The Desire to Stop

The chances are there will be times the writer will want to stop. Just give up the dream of being published. This has applied to me owing to some health issues and publishers closing. This is understandable, particularly if the person has spent many years trying without success. But what of those published? The worry doesn’t end there.

With the success comes, if not added pressure, at least pressures of various sorts. A writer may be only as good as his or her last book. We’ve seen instances where a writer gets lambasted because the creative vision that started a series hasn’t met the expectations of a majority reader vote. I’m not talking about good or bad writing — I’m thinking of those cases where an outcome differs to what readers expected, or a character dies much to the displeasure of many.

There will also be times when, as a reader, the writer comes across a book so brilliant, this leads to self-doubt and the question, “Whatever made me think I could write?” Never fear on this score. There will always be titles that make the writer shout, “I can do better than this!”

Sometimes the writing becomes a slog. A story isn’t going as the writer wants. The right words just aren’t coming to mind, or there’s a plot hole to work around. There are deadlines. The writer grows tired. The paperwork is a pain. There’s paperwork to fill out? Oh, come on! Paperwork? No one told me there would be paperwork. All this can bring down the writer.

The good news is no writer feeling this way is alone. The only advice I can give is never to make a hasty decision. Sleep on it. Wait, a week or a month. Start working towards taking a break. Take just one day off, away from books, words, computers, readers, publishers. Any or all these things, and many I’ve not even mentioned, can make a huge difference to one’s outlook.

Just prepare to feel the same way again at a future date. To want to just walk away from the whole labyrinth of publishing — and it is a maze — and find something easier to do (especially if the desire is to make a living), instead. And don’t be surprised to hear almost every writer has thought about giving up sometimes, either before success or even afterwards.

Never an Idle Moment

The wannabe writer needs to ask an important question: “Am I prepared to never have such a thing as spare time again?”

Most writers work part time if not full time at normal everyday jobs just like anyone else and always will. Some writers will be successful enough to give up the day job, but a portion will never quite have the courage to strike out and leave that feeling of security. Other writers find themselves at home full-time, and for whatever the reasons will use that time pursuing the career of which they’ve always dreamed.

Working at a day job or not, there can still be demands on time — home, family, friends… hell, just trying to have a life. I advise balancing all these requirements. The writer who dives into nothing but work can burn out. I’ve come close and seen it happen to others. Trying to do too much can make it almost impossible to do anything.

Everyone needs some time off. That includes writers. The trouble with that idea is the one thing many writers struggle to do is to throw that switch off in their heads to ‘no thinking about work’. And by that, I don’t mean whether an editor’s got back with a yes or no yet or whether the latest edits will be tear-inducing. It can be very difficult not to think about the work in progress or even the next. Even when a writer has reached an aimed for quota if the work is flowing it’s hard to step away from the keyboard to think about such things as making dinner or going to bed and sleeping.

Another way to phrase the same question is: Am I prepared to work on the weekend? By that, I don’t just mean writing. Writing is no longer the creation of a story, sending it out there, sitting back, doing nothing but thinking of the next big project. There’s the writing (which can be difficult enough), the research, the submission process, working with an editor, gearing up for a release date, the marketing. All of which takes time. Time will soon be a precious commodity. And even if the writer becomes one of the lucky few who streamlines everything and discovers the right marketing that works, the creation process — those little voices in one’s head — can speak up when least convenient.

I’ve discovered that for many in the publishing industry — writers, cover artists, editors, company owners… Whether they have offices that shut the doors on the weekend or not, often they take work home with them. They may work from home — many businesses can survive electronically these days — but no matter how wonderful working from home sounds it can require far more discipline. Many in publishing work seven days a week.

There are those who insist they won’t work on the weekend, but it’s necessary to resolve such a decision. Even then, deadlines wait for no one. If the work is impossible to complete without working on a day ‘off’ then it’s important to prepare to work even at short notice. The writer soon realises that, just as with many day jobs, the only true way to ‘get away’ is to head off to somewhere isolated and take no electronic devices — just make sure the publisher knows the M.I.A. dates to avoid the court-martial.

Time off? I’m betting the writer will find it impossible not to take a notepad and pen to jot down those ideas that pop up during a conversation, at dinner, when lying in the bath, in the middle of the night. Become a writer and it doesn’t end, and if there happens to be a few quiet hours, for many being idle will never feel right again, will feel downright unnatural. For even if when the writer completes all the editing, the marketing’s sorted, there are stories that require telling… and a small nagging voice will ask why you aren’t busy writing them.

Writing for a hobby is one thing. In publishing prepare to be busy. Prepare to be self-disciplined.

One Bad Apple

I should be able to spot a bad apple when I see one. I’ve used apples many times in my writing. It’s the ultimate symbol of temptation. As Markis asks Uly in the short promo story I wrote for the Swithin series, “Bite?” Here, I decline the taste of spoiled fruit.

If you’re wondering what I’m talking about head over to Dear Author and read their comments on a bad apple a.k.a. a bad book in this 2009 post. Though old it’s a prime example. I’m not suggesting you read the plethora of comments but I have to agree with those who feel sorry for the writer. This book and this author weren’t ready for publication and the publisher who put out the work harmed the person, their reputation, ebooks, and the writing industry. They did done no one any favours.

I imagine the ‘writer’ was thrilled. An acceptance is what every wannabe dreams of; that unequivocal yes, the vindication. Not only must she have felt devastated as a ‘writer’ but there’s no way such comments cannot be taken personally. Even if they didn’t heap praise on this poor unsuspecting person, the writer must deal with the flack now aimed at her. Maybe it’s justified but it shouldn’t have happened. She shouldn’t have to go through this.

Despite the poor writing there is a hint in the review that the writer had a unique concept. It doesn’t sound like one that would interest me but it happens.  A story can be good but the writing poor. The writing can be good but the story poor. If I look back at what I produced when I first put pen to paper (and back then those were the only tools I had at my disposal, but that’s another blog right there), I was a poor writer. However, reading my long ago work I can see I was always a storyteller. With the right nurturing and guidance many poor writers can achieve their potential so I will not aim a personal attack at this unfortunate person. I can’t, however, call her a writer. She hasn’t been given the opportunity. As brutal as a rejection can be, sometimes honesty can be more helpful than politeness. If I were an editor and came across a story which I believed had a hint of talent, I would advise that person to go away, learn how to write, do a course if need be, and then try again. One major mistake many amateur writers make is that they don’t study the books they read. They have little concept of punctuation or grammar, or how to plot stories. Can someone be taught to write? I would say no, BUT one can be taught the mechanics. The storytelling is something more instinctual.

Alas, it’s instances such as this that lead to one bad apple spoiling it for the rest. Some may not know that epublishing has always carried a certain stigma, a bad reputation. Some liken it to little more than vanity press (companies who will publish anything at the writer’s expense and reap profits for doing no work) and it’s a valid argument. It’s valid because like any industry there are those who jumped on the bandwagon. They opened their doors with little intention of being much more than a vanity publisher, or they opened with the right intentions but no business practices behind them. Some were and are run by authors and that’s fine. Authors and editors have run small press for years and produced excellent work and launched many famous careers. Stephen King started in small press and even wrote horror stories for porn magazines.

The trouble arises when anyone opens a press with the mistaken belief it will be ‘easy’, that it won’t be as difficult — even more difficult — than running a normal business. Many were opportunistic, and it’s the good publishers and writers who suffer.

I’m not commenting on this publisher and cannot even take a guess as to their reasons for letting this work go to press. It only harms their business. I calmly crossed them off my list of possibles. I’m sorry if there is anyone out there that has had a great experience with them. If that’s the case, speak up in their defence. Let someone come forward to explain why such a poorly edited work made it into the public domain.

Epublishers aren’t the only ones to blame. Poor books by larger presses make it to print so ‘bad books’ aren’t restricted to digital formats by any means. Sometimes what constitutes a bad book is open to interpretation. It’s a lamentable fact that gives publishing a bad name, it gives certain genres a bad name, and it demoralises the writers. I am pleased to say there ARE good epublishers out there, every bit as dedicated as some who specialise in print. Many print publishers now border that gap having eased into the new technology. The sad truth behind epublishing was that to entice a readership to embracing this original reading material, they had to offer something different. This was the reason for the influx of erotic romance publishers. In time greater opportunities came about for those in epublishing. In the early days I didn’t want to be one of those who said CDs would never take off to replace records, though vinyl has made a modest comeback and it appears printed books are regaining their popularity. Still, I’ve always believed people should have a choice and I’m happy to hear of people reading no matter what the format.

I have always tried to choose my publishers with care. Does that mean I’ve loved every book ever produced by the companies I write for? No it doesn’t, just as I may not love every book put out by even my favourite authors. You can’t please everyone all the time, or even try to, but try to do the best job possible and scrutinise your work. I cannot guarantee my work will never go out without a typo, but I’ve spotted many a typo in books by greater authors than I ever hope to be; I detest seeing errors in any book of mine and always do my utmost not to write substandard. I don’t expect everyone to love everything I write. I write too varied for that to be possible. I just try to tell a great story and check and check and check my work until it drives me to distraction in the right way. I will always do my best not to hand over a bad apple. Please please please don’t throw away a whole barrel. There are genuine publishers out there and there are some fine authors in unexpected places.

Update April 2018

OUT AND ABOUT:
Got out to a knitting and wool fest, amazed by the number of people there but worth going if only to see the giant knitted dragon — not one I think I can add to my collection.

TELEVISION:
Dirk Gently has to be one of the strangest programmes we’ve watched but as they’re based on books by Douglas Adams, we had to look. He didn’t write as much as his success would have many believe and now, I must check out the books.

The last season of Game of Thrones began and we’re having to keep avoiding spoilers.

READING:
The Searching Dead, Ramsey Campbell
First in a trilogy I’m working my way through. More of a slower pace than many modern day novels plus the protagonist is a teenager, unusual in a horror story though some may like to call this more supernatural than horror. It’s certainly not horrific, more creepy with some touches of sadness — the older generations do not seem to fair well, from Mrs Norris missing her deceased husband, to Mr Noble’s father and his dark memories of war. While I would have liked to discover more about the strange haunting presences (can’t say more without giving too much away), this is the foundation for a hoped-for deeper story. The setting makes for a nostalgic read, both good and bad, and I particularly felt the helplessness of being young and having no one believe or even listen to fears unfounded or otherwise.

Born to the Dark, Ramsey Campbell
In the best sense this book is an exercise in frustration. Carrying on the story begun in The Searching Dead but now several years in the future when the protagonist is now an adult encountering the strange Christian Noble again. The threat, now largely aimed at his son, Dom is still unable to shake off the vexation of having no one believe him, least of all his wife. With more of insight to the great overall peril, a deeper mystery dragging Dom and his family and his friends into an impossible darkness…I hope the third book in this trilogy has the payoff the series deserves.

The Way of the Worm, Ramsey Campbell

First, I have to draw attention to the cover on this one. The more one delves into the story the more I realised how well suited the cover design is. The eyes grew creepier the more I progressed with the plot. Where the first of this trilogy portrayed the protagonist, Dominic Sheldrake, as a teenage, the second an adult, the third instalment enters his twilight years, which reflects the semidarkness that has plagued his life. His son is now an adult, but this only exacerbates both Dominic’s fears and the frustration the reader shares. The result convenes on a colossal scale and, if any parts of the tale come across as vague, or dreamlike, or illusory this fits with the tale we’ve followed, the half-truths and semi-falsehoods Dominic continues to battle. This reads as a modern Lovecraftian tale of a warped universe and fragile dimensions of tenuous existence. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the disquieting subtle horror.

The Silence, Tim Lebbon
An excellent apocalyptic thriller, well plotted and disturbing, tugging the heartstrings in all the right places. The simple writing does nothing to reduce the tension but makes this accessible for most ages from young adult to adult in part because the story is told by two main protagonists, father and daughter. The Netflix film based on the book does not do the book any justice.

WRITING:

Finished editing Cosmic but needs a lot more work if I’m ever to salvage it. Undecided as of this moment. Edited more short work.

You’d have to spare 10 minutes for this but this video dealing with information for writers on promotion goes a long way to explain what it takes to be successful these days. Though aimed at self-publishing the same applies for any writer.

Creativity vs Business

When my first novel came out, one of my first ‘reviews’ was a less than warm with approval private message from a reader. This person claimed the book wasn’t bad for a first novel —  the best thing the reviewer said. I’ve since discovered that such communications are not unknown, although I and many authors wonder why a reader wants to contact an author to give them a bad day.

Fine, any number of books make even me grind my teeth. They deserve a few of the negative reviews which stop others wasting their money because it’s an amateur author and/or amateur publisher. Saying that, I admit not all of my past writing has been exemplary but I wrote according to demand and learned. My writing has seen vast improvements mostly from various editing experiences. An equal number of those books are in mainstream publishing and on bestseller lists. It’s a grey area one might say. Therefore, most books I dislike I choose not to review — I realise  the story may not suit me but someone else may enjoy it immensely. I wouldn’t contact an author with anything but praise or a sensible comment. Even constructive critique (critique not criticism — a subtle but important distinction) can be subjective and questionable. It’s all ‘opinion’.

I also accept the book isn’t ‘my’ book. There’s no point writing to an author saying one doesn’t like how the book ended. If a reader only likes books with happy endings, there’s no point to rile against every book that doesn’t have one. Better to read with more care, or write the books one prefers to read. One thing I love J.K.Rowling said was she’s not taking dictation.  The work is the author’s vision, not the reader’s.

Or is it?

There were changes to my first novel. Some occurred because the publisher wanted a series from an envisioned one-off novel. I’m not complaining. I loved my characters and we’ve had a long and happy relationship. Some changes I wasn’t so sure of, but they were small and we compromised. Other changes didn’t happen, but with hindsight I would love to re-work the stories one day. The fact remains when a reader reviews a book they’re not only judging the work of the author, but often an entire team of people the author has worked with. I found that first ‘review’ frustrating, not because the reader didn’t relish my story (it was MY story, not hers and I still feel much of the problem was the reader wanted more sexual content) but because some things the reader complained of weren’t down to me. Sometimes, the failure (or success) of a book isn’t down to one person.

A team of people have looked over the manuscript and the synopsis and decided whether they want to handle a story before it ever gains acceptance. Then the writer will work with an editor, and perhaps a line editor and proofers. These may give input. Their jobs are to catch weaknesses in the story, plot holes, typos, spelling and grammar errors. Even those small things can cause problems. For example, British spelling and grammar differs to that of the US (a subject for another blog). On top of all the ‘rules’ individual opinions creep in, as does house-style. I’ve had editors who want speech to be grammatically correct, when that’s one thing that shouldn’t be unless it’s for specific effect. I’ve had editors who do or don’t like contractions. Editors who wouldn’t allow me to use a perfectly acceptable piece of punctuation because the person didn’t like it.

But…but…but the book belongs to the author, doesn’t it? Shouldn’t the author decide these things, or at least negotiate? Yes, but most contracts will state the final decision lies with the publisher. When contracting a book the title may be up for change. The author may or may not get to approve cover art. The author seldom if ever owns the cover art. Once the book is out of print, be it paper or digital, often the writer can no longer display said cover art. As for the story… Fact: many publishers will let a writer know along with the offer of a contract what changes to the story the publisher wants to create a publishable book — to ‘fit’ their market. Many won’t. Often, the writer signs blind, and then waits with bated breath.

Even if the publisher specifies edits, that doesn’t guarantee an editor won’t cut lines and paragraphs, doesn’t guarantee he or she won’t cut whole chapters. Sometimes, the writer can complain and negotiate. This should involve give and take on both sides…but, remember, the publisher has final decision. With or without previous agreement they can make huge changes to books. If the publisher decides a chapter needs to go, whether they’ve forewarned the author, the chapter goes. If they want an additional character or one removed or altered, then it happens.

Saying that, any ‘good’ publisher will do its best to negotiate and compromise. They will explain why they feel the book needs the changes. Often, the reasons make sense. It’s painful for an author to have someone point out a weak spot in a work, but if the editor can support the argument, the author can grumble (quietly) and then yield to good sense. Sometimes the author cannot see or doesn’t agree with those reasons. I’ve had edits made to books that may best serve the publisher’s market, but don’t serve my intention behind the story. This is where creativity and business clash.

The writer wants to create. The publisher wants to sell. So does the writer, but the story is all important to the writer unless they are writing purely for commercial reasons. A publisher will follow the market trends, see what sells best, and follow those leads, accepting and altering work to gain the most sales. This is often why many manuscripts get rejected, regardless of the writer’s brilliance. A writer also needs good timing. There’s no point writing a zombie novel when vampires are all popular and vice versa. Some books must await the right time and market. Sometimes a perfect market doesn’t exist, and it’s a case of tweaking a story to fit one that does.

It’s in the best interests of the writer to get in writing an indication of what edits the story will undergo before signing a contract. It’s in the best interests of the publisher to provide these. A publisher is nothing without its writers, and should a writer have a bad experience the publisher can guarantee to receive no more works from that source. Some publishers don’t care — there are plenty of people out there who want to write — but in this era of the internet and information exchange bad reputations can stick.

Giving Up

Some days I don’t want to write. Not a day off, but to GIVE UP the writing. I know I’m not the only author to feel this way. I’ve discussed it with others and we agree writers can sometimes ‘beat themselves up’ too much. There are days when a writer feels he or she isn’t writing enough and is not a writer at all, maybe because it’s easy to feel it’s impossible to get enough down on paper (or on the screen) in a day, or owing to a thousand other reasons.

Some days rejection causes this mood. Some days it’s self-doubt. Occasionally it’s stress, other things in life demanding attention. Or the sun is shining, and the temptation exists to be out and about, preferring to read a book instead of writing one. Or the writer may wish to talk to a friend, listen to music, watch a film, go to the gym, for a walk, cook the dinner. To do something, ANYTHING, other than stare at a blank white space seeking to fill it with words.

Words. I live with words. There’s seldom ever a silent moment of peace in my head. When I’m not writing I’m struggling to find time to read so if I’m not with friends or doing several demanding chores, I spend my time with WORDS, so many words, enough to drive a person crazy.

Sometimes rejection or a bad review makes an author throw up their hands, cause them to wonder why they do this. Few ever see true monetary rewards. Financial success does and can happen but most writers need a day job. Most need to hit the bestseller lists to make the true writing dream come true, and even then they have deadlines. That doesn’t mean those who need to subsidise their writing or use their writing to subsidise their life are failures.

It’s difficult to get published these days, even more so than at other times in history in some ways. Writers compete with music and movies, but also computer games and the internet, even social media such as Facebook. Any acceptance is a reason for celebration but there will be days, even when things are going well, when a writer wonders why they do this. Life could be quieter, simpler, more ‘fun’ if they could just turn their back on this insidious NEED to write. It’s infectious for many, the need to write… yet that’s often the difference between someone who IS an actual writer and a person who dreams of writing.

Sometimes wanting to walk away comes down to having too many things on the go at once. A writer can feel unsatisfied. I once feared a market I wrote for would outgrow me, another would change in a way that didn‘t suit me. It’s why I’ve periodically followed opportunity rather than intent, though many reasons exist why writers have to do this. Other works I write to fulfil another part of me.

Here’s the hideous and wonderful thing. Writers need to be open to possibilities. For me I find one style of writing, one genre, too restraining. There have been moments when I’ve too many things on the go, things I ‘need’ to work on, things I ‘want’ to work on, things lined up, not enough time off and too other demands sitting on the sidelines. I know writers who might have considered my list meagre, and I admit to a little envy to those who are prolific and still manage a life. I can’t always do so, and the reason varies. Workload, health, emotional drive — all these things and more have an impact. The new writer may believe they can write when inspiration strikes but the ‘business’ of writing doesn’t allow for that. Long gone are the days when a novel once a year is the normal expectation of most novelists.

Everyone needs time for themselves. To curl up with a book, to snuggle with someone important. As wonderful as being a writer can be, there’s always the risk of looking around one day and wondering what happened to life, when did it all rush by, and where did it all vanish? Everyone risks this, creative people more so. Writing like everything requires a balance. I’ve yet to find mine and it won’t surprise me if I never do. If you want to be a writer, don’t assume the pressures of life, of finding time, vanish. Spare time becomes a nostalgic memory, and, for a few, the desire to stop haunting.