not for them. Some will even become wannabes rather than do the hard work of writing. But new writers are all about potential and not about failure to be more.

Note: Maybe I should look up terms in dictionaries before I make decisions on what will be there.

Wannabe or wannabee -- one who aspires, often vainly, to emulate another's success or attain eminence in some area.

-- Random House Webster's College Dictionary, copyright April 2000

That is a slightly more upbeat definition as well. And Microsoft Word's synonym finder calls up hopeful, aspirant and would-be. Too bad we don't all live in the Microsoft world -- if we could trust its grammar and punctuation, half the work of editing would be done for us!

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Back to work....

As you can no doubt guess (or no by experience), this last week has been hell, and I am now behind on nearly everything in the world. My priorities are:

Get Vision updated

Get the site stuff up to date

Get back to writing

Russ is in New York -- just got the email from him, so I know everything is fine there. Becky and Erin should be back to Arizona.

But, back to a bit of calm here. My hope is to finish Silky this month. I think I'm problaby about half way there. I think once I get back into the knack of that work, I'll be fine. It's probably going to take a few days, though.