Posts Tagged ‘writing’

Why is it, when you go into a Starbucks (it’s not always Starbucks, but they seem to attract the species, like flytraps) in LA (I’m assuming it’s only in LA, but I could be wrong–enlighten me) that you see all these guys (and yes, it’s always guys!) writing screenplays on their laptops, an empty cup beside them like their ticket on the train? (“Look, Mr. Conductor/Barista! I paid to be here!”)

No, I’m not asking why everyone goes to Starbucks to write. I’ve written in coffee houses myself, and found it works a lot better than I expected. I guess if it was good enough for J.K. Rowling, etc., etc. It’s not the writing in coffee houses that I don’t understand, it’s writing screenplays.

Look, writing fiction is a crapshoot. Let’s take science fiction, because that’s the field I know. When I was a “kid,” there were those who (I’m sure from an overabundance of caring) made no secret of the fact that your chances of ever getting a story published were 1000-to-1. Even today, with dozens of markets available for short SF, the odds are about the same. It’s not pretty, but it’s true. (Which doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try!)

But screenplays? I have no numbers to go by (and I’m too lazy to look), but I have to figure that your chances of selling a screenplay are about 1/10th as good as selling a short story. Yes, the rewards are vastly higher, but so’s a winning lottery ticket. So why write screenplays when your chances of succeeding at straight fiction are ten times better? I made more on my last sale than most of those coffee-jockeys will make on whatever they’re writing, if they push it from now until they die. (And believe me, what I make isn’t a lot to brag about. The pro rate for magazines as defined by SFWA has about doubled since the 1960s.)

I guess it’s the same mentality that plays the lotto. And I play the lottery, too, occasionally, though I stay with the small tickets. I guess I’d rather win a little every so often rather than play for the big pay-off that may (probably will) never come.

If you’re the other kind, and you hit it big, good for you. Go back to Starbucks and buy a round for the house.


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With the onset of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it is no longer quite so embarrassing to admit that one was reading comic books all through one’s youth and beyond.* I quit about 20 (!) years ago now, but I still follow the genre (and watch the movies). So it’s not surprising that my mind still goes down those roads on occasion (okay, all the time). And that has lead to the following question:

In that world, with superpowers, mutants, AIs, self-contained battle suits, aliens, time travel, superweapons,  and everything, how does anyone write science fiction? SF consists of stories that extrapolate from known science, or at least scientific theory. But if you know that mutants and superweapons and aliens exist because you can see them fly by your window, what is there to extrapolate? By definition, everything you’re writing is simply “fiction.”**

Does that mean that writers like me would be in Fiction & Literature at your local Barnes & Noble? Would there be a reason for a SFWA to exist–and would I not have to regret the fact that I’m not at Nebula weekend right now?

And what about the liability issues? What if some hulking green guy comes up to you and says you’re defaming him in your latest story–which just happens to have a large, green character? What if he claims you’re appropriating his image? And if you write a story about the Skrulls invading the Earth, will the real Skrulls take umbrage and actually invade the Earth out of pique?

Even if you started with the concept that none of the above existed, and then created an SF story, would anyone read it? Science fiction isn’t supposed to be about a world more boring than your own. The only choice left would be alternate history, and that field would get crowded fast.

What would happen, I think, is that all those writers would migrate to another genre, like romance, or mystery. Mystery would be a fertile field in that world, with questions like: What’s with those capes, anyway? How do those young sidekicks explain all those bruises without social services investigating? And why are there so many super-powered people in the world, anyway? How did they get that way?

Oh, wait, that veers into science fiction. And then we start all over again.

*The same thing happened to science fiction with Star Wars, and fantasy with Lord of the Rings.

**Fantasy writers would have the same problem.

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Generally speaking, the best way to immunize yourself to a disease is to have the disease.  The exceptions to this rule are legion, of course, so we won’t go into that, we’ll just stick to the principle. And apply it to writing, of course.

The disease involved with writing (other than writing itself, which is a mental disease), is called Rejectionitis. It is characterized by a widespread lowering of self-esteem brought on by an editor sending back a story. The more you loved this story, the more you thought it was perfect for the market, and the level of desire you have to break into this market all affect the severity of the symptoms. In a slap in the face of our guiding principle (see above), there is no immunizing yourself to Rejectionitis by actually getting the disease.

You can, however, immunize yourself somewhat by exposing yourself to carriers (i.e., submissions). In the best case scenario, you start out by being laid waste to by the disease, but then you find a magic bullet called Acceptance. (Acceptance has a long latin name which describes its ingredients, but fortunately you never have to suffer through a TV commercial listing its side effects. If Rejectionitis ever becomes a disease suffered by a large number of baby boomers, though, you might.) Acceptance works by propping up your writing immune system to the point where you believe that maybe, just maybe, you have something to offer that people will want to read. If the dose of Acceptance is big enough, and the timing is right, it may carry through your next bout of Rejectionitis. Or it may not. Your results may vary.

There is another, less efficacious treatment, called Submissions. Yes, the same submissions which are carriers of the disease are also a form of defense against it. Since Rejectionitis is a disease of the mind (like writing), you can guard against its worst effects by having a lot going on in your writing career. (“That story came back, but there are eight others out there who have a chance!”) And of course, re-submitting the same story that was just rejected is the best therapy. (“Take that, you illiterate editor of a Nebula-winning magazine!”)

I am currently exercising this latter defense. Lately I have been on a tear, submitting stories like crazy, to where I have only a half-dozen viable candidates sitting on the sidelines, and one of those is just awaiting a submission window to open. I re-submitted a story yesterday that has been rejected three times–in the past week. (There are some fast editors out there.) But I believe in this little piece; it just needs to find the right spot to land. You’ll be hearing about it soon enough.

Of course, none of this will completely or permanently cure Rejectionitis. Even the biggest authors sometimes suffer from it (so they say, but I’ve not seen their medical records). It’s a lifelong struggle. But writing itself is a lifelong struggle. That struggle usually manifests in a syndrome called “Writer’s Block.”

I’d like to go on about Writer’s Block, but I honestly can’t think of a thing to say…


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While the excitement of finally bringing a new novel into the world is energizing, it tends to fade a little while you’re waiting for it actually to come out, and in the case of an e-book, that means while you’re formatting and prepping and ordering the cover, etc., etc. This means that at some point, even though you’re not really finished with your massive project, an unwanted thought is going to invade your brain like an insidious virus sent from your Overmind:

What Am I Going To Do Next?

For some, this is not an issue. Some writers routinely juggle two or three projects at once; for them, finishing one simply means focussing on another (and maybe starting something new, but there’s always a list of those). For others of us, though, starting a new project is a daunting task. We can postpone it by saying, “Oh, I’m still editing,” or “While that cover is on order I’ll make sure my e-book is formatted,” or even the time-honored “I deserve a vacation,” but eventually the Overmind rears its massive head and thunders: “You Have To Think Of Something To Write.” (Yes, the Overmind always speaks in capitals.)

Guess where I am in the process?

Often when in this bind, I have taken the coward’s way out, and simply started another novel. Novels are easier: You have only one story to tell, and it takes a long time, so starting something new is a problem you can put off for months. But I have consciously decided to concentrate on short stories for 2017, so that option is barred. And now I am almost done with formatting The Cosmic City, so that’s no help, either. What’s boy to do?

Well, to start, he can write a blog post so he feels like he’s being creative…

The world right now is ripe with subjects that lend themselves to a science-fictional slant, problems that can be addressed through a speculative lens, making them seem less political because they aren’t happening in the here-and-now. I’ve done it before. But it’s very easy to become pedantic and transparent, which in turn makes the work hard to sell. I was hoping to focus more inwardly, touching universal truths by exploring personal truths. This, however, involves much spilling of blood all over your screen (or page, if you’re a Neanderthal like me), and we just vacuumed the carpets. So there’s that.

In the end, this is a question that I’ve faced (and answered) many times. I have developed various mechanisms over the years to deal with the issue. Most involve reading–a pastime which has suffered greatly of late–but all involve sitting down in a chair and writing.

You know, the kind of thing I’m doing right now, Mr. Overmind! This is over 400 words right here! And then there’s my tweets, they count, and I still haven’t finished formatting my book…


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Well, plainly no. 1 is that they both depend on a flashy come-on.

No. 2: The first time you succeed may not be your all-time best, but it will be the one you remember.

No. 3: Maintaining a series will make you very popular–word will get around.

No. 4: Size appears impressive, but it isn’t everything.

No. 5: Some are slow and careful, some are quick and rough. Each approach has its fans.

No. 6: Some take a few hundred pages to reach a climax, some reach it in a few hundred words. Again, each approach has its fans.

No. 7: If you can do it in the movies, you’ve got it made.

No. 8: Your first time may take decades, but the longer you do it, the more frequently you succeed.

No. 9: You can’t break the rules until you understand them.

No. 10: When you get really good, people will beg for more.

And for a bonus, one reason writing isn’t like sex: If your spouse banishes you to the couch, you can still write.


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We’ve all heard about writers poring over their work in freezing garrets, but I never thought to be one. First, I live in California, where the sun is always shining, it never rains till after sunset, by eight the morning fog must disappear…oh, wait, that’s Camelot. Sorry. And second, I make enough money from my day job to pay the heating bill.

Which is a good thing, because I can’t write when it’s cold. It turns my mind to a slushy mess (as opposed to a general mess), and I get all hunched up and the words don’t flow like they should. Which is how I was tonight. I’d gotten up over 500 words (and miles to go before I sleep), but they felt slow and hard-packed. So imagine my surprise (not) when I walked by the thermostat to discover that I had never reset it from last night when I went to bed. No wonder my brain felt cold! I was cold! (No, I’m not going to say how cold. I will admit, however, that outside of California people would be laughing at me. Except for the Hawaiians. They know how to spend the winter: surfing.)

I can already feel my joints loosening as the temperature rises. Soon I will bask in the pleasure of freely-flowing sentences and long, effortless paragraphs. The words will slide easily from my brain through my fingers to the screen. My language will climb the heights of sublime exaltation. Hugos and Nebulas will be mine.

Some day. For now, I have another thousand words to write. Then I have to freeze my gifted fingers off taking out the garbage, after which I’ll try to warm up again.

Maybe I should just write in bed. If it was good enough for Mark Twain and George Orwell, I’m willing to give it a try.


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It is my mantra that “timing is everything.” Ironically, however, while timing is “everything,” perspective is  worth “a lot.” Consider: You’ll spend an hour cutting coupons before grocery shopping because you can save $30. But you spend five minutes when you’re shopping for a house, trying to decide whether to raise your bid $10,000. An hour to save $30, but five minutes to spend $10,000? It’s all in perspective, in this case, how much is ultimately at stake.

This occurred to me because I am just past what is likely the half-way point of my latest novel, which I am planning to finish in the next two months. That will require me writing about 5,000 words a week, which should present no problem greater than whether I can type that fast.

But wait, let’s put this into perspective. Five thousand words is a good length for a short story. That means my goal for the rest of the year is to write the equivalent of 8-10 short stories. But writing 40,000 words of a novel is one thing; writing eight short stories is an entirely different proposition, a view from a different perspective. That’s why I can blithely take on one with every expectation of success, whereas I wouldn’t even attempt the other without a truckload of money waiting for me.

The difference in perspective is even more pronounced when you look at the relative outcomes. If you’re a writer of some ability, there’s a good chance you could sell one of 8-10 short stories. On the other hand, selling a novel, even for a good writer, is really hard. So from one perspective, writing short stories leads to greater rewards. And yet, if you do sell your novel, the amount of money in even one of today’s average advances is light years ahead of what you can reasonably expect from a short story. (It’s more than you could make from all ten of them.) So from that perspective, writing a novel is a better bet (even allowing for the time it takes to produce a novel, which varies widely).

Of course, even if you write a great novel about nine vampires seeking to throw a ring into a volcano, if ten others have beaten you to it, your efforts are  doomed. So, remember what I always say: “Timing is everything.”



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