Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Writer's Block?

It happens to every writer at some point in his or her writing endeavors. Many of us don’t care to explore too candidly. Sure, we talk about it, moan about it, but we don’t really like revealing too much.
It happens to the best of us. Sometimes for weeks on end, and in worse case scenarios, for months, sometimes years.  We just don’t like talking about it. Why? If it happens to every writer, what’s the harm in talking about it? Because, it makes us frustrated, angry, and depressed to talk about it, even though we all know we’re going through it.
So what am I talking about?
The blank page.
At some point, every writer arrives at this point. What’s next for the story? We started the story all fired up and eager to explore what our characters had to say and then we hit the proverbial brick wall.
Writer’s block.

Some of us claim it doesn’t exist, while others know this feeling all too intimately.

According to Wikipedia, writer’s block is “a condition, associated with writing as a profession, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work. The condition varies widely in intensity. It can be trivial, a temporary difficulty in dealing with the task in hand. At the other extreme, some "blocked" writers have been unable to work for years on end, and some have even abandoned their careers.”

There can be many factors as to why this happens. For me personally, after my divorce in 2006, I had a strong desire to write, but I couldn’t find the ability to write anything I didn’t end up deleting right after I wrote it. My head was full of ideas and thoughts, but I couldn’t formulate them into anything of coherence. Not writing had a physical effect on me. I couldn’t sleep because my mind was racing so much. I was depressed because of the divorce, losing my son, and a host of other factors and not being able to concentrate long enough to write frustrated me even more. I was a mess, to say the least. Yet, I still had to function, get up, go to work, and put a smile on my face when in public. I kept it hidden pretty well, but my insides were churning and my head was spinning.

I ended up not writing for almost a year. I just stopped. I knew not writing was a factor in the way I was feeling, but I couldn’t do anything about it. Eventually, I found myself in front of the computer one night and I just started writing. Everything I’d been dealing with, struggling with, came pouring out. I was scared that if I stopped, I wouldn’t be able to find this place again. So, I pressed forward and when I finished I realized I felt better on many levels. I realized at that point that writing was ingrained in me. It was no longer a hobby or a fun lark; it was something that was very dear to me. It took me losing many things in my personal life to come to this realization. Looking back, I honestly wouldn’t want anything to be different, because everything that happened has brought me to this place where writing is once again, magical, healthy, and exciting.

Sure, I still have days were I want nothing more than to not to sit in front of the computer and bang out words. Talking about writing and actually writing is what separates the wannabe from the professional. Even when I don’t feel like writing, I sit down and do the work. Sometimes, I force myself to turn off the TV, quit surfing message boards, or hanging out on FB and sit down and put words on the paper. I’ve found the first few minutes can be pretty hard, but once the words start flowing things even out. Face it, if you write for long enough, there will be days where you don’t feel ‘it’, they’re going to happen, but you can’t let it get the best of you.

What has worked for me is something called free writing. I simply sit down and write whatever pops into my head. This could be describing a location, or a conversation between a couple of characters. I save everything I write. Those bits and pieces go into a file and eventually they get used down the line. By doing this, I have files upon files of snippets to draw upon if I get stuck. I’ve even combined two different stories a few times in the past.

If everyone always wrote when they ‘felt’ like it, then not a lot of writing would get done. Watching some of my friends in the business hammering out two or three novels a year to pay the bills used to scare me. I’m a slow writer because I tend to obsess over every plot twist or word when I write. I’ve gotten better over the years of just writing and worrying about editing after a first draft, but I still catch myself editing while I’m crafting a sentence. Don’t get caught up in counting words. Write at least a little a day, whether it is only 100 words or 1,000. Words on paper are words on paper. If the words aren’t coming, take a break, do something else for a little bit, and then come back. 

I’m not saying this will work for everyone, but it works for me. Main thing is to keep at it no matter how frustrating it gets. 

Eventually the words will flow, trust me. 

(Originally appeared on Apex Publications Blog, March 2010) 

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Difference Between Writing and Publishing

I write because I have to, I publish because I choose to.

There is a definite difference. 

AP Fuchs, publisher of Coscom Entertainment and writer extraordinaire, said it best in a recent interview with The Black Gove e-zine, “I’ve learned two major lessons and these were the hardest I learned, ones that I just didn’t learn overnight but over many years: publishing is just one giant crapshoot. It really is. Stuff succeeds and sometimes we know why, other times not. Same with the failures. I’ve learned good books don’t get you contracts and sometimes bad books do.”

Yeah, this is going to be one of those blogs. Writing and publishing are two different animals. Writing is solitary, just the author and the page. A book after the author hands it over to a publisher is no longer a solitary effort. Publishing should be collaborative, though that’s not always the case.
In a perfect world, a writer would be able to concentrate on crafting stories without having to worry too much about what happens after the story is sent out into the world. Sadly, in the small press especially (though it seems to be happening more and more with bigger publishers, as well) the authors have to spend more and more time promoting and selling their work, than actually crafting new work. Just because you’ve finished a story and a publisher has accepted that story, the work doesn’t stop there for the writer. Now…you have to make readers aware the story is available for consumption. More and more time is spent stumping for that newest story that actually writing new work suffers.

I sat on and attended a few panels at CONvergence 2010 and this was the subject on many of them. Where does one find time to work on new stuff if all your time is being spent on promoting stuff already published? Many new writers are still under the false impression that they’ll be able to write a story, send it to a publisher, and that’s the end of the cycle, but they are in for a rude awakening.
In publishing, you are only as good as your last book’s sales. If that book doesn’t sell, it’s that much harder to sell the next book. I should know, that has already happened to me this year.
At CONvergence, L.A. Banks and Roy C. Booth had a very interesting discussion on the placement of books in bookstores based off the name of the author. I was aware of this, but they really opened my eyes to just how hard it is to catch a reader’s attention as they scan amongst all the titles on a shelf.
Publishing is a business, first and foremost. Books have to sell; the publisher needs to make money to be viable. Many of us authors aren’t marketers, we’re writers. Many of us cringe at the thought of self-promotion. But it’s a necessary evil, some of us do it better than others, but it has to be done. We bemoan the state of publishing; nobody reads these days or the publisher doesn’t support us, but if the reader doesn’t know where to find our work or even know we exist, that’s on us. Let’s face it: there are millions of books out there, with thousands, big houses, small press, and self published books published every day.
There’s a lot to read out there competing for a finite number of readers. Readers are smart and they’re discriminating. They have their regular authors they read religiously. Bad books have burned them and they won’t be fooled twice.  Couple that with the current state of the economy, they are that much more discriminating on whom they spend their cash on. Readers talk about what they read to their friends. That word of mouth is as valuable as gold to an author. That stamp of approval is needed for us to be successful. You, as the author, have to deliver right out of the gate, snag their interest and continuing delivering the course of the entire story.

Usually the first way a reader becomes aware of your work is your book cover. Essentially, that’s your first impression upon a reader. So far, I’ve been very blessed with great covers during my career. I’ve heard the horror stories of being stuck with a bad cover by other authors. A cover can either sink or make a book successful. It’s debatable whether blurbs actually help sell books, but I feel that they do factor into a reader’s decision to try something from an author they’ve never heard of. (Plug: If you're an indie author, you should check out Elder Lemon Design

The publishing world is brutal and can be very depressing. I know intimately, I’ve been in it for the past twelve years. There are highs and lows, more lows than not. I often wonder why I keep trying some days. As I said at the beginning of this blog, I write because I have to. I have to get those stories in my head onto paper or they’ll eat me alive. I publish because I choose to. Every author who chooses to publish craves to be read. If nobody reads your work, then what’s the point, right? As I’ve already said, there are so many factors at play to reach an audience it can become quite daunting very quickly.
There’s nothing worse than having a new story or book published and then being met with ominous silence. Was the work good? Of course, a publisher recognized its merits and agreed to purchase and publish it, but without the reader’s feedback, your ultimate audience, you’re left to wonder many times. No matter their level authors worry about how their work will be received. Nothing scares me more than having a new story published and hearing nothing from the readers about it. It can really shake your confidence if you let it eat away at you.

Some books have “legs” as some like to refer to it, and the book is a success right out of the gate, other books take time, and as word of mouth builds, the book takes on a life of its own. There are the blockbusters from established authors that are bestsellers before they’re even released; there’s the books with great buzz that fall into this same category as well. Recently, The Passage by Justin Cronin is a perfect example.
In those dark hours where I’m feeling like nothing is working, my career is stagnating, and the writing just isn’t happening I force myself to look back at all I’ve accomplished since I got into this business. I’ve had some success. I’ve had books published. I’ve had a movie adapted of my work. I’ve heard authors I read and respect say good things about my work. That helps immensely. I have accomplished many things and beat some of the hardest odds in this business. Over the years, I’ve become cynical and bitter many times, but I haven’t given up. I know there always more to learn to improve my craft. Hearing other authors be brutally honest about this business helps as it lets me know I’m not alone in feeling this way. Authors like Gary A. Braunbeck, with his newest To Each Their Darkness, tell it how it is to be a working writer. Reading his insights are what keeps me going. Others like Tom Piccirilli and Brian Keene are quite candid on their blogs about the highs and lows in this business.

Still, there is so much more I would like to accomplish. I’d love to be capable of doing this full time, but I’m realistic as well. It may happen, it may not. The point is to keep creating new work, writing for yourself, dealing with your own demons through the page and have that drive to succeed. You’re going to need it or you won’t last long in this business. 

(Originally appeared @ Apex Publications Blog - July 30, 2010)