The reader’s influence

I just re-read one of my stories that I remembered with great fondness. It didn’t seem all that good on my re-read. I know I’ve read it many times before and I loved it, but today I didn’t.

It is good because it helps me to see places where I can cut and other places where I think I need to expand on what is going on to make it clearer. So there are editing benefits to my lack of love on this read, but it has made me realised the expectations and emotions of the reader bring a lot to the reading experience.

Recently I’ve started reading five books which I’ve put down at the half-way mark. Three of these books were by writers I have read and enjoyed their previous work many times before. These books just didn’t hold my interest.

I wonder how much of my lack of enjoyment of these books has been because of my jaded, stressed mood? It is this same mood that has rendered my own work unlikable, and actually feels like a good mood for editing. But is it?

Two books did grab me during this time, which I read, finished and loved. I wonder what my experience of these books would have been like if I had been in my normal, non-stressed mood? I will have to find out as soon as I stop feeling so stressed and jaded. Hopefully that won’t be measured in years.

Gardener’s Guilt

I thought that writer’s guilt (over not writing) was a fairly unique thing, but as I look out at my weed-infested, overgrown-lawn, desperate for a trim garden I realise there is gardener’s guilt too.

I have had a large yard for 4 years now, so the gloss has come off having a garden, especially after 4 weekends of rain. It isn’t all just planting vegetable crops and flowers, there is maintenance, lots of maintenance. You also need to learn stuff, like where to put what when, what looks good together and what overpowers what.

I guess in that way gardening is like writing too. Something that seems like it should be second nature is actually a skill that needs to be crafted and honed. You will probably kill a few plants along the way, but you will learn some tricks eventually. Also, if you neglect it, well, it just looks like crap.

I can’t help but see the irony in how when my writing is going well, my garden is usually being ignored and vice versa. But there is one huge difference between the two. If the work in the garden all gets too overwhelming, I can pay someone to tidy it all up and the garden will still feel like mine. I don’t think I could say the same about getting someone in to write my novel.

Too much communication?

At work I’m considered a luddite by everyone, including me. We have recently introduced a messaging system which, as far as I can tell, is Facebook for work. I don’t use Facebook at home, so naturally I’ve taken to this work thing like a fish to the sands of the desert. I really wonder what is the point when we already have so many other communication options?

We get told that these new programs are a great way to communicate ideas, but it seems like every few months we introduce a great new way to communicate ideas. It has now got to the point where there is so much communication that I think we are at risk of no longer communicating effectively.

Right now if I need to tell my team about something I can; a) talk to them, b) phone them, c) conference them, d) email them, e) leave a notification on a discussion board, f) put an alert on our team site, g) instant message them, or h) work-Facebook them. So if someone wants to reference this information later they need to remember which method of communication I used to communicate my idea.

I really can’t tell if it is the luddite in me that is resisting work-Facebook, or if it is the logical part of me that thinks that if we are going to introduce a new method of communication, perhaps we should ditch some of the old ones?

I could spend my whole day cross-referencing communications through all our communication channels if I wanted to, but oddly when I’m at work I need to work. So this little luddite might just sit on the sidelines a little bit longer and see if next month’s great new communication tool is any better.

Timely description

I’m not a person who needs a lot of description, you tell me I’m on an island and I’ll create an island in my mind. If that island needs to be so large you can’t see from one end to the other and it is edged in cliffs, you need to tell me that. I was seeing a small sandy island with a few coconut trees.

The same goes for people. If a character’s vivid green eyes are going to star in chapter three, I need to know about them in chapter one, or else my character is likely to have different coloured eyes. The moment you tell me a character is called Sally, I build a fully formed picture in my mind of what Sally looks like. So if you need something on or about Sally, tell me about it up front.

That is as far as I go when it comes to description requirements. If Sally can look like anything, and you never mention her flowing blonde hair, or penchant for wearing cowboy boots somewhere later in the book, I’ll be happy if you just tell me her name is Sally. I do like to hook an age on her, but if you don’t give me one I’ll just assume she’s my age.

This is also how I write, and it gets me into trouble. I know a lot of readers out there want to know not only what the characters look like, but what they wear and even how they do their hair. You won’t get that from my stories unless it is relevant. Not only is that because I think clothes and hairstyles can date a story, but I think this unique picture is what the reader brings to the story, making them a part of it. It adds to what makes reading the book better than watching the movie.

An author is not an island.

Recently I’ve heard a few people justifying illegal downloads of books because they thought the author had already made enough money. Quite aside from the troubling idea that others can deem that you have made enough money (I’m sure no-one is doing that to them in their jobs, and I’m pretty sure authors are not making as much as people think they are) it struck me as ridiculously naive to think that the only one who loses out on the sale is the author.

Of the average book sale in Australia, the author receives between $1 and $3, depending on how good their agent is. As we all know, books don’t cost $4, so you can see that there are a lot of other people taking a cut for work they do along the way. Those people are not millionaires, they are normal people struggling to pay their rent/mortgage like everybody else. That is who you are stealing from when you illegally download a book.

But also upsetting is the impact this theft has on first time authors. A lot of debut novels do not make back their production costs. Publishers keep publishing first time authors despite this in the hope that they can find the next big thing, and it is the established authors, the ones people are illegally downloading, that bankroll publishers to be able to take the risk on first time authors.

So please stick up for any artist who you hear being ripped off. Profits from movies do not just go to the big name stars, a lot of people are involved in the release of an album, not just the singers, and an author very rarely edits, prints, distributes and markets their book themselves. A lot of people get hurt from this theft, and I want to see new music, movies and novels coming onto the market. That can only happen if the people involved with making this art get paid.