User pays

The other day I did a Google search for something and found my old novel, Paragon, offered for free download. My novel hasn’t been available for purchase for about six years, so I have no idea how long it had been on this site. The reason I took the novel down was because I thought it had too many things that needed fixing, it wasn’t the best it could be. It bugged me that the choice to hold it back had been taken away from me.

It also got me wondering; how have people’s attitudes to other’s hard work gotten so callous that someone would feel justified putting up the work of a (let’s be honest) unheard of author for free? Is what they gain really worth what they take?

I’m against all forms illegal downloading, whether it is books, movies, software, TV shows, music etc. So often I hear people saying things like “Katy Perry is so rich, it doesn’t matter” –but it does matter. Katy Perry, or any other artist/developer are not doing this on their own. They support a whole network of people who depend on sales to make a living. A movie is not made by several actors and a director. There are writers, camera people, caterers, props people, make-up artists, hair stylists etc. It is an industry, and when you steal, you steal from all of them.

But back to my experience… I am not supporting an industry, just me and those closest to me. In over 20 years of sending off my work for publication I’ve earned less than $500. That’s why I’ve still got the day job. There are lots of people like me out there who haven’t yet made it, and if people keep stealing from us, then we’ll never earn enough money to quit the day job so we can keep making the art that others want to steal.

Imagine if Buffy had been downloaded to the point where no networks wanted to buy the ongoing series. We might never have had Firefly, or Serenity, or Cabin in the woods. I do not want to think about a world with no Joss Whedon! Is that the price we want to pay to be able to save a few dollars?

Better use of time

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I have started translating my weekly goals onto a daily goal list. I’m still doing it, and it is working brilliantly. The funny thing is that I’m actually adding more goals as the week goes on, so I’m getting even more done.

To meet my targets, I’ve had to force myself stop watching TV on work nights. This seems to have cured me of an unknown addiction. Now I can survive without knowing who gets voted off of Survivor. I’ve also realised that it doesn’t matter if I watch all my TV in one binge session on a Friday night (I loved ABC’s War On Waste).

Most importantly I’ve discovered that I feel a lot better about going to work when I have knocked out 2,000 words, or edited a couple of chapters the night before. All this time it’s been within my power to give myself what I’ve always wanted; to write.

There are so many ways we can use time, but some take more courage, more willpower and more determination than others. But when you make those choices it can be so much more rewarding. I know I’m only three weeks in, but my general happiness and contentedness is so much higher than it has been in a long time. And my word counts are still nearly as high as when I had my 4 months off last year.

Another benefit I have noticed is that I seem to be living more in the ‘now’. I enjoy the sunrise when I walk to the bus before work. I appreciate the songs of the magpies as they welcome me home (or more accurately the leftover cat food they know I’m about to throw out). I realise that I can take moments of time for myself at any time. Even while I’m waiting for SharePoint to apply my metadata (which seems to take so much longer now it is in the cloud) I can look out the window at the park and be in my own little world for a few seconds. Time really is what we make of it.

Sunrise on the way to the bus stop

Top 10 writer things to do – finish a novel

Okay, so I’m assuming you want to be a novelist. Obviously if you love the short form or you write screenplays then this doesn’t apply to you. But if you are a novelist, then there is nothing that makes you feel more like an author than getting to the “The End” bit of a novel.

I’ve done it four times, and it is such a rush. The first three times I cried my eyes out when I finished. Not because bad stuff necessarily happened at the end, but just because it was the end. My time with those characters was over. They were now in the world, able to stand on their own feet and they didn’t need me anymore.

At least that’s how it feels at the time. Pretty soon they become like annoying family members who keep dropping around as you go through the editing process and watch the same scenes over and over again. Tweaking, re-tweaking and then totally re-writing.

When I tell people I write it is amazing how many of them say they too want to write. They then start telling me about the great idea they have for a novel. It’s incredible how many of them have not actually written a word of this novel. And that is, ultimately, what the difference is between a writer and a non-writer. Writers write, and get things finished.

Incidentally I think the only reason I didn’t cry on the last novel was because I knew it hadn’t worked, so it wasn’t really finished . That’s the novel I’m currently editing (very heavily). This time around I have connected with the characters so much more, so I’m confident there will be tears when I get to the end. Hopefully in the next fortnight or so.

Freedom of speech?

Cass* goes to a fancy-dress party and wins the best costume prize. She is awarded a bottle of champagne, which she pops and shares with her friends. She poses for a photo of her drinking from the bottle. Should she post this on her personal Facebook page?

Now, I’ve been in the workforce for over 20 years, and I’ve done a lot of equal opportunity, bullying and whatever-else is required training over the years, but this week a friend of mine did social media training. She took a photo of the above question and showed it to me. What do you think the answer is?

According to the training Cass should NOT post the photo. The reason; because others can share the photo, so she has no control over it and it might damage Cass or her employer’s reputation. Let me remind you; Cass was not vomiting on herself. She hadn’t pulled her top down or her skirt up. Her ‘reputationally damaging behaviour’ was swigged out of a champagne bottle.

This training alarmed me. If workplaces are now going to get antsy about someone drinking directly from a champagne bottle (would it have been okay from a glass?) what would they think about some of the stories I write? In future will my writing potentially impact my employment prospects? And where does that fit with the equal opportunity rules they all claim to abide by?

I think what they were trying to say was; be sure that whatever you post online you are happy for the world to see. I’m sure Cass, her work colleagues and her clients wouldn’t care that she was swigging from a bottle. If Cass is okay with that, then Cass can be the judge of what goes out to the world on her own Facebook page.

Some of my writing is confronting, some is stupid, and some is opinionated. Writing asks you to push the boundaries sometimes, and I think we all want to live in a world where you have the freedom to do that.

To pay your bills, most of us need to work. I think it will be spectacularly unfair if we move into world where those who want to earn a living are expected to turn into little yes-big-brother robots and stop living our lives how we want to outside of work hours. Cass, you should be able to drink your champagne any way you want to!

*Fictional name changed to another fictional name so my friend doesn’t get the sack!

Lists

I love task lists. Their big brothers are Excel spreadsheets, which I also adore, but task lists hold a special kind of magic for me. They are a promise of achievements yet to come. Just writing the list gives you a taste of what it is like to complete them.

I have an ongoing list of stories I want to complete. Each title has a box next to it for me to tick (in red so it stands out) when it is completed, and a space for the date. This list is constantly growing, but also looks very nicely actioned. That’s probably my favourite list.

I also have a weekly list of 20 tasks; 10 personal items, 10 writing items. Anything not completed by the end of the week gets rolled over to the following week. I try to always achieve a pass mark, but sometimes I only scrape a ‘C-‘. I’ve been doing these task lists for over 10 years.

This week I ramped it up a notch. After writing my 20 tasks I divvied them up into daily tasks and allocated them to each day of the week. This was in an effort to stop me from getting to Sunday and finding I have 15 things to complete (as is often the case).

I still have one day of the week to go, but it has worked brilliantly! Even on days when I thought I had my evenings free, but then they turned out not to be so, I still completed my tasks. I skipped out on most of my usual TV viewing for the week, and got to bed a little later than usual on two nights, but the tasks got done.

I won’t lie, it was a lot of work and a bit of stress, but as I ticked off those tasks at the end of each day, I had an overwhelming feeling of satisfaction. Not only that, but for the first time in months I’m going to be getting at least an A level pass even if I do nothing for the rest of Sunday –and that feels fantastic!!!

For those not used to task lists, a good way to set them up is to think about your major goals (finish writing your novel, go back to Uni, whatever) and then break those down into smaller and smaller steps toward the big goal (write novel plan, find academic transcript etc.). Those are the steps you put on your weekly task list. If you find you are not getting around to ticking them off, break them into even smaller steps. It is amazing how much you can achieve. Try it!

Putting words on a page is not writing

This week I wrote about 15,000 words… about a form. Half of that was technical support information. The other half was a step by step user and administrator guide. There was no twist at the end, no edge or your seat horror, and it had a rather Hollywood end where everyone finishes with… a completed form.

Putting the red arrows and green ticks on the print-screens was the most exciting bit about writing the manual. I don’t think anyone will be uploading it to their kindle for late-night reading. To be honest, I’ll be surprised if anyone else actually reads it from start to finish. Even I found myself glossing over bits. I should have secreted away an offer of a chocolate frog just to see if anyone came to claim it (I have done that in a user guide once and it took over a year for anyone to spot it).

A lot of people have suggested to me that I should try to get a gig as a technical writer so I can write each day. After this week I realise, for me, that would be a really bad idea. When I got home each night, the last thing I wanted to do was sit in front of a computer. So I’ve been doing paper edits instead while lying on the lounge. It was the least typing-version of writing I could come up with while still progressing my novel.

Building a form is fun. I get to layer logical rules over the top of each other to see if I can make the form work. It’s like playing a game. Writing about form is boring. So I’m going to stop saying that I want to be a writer, what I really mean is I want to be an author. This week taught me that they are NOT the same thing.

Top 10 writer things to do – Join a writers group

I’m always going on about how great my writers groups have been, so it should be no surprise that I think every writer should have one. I credit most of the improvements in my writing to both my writers groups. It’s not just the benefit of hearing the critiques they give on my writing, but also what is said about the writing of others.

I know the idea of a bunch of people telling you what is wrong with your story sounds a bit daunting, but if you want to get it published it will have to happen eventually. I think it is much better if the people telling you the issues with your story are a group of people who want to see you improve and succeed, rather than a publisher who is looking for an excuse to reject your story.

You also need to find the writers group that fits you. I know there are a lot of groups who believe in only saying positive things, and will focus on the bits you got right rather than the opportunities for improvement. That sort of group is not for me, and I don’t think will help improve my writing, but if that is the encouragement you need to keep writing, then go for it.

The key is to make sure you know what you are getting into before you commit. Most groups I’m aware of offer new recruits an invitation to observe and, if you like what you see, they let you submit a story for the next meeting. I have to confess I also saw a lot of people never return after that second meeting, but that’s how you find your fit.

If you don’t know any writers then contact your local writers centre. While they don’t always run writers groups, they often rent out space to writers groups, so can put you in contact with them. I’ve also seen groups advertised at Libraries, and on association pages. If you are a genre writer finding a group through a relevant association can be particularly useful as you will get more relevant feedback from others who write in the genre you do.

Another great opportunity to start up a writers group is to gather people from conventions or courses you attend. So keep that in mind when you are at your next writer event, as it can be a great opening to start talking to others. And remember, when you find the right group there is a good chance you are also finding life-long friends.

Waiting… again

I know that one of the key things I need to learn in life is patience. I’m not good at being patient. I’m better than I was in the past, but I’m still a lot more impatient that I would like to be. Where I am both best and worst is with my writing.

When it comes to actually writing a novel, I no longer look at the long slog ahead with dread. I know that it is within my power to get it done and with a bit of patience I’ll get there. If anything my impatience works in my favour here because I want to get it finished fast.

Where I am falling down is waiting for responses. I’ve sent out 4 stories this year and haven’t heard back from any of them. For some I’ll have to guess this is a passive ‘No’, but for others I know that they are just really busy people who have a lot to get through. So I understand why they are taking so long, but it doesn’t stop me from checking my email multiple times a day, my heart in my throat each time. I really don’t like that character flaw in myself.

So I’m going to try diversion. I’m sure the fact I’ve only been working on short stories is why I’m getting focussed on the unimportant stuff. I think it is time to jump back into a novel. When I’m working on a novel I struggle to focus on work, so I’m sure I’ll be able to forget a few attempts at publication.

Now I just have to work out which story. I thought I had it worked out, but then the epigenetics novel kept asserting itself, which is usually a sign that the time is right to get it written. I might just have to be a little bit more patient with the novel I thought I was going to write. I know it will get done eventually.

A title is the ultimate flash fiction

I sometimes have a problem coming up with titles. I pretty much know that if the title hasn’t come with the idea (which sometime does happen), then I’m going to struggle with it. Titles are important for conveying a little bit of what the story is about, so you need to get them right.

I have heard a few writers say that if they can’t come up with a title, then it means the story is not working. I think that is just one of those quirky superstitions that writers like to embrace. I’m not bagging them, I’ve got a million crazy superstitions around my own writing, but ‘trouble with titles as an indicator of value of story’ is not one of them.

Thanks to Adelaide writers’ week, I now know that other authors also struggle with the title. One mentioned that she came up with about 50 titles and all were rejected by the publisher. I’m impressed she managed that many, I normally give up at about 10, 15 tops, and then I pick the best of the bad bunch.

My approach to the title is similar to how I attack flash fiction or Tweeting. First I write down everything I want to say, and then I work on making it shorter… And shorter… And shorter. If I can get it down to one word, fantastic, but I think I’m doing well once it under three words. It may have lost some of the meaning by then, but I hope it at least gives a hint of what the story is about.

I think a really good title can pick up a few readers you might not otherwise have nabbed, but I think the title would have to be pretty woeful to divert someone who might otherwise have checked it out. But given my last three publications were entitled ‘Glide’, ‘Glow’ and ‘Life’ you might do better to get advice elsewhere when it comes to titles.

Why YA novels?

Just in case you missed it, I had another PUBLICATION this week! It is an eco-horror tale and, as with most of my short fiction, it is aimed at an adult audience. Yet I have four completed novels and three of them are young adult. The next two that I’m planning are also YA – so why the different audience?

Nearly ten years ago, when I really first started writing seriously, I noticed a change in published speculative fiction. It started to get dark. Where previously a murder was mentioned or glossed over, the books now seemed to go into a lot of graphic detail. This was the same for intimacy scenes. Where once the door was closed, now it was open… wide open.

I know I might cop a lot of criticism over this, but I don’t like to write that. I don’t judge you if you like to read it, I just don’t want to. I know some of my stories, particularly the horror tales, get gory sometimes, but I like to think they never get gratuitous. I show as much as you need to get the picture. This idea doesn’t seem to sell adult books.

Young adult novels are exactly what the name suggests; aimed at young adults. This means I can write adult themes, deal with mature concepts, and (even better for me) I can mash-up genres BUT I can also get away with toning down the graphic bits. I’m not saying all YA novels are soft, there are a lot of very dark, very graphic YA stories, but publishers don’t demand it of you as a writer.

So I am happy to spend 60 or 70,000 words exploring my speculative theme with slightly younger protagonists than my short stories. I don’t feel like my wings are clipped at all. If anything I feel like I am able to take my writing wherever I want to go with a YA audience.

It was YA that first made me realise that novels could be just as entertaining as movies. I remember reading Lois Duncan for the first time and thinking to myself ‘this is what I want to do with the rest of my life.’ It’s been a while since then, but I’m finally fulfilling that wish.

 

The journey of a spec fic writer.