And so we come to the end of the thirteen weeks, and I have about a quarter of the book/maybe a half written. The indecision is that I don’t know how much it will change and how much I’ll keep of what I wrote.
Part of this of course is that – as I explained – I started the book before I was quite ready to do it, and part of it is that I seem to have this odd relationship with deadlines, particularly self-imposed ones.
Take National Novel Writing Month (NANOWRIMO), for instance. My very first year participating, I completed Darkship Thieves. But any attempt to recapture such success has been mixed at best. What seems to happen is that the moment I commit to NANOWRIMO all heck breaks loose in my personal life.
I’m not particularly inclined to New Age explanations of such things. I can completely understand how reluctance to finish a novel could give me a massive cold/sinus infection – or at least there seem to be indications of psycho-somatic effects of that kind in other contexts. However, I defy anyone short of a committed solipsist to tell me how it is possible for my reluctance to close with a deadline would cause my sons to get sick, appliances to break and/or other emergencies to land in my lap.
And yet they do. I’m not alone in this – I have a friend who refuses to do NANOWRIMO because when he tries it someone close to him dies. I have another friend who says she can’t afford the home-repair bills that NANOWRIMO induces. Having watched her through three bouts, I can say she’s right.
Perhaps there is some field of anxiety that writing generates. Perhaps a century from now someone will say “oh, of course, that was the book Gremlin field. How could they not have known it?”
I’m joking of course, but when I think of this one book I’m supposed to write that every time I start working on causes my basement to flood, the laughter turns a little shrill. That book has been under contract/on the backburner for eight years, but the effect never fails to happen. Perhaps I only work on it when I feel a flood coming at a subconscious level? Maybe I should just buy a sump pump and bite the bullet?
On the serious side – and something I’ve discussed with my publisher – I do have a serious adverse reaction to approaching deadlines. Besides the chaos that periodically engulfs my life, there seems to be a psychological aversion to writing to the deadline. I do regard this as a personality failing, but it seems pretty common to writers.
Editor’s Note: Sarah Hoyt’s 13 Weeks Novel Writing series will now be appearing on Saturdays alongside Charlie Martin’s original 13 Weeks series, my 13 Weeks Radical Reading Regimen, and additional upcoming 13 Week experiments. It’ll be a self-improvement-themed saturday with numerous writers exploring techniques to better themselves. -DMS
You’d think the title of the post would refer to my relationship with the book this week. Though mostly what kept me from engaging it too closely mano-a-keyboard was the fact that my eczema decided this was an excellent week to engage in a revival ALL over my palms and the tips of my fingers. I must find out if Dragon Naturally Speaking will work for me in its latest incarnation. Last time I tried was several versions ago and it couldn’t cope with the accent, even after training.
There are a number of my colleagues who do use Dragon, and I might have to try again, if my hands continue their current path of rapid disintegration. You too might consider it if you find yourself blocking hard. Sometimes just changing the way you work jiggles the block loose.
At any rate, despite the slow progress on the book and my fight with my body’s issues, the “duel” I’d like to discuss refers to “conflict” in the book.
My first introduction to some people’s concept of what conflict should be came in my first writing group, where a gentleman objected to the chapter I’d submitted because “there’s no conflict.”
In fact, there was a young man rapidly clearing out of the home he’d been living in for close on to twelve years, because he had come to the conclusion those who were hunting him had found his location. I explained that there was conflict, not just potentially between the character’s desire to get away and the certain objection of those hunting him, but also between the character’s need to escape and the desire of his patrons to protect him. Then there was the conflict inside the man himself, between his wish to stay in the only stable home he’d ever known, and his fear of bringing death on his adopted family.
The writers’ group member blinked at me stupidly, (I use the word advisedly) and said “But you know, conflict. Like fist fights. Arguments. He has to argue with someone.”
While I will agree that chapters are better for a bit of dialogue — these days when I have a character alone for a few chapters I have him mutter to himself, talk to a pet, plant or ghost of dead friend if I can at all contrive it without making him sound completely insane – and while I will concede that arguing (and fist fights!) are conflict, they are more the external expression of conflict than the real thing.
Read more at TMZ. And some recommended books on the subject:
Why Benghazi Is a Crime More Evil Than Anything a President Has Done in Our Lifetimes… in 60 Seconds
I published this on November 4, the conclusion of an article titled “The 15 Best Books for Understanding Barack Obama’s Mysterious Political Theology,” and a summation of my conclusions after more than three years spent investigating the president’s ideology full time:
Sitting here on this Sunday morning before the election, the Sun now up, reflecting back on these years scouring through dusty old Marxist books, trying to understand a president who built his career on a mountain of lies, I confess a peace with either electoral result on Tuesday. A part of me almost wishes that Obama
stealswins reelection (as I anticipate he will). The thought of him quietly retiring to a mansion in Hawaii in January to live out the rest of his life in comfort and adoration should inspire nausea. Only if Obama wins reelection do conservatives have a chance to hold him accountable for Benghazi, Fast and Furious, and all the crimes we don’t even know about yet. The man has blood on his hands and we can’t let him get away with it.
An ancient dictum popularized in recent years by the late Christopher Hitchens on the path forward, should Tuesday disappoint:
Fiat justitia ruat caelum
Do Justice and Let the Skies Fall
But as of Feb 14, 2013, I am ending my tenure as CEO. Roger Simon, the novelist-screenwriter, is calling to me. After more than seven years, he is feeling extremely neglected. I am going to return to my creative writing while I still, to be honest, have some ability to do it.
The Hollywood Reporter today offered a sneak preview of what our old boss does with his time when he’s not writing must-read articles on the newest disturbing developments in the Benghazi scandal, ”Cannes: Roger L. Simon to Pen ‘The Future of Now‘”:
Oscar-nominated screenwriter Roger L. Simon will pen the script for The Future of Now, the second feature from newly launched Primeridian Entertainment.
Arcadiy Golubovich, a principal of Primeridian, will make his directorial debut with the dystopian drama. His Primeridian partner, Tim O’Hair, will produce.
Primeridian is full financing the Washington, D.C.-set pic, with casting slated for June and shooting aiming for fall.
Read the whole write-up here.
Introduction: The Thirteen Weeks Novel Writing Program
Week 2: First You Catch Your Idea
Week 3: The Plot Wars
Week 4: How to Find the Time for Writing
There is this state you enter in writing that is really hard to explain to anyone who has not entered it. However, I’ve found out that it is something that happens to all creatives, and I’ll try to explain it to you here, in case you’re new to this and have never felt it.
It bears explaining because when it first starts to hit you might very well feel like you’ve gone around the bend.
As I’ve confessed here I started out as a very tight plotter. No, not when I first started writing. I know very few authors who are tight plotters when they first start out. You sketch a page, write a beginning, you don’t even have a clue if you’re writing a short story or a novel, and you just keep writing a paragraph after a paragraph, and finally go “Whoa! I have such and such a length.” At which point you look it up – something that in my day involved, of course, going to the library and consulting the writer’s market, but which can now be done on the net – and decide that you have a short story, a novella, a novelette or a novel. (Don’t worry too much if you’re concerned about what on Earth all those things mean. They are mostly marketing categories and are passing from this world even as we speak. Epublishing and print on demand are sweeping all that away.)
What your story was unlikely to have – beyond the words – was a coherent plot. Yes, there are people who are freaks of nature and have read so much that their stories naturally fall into a plot-pattern that makes sense.
I wasn’t one of those people, despite having read about six books a day (give or take) between the ages of ten and thirty.
I started with the idea that in a story things happened. So things happened to my character, but they never led anywhere in particular. People got attacked, defeated their attackers, had breakfast, took showers, went shoe shopping, got attacked again…
I didn’t know that wasn’t a plot. It was, after all, a lot like reality, where – regardless of whether you are afraid of being attacked or not – you still have breakfast, shoe shop, take showers, talk to friends, etc.
But plotting is not reality. Reality doesn’t have to be coherent or presented to any purpose – but a story does, because otherwise, what is the point?
This week has been very bad for writing. By now I hoped to be twenty five thousand words in. I’m not.
If you keep in mind that when pushed and under the gun — such as when I got an invitation for an anthology and had an afternoon in which to deliver – I can and have written eleven thousand words in three hours, it seems as though there could be no possible excuse. And there isn’t.
I can give you all the reasons for why I’m not further advanced than the first few pages of the novel.
First, my time has been horribly cut up. But then, when isn’t it? Mostly I write in the intervals between cooking, cleaning, shopping for groceries, helping my sons with whatever project needs help, helping my friends with whatever project needs help, looking over page proofs, editing, running promotions on my self-published stuff, keeping track of the labyrinthine tax and business law affecting small businesses, getting exasperated at the news, trying to get in at least an hour of physical exercise… Sometimes it’s a miracle I write at all.
A lot could be said about women and women’s role in a family, and how much I do, and not prioritizing my profession over the day to day of family routine. Most of it would be wrong.
I know for a fact, talking to my male writer friends, that the ones who stayed home to write – i.e. were lucky enough to have a wife who could support them – faced the same pressures as any woman. It’s not a sexist thing, but an example of trying to make it in a field that very rarely pays and even more rarely pays well.
In my long, long apprenticeship (thirteen years before selling my first short story, but keep in mind that for a lot of that time I was barely writing, and rarely submitting because of this process) when it seemed highly unlikely I would ever sell, if the choice was between writing a new chapter or really cleaning the kitchen, a spit-shine (only not literally, because yuck) of the kitchen always won out. The kitchen, after all affected other people now. Writing another chapter on the novel merely fractionally increased the chances of my selling a novel and since those chances were minimal to begin with, to write or not to write was not a question.
You have your killer opening; you’ve polished it nicely. At least if you’re like me, you can’t help polishing a bit every time you look at it. You’re now fifty pages in, and everything seems to be going too slow, and you’ve lost track of where you were going, and you start to panic and think you’re doing it wrong.
This happens whether you are a plotter and had everything exquisitely planned in advance, or you’re flying by the seat of the pants and have no clue what actually works.
Once you have the first few pages of the book ready, and you are aimed more or less in the direction you will go, you start feeling everything went wrong and the idea you had to begin with is completely impracticable, and… and… and…
Keep calm and carry on. Take deep breaths. The experience you’re having is uncomfortable but completely normal. It’s sort of like having a root canal. Just because it’s unpleasant doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Trust me.
What is happening at the psychological level is that you’ve now set yourself on one course to write your novel, and part of you – you know, the part that thought writing should be a really exciting adventure – is sitting back there going: “What? This is all there is? This is not fun.”
It’s bad enough if you’re making it up as you go along, because you can just have the nagging feeling something has gone wrong, and not know what.
It’s worse if you’re an outliner, as you might have had that opening happening much faster. Writing an outline is much like dancing would be if there were no gravity. You can make your character do anything and – because it’s impossible to plot all those details without making the outline longer than a novel – you don’t know what the opposition is doing precisely.
Then you come to write, say, a jail-escape scene, and gravity hits you with a thud. Your character can’t do that unless you wish to make the opposition almost comic-opera stupid. So you have to make her escape more difficult, every step more negotiated.
The bad news is that at this point, you can’t tell. All of us professional novelists have read a third or a half of a novel we started long ago and put down unfinished and thought, “How in heaven’s name did I think this made a good beginning?”
On the other hand, we’ve also all read beginnings we abandoned long ago and thought, “Wow, this is really, really good. Yes, I am better now, but this has sparkle and life, and pulls me right in.”
The problem here is that when you’re less than a third (I’m less than a fifth) into a novel, you truly can’t judge it. Worse, the friends who normally read stuff for you also won’t be able to tell you if it’s any good or not.
All the writing books concentrate on beginnings and endings. Very few of them consider the middle, or even the middle of the beginning.
This is sort of akin to concentrating on your flight experience by making sure you have a good takeoff and a good landing and not caring in the least if your pilot decides to do loop-de-loops in the middle.
There are reasons for this, of course. I read somewhere that most of the fatal accidents in flights occur during takeoff and landing, and the same thing sort of applies to a book.
If you fail to capture the reader’s interest within the first few pages, you are clearly not going to make a sale. And if you end the book so disastrously that the reader feels cheated and wants to throw things at your head, you’re probably never going to make another sale to this person (and might have to wear protective head gear while traveling in their region).
But just because the moment of takeoff and landing, and the moments of starting and ending a book matter, it doesn’t mean that what goes in the middle is irrelevant.
I mean, consider the idea that you buy a flight to Poughkeepsie in the fine state of NY. Perhaps you have a hankering to visit the historic Vanderbilt Mansion.
Suppose that your plane takes off beautifully, and lands beautifully, but instead of taking you to the Queen City of the Hudson, the pilot decides it’s less trouble and much better for all concerned if he flies a few circles around the airport and then lands you back where you started.
No one would be that silly, you say?
Ah—you clearly haven’t read some of the books I’ve read.
It is actually a fairly common mistake, particularly of rookie authors still uncertain of their plot, to put all the might of their limited craft into starting and ending the book. Meanwhile, they have what I’ve grown to call “something goes here” middles.
The problem is that, in writing as in flights, if you’re going around in circles, no matter how entertaining you make the trip, calling out all the landmarks, if your book is going nowhere, people notice. After a while your reader starts asking: “Is this all there is? Is she running from the bad guys again? Haven’t we seen this before? But… nothing is solved.”
So, you want to pitch a TV show — a sitcom no less! Or maybe you’re just an armchair TV enthusiast, a mental writer playing out episodes of the ideal sitcom in your head. Whether your concept is ideal or idyllic, if you want to get it off the ground, you need to get your head out of the clouds and start viewing your human reality in terms of numbers — good numbers. Take a tip from Seth MacFarlane: Be sure to include an African American, a disabled character, and an Asian reporter if you want to stand a chance in TV land.
In other words, start counting your minorities.
It’s all in the spirit of being fair that we view people based on their color, class, gender, or physical ability. Not only is it fair, it is super easy to follow the 4-step program for crafting your perfectly pitch-able TV sitcom.
So, get out your calculators and get ready for a math lesson in how to write a situation comedy for television!
Don’t tell the SPCA, but writers have the oddest relationships with their pet cats (even pet cats they don’t have).
When a writer is struggling with a piece of work, she’ll tell you she was vacuuming the cat, or he’ll say he was bathing the cat, or… I prefer to say I’m rotating the cat, because it’s an activity no sane person would find necessary. It doesn’t accomplish anything and it annoys the cat. A perfect image for writerly procrastination
I once read an article by Terry Pratchett lamenting the demise of the typewriter as a tool of the trade, because it took away one of his favorite ways of wasting time before getting down to writing proper. He apparently used to take a Q-tip and alcohol and clean the little metal raised letters to make sure the impression was really sharp.
Being of a different generation I could tell him that we young whippersnappers can find just as many ways to waste our time.
For instance, I’ve been known to remove all the keys from my keyboard and wipe both keys and base with bleach wipes, an activity good for consuming an hour or two and giving you an impression you accomplished something.
What drives this is a fear of the blank screen. Facing that screen is hard, even for — particularly for — a novel you have outlined, researched, but not started yet.
There is an undefinable sense that once you save that first paragraph, the fate of the novel will be sealed for good or ill. Before that you don’t know if the voice will be tender, poetic, funny, or brisk, but once that first paragraph or page is saved, some of those options will have vanished. You can no longer think of this novel as the best ever to grace the world. Choices will have been made, and you are stuck with them.
This is not exactly true. I usually revise my beginnings after finishing the book. But it does limit some possibilities anyway. If you write your beginning as a comedy, then in the next scene have your character stumble on a serial killer’s lair and describe it seriously and graphically, you’re going to have people run screaming. (And not just because it’s a serial killer.)
So writers will try to find “legitimate activities” to put off the moment of typing in words.
The thing is, most pro writers don’t have to look around for silly activities. When pros – particularly these days – say they’ve been rotating the cat, what they actually mean is that they’ve spent their day with a dozen “little” activities and failed to write.
This is because the writing life is much like herding cats.
- Version 1.0 of my 2013 Self-Improvement Program: 7 New Year’s Resolutions I Invite Others to Steal
- Version 1.5, published a month later after my 29th birthday: The Plan So I Don’t Waste the Last Year of My 20s
Today I am joining Charlie Martin and Sarah Hoyt in attempting a 13 Weeks Blogging Self-Improvement Program. I invite others to join me and assist in the continued development of what we should call The Charlie Martin 13 Weeks Method. (Has a nice alliterative ring to it, methinks.) Back in February Charlie laid out his approach:
By accident, however, I’d noticed a process, or pattern.
- Decide there’s something you want to change.
- Find ways to measure your progress.
- Decide on some small unthreatening things you can do that should affect those measures.
- Track the results for 13 weeks and see what happens. It helps to pick appropriate tools and techniques for that tracking, but something as simple as a Seinfeld calendar, where you just draw an X on a calendar for every day you do something can be very powerful.
So here’s my 1-2-3-4 for The 13 Weeks Radical Reading Regimen:
1. The problem that I’d like to change is the one that Sarah identified in her PJ Lifestyle article yesterday: being buried in books for research. Over the past year I’ve tried to figure out how to organize the various subjects that I want to study in order to best make sense of them and find the connections across the disciplines. I want to read more books and do a better job of staying organized with the ideas and research that I find in them for my future writing and editing projects. I want to continue to explore connections across disciplines, reading both novels and a wide variety of nonfiction, both very serious philosophy and absurd satire.
2. I will continue to share the most interesting nuggets of my research in one daily PJ Lifestyle Bookshelf post that features an excerpt. Additional snapshots from my research will appear at my Instagram and Twitter accounts which can be followed here and here.
3. I will only create seven piles of books, one for each day, and then base each day’s reading on the titles from that pile. I won’t have to think about which books I’ll read each day. I’ll just draw from each pile. Each day will be based on 1-3 authors and 1-4 related subjects that I want to juxtapose together. This will not be a hard rule that I can only read from that day’s pile. If a book on another subject has caught my enthusiasm then I can still read it after dong the day’s necessary reading.
But I need to find at least two excerpts worth Instagramming and at least one of them should appear as a PJ Lifestyle Bookshelf selection to inspire debate and discussion. (That’s the purpose of those posts — for the regular readers who have complained, asking why I don’t take a few paragraphs to spell out my opinion of each excerpt offered. They appear because I am more interested in hearing reader feedback on them than pontificating my own ideas.) These seven piles will then flow into the six categories that I created in my original Counterculture Conservative book list from back in October. The seventh (and last) category I plan to add will be based on my list of the The 15 Best Books for Understanding Barack Obama’s Mysterious Political Theology. (This will be the basis for Friday’s systematic exploration of evil ideas.)
4. I will create a calendar on a page of my journal broken up into 13 weeks and at the beginning of each day I will notate which page I am on in the books that I am reading associated with that day. I will photograph this calendar and blog about it each week, noting and analyzing my results on Tuesdays (the PJ Lifestyle day focused on writing, media, and technology). At the end of the 13 weeks I will see the progress I made on each author and subject. Then I will decide how to adjust each day’s reading focus, maybe taking a break from an author for a bit or adding another writer whose ideas are worth juxtaposing with the other thinkers of the day.
So what will the reading subjects be for the seven days of this “first season,” as Charlie calls it, of the The 13 Weeks Radical Reading Regimen? I’m doubling down on the authors and subjects of previous self-improvement plans, but focusing some plans and expanding others. As always, your recommendations for additional books and authors that I need to read are sincerely appreciated. Please leave suggestions in the comments or email me.
And publishers, authors and publicists: any and all paperback/hardback books received by mail will be photographed and blogged about. (And e-books that are especially interesting may also be featured. But actual books are of course more photogenic.)
Time And Writing Wait For No Man (Or Woman)
Believe it or not, when you’re a freelance writer, even if you’re working for someone else, you’re still expected to manage your time.
So let’s start by admitting we’re not going to have a novel ready in 13 weeks, since most of you – I presume – haven’t started.
The reason for this is that I was going along and doing preliminaries to the “13 weeks” posts when my editor – wisely – thought perhaps you guys needed to know when to expect the posts. Ahem. Being a writer, this had never occurred to me. One sometimes forgets that not everyone lives in one’s head.
So… we are still in the preliminary posts. I think I have two more, unless questions arise. And then we’ll start the countdown of 13 actual weeks, from beginning page of novel to end.
By then you should have a notion of whether you want to plot or fly by the seat of your pants, what your projected novel length is, and how to plan how much you need to write each week.
See, when we talk about planning your timing, in writing, it means two things: the timing of events in the novel, and the timing of your writing so you can deliver on deadline.
And yes, I’m aware that just like a lot of you will have different preferences when it comes to how a novel is timed – slow and languorous, or a mad cavalcade from beginning to finish – a lot of you will have this idea that you don’t time when you write, it just sort of happens when the muse descends from heaven and sits on your shoulder to whisper sweet nothings in your ear.
For the record, I’ve never met a professional, working writer who works on the muse-installment plan. There are some who will tell you they do in public. This is part of what we call keeping up the mystique, also known as “baffling the mundanes.”
It may be too stark. If it’s true, there are legions of blockheads out there — people who publish works in literary journals that pay in contributor’s copies; people who publish on websites that have considerable readerships but do not pay their writers for their efforts (there are not a few of those).
I would modify it to: No man but a blockhead ever wrote short stories so that he could send each one to ten or twenty literary journals until one accepts and publishes it, and then have no sense at all that anybody is actually out there reading it.
At least, that was the dictum I arrived at after years of doing just that. As I’ve described, about a decade ago I decided I’d had enough and stopped writing fiction.
That is, “I’ve” stopped; but that doesn’t mean my subconscious has. It still comes up with stories and presents them to me, requesting that they be written.
In most cases these notions quickly fade and are almost totally forgotten. Some, though, persist — in some cases even for years. It’s a standoff: the idea remains somewhere in my head, and I know it’s there but keep declining to execute it, to translate it into typed words on the screen and see what grows from that.
I can think of three of these ideas that particularly won’t go away, like a stray dog who parks himself on your doorstep and mournfully refuses to budge. I thought it would be worth giving a peek at these. They’re probably representative of a larger phenomenon—people who have given up certain kinds of writing but whose “minds” haven’t.
To Plot or Not To Plot
The closest you come to holy wars among writers is on the matter of plotting versus pantsing. Pantsing is a highly technical term, roughly translating as “flying by the seat of the pants.” Plotting in this case means working out the details of your story in advance.
Should someone ask you if you’re a plotter or a pantser, you might think it is just a matter of curiosity; but be careful how you answer. Whatever your answer, there is an even chance that if your listener is a writer — and even if he isn’t — he’ll have strong opinions on how you’re doing it wrong.
The only people without strong opinions on this are people like me who started as strict plotters, became somewhat looser plotters, and now find themselves as pantsers. It is not an unusual journey even if the opposite trajectory is almost unheard of . I have the theory that plotters who become pantsers after a number of books have in fact internalized the structure of a novel so well that the subconscious is pulling its own weight.
Plotters defend their method of work as resulting in tighter, cleaner books, and pantsers defend theirs as letting unexpected genius shine through more often. And yet, I know many plotters whose work has sudden, unexpected surprises, and many pantsers whose plots work as precisely as a Swiss watch.
So, instead of telling you the way you should work, I’m going to assume you’re an adult and know yourself best. Besides, if you start out one way and it doesn’t work, you can always change.
What I’m going to tell you — quickly — is how some people write plot outlines, and then how other people write without mapping plots in advance.
During my second afternoon at the NRI Summit, mid-way through yet another congressman’s address, I mused about how easy it would be to create a Right-Wing Red-Meat Speech Generator:
First, plug in some vintage Reagan and Buckley quotations.
(Hell, mix ‘em up and see if anyone notices: “I’m from the Boston telephone directory and I’m here to help you…”)
Then sprinkle on some “hard-working Mexicans.”
Squeeze in a reference to that lousy poem carved onto an old French statue.
Finally, make “America is the greatest country in the world” a default value.
I ask you:
Why do professional conservatives pay speechwriters big money when some basic java script could produce the same mediocre results — a string of empty-calorie cliches?
I’m not the only one complaining about this.
Writing A Novel In Thirteen Weeks:
If you’re going to write a novel, you have, of course, to start with an idea. Just like if you’re going to make a shepherd’s pie, first you have to catch your shepherd.
One of the questions I always get — in every panel, in every interview, at every con — is: “How do you get your ideas?”
The normal answer is: “I get them from [insert random, remote/small town].” I use: “Hays, Kansas. But it will cost you a dime, and you have to send a SASE.”
The sad thing is that I could possibly sell ideas and never reach a point where I have none to sell. Like with everything else, ideas are something you train yourself to have, and once you start having them, you have them all the time. You’ll be Standing On the Corner, Minding your Own Business (the infamous SOCMOB that guarantees you’ll be jumped by “two bad dudes”) when an idea will jump out of a nearby dumpster, and there you have it.
For instance, the other day in my blog comments, commenter CACS mistyped “High School Cemetery” instead of “High School Chemistry,” and there was immediately a boarding school for vampires (children with special needs) in my head.
So, was that idea enough to write a novel?
Probably not, because it doesn’t interest me enough – but what you also have to understand is that the boarding school for vampires is not an idea for a story. It is an idea for a setting. I still don’t have an idea – and it is the idea that determines whether it’s a novel, a short story, or just a passing, throw-away detail in another story.
Let me explain: What you have there has no characters, no conflict, no… story. It’s at best a spark of a story, even if for a fantasy reader (or writer) it comes freighted with all sorts of implied problems like “do they have classes at night?” “What do they do for the cafeteria — a blood bank?” etc.
When I was starting out as a professional writer, taking workshops or just chatting around the cafeteria table, the question was a sure sign that you had an amateur on your hands:
“But what if an editor steals my stuff?”
These same newbies were more obsessed with where and how they should type their “© by…” line than they were with writing something steal-able.
“Copyright is automatic,” I’d sniff smugly, longing to add, “Believe me, you have nothing to worry about.”
Of course, in those days, the IBM Selectric was the most advanced “word processor” available.
Email hadn’t been born and the Internet was in diapers.
You mailed your article to your editor, maybe even couriered it — or faxed it if the publication was particularly fancy.
Today, editors (and bloggers and other writers) do steal your stuff, because it’s so easy, and because notions of right and wrong are in flux.
At the same time, thanks to the same technology that makes theft so commonplace, copyright law has become harder to understand.
If you’re a writer, however, you have to at least try.
The Run Up
Or, In Which Things Have Already Gone Wrong
What happens very often when one decides to write a novel is: everything goes wrong.
It is a well-known fact to those who participate in National Novel Writing Month in November* every year that it seems to attract bad luck. One year, I had a pet die, a relative die, the roof over my office leak, and the printer develop a fatal short. I haven’t participated since because I’m afraid my livestock will die — I don’t have livestock.
The last two weeks haven’t been quite so bad, but I’ve got a lot of unexpected work, ranging from short stories to blogs to promoting my new book A Few Good Men, at the same time as one of my sons brought home something “interesting” from school that made 15 hours of sleep per day irresistible.
So — and this is part of successfully writing a novel or completing any project — we’re adapting to changed circumstances and carrying on.
Let’s start with frequently asked questions which, hopefully, will lay out what you need to know before tomorrow, when I will explain my method and schedule. And then we’ll have a post on ideas and how to work an idea.
If you’re sick of me bragging about my twelve years as a blogger, good news:
I’m now in year #13.
Pretty much everything I know about blogging, I picked up via trial and error.
I taught myself HTML Rosetta Stone-style, by peeking at other sites’ source code to see how they achieved particular effects.
I also noted the way popular sites “hat-tipped” other sites when they found something juicy there, and how they thanked other blogs that linked to them.
I still strongly recommend trial and error as a learning method, especially the “error” part: there are few things more indelible than our own embarrassing mistakes.
(Even better, learn from other people’s mistakes to avoid making your own in the first place.)
However, I’m happy to pass along a few blogging tips.
These ones take you “under the hood” to make changes your readers won’t see — but will definitely notice…
“He was, in an idiom he would have understood, a petty bourgeois individualist who esteemed collectivism at least some of the time but never submitted to it himself. He resented the rich and powerful but enjoyed their company.” As I read these words, which appear in the prologue of a new book by Richard Seymour, I made an incomplete mental list of people to whom they could apply: George Bernard Shaw seems to fit quite nicely, as does J.K. Galbraith. Moving along the spectrum from alleged intellectuals to proven fools, one could add Oliver Stone, Sean Penn, and Edward Asner. It becomes clear rather quickly that the only ones susceptible to this charge are those who base their politics on a distinction between the individual and the collective—a dubious premise in itself, and thus one that is bound to lead to stark differences between theory and practice.
The target of the charge, therefore, is usually those on the Left, who are to varying degrees comfortable with the distinction, and who face the ire of both foes on the right as well as their more puritanical comrades. The accused this time around is Christopher Hitchens (Peace Be Upon Him), a man whom Seymour regards as the quintessential “apostate leftist.” Titled Unhitched: The Trial of Christopher Hitchens, this book (excuse me: “extended political essay”) is published by Verso, ironically the same radical press that put out many of Hitchens’s own books, including The Trial of Henry Kissinger, from which Seymour draws his subtitle. The tradition of Verso is to perform surgery without anesthesia, to get the job done in a hundred pages or less, and to use a shotgun instead of a scalpel. The aim is always nothing less than the pure destruction of one’s opponent: to burn him and scatter his ashes and then send wilted flowers to the mourners.