Monday, January 25, 2010

Dancing in the Dark

First, thanks to all the people who answered the 10 “What if” questions I posed last week. And thanks to my high school friend James for pointing out the platinum version of What if. My birthday’s coming up and I’m adding to the list!

Second, the song about Writer’s Block is Dancing in the Dark, by Bruce Springsteen. Anyone who's ever suffered through writer's block should recognize this sentiment.

"I get up in the evening, and I ain't got nothing to say

I come home in the moring, I go to bed feeling the same way

I ain't nothing but tired, man I'm just tired and bored with myself "

I love Dancing in the dark as a metaphor for writer’s block. Because it gives such a great image of how a writer is working like crazy without really knowing if they are going in the right direction—or as my friend Julie pointed out, if they are about to hit their shins on the coffee table.

So here are my answers to the ten questions and reasons why.

1) Get a huge advance on your next book but have it be shredded by the book critics, or make almost no money on the book (even after the awards were announced), but receive top awards?

This is a kind of trick question. The goal of a writer is to publish more books. That’s my job, it’s how I get paid. If I don’t sell a lot of books, I don’t publish. But a big advance doesn’t guarantee a lot of sales. In fact getting a big advance and not selling well can kill your career. So I’d go for the awards. Yes, you didn’t sell a lot with that book. But an award winning writer will usually sell more books down the road—generating bigger advances in the future.

2) Write a book adored by millions of readers you don’t know, but despised by your friends and family, or write a book your friends and family love, but everyone else hates?

Another tricky one. Ultimately I am writing for my readers, not my family and friends. But I have many close family members and friends who read all my books before they come out and give me good feedback. So if my friends and family hate my book, there’s probably a good reason for it. But, hey, who can argue with millions of readers, right? I’ve always said, I rather be Stephenie Meyer than the other authors who complain about the Twilight series. Gotta go with the millions of readers.

3) Have your book made into a big budget film with lots of publicity and stars, that bombs, or not have your book made into a movie at all?

I’m going with the movie. Yes, it would stink to have your book be turned into a bomb. But think of all the people who would tell their friends, “Read the book. It’s much better.” Eragon was a flop in the theaters, but it didn’t hurt the book’s sales at all.

4) Only be able to write in a genre you don’t enjoy but sells like crazy, or write what you love but always sell poorly.

The good news is that I think I could enjoy writing any genre. If I had to write really sappy romances, but they were great sappy romances, I’d do it. The only caveat is it would have to be fiction. I would get really bored if I could only write non-fiction.

5) Get the agent of your dreams, knowing they are only lukewarm on your project, or a so-so agent who LOVES your manuscript?

Another trick question. I believe you need two things in an agent: Great connections and excitement about your work. I’ve known authors who had really nice agents, who love their work, but didn’t have the right connections to sell it. But would a great agent take on your work if they didn’t love it? Ultimately, I’d take the great agent. If they didn’t love this work, they must have liked my writing enough to take me on. So let’s figure out how to write something they will love.

6) Publish only one book, but have it be a classic, or publish dozens of mid-listers?

I’m a swing for a homerun guy. Since I’ve already published six books, I might think differently, but it would be great to write a book that people are still reading hundreds of years from now. Mid-list books disappear from the shelves too quickly.

7) Write books that are very slow reading, but extremely thought-provoking, or quick reads that make people laugh and cry?

Laugh and cry. I want emotion. I’ll leave the deep thinking to someone else.

8) Sign a contract that guarantees $75k a year for the next twenty years, or an all of nothing deal that has a 50/50 chance of paying out nothing or twenty million?

Again, I’ve got to go for the home run. I can make $75k a year selling software. And if I miss on this big chance. I’m betting there’s another big chance down the road.

9) Publish a book that in a genre that is all the rage right now, or one that breaks new ground?

New ground. I’m all about the “wow!” factor.

10) Publish amazing books that everyone loves, but never read another book, or read the best books for the rest of your life, but never publish a thing?

This would kill me. Writing and reading are two of my favorite things in the world. But I think it would kill me most to read great stories and know I couldn’t write my own. So if I had to choose I’d take writing. Then I’d figure out a way to tunnel into my local bookstore at midnight.

Next blog, I’ll talk about how to turn the light back on when you find yourself dancing in the dark. Which will also be the topic of my presentation at the Utah County chapter of the League of Utah Writers next month.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Would You Rather?

Every Christmas, my kids know what to buy me. Games. I love games. I have a closet full of them and yet I’m always looking for more. One of the new games this year is called, Would You Rather? The idea is that you try to guess which of two (usually bad or embarrassing, but sometimes good in an odd way) things the rest of the players would pick, if they had to. For example: Would you rather have bottles stuck on all the fingers of one hand for a month, or have your foot stuck in a bucket for a month? Would you rather have a head twice the normal size or half the normal size? Would you rather age only from the neck up or the neck down?

The best questions are the ones where the two choices are so close in good or bad effects that it’s really hard to decide. It’s funny how you can think one choice is a no brainer, while another person thinks exactly the opposite. It helps you see how the people around you think. Is having a great body more important than a great face? Would you rather be able to run a marathon when you are 100 or write a great book? Fun stuff, and sometimes thought-provoking.

So in honor of the writing awards announced this morning, I thought I’d try some writing “Would You Rather” questions today and see how you all think. Remember, this is not a, b, or neither. The question is, if you had to choose between one or the other, which would you pick. Here we go.

Would you rather:
1) Get a huge advance on your next book but have it be shredded by the book critics, or make almost no money on the book (even after the awards were announced), but receive top awards?

2) Write a book adored by millions of readers you don’t know, but despised by your friends and family, or write a book your friends and family love, but everyone else hates?

3) Have your book made into a big budget film with lots of publicity and stars, that bombs, or not have your book made into a movie at all?

4) Only be able to write in a genre you don’t enjoy but sells like crazy, or write what you love but always sell poorly.

5) Get the agent of your dreams, knowing they are only lukewarm on your project, or a so-so agent who LOVES your manuscript?

6) Publish only one book, but have it be a classic, or publish dozens of mid-listers?

7) Write books that are very slow reading, but extremely thought-provoking, or quick reads that make people laugh and cry?

8) Sign a contract that guarantees $75k a year for the next twenty years, or an all of nothing deal that has a 50/50 chance of paying out nothing or twenty million?

9) Publish a book that in a genre that is all the rage right now, or one that breaks new ground?

10) Publish amazing books that everyone loves, but never read another book, or read the best books for the rest of your life, but never publish a thing?

What do you pick and why? I’ll tell you my picks after I’ve heard from you.

And just for fun, and because I didn’t realize it until recently, can any of you name the famous rock song that is about writer’s block?

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Gift of Writing

Today I was sitting and thinking about all the projects I have to work on, current finances, and various other issues. Not exactly feeling overwhelmed, but definitely not upbeat. When something changed. Was it the sun breaking through the gray sky? The realization that I have an uninterrupted week to write next week? My hot wife smooching me on the back of the neck? Yes, yes, and yes. But it was more than that too.

I realized that I have a year to write whatever I want. Twelve months to use however I see fit. I might not write anything good. But on the other hand, I might write something amazing. Suddenly I had the feeling of, “Right here and now, anything is possible.” I have some great projects I am working on. Some great people on my side. And the time to complete what I want to do.

As I pondered a little more on time, I played with a calculation in my head. What is the minimum that anyone can write over the course of a year if they are determined and willing to stick with it? (Understanding that we all have prior commitments—jobs, kids, spouses, yards, pets. Lots of things to get in the way. ) But putting all that aside, how much could an average person write if they were willing to commit some time every day.

Now before I go on, let me point out that I am not great at making or keeping New Year’s resolutions. First, it just seems like a lot of work with little payoff. I ponder a goal. I set it. I immediately feel pressure to keep it. I break it. I feel guilty. And as you all know by now, I am not real big on guilt or feeling bad.


Instead of setting a “resolution.” I’d like to think of this as an opportunity. Like if someone gave you a $1,000 to spend on whatever you want. Pay bills. Go on a trip. Buy a ton of books. If someone gave you the money, you wouldn’t have to feel guilty about how, when, or why you spent it. I want to give you the gift of writing.



Here we go. First, you have to actually be ready to write when you sit down. That means knowing in advance what will happen in the chapter you are going to work on. Those of you who aren’t outliners, don’t turn red and start to swell up. You don’t need to know the whole book, just tomorrow’s chapter. So when you go to bed tonight, imagine the scene in your head. Got it? Okay good. Now, the next thing you need to know is how long it takes you to write one page, double spaced. I actually want you to try this and prove it to yourself. Come up with a scene and write one single page of it. Start the timer when you write your first word and stop when you hit a new page. Don’t rush, just write at your normal pace.

I just tried it. It took me twenty minutes. Some of you may be quicker. (I type with three or four fingers at most, and I usually reread as I write.) Some of you may be slower. For our purposes, it doesn’t matter. Let’s say it takes you twenty-five minutes. That’s doable. Most people can find twenty-five minutes right? In the morning before you get the kids up. When the baby is down for a nap. Come on, it’s less than one TV show. Now here’s the key. Can you find three segments like this a day? Three twenty five minute breaks? I think you can—at least on most days. If so, you are good to go.

Great! If you are still with me, you have determined that you can find three twenty to twenty-five minute segments a day to write. This will give you three pages. Again the key is that you sit down and write. Not plot, not edit, write. Which requires you to plot while you are making sitting on hold, typing reports, feeding the baby, doing laundry or falling asleep. Things that don’t require all of your brain power anyway. By plotting—at least the next page—before you write, you are ready to use the next twenty five minute break.

So what can you do with an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes of writing a day? Well do a word count on a page of double spaced writing. My check gives me anywhere from 250 to 350 hundred words per page. We’ll take the medium and call it 300. If you write six days a week, that’s 900x6, or 5400 words per week. Do that 50 weeks a year and you have 270,000. That’s right. If an average novel is 90,000 words, you can write three novels a year, putting in only an hour and a half a day. Oh you want to edit too? Or maybe take a little time off? Great. Write only five days a week and take an entire three months off for editing and vacations, and you still have 5 days x 39 weeks x 900 words, or 175, 500 words. So yeah, only two complete novels.

An average person with a modicum of commitment, but plenty of determination, can do it. YOU can do it. YOU can write a book. Again, this is a gift, not a resolution, not an obligation. If you don’t want to spend your time writing, please don’t feel guilty on my account. I guarantee, I won’t spend this much time on my garden, or working out, or volunteering, or any other number of great and wonderful things. It’s your time, spend it however you want. But if you’ve always wanted to write a book, hopefully this will help you realize you can. Even if you can only find one twenty-five minute segment a day, you can still write a 90,000 word book if you do it six days a week for fifty-two weeks.

It’s a great year. It’s your year to do what you want. I hope it is wonderful for you, and if you decide to write I hope it beings you all the joy writing has brought me.