The Myth of Talent

A couple of months ago on the old RMFW blog, I talked about the Myth of Craft. The Myth of Craft promises us that if you learn how to write the perfect book, you will get money, fame, and your own purse dog.

I don’t buy The Myth of Craft like I don’t buy The Myth of Talent.

We’ve all met the talented writer. “Ooh, she has so much talent, surely she’ll hit it big. Wow, between her talent and her craft, she’ll surely land an agent.”

Maybe.

I have talent. I think most of the time my innate talent doesn’t help me because I think I’m too fancy, my books are too literary, and my “talent” gets in the way of me telling a good story. I fall in love with my words, and I don’t want to cut them. And more and more, I’m not cutting them because I like ‘em. If you don’t like my books, don’t read my books. *Insert a spit-storm raspberry here*

Then the internet laughs at me and says, “Well, son, that’s why you don’t have an agent or a big contract with a big traditional publisher. You don’t respect the craft and you think you have talent. Learn how to write and cut that purple prose.”

And maybe they are right.

But who cares?

As I’ve said before, this game is about doing it. It’s not about who has the most talent or who knows the most about craft, it’s about people who sit down, write books, edit books, and publish books. It’s about people who finish projects.

You can’t sell a perfect book you haven’t written. You can sell an iffy book that is finished. Some people will like it, however iffy, and some people won’t. It’s art we’re dealing with, people, weird, subjective, wacky art.

For example, many people have said my third book, Elizabeth’s Midnight, is their favorite. However, it doesn’t have very many Amazon reviews and it doesn’t sell as well as the others. Why? I don’t know. Art. Who knows?

Talent isn’t a bad thing, unless you fall in love with it, which I have. Better yet, talent has that mythical quality to it that I don’t think represents reality.

I love the idea of the genius writer, who sits down and spins gold with every word. And I wanted to be that. I wanted to write books in a vacuum, and use my innate brilliance to conquer the literary world. I didn’t want to learn craft, or suffer through edits, or any of that. I wanted to be a god!

Then I wrote books people couldn’t read. And then I had to learn how to tell a story. And then I had to learn about how to work with an editor. Learn, learn, learn.

Craft. Craft. Craft.

Ha, so if you wanna believe in a myth, go for the Myth of Craft versus the Myth of Talent.

My talent has helped me in one way: people have always encouraged me to write because they could see the spark I have. For a little while, the praise felt nice, but not much anymore. It’s never good enough or quite specific enough and I’d rather have book sales than praise. Oh well.

My friend Linda once told me that there’s talent on every corner and there is tons of genius writers in the world and I’m just another one. When she told me that, I kind of panicked. So my talent wouldn’t be enough???

Nope. Better than talent? Determination and courage and the will to write and publish.

I wish it were different. I wish there was magic to the talent and a guarantee of utter world-dominating success.

But there are no guarantees.

I will say this. It is nice using the talent I have and not letting it sit dormant. There is a magic to using my gifts to create, and while that may never turn into fortunes and fame, there is a feeling of satisfaction.

So use that talent you have. Write books. Edit books. Publish books.

Rinse. Repeat.

 

Open Letter to Robert J. Sawyer

Dear Robert J. Sawyer,

I wanted to talk to you at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Gold Conference this year, but I never made it over to you. So much excitement, intrigue, and chatting with my tribe. Since I couldn’t speak to you in person, I figured I’d write an open letter, saying now much I loved, loved, loved your talk on Saturday night.

Yeah, it wasn’t all fuzzy puppies and inspiration, but what you said blew me away. My mouth hung open the entire time, and I kept glancing over to see if the publishing industry was sending in shock troops to pull you down from the podium. You were a firebrand, and dang, I kept thinking, “He can’t be saying this stuff. Someone is going to stop him.”

But no one did because you were speaking the truth. Authors are either abused or ignored much of the time. We get paid pennies for our words, even at the professional rate, and we don’t get raises. Pennies a word, like it was the 1920s while agents went from 10% to 15% and publishers are having record years.

I am signing up with the Author’s Guild and I promise to do my part for the resistance.

Yet, the problems authors face are legion. Part of the problem lies with us scribblers ouselves. Maybe all of the problem lies with us.

In this day and age, anyone can write a book and publish a book. I find that amazing, exciting, and wonderful. I think there has never been a better time to be an artist because distribution has been solved. The internet has opened the world up and as artists, we have a platform we can use. Yes, it’s never been noisier and books have never faced the competition we face now.

For example…

Dude, I can watch Sword Art Online on my phone. I can play amazing video games with mind-melting graphics day and night. And TV has never been better. Jessica Jones, man, Jessica Jones.

When I was a new writer, I heard Andrea Brown, the literary agent, speak and she said I’ll hear that books are dead, the publishing industry is in trouble, and it’s the end of days every year for the rest of my life. I will hear that the book business is a goner until I die. So being an author has never, ever been easy. Never.

If all writers wrote books as a business, I think the entire industry would be different. We would be paid better and things would be more fair. However, not all writers write to make money. That, I think, is the crux of the problem.

Some write for status, and I talked about that in a blog post for RMFW last year. I love that post. Here is the link.

Some write books because they love them, and yeah, they publish them, but it’s not really to make money. Andrew Weir wrote The Martian on his blog because he loved hard science fiction. He never really wanted to publish it, but his fans insisted. And he hit it HUGE!

E.L. James wrote because she wanted a sexier Twilight. And she hit it HUGE! And she admits she is not a writer. She just got stupidly lucky.

So what are we to do?

People will always want to read books. Books are magical, and you can’t get the same experience with movies, TV, or video games. Reading is a unique experience.

You are totally right in saying we need to unionize and demand to be treated fair. Whether we can all be loud enough to change the industry, well, I just don’t know.

For me, I am going to write and I am going to publish and I hope to transition to full-time writer at some point, but I have a day job. Like I said, I’m with you. We shall storm the gates of hell.

I’m a hybrid author, I have some Indie stuff, I have some small press stuff, and I’m looking to break into the big game to use their marketing arm, though I’m doubtful about that action working out.

It’s funny, any power I have as a writer comes from readers. Look at what Taylor Swift did with iTunes because she had the clout of her fan base. She forced their hand. I think really successful writers can do the same.

I have a series with Kevin J. Anderson’s WordFire Press, and working with the WFP team has been great (the contracts are extremely author friendly). We are a coalition of independent authors who support each other, and what we do at sci-fi/fantasy conventions has proved very effective in selling books. I feel very lucky.

In the end, we authors do have power. Yeah, Amazon doesn’t have our best interest at heart, but having your own website and selling directly to the customer has never been easier. If I can get enough of a fan base, my options become greater.

So for me, it goes back to writing what I love, playing the game, and continuing the march forward. Staying open and aware to all of the possibilities.

But dang, what a wonderful keynote you made. Moving, shocking, and in the end, I did find it inspiring.

We are a beleaguered group of feisty heroes, marching against an army we have no chance of defeating. We are children of a grand legacy of artists, who have always been out numbered.

And yet, we will soldier on.

Because that is what we do.

Sincerely,

Aaron Michael Ritchey

 

Go ahead and laugh at me…

So, as many of you know, I’ve been going to comic cons across the country, from Seattle, Washington to Hartford, Connecticut, to sell my books and to chat with people. Thank you, WordFire Press!

I found myself sitting on a panel discussing the various benefits and drawbacks of Indie versus traditional when someone said, “Above all, if you Indie publish, don’t make a fool of yourself.”

I immediately screamed to the heavens, “MAKE A FOOL OF YOURSELF! BE AWFUL! HAVE PEOPLE LAUGH AT YOU! DON’T WAIT FOR PERFECT!”

The other authors on the panel shushed me (I get that a lot) and the discussion continued. I should’ve screamed louder. I should’ve thrown chairs. I should’ve lit my guitar on fire and knelt before it’s burning remains.

Instead I shut up. Because I’ve been making a fool of myself for at least four years in the publishing industry and I figured I didn’t need to fight with my fellow authors.

But the truth? What I believe is the truth? No book is ever ready, talent doesn’t mean much, and you can keep yourself trapped in “working on your craft” for decades or more. Do all that, and you can avoid the fear of making a fool of yourself. Congratulations.

This is the big secret about the writing industry. It’s not about who knows the most about the writing craft, or the one who has the most talent. Nope, the person who wins at the writing game is the person who DOES it.

Lots of people talk about writing books, few people do it.

Lots of people finish writing books, fewer publish them.

So this game is for people who conquer the fear and do it, and who do it over and over.

Am I a better writer than when I started thirty years ago? Maybe. I’m older, and I think that helps. But what about the ten years of critique groups, ten years of reading writing craft books, ten years of writers conferences. Haven’t those made me a better writer and someone who knows craft?

Maybe. Probably. But in the end, it comes down to the fact that I did it. Over and over again, I took action. I wrote books, I edited books, I published books. Over and over. That’s the important thing.

Am I glad I didn’t publish the first thirteen novels I wrote? Even the bad ones? Sometimes I am. But I don’t think it would’ve mattered. I think if I had Indie published my bad novels along the way, it wouldn’t have mattered. Some people would’ve loved them, and some people would’ve hated them. That’s just the nature of the game.

I spent twenty years writing thirteen books no one will probably ever read, and I would rather have people read my not-so-perfect-books than not read them all. I wish I would've had the courage to risk people laughing at me sooner. But I was too afraid.

Rushing a book into publication might not be the smartest thing ever, but it's better than not publishing a book at all. And hmmm, I wonder how many New York Times Bestsellers were rushed into print? Makes me think of the Looney Tunes writers and animators. They were rushed and what they did was genius.

I don't rush books out the door, but I'm getting more courageous. Books need to be edited. To a point. But I can edit a book for years just because I'm too afraid to show it to other people because I'm too afraid of what they'll say.

But maybe I’m totally wrong on this. I don’t have an agent and I don’t have a big traditional publisher and I get some good reviews, but I don’t sell millions of copies.

I know some people are looking askance at me, wondering why I still try so hard every day, and I know some people have tried to read my books and couldn’t. For whatever reason.

So in that sense, yeah, I have mad a fool of myself.

But who cares?

Let ‘em laugh.

I will keep writing and publishing books, and they can laugh all they want. I would rather publish books that people laugh at than be trapped in my own fear.

This game isn’t for people who talk about it. It’s for people who do it.

So let’s all go DO IT!

And damn those haters who love to laugh.

Halfway and Unfinished

I was talking with a writer the other day. Those writers. You know the type. Shifty-eyed. Distracted. Stinking of gin and desperation. A nervous laugh and a hair-trigger sense of despair. Yes. A writer.

She was working on her first novel, and times were bad.

Why were times bad?

Because she was about halfway through the book. Now, being halfway is a good thing, right? It’s better than being on page zero.

That damn page zero. It taunts me.

But the problem is, she has been learning craft along the way, and every time she learns something she applies it to the book, which means she is constantly re-writing the first half of the book.

Which means if she keeps this up, she will never, ever finish because she is trapped in the miasma of her novel, stuck in edits and applying everything she is learning.

Let me be perfectly clear. I am iffy on the idea we can edit ourselves into a perfect book. There’s a popular idea that if we only edit a book enough, we can craft a perfect sculptured thing of Davidian beauty that will sell millions.

Maybe.

I’ve seen books written by half-witted alcoholic troll-like creatures reach the heights of Amazon. And I’ve seen lovingly crafted books of true beauty languish in the dungeons of obscurity.

Editing is necessary to a certain extent. But do you know what I think is more important than editing? Vision.

When I sit down to write a novel, I have a vision of the story in my head, and generally the vision is the climax of the book, when the hero is pushed to the limits, and things are bleak, and the villain is invincible! And still, somehow, the hero wins.

If I don’t have the epicness of the climax in my mind, I don’t write the book. And yeah, the climax might change, but generally it doesn’t. I know the book I want to write.

I have vision.

Can editing help me reach that vision? Maybe, maybe not. I’ve spent months editing a book to realize my first draft was better. I’ve been given dodgy advice to “improve” my book when really it was striking at the heart of my vision.

My advice to all writers is to write, every day, as much as you can. If it’s only three sentences, that counts. Write, every day, and follow the vision. Yes, you’ll be hit by craft stuff and editing stuff, but the vision should remain.

So vision is more important than editing. What is more important than vision?

Finishing.

I had an Icelandic friend who give some really good advice when I first started writing. He told me to finish the book, then go back and edit. Stop going to classes, stop reading up on craft, stop listening to the experts, and finish the book.

Then, during edits, you can apply what you have learned. But only for so long. There are no perfect books. Good enough is generally good enough.

Then again, there are no rules.

I heard a story about a guy who attended the same writer conference, year after year, for decades. He worked on the same book for decades. Everyone laughed at him for decades. Until his book hit, and when it hit, it took off.

There are no rules.

Except for one.

If you don’t finish the book, no one will ever be able to read it.

And Aaron Michael Ritchey Waves His Magic Wand! Poof!

I am going to wave my magic wand, and I am going to make all your writerly dreams come true.

Yeah, my magic wand. No sex jokes.

Like Sigmund said, sometimes a magic wand is just a magic wand.

Here I go.

Do you know that story you were so excited about but every single short story market rejected you?

Poof.

You sent in query letter after query letter on the short story, and bam, a total acceptance for professional rates, ten cents a word, and you were included in a “best of” anthology. Suddenly, a hundred literary agents are knocking on your door wondering if you have a novel they can represent.

You can thank me later.

What about that cover you weren’t quite thrilled with?

Poof!

You have the ultimate cover drawn by either Frank Frazetta or Michael Whelan. Your book cover could be a movie. No, seriously, and not a movie released in January to a limited audiences, but a movie released in July with Florence +t the Machine on the soundtrack. It’s such a great cover.

You can thank me later.

What about that agent who loved your story idea, asked for the full manuscript, then eighteen months later rejected you because the market changed?

Poof!

Ten minutes after reading the full manuscript, that agent immediately called his go-to guy at HarperCollins and you are offered a six-book contract including a movie deal, and you get to meet Joss Whedon who is interested in the project.

You can thank me later.

What about that time you Indie published a book you loved more than life, more than sleep, more than donuts? It sold five copies and a week later its Amazon ranking sank into the low two millions. It’s still falling and threatens to become Amazon’s least sold book of all time.

Poof!

The day after you published the book, the Amazon ranking shot into the top one hundred. By noon? The top ten. By twilight, it was number one across all of Amazon and across all of the major categories. Suddenly, there’s a Huffington Post article on your book! How can this Indie book be dominating Amazon for weeks on end? Someone from Amazon calls you to apologize because they don’t have enough money to pay you. They’ve never seen such a book break those records. A month later, Joss Whedon calls you, personally, to ask if he can turn your book into a Netflix series.

You can thank me later.

What about that book where you did your homework, sent out review copies, made people sign blood oaths, all to get at least fifty Amazon reviews on the release day? Then? Yeah, you had two reviews. Amazon removed one, and the other was a one-star review that confused your book with the latest from Chuck Tingle.

Poof!

Not only did you get fifty five-star reviews, no, you got a hundred reviews total. And more are coming in each day. Joss Whedon left a review. And the bots working the interwebs saw all those reviews and emailed everyone across the globe—anyone with an email address—a “Buy Me” promotion about your book. You sold gazillions.

You can thank me later.

What about yesterday, when you promised yourself you’d get up early to write that one scene, which you were originally excited to write? Instead of getting up, you slept in, then wasted what little time you did have on Facebook, and then the day hit and you won’t be writing a single thing.

Poof!

Wait…

Dammit. Nothing happened?

Let me try again.

Poof!

Still nothing?

Let me check out my magic wand for a minute (no sex jokes). It’s working. I mean, it did all of that other stuff.

Oh, wait. That’s right. I can’t magic you into writing your book. That’s something firmly in your control, and yeah, it can be rough, life is busy, and dude, the Preacher comic has its own AMC show. I know. How cool is all that?

The magic wand only works on things outside of your control.

All of the wonderful things I’ve done on this blogpost are possible. They happen all the time. Magic happens to writers who finish books and get them out into the world. Sometimes great big magic. Sometimes teeny-weeny magic. But magic happens.

So do what you have control over. Write those books.

No need to thank you. You know what to do.

Saul Goodman Wants Your Book

I was going to call this blog “Saul Goodman wants to review your contract” but then no one would read it because contracts are boring. And everyone knows that Susan Spann is the lawyer you want to work with. Duh.

Who is Saul Goodman? Come on, guys, he’s the lawyer in Breaking Bad. And if you don’t know what Breaking Bad is, it’s one of the most electrifying television shows ever produced that will devour the soft parts of your soul and leave you gasping like a meth addict overdosing on linoleum.

Better Call Saul is a spin-off/prequel to Breaking Bad and I’ve been watching it. At first, I wasn’t going to even bother because I like new content and Breaking Bad left me both satisfied and scarred. I had to seek PTSD counseling after that brain-spilling final season.

I can dig a good spin-off. I followed Joanie and Chachi to their own show from Happy Days. What’s Happy Days? It’s exactly like Breaking Bad only set in the 1950s and deals with soda jerks instead of meth addicts. Compare and contrast Tucco and the Fonze for homework.

While watching Better Call Saul, I pondered what I could learn about storytelling. What follows are my insights. In pseudo-legal document/outline form.

  1. In which, Aaron Michael Ritchey, hereafter known as the party of the first part, declares that voice trumps story.
    1. Part of the thrill of Better Call Saul is that it uses the same vision and voice of Breaking Bad. Even though the story is less intense, part of the reason why I like Better Call Saul is that I get to step back into the crime-ridden sleaziness of Albuquerque’s underbelly. The desert, the filth, the desperation, the violence, it’s like going home. If your home is San Quentin. But that was part of the wonder of Breaking Bad. This is one of the reasons why Roger Ebert gave The Godfather Part III a favorable review…it wasn’t that it was a good movie, but it felt like visiting family. In this way, voice can trump story.
  2. In pursuant to section one, the party of the first part, points out the importance of a “stakes character.”
    1. So as an audience, we know that the hero isn’t going to be killed. They are safe. Yes, a bunch of horrible things might happen to them, but they won’t be killed. And in a prequel, this is doubly true since we know Saul and his cronies live long enough to be in the next show. However, a stakes character is a secondary character that we like, that is in danger of dying, and that the hero loves.
    2. In Breaking Bad, the lives of Walter White’s family and friends were at stake, and in some ways, you could argue that Jesse Pinkman was a stakes character.
    3. Saul has his mentally ill brother, and really, the whole show seems to be revolving around Saul and his relationship to his family. It’s powerful and makes the show work. Saul might not die, but his brother? Well…
  3. Without any extraneous words, the party of the first part, hereafter known as the blogger, points to the power of the franchise/series.
    1. Better Call Saul wouldn’t have been made if it hadn’t been for Breaking Bad.
    2. That’s not to say Better Call Saul isn’t a good show on i’s own, but it relies so much on the built-in audience of Breaking Bad that I don’t see anyone jumping right in without watching Breaking Bad.
    3. This might have meant death for Better Call Saul in past years, but now, we have Netflix and other streaming service so if you are curious about the new show, you can watch the old show in a massive binge.
    4. People like to lose themselves into other worlds, however vile and troubling the world might be. The more content available, the more people can binge and the more they want. That is why I’m working on The Juniper Wars Series, which will have a massive amount of content, including short stories written by other authors set in the world.
    5. And since I’m working with WordFire Press, we are nimble enough to release books as close together as possible. Notice, Netflix releases their own content in one lump dose do people can binge watch. I don’t watch shows until I can watch as many as I want. Weekly? Please, girlfriend. This isn’t the days of Joanie loves Chachi.
  4. The blogger posits that spin-offs are powerful because if you have good characters, people want more of that character.
    1. So in essence, write good characters, and if people like that character (Who didn’t love Saul Goodman in Breaking Bad?) write more stories for them. We now have so many platforms for fan-fiction as well as the ability to publish multiple books and multiple stories whenever we want.
    2. Well, hopefully. If we own the rights.
    3. Be careful of contracts that limit you. And if you are signing away your characters and world, your intellectual property, make sure that the contract includes Auric Goldfinger amounts of cash and make sure they will provide you minions.
    4. I have a minion clause in all my contracts. But no one ever signs them so I never get minions. Dammit!

 

So yes, I’ve been enjoying Better Call Saul. And when I’m either drawn or repulsed by a story, as a writer, it’s my duty to ask why. Why can’t I stop watching? What is going on that has me hooked?

Then I try and use those same techniques in my own work. Funny, though, seeing what other writers do (or don’t do) is a hellluva easier than putting those techniques into my own books.

But that’s the challenge, people. If it were easy, anyone would/could do it.

Is Writing Getting in the Way of My Life?

So I have a spiritual adviser. I know that can be off-putting, but If it helps, you can picture me talking to Yoda. I mean, after all, Yoda was a spiritual guide for Luke and various other people who never listened to the green-skinned guru. Oh, well, we are a headstrong bunch.

My little green spiritual adviser asked if writing was getting in the way of my spiritual development. He’s unimpressed by me, which is good, because I am so damn impressive.

Is writing getting in the way of my spirituality?

Well, it makes me miserable, and since I’m a third Catholic, it counts as being beneficial. As my friend Jason Evans says, “All suffering is redemptive.”

To be clear, I’m not someone trying to get into heaven. I’m a guy whose natural inclination is to find a nice corner of hell and set up shop. I choose my suffering, and my spirituality is about me trying to suffer less.

Does writing help me suffer less?

Ouch. No. But let me continue…

You might have heard of a small film that came out in December of 2015. It’s called Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I know, weird title, right? I think it might have something to do with Yoda, but I’m not sure.

I can’t tell you how much fuller my life is because of this one movie, which I’ve not seen at the writing of this blog post. It it fills me with a dreamy kind of hope, an excitement, a wonder.

I had to accept, early on, that writing stories is a selfless act and the world is better for the stories people tell. Even when the stories are sequels spun out of a story machine who’s only aim is to make as much money as possible. Even those stories matter.

When I write and publish books, I am adding stories to the world and I don’t know what will happen. And I can’t just write books and keep them hidden. I spent twenty years doing that, and those days are over. Lucky you, my practice books won’t see the light of day. But the practice is over, and it’s show time.

Writing doesn’t help me to suffer less. That’s not the point. The writing makes me strive harder, work more, and to really push myself to the very limits of my endurance, which makes me seek a power greater than myself.

The world is better for the stories we tell. And if I have stories to tell, I have a sacred duty to tell them.

I’ve had to pray and meditate more than ever because of the writing game.

I’ve had to reach out for help because of the writing game.

I’ve had to swim through frigid oceans of screeching fear because of the writing game.

Writing has made me a better human being, but that doesn’t mean it’s made me happy. Happiness is such an American ideal. Part of me is old school, yo, as in, I’m here to do my duty. Happiness may or may not come, but honor, courage, discipline, those are what I should focus on.

So I told my Yoda all that, and he was unimpressed, as he should be, because he knows I’m clinging to the writing business.

The real danger is that I have spent a lifetime, thirty years, in pursuit of this dream. Could I let go it now? If the divine muffin came down and told me to put the pen down, could I?

Our Buddhist friends would say attachment leads to suffering. And I’m not just attached to writing, I’ve superglued it to my soul. My query letters have been etched on my bones.

So, no, I can’t let go of it. It’s too late for me to stop, even if I wanted to. Even if I could.

But this is my calling, my vocation. I’m committed, for better or worse, even when it makes me suffer and I hate it so. Even when the dreams of fame and fortune flutter away and I’m left with an Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,426,891 Paid in Kindle Store and even worse, an Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,552,680 in Books. And no, I don’t want to see the Top 100 in books, thank you very much.

So, I’ll keep writing books. I’ll continue to suffer, since I like it for some odd reason, and I’ll continue to fight fear.

Because I am Jedi, like my father before me. And the work of writing stories matters more than my own happiness.

May The Force be with you. Always.

The “Next Day” Critique Group Apology Letter Template – Blank For Your Convenience

So it’s happened. You brought pages to your critique group, it didn’t go well, and you exploded, making an ass of yourself.

You know what RMFW’s own Mario Acevedo says? He says the only appropriate response to a critique is “thank you.” And in our group, he says thank you a lot. Because Mario insists there is only one rule for writers and that is to be gracious.

Well, I try to be gracious and say thank you, but sometimes I crack—out spills my insecurity, hatred, and self-loathing. Darn, I hate it when that happens.

I always print out the pages I submitted and jot notes on them. If I’m writing comments, I’m less mouth, and that’s always a good thing.

But even now, after nearly a decade of being critiqued, I still have issues sometimes, and I find myself drafting the post-critique group apology email. I figured all of RMFW might benefit if I gave them a template to use. So here is it is. I added some parenthetical suggestions.

Dear __________________ (Critique Group, Critique Partner, Writing Buddy, or You Bunch of Illiterate Jackals),

I’m writing to apology for last night’s ___________ (outburst, chainsaw massacre, uncontrollable sobbing, sarcastic gales of laughter, shameless name-calling).

As you know, my life has been very stressful lately with _______________________ (wife/husband problems, divorce, death of a close relative, my son/daughter, day job, frenemy drama, buttloads of rejection, crushing self-doubt). Still, that doesn’t excuse my behavior.

I really appreciate all the time and effort you put into your critiques, and I know sometimes I can be _________ (sensitive, combative, feloniously violent) about my current work in progress. I just ________ (love it, hate it, want to burn it, want to win a Pulitzer) so much.

Writing _________________ (fantasy, science fiction, romance, mystery, high literary) novels is a challenge, and I recognize that I have issues with ____________________ (POV, verb tense, long passages of exposition that expose the inner workings of the character’s mind through tons of back story and internal dialogue, cheap hooks, histrionic characters, facile plot points, unabashed genius), but I’m trying to improve.

Next time, I will try to be less ______________ (criminally insane, judgmental, defensive, offensive, vomit-y, loud, weepy)  and more ___________________ (socially-acceptable crazy, understanding, offensive, defensive, iron-stomached, passive aggressive, even tempered).

Thanks again for all your time and for including me the group.

Yours ______________ (truly, in Christ, sarcastically, literally, bookishly, in hellish pain),

 

_________________ (name, pen-name, Aaron Michael Ritchey, socially security number)

 

So there you have it. The next time you need to apologize to your critique group, you now have the perfect template for your apology letter.

On a more serious note, if your critique is bashing you week after week, and if it’s slowly killing you, it might be time to either find another critique group or look for edits by other avenues. We have a lot of options—beta readers, freelance editors, mothers, lion tamers, et cetera.

For me, the perfect critique is one that makes me excited to revise, which is why I love my current critique group. Someone says something, and suddenly the spark of the story explodes in my mind, and I can’t wait to incorporate the changes.

If someone says something I completely disagree with, or if someone triggers me, I don’t argue, I don’t scream expletives (most of the time), I try and simply nod and thank them.

Because in the end, if you have people reading your stuff and offering suggestions, you need to thank them. They could be doing a bunch of other stuff with their time, and yet, they are using their precious minutes to try and improve your work.

So be gracious, say thank you, and keep at it.

Good luck!

 

How Many Drafts Does It Take To Get To the Gooey Chocolate Center of a Bestselling Novel?

So recently, in the writing community, we’ve been a-buzz over a blog post that warned no writer should ever write four books in one year. I won’t paraphrase, but issues came up over quality and care and other such fears for people who write fast.

I thought I could write a big long blog post defending the slow writer, or villainizing the fast writer, or saying nasty things about political candidate, but naaaahhhhhhh.  Other people who are smarter than me have already done all that.

I wanna talk about drafts. How many drafts does it take to complete a finished novel? And then there’s how many drafts do I WANT it to take to get a finished novel.

I might be a bad person to talk about this. I mean, I was pantser for a long time. My first novel took four years to write. I can’t tell you how many drafts I had. It was re-write city and I was the mayor. I then turned around worked on a book for seven years. Again, playing dice the story. Paper cuts, man, nearly bled to death because of paper cuts.

Then I discovered story structure by reading Robert McKee’s STORY. And I started outlining. And while that helped, it’s still taken me years to write books.  Several. Years.

I’d be lucky to get one book every four years let alone four books every one year. But I’ve been talking to people. I’ve been looking to see what other writers do.

It seems Stephen King writes a book, puts it aside for six weeks or six months, picks it up, goes through and reads it for big stuff (in one sitting if he can), does that second draft, and it’s off to his editor. He incorporates the edits into a third draft, it goes through line edits, and bam, four drafts and he is out the door. But that’s Stephen King. He’s been at this for a bit.

Other writers I talk do something similar though. They do this:

  • Rough draft
  • First draft
  • Beta reader’s draft
  • Editor’s draft
  • Copy edits draft
  • Line edits draft

And out the door. So that’s still six, which is a whole lot less than what I’ve done in the past. Now, most of the novels I’ve written were practice, working on my chops, getting my sea legs under me. But others, well, I didn’t want to give them up out of fear.

What if I sent a bad draft out and no one loved me anymore? I’d die alone.

So I’d go over the words again and again and again. Out of fear.

Notice in the bullet points above, there’s no entry for “Edit Out of Sheer Terror Draft”. Nope. That’s not up there because the brave warrior writers I know get their books done and out into the world. Bam. Fearlessly!

I think people can write successful books and publish multiple a year. I believe that. I also believe that books need several drafts to be tightened up and beaten into shape. In the end, it’s how much time do you want to spend on this?

And the other thing?

There are no rules. Crappy, unedited books do really well sometimes, while golden books of platinum-level editing go unnoticed. No rules, baby. Do what you want.

I’ve been lucky. Well, I’ve been lucky and I’ve been smart. I paid a copy editor to go over my last draft even though I’ve had publishers edit my stuff. RMFW’s very own Chris Devlin is a great copy editor, and she’s saved my books.

But in the end, no matter how much editing you do, you’re not going to please everyone. People will find stuff. A million people could read your book, and the one million and oneth person would find a typo, or find a plot inconsistency, or notice your character probably wouldn’t have eaten the English muffin on page fifty-fix.

I’ll leave you with an example. I was talking to a Star Wars fan, and he pointed out that it was quite the coincidence that you had a Skywalker on Tatooine after the Anakin became Darth Vader. Wouldn’t someone had called up Mr. Vader and said, “Hey, kind of a funny story, but there’s this kid named Luke living on Tatooine and his last name is Skywalker. Is he a relative of yours?”

Yeah, editors missed that one. But it’s pretty safe to say Star Wars did pretty well however imperfect it is.

I’m thinking six drafts, multiple readers including a professional editor, will do for me. I don’t know about you. Find your own path, Padawan learner, find your own path.

 

Are You Following the New RMFW Podcast Series Hosted by Mark Stevens?

Is there anything Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers doesn't do for its members (and all writers for that matter)? Not too much. One of the newest offerings is a series of podcasts that features a variety of professionals to entertain and enlighten all those who tune in. Hosted by Mark Stevens, the podcasts are another great way to meet RMFW members and Colorado Gold guests.

The link to the most recent podcast was posted just this week. Featuring two of the three finalists for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers of the Year, Susan Spann and Cindi Myers, the panel took place at the downtown Denver Tattered Cover in August. Tune in to hear these two authors discuss their writing lives and offer advice based on their own experiences. The third finalist, Joan Johnston, was unable to attend.

Susan Spann

The podcast posted at the end of August featured long-time RMFW member and volunteer, Mario Acevedo. His focus was on the Sept. 5 workshop held in Grand Junction: "Everything You Need to Know About the Next RMFW Anthology."

Mario, who has agreed to step in as editor for the anthology, talks about the submission schedule and selection process and reveals the selected theme. In addition, Mario talks about writing short stories and about his ongoing series featuring vampire Felix Gomez. If you think you'll want to submit a story for consideration in the anthology, you might want to check out Mario's podcast.

MarioAcevedo

The previous interview was with one of the Colorado Gold keynote speakers, erotic romance writer Desiree Holt. In this podcast, Desiree chatted about her six series of books, her daily writing schedule and a preview of the three classes she will be teaching at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold Conference this weekend.DesireeHolt200x263

The podcast before that featured Aaron Michael Ritchey, a highly productive writer and frequent workshop presenter. He'll participate in three writing workshops at Colorado Gold Conference. He talks about his daily dedication to writing and the series he's producing for WordFire Press called The Juniper Wars. As he puts it, the series is "cowgirls with machine guns on a post-apocalyptic cattle drive." Aaron is the author of three books--The Never Prayer, Long Live the Suicide King and Elizabeth's Midnight. He is also the author of numerous collaborations and short stories, including a story in the upcoming Nightmares Unhinged, an anthology from Hex Publishers.Aaron_Michael_Ritchey.jpg

For summaries of the other podcasts produced so far, and for future interviews, check out the page of links on the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers website.