Monday, December 23, 2013
I'm on record saying Writer's Block doesn't exist. There's really no writing problem that can't be solved by staring at a blinking cursor until you think of something.
But man do I get tired sometimes. This happened to me in the past month. I worked like crazy to get my guide to writing a novel finished and published and promoted just as I was starting a new job while still maintaining my commitment to make sure I'm getting enough time away from the computer and spending time with friends in person. It was a lot.
I got it done, I got it promoted, the job is going well, and then I had that thunk that sometimes happens when you work like crazy and wake up and realize you're creatively exhausted.
I had to let the blog slide for a while, I took a break from writing even though I'm itching to get going on a new project, and I had to trust that I would get my creative juices back when some time passed and that there would still be people visiting the blog when I returned to it.
But then I think back to 2008, which was by far the most productive year of my life. I was working twelve hours a day as a literary agent, I was blogging five days a week, and I wrote a novel on top of that, which ended up being the start of the Jacob Wonderbar series. I have never gotten so much done in a single year, and it laid the groundwork for a lot of the things I look back on with pride.
And yet I was also really unhappy. I was neglecting friendships, I wasn't feeling like myself, and I paid the price in many ways.
All of those tensions are so incredibly difficult to manage. Sometimes you have to push yourself to get things done. Sometimes you have to let things slide for the sake of your own happiness. Sometimes you have to stare at the blinking cursor until you think of something. Sometimes you have to know to step away.
I don't think I'll ever totally figure it out. All I know is I'm ready to get working again.
How do you figure out when to push forward and when to pull back?
Art: Eingeschlafen by Hubert von Herkomer
Friday, December 20, 2013
Here's the most stupidly surprising thing I learned about self-publishing: It's really, really easy.
I say "stupidly surprising" because I feel like I should have realized this, and I'm obviously pretty behind the curve here considering how many people have embraced self-publishing and had a lot of success doing it.
But there's something about the publication process that seemed so daunting to me before I started. So many things to think about. So hard to get the word out. All those nuts and bolts that I've been glad for my publisher to handle.
At the end of the day, it just wasn't that hard. There are really only 6 things to worry about:
1. Writing the darn thing
This was by far the hardest part. When I started writing How to Write a Novel, I thought it was going to be a polished collection of blog posts. I had written so many posts over the years, surely I could just assemble it into book form?
I started stitching together blog posts... and it read like a collection of a blog posts. It didn't read like a book. There were a ton of holes. And it kind of sucked.
So I stated over. Short of the last chapter (10 Commandments for the Happy Writer), I extensively rewrote everything I originally sourced from the blog, and I added a lot of new material that's exclusively available in the book.
It was way harder and took a lot longer than I expected. I thought it was going to take a month. It took a year. Whoops.
2. Getting it edited
This is where things started getting easier. There are so many incredible freelance editors out there, and I'm fortunate to be friends with some of them. I hired my friend Christine Pride to do the initial round of edits. She helped immensely with the shape of the book, and it was her idea to turn the chapter titles into "rules."
For copyediting and final polish I turned to Bryan Russell, who agreed to a barter edit since I've edited some of his work in the past (though I now owe him immensely because he's a way better editor than me).
I am extremely happy with how everything turned out.
3. Cover design
For the cover I turned to my friend and influential graphic designer Mari Sheibley, who may be sliiiiightly better known, among other things, for being Foursquare's first designer and creating so many of those awesome badges that were a huge part of Foursquare's success.
I'm going to blog about how I went about the cover process separately. It was really fun.
4. Interior design
I thought about trying to learn how to design the interior, but this is a corner I decided to cut. I reached out to a few interior designers for quotes, and ended up going with D. Robert Pease, who happens to also be a blog reader, and he was incredibly fast, professional, and the end result looked terrific. He provided me with files in every format I needed.
Piece of cake.
5. Getting everything uploaded
I distributed directly via Kindle, B&N, Kobo, and used the e-distributor Smashwords for everything else. When the print cover was ready I distributed with CreateSpace. Easy easy easy.
How easy? I finished writing and editing the guide about a week before it was on sale.
I plugged the guide through the blog, I was fortunate to have some really nice blurbs, and I've been experimenting with some social media ads.
I haven't really gone all out with promoting off of my blog as I would have liked, but the great thing is that it's never too late.
This is a bit of a simplification, obviously, and if you have any questions about the specifics of self-publishing process I relied heavily on Susan Kaye Quinn, The Creative Penn, and David Gaughran.
I still think there are many merits to traditional publication, but if you're holding back from self-publishing because it seems daunting, don't sweat it. It's really not that hard.
Self-publishing veterans, how did you find the process? Am I just late to the party?
How to Write a Novel: 47 Rules for Writing a Stupendously Awesome Novel That You Will Love Forever is on sale as an e-book for just $4.99 at:
and in print for $11.99 at:
Barnes & Noble
Wednesday, December 18, 2013
It's that time of year! Yes, time for the annual Heifer International blog fundraising event where we raise money for a worthy cause and multiply the giving. And you can help too.
It's really simple. All you have to do is:
1) Leave a comment on this post AND/OR
2) Tweet a link to this post and include the hashtag #NBHeifer. Here's a tweet button for ya:
3) Click over to other participating blogs at the bottom of this post and leave comments there too
4) Make your own per-comment or tweet pledge and I'll link to you/tweet you!
To that end, if you want in on the fun and make a per-comment or tweet pledge on your own just leave a comment with a link to your blog post or tweet announcing your pledge or e-mail it to me and I'll feature it in this post. (I recommend Rowfeeder for tracking your hashtag).
You may have already heard of Heifer International, an organization that works to fight hunger by giving needy families around the world and in the United States livestock, training, or other assistance that helps improve their livelihood. Heifer has been recognized for its work in Fast Company and Forbes, among other places.
If you have anything to spare this holiday season I hope you'll consider making a donation. And in order to encourage people to spread the word about this worthy cause, there are two ways to help increase the giving love (and feel free to do both):
- For every comment someone makes in this post between now and 6PM Pacific time on December 24, I will donate $2.00.
- For every tweet that includes a) the hashtag #NBHeifer and b) a link back to this post (http://bit.ly/1hahQbb) I will donate another $2.00. (up to $2,000 between the two)
We can encourage everyone to stop by so we can multiply the giving! Over the past years we have raised over $7,000 together.
My Karma Ran Over My Dogma
Tuesday, December 17, 2013
There's a moment in Kazuo Ishiguro's novel Never Let Me Go where two of the characters go looking for a cassette tape in a coastal town in England. One of the characters had lost a tape in her childhood and she hadn't heard it in years. They go hunting through second hand shops until, magically, there it is. She found it.
It occurred to me as I was reading this passage that we'll never again have experiences like this, at least not in the same way.
The other night, a random comedy sketch popped into my head, something one of my college RAs played for me on a road trip, The Vestibules' "Boulbous Bouffant." It's a really surreal bit of sound. I had searched for it on the Internet in the early 2000s and had, laboriously, unearthed it somewhere on a random site.
This time when I searched for it, not only did it take two seconds to find and listen to, there were literally dozens of YouTube tribute videos to choose from.
In Never Let Me Go, with today's Internet the character would never have had to hope it was waiting for her in a second-hand shop. She could have listened to it on Spotify or found the mp3s on iTunes or, if she really craved the tape, she probably could have found it on eBay.
Of course precious physical objects will still exist in the future, but these small mysteries are disappearing quickly. More and more of the world is constantly at our fingertips, wherever we are. And what's more, there's very little that disappears into the past.
It used to be that electronics seemed ephemeral. Now, if you want something to be permanent, put it on the Internet.
Etched in Digital Stone
Whenever I talk about e-books, there are still some people who will chime in and say they can't imagine putting their library at the risk of a glitch and losing everything.
This is a serious misunderstanding. My e-book library is far more secure than anything on paper. My e-books live on multiple devices, they're backed up to my local backup drive and both Amazon's and Apple's clouds. If I ever lost one device I could instantaneously download the e-books onto another.
My apartment could burn down or flood and I'd lose all my paper books, but in order to permanently lose my e-books there would have to be some sort of electron catastrophe that simultaneously destroyed all of the world's computer servers (and presumably everything else with a computer chip), in which case we would have much more to fear from planes falling from the sky and cars careening through the streets than we would from whatever happened to our e-books.
There's something about digital files that still feel so impermanent to people, and yet barring an unimaginable apocalypse they're more permanent than anything etched in stone.
People are now coming around to the unsettling reality that everything you say on social media lasts forever, but it cuts even deeper than that. This week we learned that Facebook may even be keeping track of the status updates you started to write but deleted before posting. Google knows every search you've ever made (and so, perhaps, does the NSA). There's very little you can do online that won't be stored, somewhere, forever.
Our photos don't fade and curl their edges and get lost in basements or left behind when we move, they live on perfectly preserved in Flickr accounts and Facebook and iPhoto. Purging yourself after a breakup doesn't mean collecting a few things and putting them in a box to the left, there is an entire digital trail that is nearly impossible to erase. And reputations can be destroyed in seconds, whether you deserve it or not.
We all know this is rapidly changing our lives. Are we aware of just how much?
To Forget is Human
What happens when you can't forget?
There have been people who have been reputed to have "perfect" memories, and they endlessly fascinate us, even if the supposed perfection of their memories can be overblown. One woman particularly noted for her memory calls it "agonizing," and remembers slights as intensely as she did when she experienced them.
Whether there are true consequences for remembering everything, it is certainly uncharted territory for humanity. Photographs didn't even exist two hundred years ago, now there are 208,000 of them uploaded to Facebook every minute. Where before only the lives of kings and emperors were recorded for posterity, now all of us have digital trails that would put those kings to shame.
All your digital mistakes, all your e-mails, all your photos, many of your darkest thoughts... they're preserved for eternity. You may now have the comfort of living your life mainly offline and may even be a social media recluse, but so much of your life is still out there.
Earlier in the year I was on a BBC Radio 4 show about Estrangement in the Social Media era, and there was an expert on the show who specializes in erasing people from the Internet. The unbelievable lengths people have to go to achieve that end serves only to illustrate how completely impossible it really is for most everyone.
There are now debates taking place in Europe and Australia about the "right to be forgotten" on the Internet, trying to preserve some sort of analog analogy into the digital era, but this seems to me to be a case where the genie is out of the bottle.
We're going to have to get used to permanence in a world that used to forget.
Never Let Me Go
We no longer live in a world where it's hard to find a cassette you once had and you have to go hunting through dusty bins to find it again. We no longer live in a world where two loved ones will fall completely out of touch and are unable to find one another.
Humanity will never be permanent, at least on a cosmic timeline, but as long as our computer servers persist none of us will truly be forgotten. Long after our bodies have been turned to dust our digital footprints will live on, our searches and our e-mails and our online existence preserved as 1s and 0s in some chips in some computers in some server farms scattered around the world.
Sure, in some sense this newfound immortality is academic since we won't be around to experience it. But how is this affecting us now?
How many people are staying in relationships because they fear how starkly public breakups can be in the Facebook era? How many people have had their reputations destroyed online by one youthful indiscretion or even a colossal misunderstanding? How many people are confronted every day by the digital ghosts of their exes or loved ones who have passed away?
And what about those small moments that depended on the impermanence of our possessions and memories, the thrill of finding something we thought we had lost forever or had spent years and miles trying to find?
Now that we have access to nearly every book and movie and piece of music ever made, I wouldn't give it up. I wouldn't go back to a world that forgets. But I hope we'll still have some small miracles in the Internet era, like a cassette in a dusty bin we couldn't have possibly found anywhere else.
Monday, December 16, 2013
|Photo by me. I'm on Instagram here.|
Sorry for the delays in blogging-related activities, we had the Thanksgiving, then we had the catching up from being gone from Thanksgiving, and then we had the holiday parties, and then we had the food poisoning, which I do not recommend for anyone (the food poisoning anyway, everything else was quite enjoyable).
But I do plan to return to relative normalcy, and here are a few of the links I noticed in the past few weeks. Also upcoming: our 5th Annual Heifer International Fundraiser!
First up, I am very pleased to be on a panel of judges for a short story competition that will benefit autism research in the UK. Please check it out and enter! Also they have extended the entry deadline until January 31st, 2014 (people it is almost 2014).
Business Insider created a map of the famous book in every state. To be honest I'm not so sure about the choice for my home state (East of Eden?), but there's no doubt about The Great Gatsby for my current state, New York. What about yours?
Author Jennifer Hubbard put together a fantastic history of YA novels, starting with the 1940s. They've been around longer than you'd think, though they've certainly changed a lot over the years.
Buzzfeed compiled a cool compilation of 21 writers talking about how they found the inspiration for their first book. (via Adelle Waldman)
Over in the Forums, the Great Spam Attack of 2013 has been beaten back, and it is safe again for your discussing pleasure. Head on over to talk about writing, swap critiques on your work and queries, ask me anything, and make general revelry. It's free to join of course. Stop on by!
And finally, the New Yorker had a terrific article about pickpocket Apollo Robbins earlier in the year, but it's hard to top his TED talk for sheer impressiveness:
Have a great week!