I have a bad habit. Well, they tell me it’s bad. I have a tendency to slip between genres, sometimes within the same story. My stories can be spec fic chick lit, or horror-fantasy. What’s worse is that some of my stories stray completely away from spec fic genre altogether and are just plain stories.
The belief out there in writer-world is that writers, particularly new writers, are not meant to do this.
Oddly this ‘rule’ does not seem to apply as much to other artistic pursuits. It is acceptable for a movie maker like James Cameron to come up with a movie about killer robots (Terminator), followed by movie about killer aliens (Aliens) then a love story on a sinking ship (Titanic) and a spy thriller comedy (True Lies). William Goldman writes a western (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) and then creates a comedy-fantasy (The Princess Bride) and no-one bats an eyelid.
Even the heaviest of the heavy metal bands have at least one ballad on their album. So why is it writers of books or short stories are told to stay within the box of their first successful publication?
Fortunately the cross-genre novel is starting to get a customer base of its own thanks to novels like ‘The Time Traveler’s Wife’ (literary science fiction romance) and many of Margaret Atwood‘s books (literary science fiction). However there is still the problem about which shelf to find them on in the book shop or library.
I don’t know what the answer is, but there are a couple of sessions at Aussie Con 4 (which starts this Thursday) that will be addressing this topic, along with about a million other topics. If you haven’t got your tickets or booked your time off work yet, do so now. Aussie Con 4 is the 68th WORLD science fiction convention and it will be a great place for any writer –spec fic, new or otherwise.
So if you see me at one of the sessions, be sure to come and say hello! And let me know what your opinion is of writers who slip through the genres!
A girl gets up, goes to work and 8 hours later comes home. She gets up the next day, goes to work, comes home again. Not a very intriguing story is it? If I was writing that she would do something interesting, like resign with no job to go to.
Guess what I did? I spiced up my story and handed in my resignation.
I have no idea where I’ll be 12 months time, but I do know that by Christmas I should have a big chunk (if not all) of my completed novel edited, and all those short stories that are begging to be finished will have their wishes granted. I have taken a vow of poverty to breathe life into my characters, and I cannot express how exciting that is!
The wonderful thing about wanting to be a writer is that you are the only person on earth who can make it happen. If you want to be a writer, you write. It also means that no one else can stand in the way of your dream, if you want to be a writer, you write!
Of course, as soon as you start adding on the qualifiers, then you will depend on others a bit more; I want to be a published writer, a best-selling writer, an economically viable writer. But for me, those can wait. Right now I want to be a writer, so that’s what I’m going to be.
So, a girl gets up, writes a book, book gets sent out, publishers read book. Of course I’m a spec fic writer, so the girl would probably then get eaten by a giant spider or start dating an alien or something, but at least she’s doing something different!
The story can go anywhere from here…
I wanted to write this entry when I was not actually suffering from the writing blues, because I didn’t want to be a miserable sad-sack, as there is too much of that sort of thing on the net already. So today I’m feeling sufficiently neutral to give it a go.
The writing blues can sneak up on you, usually when a chapter or story is not working, and you know it’s not working, but you have no idea about how to fix it. Or you can get a gut-punch of sudden depression, usually brought on by a spate of rejections (or just one really nasty one) and you feel like you have made a giant mistake pursuing this whole writing thing.
The only advice I can give you for when a case of the woe-is-me-I-can’t-write-to-save-myself hits is that it is completely normal. Not only do we ALL go through it, but we all claw our way out of it at the end, and sometimes it takes a lot of work to do so. The key is to not let your blues stop you from writing! That won’t help anyone and is more likely to make you feel worse, not better.
Humans love a bit of drama, and this is a very survivable one, so allow yourself to wallow a little –just for the masochistic pleasure of it. But set a time limit, preferably less than fifteen minutes, and once you reach it put the worries out of your head and sit down and start writing. That is what makes you a writer.
There is no better cure for the self-doubt than the salve of words on a page. I know what you are thinking; this is all very easy to say when I’m not in the cold grip of the writing blues, but the truth is that several previous posts have been written at exactly such times, and by the end of them, I’m ready to move on and get back to work. So don’t let the blues get you down, fight them with words instead.
In my house we have no dishwasher, or conversely you could say we have two dishwashers, and we both pay rent. When we have used up every cup and plate in the house and can go no longer without washing, it is the cutlery that is the most heartbreakingly tedious part of the task.
Self-editing is the cutlery of writing.
Many writers hate to edit their work, especially longer pieces of writing, and a lot of new writers are tempted to skip it altogether. That is a great decision to make if you are a) a genius, or b) trying to increase your collection of rejection letters. For the rest of us it is not a good tactic.
Aside from the typos and homonyms that you will leave behind, there will be superfluous words, repeated words, tense changes, point of view slips or even character name cock-ups (yes guilty, I had Brent and Brant in a story and they were actually the same person). The only way to find all these problems is to edit your work, edit it again, put it down, let it rest, mature, ferment and then… edit again.
Many writers set time limits on how long they need to wait after finishing a piece before they can send it out to ensure they have distanced themselves enough to give it a proper edit. Others actually set numbers of edits required (7 I’ve read for a lot of novel writers). When starting out you don’t need to be that regimented, but more than one edit is a must, and at least 24 hours of sitting time is also mandatory! But more on both accounts will only improve your final product.
Don’t sell yourself short, it takes a lot to finish a story, so don’t undermine all that hard work by putting it out there before it is ready. You can burn the perfect market or worse, you can have your substandard work published! It is much better to have a clean manuscript that is ready to send out a few weeks later, than a flawed one that is ready to go now!
Happy editing (and give thanks for your dishwasher),
I’ve mentioned before that I believe you should read lots to become a better writer. In fact I’d probably say it was one of my golden rules of writing, but what I have failed to say is that writers should read widely and outside of their comfort zones. So if you are a science fiction writer, read a romance, read a classic, read a thriller or read a book on financial intelligence.
I generally try to alternate between fiction and non-fiction, as well as sampling a good mix of biographies. Books that have been highly recommended or books that have been on the best seller list will also make it onto my reading list, no matter how uninteresting I find the topic. Those books you read to understand what it is about them that won them such a special place in their reader’s heart.
Many writers say they don’t read because they don’t want to influence their writing style or inadvertently steal ideas. The thing is, reading other people’s writing has so much it can teach you. Fictional works can show you styles and techniques that you might not have considered, non-fictional work gives you plenty of material for story ideas, and biographies help to give you ideas for realistic, complicated and well developed characters.
So I’ve thrown a few links to non-fiction books below. These are non-fiction books I’ve really enjoyed and learned a lot from, but the list is endless and your local library will allow you to freely sample books to which you might be otherwise disinclined to commit.
Rick Smith & Bruce Lourie – Slow death by rubber duck
Simon Nasht – Huber Wilkins the last explorer
William Goldman – Which lie did I tell? More adventures in the screen trade
Stephen King – On Writing
So remember; read widely, read recklessly and read openly.
The truth is, as a first time writer you are more likely to make money out of non-fiction writing than fiction. And if you write genre fiction (horror, sci fi, thriller, crime etc) then your chance of either getting picked up or making money drops even further.
Many fiction writers don’t consider non-fiction as an option for an alternative income stream. They would much rather slog away in an hermetically sealed glass building dodging office politics all day. Also the propensity to downgrade the value of anything you know a lot about, just because you know about it, means you might be cheating yourself out of a great second income.
If you pick up your local writer’s market guide you will see that there are significantly more non-fiction publishers than fiction. Their print runs and advances might be smaller, but they take on more books than some of the small fiction presses, and highly target their markets, meaning that when they print your book it will be more likely to sell.
I know you are thinking; but who wants to read a book on ‘making up excuses for getting to work late’ –if you have found a need to get good at something, there is a big chance that there will be others who also want that skill. I would recommend steering away from ‘serious’ topics (self-help, medical etc) as these require you to have recognised qualifications (obviously if you have the qualifications then go for it).
The other thing to consider is that non-fiction books are the big sellers in the self-publishing arena. Self-published books that have put their authors on the best-seller list include ‘Rich Dad, Poor Dad’, ‘What Color is Your Parachute’ and ‘4 Ingredients’ –all non-fiction!
And what better way is there to meet publishers than by getting published? Just remember, you need to enjoy what you write if you want to write well, so choose wisely.
I talked of clusters of fortune a while back, and just to underscore the veracity of that statement I just want to share with you that I have another story accepted! (Yay) So in a little over a month I have had three pieces accepted.
I would love to be able to say that it is due to some cunning new marketing solution that I’m applying, but the truth is it is just a good turn of luck. We all have them, they turn in different directions and this month it turned the right way for me. Now if I can just push it a bit longer and get one of my novels picked up…
To share my latest coup, check out the Terminal Earth Anthology. This is a US anthology about the end of the world, and I’m pretty excited to read what others are writing on the topic. Just in case you don’t know, I have a soft spot for the December 2012 end of the world theory (I know, doesn’t everyone?!), and despite the ticking clock on how soon I can get all these 2012 stories published, I keep writing them!
Beyond Black is the first 2012 story to be picked up, but I hope it will not be the last. I have at least one piece of flash fiction (under 1,000 words) and a novel that need to find a home before December 2012. The novel is fast becoming a candidate for my first web self-publication.
But putting the end of the world aside for a moment, it is important to remember that the best way to become a published writer is to keep sending your work out! It won’t get published if no one ever sees it. I guess I should also mention that actually finishing stories is pretty vital to getting published as well, but that is a topic for another post 🙂
A while back I talked of rejection, inspired by a short story I particularly liked being turned down yet again. The funny thing is the first time I sent it out to the potential publisher they held onto it for ages and then ‘regretfully rejected’ it. The next two rejections were outright, if they could have e-spat on it they would have.
Last month the story got accepted. But not only did it get accepted, the editors claimed to have ‘loved’ the piece (cool). How funny that with no difference in the manuscript one publisher can see nothing but faults, and another ‘gets’ the story and likes it. This is a classic example of what I’ve been rabbiting on about for so long now; you have to keep plugging away until you find the right reader. If you like your story someone else will as well.
Now I wouldn’t be a real writer if I didn’t admit to being superstitious, so I’ll tell you neither the short story title nor the publisher name until I get the contract 🙂 But suffice it to say that when you do get the yes, it doesn’t make the pain of all the “no’s” go away, but it does remind you why you keep suffering through them.
Embarrassing but true; one of the biggest mistakes we all make when we first start writing is with our speech tags. There is the tendency to make our characters cry, yell, exclaim, retort, whisper, slur, snap or beg.
The truth is said can cover all these things and many more. The action surrounding the speech, or the punctuation used should be enough to indicate if something is a question or if it is said in anger. You do not need the fluff!
We learn pretty quickly that repeated words look weird on the page, and some can “sound” weird in the reader’s mind if repeated too closely on the page (or horror of horrors, in the same paragraph), but ‘said’ is a strangely invisible word. Just like the character’s name in a story, it is one of those words that the brain will happily skip over, no matter how often it is repeated.
If you don’t believe me pick up the book you are currently reading (unless you are reading ‘The Dummy’s Guide to Mulching’ or some other non-fiction book) and turn to a page of dialogue. Pay attention to the number of saids on the page. Stand out like dogs… bowls, eh? Imagine if the writer had highlighted all those tags by using words like ‘gasped’ or ‘chortled’ it would have looked a bit clunky!
So as much as it can kill you when you are starting out, drop the superfluous speech tags and go with said. Then you will also be able to more easily see all the places where you don’t actually need any speech tags at all. Trust me, your writing will be much stronger for it.
“And that’s all I have to say on that topic,” said Nat.