No NaNoWriMo for Me: Instead, It’s JaNoWriMo 2021

November looms yet again, when writers everywhere try to cram 50,000 words into one month!

I am not participating in NaNoWriMo this year. I have a project (Book 3 of the Tunerville trilogy), I’m outlining it, and I even started a rough storyboard for the book trailer. What I don’t have is time.

As you know, I’ve been job hunting for an excruciatingly long period. I still haven’t been hired anywhere, but the state of Missouri did recently offer free CompTIA IT training to workers displaced by COVID-19. I qualified for this due to being a long-term unemployed person whose job hunt was completely derailed by the pandemic.

I’m glad SOMEBODY’S having fun.

Image by Alexandra_Koch from Pixabay / captions Elizabeth West

So now I’m preparing for the Project+ certification exam. I can’t write a book and do that simultaneously. However, this should bode well for the future. Not only will I have a certification to add to job applications, but I’m boosting the rudimentary project management experience I obtained at my last job.

Confluence is with my editor. Deadline: Thanksgiving. Although I doubt we’ll have any guests this year, I need to be ready to hit those revisions in December. I hope to have most of this study and maybe even the exam knocked down by then.

I promised you I would finish the trilogy, and I will. With that in mind, I’m launching my own personal, month-long writing challenge in January, which I will call JaNoWriMo!

Note: this is not an official thing, so don’t go looking for it online (edit: whoops, somebody did it!). It’s just me adapting to a crazy situation and the tendency for the Universe to make me sit here for months and then pile it all on at once.

“I only f*ck with you because I love you.” – Universe, probably

Image by Fine Mayer from Pixabay

I doubt I’ll finish in one month, especially if I find employment by then (sooner, please, so I don’t have to move during the coldest, wettest time of the year). Someone could even offer me a job out of state, since remote work is now a legitimate way to start. If so, cross your fingers that this hypothetical company happens to be in the increasingly narrow list of areas where I’d actually want to live.

Weekly updates for JaNoWriMo might work better. I’ll also pop a word count meter up on the blog so you can see how it’s going.

As of this writing, we have no clue who will win the 2020 U.S. election, what will happen in the aftermath, or whether we’ll even have democracy by January. All we know is that it will probably be very unsettled and chaotic for a while. I feel for anyone doing NaNoWriMo this year; the added stress is sure to derail you, but don’t give up. The whole point is to get you working.

Artists and writers are scribes of history, whether or not they include actual events in their work. So keep creating. Keep doing the thing you love. It will get you through these dark times. It will help others who need a breather, or an escape. Your voice is important.

See you soon!

Pandemic Brain and Last Day for a Free Book

If you are reading this on Labor Day, you can get the Kindle edition of The Shiny Folk and other stories for free, through midnight 9/7/2020.

Y’all, I have seriously neglected you, and I’m sorry.

I have pandemic brain. Yes, you understand it. We’re all suffering from it. Time has no meaning. Days blend into one another. If you’re working, you’re either stressed from worrying about contagion or stressed from navigating your job at home, maybe around family members also working from home, kids, pets, etc.

If you’re not working, as I Still! Am! Not!, you’re stressed from that.

FOR THE LAST TIME, DEXTER, MY COMPUTER MOUSE IS NOT A CAT TOY!

Image by Robin Higgins from Pixabay

Last post, I mentioned I was going to republish a third and final edition of The Shiny Folk and other stories at Amazon. You can read my explanation for that move at Boomkaart Books’ Media page. Honestly, I wish I didn’t have to distribute there, but IngramSpark is too expensive. It costs me nothing to publish with KDP, even for print-on-demand. Of course, that’s by design; Jeff “Greed Dragon” Bezos makes money off me, though God knows I’m not making very much. If it’s free for you, then you’re the product.

Again, sorry my pandemic brain forgot to come over here and tell you I’d launched it, and about the free book promotion.

I’m extremely happy with the new book cover, however. I think it turned out great. It’s miles better than the last one.

This is the paperback cover. I just now noticed it’s basically the same layout as the Tunerville cover. Apparently, I can only learn one thing at a time.

I added a couple of stories—one from this blog, one I published previously in a now-defunct literary journal (that I’d put on the blog), and one brand new story, “MathLex.” If you’ve been following me for a while, you know how difficult math is for me, so guess where that one came from? The cover is black because a couple of the stories fall into the horror genre, particularly “Jack and the Bean Sprout,” which I’ve never been able to sell since it’s straight-up disturbing.

Have I been writing more stories? Well, yes and no. Short fiction isn’t my favorite medium; although I like reading it, I’m not so fond of writing it. “MathLex” is new. I started a promising work about werewolves, but honestly, I don’t have the bandwidth for it right now, between revising Confluence and job hunting.

I said January 2021 for the release of Confluence; I may have to push it out a little depending on the timing of editorial feedback. Once it’s out, I can write the final book in the trilogy—it’s all laid out in my head, and I’m toying with the idea of writing it during this year’s NaNoWriMo.

The Catalyst is on hold for now, although it’s completely outlined. I’m not worried about that one. I just don’t want to pull a George R. R. Martin or Patrick Rothfuss on y’all, or leave you with an unfinished trilogy if I should get the ‘Rona or my head explodes from all the stress.

He only teases you because he loves you.

By Henry Söderlund – Pre-Hugo Portraiture is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. CC BY 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

I tend to work better if I have something to work around. Like a job.

And may I just say that if a person goes to all the trouble to prepare for an interview, i.e. looking up the company website and info, setting up a nice space, dressing up, logging into Zoom, etc. etc., they at least deserve a rejection email. If you ghost me, you go on my shit list. FOREVER. And no, an email a month after the date you told me you wanted someone to start doesn’t count.

In the meantime, I’d better get back to it. There is no rest for the self-employed, and that includes writers, who don’t get paid until we actually finish the work. In between bouts of app-centered self care, that is.

And pondering whether Happy Color’s Marvel coloring books are actually worth $2.99 each, or in-app purchases are for suckers.

Updates on Book 2 and Other Assorted Nonsense

How’s it going, y’all?

I hope everyone is safe, and your families too. A lot’s happened since I last posted. Well, in the world; not for me. Still no job; still a basement dweller.

It would help if it were full of wine.

Image by Tania Dimas from Pixabay

Some updates:

Screenplay

The screenplay continues to grind along very slowly. I don’t think a massive online open course where people can proceed at their own pace (i.e. fall behind) is best for beginners learning a very interactive writing process. There are so many people in the class that no one can connect. The platform doesn’t allow you to follow anyone to see their progress. This is massively frustrating, since we’re required to give feedback to other writers. I would have preferred an in-person class with more interaction.

Even Zoom would help.

Image by Jagrit Parajuli from Pixabay

Critique is useful, but I’m tempted to just proceed on my own. I downloaded all the videos and lectures. Although I think it could be shot on a fairly low budget, I highly doubt I’ll ever do anything with it. It’s fine; this screenplay is only for learning anyway. Your first anything will never be your best.

Book 2

I’ve set a release date of January 2021 for Book 2. And — I have a working title! It’s Confluence.

If I hustle, I should be able to revise and find an editor (and then revise again after that). Setting a deadline will hold me accountable. I really wish I could go somewhere else to work — the library would be good — but Missouri’s caseload keeps going up, so no.

I’m in your state, being a little bitch.

Image by Pabitra Kaity from Pixabay

Meanwhile, I took some time yesterday to mock up a layout of Chris’s house from Tunerville, where his maternal grandparents lived. When they died, his mother sold the house to him to keep it in the family, since Chris intended to stay in Martinsburg. Paulette and Alan moved to St. Thomas close to Chris’s brother Adam, his wife Carmen, and their grandchildren Mags and Henry. (Martinsburg and St. Thomas in Missouri are both fictional.) If you haven’t read it yet, you can get it at the title link.

Here’s the ground floor and the basement.

Image: A. Elizabeth West

Here’s the upstairs and the attic. I did these in Word, which sucks. I need to find some cheap (or free) easy-to-use room layout software.

Image: A. Elizabeth West

It helps me to have a representation of the space. When I’m writing, rooms tend to shift around in my head. During Book 1, the living room kept changing places with the dining room and the parlor / study. And the downstairs bath didn’t even exist! Chris’s bedroom also moved from the back to the front. But the kitchen has always been in that spot.

I don’t care if it’s not perfect. This is how it looks in my head. I need a solid image of the space for a pivotal scene.  

Workshops

In June, I attended two online workshops — How to Write Fights and Action Scenes, and Act Like a Writer — with comic book and NYT best-selling novel writer Jonathan Maberry, author of V-Wars and the Joe Ledger series, among others.

He presented scads of useful information and even took questions. Jonathan is very accessible on Twitter and prices his workshops affordably, a great help to little starveling writers like me. The proceeds from both went to an affordable housing organization, so coughing up $50 felt worth it in every way.

The Shiny Folk and other stories

I’ve taken my story collection down from the Boomkaart Books website temporarily. WordPress downgraded my ability to sell it directly from that platform unless I purchase an expensive Business account. I can’t do that presently, so the only alternative is to sell it via Amazon (ugh, I know). To do that, I have to raise the price a little and burn one of my ISBN numbers, so I’m including new content and a brand new cover. This will be the last edition of the collection. When it’s ready, I will let you know.

Conlang / Worldbuilding

Again, plugging away. I finally settled on place names for the world that goes with it. Of course, anything can change at any time as I plunge deeper into grammar, etc.

I also made a map using Inkarnate, an online map maker any Dungeons and Dragons players reading this will probably recognize. I like it despite the free version being somewhat limited. Should I stay on the high fantasy kick, I might pony up for a (very reasonable) Pro account.

Here’s a teaser:

That’s pronounced BETTHH-rah, by the way. In this language, ss is pronounced as the th in them. That’s all you’re getting. I’ve already said more than I probably should.

I’ve never gone this deep into fantasy before, and I’m not sure it will be a success, but it’s fun, so I don’t really care. If you enjoy the story, that’s all that counts.

I’ll leave you now to return to job hunting and revision. Stay safe — wash your hands, wear your masks, and avoid all the germy people (most of them).

And don’t forget to register to vote!

Why It’s So Hard to Create During a Lockdown

Creative people often work in solitude, and they need time to work. So why can’t I work?

You don’t have to be creative to relate, especially right now. Productivity waxes and wanes. At any given time, some or all of the following have been in play.

Stress from being unemployed

Long-term unemployment is not the same as a vacation or a sabbatical. Not having an income involves a lot of stressful emotions — worry about bills, despair that one will never work again, a sense of inadequacy at the lack of response to your efforts.

Before mine, which predated the pandemic, I lamented the lack of time in which to write. If only I could do it full time, I thought, I’d have so much more content out there.

Now, the time I have to write is filled with job applications, scouring pages of listings, seeking just the turns of phrase to make a potential employer realize that failing in a job no longer suitable for me did not make me a failure. That being unemployed did not make me unemployable.

advice on writing a cover letter--briefly inhabit the persona of a high elf who thinks they are hot shit and cannot imagine why any of their experience would be less than impressive
This is GREAT advice, tbh.

Too much unstructured time

At first, productivity remained untouched. I restructured one novel and wrote another. I published a short story collection. I started making a conlang. I dipped back into my blog.

But I soon discovered that limits on my creativity actually hone my concentration. If I had an hour to write, say at lunch, my brain knew it had to make the best use of that hour. Too much time can be as bad as not enough. In short, I’ve become so used to working around other things that when I have no things to work around, it’s harder to work.

Professional artists treat their art as a job, with dedication, discipline, and determination. After all, talent means nothing if you do nothing. Schedules are important. Having little to do all day can really mess with your sense of time.

Venn diagram - one circle is time, one is writing, and at their intersection, it says  eating all the things

Lack of privacy

As if that weren’t bad enough, we’re now tentatively emerging (too early, IMO) from a nationwide lockdown due to the novel coronavirus, perhaps the first of many. Countless workers have lost their jobs. Others are able to telecommute but find their productivity lacking. To buckle down when other members of the household demand your attention or ignore the presence of another person toiling in close proximity requires mental effort most people aren’t used to.

I can relate to this; in my own house, I was alone. Now I’m in someone else’s space. Their constant footfalls, muffled phone conversations, and occasional forays into the space they carved out for me are distracting as hell.

Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd as portrayed by Helena Bonham Carter, leaning over a table and looking up
And we don’t even have a barber shop in here to generate a little extra inventory—I mean, income.

Physical discomfort

Basements tend toward chilly no matter the weather outside. My hands are constantly stiff, the fingers icy. The drugstore hand/wrist supports I use when typing for long stretches of time don’t help. Thanks to the virus, any other working space, such as a library or coffee shop (noisy and distracting themselves) are off-limits.

Also, it’s dark in here. A bright space tends to feel warmer, the sunlight pouring in and warming not only the room but the mind. Windows or not, it seems perpetually dreary compared to my old city.

The cure will undoubtedly involve more exercise when parks feel safe again. It’s very unpleasant to walk in the neighborhood, plus it keeps raining. If nothing else, I can get on the floor and stretch.

orange and white cat lying upside down on a stone patio stretching its front legs, mouth wide open in a yawn
Perhaps not as cutely as this, but the facial expression will be the same.

Image by s02cf8 from Pixabay

Mental discomfort

I don’t want to be here. I didn’t want to be in my old city either, but I especially don’t want to be here.

If I’d found a job that was (heavy air quotes) “good enough,” I might have stayed a bit longer. (I definitely would have if I’d known the ‘rona was coming.) I had friends, a spiritual group of like-minded practitioners, personal service providers I respected and liked, and a sense of community even as I despised the limitations of that community:

  • Depreciating job market — low pay, little growth, few means to escape
  • Cultural isolation — lack of diversity, a dearth of entertainment options
  • Bigoted politics and an evangelical religious majority (the less said about this, the better)
gif of Admiral Ackbar from Star Wars saying "It's a trap!"
The Admiral said it best.

I want to leave the state entirely. The weather can be extreme and often violent. The economy here is depressed thanks to years of conservative rule. Salaries are below average.

It’s no wonder writing is tough right now.

What’s a writer to do? One thing that can really help is to pivot your creativity. Exercise that muscle, but in a different way.

Make something. I did make a wicked new book trailer for Tunerville, however. Huge thanks to my friend John Hutch for the excellent voiceover. He did a fantastic job (and yes, I did pay him). That took a whole different set of skills.

I’ve also been making masks for the family from an Instructable. I’m getting good at them; I can whack one out in an hour. Sewing sucks, but now that it’s mostly an automatic process, I can let my mind wander while I stitch.

Try a different kind of writing. I’m taking a screenplay class. I’m writing a screenplay! I have software! The same kind Rian Johnson uses!

Read something. Not only does reading rest your mind, but it can inspire you, especially if you’re stuck. Or watch a movie. Pay attention to the storytelling, or just relax.

By the way, writing a screenplay is TOTALLY DIFFERENT from writing a novel. It deserves its own post. I really wish I had my own space; I like to exercise my dialogue out loud (even for prose), and I can’t comfortably do that here.

Regardless, it’s not time to give up yet. I will find a job, have a place of my own again, and Book 2 will come out. I’m not giving up.

Aileen Quinn as the title character in the musical Annie, singing "The Sun'll Come Out Tomorrow"

Shut the f**k up, kid. I’m workin’ here!

Check out the new book trailer here.


‘Rona Is a Huge Bitch

QUARANTINE SPECIAL!

Through April 30, “The Shiny Folk and other stories” is absolutely FREE! You can download it here.


Hello, all you lovely fellow quarantiners. My golly gosh, we’re in a little bit of a jam, aren’t we? Well, let’s just make the best of thin—

Nah, this sucks.

At least there are tons of memes coming out of this. The internet does not disappoint.

As you know, I’ve been job hunting, but thanks to that bitch ‘Rona, everything’s on hold. There are jobs listed, but larger companies have posts that have been up for at least a month. I figure they’re in a hiring freeze right now. One employer for whom I did a pre-employment assessment contacted me three weeks ago and said they decided to delay hiring. They’re not the only ones, I’m sure.

The rest are roles like scientist, electrical engineer, supply chain manager with ten years’ experience, that sort of thing. I keep looking and applying. The governor just extended this state’s stay-at-home order to May 3. I was really hoping to be employed and in my own place before my birthday at the end of May. Then I can stock up properly for the next emergency.

All I want is my fair share.

Image by Mylene2401 from Pixabay

I’ve been trying to stay productive even though I’m not working. So I’ve done the following:

  • Made a new book trailer for Tunerville, as the first one was super dumb
  • Hired a voiceover actor for the trailer
  • Started a screenwriting class on Coursera (meh)
  • Wrote a treatment for said screenplay
  • About to dive into the restructure of Book 2
  • Planning a serial fiction project; not sure how or when that will come out

We shall see. I’m very lucky I have a place to stay, although I really want to get out of here.

Personally, I’ve been staying home and bingewatching Dark Shadows on Hulu. I hope they don’t ditch it; I’m almost caught up to where I left off when it vanished from Netflix. I’m also having a lot of fun with screenshots.

Barnabas, you done screwed up.

And Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I’d forgotten how funny this show is, and how heartbreaking.

I’m off for TV time now. Stay safe, follow social distancing rules, and don’t forget to take time for self-care. And don’t forget to wash your hands!

NaNoWriMo 2019: Going Dark

This isn’t working, folks. Not the book, but blogging the process. I keep thinking about what I’m going to say here rather than there. I’ve barely begun and already it’s tanking my concentration.

The story is a bit more complicated, and it’s a new genre for me. So for now, I think I need to go dark on blogging about it. That does NOT mean I won’t pop in here to let you know how it’s going, or if I wrestle a writing-related bear and want to discuss it. Or if anything else happens.

It’s been a few days now since the big move. I feel much better than before. The brain fog was real, and the extra pressure of word counts did not help at all. I didn’t just move; I upheaved my entire life.

I don’t know if doing this will be very very good, or very very bad, but it had to be done. Trying something new is scary.

Kinda feels like this, with no net.

Image by WikimediaImages from Pixabay

So NaNoWriMo 2019 is done, and I’m just gonna write. See ya later.

NaNoWriMo 2019: Harry Potter and the Writer Who Tried to Do Too Much

It’s NaNoWriMo time again, campers!

Yes, I’m taking a stab at it. This year, it’s going to be a bit harder, as I have a LOT going on.

What’s Going On?

I’m moving

Hallelujah, I’m finally getting out of the town I’ve been stuck in for-fricking-ever. I’ve been job hunting forever, and there is no growth here. Plus, I’ve priced myself out of the small market. So what I need is a bigger market.

My crappy house has sold, and I’ll be able to move anywhere, though it will probably have to be within Nearby BiggerCity for now. I don’t really want to be there, either. However, the universe has been throwing favorable signs at me, and I’ve thrown a bucket of wishes at it, so we’ll see.

Since I won’t make enough profit to move somewhere cool and then get a job, I will be the literal nerd in her mother’s basement. It’s just temporary, however, until I find something. If I find work out of state, Oliver and I can just tootle away. I can come back for my stored stuff later.

Small silver four door car under a big tree
My little tootlin’ buddy. Hopefully not my future home.

Photo: Elizabeth West

Closing is November 7 and I have to move 200 miles and two locations away before then, so this is going to take some organization.

I’m packing

Since I’ve no clue where I’m going to end up or what I’ll need, the new homeowner, a younger person starting out whose grandparents are buying the house for him (aww), is purchasing some of my furniture. I’ve sold a lot of the rest on Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist. Only a few things are going with me; the rest will be in storage.

Yes, I’ll have to move twice, unless something happens between now and then. The next two weeks will be key. It’s a little difficult to pack while you’re still actually using the things you need to pack.

I submitted Tunerville to Pitch Wars

This may not even happen, but if I’m chosen as a mentee, I will be revising one book at the same time I’m writing another. Gah!

There’s a new idea floating around in my head, though I might actually write Book 3 just to get it out and done. If nothing comes of Pitch Wars, then I can take my time with the conlang and revision of Books 2 and 3. It’s possible to publish earlier works later after you’ve broken through (please, universe, let me break through).  

I’m still job hunting

The less said about this, the better.

an iPad with a job application on it
Please let me give you all my private information so you can ignore me and send a rejection six months later! I love that!

Image by Gerd Altmann at Pixabay

NaNoWriMo Prep

Several tasks remain before I’m ready to dive into this year’s project.

An outline

Book 3 is already outlined in my head and has plenty of notes. New Idea is currently nothing but a blurb I wrote while practicing query letters. Regardless of which I choose, I should at least hit the high points to keep myself on track.

Music to write by

Last year’s Writing Music playlist will suffice. If I make a new one, I’ll share. I still have loads of albums to pick from.

A routine

I don’t mean a schedule, but the way I prepare and how I get into each session. Since I’m trying to cultivate a better writing habit, I’ve spent some time thinking about what works best for me.

  • Sitting in one place at basically the same time of day (usually evening, especially if I’m working)
  • Reading a little where I left off (this only works if I’m writing from start to finish, which, as you know, I don’t always do)
  • Throat-clearing

I want to talk about that last one. Sometimes, when you sit down to write, it’s hard to get started. Long ago, when I was stuck once, I did an email workshop called Daily Writes, created by Shery Arrieta Russ. I discovered that it helped to free-write for a few minutes about what I intended to accomplish that day. After finishing the workshop, I kept the habit as a way to unblock myself when I couldn’t seem to get started. All the blah-de-blah can be deleted later and doesn’t affect my word count.

I don’t expect to get all the way through Book 3 (or whatever) in November, but last year, I finished Book 2 the following month. Since I’ll be in a new city with no money (until I find a job) and no life, I reckon I’ll have lots of time.

Read more about NaNoWriMo:

A First Timer’s Guide to Prepping for NaNoWriMo | NY Book Editors

The Pitfalls of NaNoWriMo | LitReactor

NaNoWriMo 2019: How to FINALLY Write Your 30-Day Novel | reedsy blog

NaNoWriMo 2018 Day 14: Harry Potter and the Amazingly Shitty Day

Thank the universe I’m still on track; I only managed around 710 words today. I’m not sure I trust this counter, either. Feels like it should be more. Oh well. 

Started the day by forgetting to set the alarm and oversleeping. The neighbor’s carer has been bringing her dogs to work, but they didn’t bark like apocalyptic car alarms this morning, thus letting me stay in bed far longer than I wanted to. How dare they.

Then, a job rejection. After which I went on Twitter, which actually made me feel worse, because stupid people, oh my damn. 

I wanted to take a walk because I haven’t done it for days, but it started to drizzle. I have cold weather gear but no wet gear so that killed that. 

Sat down to write and mentally felt like this little constipated cloud from the Rocko’s Modern Life Christmas special. 

Image: Nickelodeon / Christmas Special Reviews

Now there’s a mysterious pain in my back and I might be getting a migraine, yay. I already gave my protagonist one; it’s only fitting. 

Still, I got some writing done. It’s frustrating when it doesn’t just slide smoothly out of your head onto the page, but that’s the nature of this beast. Sometimes it bounds out happily to meet you and sometimes you have to drag it along. 

What a good bad boi. <3

If you’d like to help victims of the California wildfires, this Slate article has some advice on donating, including links. 

How to Get Past the Feeling That Your Writing Sucks

I started re-reading IT and I’m in despair over how poor my writing is in comparison to Stephen King’s. I know I shouldn’t do that; IT was his thirteenth novel and Tunerville is only my fourth, so I don’t have as much practice as he did when he wrote it. But it’s so hard not to, especially now that I can read books and see the mechanics that went into writing them.

Mel Gibson allegedly said about directing, “I can’t watch movies anymore. I can see the strings.”  Yeah, mentally ill or not, Mel kind of sucks, but this quote illustrates very well the phenomenon that happens when you begin to see how your craft actually works.

I feel exactly like that now–I can not only see the elements that make up the whole, I can understand WHY they don’t or do work. It’s akin to watching figure skating before and after I learned to skate.

Tara Lipinski, 1998 Winter Olympics. This is a combination triple loop jump followed by a double loop. Very difficult.

Image: popsugar.com

At the time Lipinski performed this program, her elements made no sense to me. I could not see a jump coming and had no idea what it even was until she did it and the commentator remarked on it. Watching a figure skating program  then was an experience in surprises—stroke stroke BOOM! stroke stroke BOOM!

After fifteen years of skating myself, I can see the jump setup. I notice many more technical details that I didn’t before, such as whether the edge is good, shorted rotations, etc. I can even tell if someone jumping is likely to fall (sometimes they manage to save it when I think they can’t, so I’m not totally accurate). Even if I can’t perform all the elements Lipinski did, I recognize them. I can watch the jump and know with at least some certainty whether the judges will mark it as well executed.

Of course, you don’t have to be a skater to know these things. If you have a keen eye for observation and have been watching for many years, it’s possible to understand and analyze a sport with great accuracy. Many people who enjoy American football have never played it, but they can look at the formation during a game on TV and tell you exactly what’s about to happen. 

Whoop, didn’t see THAT coming! #herpaderp

Image: buzzfeed.com

Doing an activity, however, provides you with a deeper understanding of its execution. That doesn’t make you an expert unless you’ve put in the hours and practice to become one. However, it does give you just enough information to be dangerous…

…to your self-esteem.

Writing is, in its nature, a solitary activity. You must enter the cavern of your mind and search for treasures there, then haul them out and attempt to convey them–and the quest for them–in a way that resonates with the reader, so he or she will buy your work.

But one man’s treasure is another’s trash. And a clumsy attempt at presentation will sell no merchandise. In your solitude, you can lose your objectivity regarding the quality of your presentation. When you run into a master’s-level piece, you may feel your work is just a sad little flea market tchotchke.

We know it’s all too easy to measure ourselves against others, and we shouldn’t. A quote attributed to David B. Schlosser has been going around on the internet lately:

Image: taaonline.netE

Easier said than done when you’re confronted with the exquisite reality of a more seasoned writer’s technique. It’s enough to make you swear off writing. Hell, it’s enough to make you want to quit reading.

Since we are artists and we must create or die, we have to use these moments not as cudgels with which to beat ourselves, but as tools to sharpen our ability. You simply cannot write effectively if you don’t read.

But Elizabeth, you say, reading in an analytical manner spoils the story for me. Yes, it can. However, you will not know if the jump is good unless you watch it. I “headit” when I’m reading, and yes, it can spoil a poorly executed story–all my attention is on how I would fix this sentence or that phrase or what was this idiot thinking that is not how a semi-colon works.

But I can still pick up books and lose myself completely before I remember I’m actually reading and not crawling around inside another person’s head in a land far, far away.  A skilled writer can employ these techniques so well that a reader will remain unaware of them.

Book’s so good the kid doesn’t even notice he’s stuck in a damn attic all night.

Image: dvdactive.com

Pay attention to the techniques you see–do they work? Why? Why not? If you’ve read the book before and you don’t remember how the author used them, go back and read it again. This time, watch and learn.

Sometimes we can’t see what isn’t working. We’re too close. In that case, we can put our work in front of another person’s eyes. Beta readers and writing groups can provide helpful feedback.

If you have the money, consider hiring a professional editor to give you an in-depth analysis. Work can change; it can be improved. Someone with industry experience can help you not only make your story better but in the process, help you become a better writer. 

I decided to pursue professional editing for TunervilleI have little money; this is going to hurt financially, but I’ve reached an impasse. After countless rejections and two with the same critique, it’s time to admit I might need some help.

It feels a bit like I’m sending my baby off to war. Maybe I’ll find I just need more time and more practice before I get there. Maybe this will actually help me get the book published. I will not know until I give it a chance.

Don’t dwell on YOU when you read for analysis or solicit feedback. Think about your WORK and if the techniques you see can help it or not. Your personality and self-esteem are not the focus here. This isn’t therapy; it’s called improving your craft.

If you need help, ask for it. And be nice to yourself. You probably don’t suck as much as you think.

Related:  10 Things Your Freelance Editor Might Not Tell You But Should