July 1, 2021 / 2 Comments

Random Musings

I had a post on dating apps all ready to go but… well, the past two weeks have been especially rough for me. On a bunch of fronts. I’m still here at the desk, though. Scribbling away. Being pretty productive, honestly, even though I’d really rather just be drinking, building toy robots, and listening to Lore again from the beginning.

Which got me thinking. The past few years—2020 especially—has been tough on creative folks. It’s been crisis after crisis, and it’s been exhausting on so many levels. Spiritually. Emotionally. Even physically. I don’t know about you, but I feel seriously beat up after 2020.

And when you’re already that beat up, every new wound hits that much harder. Bad news is the worst news. Any little bit of criticism is a knife in the back. Self-doubt can swell up into this Hulk-like manifestation of your childhood bully to make everything even worse. Or I guess Abomination-like is more trendy right now. You get the point. It’s friggin’ huge.

Not surprising at times like these, we all feel the urge to walk away for a while. To take a mental health day or three. The desire to put this project down and come back to it when we’re feeling a little less beat up and a little more inspired. Maybe to just spend today—and maybe tomorrow—comfortably playing games on the couch and not thinking about anything.

Because holy crap, there’s a ton of stuff it’d be nice not to think about, isn’t there?

All that said, I just want to warn against something that becomes really tempting at times like these. And that’s waiting for something to make me want to write again. Waiting until the muse pushes me, until I feel inspiredagain.

Yeah, okay, we all write for different reasons. It might be more of a hobby. It might be therapeutic. But I’m guessing for most of the folks reading this, the hope is to someday make a steady living at it. Financially speaking.

And if I’m one of these folks, I need to accept that writing is work. Most of the time it’s fantastic and fun and creative, but sometimes I need to do it even when I don’t feel like it. Sometimes I need to do it when I don’t want to. I just need to get in there and write another thousand words about this guy going down into a haunted mine. Or that woman trying to find out the secrets her parents hid from her. Or those college students on that boat trip that went… well, less than great.

I’m not saying I need to work twelve hours a day, seven days a week. Neither do you, if I wasn’t clear. It’s 100% understandable to need a vacation or just a mental health day. Real life is out there with vet appointments and grocery shopping and maybe even another human or two we kinda enjoy spending time with. No job should be my whole existence, no matter what it is. And like I said above, it’s a rough time in a rough world. We all need to take care of ourselves and the people we care about.

But also… we need to be sure we’re not using all that roughness as an excuse.

Y’see Timmy, at the end of the day, I should want to write. I should enjoy it. Yeah, some days are less enjoyable than others, like any job, but it shouldn’t be the thing I put off for the third week in a row because I’m just not feeling it. I can’t put things off waiting for the perfect inspiration or a certain mood or a precise atmosphere. If wanting to write isn’t my default state, if the thought of it makes me miserable…

Maybe that’s my brain telling me something.

Anyway, just some random thoughts. Next time, we’ll talk about getting the most out of those dating apps.

Until then, go write.

No seriously. Go write. Stop making excuses.

January 9, 2020 / 12 Comments

Never Mock The Process

So, I figured I’d start the year—y’know, really start it—by talking about a word that gets tossed around a lot in writing circles. I also think it gets kinda mystified a lot and sometimes talked about in hushed tones like it’s some secret, sacred thing. The word is process, and I wanted to babble for a few minutes about mine and yours.

Really simply put, process is how I write. It can refer to using elements like outlines and character sketches, but it can also refer to where I write and when. Maybe even what shoes I like to wear (or not wear). All of this is part of our process. I’ve talked about the Golden Rule here a bunch of times, and it covers a lot of what we’d call process. It’s a lot of the personal aspects of writing, the preferences and rituals we all have.

For example…

I think I’ve mentioned my mom’s old electric typewriter once or thrice, the machine I wrote some of my very first stories on. It was this massive Smith Corona, probably weighed fifteen or twenty pounds, and the hum when you turned it on would actually make the table vibrate. The typebars hit the paper hard enough that a letter with a closed loop (like o or p for example) had maybe a 30-40% chance of punching a hole through the paper.

I had this little toy monster I’d always perch on top of the typewriter. I’d bang out words (literally), and every ten minutes or so the monster would shake its way down , and bounce off the keyboard. I’d have to stop typing, pick it up, and put it back in place. It was with me for all those early short storiesand very bad comic book scripts and embarrassing attempts at a novel. I wrote all of them in little ten and fifteen minute bursts, pausing to put the monster back up on his perch.

Weird as it sounds, that was part of my process as a little kid. It was just something I did that made it possible for me to write—or write easier. I’m not saying I couldn’t write without said little toy monster (eventually I did), but at the time it was part of my regular ritual that let me get to the actual writing part faster and easier.

You may have heard about people who only write at night or early in the morning. Some folks wear comfy sweats or bathrobes, others get fully dressed, and I know some who claim they don’t even bother with pants. There are people who can write absolutely anywhere and others have their writing space set up exactly how they like it. Some folks have coffee before, during, or after writing. Some have water. Some have booze.

And of course that’s not even getting into the more technical stuff. Do I like outlines, and if so how much of an outline? Do I use notecards? Do I make character sketches? What software do I use? Or maybe I’m old-school and use a legal pad. Or an old electric typewriter. I used to know a guy who blocked out all his scenes with action figures and Matchbox cars. We all have our own feelings about these things and use them (or don’t use them) in our own way.

Because that’s what process is. It’s whatever gets me to the actual act of writing while causing the least amount of stress. And it’s unique for each of us. We all have our own process. There may be overlaps. You may notice commonalities. But my process will always be mine, yours will always be yours.

There’s a kinda-joke I tell at the Writers Coffeehouse a lot. If the only way you can write is on one Sunday out of the month you strap yourself into that “enhancing” corset you got at the ren faire last summer, stand on your head, and then use voice dictation software, but you write 30,000 words that day… well, that’s fantastic. Power to you. You’ve found a process that works friggin’ amazingly for you. Granted, it’s probably not going to work for anybody elsebut it doesn’t really have to. It’s your process.

Now… all that being said…

I think one of the reasons process gets mystified sometimes is because… well, there are folks who use their process as a reason not to write. Not so much a reason, really, as an excuse. Consciously or not. I mean, I can’t wear the corset twice in a row. Plus that’s a specialty item, y’know it’s dry clean only. I’m not going to have time to get to the dry cleaners until next week at best, and then they’ll have it for a couple of days and, look, next month is going to be all about the writing, okay?

Yeah, that’s my goofy joke again. But I’ve heard some folks describe a process that’s so specific, so elaborate, or so both that it’s almost impossible for the conditions to ever be met. “I can only write on days that have an R in their name, and only after being served rare Himalayan tea boiled at precisely 100 degrees centigrade and served to me by a left-handed supermodel. No, not one of those Victoria’s Secret trollops. At that point I’ll be ready to begin my research into possible dietary limitations of the supporting character’s great-grandmother. I might not need it for this bit of flash fiction, but I feel it’s important to know than not know…” These folks need 200 page outlines for 35 page short stories. They wait for inspiration or the mood or the right lighting at their computer. They always have one more book or article to read for inspiration or education or clarification.

And again, to be perfectly clear, if this is what you need to get words down—and you happen to know a couple supermodels who like serving tea—again, power to you. Your process is your process. It’s whatever helps you write.

But, I’d suggest that if overall my process stops me from writing more than it starts me… I may want to reconsider a few things. Because to my mind, that’s a bad process. It’s not making things easier, it’s putting up obstacles.

Now, speaking of process… I had an idea I wanted to bounce off those of you reading this

(analytics tell me there’s a couple hundred of you, although I’d guess a percentage of those are bots with no real interest in improving their dialogue or story structure).

I was thinking of doing a kinda-series-thing here on the blog, something with its own keyword or whatever so it’s easy to find, and going through the whole process of writing a book from beginning to end. Start with a raw, basic idea and finish with something ready to send off to an agent/editor. It’s all stuff I’ve talked about before, but I figure this is a good excuse to revisit a lot of it in order and freshen up my takes a bit. It’d probably be every other or every third post, so there’d still be space to talk about other topics as they occur to me (or you).

Would that interest anyone? Please let me know down in the comments (or over on Twitter) with a yay or nay or something.

Oh, and by the way–my new book Terminus is up for pre-order over at Audible (and maybe Amazon?). It comes out in three weeks, but please feel free to add it to your lists and carts now. You can read more about it over at Audible and I also talked about it a bit in the FAQ (which I really need to update sometime soon…)

And one last note. The Writers Coffeehouse is this weekend at Dark Delicacies in Burbank. Sunday, noon to three. Come join us.

Next time… well, I guess we’ll see.

Until then, go write.

September 23, 2019 / 3 Comments

Getting Paid To Do It

A funny title, yeah, but I freely admit I’m kinda lifting it from a somewhat-similarly themed book by Peter Lefcourt and Laura J Shapiro.

Look, nobody likes talking about this sort of stuff. It makes us all feel a bit uneasy, because our Puritan ancestors beat this sort of thing into us so hard we’re all still feeling it 400 years later. “Money is the root of all evil! Hard work is its own reward! Money won’t buy you happiness!” I’ll be honest—I’m aware of all of this, this kinda societal indoctrination—and I’m still feeling kinda weird sitting here writing about it.

A lot of folks are talking about this right now and I think that’s good. Different facets of this topic keep coming up to the surface every few months it seems, and a few versions have been bouncing around the internet just the past week or two. It’s like the little dodecahedron inside a Magic 8-Ball, and every time we swirl it a new face pops up in the window and says something along the lines of IF YOU WERE A REAL ARTIST THE MONEY WOULDN’T MATTER

So let’s toss the Magic 8-Ball aside for now (you know we’re just going to pick it up again—they’re always so tempting) and try to have an honest talk about art and money. Because there’s a number of folks on both sides of the artist/audience line that have kinda… skewed views on, well, doing it for money.

One thing we don’t talk about is the fact that a lot of the art that gets created is inevitably shaped by financial factors. I know a ton of artists. Comic artists, painters, sculptors, actors, singers, and yeah a ton of writers of all types.  Fiction writers of pretty much any genre you can think of, screenwriters, playwrights… I’m even really good friends with a published poet.

A truly stunning thing these folks all have in common is that they’re real people. Just like the people you see on the street and work with. Artists have all sorts of bills to pay. Rents and mortgages. Utilities. Credit cards. Car repairs. Groceries. Medical bills (with and without coverage). A fair number of them have kids! I don’t, but I’m guessing  kids cost at least as much as cats, money-wise, so… wow.  So, like everybody else, artists have to make some of our decisions based on how much is in the bank.

Now, to be very clear right up front, I’m not saying any of my friends or acquaintances don’t care about art. These people love what they do, they care how things turn out, they want the things they create to be amazing.  And they turn out some amazing stuff and they (deservedly) make money off it.

Which is something a lot of people don’t get. This isn’t a binary thing. I can care about the art AND think about the money. Cause the truth is, if I’m going to do this—especially as any sort of job or career—money’s going to be a factor in my decision making process. It’s unavoidable. We can talk about the muse all you want, but at the end of the day, artists have to pay the bills just like everybody else.

There’s a Richard Matheson quote many of you have heard me mangle at some point or another– “Writing is art,  publishing is the business of selling as many copies of that art as possible.”  The minute I’m dealing with publishing—traditional publishing, self publishing, hybrid, small press, whatever—I’m talking about business. and business means money is changing hands and certain expectations need to be met.

Money’s a huge factor in self publishing because… well, I’m the publisher. That’s the money side of the equation. Copyedits, layouts, cover art, marketing—it all costs money if I want it done right.  And if this is about the art, I want to do it right, don’t I? Which means I’m probably starting my self-publishing venture at a loss.

Even when things are going great in traditional publishing, money’s a factor.  I’ve gone to an editor with three or four things I’d like to write and they’ve said “Well… we’ll pay you X for this one, or 5X for that one.” I ask you, kind reader, if you had the choice between a six month job that pays you $10/hour or a six month job that pays $50/hour, and they’re both jobs you’re interested in… which one are you going to pick?

I know which one I picked when I got stuck with that choice. This is my job. This is how I earn money for all those bills and expenses. So I made a choice and I got to write a story I really wanted to write and get paid for it. And the other one… I didn’t write.”But isn’t that what Kickstarters and Patreon are for? So you can just make any art you want?” says random internet user twenty two, cleverly countering me.

Well… sort of.  I don’t have a Patreon, but, I feel reasonably sure if I started one I could get a couple folks backing me for a buck or two. People who want to see me write more books and stories they like in the genres they like.

Which is kinda the catch. These folks would be sponsoring me because they want to see more of this weird cross-genre stuff I write. I back maybe a dozen people on Patreon, and I can honestly say that there isn’t one of them where I said “the past is irrelevant—I want to see what completely different thing they do next!”  I’m not against them doing new things, but the simple truth is I sponsored all of them because I liked their work and thought “I hope they’ll keep doing this.” I bet most of you are the same way with anyone you back.  If I thanked my hypothetical patrons tomorrow and announced that now I can finally write the Mediterranean romance trilogy I’ve always dreamed of… well, I wouldn’t be too shocked if that patron count dropped a bit over the next month  or so.  Sure, some folks would stay, absolutely. But most of them… they’re understandably going to move on and find something they like.

Same with a Kickstarter—it’s for one specific thing. If I tell you I’m doing a Kickstarter for X, I can’t change my mind and deliver Y. So it’s soooort of artistic freedom.  I can try something and hope people want to back it.  But I’m not really deciding what I get to do. I’m throwing options out there and letting other people choose for me.Sooooooo yeah. Financial considerations, again.

And, to be very clear–I’m NOT saying Kickstarter or Patreon are bad things. They’re fantastic things. They let a lot of artists do a lot of work they otherwise wouldn’t get to do. But using them doesn’t mean these artists are suddenly free of any and all financial constraints on their art.

There are costs to making art.  Always are, always have been.  And a lot of artists never recoup those costs. And waaaayy too many people think they shouldn’t. Think they’re bad artists for even wanting to make money. Or asking for money. Where the hell do I get off, hoping for some sort of compensation for that thing I spent six months of my life working on?

”Well, I don’t mind suffering a bit for my art and giving up a few hours of sleep!” says random internet user number seventeen. That’s cool. You do you. But the simple truth is, if that’s my path it’s eventually going to affect my health, which will mean medical expenses, which brings us back to… money. And probably time, too. Which means it cuts into the art.

And let’s have a moment of frank honesty. There are some folks who loudly insist “the money doesn’t matter” because… well, they’re not making any money. So this becomes kind of a well-padded moral armor for them. “I haven’t failed or been rejected— I just care more about the ART than about your filthy lucre.”

Look, the point I’m trying to make is… don’t be any of these people.  Don’t berate artists for wanting to make a living. Don’t mock them for having financial concerns. Don’t come up with elaborate justifications not to pay them for their work (83% of which always seem to be some twisted logic to justify piracy).

If I’m an artist… I shouldn’t be ashamed that I took a job because I needed the money. Or because it just paid more. It doesn’t make me any less of an artist.  Artists all through history took paid gigs and commissions to put food on the table, and they still did some of their best work with them. Likewise, I shouldn’t feel bad about walking away from a job because, one way or another, I couldn’t afford to do it (financially or time-wise). Yeah, even if it’s something I may have really wanted to do. We’ve all had to pass on fun projects because, in the end, they were going to hurt way more than help.

And being an artist shouldn’t mean hurting myself.

Anyway… that’s my clumsy, scattershot thoughts on money.

Next time… well, we talked about getting paid to do it. So I guess next time we should address if you’re getting it or not.

Until then, go write.

May 30, 2018 / 6 Comments

Back In the Olden Times

I warned you there won’t be a post on Thursday.  It’s my birthday, and there’s a good chance I’m going to be filthy drunk, playing with little toy soldiers, or maybe getting a new tattoo. Possibly some combination of these things.

But I figured, what the hell, I’d like to talk about something else. This’ll be one of those little rants that’s less about writing and more about being a writer.  And it’s a topic you may have heard of before.

There’s a concept that comes up now and then—the starving artist.  If you look at the history of writing throughout the 18th and 19th Century, and even the start of the 20th, you’ll see a common thread. Most writers were hungry.  Literally.  They often couldn’t afford food. They usually lived in crappy apartments. Even the ones living “glamorously” in the ’20s and ‘30s were usually… well, living like crap.

People point this out and use it for all sorts of excuses. They think this proves artists don’t need to get paid. If you were a real writer, you’d just be doing it for the joy and the excitement of creating stories. You need to starve if you want to be any good at this, so just stop your whining and suffer! It’s not like writing’s a real job anyway.

This is all nonsense, of course. Every bit of it. But, as I’ve brought up here before many times, it’s easy to just say “that’s wrong.”  The harder thing is to explain why something is wrong.

So let’s talk about the four basic flaws people make with the “starving artist” argument.

First, they think this is something “real” artists did. They decided to throw themselves into poverty and live on bread crusts and cheap wine while they perfected their craft. It’s what everyone did back then, and it worked for them.

Okay, let’s pick this apart.

Yes, back in the day… you had to starve for your art. Not because it built character, not so you’d understand suffering, none of that nonsense. I’d be a starving artist because… that’s how I’d learn. I’d work less or take time off altogether, and I’d just write. Write, write, write.  Because, again, that’s how I’d learn. There weren’t classes or programs or books or degrees.  No, seriously, there weren’t. That’s a really recent thing (and a rant all in itself). If you wanted to be a writer—a good writer–you learned by writing.

And that meant spending time writing. Which meant… not working on other things. Like maybe a high-paying job.  Or any kind of job.

Plus, keep in mind—being a writer back then also meant a serious investment in money.  How much do you think these folks wrote a week? 15,000 words? 20,000? That’s a ream of paper every month. Yes, paper.  How else do you think they wrote back then? If I had a typewriter—assuming I could fix it myself and didn’t need to pay for maintenance—I’d still need to buy a new ribbon every 200 pages or so (or re-ink the old one, which means buying ink). Plus there’s postage, too (have to submit my work somehow).

Of course, all this skips over the real issue. Does anyone really think those aspiring writers wanted to live in poverty?  If they could live in the modern world where everyone has a computer with a word processor, email submissions are the norm, and you can spend four or six or eight years at a university (with housing and a dining commons and medical services)… well, I feel pretty safe thinking very few of those writers of yesteryear would say “Nope—squalor and starvation for me, please.”

Second, when people talk about the starving writer, they romanticize it. We hear stories about Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Stein, and so many others hanging out in Paris and we think, oh, how lovely that must’ve been. All the creativity and support and free exchange of ideas.

Truth is… Hemingway was using alcoholism to deal with his PTSD after World War One. Fitzgerald had constant money problems. Hell, a bunch of them were skirting poverty at any given time. Oh, and let’s not forget the Nazis were gaining power in Europe at that point, so that may have caused a bit of tension among the progressive free-thinkers.

Things were really awful for those very notable starving writers at what’s considered a major point in their careers.  But we overlook a lot of the negatives because of those positives. We maybe even enhance the positives a bit more than we should.

F’r example, right after college I lived in a shabby, beetle-infested, un-insulated townhouse in Amherst with three friends. We roasted in the summer, froze in the winter, and fought over the single shower every morning. We had a pretty-much absentee landlord who never fixed anything and stole our security deposit in the end just because we were young and she could.

I have tons of happy memories about that year.  But I also know that’s my brain mercifully editing out all the horrible stuff. You’ve probably had points in your life like that, too—a job or a living arrangement or a relationship you can look back at fondly if you just ignore points A, B, C, and E. And we do ignore these things, because I think most of us like to focus on the positive. But it doesn’t mean the negative wasn’t there.

Third is that, like with so many things, people have flipped correlation and causation. Nobody’s ever been a great writer just because they lived in abject poverty. Nobody.

All those folks living in Paris who became legends in their field? Well guess what? There were thousands of people in Paris trying to be writers and poets and painters, and most of them were poor and starving (see point number one up above). Most of them never become successful. Critically or financially.

If poverty was such a deciding factor… well, shouldn’t most of them become household names, too? I mean, that’s how this works. If X causes Y, then in all cases of X we should see Y. In a bare majority of cases, at the very least.

But we don’t.

The ugly truth of history is we tend to talk about the rare successes and not so much about the abundant failures. When we only consider those exceptions to the rule, though, it gives us a really skewed view on things. It’s like only looking at Jennifer Lawrence’s career and then saying “Well, I guess every young girl who moves from Kentucky to Hollywood is going to end up being a major movie star.”

And we all know it just doesn’t work like that.

Fourth, and finally, is the Puritan thing.  And I’m saying this one as someone who has New England roots stretching back a hundred years before this whole “United States” idea.

Y’see, Timmy, there’s a kind of messed up idea in America that jobs should not be pleasant.  Nobody should like their job.  Jobs mean work, and work means long hours, sweat, and aching backs when you get home—and you need to go home.   If you’re working out of your home, it means you’ve either a housewife or got one of those cushy liberal-elite “jobs” that just involves taking money from real working people.  You’re in the arts?  Yeah, try a real job sometime…

Okay, sure, not everyone’s that bad, but that attitude is really pervasive.  It’s why some people think writers—all artists, really—should suffer.  It fits into a view we’ve all been conditioned to believe.  Well, all of us in the States, anyway.

Don’t believe me?  What’s blue collar comedy?  It’s a whole subgenre of sitcoms about working-class folks who don’t like their jobs and get low wages.  This is a normal, relatable thing.  Because people are supposed to hate their jobs, right?

When I started writing full time, one thing I struggled with (for years) was people who didn’t understand that I was working.  No, seriously. I’m actually working. I still had to put in my forty hours a week like anyone else. Usually more.

So when people are pushing the starving writing idea… this is where it’s coming from. And this is why it’s wrong.


All that said…

This doesn’t mean writing is easy now.  It’s never been easy.  If I want to do this, I’ll still have to make tough decisions now and then.  I may have to prioritize things.  I will probably have to make some sacrifices.  If I want this to be my career, that means it’s my job. And that means it’s going to be work.

But unless I do something stupid… I shouldn’t have to starve.  And nobody should expect me to.

See you next week for that P-word talk.

Until then, go write.