Thursday, April 23, 2015

Slow Down, You Move Too Fast

            Both of you who are still here, many thanks for your patience during my long absence.
            The title’s a pop culture reference to some band my mom listened to a lot.  Garfunkel and Oates, I think...
            Okay, I’ll warn you right up front, this post is going to annoy some of you.
            I wanted to talk with you for a few minutes about cooking.  As I’ve mentioned in the past, cooking and writing are great parallels.  There are certain rules that must be followed, but there’s also a degree of personal style and taste involved for both the creator and the consumer.  We also understand that while almost all of us can do it on a simple, day-to-day level, there’s a big difference between that and cooking on a professional level as a chef.
            In cooking, we understand there are certain time elements that can’t be changed.  A three minute egg needs to boil for (big surprise) three minutes.  I can’t bake a cake in half the time by turning the temperature up twice as high.  Trying to speed these things up doesn’t improve them.  We all get that.  We all understand it.
            This is true in a lot of things.  If I’m building a house, I need to let the concrete in the foundation set before I start working on the frame.  Doctors often need to do procedures in multiple steps to give the patient time to heal.   It’s boring as hell, but sometimes you actually just need to watch paint dry. 
            Likewise, I think there’s a time element in writing.  The more it gets rushed, the more I end up with... well, a burned cake.  Or a crappy foundation.  Or severe hemorrhaging.  Or a lot of smeared paint.  Pick your favorite metaphor.
            That being said, there’s a lot of pressure to rush through writing these days.  I’ve seen more than a few would-be gurus pushing a business model of quantity over quality.  The ease of publishing through Amazon has made the idea of moving slow seem... well, clunky and antiquated.  It draws comparisons to, dare I say it, dinosaurs.  And with the raw amount of stuff being e-published, I think all of us have a lurking fear that if we don’t get our idea out there now, someone else is going to have it out there first thing tomorrow.
            But the most important thing, above all others, is for me to write well and write something good.  Churning out 6000 words a day or 300 pages for NaNoWriMo is an achievement, yes.  But it’s better to have 2000 good words and 200 polished pages if I want to do something with them.
            Odds are, that’s just not going to happen in my first draft.  Or my second draft, especially if that’s just a quick pass with the spellchecker.  Or my third.  Maybe not even my fourth.  Oh there’s always a chance that my first book is just pure gold on the first pass, but the majority of us just don’t have the ability or the experience to put out material that doesn’t need work.
            Yes, us. The book I just turned in took six months, start to finish.  It went through four drafts, and there’s no question in my mind it’s going to get another.  In the end, I even asked my editor for more time.  Because it needed more.  A lot of my word choices, my phrasing, my structure... it was all first-pass stuff.  It wasn’t really bad, but it also wasn’t good. Definitely not great (although I like to think there were still a few moments of greatness in there somewhere).
            Writing takes time.  Like the cake or the surgery or the paint, I can’t rush through an edit draft in a day and expect to get the same results as someone who spends three weeks going over their manuscript line by line.  My first draft is never going to be as good as someone’s fifth or sixth draft.
            Because of this time factor (ready for more angry comments?), I often find myself questioning people who say they wrote a book in a month.  Or even six weeks.  I completely believe a draft can be written in that amount of time.  I wrote the first draft of 14 in about six weeks.  But a finished book manuscript?  Something ready to hand off to an editor?
            You’ve probably heard of Stephen King.  You probably also know how often he’s been mocked and criticized numerous times for the speed he puts out books.  I mean, he’s got to be putting out how many novels a year?
            Two.  That’s it.  Less than that on average, really (although he did have a bit of a dead zone (zing!) after getting hit by that van).  In forty years of professional writing, he’s barely had fifty books published.  And so many people still call him a hack because he churns stuff out at such a fast rate...
            Now, going slow isn’t an ironclad rule.  Just a few weeks back I pointed out that some folks go so slow they pretty much come to a dead stop.  And sometimes everything just lines up and a draft takes a few days.  No two projects are the same and no two writers are the same. 
            But if every draft of every project goes fast... maybe I should take an effort to slow down for a while and see how it affects my writing.
            Because the goal for all of us is to be great.  Not to rush toward good and stop when we get there.
            Next time I’d like to have a quick chat about zombies.  And vampires. And mysteries.
            Until then, go write.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Instructional Promotional Offer

            So, I’m just finishing up my last polish of Ex-Isle, which means no real post this week. Sorry.
            However...  My publisher, Crown, just started a promotion for my new book, The Fold, (out in hardcover two months from today).  Pre-order the book now from your favorite local store (if you haven’t already), enter your info over at my other website, and you’ll get a free galley copy, one of the early, unedited trade paperbacks that was sent out to reviewers, some book stores, and so on.
            What does this mean for you, reader of the ranty blog?
            It means you’ve got a chance to see an earlier draft (the first layout, essentially) and the final novel side by side.  You can read the book, then go through the earlier version and find all the places my editor and I changed things. Every tweak and adjustment as we prepared the book to go to the printer.  And there are a lot of them, so it’s a worthwhile exercise. And all it costs you is... well, pre-ordering the book.
            And heads up—there are only about a hundred or so galley copies available for this, and I think over a dozen of them have been claimed since this promotion started yesterday.  Also, just because it needs to be said... you can’t “pre-order” the book once it comes out.  So there is a time issue involved here.
            Finally, for the record, I’m doing signings at Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego, Dark Delicacies in Los Angeles, and Borderlands Books in San Francisco.  So pre-order your book from them and then come back so I can scribble in it.
            And next week... back to our regularly scheduled ranting.
            Until then, as the Trickster would say, write, write, WRITE!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Quitters Prosper

            Never say never...
            I wanted to blather on about quitting for a couple of minutes.  There comes a point in many endeavors when you realize you’re not getting ahead.  That all the time, effort, and enthusiasm that’s been expended on this project just isn’t enough. For one reason or another, I didn’t make the cut.  The team picked that skinny kid with the limp and the glasses over me.
            At which point, I need to make a choice.  Do I keep trying to get on this team? Do I continue throwing myself unto the breach?  Forging on despite all odds with the strength of my convictions?
            Or should I give up?
            Honestly?  After working at this writing thing on one level or another for a good chunk of my life...
            I think it’s time to quit.
            If I’ve spent the past decade trying to get any publisher in the world to just look at one of my book manuscripts, and they’re not interested... that’s a sign.  If I’ve spent thousands of dollars on screenwriting classes and books and contests over the past ten or twelve years, but I still don’t even have a toe in the door...I should consider saving my money this year.  When I submit a story to a hundred magazines, journals, and anthologies and get back a hundred rejections... I need to take that hint.
            I should quit.  Cut my losses.  Stop beating my head against the wall, demanding to be recognized, and move on.
            No, hold on.  Don’t leave yet.  Keep reading ‘till the end.
            What I’m getting at ties back to an idea I’ve talked about a few times here.  I need to be able to look at my own work honestly and objectively.  Knowing when to give up on a project is part of that.  After querying a hundred or so reps or editors and not getting a single nibble, I need to consider the fact the problem may not lay with them.  My writing may be perfect, it may be gold, it may be what everyone in America is dying for.  At the moment, though, for one reason or another, it’s not what those specific people—those, dare I say it, gatekeepers—are  looking for.  And, right or wrong,  they’re  the ones who make that decision. 
            Now... here’s that important part.
            I’m not saying I’m going to stop writing altogether.  This doesn’t mean I should never touch a keyboard again or that it’s time for me to forget the big leagues.  It’s just time to sit back and look at what I’ve done and how I’m doing things.  Maybe the problem is the characters.  Maybe it’s dialogue.  Perhaps even something as basic as an overwhelming number of typos.   Heck, it could just be my cover letter.  At the end of the day, something is holding me back, and that needs to stop happening.
            I’ve met people who wrote one novel way back in college and have spent the past twenty years sending it to agent after agent, publisher after publisher.  They haven’t changed a single word since they first set it down on paper.  They haven’t written anything else since (“Why should I write something else nobody’s going to pay me for?”).  They’ve just got that one novel going out again and again and again...
            Same thing in Hollywood.  People write a screenplay over a long weekend, never polish or revise it, but try to use it as a calling card for years.  I know of a guy on the contest circuits who pushed the same script for almost a decade.  He hasn’t done anything else in the meantime, just sent that same script to contest after contest, waiting for fame and fortune as if winning was a lottery and he had to keep playing his lucky numbers.
            Knowing when to quit and move on isn’t a weakness. It’s not a flaw in my approach.  It’s a strength.  It’s the only way I can grow and learn new things, because I won’t get any better if I keep rewriting the same manuscript again and again for decades.  Sometimes you just have to give up on something. 
            It took me almost eleven years to finish my first solid novel, The Suffering Map.  Not an idea, not a work in progress, not something I’ve been poking at.  A complete, polished book manuscript, first page to last page.  Beginning, middle,and end.  Yeah, that’s a long time, but close to a decade of that was the film industry convincing me to go work on screenplays instead.  It probably only took about two years of actual work.
            So, eleven years of on-again-off-again work, and then the querying.  Letter after letter, rejection after rejection.  Go through it again, create a new draft, and then start the letters again.  Some folks asked to see it (one or two of them were powerful, well-placed folks).  Many letters and emails were traded back and forth. 
            In the end, though, after almost a dozen very major revisions, all of them passed on it.  And then I realized, this was done. I’d been working on that book on and off since graduating from college.  It was time to expand my horizons and write something else. 
            And that something was an early draft of a book about a government teleportation project gone wrong.  Which I followed up with a book about superheroes fighting zombies.  And then a few things since then.
            If I’d stayed focused for years on that novel no one wanted to see, though, I wouldn’t’ve done any of it.  I’d still be back there at square one.  And my list of published credits wouldn’t be the size it is now.
            I’m not saying I’ll never go back to The Suffering Map.  Many writers will tell you if your screenplay or novel gets rejected, put it in the drawer and wait a few years.  I’m also not saying it will sell in a heartbeat if I decide to try again in five years.  For now, though, I’ve given up on it. 
            So the next time you’re frustrated by months and months of trying to find a home for your work... stop and really think about it.  Maybe it’s time to move on and try something different.  Something new.
            Because that next thing could be the big thing.
            Next time might be a bit delayed.  Sorry. But when it happens, let’s flip this around.
            Until then... go write.