I’m a Writer (and I’m Proud)

January 1st: The time of resolutions, of living cleaner, living better, doing better, getting up at dawn to write (which will never happen), drinking less (also unlikely), and just improving my general personhood.

I don’t often make New Year’s resolutions. But on the eve of a brand new year, I do usually give some thought as to how I could do things better, how I could be happier, and how I could make the others around me happier too. In reality, I do this much of the year, but I give this category of thought special dispensation on January 1st. I often hope for guidance from the stars, or the gods, or the tarot, or the coffee grounds, or the mouse entrails my cat leaves on the stoop.

Sadly, the entrails and gods seldom have much to offer. Neither does my family who I routinely pester with questions regarding what I should be doing differently in the upcoming year (often laying my head on the table in despair surrounded by empty wine glasses). Should I quit my day job and focus on my writing? I always hope they will give me a resounding yes – they never do. Should I just start saying no to everything – volunteering, new contracts, extra work that makes me harried and disagreeable? I try very hard to do this but saying no is a torturous affair for me.

The reality is for the most part, compared to most people in the world, I am supremely privileged, and I in general, do a reasonably good job of exercising, eating healthy, having friends and writing relatively regularly, while maintaining a household and a part-time day job. I set goals and for the most part meet them. If I were to make a New Year’s resolution, it would mean that I have to drop or do less well on one of the important things I already hold in a precarious balance. Okay I’d be happy to drop the day job, but since as indicated above, I seem to have little support for that resolution, maybe that isn’t in the stars (or the entrails).

marsmet546  /flickr

marsmet546 /flickr

While I know all of this, and I know that in most cases resolutions do not work, I nevertheless always hunger for some sort of change on January 1st. Some sort of positive new direction, hope or focus. Just one little resolution. At least enough so that I feel my head-on-the-table-pestering-my-family-surrounded-by-wine-glass sessions were fruitful. Besides, despite my glowing description of my life in the previous paragraph, I am chronically stressed, never make time for myself, have to deal with a dying parent, and feel pulled in too many directions each and every day (which sometimes makes me a little cranky). I don’t know for sure, but I rather suspect that my family would like me to resolve to be worse. To be less determined to exercise a certain number of times per week, to allow our house to be a mess, to make simpler but less healthy or tasty meals, to turn in less perfect work products. But since they do not seem receptive to pestering today, I cannot confirm this for sure. However, for me, these would be tough resolutions to make.

I have read the resolutions of other writers. Most of them revolve around the writing and/or publishing process - committing to writing regularly, writing a set amount of time per day, writing every day, enjoying writing, enjoying publishing, not worrying about your sales (yeah right). There are some good resolutions out there – Chuck Wendig’s most notably (of course) are worth a read. Jeff Goins also offers some good advice, and he is right, I should probably be more enthusiastic about embracing the pain of rewriting until it hurts.

But for the most part, aside from the continual difficulties of squeezing writing in amongst the clawing demands of my life, I feel like I have a decent handle on the writing process.

In a Writer’s Digest article from 2013, Rachel Randall suggests resolving to call yourself a writer...hmm. This would definitely be a challenge. I write, but I would not dare call myself a writer, at least not out loud or in anything other than a self-deprecating tone (making it clear to all listeners that I think my claim to being a writer is about as farcical as when I used to claim in the bar in my twenties that I could have become a model – that was cringe-worthy even at the time).

But funny, I also ski, and am quite fine with calling myself a skier, even though I actually write better than I ski (and I am not a bad skier). Randall points out that many of us think that writing may work out for us in the end, and it may not. Thus many of us are probably hesitant to call ourselves writers. There is also the risk of course that people will make fun of us. But Randall points to a passage by Larry Brooks in which he says the following:

If you are a writer–and you are if you actually write–you are already living the dream. Because the primary reward of writing comes from within, and you don’t need to get published or sell your screenplay to access it. …

Maybe there is something there. I ski for only myself, and I call myself a skier. Perhaps I can also call myself a writer.

Great. I will call myself a writer. I should. It’s time. Maybe.

But that somehow doesn’t seem big enough, bold enough, for what I want to achieve in 2014. I know I should probably stop apologizing for my writing, feeling bad that I am not tending the kids, or cooking, or earning more money. But that is unlikely. Even now as I sit here working on this while someone else does dishes, I feel bad.

My bold resolution should have something to do with hope, or believing in my writing. I tried faith a few years ago. That did not work out very well. I was too hardened in the writing world at that point to let it take root. The funny thing is, I do believe in my writing. I believe it is good. I would not have continued on as long as I have if I did not. But I do not believe that good writing is enough to make it. When I first published my novel A Pair of Docks, I hoped it would take off immediately. Despite a few heady days as my friends and family purchased, it did not become an overnight bestseller.

After a few days of worrying, I decided that all I needed to feel good about my progress was one good thing a day – one sale, one person saying they could not put it down, one good review, one good rating, one retweet of my posts about my novel, one technical success. I know that this is a long game and that I need to play it to win. And guess what? Since I made that deal with myself, I have not yet gone a day without at least one good thing. I have also discovered that if you are determined enough, you can find one good thing – every day.

Maybe my initial resolution about faith was too focused on the external world. What I do have faith in is myself. My 2014 resolution is that I will play this to win – one good thing at a time. And I will call myself a writer (to the mirror at least).

Photo Credit Rocks: Randy Heinitz via Compfight http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Photo Credit Clock: marsmet546 via Compfight http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/

Proofreading

Nine things I learned about proofreading in the last two months

I have spent the last two months working with a copyeditor and two proofreaders on my novel A Pair of Docks. I am a fairly clean writer. I do not usually have run-on sentences, I can spell, I generally have subject-verb agreement and I know how to use most major punctuation marks (although I still struggle a bit with commas, em dashes and colons). In my day job, I often work as an editor and proofreader of technical writing. I thought the copyedit and proofreading portion of publishing my book would be a breeze.

I was very wrong. Here is what I learned:

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1) Consistency, consistency, consistency:

My manuscript is fairly complex in the sense that the characters are trying to solve a mystery. They read things, Google things, write things down, quote things, work with symbols and sometimes very large numbers and refer to past conversations. There are sounds, and physics rules that run through a main character’s head. All of these portions of the text had to have their own formatting, and set of rules and that formatting and those rules had to be applied consistently throughout the document. This requirement to be consistent, more than missed commas or typos, was the main challenge in my manuscript. To the extent you can, go through and identify all of these types of unique formatting before the copyeditor starts, decide how you are going to treat them and make a style guide (see below). There will be ones that you did not think of that crop up as you go, but if you have the style guide started, you can just decide on a rule and plunk it in to the style guide.

2) Develop a written style guide right from the beginning:

There are only a few absolute rules in punctuation, spelling and grammar and different copyeditors and proofreaders will have different preferences. Do you allow sentence fragments or run-on sentences? Do you use colons? Do you use the Oxford comma? Do you put a comma before the word too when it means also all the time, none of the time or just some of the time? Do you use single quotations or double quotations? Do you use single quotation or double quotations for things that are referenced or ‘air quoted’? Do you leave a space on either side of a set of ellipses or close it up to the text? Work with the first person in your line up of proofreaders to develop this style guide that outlines all of the rules around your manuscript and how you are going to treat unique elements from the beginning. Review it yourself. Make sure you are happy with it and give it to the next people in your proofreading line up. This will not solve all of your problems, but it will help a lot.

3) Expect to proof your own manuscript more times than you ever though possible or desirable:

You in the end, especially if you are self-publishing, but even if you are not, are the person who cares the most about this manuscript. You are the only person who knows exactly what you are trying to say and you are the only person who will read it more than twenty times (you will probably in the end read it at least fifty times – your proofreaders will not). Even though it is said that you cannot proofread your own work, you actually can, and you are one of the most important proofreaders of your own work. You must review and proofread it before you send it to a copyeditor, and you must review and proofread it after each round with a copyeditor or proofreader. They will miss things and make mistakes, just as you will. It is critical that you review your document with eagle eyes after each round of editing, and catch as much as you can. Reading your manuscript for the fifty-second time is an excruciating process, but it is necessary. Spend time with it. Do not rush it.

4) Reformat your manuscript and print it out to proofread it early in the process:

I like trees. I fancy myself an environmentalist. I resisted printing out my document to proofread it. The thought of wasting that much paper and ink horrified me. But there is no way around it. It has to be done. Better yet reformat it into book form (by either using columns or changing the paper size settings and changing the line spacing) and print it out. Mistakes your eyes have glossed over time and time again will be obvious. Do this after the copyedit before you submit it to the proofreader. You might need to do it a couple of times. You will save yourself a lot of headaches trying to get things fixed once it has already been formatted.

5) Expect mistakes:

You will make mistakes, and so will your copyeditor and your proofreader(s). There is no way around it. We are all human and there are so many moving parts (letters, words, punctuation marks, spaces) in your manuscript that it is impossible to catch everything. As Grammar Girl pointed out: “If I produce 1,000 words a day, and I let 1 typo slip by every week, that's actually a 99.986% success rate. If you think about it in terms of letters rather than words, since most typos happen at the level of letters, that 1 typo a week equates to about a 99.997% success rate.” That is actually pretty good when you think about it. According to Copyediting.com an association of professional copyeditors, studies have indicated that the best a human can do—even a professional proofreader—is 95% error detection. So unless you have paid someone to review your manuscript again and again, or devote themselves to it for several weeks, and let’s face it, most of us cannot afford that, expect a few errors to slip through. It is your job as the writer to do a final sweep – but also to understand that you, too, will miss things.

6) The more eyes the better: 

Everyone is better at catching different things. My copyeditor was great at commas, capitals, spelling, general style and working with me to determine my goals around the manuscript. My first proofreader caught paragraphing issues, comma and consistency issues. My second proofreader helped me with hyphenating adjectives, identifying coordinate adjectives and doing the final sweep. All of those inputs were essential. But more eyes also resulted in conflicts and challenges that I had to resolve myself and sometimes take back to the preceding person in the line-up to ask their thinking or logic. As one of the professionals who worked with me pointed out: “I am more flexible Grammar Girl and she is more Chicago.”

7) Keep a list of your own bad habits and check them first the next time around:

I way overuse the words “Well” and “So” at the beginning of dialogue. I also overuse ellipses. I capitalize things like City and Mayor that do not need to be capitalized. I underutilize contractions. I would have saved myself a lot of irritation if I had sat down and printed out my manuscript (see number 4) and identified these problems at the beginning, so they could be dealt with, rather than at the end when I have to have them deleted from an already formatted document. You won’t catch all of your bad habits, but you will catch some. Now I have a running list of things to watch for in my next novel taped to my wall.

8) There is no escape from learning the rules – or trying to:

I am decent at punctuation and grammar. I know when something looks right or wrong. I know the difference between its and it’s, there and they’re and effect and affect. But before September, I did not know what a coordinate adjective was, or how it should be punctuated, the Oxford comma (even though I had heard of it) was a bit hazy to me, and I did not understand the difference between a restrictive versus a nonrestrictive sentence-ending participial phrase (even though I had by instinct been punctuating them correctly). I was even a bit uncertain around semi-colon use. I had thought I could hire a professional to know those things for me. I was wrong. Even if you hire a professional, you still have to know enough to check their work and you will be so much better off if you know the rules yourself (especially since you won’t have to ask your professional dumb questions). I spent a lot of time looking things up. I learned a lot. I will never be Grammar Girl (although I can aspire). I will forget some things and will have to revisit them the next time. But each time I do this, I think (hope) I will get better at it and for me, since I edit and proofread for my day job, the skills will transfer to my other work, so it is a win-win.

9) Sometimes there are no clear rules:

This was a hard one for me to wrap my head around and there was some disagreement on my copyedit/proofreading team regarding this. Most of us accept that sentence fragments and the occasional deliberate run-on in fiction are okay, but not everyone agrees. What do you do when a character Googles something? Put what they Googled in single quotes, double quotes, and/or italics. What about when they read something? Should what they read be in quotes and/or italics? Should there be a colon or comma after the word read as in “She read: … ” or nothing? Do very long numbers in dialogue get spelled out or indicated in numeral form? Should you put a comma every place where you can put a comma? I spent a lot of time searching for answers to these questions and scouring other books only to find that there were no clear rules (I really wanted rules).

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That summarizes what I learned about the copyediting and proofreading process over the last two months. The other point I would make is that it cannot be rushed. While at times I was incredibly impatient (mostly with my own pace, not that of my professionals), and just wanted to be finished, the work had to be done. I can only hope that with the help of my list above, it will go faster next time. For another excellent resource on proofreading, check out this Instructional Solutions article on 17 Proofreading Techniques. It may be focused on business writing, but the rules apply to fiction as well. I would love to hear about the experiences of others in their editing/proofreading process.

Photo Credits

Marked up paper: withassociates via Compfight 

Sign: rick via Compfight

Setting up a Facebook Author Page

I've been trying to decide whether to set up a Facebook Author page for my writing. I have a website, a personal Facebook account, a LinkedIn account and a Twitter account. I also dabble in Google+, but I really haven’t figured out how to use it yet so my apologies if I have inadvertently not added you to my circles yet (or done anything else that is egregiously against Google+ etiquette).

To date, I have kept most of my writing information and updates confined to my website and Twitter account with some erratic and unskilled use of Google+ on the side. I have kept my Facebook account mostly for personal use, although I follow a lot of writing organizations and am friends with quite a few writers. I use LinkedIn for my consulting work only.

This divided approach has worked for a while and has allowed me to avoid pestering my friends and family with information about my writing efforts – because really, do they want to know? And it has prevented some of my Facebook friends (ex-boyfriends, certain family members, friends who might laugh at me) from knowing too much about how seriously I take my writing “hobby”.

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The Power of Facebook

However there are times when I think it would be valuable to use Facebook to talk about my writing and promote my books a little bit. Facebook is a platform that offers significant reach and has significant SEO (Google yourself and you will find that your Facebook account is probably in the top results). It also allows for longer updates than Twitter, but more informal ones than my website – to talk about my writing (and more importantly, unlike Google+, I get how it works).  In addition, although Jane Friedman correctly argues that a Facebook author presence does not replace your personal author website, there are some things that you can do on Facebook – such as give aways or other contests, through things such as Fan Appz and RSS Graffiti that you often cannot do on your personal website (see the article by Emlyn Chand on how to do this). This functionality might be useful. At this point in time, my website won’t even let me have more than three font sizes on a page. I could also add a “like me” button to the sidebar of my website giving people an opportunity to stay connected.

Which Facebook Approach is Best?

As a result, I have debated setting up a Facebook Author page that people can “like” that will allow me to post more about my writing and continue to avoid bugging my friends. Some of my writer friends have done this, while others use their personal Facebook account to talk about their writing. I decided to look into the pros and cons of each approach.

Using Your Personal Facebook Account

Jane Friedman at Writer Unboxed recommends using your personal Facebook account to connect with potential readers and talk about your writing. Nathan Bransford and Ann Hill agree. Friedman suggests using Facebook lists to group your friends and manage who sees what. Bransford and Hill note that you can turn on subscriptions on your personal Facebook page, thereby allowing people to follow your public posts, without you having to accept friend requests from people you do not know. You can set each post to either be public, which means it will go to everyone, or to just go to your friends. This is an option that I was not aware of. Not that there is a line up of people I don’t know waiting to friend me (yet). Hugh Howey uses this approach, as does Bransford himself.

So what are the pros and cons of using a personal Facebook account for writerly communication?

Pros

  1. Your personal Facebook account is probably already set up, and you already have friends on it – you won’t have to suffer the ignominy of having only two likes on your “fan” page, and having to beg for more, or invite your existing friends to “like” you. (As one writer noted, asking people to “like” your page isn’t his idea of an enjoyable way to relate to others… of course I spend so much time alone with my cat I am not sure if I am totally up on enjoyable ways to relate to others).
  2. As Bransford observes, you only have to maintain one profile, which for me, given my more sporadic posting record, might be the best approach. (After all they say to only post interesting things, and I’m afraid it takes me a while to think of interesting things).
  3. As Friedman observes, not using your personal Facebook page is essentially ignoring your first potential circle of fans – friends, family, colleagues, and others who probably (hopefully) want you succeed and support your work.
  4. I can potentially connect more with other writers with whom I am friends on Facebook. I enjoy reading their posts and shares on writing, so why wouldn’t they enjoy mine? (But I’m Twitter friends with most of these writers anyway so we already connect with regard to writing on Twitter – is there a value-add associated with Facebook? Most of my writer friends do both, so I conclude there must be some value-add.)

Cons

  1. My Facebook friends may not be interested in writing at all – or if they are, may not be interested in me as a writer.
  2. Many of my Facebook friends might think it is strange if I post about writing.
  3. If I use the subscription approach suggested by Bransford, then I will have a big Follow button on my personal page, which might look a bit obnoxious to my friends.
  4. I may have to become more interesting, which for me appears to be a lifelong endeavor. This means I may have to stop posting so many photos of my cat.
  5. Apparently - and this is a biggie - using Facebook to promote or "sell" your books is against the Facebook Terms of Service. I'm not sure where the line between legitimately "talking" about your writing and books with Facebook friends and "selling" your writing and books is. A lot of writers do use their personal Facebook pages for their writing, but beware of tripping over the line into selling.

Creating a Facebook Author Page

Hill argues that a Facebook Author page is the best approach for veteran writers with multitudes of fans and many books, who want to keep their personal life and writing life completely separate. That doesn’t exactly apply to me, but there are still some pros associated with a Facebook Author page that should be considered.

Pros

  1. I don’t have to worry about pissing off/boring my friends (any more than I already may do in person) by spamming them about my books and/or writing.
  2. I could set my cover photo to include my book covers or some personal branding splash and update my personal information to reflect my writing information.
  3. I would have access to analytics with an Author page that I would not with my personal profile.
  4. A Like button seems a bit more benign than a Follow button.
  5. People who want to check out your Facebook Author page do not have to be Facebook users to do so, and there is not the commitment of following. 
  6. You can have more than 5,000 fans, whereas on your personal account you can only have 5,000 friends. However the subscriptions approach on your personal account gets around this as you can have unlimited followers.

Cons

  1. Although I am trying to be more consistent with my blog posts, I don’t have a clear schedule for using Twitter and I am not a big poster on my personal Facebook account. So if I did not update my Facebook Author page regularly, that may reflect badly on me. This is a con for both approaches though. See number four above.
  2. The dreaded lack of likes. Melissa Foster has 12,659. Many of my writer friends have a respectable over 100 likes. What if I only end up with four?
  3. Hill observes that Facebook has changed its algorithms such that Author Pages, or Fan Pages more generally are showing up in the news feeds of only a small fraction of the people who "Liked" their page, unless they pay to "Promote" their posts to ensure that they showed up in more followers' news feeds. 

Once you have made a decision which way to go, there are many posts with regard to how to set up a Facebook Author page, or manage subscriptions and lists on your personal Facebook account. There are also many posts with tips on how to use your Facebook account or page for your writing information. Friedman of course reminds us not to misuse it as a marketing bullhorn. Probably good advice. Bransford also notes that you can set up a Facebook page for your book, so that when and if people search out the title they can easily find it. Then you have to maintain two, and perhaps three, Facebook pages though and that seems (for me anyway) onerous.

That is all I could find on the pros and cons of a personal Facebook account versus a Facebook Author page. I would love to hear any additional thoughts. I am still undecided, although now I’m leaning towards using my personal Facebook account, or nothing at all (I’m still working on becoming more of an extravert, and besides I’m sure my cat understands me).

Photo Credit: mkhmarketing http://mkhmarketing.wordpress.com/

 

 

Why do we Stigmatize Self-Publishing?

Why do we Stigmatize Self-Publishing?

Why do we stigmatize writers who self-publish? Other kinds of artists  – painters, musicians and filmmakers – are respected for their efforts to sell their work on their own. Artists sell paintings out of their house and in local galleries. Musicians put out indie records and tour around local clubs and restaurants to promote their work. They have  local followings and fans. We do not refuse to go see a band because a big label has not signed it. We recognize and respect it either as an up-and-coming band learning their art and building a fan base, or a band with decent talent that we like to listen to that might never make it big. Indie filmmakers are totally respected by both those in the film industry and the public for having the guts, talent and perseverance to put their work out there.

Why then can writers not do the same? What about writing requires curation and gatekeeping in a way that other art does not?

There is a lot of terrible self-published work out there, but surely there are terrible paintings, garage bands and indie films. Yet we still respect these other artists for putting their work out there for the public to decide on what it likes. Even if they fail, we have the attitude that at least they tried and followed their dreams. It is okay for a band to make a living doing small gigs and weddings.

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Self-published writers, however, are often rejected by the traditionally published world and the public unless they make it big. There is limited respect for selling a decent number of self-published  novels or appealing to a small fan base. Self-publish and your neighbours and friends (especially your writing friends) will whisper “she self-published” as if you were caught sending photos of your  privates to everyone in town. We in general refuse to treat writers like we treat other creators. This is changing of course, and many self-published writers indicate they have had a very positive reception and experience.

I think the stigma associated with self-publishing is wrong. Let’s look at some of the reasons why it should go away altogether.

1)   Many famous writers in history self-published. According to Melissa Donovan of Writing Forward, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Jane Austen, William Blake, Benjamin Franklin, Edgar Allan Poe, Gertrude Stein, Mark Twain, and L. Frank Baum all self-published before they were traditionally published. 

2)   Many great books were rejected multiple times. Books like Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Animal Farm and Lolita were all rejected over and over. While the authors of these three books persisted and eventually received publication, their repeated rejection indicates traditional publishers cannot always identify what will  resonate with the public. We expect writers to persist through rejections that would bring people in other professions to their knees. What if these writers had not persisted? How many great novels sit in  drawers because their authors did not send it out one more time to just that right publisher or agent who could see the merit in their work. The Help by Kathryn Stockett was rejected over 60 times. I went to a conference once and a writer who was an invited speaker indicated his first effort had been rejected 127 times. 127!!

3)   Many writers like the control and the financial returns  associated with self-publishing and do not want to be traditionally  published. The traditional view is that self-published writers are  those who have been rejected by every publisher under the sun because  their work basically sucks. However some writers now, such as Hugh  Howey, never considered a traditional publisher, while others, such as Polly Courtney, returned to self-publishing after being signed by a traditional publisher. There are many such examples of writers who like the control of self-publishing. When you self-publish, you get to select  your editor, choose your cover design and decide how you want to market  your book. When you traditionally publish, you do not. Self-published writers also receive a much higher share of the sale of their books – up to 70% of the cover price, compared to the 10% commonly associated with traditional publishing. It is simply no longer true to say that self-publishers are those who could not make it in the traditional publishing world.

4)   Some self-published books are good and sell well. The idea that all self-published work is crap is simply incorrect and self-published novels are selling. In 2012, according to CNN, Amazon indicated that 27 of the top 100 Kindle ebooks were self-published. Self-published books are regularly making the New York Times bestseller list and the number of self-published writers who have made it big is continuing to grow with names like Hugh Howey, John Locke  and Colleen Hoover. There are also many self-published writers who are not famous but who are making a living. Detractors will point out that  most self-published writers sell fewer than 100 books, but there is also  a high percentage of failures in traditional publishing, so it is not clear why this failure-to-sell stigma should attach itself to self-publishing.

5)   Traditional publishing can lead to a stigma too. Being selected by a traditional publisher is not the windfall that many  believe it is. It works out wonderfully for some writers, but they give up control over how their book is marketed and where it is  sold. Traditional publishers generally focus much of their effort on their best-sellers and established writers. New writers whose books do not sell well during the first six weeks can find their books pulled by booksellers and their chances of future publication diminished, which leads to a stigma of its own. The publishing world is simply not kind to writers who have only fair to middling success, or who have limited  success on their first time out. Stories abound of writers whose books were just not given a chance on the shelves and find their books wallowing in the warehouse while they struggle to find a publisher for  their second novel. Sometimes (often?) it takes more than six weeks for a   book to get noticed and become a success, or more than one book for a writer to become a success. In many other careers, we allow people to  grow and develop in their profession. For some reason, in writing, we often do not provide that opportunity.

6)   The whole stigma just does not make sense. Going back to the story about the man whose book was rejected 127 times. We laud a writer whose work was not good enough for 127 publishers or agents and invite him to a conference as a success story (and receive no actual  information regarding the number of books he has sold – just that he  ultimately was ‘approved’ by the industry), but we snub a writer whose  self-published work sells reasonably well. We admire indie films and bands and allow them to distribute their work through a variety of  traditional channels such as radio stations and movie theatres, but we mock self-publishing (calling it vanity publishing) and many bookstores still refuse to put self-published books on their shelves.

If you read any articles on the stigma of self-publishing (and there are lots), check the comment sections at the bottom. The level of  disagreement over self-publishing is significant, with some commenters staunchly defending the traditional publishing industry, decrying the  crap that is self-published and emphasizing the need for curation in  books, while others point out that they are making a decent living as a self-published writer and noting that perhaps it should be up to the  public to curate. I am still not clear why the debate rages in  self-published writing more than in other areas of art. Are there more self-published authors than there are garage bands, artisans and indie film-makers and, in particular, are there more bad self-published  authors? Maybe, but that still does not mean that they should be mocked so derisively. Those who are not good enough or don’t have some sort of appeal will simply fail to find an audience and will likely eventually channel their efforts into some other pursuit. Those who are good enough and find an audience, even if it is a small audience, deserve the  same respect that other artists receive.

I am not suggesting that the traditional publishing world sucks  (indeed, it routinely selects and publishes a multitude of brilliant books), or that writers should not consider the many potential benefits associated with traditional publishing. I just do not understand why traditional publishing and self-publishing cannot co-exist and why there has to be such a stigma associated with self-publishing. It is hard enough for writers of all types (traditional or self-published) to be successful and build a career that none of us (especially those of us who are writers) should look down our noses at those who try their hand at getting their work out there through other means – whether they succeed or fail.

Photo Credit: marymactavish         via Compfight http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/      

 

 

Writing Shit

Writing Shit

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I’ve been meaning to rewrite this post for some time. It was one of my first posts as a blogger and thus I had not yet settled on how I was going to approach blogging or how much time I was going to put into each post. Nevertheless, this has probably remained one of the most popular posts on my blog, and thus I decided it was time to rewrite it, because it was at best half-assed. At worst, it might have been sh*t.

1) Sometimes you will think your writing is fantastic. Sometimes you will think it is shit. Both will probably be correct.

Writer Hari Kunzu, in The Guardian Writing for a living: a joy or a chore? probably captures this best in the following quote about the writing process, and in particular of writing novels:

"Along the way, there are the pitfalls of self-disgust, boredom, disorientation and a lingering sense of inadequacy, occasionally alternating with episodes of hysterical self-congratulation as you fleetingly believe you've nailed that particular sentence and are surely destined to join the ranks of the immortals, only to be confronted the next morning with an appalling farrago of clichés that no sane human could read without vomiting."

We have all had the experience of reading our own writing and being blown away by how great it is. We have probably also all had the experience of cringing in despair at how appalling it is. Sometimes we experience both emotions regarding the same section of writing depending on our general state of mind when we read it. Writing well is insanely hard. There is a fine balance between looking at your work critically and improving what needs to be improved, and brow-beating yourself into believing that it is shit and you will never write well. Most writers probably do both. But serious writers know anything can be improved. It just depends how long you can keep at it. As Stephen King observed in On Writing:

"Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and sometimes  you’re doing good work when it feels like all you’re managing is to  shovel shit from a sitting position."

2) You have to be prepared to write shitty first drafts.

Most writers will know this comes from Annie Lamott's Bird by Bird and most writers will be thoroughly acquainted with writing shitty first drafts. Shitty first drafts are critical to the writing process and you will never be a writer if you do not get words down on the page. The key is to know that it is a shitty first draft and not to stop there. Shitty first drafts must be revised, again, again and again.

The tricky part comes sometime between the fifth and the tenth draft when you are no longer able to discern whether you are improving your manuscript or ripping apart that which gave it soul or movement. That’s when the writing process gets shitty (but that’s another post).

3) There are few accepted external criteria with regard to whether your writing is shit or not.

Okay, yes if you have sold a million books, fans love your writing, the reviewers fawn over you, you have won a Pulitzer and you make $5 million a year, your writing is probably not shit. But very few writers have achieved all of those things. Best-selling authors get panned by reviewers. Prize-winning authors fail to sell copies. Different readers have different tastes and very little writing will be universally loved. Thus while external feedback is important in determining whether your writing is shit or not, it is not the only metric you should use. If you have met even one of the above criterion, you should probably be happy. Even if you haven’t, your writing might not be shit. There is just so much writing out there that some good writers will fail to get noticed. Definitely do not use your ability to generate income from your writing as a criterion for determining whether your writing is shit or not.

4) Your writing might be shit.

This may be the hardest thing to accept as a writer. Some of us will simply not be good enough, or as good as the truly gifted writers out there and no amount of revision will make our writing not shit. Not everyone will be a good musician, artist, or doctor. For every human endeavor, there are people who fail. Just take a quick sift through some self-published novels, and even some traditionally published ones if you want to unearth much shit (you will also find many great novels).

There is a somewhat pervasive myth that you can do you want as long as you work hard enough at it. This is simply not true, and at some point it may be desirable to accept that your writing may be shit. That does not mean you cannot continue to write. I am a shitty ballet dancer, but I love it, and I get a lot out of trying to improve just a little bit each year. But it is also important to be realistic. I will never make a living dancing ballet and it is quite possible, you or I, will never make a living writing. But sometimes it’s also important to have a big slug of your gin and tonic and see number one, two and three above.

Photo Credit: andreasf 

One writer I know tells me that he sits down every morning and says to himself nicely, "It's not like you don't have a choice, because you do - you can either type or kill yourself." ~ Anne Lamott, 1995