Delayed! Or Flying Standby Has Its Drawbacks

You may have noticed there’s no Being a Better Writer post this morning.  And that there was nothing said about Thanksgiving on here.

Neither of these things was planned. It’s just a cautionary tale about the dangers of traveling for Thanksgiving.

Now before you get the wrong idea, my Thanksgiving was wonderful. I managed to make it to a family reunion (for my grandparent’s 60th anniversary) and had an absolutely wonderful time catching up with cousins and aunts and uncles I hadn’t seen in decades. It was a great time, and truly something to be thankful for.

But not owning a laptop and staying in a beach house with internet of questionable access (I got it working after a few days, but not well), I wasn’t able to get much done or even log onto my site. Which initially wasn’t a problem, as the plan was to be home this morning.

That didn’t work out, though. Flying standby has its drawbacks, and while I’d hoped to be back and writing today, it looks like Wednesday will mark my return.

So this week’s post is delayed but not skipped. And coming with it some post-Thanksgiving thoughts, the lead-in to Christmas (hooray!) and more book news. Unusual Events is going into Beta! Cover coming soon!

Best wishes to all my readers, and I hope your Thanksgiving was as wonderful as mine.

Op-Ed: Dealing with Detractors

I’m not filing this one under Being a Better Writer for the simple reason that it isn’t as much about improving your own writing as it is a tip for dealing with what may come when you do write. It’s definitely a writing tip, but a guide to make you a better writer? Well, it’ll touch on that, but this article isn’t entirely concerned with it.

So, detractors. For those of you scratching your heads right about now, what am I talking about.

Well, let’s make one thing clear. I’m not talking about critics. At least, not genuine, honest ones. Critics—good ones—are not detractors. Critics are critical, yes, but a good critic is also an individual who balances the good with the bad. They draw the creator’s attention to both the strong and the weak, giving those who view their criticism a balanced, aware presentation of the good and the bad.

A detractor, thusly, is not a real critic. A detractor is an individual who, for whatever reason, will never be satisfied nor happy with anything you create.

And once you put your writing out there, you can rest assured that the detractors will come. You will find them in writing groups. You will find them in comment threads. You’ll find them leaving “reviews” that serve only to savage. You can even find them in conversation about whatever medium their chosen target happens to fall in, bringing it up only to spread venom about it. No matter what your creation is, the detractors will come, and they will despise whatever you work, no matter the cause.

Why? Well, who can say? Some are simply trolls, the kind of individual who enjoys tearing others down for their own enjoyment. It doesn’t matter who, or what, if they sense a target, they’ll be there to tear into something or someone smug in the knowledge that even if the person on the other end of their words is going to have a day less sunny than it was before they spoke. They just enjoy making someone feel lousy.

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Being a Better Writer: Is It Original or Copying?

So, you’ve just finished your first manuscript. You’re excited, maybe even a little ecstatic, because at long last, you’ve finished the darn thing! You pass it off to someone to read, probably a friend or family member, and then they say a phrase that strikes terror down on your heart.

“Oh,” they say, staring at your work. “I get it. This is like The Lord of the Rings, isn’t it?”

It doesn’t have to be The Lord of the Rings. Nor do the words they speak need to be “Oh, it’s like this.” They might say “This reminds me of the stuff from Star Wars.” Or start talking about the similarities between your work and another author they read recently.

Regardless, you’re probably hearing and thinking only one thing: That this person is saying your work isn’t your own at all, but someone else’s. And now the panic is starting to set in. Maybe they’re right. Maybe your work is nothing more than a cheap rewrite of someone else’s. How could you not see it before? After all, your main character is an orphan boy who is taken to a strange place to learn magic, and that’s totally the plot of Harry Potter! You’re a fraud! All your work has been for nothing!

Or has it? Maybe it’s time to take a deep breath, let it out, and cool those racing thoughts. After all, your story does star a young orphan who lives with his aunt and uncle who’s about to be taken away to a strange place to learn magic. That was Harry Potter, right? Wait, no … That was Star Wars … Hang on a moment; who are you copying again?

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Being a Better Writer: Motivation

This post was originally written and posted August 12th, 2014, and has been touched up and reposted here for archival purposes.

Still off the grid in Alaska. This post was uploaded ahead of time for your viewing pleasure.

I actually have been asked about this topic on numerous occasions, and it was something that came up from multiple people during my time at the Crystal Mountain Convention. Everyone has a variant on the topic, but in the end, they all boil down to a two-part question: what do I do that keeps me motivated, and—in connection with that—what advice do I have for them to acquire motivation and keep it?

I’ve attempted to tackle this discussion before, but ended up digressing into a discussion more about how I kept myself focused and on task rather than what I let motivate me. Which I suppose was because I probably see writing motivation as a bit different from what most new writers hope to hear. I get the feeling that a lot of times what people are really looking for when they ask me about motivation is some sort of “magic bullet” answer like “oh, it’ll come as soon as you get that one idea.” And to an extent, this does sort-of happen, but not in the way most are hoping. If you’re looking at this post to find the one thing that will suddenly, magically motivate you to write, make the work no longer seem like work, well … you won’t. That’s not how it works. Writing is work, and it’s always going to be work even if you enjoy it. The simplest answer I can give to motivating yourself to writing is “just do it.”

The problem a lot of young authors have is that they want the writing they’d like to do to be more appealing than say … playing Halo, watching television, or reading a book. They have this idea that they need to enjoy it, that writing should be just as fun and relaxing as sitting down with a controller in hand and playing a round of deathmatch. And the truth is, it isn’t. Not at first, anyway.

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Op-Ed: Authors and Self-Promotion

This post was originally written and posted August 6th, 2014, and has been touched up and reposted here for archival purposes.

Still off the grid in Alaska. This post has been uploaded ahead of time.

Let us imagine, for a moment, that we live in a different universe. This universe isn’t very different—in fact it’s shockingly similar. But there are a few key differences. Tiny ones, but tiny ones that lead to some interesting changes.

The key difference is that in this universe more authors listen to a particular bit of “advice” that gets handed out quite often. Let’s take a look and see what happens by following the life of a woman named Naomi.

Naomi is a writer. She’s written several manuscripts for a series over the years, but has been turned down by publishers for each one of them. She continues to write. One night she is at a party with her husband, and they happen to meet Stephen King.

Ah! A fellow—if famous—writer! The perfect opportunity to talk shop and share stories! Maybe even mention her own work. Except as Naomi thinks about it, she realizes that she shouldn’t bring up her own writing. After all, as people are so inclined to often tell her, “a writer shouldn’t promote their own work.” Disappointed but deciding that those people are right, Naomi stays quiet.

As a result, in this universe Stephen King never reads her manuscripts nor takes them to his editor. They are never published, and never go on to win numerous awards. They never sell hundreds of thousands of copies. They are never mentioned in Entertainment Weekly. Naomi Novik does not go on to write many more novels of historical fantasy and become an international success.

All because she listened to one of the most common bits of advice I hear being given to new authors: that an author shouldn’t promote his or her own work.

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Casual Readers Not Welcome

Some of you might remember a post I made a few months back, during the lead-in to the whole Hugo Awards Fiasco, that asked the question “Am I a fan of Science-Fiction and Fantasy?

Well, to my surprise this morning, I have an answer.

According to George R.R. Martin, I am not. You probably aren’t either. Instead, you are a “casual.”

At least on the one hand, we can all nod and applaud for consistency. Martin’s comments about people not being “true” Sci-Fi/Fantasy fans was what prompted my first post on the topic, but now, in a comment saved by Dawn Witzke over on her blog, we have a very direct statement addressing Mr. Martin’s exact thoughts on the nature of things:

You’re making the same mistake that many of the Puppies did — assuming that more voters would make the award more relevant.

If it were only the number of voters that mattered, the People’s Choice Award would be more important than the Oscars. It’s not. The Academy voters are fewer in number, but they bring more expertise to the decision. Same’s true of worldcon fans. These are people who live and breath SF and fantasy, for whom “fandom is a way of life,” not casual readers.

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Being a Better Writer: Purple Prose

This post was originally written and posted June 23rd, 2014, and has been touched up and reposted here for archival purposes.

Today’s post, I would venture to guess, may cause some controversy, at least within some particular writing circles. Because it’s going to tackle something that has not only been talked about prominently online, but it’s going to raise a dissenting opinion for some.

Yup. I’m dropping that warning early, in advance. Now you know what’s coming. You can turn back now if you wish.

So, purple prose. This is one of those posts that will likely be a little short, because we’re going to dive right in. Purple prose is the act of writing something out in which the language is so flowery, so over descriptive, as to almost completely bury all content and subtext beneath the words themselves. In purple prose, show versus tell is turned completely into show … and then exponentially multiplied, so much so that the original intent of the words is given a backseat to the words themselves. Simple sentences become run-on paragraphs. Blades of grass, not even of tangential importance to the story, are examined and described in flowery metaphor that can stretch for a page or more. The term arises from a reference to a poem by Roman poet Horace, who in a reaction poem describes someone else’s work as “flashy purple patches” before declaring that it was not the place for them and asking “If you can realistically render a cypress tree, would you include one when commissioned to paint a sailor in the midst of a shipwreck?”

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