Thursday, March 22, 2012

the reality of being a writer (or why I need to find a coffee shop without free wi fi)

There's this stereotype of a writer, sitting alone in his (or, occasionally, her) tiny apartment, staring at a computer screen. The screen is open to a blank word document and said author stares at the blinking cursor until he (or, occasionally, she) is driven insane.
Then there's the reverse stereotype of a writer sitting down to an empty word document and cranking out 120,000 words in just a few weeks or months. Said author becomes a bestseller with seemingly little or no effort.
Most stereotypes are far from true, but they usually have a grain of truth to them. The reality of writing day in and day out in the hopes of getting published centers not on churning out words or staring at a blank screen. No, it centers on distractions. I can't speak for authors who worked before the internet became popular, but that is the # 1 distraction for writers. There are two aspects of writing: The creative aspect (writing the story and making sure it sounds good) and the business aspect (finding an agent and, later, a publisher, and marketing the book). The creative aspect is generally a solitary one, and when a writer is left alone with his (or her) thoughts, the inner monologue can get pretty interesting.

As I sat in Starbucks this afternoon, trying to work on yet another manuscript I hope to get published someday in the distant future, my train of thought took some pretty interesting and possibly dangerous turns before finally (and inevitably) getting derailed.

I posted a brief version on facebook earlier, but it goes a little something like this:

-- *writes for 5 minutes*
-- "Say, I wonder what's going on on facebook right now..."
-- *writes for 5 more minutes*
-- *goes back to facebook* "Ooh, someone liked my status."
-- *writes for 2 minutes*
-- "Say, I wonder if anything new has happened on facebook in the last 2 minutes...ooh, someone commented on my status! I'd better comment back."
-- *writes for 30 seconds*
-- "I wonder if anyone has posted anything interesting on The Hunger Games board on IMDb lately. *checks imdb* "Ooh, here's a post I should comment on."
-- *writes for 2 more minutes*
-- "Oh that reminds me, I have a book to pick up at the library on my way home. But I'm already reading two other books...should I really start another one?"
-- *writes for 3 more minutes*
-- "Hmmm, I should really check my text messages. Oh hey, I have one! It's from my friend who I invited to see The Hunger Games with me tomorrow. I should tell her I'm buying the tickets online."
-- *writes for 5 more minutes*
-- "Say, my white chocolate mocha is getting cold. It also tastes kind of funny, but I'm almost finished with it anyway, so I guess it doesn't matter."
-- *writes for 30 more seconds*
-- "I'm really excited for The Hunger Games. I wonder if Suzanne Collins got distracted this much when she was writing it."
-- *writes for 30 more seconds*
-- THE HUNGER GAMES. *derails and leaves coffee shop with one fully consumed white chocolate mocha and several pages worth of possibly sucky rewrites*

In short, damn you Starbucks for having free wi fi and cell phone service, and damn you Suzanne Collins for writing such an amazing and popular book.

Next week I'm going to a local shop across from the USM campus. At least you have to pay for wi fi there.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Taking the plunge! First steps toward possible future publication

It suddenly occurred to me a couple of months ago that the manuscript I have been working on for the past two years might actually be ready for publication before the end of the year. Which seems pretty daunting, especially since two years is NOTHING compared to the time I've spent on previous manuscripts and even after years of writing and editing those, they still kind of sucked. But I guess everyone's first novels kind of suck, which is why they rarely get published. So if I do get this novel published it will be my first published novel, but not my first novel.
And I still don't quite know if it's ready for publication or if I'll even be ready to query agents soon, but I think that might just be self doubt. Reading over it I actually think it's pretty good, but I'm just one person, and a very biased person at that. So for now I'm looking for beta readers *coughcough hinthint winkwink nudgenudge* to get other people's perspectives. Best case scenario, people will like it but offer suggestions for improvement, I'll polish it up a bit more and start querying agents. Worst case scenario, I'll end up having a lot of changes to make. I don't want to query agents before I'm ready, but a.) I don't know if or when I'll ever be ready and b.) I'm probably going to make mistakes throughout the process, so shouldn't I not be afraid to make them, as long as I'm trying my hardest?

I've got all 192 pages (almost 58,000 words) in a 1 1/2 inch binder with lots of handwritten notes scrawled throughout the pages. I've got one co-worker interested in reading it and I'm going to pass it on to her this afternoon. I just wonder if this process will take a year, or five years or even ten. It's going to be a crazy journey (and it already has been so far), and I don't know if I'm ready. But the only thing worse than trying is not trying. Even if I'm a terrible writer and my dreams are crushed by the time this process is over, I have to know.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

a post about zombies, aka the coolest monsters ever

With the popularity of Twilight and its successors (Shiver, Evernight, etc.), there's been an awful lot of talk about "teams" lately. Not just "Team Edward" or "Team Jacob", but "Team Werewolf" and "Team Vampire." I enjoy a select few vampire/werewolf stories, but truth be told, I was never a huge fan of monsters. If I had to pick a team, it would probably be Team Zombie. And I wasn't always into zombies.

I was just reminded of my love of zombies while watching an episode The Big Bang Theory in which Sheldon mentions Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video. I saw the video when I was 12 and, despite the choreographed dance moves that Sheldon finds "implausible," it scared the life out of me. Suddenly it occurred to me that no zombie since has scared me quite as much.

After that, it was difficult for me to find a zombie movie or novel that I really enjoyed. I've always enjoyed horror movies, but even the most frightening ones generally fail to scare me. I guess I've seen it all. Still, I slowly started to warm up to the zombie sub-genre, especially after reading this book:

If you haven't read it, it's about a girl who lives in a futuristic, dystopian world that is ravaged by zombies. It's right up there with Harry Potter in the sense that once I got started, I absolutely could not put it down. I've read so many books at this point that it's difficult to find books like that anymore.

Still, I mostly steered clear of the genre until one night about six months ago when I had the freakiest dream ever. I was trapped in the church I went to in junior high...and surrounded by zombies. Never in my life have I been so frightened. When I woke up, I immediately downloaded the first season of The Walking Dead from On Demand. The rest...well, I guess it's history.

Over the next few months, I started writing a zombie story of my own and I even went and picked up this gem from the bookstore as "research."

And everything it does have. So why are people so fascinated by zombies? Just like other monsters, they are unnatural. People aren't supposed to come back from the dead, just like the snack bar I work at isn't supposed to run out of popcorn. So what do I do when someone orders popcorn and I open up the popcorn machine and it's empty? The same thing I'd do if a zombie was coming for me: Panic!

Matt Mogk also explains that zombies (and the idea of a zombie apocalypse) are the monsters of our new age. The age where people slowly gravitate toward a belief in science as opposed to one of faith, and many scientists believe a zombie virus is plausible. But as someone who does have faith in a God many people seem to be steering away from, I find this even more frightening. Humans, according to Christian tradition, are life forms superior to all others in the universe. We are intelligent enough to build civilizations covering a pretty big portion of an entire planet. Whether you believe we managed to do this because we were granted the ability by a divine creator or because we are the product of evolution and survival of the fittest, zombies aren't supposed to upstage us. And the idea that they might...well, that's pretty frightening.