Friday, 30 October 2009

What Publishers Want

OK, I'm very busy with the book this week so I'm copping out a bit to post a link to the latest post on The Book Deal. Please note Alan's stellar credentials in publishing and his comments about the writing being key to success (not the query letter) and the need for imagination in this ever changing publishing landscape:
"Agents and editors are tearing down old conventions and experimenting with new ideas".

Sunday, 25 October 2009

More Internet Paranoia

I love the internet. Don’t laugh, I really do. For all its faults it has revolutionised communications and research. YouTube is brilliant. Where else could you listen to the theme song from Stop The Pigeon after all these misspent years and without paying a penny?

And of course there are the message boards. Now, I’ve written about these before so you’ll know I hang around a good few writers’ boards. They’re useful for picking up tips and bits of news, even getting peer review if that’s what you’re after. But this week I made a sobering discovery I want to share with you.

Unless you set up your own forum where you have editorial control of your posts, you can never be sure they will be left unedited for all eternity.

That’s it. Is it a big deal? Well, let’s just think about it. Suppose you hold a strong viewpoint on something and it differs from the administrators of the message board. Not only can they ban you from the forum, thus denying you the opportunity to delete your posts, they can also edit your posts to reflect what they believe. This isn’t an issue for those of us who hide behind clever usernames – although most people with a modicum of sense can track you down if you post links to your website or blog – but for any honest unsuspecting person who uses their own identity it’s potentially hazardous. Imagine the indignity of coming up in a Google search spouting fascist dogma you don’t even agree with! And it could happen. I’ve seen it happen this week and the implications for writers are far-reaching and troubling.

It came as a shock and made me realise that no forums are actually really free. There’s always a price to pay of some sort, and I wouldn’t like to think it was my integrity. So should we trust writers’ forums? From now on I’ll be taking a much closer look at who’s pulling the strings behind these groups before I post a thing. You can’t be too careful.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

More quotes

"People on the outside think there's something magical about writing, that you go up in the attic at midnight and cast the bones and come down in the morning with a story, but it isn't like that. You sit in back of the typewriter and you work, and that's all there is to it."
Harlan Ellison

Boy, don't I know it. I'm now forty chapters down on the Big Revision. Some bits fly past and don't need much work, other scenes need completely rewritten. So it's hard to know how fast I'm progressing. Forty chapters sounds a lot, but there's still the hardest part to come - the End. Apart from the beginning it's the most important bit to get right.

I do have mixed feelings about revisions. In some ways it's better than the first draft because the story is down, all you need is to add colour and texture. Other times it's headbangingly frustrating; trying to find the right mood, trying to steer the characters and make the dialogue believably real while serving the plot. When it's going badly it isn't going at all. Everything stalls. When it's going well it flies and nothing is more satisfying.

"Being a good writer is 3% talent, 97% not being distracted by the Internet."

Another one that's funny and true. I spend too much time online, or have until lately. Nowadays I'm not getting as much satisfation from the various writers' groups I have belonged to in the last two years. The tips and advice seem to be on a loop and I've heard 99% of it before, the arguments never change and just wind me up. This week I've been so busy on the book I've only checked in briefly to make sure nothing major is going on, but I'm seriously considering giving up on them for good. Facebook is better for me, and as a friend observed this week, writing is really a solitary business and the fewer distractions we have the better.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Writing Quotes I Love

I love writing quotes. Here's one that's particularly apt at the moment:

It is perfectly okay to write garbage – as long as you edit brilliantly.
C. J. Cherryh

This is sooooo true for me, and of course for all of us, but especially for me right now because I'm embarking on my second Grand Revision of the dreaded Magnum Opus. There's a lot of stuff I thought was bloody brilliant when I penned it a few months back that on re-reading is...well, let's just say it isn't quite as good as I first thought. OK it's shit. But as the quote says, it DOESN'T MATTER because I'm going to edit it into something better. Hopefully a lot better.

Here's another:
Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with it is a toy and amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him out to the public.
Winston Churchill

Boy, I can relate to this. I think I'm now at the tyrant stage.
The last revision was all wild excitement, the fevered headlong rush to get words typed up before the Muse deserted me. Not unlike a love affair (I imagine, she adds hastily).
But this time round it's taken a good girding of the loins to face this ravening beast. Now I'm well into it, I at last have some momentum, but starting was HARD. And inspiration is elusive.

Eighty percent of success is showing up.
Woody Allen

I particularly like this one, not just because I'm a woody fan. In fact it's all that keeps my arse in the chair some days, when I'd rather be off picking daffodils or cavorting over sand dunes. Keep going. Take a step every day and guess what - eventually you'll get somewhere.

Just as long as it isn't Wester Hailes.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Micro tension

OK I said I wouldn't do it, but I have. For months I've been resisting buying Donald Maass's new book The Fire In Fiction. Not that I have anything against him, you understand. His earlier book The Career Novelist is a very good read and available as a free download if you haven't already seen it. It's just that my bookshelves are already fit to burst with writing books and these days I try to keep acquisitions to a minimum.

So I bought it. It's a small addiction, really. Just when I think I've got it cracked I weaken again.

But the good news it's very good and has already given me plenty to think about. I'm particularly interested in the chapter on maintaining tension throughout the story. Not an easy trick to pull off, but necessary to keep people reading. The secret, according to Maass, is micro-tension: "the moment by moment tension that keeps the reader in a constant state of suspense over what will happen, not in the story but in the next few seconds."

If you want to know how he achieves that you'll have to buy the book. Sorry, didn't mean to tease, but you could do a lot worse.