What Are You Waiting For?

Line art representation of a Quill

Line art representation of a Quill (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, it’s a good news/bad news kind of thing.

The bad news:  no one has been posting and our poor little blog looks downright neglected.

The good news:  we haven’t been posting because we’ve been busy with other writing work.

Some of us are even stupefyingly close to that terrifying step.  The p-word.  Publishing.

It’s a saturation point basically.  When you finally finish that first draft, that piece that you know is a bona fide, honest-to-goodness, real writerly work; you’ve hit a milestone.  But it’s only one milestone on a many mile journey.

You have to rewrite it.  Maybe more than once.  You need to give it a line editing pass and get somebody else to line edit it as well.  Then you need to make those changes and maybe just give it another polishing draft.  Eventually, you have to decide if you’re going to stay in the comfy confines of endless reworking, or take the plunge and publish.

I decided to publish.

But here’s the thing, publishing and writing aren’t the same thing.  They’re intertwined, sure, but you quickly realize there are even more miles to go.  And you thought you were so close!

Don’t despair.  Help is out there.

With all the opportunities that epublishing offers, getting your work out there is pretty close to DIY.  You’re taking on a lot of the tasks that a publishing house would handle in the old model, but I think that’s a good thing.  You have way more control of how your final product and brand come out.  Who wouldn’t want that kind of power?  But there’s no question it’s also intimidating.  What to do?

Get help of course.

Jeff Moriarty, the guy that runs this blog, has quite a few different irons in the fire.  One of those irons is ePublish Unum that he started with Evo Terra.  Last summer I attended one of their live seminars that gave sort of a broad overview of how digital publishing works.  It was great stuff, but the real powerhouse is The Quick and The Read.

This is a web-based, six week course for writers to take you from finished work to published author on Amazon.com.  Yes that is challenging, but it is also totally doable.  It’s online, so you’re not limited by location, but you still get a live class/lecture once a week (How does that work?  Hey, these guys know their digital stuff).  You learn what to do, why to do it, and most importantly, how to do it.  They give step-by-step breakdowns on formatting, cover design, sales copy, and that all important publish button.

I took the course and can’t recommend it enough.  A lot of this was new territory for me, truly starting from zero.  But, as promised, I went from a final draft that I wasn’t sure what to do with, to a real live eBook.  I’ve been taking some time to set up a digital support system for when the book comes out.  My own blog, a website, that sort of thing.  I’m on track to publish the first week of June.  Watch for West of Dead:  A Nathaniel Caine Adventure on Amazon!  Hey, might as well give myself a plug while I’m at it.

So, take the plunge.  You can publish you’re writing.  Don’t say “just one more draft”.  Don’t say “it’s not long enough”, or “it’s not good enough”.  Above all, don’t say “I don’t know how”.  That’s just not an excuse anymore.

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The Passive-Aggressive Comma War

I'm reading August 10th, free, at Sideshow: Th...
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I made the mistake of volunteering to write grant proposals for a small, local, non-profit organization.  I have a little background in what a grant needs to say, and I enjoy writing, so it seemed a natural fit to make a contribution to a worthwhile cause.  Like every new experience there was some learning involved, most of it in the frustrating, irritating and regretting category. 

After figuring out how to overcome the first hurdle, how to request money for administrative costs when foundations are loathe to donate money for just that reason, and then learning to maneuver the Giant Charity Dollar Consolidator’s computer system, I thought my task was largely accomplished.  Until I ran into the Comma Queen, the underpaid, highly detail-oriented program coordinator of this unnamed local non-profit.  That’s Program Coordinator with a Capital P, Capital C as I was reminded in the first round of edits.  She also declared that a comma should be inserted in every series of nouns before the ‘and’ — papers, pens, and pencils. 

Whereas I was under the impression that particular comma style had been retired sometime in the ‘70’s and was no longer the standard.  After the third editing round-about, late the night before the grant deadline, I threw up the white flag and added in the last of the missing serial commas for the Comma Queen. 

Once the dust settled from our Passive-Aggressive Comma War, I decided to seek out who was right, me or the Comma Queen.  I found an old high school grammar text book, a 1965 edition of the Modern Grammar and Composition which is clearly marked THIS BOOK IS THE PROPERTY OF THE STATE.  The three students who were issued the book from 1966 through 1968 had signed their names on the front inside cover, the last being my brother-in-law.  Why it’s on my bookshelf, at a distance of a thousand miles, two states and  four decades, is a mystery to me.  Nevertheless, it served my purpose even if it is a crime of possession that hopefully the State of Texas never discovers.

Well, round one goes to the Comma Queen.  The text clearly showed that a comma is required before the ‘and’ in a series.  That was in 1965.  Unconvinced, I sought out more current sources of expertise and it turns out the series comma is an either or situation.  In journalism, the series comma, or as it’s referred to by some, the Oxford comma or even the Harvard comma, was dropped for expediency.  In literature it’s still the standard.

I was satisfied with a draw in the Passive-Aggressive Comma War.  However, after reading more about it, I must admit there are times when that extra comma makes for better clarity.  Example — I owe my life to my two brothers, Chloe and Lucy.

My brothers aren’t named Chloe and Lucy.  The intent was to identify three subjects, not two with subsequent names.  It’s misleading without the series comma.  There are lots of other examples on when the series comma is necessary. And, some claim, for consistency sake, it should always be used.

So now I’m going to have to sit down with the Comma Queen and show her the difference, when it’s needed and when it’s not.  Maybe then we can sign a treaty, calling an end to the Passive- Aggressive Comma War.  Hopefully negotiations will be concluded before the next grant proposal comes around.

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The Muse

So, about a year ago my muse and I had a falling out.  Harsh words were spoken, bags were hurriedly packed and then poof, she* was gone.  Oh, I figured she would return just as quick, ready to pick right back up.  I was, however, completely and utterly wrong.  The longer we were apart, the less frequently I thought of her, until, eventually I began to doubt that she had existed at all.  Discouraged, I cast the remnants that she had left behind into a drawer, ostensibly to never see the light of day again.

So, it was with some amazement that forces perhaps both natural and un-natural worked in harmony to align the planets and grant me another chance.  Out of the blue, I get a text from her, says she’s been bored without a writer to kick around.  That may sound inauspicious to you, but to me it sounded like just what I needed to hear.  So, while the separation was a bit abrupt, the return will be handled with more care.  Unpack one bag, see how it goes.

*in the classical sense, the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne – I’m not trying to be sexist here

Casting a Wide Net

Anonymous 17th-century watercolor of the Sempe...
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A friend lent me the book A Cat is Watching by Roger Caras. It’s only about cats, but in it was a surprisingly simple supposition to explain the invention of poetry – to bridge the vast gap between my interior reality and yours.  Seeing it out of context, like a sort of sideways glance in a one-liner, had more meaning than any of those intellectual essays on poetry in literary magazines.  It felt like an impromptu gift from random reading.

Reading at random, outside your preferences and genres, is good for the would-be writer or for that matter, most everybody.  A certain amount of promiscuity in reading tastes can be a source of new ideas, rejuvenation and salvation. Say you’re submerged in writing a novel; it’s safer to cross the boundary into reading non-fiction while you’re writing.  It saves you from the problem of comparing your style with another author, it removes a possible source of envy, and it gives your brain a break.

How to Welcome Randomness in Reading

A while back when an old friend of the family died, none of his heirs wanted his collection of books.  He was a right-wing, gold-bug, arch conservative small town doctor.  By happenstance his library ended up with me.  Many of the books were those heavy bound medical reference books with the kind of pictures that bring on the gag reflex. But when I saw his 1852 edition of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and Other Phenomenon of Crowds I knew I’d stumbled into a real treasure trove.  It’s the all time classic tome about the psychology of feeding frenzies, asset bubbles and market manipulation, the best known being the Tulip Mania. It was out of print and had been impossible to find.  The collection included dozens of gems I never would have known about or run across.   

Not everybody can rely on a source of random must-reads falling into their lap like my legacy library.  But the next best thing might be the discount table at the book store.  I’ve had more luck finding a satisfying new book amongst the castoffs of the publishing money machine than on the Best Seller’s display.  Caesar’s Woman opened up the world of Rome in the series by Colleen McCulloughMy Antonia by Willa Cather was mesmerizing and led me on a year long quest to read most everything she wrote.  Patenting the Sun was a two-dollar non-fiction book about the polio vaccine that induced a sensation of pulling back the curtain and seeing the obvious hidden by everyday life.

Boredom is another useful motivator to push your reading limits.  It’s the only reason I read Death of Salesman. Rainy day ennui got me to pull it off the bookshelf in the family TV room because there was literally nothing else to do.  Those pitiful images of disappointment and the tragic lesson about how life can get derailed so easily was powerful stuff to a bored teenager.

Invite a little chaos into your reading habits, you might find some amazing ideas in the least expected places.

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When Will You Make an End of It…?

Sisyphus, 1920
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…When I am finished, of course. 

When you start delving into the process of writing you’ll very quickly find some famous writer who talks about not being in control of his story.  The story tells them what to do.  Maybe they just start writing with no idea what’s going to happen or how it will end.  Maybe the characters start doing and saying things that surprise the author.  Someone who doesn’t write or even a beginning writer could be forgiven for thinking that’s a lot of crap.  I mean after all, how could you not know?  You’re the only one in there, hunched and muttering over your keyboard.  You made up the characters and the world they inhabit.  How could you not know? 

Well on some level, a little below consciousness perhaps, I’m sure you do know.  But when you have that first experience of the Muse (or whatever) taking over it’s pretty fun.  Weird, a little creepy even, but fun.  It feels like you’re really tapping into that Storytelling juice and it makes you feel like a real writer.  It’s not all in the plus column though.  If the story controls you and tells you what to do, you have to listen to it.  Even if you don’t agree with it. 

I’ve been working on what I though was a simple little short adventure story for…like…ever man.  I write every day (pretty much) and it feels like I’m getting somewhere but it keeps not being done.  Every two weeks I meet with my writers group and I say, “I’m almost done.  Should have it next time.”  Eventually they just give you Looks.  You can’t quantify it either.  First it’s 80% done.  Then 90%.  95%.  97.5%.   98.789%.  I could even live with 99%.  That would be close enough that I would just lie and say I’m done.  Ah, well.  As problems go I guess it’s better than writer’s block. 

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