Archive for the ‘Passion for Writing’ Category

Earlier today I read a question on a message board for writers, the Writer’s Cafe at Kindleboards.com (one of my favorite online haunts). The name of the thread was “Personal Glory or Commercial Success?” and the first post asks this:

Ideally, we’d like to be able to write books that are both meaningful to us as well as popular in the consumer market.  Realistically though, it’s extremely uncommon to have both.  If you had to choose, would you rather write for personal fulfillment even if it doesn’t attract much in the way of sales or write what will more likely appeal to the masses and give you some amount of decent profit?

Definitely both.

But I’ve come to a soul-searching moment with my book. Mine is at a point now where I think it’s finally in good enough shape to publish it, after working on the book for 21 months. If my top goal was to make money, I’d probably release it now and get to work writing another one so that I could try to have a second release before the holidays.

But I’ve found I literally can’t do that. I’m still poring over the book, making every detail as good as I can possibly make it. I’m trying to root out every weak instance of ‘telling’ in the cases where telling isn’t the best choice, and trying to make every sentence concise and clear. I want every piece of dialogue to ring true, and every character to work and feel real. I want every part of the story to be logical and to function with maximum emotional impact. These are some of the goals, anyway. I’m doing the best I can with them.

By doing all this, instead of releasing my book in May like I’d hoped to, I might not be able to release the novel until June at the earliest and probably August at the latest (I’ll guess July). And I know this might cost me some money because it’s slowing down my current and future release schedule (or maybe make me more money in the long run–it’s hard to say).

But when I’ve looked really deeply at it, I’ve decided that if people are going to spend some money on my book and, more importantly, hours of their lives reading it, I can’t feel good about that unless I know that I’ve given everyone my very best effort. That’s what I want from any author I read, so that’s what I have to give.

I’ve realized that my #1 goal, literally, is to write the very best book that I can, however long that takes, still absolutely with an eye toward commercial success–but regardless of whether my release schedule helps or hurts me in terms of generating an income from writing. I’m living off some of my savings to do this, but in the end, I want to know that I gave everyone the very best I had to give, and I think that’s worth more to me than commercial success. Then again, maybe this is the best way to have longterm commercial success. But I’m okay with or without commercial success as long as I know that I didn’t cut any corners just to make more money. That’s not saying anything about anyone who has that goal–it’s just not my top goal.

I want some people who read my book to feel like it’s one of the best reading experiences they’ve ever had. I want my book to be one that stays with some people for years, one that they want to re-read some day. Even if it’s just a small percentage of people that feel that way, that’s what I value most, the qualitative experience that those readers might have, not the numbers in my bank account.

Writing this book (and then hopefully more, similar books) is literally my top personal (selfish) desire, for my life. After this, my top goals are to be the best dad and husband I can be and eventually to focus more on charitable projects. This is why the writing of the book is more important to me than the money. This is just how I feel. I’m not comparing or contrasting myself to anyone else, and I know I’m very lucky to be in a position that allows me to approach writing this way. Then again, I’ve worked hard at other things so that I could do this some day.

Thanks for asking a great question. Sorry if I gave you more than you bargained for  😉

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Suvudu recently posted an hour-long video of Terry Brooks speaking at an Oregon library. Suvudu titled their post: “Terry Brooks – Setting as Character,” but a different part of his talk snagged my attention.

Question put to Terry Brooks: What’s your favorite of all the books you’ve written?

Terry BrooksTerry Brooks: What’s my favorite book?

The one I’m working on right now. Which is going to be the best book I’ve ever done. Which is what I tell myself with every book I write. The contract I have with readers is very simple. I will always give you my best effort. And my best effort will always be geared toward saying that this book will be at least as good as the last book I wrote, if not better. You may not see it that way when I get done, but that’s the goal.

Because I’ve read too many writers, and I’m sure you can speak to this too, who write four or five really good books and then suddenly they take a vacation. And you think, what’s this? I just spend $25 on this book that looks like some kind of retread or half an effort. It’s irritating.

Or, as some of my favorite writers do, they write 300 really good pages and then they write a really bad ending. Which is unforgivable–unforgivable! That’s my contract with you, though. I will never do that, and if I do you should call me on it. I don’t want to have to go into a room full of readers at any point in my life and defend myself because I didn’t put forth my best effort and I know it. I want to be able to say, “At the time I wrote that book, this is the best I could do, and I think it’s a pretty good book and this is why I think it’s a pretty good book.”

Shawn Speakman filmed the video at Terry Brooks’ request. Three cheers for Shawn and Terry!
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If you want to succeed, hang out with unsuccessful people. Er, am I remembering that right?

If you want to get somewhere, don’t ask for directions. Wait, that’s not how it goes.

If you want to master something, don’t learn from the mistakes of the masters. Hm. That just sounds wrong.

Because I don’t subscribe to the above philosophies, I’ve attended two of the Superstars Writing Seminars. I went there to hang out with some bestselling science fiction and fantasy authors to soak up their best advice about the business of writing. These events last three full days, and they’re chock full of great information.

I could never do justice to everything there is to learn from these seminars in one blog post, but here’s one thing I learned.

Successful writers don’t just write, they write their ____ off.

Brandon Sanderson writes a few books a year, making time to squeeze Wheel of Time tomes into his schedule. Kevin J. Anderson dictates his stories into a digital recorder while hiking the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. He also rents hotel rooms to get away from everyone (p.s. if my wife is reading this, I love you, Honey!) and write his ____ off. Eric Flint writes in binges that last for weeks and during those times, he is dead to the outside world.

Kevin J. Anderson says something obvious, but powerful: The top professionals in any respected field (medicine, law, you name it) WORK real, disciplined, long hours at their jobs, and then enjoy the fruits of their labor. When you have a ‘real job,’ you keep a schedule and you punch that clock. Serious writers shouldn’t expect to do any less. Kevin recently talked to the Writing Excuses guys about this very thing.

David Farland (Dave Wolverton) is also a Superstars’ presenter. In addition to hanging out with Dave at two Superstars seminars, I also attended his “Writer’s Death Camp” last November. What I’ve learned from Dave is hard to summarize in a flashy bullet point. I’ve learned from him so many fine points on the craft and business of writing, little things that can make all the difference. If you subscribe to his free Daily Kick emails, you’ll see what I mean.

A funny thing happened in one of Dave’s Daily Kick emails last week. Out of the blue, he said some exceedingly kind things about me and my work in his Daily Kick about “The Dangers of Self-Publishing.” Yep, this was a nice surprise. Now the following quote lives at the top of my ebook’s Amazon page:

“Moses is a fine writer and is deserving of success, and I think that it will follow … maybe his project will turn him into the next Amanda Hocking. Personally, I really enjoyed Moses’s work.”
–David Farland, NYT Bestselling author of The Runelords

Though this came as a surprise to me, this quote would’ve never happened had I not made a decision to hang out with some successful authors, to appreciate what they had to share with me (p.s. thanks, Dave), and to just be myself around them.

Here’s another cool thing I lucked into. At the end of the first Superstars seminar, I was hanging around the nearly empty conference room when I saw Brandon Sanderson reading the first few pages of someone’s manuscript. So I walked over to listen to the advice Brandon had for (someone who is now my friend) Joshua Essoe. Brandon asked if I had something he could read.

Uh. Yeah?

So he did. He gave me some great feedback on my first chapter, told me the story was strong enough that he’d continue reading if he was an editor, and then helped me with a technical issue I was struggling with at the time. I can’t tell you how how helpful his comments were.

Then at the second Superstars seminar, I got to sit and have dinner with Brandon and a handful of other seminar attendees. I got to pick his brain about which editors might be a good or a bad fit for me at different publishing houses, and again I learned a lot (thanks again, Brandon).

I also interviewed Brandon, Howard, and Dan from Writing Excuses at the recent conference, as well as Sherrilyn Kenyon (that interview will be up any day now at Adventures In SciFi Publishing), and I got to film a couple episodes of Writing Excuses (thanks, guys) that featured Mary Robinette Kowal and David Farland.

If there’s a takeaway from my ramblings, maybe it’s to spend time with writers you emulate, whether it’s at workshops, seminars, conferences, blogs, or even on Facebook and Twitter. Don’t do it with the mindset of getting anything from them, other than an education. Be yourself, be positive and grateful, and something–hopefully whatever you need most–will definitely rub off on you.

Oh yeah. And if you want to be a writer, write your ____ off.

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Interview with Guy Gavriel Kay, author of Under HeavenAt the World Fantasy Convention 2010, I interviewed Guy Gavriel Kay for the Adventures In SciFi Publishing podcast, a site featuring over 100 interviews with some of the biggest names in Sci-Fi and Fantasy, plus news and book reviews (I am also the News Manager there).

The interview lasted about 45 minutes, covering a wide range of topics from Tolkien to handling criticism to his latest novel Under Heaven to writing with themes in mind (and many more …).

Fans of Guy Gavriel Kay should especially enjoy it, as well as anyone interested in learning from one of the literary giants in the field of Fantasy literature.

To hear the interview on the podcast, click here: Guy Gavriel Kay Interview.

Thanks very much for the interview, Guy!
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Kevin J Anderson

Kevin J Anderson

I’m going to just copy and paste this info from the email that David Farland just sent out to his email list. Everything below was written by David Farland.

Free Conference Call with Kevin J. Anderson Tomorrow Night (Wednesday)

With over 100 books published, Kevin J. Anderson is well-known as a prolific writer. After talking with his fellow writers over the years, he has compiled a list of techniques to increase writing productivity. He’ll share these “Eleven Tips” on a special conference call, discuss his writing process, and also take questions on November 10th at 9:00 PM, Eastern Standard Time. Call 1-218-862-7200. When the system picks up, enter the code 245657.

Instructions on how to use the phone system are at http://farlandswritersgroups.com/viewtopic.php?f=101&t=1219

If there is still time at the end of the call, Kevin may also give us the inside scoop about the 2011 Superstars Writing Seminar.

We present this to you from www.FarlandsWritersGroups.com. The call is free; all you pay for is your long distance charges. Writers Groups forum members are invited to join the call up to fifteen-minutes early for a discussion and the author might come on early as well.

Please help us publicize this event by sharing it on your facebook and Twitter pages, as well as your blog and any forums you visit or writing groups to which you belong. Go the extra mile and post it at bookstores, libraries, etc. We appreciate any way you will help us spread the word. Thank you.

P.S.–David Farland will be talking to us next on November 30th at the same time, phone number and conference code number. David will be talking about writing the basic parts of the story.
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David Farland

David Farland

No matter how long you’ve been writing, the study never ends. Whether it’s the nuts and bolts of craft, how to construct a gripping story, or how to sell a manuscript, there’s always more to learn, even more so because the world publishing is rapidly changing.

It’s not easy to find an old pro who will share their best secrets and tips with you, but that’s what David Farland (the pen name of Dave Wolverton) does for free with his email service called the “Daily Kick in the Pants.” I’ve been surprised at how much I’ve learned from this free service. I knew David Farland was a respected and successful writer with decades of wisdom behind him, but I didn’t realize how invaluable some of his tips would be until I started reading his “Daily Kick.”

You can sign up for it at DavidFarland.net.

There’s also new item on David Farland’s home page (10/19/10), a free recording of a recent conference call:

David Farland’s First Authors Advisory Conference Call

Listen in on David’s first ever Authors Advisory Conference Call where Dave covers everything from world creation to adience analysis!

David Farland will also be speaking at the next Superstars Writing Seminar in Salt Lake City, UT, January 13-15, 2011. I attended the first event and loved it Here’s a blog post from Kevin J Anderson about the event. Early bird pricing is still in effect until the end of October. Tell ’em Large Mo sent ya!
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From Kevin J Anderson’s recent blog post, A Day at Work:

A few years after my first novels were published, David Brin asked me if I would collaborate with him on a short story.  At the time, David was at the height of his career, winner of numerous awards, a New York Times bestselling author, one of the most respected names in the field.  I, on the other hand, had far fewer credits.  Although we had known each other for a while, I was still surprised by the offer.  “Really?  Why would you want to collaborate with me?”

“Because I want to figure out how you can be so prolific.”

So, we plotted and worked on the story, back and forth, but it never really came together.  Finally, after about three months, David said to me, “All right, I’ve figured out how you can write so much.  It’s because …

I know, that was a low-down, dirty trick. An in-your-face, I-know-you-can’t-resist-this-link, cliff-hanger ending.

But if you want to know the rest, you’ll have to read the rest.

Check it out, then come on back.

Venture forward, only ye who fear not the dreaded semi-spoiler-beast of Golamabarthu-ki’i’:

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I don’t know about you, but this post from Kevin J Anderson brought up a mix of thoughts and feelings for me.

  1. Depressing: Could I even do that?
  2. Contemplative: Do I even want to do that?
  3. Inspiring: I want to do that!

For now, I’m going with what’s behind door number 3. I’m hoping it’s the trip to Tahiti instead of the stinkin’ farm animal (though farm animals are great, if that’s what you’re into).

What's Behind Door Number ...

Kevin J Anderson and other Sci-Fi and Fantasy writing luminaries will be offering their second Superstars Writing Seminar in Utah in January. I intend to write more about this seminar soon. I went to the first event, and I did not, in any way, get zonked.

The most advanced, approachable book I’ve read on writing is Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark. It’s divided into 50 chapters intended as 50 tools in the writer’s toolbox. Let’s look at one of those tools. I’ve expressed my own ideas in this piece, except when I explicitly paraphrase or quote Clark.

Tool 20
Choose the number of elements with a purpose in mind.
One, two, three, or four: each sends a secret message to the reader

Writers constantly choose between 1, 2, 3, and 4-or-more. How many adjectives to describe something? How many ideas in a sentence? How many sentences in a paragraph? How many sections in a chapter?

Let’s look at our four options. First up …

The Power of One

Clark gives the example: “That girl is smart.”

Here the writer gives the reader no alternative. The reader can only focus on a single thing. The power of one focuses the reader on what the writer wants him to believe.

“Tom Wolfe once told William F. Buckley Jr. that if a writer wants the reader to think something the absolute truth, the writer should render it in the shortest possible sentence. Trust me.”

When a writer is worried that readers may not believe something, the brevity of one comes in handy. Writers are liars. If you’re going to make something up and hope that others buy the lie, sometimes it pays to say it quickly and move on, leaving no time for debate. Speaking of debate …

Two. Different.

Clark gives the example: “That girl is smart and sweet.”

What just happened? To begin with, now the reader has to think and do a little more work (smart and sweet? Hmmm …). I believe this slows the reader down, which may or may not be what the writer wants at that time. Does the writer want the reader to turn the pages quickly at this point in the story? Or stop to ponder the girl’s nature? Twos are speed bumps.

The point that Clark makes is that the reader has to compare the two items. Twos clash. When I use two adjectives or adverbs together (I know, using adverbs–how scandalous! Adverbs are dangerous, but never eliminate a tool from your chest!), I normally want them to contrast with each other. “She smiled sweetly” doesn’t have the same potency as “She smiled viciously.” In this case it’s a verb and an adverb that create the two effect, because smiles are assumed to be sweet unless we’re told otherwise. “Smiling sweetly” is mostly redundant; “smiling viciously” is not.

Be careful when using two adjectives together that mean essentially the same thing. One is probably better. For example:

“It was a dark and stormy night; …” (dark and night are redundant together, as are stormy and dark).

“It was a stormy night; …” (better, sorry Snoopy)

When using two adjectives together, I often prefer ideas that contrast so they can be more interesting as a pair. For example:

“The sky was dark and twinkling.” (at least when the reader stops here, she gets an interesting contrast to contemplate).

Three: Encompasing, Magical, Whole

While the duality of two leaves the reader to resolve a battle (which is great when contrast is intended), three heals the kingdom. Three is lyrical, smooth, and elegant. Clark gives the example: “That girl is smart, sweet, and determined.”

Ahhhhh.

Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
The Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria.
Larry, Moe, and Curly.

All is well with the world. Is this why trilogies are so popular with high fantasy writers?

In my own writing, I like to use–in moderation–a good number of sentences with three verbs. “Jack grabbed the bottle, popped the cork, and downed the Champagne.” I feel a fluidity there that keeps the reader moving along, though this works best when used as a change of pace to other sentence structures. A similar option is a paragraph with three sentences: “Jack grabbed the bottle. His thumbs popped the cork. The sweet Champagne warmed him as it poured down his throat.”

Compare that to: “Jack grabbed the bottle and downed the Champagne.” Or, “Jack grabbed the bottle. The sweet Champagne warmed him as it poured down his throat.” I think a ‘two’ sentence, or a paragraph with two sentences, works optimally when there is tension and contrast like this: “Jack grabbed the bottle and then put it back down,” or “Jack grabbed the bottle. He looked at it for a few minutes and then put it back down.”

Four or More: When Will it Ever End?

Clark’s example: “That girl is smart, sweet, determined, and neurotic.” Feels different, right? Although I think in this example, there’s another effect involved. That’s a three (“smart, sweet, determined” are positive terms), contrasting with “neurotic,” so that the overall effect is something like a two wrapped up in a four.

Clark writes: “In the anti-math of writing, the number three is greater than four.” But he goes on to say that there can be a literary effect with longer lists. He gives this example from Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn:

I’m a carnival barker, an auctioneer, a downtown performance artist, a speaker in tongues, a senator drunk on filibuster.

Here’s a four-or-more example from my own writing (my book, THE BLACK GOD’S WAR, with a novella-length introduction now available for $0.89 on Amazon or free on Smashwords):

They gave rise to a percussive din: rhythmic crunching of boots, hearts pounding against metal, out breaths exploding in unison, tens of thousands racing as one, muscling to live another hour beneath the goddess’s baleful sky.

Summary

Here is Clark’s summary:

  • Use one for power.
  • Use two for comparison, contrast.
  • Use three for completeness, wholeness, roundness.
  • Use four or more to list, inventory, compile, and expand

(see what he did there?)

Skilled writers make deliberate choices to use 1, 2, 3, or 4-or-more; they also like to mix things up and use them all.

In my own fantasy world, I would’ve liked to have been a major league pitcher, choosing a unique sequence of fastballs, changeups, curves, and sliders for each batter in each situation. Instead, I get to use 1, 2, 3, and 4 creatively as a writer.

You gotta keep the readers on their toes!
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20
May

Passion for Writing: May 20th, 2010

   Posted by: Moses Siregar III Tags: , , ,

Mark Twain: “When you catch an adjective, ill it. No, I don’t mean that utterly, but kill the most of them – then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together, they give strength whenthe are wide apart. An adjective-habit, or a wordy, diffuse, or flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice.”
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From Tom Dupree, a great modern history of reading, on how women came to play increasingly more significant roles both within the publishing industry, and as readers.
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Critters.org conducted a very interesting price survey on ebooks, and what prices people think are “fair” or too high.
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On Jim C Hines’ blog, there’s an interview with a mysterious fantasy author who has decided to use a pseudonym. He talks about his decision to do so.
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Why Your Book Isn’t Selling has some decent advice about selling books, though more at a beginner’s level.
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Here’s something for both writers and non-writers: A fantastic list of 50 Things Your Customers Wish You Knew by @Sonia Simone. Some of my favorites:

1. I don’t need you to be perfect, but I do need to know I can rely on you.
5. A friendly voice on the other side of the phone [Moses: or, insert other media] means more than you can imagine.
9. I want to tell you what would make this relationship better for me. Why don’t you ever ask me?
19. I like to get little goodies no one else is getting.
20. I don’t understand how to use your Web site, but I can’t admit that because it would make me feel dumb.
28. I want to buy your product, but I need you to help me justify it to myself.
34. I have the attention span of a goldfish. Go too long without contacting me and I’ll simply forget you exist.
45. I believe I deserve much more than I’m getting.
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If you’re on Shelfari, I just set up my account last night. I may join GoodReads soon, as well.
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And finally, a five-second video of my three-year-old saying grace at the table: “Thank you all dis food–AMEN!” The kid is passionate about blessing food!

22
Apr

Passion For Writing: April 22nd, 2010

   Posted by: Moses Siregar III Tags: , , ,

Kurt Vonnegut: “Our power is patience. We have discovered that writing allows even a stupid person to seem halfway intelligent, if only that person will write the same thought over and over again, improving it just a little bit each time. It is a lot like inflating a blimp with a bicycle pump. Anybody can do it. All it takes is time.”
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Cec Murphey has a great couple of cautionary articles on using the progressive tense (-ing verbs). Part 1. Part 2. Cec Murphy’s blog is fantastic, btw. That reminds me to go add him to my blogroll …
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Marian Schembari asks, “How horrible is your About page“? She offers suggestions on what to do and what not to do.
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The difference between an alpha and a beta reader.
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@Zoe Winters has a nice piece on how to be a patron of (support) independent writers.
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C. Patrick Schulze explains How to Get Your Self-Published Novel Reviewed
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@Xander Bennett offers advice for (screenplay) writers on how to write a kick-ass protagonist:
1 – Make her WANT SOMETHING.
2 – Make her INCREDIBLY GOOD at what she does.
3 – Have her CHANGE enormously.

See his article for his arguments on each point.
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And here’s a video of me and my 3-year-old son, in which he thinks he hears the smell of poo-poo, then suggests it’s hiding:

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