Having Problems With Words

I've been going back and forth about this blog post, trying to come up with interesting topics for readers and writers, all full of insightful sayings and learned wisdom.

Ten Ways Writers Are Like Fish.

The Best Way To Write A Query Letter Using Rhyme And Interpretive Dance. 

Web 2.0 For Left Handed Writers Living In Asia. 

Reasons I Hate Writing And Love Rum

But actually I thought I’d try to write something more honest, less contrived, and less aimed at a particular group of people.

Writing's not going so well right now, and I can't work out if it's the story, the words, or me. Fresh off the high of the book deal, I launched into a new novel. High hopes flourished and in my mind's eye I saw the appreciative, fawning looks of thankfulness as I allowed my agent and publisher to read the first draft.

OK, that last bit's made up. But I did - in common with a lot of writers, I hope - kind of want to write the book, and have people like it.

Writing Eren took a long time but I don't think I'd say it was incredibly hard. It was a story I knew and I wrote it down, then chiseled at those words till they looked pretty.

This book, though - I don't know. Maybe I've just been too busy lately - I had two stories out in anthologies in the last few months, and started a new job that means writing 9 - 5. It's not a lack of writing, for me. Things are getting written. It's just that I've convinced myself, as I tend to do with every book I write, and always around chapter five, that this book is probably the worst thing that's ever been attempted. I can't give it to my agent because I quite want her to like me, and I can't give it to my publisher because they'll find a way out of the contract, oh yes they will, and then they'll probably sue me for crimes against art.

OK - I'm being facetious. Again.

But things aren't always sunshine and roses when you're writing a book (are they ever, in fact? Who are these people?), and other writers and the community around us are the best way to get on track.

This post is essentially a kick up the backside to myself, to help me organize my thoughts - and the best way to do that has always been to write. I write to work out what's going on and how I’m feeling about it all.

Maybe the book isn't bad at all, and I'm just looking for excuses not to commit. Maybe it's actually kind of OK? Maybe.

I'm not special, I realize. Every writer has this happen with a new book. I know that, in my head. Now all I have to do is get this book under control and make sure I finish it, dash it all, whether it's pants or not.

Finishing a book is what separates writers from fakers. Right?

Maybe I'll stop complaining, then.

I will write words tonight.


Writers' & Artists' Article Series

Howdy, all.

A while ago I wrote a series of blog posts for The Writers' & Artists' Yearbook. Those blog posts, about different aspects of writing, revising, and preparing for submission, have just been turned into articles - meaning they have a more permanent home on the site, in the Writers Advice section. This, of course, makes me happy, knowing they're going to stick around to hopefully help and encourage and enrage other writers and thinkers.

The seven articles are now up for all to see and read, and can be found by clicking the links below. Enjoy!


So's Your Book Out Yet? - Why It Takes So Long To Publish A Book

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There are certain misconceptions among readers about the publishing industry in general.

Besides the classic lies - that writers are rich (ha!), that writers don't do much, and that writing for children is easier than writing for adults - there's one particular aspect of the whole thing that gets lost in translation, if you will: the amount of time it actually takes.

The following phrases are not the same:

I finished my book!
I have an agent!
We got an offer!
The contracts are signed!
Just got my editorial letter...
Publication date is set!

The problem is that if you don't work in publishing, or you're not a writer, there's no reason you'd know that. For a lot of people, 'I'm getting a book published!' is, essentially, 'I have a book published and it's in shops RIGHT NOW.'

And that leads to incredibly kind and well-intentioned and supportive comments such as: Where can I buy it? How are sales? You had a book published, right? Is it online? Kind slow, isn't it?

The first few times a writer faces off against kindly aunts full of helpful insight, you can demur and mutter apologetically that it's still a work in progress, and in general you get sympathetic nods. When months pass, and they ask again, and all you can do is shrug and apologize again, it starts looking a bit suspect.

Friends can get married and have children in less time than it takes to publish a book.


Why is it all so... slow?

The way people think of books has a lot to do with it, I think. Books are clever - they're a halfway house between art and academics. They exist in authors’ heads, and then you print 'em off and sell them. It's simple and it's lovely.

But books are a business, too. You can still click print, but there's almost certainly a queue. Other books come first, and publishers only have so many editors, designers, marketers, publicists, etc, etc, etc.

Technically, yes, a book could come out in a couple of months - the sudden reprints of JK Rowling's recently uncovered pseudonym proves that - but just because something is technically possible doesn't mean it happens.

From acquisition - the moment a publisher buys a book - to printing and shipping takes, on average, a year and a half - and that's flippin' impressive. If we change analogies, think of books as cars or smart phones - there's so much going on beneath the surface that you don't ever see and could never explain yourself, but it's all there and it all makes it work. Behind an author is a massive team of people who've worked for years to make good books.

What about self publishing? What about ebooks?

Yes, self-publishing is different. It does tend to be faster because that queue of other books doesn't exist. A writer can bump their own book to the top of their to-do list. Why doesn't everyone do that? Mixed reasons. Some people prefer the support of a publisher over the speed of self-publishing. Some people accept that they don't have it in them to do all the work it takes to self publish. Some people, let's be honest, still dislike the stigma of self-publishing.

Time and time alone should never be the major factor in deciding how to tell stories. If traditional or self-publishing is best for you because it's best for you, that's the reason to choose it. Saving a year, or adding a year, simply because of a writer's level of patience seems like a recipe for trouble.

Books take time because they're hard, even when they're fun. It's fine to be confused that it's taking so long for your friend's book to appear - but it's also fine for writers, on occasion, to twitch just a little when you ask where their book is.

After all, good things come to those who write.

Picture: Baelde


Five Practical Things for Young Writers To Do

File:Blue ink.jpgEveryone needs a leg-up now and then. Writing's an odd career because it's not really a career at all. There's no one way to become a writer, no qualification you need or set route you can  take.

How do you become an author? What does it looks like? How does it become professional? Well, you write a book - of course  - but that's not actually that helpful, is it? People know that. There has to be more. What should young writers be on the look out for, to help them out and build them up?

I don't know. Sorry. But I did go through these thoughts myself, and I remember wishing for less philosophy and more pragmatism. Look, young Simon said, it's all very well telling me to reach for the stars, but I'd rather like to know what I can do here, right now, with my hands.

This list isn't exhaustive and it might not even be true, but it's something for young authors to use and think about, and I hope it helps in some way.


Practical Things for Young Writers

  1. Buy some books. Get a hold of The Writers' & Artists' Yearbook (UK) or The Writer's Digest (USA). Read the bits that apply to you and follow them. If you don't fancy the agent route, and self-publishing takes your fancy, this still applies. As for books on how to write (which are good to read, and don't count as cheating), try Stephen King's On Writing and Elmore Leonard's Ten Rules. These should all be available at libraries, too, most likely in the reference section.
  2. Get your grammar sorted. Language does have rules, and it's not an insult to art to know what a conditional clause is. Good writing can break rules if it understands them. If you know you're hazy on verbs and tenses, look them up. 
  3. Buy a small enough notepad to carry around. Jot down ideas, conversations, things you see. It's a good habit. And carry a pencil - pens can and will leak. Damn pens.
  4. Give the NaNoWriMo Young Writers project a go. Connections and feedback are probably two of the hardest but most important things for writers starting out. NaNoWriMo can give you both.
  5. Join community. Whether Twitter, Absolute Write, or a group at your local library, being in contact with other writers will help you write better, get your work into the world, and understand how other people think about stories.

How much more practical could you get? Give it a go, tell your stories, and remember, amid all these books and pens - be brave, be honest, and don't you ever give up.

Photo credit: Dave Croker


Summer's Edge and Summer's Double edge - Two New Collections from EBP

Happy Friday, all.

A busy week, and I've been a bit remiss at blogging, but that'll sort itself out soon enough. Right now, I want to celebrate / look forward to Elephant Bookshelf Press' two upcoming anthologies celebrating all things fleeting about relationships, Summer's Edge and Summer's Double Edge. They're coming out on Monday (July 15) and are going to be great.

These two anthologies, related but not necessarily required to be read together, are the latest in EBP's seasonal collections. First there was Spring Fevers, which brought together 'tales of relationships in their varied states: Love~ requited and unrequited~ friendships discovered and lost, family in its many guises, and the myriad places in between.' Then The Fall, a bunch of stories that explored all things apocalyptic. Now, Summer's Edge,  which had as its inspiration simply 'the short term relationship.'

There'll be a lot more than break up stories and romance here, believe me. Each anthology brings twelve / thirteen different authors together, and lets their imaginations run riot. I've shared a few samples from my story Octopus Rules (in the first anthology, Summer's Edge) before, but all I'll say at this point is it involves a stranger, a ghost, a traveler, and someone whose name you don't need to know. I'm really excited to read the other stories, and hope you might be too.

EBP is a young company run almost entirely, it seems, on Matt's passion for good stories. Give them your support and who knows what the future holds? More books, certainly, and hopefully more writers getting work out there, finding new readers, and making and sharing art.

When they're out, I'll let you know. But, y'know - it's Monday. So, soon.

For now, troops - have a great weekend.


Sharing Work Is So Scary

Sharing work is so scary.

I wonder if it applies to all art?

Apart from writing, the only other creative field I've really committed time to is music. I play a few instruments, and part of that is the occasional public performance; a school concert, jamming with friends, playing in church. Even if I'm good, and I've rehearsed, and know what's going to happen, I get nervous. I want it to be a certain way, to have a certain feel, and the pressure is on.

Still, if I'm following music, it's right, or it's wrong - and I always have that to fall back on. It sounds good, and people recognise that.

Writing's different, somehow. It's too - what's the word? - subjective? I can write something good, something great, and certain people will still think it's only OK, or downright bad. There's no shield. If you don't like Bach, that's up to you, but I got all the notes right, so it's him, not me, you have a beef with.

All the notes in a story I wrote are ones I made up, and the tune's a me-original. If people don't like it - well, ouch.

So, it's scary, sharing work. Isn't it?

Putting things out - online, in books, even handing them to friends - can be an odd mixture of extreme arrogance (Here! I made a world which I now demand you relate to!) and bizarre raw-openness (Please be nice. This is my heart).

A thick skin or complete detachment - how else do you cope?

But still...

Sharing work can be brilliant. Having people read and relate to and love a story you told - it's why we write, in a way. Yes, we write for ourselves, but the desire to have others connect with the story and say 'Yes, I see what you did there. Gosh, how clever' never goes away.

So, sharing work. It's awkward, sometimes, and sometimes it goes badly, and sometimes it goes really, really well.

I still keep getting better, I hope, at letting things go, and letting others in.

Just keep swimming. Just keep sharing.