Monday, November 5, 2012

Why We Write

           Writing is not a hobby.  If you are afflicted with this strange condition, you would describe it as an "urgency", some  unfathomable drive in the pit of your stomach that must be set free through putting your thoughts on paper.  If you will pardon the comparison, it's much like my Christian beliefs.  You can't see it, you can't touch it, but you know it's there.
            I tried to quit once.  After years of pounding my fists on the doors of New York brick-and-mortar publishing houses, I put everything I'd written in a box and stored it in the attic.  I returned to my second favorite pastime...reading.  This pursuit was not as successful in making me happy as I hoped, but I just kept reading. 
           Then something happened.  I picked up a book by Fern Michaels.  She's been around for a long, long time, but still offers her fans a good read with a touch of mystery and a touch of romance.  Sadly, I cannot recall the title, but the content forever changed my life.
             Without getting into the plot details or ending of the story, I raced upstairs to the attic and brought out all those finished and partially finished stories I had written.  My first intent was to finish all of my books and re-hide them with the quiet prayer that some stranger would find them fifty, hundred years in the future and I could be published after my death.  I would receive all sorts of awards posthumously.
              So, with ten separate novels in various stages of development, I dug in and finished them all.  Self-published on, and also published them on Kindle and Nook.
             During this time, I realized that I'm happier when I'm writing.  The actual process of putting words on paper, ending a story with a satisfying conclusion seemed to release endorphins into my bloodstream.  What a revelation.   When I finish a novel, I feel like I can tackle the world.     
             This was not a swift journey, nor was it smooth sailing.  I never went to college, I was never a stellar student in high school, but through trial and error, I learned the craft....punctuation, grammar, vocabulary, character development and plotting.  More importantly, I learned the art of self-editing.  When I finish a story, I print out a rough draft.  Somehow, on this printed page, I'm able to see passed emotions, passed the plot, to see words, sentence structure.  My errors seem to jump out at me. Over the years, the errors have decreased in numbers.
              So, if you have something churning in the pit of your stomach, there is a cure.  Write.  Then write some more.  Write when you think you don't have time.  Write even when you think you don't want to.  Write.
             As the sneaker-maker says, "Just do it".

Flaunting the Rules

         When you self-publish, one of the perks is that you can flaunt the rules set by nearly all of the big New York publishers.  Also, one of the reasons that the New York houses look down on self-published authors is because the majority of the writers are sloppy and guess what else?  They flaunt the basic rules of grammar.
          So, why should we care?  As English-speaking Americans, we are rigidly taught and are exposed via TV to proper grammar from early childhood.  By the time we reach adulthood our literary preferences dictate the genre of books we buy and read.  When we--as readers--are really getting into an exciting plot, it can be a jarring experience for a misplaced comma to blur the meaning.  Punctuation was "invented" to make the written word easier to comprehend.  I thought it was invented by Shakespeare so the actors would know when to take a breath, but Google says it was an Italian printer.  The earliest versions of the Bible, had no punctuation, no capital letters.
           When I put one of my novels on Amazon and Kindle, I want it to be as PERFECT as possible.  You could call it vanity, but I try to have proper grammar, spelling, punctuation and format, as well as creating a satisfying experience for the reader.
             Writing a novel isn't a time to indulge in self-aggrandizement.  "Hey, see how great I am.  I've written a novel and broken every rule written or unwritten."  No, this is a time to showcase your talents and give the paying public the good read they expect when spending their money.
              Some of the basic, primary rules of fiction are written, some are unwritten.  It's important to give the reader a sense of time and place, use all five--see, hear, feel, smell and taste.   Is it summer or winter, is your drink too sweet or bitter?  Too hot or too cold?  What does fear feel like?
               The rule of thumb is your novel should be 60% dialogue and 40% narrative.  Don't overdo either one.   Don't let one character get on a soapbox and rant for a couple of pages.  The rule applying to big, cumbersome words or complicated character names is...anything that stops the reader from flowing through the sentence or paragraph is bad.
                So, all you beginners (and even some seasoned writers), please take pride in the work you put on the public venue.  It's got your name on it.