#NaNoWriMo, it’s not just for writing novels anymore.

from Flickr User Monda, used under a Creative Commons attribution license
from Flickr User Monda, used under a Creative Commons attribution license

So, it’s NaNo.

The month that fills every writer I know with a sense of hope and possibility. Or, as likely, dread and insecurity. Whatever the feelings, NaNo inspires a certain type of person to get behind a keyboard.

Whatever the end result, writing is good for a person’s soul.

And as much as I am not prone to loving the hype, I think NaNo is pretty great. I have never successfully participated myself, but I talk about it from time to time, and I like to hear about it, read the posts, enjoy the energy from my every-month-of-the-year-WriMo perch at my little table in my little office.

I get annoyed with all the snobbish woe-is-me posts from seasoned or professional writers saying things like, “better yet, don’t write that novel,” and “to win, you could theoretically write the prhase, ‘nipple sandwich’ 25,000 times and earn yourself a little certificate.”

The second quotation isn’t from a technically hating piece, but it’s from a post that does, at its core, seem to be about de-glamorizing the writing life and explaining that writing is not just this magical thing that happens while you hardly notice then suddenly you’re getting piles of cash and accolades like you’re some kind of Stephen King protege.

And that’s truth. The piece is called “25 Things You Should Know about NaNoWriMo.” It could also be called “25 Things You Should Know About Being a Writer, some of these relate to NaNo.”

Get to the point, already!

I hate hacks.

I would tell anybody. And I am. See? You’re anybody. I maybe don’t know you at all. And now you know a little truth about me. Hacks make me full of ire and nasty words I have no shyness or fear about spewing all over hack backs.

But I don’t hate NaNo.

Call me Pollyanna, but my feelings on the matter are this: People who finish NaNo are people who are, at least in some small way, committed to living the writing life. It is not easy to write every day, least of all 1666 words.

And whatever else happens, the douche fools who query agents and editors Dec 1 with their shitty 50,000 words are people who would do it anyway. Maybe they wouldn’t do it Dec 1, but at least now there is the possibility for an editor/agent to blanket ignore any unsolicited submissions that appear on Dec 1-15 (note to self).

But this year, my writer friend and I have committed to writing-related goals in honor of WriMo. She’s finishing her novel (she’s been working on it for years), and I am submitting my essays to literary journals and querying agents to the tune of 5 each week.

It took me a year and a half to write all these essays, and I still consider the manuscript to be in progress, I am, in fact, revising three new essays for it now.

I’m keeping a spreadsheet which I will show to my friend once a week.

My friend is showing me her pages.

So NaNo is about accountability. About setting and reaching writing goals.

So get yourself a partner and write! Or Submit! Or Query! Or Revise! Or Outline! Or plot! Or whatever you need to do to get wherever There is.

Floatsam and Jetsam of Living the Dream

Peasant Woman, Art.
Peasant Woman, Art.

Last grad school residency, my cohort was required to attend a panel discussion of agents and editors. As I’m sure you can all imagine, we were chomping at the bit to impose our tendrils of ignorance on these people, the very ones we hope will help us realize our writerly publication dreams.

I have been following the publishing industry in a sometimes obsessive, but mostly casual way these past couple of years, and by all accounts, it is nothing like it was even ten years ago. Now, there are still authors who have success, but not as many, and the quality of the work has tended downward.  Porter Anderson does a weekly feature on Jane Friedman’s blog about the perils and perks of the publishing industry in all of its current iterations. It has been a helpful starting place to read all the moaning, so I was more-or-less prepared for what the Editors and Agents said.

They said that almost none of their authors are making a living from writing alone.

They told me that I’m living the dream already.

That was heartening.

Living the dream means cobbling together a living from constituent parts that allow your writing to flourish, that don’t make you miserable. That give you both enough time and money.

Tricky alchemy, that.

I write every weekday morning from sometime between 5 and 6 a.m. to sometime between 7 and 8 a.m.

Then, I teach on Mondays and Wednesdays.

I work in a restaurant on weekends.

And I do freelance writing when I can get some that doesn’t annoy me, even if it pays shit.

I take on clients. I am interested in coaching/teaching and developmental clients. I am booked through January, though, so if you are interested, gimmie a buzz and we can get you on the calendar. Not to be a wanker, but Karma’s been on my side since late March, and I’m in increasing demand.

At the end of this week,  I will have completed the first revision of my manuscript. It is twelve personal essays. About a week after that, I will have completed my second revision, and it will be “ready.” I will embark on my personal trek of hell rejection submissions. I have a list, a strategy, and a budget. That’s a future post.

I’m calling it a memoir. I have the worst ideas for titles, so if I sell it, I’ll let you know what they’re calling it.

I have my half dozen beta readers lined up. These people deserve to be sainted.

My undergrad mentor’s memoir came out last month. Here’s an interview on Bookslut.

The book is called FEAR AND WHAT FOLLOWS, it’s available for pre-order on Amazon. I’ll be reviewing it in the Sun-Gazette’s lifestyle magazine in the Fall issue.

A guest post I wrote will be on Jamie Chavez’s blog next week, on the 16th. Go subscribe to her so you’ll catch it when it goes live. Another post I wrote about creativity, that will only be on Jamie’s blog, will show up there another time soon.

Doesn’t sound too glamorous?

It’s not.

But it’s rewarding, and I am, for the first time in many, many years (maybe ever), truly content.

What’s Next? or Why I’ve Been a Shitty Blogger and How I Plan to Change

from flickr user dbking
from flickr user dbking

You probably remember the days when I blogged five days a week.

And I doubt you’ve missed me.

But I’ve missed you.

See, I’m in this grad program for writing. It’s mostly online. I go two times a year for about a week to get my physical learning on, then the rest of the time I read and write about stuff and post it on the internet where classmates and instructors read it.

This is my first drafting semester for my book-length project that will earn me my MA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University.

Next year, around this time, I’ll start a thing known as a “critical paper” that will earn me my MFA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University.

But I’ve had to shave some stuff down in order to make time for this program, and consistent blogging was the first to go.

But it’s January, right?

time for resolutions and new beginnings and refreshed perspectives.

And I’ve got this great idea.

I’ll be writing for two hours a day on my creative project.

And three times a week, I’m going to post stuff from my journey here.

You can feel free to comment or hate.

It’s not going to be chapters. It’ll be 400-500 words at a slice, edited for the reading habits of screen-lookers.

And it’ll probably often be funny, and sometimes it’ll be sad, and sometimes, it’ll make you scratch your head and go “what the what?”

So I’ll be seeing you on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. EST.

Looking forward to you.

Love.

Webinar on Blogging a Book: Where Do We Rest in Free Content Land?

From Flickr User nowviskie

I listened to a free webinar from Writer’s Digest on How to Blog a Book, which is a book by Nina Amir that came out recently.

The webinar was one week ago today.

Here’s the link to the book.  It came out from Writer’s Digest publishing.

Nina said that we have to blog every day (or on an unrelenting schedule).

She said not to give your content away so quickly, that posts should be 250-500 words, and that you need to lead up to the book for at least 6 months.

She posted images of Julie & Julia, Stuff White People Like, 101 Uses for My Ex-Wife’s Wedding Dress, etc.  These were blogs that became popular and that landed their authors book deals.  She told us that we could do it the other way, too.  That we could actually write our book on a blog.  She said that doing it the other way is called “booking a blog.”  I think she made that up.

She said that 81% of Americans claim to have a book in their heads that they want to write, and that only 2% of people actually do.

She suggested that the medium of blogging could help us to develop the book and the discipline to write at the same time.  She suggested that the reason it works to write a book on your blog is that it’s efficient: you’ll be building your platform while writing your book.  She also said that she heard an editor at some big-name publishing house say that blogs are a great test market for the sale-ability of a book.

She was careful to point out that nonfiction works better on blogs.

And she was sure to remind us that we have to give people a reason to buy the printed version of our book that we’ve (presumably) blogged and sold to a publisher.  That we should leave out chapters of special features or information.  She said that people will buy the book because it’s difficult to read a blog as if it’s a book.

But here’s the thing.  We all know that the ratio of blogs to blog-to-book deals is staggeringly tiny.  Amir suggested that there might be 72 book deals from blogs each year.

How many blogs are there?  I couldn’t even hazard a guess.  Certainly hundreds of thousands.

And how many people are there who believe that they are swell writers, but who are actually quite terrible?

So still, even with the advice, a great idea, and competitive writing chops, it seems that odds are still exceedingly slim, and that people out blogging books are going to add to the excess of free content, thereby making it more difficult still for writers to get paid for writing. And it is already incredibly difficult, even for excellent writers.

And now I find that what I hoped would be illuminating was actually annoying and disillusioning.  And a webinar, which is totally dorky.

And it also made me hate Writer’s Digest a little bit.  I’ve had a minor suspicion that they’re really just a factory for content that’s designed to extract money from a bunch of desperate writer hopefuls.  HOWEVER, I do find their publication to be incredibly helpful, and Writer’s Market is amazing, and I tend to get overly cynical whenever I’m disappointed.  So next week, let’s hope the cynicism wanes.

Till then, what do ya’ll think?  Anybody with plans to blog a book? Anybody tried?

Funny Little Language Things

From Flickr, user Digital_Rampage. Used under CC Attribution license. Wiseguys.

Lately, I’ve been encountering a ton of spelling errors.  I don’t know if it’s that the people who learned how to spell before spellcheck have mostly retired, or if it’s something else, but I am generally more amused than annoyed about errors like these.  I have a pretty good memory and I’ve done a lot of reading in my life, plus, have an overfondness for the Dictionary, which is how I’m able to spot them, and certainly I am imperfect at this…

I love the thrill of learning new stuff about words, though.  I can’t wait until I learn how to access Wilkes’s subscription to the OED from home.  Oh, the perks of being a student.

Here are some of my favorite mixups from manuscripts (with pictures):

From Flickr user julia-koefender

Hairsbreadth:  Yes, the breadth of a hair.  One word according to Merriam Webster’s, and here’s a touch of etymology. Here’s how I’ve seen it: Hare’s breath, hairsbreath, hare’s breadth, etc.

The jig’s up:  A jig is a dance.  When the jig’s up, reality checks are imminent.  One of the

From Flickr user ibm4318

funniest spelling errors I see is “the gig’s up.”  According to M-W a gig is only a job for an entertainer in the fifth sense of the word as a noun, and that that a gig could also be a cylindrical spinning thing, a thing to do with sailing, or a grotesque or ugly person, among other definitions.  This is why I love English.

Wiseguy:  When a writer means mobster and writes wise guy, I think, this is kind of a contranym: when the same word can have opposite meanings.  It’s not exact here, because wiseguy is different from wise guy, but you catch my meaning.  A wiseguy is a mobster.  A wise guy is a funny person or jokester.  The word that gave me the concept of contranym is staggering:  The moon is a staggering distance from the sun.  I am lucky to live staggering distance to the bar.  Very big in the first use, very small in the second.

From Flickr user Tony.L.Wong

Tack vs. tact: A tack is a push-pin, but it’s also a method or course, especially one that’s drastically divergent from previous methods or courses.  Tact is a social nicety in which a person knows how to speak without offending others.  Here’s an example of a hilarious misuse, “He thought he’d try a new tact.”

Pour-over, pore over: Pour-over is a method for brewing coffee in which a porcelain (or

From Flickr user Redband-Coffee-Co

plastic) cone-shaped brew basket rests on a coffee cup, and it is brewed, one cup at a time.  When one pores over something, one studies it closely.

Canvass, canvas: Canvas is that stuff that shoes and sacks are made of.  Some artists paint on canvas.  Canvas is a noun.  When one is surveying an area in hopes of

From Flickr user Net_efekt

catching a criminal or electing a particular person, one goes canvassing, and uses a second s and a verb.

Farther, further: This one is the trickiest of all of these.  Farther connotes distance, as in, “if she could make it a touch farther, she’d be home free.”  Further connotes concept, so to encourage or increase the reach of an idea or philosophy.  For instance, “She hoped that if she saved the puppy, she’d further PETA’s cause.”

How about you, fellow editors?  A favorite or funny misuse?  Have you been seeing a lot of spelling errors in the world, too?

Self (Publishing) Help: Get a Developmental Editor!

from: http://www.public-domain-image.com

Ego Schmego

Writing is so complicatedly ego-driven.  On one hand, we have to be somewhat narcissistic to love the writing life.  All the time alone, in our own minds, reading and re-reading our own words, writing more of them, clamoring after friends, peers, editors, agents to read them, dealing with the rejection and keeping on…

But on the other hand, the ego battles us!  We have to come up with strategies for silencing our inner editor.  We have to figure out how to block the negative, self-hating thoughts that will keep us from finishing work.

And on a third hand (handy!), I know a lot of authors and writers who would be just as happy being invisible.  I write because the stuff my brain does through my fingers is way more interesting than anything it does through my mouth.  And because I’ve always done it.  I don’t know how not to.  I feel like it’s a calling of sorts, or at least a strong compulsion.

Next!

So when we work on our novels and stories and essays and memoirs, in the brave new self-publishing world, it’s incredibly tempting to just say, “I know I’m interesting.  I’m just going to self publish.  I don’t need an editor!  I’ve been hard enough on myself along the way.”

Yes you do need an editor!  If you’re looking for a good one, call this lady.  If you want a manuscript review or critique, and some advice on what to do next, call this guy.

And any traditionally published author, or author who makes money writing books will tell you, revising is the hardest, most essential part of writing, and you simply can’t do it alone.

We can’t get enough space from our egos to get where we need to go.  We need a person with a pair of first eyes who we trust, who gets our writing aesthetic, and who will not be afraid to tell us hard truths about our stories, characters, or plotting impulses.  These people will help us, if we can figure out how to let them.

There are three main types of editors that someone who’s considering self-publishing should find.  Start with a developmental editor.  Much more on this below.

Then hire a copy editor, who reads for technical inconsistencies (name spelling change and hair color change, plot queerness, syntax, grammar, style, consistency throughout, etc).

Then hire a proofreader, typically a last set of eyes, focuses in on punctuation and spelling primarily, but may flag larger issues.  Hopefully there will be few if you’ve chosen well for developmental editor and copy editor.

Why hire a developmental editor?

I’ve been in hundreds of hours of writing workshops and read tens of thousands of pages of student writing and writing that’s on its way to book form, and I’ve  become acquainted with some of the common faux pas of early drafts, even from the most brilliant writers.  We all do these things.

Here are just a few that are also reasons to hire a developmental editor:

Editorializing–where the character will think something clever, and while the implication is transparent, go on to explain the joke or thought in the next line or two.  My favorite thing to say to writers, and the best thing I ever learned from a writing teacher is this: “Trust your readers!”  Writers Digest has a great article with a segment on staying true to your IQ in the most recent issue.  The thesis is basically this: people who read books are smart.  Do NOT try to dumb yourself down.  Do NOT explain something that’s obvious to you. If it needs explaining, your developmental editor will tell you.

Using flashbacks or dreams to cover up poor plotting–a lot of writers, unwilling to return to the story board after hundreds of hours of work, or much too married to their plot maps, decide to throw in a dream sequence or flashback to explain away their poor planning.  Developmental editors have radar for this kind of thing.  They’ll tell you, honestly, whether you’re employing some trick that a reader will see through, or whether you’re missing an opportunity to take your character someplace affecting or compelling or wonderful or story-propelling!

Replacing actual character depth with wardrobe ticks and social stereotypes–A lesbian is portrayed as a short-haired, aggressive, ugly girl with her septum pierced, camouflage cargo pants, and  two pit bulls.  Developmental editors will tell you if you do this, and they won’t re-write your characters for you, but they will have tricks up their sleeves to guide you to deeper characters.

Using verb tense and point of view changes without knowing why–suddenly switching verb tense or point of view from one chapter to the next with no reason that’s related to propelling the story or providing some other literary benefit.  You can’t artlessly apply these techniques.  Verb Tense and Point of View are two very intimate things about any story, and they are also promises to a reader that are made in the first pages, and that you need a MASSIVELY compelling reason to break.  Developmental editors can tell you if you’re doing this successfully.  Here’s a post from another time on this blog about my personal aversion to extraneous past perfect (or pluperfect) tense.

State of (Self) Publishing

The trouble with self-publishing is that–unless you have a bunch of besties with MFAs or who work in publishing, and sometimes even if you do–you have to pay people to help you make your good work great, and chances are, you’re not independently wealthy or some kind of writing idiot savant to whom none of this applies, so hiring the team that traditional publishing houses (still) have on hand gets pricey.

I was recently asked to review a self-published book.  It was published through Create Space, which is Amazon’s self-publishing service that offers comprehensive copy editing and proofreading as well as book marketing for prices that range from $220 all the way up to $4,000.  I think that the old adage, “you get what you pay for” applies here.  It probably costs a publishing house in the neighborhood of $25,000 to see a book from manuscript to press-ready.  That amount of money pays acquisitions and developmental editors, copy editors, proof readers, and book artists, cover designers, etc.

Getting yours to the mouth of the press for $4,000 seems like a dubious bargain, doesn’t it?

Copy Editors and proofreaders are not paid enough to do developmental editing for you, it is not in their job descriptions, plus it’s massively beneficial to use multiple sets of professional eyes.

Don’t be a Diva!

And don’t you want people to read your book? You have to figure out how to shut down your ego’s diva.  Send her shopping for shoes or something.

Let the developmental editor help you.  Chances are she’s been to school to study stories, writing, and grammar.  She probably has an advanced degree or years of practice or both.  She loves books and stories and has read thousands of them over the years.

And don’t stop there.  Hire more help.  The investment will return itself to you in the form of book sales.  What good is a quickly published book if it’s so sloppy nobody will read it?

If you want to self-publish, TERRIFIC.  It’s a good business decision.  Being your own book’s puppeteer sets you up for maximum benefit.  But it’s short-sighted and a poor business choice (and it diminishes your credibility as a writer) to unleash your novel or memoir or collection of short stories on the world without investing in yourself, your work, and your business to present the most polished product you can muster!

Additional Reading

http://selfpublishingteam.com/: Great advice specifically about self-publishing.

http://www.janefriedman.com: Jane Friedman collects and offers for free almost every day piles and piles of great information about the world of publishing, about the evolution of media, and about all kinds of concerns for all kinds of writers.

http://www.copyblogger.com: This is a great resource for thinking about your writing as a marketable product.  It will give you invaluable tips, including when and how to write for free to make money writing.

http://www.penelopetrunk.blog.com: Penelope is a great source of information and advice about writing, selfhood, career, and how to make the writing life pay off.

http://www.bridgetasher.blogspot.com: Julianna Baggott blogs here about all sorts of literary things, but also for writers.  Her writing is lovely, and her advice is practical.

http://www.justinemusk.com: Justine Musk writes about creativity and writing and being a badass.  She also writes about pop culture and feminist concerns.