Monthly Archives: October 2020

Write a good book, they said

ALL STORIES ARE ABOUT LOVE

Humans are born needing love to survive – ‘failure to thrive’ may even be a cause of death when there is not enough love, in the form of feeding, holding, keeping warm, for an infant to want to live.

If that love isn’t present ‘enough’ by a certain age, it may never be recovered. Adults who have survived have significant problems. The Romanian children kept in orphanages and later adopted often were incapable of attaching to their new parents, parent who were not prepared to deal with them and their special needs.

Distinguishing between a Romance and a mainstream love story

like Pride’s Children is critical for my advertising, and it is something I still have a very hard time with.

Romance readers do not like Pride’s Children.

The negative reviews I have come from people whose expectations were not met.

And that’s my fault – because something I did caused them to EXPECT a Romance.

Romance readers have very clear ideas of what they want:

  • a relationship between TWO people
  • relatively short books
  • more of the same only different – from the same author
  • an HEA (happily ever after) or at least HFN (happy for now) endings
  • and in some cases, a form of point of view that alternates, in the same scene, between the points of view of the two characters
  • covers which indicate the kind of Romance enclosed within, from chaste to steamy
  • recommendations from Romance websites

There are many variations and compilations, but those are the basics from what I can discern.

I wish I wrote Romance – it is in some ways much easier to signal what a book is, and to market.

There is also a huge amount of competition!

A mainstream love story is a different beast

Even though Gone With the Wind is often listed as a Romance (and ‘Romance’ is what all novels used to be designated), it is not: no happy ending, not even a HFN. NOT a relationship between two people – Ashley Wilkes is in the middle for most of the book. And no head-hopping: the point of view is firmly locked on Scarlett for the whole story, but in a limited, not very intimate, omniscient way.

I’d call GWTW a mainstream love story, even a fairly literary one.

And I think that is the key to its enduring success.

At the end, we ache for Scarlett, for ‘tomorrow is another day,’ for her transformation, for her future – which made it irresistible for the Margaret Mitchell estate to allow a writer to take the story further.

Unfortunately, they picked a Romance writer, which I believe was the wrong choice, and didn’t buy.

But the marketing… with the book’s fame, they could market it any way they wanted.

I don’t have that fame.

Traditional publishers might have known how to market Pride’s Children

Many things kept me from submitting Pride’s Children to an agent, trying to find a traditional publisher:

  • I’m deathly slow
  • Disability is handled in the story – at the time I was nearing a finish, disability only got lip service while being sort of categorized with ‘diversity’
  • I’m pathologically stubborn
  • I have believed the indie self-published path is better for a long time now
  • I dislike not having everything in my control
  • I was sure I would be getting, “Nice – but not for us right now” responses, as traditional publishers went with things they were more certain they could sell
  • I knew I would be asked to change certain elements of the story to something more palatable
  • I don’t like their royalty structure
  • If I break out, I want it to be because of what I did, and not for someone else to be able to claim the credit.

But not going traditional leaves me in charge of marketing and publicity.

And most indies do not write mainstream literary fiction!

So there is little path to follow, and that among mostly indie historical novelists; though if I end up taking as long as I seem to be, ‘historical’ may fit me. Depends on whether it is 25 or 50 years since the events happened, as 2005/6 is the timeframe. I’ll probably make 25 by the time I finish the third volume, but probably not be around for 50.

I am gleaning information and ideas from many sites and groups

None of them really appropriate.

I need to figure out how to ‘go viral,’ to capture the zeitgeist, to become popular.

While still having zero energy, fighting my body daily to get some writing brain time, and trying to blaze a trail.

I have ideas. I have sources and places to put ads (some of the previous ones were expensive disastrous messes). I get cannier and sneakier and more educated and more focused with each thing I try.

But it hasn’t been, and won’t be, easy.

The last attempt led me to USTO.gov (copyrights and trademarks and such) to make sure a phrase I will trademark wasn’t being used already.

It isn’t.

But the cost is not zero, and the category I fit in right now – intent-to-use – won’t last long enough for my purposes, so I’m not revealing it until I’m ready to use it. Meanwhile, I will be on tenterhooks.

Which brings me full circle:

‘Write a good book,’ they said.

But never said that part of that may make it extremely hard to sell.

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As usual, comments are very welcome – and I love getting suggestions.

Also, my thanks to Stencil for their graphics software and ability to have a free account for up to ten images a month.

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Taming brain fog and the vagal nerve wave

Surfers

WORKING AGAINST THE INEVITABLE IS EXHAUSTING

The instructions for getting to shore safely when caught in a riptide are to let the current take you where it will, while swimming slowly across, until you’re out of its grasp.

If you try anything like fighting the current, you will drown after you become exhausted, unless one of those nice fit lifeguards sees you and gets to you in time.

Because the current is stronger than you are – by many orders of magnitude.

What is brain fog?

If you have to ask, you haven’t had it. I’m glad for you.

It is feeling, within your own skull, that you just can’t think.

That your brain is in there somewhere, maybe, but you can’t get to it. Other names are chemobrain, fibrobrain, stupor, …

No matter what you seem to try, you can’t get out of the fog – and you can’t think.

It can be caused by illness. By medication. By sleep deprivation. By eating or drinking too much or the wrong thing.

It is a huge part of life with ME/CFS (myalgic encephalomielitis/chronic fatigue syndrome).

It robs you of hours of time.

Healthy people may have ways of exercising through it. Some people can take a stimulant like caffeine to focus and wake up, or ADHD meds.

Rest SHOULD help, but for people like me is often not restorative.

And what is this thing you’re calling a vagal wave?

The vagus nerve enervates much of your body, from the spinal column up to your brain, and out to your limbs. Including innards you don’t have conscious control over, such as your digestive system.

It covers so much territory, it’s hard to know exactly where the sensations are coming from sometimes.

I get periods of time, long ones, when it feels like a wave motion is going on in my body, and all I can do is sit there and let it do its thing. Sometimes painful (the meds after stents caused a horrible case of constant waves of pain in the gut), sometimes not.

When I sit in front of the computer screen, ready to write or focus or think, but the waves are going, all I can do is to grit my teeth and live through them, hour upon hour.

But I’m a problem solver by nature and training

and I finally was able to pay enough attention to the combination of not being able to think, and feeling as if I was in an aquarium (the modern kind with waves).

Data is essential for problem solving, both to identify what’s going on, and then, when you come up with solutions, to see if you’ve managed to change something.

And I finally collected enough data (over months of not being able to write very often), to see some correlations.

I have to eat. We all do. And I can’t think starving, so I can’t postpone the eating TOO much, plus I seem to get these shaky periods of low blood sugar if I put off eating too long, and then it’s an emergency to eat something.

I don’t eat many carbs, so it baffled me – sugar messes with my brain, and the day after eating sugar there’s no way any thinking is going to happen. I don’t even bother trying any more.

But I FINALLY noticed

that 10-30 minutes after I EAT, the waves start, and the brain fog.

I used to try to push through – and the only result of that was to spend hours in that state.

I tried taking naps when I got tired – but they weren’t organized or planned, and the effects didn’t seem to correlate with anything; it was just something I HAD to do.

And I finally figured it out:

My damaged and severely limited energy metabolism doesn’t have enough at any given time to do BOTH: keep me awake and functioning (or even get there), and digesting my food.

It took some tweaking, but I have found a system which takes advantage of my need for napping and my need for food, and times them so that they don’t conflict.

So now I run a time-share

I get up, drink First Diet Coke, and try to get a bit of writing or organizing done before I eat anything.

When hunger tends to shut me down – anywhere from a few minutes to a couple of hours later – I prepare for the next phase: I eat something (mostly protein), but I start getting ready for the changeover from thinking to digesting. I take notes so I can pick up easily when I come back.

And when I feel the waves starting, I get into my jammies, pull the shades, turn the lights off and add an eyemask to block external stimuli, and get in bed.

I set a timer for 35 minutes.

If the wave approach is gentle, I’ll do a quick range-of-motion set, a couple of minutes worth.

If the approach is sudden and severe, I just crash. I used to fear this part – now I just realize I dragged my feet too much.

Lights out. Body temperature drops abruptly (ergo, the jammies). Sometimes deep sleep, sometimes a coma-like state.

The digestive part of the vagus nerve’s control takes over – and I don’t get in its way. No reading. No TV. NO COMPUTER. No trying to think, or push through it, or ignore it.

Just give in.

And when the alarm goes off

I get up, stretch a bit. Get some water, and Second Coke, and NO FOOD.

And within minutes I’m functional again (inasmuch as I’m ever functional), and I can usually work/write for an hour or two until I’ve used up my nap energy, and need food again.

I try not to do Third Coke after Second Nap – that’s too much caffeine for the day (each can is about 45mg of caffeine – peanuts compared with a cup of coffee or an energy drink, but it’s about as much as I can tolerate at a time without getting scarily shaky).

What I should do is not drink First Coke until after First Nap, but that has other physical problems related to it that I prefer not to go into here.

For years I’ve taken 3-5 of these 35 minute naps every day.

And I ALWAYS wake up in a better state than I laid down in.

But this is the first time I’ve coordinated all the pieces, and added the realization that DIGESTION TAKES PHYSICAL ENERGY.

And that my energy supplies are so low, I can’t afford to have the processes of thinking and starting digestion going at the same time.

I’ve been testing this system for the past week

I’m only taking 1-2 naps most days – probably because they are at the right time.

Eating is the trigger – every time. I hadn’t realized how strong it is as a trigger. Though it makes perfect sense: you eat, your body starts digestion. Duh!

Not having a good night’s sleep can cost me the first workable period, and, on a bad sleep night, I may not be able to recover the following day at all.

If I exercise at all – and right now we’re only allowed to use the pool in a predetermined half-hour slot during the 8-11am time – even if it’s the gentlest possible stretching in water – most or all of the rest of the day is shot, because I can’t make up that energy. So the two swim days a week are going to be non-writing days, most likely. Evening would work, but the county rules for the pandemic require a staff person supervising, and the facility is only providing that on weekdays in the morning. Before, I used the pool alone whenever I wanted to, and it was usually in the late afternoon or evening.

If I try to defeat the system and push through, all I do is foul everything up, and get neither rest nor functionality nor good digestion. Timing is critical, as is diversion of energy from one stream to the other.

I might have figured it out sooner

if I had a readout somewhere on my body of both energy usage and remaining stored energy.

I’ve been fighting this battle for years, but I never got quite the data until I noticed the crash after eating – and thought about it. And then it made sense: I’m broken, but I still have some small amount of control.

What I need was all this pandemic isolation and time, and the frustration of the crashes, and some insight that I still don’t know where I got. I have time – lots of it – but was not making much progress in writing NETHERWORLD, except what felt like randomly.

And when the brain was there, I could write for a while – and then it would go.

The PRINCIPLE is the key

I have only enough energy for one process at a time.

I’m lucky I do. I think aging takes its toll, too, and I’m probably producing less energy, total, every year.

Many people with what I have don’t have even this amount to work with – and spend their days playing catch up, with task after basic task barely getting done.

I’ve written this in the hopes of saving someone else with this kind of severe energy deficiency management the years of figuring out how to make the most of their energy creation and storage capacity.

Please let me know if this is of any use.

And pray it makes me a faster writer – I really do well with my brain on!


My thanks to Stencil for the capacity to make interesting images for these posts. Give them your business if you need to produce this kind of image – they have lots more stuff available than the free accounts use.


Using Autocrit to combat combat fatigue

IF YOU DO YOUR OWN EDITING, BE MERCILESS

Despite the recommendations of every editor on the planet, some of us do our own*.

Editing’s no different from any of the other tasks a self-publisher tackles:

  • You are not going to do it perfectly
  • It is a skill – and you are not born with it
  • Learning has many steps
  • There are books which will teach you (or you can take a class)
  • It takes time to do it well
  • It is not inexpensive – if you count your time
  • The professionals started somewhere
  • The results are there for everyone to see
  • No matter what you do, someone will criticize you
  • There are objective standards – but not everyone agrees what they are
  • There is great satisfaction in doing it yourself

Why do your own editing?

Because, in the long run, everything you learn makes you a better writer. Because you can. Because it is always available, on your own time schedule, at your own price (but don’t forget that the time you spend editing might be better spent writing). Because you can’t afford what a good editor costs, and a bad one is useless.

In my case, because I am incapable of interacting with someone else about my own work. Call it a feature – or a bug.

How to have an editing program assist you

After I have almost everything written, polished, listened to, and in what I consider final form, I run it through AutoCrit – and all of the COUNTING it does for me:

  • Duplicate words.
  • Overused words.
  • Two-, three-, and four-word phrases repeated (ouch – unless deliberate).
  • Unusual words.
  • Cliches.
  • Generic words.
  • My own personal word list.
  • Adverbs.

Each and every one of these flagged items gets put through a wringer: Context. Intent. The possibility of synonyms, and a consideration of nuance. Number of repetitions. Whether the repetition is by accident or design.

In other words, everything that has bitten me before.

What I don’t let it ‘help’ me with

Anything else.

Why? Because I don’t trust its judgment on ‘passive voice,’ or ‘subject verb agreement,’ or ‘tense.’ Or ‘readability.’

I have a set, but complex, style. Autocrit doesn’t see italics, for example, but I signal to the reader that something is a direct thought by changing to first person and putting the text in italics. So if you read:

There is no way I’m telling him that.

you’ll know it’s a more intense thought, in those exact words, than general internal monologue:

She wasn’t going to tell him that.

It’s too complicated for an automatic program.

But the counting alone is an amazing help for me

When and where I need it.

This is my reason for having a lifetime membership – my brain is tired more than lazy all the time due to chronic illness and disability, so I let it serve up the most convenient word WHEN WRITING. But I’m not going to let first words stand – not without a raze-to-the-ground fight.

Because my readers deserve the best I can provide on the LANGUAGE side of the writing.

Self-editing with a program is a tool

It takes a fair amount of time per scene, but I think of it as the best investment of that time I can make, because the final product is improved in so many ways. I look for strong verbs instead of verb + adverb combinations, more precise nouns instead of common nouns, and also places where I can reinforce a motif or thread I want to keep.

And I don’t have to count or do the time-consuming searches because Autocrit is merciless.

Last tip

After the scene is polished through this process, I put it through several of the steps one final time – because I have had the experience of working on synonyms and nuance, and finding out that to reduce the count of one way of saying things, I have increased the count of another!

*Adapted from an online comment – you may have seen some of this material before.

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Do you use an editing program to improve your own writing?

How?

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