New Year’s Restitutions | Writing on the Ether

2 January 2013 iStock_000000449951Small photog HeroOfTheDay2441 texted story image

Table of Contents

  1. Nobody Dast Blame Us
  2. Maass Production
  3. Wendigging It

Nobody Dast Blame Us

You know the line, right? It’s Charley, in Death of a Salesman:

Nobody dast blame this man. You don’t understand: Willy was a salesman. And for a salesman, there’s no rock bottom to the life. He don’t put a bolt to a nut, he don’t tell you the law or give you medicine. He’s a man way out there in the blue riding on a smile and a shoeshine.

1388556314-1388556314_goodreads_misc

An infographic provided to the Ether by Goodreads on the Amazon-owned site’s 2013 successes. It shows us that some 25 million people were talking more about books than about the book business: There may be hope yet.

And we’re all salesmen on this bus. The books bus. If we weren’t before, we are now. We have every right to be wickedly focused on the business end of things.

Here at the opening of the 344th Year of Our Digital Disruption—how long, O Lord, how long?there’s nothing surprising about the obsession gripping the industry! the industry!

The digital dynamic does not and did not change the creative process.

No, it bites you on the business end. Distribution is its engine. The marketplace is its test track. Your career is its parking lot.

A lot of our colleagues never meant to be salesmen. Not really. Sure, sure, everyone in life sells something, etc., etc., but I’m talking about the near-eclipse of art by commerce that has occurred while the transition monster-trucked its way through publishing.

You couldn’t see one of the 8,762 obligatory stagings of A Christmas Carol this holiday season without somebody telling you that Charles Dickens was a great serialist. Would everyone please stop telling us that? We know, Dickens released in serial form. Got it. Does anybody talk about what Dickens wrote anymore? What those stories meant? How he crafted his characters or what he wanted us to remember about them? Do you really think he wanted us to dwell on the fact that he released stuff in serial form? Me either. I think he was making more important points about life than that. So could we move on now, please?

Likewise, you can see this reductio ad business in the 2014 edition of the Writer Advice Day Palooza that bombards us with teeth-gnashed writer-advice confetti each year.

As Elizabeth S. Craig put it in her, How To Meet Our Goals in 2014, “Since my blog reader was so chock-full of writerly advice for the next year, I felt I needed to run a post as an antidote. ”

And her antidote is a good one, especially if you’re in the grand-goals camp. She writes:

How low can you set the bar and still get what you want? I know that sounds awful, but for me, that’s how I achieve—I hit all my goals and that motivates me to keep hitting goals.  And if I hit my goal and keep going and write more…that doesn’t mean I don’t write the next day.  The next day I meet my very modest goal again.  With modern life—we’ve just got to be realistic about our time.

I hashed a brace of tweets on January 1 #HappyWriterAdviceDay. It’s been more like Writer Advice Week, of course. Almost charming. If Meredith Wilson’s The Music Man had been The Writing Man, we’d all be out in some desperately small-town-Americana town square telling each other how to do it. That’s what Writer Advice Day/Week is. Authors telling authors how to do it.

New Year really brings out the evangelist in so many of our good friends, doesn’t it?

Most of the posts I found for #HappyWriterAdviceDay featured our best and brightest telling our brightest and best that they have to write at least 500 words each day damn it, no matter what. Even if both your arms fall off and the power goes out, you still have to write 500 words each day damn it. Your spouse may die, your children may put out each others’ eyes with their Hunger Games archery sets, and terrorist attacks may collapse buildings on your head, but you have to write 500 words each day damn it, that’s it, that’s all, amen and awomen.

Some of these aren’t resolutions. They’re recriminations. Self-recriminations. The person who tells you most loudly that you have to write 500 words each day in 2014?—just might be the one who didn’t manage it (damn it) in 2013.

But I’ll say it again, in everyone’s defense: we’re being driven to this stark-staring fixation on word counts by the Digital Enablement. Nobody dast blame us. This is Boom Town, baby. Everybody can publish, publish, publish. Who cares if you have nothing to say? Write a book, anyway. No, write four. Per year. If you don’t, you’re a wuss. Five-hundred words…I told you that part already, right? Okay.

So amid all this content-more-content-faster-content cacophony of #HappyWriterAdviceDay, imagine my relief when I found Donald Maass, my fellow contributor at Writer Unboxed, writing:

There’s all the time in the world today. It’s a day for resolutions and lists, every item of which feels doable. The slate’s wiped clean. The calendar is a hopeful expanse just waiting to be filled with shining accomplishments and earned satisfaction. All is possible. Nothing is too difficult. The view ahead is clear.

When did Maass become such a relaxing person? That agency of his is about to open a maassage service, mark my word and get me an hour-long appointment as soon as it’s up and running.

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Maass Production

Today’s a good day to get off the highway. Give yourself some time to stretch. Have a coffee. Dream a little. Summon your ambition. Feel your power. The novel you’re working on has the potential for greatness. Today’s the day to discover it, own it, and plan for it.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Dave Malone, Seasons in Love, poetry, Trask Road Press

Donald Maass

In this pause of the assembly line, Maass recommends you ask yourself a few questions about what it is you’re writing, not about how much you’re writing.

When readers finish your novel, what will they feel most strongly? Which event in the novel should most strongly provoke that feeling? How can you enhance that event to guarantee that result in readers?

Are your eyes brimming yet? His piece is called Novel ResolutionsNovel, indeed, because he doesn’t mention word count damn it.

What makes novels in your category weak, derivative and predictable? Catalogue those elements then take a look at your own manuscript. (Come on, be honest.) Work out changes that will counter your readers’ expectations.

This next bit from Maass may even be illegal for open conversation in certain boroughs of Manhattan:

What makes a novel a classic? List the qualities. How can you enact each of those qualities in your pages?

He’s talking about literature. Classic literature. Remember that stuff? Wouldn’t it be amazing to restore some of our commitment to the work itself this year, not just to getting smarter and faster at producing it?

(Literature means all genres, thank you, and I’m looking at my one reader who loves to tweet at me that “literature” means only literary. I should have given her a dictionary for Christmas.)

What I really appreciate about Maass’ essay at WU is that he doesn’t slam us with another refrain of “Trouble Right Here in River City” about butts in seats and hands on keyboards. He actually advises you to take a moment—which didn’t have to be on New Year’s Day, do it now—to think about what you meant to write, what you may or may not be saying in a book.

For this, I’d like to shake his virtual hand. What a great thing.

I found a bit more headed in this direction, and I’ll offer it to you in case you, too, are tired of “the product” and would like to spend a little time thinking about “the meaning.”

Back to Table of Contents

Wendigging It

Publishing is a container, and while choice of container is certainly important, it’s not the reason you’re here. If the only thing that makes you interesting is how you publish, your time in this creative place has a very short clock.

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, blog, blogging, journalism, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, The Bookseller, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Digital Book 2013, IDPF, BEA 2013

Chuck Wendig

This is Chuck Wendig. And I cannot say that in Writing Resolutions: 2014 and Beyond, he doesn’t push hard at the importance of actually doing the writing. Without telling us about the 500 words each day damn it, he does make it wonderfully clear that airy-fairying off into the nana of poetic promise won’t get the job done:

You should firmly get your order of operations straight: the writing comes first. The talking-and-reading-about-writing comes second. Writing advice is here to support your art, not support the illusion of your art.

But Wendig, a prolific producer, himself, mind you, brings some interesting observations to the table, in that special patois of his.

For example, here’s one of Wendig’s 10 resolutions for 2014: “I will give my work the time it needs.”

Oh.

Better do that one again: “I will give my work the time it needs.”

Wow.

Sometimes a story comes out fast. Sometimes it comes out slow…Overnight successes never are; what you see is just the iceberg’s peak poking out of the slush. This takes time. From ideation to action. From writing one junk novel to a worse novel to a better one to the ninth one that’s actually worth a good goddamn. From writing to rewriting to editing to copyediting. Don’t “just click publish.”

He’s not only talking to self-publishers, either:

Don’t just send it off half-baked to some editor or agent — they get hundreds of stories a day that are the narrative equivalent to a sloppy equine miscarriage or half-eaten ham salad sandwich…Take pride in what you do. Go the distance and get shit done. Not just a little bit done, but all-the-way-to-the-awesome-end done.

There are several more resolutions here well worth all our attention. I’m excerpting his comments about them. I suggest you read his full text.

“I will earn my audience”:

You don’t build an audience like it’s a fucking chair. And you don’t beat your potential audience about the head and neck with that goddamn chair, either. You earn them by being the best version of you. You earn them by being passionate and awesome and not-an-asshole.

“I will respect the role of storyteller”:

Storytelling is news, entertainment, myth, religion, memory. As humans, we’re biologically a turbid broth of genetics — but intellectually, we’re stitched of a complex quilt of storytelling memetics. Other people won’t respect your role. They think what you’re doing is a half-a-jar of horseshit. But being a storyteller? Choosing to do this thing? It matters. Stories make the world go around. Respect the role, and your choice of it. Storytellers matter.

This next one I find especially interesting. As the biz drives more and more decisions and detours, have you seen that blank look on some writers’ faces when they talk about their work? I have, too. Here’s Wendig:

“I will get excited about what I’m writing”:

What you do is you find a way to be excited about the work. You still make it yours. You own it. You claim it with the flag of your voice thrust into the earth of the work….Discover your own door into the material. Find the You-shaped hole in every story…Get geeked about your story. Write what thrills you. Every day of writing, sit down and ask: what am I going to write that excites me today?

As I said, Wendig does include what he terms “the simplest commandment of them all: write:

Write a little or a lot every day but goddamnit, write. Whether it’s 350 words or 3500 — the only way out is through.

But what sticks with me from his piece, like what sticks with me from good Dickens, is the focus he’s putting on what it is you’re writing and how it stacks up to the means, the modes, the digital machine we’re all feeding in one way or another:

You will succeed in the long run based on how you write and on the stories you tell, not on what method of publishing you choose.

What do you think? Even while being chased around the coffee table by digital in 2014, can we restore some emphasis on what’s being written?—and a little less on how many words damn it?

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Main image – iStockphoto: HeroOfTheDay2441

Posted in Writing on the Ether and tagged , .

Porter Anderson / @Porter_Anderson

Porter Anderson (@Porter_Anderson) is a journalist and consultant in publishing. He's The Bookseller's (London) Associate Editor in charge of The FutureBook. He's a featured writer with Thought Catalog (New York), which carries his reports, commentary, and frequent Music for Writers interviews with composers and musicians. And he's a regular contributor of "Provocations in Publishing" with Writer Unboxed. Through his consultancy, Porter Anderson Media, Porter covers, programs, and speaks at publishing conferences and other events in Europe and the US, and works with various players in publishing, such as Library Journal's SELF-e, Frankfurt Book Fair's Business Club, and authors. You can follow his editorial output at Porter Anderson Media, and via this RSS link.

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39 Comments on "New Year’s Restitutions | Writing on the Ether"

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James Scott Bell
There’s another wrinkle here, Porter, and I’m not just talking about crow’s feet from another year gone by. It’s about writing every day and producing the words, but not exactly in the way you mean it here. What you protesteth is the idea of speed at the expense of quality. There is truth in that, if by speed we mean words getting spat out and then published with nary a thought in between. There is a little thing called editing….but leave that aside for a moment. What I want to mention is the idea of writing PRACTICE. Here, what speed… Read more »
Porter Anderson
@jamesscottbell:disqus That’ll be quite enough about those crows’ feet, lol, and you, Jim, have claimed the first Ether comment of the new year! Congratulations and may confetti be in your hair for weeks. 🙂 You’re right, of course. When are you not? As you say, we’re actually talking about two different things. FAR be it from me — so very far, I cannot tell you — to suggest that writers shouldn’t practice. Au contraire, I’m BEGGING them to practice. And if that goes at 500 words a day, per the kind of exercise you’re describing in getting past inhibitions, etc.,… Read more »
Debra Eve
Intriguing ideas, Porter. I think you’ve hit on something here. Self-publishing does seem to be ushering in a new era of pulp fiction. I was just researching Edgar Rice Burroughs. He wrote: “That I had to work is evidenced by a graph that I keep on my desk showing my word output from year to year since 1911. In 1913, it reached its peak, with 413,000 words for the year. I had been trying to find a publisher who would put some of my stuff into book form, but I met with no encouragement.” Burroughs was still a serialist at… Read more »
Kellye Crocker

Fascinating! Mind boggles at 413K/year.

CJ Lyons
Everyone and their uncle seems to weigh in on what writers “should do” so I’ve resisted the urge, but seriously, it’s no secret: writers write. Successful writers keep writing. I don’t count words or pages, I don’t even–gasp!–write everyday! IF you define writing as putting words on the page, that is. Do I dream about my current story, imagine new and exciting possibilities to take my craft and the emotional impact to the next level, do I think about how a reader will respond to this character or that plot twist, do I immerse myself in the world around me… Read more »
Porter Anderson
@cjlyons:disqus Wow, CJ, I love this line: “No rules, just write with vision, passion, and commitment.” So glad you jumped in, especially with this good reminder that each writer’s personality and creativity actually can dictate (and should) the approach. This is a lot better, surely, than folks feeling regimented into this approach or that approach and trying to spin out work on someone else’s timetable. I found myself saying in a comment back to James Scott Bell (he and I are both admirers of the pulp era, which simply required amazingly fast-turn productivity), we might want to look at this… Read more »
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Morgyn Star

Porter, Happy, happy 2014 to you!
You, Donald, Chuck, three guys who make me stop, look and listen. Every time you post, your gift of quilting things together, makes massive sense.

Methinks, the SCREAMERS protest too much. Tell me you gotta and watch me not, LOL.

Porter Anderson

@morgynstar:disqus

Hey, Morgyn,

Please come by EVERY Ether and leave a comment, will you? That kind of compliment is so lovely to hear, it makes it seem OK that we’re going ahead with 2014, after all, LOL.

Seriously, thank you. And hang onto that independence. Let them “watch you not.” 🙂

Cheers and happy 2014!
-p.

Victoria_Noe
There are a lot of days I don’t write 500 words. There are a lot of days when I don’t write any words, really. But I don’t beat myself up about it, nor do I let anyone else. I have enough self-imposed Catholic guilt as it is, thank you. I was thinking today about the large goals for each month this year. Marketing is always one of the two goals; the other varies. For January, it’s making sure my marketing is up to date (bios, books lists, etc.) and finishing the research on book #4. For February, my marketing goal… Read more »
Porter Anderson
@Victoria_Noe:disqus And that’s the perfect course, Viki — Setting your own pattern the way it makes sense for your own creative needs and proclivities. Which is why you have three books out in your series and a fourth on the way, and the good planning to be able to say what you’ll be focusing on in January and then in February. Instead of just “falling up stairs,” as a lot of people exerience it. (And as I perform it on my less coordinated days, lol.) It’s important to remember, of course, that some people DO work very well with 500… Read more »
Victoria_Noe
I want to emphasize (besides the fact that I write on my Acer notebook, having given up the Selectric long ago) that these systems didn’t appear fully realized. When I first started this strange journey, I kept my ears open to all suggestions. I dismissed nothing out of hand, and tried a lot of things. Some of them stuck, because they worked for me. Some of them were relegated to the “lessons learned” folder. And really, that’s what we all have to do: find out what works. My best friend has always written late into the night (or more accurately,… Read more »
Porter Anderson
@Victoria_Noe:disqus I’m relieved to hear that you’re off the Selectric, Viki, lol. I was worried that we might have to stage an intervention. Did you see my comment back to James Scott the Bell? I told him I’ve been reading National Book Award finalist Lawrence Wright’s “Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief” http://amzn.to/1d6X65af (not least because the Tropic of Porter includes the spiritual world headquarters of the Church, you know), and I’ve learned that L. Ron Hubbard — long before he gave the world Scientology — was such a prolific writer of pulp fiction that he bought… Read more »
Kellye Crocker
I appreciate, as always, your thoughtful post, Porter–and love the responses, too. (Resolution 2015: Beat James Scott Bell to posting the first Ether comment!) I’m a little surprised by the suggestion that some writers may not ponder “the meaning.” * shudders * My guess is that most do, it’s just that there’s often a disruption (if you will) in the execution, such as: The writer doesn’t yet have the skill to pull it off (practice!); a lack of revision and/or editing; or, that modern scourge, “premature release.” I agree there is no One Right (Write) Way, but I also think… Read more »
Porter Anderson
@kellyecrocker:disqus Hi, Kellye, and thanks for the geat comment. You’ll have to get up awfully early next year to beat Mr. Bell to the punch, I fear. And happy word counting. If that works for you, then I’m sure it’s what you should be doing — and having had so many good exchanges with you here, I can say that because I’m sure you’re not the type who doesn’t think about what she’s writing, lol. I like your ideas of what, in fact, can derail that consciousness of intent, those are good ones. I have a rather larger one that… Read more »
Kellye Crocker
Hello, Porter! Thank you for your thoughtful response. You make a good point about pop culture, “entertainment” and serious work. The place I’m always coming from in what I like to read and write is, for lack of better words, the intersection of “entertainment” and “serious.” Don’t get me wrong: I love a romp and there’s nothing wrong with pure “entertainment.’ Life often is hard, and if a “fun” book gives pleasure or entertains, I’m for that. (And don’t get me started about kids and reading. The first time I heard my dyslexic son exclaiming over a book he was… Read more »
Debra Eve
No word counts for me! One source of that 500-word challenge was using it to build his email list — “sign up for daily prompts to your inbox.” Kinda left a bad taste. I don’t do resolutions. When I was in college, the dorm flew off to all corners of the globe during December, so we celebrated “New Year’s Eve” together on January 31. I still incubate in January and solidify my ideas for the year by February 2. Even before reading Wendig, I’d hit on writing blocks instead of word counts — putting ritual time aside for writing exploration… Read more »
Kellye Crocker

Gack, Debra! Your experience with the 500-word challenge leaves a bad taste for me, too. And I can’t see that being an effective marketing approach!

I know you weren’t talking about the #dailywordcount party I mentioned above, but, just to be clear with everyone: it’s just a twitter hashtag/community…no schemes attached. Drop in when/if you want.

Also, I love your idea of incubating in January!

Debra Eve

I have no problems with people supporting each other on Twitter, Kellye! That’s a party anyone can attend. But when someone says, “Show your ID at the door and sign the guest book so we have your address, then you can come in” — yuck. Especially when there’s a free-for-all down the street 🙂

Kellye Crocker

Thanks, Debra!

Porter Anderson
@DebraEve:disqus Campari for breakfast!! I am so there! 🙂 Thanks, Debra, I appreciate your comments not only on the word count issue but also in your mention of “daily prompts” and things. I know there are whole nations of people, apparently, who just live for those “daily prompts,” but to me that’s right there with the inspi-vational people, as I call them, who feel they have to read some inspirational blog post each day or they won’t be motivated to write. For me, if you’re not motivated — and prompted, and inspired, etc. — BY what you’re writing, then you’re… Read more »
Kellye Crocker
Wow, Porter, I really like what you say here. I’ve been trying to tell myself to stop reading some of these things–the problem is, someone will tweet about a post, and it will sound good…I think we’ve talked about this before here, but it’s almost like there’s too much good stuff…I can’t get to all of it, never mind all of the other stuff. And, at the risk of being indelicate here…you add to this good content, Porter! And doesn’t Jane Friedman recommend author newsletters? Honestly, I feel blessed to have access to the information you and Jane (and so… Read more »
Kellye Crocker

PS And I’m not reading the writing prompts..but a good books lists? I cannot resist. And I clicked on this one about resolutions, didn’t I? Oh, yes… 🙂

Ernie Zelinski
Only 500 words a day? What if an author wants to write a book with only 500 or 1,000 words? Can’t the writer take his or her time and write only 100 or 50 words a day? As for me, I will take quality over quantity any day. Here is an example: A few years ago Charlene Costanzo self-published “The Twelve Gifts of Birth”. Excluding the introduction, the book had only 461 words and was published in hard-cover. (Yes, 461 words — I counted them.) Much to the surprise of the publishing industry, eighteen months later the book had sold… Read more »
eightcutsgallery

a super restorative, Porter. My own main wish for 2014 in the self-publishing world, which is a microcosm that amplifies the problems you outline hundredfold is for the celebration of slow writing http://danholloway.wordpress.com/2013/12/27/more-open-for-indies-what-id-like-2014-to-bring/

Porter Anderson

@eightcutsgallery:disqus

Thanks so much, Dan, and I like your post very much.

“The Year of Slow Self-Publishing” is a marvelous concept for 2014, and at least six of us in the world agree on this, LOL.

Good stuff, and thanks for stopping by, looking forward to seeing you at London Author Fair in February!
-p.

Lara Schiffbauer
Happy New Year pretty late! I’ve been avoiding much of the writing posts you talked about above by staying off the computer and building Legos while watching Marvel movies with my kids. I did just read Donald Maas’s post over at WU right before coming here, though, and liked the idea of thinking about where you want your story to go. It was kind of refreshing. He usually has great, thought provoking questions for whatever he’s talking about, though. 🙂 My goal is to write. I’ve spent the last year making goals and breaking them, so I’m not doing the… Read more »
Porter Anderson
@laraschiffbauer:disqus Good plan, Lara, And thanks for dropping by with it! I think the way to keep the primacy of the writing in place is to keep the goal-setting at bay. Especially in the States, we’re all so freaking goal-driven (he said, wearing his FitBit Flex to be sure he walked 10,000 steps each day, lol) that we lose sight of what we set the goals to do in the first place. I’ve seen so many people in the Tweeterie talking about how disappointed they feel in themselves when they find they can’t live up to their goals and resolutions,… Read more »
Rachelle Gardner

Love this post. As I said in this post on predictions for
2014 (http://www.authormedia.com/2014-publishing-predictions/) I think it’s
high time we all get our focus back on the work. Not the word count, not the
publishing format, not self-vs-traditional. But writing a damn good book. It’s
what matters, regardless of how many people ever read it. And ironically, it’s
what will make people want to read it.

Porter Anderson
@rachelle_gardner:disqus Thanks so much, Rachelle! Great of you to come by and thanks so much for this incredibly upbeat idea that we can refocus things much more on the quality of the content and much less on the mechanics, logistics, and semantics (! – I got three “-ics,” lol). These things have tied us down for so long, however logical our concern about the industry! the industry! has been. One thing you say a lot better than I do in your prediction ( http://ow.ly/soDF9 ) is this: “The process of writing a good book is the same as it’s ever… Read more »
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