12 January 2016

Made to be Broken

by Paul D. Marks

Well, it’s January 12th. If you haven’t already broken your New Year’s resolutions you’re running late. So get to it. Start by eating that Snickers bar or cutting back your daily jog from twelve miles to a quick walk to the corner store...to buy that Snickers bar.

A couple of years ago Writer’s Digest put out 5 resolutions for writers (http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/there-are-no-rules/5-new-years-resolutions-for-writers ). I’d like to comment on them.

1. Resolve to make time for writing: This would seem pretty obvious. We all have busy lives, but are they really any more busy than when we had to till the ground working from dawn till dusk, before there were dishwashers and washing machines to do our dishes and clothes? Generally speaking we are as busy as we want to be. True, there are things that have to get done like work and dealing with kids or critters, but if one wants to write they will find the time. I hear a lot of people who claim they want to be writers. They have great ideas for the next best-seller or Academy Award-winning screenplay. They want to share them with you, have you write them while they take half the credit...and money. But they never write a word. So, apropos of Resolution five below, are they writers?

2. Resolve to embrace your personal writing style: The WD piece talks about embracing your style of being a pantster or an outliner. But I would look at this differently. When I first saw their resolution I thought they were talking about “writing style,” as in your voice, not how you go about your writing. And I would say, find your own voice. We all borrow from things we’ve read but you have to make it your own. The “worst” part about finding your voice is when some editor or someone else wants to water it down. That’s why I never use grammar checkers. They’re way too didactic, and some editors are too. They often want you to change your style to fit some mold or template that they like, which may be fine. But it’s not you. So you have to resolve to stick to your tone, your voice. Your style.

3. Resolve to self-edit as you write: They’re talking about “revising as you write in order to produce a cleaner manuscript that requires less revision on the back end.” I couldn’t disagree more. I’m not saying one shouldn’t do a little minor editing as you go along, but that often turns into major editing and going over the same ground ad infinitum. The best piece of writing advice I ever got was not to rewrite as you go along. If you do rewrite as you go you’ll just get mired in that quicksand and often never move ahead, or move ahead so slowly that it hardly seems like progress.


4. Resolve to step outside your comfort zone: Here the folks at Writer’s Digest suggest we branch out from whatever genre we mostly work in to other things outside of our comfort zones. For example, if you write fiction, try freelance articles, if you write cozy try hardboiled. Like that. I don’t have a real problem with this one...except to say who has the time to branch out? I have several “branch out” works in progress, but I rarely have time to work on them, much as I want to. And why not just try to break out of your comfort zone within your own genre/sub-genre? Sometimes the best novels are the ones that change the genre and stretch the boundaries of that genre. They also mention reading books you normally wouldn’t read. Fine. I like reading a variety of things anyway. As they say, variety is the spice of life, one just needs the time to enjoy those spices while trying to meet deadlines, earn a living, etc.


5. Resolve to call yourself a writer: Writers write. If you write you’re a writer. You may not be a professional writer, but you are a writer. Go for it. I’ve seen various arguments here and there as to who is and isn’t a “writer”. But why rain on someone’s parade? If they write, if you write, you’re a writer. Just do it. Learn as you go. Trial and error. We’re all at various stages of learning to write and we’re all still learning as we go. I come from a screenwriting background. Making the switch to prose writing had various learning curves, particularly in description and transitions. In screenplays/movies description is sparse at best. A beach is a beach. No glorious crimson sunsets dancing on the edge of a knife (well, you know what I mean...). And transitions are usually cuts from one scene to the next. The audience can figure out what’s happening. In prose writing one needs smoother transitions and more “transcendent” descriptions. In some quarters there’s a certain snobbery as to who’s a writer and who isn’t. But mostly I’d say you’re a writer when you put the words on the page, keep writing despite setbacks of one kind or another, including “endless” rejections. When you persevere and believe in yourself, then you are a writer.

6. And now a resolution of my own: Resolve to watch more shows on the Murder Channel, Discovery ID: like Homicide Hunter (Lt. Joe Kenda), Momsters: When Moms Go Bad (w/ Roseanne Barr), Wives with Knives, Web of Lies, Evil Kin, Vanity Fair Confidential, True Crime with Aphrodite Jones, On the Case with Paula Zahn. In fact, I plan to do nothing but watch murder shows on Discovery ID 24/7 to escape the horrid realities of everyday life.


7. And one more resolution of my own: Resolve not to do much BSP in the coming year: But wait, it’s time to break all those resolutions, so please check out Vortex, my noir-thriller novella (which means it’s short—you can finish it quickly!). And if you’re eligible to vote for the Lefty Awards from Left Coast Crime, I hope you’ll consider it for—here it comes and it’s a mouthful: “Best mystery novel set in the Left Coast Crime Geographic Region (Mountain Time Zone and all time zones westward to Hawaii)”. Vortex definitely fits the bill. Set in L.A., Venice, CA, Hollywood, the Salton Sea and on/at the Shakespeare Bridge in Los Feliz/L.A. Ballots are due by January 15th. And right now the book is still on sale at Amazon/Kindle for a mere 99 cents, which means it’s cheap—it won’t break the bank. Hell, you probably have 99 cents in change in your pants or purse or on the dresser right now that you just don’t know what to do with. I know what you can do with it—Vortex calls.

And Happy New Year to all ye merry SleuthSayers and our Cherished readers.


Hour glass credit: photo credit: Grains via photopin (license) 

7 comments:

janice law said...

Good luck with Vortex- and with making - and breaking- your writing resolutions.

Eve Fisher said...

Good luck with Vortex!
Re the writers' resolutions: if you actually write words on a page or screen, you can call yourself a writer, but (imho) if you just have a "great idea" and want ME to write it, you may be many things, but you're not a writer.
And as for stepping outside of your comfort zone, I got rid of all comfort zones and boundaries about books years because I am a bookaholic, so telling me to read more is simply telling an alcoholic, "Go ahead! Free bar!" I am already there. But as far as writing other stuff - I write mystery stories; SleuthSayer columns; some history articles; and the occasional rant (on-line and off). About all I can manage.

As far as breaking resolutions? Let me count the ways... which is why I don't make New Years' resolutions any more! Best of luck to all! And pass me that stack of books, will you?

Michael Bracken said...

If one is already doing quite well, there may be no need to step outside one's comfort zone. I found that doing so--based on a magazine editor's comments--caused a major shift in the trajectory of my writing career.

I started as an SF/F writer, selling occasionally but not well and not often. After an editor rejected one of my SF short stories and asked if I had any non-SF, I wrote and sold him my first mystery short story for more money than I had received for any single piece of writing prior to that sale. He also bought my second mystery short story and another editor bought my third.

I've since sold short fiction in nearly every genre, but I might never have sold as much as I have had I not stepped outside my comfort zone.

Leigh Lundin said...

Good point, Michael.

Paul, I agree, especially #3. Force editing when the river is running ain't a great idea.

And of course I agree with #7. Good luck there!

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks Janice.

***

Thank you, Eve. And I couldn’t agree more. If one is just an “idea” person they aren’t a writer. But I come acorss a lot of people who have the best idea ever, they just want someone else to write it. And I believe they think they’re writers. And, of course, they want half of everything.

And it sounds like you have plenty of things outside your comfort zone to keep you busy. As I said in the post, that sounds like a great idea, going outside your zone, but who has the time?

And the stack of books is on its way :)

***
Michael, it sounds like going outside your comfort zone was a great thing for you. And once you did that you were also able to write in several genres, so it really paid off.

***

Thanks, Leigh. And WD’s version of #3 might work for some people, but it doesn’t work for me. For one thing I’m too impatient and want to move forward. But one can often get bogged down in the minutia of trying to make everything perfect and getting stuck in that place for too long.

Dixon Hill said...

Just bought Vortex and put it on my Kindle. Will you be in PHoenix this Feb. for LCC?
--Dixon

Melodie Campbell said...

Actually, I'm one of those who does revise as I go. When I get to the end of a final first draft, it is close to the draft I send to my publisher. My 11th novel comes out next year, so this is obviously a method that works for me.