wily book-writing expectations refuse to be tamed

Are you planning to finish and self-publish your book in 2016?

The beginning of the year is a great time to commit to these kinds of endeavors, but it’s also a good time to get started. I know for me, and for many of us creatives, it’s easy to see the year spreading ahead of us, and difficult to actually get past the commitment stage, toward something more tangible.

I’m not going to peppily assure you that finishing a creative project of any scope is going to be bright and easy–I’m not a chipmunk, and I’ve been part of reality for long enough to know that this kind of work is sometimes more complicated internally than any of us can really explain.

However, I will also say this: Sometimes these kinds of projects have a way of taking up much more time than we expect. 

Project creep is a very real thing, and even for the experienced among us, we have a tendency to estimate and project based on our best possible version of us, rather than the real, actual version of us. This is true in writing, in publishing, and even in business.

It’s also so much easier and more fulfilling to plan for Rockstar Brenda than Reality Brenda–but I don’t live in Rockstarland. And unfortunately (or seriously, maybe fortunately!) neither do you.

What I want to remind you here, though, is that none of this means anything. It doesn’t mean anything that we’re optimistic with our expectations, unless we let it mean something. Our time away doesn’t mean we’re not cut out for this, or that you’re a bad writer, or even that you’re not dedicated. Wily, untamed expectations are just that–don’t let them run your life.

If you’re sitting on your manuscript, finished or not, now is a good time to dust it off. If it’s ready for a professional eye, contact an editor, find a writing group, whatever. Get someone else to look at your stuff and get talking about your work. 

If it’s not finished, it’s okay to come back to it. You don’t need to do penance for the time you’ve been away–your book doesn’t know. And neither will your readers, once you’ve finished it. If you’re struggling, find a group of people to keep you accountable. Join a group. If you’re interested in something let by me–sign up here, so you’re first to know when I’ve put the finishing touches on my upcoming Drafting Support Group.

And finally, realize that book writing and book editing and book everything is an imperfect science. It’s going to take longer than you want it to, it’s going to take longer than you expect, and that’s okay. Even in extreme cases, the amount of wiggle room is going to be 10-15% of the overall process.

But do yourself a favor, and start now. Especially if you can hear your book calling to you. Especially then.

If you’d like some support with the editorial process–don’t hesitate to get in touch with me. I’m happily accepting projects, comprehensive and otherwise.

But whatever you do, move forward. Gently.

finding your narrative voice

Okay. The new Cosmos is long over, I know. (Still, for the record: Neil DeGrasse Tyson is like my personal hero.)

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But I’ve just gotten around to watching the OLD Cosmos on Netflix. And I want to talk about Carl Sagan. And mostly, I want to talk about how Carl Sagan talks.

Have you watched the original Cosmos? You can get Netflix to send you the disks, or check it out on Youtube (https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLBA8DC67D52968201). Go take a listen. You know, if you want to and stuff.

Do you notice how Carl Sagan has a very distinct way of speaking? He’s definitely got a memorable inflection, and people have been making fun of the way he says “billions” for like thirty years now, so there’s that.

But the thing that’s interesting to me is that Carl Sagan produced Cosmos in an era where the standardized TV accent was well-established. Anchors like Walter Cronkite had been speaking in neutralized American English for years at this point, and American audiences would have been trained to expect the same from most documentaries, television shows, and the like.

Two things are immediately clear upon watching Carl Sagan’s Cosmos: (1) that Carl Sagan speaks exactly like Carl Sagan, and (2) that Carl Sagan cares about science and the things he’s telling us about more than anything in the world.

And I think it’s really the second aspect of that observation that informs a successful narrative voice. The original Cosmos is awesome, even thirty years later. The special effects–and yes, sometimes the information–are clearly dated in 2014, but the spirit of the show is still appealing, even years later.

Sagan didn’t sterilize himself–either his love for the natural world or his natural speech patterns–to make the show, and it was by all measures, hugely successful.

But as writers, we often seek to do this exact thing. We try to make our narrative voice “sound” like an author we admire. We try to make our grammar perfect. We try to make the writing match our expectations for “good” writing.

When this happens, we isolate the second part of Carl’s narrative–the part that cares–from the part that’s communicating. If you’ll excuse the squishy metaphor, we cut our own heart out of our words, and we sterilize the message to make sure it fits into our constructed expectation of good narration.

But good narration is YOUR narration. Your voice. It’s your job, much like Carl, to stretch your story or idea out there to pass it off directly to another human. This requires guts and integrity and authenticity, and because it is your heart and your story and your idea, it requires you.

Don’t cut yourself out of your narrative. It won’t survive without you.

And when you hear that voice that nags you to write the way you should, to follow convention, to do things right, remember Carl Sagan. He didn’t need to sound like a standard American to touch the hearts and minds of millions.

And neither do you.  

becoming super legit! in one easy step!

I want to talk about business cards, because obviously they are the ultimate paragon of legit-ness.

You really can’t get more official than a business card, right? If you are DOING something, and if you have a little card that says you’re doing it, you are IN BUSINESS. It has your title. It might have your face on it. Or your company’s logo. Or YOUR logo. No one is going to argue with a business card.

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My first editorial business cards! I was so legit!

Do you remember the first time you got business cards with your name on them? I might be exposing my strange career past here, but when I got business cards at my first job out of college, I was like: “Brenda. You’re an adult now. You have a card.”

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protecting yourself from…yourself

Do you know what is super frustrating? Life. The end.

No, wait! Don’t leave. I’m just kidding. (Kind of.)

Seriously, though, what’s really super frustrating is how the things you think are problems are never actually the actual problems! I’m the actual problem!! We’re always our own worst problems. And that is seriously the worst.

But it’s not just you that’s your own worst enemy. About six months ago, I jumped into dog ownership–or more aptly, Puppy Patrol–without a really clear understanding of what it actually takes to turn a two-month-old dog into something that’s not a pooptastic crocodile.

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Beast dog, small version. He used to get really cold.

Turns out that taking care of a puppy is all of the things I expected–mostly, lots of dog pee. But the most unexpected aspect of puppy training is preventing the small beast from killing itself on otherwise totally harmless objects. That dog can go from happily romping in the backyard to eating an aluminum can in about the time it takes me to pour boiling water into a teacup.

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don’t let anyone tell you how to write. (even me.)

Look. There’s a lot of information on the internet about maximizing your writing process.

You can find articles that will tell you to write in the morning. Or the evening. Or with an outline. Or with a story board. With people, without people. Chronologically. Not chronologically. Standing up! Sitting down! (Fight! Fight! Fight!)

Guess what? It’s all bullshit. And reading advice about how you “should be” writing is hurting your productivity.

While I guarantee that there are people out there that write best from 11:32 AM to 3:15 PM on every third Wednesday, the fact of the matter is this: other people’s writing processes have no bearing on what will work best for you. And, by allowing other people to tell you how to write, you’re setting up the expectation that whatever you would do naturally is not good enough

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