Dem Skills

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “I Got Skills.” There is absolutely no question what skill I would want if I could be a master of any possible skill. In this mystical world where I could be the most amazing person ever at one particular skill, I would definitely chose writing. It may […]

Titular First Impressions….Titular…*snerk*

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

98. Choosing a title.

There are many aspects to writing that are difficult, frustrating, and sometimes downright miserable. Choosing a title is not one of those things. Oh no. Choosing a title is so, so much worse.

The title of a book is the most immediate of first impressions. It (along with the cover of the book) is the first thing a prospective reader will see, and with that in mind, you have to determine what exactly you want that reader to think when they first look at your book. A terrible title could completely destroy a book’s chances of being picked up, browsed through, purchased, and read. Imagine, for a moment, some alternative titles for your favorite books. Would you honestly have picked up that same book if it had had a ridiculous title? Can you imagine purchasing The Lord of the Rings, for example, if you knew nothing of it beforehand and it’s title was actually A Really Long Journey? What if The Chronicles of Narnia had been titled, Stories About Another World? What if Dracula had been titled, A Very Old Vampire?

These are extreme(ly silly) examples, of course, but never-the-less, you must agree that many an attitude can rapidly change about the readability of a book if you fail to title it properly.

Take, for example, my current work-in-progress, Parallels. This story, at it’s heart, is about a young woman who is pulled into an alternate universe – a parallel world, if you will – and discovers that she has been drawn there to save it from an ancient evil. I began writing this particular story almost ten years ago. It is the work that I’ve mentioned before…the one that I’ve re-written so many times that I’ve never gotten anywhere near to finishing it. When I first started this story, it was my intention that the world the woman comes from and the one she travels to would be very different, but also have many parallels between them. It was my intention that as she travelled along on her journey she would regularlty become confronted with people and places that mirrored the world she grew up in, which would force her to confront many personal issues. However, as the story evolved, was rewritten, changed numerous times, and eventually became the piece I’m working on today, that no longer became the root of the story. Yes, the two worlds are still parallels, but not nearly as much so as I had originally imagined. There are only a handful of these parallels left in the story I’m writing now, and that got me thinking that perhaps the title didn’t make much sense. Then I started really thinking and it occurred to me that even if the title did make sense, it’s really not a very catchy title at all, is it? Tell me truthfully now, if you were browsing through the fantasy section of your local book store and came across a book with the word “Parallels” emblazoned across the cover, would it catch you? Draw you in? Would you even notice it?

Now perhaps some of you can say yes to these questions. Perhaps even many of you can. But that is the hell an author has to go through when choosing a title : relentlessly wondering if it’s the right one.

Now maybe the title will just come to you and you’ll know, inside, that it’s the right one. Maybe you won’t even be given the chance because your publisher will retain the right to title your work as they wish (does this happen? I honestly don’t know). Or maybe you’ll be talking about your book someday and someone will say, “You know what you should call it?”, and it will be the greatest title ever and you’ll hug them and kiss them and be their best friend forever.

But chances are you’ll be like me, bashing your head off a wall, thinking about what a stupid title you’ve chosen and desperately wracking your brain for another. Many people have a very difficult time choosing a name for their baby. It is really no different for an author naming their book. So think about it hard, consider all the angles, and when you figure out the best method for making your final decision, please feel free to come back to this blog and let me know.

Comfortable People are Lazy People

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

95. Breaking out of your comfort zone

Humans are creatures of habit, by nature. We like to stick with what we know, what’s comfortable and easy. That’s why it’s so hard for us to do things like move away from home, take on a new diet or exercise routine, or otherwise break out of our “comfort zone”.

For writers this can be particularly detrimental. While you want to write what you know, what you’re good at, you don’t want to dig yourself into a rut. You don’t want to stagnate. You can’t stick with the exact same formula for your entire career; if you do, your writing will become predictable and boring. Imagine for a moment that a reader is picking up your latest book at a storm and skimming over the cover. Now imagine that reader making a face, thinking, “Why bother spending the money on something that’s going to be the exact same as the last one he/she wrote?” and putting the book back on the shelf. Now imagine reader after reader all doing the exact same thing, no one ever taking the leap to actually purchase the book. How does that feel? I’m going to wager not very good. Even if you’re someone who takes criticism extremely well, you can’t deny the fact that not selling your book is a bad thing. A very bad thing.

So how do we break out of our comfort zones and keep producing books that our readers will want to read? By buckling down, gritting our teeth, and forcing ourselves to do the opposite of what we would normally do. Are all of your main characters always female? Force yourself to write from a male perspective. Do all of your stories feature a romance subplot? Try a subplot about how much two characters can’t stand each other. Do you only write stories for adults? Try writing one for kids. Doing any of these things will probably be difficult, likely it will even be unpleasant, but it will force you to break your mental boundaries, and you never know…you just might discover that you enjoy it.

For myself, I have a few bad habits writing in my “comfort zone” that I’m actively tying to break. All of the examples above were taken from my own experience. I always write from the perspective of female main characters – not because I don’t think I can write from a male perspective, but because it’s easier to write from a female one. I always have a romance subplot in my stories because I enjoy writing about people falling for each other, even under unusual circumstances (*cough*zombie apocalypse*cough*). And I always write for adults – not because I don’t think I could write books for kids, but because I enjoy writing sex and violence, and it’s usually preferable that those things stay away from kids. I’ve been trying to break some of these habits lately, and yes it’s difficult, and sometimes it definitely sucks, but I do believe that I’m learning from the experience.

Never stop learning, no matter what you’re doing or how good you might think you already are. It would be the biggest mistake you’d ever make.

Difficulty Level: Hard

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

85. The most difficult scene or piece you’ve ever written.

This prompt could be looked at in a couple of different ways depending on your definition of “difficult”. The first thought that came into my head was difficult in the emotional sense, in that it was difficult to write because of some personal issue. Then I thought about difficulty in the sense of being hard to write because the words won’t come or you can’t figure out how to explain what you’re imagining.

So in my typical, indecisive manner, I decided to write about both. Lucky you, hmm?

First, emotional difficulty:
I’ve mentioned before that I’ve done some of my best writing while I was depressed, so you would expect that there would be lots of examples of this, but there actually aren’t. I’ve written a lot while depressed, but I’ve rarely written something that made me depressed.

There is one scene, however, that I found very difficult to write emotionally. It wasn’t difficult because of any personal issues; it was difficult because it involved the death of a character. Now call me crazy if you wish (I know some of you are thinking it, don’t lie!) but I know there are lots of writers out there who have my back on this one. I had a very, very difficult time writing the scene because it genuinely hurt. I had invested a lot in this character, had created a person who I cared about. And then, for the good of the story, I had to write about life leaving this character as their friends looked on in horror. I’m not proud…I got a little choked up. It was like choosing to kill a friend. That might seem a little ridiculous to some, but I look at it as a good sign. After all, how can I expect my readers to be touched by the scene if it doesn’t even affect me?

As for literal difficulty, the hardest scene I ever had to write was definitely the first battle scene I ever wrote. It was very difficult because I could visualize what I wanted to be happening, but I couldn’t determine the words I needed to convey that scene. I don’t have a great deal of knowledge about weaponry, swordplay, fighting stances, and so on, so my descriptions boiled down to oversimplified sentences such as, “the swords clashed against one another” and “he dodged and slashed out his own attack”. It drove me mad because as I was writing it I knew that anyone who read it would be imaging something tame and boring, while I had this epic battle raging through my head.

Since that first scene I’ve gotten much more practice writing fights and battles. I’ve made a point of attempting to retain the information I glean from others’ books, as well as from movies and other sources, and I’ve found that it has helped a great deal. To this day I still find battles very difficult, but they are much easier than they used to be, which hopefully means I’m learning. No pain, no gain!

Epic Fail

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

37. What to do if you’ve failed at the goals you set

Have you ever heard the phrase, “You’ve just gotta get back on the horse”? If you have, you should understand what I’m about to talk about. If you haven’t, what rock have you been living under for the past hundred years?

Everyone fails at goals. Maybe not all the time, maybe some more often than others, but everyone at some point in time fails at a goal they’ve set for themselves. It’s the nature of the situation that even if we have all the best of intentions, things will go wrong, other issues will intrude, and any number of problems will arise to keep us from reaching the end of the line. Maybe it’s something we can’t control, like the fact that our new job requires us to work 70-hour weeks and we can’t work on our goal if we want to be able to eat and sleep as well. Maybe it’s something absolutely controllable, like being just plain lazy. It doesn’t really matter what the reason is. It doesn’t make you a better or worse failure. Failure is failure.

But failure is also just a chance to start over again. Failure shows us what we’ve done wrong, which issues we failed to take into consideration, and what we have to change to do better next time. If you’re a really optimistic type, failure might even be motivation to try harder. If you’re the pessimistic type, things might be a little more difficult, but the same points still apply.

And excellent example of failure and moving on from it is rejection in writing. An author can put their heart and soul – and a ridiculous number of work-hours – into a manuscript, only to have it rejected by the publisher…and then rejected by another…and another…and another. Regardless of how good a manuscript may be, it is almost certain that the author will receive multiple rejections before (hopefully) receiving a publication offer. This situation really defines the whole “get back on the horse” thing because if these authors were to just give up, where would we be? Were you aware that J.K. Rowling received 12 rejections for the first Harry Potter book before finally getting published? We all know now that the Harry Potter books are well-written, well-loved, and have ultimately sold bucketloads. So why did she receive so many rejection letters? There are any number of reasons, but the point is that she had a goal set (to publish that damn book!) and she didn’t let failure upon failure stop her from continuing to try and try, getting back on the horse again and again.

It’s definitely hard sometimes…humans are naturally depressive and easily-discouraged creatures…but if the goal you’ve set for yourself is something that’s important to you, something that you know you’re not going to be happy just giving up on, then you have to press on. If you’ve done something wrong, figure out what it is. If outside issues are holding you back, figure out a way around them. And if the problem is just timing, situation, or reliance on others to react the way you need them to, you just have to keep trying, trying, trying, until all the puzzle pieces fall into place. In the end you’ll be better off for having to have worked for it, and the end of the line will be that much more beautiful when you reach it.

At least that’s what I keep telling myself, and I hope you’re able to hold on to that hope as well. 🙂

A Little Push

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

29. Encourage other writers to keep going

I suspect that it is an inevitable truth that at some point (and possibly multiple, regularly occurring points) every writer feels like giving up. Whether you’re an amateur working on your first real manuscript or a published professional having issues in editing, writers are a naturally self-depreciating breed. As my rage comic indicated, we have a tendency to flow through repeating stages of “I’m so awesome!” and “I’m such a hack!” It is a tendency we share with artists, musicians, and other creative peoples who put a little piece of their own selves into their work.

Some of this constant shift in attitude can be attributed to physiology (moods, hormones, emotional state due to outside forces, etc), but much of it is likely due to the lifestyle of a writer and the inability of people in general to fairly, and without bias, judge themselves.

The lifestyle may break may would-be writers because they simply can’t (or feel that they can’t) handle it. The life of a writer may seem simple and carefree to many, but in reality it can be very stressful and difficult. Deadlines may lead to anxiety and burnout. Disagreements with editors and agents can cause frustration and a feeling of losing creative control. Rejections from published and poor critiques/reviews can create doubt, depression, and the belief that you’ll never be successful. It’s a mentally and emotionally exhausting situation to volunteer for.

And then there’s that bit about being unable to judge ourselves. As humans, we are notorious for this, not just involving creative processes, but in every aspect of our lives. One only needs to observe drivers on the highway to understand the concept. Everyone on the road believes that they are an excellent driver, while everyone else is a dangerous SOB who needs to be arrested. It’s the same with writers, except that in our case it works at both ends of the spectrum. Either you think you rock (even if you don’t) while everyone else is a hack, or else everyone else is amazing while you’re a miserable failure (even if you aren’t).

So, in conclusion, being a writer is wrought with emotional distress, time management impossibilities, peer-to-peer conflict, pain of rejection, and psychological issues, and on top of all that you might never become successful enough to make a living out of it.

And here I am, supposedly about to tell you to keep going. Hmm…

Here’s the thing…have you ever heard the phrase that nothing worth doing is easy? While it may not be a logical descriptor for every person in every situation, it still rings true a good deal of the time. Do you think the athletes who go to the Olympics just breeze through the events without any training? Do you think young army recruits just walk through the door and all of a sudden they’re a high-ranking officer? Hell, do you think pregnant women just have a squat and a grunt and a beautiful, perfectly healthy baby just pops out?

If you really care about something – genuinely want it with all your heart, then you’ll do what you have to do and endure what you have to endure to make that dream a reality. Olympians know that they’re going to have to push their bodies to the limit, but they crave that gold, so they move through it. Privates-in-training know they’re going to be trained hard and disparaged at every turn, but they want to serve, so they deal with it. And women know damn well that childbirth is like to be a painful, miserable event that makes them feel like they’re going to die, but they want to bring a life into the world so they damn well manage it.

So if you really want to be a writer, write. Put your heart and soul into it and deal with whatever you have to deal with as a result, because in the end that’s the only true way to get what you want. You have to be willing to do whatever is necessary, end of discussion. If you aren’t willing, well…I guess you didn’t really want it very much in the first place, did you?