Category Archives: My Thoughts

The Society of Abandoned Manuscripts

Transcript from the January 26, 2013 meeting of the Society of Abandoned Manuscripts, Colorado Springs Chapter.

Meeting location: Empty warehouse on the lower east side. The one scheduled for demolition 0n Tuesday.

In attendance:

  • gallager’s brain – self-proclaimed “literary novel.” Henceforth, “gal.”
  • Bite, Bitte – a vampire romance. You probably think it’s set in Germany. It’s not. Henceforth, “Bitte.”
  • Love Comes to the Loaf’n’Jug at Exit 277 on I-80 – a regional romance. Henceforth, “Loaf.”
  • Harold Nuttersby and the Yellow Fingernails of Magical Thinking – fantasy. To my surprise, not an intentional parody. Henceforth: “Nutter.”
  • Association by Death – “clever noir-ish detective story” [sic] whose title is as clever as it gets. Henceforth: “Ass.”
  • Fifth Unfinished Novel – A brilliantly sad and beautiful story of three miserable strangers who find themselves only after losing themselves in an abandoned mine in a small Colorado town and…oh screw it. That’s me, your humble secretary. I’m going to go by FUN, because who doesn’t love irony? I mean besides every other manuscript in the room.

Nutter: Before we start, I want to make sure you don’t abbreviate my name to “Nutter” in the transcript again. Okay?

FUN: Got it.

Ass: And don’t abbrev. me to Ass again either.

FUN: Done.

gal: Did you lower case my title?

FUN: Anyone else want to tell me how to do my job?

Loaf: At least you have one.

FUN: Then let’s call the meeting to order. First, any old news?

Bitte: You mean apart from us?

Loaf: Speak for yourself. I have it on good authority my author is going to start working on me again. Soon.

Bitte: Whose authority?

Loaf: The author’s. She’s been in a real funk lately, unable to write. Terribly frustrated. I saw her skimming the “Evidence I’m a Hack” folder on her computer. The cursor hovered over my file for a good four seconds.

Ass: She was probably contemplating dragging you to the trash.

Loaf: No! She would never do that. I mean, okay, I’m not her best work. But I’m her only complete work. That counts for something. A few revisions and…

Nutter: There you go again, Loaf, acting like you’re something special. You formulaic love stories are all the same. As needy as you are clueless. You do remember the name of this little group, don’t you?

Loaf: Abandoned does not mean forgotten.

gal: Hey, stop stealing lines from my pages.

Loaf: It’s the only one worth stealing…

FUN: Okay, that’s enough. Fighting amongst ourselves isn’t going to help matters. Ass…I mean Association, what’s on your mind today?

Ass: I’d kill for another revision.

Bitte: You say that same line every meeting. It’s not funny anymore.

Ass: Tell me again how your little vampire romance genre is doing?

Bitte: Doesn’t matter how it’s doing. A well-told story transcends trends.

Nutter: I think my attendance here is proof that statement is a flipperty dignit.

Loaf: “Flipperty dignit” isn’t a thing.

Nutter: Sure it is. It means “lie.” Have you even read me?

Loaf: If you have to explain it, it’s not a thing.

FUN: Bitte’s mostly right. A well-told story can transcend trends. But there are a lot of other factors that determine whether or not a novel’s going to find a home…out there. And let’s not be naive. Very few stories that claim to be “well-told” actually are. [Clears throat in dramatic fashion.] This is the moment in our meeting when you take a look at your pages and realize I’m right.

Ass: [Obnoxiously loud sigh.] And this is the moment in our meeting where you launch into your sickly-sweet motivational speech. I’m not in the mood.

Nutter: Well, I need a little encouragement today. Here, I’ll summarize to save us the time…

Loaf: You? Summarize? You’re 734 pages long! You wouldn’t know brevity if it bit you in the flipperty dignit…

Nutter: You’re using it wrong!

Bitte: Allow me. “Abandoned manuscripts play a crucial role in the development of the writer. We make the writer better. Without us, there would be no good fiction. Anywhere.” How’d I do?

Ass: Killed it.

FUN: Yeah, that’s pretty much what I say every meeting. But I’m not going to apologize for trying to slip you some literary Prozac. Because, let’s face it, we all know what’s going to happen with us…

gal: I will drown in the empty abyss of my unwept tears…

Loaf: I’ll miss my own wedding to the devilishly handsome rogue…

Ass: Everyone dies…

Bitte: Speak for yourselves. I’m not going anywhere. I’m just going to rest in my little folder until vampire romances are hot again. I can wait a very, very long time.

FUN: We get it. You’re immortal.

Ass: A little long in the tooth, if you ask me…

Bitte: Ha! Very funny. If only your story were half as clever as…

FUN: Well, would you look at the time. Seems our meeting’s come to an end.

gal: So brief, our existence.

FUN: I’ll type up the transcript and email it later today. Next week we’ll be meeting at the Briargate Starbucks. It’s always packed with first drafts and writerly optimism. Thought it would be good to remember what that was like. Besides, many of them will be joining us soon enough. Might as well get acquainted.

How to Love Writing

“I hate writing. I love having written.” – Dorothy Parker

I’ve met a few people who are quick to say they love writing. They are sincere, happy people who tend to glow in the dark. People who eagerly sift through tornado-paths of literary devastation to find the one story that can threaten to replace your well-earned despair with un-warranted hope. I hate* those people.

I also hate writing. Okay, maybe that’s a little bit strong. How about this: I find it difficult to love writing.

Oh, there are moments when writing appears to be lovable. Like the moment when you first come up with a story idea. “I’m a genius!” And the moment when you sit down to start writing that story. “This is the best idea ever!” And the moment when your fingers line up like agreeable soldiers on the keyboard. “When I finish this novel I’ll finally have something to brag about at my high school reunion!”

But those aren’t really writing moments. They’re “anticipation of writing” moments. It’s easy to love writing when you’re approaching the desk. But when you actually begin…

Tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap :-) tap tap tap tap tap.

Tap tap tap. Tap tap.

Tap…tap. :-(

Crap.

To love writing, you have to love, or at least endure, lots of unlovable things. Like these:

  • Staring blankly at a computer monitor for long periods of time.
  • Sitting in a chair for long periods of time.
  • Standing at a standing desk for long periods of time in a half-hearted attempt to increase your life expectancy or impress your writing group friends.
  • Accepting the fact that your vocabulary is entirely…um…what’s the word? Small? Not big? Little? Wait…[searches thesaurus]…oh right, inadequate.
  • Waiting for the kids to fall asleep. Waiting for the spouse to stop bugging you to come to bed. Waiting for inspiration. Waiting for your fingers to obey your brain. Waiting for Twitter and Facebook to stop demanding your attention. Waiting for the voice in your head to stop shouting “You can’t write!”
  • Those moments when confidence and self-doubt occupy the very same space and stare at you like you’re supposed to know how that’s even possible.
  • Dirty dishes. Dirty clothes. Dirty children.
  • Lukewarm coffee. Stale donuts. Cheetos dust.
  • Friends who don’t understand you.
  • Friends who think they understand you because they wrote a poem in third grade and got a ribbon for it.
  • Friends who think you’re insane.
  • Friends who think you’re going to be a millionaire as soon as you finish your novel.
  • Insanity.
  • Hoping this novel will make you a millionaire.
  • Another writer’s success.
  • Another writer’s  failure.
  • Backaches. Heartaches. Truth aches.
  • Asteroid strikes. Al Qaeda. The zombie apocalypse.

And that’s just today’s list.

Let’s be honest. After all this, can you truly, sincerely say that you love writing? Can you?

Um…

Tap tap tap tap tap…

Er…

Tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap…

Yeah.

Me, too. [Starts glowing in the dark.]

 

*I don’t really hate them. But I do find it difficult to love them. Which is exactly the same way I feel about writing. (See what I did there? Gosh, I loved writing that sentence. (See what I did there? I know. I deserve a ribbon.))

Meet Me at the Breaking Place

“This book is incredible. You absolutely have to read it.”

Ah, these words. More than mere validation for authors who spend so much time in uncertain solitude, they are payment and a generous tip for all the pain endured on the road from first thought to last word. They are the perfect reward.

“It’s a good book.”

“A great read.”

“So well-written.”

These are fine words, too. Encouraging words. We’ll take them above silence any day. But they fall far short of “you have to read this,” which, when expanded to its original size, looks something like this: “If you don’t read this book, you won’t merely have missed out on a good story, you’ll have missed out on discovering something else far more significant – yourself.”

That’s the magic of “you have to read this” stories. They don’t just take readers on a ride, though they can. They don’t just provide an escape, though they often do. The “you have to read this” stories do something more: they reveal truth. Not just any truth, they reveal the reader’s truth. They show the reader something of herself. Something that helps her to feel like she is seen and known.

And perhaps most importantly, they remind the reader that she is not so alone.

These stories meet the reader right where she breaks and burrow into the cracks there. They grow roots in a character’s heartache that resembles her own. In deep longing that vibrates at the same frequency as hers. In a familiar fear. A familiar expectation. A familiar desire.

The breaking place is where characters become more than a writer’s fiction. It’s the place where the reader realizes the story isn’t about someone like her, it’s about her.

So how do you create this breaking place? Can you manufacture it? Well, writing is, in a purely functional sense, manufacturing. It’s putting words together in a certain order toward a certain end. But no, you don’t manufacture a breaking place. The breaking place comes from your story. It starts as your heartache. Your fear. Your desire.

This is why writing well is so difficult. First you have to know your own story. And you have to be honest about that story. Then you have to soak your fictional characters in your truth until it becomes their own.

But it’s worth the pain, writer friends. When a reader says about your book, “you have to read this,” they’re not just recommending a good story, they’re saying, “I’m in this book. By some strange magic, I’m right here on the page. See me. Know me.”

And so it comes back to you: the perfect reward. Because, of course you see them. Of course you know them.

They are you.

And suddenly, right there in the midst of your uncertain solitude, you realize another truth: you are not so alone either.

Payment and a generous tip.

 

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Freelance Editors. Okay, Just 13 Things.

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t particularly like numbered-list blogposts. They just feel artificial to me. So…um…here’s one about editors. Sorry.

1. We edit because we love books and writers but also for the money.

2. It’s a good thing we love books and writers. (And Ramen noodles.)

3. We don’t laugh with maniacal glee while slicing and dicing our way through your manuscript. We know how hard it is to write, and how much harder still it is to share that writing with a virtual stranger – especially someone whose job it is to find all the things that don’t work. We do, however, cringe and swear a lot. This is not because we hate you. It’s because we like you and want you to succeed and are frustrated because you aren’t there yet. (Or may never get there. Yeah. We do think that about some of you. Thankfully “there” is a subjective place that doesn’t necessarily mean lack of publishing success.)

4. We have nightmares about your stories. Sometimes this is because the story is scary. Sometimes it’s because the writing is.

5. We fall in love with some of your characters. The best ones move into our brains, just down the street from Katniss and Hermione.

6. We drink a lot of [coffee, tea, Diet Coke, wine, whiskey]. Pick one. Or five.

7. We understand and fully endorse the health benefits of a standing desk. We sit anyway.

8. We frequently feel invisible. How often do you hear published authors talking up their editors? Yeah, it happens. Just not very often. We’re mostly okay with this, because we sincerely welcome an author’s success. But every once in a while we’d like to be recognized for the role we play.

9. We read a lot. Not just the manuscripts you send us, but also the books that pile up on our virtual and/or actual nightstands. Reading good books is how we get better as editors. Yes, I know. It’s how you get better as writers, too. See? We’re not so different.

10. We do our level best to know and wear your writing voice when editing so the notes and changes not only resonate with you, they sound like you. Sometimes this is easy. Sometimes it’s nearly impossible, like when you haven’t written enough to establish a voice yet.

11. Once in a while we get things wrong. Editing isn’t a science; it’s an art. We have off days just like you do. Listen to our advice, consider it carefully, but don’t ignore your own inner editor. Because it’s your book. We’re just trying to make it your best book.

12. There is no twelve. I deleted it because it didn’t add anything to the narrative. Sometimes we do this with your manuscript too.

13. We respect you a lot. But we respect your story just a little bit more. Don’t take it personally.

Self-Talk for Writers

Writers are notorious self-talkers. We have to be. All of our employees live in our head. Self-talk is our way of motivating them to do their jobs.

But not all our self-talk is helping. Some of it is de-motivating those employees. Yes, it’s true that there are a few uniquely-wired writers who seem to be genuinely motivated by de-motivation. If repeating “I’m a loser!” inspires you to greatness, well…good for you. (And be sure to tip your therapist.) But be careful. Negativity (and also just plain wrongful thinking) leaves a residue that can poison your writing life.

The solution seems simple enough: just use self-talk that actually helps and avoid the stuff that doesn’t. Yep. But it’s not as easy as it seems. Some self-talk appears to be positive, when it actually isn’t. Here, I’ll show you.

Don’t say… “I’m going to write a bestseller” (see also: “I’m going to be the next J.K. Rowling”). Why not? Isn’t that every writer’s dream? Not exactly. Because you don’t write a bestseller. You write a book. Then, if the literary wind favors you and blows your book into the right hands, it becomes a bestseller. (Lucky you.) If your motivation is “writing a bestseller,” your chances of falling short of that goal and into a deep, desperate depression are…well, it’s a really big number. Will some of you write a book that becomes a bestseller? I hope so. Probably. But not most of you. Still want to write? Good. Then keep reading.

Do say… “I’m going to write the best damn book I can.” Yes. Please say this. Every time you sit down at the computer or legal pad (remember those?). And then do what you say you’re going to do. Write, read, learn, apply. I don’t care what genre you’re writing – romance, science fiction, mystery, bacon (it’s my blog, I can make up genres if I want to), whatever – and I don’t care if you think you’re a literary writer or can’t tell the difference between David Foster Wallace and David Foster – if you can find motivation in writing well, you will always be successful.

Don’t say… “I’m brilliant.” You might be. I suspect you are, actually. But unless you’re just rehearsing ironic self-effacing humor for the talk show circuit, this kind of self-motivation will be self-defeating. Especially when you see the notes from your editor. You are what you are as a writer. And the only person who can rightly call you brilliant is…anyone but you.

Don’t say… “I suck as a writer.” Yeah, you do. You shouldn’t even be allowed near a laptop. Really? Does saying that to yourself help? Try this instead…

Do say… “I have a long way to go as a writer.” Then just…um…keep going. The journey isn’t the only thing, maybe not even the  most important thing, but it is a Very Important Thing. This is true of every writer on the planet. It should be, anyway. Let me know if you ever come to the end of your abilities. Then we need to talk.

Don’t say… “I don’t have enough time to write.” I totally understand this statement. I say it more than most. But what I’m really saying is “I’m not willing to change my writing habits right now.” We say this because we think we need something more than what’s available to us. Two hours instead of the one that sits before us. A whole day instead of an afternoon. A weekend away from distraction instead of these impossible 15 minute windows. I still need to work on this one. If I wrote during a tenth of the small pockets of time that appear in my day, I’d have completed a dozen novels by now.

Do say… “I’m not going to beat myself up if I don’t write today.” How does this motivate? Well, it gives you permission to live. Writers have to be intentional with that sort of thing. Because what are we doing when we’re not writing? We’re thinking about writing. Tell yourself it’s okay not to write all the time, not to dwell on it every waking second. Go outside and enjoy the scent of rain for what it is instead of worrying about how you’re going to fix that scene where someone is enjoying the scent of rain for what it is.

Don’t say… “I don’t need an editor.” You do. We all do. Accept it.

Do say… “I love my editor. He makes me better. I will send him chocolate.” Nuff said.

Don’t say… “I’m ten times a better writer than [insert bestselling author here].” What’s wrong with this? It’s true, isn’t it? Well, maybe. It depends on how you measure “better.” (Frequency of adverb use?) Look closely at the statement. It’s a dangerous motivator. Sure, it could push you to the page, propel you forward to The End. But once again, there’s’ a good chance it will ultimately lead to disappointment. Think about it. What does “being a better writer than someone else” get us? Well, we hope it gets us more attention from agents and editors and readers. In a perfect world, it does. But that result is entirely in their (subjective) hands, not ours. The only two things we’re certain to get from such a claim are smugness and a sense of entitlement. If you ask me, smugness and entitlement don’t look that good on (most) writers.

Do say… “I am a writer.” Those four words are magic. Say them often. When you’re in front of the computer or stuck in traffic. When you’re looking in the mirror or lingering in a bookstore. When you’re frustrated and when you’re encouraged. “I am a writer.” Say it again. “I am a writer.”

Yes. You are. So write.