Invested In Not Writing

From Dean Wesley Smith:

Amazing How Common This Is…

Basically put, writers, over time, develop a real and crippling investment in not writing. And, at the same time, often claim they want to write.

These writers cross the spectrum of types.

— Teachers who always wanted to write, teach writing, but now feel inside that they just flat don’t dare expose that they are still beginning writers at their core.

— Burnt out writers who have made writing so important (because they have had a few successes in the past) that they don’t dare write anything more. Failure is a very high platform that these writers in their minds don’t dare jump from.

— Beginning writers who talk a lot and talk a good game, but over time have become so afraid that their writing will not back up their talk, they feel that they don’t dare write. (I’ve had friends like this over the years. Sadly, they are long gone.)

— Writers (like I was for years in the 1970s) who buy into the myths of rewriting and perfection so much that after a time they don’t dare show their work because it’s not done yet, it needs one more draft, it needs one more reader, and so on. Kris talked about this writer in her Perfection book and blogs. Perfection is never attained and fear of having someone say that is crippling. (I was saved from this by Heinlein’s Rules.)

— Writers who think that they already know everything, that they don’t need to learn because it would destroy their perfect voice, flat don’t dare write much at all because for them, writing is too hard. And when writing gets hard, these type of writers back up and claim they are writing, but the book is taking years. And that magical book will never see the light of day because failure of not selling for these writers is much more damaging than the failure of not ever finishing.

— Writers who grew up afraid of what others would say. Not even writing under pen names can clear out this investment in the fear, so these writers flat don’t dare write. A single rejection, a single bad review, can turn their worlds upside down. So not writing is far, far safer.

In other words, personal history, choices, personalities, and so on often make a writer so invested in not writing, they don’t.

. . . .

(W)riters in all the above categories must learn at a deep level that nothing is ever perfect. Any story, any novel, is only the best you can do at that moment. And that is good enough.

Link to the rest at Dean Wesley Smith

3 First-Time Self-Publishing Mistakes to Avoid

From Amazon Author Insights:

Finishing NaNoWriMo in 2008 felt like digging my fingers into the earth and flipping over a mountain. I grit my teeth until they chipped and I shaved years off my life expectancy.

Or at least that’s what it felt like, and with good reason. After twenty days of non-stop writing I put down fifty thousand words, more than anything I’d ever done before. The momentum was such that I wrote another sixty thousand by December 20th and completed the first draft of my novel MUTEKI – Sendero de los Campeones (Road of Champions). It was a suitable title for a project that almost singlehandedly rescued me from the pits of depression. In my mind I was a champion.

Or at least I was until I published the book and everything went to hell in a handbasket.

. . . .

1. I delivered unpolished work.

The people in charge of printing my book were crystal clear: you have to turn this in ASAP or else it won’t come out on time. This shouldn’t have been an issue. If I pitched the book that’s because it’s ready, right?

You’re forgetting that…

2. I never hired a proofreader/editor.

This is embarrassing to say even six years after the fact, but I never bothered to look into paying an editor. Not even with “exposure”. I didn’t know one, I was broke, and I thought I would do a pretty decent editing job. Turns out I didn’t.

Looking back at the novel now, I’m noticing not only typos but pointless scenes, cringe-y dialogue, characters that change names halfway through, and–worst of all–sentences mangled by the “replace all” feature.

. . . .

3. I didn’t ask for any proof copies.

Proof copies are your best friends. Without those you can’t preview the final product. That’s why the inside margins of my book were off and some pages came up blank due to terrible formatting. Some of the books were even missing pages.

But hey. I had a book.

Link to the rest at Amazon Author Insights

Learning to Love the Loneliness of Writing After My MFA

From The Literary Hub:

When I went to grad school, I brought Harold. Harold is my dog. He’s 80 pounds, a pit bull terrier mixed with something larger than a pit bull terrier, meaning most of the few pins on the Craigslist rental map that “allowed dogs” would not allow Harold. So I had to settle with renting a tiny standalone house a few miles from the university and, more importantly, outside the neighborhood where many of the other students in my program lived. This made me nervous. I worried that I would struggle to find my footing in the community.

Which is odd, considering that the solitude of it is what drew me to fiction writing in the first place. I’ve always enjoyed having the freedom to build out, refine, and reshape my ideas on my own, seeking input only when I myself deemed something ready to be seen. Writing fiction is one-pot creativity. You take your ideas into a room, you let them stew, and what comes out is not the starter for another thing that involves other ideas and other processes; it’s the thing, the whole thing.

The problem is it gets lonely. Crushingly so, at times. But crushing loneliness can be dealt with. Emergency protocols can be initiated, loved ones contacted. I’m privileged to have this vocabulary, but I have it nonetheless. What I struggle with more is the lesser loneliness of writing, when every word I put on the page is fine but not great, when every song I try and listen to fails to hook me, when I get up to do the dishes and find only a mug and a bowl in the sink, because I’ve already used this as an excuse to stop doing the thing I should be doing. It will feel like the days themselves are suffering from a low-grade sinus headache, and all I’ll want is to get out, and be around people whose mutual desire for escape will confirm that I’m okay, actually.

. . . .

This was what I sought from a writing community: not connections but a connection to something bigger, a network of people who “get it.” And despite Harold, despite the small standalone house, despite the distance, which some nights, on the way home from the bar on my bike, seemed to double or triple—despite it all, I found it. I experienced the elusive IRL writing community, experienced having a phone full of numbers to text when I needed reprieve from sitting by myself staring at a Word document, and places to go if not one of those texts yielded a concrete plan.

In my workshops, I received a lot of advice that I’m still not entirely sure what to do with. There often seemed to be a sinister trade off at play. The notes of my peers alerted me to my strengths and shortcomings as a writer and made me really consider what I wanted and didn’t want to do with my work. In exchange for this insight, they padlocked the very projects they were in reaction to. Many of the stories I worked on during those two years remain unfinished, residing on my hard drive as individual files or as part of a collection that I tried and failed to sell with an agent I don’t work with anymore. Upon graduating, I shipped a large box of marked up stories to my new address. When it was lost in transit, it felt like divine intervention.

Which is all to say, the things that occurred outside of class—the time spent in bars and crowded rooms filled with those who knew both the exhilaration and profound itchiness of writing—was not a neat side effect of attending a writing program. For me, it was everything. And for some time, I was content.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

PG is reminded of law school students who decide they hate the idea of working as a lawyer after they graduate. These folks tend to have huge student loan debts from their undergraduate and law school educations that could best be paid by getting a high-salary job, but they don’t want to be a lawyer with a high-salary job. (There are many lawyers with jobs that aren’t so high-salary, but we’re talking about paying off student loans.)

PG doesn’t know enough MFA graduates well to know if there are similarities between the law school graduates and MFA graduates who decide they don’t want to do what they spent a lot of money preparing for. However, as a general proposition, if anyone asked PG whether they should enter a career-oriented course of graduate studies (anthropology doesn’t count) without being convinced they really wanted to do work as a lawyer or writer/editor, he would suggest they find a job and see how they feel about writing or law in a couple of years.

Participating in the adult working world will introduce most college graduates to occupations and business lives previously unknown to them. They may surprised to discover that they really enjoy helping people find the right life insurance policy.

There are more than a few mature adults who discovered a wonderful field they had never considered entering while they were in college. PG has always been happy as a lawyer (save for dealing with one bizarre senior partner and a couple of crazy clients), but had no idea that he would ever find legal work interesting until he had been out of college for a few years.

These observations and accompanying advice are definitely not original with PG. During the spring of his senior year in college, PG’s academic advisor, an older woman who was greatly respected in her rather exotic field of study and was always addressed as “Miss Lee” instead of Doctor or Professor Lee, called him into her office following a class.

Miss Lee asked PG what he was planning to do after he graduated. He threw out vague possibilities that included traveling to Africa or Sweden and looking around when he arrived there.

Miss Lee’s response was direct and forceful. “You need to get a job. Here is the address of the student placement center. Go there right now and tell them you want them to help you get a job.”

PG followed Miss Lee’s advice and, a couple of days after graduation started a job he hadn’t previously known existed. That job lead to another job which lead to law school, etc., etc.

PG hasn’t been to Africa or Sweden but, to this day, has been exceedingly grateful for Miss Lee’s advice and acknowledges that his life would not have been nearly as rewarding had she not told him to get a job in a manner that persuaded him to promptly follow her advice.

How to Kick the Next Book Blues

From Publishers Weekly:

In the literature biz, there is no rush like a debut. Before that first book hits, anything seems possible, the improbable feels likely, and that proposed media blitz seems like it might just actually work. Also: that starlet with the production company could (let no doubts linger) love your plot and—even more flatteringly—your prose. That photographer charged with freezing your face for all time will (there’s no stopping hope) trick your age out with the lights. The airport bookstores will stock your book, Trevor Noah will slot you in for an interview, conference organizers will rain their keynotes down upon you, and there are just so many prizes to be had.

Indeed, there’s no rush like a debut.

It’s the aftermath of the debut that crowds the heart and head—not all the time, but mostly. It’s then when we writers take stock: we stumbled or we didn’t; we were seen or we were not; we were loved, we were not loved, we were neglected; our emails were answered or they were ignored. Failure is one thing. Success is something else. Success breeds the need for an even better next book.

All of which requires hyped writers embarking on their next books to find a quiet room in the house inside their heads—a place where the imagination has not been spent, diffused, defected, defeated, harassed, minimized, bullied, or drowned out by the story already told, the book already made, the praise already compressed, the expectations already sparked, and the rumors of other superstar writers who somehow wavered in the shocking aftermaths of success. What, after all, kept Harper Lee from finishing a second novel for all that time? How much, precisely, did F. Scott Fitzgerald suffer in the afterglow of early fame?

. . . .

But what if the writers of series grow desperate to move to a new writing room inside their heads? I’m not suggesting that all do, of course, but, what if? What if what they want to do next is not precisely within their lucrative, reliable brand? What if their next is, to the Ps and the Ls, a most terrifying risk?

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG notes that indy authors can make their own decisions based on how they feel and what they think their readers would enjoy.

In PG’s exhaustively impartial opinion, smart authors are better at marketing their books effectively and efficiently than whatever sort of people are going to work for publishers these days.

Acting changes the brain: it’s how actors get lost in a role

From Aeon:

At our English boarding school in the 1990s, my friends and I would spend hours immersed in roleplaying games. Our favourite was Vampire: The Masquerade, and I can well remember experiencing a kind of psychological hangover after spending an afternoon in the character of a ruthless undead villain. It took a while to shake off the fantasy persona, during which time I had to make a conscious effort to keep my manners and morals in check, so as not to get myself into some realworld trouble.

If a little fantasy roleplay can lead to a morphing of one’s sense of self, then what must it be like for professional actors, and especially so-called method actors, who follow the teachings of the Russian theatre practitioner Konstantin Stanislavski and truly embody the parts they play?

There is certainly anecdotal evidence that actors experience a blending of their real self with their assumed characters. For instance, Benedict Cumberbatch said that, while he enjoyed playing a character as complex as Sherlock Holmes, there is also ‘a kickback. I do get affected by it. There’s a sense of being impatient. My mum says I’m much curter with her when I’m filming Sherlock.’

. . . .

Mark Seton, a researcher in the Department of Theatre and Performance Studies at the University of Sydney, has even coined the provocative term ‘post-dramatic stress disorder’ to describe the sometimes difficult, lasting effects experienced by actors who lose themselves in a role. ‘Actors may often prolong addictive, codependent and, potentially, destructive habits of the characters they have embodied,’ he writes.

. . . .

In one paper, published in Royal Society Open Science, a team led by Steven Brown at McMaster University in Ontario recruited 15 young Canadian actors trained in the Stanislavski approach, and scanned their brains while the actors assumed the role of either Romeo or Juliet, depending on their sex. The actors spent some time getting into character for the balcony scene, and then, while they lay in the scanner, the researchers presented them with a series of personal questions, such as ‘Would you go to a party you were not invited to?’ and ‘Would you tell your parents if you fell in love?’ The actors’ task was to improvise their responses covertly in their heads, while embodying their fictional character.

The researchers then looked at the actors’ brain activity while they were in role, as compared with other scanning sessions in which they answered similar questions either as themselves, or on behalf of someone they knew well (a friend or relative), in which case they were to take a third-person perspective (covertly responding ‘he/she would’ etc). Crucially, being in role as Romeo or Juliet was associated with a distinct pattern of brain activity not seen in the other conditions, even though they too involved thinking about intentions and emotions and/or taking the perspective of another.

In particular, acting was associated with the strongest deactivation in regions in the front and midline of the brain that are involving in thinking about the self. ‘This might suggest that acting, as a neurocognitive phenomenon, is a suppression of self processing,’ the researchers said. Another result was that acting was associated with less deactivation of a region called the precuneus, located further to the rear of the brain. Typically, activity in this area is reduced by focused attention (such as during meditation), and the researchers speculated that perhaps the raised activity in the precuneus while acting was related to the split of resources required to embody an acting role – ‘the double consciousness that acting theorists talk about’.

Link to the rest at Aeon

Centuries ago, PG did a bit of acting in college. He wasn’t very good at it, but some of his friends were quite skilled and a few would go on to professional careers as actors, directors, etc.

After a performance, especially if it was the last performance, there was always a cast party. Invariably, the actors would drop various lines they had performed during the performance into the general conversation. Sometimes, they would participate in the party as the characters they had played earlier in the evening on and off.

PG has no doubt that, for a while, their brains were changed by the roles they played.

While he was reading the OP, he wondered whether there was a similar alteration of the brain when an author is writing dialogue or involved in an intense scene in a story. Mrs. PG says she thinks British when she’s writing a book set in that nation.

Psychologists Explain How To Stop Overthinking Everything

From Medium:

. . . .

“So often people confuse overthinking with problem-solving,” says Odessky, the author of “Stop Anxiety from Stopping You.” “But what ends up happening is we just sort of go in a loop,” Odessky says. “We’re not really solving a problem.”

. . . .

Link to the rest at Medium

For the record, PG doesn’t agonize about what to post online.

Writer Wants Versus Reader Needs

From Indies Unlimited:

We writers are very sneaky people. We lie to our readers constantly, luring them into imaginary situations and manipulating their emotions shamelessly under the pretense that we are entertaining them. And all the while, what we really want to do is preach to the reader about how the world works and how to make it go better. The difference between a good writer and a bad writer is that the good writer doesn’t get caught. Good writers make readers need what we want to tell them. Less experienced writers start their novels only thinking about what the reader needs to know in order to understand.

“You Need to Learn This”

From the author’s point of view, a novel is about ideas: humanity, society, individuals. So we make up our own versions of humanity, society, and people, and use their interactions to demonstrate those ideas.

“Entertain Me.”

As far as the reader is concerned, a novel is about people doing things. That’s it. Characters in conflict.

So when you sit down to write a novel, you say, “I want to write a novel about ……(your choice of burning social evil)…… but in order to understand what’s going on, the reader needs to know about…

Whoa. Hold it Right There

The reader doesn’t need anything of the sort. The reader needs to be entertained, and he hopes your book will do that. If you fill the first pages up with backstory, philosophical discussion, and all those ideas circulating in your head, you’re gonna get busted. The reader gives you the “Papa Don’t Preach” response and puts down the book.

Character Portrayal

Characters are the first strength of a good book. Our mistake is that, because the characters are most important to us, we think we have to lovingly create all the people and relationships before we start the action. We think to ourselves, “In order to understand the story once it starts, the readers need to know this about the main character, and this, and…oh, yes, of course this, and wouldn’t if be nice if they knew…” and away we go for three chapters, and the story hasn’t started yet.

Link to the rest at Indies Unlimited

How to know what to cut from a novel

From Nathan Bransford:

“Kill your darlings” is one of the most repeated bits of writing advice out there, but how do you know which darlings to murder? You need to decide what to cut from a novel, but it can be tricky.

Word counts matter. They don’t matter endlessly, but an overly long novel will adversely impact your odds of finding traditional publication, especially for a debut.

And even if you’re self-publishing, no one wants to slog through a novel from an author who never once pressed the “delete” button in the course of writing a 7,000 page tome.

If you are starting with a more average word count it’s still helpful to tighten things up as much as possible, so this post is for you too.

. . . .

Scenes that merely exist to “introduce” characters or a setting

Often writers make the mistake of padding their openings with scenes whose sole purpose is to establish a particular character or a setting and don’t otherwise advance the story. These chapters usually end up feeling unnecessary and a bit confusing because nothing at all important is happening.

Instead: Introduce characters and settings in the course of telling the actual story.

We don’t need an entire scene where nothing substantive happens just to get to know a character or provide exhaustive exposition. Just pick up where the story actually begins and trust that you can fill in the other details as you go along.

It’s much better to get to know a character in the course of the story unfolding than in an otherwise meaningless scene.

. . . .

Unfocused conversations

I see so, so many conversations in novels that are an almost endless series of meaningless false starts and misunderstandings.

Things like:

“My gods, what if the thingamabob were to fall into the wrong hands?”

“The what?”

“The thingamabob.”

“Yes. The thingamabob. I thought that’s what you said.”

“Did I stutter?”

“No.”

“Then why did you ask me to repeat myself?”

“I intentionally misheard you so you could repeat thingamabob for emphasis.”

“For what?”

“For emphasis.”

“I thought that’s what you–”

“Said. Yes. I also like finishing your sentences to show we are quite–“

“Mentally aligned. Ha ha ha. We just added four more lines of unrealistic banter where one could have done just fine.”

“Now I’m going to introduce a nonsequitur that makes no sense so you can introduce some exposition.”

“You already know this information as well as I do so there is no logical reason for me to be telling you this out loud, but I have some information the reader needs to know, which I will reveal in the most awkward expository dialogue possible. You see, a thingamabob is a–“

“Allow me to interrupt you in a misguided attempt to create a dramatic effect.”

“How dare you interrupt me! Now I’m mad, so you know this is quite important! A thingamabob is a–“

“One more interruption to make sure the reader is as annoyed as possible before they find out this information that is actually quite unimportant in the grand scheme of things.”

“Now I am furious! I am shaking! You see, a thingamabob is a [insert two pages of longwinded description only interrupted by Character B making meaningless comments so it doesn’t look like one single block of text].”

Needless to say: don’t do this.

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford