Writer-versary

I’ve finally done it. After four years of NaNoWriMo, three years of Writer’s Digest subscriptions, hundreds of hours of ISBW and Writing Excuses podcasts, and untold hours of rewriting, I submitted a story for publication. I sent it to Escape Pod, because that’s my favorite SF podcast and I’d love to hear my story there.

 

Now, as Paul Rink told Steven Pressfield, “Good for you. Start the next one today.”

Prepositions: Addiction or Dependency?

A terrible affliction hampers millions today, yet is virtually unknown. Its victims usually suffer silently, not even aware the malady burdening them is curable. I’m talking about Prepositional Phrase Addiction. PPA affects all races and nationalities, but engineers, scientists, and academics suffer the most. Current research indicates PPA is communicable, usually transmitted through colleges, universities, and laboratories. Preventing PPA is extremely difficult; there is good news: PPA is curable.

Prepositional Phrase Addiction Cure Experts work with editors, literacy experts, and librarians, providing punctuation therapy and preposition aversion training. PPACE programs help thousands of professionals whose communication efforts — their thoughts and ideas — would otherwise fail.

Here is what PPACE did for one former sufferer. This is a typical sentence, written before treatment:

If in the initial testing of the solvent, not all of the “necessary and sufficient” properties are within the acceptance criteria specified in the Test Specification, the Solvent Developer and the cognizant engineer collaborate to come to a closure on a path forward which may include a change of acceptance criteria.

Following treatment, the same person wrote:

In initial solvent testing, some “necessary and sufficient” properties could measure beyond or below the requirements. If so, the Solvent Developer and the cognizant engineer collaborate to resolve the shortfall; such resolution may include changing the acceptance criteria.

Countless working professionals await PPACE programs, many unaware of the suffering their malady causes. Please help.

The Reader Pie is infinitely large

Recently, I found out that the husband of one of my co-workers is getting published in a few weeks. I also learned yesterday that a guy I’ve known for several years has just received his first copies of his book. I didn’t even know he wrote!

So today is the day to beat the jealousy monster with a stick. A big stick. And forget about speaking softly, jealousy needs to get shouted down and insulted until it slinks back out the side door it snuck in through. Other people getting published does not make it less likely that I will get published. The pie chart of readers doesn’t get divided up among all the authors; the pie chart of readers is infinitely large. I have no reason to be jealous of these other guys. Especially since one of them wrote a western and one wrote a biography, while I can’t get much out of my fingers that isn’t SF.

Jealousy eats at you from the inside out, like a diseased tree. I wanted to take that metaphor further, but I’d end up way out in the blackberries somewhere, and diseased blackberry trees just wouldn’t work.

I didn’t win NaNoWriMo this year. Thank goodness!

I participated in NaNoWriMo again this year (this makes twice). I only made it to 30,085 words this time, way short of the 50,000-word finish line. I have all sorts of reasons that I can give for not making it, but it comes down to “didn’t put in enough time” and “didn’t cut loose and just throw down words,” which are probably the two reasons behind most of those who don’t make 50k. But I’m okay with it, and I’m not a fox reaching for grapes, here.

I wrote an awful thing two years ago, with stomach-churning amounts of padding and very little discernible plot. I haven’t looked at it since. Thinking of some of what I put into that still makes me cringe. This year’s effort, though, is almost all actual story. I have characters with background, with arc, and with motivation. I have a protagonist, an antagonist, and a “relationship character” or two. (If the Hollywood Formula is unfamiliar, go back a few episodes of Writing Excuses and check it out.) There are three acts.

In other words, I have taken this story far more seriously. Participating in NaNoWriMo 2009 was to prove to myself that I could write at all; I hadn’t done it since 1990 at the latest, probably earlier. This year, it was to get me to quit worrying about details and getting things “right” and all the other perfectionist excuses and just, as Mighty Mur, says, “shut up and write the damn book.”

So I didn’t make 50,000 words in 30 days, but I did meet my goal. I expect I’ll be doing NaNoWriMo 2012, as well.

The Me-Me-Mo Effect

My youngest is 26 months – two, to you non-parents – and like most of his age group, he has a favorite movie. The current front-runner is Finding Nemo (requested as “me-me-mo”), usually running twice a day.

Letting a two-year-old watch that much video in one day is not an argument I’m getting into; I’m talking about the opportunity watching a movie twelve times a week for a month gives to the writer. I’ve watched the film for one particular character throughout, hypothesizing as to what they’re doing when off-camera (without straying too far into Rosencrantz-and-Guildenstern-Are-Dead territory). I realized that Dr. Sherman (the dentist – y’know, P. Sherman, 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney) took Nemo “off the reef” on a Sunday evening – all the cues are there to be found. I’ve figured out which characters have gills and which breathe like humans.

When a story becomes that familiar, you can focus your attention on real details, sifting it for the fine points. Listen to just the foley work. Watch just the expressions done through eyes. Play what-if with every decision point. Look for plot holes (a rarity in Pixar films, but Nemo has one: how do they get home?). Find the character arcs. Question decisions made, by the characters and by the writer.

Examine the structure of the script. Nemo flips between Marlin and Nemo until the climactic scenes; several of these along the way occur in pairs. One example: a scene that opens with Marlin asleep in the mask, and the descent into the trench and the terror therein, is followed by a scene that opens with Nemo asleep in the diving helmet, and his ascent of Mt. Wannahockaloogie and the test of bravery there.

By dissecting the details once the heart of the story is familiar, we can improve our own storytelling skills. The questions we ask of these other stories can be applied to our own, and they can be sharpened by it.

(By the way, did you ever notice that almost all of Andy’s toys talk, but none of Sid’s toys do? And that Andy plays by making stories wherein the toys talk, but Sid “plays” by talking to his toys?)

Editors are invisible

I’m a working editor; I’m employed by one of the world’s largest engineering & construction companies on a government construction project. I used to work in market research, so I know how important MR surveys are to the companies holding them, and I participate as often as possible.

Never once, in almost twenty years of this habit, has a survey offered me a choice of “occupation” that included the words “editor” or “writer.” Even employee surveys lump the Publications group or department into “other office and administrative services.”

This is a society that made “Eats, Shoots & Leaves” a bestseller, where people can be self-publishers without resorting to a vanity press, when more words are published per day than were published in a year one century ago (a total guess, btw, but I think you’ll agree, a reasonable one). You might think that such a society would respect those who shape and polish words the way a gem cutter facets raw stones. You could expect that people would want their words, flung to the Internet, to show them to be erudite, witty, and touching – all things that require first that the text be free of distracting misspellings, typos, and mispunctuations.

But along with the “revolution” that allows anyone to publish came the hubris that tells people their work is just fine on the first draft. The ease with which anyone can do — well, what I’m doing now, has cheapened it. “Who cares if I misspelled something? It’s only a blog post/Facebook status/Tweet/comment…” Nothing written is “only” anything. The use of a language requires the user to be proficient and capable. Speaking is a natural part of humanity; we learn to talk because our brains are designed to learn languages. Writing is a taught thing. It creates a permanent record of an event and allows information to travel unaltered across miles and through centuries.

It’s also hard to do well.

Editors are, at best, tossed aside when all it takes to publish is an Internet connection, something becoming more common than a public restroom. The worst case is that we become invisible, with little remembrance.

Thanks for your attention while I whined and complained. I have to go back to removing Title Case From Sentences, bringing verbs into agreement with subjects, and checking that the “seven contributing causes” list actually has seven bullets in it.