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The Day Off Plan

27 Feb
This machine kills... uh, something?

This machine kills… uh, something?

 

A friend reminded me just recently that I have a beautiful plan. I made a reference to getting paid for my writing for the first time. To be precise, I said something along the lines of:

“… the first time I ever got paid for my writing. I’ve been published before, but not paid. Ya know, for assembling a bunch of words into a particular, pleasing order. I mean, it’s not like I invented new words or anything. I just organized them.”

To which, he replied, “Cool. Day off.”

“Ha! I don’t get days off, man,” I said. “I’m a writer.”

“No, you got paid,” he insisted. “Now you don’t work that day. Right?”

The recollection surprised me. I was shocked that I had forgotten, because it is a truly ingenious plan. I made myself a vow – a magical goal to shoot for – which had fallen by the wayside of my mind. Years of working, writing, grinding at the keyboard, had pushed the idea from my thoughts. Memory can be a funny thing. Here is the Day Off Plan:

Any day in which I get paid for my writing becomes a personal, permanent Day Off. Holiday! So, for example, if I get paid for my words on June 1st I will never work on June 1st again. Holiday! The expectation, of course, is that I will write (or otherwise work) every other day of the year, with few exception. Naturally, my eventual goal will be to group together several of these “pay days” into a vacation block. And then, some far off magical day in the future, I might manage to arrange for 365 consecutive days off. Holiday forever!

And on THAT day, I will consider myself successful. I am aware that it sounds ridiculous. Of course, it is probably impossible. But I just don’t care. I am my own boss, and sometimes I need to take unconventional measures.

It brings to mind all kinds of crazy possibilities, which I love to think about. What if someone wants to pay me on a day that is already a day off? Can I get them to postpone sending me an online payment? How would that sound to them? And what happens when I get down to the end of my plan – and I only have a couple of days left to fill in? Can you imagine trying to convince a publisher to delay payment, or post-date a check, for some nutty superstition or something? It makes my gears spin. And you know, I like the sound of gears spinning.

So far, I have earned only one legitimate Day Off for my life. It’s not much, but it’s a start. Perhaps I will think of it as the first step on a very long journey. Oh, and the money is a nice thing too, even if it is only a couple of bucks.

One down, a few hundred to go!

 

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The Worst Fear

14 Nov

I first saw this about a year ago and didn’t give it much thought. Of course, I mulled it over, but it didn’t have a significant impact. But now, as I am writing down details of the Big Plan, it has returned to the forefront of my mind.

The ‘worst’ fear to me isn’t that nobody will read my work. No. That’s an easy thing to consider – only a handful of people have read any of my work as it is. Ha! It is far more horrifying that some people will read my stuff – and then get too bored to finish it. An indifferently hostile world is pretty damn scary.

Perhaps I need a fire under my butt, to encourage me to clean up my work. I know that it is impossible to please everyone. Hell, with the way I write, I’m pretty sure that I can’t please most people. But maybe I can use this as a checklist of sorts. I’ll add it into my other lists of “do’s and don’ts” – as some kind of magical proof against failure. Is it a kind of magical thinking? Perhaps. I’m okay with that, if it keeps the fear at bay for a bit.

A Glutton for New Projects

10 Nov
(original image: wikipedia commons)

(original image: wikipedia commons)

Þ

Who has two thumbs and likes tackling new projects? This flaky procrastinator right here. Ha! It is the bane of every writer, isn’t it? We slave away and grind and burn the midnight oil, but our biggest enemy is always going to be ourselves. Unless, ya know, you are lucky enough to actually have a nemesis or something. Most of us aren’t that cool though. One of the most aggravating distractions that I deal with is the New Project problem. It’s like some kind of ‘seven week itch’ or something.

“Hey Brain, you know what would really derail my progress on this project?”
“Um, a brand new, totally different project?”
“YES! And what a coincidence…”

Now, I keep a ‘master list’ of story ideas, and I make lots of notes on things that inspire me. It’s a good way to mitigate the overwhelming desire to ditch this current piece of work for some new, sexy project that isn’t all up in my business. It’s saved me from quite a bit of heartache, but it’s not perfect. What if what I’m working on really isn’t very good? And what if this new thing really is perfect for me? Maybe it is super enticing for a reason? There isn’t any way to know for sure, unless I dive in and start writing. Right? Well, kind of…

Confession: I am a hedonist. I love everything that is good and delicious and fun – in heaping amounts. The reason I’m not dead of some weird, food-related overdose yet is that I am not a slave to my impulses. Really. Well, maybe a little. See, the point is that I can make a distinction between what I really, really want and what I need. The same has to be true for my work. Writing new projects is just like taking a bite out of a cookie, or digging into a chocolate mousse. That first tiny taste is divine, isn’t it? But I am well aware that if I indulge my every whim, I will get nowhere at all. It feels so damn grown up to say it, but I’ll do it anyway: Discipline. It is a skill, and I’m working on it. And when I flex my meager willpower muscles and succeed over my flighty urges, it feels like a win. I feel like a better writer.

However.

After ten thousand words into my newest novel, I totally got distracted by a shiny, new project. And for very good reasons, I am not concerned. I know that in the face of all of what I just wrote it might seem absurd – or worse, hypocritical – but I’m on to something here. I just got done with a hefty novel a month or so ago. It’s a damn good thing to jump back into the saddle, but word counts and artificial targets aren’t the end-all, be-all of being a productive writer. Not only do I need to keep my eyes on what inspires and engages my creativity, I need to keep my mind on my business.

I started a new, side project on a theme. As eye-rolling and cliché as it might be, I planned out a multi-part short story series on the Seven Deadly Sins. Sure, it’s been done – by better, smarter, and prettier people than me – but I immediately figured out my own path. It’s engaging to me, of course, but I also think I can sell it. And for all the weird, awkward, and disturbing things I’ve done in the name of writing, I have done very little to push myself down the Big Plan. The Big Plan is, of course, getting published, getting paid, getting rich and famous. All that good stuff.

I’m going to follow my instincts. Even if my instincts are telling me to dig in, have another serving of New Project. Maybe I need to take advantage of my enthusiasm while it’s there. After all, I’ve had plenty of “famine” – why not enjoy some “feast” for a change?

 

Happy birthday to us!

4 Mar
from wiki commons - delicious!

from wiki commons – delicious!

 

Wow. It has been a year since we started doing this blog. It has been quite a ride. There have been a lot of ups, and one very long down – but that’s okay! It has been a surprisingly fun and exciting ride. We made a lot of friends and found a ton of resources for writing, publishing, and editing. I’m really grateful.

If you’re looking at this, thank you. Writing/publishing/blogging sometimes feels as though we are standing at the Grand Canyon and shouting into the abyss. At least we’re not doing it alone. If that cake in the picture above were real, I’d offer to share it with you. You deserve a slice.

Here’s to many more years of writing and sharing! Cheers! Sláinte!

Crowdsourcing Creativity

24 May

Earlier this week, Amazon announced it’s starting a new venture called Kindle Worlds, which will exclusively publish fan faction. The internet and publishing immediately weighed in, analyzing this ‘new’ way of approaching creativity. Here’s my take:

A month or so ago, a bunch of my friends and I were discussing the death of Roger Ebert. Hang in here with me, it relates, I swear. We came to the conclusion that he was the last of the great old time movie critics, both because he actually criticized movies (as opposed to just condensing the plot down to a few paragraphs), but also because his kind weren’t needed anymore. Where do you go when you want to know if a movie is worth seeing? I go to Rotten Tomatoes or IMDB or Netflix, where a bunch of people I don’t know have entered a rating and given me instant feedback about how good or bad a movie is. I love Ebert and his opinions were usually spot on for me, but I haven’t read a review of his for years. Movie rating made movie criticing an elite hobby. Why wade through a whole review when you can scan a bunch of ratings quickly and without spoilers? Movie reviews have been crowdsourced.

And now, with Kindle Worlds, creativity has been too, although this isn’t the first time it’s happened. Back in 2011, a show called Bar Karma tried it with television. It failed, but caused a huge uproar about how we build our creative content. At the time, I wasn’t sure why it was causing such a hullaballoo. TV is written by a bunch of people in a room together, and has been for decades. Every one of my favorite TV shows was written by more than one person. It seemed only natural to extend that out to the interwebs. Unfortunately, Bar Karma was a bad show, I think because of this revolutionary writing process. More on why in a bit.

Joseph-Gordon Levitt is crowdsourcing creativity online as well, through his company hitRECord. You can upload your art, music, animation, writing, to his website/forum, and someone else can download it, play with it, and upload it again as a new work. This approach has, according to Levitt, produced at least two films that were screened at Sundance, so it must be working. I’m dubious as to how much of these movies were actually made through online collaboration, but I’ll talk about that later as well.

Alloy Entertainment, the company that partnered with Amazon for Kindle Worlds, does its own form of crowdsourcing when it produces its popular book series’, Pretty Little Liars and others. Instead of just buying a series written by one author and already in existence (although they do this too-see The Vampire Diaries), Alloy puts a group of execs and writers in a room and has them banter about ideas until something clicks. Then they take that idea and brainstorm the plot for the books, after which one author takes the outline and actually writes the story, usually under a pseudonym (that way anybody can pick up the mantle later, like it used to be with the Sweet Valley High series, which Alloy also now owns, and like the Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys series’ did for decades). Basically, Alloy is writing books by committee, like you would write a television sitcom.

With Kindle Worlds, Alloy has taken it even one step further. They have opened up their series’ to anyone who wants to write for them. It’s the ultimate in crowdsourced creativity: fan fiction for money. Instead of searching for that one great book with original content, publishers can just put a premise online and pay for whatever they get. It takes the one great thing about fan fic, the freedom of it, and ruins it for everyone. I blame Fifty Shades of Grey. When EL James changed the names of her main characters and suddenly hit publishing gold, it rang the death knell for free online fan fiction. With Kindle Worlds, it’s been buried and is rotting in its grave.

Now, if someone writes a great TVD fan fic (that fits their guidelines), it will automatically go to Alloy for publication. Why post it online for free when you might get a book deal? Not that I read TVD fan fic, but if I did, I’d be pissed. It’s going the way of the dodo bird, unless you want to pay for it.

This doesn’t even bring in all the financial reasons why Kindle Worlds is a horrible thing for writers. If you want a breakdown of that, see SFWA President John Scalzi’s post here. He does say that he believes this won’t end fan fic, because there’s always slash, which publishers won’t touch. I think he’s wrong (see above, re: Fifty Shades of Grey).

Ok, I promised I’d speak about why I think Bar Karma failed, why I doubt the hitRECord.org Sundance movies were exclusively collaborations, and why crowdsourcing creativity is a bad thing. Look at the research. Back in the 60’s, an advertising guy named Alex Osborne came up with the idea of brainstorming. Brainstorming, as any good government worker knows, is a process of coming up with ideas in a group by throwing out suggestions and writing them down, usually on a white board in a very small room with pastries available. The official rules are as follows:


Generate as many ideas as possible
 – the more ideas you come up with, the better chance you have of coming up with good ones.

Don’t criticise – it will dampen peoples enthusiasm and kill their creativity.

Welcome unusual ideas – it’s important to break out of your usual mindset and consider wild and wacky ideas if you want to be really creative.

Combine and improve ideas – instead of criticising ideas, look for way to use them in combination and/or make them better.

Seems like a great way to quickly gather the best ideas from the most amount of people, right? Well, um, no, not really. Turns out, brainstorming doesn’t work as well as it should. In fact, it does exactly what it’s trying to avoid. According to current research, the ideas produced are mediocre, the majority of suggestions don’t conform to the right guidelines and are a waste of time, people are too intimidated to speak up (yes, this happens even in the anonymity of cyberspace), and ultimately, groupthink takes over, leading to bad ideas being pursued.

What do all of the above examples of creativity crowdsourcing have in common? They are basically online brainstorming. Even Kindle Worlds is, in essence, a slightly longer brainstorming session: an idea by one person, expanded by another, and produced by a third.

You throw in money and it gets even more constrained. Instead of asking what would be the best way for the character to grow or if this is an original idea, you end up asking will this book sell and can we fit this into future story lines already being developed? Gone is wild exploration and true creative adventure. Here there be plastic dragons that conform to the lowest common denominator and poop out wads of cash.

I don’t think this is the death of real authors or fresh ideas by any means. Authors will continue to pound away on keyboards in cafes, producing innovative stuff. But I think this new money stream narrows the market. If a publisher can make more money off an idea they already own, they will chose that rather than search for new talent. And Kindle Worlds does signal the end of certain kinds of fan fiction being readily available for free. If more publishers join in, many others will follow. While this won’t affect a lot of people, the fact that ideas are becoming more and more factory produced eventually will. Writers, like publishers,will follow the money. They have to eat, just like a lay person does. So let’s make sure the money isn’t all in brainstormed manuscripts based on unoriginal ideas, ok? In 20 years, I don’t want the new Law and Order: SVU book to be my only choice for a vacation read. Yes, that series will still be on in 20 years, trust me.