So, You’re a Writer, eh?

One of my great fears is trying to explain the plot to whatever book I’m working on. The latest – Roadside Attractions – was built off the Satanic paranoia of the 80s and 90s and tosses together a renegade devil, the hitwoman sent from Hell to stop him, a ghost, and a pair of ghost hunters who find themselves stuck in the middle of a power-struggle straight out of Hell. It’s not the easiest thing to explain.

Actually, come to think of it, that’s not a bad description. Needs work, but doesn’t totally suck.

DeadSexyTwitterLilith
Note: not the actual cover.

I’m currently actively working on the 4th Henchmen book and that gets even more difficult to sum up succinctly because it’s the 4th (and final) book in that series and it’s still too early to tell exactly where the plot will take me.

I’m not a good plotter. Other writers have sketches and timelines and plot-points all neatly laid on beer-soaked cocktail napkins or Chinese Excel knock-offs. I just keep all that in my head. The closest I’ve ever come to successfully plotting out a book was Greetings From Sunny Aluna and even that ended quite a bit differently than I’d planned. Originally, Huizhong was going to kill Kevin and then kill herself. It didn’t turn out that way and now I’m stuck figuring out where to take the next book.

Anyway, back to the original task at hand: What’s the book about? I’ve done a bunch of posts on blurbs and even took a shot at loglines (Sean Carlin’s post on loglines is still the gold standard), but I’m still extremely weak at the punchy descriptors. Usually when someone asks me what the book is about, I change the subject and then pretend I don’t speak English.

smoke_bomb_archer

That’s not an adult way to handle things, especially when it comes to something I’d really like to do for a living. If I can’t talk about what I’m writing, there’s no way anyone’s going to be interested in reading it. Saying, “Trust me, it’s really, really good” doesn’t cut the mustard. In fact, it cuts the cheese.

I think it all stems from that deep-down insecurity everyone has. There’s that nagging sensation that someone you work with will say, “I read your book. It sucks.” Then you’re stuck at work with everyone knowing you’re the guy who writes shitty books. And that can’t be good for the ol’ ego.

I’ve met plenty of other people over the years who have zero problems talking about their books. I’ve even met people who will happily tell you they’re taking a year off work to write the next great American novel and it would be really great if you could give them some money to do that. To those people – the ones that want help funding their yearlong vacation in South France – I say, “Just write the fucking thing. You can do it in your living room and you don’t even have to take off your pajamas”.

I’m good at the “just write the fucking thing” part. Over the years, I’ve gotten disciplined to where I write something every night, usually 500-1000 words or so. Now I need to get better at getting people to “just read the fucking thing”.

If you have any tips on that, leave me a comment, I’d love to hear what’s worked for you and what was a waste of time and money.

ghostintheshelltyping
Now if I could only get my hands to do this.

On a somewhat related note, I’ve always been curious about my typing speed. I code all day and write at night, so I’m used to a keyboard. I can type reasonably well with my eyes closed. In fact, I’ve even fallen asleep and kept typing (that generated some…interesting text), but I’ve never tested my typing speed. According to Live Chat’s free online typing test, I type about 64 words/minute with 100% accuracy. Crunching the numbers, that means 3840 words an hour. Theoretically, if I didn’t need luxuries like food and sleep, I could write a ninety thousand word book in under 24 hours. That’s way faster than my usual six to nine months.

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13 thoughts on “So, You’re a Writer, eh?

  1. Man, I gotta say that I really love these covers. I’ll be adding some of your books to my reading list (which is growing more and more massive by the day.)

    As I said in my tweet earlier, I’ve always had trouble summarizing my books to people. It always seems that they’re too complicated to summarize effectively in a conversation. That was until a few weeks ago. I was sitting at a table at a Wegmans for a Writer’s Meetup I sometimes attend. We always open with catching up with each other’s project, and I had a helluva lot to share.

    When I explained what each of my novels are about, I saw eyes open wide, mouths drop open. One woman, by the name of CJ, complimented my storytelling ability from how I engaged them. That sort of opened my eyes. When you engage someone, and you show them how passionate you are, if their interests align with yours, then you’re most likely going to grab their attention.

    I had the same experience when I was at Best Buy to buy a camera to use for my new Patreon. I was sent from another store to pick up the camera in question, but they couldn’t find it (it turns out, it was stolen some time earlier and I had to buy a used one instead). In my frustration at the situation, I let it slip that I was working on books, and that grabbed everyone’s attention at the counter. The girl, Mell, who was looking for the non-existent camera, immediately ran around to counter to engage with me on the subject.

    It turned out that she too wrote dark fiction. When I told her what my latest short story “To Dance on Her Digital Strings” is about, her eyes opened so wide, it’s almost hard to describe. She looked like she was really in wonder and awe at what I’d said. When, I was a little on the fence about talking about this to a bunch of Best Buy employees, thinking it’d be awkward and maybe a little rude.

    So, maybe, like me, you’re stuck in this self-defeating thought that somehow you’re burdening people when you talk about these things (and I’m sure there’s some people who will think so, regardless of how passionate you are about it). Maybe what we both can learn from this, is that it’s not about the small percentage of people who feel burdened by our passion, but about those who feel awe-inspired by it?

    🙂

    -Eric Malikyte

    1. Much obliged about the covers. It took a long, long time to get my deteriorated graphic design skills back up to par.

      That’s a good point about engaging. I need to stop thinking like myself and start thinking like other people. I guess if someone asks what a book is about, they probably want the engagement and me waffling back and forth not only shifts their eyes into screen saver, but makes me look like I’m not into what I’ve written. After six to nine months for each book, I might be over it, but I’m still into it and I need to be able to take that energy and use it.

      I saw George R.R. Martin interview Stephen King when they were both in Albuquerque a couple years ago and listening to King was an eye-opener that didn’t really click until now. He spent a little time talking his books up and I was like, “Dude, you’re Stephen King, you don’t need to self-advertise”, but he was very engaged with everything he’d done. He had some fun stories, too, about how he got to where his stories wind up. Those little background stories are fascinating.

      Very good points. Thanks!

      1. I faced a similar journey in illustration in the early part of this decade, heh.

        Yeah, exactly. Stephen King has written so many books, that you’d figure he’s gotten complacent, but he’s still passionate about his craft. There are always new readers out there that might enjoy your books. 🙂

  2. I HATE Describing what I’m working on when people ask. Verbally, I’m no good. I usually leave out the typing (initially). Then, I sit with a notebook and pen, imagining that I’m not me but someone who has to impress me. It’s sort of stupid…but eventually works and i get the basics. Then I can type it and thus, edit more easily 🙂

  3. Love the Archer gif! I’m totally going to do that one day at work now just for laughs and then won’t explain why I yell smoke bomb and run away – I keep my co-workers confused and on their toes. Anyway, to the subject, I tell people the grand scheme of my story even if I just started and have no clue where it’s going.
    Example my novel Kept, Id say, “It’s about humans trapped in an ant colony type warren under the planet Kepler. They are stripped of everything that makes us human. No clothes, no food, no tv or books. Nothing! And how they cope with that and if they’ll find a way to escape.”

    Because that was my exact idea of what I wanted to write before I even began writing it. It caught their attention.
    So I say whatever your idea is for the book works as the hook – I’d love to hear yours 🙂 and I’m off to check out those loglines!

    1. Heh, heh. I’ve tried it at work, most people just look at you funny, so it kind of works. Unfortunately, everyone knows where my office is, so they just hunt me down later. 🙂
      Kept sounds interesting, I’ll have to check it out. Also, the idea of distilling everything down the barest elements is what I need to more. People don’t want the intricate details of what character is doing what, they just want to know there’s a new drug on the street and the guy that controls all the magic on the planet died under extremely strange circumstances. 🙂

  4. I think getting yourself on other people’s blogs helps with exposure. Happy to do an interview with you and post it on my blog, Eric.
    Also, do you know there’s a book by Tom Robbins called, “Another Roadside Attraction”? 😘

    1. I think there are a few Roadside Attraction(s) out there; it’s a common enough phrase that it’s been used. Of course, it’s getting to the point where finding an unused title is getting trickier.

      I’d love to do an interview with you and would be happy to reciprocate if you’re interested.

  5. I find that writing is not really the problem. Where I slow way down is on the self-edit. Frankly, I know I have to do it, but I hate it. I hate it like God hates sin, like cats hate water, like dogs hate smelling clean, like people from Chicago hate when the pickle relish runs out, like other things that really hate other things.

    In reality, if I could just write and hand it off to someone, anyone, else and let them finish it for me I could crank out book after book. Sadly, then it wouldn’t be mine.

    Anyway, love the new cover and I am super excited to see this one hit the shelves and get a copy in my hot little hands. BTW, how do I get a signed copy? Gotta make that happen!

    1. Damn I hate editing. They say you’re supposed to let a book percolate for a few weeks after you finish it before you start the editing process. That’s been my official excuse for not editing Roadside Attractions (even though it really needs it). I made a bargain with myself: I could write on Hench 4 until the end of this week, but then I had to go back and start editing.

      If you want a signed copy, all you gotta do is ask. 🙂

  6. Thank you, Eric, for the very kind words about my logline primer. Part of the reason I wrote that post is because I came to understand, after years as a working Hollywood screenwriter, that the logline is far more than a sales tool — it is the conceptual foundation of your entire story. All the elementals of a given narrative can and should be accounted for in the logline. The very thing that’s different and exciting about your story? That should be conveyed by the logline. Rather than being reverse-engineered after the manuscript is completed, it should be the first thing written, preceding even an outline. It’s the North Star that guides you as you produce draft after draft. It’s what allows you to experiment with different scenes, and different ideas, some of which you’ll throw out or reconfigure, because the details are malleable, but the logline is sacrosanct. Pin it up on the corkboard over your monitor, and take assurance in knowing that if the conceptual foundation — the logline — of your story is solid, as long as you haven’t deviated from it, the draft itself will at very least be structurally sound.

    It is admittedly hard to distill one’s own story down to a logline, which is why I recommend reverse-engineering loglines out of your favorite books/movies. Practice on material that you know well, but that you’re not emotionally invested in as you would be your own material. Think about how you’d convince a friend to watch a movie you love. “Michael J. Fox is an eighties teenager who accidentally travels back in time to the fifties and inadvertently interferes with his parents’ courtship. Now he’s got to get them to fall in love, or else he will no longer exist!” Sounds great, right? And note all the elements of Back to the Future I didn’t include in that “elevator pitch”: No Doc Brown. No DeLorean. No Biff Tannen, the bully. No Oedipal subplot. None of the business about the stolen plutonium and the lightning bolt at the clock tower. None of that sh!t is needed to sell you on the core premise of the story. That’s the stuff that’s hard to suss out when describing your own work, so practice with films you love, and pay special note to how few details are really necessary in order to boil any story down to its nuclear core. If you can’t pitch a story in one catchy sentence — two tops — that’s usually indicative of a fatal conceptual deficiency.

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