Writing about Writing

Challenges

Fighting the Urge

Now that What Dark Passages is available on Amazon both in ebook and paperback, I’m afflicted by a powerful compulsion to constantly check the sales graph.

I clearly remember seeing the first ebook sale on the Kindle Direct Publishing reports graph. I knew exactly who bought it, but it still resulted in a rush of excitement. It’s happening, I’m selling my book! Then the second one sold. I knew who that was too, and it still felt just as good. The feeling was addictive.

Now I wake up in the morning – did I sell anything last night? Go on break at work – any new sales? Get home from work – I wonder if I have any sales in the last 3 hours? You get the idea. It’s become one of those ‘a watched pot never boils’ kind of situations.

Taken in context, my overall sales haven’t been bad, but checking every couple hours definitely isn’t healthy. Every time I log in and see no change I feel a small burst of sadness. It’s probably not rational, but it is there all the same. Those small bursts can add up to the point where they overshadow the accomplishment.

So I’m fighting the urge to check. It’s been hard, but I’ve reduced my sales checks from 4 or 5 times a day down to 1 a day. I’m feeling a lot more relaxed about it. The sales will come when they come, regardless how often I look.


A.A. and Intellectual Property

While writing my book, What Dark Passages, there was a point where I was going to reference a song. It was going to be something just in passing, a character singing the lyrics at work. But right before I started typing, I had a feeling I should check if I was allowed to quote those lyrics.

Turns out, I wasn’t. If I wanted to quote lyrics, I was going to have to get permission. So I cut the reference down to a simple ‘she sang this song, people laughed at her’.

Whew, dodged a bullet there.

Unfortunately, my research skills failed me later.

In the course of the novel, one of my primary point-of-view characters, Richard, goes to Alcoholics Anonymous. I downloaded various freely available pamphlets and information about A.A. and did all sorts of research to make sure I was portraying it as accurately as possible. On the pamphlets and booklets, I didn’t find anything copyright related, so I thought it was ok.

My editor, however, knew better (thankfully!).

Turns out A.A. has an intellectual property policy that states I’m only allowed to freely use their material if I am a member of A.A. writing material specifically for A.A.. Otherwise, I need to get permission from their IP Policy group.

I’ve been in contact with them and, at this point, I’m still hopeful I’ll be able to get this ironed out before my planned release next month. If the approval takes too long, however, (or if they flat out say ‘no’), I’ll be forced to remove the quotes and rewrite those sections. Not something I want to do.

So let this be a lesson to always double, triple, and quadruple check for relevant IP policy anytime you ever want to quote something when writing!


Bad Habits

As I go through the editing process on my novel, I’ve noticed I have a number of bad habits in my writing.  This isn’t surprising, everyone has bad habits, both professionals and amateurs.

For example – I’m reading a novel by a favourite author of mine, Steven Erikson.  He’s published over a dozen novels and, in my opinion, they range from great to amazing.  But I noticed something recently that surprised me – he has a habit of writing run-on sentences.  On some pages, I found paragraph long sentences broken up by a half dozen commas!

Now, I don’t want to insinuate he’s a bad writer or I’m better than him in any way, because A. I think he’s amazing, and B. I could only dream of writing like he does.  I just think that, in the grand scheme of things, littering your books with paragraph long sentences probably qualifies as a bad habit.

I have a lot of bad habits.  I managed to pick some up on my own during re-reading, the rest had to be pointed out by my beta-readers.  Here are some of my most common problems:

  • I overuse the word “just”.  I just can’t help myself.  I cut my usage in half during editing.
  • There was over 130 uses of “there was”.  I’ve trimmed it down to less than 20.
  • It seemed to be ok at first, but I also realized I overuse “seemed to”.  I had over 70 instances, and it’s been trimmed down to less than 10.
  • “That” is a generally extraneous word that I kept typing when I didn’t need to.

The good news is the above problems are easily fixed.  Whoever came up with the ‘Find’ command deserves a giant hug.  Seriously.

There were other problems, of course.  I had a few sections where I was telling instead of showing, so I ended up writing in entirely new scenes to compensate.  Those kinds of problems take a lot more time and effort to tackle, but they’re worth fixing.

What about my readers?  Do any of you have bad habits in your writing?


Name, Genre, and Finding Betas

The last time we talked, I provided a list of steps that I needed to take to get my book ready to publish.  Since then, I’ve trucked through the first few steps, but I may have gotten hung up on something I really didn’t expect.

First, we’ll talk about the small progress I’ve made.

The Name

The idea for this book came to me about 3 years ago.  I had just finished writing a short story about a man lost at sea.  I really liked the tone and wanted to explore those kinds of emotions in more depth.  One night I was walking home from work and a plan began to coalesce in my mind.  I wanted 3, maybe 4 characters.  They would be struggling through major emotional upheaval, and I had a great climax in mind that would bring all their stories together.  I even had two perfect characters I had created in the past, one from a prose-poem I had written in University, the other I had created while listening to a song by the band Bloodsimple.  The story would essentially be about the darkness in our lives, so I called it: Darkness.

As the idea took shape and I began to work on an outline, the story became not just about our darkness, but about emotional recovery from traumatic events and dealing with our past.  The name Darkness had always been meant as a placeholder, but as time went on it became harder to think of the book as anything else.  I was attached to it, and the idea behind it, even though the book had outgrown my temporary title.  One idea was to name it Through the Darkness, as a way to represent the emotional journey the characters take.  But a quick search on Amazon.com revealed at least 3 other books with the same name, so I scrapped that one.  Then my good friend Colin came up with an idea, and it sounded perfect.  It represented exactly what I wanted, and a search on Amazon came up with zero other books with the same name.  So barring any drastic changes during the editing process, I believe I’ve settled on a title.

I present to you: What Dark Passages

The Genre

Through this entire process, I never really thought about the genre.  I just wrote the book I wanted to write without worrying about fitting it into a specific genre.  Now that I have to classify it, though, I started to wonder just what exactly did I write?

I went to a couple websites that are supposed to help with classification.  One of them does a short quiz.  It listed my book as a Suspense Thriller.  I laughed and moved on.  Eventually I decided I would go to Amazon.com and search the categories to find out where mine fits.  I figured if I could find similar style books, then that should be my genre, right?

After a while, I started to zero in on Literary Fiction.  But I thought, if I’m selling my book on Amazon.com, I don’t want it to just be grouped in with 45,000 other books, I need to narrow it down even more.  And within the remaining sub-categories I spied the word “Psychological”.  I clicked it open and perused the available books and theme list.  That’s when I knew I had found my genre.

Genre: Psychological Literary Fiction

Beta Readers

I have to admit, when I was coming up with the list of challenges I would face “Finding Beta Readers” wasn’t at the top of the list.  I had this idea in my head where I would post my information in some of the various Beta Reader groups out there and helpful people would line up and everything would be just rosy.  Unfortunately, I was overestimating the interest my work would garner…by a lot.

There could be any number of factors involved, of course.  I tried to be very upfront with the mature nature of my novel, because I don’t want anyone surprised (in a bad way) by the content.  Could that have scared people away?  Or it’s possible I didn’t do a good enough job getting people interested.  This weekend I wrote up a proper description, the type of thing you’d see on a website or on the back of a novel and added it to one of my posts.  I’m hoping it helps.

I have other steps I can work on while I’m waiting for this to happen, but if I don’t find betas, it will eventually stall out the entire process.  Impartial eyes are one of the most important aspects of editing, because as much as I trust and value the opinions of my close friends and family, it’s impossible for them to be completely unbiased.

So now I’m reaching out to the WordPress community.  If you, or anyone you know, are interested in beta reading an 80,000 word Psychological Literary Fiction novel, give me a shout!  It just so happens I have one right here.  I may be biased, but I think it’s a pretty good read.

I can be reached at: journeyofawannabewriter@gmail.com

UPDATE 3/24/13 – One of the hardest things to have these days is patience.  I was so excited to get my book out there that, I admit, I was feeling a little down at the initial lack of  interested being beta readers.  But if I’d had just a little more patience, I would have been writing a very different section.  As of now I’ve had 4 different people contact me about being beta readers, so the ball is officially rolling and I’m excited for the feedback to start coming in!

Here’s the book blurb:

Alex’s parents died when he was eight.  Since then, he’s been on the outside looking in, wondering what his life could have been…what it should have been.  Now, crushed by unbearable loneliness, he looks toward one, final solution.

Melissa is tired of being a victim.  She wants nothing more than to move on with her life.  But she is still haunted by the man who attacked her outside a club five years ago.  A man the police never found.  

Richard is a paramedic who made a mistake that cost a little girl her life.  Now, fresh off a lengthy suspension, he can’t avoid confronting the mistake he made.  At the same time, his marriage is coming apart at the seams, and the only comfort he can find is at the bottom of a bottle.

Joel has made mistakes.  Horrible mistakes.  But turning the tables on his abusive father and putting a bullet through his hand isn’t one of them.  Now his father, looking for revenge, has found him. There may never be redemption for Joel, but he has a family to worry about now, and he must protect them at all costs.


On Concentration

One of the biggest challenges I’ve found with writing is keeping focused.  There are always other things happening:  The Verge is posting new articles.  People are tweeting cool pictures of mountains or about upcoming beer releases.  The games on my phone are ready for me to play my next turn.  League of Legends just released their latest patch notes.  The list goes on and on…

I spend a lot of time on the computer.  Even before I started writing.  I love to consume knowledge, no matter how strange and useless.  Having the world’s knowledge at my fingertips is a lure that I simply cannot resist.  For example, I know that Hajime Isayama based the character design of Dot Pixis in his Attack on Titan manga on a Japanese general, who died over 80 years ago, named Akiyama Yoshifuru.  Do I really need to know that?  No, I don’t.

The internet is like a hallway filled with doors.  And every time you open one door, you find yourself in a hallway filled with a dozen others.  This is how I can go from looking up the street view of a location I’m scouting for a scene, to reading about the Battle of Hampton Roads, where the Ironclads CSS Virginia and USS Monitor faced off during the American Civil War.  How did I even get from one point to the other?  I don’t know.  I just know it happened.

Nicholas Carr wrote an excellent book called The Shallows: What The Internet Is Doing To Our Brains that I found particularly illuminating (I highly recommend checking it out).  He writes a lot about neuroplasticity, and while I won’t go into detail here, the idea is that our brains can develop habits.  The internet is filled with distractions, and reading an article on the internet is a different experience from reading a book or a newspaper.  An internet article is filled with flashing ads, hyperlinks above, below, beside and even embedded into the content.  You know what I mean, we’ve all read articles with hyperlinked sentences that take us to yet another website.  Consuming content in this manner is changing our brains, making it harder for us to focus on a single thing because we’ve become so used to reading short bits at a time and constantly processing decisions on whether to click a link or not (Every time the brain needs to make one of these decisions, it loses focus on what it was doing).

I’ve become one of these people.   Even though I read books as often as I can, when I’m sitting at the computer and see a block of text I just skim through it, picking out keywords to get a general idea of the message.  I also click links constantly.  I see something and think, oh, this might be interesting, I’ll keep that for later.  Even now, I have 10 tabs open in my browser.  And that’s only because I just closed 4.

But I have improved (When I’m writing, anyway), and intend to keep on improving.  I’m able to write more per week now than I ever have.  My brain is slowly but surely building new, more productive, habits.  And even though I still spend an inordinate amount of time ‘surfing the web’, as it were, I’m surfing just a little bit less, and that is helping my productivity a lot.

P.S. I opened and closed about 15 different tabs in the course of writing this blog post.