Sunday, November 16, 2014

3 Steps to Getting Unstuck in Your Novel (FIND THE GOLD)

Greetings! I'm writing to you from the middle of the vast swamp that is NaNoWriMo. I am, at the time of this writing, about 4,000 words "behind" because reasons. But I am still 22,000 gloriously bad words into the first draft of a book that is close to my heart, and it is time, not inspiration, that is keeping me from writing.

And so I am here to share with you the three-part system that is keeping me writing currently. It is just my little thing, not something important or big that will work for anyone. If you're stuck, maybe it will help you be inspired, too.





  1. Write Until You Get Stuck (The Writing by the seat of your pants part)
    This is the easy part. The fun part. The part that us baby writers think is supposed to last forever. The first step to writing is, surprisingly, just to write. Presumably something about this story has you excited enough to want to start putting words onto paper, otherwise, why bother? Ride that wave. Write until the words run out. Write past your bedtime and through meals. When you're supposed to be working, scribble jokes and plot twists and dialog onto post-it notes. If someone gives you a weird look mid-conversation because your eyes lose their focus, you're probably doing it right. You're writing right. Good job.
  2. THEN SUDDENLY BAM YOU'RE STUCK
    Okay, so you wrote and wrote and wrote until you hit the wall. Good for you. That's normal That's what this article is about. Do me a favor right now:

    DON'T PANIC

    This is the time to stop and think about your story. This is the time to think about what happens next. Ask your characters to tell you the end of the story. Read a couple of plotting articles. Jot down twenty steps that will lead to the end of the story. Nothing fancy, nothing methodical, just all the steps that lead to the Big Finish. You can change them chapter by chapter. Just give yourself a general map. It's okay if this takes four hours or four days, because it's going to be your lifeline. For me, each chapter ends up being about a paragraph or two of thinking out loud, rather than a list of Roman Numeraled bullet points.
  3. Find The Gold

    This is the magic step that is making everything work for me. Look at your outline, look at the next two chapters that you are going to write. Just those two Now dive into them in your imagination. Look around.

    What excites you? What do you love about the scenes? Make a list. List at least ten things you want your readers to SEE and FEEL and TASTE and GET EXCITED ABOUT.
Now, for your reading pleasure, I am going to show you what mine looks like in action. It's very rough and ugly, but writing this down for the first chapter propelled me easily through a 4,000 word chapter and then ready to write the next one.

Someday when I am very famous and Lux is a household name, this stuff is going to be worth gold. I'll sign it for you because I love you.

The Seventh Judge 2014 NaNoWriMo

Chapter One 


Summer and Lux are walking into the Bronx Zoo. They are joined by Lux’s “man” El. They are getting ready to do a sparring show which is how Lux is making his money these days. El uses laser pointers and a fog machine to make an impressive light show which has the audience spell bound. Summer has seen it all and falls asleep. She’s awakened by El pulling her to her feet, trying to get her to run away because her father’s being taken. She runs from him and manages to get to the edge of the crowd, where she sees her father being cuffed by a quiet blond boy who’s explaining in pedantic language to the crowd that her father is being redeemed, not arrested. She wants to run up and pound him, but El pulls her away, throws her over his shoulder, and skillfully knocks her out.

Awesome things to describe: (Here's the gold, people)
the light show
Lux’s eyes
El’s grace
Summer’s drawing
Andrew’s mannerisms
The masculine beauty of Lux’s grace under fire
A look between him and Summer as he’s taken away.
Summer’s soundless grief
El’s skill in knocking her out


Cheesy, right? But each of the things I listed are things I want the reader to feel and love as much as I do, and they propelled me through this chapter. When I was done, I even had a guide for things to work on harder when I edit it.

Can I be honest for a second? Just reading that list again - and I've read it at least a dozen times - makes my breath a little harder. My heart beats a little strong because I'm in love with my story, and this helps me focus on what it is I love about it.

Not everybody needs this kind of thing. Other people will have their own ways of doing it. But this is what worked for me, and I hope it will help someone else find their way, too.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Unicorn Farts

The main reasons I read and write (and play tabletop/computer games, for that matter) are escapism, straight up. That’s probably one of the reasons I start with setting in my development process.

I start with this explanation to show that I totally understand wanting to make something near and dear to your heart a special experience or relating to it as such. That being said:

This is straight up horseshit.

Ideas do not come to any writers from some mystical plane filled with elves and spaceships (or rape and dick chopping, depending on what you're doing).  Sure, sometimes writers get inspired, everything comes together and the words come like conversation with an old friend.  There's nothing magical about that beyond being in the right state of mind.  You can have good days where you're really on the ball for a lot of things, but nobody is going to romanticize the source of your incredibly well-crafted and presented spreadsheet.

Ideas are spurred by something, even if we can't nail down what that something is immediately.  Apply a little introspection, trace back your thoughts and there's an excellent reason you had the idea you did.  We don't need to talk about it like we're traipsing about a world of dreams.  That kind of does a disservice to the hard work writers put in to what they put together.  It also discourages introspection that may allow a writer to dig down and understand themselves and use that understanding to improve their craft.

On the same vein, language like "I'm just listening to my characters talk to me" is, while a nice internal paradigm, unnecessarily mystifying the process when we talk to people.  I suppose my concern is primarily with those who wish to become writers or who are relatively new to the craft.  I can see where it would be disillusioning to conceptualize writing as a fairy tale adventure when really it's mostly just hard work.  When I'm creating a character, I'm imagining a person and, essentially, role playing them to myself.  I do not have a telepathic connection to some other person somewhere, as much as I would like to.  I make very conscious choices about how a character works, and saying "it just comes to me" isn't going to help somebody else who wants to write.

Basically I'm just angry that this wasn't a documentary.

As a closing note, though, I don't want to discourage these paradigms for internal consumption or among groups of writers that are well past the point where they might mistake Fairyland with the Word Mines.  If everyone's on the same page, great!  No harm no foul.  In talking about writing to wider audiences, though, one might want to consider the realities behind our fiction. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

More on Process.

At least, my process.

I may have mentioned before that I am currently writing a book set in a militaristic magitech fantasy setting.  I probably need to work on my elevator speech for it, since the other day someone asked me what it was about and my reaction was basically:

 My inability to tell you about my story does not inspire confidence in regards to its quality.

Fortunately, this medium lets me put my thoughts together in a slightly more organized fashion.  The plot of my first book is a combination of a Wizarding School story mixed with a missing-persons mystery in the nearby city that unfolds into a much larger threat.  The two threads begin to coil together, with our precocious protagonists encountering the law officer investigating the case by being where they shouldn't and have to deal with an unfolding crisis while still attending class at a place that is basically Harvard meets Ender's Battle School meets Hogwarts. 

Hogwarts Military Institute.

Plotting out the general direction of the mystery has been fairly straightforward since I'm working backward from what I know is going on; I have a lot of fun figuring out different ways my characters can figure out what is going on.  This is a fairly intuitive process and makes writing the mystery part pretty easy.

What has been much less easy, and where I've been stuck until recently, has been my precocious teens.  I have general ideas of what sources of conflict should be, but for a while I didn't have any specific path that I had set down.  This left me unsure of where to write to or what I should necessarily focus on.  This is not an unusual problem for me; I typically build a story in order of Setting->Characters->Plot.

I decided that the easiest (and possibly even best!) way to figure out what should go on was to take a look at what other writers have done.  I took three books about Wizarding schools and did a quick plot overview of each: Harry Potter, The Name of the Wind and A Wizard of Earthsea.  I ended up junking A Wizard of Eathsea as it wasn't quite as good as I had remembered, but the other two gave me a lot of insight into how I should arrange things occurring and what kinds of elements I should focus on and when.  It let me know that I need to design some specific rivals for our intrepid heroes so I could introduce them nowish.  It let me know that I needed to get a little bigger in revealing the more magical elements of the setting.

It hardly took me any time at all, and now I feel silly for not having done it sooner.  Now I have many more ideas for what I want to do and a path for what I need to do.

Now I just need to, you know.  Do it.


 Oh sure, I get pissed that everyone is LITERALLY TALKING IN RIDDLES and suddenly *I'm* the asshole.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

3 Ways to Start Writing Deep POV Today

Have you ever gotten to the end of a story without caring about the protagonist? Or worse, have you ever put a book down after a chapter or two because you just couldn’t be bothered to continue? Chances are great that the author kept you at arm’s length by writing too shallow a point of view. Basically, the protagonist didn’t love you enough to let them into your head. It’s not you. It’s them. So don’t take it too seriously.



On second thought... do. Because you’ve got this story of your own, right? And you don’t want to let your own readers down. You want to be emotionally available to them. You want to make them ache. You want to make them scream. You want to make them laugh and cry.

So resolve to be different. To do better. 

But how? How do you engage your reader? How do you make them fall in love with the characters that live so vividly inside your head?

The answer is all about point of view.




What is deep point of view?

Shallow point of view: Red Riding Hood decided to take a walk. The road she walked on was rocky and long, so by the time she got to her grandmother’s house, she was tired.
Deep point of view: It was a cool, breezy fall day, and Red wasn’t really up for housework. She needed to be outside. Why not take a walk in the forest and visit grandmother? Instant karma, right? By the time she arrived, her muscles throbbed and her feet ached, but it was a good ache. Totally worth it.

Explain.

Okay, so, shallow point of view tells the story from outside the mind of the viewpoint character. A well-defined POV will be right over the character’s shoulder, but might still be from outside. The language is clean and sterile. Details will be from the reader’s perspective, not from the character’s.
Deep POV slips right behind the character’s eyes. The narrative language is the narrative inside the character’s head. Their words, not yours. The reader feels, not in response to the character and the events, but with the character and through the events.

So how can I start?

Here are three simple ways to start writing Deep POV. This list is a jumping off point, not a comprehensive guide. Deep POV is an art form, not a science. There’s no one right way to do it. As you think about these tips, be reading other stories, particularly modern fantasy and sci-fi, and watch how the writer sharpens her POV.

1.       See What the Character Sees

When you walk into your living room, do you take in all the details at once, in a counter-clock-wise motion, while also noting the exact shade of the paint on the wall and the family history behind the displayed artwork? Course not! You’re seeing what’s important right now. If you’re tired, you see only your chair. You sink into it, noting how comfy the cushions feel under your aching muscles. You see the magazine you knock to the floor when you put your feet up and then you notice the dust crusting the TV when you flick it on. When the phone rings and you have to drag yourself out of the chair, you notice that the one of the screws that holds the phone to the wall is coming undone and the lime green paint is started to chip loose where the base of the phone is rubbing against the wall each time you bump it. And why the hell is your apartment so small that you’re bumping against the phone, anyway? Clearly you need a better-paying job. Of course it’s your boss on the other end of the line and while he berates you through the receiver, you peer into the connecting kitchen, hypnotized by the second hand spinning around the Elvis-themed clock your grandmother gave you last Christmas, and as he talks and talks, the hand seems to slow almost to a crawl. Now, I’ve never met you, and I’ve never been in your apartment before, but I see the whole thing now, all through your eyes.

2.       Talk the Way the Character Talks

In our geek and writing group, there are people from all different parts of America and all across the world. Rcently, we had a weekend-long conversation, with almost five hundred comments. About what? Beans on toast: yes or no? Through that conversation, we learned about different kinds of food in different parts of the world, different words that mean different things to different people, and different ways that people feel about things that you would think were the same.

Mostly, we learned that we’re all different. That those differences make us interesting, and they don’t have to make us dislike each other. We can learn from each other.

Your characters need to have these same kinds of differences. How do they think about the world? For example, what word do they use for people of a different gender? A man who thinks about lovely ladies is a very different sort of man than the sort who thinks about sexy chicks. Another man entirely might categorize different women using words like sluts, bitches, and dykes. Your reader probably won’t like that man — I only just wrote him and I already kind of hate him — but it’s a strong way to define a character, isn’t it?

Here are just a few ways to differentiate narrative voice. There are many, many more:

Education: Is your character intelligent or poorly educated? Do they use long, poetic words or short, punchy ones?

Slang: Do they use slang? How much? What kind of slang? Are they using is habitually, or are they being ironic?

Geographic background: Where are they from? How does that affect their words?


3.       Feel the Way the Character Feels

Traditional narration is emotionless. Deep POV swims with emotion. Drips in all over the reader. If something exciting is happening, the narrator may use obscenities or ejaculations. The narration may express surprise, disappointment, reluctance, or judgement.

Shallow POV: Susan was confused and felt sad. She didn’t understand why this was happening.
Deep POV: Why was this happening to her? What had she done to deserve it? Susan’s eyes stung with unshed tears. Life just wasn’t fair.



Shallow POV: Landon had waited impatiently for the names on the list. When it was finally released, he was disappointed to be named the understudy rather than the lead actor. He didn’t feel that Jerry was as good as an actor as he was, but he resolved to learn the part anyway.
Deep POV: Bullshit. Jerry? Jerry got the part? Jerry couldn’t act his way out of a detention, let along play Peter Pan with the flair and panache the part deserved. Bullshit! Mrs. Haney liked him better; that was all. Kiss-ass. Whatever. Maybe Jerry would get sick and he’d need to step in. Landon Harrison would be the best damn understudy the Steelton High Drama Club had ever seen.

Well, what do you think?

Can you make your reader care about your main character? Try it right now. Even if you are already working through deep POV, take a few paragraphs out of your WIP and follow each of these steps to deepen it further. Share the results with us in the comments below!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Sharing Is Caring

I don’t pretend to speak for every writer, but for most of us there comes a time when we want to share what we’ve made. To talk about it, to fan over it, to give it to someone else.

This is a good urge. I’m not talking about the urge to show off here, though that is natural and (sometimes) good in a number of ways, like when you’ve done something you’re particularly proud of and you want to show a friend.

Look here. Writing—art—is about connection. Maybe you do it alone with the lights off, but you’re still trying to speak, to communicate, with someone. Here’s something. The book is different for every reader, right? How are you going to know how it reads to someone else if you never share it?

Of course, there’s an etiquette to this. For example, it’s best not to ask a working writer, especially one who’s working as a writer, to read for you. It’s absolutely a gesture of respect to the writer involved, but it’s best to wait and see. Let him or her offer. Most often, they don’t have time, and many of them (okay, I) feel bad for saying no to you. If we’re really interested, we’ll ask for it.

Ultimately, I think the best place to share more than a couple hundred words is with your writers’ group, where you have all agreed to set aside time for each other’s work.

No, it doesn’t work for everyone. But sharing your writing is the fast track to improvement. Some people like to have just one critique partner. This works best at or near your own skill level—you learn together. I’ve done that, too, and found it an excellent way to grow as a writer. Is it hard, sometimes, to find beta-readers and others who will give you critique? Sure it is. But it’s worth it.

Share it. There’s no way it’s the worst thing in the world. Trust me.

Look here again. This is a lesson I need to learn every day. Your eyes are nobody else’s eyes. Everybody reads a different thing, even if it’s the same thing. If you can reciprocate, do it, and take the work you’re presented with seriously, even if it’s not your particular cup of tea. It’s as important to the person who shared with you as your work is to you. They’re as excited about it as you are about sharing yours. It’s a gift: “Look at my naked soul. Look what I’m excited about.”

Just keep that in mind.


Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Mad Science of Inspiration

Famous authors seem to get tired of being asked, "Where do you get your inspiration?" Maybe I'll be famous enough to be tired of that question one day. I get the feeling that authors don't like it because they don't know the answer or it's too complicated to quantify.

Pish. How hard can it be to say where you got your inspiration from? It's an easy answer: EVERYWHERE.

What a writer's brain looks like:
(kind of like a serial killer's obsession
board, eh?)
Authors are like Dr. Frankenstein. They dig up inspiration in graveyards. They steal it from hanged corpses. They pay off shady characters to steal it from the morgue. Sometimes its donated freely. Hell, sometimes it drops from the sky to land at their feet.

Shall we look at how a writer becomes Dr. Frankenstein when it comes to writing? I'm going to use my own books as examples because I can speak best from my own experience. Your mileage may vary.


Bazaar Dreams

The Bazaar is the first book I've published but not the first I wrote by a long shot. It started as a dream that was so vivid it stuck with me and nagged at me until I was forced to write it down. Of course, I had this great idea: a magical bazaar, a woman in desperate need of help, a giant spider bursting from the head of what looked like an ordinary human but I didn't have any framework for it. Sometimes ideas come to you that don't have any anchors. This one didn't have an anchor. Who was the main character, anyway? The lady who needed help? My character in the dream who wanted to help? What was the point of the story, beyond having the epic visual of a spider splitting a person open and crawling free? When the dream came to me, I knew it would have to be a book. I let it percolate, knowing that eventually, my Dr. Frankenstein imagination would cobble together a whole monster from the pieces.

Dreams are great fodder for stories. Sometimes the dream IS the book. Another story I'm writing, Hell Wrecker, came to me as a fully formed story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Of course, it wasn't until I started writing it that I realized there was more to the characters than I could ever hope to fit into the story the way I'd dreamed it. In dreams, you just know that the character had a bad childhood and you hold that story in your head. In books, you have to work in the back story in a way that won't clog up the main story. For this book, it meant accepting that what I thought was a complete story arc was actually the middle and last part of a book that actually started many years earlier. 

So, from tiny bits of ideas to fully-fleshed stories, dreams are a tremendous resource for ideas. If you have trouble remembering your dreams, start making it a habit to write down the last things you remember the minute you wake up. It will get you in the habit of remembering and will greatly enhance your ability to catch your dreams. 

So, besides dreams, where else have I found ideas?

Creeptastic Conversations

I am revising and editing Bug Queen right now. The idea for it came to me in a conversation with M. A. Ray, one of my fellow epic authors here on the Scriptorium Blog. I don't remember how the conversation got started, but I remember jokingly saying, "Wouldn't it be cool to have a lady who could control bugs? I see her with this giant tornado of bugs behind her and her in control of them all." It was a fun conversation but the idea stuck and soon I was writing about Vedalia and Sabra and an alien bug called the Calx and an insidious alien fungus come to take over Earth. From a silly conversation to a book. How's that for awesome?

Sometimes you're in public or sitting with friends and someone says something that catches your imagination. Once, long ago when I was riding on a bus (ugh), I overheard a woman say, "My husband told me his contribution to our marriage was his paycheck" That has stuck with me through the years because it's so evocative. Someday I'll write that story. Until then, it sits in my memory banks, waiting for the right moment to come along. 

Just like dreams, some of the ideas that come from conversations won't have an anchor. They aren't a story in and of themselves. They need cobbled together with other ideas from other places. This is where the Dr. Frankenstein method of creation comes in. Take a dream idea and sew it to a conversation idea and see what happens. It may work great or it might destroy the city in a rage. You just never know until you strap it to the table and crank it up onto the roof to get struck by lightning.

Singing Past the Graveyard

Graveyards are great for inspiration too
Music is often an inspiration to me. From powerful lyrics to a sexy beat, from the mood of the piece to the place where I first heard it, songs often spur ideas. Sting writes songs that spark pictures in my head. It's one reason I love listening to his music. It's like dreaming when I listen, and I love to dream. Sometimes songs help me write scenes and sometimes they are the impetus for a book. 

Lovers on the Sun by David Guetta and featuring Sam Martin is a song that is a book to me. I just haven't written it yet. It's a song that paints all sorts of epic scenes for me, I just have to find the anchor and get them on paper. I don't have any stories I've written solely from a piece of music because more often, songs act as the filler for my stories rather than the inspiration for them. They help me find pieces of scenes that weren't there before, and they help me find the emotional depth that wouldn't have been there without that music. 


Truth is Stranger than Fiction

We have inspiration all around us if we're open to it. A news story might spark the idea for a book, the way an article about teenagers dying mysteriously led to the Nightmare on Elm Street movies. I'm often inspired by books I've read, either because the book was so good, I want to write like that too, or the book was so bad, I know I could write better. Sometimes, a book almost works but some element really disappointed me. In that case, I try to figure out how I could write a story that gives me what that book failed to do. I have a story in progress tentatively called Endless Winter, that comes from that space. By the time I'm done with it, I doubt anyone will ever know where the inspiration came from, but it will be my answer to the book that royally screwed up (in my mind) what could have been a great story.

Other places to find inspiration would be non-fiction books. If you're hurting for ideas, go visit the non-fiction section of your local library. There are a million ideas waiting for you there. Or pieces of ideas, anyway. You might take out a book on serial killers, on Abraham Lincoln, and on myth and come up with a great story. (Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter. Maybe that's how the author came up with his book, eh?) You might pick up a book on knitting, a book on hunting, and a book on the American Revolution and end up with Betsy Ross, Bounty Hunter. Who knows? The point is to keep your mind open. Ideas can't get in if you don't welcome them.

Inscribed in Blood

A vampire! Now with more nipple,
apparently
Another great place to find ideas is in your own writing. I've gotten lots of story ideas from my books. Perhaps there's a character who's a bit player in your novel who you think would make a great main character in your next book. Maybe you mention a town in a short story that you realize would be the perfect setting in the werewolf book you're writing next. The cool thing about writing is that you're using your imagination as you do it and when you exercise that muscle, it grows bigger and stronger. Imagination atrophies if you don't use it. 

One of the books I wrote, Blood Curse, came from a what if idea: what if the Renfields were a family who served vampires through the ages and considered it an honor but one of the daughters hated vampires? I played around with the idea for a long while but didn't get anywhere until I anchored it to writing I'd done in high school. I had characters from pirate stories I wrote then that needed new life. I took those characters and folded them into this idea. Voila, I suddenly had people with backgrounds and personalities ready and willing to play out their parts in my story. 

It's Alive! It's ALIVE!

I think people ask the question, "Where do you get your ideas?" because they think that the author must lead an amazing, fascinating life full of adventure. Writers, though, understand that everything is story fodder. The plain room with the dull white walls and the nasally bureaucrat behind bullet-proof glass IS story as much as the high-speed chase that ends in a shoot out. Writers borrow from EVERYTHING, which is why they probably have a hard time saying where their ideas come from. It's not just one place but many, and they don't usually arrive whole, those ideas. They are in pieces like a serial killer's victims and the author has to pick up the bloody bits of flesh and stitch them together in a way that makes sense. Then they have to breathe life into the creature and hope that the creature doesn't fall apart upon scrutiny.

Writing is all about using what you have to create new, wonderful things. Don't think that just because you live in Nowhere, USA or Boring, China that you have nothing to write about. Of course you do. Take bits and pieces from everywhere you go, everyone you talk to, every song you listen to, and every conversation you hear and put those things together to make something amazing. Hit that shit with lightning and raise your hands high with exultation as you scream, "It's alive! It's ALIVE!!"





Friday, October 3, 2014

3 Steps To Write Off Your Emotional Baggage



Write it off. See what I did there? Hahaha.

It's not funny, is it?

A few weeks ago the other Scriptors and I were supposed to be talking about whether we do or do not write sex scenes. I didn't actually know the answer to the question. I'm a relatively new writer myself. Confession: I haven't actually finished anything.  I've written some catchy flash fiction, a few gripping short stories, and some large chunks of half-digested post-apocalyptic novel. But sex scenes? Truthfully, I haven't decided yet. But I believed I could still sit down and write an honest, truthful answer to the question anyway. At the least, I could show my thought processes.

I ended up in tears.

I cut what I wrote, begged off the question, and chose to save my answer for another day, a time when my Issues wouldn't take away from my colleagues' clever, well-though-out, and varied answers.

So I thought I'd wait. For a spotlight. Cuz, I mean, clearly, there's nothing more fun than having a spotlight shone on your Issues, right?

Everybody has issues, don't they? They sell classy little air-freshener night lights for the bathroom: know why? Because you've got your grown ups who are afraid of the dark. There are a dozen apps in the Appstore with the sole purpose of making distracting noises that will drown out your thoughts, fears, and worries as you are trying to get to sleep. Medication for depression, anxiety, and various mental disorders are at an all-time high.

Look, I'm not saying it's a bad thing. People are getting help. They're doing something about it. Mental illness is slowing losing its social stigma. It's okay to be broken.

It's okay to be broken.

Really.

When I was unpacking my answer to the above tricky little question, I found multiple layers of baggage. Emotional abuse. Religion. Guilt. Adolescence. Confusion. Love. Things that had burned my soul for better or worse, and by sitting down to write, I had accidentally peeled off the scab that had been covering a bloody wound. You can't put scabs back on. I had to let the thing bleed for awhile before it could be stopped up again.

And when you write, even fiction, you're going to be pulling that scab off again and again and again. Why? Because writing isn't good unless you're putting pieces of your soul into it. It won't ring true. Your readers won't care. As Robert Frost said, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”

So what can we do? As writers, how can we deal with this job hazard of opening up old wounds in order to make good art?



1)  Watch for the signs


You might not know ahead of time that something is going to hurt. I was caught by surprise when answering a simple question about writing technique had me in tears and reevaluating my whole life. Try to be aware of how you feel while you are writing. Sounds simple, but so often we put ourselves into our characters lives and allow ourselves to feel their feelings rather than our own. That's good. That means you're doing it write. (hehe. Sorry. Doing it write. Darn again. Doing it right. There we go.)

But when you are done writing, take a moment to evaluate your feelings. You okay? Did the trauma that your characters went through affect you personally? If so, is it just a natural writer's mood swing, or could you be chipping away at something that you've pushed down, something that needs to heal?


2) Get it out


If you decide that there's something deeper going on, find a healthy way to observe those feelings. If there's someone you can trust, try talking it out. You need someone who is a good listener, who is non-judgmental, who won't tell you that your feelings are wrong, and won't try to fix them for you. Tall order. Not everyone has a friend like that. If you do have a friend like that, go write them a love letter or send them a bar of chocolate. Yes, right now. It's okay, the rest of the article will wait until you get back.

If you do not have a friend like that, write your feelings out in a blank book that can be hidden somewhere reliably secret or in a secure location on your hard drive. You need it to be secure so you can be totally honest. When you have wounds, some of the feelings that come out are going to reflect your true feelings, and some of them are going to be reactionary. You might find hatred, bitterness, violence, or sexual feelings that you feel aren't healthy. You might have feelings of love for someone that doesn't fit with your life, or that will hurt someone else. You might want to express feelings about hurting yourself, or hurting someone else. You need to get them out. Burn the paper afterwards if it's something that could really get you in trouble.

Don't hold onto the feelings. Sometimes writing things down makes them more real and you can fixate on them. Don't do that. Write them down with the intention of purging them. Write them out and out and out and out until they are gone then let them go. Repeat as necessary.


3) Take Action


After you've gotten the feelings out, replace them with something positive. Take a long walk outside. Play tag with a kid. Beat your spouse at Candyland. Or Risk, if you're really brave. Listen to music that makes you feel alive. Look at the stars. Swim. Eat pasta. Break bread with someone you love or someone that makes you laugh. Hug. Have some reallyreally good sex. Write a list of things that are still good about the world, of things that have improved in our generation.

Feel better. And then go back to writing. Tear the scabs off again, as gently and firmly as possible. Did you know that while scabs are good for keeping germs out (protecting us from further harm) skin actually heals better without them? I only learned that this past year. My whole life I thought you needed scabs to heal. Well, you don't. Rip them off, throw some powerful germ killer on there, then let your wounds breathe. Feels good to hurt sometimes.

Caveat.


I'm not a psychologist. I'm not even old enough to be wise. If you're hurting, please get help from a professional. Talk to a doctor or a therapist or a non-oppressive spiritual leader of your choice. If you're thinking about hurting yourself, tell somebody ASAP. The world would be less without you.

We need your smile. We need your art. Thank you.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Deadlines

I'd like to say I prepared for this post by missing my September 28th blog posting deadline, but that wouldn't be entirely truthful.  Rather, in this case, missing my deadline turned my thoughts directly to deadlines.

http://douglasadams.s3-website-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/press/dna1b.jpg.
Mr. Adams had a few things to say about deadlines.

That being said, that deadline is the reason I'm writing this post at all, even if it is three days late and totally a cop out in terms of being incredibly self-referential.  I need deadlines to spur me on, and even when I get knocked out of the saddle by work or study or the weather changing.

I have to say that joining a group like the Scriptorium has been a huge help in making me accountable to someone.  Well, at the very least, making me feel like I'm accountable to someone.  I had been with another writing group at the university where I work, but it wasn't working out.  A lot of it had to do with scheduling, but some of it (I came to realize in retrospect) was the fact that I wasn't getting a lot of suggestions on things to change or refine.  I would have a manuscript that my group would give me a thumbs up on that I would take home to my fiancee, who would promptly say, "What is this shit," and light it on fire in front of me.  Then one of the cats would throw up on the ashes.

Incidentally, she doesn't get to see first drafts anymore.  Neither do the cats.

You can't even get to the point where you're horrifying your pets and loved ones if you don't write, however. For me to write, I need a schedule.  Goals.  Writing deadlines.  Structure.  If I don't have structure, I can't have discipline, and without discipline my writing slows to a crawl.  Having a zany 2k word day once a month isn't going to get your shit written.

Discipline and deadlines also helps me to get my priorities straight.  I realize that I need to outline a particular thing or get create a name or a person or technology and that I need to do that in non-writing time because while that is planning for writing, that is not writing.  Sometimes that means I have to get really creative on the fly instead of deliberative, and you know what? That's okay.

I have found that I need to operate under some form of pressure to write.  Too much is obviously bad; there is definitely a zone of 'comfortable pressure' that I experience where I'm motivated enough to write but not staring at the page staring back at me and wondering why I can't just get my shit together dammit.

This is what (mostly) works for me.  Sometimes shit flies by.  I was just chatting with Casey and he reminded me I missed the corporate post.

Looks like I've got more shit to get done.

Addendum: Turns out I actually already did it, before deadline, and promptly forgot that I had submitted it and it's already sitting pretty under September 11th.  How's that for getting shit done?

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Twisted: Can a story go too far?

Decisions, decisions

This is what you get when you
can't decide! RAW MEAT!


As writers, we are making decisions constantly. When one of our characters asks, "What's for dinner?" we can't say, "I don't know," like we do in real life. We have to decide what the meal will be, how to describe it, whether or not the character will even get to eat it.

We have to make decisions about sentence length, word choice, the structure of our story, chapter length, hell, we even have a multitude of things to pick from when organizing chapters. "Do I want parts and chapters? Do I want to put Chapter One or One or 1? Can I quit now? No one said writing would be this hard, damn it."

Then there are the bigger decisions, the dark things, the creepy things, the things that dwell in the recesses of our imaginations that want to claw their way free and bleed all over our pages. These things might be violent, scary, sexual, dastardly, racist, sexist, bigoted. They may be the moments we censor because they make us uncomfortable. Should we write about those things? If we are supposed to write the truth, if we are supposed to capture moments that are honest, do we leave the graphic stuff out for fear of being too gory, too gross, too perverted?

No one can make the decision for you. Just like the tiny details, these big moments are ultimately up to you. There are some questions you can ask yourself, though, that might help you make the best choice for your book.

What's your genre?

If you're writing cozy mysteries, you won't include graphic sex or violence. Cozy readers have certain expectations when they pick up your book. If your cozy mystery features a sexually active prostitute, they'll probably put your book down and find another that meets the requirements for that genre.

If you're writing fantasy, you have to consider a different set of expectations. Same with sci-fi, romance, thrillers, horror, et al. Think of genres like hashtags on Twitter. They help people sort a large amount of information into categories that are easier to browse through. You don't want to plop a violent fight scene in the middle of a contemporary romance. Your readers will throw your book across the room.

What is the purpose of the scene, word, image?

Don't go there, girlfriend. Or boyfriend.
Or gender-neutral friend.
Sometimes you come to a spot in your story where things get boring. Your characters are practically sitting around picking their noses and something exciting needs to happen, stat! "I know," you think. "I'll throw in a graphic sex scene. People like sex, right?" If the element is going into your book for no other reason than to liven things up, then it's not going to read authentically. It's never good when a reader throws your book across the room and yells, "Susie Q Character would NEVER sleep with the butler!" If you add a scene for titillation, then your readers, if you have any, will get a lot of exercise tossing your books into walls.

Does the scene move the story forward?

This is important. If the scene doesn't move the story forward, then it shouldn't be in your story, easy as that. If the sex scene doesn't have any purpose beyond getting some yum yum nibble time in your story, then you need to cut it out. (If you need some sex scene insight, check out our blog post: Sex Scenes Are Hard (Part One)

I hate it when I get spleen juice on my
chopping knife. Sigh.
This goes for your bloody serial killer chopping up his victims, too. If the dismemberment of a group of choir boys is only in your story because you want to show your serial killer is EVIL as of the DEVIL, then you need to rethink it or cut it. It shouldn't be in your story unless it's moving things forward, unless it's giving the reader insight into the character, unless it's showcasing a game changer. If it's not doing those things, rip it out as ruthlessly as your serial killer would rip out his former science teacher's spleen. 


Why are you putting the scene in your story?

This is a good one to explore. Why do you want to write about a character being mutilated? Raped? Cussed at? Discriminated against? What's the message you're sending to your audience? Be careful that you aren't adding an ultra-violent scene in your serial killer story because "people will expect one." Be sure you aren't adding a rape scene to your urban fantasy because "it's a good way to add emotional depth to my character." (If you want to read a good article about this subject, check out what fantasy writer Jim Hine's has to say on the subject in his article: Writing About Rape.)

There's a difference between adding a scene for shock value and adding a scene because it's integral to the story. If you're unsure, let someone else read it, someone who is willing to be honest with you. Be honest with yourself. 

None of this is to say, "Don't write that terrible thing." It's to urge you to consider why you're writing that terrible thing. It might need to be said. It might need to be told and you might be the only person honest enough to write it. Just be thoughtful and deliberate when you do write the hard thing.

What are your readership goals?

There's always someone who ruins
it for everyone else. Stop leaving
your sperm swimming around, please.
Violence, gore, knife-edged honesty about historical horrors, sex, rape, and all the other controversial topics are divisive. They are controversial for a reason and you need to realize that you are shrinking your audience whenever you make the choice to add certain things to your story. If you have graphic sex, you will lose a portion of the population who hate sex scenes or find them offensive. If you have graphic violence, ditto. There are stories that become popular in spite of their controversial subjects or because of a particularly graphic scene. But they are the exceptions. Are you okay with fact that there will people who won't read your story specifically because of that one scene or that one subject? There's value in having a smaller, dedicated readership. Ultimately, you have to think hard about what your expectations are. 

Can a story go too far?

Sure it can. For someone, somewhere, your story will go too far. Justine by the Marquis de Sade went too far for me. Just look at a banned book list and you'll find a myriad of books whose authors went too far for someone. 

The question really isn't, "Can a story go too far?" anyway. The question is, "Is this the story I need to write and if so, how can I tell it true?"





Thursday, September 18, 2014

Beta Readers Are Superheroes

You've just typed the words “The End”. Your masterpiece—weeks, months, sometimes even years in the making—is finally finished. Sure, it might not be the next Great American Novel, and it may never win any awards, or make it to the number one spot on the New York Times' Best Seller List. But you're enamored of it and you think it has potential.

So what do you do next? Send it out to agents and editors at one of the big five publishing houses? Upload it to Amazon or CreateSpace? Shell out some cash to Lulu or BookBaby?

Nope, nope, and nope.

The next step is to corral some friends—bribe them with chocolate cake or brown butter cookies or a really nice chicken tagine with lots of harissa, if you need to—and offer them the chance to help make history, to become so important that their opinion will alter the course of the world. Ask them to become Beta Readers!


What's a beta reader, you may be asking. A beta reader is an author's bestest, most important friend in the publishing game. Even more important than an agent, an editor, and yes, even more important than the guy who fixes computers. A few good beta readers are the difference between life and death to your book.

You see, they see the manuscript in its rawest form. They see your book naked, in front of one of those dressing room mirrors with that awful lighting that exposes each little flaw, each little bump and curve and divot, and they help decide which parts need liposuction and which parts are perfect just the way The Maker created them.

But how do you find the sort of beta readers who will be honest with you, who are capable of giving you in-depth insight, who can say more than, “I liked it. It was good.” That, my friends, is what I'm here to tell you. I'll share with you the secrets of finding the perfect beta reader.

  1. Ask friends who are writers. Most writers are capable of a certain level of deep critique; they know what they like, they know what works and what doesn't, and they're able to express those opinions in a way that is constructive.
  2. Ask friends who are heavy readers. I'm talking about that one friend who reads like three or four books a week. They are clearly intelligent people, capable of thought, and probably know whether your protagonist is a rip-off of Jefferson Nighthawk, or if your antagonist is too perfectly evil to be sympathetic with your readers.

Once you've assembled your group of five to seven readers, hand over the manuscript. But don't just give it to them, pat them on their head, and send them off. That's a big mistake. Tell them what you need. If you're looking for help making sure your plot is air-tight, tell them that. If you're looking for ways to ensure your female characters pass the Bechdel test, tell them that, too. Admit to them which parts of your book are weak and ask them how to shore them up. Ask them to tell you which were their favorite characters and the ones that can die in a fire. Ask them to go over your baby with a fine-toothed comb and pick out the nits. And then give them this list of seven questions, designed to sharpen their focus. Feel free to add or take away your own questions, based on your own needs.

Then sit back and relax. Your beta readers have got this. Enjoy the feeling of knowing that you're well on your way to becoming a published author and that you're doing everything you can to ensure your story is the best it can be.

And try not to stress out about finding the perfect editor.


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Five Ways to Give Birth: Writing Kids as Characters

So much of childhood isn’t what most of us would consider child-appropriate. A child’s world can be, often is, as dark as an adult’s—or darker. Here are five ways to put breathing children into fiction meant for grown-ups.

1.       Remember that every child is his or her own person.

“My dad can eat six pizzas!”
“Yeah, but my dad is stronger than Superman.”
Like any character, any child is shaped by his or her experience, whether it’s peace and shelter, horrific violence, or anything and everything in between. Make them people first, and little people after.

2.       Think back to your own childhood.

“You’re ruining my life!”
Do you remember that thing you wanted for Christmas so badly? That one thing that would’ve made your life absolutely complete and you’d never ask for anything ever again? Yeah?
You didn’t get it, did you? How intense, how gripping, was that disappointment? The world was ending! Capture that when you write children.
Or maybe you did get it! You lucky cuss. How excited were you? Oh my goodness the world was wonderful! Capture that emotion.
Children feel so deeply and broadly. There’s no end to the well. For the most part, they’re just learning about emotion, their own emotions. Try to bring that to the page.

3.       Talk to some kids.

“Mommy, I doed it!”
“Yes, you did.”
If you’re a parent, you already know this. And if you aren’t, and you’re lucky enough to have kids in your life, have the best conversations you can with them. I’m not advocating asking them questions like “What if you were sold into slavery?” What I mean is, you’ve got to enter into the conversation with the interest of listening, really listening, to them. Hear the different ways they speak and the ways they’re learning language. Hear what they talk about. I promise, they are interesting. You haven’t really lived until you’ve discussed robots with an eight-year-old.

4.       Give them grown-up problems.

“I’ll get us some food.”
This is actually true of kids’ fiction too. Let them deal with things out of their depth—as you would any other character. Challenge them as people. Thank goodness, they aren’t real, though it ought to feel as if they are.

5.       Give them justice.

“The Queen had saved the little Prince. And they loved each other, whatever came after.”
This is truer of some kinds of fiction than it is of others, I suppose, truer of some works than others. But give them as much as you can, for your own peace of mind and your readers’. Poetic justice is always appropriate when writing about children, or so I believe. The world is screwed up and real kids deal with terrible situations every day, often with no recourse, no punishment for the wrongdoers, nothing.

It would be better if no child had to go through anything like what real (and fictional) children go through. At least in fiction you can give every little one a chance.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Sex Scenes Are Hard (Part One)

For this month's Scriptorium roundtable posts, we asked a question of each writer. You probably clicked to read this article because of the title. We will not disappoint you. This month's question is:

Do you write sex scenes? Why or why not?

It proved to be a hard question. Ah ha. Ha. Ha.

Fiona Skye says:

I don't publish sex scenes.

It's not because I'm a prude. It's not because I'm a hoity-toity artiste who's too good for that nonsense. And it's certainly not because I don't think a little sexy time doesn't have its place in fiction.

I don't publish sex scenes because fading to black and allowing the readers to use their imaginations to picture what my characters are doing is more titillating, more tantalizing, more intriguing than any black and white description could be. There is no way that a sex scene, with its awkward euphemisms for body parts (and occasional outright vulgarities), myriad sighs and moans, and ridiculous adjectives to describe an orgasm, is better than what the reader has experienced in his or her own lives. The reader taking from that experience and applying it to what he or she is reading is what really makes my work come alive.

And okay, maybe it is a little because I'm a prude. I can't help it. It's how I was raised.


Matt Green says:

I have written hardly any sex scenes! I tried my hand and writing erotica once and never revisited it. That's not to say I do not greatly enjoy it, though, and attempting to put together another one intrigues me.

As with all things, my first steps are going to be research! My fiance has provided me with an excellent selection of texts to broaden my understanding of how works of quality are accomplished. I also plan to solicit recommendations from other Scriptors, as I gather they are also more well-versed in the genre than I am.

If I do this right, what I produce will incorporate intriguing, well developed characters who have crazy hot sex.


Jen Ponce says:

Why did I start reading romance books when I was 14? For the sex, of course. Sure, some of the books had great stories, neat history facts gussied up as story, great characters that I loved, but mostly it was the sex. My mom knew it, too, and tried to ban them from the house. Yeah, like that worked. 

I expanded my reading to other genres but I have to say, I still think the best books have the best sex scenes. What can I say?

I've read a lot of sex scenes and because of that, I know what I like and don't like and can even articulate it. Here, let me show you: 

I love a great sex scene. Sometimes I love them because they are funny, clumsy, silly, or downright outrageous. I love them when they are perverted or sweet, crass or emotional, one paragraph or ten pages long. 

I don't like sex scenes that are timid or apologetic (unless it's the characters being timid and apologetic, that's different.) I don't like sex scenes that don't fit the story. If both characters are balls-to-the-walls perverts and they have sweet sex, I ain't buying it (unless it's part of the story/character development.) And the inverse is true as well. Don't give me two uptight sticks who don't even curse and then have them act out a scene from Deep Throat.

The important thing to remember when you're writing sex scenes is to keep the story moving forward. Ask yourself:

How does this develop my characters?

How does this move my plot forward?

What can I reveal in this moment, that changes the relationship between these two people?

I will read sex all day long if the story moves within it. Don't be shy. Let your characters bump uglies. Let me in there to see what happens. Show me who they are with their clothes off. Don't shut the door unless that's the genre you're writing. (If you write all day long about people hacking each other's heads off and then you shut the door on the sex, I shall be highly annoyed with you. Just saying.)

So, do I write sex scenes? It's probably obvious by now. I do. I enjoy writing them as much as I love reading them, both sweet and sexy, naughty and goofy, and all the stuff in between or on either side.


M.A. Ray says:

Yes, I write sex scenes.

I write them because they’re an important character tool; how two (or more, or fewer) people behave with each other when clothing is optional shows who they are in a very fundamental way.

I write them because I generally don’t hold back on the violence, and don’t see why I should hold back on sex. It’s just naked people. Nobody’s losing limbs or lives (we hope). 

I write them because they turn me on, and I want to see if I can tweak my readers’ nethers like I tweak their tear ducts.

I write them because they’re difficult for me. A well-written sex scene is a thing of beauty. If I can do that, I can do anything (or so I tell myself). It’s a challenge.

I write them because I like to read them, and I want to write books I enjoy reading. That's flat.


Do you write sex scenes? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments! And tune in next time for more answers from the Scriptors!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

5 Things to Write When You Don't Know What to Write



Say you’re a new writer. Like me.

And say you never had the bug to write every single day like the “real” writers. Say maybe you even went a few years without writing any fiction at all, because you decided you weren’t good enough. If you were good enough, after all, you’d be finishing stuff. You’d have the instinct and it would come easily.

Then let’s say something happened. A tragedy, perhaps, something that seared your soul shut and you had to find a new way to let things out. And you thought maybe you could write about other things, about stories or poems, about other people’s tragedies until your pain would disappear.

And it did. It worked. You rode the wave of a writing high for a few weeks and words came spurting out of you like bad blood, flushing out pain and sorrow and leaving you feeling thin, dizzy, and light, but deliciously, ecstatically happy.

When the last spurts dry onto the page, you feel some life rushing back into you. You begin to be able to walk straight again. Chin up, eyes bright. Best of all, you have a purpose for your life. This is what you were meant to do.

You are a writer!

One problem.

You have no idea what to write. For a while, you fool around with extending the pain you were writing through, but it falls flat. That’s not who you are anymore, and even when it is, it’s not really getting you anywhere. You want to write something amazing, something to win prizes, earn money, and most importantly, something that you can show to your girlfriend.

But what?

You sit down in front of the keyboard and peck away at a novel. You get fifteen thousand words or so, but it’s not good enough. If Tolkien and Rowling got together and had a baby, and that baby grew up and adopted a cat named Butcher, and then the cat got sick and started hacking hairballs all over the living room, then one of those hairballs was your novel.

What to do? Well, you know what to do. It’s rule one.

Write more. Write every day. Write when you don’t feel like it. Write when you’re short on sleep or when you’re out of coffee or when you had too much coffee. Write when you’re sad or lonely or angry or happy or lustful or tired or bored. Get all those things down on paper. Write a million words and then you’ll be a “real” writer.

But you still don’t know what to write!

First of all, you don’t have writer’s block. That’s not a thing. That thing is banished from the Scriptorium. Writing is always hard, it’s never easy, and there’s no excuse for not doing it.
Here are a few suggestions for things to write.

1. Flash Fiction

This is my go-to for dry days. Pick a topic, a funny idea, a dream, or even a piece of art and sit down to make a brief story out of it. How brief? Well, that’s up to you. I like to aim for 1800 words. This is one of those times when outlines are unnecessary. Just start an idea and see where it takes you. 

You are a sculptor in front of a block of marble. Start chipping away.

For some great examples of Flash Fiction (as well as a popular place to submit one) check out, http://dailysciencefiction.com

2. Six Word Stories

Six word stories: writer’s sleeping pill.

If you’re interested in becoming a word master, six word stories are an excellent exercise. Think of a concept and try to condense it to six words. TRY. Here are some of my favorites.

His flowers were my last goodbye.
Luckily for me, a vegetarian dragon.
This empty page: my only friend.
Temperature rises. Oceans flood. Death awaits.
Wanting to know all, I listen.

3. Backstory Blurbs

If you have a captivating idea for a novel that you can’t get out of your head, but you can’t seem to get it out of your head, try writing backstory blurbs.

Get a blank sheet of paper and write the letters A-Z down one column. Next to each letter, pick a topic relevant to your story. It’s okay to skip Q and Z and X if you like – there’s not going to be a grade. Each day, until you think of something else to do, pick one of those topics and expand it. Pretend you are writing an encyclopedia for your world. If you get all the way through, start over again. This stuff may be useful someday.

4. Narrative Outlines

Another trick for a gummed-up novel-writing pipe is to clear the way with a narrative outline. Pick an unlikely character in your story and tell the whole story from their point of view. Tell it quickly like a bored conversation or tell it slowly with a lot of detail. Make it their dying confession or their interview for the local paper. Anything to help you visualize the story in your head.

5. Bad Poetry

When all else fails, write bad poetry. It’s a required part of the writing process, so you might as well get it out of the way. I’ll close with one of my own bad poems, so you don’t feel embarrassed about yours.

::golem depart::
from earth he came
as strong as steel
but soft as sand
he learned to feel
taught to fight,
he fought to win.
then saw the right
and saw the sin
he saw the blood
that dyed the clay
the blameless girl
who died that day
with tears of mud
and moans of sod
he fell to earth
he flew to God
from earth he came,
no heart or soul,
but learned to feel
and paid the toll
broke bread with men
who broke his heart
to dust returned
Golem Depart
There you go. That was one of mine, written on a day when I had nothing else to write. Now it’s your turn. Go on, pick one of my crazy ideas and run with it. Better yet, make it a blog post and link it here for all of us to enjoy!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

We Are Paper Tigers Full of Weird

With great talent comes great weirdness.

People like to imagine that weirdness is all manic pixie dream girl nonsense, or playing the banjo at two in the morning, or having an extensive collection of Transformers in your basement lined up so that they appear to be engaging in a combined car wreck/orgy.

But sometimes “weird” looks a lot more like “broken,” and it’s a kind of broken that you are confident that 0 percent of other people ever go through. The kind that makes you walk away from your art, your admirers, and your life and huddle in a corner and cry. Creation takes a certain amount of weirdness, but the same wild energy that creates fine steel from ore can dump a toxic slag into our lives. You wield strange forces when you populate your head with visitors who pull on your time, your attention, and maybe even your temper.

So above all else, this rule to writing must apply: Be good to one another.

I’m a guilty little shit when it comes to this. I try to make apologies when my big ogre fists pop some novice writer on the nose for no good reason, and I freely confess, I love a good fight now and then. But when it comes to someone else’s art? Be good to them. Encourage and do not destroy.

In the indie writing community, this rule applies times one thousand. We ought to all get secret writer tattoos on our asses together: “Be good to one another.” Because, let’s face it, what separates the indie artist community from top shelf sellers is that the top shelfers seem to have it locked down (more or less).

Consistent sellers are selected for their consistency and hard work that spans years and years, which is what it takes to crack the business and to stay in it. Or so I’m told. But for the indie guys? We are selected for the reverse. We are the quirky moon howlers and the ten-years-to-write-it obsessives and we ought to all be careful about following the advice of Stephen King too closely because, shit, that guy has it together in ways we never will.*

The truth is, we lack a crucial ingredient that makes for the sure-fire best seller, and for a lot of us, that ingredient is consistency. Or, well, sanity. Our Weird might make us wilt into a ball of compressed terror at the notion of a deadline; or it might leave our skin thin like sieves so that trolls can suck the blood out with a kiss; or maybe our lives are just a wreck of unpaid bills and overdue projects that overflow a wireframe waste paper basket until we live under its shadow.

Whatever the case, we are paper tigers. There is talent and potential here, but we break so, so easily.

So. Find your closest indie author friends and defend them, nourish them, love them for what they can do—and soak it up in return. Because who else will?

*Except for the part about not becoming addicts. Listen to him on that. For serious, be quirky, but don’t wreck the organ in your skull that makes the light and the thunder happen.