Monday, September 24, 2012

When Writing Goes Slowly...

I have just discovered due to some suddenly planned meetings and scheduling issues that my writing day on Wednesday (aka the only day I have time to write in my book these days) is going to be compromised...if you get a shorter than usual blog post on Friday, you'll know why. I'll be trying to make up and recover lost time.

I have also been unable to write the 20+ pages a day I had hoped at the beginning of the fall. But really, I could have done it, right? Well, no, actually.

Don't get discouraged when your writing goes slowly. Unless it's the only thing you've got going on, it's not going to be the only thing you've got going on.

See what I did there?

Recently I calculated it out. On an average day, what with a full course load, my part time job, my internship, my classwork, my Editorship of the literary magazine on campus, and my attempts to get my life figured out, I probably work a good 16-18 hours a day. Work. Every now and then we'll throw in something fun and guess what-- that work load probably doesn't change. What does change is how much time I'll have to eat/sleep/shower/write/read etc. Because the work load can't change. What has to get done has to get done. For example, last night I stayed up so that I could finish reading The Hobbit. (You'll get to hear about that on Friday.) I woke up tired this morning and thought, you have only yourself to blame.

Well, it's true. Sacrifices must be made for the greater good. In this case the greater good included me reading The Hobbit. Don't ask me how. It's serious business.

I was originally going to be writing in my book three times a week. It has turned into once a week in order for me to keep up with this blog. I may have to alter the schedule and reorganize things to even it out-- perhaps move to once-a-week blogging and take the other two days for writing. We shall see. But on the average day of writing in my book I only chug out about 5-7 pages as opposed to twenty. Well, this isn't very surprising either. Sure, I wrote 20 pages all at once in my first run. That was when I was newly inspired, fired up, and had all day to do it. And it took me all day. My writing 'mornings' are just that-- mornings. About three hours in which I get to not only wake up, get ready for class, but try to be creative enough to plop out my tale.

So I guess I could say I'm doing well.

I still plan on being done by Christmas. I have a few 'vacations' coming up that hopefully will not be ploughed through by job-search and classwork. I'll get the work done. A good thing to remember--I've said it many times before-- is that our writing, though it be our passion and our joy (*cough*) is also our job, and it's work. It needs to be done.

Off to work I go!

Friday, September 21, 2012


I stumbled across this poem today, by the dear William Wordsworth. I sometimes wonder (and should probably research it myself, but the tendency to crawl back in bed is being fought hard enough by sitting in this chair alone, so research will wait) if his name is true or if he came up with a clever pen name. For what better name for a poet is there besides Wordsworth? I tell you...

In any case, here Wordsworth is actually telling his readers to put their books down! To go and get fresh air! And sunlight! What!? We're going to grow fat if we don't!

          UP! up! my Friend, and quit your books;
          Or surely you'll grow double:
          Up! up! my Friend, and clear your looks;
          Why all this toil and trouble?

          The sun, above the mountain's head,
          A freshening lustre mellow
          Through all the long green fields has spread,
          His first sweet evening yellow.

          Books! 'tis a dull and endless strife:
          Come, hear the woodland linnet,    10
          How sweet his music! on my life,
          There's more of wisdom in it.

          And hark! how blithe the throstle sings!
          He, too, is no mean preacher:
          Come forth into the light of things,
          Let Nature be your teacher.

          She has a world of ready wealth,
          Our minds and hearts to bless--
          Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health,
          Truth breathed by cheerfulness.     20

          One impulse from a vernal wood
          May teach you more of man,
          Of moral evil and of good,
          Than all the sages can.

          Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
          Our meddling intellect
          Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:--
          We murder to dissect.

          Enough of Science and of Art;
          Close up those barren leaves;       30
          Come forth, and bring with you a heart
          That watches and receives.

Well, you know what I have to say to that? My favorite place to be reading is outside. Have you ever tried it? I once fell asleep in a wheelbarrow under a dogwood tree in the summer, right next to the hydrangeas. So take that Wordsworth! How about hiking 9 miles straight up to the Chicago Basin and reading I, Robot among mountains 14,000 feet high?


Good morning, everyone. Today I'm recommending you again to my favorite blog-author, Sarah Hoyt. I rediscovered her article this morning while going through my archives, blearily wondering what do I write, what do I write, what do I write...oh! Now this is a good one-- how does one break into the publishing world?

Hoo hoo...this is like asking how many licks does it take to get to the center of a tootsie-roll pop. And then asking the person doing the licking to form an algorithm that correlates to the color and flavor of the pop as well as the direction they're standing and the temperature outside.

Well, Hoyt doesn't hide any of the facts, and from someone who's been there she's got a good vantage point. She does however offer 'the other hand' on much advice. Such as, where before we've heard again and again-- get an agent rather than going directly to a publisher, ePublishing is still too uncertain and volatile, etc.

Well, Hoyt says to not get an agent-- they don't have the power they used to, and quite frankly, why are we standing off from ePublishing for being uncertain and volatile when the entire traditional publishing industry is just the same?

Oh dear. Now I'm confused.

Well, read her article (the full article is also located here). Drawing from my plethora of wisdom, all I can say in response is that if you're offered two closed fists, each with a 'prize' inside, you pick the one your gut tells you to. Hoyt does preface her article by saying "no one knows anything". That may sound cynical and hopeless, but really, with the right mindset, it's rather hopeful. If no one knows anything, you can pick the path you travel without the fear of 'doing it wrong'. And in publishing, that does seem to be the case these days. Agents or publishers, traditional or digital?

Until the industry settles down into its new skin, it's going to be hazy. I'm going to stick with agents and traditional publishing methods. It's the way I like, it's the way I've researched, it's the way I've learned. I'll certainly keep up on the research-- that would by my advice to anyone. Whatever road you take, get a map of the other road. Research like crazy the industry you don't choose-- that way, if the alternate route proves to be smoother and sunnier than the stormy mountain you've chosen, you know exactly how to get there quickly. Don't get left behind in the times. Know both ways of how to publish your novel. And then once the industry settles perhaps I'll dig in a different sandbox.

My real question is, will it settle into a new skin? And if so, when?

Monday, September 17, 2012

What's Your Writing Muse?

Everyone has something that inspires them to write and allows them to focus better on what they're doing, to pull from that annoyingly difficult to reach muse-spot with all the really juicy metaphors and gritty scenes. Maybe it's having a movie playing in the background, or a pile of chocolate peanut butter cookies next to the keyboard (messy but I bet it's delicious). For me, undoubtedly the trick lies in music.

I've tried on occasion writing with my everyday 'listening' music: Coldplay, U2, Rush, BOC, Journey, and other classic rock giants. Now and again I stumble on something alright, but it isn't consistent. The lyrics often distract me and I lose focus of what it is I'm actually doing so that I can listen to the music. Sometimes there are exceptions if the lyrics are just subdued enough either in tone or in energy that they can slip by without fully registering in the brain and instead give a flavor just like any other musical instrument would.

This is the fine line-- to find music that stimulates your brain waves and gives the flavor needed to paint the picture you want without distracting you from what you want to be writing. The tune also has to stand out, so that if you're like me and you listen to a single song on repeat for as long as three hours to get a single chapter or scene right, you won't realize an hour and a half in that you haven't heard a single note of the song in fifteen minutes and have no idea where it went.

It's amazing the brain's power to tune things out in favor of listening to an inner dialogue. Shame it never seems to work on command...if everyone could do it, there would never be any need for 24-hour study rooms or quiet hours. Anyone could study or write in the middle of a mosh pit.

So what music is the best for writing? Of course, it's going to vary for everyone, but I find the music that suits me best lies in movie soundtracks. Much of the time movies are based on books or true events, and even if they aren't, they're the visual imaginings of another 'writer' just like you. The soundtrack is the audio representation of their dream world, and it can be just as inspiring to your inner landscape as it was to fleshing out their visual one.

Also, soundtracks very rarely have any lyrics that will distract you (or make you realize you just typed up the line to the song rather than the next sentence in the paragraph). Sure, there may be wordless singing, perhaps some choirs chanting in Latin-- I like these songs best. I can imagine the soundtrack belonging to my own book, moving along in the background as I spin out the characters' lives, perhaps even accompanying them when one day, *cough*, my books are published, best-sellers, and given a movie contract. With action figures and lunchboxes and tennis shoes.

What, it could happen.

Right now I'm listening to my 'song of the week' that will probably be my inspiration for anything I write in the next 10 days. I've been looking for the soundtrack to this movie, End of the Spear, for years and years. It's not available for purchase (or at least since I looked last it's not) and I've been missing this music since I saw it in the film at least eight or nine years ago...really? I'm getting old.

Then came the miracle of Youtube. I'm sure now if I looked I could also find it on such music platforms as Grooveshark or Pandora (very good for getting music vibes going if you can't stand listening to the same song again and again and don't have a playlist of your own). I have now discovered not one but two of my favorite songs off of the End of the Spear OST and can listen to them at my liesure while I write. And they're very effective. One helped me write an entire paper the other night. Yes, I find them so inspiring that even an academic paper came willingly as if it were creative writing.

So try out some soundtracks, see what you think. What do you use as your inspiration to write?

Friday, September 14, 2012

A Soliloquy on Writers

Writers...well, what can I say?

I suppose it isn't entirely fair of me to do a blog post on writers, being one. Am I biased? Of course I am! And yet at the same time I know exactly what it means. And I hope you know I'm terrible at solitaire. I prefer Mahjong.

There's a saying that, given a long enough time, a roomful of chimpanzees could come up with the entirety of Shakespeare's "Hamlet". I take umbrage at that. You know, given enough tries (as in the millions of billions) it could statistically be argued that anything could happen. Does that mean it will?

No. Frankly, no. As long as I stare at it, this pile of paperwork next to my desk will not become a glass of chocolate milk. My book will not write itself, especially with a roomful chimpanzees, and where would I get a roomful of chimpanzees anyway? Besides, I haven't got the time to wait on them to figure it out. Or enough bananas.

I'm being silly. Oh dear.

In any case, the argument that chimps could write "Hamlet" removes all talent, work, or imagination out of the piece. It states that literature is nothing more than a random assortment of letters that form words in a particular order. Nothing more. There's nothing to it, really. Anyone, and anything, could write "Hamlet".

I hate this. Now, I'm entirely a proponent that anyone can learn how to write. Anyone can learn how to write well. Can anyone write the next Lord of the Rings or I, Robot? Certainly not! There is a certain something that captures the wildness of the readers, especially on such a great scale as that...and that a writer must have somehow translated into story for their book or tale to be truly great. I don't know exactly what that certain something is. You could call it imagination, you could call it inspiration, you could even call it dreams, but none of those words work quite right because a writer can have all of those and still not have that...something.

There are days when I worry I either do not have that something or never shall. But that doesn't mean I'm going to stop writing, stop trying. You never know when you'll find it. Perhaps you'll discover it later in a book written years in the future, or perhaps you'll discover later that you had it all along. To give up before the grand story is over would be foolish. And so I never give up, nor will I ever tell anyone else to do so, no matter how much their writing style differs from mine.

Writing is like art. There is a base line that can be determined between good and bad writing, but it is founded on things like grammar, format, content, flow, speech, syntax, etc, just as there is a base line of good or bad art that is founded on composition, understanding of materials, color theory, geometry, and history. Neither of these have anything to do with passion and sorrow and dreams. From that point on, the artistic opinions, mental capacity, and styles of individuals take over.

There are plenty of good, fantastic books out there that I will not understand, and probably will not like as a result. One of my faults in art is that if I do not understand it, often I will not like it. At least to an extent. I struggle with Modern art this way. Much of the time I just don't see the story, or the meaning, or the reason, or, frankly, the point. However, there are some pieces of art, some works of literature, that I could never explain given a thousand years to look at them, and I adore them. Why? I don't know.

I do know that when I have writer's block it is rarely because I have nothing to write. It is simply because I'm tired, or busy, or lazy, or any other number of things that keep me from getting down to it and working. It's work! This blog proves that-- I have not run out of things to say even after a few months of writing twice a week. And I don't think I will. There are always new things happening in the world of writing or reading: always new developments in the publishing industry or new books to be read and thought about. There is always something to write.

So write away-- I think I will, in any case.

Monday, September 10, 2012

With the economy as bad as it's been, the last thing anyone seems to be hopeful for is the book industry. Especially with eBooks and eReaders and iPads 1, 2, and 3 being as popular as they have been--  what hope is there for the physical book? There have been some wildly successful eAuthors who have published a million books (and therefore earned a million dollars) without a publishing contract, setting the stage for what seems to be the new publishing Way. In light of this new phenomenon, with crime and western novelist John Locke selling as many-- and probably more by this point in time-- books as James Patterson and Michael Connelly, but with no agent or publishing house or marketing budget, the future has been looking rather grim for the traditional means of publishing. Emma Barnett of The Telegraph wrote on John Locke that his "remarkable achievement is being hailed as a milestone of the internet age and the beginning of a revolution in the way that books are sold."

Now, I did a study last year on eBooks, ePublishing, and eReaders. The study itself was conclusive even as it was inconclusive. The fear that the book is dead and that technology killed it is utterly overblown. If anything else, technology is helping books to be read more. Now, is it helping books to be more economically profitable or protected for the publishers and the authors?

That's another story altogether.

It can be argued that technology killed the music business. People don't buy CDs or Albums or Records anymore. At least a large number of them don't-- why spend the money when you can find a way to download it somewhere for free, legally or illegally? And thus the music business is rocking. Not in terms of the big tycoons who are already established. No, they're fine. But any up and coming or hopeful or small music business, school, or band is going to find things much more difficult than they've ever been.

The same can be said to be happening to the publishing industry. New authors are going to have to fight to have their books published in the traditional way, even more so than usual. It's frustrating-- you can see all the new books coming out every year, you can argue that your book is better than the smut found in airport lounge (not all of it, but some, and I'm exaggerating on a stereotype here, so go with it), but you're still going to struggle after those agents and publishing houses, day after day, week after week, possibly even year after year. How are we going to manage?

Because not everyone can be a John Locke with a million dollars in eBook sales. My author mentor of this last summer gave the eBook thing a whirl, and while her poetry selection was free, she had an outstanding audience. However, as soon as she put a price tag on her work, even of .99 cents, her audience dropped to practically nothing. I am by no means saying that Mr. Locke had nothing but a lucky break. But he had something in addition to the fact that people wanted his books. Perhaps he caught the wave of eBooks right on the cusp of the wave that then crashed down and is settling out into a great ocean, now. I couldn't say.

Until the publishing industry finds its balance in the wake of the new technological evolution we're going through-- and we are certainly going through that-- things will be hard. But Sarah Hoyt of PJ Media addresses the topic from a better standpoint than I, as from the view of someone already out in the freelance and writing world of today.

In her article The (Publishing) Times, They Are Achanging, Hoyt addresses the different models of business that some agencies are going through-- of essentially opening up their own digital printing presses. To put it simply, they think that the publishing industry is so far gone that in two years all the big publishing tycoons will be as fallen as Rome is, and they'll have to already be able to stand on their own two feet. Unfortunately the model that they're embracing is not exactly the most...I shouldn't say 'ethical' with my limited knowledge of it. But I read Hoyt's article and my nose starts to wrinkle. I can smell a rat on my own when I see the words 'upfront costs' and 'conflict of interest'. Just like when I get letters from subsidiary publishers saying they 'found' my book in the Copyright archives. Oh yeah. Sure I'll pay them to put their hands on my brain child.

...Just in case you haven't been told, that is a bad idea. You are never to pay anyone for the privilege-- not for them to read your work, not for them to publish it, not for them to edit it, nothing. You are selling your work, and they are paying you for it. Rule number one. Don't forget it.

In any case, Hoyt sees this transition as no bad thing. There will be those big houses that "will pull back from the abyss. They can still offer value, or at least some of their imprints can, if they uncouple from the conglomerate and develop highly individualized selections and a community that’s loyal to them – say, like Baen. Then they can put their imprimatur on newbies and offer beginners a ready-made public they’d not otherwise have."

Ahh, now that is music to my ears. So the changing times are going to open up opportunities for the rest of us new authors. I like it. And you know, it shouldn't be all that surprising. The same can be seen in the  job market today-- even though things are really bad now, we're about to get through the Baby Boomers. The number of people retiring in the next five to ten years is going to be astronomical. And who is going to take their place in the job market?

Excuse me. Here's my resume. Oh, and here's a copy of my book.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Welcome News

It's time for a little payback...

Do you ever get the overused, pithy comment of "Oh, so you're in the 'Want Fries with That?' market!" after telling someone that you're an English major? Oh yes, we've all heard it, and we've all been mocked and laughed at. No matter how many times we try to tell other people that we're actually very employable on many levels because we're versatile, we still get looked down upon because we're not in the hard sciences or maths or engineering or accounting...What? You can write a paper? Pssh, anyone can do that.

Well. It's time for all those who have scorned in the past to take a little of their own medicine. Because actually, not everyone can write and communicate well, even on a marginally competent level. The number of glaring grammatical errors I see in the collegiate field, from students and faculty alike (and even on the professional level beyond!!) is truly cringe-worthy. What skills we have are actually not as common as everyone thinks. Can you write a press release that will pique the interest of a wide range of readers? Can you sum up a fifty page article into a paragraph without skipping or missing the pertinent details? Can you organize and file and write in a strict format while still maintaining personal voice and tone? Hm. Think about it. That is only a few of the things that a decent writer and communicator must know how to do-- in any job. So here's the latest music to my ears-- an article with the subliner:

"New survey: Liberal arts graduates in more demand than those who are getting finance and accounting degrees."

Oh really? Do go on.

A new survey, written about in The Aquila Report, discovered from a range of 225 employers that those with a liberal arts degree are, and I quote, in "more demand than those who are getting finance and accounting degrees."

J. Jennings Moss, author of the article, goes on to quote Dan Schawbel, founder of Millenial Branding and an expert on Generation Y:“The No. 1 skill that employers are looking for are communication skills and liberal arts students who take classes in writing and speaking. They need to become good communicators in order to graduate with a liberal arts degree. Companies are looking for soft skills over hard skills now because hard skills can be learned, while soft skills need to be developed.”

Here's how the current job market for graduates stands. A gap was reported between employers and students as well-- employers submitted that they were looking for potential hirees who had at least one or two internship experiences under their belt...without having hired any interns in their own companies in the last six months.

In addition, the survey revealed that employers are looking more for students who have taken relevant courses to their professional goals, who have referrals from bosses or professors, or who have leadership positions in an on-campus organization-- rather than those who have 'entrepreneurial experience'.

It appears, in summation of all of these stats and statistics, that being 'well-rounded' is more desired these days than a singular, specific skill set. That sounds to me awfully like something that starts with Liberal Arts and ends with Degree.

Jennifer Floren, Founder and CEO of Experience, Inc. quotes “Of all the things employers look for when hiring entry-level talent, it’s the so-called ‘soft skills’ that are valued most: communication, teamwork, flexibility and positive attitude are by far the most sought-after skills. Employers understand that everything else can be taught, so they look for the most promising raw material to work with.”

The final bit of good news from the study? "Overall, 87% of employers are going to hire more recent graduates this year. This is great news for the 1.7 million college students who are graduating." All the rumors that the job market for graduates is getting better are true.

I haven't been too worried about my future in recent days, despite being a senior and feeling the overwhelming sense of change looming over me at every turn. The idea that this time next year I have to have my life figured out and a way to provide for myself can be very daunting if I approach it directly. But really, I'm not concerned. First of all, I know that God will provide-- He always does. But secondly, I've worked hard. I've had four internships across the board in Journalism, Public Relations, Publishing, and Communications. I've done my absolute best in my classes and participated in every volunteer and campus leadership position pertinent to my goals. I had heard in the wind that the economy for graduates is getting better, but this is the affirmation of that claim that I needed, that we all have needed, I think. Good to know. Very, very good to know.

Liberal Arts grads, rejoice!

Read the original Press Release.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Labor Day...Writing?


There's nothing quite so productivity-sapping as a holiday. Sleeping in, eating a butter-loaded waffle soaked in syrup (nap time, yeah?); that book and those fuzzy blankets are just calling your name...Especially those shea-butter infused socks and the copy of The Hobbit that I'm borrowing (mine is in the attic back home somewhere...) which is still lying open to the place I left it at last night. The Eagles have just rescued Bilbo and the Dwarves and Gandalf from the wolves...things are about to get very interesting very quickly!

So what does one do? Put the socks on, give in to temptation? I mean, really, because tomorrow morning it's back to the grind, the whirlwind, and all the things you could do (or not do) today will be put on the backburner or forgotten for the next several months. I could get on with the other list of to-do's that have filled up the hours of the day, of course. For one, I have Part II in an oil painting triptych that I could finish today, if I sit down and do it...I've only been working on this painting since the beginning of the year. I also have some concept sketches to do for my next series of paintings...and then the book, of course. I could finish The Hobbit with some concentration.

Ah, but there's writing to do...hmmm....

Yes, I'm writing the blog post on how I'm not writing. Is there something slightly askew with that?

Still...if it's on the schedule to write, no matter what day it is (even if it's Christmas!) write something. It doesn't have to be great. It doesn't even have to be good. But write nonetheless. Put the time into it, and it will turn into something great later on, or you'll at least have gotten your quota of bad writing out of the way for the month. Or for 24-hours, if you're like me.

All I need now is a cup of tea...oh dear...this isn't looking good...