Oh coffee! My coffee! our groggy trip is done,
the cup has gone from steaming black to empty, and the sun has risen now;
I must allow the clock to rule my morning,
and brave the road to drudge and toil, though it be long and boring.
But Oh nose! brain! tongue!
O the steaming drops of dark!
the cup is drained; my coffee's gone;
and I must go to work.
I think I've been staring at the same cluster of paragraphs for the last two days.
You know you're eyeball-deep in an effort when your brain starts clinging to minutia; in the case of writers, also known as crazypeople, it means we can pick away at a particular collection of words endlessly, messing with sentence structure, flipping events and dialogue around, fussing over word choice, and agonizing over the placement of a single comma. (Though in our defense, sometimes the placement of a single punctuation mark makes or breaks a sentence: see the Facebook Favorite dude, commas are super important for reasons.)
Or, hey, just this pic here.
Part of this is just psychology, I suspect: I've been working toward publishing a book for, oh, at least the last 5 years, and here it is and there are no (or, well, not many) takebacks now. That I just need to get over, and with the help of Write Or Die tonight (after Agents of Shield, of course, OMG, it's finally here) I likely will. Part is just being overloaded in pretty much every part of my life, which I am... and I probably will be for the next while, so that I need to get over too. Which means it's time to start shutting off the internet to my office in the mornings again, sigh.
The last bit is harder, because it's actually craft-related: I wrote this book the first time six years ago and the second time two years ago, and while I love it now just as much as I did each time I wrote The End, I'm not the same writer-- or, hell, altogether the same person I was when I wrote those words.
Matching voice is hard, yo.
It'd be nice if there was some kind of autotune program for this. :P
So, dear people: Goodreads.
(I'll give you a moment to break out the pitchforks.)
Ready? Tines sharpened? Okay then.
I've been on Goodreads for years. I love it for a number of reasons, the least of which is that I have an online library I can refer to when I'm stomping around my (very scattered) IRL library yowling Where the hell is that book, with the thing, where the character did x and why can't I remember what the title was oh god I'm going senile. Who unpacked this office? And the greatest of which is that ZOMG there are SO MANY other people who like books and read even more than I do and talk about books and write about the books they read and are really smart about it, and seriously? YAY.
I've discovered probably 30% of what's made it to my shelves in the last few years on Goodreads.
That's the awesomesauce side of Goodreads, and it is, indeed, a saucy awesome.
And then there's this other side, which has been A Thing for some time now, and died down a bit and then became A Thing Again, for some good and bad reasons which you can all read about elsewhere if you haven't already; I'm not summarizing it all here. Suffice to say authors confronted with negative reviews don't always react well or even like adult humans with a solid grasp of language and basic social skills... and on the other end of the pitchfork, Goodreads reviews can be pretty damn nasty at times, for no particular reason except (I assume) potential entertainment value, and also sometimes aren't actually reviews so much as a means of indicating interest or lack thereof in reading a book, or a means of increasing/reducing popularity of a book someone feels strongly about, or, well, you get the idea.
It's not a clear structure, is what I'm saying. Which is okay, as long as you go in knowing that.
Worst of all are reviews that are nothing more than a means for truly uncool people to try to tank the popularity of books they feel are competition for their book, which, COME ON. There's a special circle of the hot place for someone who tries to stand out in a crowd by kicking all the people around him/her to the ground, a terrible, no-good, very bad circle which I cannot describe here because reasons, but let's just say it involves fire ants, vampire clowns, and The Song That Never Ends.
So. Goodreads is great for authors... if your skin is thick like rhino foot calluses, or if you're just very, very good at selective perception. I don't know that I am those things, though it's a goal of mine to get there. When my time comes (spring, eek, EEK) I will be working to remember that those reviews of my book aren't written to me, any more than the reviews I read that point me toward or away from one book or another are to the authors of those books. It's more Consumer Reports, not so much the Better Business Bureau.
No, it's not going to be easy.
You put a book out there, and you kind of want people to read it. Which means you look for any medium that has a clear (or murky but hopeful) means of helping you make that happen. You put a book out there that you poured your heart into if it's even a little bit good; you put a book out there that, even if you're experienced at this, and insanely practical, you've pinned some dreams to. You put it out there and you hope people will buy it, and love it.
Neither of those things is guaranteed, or easy, or even, perhaps, likely. Maybe it was the best book you had in you but you're still on the early arc of your learning curve; maybe it's the next Gatsby/Harry Potter/Game of Thrones/War and Peace/fill in the blank. Either way, you will fight to be heard, and seen, and read over the voices of thousands of others that are not as good, or just as good, or so much better than you that you feel like a kid dragging her big purple plastic bat and dented whiffle ball to a Sox game hoping to pinch hit.
You've been told you need to be visible, and interesting, and agreeable. Maybe you're good at being those things, and maybe you're not (I rather doubt I am, myself, but I guess I'm gonna learn). So of course you have a Goodreads page, along with an everything-else page. And of course, you read your reviews. And you see that you're getting five stars and three stars and one stars from people who can't have read it yet because it's not out yet and you're like o_0, or from people who clearly read less than the first chapter, or from people who panned it and are sharpening their claws on it, or, hey! from people who read it all and liked it, maybe even loved it... or from people who read it all and genuinely didn't like it, and say so articulately and with comprehensible reasons you can maybe learn things from, and even so? Ow.
There's a lot of ow in this experience, one can guess.
One solution is not to read reviews. Another is to read them, and work on that rhino-foot skin. Yet another, not one I'd personally recommend, is to read them and freak out all over the people who wrote them.
This isn't to say there aren't good reasons, sometimes really good reasons, to be upset: for example, when someone puts your book in --hell, when someone even has a category called author should be raped in prison, well, really, what the hell? That's definitely worth getting upset over, though I put it in the same category I do most trolls, which is to say, Do Not Feed. Free speech protects assholes too... but admittedly that's a pretty damned hard concept to keep believing in when there's an asshole right in your face.
(Yes, I probably should have rephrased that, but I'm not going to.)
But here's the thing, and it's a thing I'm sure I'll struggle to remember this spring when I'm shuffling around the Great Interwebs in my Big Girl Pants, my purple plastic bat clutched in my sweating hands, hoping someone will pitch me something I can hit: my book stops being just My Book when somebody buys it. When they pay for it and it's in their library, they can do whatever the hell they want with it, which includes shredding it inventively and publicly, with great skill and articulateness, or no skill and clumsiness, or anything in between. They may get it painfully right, or wonderfully right, or totally wrong in my eyes, but one way or the other I have no say in that, nor should I.
This is not to say that we shouldn't be able to expect better behavior from one another, of course, and maybe-just maybe- a little more structure from a site that has been pitching itself of late as an author platform. There are basic rules of civility we can reasonably expect any human intelligent enough to use a computer to follow, and not wishing horrible violence on somebody who wrote a book you didn't like seems like a pretty simple one, but we all know the internet doesn't work like that. Maybe it will one day; maybe we'll all use the (relative) anonymity of online interaction to be, or become, our best selves... but we're just not there yet.
In the meantime, I guess I shall work on my leathery, callused tan. Check me out:
This might better be titled Weirdness, but the other sounds prettier. :p
Working on a book that you worked on years ago with an agent, in the shining hope that your submission-to-publishers would be short and sweet, and then a year ago by yourself, in the hope (again, though a more wise and worldly version of hope) that your submission-to-publishers would still be short and sweet... well. Working on the very same book because you hope it will be beautiful when it comes out and that readers will love it is, in a word, weird. In another (few) words, it's slightly terrifying, and it makes you think, while you're eyeball-deep in edits and wondering about your author photo and whether you should blog more (probably) and trying to remember the last time you slept past 5:15 am, about how the hell you got here.
Well, truth be told, I think about that a lot anyway, because that's just how I roll. But I think about it more now, particularly the writing bits, because I did a lot of writing as a kid and it did sort of prepare me for some of this, in unexpected and often mortifying ways.
I think I told this one a long time ago, but it seems worth a repeat, because man, did it stick in my head. :)
Picture a girl.
She is 12, a prickly, perpetually confused 7th grader in too-tight clothes, too much eyeshadow, and fashionably gigantic hair that takes 30 minutes and nearly half a can of aerosol hairspray to achieve. She has written what is apparently the best story from an English class assignment, titled Ollie the Alley Cat: sort of a cross between Beverly Cleary’s Socks and Dickens' Oliver Twist, only much, much shorter, and with a pack of stray dogs.
It never occurred to her she might be asked to read it aloud.
Had it, she probably would have refrained from the plaintive meows and waows that make up the bulk of the dialogue, and she definitely would have avoided the full-line, all-caps screech in the climactic scene, where brave little Ollie defends himself and a helpless human girl from the evil chain-smoking puppy gang. But she had no idea she would be forced to sit in front of the class, flashing too much leg in her too-short skirt, her shellacked hair catching a faint breeze from the hallway and moving more or less as one piece, with all those eyes on her.
Five handwritten pages in, the moment arrives.
She hesitates for a few seconds, staring at those vowels strung together in extra-dark blue ink, underlined for emphasis, and wonders what the hell she was thinking when she wrote this. How strange will it sound if she just skips this part? Can she maybe screech quietly? But it’s too late to back down now: they know what’s coming anyway. Every idiotic little meow was building to this. Balls to the wall, she decides, and utters the astoudingly stupid REEEEEEEEEEEEEEOOOOOOOOOOWWWWWWW she wrote for Ollie with –well, probably not the enthusiasm it would take for a kitten to scare off a pack of dogs, but definitely enough to startle some of her classmates out of their mid-morning doze, and make one drop his notebook. Jaws drop. There is much laughter. She finishes the last paragraph grimly, to a chorus of giggles, and sits to scattered applause that she understands is purely for the entertainment value.
1) always read your work out loud before turning it in, and
2) there are moments when tell vs. show is not only an appropriate choice, but a necessary one.
Happy Friday, peeps.
I write. I also read, eat, sleep, sneeze, work, cook, bathe, watch TV, and go out to bars.