Saturday, August 06, 2011

Make Room and They Will Come

Sentences and dialogue swirled in my mind as I walked toward the front door and I refused to turn back and open the laptop or grab paper and pen. I knew what would happen the moment I sat down, the words would disappear and the dialogue turn trite as I struggled to remember the exact phrasing, the position of noun, verb, adjective, adverb, and connecting words. It happened the same way every time I sat on the porcelain throne or stood in the shower with my hands full of lather when I washed my hair. Everything came clear. The next scene, the next transition, the next everything, and all disappeared the moment I attempted to grab them from the ether and give them substance on screen or paper. It wasn't writer's block; there was no block, no impediment. It was as though it was leaking out and being funneled somewhere other than where I needed it to go.

That's the way it has been for the past few months and my latest book languishes for lack of words.

I finally managed to finish the last chapter I'd begun and I continue to soldier on, but it should not be this difficult. I should be able to sit down and put the words together as I'm doing now, and sometimes it is that way; most of the time the words elude me, playing hide and seek or catch as catch can when I need a rousing game of Rover, Rover, come on over, except with words.

If this is post publishing blues, it's the longest stretch I've endured to date. I began and finished the next book about a month after publication of my first solo novel. It took two years to edit and rewrite, but that's the way it is when anything is done by committee. I even took a few months off to let things rest and my temper to cool from all the helpful input I kept getting, none of which was helpful or input anything other than spleen and venom. How does one use too many verbs anyway?

As I tried to figure all this out the same way I've always done -- by writing things out in my paper journals (pen and paper have always been the best way for me to think) -- it all came clear, or at least as clear as anything does in my experience. I needed to stop worrying that what went onto the page had to be perfect the first time around. If I learned anything from my last novel, it is that sometimes it takes time to make a book, even one that is self-published. I'd have to struggle through the trite dialogue and lackluster descriptions and uninspired plotting and just get on with it. The book would be finished and the real work (editing, rewriting) could begin, but not until I actually finished the book. I'm still adding bits and bobs to the last novel, which is a lot easier since I can upload the latest version without going through a lot of red tape and hem-hawing about. I can't move on to the next book until this one is finished.

It's hard sometimes because I have so many responsibilities and so much to do, to carve out a few hours, or even one hour, of writing time, as evidenced by the lack of daily posts here and on other blogs. Everything seems to pile up until I am at the bottom of a tottering heap about to be crushed by the sheer weight of it all. Like housework and the laundry, I have to stop trying to do it all at once and be content to do what I can when I can. Work, unfortunately, is non-negotiable. I have no choice in when I have to do that, but there is a little latitude with my other responsibilities, like reviewing books. I need a break and so I shall take one after I finish the latest box of goodies to be read and reviewed. I'll take a month or two off and focus on finishing the current book and beginning the next one. Yeah, that'll work.

In the end, it is all about focus, concentrating fully on one task at a time, instead of trying to work it all in and giving short shrift to the task at hand, and I've been wasting so much time in being indecisive and avoidance. Time to reassess. That's what I'm doing now: reassessing.

I used to have time for writing, but I carried a much smaller load in those days, and picked up a lot of rejections. I don't need to worry about rejection as long as I'm self-publishing, but I do need to concentrate on quality and getting things done. Time to do another mental spring cleaning and get rid of all the time wasters and detours.

That's what I will be doing. Cross your fingers that I don't decide that posting isn't one of the things to go.

No, it will probably end up being useless things like men and dating and cooking. It's amazing what a variety of frozen and precooked meals are available these days. And there are always sandwiches.

The words will come if I give them space and concentrate. That is all that is necessary -- that the words come. Build it -- or in this case spread out and make room -- and they will come.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Book Review Dos and Don'ts

There is something disheartening about reviews. Either a whole bunch of negative people review a book, most of whom have no sense of spelling, grammar, or punctuation, let alone story, plot, characterization, or few people write a review. They might email and tell the author the enjoyed the book and try to engage the author in a long, drawn out email conversation, which isn't productive and often means time lost writing, or they come up to an author at a con or book signing and gush about a book, never having taken the time to go online and review the book.

In this cyber age, it is important to put the remarks in writing -- and not just the negative remarks since that seems to be most of the kinds of reviews made. So many people with so many grudges. You can tell the author how much you liked a book, or books, but put it in writing. Amazon has the most visible and oft used review system of all the bookstores, but take the time to cut and paste your comments into B&N, Goodreads, or your favorite indie bookstore, like Powell's, all of which have good review forums.

One thing the online review process has created is a forum for the discontented and disgruntled to write their opinions and be heard. It's best if authors don't check the websites very often. It can be deflating, disheartening, and downright down casting if you've a thin skin or are new to the game. It seems people like to trash an author's work, but there are plenty of reviewers (and I use the term loosely) who have not a clue how to write or score a review, so I'll offer a couple of points.

First, if you liked the book but it had a few errors in formatting (check for an updated copy if it's a free review copy) and the story didn't turn out the way you wanted it to, and was well written, the least score should be 3 stars. Giving a writing 2 stars and saying how much you enjoyed the book is like sending mixed signals on a first date. Good thing the author can't drop a roofie in your drink and have their wicked way with you.

Secondly, if you loved the book and there were no errors or formatting problems, and the story was well written overall, give it 5 stars. The more errors or the more problems you had with the story, down grade by 1-star increments.

Two-star reviews are for those books that had merit but were not particularly well written, had too many formatting or spelling/grammar/punctuation errors and didn't come up to the mark.

One-star reviews are reserved for utter crap, including that the author couldn't write his or her way out of a paperback with a hole it and a sharp knife to hand.

Above all, be fair. Be honest. And don't take out your bad day on the author. It's not their fault.

If the book didn't end the way you wanted it to, don't take that out on the author either. It is the author's view and not yours. If you want a different ending, write one, but don't penalize the author by exercising your fits of pique with a low review when otherwise the book was good, or even excellent.

Reviewing is an art form that professionals learn how to do through years of experience and background in writing critiques. Reviewing in the cyberworld is somewhat different and mostly akin to a group of people talking about a book in a book club or among a group of friends. Keep that in mind. Very few reviewers are professionals on Amazon, but a few pros do slip through from time to time. Learn to write a substantive critique and keep it clean.

It's a tough world out there and Amazon reviews are the currency favored by the market right now. If you need help writing a review, ask someone with some experience, or write it the way you would tell it to a friend. Use a voice recorder if it helps.

Review books, preferably on days you're not having a major case of PMS, haven't fought with your boyfriend/girlfriend/boss/mother/father/siblings, got up on the right side of the bed, and didn't have car trouble or a bad hair day. Reviews are about the book, not your personal perils and petulance.

You can say whatever you like but do it with some class. It makes a difference.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Back in the Saddle

At long last, I am getting back into the language of Victorian England and putting words on the screen. That's a good feeling, especially when I have been slogging for so long, unable to get through the horse latitudes of ending one project and getting back to another. It takes time to get into the right frame of mind and the cadence of language from a different era, but I'm finally there with another chapter down. It's a bit rough in spots, but that is what editing and polishing are for -- working out the rough spots.

I've decided to give myself a treat once I've finished with a certain number of pages and chapters, and that is a holiday in another time and place with different characters. They are the carrot on the end of the writing stick. It is important to reward yourself for accomplishing set goals. I may even serialize the novel online, but I'm not quite there yet. Right now is all about getting back into the story and seeing it unfold on the screen, and that is a good feeling.

There are so many different levels to writing, not the least of which is finding a pace that suits the characters and the writer, all the while expecting and dealing with changes in the weather, so to speak. Some days, writing can be like skimming along a smooth track without a care in the world or a cloud on the horizon. Other days, it's more like slogging through mud up to your knees that sucks you down and makes forward movement downright difficult. It's important to keep slogging until you get to smooth ground again or nothing ever gets done.

There are times that other characters and stories beckon and seduce. I do my best to ignore them, taking notes when possible and remembering and noting details for exploration later. Distraction is a form of procrastination and should not be indulged. That's always hard for me to remember since I tend to be a bit of a magpie with new ideas, characters, and bits of research that lead in different directions from the one I'm currently traveling. That's where discipline comes in, but discipline and I have a rocky relationship. Discipline throws rocks to get my attention and I bob and weave and go off track. Like I said, a rocky relationship.

This morning was different. I felt the muse stirring and decided to follow her back into the fray. Now I'm past that awkward part in the story where clues are slipped in and a bit of foreshadowing done, I can move on to the meat of the story, coming back later to smooth out the bumps and brush away the cobwebs that gathered in the months between when I put the story down and picked it up again determined to move through it. It's a little like exercising after being a couch potato long enough for the pops and clicks of unused muscles, and the inevitable ache that settles, makes me wonder why I ever decided that exercise was a good thing.

At any rate, moving ahead is painful at first but gets easier each day -- as long as I minimize distractions and focus on getting some work done. In spite of the fits and starts, it does feel good to be back on track with a specific and reachable goal ahead. No one said writing was easy, but the rewards are worth it, as long as I don't think about the reviewers that will inevitably dislike what I've achieved. It's all right. Everyone is entitled to an opinion -- even when it's wrong.