Friday, August 15, 2008

I Used To Lover Her...

I have a problem. Really, I do. No, it's not your normal, mundane, run-of-the-mill problem that every average person has. It is only a problem that we writers have. Seriously, I have a problem.

I know not everyone cares much for the term 'muse' but mine has been nagging me a lot lately. She has been telling me to write a novel. (Yes, my muse is female and she has a way of yammering at me when I am not writing, telling me that I am wasting time and I will never be a good writer if I don't do it with every free moment I have.) Keep this in mind.

Over the last few months I have started, stopped and started a novel or six. The idea would be really good—even cool—but, for the life of me, putting it together has not been an easy process. I seem to have developed a mental block when it comes to the novel writing process. I have even scrapped ideas just because the concept would mean it would be a novel. When I say scrapped, I mean I wrote it in my Great BIG Book of Ideas and have pushed them as far out of my mind as possible.

This got to the point of utter frustration. I have several novels "in progress," but none of them are near complete. Why? Because I almost loathe the novel writing process. If you know me at all, then this is way out of character. I love to write. I write everyday. I breathe it, talk it, dream it. It's what I want to do when I grow up.

But, for now, I'm stuck. Or, I was stuck, but that would be getting ahead of myself here and I do that too much as it is, so I will try to stick with the idea at hand.

I sat at my desk a few weeks ago, my outline for a novel sitting beside me. I read over it, leaned back and tried to envision the story unfolding. That was the easy part. Then I sat down to write. The first 3000 words were a breeze and I started to get all excited. There was a hook right at the beginning. It felt good. It flowed from my mind to my fingers and onto the computer screen.

The next day I started again and got about 5000 words into it. Then it happened. I lost interest. No, I am not ADD—though if I were, it would make sense. I saved the document and went online to one of the many forums out there. There was a prompt for a contest. I read it, wrote the story, read over it and put it aside. The story was just over 3000 words. I felt good, like I had accomplished something that night.

The next day I sat down to write on the novel and my mind drew a blank. So, I closed it and searched that same forum for ideas. I came across one in a discussion thread about things we used to do as children. The comment I got my idea from was . . . oh wait, I can't tell the comment yet because I am in the middle of that story. Now, here is where it gets a little odd. I started a short story with the intent of it being between three and five thousand words. That story has morphed and is now sitting at just over 12K words and there doesn't appear to be an end in sight. It may well end up as a short novella.

After the story reached the 6K word mark I sat back and read over it. It's actually decent. I made notes in a book by my computer on things to make sure and add or clarify or bring back into the story later. While I did that I noticed that the story wasn't going to be no less than about 15K words. Now, sitting at 12K, I don't think it will be less than 20K.

And you know what? I'm fine with that.

I took a break on that story to work back on my novel. I figured with the creative juices flowing, I would write on the novel, get a few thousand words out and make my 'muse' be quiet for a day or two. Ummm . . . no. The thoughts dried up, my hands couldn't seem to hit the right keys and my frustration mounted.

My muse was not happy with me when I shut the program down and got up from my desk. I needed to work on something else or at least go outside and get a breath of fresh air (if there is such a thing as fresh air anymore). I watered my garden and stood in the tranquility of elephant ears, four o'clocks, honeysuckles and wisteria. All the while, my muse complained that I was wasting time again.

"The plants must be watered," I calmly said and pushed her aside.

As I watered the plants it occurred to me just why I have a hard time writing novels. For me it's simple. I like the idea of completing projects. Most of my projects, including story ideas, have short term goals. I write between three and five thousand words a day, excluding weekends, so at a minimum of 15K words a week. I lean more to the maximum of 25K a week, but it's not the amount of words that count right now.

Well then, what is it? For me, it is the completion of the story that counts, that makes me press on and finish short stories so I can get on to the next one. That is my muse's fault—she got me doing flash stories and then working my way up to longer pieces, but she wouldn't let me stop writing for more than a day or two before she fussed at me again.

But, back to the thought at hand. Completing tasks is something that I try to do as quickly as possible. Writing is the same way for me. I start a story, I want to finish it. I can't say that always happens but I can say it happens over three quarters of the time. And what is easier to complete? A short story or a novel?

You guessed it: A short story.

I realized then that if I focus on the novel—the sheer size of it—then the task is daunting for me. It makes my muse happy, but the words are pure crap. However, if I approach it like it is a short story with a lot of information in it, it may work. Kind of like my novella about . . . oh, you almost got it out of me. Nice try. That novella was only going to be a short story, and look what happened. It is constantly growing. I love the character and what he went through and how he overcomes his adversity.

So, I thought I would try to write the novel without thinking about the big picture. I know where I want it to go and I know all of the main characters as well as the scenery and some of the middle story. I know the problem and the resolution. I know how to get there. Now, I just need to write the story. I started that this past Monday.

I took two other steps to try and get this novel process going and, hopefully, complete the book. The first of these things was to enlist some help. I have a few friends who I asked to stay on me about it, every day, excluding weekends. One of them has been totally faithful about it and the others have been on the ball as well. Each day I check in with them and tell them how far along I am. I have made myself become accountable for writing a novel by enlisting these Novel Buddies to nag me in the real world and not just in my mind.

I started the novel on Monday and now, here I am, four full days in and I have over 7000 words under the belt and I can feel the story living, becoming real in my head. I think I am going to be able to do this. I haven't written my minimum of 1000 words yet today but I will soon. I feel confident that I can finish this novel now and I can honestly say I haven't felt that way about writing a novel since I wrote Unbroken Crayons in 2006 for NaNoWriMo.

I'm AJ and I'm . . . what's that? I said I took two steps to get the novel process done and I only mentioned one of them? Well, I guess you are right. What was the other one? Oh. I killed my muse because she wouldn't stop nagging me. :)

I'm AJ and I'm out.

Now, out of good fun, I give you this video, in memory of my muse. May she rest in peace.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Enthusiasm Can Only Carry You So Far

If you are a writer you want as many venues to submit your stories to. Literary writers seem to have plenty of them. Genre writers, however . . . well our publications are folding by the handfuls.

Before anyone gets all angry with me for saying that, read on and understand my words. There seems to be a wealth of literary magazines out there, both in print and online. Sometimes I feel like there are more literary print magazines than there are total genre magazines both in print and online. That is probably just perception from a guy who likes to write horror stories.

And here is the thing with this perception: it could be accurate. I've noticed that for every literary magazine that pops up it seems a genre magazine shuts down. This is frustrating for me, a horror writer.

Over the last few months several genre publications have folded. I'm not mentioning names right now because I don't think it is fair to those publications. I've heard quite a few writers complaining about it and even bashing some of these publications. I'm not so sure that is fair.

Do you want to know my take on this? No? Tough. This is my blog and if you are reading it, well, you're going to get my take on it.

The way I see it is this: It doesn't take much to fail at something, but it takes a LOT of work to succeed.

Go ahead, read it again.

It doesn't take much to fail at something, but it takes a LOT of work to succeed.

For these publications the work that goes into it to make them successful is unbelievable—especially when you are talking about a print publication. For the moment let's stick with online pubs.

I have a friend that just recently formed an e-zine. His enthusiasm is unbelievable. He got together with a young woman who is pretty good with artistic things and they began hashing it out. The name came to him in a dream. Yeah, that's right. The name came to the founder in a dream. It's a cool name. He sought out an editor with the same enthusiasm as he has. Next came a poetry editor. Again, enthusiasm.

After he had most of his staff onboard they began working on big issues, and little ones, as well. They developed a website, sought out art and stories. They created a forum to discuss things over with other folks who may be able to help them in pursuing the dream of seeing the publication come to life.

Enthusiasm abounded.

Now, it's time for them to get to work, really start doing the hard stuff. They have a base idea, they have a website where they can post the stories and artwork, they are developing submissions guidelines, art guidelines, they have contacted people for advice on how often they should publish, print or online and all the other good stuff that goes with it.

They've done some marketing and research.

None of these folks live in the same area. They are spread out all over the place, so they rely on e-mails, phone conversations, and the forum they have to get things done. I don't know how many publications are done this way, but I venture a guess that many of them do.

But, wait, there's more. All of the people involved with this publication have full time jobs, children to look after, lives to live. Time is of the essence when putting together a publication of any sort. It becomes even more precious when LIFE gets in the way.

They are still very enthusiastic. I think enthusiasm is a huge key to being successful. If you aren't stoked about something, you aren't going to work to make it successful.

Now, say it is a print magazine instead of an online venue. For that you have to have money. Money to pay the printers, money to pay shipping costs, money to pay artist and writers (if you weren't doing that with the online magazine). Deadlines become stricter—you miss a deadline by even a day and it could set you back upwards to a month. The marketing takes on a different meaning. It becomes a necessary evil in order to get subscriptions which help with the costs of the publication. There are ads that must be sought out.

The print magazine is a beast, to say the least. Even when you are full of enthusiasm.

The work is a huge aspect of putting together a publication.

When you do things mostly online you are taking a huge risk, either with submissions being electronic or contact info being all through e-mails or even the magazine on a server that is very reliable. Things can go wrong at any point. Your server could crash. Your e-mail could go kaput. You could get a virus that wipes out your hard drive. Then you are out a LOT of work, your contacts and your submissions. This can be fatal if not addressed immediately. Even then, it can still kill a publication.

Enthusiasm can be drained quickly with such an event.

I don't know why good magazines go under or why other magazines fail to get off the ground. I do know, however, that there is a ton of work that goes into it. Coordinating a magazine of any kind is not easy work, and most of the time the people working on them are not getting paid. They do it because they want to, not because of the money.

If you don't want our markets to go under, support them, read them, pass the word that the publications are worth your time and money. Word of mouth can go along way in the survival of a magazine. With MySpace, Blogger, Linkedin, Facebook and who knows what else out there, we can all help these publications get off the ground and stay up and running.

But, AJ, what if they are not a paying market? I can't answer that question for you. I believe that is an individual decision on whether to support or submit to nonpaying venues. But, just remember what it was like when you were an unpublished writer and you wanted a publishing credit under your belt. Many of us sent stories to these nonpaying venues just so we could get published.

Those folks work just as hard at putting out a publication as the ones who pay you. They can't get anywhere if no one subs to them. Enthusiasm can only carry a publication and those working on it but so far. You never know, maybe one of those nonpaying places could get a Stoker nomination. We can all dream, right?

Now, I mentioned earlier that literary writers have a larger selection of places to submit to. I stand by that, though I have no research to back it up. However, I feel this way because you don't hear of a lot of literary magazines folding, especially before their first issue. Some of these literary magazines get 'token' stories from some of the more established writers in the field just to help them get off the ground. No rewards for the writer in that, except to know they helped someone out.

A lot of our genre magazines are folding, even as you read this right now. Many more will follow. But, please, for the respect of those who have put their love into the product, don't bash them, don't criticize them. If you think it doesn't bother them that they had to shut down or are pondering doing so, well, you're wrong. They are people after all, and a failed venture hurts regardless of what it is.

I'm AJ and I'm out.