Friday, July 30, 2010

On Being Prolific

Being prolific, at least to me, means far more than merely writing a lot of words. It also means making those first draft words into something I would be proud to show to others. No first draft is ever perfect, and the stories I've written over months and the ones I've written over weeks all need editing. I don't lie to myself and say that writing slower will make the story better and I won't have to edit.

I love the rush of writing a story or novel in a short time frame. I love the feel of being caught in the story and not letting go -- rushing from start to finish and living the story in a way that slower writing can't allow. I know because I have done both.

Living the story is wonderful. It's exciting and an adventure in ways that no other kind of writing can compare to. There's nothing wrong with slower writing if that's what works for you. Sometimes it works for me, too -- here's an important fact that many people overlook: You cannot judge the quality of someone's writing based merely on the amount of time it takes that person to write something. I've known people to spend years on first drafts and come away with a story that needs just as much editing as that of someone else who wrote the same amount of work in a few weeks.

Neither can you judge anything by a first draft.

But for an adventure -- for me -- the rush of living in the story is the important part. The faster I write it, the more 'in the story' I am from start to finish. It means that I will maintain the same style, remember more of the little bits and pieces, and overall not lose the 'feel' of the story.

Here is something a lot of people seem to misunderstand about me and being prolific. It's not about the numbers. Word count numbers are just a byproduct of what I do. Being prolific is about having many tales to write and no fear of putting an idea in concrete form and see if it works. I weed out the ideas that don't stand up to examination before I begin work. I often outline the longer ones and put the outlines aside for a little while. I still have more story ideas than I can devote time to.

I have stories I want to tell. I don't have time to waste.

I love living in the adventure when I write a story.

The combination of these two things means that I am going to write quickly. It's how I work. It's not how you work, and that's fine.

Now there is a second part to this that goes beyond the first draft writing. I love editing, and even rewriting sometimes. While I love the rush of first drafts, I also love the power of going through the story, line-by-line, and creating something that has more depth and character. The plot is there. The flavor is there -- editing is about adding the spices and rearranging the plate when it needs to be.

Being prolific also means having enough material that I can afford to experiment with story placement. I have ebooks that have been around for five years and more and are still bringing in a few sales. I also have short stories I've used as marketing fodder and placed in popular (sometimes non-paying) markets on line. There aren't a lot of those markets left that I really like, unfortunately. I'd still be doing it because I found it was a great, fun way to connect with readers.

Being prolific mostly means not being afraid to write.

There's something that I keep telling people. Don't be afraid of words. You don't have to show your work to anyone. You can write anything and erase, change, rework -- it doesn't matter. No one but you has to see it until you are ready.

And what if you're never ready?

Only you can make that decision. But if you really, truly want to be an author who is read by others, you have to realize one very important fact that many going into the writing world seem to ignore:

You cannot please everyone.

When it comes to writing, the first thing you have to do is please yourself. That means being honest and not an angst filled -- oh, poor me, this is all crap -- pretend artist. That's just an easy excuse not to do better and too many people use it as an excuse to get sympathy.

Sometimes such feelings are inevitable. Don't grab onto them like they're the only answer. You want to be a writer? You want to have readers? Then start looking at your work seriously and figuring out what you need to do to make it enjoyable for you to read.

Yes, for you. Never mind the rest of the world. If you can't please yourself with your writing, how can you hope to please anyone else? You are your own first reader. There are other people out there who will be interested in the same sorts of things that you are. Therefore, you have to write well and write something that you love in order to draw your audience.

If you are trying to write for the market, you better love what the market is offering. If you don't, then don't write something boring just to ape it. If the story bores you, it is going to show in the writing.

Is the current book market not the kind of thing you like to read? Then write what you do like to read and work to help make a new market for it. Yes, that's right -- create a market. It can happen. Several years ago, when the Internet was a fresh, wild place some people who loved Regency Romances lamented that they were no longer being published by places like Harlequin. Well, at least with these new ebook things they thought they could publish a few and enjoy them still, right?

And they did well.

Soon, Harlequin and others were back to publishing that dead market Regency book again because they found out they were wrong about the market having disappeared. It had disappeared because they were no longer offering the solid 'old-fashioned' regency tales that these people wanted to read.

So here we have the slightly different part of being prolific -- yes, it does all tie in together. If you are prolific you can afford (as I said earlier) to use stories as marketing fodder to draw readers. That means that if you are writing for a genre or sub-genre that is not quite as popular as it used to be, then you can still build up a readership and perhaps even draw in enough attention to get notice elsewhere.

But first, over everything else, you have to write. Then you have to edit, and edit again and make those words as wonderful and exciting as you can.

No excuses. No fear of words. Get out there and write.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Devlin's Team Book 3

I am now about a third of the way through the third Devlin outline. I've added things, removed a few boring bits and I'm getting some interesting interaction between the characters that wasn't there before. These books are going to be a joy to write. This outline is going to be LONG though! It's already over 200 phases and might go over 500. That's okay. It would make it a good 100k plus novel.

I wrote a great chapter (outline) with Dancer as the POV, but now I realize it's in the wrong spot. No problem. Easy to move stuff around in WriteItNow storyboard, though I will have to change the phase numbers. The joy of an outline is that everything like this is so easy to fix now, rather than later after the text is written. Most of my phases in this book are running about 20 to 50 words like this (Devlin's POV):

Get Dancer into a bed upstairs. Cha sent her off while he deals with the wounds. She's not squeamish -- but she does fret. Should stay and help with Dancer? No. Keri is one of them, too. Odd thought.

There's going to be a lot that goes with that -- getting Dancer up to the bed, descriptions of the place, and Devlin dealing with her worries about a case that is going from bad to worse. Oh yes, and her dealing with Keri. He's the IWC's top psi and they've worked together before. It wasn't pleasant for either of them.

You know, I've been thinking about people who say they can't do outlines because they then lose interest in the book. I wonder if they've tried writing an outline (just a short one, even) and then putting it aside and working on something else before they go back to write the story. I suppose many of them have tried that -- it would be silly not to. But for me, if I write a bunch of outlines, then by the time I'm done with the last one, the first is almost completely erased from my mind. It's fun to explore it while writing again.

It's much like putting a story aside after you're done and before you edit it. Get it out of your head so that when you look at it again, you don't see what you expect to see. I always write something else between finishing a draft and editing.

Not that I think everyone has to work with outlines. It's just that I sometimes hear people talking about problems that an outline could help with, but then say that they can't work with them. So I keep looking at different ideas and wondering what might help. It's what I do sometimes, when I'm not so deeply entrenched in my own work.

These books are fun.

That reminds me of something I wrote in my LJ earlier this week. I've come to realize that I'm writing for an Andre Norton audience in a Laurell K. Hamilton market. Yes, I really am a YA writer, and I know that, but even the YA market tends to move in directions that I don't write. Besides, I just don't write vampires. (grin)

I don't write to the market. I write the stories I want to tell. Devlin and her team are too old to be YA, but they're not sex-filled or gory, so they aren't fitting the modern market, either. (Yes, that's an overstatement -- and exaggeration of the market as it is today.) My audience is looking for adventure stories where if there is an alien invasion, the story is about how the aliens are dealt with, not how long it takes the ship's captain to get the pretty ambassador into bed with him. Not that the two won't end up in bed -- just that it's not the focus of the story.

That's a huge difference for me. My focus is always going to be on the adventure and danger, as well as interactions that are not always sexual. I am fascinated by friendship. I love those moments of commitment to do the right thing.

And always getting into more trouble for it. (grin)

I think I need to get back to work creating more trouble for Devlin and her 'boys.'
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Friday, July 16, 2010

Writers and NaNo

 First and foremost -- NaNo is not for everyone. It just isn't. There is nothing wrong with not wanting to take part in the madness. However, I've been seeing more negative material aimed at NaNo again and much of it based on misunderstandings. I can understand because people who don't take part, and who don't understand the basics, latch onto what they perceive as bad and forget that there might be an upside. That negative material gets spread from place-to-place because people are often quicker to write about a negative than a positive, especially when dealing with something like NaNo, which draws so much attention.

So, let's have a look at it and especially on how it is related to publishing. Sure, there are going to be people who haven't a clue about writing in the real world -- and aren't willing to listen to those of us who tell them that writing the words is the easy part. They don't want to know about editing, reworking poor plots and making their story into something worth reading. That's never going to happen for many of them because they just don't want to work that hard. This isn't a problem unless they convince themselves they need to send their poorly written first draft to some poor publisher or agent. If they self-publish, that's also not a problem because no one has to see it. So really, the trouble is just in a very small percentage of people who are convinced that they've written something worthwhile and send it right off and who believe that they can continue to work in this way all year round and turn out worthy material. They have first drafts and that's good enough because they know they're brilliant.

I've been part of Forward Motion for eleven years and owned it for the last six. Guess what? Those people are out there anyway. I see some of them every year, passing through FM. They are always convinced that their work is done once they have the words written -- whether it took them years or months. And, by the way, you can't judge the first draft by how long it takes to write it. I've seen people who spend years on a first draft and end up with something no better than someone who wrote 50k in one month. I've met people who edit as they go and who still have a lot of work that needs to be done at the end of the manuscript.

Ability to write a good first draft has nothing to do with speed, but rather with the willingness to learn and to practice -- and to understand if you write better if you write slower. That's not always the case. The problem is that there are many who think all they need do is write the words, send out the queries (if they even bother to learn that much about publishing), and publishers will grab up the manuscript. Parts that need fixed? Well that's the editor's job, not the writers -- right? I'm not joking: I've had more than one person tell me that they are not going to do the editor's job for them.

This kind of cluelessness often gathers in NaNo groups because the vast majority of these people have no other link to the writing world. But even so, it's still a very small percentage of the people who take part. Some of them are willing to learn what it takes to write a good book, edit it and present it to a publisher or agent. Others don't want to work that hard, but convince themselves that they're good enough anyway. In other words, they are much like people in the rest of the writing world.

What if someone decides, based on NaNo, that they can write five books in a year and have the work ready for the publisher? Well, that's unfortunate, but wasn't it Holly Lisle -- and long before NaNo -- whose first submission included a statement about turning out a book a month or something along that line? She didn't know any better back then. The same is true of these people. NaNo has nothing to do with it except to gather a lot of those people into one area. In some ways that's good. It's easier to go into the NaNo boards and address all of them. The ones who are willing to learn will actually listen.

Some people write fast first drafts. Most of them are wise enough never to show those first drafts to anyone. That, again, has less to do with NaNo than with the way the person works. After all, there were fast writers long before NaNo began (Rex Stout comes to mind). Editing is harder, longer -- and wonderful. But you can't edit something until you write that first draft, and if NaNo helps some people get a fast first draft to work on, then that's good.

So, what else is good about NaNo?

For many people, it is a push to try something they never thought they would do. A month? They can devote a month to writing and see what they get. NaNo has less pressure from the start because, outside of the word count (and that isn't even pushed -- do the best you can is the real motto), no one is going to tell you what you have to do and how you have to write. You can try it. You might not like it. You might not find a reason to write anything ever again, or you may not write outside of November and NaNoWriMo -- but there's no crime in giving it a try.

For those of us who already write, the lure is something else.

Think of it as a running marathon with thousands of people lined up. Sure, you could be off running by yourself, and maybe that suits you better. Many people find that NaNo is not for them. But for others, including me, there is something wondrous about standing there at the lineup and knowing that you are going to take part in an intellectual game that has spread across the world. Some of the participants will write better than others. Some will write faster than others. That's not the point. Everyone taking part is going to be using their brains, rather than sitting mind-numbed in front of the television or playing some video game. For some part of the day, they are going to have to think about what they're writing, even if that writing is fanfiction or the total silliness of the NaNo dares.

Why would anyone think this is a bad thing? Why would anyone discourage people from taking part in an intellectual marathon just because it doesn't suit them and because it is, really, kind of silly? Yes, there is going to be a lot of bad writing. That isn't going to affect others because the majority of the NaNo people never show their writing to anyone else. The ones who do send the material out are learning, year by year, that it's not a good idea. Some of us try to educate them on the NaNo boards -- much as we do the same thing year-round at places like Forward Motion.

There is another aspect of NaNo that a lot of people just don't understand at all. It's fun. Yes, really -- for some of us it's just plain fun. I try to clear the first week of November of all other work so that I can leap in, devote most of my time to novel and just fly with it. I get to bury myself in the story and not do much more than post word counts. What could be more fun than that? I can't do this kind of stuff year round, so I purposely set aside the time and take part in the November madness.

NaNo is an easy target because it's big, flashy and fun. There are people who don't understand and who just can't see the point. There are others who have become the self-proclaimed Door Guardians of All that is Worthy in Writing who rant and rave about how horrible it is -- as though it's any more their concern than if the person spent their free time in November standing on their head or knitting. If you don't like NaNo and don't want to take part, that's great. You understand what appeals to you and what doesn't. However, don't assume every bad thing in the writing community is the fault of NaNo and that nothing good has ever come of it.

If people can have fun writing, no matter how bad their prose may be, that's a good thing. If they are interested in writing for publication and willing to learn what it takes, all the better. Other than that -- don't worry about it. Encourage the interested people to be wiser. Leave the rest of them to their fun.

(Who has done well at NaNo? Check out the growing list of published work at the bottom of the NaNo FAQ board -- You'll see people published by Warner Books, Pinnacle and more. You'll see big name presses, small press and maybe self-published -- I haven't looked closely).

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Go Write Something

There is someone I've been following for a while, watching how she's doing with the online publishing idea. I'm starting to see a real pattern in her journal and it points to being bored with her work. These days, she is writing about her hobby far more than her work and she's plainly far more excited about the hobby than she is about the writing.

And you know, I can understand that part. She's been writing on these never-ending stories for a long time. I'm betting she even has some good ideas saved up for the stories, knows some of where she wants to go -- but the draw isn't there at the moment.

This is a lesson, I think. At least it would be for me: Don't tie yourself forever to a set of stories because you are going to lose interest at some point. And so, by the way, will the readers. If all you are doing is writing to fill the week's allotment of words, and the scenes you are writing aren't going to lead anywhere in particular, it's time to rethink what you're doing. This can happen to any writer, whether they are posting something on line or if they are working on a novel that is taking longer than expected. What has gone wrong? What can you change?

Why are you interested in anything but writing?

We all hit those times now and then. It's natural. However, if you find that you're spending all the time you could be writing doing something else, then maybe there's something wrong with your story or with your approach.

Writing a story should never feel like a job that has to be done like some kind of factory work. Does that sound odd from someone who writes every day? I don't work on something if it bores me. I don't force myself to write words just to write them. I work on stories that I love, and if one bogs down, I move to another, but I always go back and finish the story within a few months. I do this because I never go so far that I lose all interest in the story. I moved away from it when I realize I have a problem and let it ferment for a while again before I go back. Then, when I'm ready, I finish the story.

Finishing manuscripts gives a sense of accomplishment that goes far beyond 'I wrote a thousand words today.' I like both levels and I think that they work for writers (though it doesn't have to be daily writing, of course). Getting paid for the work? Yeah, that's nice, too. But you have to love the first two parts before you can hope for the last -- at least in most cases.

Learning to love writing is plainly difficult for some people. They get far too caught up in the technical aspects and think that is going to define what they do. Rather than putting down words and then reworking those words to something better, they'll talk they're way all around a story and never write more than a few pages. They discuss 'voice' and never write enough to develop their own. They talk about plot and don't write a full story to see how a plot works.

In order to become a good writer, you must start as a bad one and learn from experience. No amount of book reading, blog reading or Twitter tips is going to make you into a good writer without actually doing the work.

So stop talking about writing and go do some.
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Thursday, July 08, 2010

Russ will be home soon!

Rain water on a small puddle

I've been busy again. I've been trying to work ahead a bit because Russ will be home in a few hours. The last few days have been a bit crazed. I'm pretty much there, though! Now just counting down the hours. Russ called to say it will be about four more hours.

I've been working on the Devlin outlines. Book 2 has been a lot of trouble, but mostly because I kept trying to adapt the story and finally gave up and wrote a new one in the same setting. It's much better. I'm down to the last few scenes, so I'll be on to book 3 soon. I'm still not certain how many I'll do before I start writing. It's been enjoyable, though.

I am glad that I decided not to do the July WriMo stuff. I needed less stress and with Russ coming home, it would have just made me try to do more. I need calm now and then. This is my month for it. Or at least a week or so. We'll see how long it lasts!

When I get the Devlin outlines ready, it's going to be interesting to see how long it takes me to write everything. The outlines are extensive and the books, so far, look like they'll be about 90k each. I see a lot of November NaNo stuff here.

About three hours until Russ gets home. Time to get back to work!
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