Monthly Archives: September 2009

A procrastinator’s internet toolkit

Consisting of…

XKCD.

Cracked.com.

Questionable Content. (Web comic, with little to no content of a questionable nature. Start from page one, or nothing will make sense.)

Tvtropes.org.

Tor.com.

Icanhascheezburger.com.

Graphjam.com.

The above linked sites are just some of the reasons I do far less writing than I should. Hopefully, those amateur procrastinators out there will find this list to be a suitable starting point for their own adventures in work avoidance.

Enjoy.

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This is why I think looking for radio signals from aliens is a tad optimistic.

Randall Munroe nails it. Again.

Image courtesy of http://xkcd.com reproduced under a CC by-nc 2.5 license

On the matter of asking favours from the professionals

Over on his blog Whatever, John Scalzi has brought up the matter of asking established writers for favours in these three posts. I think the whole issue has been dealt with pretty comprehensively in John’s posts and the ensuing comments. I think everything he said was perfectly fair and reasonable. Speaking as an unpublished writer, I find the idea of asking a person I don’t know to invest large amounts of their time and/or personal credibility into me or my work to be presumptuous to say the least. Even asking someone I do know to do that strikes me as more than a little bit off, if that person does it for a living. It’s one thing to ask a friend who you know well to look over your work. If you know them well enough, the pair of you trust each other not to overreact to any discourse on the matter and you know that asking your friend this isn’t too big an imposition on their time, then fine. However asking someone who you don’t know/barely know/exchanged a few comments with on a blog or twitter is so far beyond the realms of normal behaviour it verges on ridiculous.

If you’re someone who does this, if by some miracle should a writer agree to look over your work, what are the various outcomes you can realistically hope for?

A.) That a writer whose skills you admire says something like “Nice job. Well done. You should submit this for publication.”… This won’t get you an “in” at a publisher. You’ll still have to go through the submission process and chances are that you’ll still get rejected several times from several different publishers. This will make you feel embittered and betrayed because you had your hopes built up after the praise from a pro. This is not a good outcome.

B.) That a writer whose skills you admire says something like “This needs a lot of work before being ready for publication. A professional editor really needs to go over this with you to iron out the problems.”… You still have to go through the submission process like everyone else, only now you’re doing it with a sense of doom and a severe knock to your confidence in your ability. You think editors are going to read it, dismiss it as amateurish hackwork and ignore it. This is not a good outcome.

C.) That a writer whose skills you admire says something like “This sucks. Really badly. It has no redeeming qualities of craftsmanship or artistic merit. It’s not even entertaining pulp. I recommend that you stick with your dayjob and never put pen to paper again, for fear of embarrassing yourself amongst people who actually understand what good writing looks like”… After a blasting like that, who would even consider submitting that work? You’ve just been attacked and demolished by someone who you admired and possibly even looked up to a little. Not only have you put yourself in a situation whereby your confidence will be torn down around your ears, but you’ve probably lost the ability to enjoy the work of a writer you previously admired into the bargain. This is not a good outcome.

If you’re an unpublished writer and you want some feedback on your work then you really have two options. The first one is to join a writing group or creative writing course. This way, once or twice a week you’ll be surrounded by other writerly types who’ll feel a vague obligation to read your work out of a sense of solidarity to the group. The other is to publish your early stuff yourself on the web and hope you attract someone’s attention enough to comment on your work, if not always in a positive way then at least in a constructive manner.

Personally, I chose the second option and for a number of reasons. The problem with a writing group or class is that you’re in a room with someone staring at you with hope in their eyes, silently imploring you to say something nice about the dull and boring piece of dreck they subjected you to after the last workshop/class and now you have to come up with something to say about it that won’t offend them or hurt their feelings. If I’m doing this with them, then of course they’re doing it with me as well. This atmosphere isn’t one that I find conducive to good writing, more towards identikit writing of the Richard and Judy Book Club variety. Unless the group is set up specifically for it, then writers of SF&F and horror will be made to feel like they don’t belong. Not consciously perhaps, but it will happen. That’s a separate issue however and not the point I’m making here.

This isn’t to say that writing for a blog isn’t without it’s problems. One of the fundamental drawbacks of writing stuff for a venue whereby people aren’t obliged to give feedback on anything they’ve read is that very often feedback won’t be given. You can be left feeling that you’re shouting into a void and no-one cares about what you’re doing. So far I’ve been unable to get my wife, my parents, my sister or any of my closest real world friends to look at the blog. I try not think about what this implies…

Poor old pitiful me, boo-hoo-hoo. You know what? Why should they care? This is my hobby I’m indulging while I hope to get good enough to turn it into a job one day, not theirs. I’m sure the majority of wannabe writers find themselves in a similar situation with their blogs and manuscripts. This is the normal procedure. If your favourite writer won’t give you the time of day as regards you begging for their help, get over it, get over yourself and keep writing stuff. Hopefully one day you’ll submit something and get published professionally, but until that day keep your neuroses and desperate need for validation within acceptable boundaries.

N.B. It occurs to me now that my blog is remarkably similar to John Scalzi’s in theme and layout. While imitation (even done unconsciously) may be a form flattery, a redesign may well be forthcoming. The last thing I want to be doing is aping what someone else is already doing very well.

I’m writing erotica. It’s hard.

Which is to say that writing erotica is difficult; not that, um… You know. Anyway, I’m finding the process more difficult than I anticipated. Every time I write something, I imagine my parents, or one of my many nieces and nephews reading it. Then I blush furiously and stop. This is proving to hinder the writing somewhat.

On the bright side, I’m learning a lot about myself. For starters, I’m learning that I embarrass a lot more easily than I thought. I’m also learning that while doing something may come naturally, writing about it fluently and with skill isn’t something I can force to come quickly. By which I mean, that I’m not a steep learning curve; not that, um… You know. I’m also learning that while a woman may happily indulge you wandering around the house choreographing fight moves so that scenes of violence flow naturally and realistically and may even be willing to throw a mock punch or two in order to help; under other circumstances asking for help with choreography will be met by a withering stare, a sarcastic comment or two, then a facial expression which seems to say “Do you really think I’m falling for that old chestnut?”. By “old chestnut”, I mean a clichéd  request; not, um… You know.

My only option is to keep grinding away until something comes. By which I mean I mean keep writing until I write something good; not um… You know. If I keep going, putting one word after another and trying to ignore my natural tendency to feel embarrassed about the subject matter, then hopefully very soon I’ll have something to submit.

God damn, but this is hard! By which I mean, um… I have an erection.

Interesting developments

I’ve been offline for several days. The reason for this is one I’m really quite chuffed about. I’ve been approached to write something for a website; for money! Yes, actual Sterling currency, that can be used in shops and stuff! There is one snag however… I’ve been asked to write erotica. This came as a surprise to me, since my work posted so far isn’t exactly what you would classify as scintillatingly titillating. However in a spirit of adventure, artistic curiosity and cash hungriness I accepted the offer.

This has led to one or two interesting mental developments. First off; how exactly does one go about writing erotica that doesn’t read as, not to put too fine a point on it, silly? Secondly; should I publish the work under my own by-line? I’ve struggled mightily with the first one for almost a week now, trying to write something that doesn’t make me fall about laughing when I read it aloud. It’s getting better with each re-write, however I’m not going to be an objective judge on that one and will only be able to rely on the editor for final arbitration on whether the story is hauntingly sexy or gut-bustingly silly.

Of more pressing interest to myself, was the question of whether or not to use my own by-line, or take the soft option and use a pseudonym. I was worried about being A.) Sneered at for writing in what is perceived as something of a ghetto so far as fiction is concerned, or B.) Potentially pigeon holed as a writer of erotic stories. My lack of a planet sized ego quickly dispelled the latter worry, about ten people are aware of my body of work, so I doubt I’m going to be pigeon holed into anything anytime soon. The first worry wasn’t so easy to think my way out of.

Eventually I decided to go with my own name, for a couple of reasons. First off, some very good advice from a friend of mine named Wendy, who told me “They’re your words, why be ashamed of them?”, which was excellent advice and something anyone who wants to write professionally should take to heart. The second reason, is that I want to write professionally; with all of the responsibilities that entails, not as an “artist”. If a plumber is offered work fixing a u-bend, the plumber doesn’t carefully consider what kind of u-bend he’s being asked to repair, then accept or decline based on whether or not it was the kind of u-bend he dreamed of repairing when he was a kid. He quotes his hourly rate, then fixes the damned u-bend, he has bills to pay. I figure why should writing be exempt from that kind of reasoning?

My main objective after writing something that I’m satisfied is correct within itself and fulfills it’s given purpose, is that any readers are pleased with the work. This goes double for work that I’ve been specifically asked to write for someone. Personal projects are just that, to please me personally. Work I’ve been commissioned for, even loosely or informally, is work for a specific audience. I want writing to be my trade, not just a way of blathering on at length to please myself and my few chosen readers. In short, I don’t want to be precious or poncy about it.

If I write something, my primary purpose is to entertain any potential readers, not to create art. If I happen to get bracketed as an artist, that’s wonderful and I’d be deeply flattered by the association; but I’d never set out to create art, that would make me at best pretentious and at worst a pontificating idiot.

N.B. Naturally, a commission piece won’t be published as a CC licensed work here, so it won’t be freely available on this site; however should the commissioner be OK with it, if the story is accepted I’ll link to the site where it’s published when it goes up.