Category: self-publishing

Sincerity vs. Perfection

I read a lot.

That’s actually an understatement. But there’s no way to make you understand how much I read without giving you a count, and no way to make you believe that I’m not lying. In 2013, I read over two hundred novels, ebooks, and comic books. Who knows how many short stories, one-shots, articles, etc. I’m a reader and I always have been. That’s what I’m trying to make you understand. And when you do anything interpretive long enough, you realize there’s a natural progression from consuming material to creating material. Reading led to writing. So I wrote and wrote and wrote. Even before I realized someone could grow up to write for a living, it was what I wanted to do with all of my spare time.

But eventually, it clicked–it had to be possible to write for a living because the people who made these books were authors. So I went to Pratt to “become a writer.” I studied style, structure, word choice, perspective, theme, resonance, setting, metaphor, and a million other concepts. I learned to edit my own work and the work of others’ with brutal detachment, to cut everything I didn’t absolutely need, to keep working and striving for perfection, to pour my soul into the prose, then cut it out when it got a little too obvious that it was my soul–right there, see where it was?–and go back and work on it again. Write. Rewrite. Edit. Rewrite. Edit. Rewrite. Edit. Rewrite. It’s still not good enough. Fail better. Write what hurts. Kill your darlings. Etc., etc.

But I didn’t study reading. Or, more specifically readers. Here’s something they don’t tell you in writing school: Readers will forgive almost anything if the story is good.

[Honestly, I can understand why they don’t tell you that. When you walk into art school, you’re so full of stock metaphors and melodramatic prose and the certainty that no one is as deep intellectually or emotionally as you. But I think by the time you’re ready to walk out again, the reader thing should at the very least be mentioned.]

What do I mean by a “good” story? A story that stays true to itself, characters who do what only they would do, but more than anything, sincerity. A writer who wants with all of their heart and soul to tell you this story. The books I love the most, the ones that affected me the most, I could feel the author dying to get the story out.  They didn’t hold back just because someone might’ve called them an un-self-aware hack and they didn’t give up when they couldn’t get the words on the paper as perfect as the words in their head.

It might sound like an obvious logical step, but it took me forever to realize just how connected writing and reading really are. I spent four years learning how to look at my work the way a writer would, then went out into a world where most people are readers. When I finally had a story worth telling, I couldn’t get it perfect enough to fit the dream I had for it.

There’s an awesome list of rules for storytelling that Pixar put out a year or so ago. I just couldn’t wrap my brain around #8. “Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you can have both, but move on. Do better next time.”

“But can’t I do better this time if I keep trying?” you might ask. I did.

Maybe you can do better, but you can’t grow. And sooner or later, you’ll realize that you can’t remember what was so important about that story you had to tell. You might even destroy everything sincere and replace it with some amalgam of what you imagine the rest of the world thinks of as perfect. Trust me, that will be much, much worse than accidentally using the same body language in two different places to show happiness.

Don’t think I’m directing this tirade at you. I’m telling myself all of this. I have to, over and over again, or I’ll never finish anything. I worked and worked on How to Kill Yourself in a Small Town. To the point where I have anxiety attacks just looking at its folder on my desktop. If I forced myself, I could keep working on it. I could tell myself, “Just one more draft–this one will be perfect” for the thousandth time. But I need to let it go. I need to move on. More than anything, I need to get this story out into the world because there was a time I was so on fire with the need to tell it that I breathed, ate, drank, and bled it.

Near the beginning of 2014, I will be publishing How to Kill Yourself in a Small Town. It won’t be perfect, but it will be sincere–which I’m finally learning is the more important of the two.
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Update 12/21/13:
A few readers have expressed concern that I’m attacking experimental or painstakingly careful literary writing. I understand their concern, but I’m definitely not. We all know I have a chip on my shoulder about elitism (you might say I’m an elitist-elitist), but this is a completely different matter. There’s a sincerity and passion to experimental and literary writing, too. It doesn’t matter what genre you’re writing in, if the sincerity isn’t there, the reader will feel it.

I’m also not attacking the editing process or saying that less editing is better. But there is such a thing as over-editing. It’s a fine line, but once you’ve stepped over it, you can feel it all the way down to your soul. It hurts. It turns your story from your labor of love into something more like Frankenstein’s monster. It starts to feel out of control, beyond help, and disgusting. That’s what I’m attacking, the impulse to keep fixing until we’ve undone all the good work along with the bad.

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The BIG REVEAL

Sooner or later, we all have to tell our friends and family what we’re doing with our time.
I’m a writer, I spend my time writing, but when someone asks if I’m working on anything, I tend to answer with as much vagueness as possible. There are a lot of reasons for this, the main one being that no matter how much I might be in love with my story, talking about a work in progress makes me feel like it’s the lamest thing anyone ever wasted time on. I’m almost positive that’s how my talking about it makes you feel, too.
A close runner up in the reasons for being vague is the question, “When can I read it?” Not because I don’t want you to read anything I write. Although, if you and I know each other, I’d really rather you not. (What if you hate it? What if you think I think everything my character thinks? What if you tell my mom I said a bad word? What if you want to talk to me about it the next time we see each other and I come off sounding like a doofus who couldn’t string together a sentence to save her life?)
This is getting off track. Anyway, what I’ve been doing with my life for the past two months is make these: Bad Decisions and Bad Influences.

You can read all about the Making Of starting here, or you can just read the Roundup.
Now a short Q&A:
Q: Do people actually buy short stories?
A: Apparently so. Fifteen people have bought Bad Decisions so far with almost no marketing. People also download short stories when they’re free. You can see the nifty graph I made illustrating that in Week 6’s Progress Report.
Q: You’re not a man from Arkansas.
A: That’s not a question.
Q: Why E.M. Smith?
A: Why not?
Q: This isn’t going anywhere. I’m leaving.
A: Wait, I was just kidding! You’re right, I’m not a man from Arkansas. E.M. Smith is one of my pen names. He writes only action/adventure and non-paranormal thrillers. Besides Earl Mason Smith, I have two other pen names—one who writes romance and one who writes paranormal, urban and epic fantasy. Each one has his or her own backstory, personality, and style.
Q: I find that hard to believe.
A: So?
Q: Hey, I’ll ask the questions here.
A: Ask one, then.
Q: Why did you do this Insanity: Writing experiment?
A: Mostly because I was stuck in an endless cycle of edits on a much larger book that’s coming out later this year (under a different, more recognizable pen name) and I wanted to do something else for a while. Also because I needed to get some hands-on experience with the self-publishing process before I tried to format and sell a full-length novel.
Q: I own a Kindle or have the Kindle Reader app. Should I buy Bad Decisions and Bad Influences?
A: If you like black ops stories with lots of guns and action, yes. If you like stories of wrongfully accused former troublemakers redeeming themselves, yes. If you like sweet romances, inspirational Christian fiction, or lyrical writing, probably not.
Q: Why not?
A: There are a lot of cuss words in both stories, mostly due to the fact that the main character is a scared, hurt, angry young man who doesn’t have the patience to express himself in more flowery, less vulgar terms. I have tamer narrators in upcoming works that might be more to your liking.
Q: I’ve heard reviews are important for self-published writers. Should I put a review of your story on Amazon?
A: Actually, no. If you’re related to me or friends with me, we could get in trouble for “shill reviews.” Even if you were to write a 100% unbiased, honest review, we could get in trouble. For serious.
Q: Will there be any more Bad stories?
A: Yes. At least three more, according to my current breakdown of the larger arc.
Q: Why didn’t you tell anybody before now?
A: I was doing an experiment. Telling people about an experiment will skew the results.
Q: Your experiment was done yesterday.
A: I was really tired. Now, if you wouldn’t mind reading from the card…
Q: [sigh] How did you do in your 5k?
A: Thanks for asking! Josh and I got 2nd place in our age groups. You can read all about that here.

That’s pretty much that. Feel free to ask any other questions in the comments section below or wherever you saw this posted.

Insanity Roundup

Or, “What happened with Weeks 7 and 8?”

Let me explain something to you about procrastination: When you put off a project until the very last minute, that last minute gets jammed full of scrambling to do four weeks’ worth of work in two weeks’ time. I thought about writing a progress report for Week 7, but figured I could catch up in Week 8’s report. By the time Week 8 rolled around and I still hadn’t finished writing Bad Influences—much less editing, formatting, and finding a suitable cover—progress reports were the furthest thing from my mind.

So, without further ado: the Insanity Roundup.
The Workout (Month Two)
I’ll level with you guys—I gave up on the Max Interval workouts sometime near the beginning of Week 8 and went back to the shorter circuits. It’s not that I got bored, exactly, but…yeah, I got bored. Emily put it pretty well when she said, “I’d rather go twice as hard for 30 minutes than half as hard for 60.” So, if you want to get technical, Insanity: The Workout failed.
The Writing (Month Two)
If you’ve been following along from the beginning, you know that my goal was to write and publish one work in the time it took me to do Insanity (two months + 1 recovery week). I started on July 22nd, and that made my deadline September 22nd—this past Sunday.
But it turned out that Bad Decisions was the first in a series of short stories. I published the first on August 18th, under my action/adventure-writing pen name E.M. Smith. With a month left before the Insanity: The Writing experiment ended, I set a new goal to publish the second story in the series (working-titled Bad Coffee at first, changed to Bad Dreams, and finally titled Bad Influences, a combo of the two working-title storylines) before September 22nd.
God smiled on me, got my parents to take Oak and Bear for the weekend, and helped me cram a week’s worth of writing, revising, and formatting into Saturday. Sunday morning before church, I hit the “Save & Publish” button. Bad Influences and Bad Decisions are now both available in the Kindle Store for $0.99.
So, if you want to get technical, Insanity: The Writing was a success times two.
Rounding Up
So far, I’ve sold 15 Bad Decisions and gave away 496 copies during my free promotion days. I’m offering Bad Influences for free next Monday-Friday (to see whether day of the week affects the number of downloads). Much like Decisions, I don’t expect Influencesto sell much until after the giveaway.
I don’t really feel like writing the touchy-feely post about the ups and downs of self-publishing, self-imposed deadlines, and whipping oneself into shape today, but I will include the much-hyped Excel charts. I know they’re what we were all waiting for, anyway.
Insanity Fit Test Excel Chart
Insanity Word Count Excel Chart