Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Days 257 to 263 - Happy Birthday, Me!

Yes, today I turn the once-dreaded 30! I must admit, I am a little sad to leave my 20s behind, but in the same way that I never really minded finishing at a school or job, I don't really have much nostalgia for my own past. There was good and bad, and there will be good and bad again. Or, in the words of the Cylons, all this has happened before, and all this will happen again.

My writing this month has been awfully slow, mostly because I agreed in a moment of enthusiastic insanity to run the RWA 50K in 30 Days. Think Nano for romance writers. It's going to be a lot of fun, but the wonderfully large number of sign-ups have seriously cut into my writing time. My word goal for next month is 100,000 so here's hoping I catch up a little!

Word count - 1,147

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Days 252 to 256 - Re-reading Novels

I've been thinking recently about re-reading novels. Some people swear by it, but other people find it's a terrible waste of time when they already have so many new books on their list that they want to read. I do understand where they are coming from - my "To be read" list on Goodreads is becoming increasingly lengthy and I fear it may take me the rest of the year to complete.

But when I'm lazing about the house or I'm unwell, a lot of the time I like nothing better than to read something that I've already read. Sometimes I wasn't even too keen on it the first time around. I just like to read without thinking too hard. Part of the problem is that I'm a very fast reader. One of those tiny category romances takes me a couple of hours so I can read four or five of them in a day when I have the flu and if I were to buy new ones each time I'd go broke.

I also like to re-read novels I loved. I've read the Count of Monte Cristo about 10 times, I've read all of Georgette Heyer's Regency novels and the Rumpole books at least twice and I've read all the Jane Austen novels more times than I can count. I think that this is actually really helpful. Each time I read through I pick up different things - bit of language I hadn't noticed before, how sentence structure is used to convey a particular emotion, depths of character that I may have missed before. As a writer, I think re-reading is a very useful exercise in that it helps us look at the words and not just the plot.

Plot is great. It's what keeps the story moving. However, when you boil it right down to the essentials almost every plot has been done before. It's the writing that keeps it fresh, the way the writer weaves the words to create the picture. And that's what re-reading teaches - the ability to look beyond themes and witty dialogue and fast-paced action and see the structure lying beneath.

What do you think? Do you re-read? And why/why not?

Word count - 147

Friday, May 13, 2011

Days 250 to 251 - Writers v Publishers: Are you playing to win?

Imagine, if you will, a high-level amateur football game (whatever code you want, I'm not fussy) being held in front of a group of selectors. All your players are supposedly on the same team, and yet they all want something more - a bigger slice of the pie. The chance to shine, the chance to get a call from the big leagues with all its associated fame and money and fast cars. And when everyone is out to become THE greatest, where does that leave the team?

I think that in the writing business we are beginning to see a similar problem to the above. Writers, publishers, agents - we're all on the same team, and yet we come into the game with vastly different philosophies, goals and expectations.

It's only natural. Publishers want to grow their brand - they're focussed on marketing. The agents attract bigger clients by selling to the publishers, so by necessity they too need to think about whether your book is "marketable". They know what winning is, and in order to win they want their writers to be a marketable commodity and sell lots of books - to fight hard and win big.

Marcus Brotherton, guest blogging over at literary agent Rachelle Gardner's, talks about whether your writing is a competitive sport or a backyard hit-up. He says:
Winning, in the most ferocious sense of the word, frustrates us if our main goal as writers is getting the highest score possible and crushing our opponents.
More and more writers are expressing dissatisfaction with the strongly commercial nature of publishing. It's not that writers don't want money - they do! (Well, lord knows I do in any event.) But writers are by nature creative, they want to try new genres, new forms, to push boundaries and to spend their time writing. Publishing, even self-publishing, pushes us to create a brand, growing our reader base by focussing on the one genre and marketing ourselves as authors of [insert genre here] fiction.

I understand the reasoning. Would the romance community flock to buy the new Stephen King regency historical? Stephen King makes maximum profits writing horror, because there is a solid public conception that Stephen King writes excellent horror. But are the publishers underestimating the readers?

Scott Sigler, also guest blogging, at A Newbie's Guide to Publishing, talks about how he managed to do better for himself by changing the goal posts. He had a publisher - one whose marketing plan didn't have room for his cross-genre experiments - so he made his own success. He podcasts his stories free of charge, and has been doing so for years. And that idea of wanting to share the story has bought him a lot of fans. Those fans pay him money for his work, even though the content is available for free online.

To quote the brilliant XKCD:
You don't become great by trying to be great. You become great by wanting to do something, and then doing it so hard that you become great in the process. 

Word Count - 1,788

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Days 242 to 248 - Baking a Book

I spent this evening making a dark chocolate mint slice for my fellow court minions. Happy Birthday, section overlord!

The interesting thing is that, while I didn't get any actual writing done, all the mixing and washing and stirring gave me plenty of time to think about the novel I'm in the process of editing. I think it was Agatha Christie who said that the best time to plan a book is when you're doing the dishes, but it's never really hit home for me how true that is until now.

Probably exercise has the same effect (I must try that one day!), but the soothing, monotonous motions were really good at letting my brain forget about my body and drift in its own direction - which luckily happened to be my book. I've come up with a whole new opening that is a lot more interesting, and at least two characters are going to drastically change.

Also, it's a pretty darn tasty slice.

Word count - 787

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Days 237 to 241 - I Believe in Harvey Dent

When I read Pride and Prejudice it was always strange to me how interconnected everyone was. The gossip got around so fast it made your head spin, and even if you did manage to marry off your scandalous kid sister who had her heart set on social destruction, everyone KNEW it was just a cover. 

In a way the internet has taken us back to those days. There are no secrets you can keep - and while you can live two completely separate lives online you have to be damn sure you keep your house of cards straight because it can all be knocked over in an instant.

In the last weeks, two people have had their barriers crumble between lives. On the funny side, Scott Adams was caught out using an alter-ego to tell everyone exactly how much of a genius he was. And then when he was caught out he interviewed himself using his own sock puppet

All good for him. But what about poor Judy Buranich? The English teacher with a night job writing racy romance novels who is now being investigated for having the temerity to teach kids about Camus while she writes erotica. In her author persona, she did a YouTube video and now there's no shoving her lives back in their separate boxes. 

Sarah at Earful of Cider put up an interesting (if somewhat annoyingly voiced) video on this, but it makes me wonder whether we aren't going backwards as a society. Goody Buranich has been denounced, and if she doesn't disown the Devil's writing she can kiss her teaching career goodbye. 

Personally, I hope she tells them to go teach their own kids the difference between a noun and a verb and goes on to become an extremely famous full-time author. But that's not the point. 

We all do things in the privacy of our own home that we wouldn't want children to see or emulate. You know all the teachers in your children's school? They've had sex - more than once. They don't tell your kids about it. A lot of them have probably tried drugs. They don't tell your kids about it. Some of them moonlight as horror writers, or erotica writers, or bloggers on the evils of religion, or activists for abortion centres. They don't tell your kids about it. 

And the above also applies to your dentists, doctors, police officers, firemen, military, politicians, librarians, dog walkers, waitresses, nurses, lawyers and judges. 

Even before the internet, we all had two faces. Only now we're more reliant than ever on people's ability as a crowd to keep perspective and think things through rationally because when the barriers get knocked over it's the whole world who can see.  

We're so completely screwed. 

Word count - 1,754