Screw the Muse; It’s the Internal Editor I Worry About

In which I talk about the struggle between getting it right and just getting it done. The story is there; it’s the writing of it that’s hard (Well, that’s a no brainer).

Not only am I the world’s worst typist (You have learned about my penchant for hyperbole, right?), I tend to be anal about grammar, punctuation, etc. So turning off that internal editor just to get words on the page is one of the most exhausting elements of novel process that I go through. I want to correct as the symbols, letters and words, hit the page. It’s excruciating to let the mistakes lie and move onto the next thing for me. But without that haranguing voice echoing through my brain, I can write with more feeling, with more freedom. That bitch’s voice telling us the writing is no good, error-laden, and pointless, freezes the product. Only when you ignore the urge to go back and edit every sentence will you get past that first sentence, that first paragraph, that first chapter.

My current WIP, chicken scratches and all.
My current WIP, chicken scratches and all.

Not all of us work in the same manner. Some of us are final draft writers. Every word we put on the paper is perfect. But we’ve already done a lot of the prep work ahead of time. We’ve outlined, plotted, planned, and meditated to make that draft possible. Some of us are first draft writers. We don’t care what we put on the paper; we can always go back and revise later.  I fall somewhere in between and drift from one extreme to the other and visit the entire scale along the way. In any case, that internal editor can keep us from producing anything. If the bitch is telling us that we’re not good enough, we can freeze up and never produce a sentence. And that’s what we’re aiming for: producing sentence after sentence until we have a book.

I wrestle with my internal editor daily. Only after I lock her in a cage can I get to work and produce my stories. She struggles to pick the lock every time, but if I just get lost in the story, I can keep her there. I’m happy to let her out when it’s revision time. Then I can use her input, but until then, she needs to disappear. I still can’t let myself just write anything on the page–I stop to find the right term, the proper historical reference, etc.–but I’m getting better.  When I hand write, I can just circle a word I don’t like, put a check mark over it and leave it. I’m not so good when I type directly onto the computer.

And there’s always that little voice that tells me I’m not good enough. If I could learn how to shut her up, I’d be a much happier writer. I’ve heard she never goes away. The bitch.

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

Harry Potter und die Kammer des Schreckens by JK Rowling

It’s Never Too Late. . .

In which I talk about learning, errors, the importance of questions, the value of knowledge, and an embarrassing story that makes me laugh to this day.

I’ve been at the writing gig for many years now and I’ve found two constants in this endeavor: one is that everything changes–editors change, houses change, styles change, public tastes change; and two there is always something new to learn, whether it’s research, vocabulary, genre, or grammar. People often speak about the changes, but I get excited about the learning. Call it the nerd in me, but I love to learn a new word or some minute grammar point. And don’t get me started on research. For my last manuscript, I had to visit a brewery, take a tour and taste some beer. It’s hard work.

Today, my competence in English is solid. Of course I make errors, but they’re more likely to be typos or skipping words because my thoughts are faster than my fingers, or just not seeing mistakes on the page because I’ve stared at the screen for too long than actual lack of knowledge. But it wasn’t always the case.

In the past couple of days, I’ve seen several mentions of the fight over one space or two after a period. It reminded me of my very first term paper. US History (I still remember the title: The German-American Bund: the Fritz Kuhn Years: 1937-1939).  I have never taking any typing classes (thus the reason for so many typos when I write), and the requirement was ten typed pages, double spaced. It was my first typed paper. I had to borrow the typewriter (in return I bought a new cartridge for the owner–remember those?), get some unlined paper (I bought onion skin–yuck), and hunt and peck my way to ten pages. But I did it. And being the kind of student I was, I was the first person in the school to turn it in. Done. Relief.

A few hours later, my roommate (I went to boarding school, remember?) said that the teacher had held it up to show how not to do a paper, that it wasn’t doubled spaced. Well, I went straight to the teacher and told him he was wrong. I had double spaced. He said it didn’t look like it, but I told him again he was wrong because I had double spaced.  And indeed I had–type a word, space, space, type another word, space, space, and so on for ten pages. I thought it an odd requirement at the time, but it wasn’t until years later that I realized where I had made my error. I think my paper was actually 1.5 spaced as regards the line spacing.Photo on 2012-06-21 at 16.37 #5

Ask questions, people. Questions are good things. (By the way I received an A- for the paper. Thanks,Mr. Waples.)

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

Harry Potter und der Stein der Weisen by JK Rowling

Space, Time, and the Woo-Woo Contingent

. . .or My Experiences Posing as an “Expert” when I feel like a fraud. In which I give a report about Bubonicon 2014, the Albuquerque Sci -Fi and Fantasy convention.

I spent the weekend at a science fiction/fantasy convention here in Albuquerque. It’s called Bubonicon because New Mexico is famous (sort of) for having the most cases of bubonic plague each year. I find the name amusing. The symbol is a rat–Perry Rodent, to be precise. I know this because I wrote the short story that appeared in the program featuring non other. That was my first foray into the world of becoming a con artist. I had to write a sci-fi story featuring a rat. While I love Sci-fi and had written a couple of short stories (now appearing in the Preternatural collection by GS Anderson), this was scary. I chose to do a light-hearted romp filled with allusions to famous sci-fi and fantasy titles and characters. There’s a dog named Kahn, a quote from Star Wars, and a nod to my daughter’s favorite speculative fix series The Power Puff girls. I think sixteen different puns/groaners/ allusions in one thousand words. (I could probably count, but I’m too lazy).

Program, Bubonicon 2014
Program, Bubonicon 2014

While my last books were indeed fantasy (paranormal romances) and I have had a spec fic story collection published and I’ve a complete fantasy novel that we’re starting to shop around, I feel like a fraud. There are so many books I haven’t read, so many shows I haven’t watched (Supernatural to name one), that I felt like Garth and Wayne: “I’m not worthy, I’m not worthy.”

I appeared on three panels: one on tropes, one on pop culture, and one on urban fantasy vs. paranormal romance. I won the tropes panel. Just kidding. My husband and I have a running joke that I always try to win panels after my experience on a panel in the past where they other participants were so patronizing and dismissive of my knowledge and then I blew them all away. I certainly didn’t win the pop culture panel. I was there with Cherie Priest and Ernie Cline, who have such big personalities that I was as caught up in their stories as the audience. I did get to speak and even get some laughs, but I was content to mostly sit back and listen. It’s awesome to get on a panel with two big names and ride on their brilliance. I highly recommend that strategy. The third panel was a group of women, mostly romance writers whom I know, and we talked about the differences between urban fantasy and paranormal romance. We came to no real conclusion but took a lot of questions and made many erudite points. I was the moderator of that one, so protocol required I tried not to win and let the others speak.

It was fun. Scary, but fun. I plan to go again next year, if they’ll have a fraud like me. If you were at the book signing, I gave away THE WISH LIST to the first twenty-five people who wanted them.  With luck I’ll have more cred next year, but I guarantee, I will still feel like a fraud. I’ll let you in on a secret: most authors do.

Let me know if you want to read the Perry Rodent story. It’s mine, so I can post it here.

–Gabi

P.S. While it’s not quite the dress up con as others are, I did see a kid dressed up as an awesome Dr. Horrible, and a wonderful Howard Wolowitz. (Pictures, damn it, pictures. I am so bad at remembering to capture cool moments.)

Books I’m reading now:

Holy cow, I finished Serpent of Venice last night and haven’t picked up a new one yet. I have a pile to chose from (from the RWA conference) and I haven’t chosen yet. Stay tuned.

As Churchill said…

“Never Give Up”…or How to Beat the Fear of Failure

In which I talk about the power of persistence without actually using the word.

One of the driving forces that keeps me writings embarrassment.  Everyone knows me as a writer, and if I run into someone I know after a gap of time, the first question they always ask me is, “Are you still writing?”

Ballons a group of readers surprised me with yesterday. The blu one says "Make a Wish"
Ballons a group of readers surprised me with yesterday. The blu one says “Make a Wish”

How do you answer that?

Well, since I haven’t achieved all I have wanted to achieve in my writing career, I am still writing. But what keeps me writing is fear of seeing a hint of pity in their eyes. I don’t want to be known as that friend who wrote a few books but she doesn’t now. I want to be known as  their writer friend. So my answer to the question is truly, “Yes, always.”

Picking yourself up is hard. Sometimes the effects are lingering. But often, after a good night’s sleep, you realize that the world didn’t end, the sun came up (even if it’s behind a rain cloud),  you didn’t die, and it’s a new day. And you choose to continue.

Basically, I’ve found the one thing I cling to through any discouragements. Find that one thing that will keep you going. Money is a valid goal; awards are a valid goal; grades are a valid goal (if you’re in that world); and avoiding embarrassment is a valid goal.

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore

Bones Never Lie by Kathy Reichs

Apropos

In light of my last post, I thought I should post this as my new anthem:

 

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

Serpent in Venice by Christopher Moore

Contests

In the romance world a writer has ample opportunity to enter contests. I confess I haven’t looked into contests for other genres much. Of course I’ve heard of the big ones–the Hugo, the Nebula, the Edgar, etc–but in the romance world there are contests for published and unpublished authors in every sub-genre you can imagine. I’ve entered several, finaled in most, won a few, so here is my take.

On the plus side:

  • A contest can give you validation. It feels good to win or final in a contest. It lets you know your work is appreciated by others who have nothing at stake in judging you. It ain’t your family telling you you’re good. Sometimes you need that validation. (Let me tell you though, the feeling doesn’t last. Why are we humans so quick to forget the good stuff and obsess on the bad? Or is that just me?)
  • A second perk is getting your work in front of an editor or agent who might be interested in buying your manuscript. While I never received any offers from my contest wins, I do know a couple a of people who sold directly because of winning a contest.
  • If your writing isn’t at the level of winning or publishing yet, a contest can give you valuable feedback on your work from readers who again have nothing at stake in critiquing you. One of the most helpful things a beginner can receive is unbiased feedback. It can hurt, but the learning curve is huge with an honest critique.
  • A contest can help build your thick skin. You need it in this business. Losing a few contests, or being ripped apart, can teach you that you can survive a harsh review in the future.  Lastly, for you already published authors, a contest win can give you bragging rights, something to stick on your covers. You will often see Hugo Award winging author on a cover.

On the minus side:

  • Most contests cost money, and some are very expensive. Sometimes entry fees are out of reach.
  • You might be judged by thoroughly incompetent judges, people who aren’t qualified to judge writing. I’ve always laughed when someone criticized my grammar. Yeah, I rarely make grammar mistakes. If I have often it’s a typo, not a grammar error. (Mind you, if you’re judging my grammar by this blog, just stop. I’m talking about my manuscripts, not the thoughts I randomly post here. This is casual. My writing is anything but, and if dialog or writing is casual in my manuscripts, you can bet I did it on purpose). My favorite judging error was when a judge had no idea what Cartagena was. Really? And there have been several others. I’ve even had judges mark up a manuscript for using passed instead of past, when passed was correct. Anyone who has entered contests can tell you stories about judges’ errors.
  • You might end up with a judge who just doesn’t like your work. No matter how objective a judge tries to be, judging is subjective, and if you write vampires and they abhor vampires, it will reflect in your score.  A contest is often a crap shoot. Your manuscript/book may be incredible, but it won’t get the recognition it rightly deserves. You get judges who hate your voice or plot or theme. Or not finaling may be as simple as getting a judge who doesn’t believe in giving out top scores because nothing is perfect. So, it’s a crapshoot.
  • You can get addicted to contests and winning. I knew of a writer who had three perfect starting chapters and won contest after contest, but never finished the manuscript. The danger of polishing the beginning (usually what is asked for in a contest) is never giving the rest of the manuscript the attention it deserves.
  • If you don’t get the results you hope for and you haven’t developed that thick skin, you might find yourself so discouraged that you quit.

I know I listed more cons than pros, but I personally like contests. I can claim I am an award winning novelist. Almost every one of my novels has been recognized in one way or another. And besides, I’ve always loved competition. (Never play a board game with me unless you play by the rules and play to win. I don’t mind losing as long as it was a worthy battle. But I play to win.)

So vet your contests. Examine why you are entering and what your goal is. Choose wisely. Contests can be fun or helpful or none of the above. Entering is something you have to decide for yourself.

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

See previous posts. (Yes, I’m reading slowly now; or I’m blogging too quickly.)

Overcoming Fear

The RT Convention was held this past weekend. It is a jam-packed weekend of authors mingling with readers, holding talks, and throwing parties.  I didn’t attend and I have to admit that a part of me wishes I had gone, but a bigger part of me is thrilled I didn’t. It isn’t that I don’t love talking to readers because I do. It isn’t the travel because I love to travel. It isn’t even talking about my books because I love to talk about my books and writing. It’s all about the crowd. I am not comfortable in crowds. Never have been. I see pictures of rock concerts and I nearly get hives. For all my political leanings, you will never find me at a protest because I can’t stand in a throng. The pictures friends posted about RT had me gasping and gritting my teeth. It’s funny because I have no problem standing on a stage or in front of a room and speaking (well, a few nerves, but public speaking is NOT my number one fear. It doesn’t even make the top one hundred–I can’t testify that I actually have one hundred fears. Hyperbole is one of my favorite tools.), but put me in a position where I’m hemmed in by people and I become very uncomfortable. That’s the main reason why I don’t dream of traveling to place like Singapore. It’s a good thing I live in the West (although you will hear me complain about Albuquerque’s isolation–you can’t win with me).

Sometimes you have to participate in events that make you uncomfortable, and I have been to RT in the past and I’m considering going next year. So how do I get through those situations? Well, I have a theater background and I put on a mask. Not literally. I plaster a smile on my face, pretend I’m the person who loves to be out there and act. Acting doesn’t mean that I’m not sincerely thrilled with meeting people; it’s simply my coping mechanism.

More and more writing/being an author requires you to put yourself out there–in person and on-line. I don’t mind the on-line. I never post anything I wouldn’t tell or share with you to your face (thus the reason I keep my politics off my professional pages). Authors are required to do a lot of their own promotion until you’re big enough that your name alone generates buzz. So I overcome my fear and do it.

I’ve met authors who don’t like technology. Fine. But suck it up and learn it because you need to use it (unless you already have that big name that generates its own buzz). I’ve met authors who are socially awkward; that’s something else that can be learned. I’ve met authors who were required to change genres; do it. Authors have to make major career decisions for themselves and be in charge of hiring and firing agents, or deciding not to take a contract, or deciding to take a contract. None of those are pleasant tasks. Yes, even when you think something is a positive step, your decision  comes with new anxieties or fears or responsibilities.

Bottom line: writing is a job and sometimes requires uncomfortable actions. Yes, it’s creative, but it is a job and no job is wonderful 100% of the time.  Unless you’re doing it as a hobby. In that case, ignore what I’ve said and just enjoy.

And if you ever meet me at a conference, please be assured that I am happy to meet you, and if you corner me somewhere semi-private, you’ll find I’m really not distant and I love to talk and share ideas and stories.

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

Boy with this almost daily blogging I’m not making the reading progress I usually do. so I’m still on Storm of Swords by George RR Martin.

 

Errors in Books

I’m writing this as a self-professed Grammar Nazi.

LIGHTEN UP.

I defy you to find a book without an error in it. I defy you, no matter how much you understand English (and yes, although I am all for learning and speaking and using other languages, this is about English), to write 400 pages and make no mistakes. I defy you to read, re-read, edit, revise, have others look at it, re-read again, and still not find errors in your manuscript. For example, in my last book, WISHFUL THINKING, I was at the galley-proof stage (the point where they send you your book the way it will appear on the page, usually a pdf file), and I still found 147 errors. I know. I counted. But there are degrees of errors, and I put it to you that most are forgivable.

A missing comma here or there shouldn’t cause you to write an angry letter. In fact, I know some  publishing houses that omit commas on purpose. It’s the house “Style.”  Just yesterday I read that one house forbids their authors from using semi-colons. Their reasoning? That genre fiction is supposed to pull the reader in; semi-colons stop the reader and interrupt the flow (See how I did that there?). I have to admit that rule made me cringe. You can’t ban semi-colons. That’s like the time I was kicked out of textbook training when I was teaching because I wouldn’t agree to disagree about what a verb is. But we are trying to make the writing accessible. Grammar and punctuation rules can fly out the window then.

I know I make errors when I write.  Sometimes because I think too fast for my fingers to type ( I never had typing in school. Somehow I skipped that required class). I skip words, or put in part of a word (like par for part) that is a word and my brain, knowing what to expect, fills in the blank. Have you seen those Internet memes that tout your amazing abilities to decipher words written with jumbled inner spelling or numbers replacing letters or backwards? It’s supposedly a sign of your intelligence. No, it isn’t. It’s your brain trying to make sense of what it sees and working the way it should.

Sometimes I spell things wrong. I have never been a speller. Spelling is not grammar. I could go on about the seven different pronunciations of “ough”, the silent “b”, or why “ghoti” spells “fish”, but I’ve done that before. How the “t” in often was said, then silent, and now it’s back. Or not. Both are standard. What kind of language allows you to do that anyway? English, that’s what. I’ve always considered spelling a torture. When I write a novel I do look up every word I may have possible spelled wrong, but I may overlook some because I’m utterly convinced I have it right. And that’s not even worrying about “pore” vs “pour”,  or “hear, hear” vs. “here, here” (By the way, those are the ones that throw me right out of a story–the homonyms used in place of the correct word).

Sometimes things are left out by the printer. In my second novel, my galleys contained a chapter that wasn’t even from my book. Another time a chapter was repeated. I taught DANDELION WINE to my eighth graders. The books we used were missing a couple of paragraphs at the end of one of the chapters. That wasn’t done by the author.

The errors I cannot forgive are content errors. When a character is a certain age, but that doesn’t work out mathematically (Don’t ask me why I catch math errors; I just do). When the character is a widow in one chapter and divorced a few chapters down. When the story is set in a certain year and then people or events are mentioned that couldn’t have taken place in that year (unless it’s alternate reality; then that’s fine). I’ve seen these mistakes in books I’ve read.

And some of the mistakes are the readers’. I once used the word “posh” in a novel set in 1845. I knew the word wasn’t in existence then (yeah, I look that sort of thing up), but it was close enough to the time period that I fudged it. Someone had to use it first, right?) Well, a reader called me on it and gave me the “origin” of the word. It was that cute Internet story about  the English traveling to India on a ship, Port Out, Starboard Home, so they’d know which side of the ship to have their cabins to avoid the sun. Only problem is that story’s not true. I had a friend correct me on “if you think X, then you have another think coming.” She wanted me to write “thing”. Nope, sorry, that’s wrong. (See what I did here with the commas–for effect) And just recently another friend pointed out I’d written “just deserts” wrong. Nope again. It is “just deserts”, not “just desserts”. And would you say, for example: “she is hungrier than me”? That would be incorrect.

And you see how I’m putting the quotes inside the punctuation? That’s the British way, and frankly makes a helluva lot more sense than the American way, so I’m starting the trend. (In certain instances, like these.)

I just read an article about the physicist Paul Dirac. He had some quirks, but when he read WAR AND PEACE his only comment about he novel was that Tolstoy had made the sun rise twice in one day. (Mental Floss, Jan-Feb 2010).  So you see, authors, editors, copy editors, translators (I read the German version of Harry Potter and they translated cat’s whiskers as a mustache), they’re all human. You may get a thrill at finding an error, but get over it. That’s kind of petty. (I know, because I have to admit I get a thrill and feel superior when I find errors. I’m not proud of myself.).

Read the book and enjoy it. That’s why we write. I won’t even go into how ungrammatical speech is here.

–Gabi, who really doesn’t proofread blog articles.

Books I’m reading now:

Vampire in Atlantis by Alyssa Day

How Star Wars Changed My Life

I had heard that it was a great movie. That I had to go see it. The buzz was everywhere. So my mother and I went on a mommy date to Westwood to watch this new movie called Star Wars. We waited in line for over an hour (that was my first time for an over an hour wait–lining up at the movie theater? Unheard of.) And then the titles started to roll, and I mean roll. What followed was an amazing 122 minutes of an adventure that spoke to me. It had good guys and bad guys and robots. A love story (I knew it was coming). Good vs. Evil. And space. Who knew I liked space?

I saw that movie six times that summer (I was in boarding school at the time and didn’t get to the movies during the school year). And the way it was told, the story line, the over-the-top-grab-your-seat adventure changed the way I viewed books and movies. That’s what I wanted to see and read. And when it came time to realize that I am a writer, that’s the kind of story I wanted to tell–plot (lots of it) characters to root for, villains to fight, a cause worth dying for, and adventure–maybe not between stars, but big for the setting.

My mother hated the movie.

(May the 4th be with you. There is nothing inner about my geek.)

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

Timeless by Gail Carriger