Home » 2014 » April

Monthly Archives: April 2014

Absolutes in writing aren’t so absolute.

Yesterday I brought up something I’ve begun to notice when attending writing panels at conventions. Many aspiring writers attend because they want to ask the panelist specific questions concerning their own work. Generally they are looking for a couple of things — reassurance that they are on the right path and guidance on how to be a better writer. And I’m sure there is a bit of hope that the author will find their idea intriguing.

More often than not I hear a variation on, what I’m going to call, The Response from these writers. “Well, that’s not really a good idea. It’s not what’s done in the industry. Yes, Author X has gotten away with it. But that’s because they are Author X and you are not.” I used to nod my head in agreement. But as time passed by, and I started to give some critical thought to The Response, the more I realized how bad of an answer it is. I’ll break down why I think that is.

Author X broke the norms before they were Author X.

Convention stifles creativity. And many of the famous authors we love broke convention and tread their own way, blazing through norms. To me, this is how you establish your voice as an author. Let’s use George R. R. Martin as an example. To my knowledge he’s done something unique (or is the first to really become famous for it). He has a massive amount of viewpoints that change from chapter to chapter and jump continents. I’ve heard established authors tell aspiring ones that they can’t do that. Sure, Martin can get away with it because he’s Martin, but you can’t.

Why can’t that aspiring author get away with it? Before Martin did it, it wasn’t normal. And have you read their manuscript? There is no way of knowing their ability to handle multiple viewpoints until we read something of theirs. Here, that answer has crushed someone before they have even had a chance to try. Which leads me to how…

That response tears down, instead of builds up, aspiring writers.

It’s my belief that established authors have a responsibility to be honest about writing, but also to help build up aspiring writers. But The Response kills. You were once like them, looking for help and trying to find your way through the sticky woods of writing. How much more would an encouraging response have meant to you? It would have nurtured your creativity and sent you out with renewed vigor to keep plugging away.

Instead The Response cuts that person off at the heels. As writers we already suffer from enough self-doubt. Now we get to add on-top of that being told we can’t do something because it’s just not done that way. Congratulations on heaping more anxiety on top of the mountain.

The absolutes tend to not be so absolute.

So many panels speak in absolutes. You can’t do X, Y, or Z. Even though we can find plenty of examples of X, Y, and Z being done in successful books. I’d like to see a panelist be clear. There are no absolutes in writing. We can advise against some choices. They may not be the best ideas and we want to caution that the choice will make things difficult. But ultimately, it can’t be said if something will work or not. It’s all up in the air. There will always be an author that will break the mold and make something truly unique. And they may be that author.

The Caution

With all that said, there is also the responsibility to caution the aspiring writer. Send them forth to try new things, but let them know that it could fail. And fail miserably. Encourage them to try their hand at a book with thirteen viewpoints, but let them know it’s going to take a lot of work, that it’s going to be hard, they will need to do it well, and if they don’t do it well it will fall flat on its face. But failure is good. Failure is the greatest teacher. How can an aspiring author find their voice if they don’t try different things?

With permission and a caution, us aspiring authors can go out and try some really radical things, that may fall flat on their face. But we will learn and hone our voice.

And ultimately, don’t we want other authors to try different things? If we continue to put limitations and absolutes onto each other, we will continue to churn out the same types of books over and over. What a terrible world that would be.

So I say go and try out any idea you have, with the caveat that it has to be done well. And if done well, it will rock the world.

JordanCon VI 2014 wrapup

This past weekend I attended JordanCon for the first time. Talk about an interesting experience. Right now I should come clean about something, I’m not a fan of the series. Believe me, I know, at that convention I probably would have been murdered if I had said something. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the talent behind the books, it’s that I couldn’t get into them. I’ve tried several times but just couldn’t do it.

It made for a very awkward opening ceremony, as my friend and I had no clue what all the jokes were about. Especially considering the fact that everyone there seemed to know one another.

Aside from that the rest of the weekend was an enjoyable experience. I’ll hit the highlights.

Flawed Worlds in Fantasy — Patrick Rothfuss and Deliah S. Dawson

After attending many writing panels over the years you begin to hear the same things over and over. However, some really funny stuff came out of this one. During the Q&A someone asked Patrick Rothfuss if he’d grown up with musically inclined parents because of the beginning of “The Name of the Wind.” Patrick’s response was very simple, “I make shit up for a living.” It pretty much set the room to laughing, though I did have to feel bad for the guy asking the question. Ultimately what Rothfuss was trying to get across is that not everything is from a writers personal experience. A lot of the times we just dream and consider what it would be like in those situations and make good guesses.

Kaffeeklatsch with Patrick Rothfuss

I was very excited that I made it in time to sign up for this. There were only ten slots and his filled up quickly, with me coming in at #8. This is my favorite thing with these writing cons, having the chance to sit in a more intimate situation with a writer you respect and getting to ask some more pointed questions. For this one I had a singular goal. Get him to sign my copy of the anthology I’m in — my first paid publication — that he wrote the foreward to. It was a huge honor to have that connection with him.

Whether or not he actually read my short is up in the air, but I’d like to keep that knowledge a secret. Ha!

30 Second Pitch — Brandon Sanderson, Harriet McDougal, Paul Stevens, and another gentlemen who’s name I don’t remember.

Apparently this is something they do every year. You bring your thirty second pitch and give it to the panel. They’ll tear it a part and give you some good feedback. When we got there, the panel mentioned a good pitch should be about a minute.

Wait a minute, I only have 30 seconds. I’ve been practicing 30 seconds.

Not being prepared to give anything longer, I went with what I had, fearing that if I kept going I’d start to ramble. The large consensus was that I didn’t have enough details, it was too generic. I felt it came across that way because of the time limit. I wanted to hit some general big points to grab interest.  But I can see where I could drop in some good details.

My one suggestion for next year is that they speak briefly on what makes good pitch. Half of the time was taken up with explaining pitches, rather than taking them. I felt that if we had a chance to hear more pitches and critiques of them, we would have gotten a bit more out of it.

While my pitch was only, OK, what happened during the panel critique of it was much more important. I was able to let them know that I have an agent and it’s already being shopped around, and in fact, is currently at the slush pile at TOR where one of the panelists is an editor. From their comment, I gathered that another TOR agent is currently looking for YA with a male protagonist. Well look there, I have a male protagonist! After the panel was over I approached them to get that name and talk a bit more about the book. After a brief conversation I was able to make a good contact and get my book that much further into the system.

I know you’re wondering why I’m not using their name. Call me overly cautious, but I feel like they may appreciate a bit of anonymity.

Overall I felt the convention was a great one. Even if you’re not necessarily a fan of the book series, there is plenty of geekdom floating around. If you’re a SciFi/Fantasy writer, it’s another great place to meet with like minded people and talk shop. What more could a little writer ask for?

For my next blog I’m going to talk about writer’s responses on panels like above, and their (and hopefully one day our) responsibility to encourage new writers to take chances, rather than tearing them down.

The Second Book

Some of you are aware that last year I finished writing my first book. In addition to that I was very fortunate enough to find an agent willing to represent the book. Ultimately I’ve been hesitant to say much about the book or series in general. At most I’ve posted a few sketches of the main characters and made a few references to it here and there. If you look into my archive hard enough, you’ll actually find the flash fiction that kick started the entire idea.

All that said, I’d sent off the final draft to my agent who has been shopping it around to different publishers. This leaves us in the waiting game. Which, with the larger publishers, could mean months before we hear anything. And I’m fine with waiting. I really believe in this book and this series and I’m willing to see it done right.

So I’d been waiting, trying to determine what I should do next. General advice I’d read has been to never write the second book in the series until it’s been picked up. “It’s a waste of time if you can only sell the one. Write a different book for the time being.” Taking that advice I’d started looking into some of my other ideas. I’d even started on one during NaNoWriMo. What I learned is that I can’t write under that kind of pressure. I’d also learned that I hated the main character I was writing for that particular book — probably not a good thing, that.

That’s when my agent, Meredith Brown, swooped in and made a proposal.

Write the second book.

I’ll admit I was hesitant at first. Internet advice kept spinning through my noggin. But Meredith brought up her own good point, we want to be able to demonstrate how long it takes me to write a novel as well as show that I’m not just a one-hit wonder. She had a great saying, “You have all the time in the world to write the first one.”

Not wanting to let her down, I jumped on the outline. It blazed past. I was really amazed at how quickly I was able to put it together. Knowing the characters really helped, as well as having already figured out the entire series arc.

Then came time to start writing.

I’ve written the opening paragraph five times.

I’m still trying to write it.

It’s funny how all the things I’d learned with the first book are still giving me problems. Chiefly, that even though I’m having a hard time, I should just put something to paper and keep moving forward. I can always edit it later. But there is this clawing notion in the back of my head that I need to get this beginning right before I can continue. That it is going to set the tone for the entire book and if it’s off then everything after will be terrible.

You know what, I need to be fine with terrible. I need to be fine with everything being a mess. Because — as I’ve said to others before — you can fix a mess, you can’t fix nothing.

Get to writing you slackers!

And my slackers, I mean me.

%d bloggers like this: