Willingness to Learn

If you are not willing to learn, no one can help you.

If you are determined to learn, no one can stop you.

~ Unknown

For entirely too long, I have allowed myself to quit learning, quit innovating. And not surprisingly, creativity took a great blow, and it’s been a nightmare trying to formulate new ideas. I kept locking myself in what had come before, and then tried to shove myself forward.

No longer. I will let go of past frustrations, grudges, and disappointments. Instead I will grab ahold of the opportunities and promises of today and tomorrow. The only cure for living in the past is to move. The past cannot be helped. Only the future can still be molded.

Yeah, I know that sounds like a bumper sticker or obvious advice from the latest self-help book. Nevertheless, it is a fact that demands my attention. And I will do my best to adhere to it.

Never stop learning. Never pause to tell yourself you no longer have need for listening to others. Work tirelessly, vigilantly, to keep growing, to keep seeing new things. Allow yourself to be surprised by joy, delighted by greatness, and thrilled by the mystery of what lies beyond the next door.

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K.M. Weiland on Climax and Character

K.M. Weiland is a novelist and blogger who has devoted tremendous effort and time to helping her fellow writers develop their own stories, especially through her site (on the blogroll to the right of this post), and through a series of helpful videos on Youtube.

This video’s topic is especially relevant to me, because I have a much easier time starting a compelling story than finishing it satisfactorily. I think her latest advice will serve me well, and maybe it will help you, too. There are over a hundred videos she has done, just on the topic of fiction writing, and I think I’ve seen about half of them. If you want some friendly advice on improving your writing, go check out her blog and Youtube channel. I think you’ll like what she has to say.

Regarding Intentions

Photo courtesy of psychicdonut.com

One of the classic but seldom mentioned quirks of human nature is that we can’t read the intentions or thoughts of others, yet expect those same people to perfectly understand every nuance and twist of whatever we mean to say or do. I am probably ten times more guilty of this than you are, but it affects everyone to one degree or another. We expect to be understood, then make up our minds about someone regarding their words and deeds.

My latest example of this double standard involves another writer, who has published a series of novels. He is understandably frustrated that a number of reviewers are calling the series “Christian fiction,” even though he wanted it to be accessible to non-religious people. Given how it’s normally just Christians who read books with that label, this would be a legitimate gripe…if he hadn’t let it get published under the “Christian” section of a large publishing house. In his dissertation-length explanation to someone else who pointed out the reason why his books are being called religious, his best excuse is that he and the publisher intended to give readers a book that all people, Christian and otherwise, could appreciate. But we all know what the road to Hell is paved with.

Obviously there is that whole “splinter in your neighbor’s eye, a plank in your own” situation to look out for. I fell into the same trap when I developed a harsh and glowering attitude toward him, thinking Well, maybe he should realize that others won’t care about his intentions if the label turns them away from his books! What an idiot. Why didn’t he just go with another publisher? Of course, this isn’t a very charitable thought to have about another human being. And I should realize more often that I can’t read minds, and I never know the whole situation. Maybe something else happened that I didn’t know of — his agent zealously recommending he go with that publisher, a close friend he had in the publishing house wanting to print his work, or an affection he might have had toward the company. Since I don’t know, I should shut up and give this writer the benefit of the doubt.

There isn’t much advice or wisdom I can offer to you here. I still have to learn to (1 not read too much into someone else’s situation, and (2 not get too frustrated when someone misinterprets something I did or said. If they misunderstood me, I can answer them graciously and humbly, or I can shrug it off entirely and keep going. A harsh/lengthy/scathing response is unwarranted, in any case. The best I can do on my side of the fence is try to say and do exactly what I intend the first time, and hope that not too many people will draw the wrong conclusion. And if they do, it’s not the end of the world. Normally you’ll have an easier time becoming a millionaire than you will convincingly explaining “what you really intended” after-the-fact.

Distracted? Hire an Editor.

He's quite the motivational speaker, isn't he?

I hope you all can forgive my absence for the past week and a half. Things have been…busy.

Well, after a very intense week of revisions, I am happy to report that the working draft of the novel has been shipped off to an editor I hired, and I will be relaxing a couple of days before the Pikes Peak Writers Conference. This is just the first step, mind you; the edits and revisions have only begun. But at least the process has started.

A few words of advice to fellow writers. I don’t know how helpful they will be. They’re just bits of wisdom I picked up along the way. Or bits of incredibly obvious things I somehow had trouble remembering, as the case may be.

1. Don’t rely on a diet of coffee and Pop Tarts to get you through a week of intense writing. It’s quick energy, but you feel awful afterward, in soul and body alike. Repeated jolts of caffeine and sugar mean there are plenty of crashes, too. And the human body simply is not equipped to run a week-long gauntlet of that kind of stress. Eat healthy when you’re writing.

2. Personal hygiene keeps you in a good mood when you’re writing (I learned this mostly in a negative way, living as a slob for the revision process). Seriously, brush your teeth and take showers at bare minimum.

3. “Go write” means “Get off of Facebook and Youtube and write the freaking book!” It does not mean you get to surf for seven hours that could be spent working on your masterpiece. Generally, if you have set aside time for writing, and yet your fingers aren’t typing prose and dialogue to progress plot and character, you are distracted.

4. Per the title of this blog post, if you are finding yourself hopelessly distracted and can’t seem to get focused on the work, it helps to hire a freelance editor and arrange certain deadlines, such as “send me the first chapter by the end of the month.” Or at least grab some friends who want to read your stuff, and tell them to expect it by a certain time. This approach worked motivational miracles for me; I know for a fact that I’d still be puttering around with 2/3 of a working draft without having someone like Bree Ervin waiting for the manuscript.

Hope some of that helps if you’ve got a writing project. Catch you all later, everyone!

Why I Picked Traditional Publishing, part II

Self-publishing is great for those who are willing to pay out of their pockets to hire editors, cover artists, print-on-demand services for anyone who orders a hard copy of the book, etc. And that is no small task. There are a lot of balls to juggle when you self-publish that take time away from actual writing. All the marketing, formatting, financial records, and production falls into your lap. Even if you hire people to help, you’re still the boss. And some writers are great at handling challenges like that, ready and willing to do that extra work. To them I say bravo.

But that’s not for every writer. Writers are anything but uniform, and that goes for the challenges they’re willing to tackle. Self-publishing can be a tragedy for someone who might have done great with a traditional publisher, if they fall apart trying to hold up their own island by themselves. There is still a need for traditional publishers, because not all writers can carry that burden. The real tragedy is that self-publishing makes it very hard to be respected in that old-fashioned world. If you self-publish, then decide that traditional might be the next step…well, let’s just say there are few tales (in this industry) of prodigal sons who were lovingly accepted back “into the family.”

And as far as my own fiction writing goes, I know that the best chance to serve a reader lies with the experienced men and women of a traditional publishing house.

My other reasons for sticking with traditional publishing for as long as possible are legion. I’ll do my best to express them here, hopefully giving you food for thought. Again, I’m not knocking self-publishing, and I’m not saying my road is the best one for you. It’s up to you to decide whether to embark on the adventure of self-pubbing, or to say “there’s no school like the old school” and enter the imperiling realm of agents, editors, copyeditors, contracts, and royalty checks.

1. I have already been published traditionally. My work went public, even with critical and often painful editorial guidelines breathing down my neck (of course, my only credit so far has been a short story and a couple of articles, but it still counts). Having any street cred at all will go a long way to get a publishing house to pay attention to you. Some houses are more mindful of it than others, but the point is, it helps.

2. I am willing to hunt for a literary agent, and keep submitting queries and proposals until I snag one who will stand up for my novels.

3. I am willing to spend the time and effort to shape up a proper contract with a publisher, with hefty doses of advice from said agent.

4. If I get a contract I don’t like, I don’t need to sign it. Agents and publishers expect compromise and negotiation, so if I think I’m getting a raw deal, then I have every right to ask for something better.

5. Despite what a number of self-pubbing advocates say, traditional publishers are still doing marketing for their books. Granted, they expect you to get your name out there and sell the book through blogs, social media, and book signings. And they do rely more on that kind of marketing than they used to. But they don’t abandon you to the sharks; they still take care of putting ads in magazines, and send review copies to critics and review journals like Publishers Weekly and Library Journal. Those review copies are important, especially if your book gets a favorable review.

6. Legitimate publishing houses pay for the editing, formatting, cover art, printing of the first hard copies, and everything else a self-publisher needs to pay for out of their own pocket. I’d rather just write the book, and trust them to take care of those other things for me.

Of course, with editing and my pitch appointment still in the future, it’s easier for me to be optimistic about going with a traditional publisher. I haven’t yet had my heart ripped out and seen my novel disregarded. But when April comes…we shall see. We shall see indeed. And I’m willing to risk a year or two of hunting for agents or publishers. I’m willing to risk poor reviews before the book’s release. I’m willing to risk my career on the decisions of an editor-in-chief deciding whether to buy my books. I don’t trust myself to juggle all the things a self-publisher needs to juggle. And I’m still willing to trust people who, if they bought my novels, would have a vested interest in my success.

Whatever path you choose for your writing, may you be blessed and joyful on your journey.