On Giving Up

Writers have a social media community. We’re all friends with other writers, and we all encourage each other with daily mantras like “The world needs your novel,” and “You have a unique voice,” and “Harry Potter was rejected 37 times.”

I’ve been writing for eight years or so, and the last year I’ve also had a jazz group for girls. I’ve been posting about the lack of women in jazz, and while some people seem as concerned about the situation as I am, my class has not grown, and I’ve had few volunteers to help me teach. I have only sold a handful of novels despite regular social media posts (and social ones, too, not just sales pitches) and today my proposal for a grant for the jazz class was rejected.

It turns out the world does not need my novels. People keep saying “Write because you love it!” and the truth is that I don’t love it anymore. I’m tired of writing to myself. I don’t care what anyone says, we don’t write for ourselves. We write because we want to touch others or to be known as a great writer, or at least to make a damned dollar. I have spent thousands and thousands of hours writing and reading about writing, and for what?

I’m done. I’m done writing, and I’m done sharing people’s books who do not share mine, and I’m done thinking “This contest win will convince people to buy a book!” And while I’m keeping my jazz class until it dwindles to nothing, I’m not writing any more grants or passing out any more flyers. I’m not asking for any more volunteers, and I’m not making any more videos about how I hate the blues scale. The world does not need my novel, or it would shell out 99 cents. Apparently my contribution to this world is not the next great novel, and that’s okay.

And apparently the world does not need my jazz instruction either.

I’m done.

For now.

Writing the Denouement

The first few novellas I attempted to write had abrupt endings. Apparently I thought that a reader who was left with a moment of high drama or a new concept to chew on would close my book (or turn off their Kindle) and spend the next 24 hours mulling over the new and amazing ideas I’d sparked with my magnificent story.

Then I realized one of the reasons for the denouement. For the purposes of this blog, we’ll define denouement as everything that happens after the climax. At least for modern readers, life moves too fast for them to close a book, close their eyes, and let their thoughts roam. They are called to their text messages or chauffeuring their kid to karate class. After a reader finds out what happened, and the story is all wrapped up, they need time to digest the story. And they will take the time if there are more words for them to look at.

My thought, and this may change with more experience of course, is that it hardly matters what happens during the denouement. In fact, I think as little as possible should be introduced to the reader at this time. Vocabulary should be chosen purposefully to foster a general feeling, but mostly you are providing time for your readers to have their own thoughts about your characters, and indeed, their own lives.

I’m trying to teach myself, here. Everything I write is too short. So let’s do an assignment together. Find three of your favorite novels. Find the moment when the climactic action is over, and count how many pages are left. How does this number compare to the total page count of the book? What does the author say during the denouement? Tell me your findings in the comments.

On Writer’s Block

One of the questions that comes up most often from writers is “How do you get over writer’s block?” I’ve heard many answers to this, but here’s mine:

Writer’s block does not exist.

I’m talking here to fiction writers especially. When I worked for an SEO company and had to find a 25th thing to say about house painting or asbestos removal on a tight deadline, yes I hit a wall. There’s really only so much to say about asbestos and its natural state and its uses and its dangers and its removal.

But when it comes to writing fiction, I truly believe that there is no such thing as writer’s block. So let’s talk about two situations in which you might think “I have writer’s block.”

When You’re Starting a New Project

Two issues you might have before starting a project are too many ideas and not enough ideas. With too many ideas, you might be afraid you won’t start “the right one.” It’s not like deciding to have a baby, friends. If you get more excited about another one in a few days, you can switch. Flip a coin. You don’t have writer’s block.

If you have no ideas, what works for me is watching a super creative movie at night (some suggestions are Ben Stiller’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and the 2014 version of The Little Prince) and then letting my mind wander as I’m lying in bed. Your creativity is not gone, you are stifling it. Don’t think “what will work for a plot” (unless that’s what works for you), let your mind wander. What is the most fantastic thing that your subconscious mind wants to take you to?

By the way, it’s okay to be in this stage where you let the thoughts swirl around in your brain. That’s not writer’s block, that’s part of writing.

In the Middle of a Book

Maybe your “writer’s block” happened in mid book. You just don’t know what to write next. Again I say, this is not writer’s block. This is part of writing. You are figuring out what to write next. What you write next will affect countless parts of your storyline later in the book, and your brain is doing an amazing job sorting all that out. It’s probably figuring out plot and character points that you aren’t even consciously aware of. You are not blocked, you are thinking.

Sometimes this part of writing might involve getting a fellow writer’s input. Sometimes it might involve more researching online about something your character is interested in—be it astronomy or feng shui—than actual writing time.

If you’ve gone a month or so with no perceptible progress, it might be time to either work on something else for a while or, as I do, force yourself to write something even if it’s bad. I have almost never had to delete what I’ve forced myself to write. It usually gets me going again and I’m back on track.

Say it with me. Writer’s block does not exist.

Happy writing!

M.L. Millard

 

 

 

Writing Groups: Better Than Astroturfing

I’m probably the last person in the world to find out about the social media term “astroturfing.” Basically, it means a fake grassroots campaign. In the writer world, it would mean paying a company to put fake comments, likes, and reviews on your page from multiple accounts.

I belong to Redwood Writers, a 300-member branch of the California Writers Club. Our motto is “Writers Helping Writers,” and true to our motto, we have a free newsletter where members can make announcements, monthly meetings with informative speakers, critique groups, contests, and more. Everyone is supportive, and the super successful members are generous with their ideas and encouragement.

But I think one thing we could be doing to help each other more is following each other on Facebook and Twitter and liking each other’s posts. I realize that we don’t want to share too much or our friends will get tired of it and unfollow us. But it only takes a second to hit “like” and maybe five seconds to say, “This book looks so good,” or “Can’t wait to read this.” More likes and comments make us look more attractive to the non-writer audience.

We’re always asking each other for Amazon reviews, and reviews are golden but it takes a lot of time and sometimes money to read a book and write a review. Social media astroturfing (though it’s not really astroturfing because our support is real) is something we can do for each other so easily. And it’s all legal and legit!

My Twitter handle is @MLMillardauthor. If you leave your handle in the comments, I promise to follow you and give you at least a “like” when you come across my screen.

Much love,

M.L. Millard

Writing and Self Publishing a Book in 5 Difficult Steps

Recently I saw a blog about publishing that had the phrase “easy steps” in the title. I didn’t read it, but I can only assume that somewhere in there the writer admitted that “easy” was a joke.

No matter how you break them into small steps, very few parts of writing and publishing a book are easy. Here are the five essential, difficult steps.

1. Read The Art of Fiction by John Gardner and writing books by Sol Stein.

You will have less editing to do later if you read these books first. Sol Stein writes very clearly about tagging (he said, she said), plotting, and other nuts and bolts technique, and John Gardner talks about the deepest questions of character and storytelling. One thing that sticks with me from The Art of Fiction is to remember that some of your readers might be contemplating suicide, and you shouldn’t push them toward it.

There are thousands of writing books that you don’t need to bother with if you read these two. Okay, this step was relatively easy, but the rest are difficult.

2. Write.

Duh. I would tell you how to write, but I don’t have to because you already did step one. Right?

3. Find a critique group.

How can I say this delicately? Actually, I don’t have to. You do. Find a way to delicately decline being in writing groups with members who write terribly or sit around and complain more than they critique. The other members of my group were too weak to do so, and here I am in a group of people who are all more experienced than me. Ha ha.

4. Listen to your critique group.

They are probably right. Especially if you did step 3 properly. If you didn’t do step 3 properly, you’ll be left wondering whether to make the changes they suggest. I rarely have to say, “No, I’m sure it’s right,” because my group rocks. It’s always difficult to accept critique, but it won’t be as difficult with a good group. This step is otherwise known as “rewrite,” but nobody likes to hear that word.

5. Put your book on CreateSpace. (It’s free!)

Some people would pay to get their book edited before putting it on CreateSpace. That’s a great idea, but I didn’t have the money. Some people hire a cover artist. Also a great idea, and I also didn’t have the money. (I did use a very generous photographer friend for a couple of my covers.) So do those things if you want, and then take advantage of the free help from the CreateSpace staff to get your book formatted and up for sale. Three tips for formatting the paperback version: Use mirror margins, use page breaks at the end of a chapter, and do whatever you need to do with font size, margins, and blank pages in order to get your book over 131 pages. If it’s under 131, you can’t put writing on the spine and bookstores won’t sell it.

Happy writing! I have spent several years fine tuning this list. Please share if you found it helpful!

M.L. Millard

 

Do You Have to Know Someone to Get Published?

If you’re a novelist who doesn’t “know someone” in the publishing business, there’s going to be a moment when you feel defeated. You’ll read articles about “how I got published” that all involve the author knowing someone, you’ll see celebrities publish children’s books that are not as good as the unpublished books your critique partners have written, and you’ll start to think that there’s no way you can make it.

I know. I’ve been there. But here are three thoughts to cheer you up.

1. You Might Know Someone Who Knows Someone

I’d been writing quite a while when my mom mentioned my manuscript to her friend. Her friend happened to have a daughter who had a friend who was an agent in New York. I thought there was no way that someone that distantly related to me would offer to read my manuscript, but I was wrong! One of these days, someone you know might remember that they know someone.

2. You Might Not Know Anyone Yet

Enter contests and join writing clubs. You might not know anyone yet, but you might meet someone. I have met an agent and a publisher through contests and another publisher at a write-in. I mean, I’ve met even more agents and publishers than that, but these three actually led to something. Get out there! You never know!

3. You Are Someone

With self publishing, it’s possible that the only person you really need to know is yourself. Do some Google searching on how to market your book, and pop that sucker up on Amazon. You don’t even need to have money. With an investment of a little time, you can learn to format your own CreateSpace book and do quite a bit of free advertising with Twitter, blog tours, calling local bookstores, etc.

You might notice that I didn’t mention the possibility of sending queries to agents and publishers without knowing them. I know this works for some people but I don’t have much personal success with it. I wrote about the three things that have actually happened for me. I hope these three things will boost your spirits. You can do it, Writers! I believe in you!

Give Your Friend’s Self-published Book a Shot

I first met Jeanne Jusaitis when I joined my writing critique group several years ago. She had self published a young adult fantasy-adventure-magical-realism-type novel called Journey to Anderswelt. I thought the storyline sounded cool, but I’m not sure I was quite as impressed as if it had been traditionally published.

After I’d known Jeanne for a while, she told me that her book had been under consideration by a legit publishing house, but that the company changed owners and the new owner decided to nix all young adult projects. Meanwhile, she’d spent a good deal of time working with one of the publishing house’s editors. She decided, I suppose, that life was too short to start the whole process over again, and she self published her book.

The longer I hung around Redwood Writers, a 300-member writers’ group, the more of these stories I heard. Books held up for months or years by a publishing company that got bought out or chose to go another direction. The authors finally chose to self publish, and their books were high quality—many of them high enough quality to have been accepted by a traditional publisher. And the ones who did complete the traditional publishing feat were often disappointed with the way they were treated by (especially the larger) publishing houses and chose to self publish their next book. Slowly my mind was changed about self publishing.

But the problem is, buyers’ minds have not changed. I can’t blame them, because I used to feel the same way before going to writing presentation after writing presentation. Another problem, I think, is that we can’t conceive of someone we know personally being anything but an amateur writer. I get far more compliments on my writing from people who don’t know me personally than from friends. Maybe my friends hear my nasally voice when they read my words. Maybe they can’t not picture my bad posture or my political Facebook posts.

I recently met someone who works for a publishing company, and she agreed to read a manuscript of mine that I never self published because I couldn’t figure out what to use for cover art. I couldn’t help but think that maybe if it gets accepted, my friends will see me as a real writer. The thing is, my essays and articles have been published by other people. I am a real writer. An agent said that my book was well-written and she loved the theme. She would have accepted it if it had “a sweeping romance.” (Yes, I’m still hung up on that.) I’ll bet you can think of a few traditionally published authors that you think are worse than me! And his or her first edition probably had just as many typos as my books.

So why not give your friend’s self-published book a shot? You will make his or her day. Most people who publish their own books first hire a content editor and then a line editor. Okay, not me, but most people. They are usually quality products. Maybe the author didn’t want to spend years writing to publishers, or maybe the publishers “loved the book but didn’t have space for a book in that genre at the moment.” I’m not even thinking of myself. I know that all my friends have the same lament, and I know that you have a friend who’s always talking about her book. Why not make her day? Why not give him a chance? Why not try self-published!