Thursday, August 29, 2013

Don't...Just...Just Don't!

Now and again, I come against this problem-- both in terms of writing and art.

Mark Slouka writes "Don't Ask What I'm Writing," a witty and rather poignant opinion sketch on the suffering artist and their inability to express the brilliance going on inside our heads. Maybe.

Because really, writers are a timid lot. We're also incredibly self-conscious. Every fantastic, inspiring novel we read causes us to rejoice at the power of imagination and language while at the same time languish in our utter decrepitude and how terrible our own writing is, or how immature, or how plain, or how unable-to-live-up-to-this-other-author's-standards it is.

Logic has nothing to do with it. Of course our writing isn't like so-and-so's. You're not so-and-so. And yet, the languishing continues.

To Slouka (and to just about every other writer out there) the beginning of a story is always the same:
"those first few months of uncertainty: that miserable time when we think, believe, know with absolute assurance that we’ve found the key to the novel in our heads, though maybe, probably, definitely not."

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Another Plea for the Used Books

When it comes to books, I'm pretty impartial.

I love the sensation of buying a brand new book-- feeling the pages crisp between my fingers, reminding me of the peculiarly slick feel of the old edition of the Chronicles of Narnia that I had growing up, the smell it had of slippery paper and dark ink, knowing that an entirely new world waits for me behind a glossy cover and binding which has not yet been cracked from endless readings and wear, pages unbesmirched from the death grip my index finger and thumb will put on them while I reach the climax of the plot, bringing me back to fruitful Christmases and Birthdays and allowance-sprees where I would return to my bedroom and stack the books up as tall as my bed, waiting to be opened...

I also love buying used books, browsing through frumpy, disorganized shelves of musty tomes and well-loved novels that have seen their day and more, the golden yellow pages of the 50s, the beautiful, wood and leaf mold smell of the 60s, musing over past-printings and constantly wondering with a sense of joyful suspense if I will find the one book I am not even actively looking for, a gem hidden among pages and glue and words lost in a mine field of literature...

They're both means of acquiring books that I couldn't do without. Perhaps that makes me a literary two-timer, but I don't care. I'm greedy. I had a library card when I was younger, but I very rarely went to the public library. I would read endlessly out of school libraries because they were there when I was there, and I could not resist wandering down the halls to the rows and rows of entertainment and adventure spread out before me. I spent 8+ hours a day in these academic institutions. Plenty of time to read. Plenty of time to spend lunch breaks nose-deep in a book, recesses shadowed by pages, and even (she says blushingly) hiding opened books under my desk so that I could read during class...

Beyond the school libraries, though, I wanted to own the books. I wanted to possess them and have them close so I could read them again and again and again. I wanted to mark my name in them in a juvenile hand and caress the pages, knowing that these were my private library, the doorway to my thoughts and dreams.

These days there is a lot of back-and-forth argument for who has it worse-- the company book store or the used book store. There's no denying it, book stores in general are having a tough time. It's a difficult economy, and publishing being in the flux that it is doesn't help. But you look at the arguments, look at the facts, and I'd say that both used book stores and company book stores are having equally difficult years, for many different (and many of the same) reasons.

The fact is, everything is 'easier' online. Whether it be eBooks, eReaders,, or other means of acquiring literature via technology rather than an in-person visit to a store, there is now competition for the physical locations we know as book stores. And it comes with Prime free shipping and a greater variety of choices. That causes trouble for both types of book stores, not just one, and each one's strengths give way to the other's weaknesses.

Browsing a used or new book store is fun. It's delightful. It's satisfying. But it doesn't always give us what we're looking for, what we want. Out of print books are not available in Barnes & Noble, for example, and you may find them, maybe, in a used book store if you're lucky. If you're on a mission, though, best to go online.

I do it all the time. I can get wildly cheap books that I can very rarely find anywhere else on I still love going to book stores of any breed, but if I'm going to buy a book, 7 times out of 10 I'm going to get it online. It's just convenience.

Still, states that there are 34,598 bookstores in the US. Give or take, I imagine. That's still quite a lot. That's on average 690 bookstores per state (considering of course per size of state and square mileage get the idea).

Are book stores in trouble? Yes, sure, I would definitely say they are. Is one type's troubles more rampant than the other? I seriously doubt it. I know as many if not more used book stores in my immediate area of living than I do company book stores. The economy will hit people and companies hard, and the recent technological advancements say a lot for printed books of any price or quality. It's all tied together.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Another 18-Hours in the Day Would Be Nice...

Kevin Ashton, co-founder of the MIT Auto-ID center, wrote "Why (and How) Creative People Need to Say 'No'". Intrigued, I gave it a read, wondering what 'No' he may be talking about. No to paying publishers to read your work? No to the 'delete' button or the trash bin? No to chocolate covered strawberries?

I resolved, if the latter, to close the webpage immediately out of sheer heresy.

But luckily strawberries were safe, and indeed not even mentioned in this article, which can be forgiven. Instead Ashton outlines the reasons why creative minds of all threads need to learn to say No to using their time for things other than themselves. Selfish? No.

The fact of the matter is, if you write, if you read, if you edit, if you paint, if you draw, if you teach, if you conduct, if you compose, if you scrawl, if you weave...whatever creative thing you may be doing, you are constantly wishing you had more time. I feel this lack keenly because I suffer from not only one artistic need, but two. Both writing and art pull at my free hours, and I am continually complaining that I do not devote the proper time to either. If I am engaging fully in the one, I am invariably neglecting the other. It is nearly impossible to devote the proper time to both in the same day, even in the same week, simply on account of how much time they each individually take up and how much free time I don't have.

There are bills to pay, work to be done, chores to complete, food to cook, people to see, gifts to make, exercise to work in there somehow, and daylight to maybe see once in a while...Ashton reaffirms, quite pithily I might add, that "yes makes less". There is and always will be something else you could be doing. Every moment spent doing one thing is a moment you will not spend doing something else. It is the physical rule of our universe. Multi-tasking is great, but you still have to choose between one thing and another.

Therefore, when it comes to creative work, creative people sometimes have to be very strict with what kind of work they do for other people.
Management writer Peter Drucker: “productivity in my experience consists of NOT doing anything that helps the work of other people but to spend all one’s time on the work the Good Lord has fitted one to do, and to do well.”
Charles Dickens: “‘It is only half an hour’–’It is only an afternoon’–’It is only an evening,’ people say to me over and over again…Who ever is devoted to an art must be content to deliver himself wholly up to it, and to find his recompense in it.”
And, as Ashton puts it so eloquently:
Time is the raw material of creation. Wipe away the magic and myth of creating and all that remains is work: the work of becoming expert through study and practice, the work of finding solutions to problems and problems with those solutions, the work of trial and error, the work of thinking and perfecting, the work of creating. Creating consumes. It is all day, every day. It knows neither weekends nor vacations. It is not when we feel like it. It is habit, compulsion, obsession, vocation. The common thread that links creators is how they spend their time. No matter what you read, no matter what they claim, nearly all creators spend nearly all their time on the work of creation. There are few overnight successes and many up-all-night successes.
 How do we learn to say this? Not only do we have to be very strict with those who need or want our time, but we have to be very strict with ourselves. I could spend this evening reading another fifty pages in my historical fiction, or I could spend it working on my book. I could spend an hour or so here and there goofing off on Facebook, or I could spend it researching reference pictures or reading my technique book on painting, or, heck, painting itself. How much time should we spend on any one thing?

As crazy and disorganized as the artistic brain can be, we have to be incredibly close knit with our work and our time. We have to organize and learn how to do the juggling-balancing-hey-macarana of our lives.

And if someone asks you if the hokey-pokey is what it's all about, you know your answer.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Self Publishing -- A How-To Guide

So you've heard about the self-publishing thing. You've maybe even given it some thought. It sounds kinda  good. It also sounds like a lot of work. And there isn't exactly a cohesive "Successful Self-Publishing for Dummies: How to get a Book Contract, Movie Contract, and Souvenir Tin Lunchbox Deal" available at Barnes & Noble. Though maybe there should be. If you write it, it'd better be dedicated to me. And I want a free lunchbox.

Now, though, Michael Hyatt has put together a step-by-step TO-DO list for self-publishing. It's less a "you need to do this at 8:08 am on Thursday the 19th or you'll fail" list and more a check list for the avid self-publisher starting off. Interested in self-publishing? Here are some things to get you going and help you along the way!

And believe me, having a succinct check list to go off of is better than gold. Though maybe not better than lunchboxes.

Hyatt calls it his "How to Successfully Self-Publish a Kindle eBook," but the advice is also good for any self-publishing form. Whether you do it through or a more close-to-the-chest way, you'll need to know some of these pitfalls to avoid and steps to take.
First Hyatt draws attention to (remember them, again?). Here are just a few of the reasons he suggests using Amazon as your publishing platform:

  • Amazon is largest paid search engine in the world. People don’t Google things with their credit cards out, ready to buy, like they do with Amazon.
  • Amazon is a marketing machine. Once you start selling a certain number of copies, it refers your book to others who have never heard of you.
  • Amazon makes it easy. You can publish elsewhere, but few places get your book online and ready in a matter of hours.
And, ultimately,
  • Amazon dominates the book market.
Seems pretty self-explanatory.'s means of reviews and suggestions do allow for a greater exposure if you can get people to write reviews about you. There's also the potential scare of the 'used' eBook which would essentially slash author profits to pieces, but we're not to that point yet. So don't panic. The Terminator of the writer world is at bay for now.
Yeah Amazon. I'm looking at you.
From there Hyatt goes through the whole process in five easy steps, succinctly broken down into numbered lists that will guide you from concept to publication. It really couldn't be easier. Unless someone did it for you. But then, that's what we call traditional publishing. And getting into traditional publishing makes up for the difficulty of self-publishing on your own. It evens out.

Step one. Write your book. Duh.

Step two. Make it look good. And professional. Get it formatted for eBooks. This may very well take some money, which if you don't have could be potentially a problem. But there are ways around all of that. You can run a personal kick starter. You can ask your grandmother for an early Christmas present. You can cry in the streets. You can try to do it yourself (but don't sacrifice quality for "personal-ity". Just don't.)

Step three. Publish your book. This is a bit more complicated, but Hyatt goes through it step by single step just like everything else. He even gives you a guide of what your computer will look like when uploading to, complete with "Save & Continue" steps and what pop-ups you may deal with.

Step four. Promote, Promote, Promote. Promote via Amazon. Promote via Facebook. Promote via email and Twitter and Blog and Friends and Friends of Friends and Family members. Get reviews written about your book. The more reviews you have, the more your book will sell. Kind of like how on Twitter the more people you follow, the more people follow you. It's a weird cycle.

And lastly, Step five. Launch your book. This is basically a combination of Steps three and four. Get your book to spread by offering deals, gifts, discounts, by spreading the word that is You. Hyatt offers various different tips and websites that can help you with this. Take advantage of them.

And that's it. Steps four and five bear continual upkeep, hence the time-consume that self-publishing can have, and every time you come up with a book, you have to repeat the whole scenario. You are the publishing company in one, and that includes writing, editing, art, publishing, and marketing. It takes a lot of work. It takes a lot of time. It may, to start with, take some money.

You can do it. And this guide will make it all the easier.

Maudlin's August Reading List

You know what—I’ve been inspired to make my own reading list! Here it is, folks, Maudlin’s Books of the Week!


1.       Ombria in Shadow, Patricia McKillip

2.       Young Miles, Lois McMaster Bujold
3.       The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. LeGuin

4.       Outlander, Diana Gabaldon

5.       The Road, Cormac McCarthy

6.       Beauty, Robin McKinley

7.       Howl’s Moving Castle, Diana Wynne Jones

8.        White Fang, Jack London
9.      I, Robot, Isaac Asimov

10.    Unfinished Tales, J.R.R. Tolkien