Detours

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Sometimes life takes you into unexpected directions. And just as often, so does writing.

I originally started writing my war novel with the idea that the protagonist’s primary relationship would be with the stricken women with which he’s tasked to care for. (He’s a doctor in a war zone that eventually becomes occupied territory.) But after about a hundred pages in — god, what took so long? — I realized that the relationship that intrigued me the most was the one that was developing and expanding between him and the enemy. Specifically, the man from the enemy camp who is charged with taking care of him.

I’m in Day 11 of National Novel Writing Month, and rather than starting over with a new novel in keeping with NaNoWriMo tradition, I’ve opted to continue the same novel with an eye towards finally completing the first draft by the time I crawl across the finish line on November 30th. I’ve taken more detours in the draft as it’s grown and expanded over the last few years, and sometimes the detours have led me to other, new characters with whom my protagonist has struck up new friendships, but I’ve always found myself drawn back to that same thread that ties the protagonist and his primary opponent and captor to each other. The vision I originally had for the story hasn’t just evolved but has taken off into an entirely different trajectory. The biggest struggle I have now is to ensure that the women doesn’t become just a sideshow because that was the entire reason I was compelled to write the story in the first place. If anything, that’s the most compelling thing that draws the two men together.

My job now is to make sure the detour doesn’t take me too far off the path I’ve set for myself and get me lost. Being lost in a story can be a good thing, but losing the story itself would be a tragedy.

Amazon to pay Kindle authors only for pages read – Telegraph

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Amazon’s new system will cut the royalties for self-published authors who fail to hold a reader’s attention until the final page

via Amazon to pay Kindle authors only for pages read – Telegraph.

This is horrifying and a terrible precedent. Frankly, I don’t understand the position of author Kerry Wilkinson, who is quoted in the article as asking, “If readers give up on a title after half a dozen pages, why should the writer be paid in full?”

If I go to the emergency room with a heart attack and die on the operating table because the EMTs didn’t get me to the hospital in time, is my family still liable for the bill?

If I buy a dress but then take it altered to my favorite tailor because I think the hem should be 2″ shorter to truly flatter me, should I get a refund from the designer for whatever percentage of the dress I cut off?

If I book a flight to Paris, but then fall in love with someone while on layover in London and decide not to continue my journey, should I demand that the airline reimburse me for the percentage of the flight that I didn’t complete?

And yes, as Peter Maass is quoted as saying in the article: “I’d like the same in restaurants — pay for how much of a burger I eat.” Or a glass of wine I drink. Or if I walk out of a movie halfway through, I only want to pay half the bill. Or better, yet, hell, just give me all my money back.

Yes, it’s true that writers can “opt out” of the Kindle Select program, and frankly, it’s not that great a deal anyway since you’re essentially getting pennies so that someone can read it for free. But it sets a terrifying precedent to a future in which writers are mere commodities in the same way that education has become a commodity, valued only for what it can produce for in a free market.

I used to think that I wanted to live forever, but now I just want to die before it all goes to hell and writers will be mere content producers, not the scribes of an age.

The Quantified Self as a Writer

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Using Scrivener at Starbucks.

Using Scrivener at Starbucks.

I’ve been a dedicated follower of the sci-fi writer (and software developer by day) Jamie Todd Rubin, ever since I read one of the blog posts extolling the virtues of going paperless. He’s an Evernote Ambassador (apparently an unpaid honor that entitles Rubin to a free Business plan and an audience of Evernote fans to tap into to promote his own writing), and as a productivity devotee and Evernote user myself, it didn’t take long for his name to pop into my consciousness.

Rubin’s in the middle of a massive writing streak. Massive, as in, he’s been writing at least once a day for nearly 700 consecutive days. He hasn’t missed a day since July 21, 2013.

Rubin doesn’t have a word count goal, nor is he aiming for a specific number of pages per day. Rather, he simply squeezes in as much time as he can in his very busy days to get some writing done, whether it’s a couple hundred words a day or 1,500. Since he launched his writing streak, though, he’s discovered that the more he writes, the more efficient he’s become, the better his writing, and the easier (relatively speaking) the writing gets. Writing is never easy, of course (not to me, anyway), but like with anything else, as Rubin has demonstrated, you do get better at something the more you do it. It doesn’t matter how little talent you have to begin with (and Rubin is clearly talented) – if you keep at something and persevere, you will get results. You may never find yourself playing solo at Carnegie Hall someday, but if you push yourself to practice the piano every single day for years on end, you will improve.

It’s a discipline I’m working on now as I hit my mid-forties. I dreamt once of finishing a novel by the time I actually reached 40, but clearly that’s well behind me. Still, the big war novel is begging to be completed – I left my protagonist stranded in steamy Singapore, waiting to learn of his fate, wondering where the Girl is and if she’s still alive. I’ve several bookshelves groaning under the weight of dozens of World War II novels, biographies, and histories. I think this book, this story – even if it’s fiction – belongs up there, too.

Rubin uses a script he created (did I mention that he’s a software developer?) to automatically tally up his word count every evening. He writes directly into Google Docs so that he doesn’t have to mess with learning a new program like Scrivener, which is beautiful to use and packed with features, but which does have a bit of a learning curve. As a quantified writer who likes to track not only his writing output but also his sleep and his fitness milestones and probably his diet, too, Rubin doesn’t want to waste time that he already has so little of on something not directly related to the act of writing itself. There’s something to that. I’m surrounded by at least 5 dogs nearly every day, have a full-time job that demands a huge chunk of my mental processing power, a husband with his own demanding career, and a house that needs occasional upkeep. Once my head hits my pillow each night, I’m usually asleep within five minutes. Every day is a packed day.

As much as I’d love to try out Rubin’s script, I think I’m going to aim for the already-challenging goal of writing 500 words a day. Not 200 or 100 or 50, which is the pitiful low barrier I’ve been hurtling myself over, but something that will actually get me closer to my goal of completing the damn thing. Fifty words is better than zero, but it’s so easy to lose momentum that way. I like to let my hands do the writing and let my brain hang around for the ride. It can make for some interesting detours in the story sometimes (I switched POVs halfway through), but that’s what the editing process is for.