Showing posts with label Harlan Ellison. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Harlan Ellison. Show all posts

Friday, April 26

Dean Wesley Smith, Harlan Ellison, The Internet, and Writing A Book In 10 Days

Writing A Book In 10 Days

I've been reading Dean Wesley Smith's miniseries of blogs where he publishes a running log of his progress as he writes a 70,000 word book in 10 days.

One draft.

With no outline.

When I first blogged about what Dean was doing I wasn't sure whether I was reading between the lines correctly but he has confirmed, over and over again, that he has no idea where he is going with the story, not even a rough sketch.

For instance Susan asked:
... do you have an end in mind when you start writing? As in, you know you’ll be in San Francisco at the end of your trip, but you don’t know if you’ll take a plane or a camel?
Dean replied:
Suzan, No. Not a clue, no idea, don’t care where it ends up. I’m just writing to entertain myself, just as a reader is entertained by reading a book. Do you, as a reader, need the ending before you start reading? Of course not. Why is everyone so surprised I don’t need it either.

Wow, this is teaching me a lot about some myths I knew existed, just didn’t think were very deep. I was wrong. (grin) I have no idea why anyone would read a book if they already knew everything that was going to happen in the book just as I have clearly little understanding of why any writer writes a book they already know all the details about. I had to do that under contract a couple of times and those were the worst and hardest for me. (Ghost Novel: Day 2, Comments)
Did your jaw hit the floor? Mine did!

Harlan Ellison

I was thinking about Dean's mini-marathon this morning and it hit me. Dean is doing a Harlan Ellison.

In one of Dean's posts, he wrote:
... many of you know that over the decades he [Harlan Ellison] has tried to prove this point* (and many others) to people. He would go into a bookstore, have someone give him a title or idea, then on a manual typewriter, he would sit in the bookstore window and write a short story, taping the finished pages on the window for everyone to read. He never rewrote any of those stories. He fixed a typo or two, but that’s it. And many of those stories won major awards in both science fiction and mystery. All first draft, written fast, in a window while people watched every word.

I know, I was going to publish a three-volume set of these award-winning stories written in public back when I was doing Pulphouse Publishing, but alas, he was still writing them, a new one almost every other week at that point, and the book never got out before we shut down. He’s done enough since then to fill two more books at least.

Every writer is different. I would have a tough time doing what Harlan does, but alas, it does prove the point that rewriting does not necessarily make a story better. And when you win as many awards in science fiction, fantasy, mystery, and mainstream fiction as Harlan has, you can argue with him. But trust me, if you are rewriting everything to death, that will never happen [emphasis mine]. (Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing: Rewriting)
* That one should only rewrite to editorial demand and, even then, only if you agreed with the demand.

That quotation was taken from a post Dean made in 2009. There he writes, "I would have a tough time doing what Harlan does" but I think that's essentially what Dean is doing, ghostwriting a book in 10 days while positing a running log of his efforts.

Instead of onlookers peering through the windows of a bookstore he has us, the denizens of the internet, and instead of a bookstore, he has his blog.

Same idea, different tools.

Heinlein's Rules of Writing

Dean Wesley Smith often refers to Robert A. Heinlein's rules of writing. And with good reason, countless writers have attributed their professional success to them. That said, I'm not suggesting  there are hard-and-fast rules to writing, rules everyone must follow. As with everything, take what works for you, leave the rest.

But perhaps Heinlein's final rule needs to be--not changed--expanded, clarified, for the independent/self-published author. Here are Heinlein's rules:

1. You must write.
2. Finish what you start.
3. You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.
4. You must put your story on the market.
5. You must keep your story on the market until it has sold.

In Heinlein's day putting one's work on the market meant sending it to editors or agents. Today those options are still available but we also have the opportunity to publish our work ourselves. In that light, here are some questions:

- What if the story never sells? Leave it up forever? Wouldn't that be a bit like displaying a black-eye that never healed?

- Should independent authors market their work? If yes, should we wait until we have a certain amount of work on the market--say, 10 books or anthologies--or should we start with the very first one?

I'm sure there are countless other questions. I don't have answers, although I do favor the idea of holding off on expensive or time-consuming marketing efforts until a writer has been able to put a significant amount of their work up for sale.

Of course, each of us is unique and so no set of rules, even rules as wonderful and wise as Heinlein's, fits us all.

Thanks for reading!

Other articles you might like:

- Prada Writing Contest: Winner receives 5,000 Euros
- Getting Story Ideas
- 6 Tips On How To Read Critically

Photo credit: "The Bird Watchers" by psyberartist under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Thursday, April 18

When Is A Story Ready To Publish?

When Is A Story Ready To Publish?

Or, to use Kris Rusch's term, when is a story ready to be released into the wild?"

"Into the wild." I like that phrase. It covers a multitude of events: sending your work off to an editor, a contest, that sort of thing, as well as publishing it yourself.

So, how does one determine when one's story is ready?


I feel some folks would say: "When it's perfect."

Let's say you've given your story to beta readers, your plot points are strong, your characters reactions make sense, there are no unfired guns at the end (Chekhov's Gun), and so on.

I guarantee you there are still going to be parts of your manuscript that could do with polishing.

But nothing's ever perfect. (And perfect for whom?)

The 80-20 Principle

The other day I read an article by Tim Ferriss and he--as he often does--mentioned the 80-20 Principle, that 80% of your benefits come from 20% of your efforts.

For instance ...

Economics: 20% of the world's population earns 80% of the income,

Business: 80% of your profits come from 20% of your customers.

Software optimization: "Microsoft noted that by fixing the top 20% most reported bugs, 80% of the errors and crashes would be eliminated. (Pareto Principle, Wikipedia)"

That got me thinking. Perhaps the 80-20 principle applies to writing as well.

Kris Rusch: No Story Is Ever Perfect

Kris writes:
At every craft workshop I teach, I make at least one writer cry. This week, I’m teaching a short story workshop for professional writers. These are workshop-hardened folk, people who have been eviscerated by the best of them, people who come to my workshops having heard that I make writers cry, expecting me to be the most vicious critiquer of all.

How do I bring writers to tears? Usually by saying this:

I loved this story. It’s wonderful. Mail it.

That’s my entire critique.

Is the story perfect? Of course not. No story is. Not a one. No matter how many times it’s “polished” and “fixed” and “improved.” No one can write a perfect story.

If such a thing existed, then we would all read the same books and enjoy them equally. We would watch the same movies and need reviewers to tell us only which movie is perfect and which one isn’t. We would buy the same comics, again, going only for the comic that is perfect, and ignoring all the others.

Am I telling people to write crap? No. Because the choice isn’t between crap and perfection. Those are false choices. (The Business Rusch: Perfection)
Kris continues:
... I always begin by asking them [my workshop-experienced students] this, “What’s wrong with Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream?”

Well, we’re all raised to believe that Shakespeare is a god who never could do anything wrong. Had he done anything wrong, had his stories been less-than-perfect, we wouldn’t be reading them? Right?


If William Shakespeare—professional writer—had turned A Midsummer Night’s Dream in at a workshop I taught, I would have told him this:

“Bill, lose at least two of your endings. The main story of the play ends in Act IV, Scene 2—and then you go on for two more scenes. All of these endings would work. Pick one.”

Bill Shakespeare, dutiful workshopper that he is, would nod sadly, go back to his room, and delete one of the most favorite and quoted scenes in all of English literature. Puck turns to the audience and says,

If we shadows have offended,

Think but this, and all is mended,

That you have but slumber’d here

While these visions did appear.

I would have said to Bill, “Lovely. Thematically significant. Beautifully written. Lose it. You can do the same thing elsewhere.”

Yeah, right. My harsh words, spoken with authority, and Workshopper Bill’s insecurity would have stolen 400 years of enjoyment from audiences all over the world.

Anything can be critiqued. Criticizing something is easy. It makes the critiquer feel smart, and just a little bit superior to the writer.

But that kind of critique serves no real purpose, because that kind of critique is wrong from the moment the critiquer picks up the story or the manuscript or the 400-year-old play.

Readers read for enjoyment. They vote for what they like with their hard cold cash. (The Business Rusch: Perfection)
In other words, write the story that's in you, finish that story (so hand it to beta-readers and make the changes that resonated with you if that's your process), then send it out.

Besides, you need to know not only what writers think about your work, but what readers do, and the best way of doing that is to send your work out into the wild.

Challenge: leave a link to the last thing you published, whether traditionally or independently. Let's celebrate the stories we've released into the world!

Other articles you might like:

- Owen Egerton's 30 Writing Tips, Inspiration For Your Muse
- 5 Rules For Writing A Murder Mystery: Keeping the Murderer Secret Until The End
- What Slush Pile Readers Look For In A Story

Photo credit: "Fly away" by martinak15 under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Saturday, September 17

Harlan Ellison: Writers Need To Be Paid

When I read this blog post -- Un-Screwing The Writer -- I immediately thought of Dean Wesley Smith. Those of you who follow Dean's blog know why.

The video is short (3 mins or so) and eye-opening. It is of sci-fi legend Harlan Ellison ranting about the assumption that writers don't need to be paid for their work. I read what I've just written and think: Of course writers need to get paid for their work, it seems glaringly obvious, but as Harlan Ellison notes, all too often it doesn't happen.