First Drafts and New Years

Take that, sky!

Take that, sky!

When it comes to starting a new tale, I find there are two ways to go about it.

The first is to plan things out. To take notes, jot down what you need. Little scraps that come together, get played with and eventually sorted into some kind of blueprint for the story. At which point, the first draft is put together and probably isn’t unlike what the blue print made it out to be. I foresee this approach being outright necessary for novels, but optional for short stories.

Short stories can get away with beginning with a first draft that is guaranteed unsellable, a throwaway draft. It is, after all, just a short story. Perhaps a 14,000 word maximum, but most of the time, it will be less than 10,000 words. Probably more like 6k to 8k. From this first draft, one can get down a number of details and discover what kind of questions need to be answered after research. You can figure out names and hammer a decent plot of some kind.

My current approach to my first novella is somewhere between these two methods. It actually began with a short story I wrote a year ago, totalling some 14,000 words. I like the characters, but the tale itself could have been beefed up some. So I threw it in the draft bin and went to work on other things. Now, I’ve dusted it off and am looking over it. I’ve taken notes, added names and added thickening plot elements. I think there are still a few things that will need further development, but I’ll handle that as I write this second draft.

It’s hard to figure out what manner I prefer for story telling. I’ve never written a tried and true novella before. It’s always been short story. Longer tales require more planning, more consideration and respect for the length. Who in their right mind would want to write a fully throwaway draft of an entire book is an absolute writing masochist, and if they plan to live off writing royalties, they better grow to like hunger pains.

This kind of transition is not what I expected. But learning it is part of my growth as a writer. And on those grounds, I’m considering my resolutions for new years.

First, I’m making a promise to myself to no longer voice my political views on Twitter and Facebook so often. It alienates people, is bad for business and fiction is primarily meant to be an escape from reality.

Two, I’m going to try and not read or study anymore producers, actors, other authors or directors of any kind unless they’ve already passed on. The fact is I’ve been burned and let down by some of the blogs I’ve been looking at. I won’t name names, but some of the views expressed sound downright abysmal. I’ve learned a few things which have frustrated me.

Third, write 1,000 words a day minimum if possible. Not including blogging, tweeting or the like. It takes 30 minutes. It keeps me on schedule with everything I’m trying to do. Think about it. 1,000 words a day, at seven times a week. That’s a short story draft a week.

Fourth and final of my writing resolutions. Get published by two or three new publishers this year. The fact is, I want to prove that multiple people think my work can sell. If I’m published all the time by one or two guys, it suggests that I appeal to only a certain group of people. If I have four or five publishers who think I sell, then that says I might have something ideal.

So that’s it. Happy New Years, folks!

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The Joy of Controversy

Yesterday, I sat down to talk about a controversial subject but ended up deleting the post. With a handful of anthologies due out soon, I decided, “Hey! Y’know, maybe you should wait until it’s just you before you screw up everyone’s careers with needless drama.”

There’s good controversy and there is bad controversy. Everyone has ugly thoughts, but we just pound on the few people who voice them. The joy of blogging is that if you take your time, you can eloquently discuss a controversial subject without offending anyone. You have all the words in the world, and you can carefully approach a topic and talk about it with respect.

There’s always going to be people who want you to screw that up though. Whenever you say something intelligently that they disagree with, they’ll probably ignore you. The most damaging thing they can do is pretend you never said it at all. Some are vicious enough to take whatever you said and pull a few words out of context, but they can reasonably be called on it.

But when you say something stupid? They will never forget.  The brother of my childhood friend used this quote a few times to explain the nature of this beast:

“You can build a million bridges, but if you suck one c$%^, you’re a c&#$sucker and not a bridge builder.”

I mentioned a couple of days ago how easy it is to get into trouble on Twitter. It’s true, a lot of celebrities have gotten into all kinds of hot water in 140 characters or less. Why? Well, 140 characters calls for putting a thought very concisely. Get it right or don’t bother. It’s easy to be passionate and not think about what you’re about to do, especially when the only thing between you and hundreds of thousands of followers is a typed sentence and the ‘Tweet’ button.

The internet is not one for giving things back. Before you ever tell that non-PC joke, send that tweet or publish that blog, take one hot minute and ask yourself:
1) Could this message start a swarm of angry, bothered people coming after me?
2) If so, is this statement something I’m jesting about, or am I serious about?
3) If I am serious, is it worth the trouble?

Chalk it all up to personal experience. Mastering answering these three questions have proven invaluable for in keeping me out of trouble probably 97% of the time. This has been a PSA in no way connected to that other 3% of the time.

Book Marketing and the Future

If I have any regrets the last year, it was that I didn’t start using Twitter until very recently.

Fact is, Twitter is a better marketing tool. Brief, to the point, easy to interact with. It can be linked to Facebook. Rather than engaging in ‘mutually beneficial’ friendship arrangements, you simply have followers which you must attract. There are fewer walls and the actual spread of information is way more ‘open’, where as Facebook applies an algorithm to reduce clutter on people’s walls (which can filter you out).

Twitter is actually kind of essential for those reasons. Without walls, fans can connect readily with authors and creators. Although one can get in trouble with the platform, there is quite a bit of power to be harnessed if used carefully.

As I move forward with the anthology, I’m also hacking away at other needs to promote it. I’m examining advertising costs on Facebook. But more importantly, I’m looking at various book reviewing bloggers. Although there are ‘big name’ critics out there in the newspapers, these smaller guys often tend to be quite niche, and really hit the reader bases that we’re writing for. In a way, the smaller guys can be a lot more powerful than the big names, because they know what they want.

This is why, despite an age where anyone can publish anything thanks to Amazon, publishing houses are not going away. They have the power to provide advertising and superior editing services. They usually know their market, and can tap top talent if need be. Self published success have occurred and will continue to happen, but there are services that publishers provide that simply aren’t available to the average author.

Business is really all about networking. Knowing the guy who can do what you can’t, knowing the right people for the job. All of us, especially writers, have to be in business for ourselves. And despite potential competitive aspects of business, a lot of it is also about working together.

Speaking of business, I’ve been thinking about what I’ll be doing next year. I’ve mentioned trying a few drafts against Everyday Fiction. But Narrativium will be in charge of the next anthology, Marching Time. If you’re curious what that’s about, you can check it out. Besides that, there will be the Black Library submission window, of which both myself and several of the Boltholers will have our strongest chance next year to be published.

The major question is whether to attempt my first novel, or self-publish an anthology of novellas. The latter is very tempting. My approach to being published has revolved around an ‘evolving plan’ of difficulty. Flash fiction and short stories started it. There has been at least one novella thus far.

An idea is to go ahead and write more novellas, and get used to longer tales before attempting a novel-length story. Length is a major factor. 300 pages is nothing to sneeze at. My approach has really allowed me to gradually increase the difficulty, while building on the skills I’ve learned in the previous steps.

What I learned from short story telling can be applied to novellas. What I learn from novellas could evolve into a novel. Thus far, that idea has been working. While I don’t want to be complacent, this approach is working thus far.

Let our RSS feeds… COMBINE!

It’s been a rough morning. Work had issues and I spent the day trying to figure out how to combine multiple Twitter RSS feeds into one long stream for another blog I’m working on. Yahoo has a nice looking GUI application called Pipes that you should check out as long as you have no interest in using Twitter RSS feeds. For some reason, Pipes has a rough time retrieving them.

I found two other sites that allow you to do this. One is RSS Mix, and the other is Feed Combine over in the UK. Now, what’s the URL for Twitter feeds? That gets tricky, but there are two URLs you can check out. The two possible formulas are:

http://twitter.com/statuses/user_timeline/<TWITTER USER NAME>.rss

http://api.twitter.com/1/statuses/user_timeline.rss?screen_name=<TWITTER USER NAME>

If you’re confused, here is an example of the first and second, respectively, using the Black Library Twitter user. I’m pretty thankful for the guides and how to pages out there that helped me to figure it all out. It’s frustrating, but really gratifying when you figure out how to take greater control over your creations, both technically and artistically. It’s all too easy to accept the easy route of doing things, like just following templates or buying into the easy-to-use stuff and relinquishing control. But not Harry Patridge here… (NSFW.)