I’ve been reading Richard’s blog for some time now and following the progress of his writing. Very happy for him.
It’s been some time since I last posted a Copy Editing Conundrum. So, welcome new readers. Hope you enjoy, and are informed, as well as entertained. Although, technically today’s episode has less to do with copy editing, and much more to do with substantive editing, or perhaps injecting bad substances into published work like Hunter Thompson injected, well, everything, rather than pumping those substances out.
I found this cliche-ridden gem quoted in a Writer’s Digest article on what makes novels sell, and the excerpt is from a novel, or series of novels, that’s making the writer a J.K. Rowling-rich hack. (I write for money; I think writers should make money and a lot of it, but it still irks me that bad writing can make so much money and sell people on cheap emotions.) Anyhow, here’s the passage in question:
Okay, I like him. There, I’ve admitted it to myself. I cannot hide from my feelings anymore. I’ve never felt like this before. I find him attractive, very attractive. But it’s a lost cause, I know, and I sigh with bittersweet regret. It was just a coincidence, his coming here. But still, I can admire him from afar, surely. No harm can come of that.
Every line is a cliche. It reminds me of a teenage girl’s diary, or even a prepubescent girl writing about her first crush. And yet, the character is supposed to be an adult woman, confessing her darkest erotic desires. An apparently emotionally-stunted woman. (Have you guessed the bestseller?)
This is bad writing at its finest, reveling in its shiny badness. And I’m disappointed in Writer’s Digest for providing it as an example of tension-filled writing that will make your novel sell. It may help sell, but it’s not tension-filled. It’s not remotely satisfying, at least for this reader. Is this the kind of writing modern readers want, even if it is meant as escapism? I hope not. I hope it’s a passing fancy.
My advice would be to send this passage back and tell the writer to rewrite it until a real character, a real woman with genuine desires emerges from the prose.
Of course, if the whole novel reads like this one passage, the writer could churn out a novel a month, which will make the writer’s publisher happy, as long as readers are buying. And the hack will laugh all the way to the bank.
I once read somewhere Mark Twain kept a running word count in the margins of his manuscripts. Word counts are probably a weird obsession held largely by writers. We survive by them. Sometimes we’re paid by the number of words we write. Sometimes we use the count to measure a good day’s work, whether those words add up to a few sentences or several pages.
Word counts also tell us—somewhat arbitrarily—what sort of work we have written. Is it a Tweet (which actually is even more micro, down to the character)? Is it an essay? A short story? A novella? A novel?
A few months ago, a writer friend of mine Gerald Warfield and I shoptalked about just such things. We couldn’t come up with a solid answer. But a blog post from Writer’s Digest gives some novel advice at least, breaking down some average word counts for novels of different lengths.
The link is here. Of course, it’s not the end-all declaration of authority, but it must count for something.
One of my new favorite writers is John Scalzi. Besides writing some good SF, he also writes a blog—Whatever—in which he writes, well, whatever he wants. Often his posts, to my delight, are a look inside another writer’s life; it’s the sort of site that’s often encouraging and inspirational, but grounded in the realities of writing for a living. And it helps me feel not quite so alone in my ambitions and worries and even my small triumphs as a writer.
One of today’s posts addressed an issue most writers have to struggle with—money. Specifically saying it’s OK and good to actually make money from writing. It doesn’t make you a hack or sell-out. Upbringing (“money is the root of all evil”) combined with university English courses and professors and fellow students that romanticized the suffering, always struggling pauper writer/artist, it’s hard to break free of such a negative mindset toward money. So, I wanted to share Scalzi’s post below for those, like me, who have struggled constantly with this issue:
I rarely give five star ratings, but this book is just that good. It’s not necessarily life-changing or . . . maybe it is, at least for this writer.
As it’s subtitle says, the techniques outlined are techniques that shouldn’t be ignored, although they aren’t new and you’ve probably encountered them in any number of writing books or classes. But, what Lyon gives you is a compact reference for improving writing, for deepening characterization, structure, plot, etc. She also touches on copy editing and marketing, because, as we know from Dr. Johnson, none but a blockhead writes for fun.
Lyon suggests techniques such as “riff-writing” that I, at least, was unaware of. “Riff-writing” is a version of free writing directed at a particular sentence or paragraph in a finished draft of a work. It allows the writer to play, to give depth and breadth to a particular piece of writing. She also suggests common techniques such as imitating other writers to help “see” style, and to help loosen the inner editor and stave off the inner critic when drafting.
This is part five of Big Bad Book Blog‘s series on blogging and publicity. I’m like the Double Rainbow guy when it comes to reading stats. I love looking at my stats, and seeing that at the very least I’m attracting spam, but the stats . . . What do they meaaaaaaan?!
Of course, WordPress doesn’t allow Google Analytics. And I don’t know of any WordPress source for analyzing stats.
Do you read your stats? What do they mean to you?
I like this post from SF Signal.
And as a bonus, I’m going to answer the questions the post presents, though no one thought to ask me:
What was the best writing advice you received as a teenager/young adult, and who gave it to you?
I never received any writing advice as a teenager. But, I never asked anyone. I didn’t write much as a teenager, although the urge to do something creative with language nagged me: at times I wanted to write and draw comic books, or become a published role-playing game designer (my first writing submission was a rpg module sent to Dragon magazine), or write fantasy novels like Robert E. Howard or Michael Moorcock. Much of that activity was discouraged. I did, however, read. And as almost all the answers in this post note, every writer was a voracious reader. Reading begets writing.
The first real writing advice I ever received came from Rita Mae Brown’s Starting From Scratch. To Miss Brown, reading was paramount. So was writing in active voice. Her book also suggested journalism as an avocation to prepare for the vocation of being a literary artist. I went with that, and have found that journalism may just be a vocation and literary writing the avocation. Or maybe it’s all just a dream.
If you knew then what you know now about the writing life, would you have continued to pursue it?
I think I would have pursued writing in some way, although I certainly would have made some changes in my education and career pursuits. In particular, if I had a better vision of what I wanted to write or of my desire to write before I entered university, I probably would have gone to J-school. I also would have paid more attention to the emerging technology, and not been such a damn Luddite, perhaps learning photography, videography, and would have become much more familiar with the InterWebs in its infancy than I was.
How much of a disconnect is there between your vision of the writing life and the reality of it?
Up until about 10 years ago, my vision and reality were seriously disconnected. I had visions of myself whacking away at a manual typewriter while living on the Left Bank of Paris with tons of expats, like Hemingway. I drew my whole image of what a writer’s life was like from Hemingway. I wasn’t really paying attention to what was going on around me. I certainly had a hard time connecting that image to a career path as a writer. I wasn’t aware of the changes in publishing. Or how difficult it is to publish a book. Or how technology has changed writers. That and it’s clear writers aren’t pop stars. I’m not even sure writers register as even blips in the galaxy.
Here is the fourth of a series of posts from Big Bad Book Blog on blogging and promoting y0ur blog and your brand (aka, yourself) as a writer. To me self promotion is a necessary evil, and yet even before the Interwebs existed, writers such as Dickens and Twain were out there promoting themselves, their works and their opinions.
As a writer, I have a hard time marketing myself. I’m innately shy. I also don’t have a book to promote — not at the moment. But, I do write freelance, and would like to make more money doing that. I’m also looking for full time employment, preferably as a writer or editor. So getting the word out is important.
But what is too much? What is too little?
The third post on blogging from Big Bad Book Blog. Providing content is the hardest thing to do, especially with other daily demands. I’m not sure how daily posts are possible, unless you’re re-posting content from other blogs, or you do write several posts at once, and have them timed to post each day. That practice, though, gets into the question of timeliness. It’s the problem every reporter or writer faces: what’s news one day is nothing the next, and with the Internet, news one second is nothing the next. How often do you blog? How much is too much or too little?
Here is the second part of a series on blogging from Big Bad Book Blog. Finding a focus for a blog is difficult. I started this blog, for instance, as an outlet for book reviews and other literary discussions. I never thought of it specifically as a platform to market myself. I put up another Web site for that purpose, although marketing myself as a writer is hard for me, almost as difficult as writing itself can be. Sometimes I think this blog is unfocused, although I try to stay within the realm of literature and writing in some way. What do you think? Is this blog focused?