Too excited to think of a title!

I have the best news EVER… maybe.

A long time ago I posted about having lost all the editing I did on a collection of stories. I had worked hard on the original versions, which I still had, but it was probably the most effort I had ever put into editing any of my creative work, and then I lost the files! …or did I?

By the definition of “lost,” yes, I did lose the work, because I could not find those files. But perhaps misplaced is a better term–because I think I’ve found the missing files.

I was looking through my external hard drive files and I saw there, finally, another file of these same stories. It was a larger file, indicating a fairly substantial number of pages, and it was saved in April of 2010, which is right around the last time I remember having that lost thumb drive. To satisfy my curiosity, I opened the file and had a quick look through it.

1. It has all five stories. I had been looking for them separately whenever I searched before, for whatever reason not considering that I had probably saved them all into one file.

2. The original files had preliminary titles for each story, but this one has the final titles. (Final, but with room for adjustment if I come up with something better.)

I have not yet looked carefully enough to confirm that this IS the file I’ve been looking for, but all signs point to yes! What a mood booster. I had the intention of sending this collection out to publishers, but got so discouraged at the thought of doing the first round of revisions again that I just put it off… and off… and off… and haven’t looked at it since. Time to dust it off. That’s a great conclusion to a Friday!

~

By now you might be wondering, unless you were here back then, what the story’s about. It was an independent study project from my college years, a joining of mythologies from various traditions all pulled together through the life of the Hindu god Krishna. I’ve always been fascinated by mythology and I loved writing these stories. One of the main comments I have gotten on this work is that the stories could be worked into each other a little better, so I will make an attempt to do that. I’ve also been told my female characters aren’t strong enough, which is odd, because I’m female–but not so odd, because it reflects the way female characters have been represented in much of the literature I’ve read. And I’m a feminist, too. MUST WRITE STRONGER WOMEN….

My Problem with Speed-Reading

A while ago I read (or, more accurately, skimmed) an article about an app that could train you to read a novel in 90 minutes. On the one hand I thought, “Wow, that’s impressive.” (I’m sure it’s not, to some people.) On the other hand, it made me feel … disappointed is the best word I can come up with. Disappointed that this is how people view reading, as something that should be done as quickly as possible, or else it’s a waste of time.

I understand the appeal of reading a book that quickly, as there are so many books out there I want to read, and I know there will be more, that it would be beneficial in that sense to be able to get through a book in 90 minutes. I could greatly increase my number of total books read, broaden my reading experience, etc.

But both as a reader and as a writer, this emphasis on speed-reading bothers me.

There have been times, particularly in college, when reading a little faster was necessary. I’m not arguing that you should never read quickly just to finish a book, if it’s required for your school or work to do so. But other than that, if you’re reading for pleasure, why would you be in such a hurry to be finished? If I choose to read a book, not for any assignment but because I think I will find it interesting or enjoyable, I like to spend time with it. A book is a great place to be, better, sometimes, than the real world. Particularly in very engaging books, I don’t want to rush through that world. But if I start speed-reading, then slower reading would be hard to go back to.

Then, of course, I consider speed-reading from the point of view of a writer–more specifically, a writer who intends to publish novels. Any serious writer will spend a lot of time and effort creating the content you’re reading, wanting to craft something readers will find worth their time. If I spend a year on a book (drafting, revising, etc.), I don’t want someone to pick it up only to toss it aside in an hour or two. Although real writers write for themselves, they also write for readers, and the thought that something created with care is worth only the smallest fraction of someone’s time is discouraging. There would likely be many writers who understandably reason that they should not put so much effort into their work if the people enjoying the final product are not going to appreciate it properly.

I am against this notion that a “solution” is needed to read novels faster. Internet articles? Yes, read them as fast as you can, particularly the ones that seem like they were written in ten minutes. Or even this one, which should certainly not take you longer than that to read… you’ll get the idea. But a story that someone has taken the care to craft so that they can be proud of it? Spend a little time with it. Don’t be so scared of books.

Why I Want a Traditional Publisher and Presentation on Bookstore Shelves

It’s no secret: these days a lot of writers are self-publishing, or going completely digital. We live in an age when anyone can publish anything, if they have the money or right online venue. I “publish” my writing on wordpress, although most of it is informal, stream-of-consciousness writing reminiscent of the incessant journaling I used to do. There are also sites like fictionpress.net, Fanfiction.net’s counterpart for original work. I considered once posting there, but I hesitated because of many literary magazines’ requirement that work cannot have been previously published, including online.

With the plethora of options available, and the reported increasing difficulty for new authors to be picked up by traditional publishers, it might make most sense for me to self-publish with one of these online companies. At some point in the future, it is highly likely that I will end up self-publishing some of my work. But for now, I continue to hold the dream of having physical printed copies of my work on a shelf in a real bookstore.

Why? There are a few points here.

These days, printing services for self-published works are actually getting much better, and although you can still generally tell the difference, the quality can be on par with traditionally published copies. You, the author, might have to work a little harder to make that happen, but it’s possible, and that’s great. That means that the packaging itself is not the problem.

One of the big considerations is marketing. From what I’ve heard and read, even if you’re working with a traditional publishing house, you will have to do at least some self-promotion if you want to get anywhere. However, they have a marketing department for a reason, and that reason is to promote the books they print. Self-marketing is not my strong point, mostly due to constantly fluctuating but ever-present levels of insecurity. It’s also partly because we’re constantly told that bragging is uncouth, and self-promotion feels very much like bragging. Being polite and “oh, if you feel like it…” about the whole thing gets you nowhere, but being loud and out there can make you seem either arrogant or deluded. It can be difficult to strike the balance and put out just the right level of confidence.

Author royalties are often much higher with self-publishing platforms, but of course the total made depends on the total sold, for which marketing can be a big help. That is most true in the beginning, I think. If you’ve written something really good, entertaining, useful, etc., then once a good number of people have read it, word of mouth can start to gain a wider audience. That means that getting the first 10, 100, 1,000 people to read it can be the hardest. I’d be crossing my fingers and hoping that I would sell enough copies to at least return to me the cost of hiring an editor. Putting out a non-edited work is just a bad idea, and it’s very difficult for a writer to be their own editor. You really do need external eyes sometimes to spot those things that might be bringing your writing down. A publisher would provide that, all bundled into the services they give their authors. Hiring a freelance editor for self-published work means that you get to choose your editor, which could be either a good or a bad thing.

These are good points, the things that I would imagine most writers consider when thinking about self-publishing. But now we’ve come to that one thing, the main reason I really want a traditional publisher, and it has to do with bookstores. (I think this merits a good “why we need brick-and-mortar bookstores” post, but I’m sure I’ve made at least one in the past, and there are many good posts on this out there…)

One of the biggest struggles for self-published authors can be trying to get their books into stores. Most larger stores (which, aside from Barnes and Noble, are all gone, right?) won’t consider anything that they can’t get right from their distributors, and even many independent stores won’t take the risk. From what I can tell, most self-published authors just sell online, and of the ones that do get books in stores as well (I couldn’t name one), internet and most likely ebook sales are where they make the most money.

I don’t want to imply that this is actually a bad thing. Maybe as time goes by I’ll be more accepting of the large-scale changes in how people read, and I won’t care that paper books are more or less a novelty as long as my content gets out into the world, to readers, in any form. …Maybe.

With a traditional publisher, it is much more likely that I’ll be able to see a copy of a book I wrote on a shelf in a real live bookstore. I want this to happen mainly, I think, because of how I experienced bookstores when I was younger. I loved reading as a child, and spending time in bookstores was something I did fairly often. Call me old fashioned if you will, but I find it’s so much harder to connect with a book when the pages are contained in a screen. Picking up a volume, actively turning pages, the texture of the cover, can be a very meaningful part of reading. As the technology develops, that privilege is taken away from both children and adults, and I think it’s unfair. Someday, when I have a book published, knowing that someone can find my book by taking it off the shelf and actually holding it in their hands will be reassuring. That is how I discovered many books. It’s how I hope to discover many more. And even though the convenience of e-readers is taking us farther from that, I can’t be the only one who feels this way.

 

…but really.

Do me a favor. Look through the last five or so posts before this one. That spans, what, two or three months? And how many times in those posts did I say that I was planning to post more often and try to get a writing schedule happening?

Not that it was a promise or anything like that, but I have not been true to my word.

I can’t honestly say I know why. It’s one of those spiraling lacks of productivity wherein you’ve climbed down into a hole of Netflix and have to force yourself to get any real work done. There are many reasons why I haven’t been writing very much, and yet there is no reason at all. The truth is, the last time I was regularly writing was probably ten or so years ago. To explain why I’ve neglected the one thing I would say I NEED to do with my life, I would have to take you on a long and winding journey and I can’t guarantee we would get to the end. Perhaps, later, I will try to give the full explanation. For now, I’ll simplify:

Life.

I suppose I was not actually prepared to handle how hard life actually is. And, maybe, how hard writing actually is. Continue reading

Me, of Late

Well… picture me heaving a huge sigh. I would say “throwing my hands up in resignation,” but that’s such a cliched phrase, and also I don’t actually do that. But I do sigh a lot.

Instead of being productive and getting all that stuff done that I would love to do if I felt motivated, I’ve mostly been:

drinking too much coffee;

sleeping in an extra hour or two;

watching too much Netflix, youtube, etc.;

spending too much on food;

crying;

making messes.

I’ve been reading, but not writing, and, more than anything else, wondering when I’ll have enough time and/or energy to start doing the things I really want to do in life. Like learning guitar and studying languages. Applying for writers’ residencies (they have them for unpublished writers, right?). Figuring out how all the features of my camera work. It’s not even a fancy camera, it’s just a basic digital one, but for some reason it’s not functioning as it claimed it would.

I know I should start with the “spring cleaning” purge of all the stuff that’s collected over the past year or so that I have been intending to throw away or give away or sell. I want to sell some things because I need money, but I think that might be more trouble than it’s worth, since I don’t really own anything valuable.

I wrote a poem last night, but it’s rather private and I don’t want to share it. But at least I did write something. Better than nothing at all. Or… that’s what they say, although really it’s almost as if I wrote nothing at all.

Do you ever wonder why you love the thing you love but then you never feel like doing it?

Short Update

Oh, dear. What to do? So many ideas, but also so many distractions!

 

I aim to be writing a lot of fiction and a lot of blog posts in the near future. Of course, I have a lot of necessary responsibilities and also a lot of stupid time-wasters (like hours of Netflix!) that limit my ability to focus on writing. I probably need to make lists and outlines and maybe even–heaven forbid–schedules in order to be productive at writing.

Right now I’m off to do one of those many errands, but keep your eye out for some very Personal Posts soon. And some less personal, very opinionated ones about books, publishing, and stuff like that.

Imagination on Vacation (I Blame Television)

Like the vast majority of Americans, I watch a lot of videos of various kinds. Tv shows, movies, and a huge variety of videos (although few actually original) of different lengths and subjects abound all over the internet. And since wi-fi is everywhere these days, you could quite literally spend all of your life, or at least your free time, in front of a screen.

Well, so far I’ve stated the obvious. Now I’m about to sound like your grandparents (or even your parents, probably):

When I was growing up, things were very different. We had a television, of course–everyone had a television–but at my house, we just had basic cable. A lot of people I knew just had basic cable, while many others paid for premium channels. Now, it’s essentially impossible to only get basic cable. They simply don’t offer it anymore. Granted, I don’t know what the cable options are because I’ve never had to sign up for it myself, but I think “basic” cable no longer means the major networks on channels below number 10 and the local access channels in the teens.

I had access to the fancy cable at friends’ and relatives’ houses, and although I particularly enjoyed the golden age of Nickelodeon shows, I never felt like I really needed it. I spend much of my time reading, drawing (badly), or playing imaginative games, often by myself. There is certainly a place for sitting and doing essentially nothing in all our lives. The Italian term “dolce far niente,” although probably not intended to mean being a couch potato, captures this idea nicely. But then, we also need engaging activities that inspire and motivate us–and where is the place for that sort of activity when there are more movies available than we could ever watch in our lifetimes?

I am not denying the artistic merit of some films and shows, or the value of visual storytelling. When it comes down to it, sometimes words are not enough to really capture the image or concept. As a writer, this is something that frustrates me constantly and makes me wish I were able to draw well. So various lengths of cinematic material have their place in quality entertainment. The one thing that is generally true of all movies, shows, short films, etc., though, regardless of their level of either quality or inanity, is that the role of the viewer in the entertainment/observer relationship is passive. In order to watch a video, all you need to do is press play, look at the screen, and not interrupt playback. This is not to say that film cannot make you think, of course. It can.

Reading is an active pursuit. I suppose it would be possible to read a headline or a short phrase by accident, but in order to read a book, a short story, a poem, even a full sentence, you have to make a conscious decision to be engaged in the activity. Your own mind is responsible for picture the words create. Reading cannot simply happen by staring at an open page. You have to make your eyes move from word to word. If you’re reading a physical book, you have to turn pages. If reading an ebook or an online article, you’re often required to scroll, click, or swipe to continue reading the piece. And so, regardless of the quality of the content (or whether the book is better than the movie), the act of reading must be purposeful.

I’m trying to get back into the habit of reading. I do not do it very much anymore. I most often read for no more than two or three hours in a given day. I never stay up late into the night lost in the words of a book. In fact, I rarely read more than fifteen pages at a time without stopping to take a break, most frequently to mess around on the internet. When I was young, I used to spend entire days reading. There were many books I re-read (so I have not read as many books as most people I know who love reading), some many times. I read Lloyd Alexander’s The Arkadians probably ten times in my preteen era.  (I highly recommend it.) I got such a rush from reading. It would spark my imagination. All that I read fed into my store of images and stories, blending together and transmogrifying into new ones, like a personal mythology. When I decided I had to write, ideas would flow freely. Tales would play in my head and I would do my best to copy them down, not generally suffering from any hesitation or writer’s block.

I used to watch a little tv and do a lot of reading. Now it’s pretty much the opposite. It was sometime in my teen years that I really started to watch tv much more frequently, and that only increased as time went on. And since somewhere around the age of fifteen, I have not generally spent so much time working on my writing. As I said, I will not claim that there aren’t good stories to be watched, or that writers cannot get ideas from the cinematic medium. However, I can’t help but notice that when I’m not reading, my urge to write usually disappears. When I do pick up a book, particularly one that is especially creative or simply resonates with me either in its content or style, my imagination comes alive. I think that the active nature of reading motivates me to be creatively active, in a way that the sit-and-do-nothing feeling of watching television or movies just cannot achieve.

If others have had a similar experience, it implies quite a bit about the effects of too-available television and the importance of reading. Of course, this could just be my own weird head’s response to different forms of media. So you tell me: does television give you creative energy? How about reading? I want to know.