Nathan Bransford, Author

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Are Publishers Plagued By a Public Perception Problem?

Publishers have been taking some rather unpopular stands lately. The agency model for e-books raised the price for many e-books, they have removed e-books from libraries, and they spend millions of dollars on the latest celebrity memoir even as great midlist authors go unsupported or get dropped entirely. Accordingly, I see a whole lot of angst against publishers around the Internet, especially in social media.

Are publishers going the way of record labels in the public's eye as greedy dinosaurs who failed to keep pace with the times? (To be clear: I like publishers a great deal. But I see a lot of complaints out there.)

What's kind of amazing to me is that the "shop on the corner" effect usually favors the old timers against the newfangled upstart, but in consumers' eyes I'm not sure publishers are winning the sympathy battle against Amazon and others.

And there are real consequences to a failure of public perception: Consumers may find it easier to justify pirating from those Big Bad Meanie Publishers if they feel they're being treated unfairly. Readers may not care as much about supporting the traditional publishing system and curation. And authors faced with a choice between working with publishers and going on their own may choose to eschew traditional publishing.

Do publishers have a perception problem? And if so, what should they do about it?

Art: "Kätzchen im Boudoir" by Carl Reichert

Monday, February 27, 2012

DRM Isn't the Answer, But It's Not Not the Answer Either

In a recent column in Publishers Weekly, Joe Wikert made the case for a unified e-book market and suggests that publishers consider getting rid of DRM, those digital pesky restrictions that, among other things, prevent you from easily taking your Kindle book collection over to a Nook.

He also references Steve Jobs' famous letter to the music industry in which he plead that they get rid of DRM, which Jobs said doesn't work and will not halt music piracy.

As a writer, reader, and former agent, I have to say: I really don't have a problem with DRM. But it could be better.

Here's the thing that the anti-DRM crowd rarely adequately acknowledges: It's way too easy to e-mail your 1,000 closest friends a copy of a non-DRM e-book. Yeah, DRM can be cracked. Yeah, if someone really wants to pirate something they're going to pirate it. Yeah, there's nothing that's ever going to stop piracy entirely.

But adding some basic restrictions on use of a file encourages average consumers to do the right thing. As long as those speed bumps are reasonable.

And to that end, here's how I think a reasonable DRM policy should work:

Readers Should Have the Right to Transfer Their Libraries

This is the biggest injustice of DRM. If I buy an e-book on a Kindle I should be able to transfer it to a Nook. There should be an e-book reader Bill of Rights that compels e-booksellers to provide the means for a reader to read the e-books wherever they wish. If I want to move to another device or app or e-book program I should be able to do so.

This is obviously way more complicated than it sounds. Who is going to develop and maintain the conversions? Could e-booksellers agree on a universal format when Amazon in particular doesn't have much of an incentive to open up their e-book ecosystem?

But someone needs to take leadership on this. It's only fair that when you buy an e-book you have the right to read it wherever you want.

Readers Should Be Able to Access an E-book On Up to Six Devices

One of the greatest things about e-books is the ability to sync between devices. And allowing multiple devices simultaneously allow families to pool e-book collections as well. Six seems reasonable to me - an entire town shouldn't be able to access a shared e-book account, but a family should be able to share an e-book.

Readers Should Be Able to Permanently Give Away an E-book

Done with an e-book and want to give it a friend? You should be able to e-mail it to a friend. Once they download it to their device it's disabled on your device. Just like if you were giving away a physical book.

Other than that? The file is locked down. I can't e-mail it to my friends. I can't copy it endlessly. I'd have everything I need for legitimate home use and all the benefits of being able to choose my app ecosystem, and it would be a pain to do the wrong thing.

What do you think is fair when it comes to e-books?

Saturday, February 25, 2012

This Week in Books 2/25/12

Books! This week!

Lots of heads were shaking about a story in the New York Times this week: Veteran author gets rejected by 13 publishers, then she adopts a pen name and the book sells in three days.

Now, it's easy to chalk this one up to the fickleness/stupidity of publishers, as lots of people have done in the past week, but it's not quite that simple. Yeah, publishers definitely look at the sales track of an author, but that's because booksellers are doing the exact same thing when they place orders. It's really, really hard to go to booksellers with a new book by an author with an established sales track and convince them to order drastically more copies. And reviewers and even readers can be lured in by the cachet of a hot new writer on the block. So chalk this one up instead to the modern bookselling culture.

A culture, incidentally, that's going to change very much as online bookselling and e-books continue their ascent.

Meanwhile, publishing industry sage Mike Shatzkin has some very helpful context on why publishers are so reluctant to let libraries lend e-books. This is definitely a tricky issue for publishers, and I don't envy them being on the wrong side of public sentiment on this one. Publishers are looking at a landscape where library patrons don't even have to go to the library to borrow an e-book - they can do it from home. Why would anyone buy an e-book once they figured out how to legally get tons of books for free just as easily?

People tend to act like the new e-book world should operate exactly like the print world when it's convenient - people should be able to give away their book when they're finished and there should be no DRM whatsoever, they should be able to borrow them from libraries. But I don't think you can ignore fundamental physical differences. With e-books you can give away a million copies all at once and download an e-book from the library in your pajamas. It drastically changes the economics of publishing, and I think the industry should be cut some slack as everyone works it all out.

And lots of agent advice this week: Mary Kole has a great post on questions you might be asked when offered representation, Rachelle Gardner has 13 ways to impress an agent, Writer Beware talks about why poets shouldn't seek literary agents, and Alan Rinzler talked to four great agents about why writers still need to have an agent.

This week in the Forums, when is the best time to start a blog, people are sharing their daily word count output in February, what to do when your hero is the bad guy, and advice for a nonfiction writer.

Comment! of! the! Week! Goes to Josin L. McQuein for her comment on writers as magicians:
A step that a lot of people miss with writing is to realize that they're capturing 3 dimensions in 2, like those posters of dots that become 3-d images when you look at them right.

Writing is the evolution of the tribal storyteller and the wandering bard, both skills that required movement and tone - the occasional flourish of hands or dance or tossing of sparking powder into a fire for effect. Writers don't have those luxuries, so they have to trap those breaths on the page.

Telling a tale is taking the reader's hand and dragging them behind you like an excited child who can't help but point out every unexpected delight as they run along. You're wanting to show them what happens, they want to explore, and intend to come back after their first read to see what wonders they missed.

It's a thread that connects the past to the future, and the voices of those long since dead who continue to live through the words they spoke into being. Their breath catches the next voice and the next until they're spoken out 2,000 years later.

And that, most definitely, is its own kind of magic.
And finally, in tech news Google is making some big changes to its privacy policy and will be sharing your search history across every Google product. Here's Sharon Vaknin (who btw you should follow on Twitter) on how to remove your search history (disclosure: I work at CNET).

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Writers Aren't Painters They're Magicians

When someone writes well people often say it's like they painted a picture. And of course, there's that old phrase a picture is worth a thousand words. But painting with words really isn't what a writer does.

A painting can be many things. It can be pretty or thought-provoking or disturbing or haunting or anything the painter wants. It can be just about anything. They can even tell somewhat of a story. But paintings are static. They don't move. They capture a moment in time.

I've definitely read novels that read like paintings. They paint a portrait of a family or an individual or a new world and they might even do it in impeccable, transporting detail. It almost feels like we're staring at a beautifully detailed painting. While that can be interesting and impressive, it's not why we read novels.

Writers who want to really capture a reader can't be content only with making the reader feel like they really know their characters or their world or admire that the writer is describing everything perfectly.

Novels have to move. They need a plot. Those perfectly rendered characters and details need to be challenged and mussed up and thrown into disorder.

The real metaphor for writing is magic: Writing is a performance, it brings things to life, it surprises and awes the audience.

The elements in a novel don't remain in place for us to admire, they change and evolve and start in one place and end in another.

So don't be content if you've painted a good picture in your novel. Now you have to animate it and set things in motion.

Art: "Stage Set for Mozart's Magic Flute" by Karl Friedrich Schinkel

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Can You Write With Noise?

I'm not the only writer who has found that a low level of noise can be very conducive for productivity. A few months back in The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf had an entire roundup devoted to exploring why so many people find themselves more productive in coffee shops.

His reasons jive with mine, including there being something about a certain level of distraction, working against closing time, and being out of the office making it feel less like work (he neglected to mention one massive reason: caffeine).

Personally a change of scenery can work wonders, but even when I'm home I like to have just the right amount of noise, which usually comes in the form of a sporting event droning in the background. But I've also known writers who lock themselves in a closet and must have complete and utter silence.

Which kind of writer are you? Do you like having a bit of noise or do you need to block everything out?

Art: "His Master's Voice" - Francis Barraud

Friday, February 17, 2012

This Week in Books 2/17/12

This week! In the books!

Amanda Knox got a $4 million book deal. Let's move on.

No, on second thought, let's not move on. $4 million?!?! To put that in perspective, that is somewhere in between what Dick Cheney got for his memoir and what George W. Bush got for his. While selling foreign and other subsidiary rights will surely help make up some of that total, the book is going to have to sell a ton ton ton ton ton of copies in order to turn a profit. And let's be honest about what's going to happen when that book comes out: Blogs will immediately summarize the juicy parts (if any) so you don't have to read it. Are people really going to buy that book in huge numbers no matter how much is revealed?

In the immortal words of Chris Webber: good luck.

Meanwhile, self-publishing maven J.A. Konrath launched another broadside against the publishing industry, contrasting it with the atmosphere he witnessed while meeting with Amazon. I don't always agree with Konrath, but in this case I think his questions for the industry are spot-on. Is the publishing industry going to dig in to protect the past or are they going to innovate for the future?

You may have heard the news that Penguin is withdrawing its e-books from libraries, a decision that I honestly do not understand save for vague references to library e-distributor Overdrive's association with Amazon. A librarian took to PW to decry the decision.

Publishing industry sage Mike Shatzkin has marked the halfway point through the publishing digital revolution. If you want a great summary of where we are now, this is the post to read.

Some very sad news from the Middle East, where incredible reporter and author Anthony Shadid passed away way too soon from an apparent asthma attack. He was only 43.

In list news, Scholastic and Parent & Child Magazine released a list of the top 100 children's books, and Belgian artist Tom Haentjens is asking people to re-design the covers for a list of the top 100 novels.

This week in the Forums: what's your day job, remembering Jeffrey Zaslow, your most anticipated 2012 releases, and what's your favorite book on the craft of writing?

Comment! of! the! Week! Perennial contender Bryan Russell knocked it out of the park on yesterday's post on lit writers and technophobia:
The internet is the home of mass consumption and mass culture - the common denominator (sometimes the lowest common denominator) is what makes it big on the internet.

And that is not (typically) literary fiction. It's more of a niche market, these days, and is somewhat reliant on traditional forums that support it as important culture.

I think literary writers are probably a little fearful of the literary free-for-all of the internet, of being a small fish in a really big media pond. There's no Amanda Hocking self-pub success stories among literary writers, at least that I've heard of (though I'm sure there's a few doing well in this new market).

I think the old system supported literary fiction, both in terms of exposure and financial support. It was assured a place at the table. The new system? Nothing is guaranteed. And that's probably pretty scare at a time when mass culture seems to be moving ever further away from literary fiction (at least in North America). 
And finally, all the proof you need that nerds now rule the world:

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Why Are So Many Literary Writers Technophobic?

It seems like hardly a week goes by without one literary writer or another hyperbolically decrying the way we're all going to hell in an electronic handbasket.

First Jonathan Franzen argued that e-books are damaging society and suggested that all "serious" readers read print.

Last week Pulitzer Prize winner Jennifer Egan complained of social networking, "Who cares that we can connect? What’s the big deal? I think Facebook is colossally dull. I think it’s like everyone coming to live in a huge Soviet apartment block, [in] which everyone’s cell looks exactly the same."

Zadie Smith has written of Facebook: "When a human being becomes a set of data on a website like Facebook, he or she is reduced. Everything shrinks. Individual character. Friendships. Language. Sensibility. In a way it’s a transcendent experience: we lose our bodies, our messy feelings, our desires, our fears. It reminds me that those of us who turn in disgust from what we consider an overinflated liberal-bourgeois sense of self should be careful what we wish for: our denuded networked selves don’t look more free, they just look more owned."

This of course comes on the heels of Ray Bradbury complaining in 2009: "They wanted to put a book of mine on Yahoo! You know what I told them? ‘To hell with you. To hell with you and to hell with the Internet.’ It’s distracting. It’s meaningless; it’s not real. It’s in the air somewhere."

And of course there's a long and storied history of writers eschewing technology and returning to nature, such as Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

I don't have any stats to prove this definitively, and to be fair, there are some modern literary writers who definitely embrace tech. Colson Whitehead is tremendous on Twitter and wrote reminded everyone that the Internet isn't the reason you haven't finished your novel. Susan Orlean, William Gibson, Margaret Atwood and others have embraced Twitter.

But doesn't it seem like there's some nexus between literary writers and technophobia? Are literary writers more likely to fear our coming robot overlords and proudly choose an old cell phone accordingly (if they have one at all)? Do they know something we don't?

Even when a writer really does use tech as either an artistic mode of expression or as a relentless self-promotion engine (or both), like Tao Lin, he's derided (or praised, depending on one's POV) as "a world-class perpetrator of gimmickry."

Have lit writers become our resident curmudgeons? Or are they just like any other cross-section of the population? Is it tied to deeper fear of the transition in the book business? Is it just not interesting to think new stuff is cool?

What do you make of this?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Who is Your Favorite Fictional Couple?

Happy Valentine's Day! Hug a writer!

Romeo and Juliet. Tristan and Isolde. Coach and Mrs. Taylor.

So many incredible couples in literature and myth and plays and movies. Couples that inspire us, madden us, make us laugh, cry, and best of all, make us insanely jealous.

Who's your favorite fictional couple?

Art: The Love Letter by August Toulmouche

Monday, February 13, 2012

Game of Thrones and the Art of Being Unsentimental About Your Characters

Credit: Better Book Titles, Title and Redesign by Lauren Dee
George R.R. Martin's A Game of Thrones and the Song of Fire and Ice series is known for many things - as the basis of an HBO series, for being the gold standard for gritty modern fantasy, and for the increasing length of time between new installments.

But above all, as the above image from Better Book Titles indicates, it may almost be known for Martin's unflinching unsentimentality about his characters.

When people warn you not to get attached to Martin's characters, they usually are referring to the fact that (mild spoiler) people die that you probably don't expect would die. Martin shows a remarkable capacity for killing off characters. Don't get attached. Anyone may die at any moment. And Martin uses this atmosphere to terrific effect.

But I'd argue that Martin's unsentimentality goes further, and there's a lesson there for all writers: Martin lets his characters have flaws.

Every character in A Game of Thrones has a set of positive and negative qualities. And Martin is not afraid to go dark. Even arguably the most noble character in the book, Eddard Stark, has somewhat of an inglorious past. He suffers from hubris. He is on the whole a good person, but he's flawed.

We writers can get really, really attached to our characters. They become almost like family members. We want the best of them. And sometimes it becomes difficult to see them make mistakes and to see their flaws and to let those bad qualities shine through from time time. We can be far too nice to them.

Martin has no such compunctions. He isn't afraid to show the warts, to revel in them even, and to trust that the readers will still feel affection for the characters. If anything, seeing characters with flaws makes them feel more human.

Don't be afraid to uglify your characters. And, as the spoof book cover says, don't get too attached.

Friday, February 10, 2012

This Week in Books 2/10/12

This week! Books! It's been a while!

The elephant in the Amazon has been the subject of many an anguished quote from many an anonymous publishing executive, who are extremely nervous about What Amazon Is Up To With The Kindle And The New Amazon Publishing Imprint Thing. The latest notable entries in the field: Confessions of a Publisher: "We're in Amazon's Sights and They're Going to Kill Us", a profile of Larry Kirshbaum aka Amazon's Hit Man, and Worried Publishers Pin Their Hopes on Barnes & Noble.

I urge you not to read those articles all three in a row unless you want to get the sense that the traditional publishing industry is, um, a little nervous about how relevant it is in the future and mildly uncertain about what it should be doing.


All of this has Mathew Ingram from GigaOm asking: Hey publishers, remind us why you exist again?

I've been out of the publishing game a while, but it's worth taking a deep breath and remembering some things: a) This is still a print world (yes, still), and publishers are still best at getting paper to customers (yes, still). b) Some authors will still benefit from the collection of services publishers offer into the new era.

But also: Publishers must think about how their brands matter in the new era, especially to consumers, and how they can make themselves indispensable to an author's sales figures and bottom line. Right now they ain't getting it done by relying on authors for their own promotion and offering very little added value except for a few titles a season (who are often the titles that need the least boost).

But the sky isn't falling yet.

Whew! Meanwhile, Kassia Krozser at Booksquare previews the Tools of Change conference and tackles the perennial topic of print/e-book bundling.

Author Tahereh Mafi is giving away some rather stellar books on her blog! Click over and check it out! And speaking of Tahereh, she had a pretty awesome interview at Swoontini.

And in agenting news, BookEnds updated their publishing dictionary.

This week in the Forums: When to query an agent, the Do You Have a New Blog Post thread now has over 2,250 stellar entries, how do authors decide which part of a book to read at readings, the best dystopian novels, and what is your writing weakness?

And finally, there's cute, and then there's a baby bear playing with a baby wolf (via io9)

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Do Writers Give Up the Right to Be Casual Reviewers?

While I was on blog hiatus, author Hannah Moskowitz posted an open letter to people who post nasty reviews on Goodreads (language NSFW).  (UPDATE: I believe I actually misread Hannah's point, which I think has to do with commenting on bad reviews than leaving bad reviews. So please take this more as a jumping off point than an extension of that discussion.)

In essence, Hannah argues that while vitriol from readers is hard to take for any author, it's especially hard and egregious coming from fellow authors. Hannah suggests that authors actually give up their right to write casual (and especially casually negative) reviews:
...I don't really get to be a reader anymore, not fully, and that's just [bleeping] reality. And maybe it's not altogether awesome, and maybe I miss it, but it's a pretty small price to pay for being a [motherbleeping] author.

That doesn't mean I can't write reviews, even negative ones; I do sometimes, and there are some amazing combination writer/reviewers out there--Phoebe North, anyone?--but it does mean that if I go out there and comment on bad reviews with sarcasm and bitchiness and general [bleep]-dom, I make writer-hannah look like a [bleeping] idiot.

So is she right? Do authors give up some rights when it comes to reviews?

While there's a great and long tradition of writers penning thoughtful negative reviews that demonstrate respect for the subject at hand, I agree with Hannah. I do believe writers give up the right to write casually bitchy reviews.

For the following reasons:

1) You don't need the karma. 

And forget the cosmic implications, this business is hard enough without having people out there wishing you ill. Behind every book is a team. You don't need teams turning against you.

2) You should be following the Golden Rule. 

How would you like it if someone casually dished your book as a piece of trash not worth the pixels it was printed on and it should be burned in a fiery pit of suck?

Not very much, I'm guessing. Not very much.

3) You won't look good.

There's no way to write a cruel review and come away looking like anything more than a mean person. No matter how wittily you think you tore the book apart.

4) You're better than that.

You are! Look at you. You're smart, you're erudite, you have a way with words. You insult yourself by resorting to ham-fisted takes on books and not giving them the thoughtful treatment.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying authors can't write reviews. But writers should require themselves to write thoughtful reviews. They should elevate the discourse, not lower it. And they should treat their fellow writerly comrades at arms with the respect they deserve.

What do you think? Do writers give up rights when it comes to reviews?

Art: "H.L. Mencken" by O. Richard

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Expanding the World of Your Novel

NB: Many writers wonder what to do with their extra material and how to make their work live on beyond the pages of a novel. And on that subject, I'm thrilled to have this guest post from Matthew Pearl, the New York Times bestselling author of THE DANTE CLUB, THE POE SHADOW and THE LAST DICKENS. His latest novel, THE TECHNOLOGISTS, will be published on February 21.

In our day and age, a writer's work is never done, even—make that especially—once you've finished writing.

When my first novel came out in 2003, it was my impression (accurate or not I can't say) that many books and authors did not yet have websites, much less websites of depth beyond a cover image, summary and an order link. That's changed. In fact, now you might feel you have to be push your resources to earn reader's attention with extras, because we're all trying.

How do you most effectively expand your universe beyond the borders of your book covers? It's about looking for ways to capture the mood of your book in a creative entity separate from and complementing your book and to do it in ways that don't require an unrealistic amount of work from your reader.

A scavenger hunt might be fun and creative, but is probably asking too much.

Keeping Things Fresh

Since my newest novel, The Technologists, out February 21, is noticeably different than my previous ones in at least one way (in that it trades literary history for technological history as its story source), I wanted to freshen up my approaches to exploring the book's outer “universe.”

First, I decided to do a book trailer. Of course, this is common now. Again, sometimes that makes it harder because the novelty has worn off and conventions calcify. Besides, I had no previous experience with one and wasn't even sure where to begin. My vision became clearer through a strange happenstance that connected back to my first book.

While searching for something else online related to The Dante Club, I came upon an “opening credit” sequence a college student had done for my book as a class assignment. Much to my surprise, I was blown away! (You can see it here.) It also gave me a much better idea of what I'd want for a trailer of The Technologists. I contacted the creator of the short video, talented motion designer Jessi Esparza, and after agreeing to work together a few months later we have this finished trailer:

We used photographs from the nineteenth century including from those early days at MIT where the novel takes place to make it authentic as well as fun.

Of course, if you're trying to appeal to readers you might want to give them something to read. For The Dante Club, I included “lost chapters” on my website. Some readers (and me) have their fill of violence with what's in The Dante Club's published version, but others have a higher tolerance and I send them to that page on my site to read the scenes of murders I had cut out.

I carried over the idea of additional chapters in similar ways for my second and third novels in the form of “Secret Chapters” (chapters that take place between two specified chapters in the finished novel) and “Extra Chapters” (a standalone story set simultaneous with the events of the novel) for The Poe Shadow and The Last Dickens, respectively. These were all web only treats on my own sites, but my publisher also reprinted one of the “Secret Chapters” at the end of the paperback of The Poe Shadow, so sometimes your expansions sneak back into your book.

Putting Your Characters to Work

One problem: those extra chapters for my first three novels would interest those who already read the novel. Looking to avoid that limitation, this time I decided to do something a little different. I wrote a prequel to The Technologists that could stand on its own two feet but also lead a reader of that prequel to be interested in the novel by carrying over its mood and style.

The result: a novella called “The Professor's Assassin” set twenty-eight years before The Technologists. This my publisher has made available for download at the usual places for only 99 cents (when writing “99 cents” I find you also must write “only”). Why not make it free?, I asked my publisher. I'm told that many people are less interested if it's free than if there's a small charge! I'll leave the logic behind that to the (micro?) economists.

In addition to this novella, I wrote a few other prequelly shorter stories, set a few years before the novel begins, available for free at my website (which I guess makes them less interesting), each one tracing a bit of how the characters got to where they are by page 1 of the book.

With a variety of approaches and styles, universe expansion for a book hinges more than anything on two things: the ideas, obviously, but especially the willingness of the author. You might be surprised how often I encounter authors who resent any work on behalf of a book outside the writing of the book.

That Elusive Balance

Make no mistake about it, all the extras that go into the expanded world of a book require work. Sometimes even simple things, like composing suggested topics for book clubs, require a fair amount of hand wringing, and other side projects that sound so innocuous—writing an article tied to the topics covered in your book, for instance—can end up momentous tasks without very concrete results.

Even when the hard labor is shifted away from you toward other capable hands—as with a book trailer or website design, if you're not doing it yourself—there's a fair amount of working hours involved overseeing and directing the process.

The reluctance to commit oneself to such extras is understandable. So much work goes into writing a book, and there's likely an intimidating amount of work awaiting you elsewhere assuming there's another book you're supposed to write. Writing a novella, spearheading a book trailer, getting a website together, all can be enjoyable. And grueling.

Personally, I find finite non-book projects a welcome break from the long, exhausting, monomaniacal marathon of novel writing. And of course, it's all ostensibly to the benefit of the book to enhance the experience of the reader. But I can relate to the feeling that a full plate is being piled to overflow.

How do you contribute more and more to the external life of your book without taking away from your writing? This dilemma will continue to be the writer's burden—and blessing—as avenues for exploring and promoting continue to increase away from the printed page.

Monday, February 6, 2012

How to Return to Writing After a Long Break

Hello! I am back, after what I realized was my first extended blog break in five years. Five years! My how the time flies. I haven't been idle this past month as I have been hard at work finishing Wonderbar #3, but it still feels a bit strange to be getting back to the blog game.

To that end, I thought I'd tackle one of the most dangerous moments for any writer: The long break.

I've known writers who hit their stride, were interrupted for one reason or another, and then days turned into weeks turned into months and they were never able to get back in the saddle. All that work was squandered. Breaks = kryptonite achilles heel termite ridden ankle breaking weakening things. Don't let long breaks destroy you!

So. Once you break your writing rhythm, how do you get it back?

Here's how I do it:

1) Know that your first day back will not be productive

You must know that your first day back after a long absence will not be as productive as a normal day. This is okay. Knowing is the first stage of not panicking and not getting down on yourself. Don't set page goals, don't be hard on yourself. Just focus on getting your rhythm back. That's all you need to accomplish.

2) Don't head straight for the novel

Instead of going right back to my novel and feeling the crushing weight of the blinking cursor, I start off by writing something, anything other than fiction. E-mails, blog posts, forum posts, you name it. Chances are you have stuff that has piled up, and it's easier to write an e-mail than figuring out what is going to happen next in your novel.

Don't procrastinate endlessly, but get the words flowing for an easier reentry. Then it's time to...

3) Badger yourself into opening up your novel and getting started again even if it feels like you are peeling off your own skin.

It can feel so incredibly intimidating to start again. You might not remember where you left off. You had gotten used to filling your time with episodes of Downton Abbey.

Writing is hard. Getting back into writing is really, really hard.

Do whatever you have to do to get that file open. Cursing and threats of bodily harm against yourself are perfectly acceptable. So are rewards. Just get the dang file or notepad open.

4) Start somewhere easy

When you do crack open the old novel, start somewhere that will get things flowing and keep your confidence high. Know a scene you want to write but aren't there yet in the plot? Write it anyway. Need to do some revising to get back into the rhythm? Awesome, start there.

Writing a novel is full of tasks large and small, everything from figuring out the whole freaking plot to making sure the chapters are numbered properly. Tackling one of those smaller tasks still gets you closer to the finish line, and sometimes they can help you get back in rhythm.

5) Don't get down on yourself

Remember, the first day back is just about getting back into it. It's not going to be your best day. It might not be fun. But you did it. You're back in the saddle, which is why it's so crucially important to...

6) Follow up with a good day of writing

You slogged your way back into writing. Don't waste it! Chase it as quickly as possible with a good, solid, uninterrupted, productive chunk of time. Now you'll have momentum. So keep it up!

Also: Shouting, "I'm back, baby!!" is strongly encouraged.

What about you? What's your favorite technique for getting back in the writing groove?

Art: "A Love Story" by E. Phillips Fox

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