Writers on Writing
Hey there! So I sat down with fantastic writer Delilah S. Dawson and we interviewed each other, focusing on process and craft, in a google doc. It got a bit out of hand though, and when we stopped it was around 18,000 words long. That’s roughly 30 pages. But it’s all good stuff, it’s all honest stuff and it is pretty much all raw. This is what we both think: About writing, editing, publishing: the works. And yes it is long, but we both think it is worth it. We hope you do, too. That all said, let’s jump right in!
APK: So, all right. When you first get that spark – the idea of a novel – how do you decide it’s a novel and not something else? Much less, how do you decide which ideas are worth going the distance for?
DSD: Oh, man. I used to worry that the idea well would come up dry, but the thing is bottomless. Choosing among the different sparks is the real challenge. I keep a notebook with me to write down things that pop into my head– story ideas, character names, bits of dialog. And when I see something intriguing, I reblog it on tumblr with the tag YOINK so I can find it later.
I think of ideas a lot like seeds. There are millions of them scattered around, but only a few find rich enough ground to sprout. And only the really tenacious ones grow into fully developed trees. When an idea keeps popping into my head throughout the day, when it starts obsessing me–that’s when I know it’s solid. The hardest part is not moving forward until I’ve finished the current project, or else I’d just have hundred of 20-page documents that went nowhere. I think about a story for a really, really long time before I actually start writing it.
Is your process similar? And do you notice a difference between the ideas for comics, short stories, and books?
APK: Honestly, I decided a few years back to not carry a notebook and instead let the ideas fight for head space. Only the strong survive. If I can’t remember an idea long enough to get it down in a note when I’m at my desk – it wasn’t worth pursuing. The good ones come back. That creates a first culling for me. Past that I dunno.
There’s just a trick to it, isn’t there, that comes with experience. You have a feel for the shape that a story will take – you can see it from where you stand after a while. It’s like seeing the future, only much less practically useful. I can look at a few thousand words and generally, maybe 8 times out of 10) know if it has legs enough to go the distance. The other 2 times I just curse a lot.
As for what type of story it is, man I used to get that wrong all the time! Now I find that novels just feel colder at the start and warmer once I sit down to work, whereas comic ideas feel warmer at the start and simmer longer. …that makes some sort of sense I hope.
A lot of which has to do with plotting, too. How deep do you find yourself outlining, and has that changed over time for you?
DSD: Outlining. Um… I tried that once and didn’t inhale. I pretty much meditate on the story until I know the main characters, the setting, the first scene, the instigating factor, the major plot points, and the ending, but I never actually outline. Most of it unfolds naturally, scene by scene. I keep a running tally at the bottom of the doc of things that need to happen and just erase them as I hit them. My first drafts are dirty and fast and get written straight through with no rewrites, no take-backsies, and no back-scrolling, so I sometimes realize halfway through that something at the front-end needs to be changed. I add that to the tally and soldier on.
But I’ve never actually written an outline. Even synopsis for books on spec just fall out like I’m talking to someone. Of course, this process insures that my revisions are deep and repetitive, but I find that it works well for me. My agent also helps a lot when looking at the bigger picture for plot points that might have gone awry.
My process has been the same since the very first book. My subconscious is pretty awesome, and I just let it do its work.
I do like the idea of cold and warm, though. Novels go up and down in heat for me, while comics burn hot the whole time.
Do you outline? I’m so jealous of people who use pretty Post-It notes and know what’s going to happen in every scene before they get started.
APK: Wait a second. I have to back up a bit here. Making a list of “Things that have to happen” at the bottom of a document and removing them as you do them – that’s an outline. You outline. You might not call it an outline but that’s what it is.
I once joked that all a novel is for me is 45 events. If I can find the right 45 events in the right order I have a novel. Because I will list events, things what happen, as chapters. You know
1 – Bob dies
Well, we feel bad, sorry Bob, but it had to happen. And that kicks off the plot. And I sit with the characters in my head and work out “What does X do if Y does this” and so on. And every reaction results in an action. And each action is a point on a map. At 45 points on the map, each one being roughly 2k in words I have an 90k novel. I don’t want to make it sound so distant and cold, because it really isn’t when I’m in the thick of it – but from a purely mechanical standpoint that’s what it is. Roughly 45 events that follow a chain, as a character or set of characters react and move from the kick-off to the finale. I make it sound incredibly dull.
Sometimes I need to make it sound dull and mechanical, for my own peace of mind. I look at writing like a job. The best job, but a job. And jobs have tasks you don’t want to do, and moments you’d rather fuck-off and eat cheese on the couch while watching Golden Girls. But you do the boring bits, too, because it’s your job. So when I run into those bits of a novel that make me slog, I remember “45 events, this is math, this is engineering, creativity comes in the moment, but right now, shut up and do your job” and then it all comes back when I get moving.
Comics, of course, write 100% different. My process, at the core, is the same for everything, but in practice, it is wildly different for every project. Which is… it’s not good for peace of mind, I’ll be honest. Does writing fill you with peace of mind?
DSD: I’m outlining? WOOHOO! I never thought of it that way, as the notes at the end of the first draft (at this exact moment) read more like
– he gets jumped a homecoming
– “I don’t owe you pretty”
– Christmas nosebleed
And the bits in between are all completely unknown. Maybe it’s more like starting off on a cross-country journey from Atlanta to San Diego and knowing you’re going to stop at New Orleans, the Grand Canyon, and the Alamo but not knowing where you’re going to sleep at night or eat breakfast. I like the 45 plot points idea– now I kind of want to go through one of my books and see what the 45 points are. I can totally see a writing book called 45 SCENES TO DONE. It might seem more doable to people intimidated by 100,000 words, that way.
As far as mental state… well, that one’s tricky. My creative cycle and my hormonal cycle can combine to be a major clustertruck. When I’m first drafting, I’m obsessed and manic and don’t really want to talk to anyone, go anywhere, participate in anything that will draw me out of that world. When I’m revising, I’m more regimented and bitchy, running toward the finish line to feel “done” for five seconds before the next project or assignment starts. I’m probably happiest when I’m in the last ¼ of one book and starting to chew on the next idea, because it’s a double dose of hope.
The worst place in the cycle regarding peace of mind comes when I’m in between projects and unsure of my path. I get nihilistic, crabby, insecure, and prone to self-medicated carb comas. That’s hard to balance with having a family and a spouse who’s also a writer.
Did you have issues with depression before becoming a writer? Does the writing effect the state of mind more, or does the state of mind affect the writing?
APK: Seriously, those little “christmas nosebleed” notes – that’s outline stuff. That’s one of the 45. Because that nosebleed sets off STUFF. That STUFF is writing. I do think it got easier for me once I did reduce it to mechanics, and not “Oh god 100k words” that’s a scary number! But when it is boiled down to these discrete events and you do one at a time, and watch it build the whole process becomes much more manageable. Also I like to keep it in a sep document I can always see so I can shuffle and rework them as the plot drifts due to character.
I don’t really have many depression issues now, and didn’t before. I do, however, have trouble self-identifying as “a writer.” It isn’t my day job. It isn’t my primary source of income. And that isn’t a necessary benchmark for being a writer – except in my head for me personally.
I do find that if I don’t write for a week or so I go… strange. I stop being able to read a whole book, or watch a whole movie. I drift and feel unsettled. The feeling is akin to someone flipping TV stations really quickly, but the stations are my brain.
I’m heartened to know that the last ¼ is when the New Thing intrudes gloriously for you, too. I love that feeling. You can feel the end coming, of a first draft, and there’s new toys to play with just over there. You’re making it work and are good at this and are totally a winner! And the shiny new book is your reward. I love that moment. It’s how I know a book will work to the end, because my brain has let go enough to see forward again.
I think more people have to know this isn’t some big magic trick – writing a novel, or a comic. It’s a hell of a lot more work than people tend to think, but it is a doable thing that is explainable and understandable – and most importantly – repeatable.
Do you find, because this is something I struggle with, self-care a problem when in the throes of it all? Forget to eat, can’t sleep right, just the whole ball of “Writing is unhealthy for humans” thing?
DSD: God, yes. I’m in it now– up 7 pounds because all I want to eat is bread. Coffee from 7am to 1pm, wine starting at 5pm, still awake and writing at 2am. I would fear for my health if I lived alone. But as I have two small children and a husband, I have to keep things going, which means that I have to stop what I’m doing and feed them, which means I usually remember to eat. My mind churns so hard that I have to take melatonin to sleep at night and fall asleep watching a familiar TV show on DVD. Sometimes, when I’m really manic, I have to take Unisom. Because, again, that kid has to get on the bus at 6:30am whether I’ve gotten enough sleep or not.
It’s funny, thinking of writing a book as a magic trick. I’ve been fortunate to receive invitations to a few writing conferences, and I’ve done panels and workshops, and I love answering questions and helping people embrace their writing and get to the next step. And yet… it’s magic. I don’t know how I do it. I didn’t write my first book until I was 32 and didn’t even think I could pull it off, then. By the time one of my books has been edited a dozen times and come out in print, I open it and can’t help thinking OMIGOD THIS IS MAGIC I DIDN’T WRITE THIS HOW DID THIS EVEN OCCUR?
For me, I had a frachetty baby and was getting less than 3 hours of sleep a night, and I’m pretty sure my brain broke. And that’s what enabled me to write that first book– all the blinking red lights that say NO, THAT’S IMPOSSIBLE, YOU’RE NOT A WRITER! just shut up. What was the instigating factor for your first book? Or comic. The first thing that really made you feel like a writer?
What changed to make it possible?
APK: Well, in a sense, I cheated. My father was a writer, my mother writes biz books and is an editor. So I grew up know the secret to the magic trick. Now, to be fair, I stopped writing for close to a decade because of personal/bad brain things. But when I got back it was always just something people did. We write. We tell stories. Humanity, at the lowest core, is the Beast That Tells Stories. I still claim we invented fire not to cook, but to create light so we could stay up later telling stories to each other. Writing, drawing, music – they are all story telling and are the fundamental concepts of being human. So, you know, to me the idea of Not Writing never fully occurred to me.
But the first short story I sold, back when I wrote prose horror, made me feel like a capital W Writer. For about ten minutes. Because then I already fell into the panic of “What next?” and never looked back.
Novels though never seemed fully possible. Hey some great writers only wrote shorts, so that would be fine. But I couldn’t crack it, I couldn’t make novels work for me. I had littered hard drives with 30k abandoned files all over. Until I realized that 45 Thing trick. I brought it back down to Earth, from where I’d managed to reinflate it stupidly, and suddenly I could cope again. Mostly.
But comics and novels are so vastly different for my head they are almost two different discussions for me. Do you find them the same way or does it all just occupy “writing” for you?
DSD: I definitely have to get into a different headspace for each thing. A novel is basically ALL THE THINGS, a 30k e-novella is ONLY THE ONE THING, and a short story is the most challenging of all, because it’s so tempting to aim for JUST THE TWIST or JUST THE BIG REVEAL and forget to include action and depth.
Comics are the newest gun in my holster, and, to be honest, it came really naturally. My first comic was THE INFERNAL GALLOP, which is 6 pages in a horror anthology. I wrote it in less than an hour and barely needed edits. And now I really want to do more. The hard part, for me, is that I now know how to write and sell a book. But I’m having trouble selling any short stories, and the comics world is completely foreign to me. And it feels especially challenging because I’m a woman, and comics, as whole, seems largely a boys’ club.
So for me, selling is the hard part. I had no idea how much non-writing went into a being a writer. What’s the hardest part for you, beyond the actual writing?
APK: Writing comics is both harder and easier than novels. They’re very different animals, I find. When I first started writing comics it destroyed my ability to write novels. I got so used to writing in the script style – just describing events for an artist and all that I went back to prose and found my prose read like script. Which is bad. I had to relearn how to write.
Selling though – well hell I can’t sell a novel. I used to sell them, small press, but the small presses I know now can’t pay enough to, and this is harsh but true, make it worth my time to write a novel, you know? Nothing against them! Great people! But I need a few bucks here and there to keep going. Comics aren’t an easy sell, either, I just got some decent starter traction and keep trying to build off it as much as I can. That’s the trick, isn’t it? Sell the next thing off the last one and keep building and fighting to get better.
As to the boy’s club notion – I can’t say you aren’t wrong but it is better than it was and keeps getting better and … yeah I dunno. It sucks.
Past the writing though – ugh. The constant email. No one warned me how much email I would send. I think, no I KNOW, I have had days where I use up all my writing time just emailing people. Is there a solution, do you think, for the fact that we only have X time and Y deadlines and the same people who want the work from us also expect us to talk to them about the work, instead of doing it?
DSD: Yeah, the email. It’s so hard to sort through it, and most of it doesn’t even have action items– just updates or Reply All or strangers asking for freebies in insulting ways. Don’t get me wrong– I’m grateful for anyone who reaches out to me. But going into a cave is definitely an attractive idea sometimes.
I’ve gotten into a bad habit of ignoring anything that isn’t a direct action item. I try to do interviews and guest blogs immediately to push them off my plate, but I probably owe things to people that have fallen off the edge. I can only hope that people will email again if I fail, because I never anticipated that I would have this much to do in addition to the writing. I think the only way to deal is to adapt, to decide what to let go, or to make enough money that I can hire an assistant. But I haven’t missed a deadline yet, so that part of it is always going to come first.
I find that the relationships that strengthen me the most right now are with other writers. The community has been so warm and welcoming, aside from a few bad apples who have reputations for being curmudgeonly. What’s been your biggest pleasant surprise about being a writer?
APK: I think for me the best surprise has been that none of us are actually that different. I mean it feels so isolating, and it is because writing a novel is you and a blank page, but then I talk to other writers, like right now, and realize all over again that we all go through the same pile of shit every time. Shared pain is lessened as Spider Robinson said.
Also can I laugh we’re both fussing about all the non-writing stuff we have to do – while doing a big non-writing thing together?
But hitting deadlines. God yes. I think that may be the most important part of the job, in a lot of ways. What do you feel are the keys to making this all work in a larger sense?
DSD: I think it’s all about prioritizing and planning ahead to keep yourself sane. When my editor gives me a deadline, I look at my calendar and make sure I can make it before I agree to it. A huge revision due the day after Dragoncon? I’ll ask for an extra week upfront instead of waiting until the very end to beg a few days and look like a slacker. If I know I have a short story due January 1, I’m not going to start a new novel in November– not until I get that story turned in. And before I accept a short story commission, I do some Google snooping to make sure that it’s going to be worth it, either money-wise or fun-wise. You really have to learn to say no, and sometimes you have to learn how to let your agent or publicist say no on your behalf.
I think a big part of this business is having a positive attitude and being a pleasure to work with while finding a way to maintain your backbone and assertiveness. People often ask me how I deal with the process of an editor asking for changes that I don’t want to make, and that’s another part of the balancing act. Thinking hard about the long haul, knowing what’s really at stake, knowing when to give in and change and when to fight and fight graciously.
I’ve always been a person who had trouble taking criticism, and I’m really proud of how I’ve learned to use it to my advantage and level up. As far as actual writing lessons, what have you learned on the job that’s been the biggest help to your life?
APK: The single biggest, most important lesson I learned was: When you’re writing – write. Don’t edit yourself, don’t do other jobs. Those come later with subsequent drafts. When you’re writing – write. Do the job you’re here to do. Trying to do two jobs at once means you end up doing them both half as good. I don’t care if you’re reading this, not you but anyone, and are saying “Well I can do both, pfft” nope. Shush. Do one job at a time. Focus. Remember there is time later. Mistakes can be fixed. Nothing is written in stone until it sees print. Up until then changes can be made. You have the time. Relax. Breathe. You can come back.
Write when you’re writing.
And when you aren’t – try dancing.
So you have trouble taking criticism – does that extend to editors? I, personally, love working with editors and getting the crap beaten out of a story because it makes it better and closer to what I had in my head, anyway. How’s it been for you, both recently, and as a learning curve? I mean, for people that haven’t worked with editors yet but will, what would you suggest?
DSD: I’m fortunate in that I love all of my editors. I’ve never had one of those moments where I slam down the phone and kick trash cans across the room. And a lot of that is thanks to my agent, who does the heavy work in recommending major cuts and really getting the story in shape before it goes out. Most of my edit letters are more about “concept X is clear in your head but not on the page”. For my recent YA, which is about a new breed of demon rampaging through Savannah, my editor recommended making a world bible, which hammered out all the rules that the reader never sees so that what the reader *did* see made sense. It was a brilliant that made the overall story stronger and laid the groundwork for the sequel.
That being said, I don’t get a nine page edit letter and think, YAY! I CAN’T WAIT TO MAKE ALL THESE CHANGES! I basically go through the stages of grief, including the occasional crying jag, then accept the wisdom and get to work. For someone just going into the editorial woodchopper. I would recommend distancing yourself from your story so that it’s not your baby but a wad of clay. Don’t get precious. If it’s really important that no one mess with your genius, then you might want to stick with self-publishing, because once your story sells to a publisher, it doesn’t necessarily belong to you anymore. Which means that when you’re considering an offer, you’ll want to ask the editor if they foresee any major changes. If you don’t like what you hear, you don’t have to accept.
And the number one recommendation I can give for all stages of the writing life is to always be working on the next thing. If you’re knee-deep in your next story, an editor’s comments on that thing you wrote last year won’t be a stake in the heart. Moving forward means you’re not stuck in the past. Being flexible is key.
How does it work with editors on the comics side? And you work as an editor for comics yourself, right? Do you edit the way you wish your editors would edit? I’m curious about the two coins of giving and taking advice.
APK: Comic editing is the same thing but bigger in a way. When I get edits it is on the script, and then on the final lettering – tweaks and adjustments and the usual “This doesn’t work right yet” sort of notes. I love editors and love getting notes so I DO look forward to making those changes, actually.
When I work as an editor, in comics or prose (Oh yes I edit both, at reasonable rates. So you know…) I have one goal in mind: To make the story as close as possible to the creator’s vision. You know how the story in your head is never the one on the page? It’s impossible. Can’t be done. There are translation issues. My job, as I see it, is to help you get closer. A step removed I can often see where you meant A but wrote B and can suggest ways to adjust back to your original intent. Or ways to throw it out and follow this new road, instead.
Writing and editing are separate in my head. I can’t approach an editing job with any writing ego involved. It isn’t MY story. It’s my client’s. So I don’t think of changes in terms of what I would do, but rather try to get into the storyteller’s head and see what they would do. It’s a lot of research. I’ve gone back and read other works by the person, and so on, to get a firm grasp of their voice and proclivities for story shaping. That way I can help them do their best work. I should be, as an editor, invisible. Just a helping hand with a rope should it be needed.
Comic editing is bigger because I am not only doing that with the script but also with the penciled art, the inks, the colors and the lettering. So it’s about five passes through, each one working with the team.
The big thing for me when being edited is to always remember – don’t get defensive. If your proud baby of a scene is being called out for not working – chances are it doesn’t actually work. Step away and look at it from a different angle until you can either A) See the problem or B) see why it isn’t and explain it, without justifying.
Have you ever run into that? A moment you know works in your head but it doesn’t work on paper, or so the editor says, and you have to relearn how to read your own work?
DSD: Oh, definitely. In WICKED AS THEY COME, I knew from the start that there would be a ghost in a lighthouse. And I loved that scene. And my agent said it didn’t work and I should cut it. At first, I was distraught, then angry. I was pretty reasonable about all the other changes, including killing off characters and cutting out another big scene. So I gathered up my ovaries and told her that… I disagreed. The scene had to stay.
“Then you have to make it mean something,” she said.
And I did. Because the scene did work, but it was like a cul-de-sac, a little round-trip joyride that didn’t connect to the actual story. When she made me look at it critically, I found a way to make it highly meaningful to the story arc, the character, and the ending. So I learned that not only is it okay to fight back when you really believe in something, but that everything has to connect. Everything has to mean something.
When something like that happens, I feel a little light bulb over my head. It’s like playing a video game and finding some random little tool or doodad that you put in your bag of holding and carry with you. I try to collect as many tricks as possible– and even blogged about 11 of them this week.
As an editor, what do you look for when considering a script? What can make or break a story that starts with promise?
APK: The first problem I see is that people take a cool PREMISE and forget to have a story to tell. Underneath all the other stuff you need to say something. It can be as simple as “love is powerful” or complex as “government needs to consider the needs of otters more often” but whatever it is you need that spine. Every scene has to deal with it, each moment needs to build your story. Otherwise you have a very shiny empty shell.
The other most common issue I run across is characters acting stupid for plot reasons. You’ll have an otherwise smart person who goes blindingly dumb for just long enough that the plot moves. It’s always false. Make the plot work without selling-out your own characters. Again it goes back to having a good story. Chances are, if you dig back and re-find your center, you can make things work.
The last is simple dialogue that reads like… “dialogue.” There’s a magic line between how people actually talk and dialogue that sounds like how people talk. You never want to go so far you’re pages are full of uhm’s and ahhh’s but you also need people to talk like humans. I always suggest people read scripts out loud a few times and hear how the words ring. You can fix a lot of phrasing issues and flatness that way.
When I’m considering taking on a client what I look for are two simple things: Pure passion and a willingness to put in the hard work. If you have those two the rest can be taught. But if you either don’t really care or just want to fop off and write a draft and go home – it won’t work out and we won’t have a good relationship. I am known for just saying things as declarative sentences. I can come across as far more strident than I am. When working with a new client I will do it on purpose though, to feel people out. If you tell me “Here’s my comic” and I ask “Where’s the story” and I get stammering and confusion I will often just go “No. The story. Tell it to me in simple words, as few as possible.” and wait.
People either say they aren’t sure, or find it, or whatever but the ones who admit they are trying and need help – I can work with. Ones who get overly defensive and insist it’s there I just can’t see it though they can’t explain it – they won’t last long. As an editor I have to put my ego in the back seat, and when you’re BEING edited you have to as well. That way when you do have moments you need to fight for, for all the right reasons, they aren’t missed.
Let’s talk anxiety. I mean when writing. Do you get it ever? That creeping dread. The sureness that you just suck that freezes you cold. How do you deal?
DSD: Nope. I live almost completely in the moment, which means however I feel *right now* is HOW I FEEL. I have a huge ego and think I’m awesome, and when I read my finished books, I see the typos or missteps but still feel pretty great about my writing. I am aware that I’m constantly gaining skill, and I don’t mind making mistakes. As we said before, it takes an enormous amount of chutzpah to assume that people want to read your stories, and I don’t think that goes away for me, even when I hear someone didn’t like it or I (accidentally) read a bad review.
That being said, I stay far away from reading reviews, when possible. If someone @s me on Twitter, I’ll check it out, but otherwise, I don’t see the benefit. I used to think I might learn something, but mostly people throw their own baggage into your story or write about the book they wish you’d written, which isn’t something I can change. So I stay positive, and when I feel insecure or unsure, I tend to go into hermit mode and only read interactions instead of watching my Twitter feed pass by with 2000 other peoples’ triumphs, book sales, list hitting, awards, and great reviews. It’s just too available these days, and if I start comparing myself to other writers, I’m going to start feeling like shit. The only person I compare myself to is me, and the only books to which I compares my books are my previous books.
So, honestly, I don’t experience the sureness that I suck. I just don’t have that kind of anxiety. If you want to see me freak out, just make me drive to an unfamiliar location on a highway after dark, and I’ll totally have a panic attack. Self-confidence isn’t my problem. But I do get this feeling like I’m trying to break through a glass ceiling. I have some really talented friends, and what I write doesn’t really fit into an easy niche, but I want to hit list and be on top ten lists and see my books grow beyond me.
What about goals? I want to hit list and see my books made into movies and write a comic as groundbreaking as Saga. What are your goals as a writer?
APK: Interesting. I have periods where I simply can’t write. And I have to force myself to sit down and do the work and fight through it. Never an easy thing to overcome and it doesn’t happen often but it does happen. Mostly after I haven’t written for a while. Recently when I moved, I stopped writing for close to a month due to schedules and moving across country and all. Picking it back up was a challenge. My brain just decided it forgot how for a week or so.
But right, goals. I think, seriously, my only goal is to be able to make a living writing. I’m not even talking a high level of money, just enough to pay my bills, eat on a regular basis and go to a con or two a year. Enough to do that and maybe buy books sometimes. That’s all I need. That’s my sole goal, really.
TV and movie stuff would be aces, of course, but I write to be read by people. Because I have stories I want to share. So if people read my stuff that’s it, I’m happy. The rest, the making a living thing, is partly so I can just focus more on the writing and not have to split my life between a day job and this and never get to take any time off. I have never had a vacation in my adult life. Not since I was 18. I’ve been working and working and working. Then I started writing again and if I took a day job vacation I used it to get ahead on deadlines. So I haven’t had a break in forever. I’d kinda like one. I don’t know what I would do with it, but it might be nice to find out.
Now this used to happen before I did editing, too, but I find that the more I write the more people come to me and ask me to read their stuff. They want validation, or maybe a leg up as if I could be of any help to anyone. Does that happen to you? How do you handle it? Worse – what if they are well and truly terrible?
DSD: Oh, yeah, that’s a tough one. I did get more of that right after I announced my first book deal, but I put up a little disclaimer on my blog saying that I was unable to read manuscripts, and that slowed it down. The hardest part for me right now is people skipping my publicist and straight up asking me to blurb/review books that don’t look ready and haven’t been vetted/edited by the traditional publishing process. So awkward. No one wants to hear, “The reason you’re not getting an agent with this book is because your writing isn’t there yet. Stick it in the drawer and write the next one.”
That being said, I do really love helping writers get closer to their goals, but unsolicited manuscript critique isn’t the best way for me to do that. I’ve written a few blog posts on traditional publishing and writing sex scenes that have gone viral over on Chuck Wendig’s blog (http://terribleminds.com/ramble/blog/), and whenever I give writing tips on my own little blog, they attract some attention. I really love speaking at writing conferences–giving workshops, doing panels, and generally being available at the bar to answer questions. That’s when to approach me– in person, when I’m there for the sole purpose of helping other writers. Not at, say, my book launch party, which has happened more than once.
At JordanCon last year, they asked all the pro writer guests to do a short manuscript critique for attendees who signed up, and although I was originally trepidatious, it ended up being amazing. Each writer read five minutes of their book, and as it ended up, with each manuscript, we all agreed exactly where the problem was. Most people started too early, and having three pros say, “Stop. Right there. That’s your first line!” really seemed like an epiphany for people who’d been struggling.
So that’s my advice for writers on the edge: If you think you’re there but are getting lots of form rejections, don’t solicit help from writers you met on Twitter or through blogs. Find out where they’ll be at a conference or con or ask them to recommend a conference in your area. And don’t fall for people who promise you’ll get a book deal if you take their super-expensive workshop. There are lots of charlatans out there who will prey on your determination. Unless someone is legitimately published and still working as a pro writer, chances are they won’t have the exact, current information you so desperately want. Which isn’t to say that paying for a class on writing is bad. But there’s a big difference between technically beautiful writing and writing that’s going to get an agent and a Big Five book deal, which seems like what so many promising writers, including myself, had as their ultimate goal.
Which takes us to the subject everyone is talking about these days: self-publishing. I’ve gone on record as saying that self-pub is a great choice if you’ve put all the work into your book and done all your homework, if you want complete control over your product, and if you’re willing to pay for the editing, cover, and formatting that a publisher would provide… but it’s bad to do as a flounce/last ditch effort because no one wants to rep or buy your book or because you’re impatient with the long process of fine tuning your craft and getting published. What’s your take on self-publishing?
APK: I’m a traditionalist. I feel like if you can’t find someone to take a risk on your book at all, maybe there’s a reason. I mean I did some small press books and the money was chump and they didn’t go far because I didn’t put in enough PR on my end (little hint no matter how big the PR dept is somewhere you will always do your own PR better, you care more and they have other books to deal with) but they at least took a risk.
Now I have a book that, so far, I can’t sell. I’ve racked up easily 100 agent rejections to date on it. But I know it’s good and worth it. I also know it isn’t what the market is looking for so it takes way longer and needs a deeper connection at exactly the right magic moment.
But yeah, there’s self-pub because you don’t care – you don’t want the machine, you want to do it yourself this is your goal – and that’s great. But then there is the other end. Like you said. And that stuff I have personal issues with.
There is another thing though, that I think we have to consider: Kickstarter. IT’s not self-pub in a traditional sense. And it sure as hell isn’t traditional pub. It’s between them. Instead of convincing a publisher your book is worth while you have to convince the masses. So it isn’t that defeated sort of “Well they said no I’ll do it myself” but it is checking out of the old games. I may try it myself.
I mean I have a novel I am working on but it also has an artist involved (art plates, not a comic thing) and is sort of an art project at that level. So we are going to Kickstart it because the project itself feels Not Traditional. But who knows. It is a different realm, isn’t it? Not a way to make money, certainly! If people don’t know how little Kickstarters make (even at the “Asked for 8k got 100k level, seriously) they should do some reading.
And speaking of reading: How much research do you do and of what sort?
DSD: Up until now, not a lot. My Blud series is in an alternate steampunk universe, so aside from reading a ton of books set in Victorian times, it’s mostly just me making up stuff that sounds like fun and fact checking online when needed. I did have little pings, such as randomly seeing a Wikipedia entry about the elite London firefighters and just having to use it in a novella, but it’s mostly “you can’t prove me wrong because I made up my own world, and neener”.
My YA debut next year, Servants of the Storm, is set in Savannah, which is where my husband grew up and where my in-laws now live. It’s almost a love song to my husband’s childhood, as most of the places described are part of his past. The pirate who drives the carriage is my brother-in-law, and after beta reading the book for facts, he took my family on a carriage ride through downtown that ran the routes described in the book. That’s the kind of research I like best– the active kind. I’ve done trick riding, tried static and flying trapeze, visited butterfly gardens, climbed lighthouses, gotten into archery, worn corsets–all to inform my writing.
The next book I want to write is a historical with a twist, so I’ve ordered some non-fiction to read and get deep and take notes. It’s probably blasphemy, but I prefer piggybacking on the research of other writers, reading tons of fiction books with flawless, deeply researched descriptions to get the details current in my mind. I get bored reading non-fiction. I’m more interested in active history, in stories, than in drab descriptions and deciphering cursive handwriting.
One little secret writing hack I have is that I have synesthesia, which means my senses get mixed up and play into my descriptions. I really like to immerse the reader in a place through unusual details, through smells and tastes and feelings unique to the character. Which brings up music, a big part of my process. When I’m writing, I have a playlist or an album that I listen to non-stop to get into the writing groove. I basically perform behavioral conditioning on myself so that whenever I hear the music, I’m immersed in the world. It helps for writing and also for moving things along when I get stuck.
Do you use playlists or other hacks to inform your writing experience or get unstuck?
APK: I do make playlists for each long prose work I do. They tend to be based on emotional undercurrent rather than actual lyrics. You know, I half listen while I work and it keeps me centered on the story. I love writing to music but I find I can’t do it to soundtracks like a lot of people seem to. For me that ends up with me writing the scene from the movie whose soundtrack I have on, instead of my own scene. So I listen to music with lyrics. Keep in mind I have somewhere over 12k songs. I am a music nut. I love music and am always looking for new stuff. Not for writing, just in general.
I will say though that if you ever find yourself writing something set in space, look up Gang Gang Dance. They’re terrific for it. My novel playlists are generally two to three days long, in scope, and I plot to geometric shapes in my head brought out by music. Music is writing, too. It has plot and edges and negative space and structure – and that’s without lyrics. So I have been known to sit and play 20 seconds of a song to try and find a plot note for a book. Oddly, that song I’ll use often won’t end up on the playlist. Music is key to my process, though I can write in silence I just don’t enjoy it as much.
Which makes me ask, because this can be a problem for everyone: Knowing that your emotional state ends up embedded in the words, even unconsciously, what do you do when you aren’t feeling it that day but need to write? How do you recover that feeling, or fake it properly?
DSD: I accepted long ago that first drafts are word vomit made of horse shit. They’re a scaffold, a frame, a stand-in for what will be perfected later. I used to do sculpture, and first drafts are the wire stand and the blob of clay that you’ll spend most of your time finessing, adding and taking away. So I write the first draft straight through, no stopping, and if I don’t feel super into it that day, it’s very mechanical and plodding, and I know that I’ll make it beautiful later.
One of the tricks I figured out is that when I’m not in the groove and manic but am forcing myself to squeeze out a first draft, I try to end every writing session in an exciting place that I’ll look forward to picking back up the next time. I never end with, “And he went to sleep happy,” anything like that. I end right before a scene I’m excited about or on the first line of the next chapter or after a line like, “And that’s when he heard footsteps in the alley behind him.” That way, I don’t sit down on a blah day and think, “Jesus, where am I supposed to go now?”
Sometimes, if I’m slowing down and feeling lost but know what the next major/fun scene will be, I put a * * * and go ahead and do the exciting scene, then keep going. Sometimes I have to get through the draft to know what’s needed to link those scenes. And, yeah, I add little notes to that outline at the end so I’ll know what needs to be added in the second draft.
Editing takes so much longer than a first draft for me. And I feel much more businesslike about editing, very precise and powerful. The ingredients are there; I just need to push and pull and perfect them into what it’s supposed to be. I sometimes lag before a major revision, letting it marinate in my mind and listening to my soundtrack. Sometimes, I know the draft is missing something vital and that if I start revising before I realize what it is, I’ll be doing it all wrong. That happened on Servants of the Storm. I had a 9-page revision letter, and I totally balked. Then, one morning in bed with only two weeks left before the deadline, after a dream, it came to me. Just like that. If I’d started the edit before that day, I would’ve wasted all that work and had to redo it.
I think listening to my subconscious and letting it work through things is one of the most important facets of my writing. Granted, I’m in touch with and welcoming of my dark side, so I trust my brain to figure things out while I’m getting on with life. If worse comes to worse, I induce a sort of trance by taking a high, hot bath in the dark while listening to the music, and the answer has thus far always come to me.
That’s one thing that I think is important: finding your process. Although every book is different, I’ve learned to trust the different parts of my process, even the ones that stink, like when I’m about 60% through the book and hate it and think it sucks and it’ll never be good. That’s part of my process, too. What are your favorite and least favorite parts of your process?
APK: Quick and dirty, yet truthful, answer: My fave part is the one I just finished and my least fave is the one I haven’t started yet. I love all of it, my kooky process. Even the struggles to find bits of plot and endless reworking. The tons of research – for that SF novel I have sitting here I spent two months researching ship design from the French-Spanish war so I could pull the theory behind resource allotment and naval design forward into the future and then never even got into it, though it was all used behind the scenes. I love the backbreaking work and the exhaustion after a good bout of prose, and fussing over music the rewrites even. Love it all. It’s – collectively – my favorite thing ever.
Except when I’m staring down the next step I tend to forget how much I adore it and just see the amount of work involved and so I hate it. Right up until I start.
But I have a day job that has no writing in it, I do a lot of stuff and have done all sorts of jobs and the only time I feel RIGHT is when I am making words work for me on a page. So even when the process can bog me down I can’t stay mad at it long. This is what I love to do. Even when I’m not working I’m thinking about stories and process and dismantling it and building it back up in my head.
A process thing I love the hell out of but that can drive me nuts is before any long prose work I rebuild how I write. I start with sentences. How long should they be, and so on. Normally I find a good base, I often go to Spillane, say. Then I build paragraphs, what is their rhythm in this story and their size and shape? All the way up the line.
It’s a lot of intense odd work and means I normally write the first 5000 words of a novel four or five times before I settle on the right shapes and feeling and can move on. Then I stop editing while I work again.
Finding that voice early is a key. What are some of your key bits, the things that make you know a work will find its way to the finish line?
DSD: When I was just starting out, I thought a great hook was the hard part. Mermaid space opera! Werewolf magic school! And I fell in love with the world first, with the idea. But my first two books that went to the editors’ tables in New York didn’t sell, and it was because I wasn’t in love with the characters, which means the editors liked the books and found them good but not great. Since then, I’ve understood that your characters are what make a story unique and unforgettable. The story has to start with them.
That means that when I get a hook that obsesses me, I start feeling around for characters who will really make that world interesting. And they’re never easy. They have to have faults, complications, histories, weak spots, nervous tics. They can’t always say what they mean. It can’t be easy for them. You have to discover their worst fear and make them face it and give them the ability to change and grow. So that’s when I know a story is really more than a fun hook, more than just my imagination showing off a clever idea: The characters become real in my mind.
There are some tips I’ve picked up on crafting really compelling characters, a skill I once struggled with. If you can’t describe a character in three words that make them different than all other characters, then you don’t know them well enough. “Nice, good, handsome” isn’t enough. It has to be more like “Mischievous, loyal, deadly”. The three words can’t be three words that one would expect to go together. There are also character sheets online you can find that basically ask 100 questions about the character–little things, like What was their first memory? or What food do they absolutely hate? Once you’ve given this character likes, dislikes, backstory, you know a lot more about who they are, why they’re like that, and how they’ll react to what’s happening around them.
Once you have the setting and the characters, the book should flow more smoothly, and the adventures become less a product of your writing so much as the characters moving through a story in a natural fashion. If I have a great idea but trouble writing, it’s usually because I haven’t spent enough time with the characters in my head.
But great characters can come at a later stage, too. If you’ve got a first draft but worry that your characters aren’t deep enough or compelling enough, you can retrofit their traits during a revision. Once you’ve spent 60 – 100k with these people, you know them better than you did at first, and you can go back through and add the little details that make them actual people.
So I guess I would say that crafting characters was a challenge I had to overcome in order to get my first book deal. If I went back to 2010 and grabbed a manuscript from Past Delilah’s hands, that would’ve been my first critique–that the main characters were cardboard cut-outs moving through ornate worlds. And I would’ve swiftly followed that criticism with orders to stop using so many dialog tags and adverbs and to never end a chapter in comfort. If you could go back in time and correct your beginner’s errors, what would they be?
APK: I’d tell myself to think the whole thing through a bit more often. I love thinking on my feet and correcting my path but I don’t always know if a story can go the distance until I’ve dug into the plot. Those 45 things, from way early in this talk.
I had a bunch of false start novels that I were convinced would go the distance, that just didn’t have the right combination of character + story + that special something else to make them worth doing. And of course I would get 20 or 30k into them before I’d really see it. So I do wish I could go back and tell myself to slow down, wait and that plotting out early isn’t a bad thing.
Of course, that isn’t to say I still don’t chase the wrong book at times. It’s, I think, part of my process by now. Write 30k on the wrong book, take bits and dribs and drabs over the years into the right stuff and go from there.
Of course one of the things I’ve started doing in my initial data dumps is to list each character with a paragraph about them as well as a few key points.
Paula Drang – (28/female/cis/bi/asian) Paula likes long walks on the beach so she can find new places to hide the bodies. She also things sunsets are fairly pretty, but mostly because she can count on blinding glare to make the killing fields more fun.
Note the key part there, in the parens. I’ve found that keeping track of age, gender, cis/trans status, sexuality and ethnicity make sure I can’t accidently write a whole lot of white guys. How do you find yourself dealing with the desire to reflect the world outside your window in those terms?
DSD: This topic is always heavy in my mind. I want so badly to create authentic characters who aren’t stereotypes–and yet aren’t the same as me. It was easier in my Blud books, because it’s an alternate universe, and instead of being racially discriminatory, the divide is between humans and non-humans like the Bludmen and daimons. That conflict really gave me freedom to explore prejudice and breaking out of societal expectations, in part because no one can write me hate mail about how they’re a Bludman in Sangland and have never been forced to wear all black and live in government housing.
I’m a married white suburban girl in the South with no clear culture/otherness, and if you ask some people, there are way too many people like me taking up publishing deals that should go to people of color or LGBTQ or otherwise abled people. It weighs heavy on me that I am privileged, but I’m also aware that I can’t change who and what I am. On the other hand, my life hasn’t been perfect, and I have experiences that enable me to empathize with the fights that a very different character might be fighting. I’ve been abused, raped, stalked, bullied, depressed, suicidal. And my characters have fought similar fights– Tish escaped an abusive relationship, Casper fought depression and substance abuse, Demi acted out and became a victim.
I try to stay aware that no matter how hard I try, I’m not perfect, and I don’t want to offend someone accidentally through my ignorance. When writing a character very different from me, I try to find a beta reader on Twitter or Facebook who walks that life and can tell me if I’m doing honor to that worldview. The heroine of Servants of the Storm is a mixed race girl living in a lower middle class neighborhood of Savannah, and I sought commentary from a mixed race writer and from someone who grew up in that city in a very similar neighborhood.
I think another part of the discussion is trying to avoid the creation of token characters. “This book needs a black kid and a gay kid” should not be the birth of characters whose main characteristics are being black or being gay instead of being smart or loyal. And yet there’s this unspoken understanding that books about white main characters are purchased by the Big Five/Six more often than characters of any other race or who are not heteronormative. I had to get special permission to make the love interest of one of my books non-white. It’s just something that shouldn’t be an issue in 2014 and yet… is. Writers are held captive by it as much as readers.
Which brings up genre. I originally wrote Wicked as They Come as a fantasy adventure and was asked to turn the black-out scenes into sex scenes so that it could sell as Romance. I balked at first and later gave in and sold a three-book series. Suddenly, rather than being a SFF writer, I was a Romance writer, even though the books are based on deep alternate universe steampunk world building with not-so-much paranormal characters as new races I made up. If they’d been elves and goblins instead of blood drinkers and quasi-demons, would I be on the Fantasy shelf? If I’d submitted under a pseudonym or used initials, would I get the SFF cred for which I long in a genre dominated by dudes?
How does genre and the perception of genre affect your writing?
APK: Whoa, I’ll get back to that question in a minute but we have to stop and talk about “I had to get special permission” we just have to. Tell me more about that, please, because it infuriates me so much. I mean as a white dude who writes I am, basically, the holder of all privilege regardless of the desire for it, so I do as much research and talking to people as I can because, frankly, there are so many versions of me reflected in books and movies that we could skip having a white guy lead for the next 50 years and still not equal things out and reflect the world and the readers.
And I know it is bad out there for pushing equality but… “I had to get special permission”? From who, and how did that work? Then I promise I’ll get to the genre question.
DSD: The book was contracted. I originally wanted the heroine to be a person of color already introduced to the series, and the synopsis was gently rejected because she was “too exotic” for the average reader of that genre and of the series. So when I envisioned this male hero as being of mixed race, my agent recommended I double check with my editor first. For the record, she was super supportive, on board immediately, and helped me identify the movie star who would play this character in a movie, just to give me a visual. Still, interesting how the dark-skinned female was rejected but the light-skinned male was accepted.
APK: Yeah. All right. Now is the point in the day where I start screaming and don’t stop for a few days. I just… yeah. Dear Publishing World: Please grow the holy fuck up. Love, Humanity. Uhm. Where were… I… hold on.
More screaming. I’ll do it without typing it though.
… I’m better now. Maybe. For a minute. Long enough to poke at genre stuff!
Little secret: Everything is a genre! “Lit” is a genre. So are YA, SF, Fantasy, Horror, whatever-they’ve-wrongly-put-in-front-of-the-word-punk-meaninglessly-today, and all those other new NA, NWA, ABBA, and whatever else that I can’t bother to keep up with this week. It’s all genre. And it all has perceptions, doesn’t it? I mean if you write something and tell someone “Oh this is “general fiction” we all know it is a keyword for “Something safe for the white masses to buy in B&N today and pretend to read but secretly put on a shelf to gather dust” … that’s… that’s what it means, right?
I may still be angry right now.
But! II love Science Fiction and think that, at it’s best it defines our world by talking about it through a removed lens that lets us distance ourselves from ourselves, which allows us the chance to really see how we are. Or at least a better chance. Fantasy can do the same, as can Horror… as can every genre, really. It’s why what we traditionally call “genre” is my fave to work in. I like uses lenses in my work, as I think of them. They create a remove that allows a certain honesty to creep in. You can do it with anything, of course, but it is easier with lenses overlaid.
Certainly doing straight-up literature is a different ballgame – oh wait, it isn’t anymore. Really, haven’t we had so much genre creep by now the labels are all meaningless except as marketing tools? Can we just admit that and go on with our lives? You can find just as much “lit” with fantastic elements. The genre labels are bullshit driven by the publishers to help sell books. Because people who like robots want to find books with robots faster. And that’s all right, too, but from our perspective, as creators, I think they have to be meaningless.
With the exception of knowing what age group you’re aiming at and that only to temper violence, sex, language a bit when needed. Story never. Kids love complexity as much as adults and the second you talk down to them you’ve done it wrong. I 100% did not answer your question, huh?
Uhm. Yeah. So. How do you market stuff now? With the rise of self-pub and the sheer glut of books out there both new and old, how do you make yourself stand out so you can be noticed and have a chance at being read?
DSD: That’s the bajillion dollar question. As I haven’t hit list and am not yet widely known, I apparently haven’t figured out the ingredients for success on that level. I don’t like to practice aggressive sales techniques or have them practiced upon me (and I NEVER follow a buy link from someone who DMs me or spams me to read their book), so for now, I hope that my publisher’s name and marketing, my social media presence, and word of mouth will get my books more widely read. One thing you learn as a writer is that there are very few overnight successes. Every book that explodes on the scene “overnight” has had an author working their tail off for years and facing the same rejection and marketing issues that the rest of us are. Tenacity, skill, and luck are all part of the mix.
Although I agree with you about how a writer should consider genre while writing, which is not at all, as an author trying to find career success and help support my family, I’m forced to consider genre all the time. A “Top 10 Fantasy Books” list goes up, and I look at it and am annoyed that they’re all dude-written Game of Thrones wannabes by guys who are part of a Twitter cabal. A “Top 20 Romances” list gets a bunch of shares on Facebook, and I note it’s all bodice rippers from people who have already hit list multiple times and don’t really need a boost. “Where do I fit in?” is a question I constantly ask myself, shortly followed by, “And how the hell do I get onto the kind of list where I *do* fit in?” My books don’t fit tidily into the usual genres, and while that should mean that Wicked as They Come appeals to fantasy fans, urban fantasy fans, and paranormal romance fans, I somehow don’t have thrice the readers I want.
When you have an agent and are angling for book contracts, the market’s take on genre plays a bigger deal into what you write than it did before you got an agent. I want to make money doing this, which means that I want to write things that sell, which means that asking my agent if my next book idea is marketable is a great boon… and sometimes a great disappointment. It’s also a good yardstick for how important the idea is to me. If she says it won’t sell and I shrug it off and get back to brainstorming, I know the idea wasn’t strong enough. If she says it won’t sell and I say I DON’T CARE I’M DOING IT ANYWAY, I know that the book might have enough heart and power to become something great.
But, as for what I personally do, I spend a lot of time on Twitter and some time on Facebook, Pinterest, and Tumblr. I try to be funny, be helpful, and maybe add a buy link every 20 tweets or so, always in a way that will get a laugh. I go to writing conferences, comic cons, and genre cons. In the appropriate sort of venues, I do steampunky cosplay to give people a reason to talk to me or take my picture. I do local book signings with other Atlanta writers, try to get as many guest posts on blogs as I can, have lavish and fun book launch parties, and generally try to get involved with fun marketing forays that don’t make me crazy. I think it’s important to only do what appeals, because when I do something that my gut tells me not to do, I’m so miserable. When you’re marketing in ways that make you uncomfortable, I think that comes through. I can tell when a writer isn’t being genuine, and that influences my feelings about their writing.
Other writers are also an amazing resource. Developing authentic relationships with other people who will retweet your stuff, blurb your books or mention them online, or offer you a spot to guest blog can be an amazing gift. Some of my best friends are writers I met through social media. And paying that kindness forward is also really important, as wherever you are in your career, there’s someone who wants to be where you are, and you can help them with a quick critique, a blurb, a kind word, a blog post, an introduction, or a recommendation.
I’m really looking forward to the debut of my first YA next summer, as it’ll give me the chance to access a new genre and fan base. Lots of the advice I’ve seen for burgeoning writers is to stick to your fan base/genre and write books that will keep them reading, but my instincts are to branch out and try as many things as I can. When I was looking for an agent, I specifically wanted someone who represented all the genres I thought I might want to write in. Do you have an agent, and how do you feel about them in general?
APK: Yeah I realized early that “stick to the genre and build a fanbase” would never work for me. Instead I focus on building a fanbase of people who like how I do stuff, and are willing to explore different genres with me. It takes way longer but you end up with far more invested fans.
It also means you don’t have an agent. No, that’s not true. It may be a hundred reasons why. But I don’t have one. And I feel I sort of need one at this stage, but none are interested in working with me. Mostly because I’m too scattershot, I think, or just not doing the commercial sort of stuff they want.
I think a good agent is worth their weight in gold, and a bad agent is far more likely. It’s a partnership but with a partner who has other partners, while you don’t. So that’s tricky. Even the best agent, who does focus on you and help you, is juggling a lot of clients. So you still have to watch out for you. I would like to have an agent, just to make my life more interesting, but I also think that with enough time and work I can get places myself, if need be.
I may be wrong. I almost certainly am. But the number of agent rejections I have makes me know I need to be right, if only because, otherwise it seems like I don’t have other options. That’s the harsh reality of it. An agent isn’t an end all road to success but if you want in on the Big 6, well it can be. As we discussed I do want to make my living doing this stuff and nothing but this stuff, but I am also fairly unbending when it comes to “No, write another thing like this.” I already wrote that! I wanna write this other type of thing now. And we again start to see why I don’t have an agent or a lot of success at this stage of the game.
Being me is highly rewarding, personally, but on the whole – be smarter than me. For your own good.
And this is a bit left field but I was just dealing with this today so it’s on my mind – have you ever been asked to blurb a book or write an intro? What are your thoughts on all that?
DSD: Yep, I blurbed my first two books in the last month and really enjoyed the process– Jamie Wyman’s WILD CARD and Kimberly Pauley’s ASK ME. Blurbing is a great way to help pay it forward to other authors, and I’m so grateful to people who’ve blurbed me. I’ve had to turn down several offers to blurb, unfortunately, and I think people need to research the process for better success. Most authors have something on their contact page about who to contact for blurbs, and it’s rarely the author, personally. Usually, an editor asks another editor to ask their author, or a publicist asks the author, or an agent asks on behalf of another client. This extra step gives the author a gracious way to turn down the blurb request if the book isn’t their cup of tea or to bow out if it’s not up to snuff or if they get under deadline and run out of time.
The sad fact is that people who write professionally don’t have a lot of time, and we get lots of blurb requests from writers whose writing hasn’t leveled up yet. Traditional publishing has its faults, but at the heart, it’s a process of vetting and curating, which means that a reader has a reasonable expectation of the quality of the story, writing, and production values in the finished work. It’s about trust. And blurbs indicate that a valued, vetted, curated writer endorses that writing. There’s no kind way to say, “Thank you for asking me to blurb your book, but I can’t stand behind the quality of your story. You need to get more writing under your belt before you publish.” When I get blurb requests directly from strangers, I ignore them, because there’s no good answer.
I’ve never written an intro, but I imagine I would be very flattered and enjoy it. When I set out to write books, I didn’t realize all the interesting opportunities I’ve had outside of novels. I love my 30k e-novellas, comics, and the short stories I’ve been invited to submit to anthologies. And that’s another topic I find interesting. I really love writing short stories and would pee myself to be in some of the anthologies I see out from the Big Five/Six, but I don’t personally enjoy reading short stories. I want to immerse myself in a world, not jump in and out.
Do you like short stories and anthologies? How do you feel about different products besides tradition-size novels or comics?
APK: I got my start writing shorts. I adore them. They’re incredibly hard to do really well. I often would put in the same research as for a novel, just for an 8-12k story. Hell, I started by selling a 4k and a 1.7 back to back. You have to get in and out and build a whole world and not make it just about a twist because you want it to be able to stand multiple readings so you find you have no space at all to build characters and a world and a conflict and resolve it and it’s just so much fun!
I like reading them too, but given that I don’t have much time to read I do read more long form things – which sounds backwards I know. Still, for me short stories are things you want to read when you have a lot of time so you can digest them each as their own little candy.
The same way I view genre as a “I haven’t tried this yet let’s play!” I view formats. I’ve done 3 strip a week webcomics, going to launch a new 2 strip a week one early 2014 actually, as well as comic short stories and longer form series and now 3 issue miniseries. Also novels and shorts and novellas… short film scripts and plays… I love playing with format. It adds another dimension to everything. Each new format teaches you tons you can take to all the rest. I think that is a large part of our job – learning new things. Bettering ourselves.
There’s no certification you get. Doctors get them. Plumbers are licensed. But writers? Nope. I don’t have an English, or any other, degree. I don’t do workshops or retreats, I just write and I read and I study. Chances are if I know you, I read your stuff and study your work. Then again, chances are I do that regardless of knowing you. But there is no authority to tell us we’re doing it right or wrong. And so it falls on us to do as much as we can, in different ways, and always expand our capacity for the work, and our understanding of it.
Now, you also make art, right? How does that affect your writing? Especially comics, I wonder.
DSD: You know, I haven’t really had the compulsion to make visual art since I started writing. I have an art degree, worked as a muralist, taught art… but, honestly, I’m a better writer than I am an artist. That being said, I can still teach or make art, but the flow I found painting huge murals is much more accessible while writing. Plus, no angry pregnant women demanding I turn an oak into a willow, even though she signed off on an oak.
More confessions: I’m not a huge comics reader. I love the idea, but up until Saga and Shadowman, nothing really grabbed me. Maybe because of my artistic sensibilities, but the usual mainstream superhero and spy stuff isn’t my bag, reading-wise. But then Saga came along, with strong writing, a complex and kickass female lead, and seriously beautiful art, and I was finally like, OMG, THIS. THIS IS WHAT I’VE BEEN HOPING FOR, AND IT DOESN’T HAPPEN FAST ENOUGH.
So when I got my first invite into a comic antho, I had never written a script before and had to google “how to write a comic script”. But it came to me pretty naturally, and it was easy to describe the scene I was seeing. It was a major rush, and I had such instant gratification. Wrote that script in about 2 hours, and my editor didn’t want changes. Just like short stories, I reeeeally want to write more comics, but I don’t necessarily want to master reading an entire genre to really learn from it like I do novels. I still feel like kind of a poser in the comics store, like I have to prove myself. But… I’m a writer. I like writing. I like telling stories. And getting to see an illustrator bring them to life is otherworldly.
It was a big surprise seeing how my illustrator captured my words. We crammed a lot into 6 pages, and as a noob, I didn’t leave as much dark space as needed, so my artist made some tweaks to the script that I wasn’t expecting. In the end, I was hooked. I could never draw comics, and I know that breaking into the biz requires a lot of work that I’m frankly too busy writing sold novels to do, but… there’s so much good stuff going on right now, breaking past the limits that turned me away from comics in the first place. I love how indies are making anything possible.
I was recently invited into a sort of hybrid novel/comic in which an illustrator will supply intermittent illustrations as he sees fit, and I’m curious about watching it evolve. What do you see as emerging trends in comics, graphic novels, and hybrids? And how is technology changing things in that arena?
APK: First let me say 4 quick things: 1) No one is an outsider or ever has to prove themselves. If you like something, you like it. Anyone who treats you otherwise should be kicked in the shin. 2) The sort of comics you like have existed for a long time, no way for you to know that! But it isn’t recent, you just have to dig some through the perpetuated Big 2 output for indie stuff. 3) I highly suggest you read Scott MCCloud’s Understanding Comics. It’ll give you an incredible leg up, and I reread it every year. 4) Isn’t it fantastic when collaboration works and an artist takes your script and enhances it, making COMICS out of a script and art?
I’m also not sure lightly illustrated prose is a hybrid, so much as illustrated prose. I mean that goes back to illuminated manuscripts. But as far as trends I am seeing more and more creator-owned independent works thrive, which is fantastic. It’s given me a career, actually. Amelia Cole and Artful Daggers wouldn’t happen in a market that doesn’t reward that sort of thing but even more importantly is what is driving that market: Technology.
Digital comics, through Comixology or other sites/services, has decreased the cost of entry incredibly, allowing more people to create comics. Used to be if you wanted to do your own comic you had to pay whatever team members (penciller, inker, colorist, writer, letter, editor, etc) and then sell out for printing and go through distributors and everything costs and takes a cut.
Now you can remove that pesky printing end of things. Yeah, of course Comixology takes a cut, just like any distributor who wants to stay open, and the team still needs to get paid, but printing costs were always one of the single biggest costs around. We don’t pay those. We just … don’t. They don’t exist.
Also, since we’re not going through the normal Diamond distribution channels the time between product and print is even shorter. Diamond has a catalog that goes out 2 months before print. So a book has to be done so it can hit that date. Now, with digital, we finish an issue, upload it and 4 to 6 weeks later *DING* comic’s done!
This all has two big effects I’ve been tracking deeply: The first is that the price can drop. Which allows people to get onboard cheaper. Once you take out printing you can drop the price of a book. Is 99 cents right? It might be too low, but consumers were trained by iTunes to think of an issue as a song, basically. But it is still feasible.
The second, more interesting development is that the long tail is back. A comic store has so much product to deal with that issue 1 comes out and next week it isn’t there. By the time issue 4 comes out people don’t want to buy your book because they can’t find issue 1 anymore. But with digital all four issues are right there, easy to find and buy with a click.
We used to judge sales on how much a book sold in that first week. That was 99% of the sales of an issue for its life. But now? Issue 12 of Amelia Cole shipped recently, and we sell issues 1-11 so how can I judge what issue 1 “sold”? What does it mean? The first week, month, year, or what? Because that time frame doesn’t matter. It keeps selling. It is always for sale, cheap and easy. And that’s a hell of a game changer. It changes how we have to think about sales levels and long term investment. This is 100% not the situation of six years ago. So that’s exciting, and for a guy like me, it means an excuse to sit with data and move it around to see the shape of it and think and play and talk about it while typing run on sentences about it!
Print, famously, went through this sort of cheaper – higher availability phase decades ago with paperbacks. Until then rich people had libraries at home, but no one else could afford to own many books. Then cheap paperbacks and BAM people could afford books, they were on sale everywhere, easily reachable and you had a huge uptick in readers.
There are downsides, too, of course – but look to history, it’s all right there.
Technology has shaped so much of what we do, from how we do it to how we sell it, what technology would you love to have that doesn’t exist yet? I know I am still looking for the perfect light travel writing thing. Laptops are close, but never quite light enough. Most tablets don’t let me multitask right… I don’t know. What is on your dream tech list and how would it change your work (flow and product)?
DSD: I got my first MacBook Air last year, and… Jesus, it really is as amazing as everyone says. Before this, I hobbled around with heavy, crappy, $400 laptops that broke my shoulder at the airport and took 7 minutes to boot up. This thing weighs nothing and performs flawlessly. But my screen got broken once on an airplane flight by a bitch of a seat neighbor, and fixing it cost exactly half of the price of the entire damn thing, so tech could definitely improve in the realm of durability.
I just ordered a Bluetooth keyboard so that I can travel with my iPad mini and hopefully do more writing on it instead of tempting fate with my beloved MacBook Air again. I can’t wait to see how that works– not only tech wise, but ergonomics-wise. I’m 36, and sitting and writing for hours at a time can definitely take its toll on my body. I’d really like a nice office set-up at home that was geared toward body comfort and safety during long writing hours. A comfy chair, a desk at the proper height, and a monitor that didn’t make me look down while I type. Right now, I have some leftover crap half-desk thing and a chair my husband’s work threw out in 2004 or so. And, yeah, some days I feel it.
I gotta say, I’m hooked on Macs now. I don’t know how I could go back, and I wish I’d invested in the damn thing sooner. After all, it’s tax deductible for me. So I’m probably on what I already consider an ideal machine, although I wish it played better with Word docs and had a battery life of more than 3 hours. And my iPad Mini is awesome for reading on with apps for Nook and Kindle, plus the ability to read PDFs.
I wish I had invested in a good laptop earlier. And I wish printers were actually useful and didn’t cost a bajillion dollars in ink. But I’m pretty happy now. I even quit dragging a pen and notebook to my writers group and just take my laptop. A few people look at me like I’m cheating, but you know what? I write better this way. Do you have a writing group or a critique group? Do you work better at home or out in the world? And what machine do you use?
APK: I use a multitude of machines. And am looking at replacing one soon. At home I have a desktop running Windows 7 that is overpowered because I do pass so much art around and do web design stuff sometimes and all. I have two matching 24” widescreen monitors. So when working on a script or novel I end up with three documents open at once so I can have notes and plot stuff and the workspace… it’s glorious and indulgent. Since I moved though I didn’t bring my old desk chair and this new one isn’t as comfy and I might have to replace it.
On the go I have a macbook pro but I am thinking of getting rid of it. I like Macs but they aren’t quite right for me, long term. And the laptop is simply a bit too big and heavy to lug around much. So I don’t use it as much as I should and it becomes a waste. If you ever wanna buy one cheap, shout. Because, yeah. Not for me. I am thinking of getting a Microsoft Surface Pro actually, if I can find one cheap enough. It’ll give me good tablet stuff and let me work in a traditional desktop just as easy. That’s today’s theory. Who knows.
I also have a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 for a phone and part of the reason why I got this gigantic phone is it is big enough I can do quick art checks on the road as well as work on scripts. Harder without a bluetooth keyboard, but the screen is big enough it works for me when it has to. It isn’t my writing device of choice, but has done in a pinch. I’ve tried iPads and other tablets and other laptops and… I work in tech as a day job so I have strange access to try this stuff out. So far the perfect solution outside of a good desktop hasn’t happened.
I write at home 99% of the time – I tend to write in my office and edit in the living room, but I couldn’t tell you why. Still, I go to cons and often need to do work there, or work sends me on a small trip and I still have deadlines. So a good travel unit that can also live in the living room as an editing box would be perfect.
Keep in mind when I was a kid I learned to use a typewriter before I learned to write with a pen. So I’ve never carried a notebook – or rather I have and never use them except editing meetings. So eventually I will find my perfect travel companion.
I also admit to getting sad. Artists have all these fun toys! Pens and brushes and paper and… we get keyboards. Granted I am neurotic about my keyboards. Once I find a brand I can use right (and many I can’t. I grew up on typewriters there is a certain key press and travel and bounce I NEED to write at full speed) I stick with them. Currently I am addicted to the Logictech washable keyboard. Fantastic keypress and travel. Also it’s waterproof and can even go in a dishwasher so no worries about spilling coffee on it. But we don’t get the cool fun toys. It’s a shame.
And a lot of the above comes down to ritual. I sit down, I open my documents. I turn on music. I write. But the space, the technology, all of it has to feel familiar. It becomes ritualistic for me in how I approach the act of writing. Do you have any rituals?
DSD: Not that many. With two small children, if I get too precious about my writing, it doesn’t get done. I wrote my first book when my second child was 9 months old and my first child was 3, so I cut my teeth on sneaking in whatever time I could, no matter what mental or physical state I was in. That being said, I feel like I’m constantly in transition. I can’t write if I hear their little voices, so either it happens before they’re awake, during the 12 hours a week they’re both in school, or after they’re asleep, when I also have to cram in time with my husband, who works full time *and* writes. I can’t wait until my kids are both in school full time next year, and I can just stay home for 7 hours, alone.
As it is, I have a handful of coffee shops and cafes that I rotate amongst depending on the weather and what I’m hungry for and what I’m working on that day. I get my laptop out and put in earbuds and turn on the playlist. And then… I write. And it’s awesome, because for me, this is the fun part. I’m not one of those people who grew up desperate to be a mommy, so my writing time is my secret time, my escape, my “me” time. And I hoard it and adore it. I get coffee or tea, a snack if necessary (beignets! Earl Grey lavender macarons!), and hit the keyboard. I take breaks between pages or paragraphs to check up on Twitter and Facebook or read emails. Then it’s right back in.
If I’m doing line edits– well, I especially relish that. I have a red binder called BINDER OF KICKASSERY that I carry my paper edits in, and I select a different colorful pen for each edit. As much as I love the wild rumpus of a first draft, I have a special love for the final polish, when I see the book laid out in its own font, with its own wingdings, two-up. And I find a lot of new things to fix that way, both typos and little tweaks. When I get too frustrated with what an especially persnickety copyeditor tries to do to my Southern colloquialisms, I draw little sketches in the margin for my editor to enjoy, along with the viciously underlined STET.
I have a friend who doesn’t do line edits at all, just tells his editor to publish as-is. I can’t imagine that. Although I’m not a perfectionist, I still want to take every chance I have to make the published book of the highest quality in my abilities. When my editor sends me a line edit, I go through it once, taking notes on an index card for things I need to double check at the end. Once I hit the last page and cross off everything on the index card, I mail that puppy off, and good riddance. I don’t spend a lot of time going through my published stuff, because I hate finding errors/typos that I can’t fix.
Other random rituals: I hunt for four-leaf clovers every spring and store them in my author copies. Every time I mail or sell one, I hope the person finds the four-leaf clover just when they need it. And I draw vampire animals in every book I sign. If the person is there, in front of me, I ask them what their favorite animal is and then hide a drawing of a vampire version of that animal somewhere in the book. And whenever I’m getting ready to do something challenging, like give a keynote speech or go on sub, I play the Sucker Punch version of I Want It All at 100000 decibels to get in the mode for TOTAL KILLER DECIMATION THUNDERDOME WINNING.
How do you feel about your edits? Do you go over and over them or send them along? And what do you see that works best from the writers you edit? Can you tell the difference between too much and not enough?
APK: First of all your friend that doesn’t do line edits scares me. That’s a Big Thing Done Bad. Sorry. It just is. No excuse.
For edits that I get from editors I stop and read them and consider them and then go over the bits called into question myself and think if their solution works or if I have a different one. Assuming it isn’t something I really don’t want to change and can explain why it needs to be the way it is.
Then, after I’ve put in the edits I go over them with the notes again. Did this fix the problem, did it cause a worse one somewhere else, does this now work? I fuss over it because I know how easy it is to create ripple effects of problems. I’ve done it more than once.
I also focus on the drop-ins first. Any edit that can be solved by just, well, dropping in a bit of extra text – a sentence or a whole chapter – are my first go-tos. Drop-ins are fun. It’s puzzle solving with live grenades, and somehow I find that a fun way to pass time.
For clients that I am editing I like to give them notes that highlight a problem in a certain format: Identify the problem, explain why it is a problem to me, and suggest a possible solution. If I can’t explain why something is a problem to me I might mark it out with a “Not sure why but this bugs me, could just be my head, but glance at it again?” sort of note. As I get to know people better my notes get shorter and might seem rude to others. Just “Nope.” “Flip this.” “This is wrong.” and those are normally the notes way after there is a trust there and are highlighting the need to discuss them deeper not in a tiny note in the margin.
Too much and not enough vary by person. Some people need a lot of big notes and some really don’t. So my first pass strays toward the big and then, if it makes sense, I go smaller. Funny, I stopped writing this to reply to a client and explain that the NEXT pass of a script is when he will see notes. He’s very green and right now I want him to learn on his own for a while. So my notes are overall sky-high things “Think of the story like this then reread it and see if there are changes you want to make,” teaching, or helping hopefully, how to self-edit some. It’s a critical skill needed, after all. And the next draft, his third, I’ll print out and grab my red pen (I have a box of red felt tip pens in my desk at all times) and go to work. But this lets us get to know each other and helps him learn.
So much of this is subjective. There’s a zeroing in that needs to happen.
Also I do get to mock you a tiny bit for preferring a Non-Pure-Queen version of a Queen song, right? I mean it isn’t like you can actually improve the best band in history. But that’s not the point.
What is the point? No, really, that’s what I’m asking you – end of the day – what’s the point of all this?
DSD: I have a bad history with Queen, sadly, so I’m never going to like their stuff. Funny how sense memory can screw you out of some fantastic experiences. Mad props to Freddie Mercury; thumbs down to the person who ruined it for me. I hate Pink Floyd and Annie Lennox for the same reason.
The point of all this is something I tweeted last night. “Why do we write? Because we must. To calm the mind, indulge the muse, pay the bills, edify the editor. Simple as that. We have no choice.” I’ve always been compelled to create, but for the longest time, I expressed it through poetry and art. After college, I had this major epiphany about how although I was an artist, I never really found my body of work. It was the movie Great Expectations that did it. I watched the drawings Finn did and some trapdoor in my brain fell down and I felt emotionally bankrupt, like the will and drive were there but I had no actual cohesive style, nothing to say with my work. That I was trained and willing but totally mediocre. And I also realized that while my poetry was great and all, it was basically useless. “Here’s how I felt. It’s pretty and has metaphors. And the world has no use of it.”
I went through cycles–no art for months, then had to use a credit card to buy oils and canvas when I could barely afford heat. Didn’t make anything worth keeping. Tried various new media. Never found what I was looking for. I felt, for many years, that I would never know what I was meant to do with my life. That I wanted to get a Masters, but that it wasn’t worth the money and time unless I cared about something enough, which I didn’t. Applied to grad school for an MFA and decided I hated the painting professor and his work. Withdrew. I was totally lost, artistically. I had a couple of shows, but the work was mechanical and repetitious. Basically, since I couldn’t get myself together to do big stuff that mattered, I made 100 armless clay mermaids or painted 300 tiny paintings of my pregnant belly.
I tried to write a book once and never got past the first paragraph. I was paralyzed by fear; what if I did it wrong? What if I chose the wrong path for the character? What if these words aren’t the right ones? It wasn’t until my second kid was 9 months old and I wasn’t sleeping that the judgey, scared self-editor in my head broke and went away, and that’s when I was finally able to pound out my first book. And it was horrible. But I realized, then, that I could do it.
Honestly, I figured I would go through life never finding my true calling. I just wanted to paint when I needed to paint and ride horses. The fact that my brain finally broke enough to allow me to discover writing is one of the greatest gifts the universe has given me. I love this. I love what I do. And I love that I know what to do with that drive to create and that, when it’s done, I’m happy with it in a way that I never was with my visual art. When I hold one of my books, it heals parts of me that felt empty for so long. And I love that my kids can watch me pursuing something I’m passionate about, something that matters.
What’s the point for you? And what kind of education do you think helps writers the most? What’s the best way to learn? Do you believe in college degrees, workshops, seminars, reading? Or time on task?
APK: I find I hate saying “I have no choice” because I would like to think I am bigger than my addiction, but there you go. I tend to think of writing like an addiction. It’s bad for my health (long writing sessions just hurt), it ostracizes friends and family, it becomes the thing I think about to exclusion… The only difference is I think writing pays me money, crack costs it. Also – there’s that whole one causes death problem, but hey, that’s writing for ya, right?
I’ve been writing since I was around 6. Now I had a leg up, an unfair advantage: My father was a writer, my mother is an editor and writer. So I got started young. But I still took close to a decade off, not writing, turning my back on it. I wouldn’t say I regretted it, because I try to not regret my life, instead seeing it as a road that got me to where I am, the good and the bad, and I like where I am. But regret it or not, I certainly wasn’t ever fully happy during that time. I’m never fully happy if I’m not creating things with words.
As for education I’m a traditionalist: I think we have a responsibility, as writers, to know everything we can. How you choose to get there is up to you. That’s your story to weave. Go to school (I left college after a bit shy of two years), or don’t. Read everything you can. In every format you find interesting. If you find a format interesting but don’t find interesting (to you) material dig deeper. It’s always the somewhere. Watch movies, and TV and listen to shit tons of music. These are all ways we tell stories, us humans. Study them. Watch a lot of dance.
Boots on the ground people. Learn the world so that you may interpret it the way only you can. You can hand us each a basic plot and character set-up and everyone will write it and tell it differently. The more you have in you, the more you pull from and reinvent and rediscover and make your own.
I’ve never done a workshop or seminar. I’ve given one, kinda, and would love to do more, but I don’t go to them myself. That’s not hubris, it’s opportunity. I’m not against any method of learning. Try them all and see what works for you. But above all I think writers have three jobs, and here they are in order or importance:
2) Own your fear, never shy from it – go through it.
That’s it that’s the ultimate secret, isn’t it? We have to write in order to write. If you want to write the only key thing you must always do is write. It sounds silly but it’s true. You write. And then you write more. And then you don’t want to write anymore – so you write more. And if that doesn’t appeal – do something else, because a lot of people want to HAVE WRITTEN a book. Most people don’t actually want to do the crazy amount of work to actually write one. And that’s fine. That’s totally fine, find the thing that you do want to do when everything else has gone to dust and do THAT. But it isn’t writing unless the idea of physically and mentally exhausting yourself just to tell a story sounds like a damned good time. For me, and II think I can say for you – it sure as hell is.
I think we may have talked ourselves out here, D, anything to add, anything else you want to delve into?
DSD: Well, I think that depends on the audience and what they might need. I keep a list of links on my blog of all the things that helped me get my first book deal–just check the Resources page. It used to be you had to know someone or be someone to get a book deal, but thanks to the internet, the information you need is available for free to anyone if you know where to look and are willing to put in the work. In 2009, I had never written a book, had taken no master classes or workshops or retreats, knew no one in publishing, lived in the South, had no MFA in writing, and didn’t spend any money to get published. Everything I know was learned from that link list.
I guess I just want people to know that the information is out there. Agent blogs, writer blogs, Twitter, Facebook, QueryShark. If you want to be a professional writer, what’s going to take the most work is leveling up as a writer. Stephen King says you need to write 1,000,000 words before you’re competent, and very few people get to skip that line. If you write and edit and polish a book and query it and can’t get an agent, that doesn’t mean you need to self-pub or quit. It might not be the right time and market for your book, or your writing might need some more work. But if you want to write, you keep writing. There are infinite words inside you, an infinite number of books, and each book you write teaches you something you didn’t know before. My first book sucked. My second book got my agent but didn’t sell to editors. My third book was a cockamamie idea about not-quite-vampires that sold when you couldn’t sell a vampire story.
You have to be tenacious. You have to develop a thick skin and welcome criticism from people who know better. You have to know who to trust and who to ignore. You have to write query letters until you figure out the algorithm. You have to let go of the preciousness of your work and accept that there is no one book but infinite possibilities, yes, even after the book is written. Writing is not a done or not done, one-shot deal. And it’s only over when you quit, and you never have to quit.
I always welcome questions about writing and am glad to help out of I can, but the places to hit me up are Twitter and my blog. I don’t often respond to emails, because that turns into me doing work for one person instead of me addressing a problem that might be of use to lots of people. It can feel very scary and alone at first, when you decide that this is what you want to do and your family and friends think it’s the equivalent of you signing up for a pottery class. “Oh, that’s nice.” “Are you still doing that writing thing?” “How’s that book coming along?” Other people in your life might belittle it or you, and you can’t let that reach you. Writing is a valuable skill and calling, and even if you think you can’t get anyone to read your story now, if you keep with it, they will. Find people online who understand what you’re doing and commiserate with them.
Writing might be a solitary endeavor, but you don’t have to be alone. There are lots of us. And we understand what you’re going through. Don’t let anything stop you.
The only thing that can stop you is you. It’s not over until you quit.
Delilah S. Dawson is the author of the Blud series for Pocket and two upcoming YA series from Simon Pulse, including the August 2014 release Servants of the Storm. Her other credits include a story in the Carniepunk anthology, a novelization of Valiant’s Shadowman comic for Amazon’s Kindle Worlds, a horror comic in BOO! #3 from Monkeybrain Comics, and many other short stories. She’s also an Associate Editor at www.CoolMomPicks.com and www.CoolMomTech.com, where she reviews all the geeky stuff. Find her on Twitter at @DelilahSDawson or online at www.delilahsdawson.com. She’s in no way scary.
Adam P. Knave is a Harvey and Eisner award winning editor and writer who has written a bunch of prose, as well as co-writing AMELIA COLE and ACTION CATS for Monkeybrain Comics and NEVER-ENDING for Dark Horse. He edits Jamal Igle’s MOLLY DANGER and other comics, all while living in Portland, OR. You can find him, well you’re on his site so twitter links and such are above.