Friday, July 14, 2017

My worst fear, thinking out loud, random thoughts, stream-of-consciousness thisas-and-thatas about "The Novel," and the last two months

Let's start with the good news: I am happy to say that I have utterly obliterated the six-month Writer's Block I wrote about last time. Not only that, but my writing skill has vastly improved, and I can say this with no hubris because I see where it was lacking before. I've penned an extraordinary number of tales since April 29. No sales yet, but I am "proud of myself" for what I have achieved, and the occasional editor's comment has gone a long way to improve my skill.

I believe I have finally developed that "Writer's Attitude" which That Famous Horror Writer alludes to in On Writing: Write, submit, pin the rejection up on the wall, don't give a shit, keep writing, it's all part of the biz.

I have a tale over at Baen's Bar at the moment (login required), if you want to go have a look. I'd love your feedback.

I also got another Silver Honorable Mention in the Writers of the Future Contest, which I found quite hilarious, because I sent in a trunk story for that quarter. (It was around the time of my Writer's Block.) So, what does that tell me? Diddly. It tells me that Readers' Tastes are a subject understood only by the gods and that one should merely Write, Submit, Pin the Rejection Up, Not Give a Shit, and Keep Writing, because It's All Part of the Biz.

I'm pleased enough with the last three tales I've written that I don't think I'm even going to specifically pen a piece for the WotF this quarter, and instead send one of those pieces in (after they get rejected from their current markets because, hey, I sort of expect rejection these days, and that's also cool).

Now the "icky" news: "The Novel."

I've essentially written myself out of markets. Sure, I could delve into extremely specific SF ("our magazine needs a well-developed geological aspect for MG readers" or "our publication requires SF which delves into the subject of gender and its relation to...") but that would mean (a) researching highly-specific areas I know nothing about, resulting in (b) stories which I will be able to send nowhere else if (when, more likely) they get rejected, and (c) pull me off the Ultimate Goal which is, and has always been, "The Novel." 

Oh, and (e) -- because I know nothing about SF, the story is likely to turn out crap anyway, so it would just be one dang-bang long waste of time. I've been focusing on Historical Fantasy for the last nine months. It is starting to pay off nicely (it's getting easier / faster to pen tales in the mid 18th century).

I've admitted to myself, finally, that I am not a SF writer, and don't pretend to be. But I write fantasy, oh yes, replete with muskets, perukes, make-up patches, and that ever-present (yet never-mentioned) whiff of lingering chamber-pots, open sewage drains, and privies which (they don't tell you this when you watch Turn) never get cleaned. (Another one no one ever mentions is, er, yeah, if there wasn't any toilet paper... Say it with me, people: Verisimilitude!)

I've also stopped writing Flash Fiction, because (a) there are too few pro markets for me to send the pieces out to if (when, darn it!) they get rejected and, (b) writing a flash piece can take almost as long as a short story sometimes ... but can get rejected just as quickly. 

I'm a practical guy. It's all great and hunky to talk about "Art for Art's Sake" but I believe that my efforts should all be aimed at getting paid ... even if only eventually. I'd rather pen a tale that I can send to twenty markets, than one which I can only send to, like, two.

To be clear: I am not complaining or ranting. Honestly, I'm not. I'm just thinking out loud. I'm indeed very pleased with how the last two months have gone. I've improved tremendously as a writer. I still have a ways to go, and I have no markets to write for at present so, well, I'm blogging.

So, now what!? What do I freaking do now?

Wouldn't it be great if there were some way to make a little cash on the side with writing such as Ghostwriting, Pro Blogging ... (are there any other options?). I had a squiz (that means a "brief look") at some options, got depressed and overwhelmed when they required resum├ęs and such ... and gave up. Does anyone know how to get into this racket without references such as "I penned seventy-three NYT bestsellers and got credit for none of them," and also without having to charge zilch Dollars per word because you're a nobody?

I'm stubborn. This is the problem. I actually called up my main client two months ago and said, "Er, look, I'm not really that available anymore unless you have something freaking juicy for me to work on." I was sick of the treadmill and wanted to dedicate myself 100% to writing. It was worth it. Nothing beats waking up in the morning and knowing in your hungry stomach that, if you don't pen something brilliant today, you're gonna be in some pretty deep merda / Scheisse / merde very soon.

I have enough reserves to be able to keep chasing this dream for, more or less, another year or so, without having to worry about work ... too much. I could probably squeeze it longer ... because I'm stubborn. I want to write for a living. This is all I want to do, nothing else, no other option -- Writing or Bust!

In a way, I'm forcing myself to "stay a little hungry" because I have the gut-feeling that this is the only way a writer can truly MAKE IT. (Remember That Famous Horror Writer? Hell, that dude was poor before he broke through.)

Uh-huh? And now? What do I do now!?

As I ran out of markets, I looked into other avenues to KEEP MYSELF WRITING.
I signed up for Writer's Market to hunt for publishers seeking unagented manuscripts. Wow, that was a waste of dough. I ticked "Unagented Manuscripts," and 80% of the search results didn't even match the query.

There also weren't that many to begin with.

So I canceled my trial and got a refund and picked up the same info from blogs (for free) around the web. None of the info was very promising, for a multitude of reasons. (If you're interested, what did look most promising was Tor, DAW, Baen's, and one or two others which one hardly needs a forty-buck subscription to Writer's Market to find.)

I considered returning to my "dark days" and penning some New Adult crap (which, once upon a time, did pay some bills for me). Possibly even some YA crap.
Those days are over for me. O-V-E-R.

I considered self-pubbing under the "Paulo da Silva" name, maybe some horror or a dark fantasy ... but I've been down that self-pubbing road (cf. my last article). The thought of spending a month churning out some substandard swill for the sake of a few extra bucks at the end of the month (because, let's face it, none of my twenty self-pubbed novels have actually made me any decent dough compared to the work I put into them) is just ... disheartening. 

That's the very reason I started writing under the name "Paulo da Silva." I wanted to "do it properly." Getting published, clawing my way up, actually learn something about writing. 

Is it just me, or are there nowhere near enough short story markets around? Oh, and while we're on the subject, I did a comparison of pro pay-rates for those pulp-fiends of the 30s and saw that one could actually hope to make a living at 1c a word back then. (10,000 words x $0.01 = $100.00, which equates to +/- $1,400 these days, i.e. $0.14 a word ... )

I've considered penning mystery short stories. Same problem as Flash -- not enough markets for the piece to be worth it if (when!!) it gets rejected. I found zero romance markets. (I found a few erotica markets but, urgh.)

The final conclusion was the usual conclusion: It's time for me to face my fears and write that novel which I've been planning on writing since August or November last year. If I've learned one thing in the last 2 1/2 months, an extraordinary amount of "complexities" disappear if I just put my helmet on and write. Often I have to re-write. Often, I discover that the 5,000 words I've just penned don't make sense and need to be scrapped. The interesting thing is that none of these issues get resolved by researching or plotting or ... whatever; at least not for me. They get resolved by drinking tons of coffee, getting into that boxing ring and delivering one mother of an upper-cut to that story.

It doesn't mean I don't come out without a blue eye, or several missing teeth. 

It works, at least for me. I research enough to get me going, then I put on my gloves. Once upon a time, I wished it could be easier for me to write. I thought there was maybe "something wrong with me" because words don't flow from me like some super-duper-incredible-simile-here, and that I have to resort to such degraded tools as dictionaries and thesauri and encyclopedias to tell my tells. I have to sweat and think and work and pace up and down my apartment.

That concern has dissipated. A hungry man might complain about how hard it is to hunt a deer. He must still hunt the deer, somehow; and after he has hunted the deer, he can eat the deer. This is the attitude I am trying to cultivate with my writing. Maybe there are writers out there who require only to puff elegantly on cigarette-holders while contemplating earth-shaking plots. Power to them. I tend to need to box and fight to get my stories down on paper.

Re the novel: I think I need to adopt the same attitude as with my short stories: Write, Submit, Pin up the Rejection Slip, Don't take it Personally, because That's The Biz. 

The only problem worth solving, ever, I believe, is how to write fast enough while still maintaining quality. Because I just don't see that anyone can ever hope to make a living at this game (at least in the early stages) by writing slowly. Has anyone seen Trumbo? Hell, what a writer...

And now ... the Fear: that Gut-Wrenching Horror-Terror I Suffer From:

So, it's me and my novel ... until the next Short Story market opens up.
I think part of the problem is that I'm scared. That's what blocked me last year, my own fears. It wasn't easy facing up to them with the short stories, but I no longer feel like I've been knocked out for the count whenever I receive a rejection. A novel is a much longer project. I dread spending months on a project only to be told, "Hey, look, it actually really sucks. I mean, like, badly. Like, your work is terrible. It is just awful, horrible. Give up. Stop writing. Go beg on the street instead, go sweep up trash. Anything! Just, please, whatever you do, don't ever send us another story again!"

This is why I felt it was not hubris that made me say I feel my writing has improved dramatically, and that I wrote some good stories recently. Because this is the horror which gnaws at me constantly, endlessly: Am I good enough? It is a physical terror which makes my head heavy and stops me from writing. Only sheer willpower got me through it last time. "Boys and Girls: If it takes X willpower to get a scaredycat writer to write a 5,000-word tale. How much will it take to get him to write a 100,000-word novel, hmm?"

"Oh, teacher--me! Me! Pick me!"


I've bared my soul. 

But, fear not, I never write on this blog for pity. If anything, I suffer more from over-optimism than from fear. Opening myself up on my last blog post gave me such a boost when I was stuck that I'm simply doing the same again. Hopefully you won't hear from me for another six months, because that means I'll be writing.

And when things get tough (like now), I'll just remind myself: That's the Biz.


  1. I hear the fear. Finding markets feels like try/fail, try/fail, try/fail...why am I doing this?

    For me the only thing more scary than not writing the novel is being dead and the novel never gets written. In 2015, I was diagnosed at 45 with colon cancer (I'm fine, thanks, and it was a freakin' miracle). Since then I don't have a problem writing. Not because most of it doesn't belong in a privy pot, but because the other choice is be be like Neil Gaiman's poet in the Graveyard Book who buries himself with his manuscript rather than let it be criticized.

    You've given yourself too long a period. Give yourself six weeks, three weeks, whatever feels crazy for you to produce. A colleague of mine gave himself two years off to write his book, and spent most of it trying to grow a beard. I tend to give myself a month for some of my books (non-fiction self-help). And no, I don't make my deadlines, but I get to wait on my beta-readers rather than the other way around.

    For me a book should be like a painting, you work at it every day, and shift from building up to tearing down as the mood shifts.

    Every time I've ever gone to the want ads (whether for a job or a piece of work) I end up feeling hopeless with low self-esteem. All of those ads are for the person that an employer dreams of, not a real human being.

    Publishing houses are no better at this than we are, they get it wrong all the time. The most useful thing I read this week is that authors need to stop thinking like authors and need to start thinking like publishers.

    Doing my research on best selling authors, I find that over and over again they have characters that move with them from book to book. So you'd better like that character. Agatha Christie is famous for hating Hercule Poirot, but she kept writing him because people loved him. Rowling still sells, but she made a mistake not keeping Harry going.

    The thing I've realized is that you have to write the novel. Not because it's the novel, but because it's the step to get you there. Paulo Coehlo still hasn't figured out why the Alchemist sells so many copies when most of his work is autobiographical and sells much less. If Leonardo was alive, he'd be bewildered by the Mona Lisa. A.A. Milne thought he was a mystery and magazine writer. He wrote Winnie The Pooh as a laugh for a few bucks. We cannot know what our true novel is. Perhaps (gasp) it's when we bare our souls. Max Ehrmann wrote garbage poetry (based on the one book I slogged through) and yet wrote the Desiderata which is everywhere.

    It's not the biz until it sells. Until then, it's just a soul journey. I for one am glad I don't share King's penchant for chaining himself to his desk until he farts out 10,000 words. It must be great for horror. But I admit a fascination with Dickens, paid by the word, who when faced with a deadline elaborated on some of literature's most unforgettable characters. I should be so lucky to be serialized!

  2. Dear Christopher,
    I must thank you once again for your uplifting comments. Agreed on the length of time needed for Novel #1. (Did your friend at least grow an "artistically magnificent" beard? ;)) Writing this post freed me up sonewhat, and I had a fresh look at things and where I stand and what I should do. I'll keep you posted.
    Otherwise, I am glad to hear you are doing well. Your comments certainly have put things in perspective. Keep writing.
    All the best,