Sucking the Joy Out of Writing #amediting

Image courtesy of Stockvault.

Image courtesy of Stockvault.

Today’s been another miserable day. I’ve been spending all of it wondering how I’m going to redo about a thousand words of hidden info dump. It’s one of those delightful passages that I kept putting off fixing because it involves a ton of work to correct.

My first instinct was to just delete and put something else in, except there are some important details that I need for later in the story. This is how the problem started in the first place. I needed some text to serve as continuity so that the later action doesn’t involve randomly pulling items out of a bag. Otherwise, the story will end up like I’m just throwing out plot weapons.

At times like these, I definitely feel something sucking the joy out of writing. However, I can say that I will feel it all come back when I overcome this difficulty. Right now, it’s tough to remember.

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Trashing a Bunch of Short Stories

Image courtesy of Stockvault.

Image courtesy of Stockvault.

This past week’s been a bit of a bummer. I finally accepted that a short story I started really wasn’t going anywhere. Sure, it started nicely, but then I got bogged down in pointless character conversation that was just an excuse to info dump. Info dumping is bad enough in a novel, but in a short story it’s inexcusable. There isn’t enough room to go splashing paragraphs of bland information even if it’s occasionally dressed up with character conflict.

The thing that irks me the most is that I used to write short stories all the time. I’ve always been a fan of them, and writing them was my gateway drug into writing longer fiction. Short stories are great because they’re supposed to hit hard and fast but leave as good of an impression as a novel will. Off the top of my head, Poe and Asimov are two very good examples of what I’m talking about.

With that in mind, I trashed the 2,000 words I wrote and started fresh ten times this week. All I’ve kept is the title. Every day I’ve been searching for a new perspective to get this story out. It feels kind of weird because I want to tell it, but it keeps fighting with me. The most similar feeling is having a cold sore that I won’t leave alone (I’m one of those people). I can tell that it’s been bugging me because I’ve forgotten to post a blog on Monday.

Fortunately the latest iteration of the story seems to be going nicely. Maybe the fifteenth time will be the charm. At least this time I’ve got more than just characters that dislike each other. Now all I have to do is take them on an 8,000 word journey.

Provided they want to, of course. That, though, is a whole different problem.

The Tullison Box

Image courtesy of Stockvault.

Image courtesy of Stockvault.

When Grant Tullison returned to Boston from his voyage to the Pacific in 1770, his contemporaries noted a drastic change in his demeanor. By all accounts the venture was a success, bringing a vast fortune to the aging merchant. Rather than using some of it to fund another successful trade mission, he withdrew from society, friends, and family.

Some people blamed the withdrawal on a curious box he carried off his ship. Draped in a velvet cover, he wouldn’t tell anyone what he carried inside. He simply marched the thing from his ship to his house without saying a single word. Indeed, if some notable contemporaries hadn’t seen Mr. Tullison disembarking with it, nobody would know the thing even existed.

In the following years, Mr. Tullison’s behavior grew strange. He fired all of his servants the minute he stepped across his own threshold. He reduced the number of people he did business with. He worried his neighbors by staying up late into all hours of the morning, sometimes howling with madness.

His family lamented the loss of his conviviality as if they lost the man himself. Despite their best efforts, Grant would not entertain visits from anyone unless it was absolutely necessary. Thus, they had to resort to collecting gossip from those few witnesses they could find.

The most detailed account of Mr. Tullison came from a grocer who delivered food once a week. On one particular delivery, the master of the house answered the grocer’s call wearing nothing but a dirty smock. He threw open the portal with a grimy hand and looked around to make sure the grocer was alone. “Do you hear it?” he asked the poor fellow.

“Hear what?” the grocer asked, moved to pity at Tullison’s display of open madness.

Tullison breathed a heavy sigh of relief. “Perhaps I finally found a suitable resting place for it then. I had to work without rest to do it, but that thing is now in the foundation, buried as deep as I could manage it. Are you sure you do not hear anything?”

Straining his ears, the grocer admitted nothing grabbed his attention. Tullison hugged the man and paid double what he owed for the delivery. The grocer left, hoping the old salt might finally be coming around to sanity. Sadly, that night Mr. Tullison died under the most peculiar circumstances.

For many years, the house changed hands rapidly. With each conveyance, the memory and rumors of the box grew more obscure. After two centuries, the house became listed as an historical landmark, requiring the entire structure to be preserved as it was. Buyers happily agreed to such terms, since the house itself stood the test of time reasonably well. The only real problem anyone noted was the constant leaking of melting snow and ice into the basement. Still, the water only mildly eroded things, which meant buyers could pass it on without having to always fix it.

After the last winter, a new family moved to Boston from California and purchased the estate from an elderly couple. This family had a young son who fancied himself as an urban explorer. Having an old house to examine, the boy grew determined to uncover all of the structure’s secrets. He really hoped he would find a secret passage leading to Boston harbor.

A week later, the boy discovered a piece of the foundation peeling away in the basement. With his own small hands, he picked away at the dirt until he came upon a ratty piece of velvet cloth wrapped around a large box. He excavated the thing from its tomb, running a hand over the garishly painted wood. Surprisingly, the nondescript item was warm to the touch. His curiosity got the better of him, and he opened the front clasp to peer inside.

And then he screamed.

To Agent Or Not To Agent: That Is Today’s Question

Image courtesy of Stockvault.

Image courtesy of Stockvault.

Over time, things change. When I began work on my upcoming dystopian novel, I thought I would self-publish it under a pseudonym. Half a year later, I decided that I’d actually self-publish it under my own name. More than a year into the process, I’m considering whether to find an agent and try to publish it under a more traditional route.

The main benefits to traditional publishing include an advance and dealing with people who want my book to sell. By the very nature of an agent/principal relationship, an agent gets paid more when the principal earns more. Also, reputable agents will have ties to publishing firms, which can get writers more money for their work.

The disadvantages to looking for an agent mainly regard potentially less money in royalties. This only really makes a difference depending upon the copies sold. Sure, Amazon gives more money in royalties (generally) for self-published works, but selling a thousand copies might not even cover the money received from a standard book deal. Since I don’t have a million people emailing me daily demanding my novel gets finished, I don’t have to worry about this as much.

For people who might be wondering what route they should take, I found a couple good articles (here and here) which go into what average first book deals might look like. I hope they help other people as they decide which route they want to take to publish their writing.

Sometimes My Worst Critic Is Myself

Photo by 2happy. Image courtesy of Stockvault.

Photo by 2happy.
Image courtesy of Stockvault.

Revision and self-critique are essential tools to the writing process. Without them, I might write something completely unintelligible or simply awful. As tools, they’re like fire: use them carefully or be consumed by them.

Naturally, I like to tell myself that I have control over these things at all time. It’s a comforting and necessary lie. The reality is that there are times when I do too much, when I lose the happy medium and end up beating myself down. Writing becomes a masochistic process at that point, followed by the necessary lapse in production.

Other people might not have this problem, and some might be too familiar with it. I wish I had good answers for myself and others when my critical process gets out of control. Then again, if I had those answers, it wouldn’t be a problem.

From there, I sometimes wonder how many stories I might have told if I hadn’t just deleted them or thrown them away. What if they were actually good? If I had a time machine, I might go back and rescue some of them. Barring the purchase of a flux capacitor and a Mr. Fusion generator, I’m stuck in the here and now.

Fortunately I’m becoming more comfortable with that. Rather than critique my own work into the trash, I promise myself to not make any decisions when I’m in one of those moods. When things improve, I get back to work.

If These Comments Weren’t Spam…

My spam filter has been receiving a lot of hits lately. Whenever I check it, I’ve got a few comments left in it. So far, they’re all bots (as far as I can tell). The depressing thing is that the comments have gotten nicer.

It used to be that spam bots trolling the Internet were easy to catch. The whole thing would be a copy pasta job from works of literature or walls of text from famous sites. Then it switched to line-by-line copies, where a thought would start and never be finished. Automated programs grabbed all of it and just slung it out there to generate search priority for search engines.

Now, though, I’m seeing thoughtful but vague commentary that at least does an awesome job of being polite. The depressing part comes in when I realize that the spam bots are nicer than most Internet people I’ve met. How is it that automated text has become more pleasant to deal with than actual interaction?

My hope is that I have some sort of weird confirmation bias, or that I’m frequenting awful places on the Internet. Yeah, it’s strange to write that out, but it’s true. At the very least, I feel like I ought to do my part to tip the scales of niceness back over to humanity. If I don’t, then I feel like all of those awful robot movies where the robots kill humanity for being jerks will actually come true. Think about it: today spam bots are nice, tomorrow actual bots might be nice. And here we are filtering them and corralling them away from polite society.

I realize I don’t tell people often enough why they’re interesting or awesome to know. There have been perfect strangers I’ve met in strange circumstances that have left a positive impact on me. Overall, the good apples definitely have outnumbered the bad ones. That’s something important to remember. The odds are stacked in favor of meeting decent, interesting people.

So even if you’re having a tough day, there’s always a new opportunity to meet someone that might help ease that burden. Sure, being polite and kind isn’t the cure for cancer or some magical spell that makes problems disappear, but being on the receiving end can help make the burden suck less. If a random Internet robot can do it, so can I.

Self-Publishing Isn’t For Everyone

Image courtesy of Stockvault.

Image courtesy of Stockvault.

When I started looking into publishing, I found a lot of resources on self-publishing. The encouragement to self-publish made me want to try it out myself, so I set out to publish a short work under a pseudonym to figure out the process. I felt okay with it, but I learned that it has its ups and downs.

Getting a final copy ready for print or e-readers is the easiest part of the process. Something that is often missing from encouragement to self-publish is the reality that one has to sell one’s own work. This proverbially means chasing people down the street and throwing a book at them. It means laboring on social media to let people know who you are and that you have a book. And it also means figuring out when to give books away and when to sell them for dirt cheap. Such a task might be exciting for quite a few people, but it isn’t for everyone.

I’m not saying all of this to be discouraging, but rather to shed a little reality on the process. The best part is that nobody has to take my word for it. If you’re looking at going through the process, do a short story or novella on CreateSpace (Amazon’s publishing firm). Publish it under a pseudonym to protect yourself (like from agents and publishers that don’t consider self-published authors, or in case you don’t feel like associating it with your main body of work). Go over to Smashwords and publish it there, too. Push all the buttons, and turn all the knobs. Blame your pseudonym’s persona for any mistakes. Pat yourself on the back for doing stuff that turned out right.

After you’re done, take some time to evaluate things. At the very least, it will be a learning experience.

A Cat’s Holiday

Image source.

Image source.

Most of the time, my two cats are decent enough to let me work on my computer when I want. Having been a staff human for several different cats in my life, I understand this is a luxury. However, there are times when their attention becomes overwhelming, and I discover that this means it is a cat holiday.

Cat owners will know what this is when cats do many of the following constantly:

1. Extra noisy activities around the computer, but just out of reach.

2. Demonstrations of gravity, especially with things that are shiny or hard to pick up.

3. Luring target human out of the chair to then jump in and sprawl all over it.

4. Jumping into the chair and physically attempting to push the human out when number 3 doesn’t work.

5. Sitting on target human’s hands.

6. Attacking things that move on the screen.

7. Escalating with even more interesting behavior as circumstances warrant.

This turns writing into an adventure.
Managing the holiday festivities requires a length of string and about thirty minutes to an hour. On very few occasions one of my cats, Sven, will play a very belated form of fetch. I will throw a red ball for him to chase, and twenty minutes later when he realizes he wants to play with it again, he will bring it back. These are the best holidays for me to endure, because it only involves the occasional trip away from my machine.

To be sure, I’m not complaining. Cats are mutually interesting pets. They are willing to perform amazing feats in the name of food or chasing a moving thing. Consequently, they watch me make a sandwich like it’s a cat version of Murder She Wrote, because the process is a complete mystery to their cat brains. This sort of entertainment is priceless. I just don’t always appreciate it when they get insistent about it.

Some people might read this and be glad they’re not writing around small animals, but I’d have to say that those people are missing out. Yes, they can get in the way of a productive writing session on occasion, but more often than not they spare me from sitting in front of my computer and staring at the monitor in frustration. It’s almost as if they can sense that I’m not having a good time of things, and they are going to help me whether I like it or not.

And that’s why I try to take a cat holiday whenever the situation arises.