On Specificity and Clarity in Writing

Hey Folks,

I was going to write a whole post on this topic, but really, that isn’t necessary. It’s a personal pet-peeve kind of thing. And far be it from me to foist my “beliefs” on anyone else.

What pet peeve?

Well, people who write things and then postulate—not even apologetically but more apoplectically and with a wag of the hand—that “The reader will know what I mean.”  Those folks get on my nerves. Deep and hard.

But I have come to understand that such things don’t matter, by and large, to many people, writers and readers alike. Or at least it seems so to me.

For example, despite published writings that are replete with inappropriate instances of absolutes (all, never, always, everyone, nobody, etc.), apparently no writers write like that. Ever.

If you don’t believe me, ask them.

And despite published writings that are chock full of eyes wandering out of heads and doing things on their own (her eyes flew across the room and came to rest on a barrel of metal shavings), again, no writer put those words on a page. Again, ever.

And the same goes for other body parts: “her legs raced along the sidewalk” or “his nose smelled something strange” or “her ears listened closely” or “his finger dialed the telephone” or “his hand crept into his pocket to retrieve his revolver.”

No writers that I’ve been able to find write like that either. Ever.

But based on the hard evidence contained between the covers of some books, some do. Or maybe the publishers are sneaking that stuff in.

Anyway, if you mention those faux pas to the writers, they grin the grin of a thousand braying jackasses, wag that hand in the air as if you and they are old buddies and say something like, “Aah, you know, the readers know I didn’t mean it like that.”

And most often I smile and say something noncommittal, like “Hey, when you’re right, you’re right” or “Ah.”

But the truth lurks in my mind: No, Sparky, they don’t.

Readers read for either or both of two purposes: entertainment and-or information. If you write “never,” they read “never.” They don’t automatically substitute “seldom” or “sometimes” or some other less-inclusive, less blanket-clad word.

If you write that “her legs raced down the road,” the reader sees disembodied legs racing down the road.

If you write that “her eyes came to rest on a barrel of metal shavings,” the reader will wince. Because face it, that had to hurt.

And it isn’t the reader’s fault that they take you at your word(s). It’s your fault.

After all, the reader has no choice but to accept what you put on the page, whether it’s in your novel, in your Essay On Some Topic Of Major Importance or on your Facebook page.

I’ve never known a reader who was hungry for a verbal repast to go looking for a soup sandwich. But that’s often what they get.

It is up to the purveyor of the repast to determine whether he or she is going to serve a nutrituous, delicately balanced meal or something that’s half-baked and barely slopped together.

Am I being nitpicky?

Yes. But only where my own sensibilities are concerned.

Hey, if you want to continue slopping grey, watery soup over stale bread in a bowl, go ahead. If you want to hit it with a dash of sea salt, proclaim it prime rib and hand it out to weary, gaunt-eyed travelers who are starved for sustenance, that’s your business.

I’m only giving you notice that I will not partake. Nor will I sidle up alongside you in the soup kitchen, grab a ladle and begin flinging greasy dumplings at the wall in the hope they will stick and “be something good.”

So anyway, I was gonna devote a whole post to this notion that writers, not readers, are responsible for the clarity or lack thereof in writing.

But it’s a personal thing, so I won’t.

I’ll just pass along a wish that your characters’ eyes will remain in their head. Unless it’s a horror novel and they get whacked really, really hard.

‘Til next time, happy writing.

Harvey

PS: If you wanna see what I do when I’m having fun, swing by Harvey Stanbrough Writing in Public (https://www.facebook.com/HarveyStanbroughWritingInPublic/) and take a gander. For the month of June, you can watch short stories grow there scene by scene.

Getting in My Own Way

Hi Folks,

Sometimes, probably more often than not, my own biggest problem is Me.

Today I knocked out something over 2000 words before I went walking. Didn’t walk all that long. I didn’t even need a shower, really, although I took one because that’s what you do.

After that, I was fired up to leap back into writing another scene in The Marshal of Agua Perlado.

And I did.

Then I got stuck.

I wasn’t stuck like writers usually complain about being stuck though. I was stuck because I really, really liked the scene I had just written. And I wanted folks to see it early.

So I excerpted it, then adapted it (changed a few words here and there, added a bit of info to clarify names that readers of the novel would have known but that seem orphaned in the short story, things like that.

Okay, good. The short story of the week for next Monday (5/25) is done early, ready to go. (I wrote it after 9 a.m. this morning, so it’s legit for the new week.)

Only now I have to create a promo document for it.

The promo document is just a Notepad document that contains the story title, name of the publisher, the story description and Internet search tags so I can copy and paste them into Smashwords and Amazon instead of rewriting them every time.

And a cover. I have to find a suitable cover photo, select the right font(s) and create a cover for it. Well, and then I have to publish it to Smashwords and Amazon and my free story website and HarveyStanbrough.com.

Okay. All of that’s done so now I can get back to the novel. Three and a half hours later. (groan)

That’s okay. Breathe. Fortunately, I had typed well over 2500 words (my daily goal is 3000, remember?) before I started all the insanity, so I have to type only one more session and I can call it a day.

Of course, I don’t count the words in the short story in my word count since they’re virtually the same as the words in the novel. There are maybe twenty words in the short story that are not in the novel. Not worth the time to figure it out. So I show the word count for the short story, but those words are not duplicated in the totals at the end.

So that’s what I mean about getting in my own way.

It’s like I ran out in front of myself, stuck out my leg, and tripped me, making me stumble for almost four hours during which I should have been writing or cursing or drinking or something. I don’t know. I’m only one guy here.

Usually.

Happy writing,

Harvey

Keeping Up with the Joneses

Hi Folks,

A writer and friend once asked in a comment over on my Daily Journal whether I would

“address the issue of setting the bar of productivity so high that [some] of us … can’t possibly keep up with you? As much as I want to, I can’t keep up. I’m guessing that eliminates me from the ‘professional writer’ category.”

I did respond in a comment (on the Journal), but I know a lot of readers don’t go back and read comments. Also, there are at least two separate issues in his question, and I didn’t answer them both.

First and foremost, please understand, I don’t set the bar of productivity for anyone but myself.

Your job as a writer isn’t to keep up with me or anyone else. Your job as a writer is to write. Period.

And that’s a job you took on yourself voluntarily. You can quit if you want.

We all live different lives with different requirements, different interests, etc. I wouldn’t dream of setting your goals for you. You have to do that yourself, or not.

Here’s what I recommend to calculate or set your own productivity goals if that’s something you want to do:

  1. Figure out about how many publishable words of fiction you can write per hour. (Same goes for other kinds of writing.) Most writers who practice writing into the dark tend to get 750 to 1000 words per hour (that’s only 13 to 17 words per minute).
  2. Figure out realistically how many hours per day you can write. This doesn’t have to be every day. It’s your schedule, so set it up the way you want to. (If you feel that you have zero free time every day, email me and ask how to find extra time. I’d be happy to fill you in.)
    • If you write only one hour per day and you put out 1000 publishable words per hour, you will write 30,000 publishable words in a typical month. That’s 360,000 publishable words per year.
    • I started to add that if you write only two hours per week, you will write 110,000 words per year, but that isn’t really true. The numbers are there, and it’s possible. And I’m sure there are exceptions that prove the rule. But the fact is,
    • if writing is such a low priority that you can find only two hours per week to practice your craft, chances are great that other things will take over and the writing will fall away.
  3. Prioritize. Do remember, please, that only you can set your own priorities in your life. If you’re in prison, then many of your priorities are set for you, but otherwise you set your own priorities. The fact is, when we want something badly enough, we find a way to make it work. When we don’t, well, we don’t. That’s priorities.
  4. Write. You can’t be a writer unless you write. Yes, it’s a free country. You can SAY you’re a writer even if you never write anything more substantial than a grocery list. But you can’t BE a writer unless you write.
  5. This is a bonus. Know that there is power in streaks. If you want to be a writer, set goals and challenge yourself.
    • If I hadn’t set a goal to write a new short story every week back in April, 2014, I wouldn’t currently have 92 short stories on the site at HarveyStanbrough.com and another one due by Monday at 9 a.m.
    • If I hadn’t set a personal daily goal to write a certain number of publishable words per day back in October, 2014, I wouldn’t currently have six novels and a novella finished and be over 25,000 words into another novel. And finally,
  6. It doesn’t matter WHAT goal you set, as long as you set one and then strive to reach it.

Okay, that’s one question answered.

Second, if you can’t keep up with me does that automatically eliminate you from the “professional writer” category?

No.

  1. I don’t keep up with Dean Wesley Smith, but I still consider myself a professional fiction writer.
  2. I don’t keep up with ANY of the old pulp writers. Many of them routinely hit over 1,000,000 (that’s one million) words per year of published fiction, and they did it on manual typewriters.

As I said above, it isn’t about keeping up with anyone else. It’s about setting a goal and then striving to achieve it.

Only you can decide whether you are a professional fiction writer. But don’t judge yourself based on what I do or on what anyone else does.

In my world, if you’re a “professional” anything, that means you engage in a certain activity as your chosen profession.

If you’re a professional automobile engine mechanic, you repair engines. If you’re a professional house painter, you paint houses. If you’re a professional teacher, you prepare lesson plans and conduct classes. If you’re a professional writer, you write and you put your work out there so readers can find it.

As I wrote at the outset, I didn’t write the Daily Journal and post my numbers to intimidate anyone or even to challenge anyone. To be honest, I posted the numbers “in public” primarily to hold myself accountable. Secondarily, I post the numbers to show other writers and would-be writers what is possible if they follow Heinlein’s Rules and if they practice Writing Off Into the Dark. I posted my Topic of the Night pieces to share my knowledge. (shrug) Nothing more to it than that.

If my postings here or on the Journal encourage any other writers to greater heights with their writing, good. I am honored.

Finally, just so you know, I blatantly stole the idea for my Daily Journal from Dean Wesley Smith, who does something very similar. He calls it Writing in Public.

Honestly, I think he got the idea from Harlan Ellison, who at one time set up a chair and small desk in the display window of a department store and wrote short story after short story “in public.”

He wrote the stories on the spot on a manual typewriter, and as he finished each page, he stuck it to the display window so the readers gathered outside could read it as he wrote it.

How’s that for confidence in your ability as a professional fiction writer?

Happy writing,

Harvey

Writing Off Into the Dark, Revisited

Hey Folks,

I encourage you to read this post even if you think you’ve heard it before. Especially if you don’t get it. I’m coming at it from a new direction.

When I was a GED/college instructor, and later when I taught writing seminars, I soon found that not all students “got it” when I approached a topic from a certain perspective.

So I soon learned to gauge student reactions, most notably their eyes or the general look on their faces.

When I saw that some didn’t understand, I came at the topic again from a different direction. I like to think I did so seamlessly.

After the second or third iteration, new segments of students would nod or smile (or both) and the little light in their eyes would come on.

It is in that spirit that I revisit this topic.

As I write this, I’m about to return to my WIP novel for the day. As I was considering that, I felt invigorated.

Why?

Because I’ll be writing off into the dark. (I added “off” because somehow, some folks equate “writing INTO the dark” with “writing IN the dark.” Not the same thing.)

The thought that I would be writing off into the dark invigorated me because I won’t be going to the novel with any preconceived notions.

I won’t be writing things I know the characters will say. I won’t be writing solutions to problems the characters encounter. I won’t be writing any preformulated “this happens, then that happens” scenario. All of that is just massively boring.

Frankly, I don’t have a clue what’s going to happen beyond an alien force landing on Earth.

And the lack of knowing is invigorating. It’s exciting.

I’ll sit at the laptop, put my fingers on the keyboard, and write whatever comes.

Not what I want to write, but what the characters do and say. Not a preconceived setting, but what the characters allow me to see of the setting.

For example, I might finally be allowed to see the interior of the bridge on an alien ship. I might be allowed to see other areas of the different kinds of ships if the characters feel they’re germane to the story they’re telling.

And that’s the whole point.

The characters are down in the story.

I can choose to be the Almighty Writer on High, controlling what each character says and does with my Mighty Hand and tell exactly the same story others have told countless times.

Or I can resign as General Manager of the Universe, drop off my self-installed pedestal, roll off the edge of a trench and drop into the story.

Then I can get up, dust off my jeans, and look aghast at the characters who are pointing at me and laughing quietly.

I’ll say something like “Hey, I’m just here to record for posterity what you guys do.”

They’ll discuss it briefly — if they aren’t under fire — and then they’ll gesture with a “well, come on” motion and take off through the story.

And I’ll keep up as best I can, scribbling furiously as I go and hoping I don’t miss too much.

And at the end of the day, I’ll be the first “reader” to be completely entertained by these exciting, strange new folks.

And I have ZERO idea what they’re going to say or do, so how can any other reader possibly foresee it? As Bradbury said (I’m paraphrasing), “How can you hope to surprise the reader if you don’t surprise yourself?”

Try it. You’ll love it. I promise.

‘Til next time, happy writing.

Harvey

Write Honest Dialogue, You Racist Swine

Hi Folks,

The following is a guest post by my friend, professional fiction writer and ghost writer Dan Baldwin.

Billy Ray Watkins stood in the doorway of the old shack where the unfortunate sharecropper was kept prisoner. Watkins, 300 pounds of angry bigotry and hate, pounded his fist, sneered and wiped the chewing tobacco spittle from his lips. He grinned and said, “You lacking-in-a-proper education, fatherless son of the African veldt, I’m going to smack the doodoo out of your ebony tushie.”

Writers have an unspoken contract with their readers and that is to write with honesty, especially dialog. To write any other way is to break that contract, disappoint or even enrage your reader, and put your writing career on the fast track to the “$1 Each” cardboard box at the front of the foodstore. To write any other way produces drivel like the lead paragraph in this post.

My thriller Sparky and the King takes place in the 1960s Deep South. The plot involves members of the Klan and organized crime figures bent on vengeance against the influence of “race music” embodied by one Elvis Presley. Honest writing demanded that I used the language of those people when I wrote sections of the book in which they appeared. Some of that writing was uncomfortable, but necessary.

Honest dialog can challenge a writer not only in the writing of it, but also in the selling. I tried to explain to an agent who objected to the racial hatred in the terms used by my characters. I said, “Three hundred pound murdering racists in the Deep South don’t say ‘people of color.’”

Honesty isn’t always easy to write. I’ve heard “How can you write such filth?” more than once. Honest writing invites criticism, much of it off course and unfair. My mother was a devout Christian lady and every time I gave her one of my novels I always warned, “Now Mom, remember it’s not me saying and doing all those bad things; it’s the characters.” She understood. I gave a copy of Sparky to my doctor and she understood – I think. However, every time I’ve been in for an exam since, she’s had an armed guard in the room, so….

The bottom line for a writer is basic: If you want to write about certain people and aspects of our culture, you have to use the language appropriate to that time and place and those people. You’ll have to use foul language, unpleasant scenes, and despicable characters doing despicable things. If you can’t do that honestly, choose another subject so you can honor your contract with your reader.
#
Dan’s Quote of the Week: “If the Creator had a purpose in equipping us with a neck, he surely meant for us to stick it out.” Arthur Koestler

To learn more about Dan Baldwin and his work, please visit his websites at http://www.danbaldwin.biz or http://www.fourknightspress.com/. You can subscribe to either or both by emailing him at baldco@msn.com.

Measurements and Dimensions

Hi Folks,

This post first was published in a slightly different version on October 10, 2016 over on the Daily Journal. I’m reposting it here because I felt it needed a broader audience and might help some of you.

Got a great email from a respected writer friend recently (Thanks, JGV!) regarding my current WIP (back in October, 2015). He wrote

What about doing away with the specific dimensions and leaving the images of the structures, etc., up to the reader’s imagination unless it’s critical to the story. Maybe imply those measurements through dialogue or description like “cramped” or “spacious.” (The account of Noah’s ark might’ve worked better without enumerating cubits.)

That’s a good and valid and point, and as it turns out, he caught me just in time. He made me think.

So when should we include dimensions and when should we not include them? As my friend mentioned, they should be included when they’re critical to the story.

That sounds simple, but beneath the surface it’s problematic. To at least some degree, the reader determines what is critical and what is not. Omit the dimensions and some readers will find the writing “thin.” Include them, and other readers will skip over that part, as I have done occasionally in Heinlein and Asimov novels.

So to expand a bit on the discussion of what should be included, maybe dimensional details should also be included when they’re not critical but still interesting and/or entertaining.

Which leads us to wonder how to determine what is or is not interesting and/or entertaining. To the reader. (Always remember there’s a reader on the other end of the writing.)

As I wrote earlier, my friend’s email made me think. What I came up with is this question and the following rules of thumb:

Q: What exists within the character’s and reader’s probable shared area of experience?

1. If the feature you want to describe does NOT exist within the character’s and reader’s probable shared area of experience (e.g., a lunar colony), include the dimensions.

2. If the feature DOES exist within the character’s and reader’s probable shared area of experience (e.g., a bedroom within the lunar colony), do NOT include the dimensions. Here you would opt instead for descriptors like “cramped” or “spacious” because the reader has seen an apartment and can relate.

I like to think I already knew this, but if I did, I hadn’t yet realized that I knew it. I do now, so it’s more firmly rooted in my subconscious. That’s a Good Thing.

As one other more or less minor consideration, I’m writing into the dark here. I’m allowing the characters to tell the story. (A technique I highly recommend because it’s so freeing.)

So say a character wants (or needs) to know specific dimensions as evidenced by her awe at first stepping into a lunar colony. Should I stop the Receiving Liaison who appears at her shoulder (having noticed her sense of awe) from delivering a short canned speech regarding the massive dimensions?

No.

The colony is new and wonderful to the character. It’s also new and (I hope) wonderful to most readers. So the dimensions are necessary, though probably not critical.

But should I also then drill down to the nitty-gritty and describe in meters and feet the size of the bedroom in the apartment the character is eventually assigned?

Again, no.

The apartment (living room, bedroom, kitchen, bathroom) already exists within the character’s and reader’s shared experience.

So in that case, the character might note (for example) there’s barely room for a double bed in the bedroom, much less the seating area and walk-in closet the character enjoyed in her home on Earth. But she doesn’t need specific dimensions for that.

And much as people generally disagree with differences between genders in this bizarre day and age, whether or not a character will wonder about dimensional details (and so whether the writer should include them) also goes to the character’s gender.

A character who has spent his life excavating sites like the Queen Open-Pit Copper Mine in Bisbee Arizona probably won’t wonder at the specific current size of the lunar cavern in which he works. If he does so at all, he probably will do so via comparison (e.g., “cramped” or “spacious” as compared with Queen Mine or some other place he’s been).

But if his wife is allowed to visit the worksite, she might well ask questions like, “Wow! How big is this place?” And when he answers, he might well brag. “Well, it’s only (insert massive dimensions) but it’ll be (insert even larger dimensions) when we’re through.”

As an added thought, this morning I got another email from another very good writer friend whom I respect a great deal. He recommended writing using whatever measurements I’m comfortable with (feet/yards) to facilitate the flow of the writing. Then I can convert everything afterward to the appropriate unit of measurement. Another excellent idea. Thanks, RJS!

So thanks to my friends for the mental exercise. Overnight I have learned and grown as a writer, and I have JGV and RJS to thank.

‘Til next time, happy writing!

Harvey

The Only Five Comma Rules You’ll Ever Need

Hi Folks,

This is gonna sound WAY oversimplified, especially given the nineteen PAGES of comma rules in the HarBrace College Handbook.

But it’s true. If you use these five rules, you can’t go wrong:

1. Never put a comma between a subject and its verb or between a verb and its object.

Also you must realize that a subject may be compound, as in “John and Ray went to the store and bought a television and a radio.”

In the example, “John and Ray” is the subject. “Went and bought” is the verb. “A television and a radio” is the object.

Of course, you can also add to the size of the subject, verb or object and you can detract from the size of the subject verb or object.

2. When a subordinate clause introduces an independent clause, separate the two with a comma.

If you aren’t sure about clauses, Rule #2 is an example of itself, as is this explanation.

A clause has a subject and a verb but doesn’t stand alone, meaning it doesn’t make sense by itself. (A “phrase” is missing either a subject or a verb.)

In Rule 2, “clause” is the subject and “introduces” is the verb, but “when” keeps the clause from making sense by itself. Therefore it is “subordinate.”

3. Do NOT use a comma to separate the clauses when a subordinate clause follows an independent clause.

In Rule #3, “Do not use a comma” is an independent clause and the remainder is a dependent clause. This rule, again, is an example of itself.

As an interesting side note, the subject in Rule 3 is the implied “you.” The verb is “use.”

4. Use a comma before the appropriate coordinating conjunction to join two related sentences.

The coordinating conjunctions are for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so. Remember the acronym FANBOYS. My female students used to love that acronym. By the way, you very seldom need a comma AFTER a coordinating conjunction, although that is a bad habit that some folks have developed.

5. Trite as it sounds, when you are in doubt about whether to use a comma, leave it out.

Believe it or not, most comma problems arise from the insertion of misused commas, not from their omission.

That’s it! The five rules of comma use. And really, there are only three.

The first one is necessary, numbers 2 and 3 are the same thing in reverse, and Rule 4 is necessary depending (in fiction) on how you want the sentence to flow.

And of course, the last one isn’t so much a rule as a warning. (grin)

‘Til next time, happy writing!
Harvey

I am a professional fiction writer. If you’d like to get writing tips several times each week, pop over to my Daily Journal and sign up. In the alternative, you can also click the Pro Writer’s Journal tab on the main website at HarveyStanbrough.com.

Stopping and Starting (or Starting and Restarting)

Note: I’m posting this one again now as a lead-in to the post that’s coming next week. I’ve also revised this post so it’s up to date.

Hi Folks,

This is a common problem for all writers. We all have to stop writing at various times for different reasons. The trick is to get started again.

I’m not talking about stopping writing once an hour or so to move around a bit. I’m talking here about stopping for the day and coming back to a blank page. Or stopping because Life Happens, perhaps you become ill or a loved one has a problem you have to deal with or whatever.

When those life events happen (and they happen to everyone), if you’re a mechanic, you deal with the life event, then go back to your job. If you’re a lawyer, same thing. If you’re a postal worker or a tuba player in the local symphony. If you’re a writer, after the life event you go back to writing. You start again, or restart.

But what if you don’t want to?

It’s extremely easy to allow yourself “time off” from your writing when you have no valid reason for doing so. What’s that? You don’t need a reason? So you don’t need a reason to stop doing your job? Remember, I’m talking to writers here. Writers write.

If you feel like you need to just not write for awhile for whatever reason, check in with yourself: which fear is requiring you to want “time off” from writing?

  • Fear that once you finish you’ll have to submit it for publication or publish it?
  • Fear that an editor will reject your work?
  • Or if you self-publish, fear that some other reader won’t like it?
  • Or perhaps you just realized you’re working on a NOVEL, this huge thing, and you’re feeling overwhelmed, like no possible way can you finish something so large and intimidating. Is that it?

Whatever fear is keeping you from writing, remember that it’s not an actual limitation. It’s a false limitation, a mirage.

When you identify that fear, push it down and get started again. Just put your fingers on the keyboard and write what comes. Smile. Enjoy it. Have fun!

If your immediate mental response to all this began with “But,” again, check in with yourself. Identify the fear. Laugh at it, push it down and write.

If you’re in the midst of a work in progress (WIP), the same thing applies. Read a bit of what you’ve written (a paragraph or two or three) to remind yourself of where you are in the storyline, then put your fingers on the keyboard and just write whatever comes.

Remember, your subconscious knows the story better than you do.

Ah, but what if nothing comes? Then chances are you need to begin a whole new scene. Don’t worry about chronology for now. Just Write. You can move scenes around later if necessary.

Just so you know, I’m not talking from on high here. This happens to me regularly. Especially while writing Wes 2 (file name for my second novel in a series) I find myself suddenly feeling overwhelmed. I know it’s going to be a novel, so I sometimes slip into feeling overwhelmed.

It’s like the old joke, How do you eat an elephant? The answer applies, of course: One bite at a time.

The notion that I have to “write a novel” is overwhelming. But writing a scene is easy. It’s fun. I get to run and play with my friends for an hour or so.

Then I take a break, then write another scene. Then another. Then another. Eventually, I eat the whole elephant, but only one bite at a time.

Try it. It works. I promise.

‘Til next time, happy writing!

Harvey

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I am a professional fiction writer as well as a copyeditor. For details, or just to learn what comprises a good copy edit, please visit Copyediting. It costs less than you think.

If you’d like to get writing tips several times each week, pop over to my Daily Journal and sign up. In the alternative, you can also click the Pro Writer’s Journal tab on the main website at HarveyStanbrough.com.

 

Stigma Dis, Stigma Dat… Whatever

Note: This post was originally scheduled for October 2014. It didn’t post to MailChimp, so I’m posting it again now. I’ve revised the original post so it’s up to date.

Hey Folks,

Received yet another note today from a friend about the “stigma” of self-publishing. What a bunch of crap. There, I said it.

Not only is it a bunch of crap that there’s a “stigma” in the first place, but it’s an even bigger, smellier bunch of crap that anyone who calls himself or herself a writer cares either way. Writers write.

Self-publishing (indie publishing, not going through a subsidy publisher) is just another way to get your work to readers, period. That’s all it is. And if you tell a good story, someone out there will want to read it, period.

Look, if you’re a fiction writer, either professional or aspirant—you know, a person who actually puts new words on the page—and you’re serious about your writing, do yourself a HUGE favor and swing by the website of my unintentional mentor, Dean Wesley Smith. You’ll find it at http://deanwesleysmith.com.

While you’re there, please be sure to click the Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing tab and read some of the ridiculous myths we’ve all bought into over all these years.

Now just so you know, Dean is no slouch. The guy has had over 100 novels published with “traditional” publishers since the late 1980s. He goes almost strictly indie now.

One other thing—if you truly are serious about your writing, check out the Lecture Series tab on Dean’s website as well. His video series on Heinlein’s Rules is absolutely essential. It’s $75 and easily, EASILY worth several times more that. Think of it as an investment in your future. Seriously.

Dean’s wife is Kristine Kathryn Rusch. You can find her website at KrisWrites.com.

Kris is the only person in history to win a Hugo award both as an editor and a writer. She’s had hundreds of novels published through traditional publishing, and now does tons of stuff in indie publishing. You want to see a work that literally defines the definition of accomplishment? Check out her Retrieval Artist Series.

Those of you who still feel there’s a “stigma” attached to self-published books, listen up:

Self-publishing doesn’t make a book bad anymore than traditional publishing makes one good. It’s the writing, nothing else.

And because I’m in a good mood, I’ll tell you something else: YOU are literally the worst judge of your own writing. When you’re editing and polishing and rewriting because you think it’s boring or bad or needs to be “punched up,” that’s because it’s in YOUR voice.

You are with your voice 24/7, so OF COURSE it sounds boring or bland or bad to you. But to other readers, it will sound unique— Well, if you don’t polish all the good off of it before you finally submit it or put it up for sale.

A little factoid for you—did you know before WWII there were NO traditional publishers?

That’s right. Only self-publishers and the pulps. There were no trade paperbacks until the late 1940s, but people (even writers, who are getting severely, I mean SEVERELY screwed by the big publishers) seem to think traditional publishing predates the printing press and is the most wonderful thing since that same old clichéd sliced bread. Ugh.

Oh, Dean is also the first person in history to create a monthly magazine (Smith’s Monthly) that contains a complete novel and several short stories and all of the work is his own. Quite an accomplishment.

Stop by and take a look. Maybe it’ll clear away some of that “stigma” for you. Seriously.

‘Til next time,

Harvey

I am a professional fiction writer as well as a copyeditor. For details, or just to learn what comprises a good copy edit, please visit Copyediting. It costs less than you think.

If you’d like to get writing tips several times each week, pop over to my Daily Journal and sign up. In the alternative, you can also click the Pro Writer’s Journal tab on the main website at HarveyStanbrough.com.

 

Safeguard Your Credibility

Note: This post was originally scheduled for sometime in 2014. It didn’t post to MailChimp, so I’m posting it again now. I’ve revised the original post so it’s up to date.

For anyone who’s interested, The Professional Fiction Writer: A Year in the Life is available for preorder in all electronic venues. It will ship on January 15.

Also, while I’m pushing help for writers here, I can’t do better than recommend you read Dean Wesley Smith’s recent post titled “Once More… For the New Year… Pulp Speed.” This one is massively important for anyone who wants to be a professional fiction writer. To see it, click this link: http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/once-more-for-the-new-year-pulp-speed/.

Hi Folks,

A long time ago, those who made their living with the written or spoken word obeyed two self-imposed rules:

  1. they knew the language intimately, and
  2. they applied that knowledge skillfully.

It seems that level of commitment has become the exception rather than the rule.

Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, Edwin Newman, Mark Twain, Papa Hemingway, Dorothy Parker and countless other professional writers studied the language and knew the meanings (both denotation and connotation in all its delightful intimacies) and spellings of the words they used.

They also knew and applied the rules of grammar and syntax, not because they had to, but because they knew it would enhance reader understanding. And they themselves wouldn’t look like blithering morons.

Those news professionals and writers took no chances that their readers might misunderstand, and they took no chances that their readers or listeners might think them ignorant. And yet the battlecry of contemporary so-called professionals seems to be “Well, it’s close enough. The readers will know what I was trying to say.”

I mention Murrow, Cronkite and Newman because they were news professionals who wrote and read the news on radio and television. I mention them because today’s news professionals apparently don’t know that “likely” is an adjective that is synonymous with “probable,” not “probably.”

They don’t understand that a “weapons cache” (pronounced “cash”) is a store of weapons and that “weapons cachet” makes no sense at all to a thinking person. Why? Because a “cachet” (pronounced “cashay”) is an aroma, not a stored collection of weapons or anything else.

And worst of all, at least to me, they don’t understand that such errors DO matter. In fact, they are grievous affronts to our language and to the writing profession as a whole.

A recent correspondent mentioned that in a Michael Crichton novel she repeatedly saw statements like “I better be going” instead of “I’d better be going”  (this would be okay in dialogue, but not in narrative) or  “would of” and “could of” in place of “would’ve” and “could’ve” (this would not be all right in dialogue or narrative). And this is an author whose works regularly populate the bestseller lists.

So what’s going on? Are these usages simply considered acceptable now?

Sadly, the answer is yes.

They are considered acceptable because it’s much easier to simply accept something as “good enough” than to expend the effort to teach students the correct way to spell and the rules of grammar and syntax.

Consider, the word “acceptable” doesn’t even mean “adequate.” It simply means “good enough.” If it were a letter grade, “acceptable” would be a D, and “adequate” would be a C.

In other words, it’s a soup sandwich, sloppy at best.

“The Reader Will Know What I Mean”

Umm, no, Sparky. Bad writer. It isn’t the reader’s responsibility to figure out what you mean.

That responsibility belongs to the person who puts the words on the page, and um, that would be You.

Unfortunately, it’s too late to simply ask the teachers in public schools to begin (please) teaching their students proper grammar and syntax. Many of today’s teachers can’t do so because they don’t know it themselves.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen in written works that a room was “void” of furniture. Of course, the writer meant “devoid.”

In the manuscript I’m currently working on (back when I wrote this) a character “embarked from” a train. Yes, I changed it to “disembarked.”

The writer or speaker can “imply” something; only the reader or listener can “infer,” yet increasing numbers of writers treat those terms as if they’re interchangeable.

  • Would you want your next surgery to be conducted by a guy who barely made it through med school?
  • Would you want the guy who’s adjusting your heater to get it ready for the winter to do a job that’s just passable?
  • Would you want a contractor whose buildings routinely barely pass inspection?

The fact that increasing numbers of writers accept “good enough” as a standard is an abomination that contributes more every day to the dumbing down of America.

And to any writer who’s worth his or her salt, “good enough” is never good enough. You’re an artisan, one who strives constantly to perfect your craft. And that, my friends, is “good enough.”

Next up, more on safeguarding your credibility as a writer.

‘Til next time, happy writing.

Harvey

THIS JUST IN FROM KRISTINE KATHRYN RUSCH: If you have ANY books with All Romance Ebooks/OmniLit, read Kris’ post here: https://www.patreon.com/posts/business-musings-7624150. This is an advance look at her post from later this week.

Two other links that might help are these:

All Romance Ebooks Closing

All Romance Ebooks Suddenly Closing

I am a professional fiction writer as well as a copyeditor. For details, or just to learn what comprises a good copy edit, please visit Copyediting. It costs less than you think.

If you’d like to get writing tips several times each week, pop over to my Daily Journal and sign up. In the alternative, you can also click the Pro Writer’s Journal tab on the main website at HarveyStanbrough.com.