My Love-Hate (Mostly Hate) Relationship With “Writer’s Digest” (Insecure Writer’s Support Group)

It’s the first Wednesday of the month, so you know what that means: it’s Insecure Writer’s Support Group!

This Blogging Things Works Wonders! (Insecure Writer's Support Group)

I admit to having a love-hate relationship with Writer’s Digest. Mostly hate. About 67% hate. Writer’s Digest makes me deeply insecure as a writer, because their advice drives me insane. Their advice isn’t terrible nor completely wrong. I just find it well-intentioned but misplaced, and as William Blake once wrote, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Or something like that.  Also, Writer’s Digest is lightweight in comparison to, say, Poets & Writers, or Chuck Wendig.

photo (3)Now, I will give Writer’s Digest the massive credit where credit is due. It is the publication behind my publishing bible, the Writer’s Market Annual Edition. As you can see from the photo to the left, my copy’s got some serious wear on it. It’s been highlighted and yellow-flagged all to hell, and when the time comes, I’ll know exactly who to contact, and how. The Writer’s Market is essential for all writers, lest you prefer to go about this all in the dark.

But if you’re a reader of Writer’s Digest, then you’ve no doubt been frustrated at times with either the annoying fluff pieces they publish. Every author spotlight is exactly the same: Hey, you too can make all your writing dreams come true! Honestly, the author interview they posted in the current issue, featuring Emily Giffin (“the new Jane Austen”…seriously…BARF!) was so trite and contrived, it was embarrassing. I’ve read better interviews. Shit, I’ve written better interviews.

Crap interviews aside, that’s not my beef with Writer’s Digest. Sometimes their advice is spot on. Recently I read a fascinating think piece about why outlines can be more detrimental to the writing process than we’ve been led to believe. The more I read it, the more I was inclined to agree. Hence my loving Writer’s Digest 32% of the time.

Some of the advice Writer’s Digest dispenses is just so wrong-headed, it makes my bullshit meter go off the charts.

Take this piece of advice: “If you’re trying to woo an agent or publisher, you may be asking
yourself, ‘How much is enough? How many Twitter followers is enough? How many page views should my blog have?’ And so on.” According to the writer of this piece, if you’re a non-fiction writer, aim for about 50,000 – 100,000 blog page views per month, and 15,000 – 50,000 Twitter followers.

This to me seems like the kind of advice that could only be useful to someone like Malcolm Gladwell or Jon Krakauer. For me, this advice is not only useless, it smacks of bullshit. It smacks of someone more concerned with their author platform (and, believe me, I’m a very strong advocate for a solid author platform, provided you’ve got something to back that platform up with, like, say, some decent writing chops) than with any real writing advice. And that’s the kind of useless trivia that sums up Writers Digest for me.

So you’re probably wondering, “Hey, Gus, if you dislike Writer’s Digest so much, then why the hell are you reading it every month?” Excellent question, and what an astute observation. I have two answers to your question. One, me hating on things is like a spectator sport. Like Hunter S. Thompson said, “Buy the ticket, take the ride.” What’s the sense in hating on something from afar, when you can hate on it, even at a 67% clip, from up close. And, speaking of buying, the second answer to this question has to do with Fab.

Yeah, Fab. Everyday design products at great discount prices. And that included a discounted one-year subscription to Writer’s Digest. My wife pointed this out to me. Why not, I thought. $15 for a one-year subscription? I could blow $15 on worse things.

I’m already regretting the purchase.

(Re-Post) How to Push Past The Bullshit and Write That Goddamn Novel: A Very Simple No-Fuckery Writing Plan to Get Shit Done

As if Chuck Wending hasn’t already proven himself as the Internet’s Sherpa of Wordsmithery and Resident Cheerleader By Way of Clever Usage of Unbelievably Foul Language and Biting Sarcasm, now Chuck dishes out what may be his best piece of advice ever:

How to Push Past The Bullshit and Write That Goddamn Novel: A Very Simple No-Fuckery Writing Plan to Get Shit Done

Essentially, you’re going to give yourself one year’s time to write your novel. You will write five days a week, giving yourself the weekends off. That gives you 260 days to write. On those 260 days, you will write 350 words. That is all.

350 words x 260 days = 91,000 words, or nearly 400 pages.

Of course, you’ll need to edit this once you’re done. But it’s totally doable. Who’s with me?

Look, Chuck’s even created a pretty chart!

NaNoWriMoBlahBlahBlah

Day…what? 20? Already?

I’m not going to give you my word count. It’s almost at 30K, and I’m pretty sure I’ve forgotten to update my word counts on the NaNo site.  I’m not going to bitch about my novel. If you’re like me, you’ve experienced the rush of cranking out words, the words ceaselessly flying from your brain and through your fingertips, and you don’t want that rush to end, ever. You’ve also experienced that moment when you’ve come to the horrible realization that you’re probably writing 3 or 4 novels at once, and nothing you’re writing makes any sense. You’ve gnashed your teeth down to your gums, you’ve pounded your fists on your desk, and the letters G, H, J, K, and L have likely been imprinted on your forehead, a direct result from you facepalming yourself with your laptop.

Who cares? Keep going. No one ever said writing was easy. Well, except the women that wrote all those Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey books. And just so you don’t think I’m full of shit, Chuck Wending once again has come to your rescue with more sage advice. Read it and weep: Failing Versus Quitting (Or, “Your Lack of Confidence is Neither Interesting Nor Unique”)

Perfect words for me right now. The WIP isn’t going the way I want it to go, and frankly, I’m not sure how it should go, but there’s no way in hell I’m giving up. I didn’t come this far just to turn around with my proverbial tail between my legs. If I’m failing, I’m failing in a guns-blazing, Butch-and-Sundance-versus-the-entire-Bolivian-army kind of way. If you’re going to succeed, succeed big. If you’re going to fail, fail epic, if you’ve come this far, at least.

Thanks to everyone who’s been cheering me on and offering suggestions and encouragement. I want to take this moment to let you know I truly appreciate your kindness. Especially my comrade-in-writing and whisky, Xenogirl, who graciously called me a “literary rock star” after I busted out 12,000 words in 4 days.

I don’t feel like a rock star. Well, not now, at least. A week ago, I felt like Springsteen after a four-hour set rocking the shit out of 70,000 adoring and screaming fans. Today, I feel like Loverboy trying to work up a disinterested crowd at the Kenosha County Fair.

DERRRRRRRRRRRRRP.

YOU GUYS READY TO ROCK?” *silence.*

And by the way, as I’m reading No Plot? No Problem, or: The Official NaNoWriMo Cheerleading Manual, the one question that hasn’t been answered is this: WHY IN THE HELL DID YOU CHOOSE NOVEMBER? What are you, Chris Baty, some kind of family-less, friendless heathen that chooses to remain in a hermetical cocoon during the months of November and December, knowing full well that November is always the month when we’re all forced to get all holly and jolly and shove turkey down our throats and decorate our trees and light our menorahs, or fucking else?

Time to rebel. I hereby declare August as the new National Novel Writing Month (AuNaNoWriMo). Why August? No holidays to speak of, unless you’re Europeans who take their holidays off and invade our beloved shores and give your hard-earned Euros to Mickey Mouse and his mafia – and  if that’s the case, why not take a holiday elsewhere and concentrate on writing rather than show off your new Speedos on South Beach? Because, honestly, we Americans need a break from you Eurotrash types, merci. Nothing ever happens in August. Nothing. Plus you get 31 days, not 30, so there’s an extra day you can use to write and pad your numbers, or just take a well-deserved day off from writing. Who’s with me? HO-OHHHHH!

On a side note, this blog has received more than 2,000 views (2,038 as of 10AM EST)  since it first came online August 29th of this year. My first post was a simple introduction, and, to be honest, my expectations were reasonably low. I first got the blogging bug when I was on MySpace; that site had a fantastic blogging format, and if you were inclined towards verbosity and flat-out bullshittery like I am, MySpace was the perfect blog host for you. MySpace itself, on the other hand…between friend requests from lame bands, constant profile hacking, and, um…Tila Tequila, it was like living in a bizarre apartment building where the rent was cheap but the tenants were questionable in both their tastes and their sanity. Once MySpace bit the dust, and everyone migrated over to Facebook – which never adopted a blogging format, since Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t like to share his feelings, unless those feelings involve fucking with your privacy – I moved my blog to sites like Blogspot and Open Salon. But they weren’t the same. Gone was the magic of finding other blogs to read, and for others to discover yours. Open Salon was worse; unless your blog was 100% political in nature, no one wanted to read your petty stories; there are neoconservatards to bash, liberal wingnuts to demonize. HATE OBAMA! LOVE OBAMA! USA! USA!

Ugh. That blog site made my head hurt.

WordPress seems different though, and, dare I say, a lot like MySpace’s blog format. Blogs are easy to find. The notifications are superb. Best yet, the blogs I’m reading on a daily basis are fun and insightful and honest. Gotta love it. Plus, the whole stats thing is exactly the kind of ego boost my blogging needs. 120 followers, 2000+ views, and all this in less than 3 months. It took me years to earn that kind of following on other sites.

I guess, for me, the magic is back.

Thanks for finding and following my blog, and letting me share a little of the magic inside of me and you.

Wait…that sounded wrong.

Day 13 of NaNoWriMo, Or: Going in Circles

Just a short update and modest rant on my progress so far.

Day 13. I’m at 16,062 words. Which means I’m about 5,000 words behind schedule. I’m trying to convince myself that 5,000 words behind schedule is no big deal, and it really isn’t, but I need to start making more progress unless I want to start despairing.

I’ve noticed several things: one, when you think you’ve got time to write, something gets in the way to interrupt your writing time. So you’re forced to schedule time to write, just to give yourself a couple of hours per day. Two, my story seems to be going in a circle that I need to uncircle my way out of.

I’m not quite stuck. I’d say I have way too many ideas I’m juggling at once, and I’m fine with that. I can eventually plug those ideas into their proper places. What’s bothering me most is the tone I’m going for. I’d like to think I’m writing something that’s darkly comic, but it’s veering more towards dark than funny. This has me worried somewhat. My main character is melancholy, my protagonist not-so-evil, which would suggest something a bit more light-hearted, but there’s some seriously dark roads my protagonist is taking. Truly depressing thoughts. Oh, hooray.

In other words, there’s very little of this that’s actually funny. Not even soft chuckle funny. And I know I’m making more of a big deal out of this than I should. What else is new? I’m over-thinking this again.

Just fucking write, Gus. And shut up.

Side note: I read Chuck Wendig’s post on what to do when your story feels like it’s not taking off – 25 Ways to Unstick a Stuck Story – and it’s helped me a great deal. Check it out as well.

So, really, I’m past that “this sucks…ARRRGGHH!” point. I’m committed. This will get finished. And it will suck, albeit mildly. But it will get finished. God-fucking-dammit.

I’ve also fallen behind on reading other blogs. I’m finding I’m not really giving as much time as I’d like to actually read blogs, so I’m forced somewhat to just read a handful of blogs, and go back and read others I subscribe to when I have more time. I’m afraid I’m subscribing to too many blogs, but I don’t want to start unsubscribing just because I don’t have enough time to read them all.

Anyway, more updates to come. How are you guys doing so far?

Speaking of circles, here’s a ditty from Soul Coughing…

A Much Better NaNoWriMo Pep Talk Than I Could Ever Muster

Day One of NaNoWriMo, folks! You ready?

I was putting together a pep talk to rally the troops, but, hot damn, I couldn’t really muster anything worthwhile. Just dumb, hoary, old cliches that would have likely made you give up on NaNoWriMo altogether, and what good would have that been?

And then I read Chuck Wendig’s post.

I would shank a schoolbus full of nuns just to have his ability to get to the nut of the issue and really send you on your way feeling much better about being a writer. Much fucking better.

Enjoy.

25 Motivational Thoughts For Writers.

Putting the Cart Before the Horse

Once again, another sterling, profanity-fueled nugget of wisdom from Chuck Wendig:

Ask the Writer: “How Do I Get Published?”

Short answer: he doesn’t answer the question. Why? Well, you can read for yourself to learn why, but if you must know NOW, Chuck’s post is a rant against the prevalence of “writers” attending writer’s conferences solely for the fact of learning how to get an agent and get your work published. So what’s the problem, then? The problem is these questions are being asked by “writers” who haven’t even finished, or can’t even be bothered, to complete a manuscript. Questions about the end result, rather than questions on how to improve your craft.

I think of this as putting the cart before the horse.

I touched upon this a few blogs ago. I’m focused right now on finishing the product. I’m not at the point yet where I can begin the process of finding the right agent, or firing off the Greatest Query Letter Ever Written. Writing comes first. I wouldn’t bother asking where’s the nearest Porsche dealership if I don’t know how to drive, would I? Well, apparently some people would.

To me, asking questions on how to get published, without having even written a single word, smacks of yet another misguided attempt by people to make a quick buck. Remember the whole “house flipping” craze; people buying dilapidated homes at 1/5th the price so they can renovated it and put it back on the market and turn a big profit, right? Yeah, well, how well did that work for a lot of people? Trust me, there’s still a few of those “flipped” houses still sitting in my area, unflipped and unsold. Why? Because those who invested in run-down homes learned very quickly that flipping a house isn’t as easy as Ty Pennington makes it out to be. It’s hard work, it’s back-breaking work, and unless you really the intricacies of getting a house up to code, the work’s not worth it.

We’re reminded of the self-publishing successes of Amanda Hocking and (*barf*) E.L. James, and that leads a lot of us thinking, “How do I get in on this motherlode?”As this article in the Guardian suggests, going the DIY route might not be so profitable after all. And if DIY isn’t going to rake in the millions you’re hoping to earn, then you better figure out how to get either one of the Big Publishing Houses or an indie press to publish your work. And this kind of mentality reminds me, again, of another cash grab. YOU CAN MAKE MILLIONS BY SELF-PUBLISHING YOUR NOVEL! Hooray!

But what if I can’t write worth a shit? WHO CARES? MONEY! MONEY! YOU’LL BE SWIMMING NAKED IN CASH! YOU CAN PAY SOMEONE TO WRITE FOR YOU!

(Let me pause for a moment here: I’m not bashing the self-publishing route. Several of my friends who are writers have taken this route at early stages of their careers. Just like a band that releases their albums on their own DIY label, many writers take this approach simply to get published. Again: to get published. Not to make millions. Or even hundreds of thousands. One of my friends told me he made enough money from self-publication just to pay for an editorNone of them are basking in glory or laughing all the way to the bank. Many of them have progress to where they’re represented by an agent, and have had their novels published. They know the process. I have many questions to ask them, but now is not the time.)

A writer I know very well told me the story recently of her guest appearance at a writer’s conference. She was invited to talk about the editing process, and after her talk, she penciled in 30 minutes for a Q&A session. The first question asked? “How do I get published?” When she informed the audience member that her question, although legit, wasn’t really appropriate for this session, nearly 3/4ths of the audience got up and left! Later, she overheard this, from a paying attendee: “This conference is a waste. How am I supposed to make money from writing?”

Really? You paid hundreds of dollars to attend a writer’s conference simply to learn how to get published? What about learning how to make your writing better? Survive the editing process? Huh?

I’m generally extremely mistrustful of anyone who undertakes an artistic endeavor solely for the purpose of making money. Listen, I don’t need Sally Struthers asking me, in her high-pitched, gin-soaked whine, if I want to make money. Sure I do, but I have more realistic goals.

What I really want is an ISBN number attached to something I’ve written, something that went through a painful yet exhilarating process, a process that questioned my sanity, and tried to break my spirit, a process that went through revision after revision after revision, and countless rejections and an agent that believed in me and a publisher that took a chance.

But first, I need to finish writing this goddamned novel!

 

(I also realize this slight diatribe seems somewhat hypocritical coming from someone that hasn’t been published yet. Go on, slam me. This comes across as bitchy. OK, fine. This is my corner of WordPressville, and I can be bitchy all I want.)