Monday, July 11, 2011

OK, I Guess I Need to Do This Again

A little over a year ago, I outlined what I thought was a fairly solid bit of arguing against using Facebook. I don't want pictures of myself all over the interwebs and I don't need more online time wasters. I don't want to post my "mood" or "status" and I don't want to read anyone else's. Apparently, this wasn't enough. I am still being cajoled, prodded and basically harassed about Facebook almost daily. So, I'm going to try to make this a little more clear:

I will never join Facebook. I don't care if they give out free money and sex with Sting. It isn't going to happen. Ever. I don't care if I am not cool for not joining. That actually cements my decision so you guys can stop saying it. But for those who I will end up directing here, there are several more every good reasons that I don't want to join:

*I don't want to have friendships reduced to scanning my "wall" every once in a while. I don't want to be chastised for not reading someone's latest updates. I don't want real, actual relationships to be replaced with this crap. No.

*I don't want anything that I might happen to write there to be owned by someone else. Did you know that they have, in the past, changed the rules to give themselves the copyright of anything posted on the site? I write for a living. I don't want to inadvertently write something there that I want to use and find that I can't use my own words elsewhere. I don't know whether they still claim copyright over everything their members post there, but the fact that it was done once means it can be done again. This is my living we're talking about. No thanks.

*Sites are increasingly tied to Facebook, and that worries me. I don't want everything that I do online to be the knowledge of everyone I know. Sometimes I take on kind of stupid work because it pays decently or just because it's quick and easy. Virtually anything you do online now gets posted on Facebook. That would be extremely inhibiting for me as a Web writer. I don't want to weigh every single thing I write based on whether I want my best friend from third grade to know that occassionally I write about zombie movies. It would seriously impact my bottom line.

*I really, really don't want to find my best friend from third grade. I always frame things that happen to me as stories- tales that have a beginning and an ending. The stories that I've lived through won't be the same if I know the eventual outcome of each character. Picture the gross cheerleader who made your life hell in high school. That's fodder for plenty of YA stories- at the very least it's a nice starting point that can take you in millions of different directions. Would it help if you find out that the hated cheerleader eventually became a boring middle-aged office worker in Texas with a haircut like Peggy Hill? No, it did not. I don't want any more of that, thanks. I want plenty of story fodder filled with characters who don't become middle aged and are forever the heroes and villains.

*Facebook members are free copywriters. Since I make a nice wage as a copywriter, I don't want any part of this. Did you know that if you talk about a product on Facebook, the site takes those words and uses them in ads for other members? They do. They post them as ads on the pages of your Facebook friends. That may some day expand to site-wide ads that you're essentially writing for free and without your permission. Reading about that was the absolute last straw for me.

If you're a writer you may think it's worthwhile, and that's perfectly fine, but I don't. I think it's dangerous and gross and has the potential to take away my words as well as my inspiration. But don't worry, I predict that within two years they will go the way of MySpace. Google is taking over as they have everywhere else. In two years I'll be hearing people beg me to join Google+ so that they don't have to slog through a muddy field to pick up a phone while under sniper fire or whatever the excuse is. I can't promise anything.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Rules for Writing

I ran across this Guardian piece today- it's a massive list of rules for writing fiction, as written by several well-known authors. Reading it through is pretty inspiring, and a little eye opening in some ways. I managed to break two of these "rules" in that last sentence. Anyway, this is long, but many of the rules were just too interesting not to share.

A few of my favorites:

Elmore Leonard- "Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue. The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But "said" is far less intrusive than "grumbled", "gasped", "cautioned", "lied". I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with "she asseverated" and had to stop reading and go to the dictionary."

Interesting, I interjected suddenly. I'm guilty of using words other than "said" in my own fiction. I think it's perfectly permissible as long as it's done sparingly.

Margaret Atwood- "Hold the reader's attention. (This is likely to work better if you can hold your own.) But you don't know who the reader is, so it's like shooting fish with a slingshot in the dark. What fascinates A will bore the pants off B."

Too true. There's no possible way to please everyone, I exclaimed.

Roddy Doyle- "Do not place a photograph of your favourite author on your desk, especially if the author is one of the famous ones who committed suicide."

I have a figurine of Oscar Wilde on mine. Does that count? I'm thinking not.

"Do give the work a name as quickly as possible. Own it, and see it. Dickens knew Bleak House was going to be called Bleak House before he started writing it. The rest must have been easy."

I've found in non-fiction that this is vital. I've been guilty of writing to a topic and meandering around until I finally put a title on it. That forces a focus. Did you see the Bleak House version with Gillian Anderson? That was outstanding. Netflix it if you haven't.

"Do not search for the book you haven't written yet."

Oddly, I did that yesterday on, I argued. It wasn't there. Get ready for it, suckers!

Helen Dunmore- "Finish the day's writing when you still want to continue."

This is the only one of the bunch that I can't figure out. Why would you do that, and how can you? When I'm going, I have to go. If it's 4 a.m., then it's 4 a.m. When the work demands it, it simply demands it.

Geoff Dyer- "Have more than one idea on the go at any one time. If it's a choice between writing a book and doing nothing I will always choose the latter. It's only if I have an idea for two books that I choose one rather than the other. I always have to feel that I'm bunking off from something."

This is likely why I have at least eight novels in various stages of completion but never seem to actually finish any of them. One will start to piss me off and I'll punish it by spending time with one of its brothers. Because, you know, fuck him.

"Beware of clichés. Not just the clichés that Martin Amis is at war with. There are clichés of response as well as expression. There are clichés of observation and of thought – even of conception. Many novels, even quite a few adequately written ones, are clichés of form which conform to clichés of expectation."

This may be the most thought provoking of them all. I have actually struggled with getting back into the cliches of observation and thought out of fear that my stuff is not the expectation. It's not what the masses want, and that makes it a little scary. These little bastards may end up living with me for the rest of my life instead of leaving home and finding the safety of a bookstore to rest in.

Anne Enright- "Remember, if you sit at your desk for 15 or 20 years, every day, not ­counting weekends, it changes you. It just does. It may not improve your temper, but it fixes something else. It makes you more free."

True. It is quite freeing, in a tied-down kind of way.

Richard Ford- "Don't drink and write at the same time."

Don't be insane.

Jonathan Franzen- "The reader is a friend, not an adversary, not a spectator."

That is a fascinating statement. Imagine your reader as a friend, and here is a story that you are sharing with him. I can imagine that JK Rowling saw readers as friends and confidants as she wrote her series. I don't think that I have ever, ever done that, but it makes all the sense in the world. I'm going to sincerely try to do this instead of seeing him as a spectator and wanting him to sit down and shut up and listen to what I have to say.

"The most purely autobiographical fiction requires pure invention. Nobody ever wrote a more auto biographical story than "The Meta­morphosis"."

This is an interesting thing that doesn't sound as true as it is until you think of fantasy works and just how personal they are. I do think that my fantasy items are far more personal than my other pieces.

Esther Freud- "Editing is everything. Cut until you can cut no more. What is left often springs into life."

I think I've cut more than I've kept in my fiction. Maybe it's meant to be that way. Editing your own work out is so painful, though. All of those imagined scenes that will never be. :(

"Trust your reader. Not everything needs to be explained. If you really know something, and breathe life into it, they'll know it too."

This is the difference between knowing what the force is, what it does and what it feels like and being fed some crap about midichlorians. Sometimes, you have to trust the reader and let the story loose so the reader forms his own conclusions.

Friday, July 1, 2011


Every year, November presents a puzzling little question that hangs over the heads of obsessed writers. Should we speed write a novel during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), or decide that we don't have time/can't be bothered/haven't perfected the story yet/wanted to but there was an X-Files marathon. Often, the best course of action is to ponder it until the month is nearly over and then -whoops! Your decision is made for you.

Luckily, all of that comes just once a year and you don't have to think about it much until November approaches.

Not so fast there, cowboy. No one gets off that easily anymore. NaNoWriMo is now hosting a "summer camp" that forces you to do the exact same thing in the middle of the summer. Every writers' group is now buzzing with the question- will you or won't you. Will you deal with the scorching heat, try to write your paying work even with school out and write a novel as fast as you can at the same time?

No. I will not. I won't even plead time or story lines or X-Files.

Just, no.