Writer’s Block

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It is not often that I deal with writer’s block. My problem is frequently the opposite. I want to write this story and that story and this other thing. My reach and my grasp are not friends. I kinda doubt they’re acquainted.

Now, this is different from having good ideas, but I’ve begun to realize that many a passage in a book is merely, “good,” and then there are the funny parts, the highlights. It sounds terrible, but everything is like that. Movies, jokes, there’s a rhythm, a building of energy and then a release. You can’t have a movie that is nothing but explosions for an hour and a half. My husband got tired of the ten minutes of explosions at the end of Superman. And there’s a man with serious action movie endurance.

The truth is, writers slog. They trudge through the non-clever bits, and while they may not seem clever while writing, they are the building blocks that move your material forward in an inexorable wave, to action after action, until the inevitable conclusion. It’s not glamorous. It’s not particularly fun, half the time. But when you build towards those beautiful, dramatic moments, it makes the slog all worth while. And heck, even Neil Gaiman says he can’t remember which bits were hard once the book is published.

However, now that I’ve taken up the blogging mantel, I’m finding myself experiencing the dreaded problem of writer’s block. I don’t have any defenses for it, or ways around it. I’ve written 3 pieces in the last few days (okay, so not really writer’s block) but they all suck. I’ve never felt so badly towards my blogging pieces in my life. It might as well be writer’s block, because I can’t seem to compose thoughts that are worthy of the page.

I guess the best way around writer’s block is through it. No one wants to write a piece that will never see the light of day, but think of it this way – you have to leave something for your heirs to publish after your death, which is when all of your work will achieve its height of fame.

Not to mention,the act of writing generates ideas! For every two lines you delete, there could be one line that is worth keeping. It’s frustrating but as humans, we are all vulnerable to thinking that everything we do should be perfect the first time. It’s simply not feasible, but time after time I find people who get frustrated because they didn’t write a concerto the first time they took a music class. As though that much understanding could be crammed into two hours! The more I practice, the more I learn that the crumpled paper in the wastebasket wasn’t a waste; it was just practice, to make my next writing more better better prose.

My other cure for writer’s block tends to be a glass of red wine. I’m not a better writer after that, I’m simply a more prolific one. Although it does help cure the knee jerk editing reactions I have acquired.

So, stay loose, don’t panic, and write more, not less.

The Farmer’s Internet

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Last Thursday I called home to talk to Mom, and her sister, my Aunt Theresa was there visiting. I don’t know how to paint an appropriate picture of Aunt Theresa. She was that mythical creature that all the cousins my age talked about in whispers, hoping that she would bestow her time and attention on. She was the crazy aunt. The fun aunt. The aunt both my sister and I want to be for each other’s children. She’s an amazing woman, full of contradictions and possessing no fear.

(My mom kicks ass too, but she is my Mom and therefore, not mythical.)

Anyway, I got to have a talk with the two of them, which was awesome, but I noticed something in the way they talked that I hadn’t noticed before. When I mentioned a place, Aunt Theresa brightened and told me that a (cousin I don’t know) was currently there, and then proceeded to list her accomplishments. Then, they were telling a story about another girl, and they worked together to remember her name, and who her children were, taking time out of the story to confer with one another. Then they talked about Uncle Ed and his cancer treatments. They weren’t just telling me the news, they were composing pieces of our oral history.

There was something stylized when they spoke, detailing these events. Something different than when we were talking about Aunt Theresa’s son Von, or where she would be for the weekend. These women were trained to know who each of their family members ere, even extended family. Their memories were primed for it. I remember being at family reunions and getting the same training. “That’s Jennifer, she’s Connie and Jack’s daughter, Connie’s from the Dobrenz family, they live over there..”

These days, we have social media to tell us people’s connections. It’s not something we socially need to dedicate to our memories. And one thing I’ve noticed about things we don’t need to dedicate to our memory. We don’t. We simply don’t have time to remember the name of our third cousin, even if your dad and his second cousin were really close.

The impact of the Internet on society is incalculable. I have a friend who lives in Snohomish and a friend that lives near Tucson, and in my head they’re the same distance away, because I talk to them every day. They’re just down the street, right?

I wonder what will happen when the Internet turns us all into little islands of data. I don’t see anyone wanting to go back to the pre-Internet world, where finding information was not just a “pick up the smartphone” action. I remember running a game in 1997, where I gave a character unlimited access to the Internet (as it was in that time.)  Then, because she abused the power and unbalanced the game, I cut her off. Her next action was to go insane.

I think we’d find a way to cope. After all, the Farmer’s Internet evolved as a way to keep track of each other as families. I just wonder if we’ll manage to develop Internet Empathy, and start caring about the other islands of data around us.

 

It’s pronounced, “Frank-en-shteen”

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A few months ago, I had a falling out with a friend. It was a long time in coming, but it was inevitable. Our opinions on the world were simply too disparate to ignore. Now, this friend of mine, he’d done me some very good turns in the past. We were roommates, at a time where I had thought I would have to pack it up and move back to Wyoming. Later, he offered to publish my work, The Corsican.

I owe Early a lot for his selflessness. I was content to leave my book moldering on my hard drive, and he made me pull it out, dust it off, and put it out there for the world to see.

We learned a lot together, mostly about formatting a book after it’s been written. Eventually we pushed it out, and it was successful for a time. It’s a first work, no one knew me, and quite frankly, I priced it too high for a first work. I thought I was being reasonable at the time, but I also didn’t know as much about the publishing world as I do now.

Foresight and a good friend’s advice made certain that I got a contract with my publisher, one that explicitly gave my book rights back to me after a year. In that year, I found that every time Early said something on my Facebook, it started a fight, and I was left dreading his next bout of opinion-sharing. There were other factors too, most of them involving disrespect to my friends. Finally, I had to part ways, lest I be forever tarred with his brush.

After we parted ways, I’ll admit, I didn’t want to deal with my book. Too much was wrapped up in it, for me, and I wanted to just let it go. However, I’d learned so much from the experience, and it seemed a shame not to put my knowledge to good use.

First, I redesigned the cover slightly. I didn’t like the chosen color or font of the title and author slots, so I went in and added a font that better suited a science fiction book. Next, I went in and reformatted my book so I could upload it to Amazon.

And reformatted.

And reformatted.

For days and nights, reformatted.

I now know how Dr. Frankenstein must have felt, working in his lab. Making minute corrections in his creature to see if somehow this particular setting would bring it to life. Trying, failing, trying, failing, until each step forward feels like Sisyphus pushing his rock up the hill. Each time, getting a little further, a fingernails width, just enough to give you enough hope to rise again when the boulder crushes you and rolls back to the beginning point.

I’m not a patient person, but I am a determined person. Turns out you can substitute one for the other. The results, however, are not pretty.

They’re not pretty, but they are effective. I have just released The Corsican to Amazon under my own steam, for a much better price point, with an improved cover.

I hope that it takes off, like the Frankenstein’s Monster that terrorizes the unsuspecting villagers. Regardless, I want to announce that my work is now online, at Amazon. It’s my first book, so I’m very proud of it. I can’t wait to push Bento Box on the shelf next to it. 

Author Spotlight Jeffrey Cook

sobriquetsorbet:

A good friend of mine is all published up!

Originally posted on Nikki McDonagh - author and photographer:

Introducing debut author Jeffrey Cook and his unorthodox Steampunk novel – Dawn of Steam: First Light.

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Why unorthodox? I hear you say.

Because it isn’t your usual Victorian, bodice ripping Steampunk romantic adventure. No – this is a gritty and action packed adventure. Full of historical details fact and fiction; it is entertaining, informative and funny.

Blurb:

In 1815, in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, two of England’s wealthiest lords place a high-stakes wager on whether a popular set of books, which claim that the author has traveled to many unknown corners of the globe, are truth or, more likely, wild fiction.

First Light is an epistolary novel, told primarily through the eyes of former aide-de-camp Gregory Conan Watts, describing the journeys of the airship Dame Fortuna and its crew through journals and letters to his beloved fiancée. 

The first recruit is, necessarily, the airship’s owner: war hero…

View original 2,741 more words

Loose Ends

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After having had a project to work on for the last year, I have found myself somewhat at loose ends these days. Especially towards the end of my book, I was writing in a frenzy of excitement. My beta readers now have my story in their capable hands, and I have to wait for some feedback.

One does not simply hand a novel to a person and expect a two to three day turnaround time. People have lives, and even with the best of intentions, if a person is going to give your novel actual thought and reasonable feedback, they aren’t getting back to you in a week. Of course, that makes this a really hard stage of the game. I hate waiting, I’m bad at it, and this is definitely teaching me patience.

The reason I think I’m at loose ends is because my main project is finished for now, and so I’m not coming home and writing up a storm.

There are benefits to not writing like crazy. First, I get to spend more time with Luke and Toby. Family time is important, and they are patient with me while I’m writing. They deserve the extra time as much as I do. I’ve been able to experiment more with my other interests. I’ve been trying new recipes. I’ve been visiting with girlfriends. I’ve been reading all those articles I always thought I’d get to.

You would think this luxury of time would be met with unbridled enthusiasm. This is where you would be wrong. I am driving myself into a froth for want of things to do. I am thinking about new projects already, trying to find one that is small enough to work on while waiting on my next round of Bento.

My only consolation is that lots of my friends are this way, they just happen to be that way about cooking, or knitting, or volunteering, or video games. Everyone has their passion.

It’s just another part of the process. Or so I tell myself.

 

 

80/20

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It has been said that in any project, eighty percent of the work will take twenty percent of the time, and twenty percent of the work will take eighty percent of the time. I haven’t been keeping clock hours, possibly because there’s no one to bill for them, possibly because I don’t want to think about how long I’ve been pouring into my project. I will say this though.. to write a book is a project, but to publish a book is another project all together.

I have finished my rough draft! Which, of course, is misleading. I have stopped typing raw material, I guess is the best way to put it. I’ve amassed a group of willing beta readers who will read the work, and hopefully not burn it completely to the ground.

Which is pretty self-deprecating. I’m proud of this work. I’ve written two books before that I have felt moderately so-so about. It’s lovely to have a story that I feel good about. It’s a rough draft, so it still has a way to go, but that’s okay too. Developing a story is part of the fun. It would be lovely to have every word I type turn into gold, but rarely is anyone talented enough to just roll out of bed and start writing prize-winners.

It’s a bitch to write a novel. A novel is like an iceberg. For the ten percent that a reader sees, there is a vast, ninety percent that a reader doesn’t. It’s hours of toil, spent over days, weeks, months, depending on the kind of time the writer can dedicate to the story.

However, I’m finding that the other side of the novel is the tough part. I have sent out my rough draft to beta readers. While I do have people who enthusiastically supporting my effort to become a published author, these people also just happen to have lives. They have time to read, but they also have work to do, errands to run, and free time to enjoy. It’s not that my beta readers aren’t awesome. It’s just that they are busy people, like I am. I can’t finish a novel in one sitting. I don’t expect them to, either.

Then, there is the other work involved. I have had a bizarre first experience with publishing. Basically, a friend of mine wanted to learn how to publish to take the pressure off of his writing friends to do it. It wasn’t self-publishing, because I didn’t publish my book, but it’s glorified self-publishing, because we went through KDP and CreateSpace and all the self-publishing tools. I learned a lot that way, and it’s doubtful I would have gotten this far without a friend to take me by the hand, but the one way I did not go was a traditional publishing house.

I hear some of you, booing and hissing. I predate the Internet. I still respect publishing houses. I want an advance. I want someone to do my distributing. Take your pick of reasons, it’s worth it to me to at least shop my book around before I break down and run back to Amazon’s program.

Of course, this runs directly into the realm that all artists of any strip dread… the business portion. Putting together a list of arguments as to why my book rocks socks sort of goes against my personal grain.. but fortune favors the bold, and if you don’t put yourself out there to be noticed, it’s a guarantee that no one will notice you. Speaking as someone who waited their whole life to be called by a publisher to get published.. it’s better in your head. I thought I was safe, I thought that I was going to be fine because a really good friend wanted to forward my career. He did a great job, but between his inexpertise and mine, we ended up doing everything wrong. So, even if you do get the situation exactly the way you dream it to be, it’s not going to turn out the way you think it will.

Hence, why I’m working so hard this time.

So, here’s to the final twenty percent of the project, which will now take eighty percent of my time and energy. Hopefully all this work will pay off. As long as I learn something about the process, then it won’t have been a waste of time. And with luck, all my hard work will pay off.

How Do You Eat an Elephant?

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I started writing Bento Box in July 2013, depending on your perspective. In April of 2013 I wrote a catchy short story that raised all kinds of fun questions, which I then decided to explore. I also decided I was going to experiment with plotter techniques; prewriting, outlines, figuring out the end before launching into the beginning. It wasn’t just a challenge, it was several challenges at once. I was so nervous about doing it right, that I paid my editor fifty bucks to edit my outline and see what she could add to it.

I don’t know if I could have said it clearly then, but now I see I was exhausted from the endless rewrites of my second story, Best Served Cold. For whatever reason, that story was simply not coming together coherently, and I had to put the concept to bed, if only to get a break from it.

I did end up ignoring my editor’s suggestions, mostly because it was obvious that she wasn’t a fan of the science fiction genre. I think she’s a fantastic person and she taught me a lot over the time we worked together with Best Served Cold. That aside, I haven’t found the genre that I’m going to settle down with yet, I’m still in the process of experimenting. And now I’ve learned, it’s important to get an editor who loves your genre as much as you do.

Two weeks ago I made it to a major milestone – the climax of the story. And let me tell you how surprised and excited I was that it went exactly as I’d outlined. Before you get too excited, that’s probably the only portion of the outline that survived contact with what actually got written, but working so hard and seeing all that work, 75 thousand words, culminate into the section I wanted it to be was very rewarding.

Previous success does not guarantee future success, however. The climax is not where you end the story. It’s where the crescendo happens, but not the denouement. So in I went again, realizing that while I had so very carefully decided where the story was going to climax, that I had no idea where it was actually going to end.

So I wrote stuff.

It was the last thing I wrote last night, so after I folded in for sleep, I didn’t think anything of it.

Consciously.

In the morning, I woke up to what I was convinced was an ending that sucked. It had all the tells of me being tired with a thing – flippant, sloppy, more like a sulk quit than a rage quit.

However, it was there. I could read it. I could see my hallmarks of badness. I could sift out the things that were good, lift them free, rinse them off, and start fresh with them. Before, “The End” was just a nebulous tag that I slapped on to the butt of the Heroes Win! Now, I had something to work with, even if it was to destroy it utterly and start again. I saw what didn’t work, and I could now avoid those pitfalls and use the pieces of my destroyed work to build up.

Which is of course, not what I want to be doing. I don’t want to be grown up about it. I want to fall on my couch face first like my six-year-old did when I told him his homework was only going to get harder as he got older. There’s nothing easy about writing a goddamn book. Anyone who writes to make it sound like it is easy to write a book is selling you something and wants your money. It is tough as hell to write a whole books worth of interesting characters, situations, and ideas. A novel is a lot like an iceberg. You see about 10% of what the writer’s written to make the story happen.

And only about 10% of their insanity, as well.