Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Morning Pages: 05-29-12

Newsmax - Veterans Writing Project: "As Americans honor the nation's fallen heroes this weekend with parades and private memorials, one group of veterans are gathering near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. to bear witness by reading their own harrowing stories of sacrifice, triumph and tragedy on battlefields stretching from Vietnam to Afghanistan.The goal of the Veterans Writing Project, says founder and director Ron Capps, is 'to get military people and the families of military people to tell their stories.'"

The Wordcount Guide to Guest Post Basics: "Running guest posts is a smart way to expand your readership – because your guest will no doubt share links to their post with their own readers, who’ll then click over to see what’s up, discover how fabulous your blog is and put you in their blog reader.For newer bloggers, guest posts are a great way to make friends with other bloggers who can become a virtual support system – they blog for you, you blog for them. Who knows what could happen?"

Writer Unboxed - What Are the Best Writing Conferences?: "to answer the question, let’s just acknowledge immediately that there is no definitive answer. It will be different for everyone, so we must examine three things: 1) the different kinds of writers’ events, 2) how money plays into a decision, and 3) what you want to get out of the event."

Make A Living Writing: "What I Learned from Lunch with a Dead Woman: "Linda’s long battle with cancer was coming to an end. In a week, she would be dead.I’d say she was a dead woman walking…except she couldn’t really walk anymore.Linda was in a transformative state, almost a place between worlds. Life as she knew and loved it — in which she could drive, play, enjoy the sunshine, and go to synagogue — was over. In that way, she was already dead." An incredible read; the type of story usually lost in the everyday nature of the blogosphere.

Copyblogger argues that, "writing one epic post per week is a better long-term strategy than writing mediocre content every day.That’s what you’re aiming for in your start here: one weekly post that will attract attention, establish your authority, and encourage people to share your information.And keep in mind, Brian Clark built Copyblogger.com by writing two posts per week in the beginning."

Rachelle Gardner - All About Advances: "An advance is a 'pre-payment' of the royalties the publisher expects you to earn on your book. Let’s say the publisher has agreed to pay you a royalty of 8% on the retail price of the book, and your book is going to sell for $14.00. You are going to earn $1.12 for each copy of the book sold. So if the publisher has paid you an advance of $10,000, how many copies do you have to sell to earn out your advance? Your break-even would be 8,929 copies. Your publisher has already paid you the royalty on those first 8,929 units sold. If and when your book sells more than that, your additional royalties will start accruing at the rate of $1.12 per book sold."

Fuel Your Writing - Why Your Emotion Falls Flat: "It’s simple: it rarely occurs to most writers to study body language. They don’t know what to show in their writing. A common symptom of this is when you include only the facial expressions of your characters to convey emotions. But what was happening to the character’s body? Did she slump (depressed)? Was she playing with her hair (interest)? Was she sitting on her hands (guilt)?"

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Morning Pages - 05/26/12

Joe Konrath with another takedown of traditional publishing: "What we have here is an entire industry using boilerplate contracts and universally accepted one-sided clauses to exploit an entire segment of people.This system is designed to take advantage of Authors' naivete and lack of bargaining power, and it uses the promise of publication as a carrot to get them to accept onerous, deeply biased terms."

The Write Practice: Don't Write Well, Write Now

Wordserve Water Cooler - Plot by Numbers: "Show, don’t tell. Watch your participial phrases. Don’t head hop. Whatever you do, stay within manuscript length recommendations. For a writer scrambling to keep up with all the dos and don’ts, the writing profession can seem full of arbitrary rules. And when someone breaks said rules and goes on to win awards, it’s tempting to follow suit. One standard you shouldn’t buck, however, is a publishing house’s word-length requirements.Why? Shouldn’t you let your story tell itself without regard for its length?"

Writer Unboxed - What Authors Forget About Marketing: "I think we can all agree that every author has a distinct writing voice or style, and that—over time—authors usually develop stronger and more confident voices.What is acknowledged less often is how every author has (or should have) a distinct marketing voice and approach.Sometimes, because we have less experience with marketing, or feel uncomfortable with the practice, we brace ourselves, even change ourselves, to engage in the activity.This is good for nobody."


Thursday, May 24, 2012

Art vs Entertainment: What's the difference? Opposing Viewpoints

I usually enjoy Jeff Goins' blog, and link to it fairly often in this space, but nobody's perfect. He made a post on Monday, May 21, on a debate that I've always found unbearably pretensious: The Difference Between Art and Entertainment. So, what's the difference?

There isn't one.

There is no difference between art and entertainment - all art is entertainment. All of it.

Now, there is a difference between entertainment and art, and it's the same difference between a rectangle and a square, respectively. Not all rectangles are squares; all squares are rectangles. Not all entertainment is art: kicking a dog on the side of the road might produce a visceral tinge of excitement to some, but it's hardly an artistic endeavor. The most serious, life-changing works of art in the world, on the other hand, elicit an emotional response that we deliberately seek. In other words, consuming that art is an action designed to bring us some form of pleasure, even if it's through a veneer of pain and sadness.

Goins' take on the difference: "Entertainment makes us feel good. [...] Art, on the other hand, transforms us." As though art does not make us feel good. And entertainment (defined as thing that "makes us feel good) doesn't transform us? Try reading Great Expectations sometime. Or Chicken Soup for the Soul. Or hell, read Goins' You Are a Writer. Do any of these books not "make us feel good?" Which of them has never transformed anything?

Let's look at two recent TV shows: Breaking Bad, a drama about a dying, drug dealing chemist, and The Office, a satire of a typical modern workplace. Critically acclaimed, both (at least, in the first four seasons). Different. Innovative. Unpredictable. These adjectives can be applied to either. It's no hard guess as to which fits Goins' definitions of art and entertainment.

But why would The Office be less "art"? Because it has the temerity to be fun - or heaven forbid, entertaining? It's an innovative show that challenged the nature of its genre on TV, paving the way for some great successors - Modern Family, Chuck, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and others. Or is it in fact art, because enough critics have deemed it "good" that it can be classified as such by such moral authorities as Jeff Goins?

The debate between art and entertainment is, and has always been, a thinly-veiled excuse for the pretentious critics and scholars to establish their own credibility. Make us fell good? Petty entertainment. But make us feel utterly miserable, and we have discovered the saving grace of modern society. It's the method with which the over-educated, self-appointed elites make themselves feel superior going against mainstream tendencies. You want to make bad art? It's really easy. Just make sure it isn't entertaining.


Monday, May 21, 2012

Writing To Heal - Opposing Viewpoint

If we're being honest, most writers write for one audience: themselves. Whether writing to vent, for fame, for praise, for money, or just for fun, we write, first and foremost, for ourselves. And one of the main reasons we write is to heal - from loss, from tragedy, from trauma, or any of the main pains that plague us throughout our lives. We right to give meaning to that pain. We write to make sense of it all. And we write to help others understand analogous pains.

According to Wordserve Water Cooler, that's exactly what we should not do. In The Art of Bloodletting, Lesley Fields argues that there are three things we should not do when writing about pain:

  1. Don't write to heal.
  2. Don’t write to redeem, to turn inexplicable pain into sense and salvation.
  3. Don't write for yourself alone.
I have no problem with the third rule whatsoever. It brings to mind one of my favorite maxims on writing, from Gertrude Stein: "I am writing for myself and strangers." But the first two rules fly in the face of everything that makes writing great in the first place. The primary purpose of writing is to heal. The ultimate purpose of writing is to redeem, to turn inexplicable pain into sense and salvation - and by proxy give meaning to our greatest struggles. In Midnight in Paris, Stein's character says, "The artist's job is not to succumb to despair but to find an antidote for the emptiness of existence."

Though this line was actually written by Woody Allen in his portrayal of Stein, it accurately surmises the purpose of drama. As Allen himself said in an interview, "one could make a case for that -- that the job of the artist is to show why life, despite all its horror and brutality." It's not enough to simply write about your pain in the most gruesome detail possible - that's the job of a journalist. An artist doesn't just show your something, he tells you why it matters. The Art of Bloodletting isn't just wrong in its thesis, it's the exact opposite of how a writer should approach his craft.

Write to heal: Fields writes, "Recognize that writing into affliction brings its own affliction. And even more importantly, recognize that when we are predisposed to heal ourselves, we will not be fully honest in the writing."

There's a truth in this that Fields corrupts to make her point: writers, when writing about their pains, can become too self-absorbed, sacrificing the art for the message. Yes, maintaining perspective is of primary importance. No, it's not good to put yourself before your craft. These truths are self-evident. Their logic is impeccable.

The flaw is in the conclusion: that because it is easy to fall into a trap, that because it is difficult to walk our path, we should then abandon that path completely. Make no mistake: writing an honest story that gives solace to the pains of your experience is the hardest task a writer can undertake. By no coincidence, it's also one of the most important and significant journeys we can travel as individuals.

We may not succeed in avoiding the traps of self-aggrandizement, of pandering to our need, but this is always the hazard in writing. Not to put too fine a point on it, but to avoid our greatest mission as writers because it's too tricky is a coward's excuse. To explore our greatest fears, to confront our greatest demons, to slay them on the page; these aren't the overambitious dreams of an amateur. These challenges are the only reason why artistic writing exists. They aren't even challenges. They are your responsibility.

Write to redeem, to turn inexplicable pain into sense and salvation: Fields writes, "We want to bring beauty from ashes. We want to make suffering redemptive to prove its worth. But this is God’s work, not ours. Our first responsibility is to be true to what was, to witness honestly to what happened."

I'm not religious. I don't even believe in a God, so maybe my viewpoint is skewed irrevocably on the subject. But it seems to me that if God gave us free will, sentience, and critical thinking, then the sole reason he would do so is to allow us the ability to overcome pain - for the sake of sense and salvation. Finding ourselves, finding our truths, finding our purpose in existence; are these not our purpose on earth?

We are all handed trials and pains; these are the what our lives. The struggle to overcome them is the why. It's the fuel for art, joy, love. The things that make us great, that make life worth living, and make writing worth reading is the portrayal of this journey. No, you don't always have to provide a moral in your art, to turn pain into joy, or pain into salvation. But if you want to do anything great, you damn well better try.


The Morning Pages - 05-21-12

Newbie's Guide to Publishing - Pricing Books and Ebooks: "The main price difference between paper and ebooks is in copying, shipping, and distribution. A paper book has a tangible value. It costs money to print, and to ship, and a distributor often takes a cut. Ebooks have none of these costs.Publishers may say that the cost of printing, shipping, and distribution is a fraction of the retail price. But it isn't. Those costs account for as much as a third of the wholesale price. Printing, shipping, and warehousing a hardcover may be a higher cost than the royalty an author gets."

Writer Unboxed - Networking for the Cowardly and Terrified: "So it should start becoming more and more obvious that I’m going through a writer-identity crisis as things get closer to the release of my book. And lucky you — you get to be a witness to my crisis. In this episode of my crisis, we walk through my attempt at networking even though I’m a terrified coward."

Forbes - Cracking Tough Books and Reading Above Your Level: "In an age where almost nobody reads, you can be forgiven for thinking that the simple act of picking up a book is revolutionary. It may be, but it’s not enough. Reading to lead means pushing yourself–reading books “above your level.” In short, you know the books where the words blur together and you can’t understand what’s happening? Those are the books a leader needs to read. Reading to lead or learn requires that you treat your brain like the muscle that it is–lifting the subjects with the most tension and weight."

Wordserve Water Cooler - Agent Priorities: "When I first started agenting full-time in 1994 there were five other agents serving authors of faith. It was a relatively new phenomenon in Christian publishing, and not always appreciated by publishers. Some even had unwritten polices about not working with agents. Now there are about 100 agents serving Christian authors in one way or another. Today, most publishers won’t work with an author unless they’re represented. I know many of the agents, and like most of them. And while we all do similar work, our styles and priorities aren’t all the same."

Word Count - Protect Your Blog Copyright: "Even if this is your first time blogging, odds are very good that your nimble blogging fingers start cramping when you think about web villains stealing your precious content. Don’t they realize how many beads of sweat and tear drops and buckets of perfectly good neurons you poured into that blog post? Didn’t they notice that blog copyright notice in the footer? It even has the ©, for Pete’s sake!"


Friday, May 18, 2012

The Morning Pages - 05/17/12

Write to Done - Copywriting is the Future of Writing: "The best copywriters in the world are those who are curious about life, read a great deal, have many hobbies, like to travel, have a variety of interests, often master many skills, get bored and then look for other skills to master. They hunger for experience and knowledge and find other people interesting. They are very good listeners."

Wordserve Water Cooler - Going from Self-Published to Contracted Author: "Five years ago, when I attended a Harvard University writers’ workshop for medical doctors, I was one of the few in attendance who actually had an edited, polished, pitch-ready manuscript in hand. But, still, I left that meeting with no agent and no publishing contract. The reason is I didn’t have a media platform."

TinHouse interviews successful writers on their writing habits: "Almost every day I begin the exact same way: I wake, shower, get in my car, drive 20 minutes north to the house where I grew up, where for the past five years or so I have been helping care for my father with dementia, I come into the house, I pour one large cup of coffee, one large cup of water, go into the room where I went through puberty, close the door, sit in the dark and begin my work, often typing in bursts and spurts punctuated by getting up to go help with my dad or other business, until the sun goes down, then I go home."

Squidoo - How to Write a Query Letter: "Writers use query letters to pitch article ideas to magazine editors or book ideas to agents and publishers. It's a one-page letter used to get an editor or agent interested in the work you'd like to send them. Sometimes writers submit a query letter about a piece they've already written--such as a manuscript for a fiction novel. Other times, you query to determine if you should write the piece, such as a nonfiction book."


Monday, May 14, 2012

The Morning Pages - 05-14-12

Wordplay is wrapping up a fantastic series on story structure that's a must-read.

What do you do when you hear about another story that's just like yours? "After I let the initial terror wash away, I usually think back to my college years. I once aimed on becoming a scholar of Comparative Mythology, but after receiving my master’s degree I decided that Ivory Towers were not for me. Nonetheless, my years studying myth have helped me deal with this fear.The lesson those years taught has now become something of a mantra I repeat to myself: any resemblance between your story and another story adds to your story—if you think about it properly."

Teleread.com - Ebooks May Be Pressuring Authors to Write More, Faster: "It’s not just publishers asking the writers to do more, [...] but sometimes authors feel the need to keep busy themselves, just to make sure their name stays out there in the public eye. And since e-books are much more conducive to impulse-buying, having more titles available more often means they’re likely to sell more often to voracious readers who want to read anything they can get their hands on from their favorite authors."

Paper Book vs. Digital Book – Who reads which, where and why?: "the popularity of digital books is growing fast, which means that the reading habits of readers are likely to evolve and change as the penetration rate of e-reading devices grows, yet, reasons for choosing to read a digital book rather than a paper book such as reading while traveling or commuting, for which a whopping 73% of readers declare preferring a digital book are likely to remain accurate, if only because of portability and ease of immediate access to a new book, should the traveler finish the book at hand."


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Morning Pages - 05/08/12

Wordserve Water Cooler - Never Submit Your First Draft: "Over the years I’ve harped at authors never, ever to turn in a first draft. Some writers think the editor’s job is to spiff up their grammar, correct misspelled words, change passive voice to active, eliminate repeated words and phrases, or do laser surgery on their mixed metaphors."

The Creative Penn - Growing Your Readership: "Have you thought about how fortunate we are to have the internet, POD publishing and ebooks? A world full of readers is at our fingertips, and with all the available information about writing and book promotion, many authors are successfully selling. You may be in a similar place, wondering what comes next. How do you keep it going? How you do grow your readership?"

A Publishing Horror Story: "Let me share with you the numbers of a book I wrote that was first published in January, 2002, still one of my favorites. My life-to-date statement says this book has sold 179,057 copies so far, and it has earned $20,375.22. That means the average I've earned is a whopping 11 cents per copy. If you use the cover price to calculate (the number used in the contract), which was $4.50 at the time of release, I've earned an AVERAGE of 2.4 % per copy."


Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Morning Pages - 05-04-12

Wordserve Water Cooler - Want to Get Published? Think Out of the Box!: "I tried to break in as a fiction writer for years, first with a young-adult novel, then with a suspense-thriller. Both were well-written and polished. Both received good reviews from published authors. And both had received wonderful, glowing rejection letters, complete with encouraging notes from editors.[...] The first few times you get notes such as these, it is indeed encouraging.After you get about 30, you begin to wish someone would say, “Hey, pal, don’t quit your day job.”"

The Creative Penn - Why I Gave Up Trying to Build a Big Social Media Following: "I’ve studied and tried the “build a massive following” approach, which works great for some people; but don’t believe it’s the best approach for me, and perhaps most other authors as well. I actually use social media a lot, just not in the way many publishers and literary agents expect authors to use it."

Rachelle Gardner - Are Agents Running Scared?: "The role of literary agents is already starting to change, and this will continue. The role of many publishing employees will change too. The roles of writers have been changing in the last few years and will continue in that direction. Heck, people’s roles in countless industries have been changing rapidly as our technology changes, our economics change, and the role of marketing changes."

Wordcount - 31 Blog Post Ideas for 31 Days: "We’ve come up with theme days, a guest post exchange, a haiku day and a Wordle day to keep you going. But in case you need more inspiration, here are ideas for 31 posts – one for each day of the month. Use some, all or none of them depending on how your own blogathon experience goes. Even if you’re not involved in the blogathon, use these topics as inspiration when you need it." Note: Challenge Accepted

Lockergnome.com - Simple Writing is Better: "It is not advisable to overwhelm the reader with big words. To be eloquent does require a rich vocabulary, but not overly obscure words. To be simple, yet complex is the real trick in writing. Even in descriptive writing I try to be very straightforward. Minimalism is a trend in UX design these days. Why can’t minimalism find its way into writing, too?"


Thursday, May 3, 2012

Writing Without Writing - How to Write a Story in 15 Minute Stretches

One of the fundamental concepts of Taoism is the idea of Wei Wu Wei: action without action. It's also one of the hardest concepts to grasp. Not long ago, COURAGE2CREATE wrote about writing in 15 minute stretches. It's an idea I've been trying to get in touch with myself, with varying degrees of success. It's a great idea to compartmentalize your writing in this way, as there are days and even weeks where sitting down is impossible. The problem is, sometimes we need 15 minutes to get started - organize our thoughts, and get ready to transform a blank screen into magic. That's where Wei Wu Wei comes in.

When you have a moment to write, whether it be 10 minutes or 30, use these moments to brainstorm your story. In other words, put down the computer and pick up your notebook. When you have a short burst of time, use it to plan your next scene. Create some new place names. Sketch the ideas you have, write to yourself, meditate. A story takes more than just sitting down and typing words. It takes planning and crafting, and these things take time.

Basically, what you're doing in these short stretches is getting yourself ready - you're preparing yourself so that the next time you get a chance to write, whether it be for five minutes or five hours, you can just go - no thinking, no stopping, no wasting time with side-quests like inventing new man-eating plants for your universe.

I've been taking this approach lately, to mixed results - sometimes, if you set goals that aren't writing, then you can feel like you've achieved something without writing. You haven't. All you've done is put yourself in a better place to meet your real goals. It's worth doing, but keep the end in mind while you're practicing Wei Wu Wei.


Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Morning Pages: 05-02-12

Neil Gaiman interviews Stephen King: “Meeting Stephen King this time, the thing that struck me is how very comfortable he is with what he does. All the talk of retiring from writing, of quitting, the suggestions that maybe it's time to stop before he starts repeating himself, seems to be done. He likes writing, likes it more than anything else that he could be doing, and does not seem at all inclined to stop. Except perhaps at gunpoint.”

Wordserve Water Cooler on the virtues off Goodreads: "I recently had a Word Serve author ask me about Good Reads. Yes, another platform for you to market, represent yourself, and interact with people socially. ANOTHER SOCIAL NETWORKING SITE, REALLY? Yes. And I get it. As overwhelmed as you can be, it is more work and another learning curve, but I actually like Good Reads for those of us who are really “reading.” I find it to be an authentic community of readers."

Write to Done - How to Hack into Your Emotions: "Most people don’t recognize how debilitating emotions can be to the writing process.But, whether we’d like to admit it or not, writers are human beings. Emotions are just part of our biological makeup and they do, on occasion, get us seriously stuck.We ALL get sad, frustrated, angry, or depressed sometimes. It’s perfectly natural.But having feelings doesn’t make us weak or incapable writers—it just makes us human writers."