The great Robert Heinlein (a man I’ve mentioned before) used the principle of TANSTAAFL (there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch) as a guiding philosophy in his storytelling, and his life. Nothing in his stories ever happened “just because.” Only rarely did the deus ex machina clank its way through his endings. I say rarely though I mean never, but I’m sure someone could make a compelling argument for it in one of his dozens of titles. And he pointed out that writing for free was never free for the writer, bearing as it did a cost of time and effort.
Few people in my day to day life know that I’m writing fiction, so I am not (yet) facing this problem with storytelling. But non-fiction? Editing? The number of people who ask if I’d mind giving them “a few thoughts” on something they’ve written is astounding. And they never call it editing, even though that’s exactly what they’re talking about and I advertise myself as being available to provide such services. I know because when I give “a few thoughts” the followup question is always “can you mark out a few examples?” The number of people regularly asking me to answer “a few quick questions” about my professional specialty is even more astounding, since I make it very clear that I’m a consultant and a freelancer, and that stuff is my bread and butter. The questions are never quick ones, either.
In the latter case, I answer 30 minutes worth of questions for free, and then I attach my consulting rate schedule. I occasionally get complaints about that, and I try to say something like “Well, would you ask a dentist for a free checkup?” In the case of editing, I’ve just stopped doing it for free. I would like to find a critique partner one day, someone to whom I can expose my soft underbelly, but the people asking me for free editing aren’t usually candidates for that.
Nearly every professional writer I know has run into the same problem. Every professional artist I know gets that, from the pianist asked to play a wedding cocktail hour for free to a painter asked to do a ten foot canvas “for the exposure.”
No. Don’t do it. We creative types must stand together on this one. No free short stories, no brainstorming, no jotting down of ideas. If you provide work without receiving money in return, be sure that you are getting something of value. Exposure is just something people die of in winter.
Both my child and my husband decided they were exhausted last night… before 10 PM.
Let me back up. You can train yourself to write with inspiration at any hour, I know. All you have to do is sit down at the same time every day, and eventually, that’s the time ideas will start to flow.
Me, I’ve got a toddler and three part time jobs. I don’t get the same time to write two days running.
When I think of all the time I wasted in my childless, single days, I die inside. “Oh me, oh la, someday I shall be a real writer instead of a marketing hack/journalist/columnist, but today I am going to read the entire archive of Something Positive.” Or “I just know I could be a novelist, but these three straight hours of Law and Order: SVU will not watch themselves.” I suppose I could defend myself by saying that while I watched television, I always had a cross stitch project. I made four baby blankets and an elaborate Christmas tree skirt. Yes. That’s how much time I wasted in front of basic cable Law and Order reruns.
I have not watched any television at all since early 2008, when my kid arrived on this planet. I couldn’t tell you what he does that takes up all that TV time, but he does it. Whatever it is. The only cross stitching I’ve finished since his baby blanket was a tiny little Christmas ornament with a snowman.
But back in my 20s, during my occasional spasms of Being A Fiction Writer, the ideas always flowed best from 10 PM to 1 AM. That just seemed to be my most creative time. I never meant to write at the time of day, exactly, but the time stamps on my saved files tell the tale.
Having what I remembered as my most creative time line up with my available time was like fairy dust falling from the sky. And the snow that was supposed to fall from the sky here in Maryland never fell at all.
Last night was a good night.
* No, I am not the heroine of my stories.
* Mainly I have a very vivid imagination.
* Happily and monogamously married.
* Anything two or more consenting adults want to do together is okay by me.
* Tell me, do you think crime writers have to actually murder people in order to write good stories?
* Pen name.
* No, I’m not ashamed, but I really need to keep my day job, and I cannot fight that battle and provide for my kid.
* No, my kid doesn’t read my stories, but he is welcome to read the erotic fiction I have on the shelf when he’s old enough.
* “Old enough” depends entirely on the kid, and my particular kid isn’t even old enough to read yet, so I’ll sweat that decision sometime after we finish potty training and before he leaves for college, how about that?
* I don’t watch porn – porn actors so rarely look like they’re having fun, and my characters love having sex. If you wanted to get all deep, I write what I enjoy reading.
* No, writing erotica isn’t new with the advent of e-publishing. The Victorians wrote this stuff, too.
I have a txt file on my desktop called “ideas.” Whenever I have an idea for a story, I just toss it in there. I should say whenever my husband has an idea, I toss it in there.
I have been working on a story called The Toybox ever since I submitted The Widow. And man, it feels like work, too. The idea is fine. It’s original. I like my characters a lot, especially the hero – he’s a resourceful son of gun. But I sit down in front of it, and if you’ve ever had to clean maple syrup off the floor and then wring out the rag over the sink, you have some idea of how difficult it is to get the words to drip out of my hands.
My husband was listening to me natter on about what a particular publisher was saying they wanted to see. One of the genres is something I’ve never written. With his head in the refrigerator, he tossed out the most brilliant, fascinating, awesome story idea in that genre I’d ever heard. He proceeded to prove he’s been listening to me blather on about romantic conventions by saying “This is the internal conflict, that is the external conflict, and the dark moment could be this over here.”
I tried so hard to work on Toybox this morning. I am somewhat confused to be staring at a document with the first page of something called All Wound Up, but it poured out of me, along with thumbnails of the next three scenes. I don’t believe in muses, but good grief, something interesting is going on.
There’s a thread on one of the writer forums I’m on where we’re talking about love scenes. Every writer has a different approach to writing sex scenes. Here’s what I said:
“I love writing love scenes, which is probably why I write erotic romance. It’s so honest. The body doesn’t lie. Whatever a character is really feeling and thinking will appear in the scene in some way.
“If I really know the characters well, the scenes practically write themselves. If I haven’t worked out some element of characterization, I struggle, and it comes out more like porn. I don’t have the ability yet to write a scene and then add in the emotion – each gesture and caress comes from the history the characters share, the things they want to express to each other, and the fantasies that they love the most.”
That’s the key to how I write explicit content, right there. The characterization can’t be separated from the mechanics of the sex and feel authentic to me. The only time I do any advance choreography is when I’m writing a threeway, because otherwise I do lose track of elbows. And I admit that I always write f/f erotica in first person because otherwise I trip over the pronouns. But that’s as far as it goes, planning-wise. Every other thing has to come from the characters themselves.
Efforts to retitle my second novella are not going terribly well, although we might have come up with some good ones last night. Sadly, “Don’t Let Your Wife Go To Sedona With Your Do-Rag” has been rejected.
The editor sent me a link to a word map tool in order to see what the most common words were in my story, in hopes that the picture would inspire us. Now I can’t stop playing with it: http://www.wordle.net/
I think it might be helpful to use it as an editing tool as well. For example, the word map of my novella reveals that I badly, BADLY overuse the word “just.”
I was just wondering if I did that too much.
On one of the forums I frequent, there was just a chat thread about one hit wonders. I’d been absolutely paralyzed over that very fear. If nothing else, writer forums are good for making you realize that while you’re working alone in your basement, you aren’t alone in a larger sense.
Anyway. You’d think selling something would be this ultimate validation – yay! You can write something people are willing to buy! – but no. You don’t retire the fear of “god, I suck, I’ll never sell anything.” It merely transmutes into “god, I suck, that was just a fluke.”
I will tell you what I did, though. I thought to myself, well, maybe it was a fluke, but you have two hours to write this afternoon and it’s time to get on it. I obsess, panic, twitch, and second guess throughout the rest of the day, but writing time is to write. Not to research, not to surf writer boards, not to daydream about staying at a writer’s retreat, and definitely not to think about anything besides words on a page. As soon as I was done each day, I went back to moping about what a loser I am. But for those two hours, more if I could swing it, I was just writing. When I’m writing, I don’t feel like I suck. In fact, the more days in a row that I stick to writing, the more effortless it becomes.
So while I may indeed suck, a pretty damn good novella is out in the wild making its rounds, the next one is started, and the one after that is in outlines.