Commence NaNoWriMo!

Goodness!  Did you look at the date today?  November is RIGHT THERE!  And, with November, another NaNoWriMo!

Are you participating this year?  After barely making it a week in 2008, winning in 2009, and then failing in 2010, I’m looking to continue the pattern with a win in 2011.  I’m changing it up a little bit this year, however.  Instead of one long work, I’m setting the goal of 10 shorts with a combined total of 50,000 words or more.  With an average of 5,000 words each, I’m hoping it might make it a bit easier to accomplish the 50,000 word goal.  It sure makes it sound easier.  I only have to do 10, 5,000 word short stories!

I think, technically, the purists will hang me for not sticking to the letter of the law and doing one long work, but if you think about it, 10 shorts is more than enough for a collection, and a collection is one long work.  Sorta.  I see it as bending the rules rather than breaking them.  Besides, the goal is to write.  And, if that’s how I get it done, then so be it.

So?  Spill it!  What are you planning to write for NaNoWriMo?

Who Decides?

Who decides which manuscripts should be published?  From a purely technical standpoint, the current state of publishing is that a manuscript must first be picked up by an agent, then that agent must find a publisher to pick it up.  It’s a double gated system.  The manuscript must be decided upon at each gate in order to advance on to being published.  But, that’s all changing, isn’t it.

It used to be so much harder to go the self published route.  Anybody could write a book, and take it to a printer.  But, getting any sort of distribution was extremely difficult.  The author would have to take up the car salesman mantra and knock on every door of every bookstore they could reach in hopes that one or two of them might agree to find a bit of shelf space in the store for the authors book.  Now, it can be as simple as a bit of formatting and a few button clicks, and you’ve managed to upload your book onto the shelves of one of the largest bookstores in the world.  Shelf space is cheaper now.  Without the limits of a physical shelf, a bookstore can hold an unlimited number of digital books.  As a result, the barrier to entry has lowered.  Self publishing is, suddenly, very easy to do.

I, personally, am still on the fence.  I’m attracted to the lack of barrier that the self-publishing route has.  But, I’m also attracted to the gates of the agent/publishing house route.  Gates mean exclusivity.  If you can get through those gates, you join a limited group of people.  But, if you sell enough books, does it matter which route you went?  Not really.

I noticed a post by someone over at Bookends, LLC‘s blog.  It went like this:

Just because friends, family, and coworkers tell you to write a book doesn’t mean it’s a book that should be published.

As I read it, a part of me reached for my pitchfork.  My hackles went up.  And I clicked through to see how badly they’d been skewered in the comments.  And, it turns out, they weren’t.  A majority of the comments are positive.  There’s a few that took up the other side though.  And it’s those I agree with most.  Who are they to decide whether “it’s a book that should be published” or not?  Did I miss the memo that announced them as supreme deciders of publish-ability?

Yes, agents and publishers know a great deal more about the market that you or I do.  Yes, some of them are very, very good at their jobs.  But, I also think back to how many stories we’ve all heard about the manuscript that got rejected 30 or 40 times before someone took it and then it hit the bestseller list.  The real truth is that not everyone likes what everyone else does.  Thank goodness, or there wouldn’t be any market for certain authors.  I’ve personally read (or tried to read) two books this year alone that I thought were absolutely terrible.  These weren’t random books I picked out of the bargain bin on the Kindle store.  These were bestsellers.  Classics by some peoples standards.  I didn’t even finish one of them.  I thought they were that bad.  If I had been the agent that either had come to, or the publisher, I would have rejected them.

If agents and publishers can miss good books, and put bad books through, what right do they have determining which manuscripts go forward?

If your friends, family, and coworkers tell you to write a book, write it.  That’s first.  Just write it.  Then, take it and get an editor to look it over.  Get some beta readers to read it through.  Edit it.  Send it to an editor again.  Once you’re darn well sure it’s ready to go, decide whether you want to go through the traditional publishing route or not.  Send it to an agent, or not.  But, send it somewhere.

I said I was on the fence earlier in this post.  But, I’m leaning towards the self publishing side more and more each day.  Who decides whether a book is any good or not?  In the end, it’s the readers.  And, if the readers are the ones who decide, why are we wasting our time trying to get through gates instead of putting out the best book we can and letting the readers decide.


Novel Selling Survey Results

Jim Hines, author of The Stepsister Scheme (along with other wonders that reside on my “to read” list), has been conducting a survey of published authors over the last several months.  The final day for it was March 15, so he’s begun compiling the data and giving us some interesting numbers.

Did you know, for instance, that the average author sells only one short story before becoming a published novelist?  Interesting.  Take a look at the results so far and keep an eye out for the rest of the results.

Collection of Rules for Writing Fiction

The Guardian asked a few of their favorite authors what they kept as their rules for writing fiction.  What they came up with is a wonderful read.  Some are purposefully thoughtful while others are just as purposefully opaque. A few of the tidbits.

From Elmore Leonard’s ten rules:

Avoid detailed descriptions of characters, which Steinbeck covered. In Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants”, what do the “Ameri­can and the girl with him” look like? “She had taken off her hat and put it on the table.” That’s the only reference to a physical description in the story.

From Jonathan Franzen’s ten rules:

It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.

From PD James’ five rules:

Don’t just plan to write – write. It is only by writing, not dreaming about it, that we develop our own style.

And that’s just in the first half of the article.  (Well, it’s more of a list of lists, but you know what I mean.)

Go, now, and read the rest of them.

Between the Lines: Mastering the Subtle Elements of Fiction Writing

Between the Lines: Mastering the Subtle Elements of Fiction Writing

By: Jessica Page Morrell

There is a line which prospective authors like to toe.  That line is the line between reading too much about writing and not doing any writing, and doing too much writing without truly knowing what it is that they are doing.  Everytime I read a book about writing, I feel as if I’ve fallen off of some cliff that is that line and have plunged into the land of the people who read about how to write but never do any actual writing.  (Unless, of course, you count a blog post.  I don’t.)

There are many who would not recommend reading any books on writing, but merely using what talent you have and practicing until you are good enough to be published.  I’m not one of those people.  I believe that if you can learn something about writing and hone your skill a little between practicing, you should.  After all, if a book like this one will save you several rewrites, that’s that much more time you’ll have to write the sequel to your novel.

On to the book itself.  I’ve read several books on writing.  I’ll save you the list, albeit a short one, and suffice to say that some are a complete waste of time.  This book, Between the Lines, is not one of those.  In fact, if I were asked which of the books on writing I’ve read is the best, this would be it.  Morrell doesn’t mince words and tell you about the process of writing.  If you’re looking for methods and places of writing, this isn’t your book.  What you do get with this book, however, is a very indepth look at the elements that make a regular old novel into a great novel.  Even a bestseller.

Throughout the book, Morrell breaks down those elements and pairs them with specific examples that illustrate why they work and where.  I found that she didn’t preach or lecture about the elements either.  Each of the chapters/elements is given in very plain and understandable language and the author doesn’t assume that the reader is a complete idiot.  With each of the elements, I found myself thinking to my current work in progress and, in nearly every case, finding something (or several somethings.) came to mind immediately that could benefit from that element.

Overall, this is a very powerful book for anyone who writes, whether it be fiction or not.  As I said, I would recommend this book over any of the other writing books that I have read so far.  If you’re a budding author, I suggest you find yourself a copy of this book and give it at least one read.  Pick it up at your local library, B&N, or Amazon.  I think you’ll thank yourself, and I guarantee that if you use the advice given, your future editor will likely thank you as well.

Reflecting on NaNoWriMo 2009

I think I may be finally reaching the way down deep bottom of the valley that came on November 28th.  That was the day that I hit 50,000 words.  I started on November 1 and made just under 52,000 by the end of  November.  And what a rush!  But, oh, what a fall that comes after you hit that 50,000 words.

After spending 30 straight days with your budding novel, you are suddenly free from any solid goals.  And without any new ones, you are likely to stagnate.  You’ll read a few people who claim that taking the month of December off can be good.  It gives you a bit of space from the act of writing the novel and gives your mind some time to digest it fully and begin to weave in new threads that will allow you to finish the novel.  (That may be true, actually.)

But, if you’ve just spent 30 days of solid writing, don’t just stop altogether.   I did, and wish I hadn’t.  I went from averaging over 1500 words a day to only writing 1500 in the entire month.  (Unless you count blog posts like this one.  It’s a different category for me.)  I should have picked up on some other story or started something new.  The effect here is that I now have to try and force myself back into the flow of things.  Ugh.

Enough meandering around that though.

Reflecting back on NaNoWriMo 2009, there are several amazingly good things that came out of it for me.  Of course, the most important and amazing of it all is that I won by writing 50,000 words.  I also learned some very important things about my self and my work as a writer.  I’ve written, off and on, for many years, but never with any seriousness.  And I am very much still an amateur.  There is so much to this writing thing that I don’t know and that I need to know.  I’m positive that I’ve only scratched the surface of it.

I used to think that writing was just something you did.  That very little thought should go into it and it will just flow along on it’s own and come out the other end perfect.  Boy, was I delusional.  There are moments where the story and its characters flow right off the ends of your fingers and you don’t even have to think about what’s going on to write it.  They are not nearly as frequent as they should be.  And the end result after 50,000 words and 30 days?  Trash.  Well, not literally.  I have no intention of actually trashing the thing.  But, as I read back over it, there are plot holes everywhere, expansive gaps that leave me wondering just where the plot went.  Some of the dialogue is spectacular (If I say so myself), but quite a bit of it is very rough and clumsy.  There are vast sections of the novel where I do a great bit of telling without one speck of showing.  And there are more than one character who turned out flat.

Looking at that long list, I have to remind myself that the inner editor in us all will be the most critical of any editor.

And after it’s all said and done, I’m thankful for the experience.  And it may take me until next October to be forgettful enough of the whole thing to be crazy enough to try that hectic schedule again.  But, I probably will. After all, writing is what it’s all about, and that’s the fun part.

If you’d like to read up on NaNoWriMo, you can visit their site at