Writers Talking Writing, Part 6

Good morning! More to do! A new day!

“Hmm,” he says out loud to himself as he saunters into the lounge with his coffee cup in hand. “Any potentially decent pics to share?” [No wildlife in sight, he frowns; they must be sleeping in. Opens window for 0630 posed coffee cup sitting on the window ledge vista Instagram pic.]

[Photo by me, Catskills, New York, 0630, September 19, 2019.]

“Whoa!” he exclaims as the outside air hits him and then he hopes half the mountain hadn’t heard him smash the silence. “The mornings are getting a bit chilly!”

It is starting to feel a tad autumnal hereabouts. LOL!

Yesterday, when I wasn’t being distracted by the locals…

[We call deer “time wasters,” because we always end up watching them and… wasting our time. Photo by me, Catskills, New York, September 18, 2019.]

…I was further “proofing” my manuscript and repeatedly wanting to bash my head against walls as I continue to discover previously missed stupid errors and mistakes in it, so I did not have time really to prepare a complicated blog post. Ah, but I have noticed since joining my new Twitter back in August that there are ALWAYS new questions and issues raised by writers at Twitter’s #writingcommunity. It is a constant stream of blogging material – so here we go again:

I can say to questioners I’m a novelist without having also to add what else I do to pay bills.

Anything pulled from literature and made into a film is fine by me – well, most anything. So much is being overlooked in favor obviously of an assured audience and easy money. It’s an issue as old as filmmaking.

For example, every great mind in sci-fi writing is potentially at, say, Lucas/Disney’s disposal. Yet all we ever seem to get in Star Wars films is… err, they blow up a death star, or they blow up something that is a lot like a death star, at the last second and save the rebellion to fight on… to the next sequel. Oh, for goodness sake.

You should have seen my wife’s (spring of 2013) reaction at reading the draft of my first book.

That is one of the basic lessons to learn: not to expect to write an entire, massive story, in one sitting. From the moment I first sit down at a PC to start a new book, I understand that what I am beginning now won’t likely see light of day as a published book for at least a year or two. Take your time and make it part of your life. A page or two a day – which is actually quite difficult to pull off – for a year is MORE than enough. Obviously that’s “365” pages.

There are no awards given for “fastest written book.” There is no need to hurry. Better it takes longer and is well done than it is written in a rush and is rubbish.

My current manuscript may now not be released until October. That will put it at well over two years since I first started seriously writing it in the summer of 2017. I keep thinking it is “finished,” but I keep finding maddening tiny errors that are inexcusable and I have NO IDEA how I have possibly missed them BEFORE.

At the outset I have a vague idea what the main characters’ “backstories” generally are. As I go on with the writing, I come to “know” far more about them. It is a gradual process.

Why are you listening to that singing French gal? Why are you on about the New York Jets being hopeless? Why did you throw the PC out the second floor window?

You as the author have to know when to put up your hand and say to those helpful types who keep making new suggestions, “Uh, thank you”… and you stop listening. It is your book. It is your responsibility and ultimately your call, not theirs.

It is eventually “published,” but it may be “revised.” Many books go through future editions and there may be changes. In the past that was more common: authors would return to a book sometimes years later to “fix” problems and errors. Books do not have to be etched into stone. Nothing is perfect (as I keep discovering!). That is why there are “1st editions” and “2nds” and “3rds…”

That is not always a good thing, though. Henry James, for example, returned to make changes to The American some thirty years after its first publication… and basically ruined it. His “revised” version is not the one – fortunately – generally read today.

I don’t write children’s fantasy books. I haven’t got a clue. A guess – and it’s only a guess – would be no more than about 50,000 words, or about 300 pages, maximum.

Or just pick up a paperback copy of the first Potter, note the number of pages, and that’s your target.

Who puts emphasis on daily wordcounts? I keep hearing so many writers do. Who are these geniuses? people?

Are they the same ones who would have asked PBS’s Bob Ross: “So, uh, Bob, what was your brush stroke count today on that sweet little tree you been painting?”

First, I NEVER send a full manuscript to anyone I don’t know well and trust… like my wife. Ideas do get stolen. Don’t ever be naïve.

Second, I am beginning to detest the expression “beta-readers” with nearly every fiber of my existence. I will NEVER use it. As an author, I am not testing out some new version of Firefox, or a planned new Twitter interface, or improvements to the BBC’s web site.

I am an author. To be even more precise, I am the author of my novels. Prepublication, I have only an “editor” and “proofreaders.”

If you as an author are seeking input from others because you are fearful your writing is lousy and you are seeking reassurance you are on the right track story-wise and form-wise regarding what is supposed to be YOUR novel, well, those beta contributors deserve writing credit too.

Often simultaneously: my wife, a close woman friend, and a woman former children’s book writer/editor (and in many ways my de facto editor).

No men there? It’s not conscious. I just don’t know any men as close friends who are interested in proofreading my novels.

Men just don’t seem interested in romantic and historical fiction in the same numbers as women. Insofar as I know, most of my readers are women. Indeed for at least 200 years the majority of novel readers – at least in England, in France, and in America have been women. F. Scott Fitzgerald, for one, lamented in the 1920s that The Great Gatsby had sold poorly initially because – he believed – it lacked an “admirable” woman character and most of his readers were women.

Plastic straws are reportedly a threat to marine life.

This. It comes from a conversation I never forgot and I thought it deserved “immortalizing.” It pretty much took place as I describe here:

[Excerpt from Distances: Atlantic Lives, 1996-1997, on Kindle for iPhone/iPad. Click to expand.]

“Fiction comes from fact, and lots of fact makes great fiction when you re-write it as fiction.” ~ my (novelist) uncle to me, in the mid-1990s.

That’s actually insulting to waiters, who usually work a lot harder than do most writers.

A statement like that reads to me like some of the pompous nonsense I used to hear coming out of the mouths of writing pals of my (now late) uncle. Who the heck some of them thought they were. I recall wanting to blurt out more than once as I listened to the latest self-imagined Hemingway or Gertrude Stein mouthing off about their “work”: “You aren’t working, you’re playing pretend scribbling on pages, slick. Work is tarring a roof.”

His voice might “boom” on the odd occasion, yes. But most of the time it is probably best that he just “says” something. Save the “extreme description” for those moments when it is truly necessary.

Overuse of certain words has watered them down so much. There was a time “awesome” meant a lot more than how great your coffee is. And the word “frightening” in the late 18th century denoted true terror, until through endless overuse in print it has since become blandified to the point we are “frightened” now by…uh, a pony.

I’m an historian: the past almost universally stunk to the highest heavens. I love, for instance, to read Jane Austen’s novels and to write novels now about a similar time. But I would NOT honestly want to go back to any time pre-aspirin pre-modernity (meaning c. 1900).

1) Shakespeare used adverbs, so I will use them if I wish. A certain Mr. King can go jump deeply into a lake.

2) I aim to write fiction as if it were real history, so I like prologues and epilogues. You don’t? Fine. Write your own damn book.

3) The “show” and don’t “tell” writing mantra is wearying. It is a stylistic call, I know. But that it is does not invalidate the inescapable reality that the bottom line is you cannot actually “show” anything in writing because it is words and NOT visual. Indeed we have all heard a child say, “Mommy tell me a story” or “Mommy read me a story.” Mommy isn’t being implored to “show” a story.

4) Genre tropes? Is this now an English literature class?

5) Headhopping? I don’t know what that even means. Excuse me as I Google it.

Unlikely ever to matter. Still, it is fun to pause perhaps and think about. Insofar as possible, I would want to try to support talented singing friends:

For my current books, I’d like some present day appropriate ballads, and some Mozart and other classical, and maybe also some 18th century opera.

On that latter, I have read that Sophie Arnould would be perfect:

[Excerpt from Conventions: The Garden At Paris, on Kindle for iPhone/iPad. Click to expand.]

Unfortunately, though, uh, Sophie doesn’t seem available on iTunes or Spotify.

All of the great performances and the singers of the past prior to filmmaking and recorded music who are now only shadows to us. We are left merely with written descriptions of their talents. We have been told about them, but we will never see them or hear them.

“Told” about them.

We writers may not like to read this, but the written word is often not nearly enough.

Tweeting may be like blogging or Instagram. In some ways, though, Twitter is tougher for a writer because it comes at you so quickly you feel you MUST immediately respond. But a writer needs to be disciplined on Twitter and not constantly tweeting and replying, tweeting and replying…

…Or before you know it, half of your available writing time that day is gone, evaporated while you were tapping tapping tapping away in a spirited back and forth with half a dozen others about… how their cats might write books.

I don’t see a problem with tweeting a couple of times a day. That said, I don’t see how some of the writers in Twitter’s #writingcommunity actually write anything. It does often appear many seem to do little but tweet… about writing! LOL!

Have a good day, wherever you are writing, reading, or, uh, tweeting. 🙂