May not be the best writing/work/life philosophy for everyone, but it's definitely a damn close match for me.
Tom Pollock: Writing Around A Day Job And now, a guest post by a really amazing author: Tom Pollock. Tom wanted to talk about how he maintains both a writing career and a day job at the same time, and that felt like a very useful persp…
A Softer World: 1091 emily. Look, just do what the nice man says, OK? That way nobody gets hurt (unless they want to be). joey. The We Are Become Pals book is here! You can buy it right now, for $16 in hardcover! It is a book that feels nice to read, and feels nice to hold in your hand. In hardcover it makes the …
– What is your character's longing (what do they want or need)? – What is your character's wound? – What is your character's belief about himself? – What is your character's fear? – What is your character's identity? – What is your character's true essence?
I purposefully set up the Hidden Things kickstarter project with a fairly short fundraising timeframe. For one thing, publicity ‘stuff’ is a kind of exhausting, and I want to keep the energy level high throughout the project, so short and sweet is the order of the day.
Which brings me to the first stretch goal.
Little Things short story collection– text and audio: Do you miss Calliope? What about Vikous? Ever wanted to take a Dragon bowling? ME TOO. Little Things will be a 50+ page collection of short and short-short stories set in the Hidden Things world, packaged with the audiobook, read by the author. Unlocked at $1450.
I’m happy to have the chance to talk about this for two reasons. First, it means we’ve already hit the main project’s funding goal, so Yay! Second, it’s something that just seems like a ton of fun to me.
So fun, in fact, that I’ve already started writing some of the stories that will go into the collection. Some. I can’t write them all, right now – at least one of them will involve input from a backer, and I haven’t asked them what they want, yet – but I thought you might like to see a partial … list of ingredients — the stuff I’ve thrown in the mixing bowl, so far.
A very special photo booth.
Broken bones – the small ones, in your feet.
A tack hammer.
Someone who doesn’t need clown makeup.
The world’s second largest ball of twine.
… and a Dragon. Of course.
I’m not sure I should say more. These are short stories after all: give away too much, and you’re already at the end.
I will say this: I am having an absolute blast writing them, and I really hope I get a chance to share them with you as part of this project.
Here’s what needs to happen.
Right now, we’re roughly $200 shy of this stretch goal. There are lots of ways to get there, and we have fifteen days to do it. I think there’s an excellent chance it can happen… if I get some help from all of you – if you meet someone who would love this project and tell them about it.
Think of these poor stories, these Little Things, suck in limbo.
I mean, I’m not saying I’m holding them hostage. I’m not evil.
But, in the coming months, I’m going to need to focus on this project, and if these stories don’t end up as part of the project, they’re going to have to wait awhile. No one will be more bummed about that than me.
But I don’t think that’s going to happen. I think we can hit this stretch goal.
We can make the world of Hidden Things a little bigger.
I’m excited about this! I’ve got another book review up at themittani.com. This one’s on Old Man’s War, which I went years without reading despite (or maybe because of) the great reviews. It took meeting John at a mutual book signing to get me to take the plunge.
But that’s not why I’m excited about sharing it. Every time I write a review, I get a pile of great book suggestions from readers, and I’m looking forward to more. Greedy? Maybe. Don’t care. :)
The mental image you have of artistic genius as flowing from an individual wellspring of inspiration is false, or at least incomplete. Something I knew about vaguely but hadn’t thought much about until recently […] was how artists in different creative mediums – writers, painters, sculptors, photographers – mixed socially and activated each other creatively in the art scene in Paris in the 20’s and 30’s. And then I went way down the rabbit hole reading about it. Paul Eluard, Man Ray, Picasso, Hemingway, Anaïs Nin, Henry Miller, and on and on. Eluard writes poems to his second wife Nusch, and Man Ray photographs her and they publish a book that’s the result of the three of them activating the artistry in each other.
[…] in the social media age [this is] actually painfully hard to find. It shouldn’t be. You can find it across creative mediums, not just with artists in your chosen creative medium. And artists are starving for it.
There isn’t a point he makes that I can’t see some real value in, and I urge you to check it out.
So yesterday’s post got picked up on Reddit, where a great conversation started up (say what you will about Reddit, it’s excellent for that). In that thread, someone asked:
For someone self-publishing, is there a contact or an organization that would be a good entry point for getting books into libraries? I’d much rather gift my book to any library that wanted it, than hope for the few with the budget to spare would allocate some to a new, independent author.
In fact, it’s possible that I made fun of the different (and contradictory) advice out there on “finding your voice” — it certainly sounds like something I’d do.
Obviously, the logical follow-up to that post should be my own advice on how to find your voice.
See, while I don’t think voice can be taught, I do think it can be trained in the same way a singer’s voice can be trained: with exercises, drills, and most of all lots and lots of writing. However, while training is good, you really have to have a pretty clear picture of what kind of voice you have before you get started — it’s not much good to simply decide “I’m a soprano” and proceed to train yourself accordingly.
So… yeah, you have to find your voice.
But how’s that going to work? All joking aside, I’m pretty sure those bits of advice I mentioned in the last post are pretty useless, but neither am I satisfied with “just keep writing and it’ll sort itself out.”
Luckily, my granddad provides a solution.
Your Dominant Eye
There are certain qualities each of us possess. To sum it up in highly technical terms, it’s just how we’re wired. Fear of heights. A fascination with the structure of feathers. Maybe you don’t like pickles, or the consistency of cooked fruit. Ticklish feet. Whatever.
One of the most obvious of these qualities is left- or right-handedness, but for some people it’s equally important to know your dominant eye; it’s the sort of thing that matters when using firearms, shooting pool, or taking pictures. Also, you can’t assume your dominant eye is going to be on the same side of your body as your dominant hand — mine isn’t.
Luckily, it’s pretty simple to figure out which eye is the dominant one. My grandfather (who taught firearms safety courses for several decades) led me through the exercise when I was fairly young — maybe five or six — and spent the next five years or so arguing with my dad about it. (Dad was pretty sure my granddad had tricked me into thinking I was left-eye dominant just out of sheer orneriness. To be fair, that is exactly the sort of thing the men in my family would think is funny.)
One of the things I’ve always loved about this test is that it’s automatic — the subject doesn’t have to think, they just have to do, and the results present themselves without bias. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was some kind of dominant eye test for finding your voice?
I don’t know if this is exactly the same thing as a dominant eye test for a writer’s voice, but it’s still pretty good. Stefon Mears hit us with a neat little “Status Check” writing exercise a few weeks ago — as a general rule, I don’t like writing prompts in any format, but I liked what I got out of this one, and asked his permission to share it. Goes like this:
First, a writing prompt: someone was killed in this room on New Year’s Eve. Write about that for five minutes. Go!
Do not read further until you’ve finished writing.
Seriously: Do the writing thing first, because reading the next part will permanently ruin the exercise for you. You get one shot at this. Don’t be lazy.
Really all done?
Look over what you’ve written, not in terms of what story the exercise might produce but in terms of the writing choices you made:
Did you write about the killing itself, events leading up to it, or the aftermath?
Did you devote more focus to character or plot?
What kind of conflict did you choose? Did you include more than one?
Did you write more dialog or narrative?
Point of View – is it 1st person? 3rd? Close or distant? Omniscient, limited omniscient, subjective, objective? Does the viewpoint stay with one character or shift to others?
Those are only a few examples. You can examine the work in terms of any craft tool or story choice you want. The key is to notice those choices, and realize which were conscious and which were automatic.
Emphasis (and some paraphrasing) mine.
As I said in the first post, voice isn’t point of view choices, or tense, or a preferences toward dialogue over narrative — not exactly. But it might contain those things, because “Voice” is a terrible, sloppy, catch-all, nest-stealing bluejay kind of term that encompasses whatever we need it to encompass at that moment, and looking at the stuff we do when we’re writing instinctively can be helpful when we’re trying to figure out what our voice actually sounds like.
It’s not perfect and simple, the way that dominant eye test is, but it helps.
Spontaneous writing under time pressure can give us a snapshot of where we are as writers, not in terms of development, but in terms of choices. Every writer develops habits, and while many habits may play to our strengths, they limit the scope of our options. As writers, we owe it to ourselves to discover our habits and choose which we keep.
Good stuff, and I want to thank Stefon again for letting me use the exercise to illustrate the idea of a “voice test”.
There is one problem, though.
The thing is, the dominant eye test and others things like it work better (especially with younger kids) if the subject doesn’t know why they’re doing it. Foreknowledge can lead to skewed results. This is quintuply true for any writing exercise like the one above: now that you know what you’re going to be looking for after you’re done, you’ve tainted the results; the whole point is to do it without thinking about the choices we’re making. (River warned us about spoilers.)
But this is not a complete loss.
Go back and pull out a bunch of different first drafts and look them over, asking the same questions as the exercise above, and you can start to see the recurring patterns.
Once you see those patterns, decide what bits you like and get better at them — work on it in your writing, pursue it in your reading, whatever.
Decide what bits you don’t like and… you know… stop doing that.
You can’t teach voice, I said, and I believe it. But you can find it, and you can train it, and I think maybe that’s how.