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Confessions of an Aspiring Writer: Voices

I’m going to tell you all something that I have never before uttered in the light of day:

“I do not hear voices in my head.”

I know, I’m a writer.  How can I not hear voices in my head?  How can my characters not talk to me–occasionally causing me to stop dead in the middle of a busy street?  I don’t know.  But unless I’m actively generating a voice for pre-writing purposes, my characters do not speak.  They sit quietly like good little children until I call on one of them to answer a story question.  This has always been how my characters work.  Whether it’s fanfic or fantasizing, daydreams or “serious” “original” work, my characters must be conciously stimulated to speak and act.

And so when I go to other writers’ blogs, or read interviews by/of them, I’m always wondering… Am I crazy?  Or are they?

Perhaps I am simply unlucky, but character dialogue has always been the toughest part of writing for me.  Not character voices per se, which I feel are one of my strong points, but actual dialogue between characters–and quotation marks.  Is this because my characters don’t speak to me, or is it the cause of them not speaking to me.  I don’t know.  But I worry.  A lot.

Am I alone?

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Posted by on September 30, 2010 in Character, Writing

 

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Being a Teen Writer

I figured it’s better to say this now, because in a few months I will be too old to claim direct authority on it any longer.

Being a teen and a writer is probably one of the most wonderful things I have ever experienced.

There are sucky moments, of course:

1. Nobody takes you seriously. “You’re too young to be doing that.” “You don’t have enough life experience.” “You’ll never be successful.” “You’re not talented enough.” “You’re such a nerd!” “It’s all teen angst slop.” You’ve heard most of these before. You may even be used to them by now.

Writing takes a thick skin, and the younger you are, the thicker that skin has to be. Lucky musicians. I was just told the other day not to take up violin because I was too <i>old</i>. It’s the same level of bullshit of course. If a five-year-old can play violin, so can I. It’s just that I look more pathetic when I mess up. 😉 Well, if a fifty-year-old can write, so can you. You’ll just have a different set of problems then an older person would.

2. Everyone in your English class is jealous of your ability!

Wait, no… that was a dream I had last night. 😦

3. There are very few venues available to interact with other writers of any age.

I’ve never been in a face to face writing situation as far as fiction is concerned. All my interaction has been web based. (There’s nothing wrong with that, but communication is easier face-to-face than post-to-post.) My school district never had authors come in to give presentations or readings. Most of the people who shared my interests were too shy to own up to it, and most other people didn’t care.

I was fortunate to have a fantastic AP English teacher who let me do an independent study in novel writing, but due to my schedule, I could only meet with them once a week after school to turn in my word count. Sure, there was a school litmag I worked on, and we had some writing group stuff before we got down to business, but there were four other people in the group and our interests and skill levels did not jive.

Cons are expensive, and that means not only do few teenage writers go, but even if you have the time and money, most of the other con-goers aren’t on your wavelength.

4. Nobody wants to play you at scrabble.

But there are many benefits, too:

1. My classmates may not have been jealous of my writing skills—I was in an advanced track—but those skills certainly came in handy for assignments. I got A’s in my class even though I was a bit sloppy and a lot lazy, and for those who are familiar with AP tests, my score of a 5 will tell you I could write under pressure. Essays may be boring, but being a writer outside of an educational environment certainly has its advantages while we are in one.

2. Writing is damn fun. Bored in class? Space out and plot events in your current WIP. People will think you are doing homework when you write purple fantasy poetry in class. Tired of your annoying little brother? Lock yourself in your room and make scene maps on your wall with silly colored string.

3. Being a writer—that is, thinking and acting like a writer—opens up a million new levels of perception when you’re reading. It may limit the list of authors you can read without a nosebleed or vomiting up your small intestine, but for the books you do enjoy, you have a whole new way of experiencing the story. Now for some cold hard truth: Most teen writers do not get published. I can think of maybe three. I imagine you know who they are. Young writers like to hold them up as exceptions to the rule of “young writers can’t get published”. While they make for great stories and I have a lot of respect for their accomplishments, they are not your average young writers. Everybody else will have to spend their time in the trenches.

And despite how it may seem, that time is very valuable, and it will make you a better writer in the long run. You will be less likely to get a story published that embarrasses you later. More practice=better stories. The business end of writing is a pain in the ass, and more so when you cannot sign your own contracts. It’s tough, it’s sharp, and most of the time it hurts like hell. There are a few bright spots, but you’re better off waiting until full emotional maturity kicks in. Trust me.

Okay, that’s all I got. Maybe being a teen writer really doesn’t totally rock. But I still think the experience was worth it, and I hope other young writers out there can stick it out. There’s no shame to be had in getting published in your twenties, or thirties, or even sixties. You may not be quite there yet, but you’re a lot farther down the road than most people get. Perseverance and tenacity and patience. Invaluable tools, and all things learned from being a teen writer.

 
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Posted by on July 29, 2010 in atsiko, Writing

 

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Why Social Media are Dangerous to Writers

If you’ve spent any time in the authosphere, you know that the number one commandment to writers is : “Write!”  It’s not “Tweet!” or “Youtube!” or “Eat cupcakes!”

But reading blogs is okay, right?  There’s all this knowledge and information, and interaction with other writers and readers.  What could be better?

The truth is, blogs are the most insidious, conniving, malicious plague to ever be unleashed upon unsuspecting authors.

“Wait,” you say.  “You’re exaggerating.  It’s just fifteen minutes a day or so.”

Well, I have story for you.  Over the past few months, I’ve been working on other projects besides writing, and that means I confined what writing time I did have, I confined to actually putting words on the page.  That means a whole bunch of blog posts to get caught up on.  And here’s the problem:  If it was just me going to various addresses in my favorites bar, I wouldn’t have an issue.  I’d just have given up on most of the old posts.  But I have this wonderful little thing called Google Reader, which keeps track of my blog subscriptions.  When I opened it this morning, it listed 432 unread blog posts.  432.  I decided to take Anne Lamott’s advice and get through them post by post.  Instead of doing any writing today whatsoever, I read around 300 blogs posts in 4 hours.  And tomorrow, thanks to links and “round-up” posts, I have about 300 more.

And most of them have been very interesting.  I’m glad I read them.  But it did take up 4 hours I could have used for actual writing.  Things like this have happened before, and I know they’ll happen again.

Maybe I’m just obsessive.  I didn’t have to read all those posts, right?  But Google made it so easy.  Just point and click.  That 432 just sitting there, taunting me.  “You can’t read all these.  No way.  As if.  You’re weak.  You can read a 600 page novel in a few hours, but you’ll never be able to catch up on your blogroll.  You’ll just have to look at me every day and know what a failure you are.  Go eat some chocolate cheesecake.  Come back in a few hours.  I’ll be here.  I’ll always be here.

 
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Posted by on June 29, 2010 in atsiko, Authors, Blogging, Writing

 

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Bloggers I Wish I Was

One of the best parts about becoming active in the blogosphere, or, more specifically, the authosphere, is meeting all the awesome people follwoing the same track, published or unpublished.  One of the worst parts about becoming active in the blogoshphere, or, more specifically, the authosphere, is meeting all the awesome people following the same track, published or unpublished.  If there’s one thing that can drive home the dismal chances of a writer beating out the pack for publication, it’s seeing what the pack really looks like. 

 There are quite a few published authors with impressive and thriving blogs and their surrounding communities:  John Scalzi at Whatever, Jay Lake, Tobias Buckell, and also the folks at Deadline Dames, Magical Words, and The Magic District.  There’s also Lauren Oliver, Justine Larbelestier, and Carrie Ryan.  And that’s just the people I’ve looked at recently.

For the unpubs, we have: Sierra Godfrey, CKHB, and many, many more.

So, I’m definitely in great company here.  I guess the title is a bit isleading I would love to reach the same level as any of the people on that list.

Now, I have to admit, competing against these people is scary.  A lot of them write in different genres than I do, but considering the number of people not on my list, I think it’s safe to assume that there are just as many fantastic writers in my genres, published or not.  And while writing is not a head-on-collision sort of competition, there’s limited space on the lists of agents and publishers, so to an extent, someone else getting published means I have less of a chance.  And just wait ’til we’re talking about the marketplace.  I can read a few hundred books a year, and that’s not even scratching the surface of published material out there.

So, yeah, the authosphere is a very scary place, but I’m enjoying it.

 
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Posted by on April 9, 2010 in atsiko, Authors, Blogging

 

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It’s All Just a Draft by Tobias Buckell

I just spent half-an-hour reading through this series of chapter drafts by Tobias Buckell, and I have to say, they’re pretty awesome.  Especially for people writing short stories, this is some must-read material.  There are a few things that some writers might find a bit controversial, but for me, Tobi’s articles squared extremely well with my experience–limited as it may be.

 
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Posted by on April 6, 2010 in atsiko, Authors, Writing

 

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The Tragedy of the Titles

 Awhile back, I did a post on possible ways to create a title for a book. Now I’m going to revisit the subject of titles, but from a slightly different perspective.

One of the most popular questions among writers, published and un-published alike, is how can I come up with a title for my book? That’s the question I tried to address in my last post on the topic. But lets go a little deeper. Why is this question so important? There’s a lot more to a book than the title after all. (Same for short stories and poems, but I’m going to focus on novels here.) About 400 pages of text for one. Why then are we so worried about titles? Why the endless debates and the tales of publishers annexing another bit of creative control? It’s pretty simple.

Most of you already know the answer. The title sells a book. It’s not the only thing. Covers, copy, and the afore-mention content are all important. For word-of-mouth, content is king. But when a reader is trudging down the aisles of their local bookstore, two things stand out: the title and the cover. The title is how you look a book up online or in a catalog. It gives you your first idea of what a book is about. “The Romancing of Ms. Elisia Keen”? Probably not for the 15-year-old science fictionist in your family. (Or is it?!)

Titles can convey story, theme, character and much more. When we google “SFF with spaceships”, the most likely thing to draw us to one book result over another is the title. It’s the first thing that pops up. Looking at an author’s wiki page? Their bibliography has titles and dates. Guess which one is going to draw our attention. All that effort and suffering for the perfect title? Totally worth it.

Now the big question, how do we get that perfect title? A title is like a beautiful young maiden (or a MILF, if you’re into that sort of thing, but I think the former makes a better analogy). An unnamed book is like her ardent pursuer. This book could be the reincarnation of Romeo, or it could be a Casanova. Or, even worse, it could be an abusive boyfriend in the making. He might be nice for the courting, and maybe he’s perfect for making the other ladies jealous, but you wouldn’t want to marry him. But, once the book is published, the deal is done. That ring’s not coming off.

Now, say another book comes along. He’s like Edward Cullen, except not a freaky, abusive stalker. He’s smokin’ hot, he’s sweet, and he cooks a mean rhubarb pie. But he’s from a rich family, and has his reputation to consider. (Now, keep in mind, titles cannot be copyrighted. Two books, or poems, or songs can have the same title. )  So along comes Edward 2.0, and our young lady decides to run away with him. But wait, it’ll be a scandal. Even if she divorces Casanova, everyone knows how he treated her: running around with other titles(some less than flattering), verbally abusing her in front of readers. Her reputation is ruined.

Even if Edward agrees to take her, he’ll be disowned by his family, and abandoned by his friends. Nobody will read him, because she connects him to Casanova, who everyone despises. Our young title has already proven her bad taste; you know Edward’s going to turn out the same way. And there we are, a beautiful title tarnished by a terrible book. All her promise, her possibility for attracting readers is gone. She’ll forever be associated with that terrible book. Her life is over.

As an example, let’s look at Pat Rothfuss’ “The Name of the Wind”. I picked this book up entirely on the strength of the title. If it had been called “Kvothe Goes to Magic School and Plays the Lute and is Tota-fucking-lly Awesome Because Pat Says So”, which is what it’s really about, I would never have even read the reviews, or the cover copy. Which, to be fair, were not terrible. There were some interesting premises beneath the narrative. Musician heroes are fun and rare in fantasy, at least compared to the mercs and farmboys and spoiled noble girls.

So, here we are, with this fantastic title, and Rothfuss has ruined her with a mediocre book. If a wonderful, incredible novel were to be written, which this title would fit perfectly, and which this title would hurl from the shelves into the arms of a legion of readers… well, it couldn’t use it.

Before anyone calls me out on the ridiculousness of such a scenario, remember there’s a reason that new authors are advised to google their prospective titles. I cannot count how many times I’ve arrived at what I’d thought was a perfect title, only to see it had already been claimed—twice. Now, sometimes it was by a wonderful book, which I subsequently loved and enjoyed, and even forgave for stealing away the love of my book’s life. But often–maybe even mostly–it’s been by rather average stories, and also some mediocre or even terrible ones.

So, remember, when you set up your book with his dream title, make sure it fits—and that your book deserves her more than all the other drooling slobs out there. (Which it will, of course. After all, you worked your ass off writing and revising and editing that story, ‘til it shone with the avariciousness of a thousand starving ferrets spying a mouse scurry out of the wall.)

Now, back to our regularly scheduled rant on cultural ideals in fiction.  (A domani!)

 
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Posted by on March 16, 2010 in atsiko, Authors, Books, How To, Titles, Writing

 

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RIP JD

J. D. Salinger is dead.

Now, I’m not a big JD fan, so you’ll forgive me if I don’t spout a few paragraphs of praise.  But a writer is a writer is a writer, and that deserves some respect.

 
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Posted by on January 28, 2010 in Authors, Uncategorized

 

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