Reading, writing, and stealing

I started writing, like, actually writing with the intent of finishing a novel, a little over two years ago. Yeah, I’m kind of a noob, but that’s okay ‘cause it works in my favor sometimes. You see, before I started writing, I didn’t read a whole lot. A topic I’ve already covered. Short story: The shit I had to read in school bored me and I didn’t know people wrote novels I wanted to read until much later.

Things changed when I started writing, though. I like to think of myself as having a bare minimum not-quite-stupid level of intelligence and the sponge residing in my cranial cavity told me something. Before you ask, it’s not an actual sponge. No, it’s more like a coral reef kind of thing. Either way, it’s alive and it talks to me.

So, the sponge said, “Hey, dumbass, if you’re going to write books, don’t you think you should read them too?”

To which I replied, “Why?”

“So you don’t sound on paper like the dumbass you are in real life, dumbass.”

The sponge is very fond of calling me dumbass. It’s like a cute pet name, only slightly less cute and less puke inducing. You know what I mean, Snookums?

The sponge had a valid point. How could I expect to string together words in a coherent way if I never actually read words strung together coherently? To satiate the sponge’s constant nagging as to my semi-illiteracy I started reading while I was also writing.

And now I come to my point. If I had read as much as I have now, I would never have finished my first book or any thereafter. Crippling paranoia of copying someone else’s work would have killed me deader than dead right on the spot. I find when reading it’s natural to compare to things you know, for reference sake, I guess. It’s set in space like Serenity or it’s about people trapped on an island like Gilligan, or it about bloodthirsty investment bankers that do blow off the wombs of maiden hyenas to retain their poster-boy good looks like Wolf on Wall Street. Disclaimer: I’ve never actually seen that last one, I’m just filling in blanks from what I saw in the trailer.

Comparing as a viewer is totally fine. It helps you define what you like. For example, Book F sounds a lot like book R. I really liked Book R so therefore I would also, probably, enjoy Book F. As a creator, comparing wreaks havoc on the fucking process. I start to write a scene and then I get all, “Man, that’s just like that one scene in Book F. Fuck my life.” *Slams delete key with all the anger of a thousand political talk show hosts*

The reason I bring this up is: I started reading a book, Devil You Know, it’s a good book that so far is very enjoyable. It’s about a witty, down-on-his-luck exorcist who has been retired for over a year and takes a job to help out a friend. My debut novel, Beasts of Burdin (Out February 10th, preorder today!) is about a witty, down-on-his-luck demon hunter who has been retired over a year and takes a job to help out his brother.
Sound similar? Yup.

Did I steal anything from Devil You Know? Nope. I hadn’t even heard of it when I started writing Burdin. But, I had heard of it then, instead of now, I can promise Burdin would have been a completely different book.

Now, I have a little more confidence in my creative abilities. I know that there are always going to be similar stories to what anyone writes; there are no new ideas, only new ways of telling them, and all that jazz. I also trust my integrity to never steal a person’s work or ideas. Sure, some things influence me. I see a powerful story and think, “Man, I want to write like that,” and possibly try to incorporate some elements of what I like into my style.

So in a short way, being ignorant of other books has helped my writing. Would I suggest an aspiring writer stop reading? Fuck no. Go read a book. Preferably mine. Not for literary content though. I’m still pretty bad at writing, obviously.

 

Writing & Raising Kids? Same Thing, Pretty Much

The other day I was thinking about all the ways parenting can go wrong. I’m not sure why that day in particular, just call it Parental Paranoia: PP for short. So I get hit with the PP, bad, and I start thinking about how hard it is to figure out what’s right to do with your kid’s upbringing, and shit. At this point the mush on one side of my brain overflowed into the mush on the other side and a theory struck me: There are many similarities between writing and raising a non-asshole child.

Think about it, when the idea first strikes you (I’m gonna make a new human/I’ve got a great idea for a story) you’re all about it. You can’t think of a single fucking thing that could go wrong because your idea is so perfect. So, obviously, you commit to the idea.

In the very beginning there is a lot of research and plotting. For example, you have to find out how to convince the stork to stop at your house on its next flyby. That can be a tough one, those ol’ birds are fickle bitches. Then you have all kinds of required reading: What to Expect While You’re Expecting, and, and…other stuff. Internet articles? Youtube videos? Actually, no, that is a terrible idea. STAY AWAY FROM YOUTUBE!

The writer has research to do too. Namely, how to make your novel not suck. That’s the hard one, I think. After that there’s Elements of Style and What to Expect When You’re Expecting a Best-Selling Novel. Okay, that last one’s probably not a real thing. Maybe it should be.

Now that you’ve got your research done and your story/hellspawn brewing you’re riding high. You’ve got this. How hard could it be? Millions of other people have done this very same thing and millions of other people aren’t like you, they’re morons. If a moron can write a book/make a human, you can too. And you’re well-read on the subject. You can tell me about Chekhov’s gun/proper placenta cooking methods.

Then comes the big day, the day the hellspawn bearing fowl drops off its package/the day you get, oh say, five thousand words in to your first draft. This is the first instance of PP for most people, and it usually requires a change of clothing on both fronts. All of the sudden, every. Single. Bit. Of research. Goes right out the fucking window. You officially know not one damn thing about infant raising/wordsmithing.

After days/months/years of PP (it depends on the length of the work/the difficulty of the hellspawn in question) you find a groove. You’ve read all the reading and taken tips from all those other “professional” parents/authors. All of the information has wormed its way in to your brain. At some point you will have the epiphany that every single word they said is BULLSHIT. It is true that some people raise really good children and some people write really good books, but what worked for them will almost certainly not work for you. The world just isn’t made like that. Especially the ‘no yell’ parenting people. Show me someone who says they haven’t flipped their lid on their kids because they were having a shit day and could only take hearing the same question repeated so many times and I’ll show you a liar, probably.

Back on task. You’ve been in your groove for a while and things are good. You’re children/characters are behaving mostly as they should and things seem to fall in to place. This is when things get dicey. Reviewers. You have put all of your palmflesh and vocal cords in to molding the perfect angel/work of art. Now you are forced to send it out to the world and see what other people think. Children get this in the form of teachers and authors get reviewers. There is nothing better than the feeling of being told your angel/art is really fun to be around, but it’s a very scary process either way.

The last part of the process is being finished. Finished? Yeah, it’s some more bullshit. You are never finished parenting/writing. You will always wish you could go back and change something you did in the beginning, but will have to settle with nudging what you have in the right direction and hoping for the best.

In closing, here is a thought on the matter from expert character-wrangler Danielle Shipley:

The similarities grow more starkly apparent when the characters are having toddler-like meltdowns. Character: Why do I have to suffer this plot?!

Author: Because I said so!

Character: YOU’RE NOT MY REAL MOM!

And then of course the author goes into the whole “I brought you into this world, I can take you right out again!” thing…

 

Well said, Ship, well said.

The solitary writer

Not an exact number, but I’m pretty sure its been six months since I found out I would be a published author. Up until that point, I was a solitary writer. I had a couple close friends and my muse/#1 beta reader/wife/coolest girl ever, read my stories and that was it. I wrote three novels with no outside help from the internet. Well, I did have one critique partner when I started writing Beasts of Burdin, but it didn’t go so well.

 

The point is, in the last six months I’ve been introduced to this huge community of authors and bloggers. I have met some pretty cool people, exchanged some pretty fun conversations, and most of all, I’ve learned. I’ve learned about writing techniques and gotten my own stuff critiqued by other published authors. Thanks to some helpful veterans out there I’ve also learned more and more about the industry, something I hadn’t put near enough thought in to since I began taking my writing seriously.

 

So, my advice to anyone out there who is a solitary writer? Go into the wide world of internet and find people like you to share your craft with. Yes, there are plenty of assholes out there and you are bound to run in to some of them, but when you get in with some like-minded people it’s a whole lot of fun and encouragement.

 

While I’m here, I’m going to name some names. That’s right, I’m pointing fingers.

 

J.A. Belfield is an author and happens to be an editor. I’m going to be having her edit some of my work here shortly. If you need some polishing for the ol’ manuscript you should drop her a line. She’s also given me tons of advice and been super patient with my constant questions that I could probably find answers to if I just used that whole “search engine” thing.  Find her here.

 

Lolita Verroen is a blogger and beta reader. She has done me the honor of reading one of my early manuscript and for reasons not quite understood by me, agreed to read another one. She is honest in her reviews and honesty is very hard to come by in a beta reader. She also runs a book tour blog so if you’re trying to promote your book, give her a shout. She resides in this corner of the internet.

 

Laney McMann is an author who I have exchanged beta reads with. She’s working on a teen series that I’ve had the pleasure of reading and the first book is out now. She posts lots of music and inspirational writing stuff on her website. Worth a read if you need a quick pick-me-up. Bam!  <—That’s the link to her site if you couldn’t tell. I’m just running out of ways to name links.

 

Also, if you rock the twitter (and who doesn’t? I mean, really, it’s just so…hip?) Check out Scott Zachary, I don’t agree with everything he says, but he says most of it with a sort of humor I can appreciate. And Danielle Shipley if you’re in to fairy tale retellings, give her a quick follow.