Years ago, when people were still feeling out the eBook market, I had what we would call a “rough year” and made a couple rash decisions. The first was that I was going to self-publish a book because I’d seen numbers suggesting that my chances with and without a publisher were roughly about the same. This was during that hazy time back when the economy was crashing and no one was confident about anything – advances were down, advertising was shaky at best, and Amazon was starting to eat enough of the market to kill Borders (ironically thanks to a deal they made with Borders). So, of course, I wanted me a piece of that action.
But self-publishing lead to my second rash decision: I was going to start trying to promote myself – something that anyone who knows me can tell you was probably the bigger mistake of the two. My personality, in real life, is fairly conflict driven and yet introverted. For those of you doing the math, yeah, that generally means I’m my own worst enemy. So the idea of trying to be my own hype man is a bit like having Moriarty give the elevator pitch on Sherlock. Sure, he’s well aware of Holmes’ strengths, but he’s also invested in ruining the guy.
Still, I went about making content on a fairly regular basis by starting this blog. It wasn’t a vanity project as some critics have suggested, but an attempt to look like I know what I’m doing. Perhaps, with enough effort, I can find my audience and make those efforts worthwhile. And, despite everything, there is a benefit to the fact I second guess every move I make: I am constantly using this blog to do a self critique.
As such, I occasionally go back through old posts, old work, and old concepts to find new ways to hate on my younger self. It’s beneficial, despite how I make it sound, to take stock of what mistakes I made in the past and then learn from it. I know I’m not perfect (something we should all keep in mind), and that I have to constantly improve to progress. So I’m willing to give myself an honest performance evaluation every once in a while. There’s just one thing I tend to regret about these evaluations: I end up re-reading or remembering comments I’ve gotten on the internet.
As is well known to anyone who’s followed the blog for a long time, the guy who writes it is a broken man who becomes crippled at the mere sight of flower petals. Allergens are my greatest enemy, and they’ve often made getting up in the morning difficult. Hell, today they made getting up in the afternoon difficult as I temporarily fell asleep face first on my desk. Generally that means that I’ve got a touch of derailed productivity, the need to step away from certain tasks to chase down others instead. And, despite my own advice, sometimes I still fall into the trap I described back when I first mentioned the phenomenon. It’s easy to think that you’re not doing your best if you give into some physical ailments, even if everyone around you tells you that it’s okay.
But, having finally come to realize that I was just being silly in trying to chase down my original task for the day, I’ve accepted that I should have listened to that guy hopped up on benadryl many months ago. I shouldn’t push myself to do a task that I know isn’t going to be getting my best effort. I shouldn’t damage the work just to appease my guilt over my physical failings. There are other things to be done, other tasks worth my time, which I can still do even if my head feels like it’s been stuffed with cotton and can only be relieved by the blessings of the MyPurMist given to me for my birthday.
For years I’ve had a bit of a running joke that I tell even if people aren’t in on it. It’s often rumored that talking about your goals will actually give you an inflated sense of accomplishment. So, as a writer who hasn’t really had a huge amount of success (yet), I tend to rely on self-deprecation to avoid actually stating my goals out loud. Don’t get me wrong, I remind myself every day that I’m a writer and that’s what I want to be, but when I talk to other people I try to make sure I don’t get a big ego about it. We’ve all met that guy who says he’s writing a screenplay or novel and thinks that means the world should kiss his ass. I never want to be that guy, so I make sure to label myself appropriately.
I’m a professional bullshit artist.
Because that’s what you have to be if you’re going to be working in fiction. You have to be able to craft the most unbelievable bullshit into something people become invested in. You have to sell people on notions that you just pulled from the aether (or straight from your ass), and make them want to pay you money for it. It’s a skill that’s easy to learn but hard to master – a field where everyone feels they should be able to do it but only so many can actually pull it off. And that perceived ease of entry is part of the problem for guys like me.
See, writers, by and large, have to sell themselves as much as possible to get people to look their way. But, since there are so many of us out there, it’s hard to make that happen in short order. Most famous authors and screenwriters didn’t really have a major break until their 30s when many of those started trying earnestly somewhere around high school. There are always a few modest writing gigs here or there, you’ll make some headway as an intern if you have the right connections, but for the most part you’re just hoping you manage to out-shine someone else’s bullshit. Unfortunately, recent events with some politicians derailed my efforts for a bit and I was a little upset.
A couple days ago, I posted a little thing about the various events that used to kept me up at night as a kid. As an astronomy geek that’s been in awe of the universe since I could first read, I’ve been long fascinated and slightly tormented by just how insignificant we are to the cosmos. To paraphrase Carl Sagan, we are but a pale blue spec of dust. And, funny enough, sharing some of my old childhood fears got some people thinking about how potentially screwed we are on this rock.
But in all of the scenarios I listed, you could theoretically prevent the extinction of the human race by simply getting them off the Earth. This is because I spend my Wednesdays either pointing out something ridiculous or talking about writing and good story ideas. And while each of these outcomes would be horrible for anyone still here, there would still be a story to tell either in the aftermath or on another planet. The more people leave this rock before the end times, the more survive. Going to places such as Mars, Proxima b or any number of other exoplanets across the galaxy can prevent us from all sitting in one place, waiting to kiss our asses goodbye as the sky literally falls on us. Funny enough, there’s one scenario out there with absolutely no escape, one that could strike at any minute, one that could strike even as you read this blog right now.
You had a plan, not a good plan, but it was a plan that most certainly existed. First, you’d wake up, groan and shamble into the kitchen in search of Colombia’s greatest export. Grinding it up and snorting it, you’d take your caffeine as Satan intended and would be strong enough to face the day. Guided by the Tulpa of Juan Valdez, you would then sit down and grind out 2,000 words on that manuscript you’ve convinced yourself will be the path to fame and fortune. After all, you heard once that’s how Stephen King did it. And that guy looked amped in the 80s.
Just one problem – getting up isn’t happening. You tried for a moment but stopped once you felt your soul trying to escape yoru body. Everything hurts in ways you didn’t think were possible. Every muscle aches, your head is pounding, your stomach is churning and you’re pretty sure something is going to explode if you disturb it any. You weren’t partying last night, you had too much procrastinating to do on the manuscript for that. There’s only one explanation… you’re dying.
Oh god, you were so young, you’d done everything right, and now you’re going to melt into a pile of goo in your bed and be remembered by no one. Some poor bastard is going to find you face down on the pillow, glued to it by whatever the hell it is coming out of your nose right now. And what do you have to show for it? What have you left to the world? Stephen King wrote 12 books by the age of 35, what have you done with your life?
Wait…what if he was doing the other Colombian export? Oh god, you’ve been so stupid, spitting up black phlegm for months over nothing. Every day you’ve been walking around like some jackass from the old west looking for a spittoon!
Wait, focus, you’re dying, damn it. You need to get that manuscript done right now and make sure that you leave something for the people! You’re going to force yourself to get up and get your work done no matter what.
But that raises another question: how are you going to do that?
For a long time I’ve held that anything can be used to improve your writing. As I’ve said more than once, “all things are kung fu”. And this is often something that I tell other writers I meet because I want everyone to find new avenues to follow. To my shock, some of those people have come back to inform me that I actually know what I’m talking about, which is in part why I got started working on this blog. But sometimes I’ve drawn lessons and inspirations from things that most people just wouldn’t have ever considered rationally.
The reasons are simple, despite the fact I’m knowledgeable in the field, I’ve never had a formal education in it. There’s no shame in this, neither did Neil Gaiman or Ray Bradbury, but it does mean that I had to learn through odd methods. Neil jumped straight into journalism and writing non-fiction to help him learn how to write things in a clear, direct fashion and get readers interested. Ray taught himself by going to a library zealously until he could learn everything he needed. But me? I don’t live in a place with a good library nearby. I’ve never had access to reasonable resources.
So what I have used to teach myself are the internet, shelves of old books given to me by family, and the knowledge that everything in life can be studied. For instance, you can learn a lot by talking to people you have very little in common with – especially if they conflict with your world view. You can also learn a lot by talking to complete strangers, even if the world is full of people afraid to do that as of late. There’s always something to be learned by wandering through places you’ve never been. And sometimes, while many would tell you to read everything and watch everything, it’s often overlooked that “stupid” entertainment can still be a great teacher too.
Not long ago, James Patterson received the Innovator’s Award from the LA Times. This award, now in its 36th year, is one given to those with innovative business models or uses of technology to further the narrative arts. Essentially it’s given to people who happen to come up with a new idea that makes an impact on the literary world. And while I don’t know the exact reason the award was given to him this year, I can probably guess it’s because he’s the most successful author in the world… that doesn’t write books.
And for those of you who follow this blog regularly, you shouldn’t be surprised by my taking that jab at him. For some time the joke has been that I treat Patterson as if he was “he who should not be named” – taking a quick jab in his direction, refusing to name him, but posting his photo so you know what I mean.
I know I’m not alone, I know a lot of people have criticized him for the same reasons that bug me. Normally I would just move on with my life after making that kind of comment so I can go on doing my thing. But a recent rumor (that I won’t be spreading today) got me thinking about Patterson and realizing something I hadn’t before:
I don’t dislike James Patterson or his brand – I dislike what it means about our industry…
Not long ago, I decided that these blogs would be updated Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. This was a vow to myself to try to make sure that I always maintained a schedule and didn’t haphazardly throw up updates whenever I felt the urge. Sure, it puts a bit more stress on me from time to time, but it also keeps me honest and it lets me see when I’m not being as productive as I should be. Funny enough, this is the first time since I made that decision that my birthday has fallen on one of those days.
What does someone blog about for their birthday? Do I carry on like it’s any other day or make a big deal out of it? Personal modesty tells me to do the former, but my own bullshit advice columns say I should do the latter and take a moment to celebrate surviving another orbit around a ball of blindingly hot plasma. Frankly, the advice holds true because my last couple of years have been a bit rough and I find myself being a bit reflective. It’s easy to get caught up in the dark stuff, but what do we appreciate about life when we stop to think about it? What can someone like me say on a day like today? I guess the best I can do is give you a wonderful contradiction.
Ah, 2015, the year of the goat, but also the year of the bullshit. It’s not that it was particularly worse than any other year, but no year’s been the same since 1999. That was the one and only time Prince got to party like it was the correct year and we’re really just hoping to run out the clock now. That’s why people got so amped up about Y2K. That’s why everyone was wondering if the Mayans got 2012 right or forgot to carry the snake monster. And that’s why religious nutjobs keep trying to predict the end of the world with the same sort of zeal as Hollywood’s trend of teaser trailers to advertise the coming of trailers.
But have we traded up? Do we have a crystal ball to tell us if we should just try to sleep through this year and hope for 2017? Was 2015 really all that bad? Did anyone get a flying car?
So, it’s a bit of time into NaNoWriMo and, if I’m familiar with the community as much as I think I am – a lot of you have fallen behind. Generally, I don’t know anyone who hasn’t fallen behind at least once over the course of a NaNoWriMo. It even happens to the professional and semi-professional writers I know. So for those of you who have, fear not, many of us have done it and you’re far from alone. As for those of you who haven’t – well aren’t you just perfect?
Seriously though, keeping up on your word count can be a challenging task and a lot of us end up psyching ourselves out by saying it’s somehow harder for us than for others. It feels strange, when you think about it, that the NaNoWriMo challenge is only 50,000 words when Stephen King insists every writer should hit 2,000 a day. If we were keeping up with Stephen then no one would lose. But a lot of us struggle to get beyond 1,667 words a day (the average that people need to hit to do it in November) and it’s usually for the same damn reason… Continue reading NaNoWriMo – A Trial of Focus→