Thoughts from a #dumbwriter

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A dummy head.

For every thing I learn about publishing, writing, and editing, there are about a dozen others that I’ve yet to figure out. No, I’m not an imbecile. (Though I sometimes walk into walls, I owe it mostly to my roving imagination and general lack of coordination.) I’m just a #dumbwriter.

Over the last few years, I’ve been doing my best to get a full, bird’s eye view of Writing and How to Get Published in This Day and Age, but there are still instances where I just miss entire chunks of the geography. Those black holes on my map are where the #dumbwriter lives. Sometimes, it’s because I can be, well, really dumb. Sometimes, it’s innocence or naivete. Other times, it’s laziness or general myopia. You get the picture.

A few nights ago I decided to compile a few of these lessons on Twitter, under the #dumbwriter hashtag. Why? Because laughing at yourself is good; through laughter you an learn and, hopefully, never make such mistakes again. Here’s a few, with longer-than-140-words explanations for your perusal. Feel free to add your own #dumbwriter if you want, either here or on Twitter. We can learn from each other!

Observation: when I write “…” in dialogue, it usually means I’m thinking, not the character. [delete, delete, delete] #dumbwriter
Sure, this one seems really obvious. But one of the things about editing is finding the right time to do it, and therefore giving yourself a better view into your work. My solution? New fonts, new word processing program, and big point. I moved everything from Scrivener to Pages (which now also features a full screen mode) and went from Arial to Garamond and, honestly, it was like being given a pair of new eyes. I’d never done this before (other than to put the .scriv files into standard manuscript format–and I loathe Courier) but it was incredibly successful and really helped to highlight some of my Very Bad Writing Habits.

Number one offender: the ellipsis. Especially in dialogue. Over and over I found my characters… taking pauses… in the middle of their sentences. And what I realized was they weren’t pausing–I was. Seriously. I couldn’t think what they were saying, so I put … in rather unconsciously. Taking them out not only made the characters come across as significantly more well-spoken, but moved the pace along, too. Go, go, #dumbwriter!

Lesson learned re: publishing: You are no one’s priority except your own. Use your time wisely. #dumbwriter
Okay. This has been a big, big lesson for me. I won’t go into the details because a) I’m paranoid and b) I’m even more paranoid. But, let’s just say I have lots of waiting ahead of me due to some stuff. Okay, that’s vague. Chances are, the whole thing will end up with a resounding NO, and I’m fine with that. But the only thing worse than rejection is waiting for rejection–and in that space of waiting for rejection, contemplating the possibility of acceptance.

Publishing. Moves. Slowly. Just when you think you can’t wait more, you’ll be asked to wait more. You make the mistake of talking to your parents about it, and then they’ll ask you how things are going, and just when you thought the waiting wasn’t bothering you anymore, it will. Then, once you’ve cruised past the whole impatience thing, while you’re engrossed in a new, exciting project, you’ll get that sudden stab that… AGH! You’re still waiting.

Take a deep breath. Let it slide. Use your time wisely. Unfortunately, in this industry, the only time you take priority (unless you’re, you know, Stephen King… and I bet even he has his days) is with yourself. Agents, editors, publishers–all these folks have multiple clients and schedules that we simple #dumbwriters can’t even comprehend, especially when we’re starting out. So, if you’re going to be a professional writer, if that’s your goal, you can’t half-ass stuff. If you have one book in limbo, write another. Start something new. Keep moving. Did you edit? No, seriously: did you really edit? Have people read your draft? Multiple people? Get on that. Get better. You’re allowed to be selfish with your writing; seriously.

Lesson learned re: writing output. If you already crapped out four books this year, chances are #nano is not the best idea. #dumbwriter
So, it’s NaNoWriMo month, right? I did it last year and well, had every intention of doing it this year. Except as soon as I sat down to write something new, flags started going up all around me. My first realization was that, honestly, I don’t need a 50K draft of anything right now. Sure, I have four books from this year, and the beginning for a fifth and tons of ideas for new ones. But, speaking of priorities, is a 50K draft of a neat idea the best choice for my career at this point?

Over and over again, I asked myself this question. Then I realized, no. No it’s not. Because looking back at the books I’ve written this year I saw that two in particular were nagging at me. The drafts weren’t terrible, but they were in need of work. And if I want to get the book sold, it better be its best. It’s not something that’s going to take all month, no, but it’s got to be a priority even before I begin another project.

And honestly, this read-through/edit has been among the most fruitful of my life. The book is surprising me in so many ways. The characters are more vivid, the plotlines more complex, and I’m learning more about my writing and editing process than I ever would going full-boar NaNoWriMo. This year, it’s just not the right time for me. I want to grow, and personally, the writing part isn’t the hard part. That I’m learning to enjoy the editing process and, in turn, getting the thrill of making a good book even better, well, that’s proof I’m going about it right.

Lesson learned re: writing: There is no such thing as too many backups. (Says she of the thrice-fried hard drives) #dumbwriter
This weekend, my MacBook crashed. Big time. We were able to save the hard drive, but still had to reinstall everything. Thanks to Dropbox, and the miracle of Target Disk Mode (by way of helpful Twitter suggestions), we saved all my writing. But we came very close to losing quite a bit (at least one complete short story that I’d forgotten to backup to Dropbox).

Worse even? This is so not the first time it’s happened (see… DUMB). Over a year ago I had a hard drive meltdown, and in the process lost between 10-15K of The Aldersgate. Gone. Caput. Vanished. Instead of getting back into the groove, I sulked about it for too long. This time, even though I had two straight days with zero output, I got right back on the bandwagon. There is nothing dumb about backing up in multiple places!

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No one’s going to get it right the first time, and as writers we constantly have to shift gears as we write, edit, prepare, submit, promote. It’s not an easy task, sure, but that’s the business of it. The best part about being a writer in today’s world is that you’ve got an instant network if you work at it. Agents, editors, published writers, all there on Twitter, Facebook, WordPress, wherever. You can ask questions, you can get answers. You don’t have to live in hole (even though we all feel that way when we’re writing a book).

And more than anything? It’s okay to be a #dumbwriter. Don’t let people make you feel stupid for not knowing. We’ve all got to start somewhere, after all.

  • Jaym Gates

    Hear hear. There’s not a single one of those I can disagree with. And my computer crashed last year, right in the middle of trying to finish both a manuscript for myself and a newsletter for a client. Having autonomous back-ups saved my butt, but I lost time and work due to not having it up-to-date.

    • http://nataniabarron.wordpress.com Natania

      @Jaym Yes! That’s exactly what happened to me. I had detached the laptop from the external hard drive, then had a writing binge… and lost it all. Eventually I snapped out of it, though. Thankfully.