Category Archives: K.D. Alexander

Throwing in the Towel

is often the most difficult decision that we have to make. Sometimes things just don’t work and you need to cut your losses and move on for greener pastures. Most of my posts thus far have been relatively positive pep-talks for you and me.

Unfortunately, sometimes there’s no positives that can come from something. And it hurts, bad. Like, real bad.

Here’s my problem. For the past seven months, I have been working on a draft of a steampunk “coming of age” story. It’s the most difficult thing I’ve ever worked on. Since November, I’ve accomplished a grand total of 49,000 words. Not even enough to claim a NaNo victory.

I think writing this story is probably the hardest thing that I’ve ever had to do. Harder than boot camp, harder than moving away from everyone and everything I’ve loved for a job that was everything but what I dreamed it would be. Harder than all the pain and suffering and defeat I’ve probably ever known.

It’s not that it’s the whole “writing a story” thing, when I’ve got the write idea (pun intended) and the characters are in my head, sometimes writing them is easy as eating or drinking. It’s not the concept, because the story details that I’ve worked out are an excellent concept.

It’s a poorly executed dream. And when I realized this, I started to learn how to let go.

See, my biggest issue was letting myself get too emotionally wrapped up into the story for reasons that I won’t even go into here, because there’s not enough Kleenex and let’s face it. You’re just not that bored to read about it.

I’ve been sitting on this post for about a month now because I wasn’t really sure how it would be received. I don’t even think I knew when I started writing this what the primary problem was. And forgive my rambling, but I’ve found that when I need to vent or clear the cobwebs out, the blog is here. Mostly, it’s advice to myself and the oft chance that someone else might find some pearls of wisdom amongst the dreck and drivel that I spout routine. =)

People shouldn’t get all wrapped up in books. I mean, after all they’re nothing more than words on a page (or screen) right? But try telling that to the librarian who selflessly devotes her time to share the joys of reading with the less fortunate children who wouldn’t blink an eye at a book either way. Tell that the authors who toil endlessly over their craft and creations. Writers write because they can. Readers read because they want to.

But, there’s something strangely mystical about the “book” itself, both the act of creation and the act of reading it. For some, they’re beach reads to kill an hour while they bake in the sun. For others, they’re the lost secrets and histories of the world whose keys can only be found by endless study.

If they’re just words on the page, meaningless and out of context, then try breaking the bad news to the collectors who search the inter tubes day in and day out to collect rarities, signed copies, first editions. you name it, they want it.

Me? I grew up in a house that didn’t read. My mom was too busy trying to raise me right and my dad was too busy to make sure the bills got paid. Books were the farthest thing from my parent’s mind. So, when I was an eager child of about six or seven, Disney just so happened to have the perfect answer to a child’s wonder. They came in chapbooks and cheap hardbacks, serialized adventures of Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, Goofy…hell, even Pluto got to star in his own adventures.

Every month I would make my parents take me with them to the grocery store. I didn’t whine for the Cocoa Puffs or the Lucky Charms. No, I wanted the Disney books. My parents couldn’t understand it, but they weren’t the ones to question a chance to expand their child’s growing mind.

Yet, they still couldn’t figure it out. Why was I so obsessed with books? Along came my aunt and uncle with the answer to that question.

And therein lies the issue of my discontent. I hated this book I was writing with a passion. I was obsessed with perfection. It wasn’t a book for me, it wasn’t a book for selling. No. It was a gift. To them.

It was supposed to be a thank you for making me some crazy bookworm.

And it failed miserably. Within my quest for perfection, I lost focus and the motivation for my story. Months came and went without me making my deadlines I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. The voice didn’t work, there’s issues with the plot.

You name it, I found the excuse for it. Ashes is my most written and rewritten work. In total, I’ve charted over 100,000 words that went absolutely nowhere. Throwing outlines out halfway through, tearing up whole chapters, rewriting scenes, points of view, everything, anything I could do to keep myself from finishing.

And then I realized the problem.

The book was too perfect that it was disgustingly imperfect. I could do no right with it. I needed to quit.

I felt terrible, crushed even. It was like watching the cat eat your goldfish, your favorite balloon loosening and flying away into the sky.

I gave up.

But, in my defeat I found success. Inside that crushing dread that motivated me to tear my hair out night after night, day after day, I discovered a gem in the muck.

I quit Ashes and finished Hills, rewrote Black, and started Psychic and Night Watch. These were projects that I put away, shelved and believed to be pure crap. After my crushing defeat, I found new life in these works and have worked tirelessly to whittle away the rough bark to leave my own pretty little race car.

And then I presented the absolute rough copy of Hills to my aunt and uncle, just a small token of thanks for their tireless dedication to me.

Soon enough, my other books will be finished with my friendly neighborhood editor. They will be presented in the same fashion, complete with jacket art and interior design. It was as close to published quality as I could get with being unpublished.

And the moral of my story: Find the strength in your weakness. The skies are always most beautiful after the storm.

Don’t be afraid to throw in the towel. When something doesn’t work, don’t sit and kill yourself over trying to turn guano to gold. If it’s meant to be, then it will be.

But, while you’re killing yourself trying to make things work, just think of all the other stories you have waiting to be told.

Sometimes they don’t like to wait. =)

 

What do you do When your Good isn’t Good Enough?

Take a deep breath, relax. What’s got you so worked up?

Is it your three hundredth rejection letter? A hypercritical response from a beta reader? A moron/cyber bully with a keyboard and a bone to pick?

If you’re going through the traditional route, rejection letters are part of the game. It’s kind of like pledging a fraternity…you’re going to get knocked down only to be built back up.

Take Amazon reviews with a grain of salt, don’t let them offend you. If you get upset, the bad guy wins. You don’t want them to win, because that means you lose. And you don’t want to be a loser, do you? =)

If you can distance yourself from your work, your emotional health will be in a lot better shape than if you get wrapped up in all of the personal jibes. It’s perfectly fine to get wrapped up in your book when you write that first draft. Pour your heart out, write everything and anything.

But when it’s time for the second and subsequent drafts, go in with that little violent bugger in the back of your head. Kill your darlings. After your mass murder during the second draft, you should feel a whole lot better about your work and have that emotional distance to know that you’re creating to the best of your ability. Show it back to your hypercritical beta reader. Compare the two drafts, did the comments made/suggested make sense in retrospect? Did you write the best book you possibly could and the reader/reviewer/critic just doesn’t know what they’re talking about?

Or was there more truth than lies? Don’t be afraid of the troll under the bridge. Think of their criticism as the toll you paid to make a second, third, or fiftieth book that much better.

Good luck!

Distractions

What do you do when the garbage needs emptying, the litter box needs cleaning, and the bills need paying?

You’re two weeks overdrawn and the only thing you got going for you is a few fleeting moments of relaxation time.

For most aspiring or beginning writers, the perils of reality always like to set in and rear their ugly little heads at the most unsettling times. How do you kill the distraction demons?

After my slump, I did a whole lot of real life reorganizing. I just ended a three year committed relationship and now it was time to move on. Truth was, I forgot why I even started writing to begin with.

Sure, it’s nice to get lost in the limelight and the big dreams of winning a million dollar contract, writing the next breakout bestseller, and finally being able to quit your day job and be a real writer.

Money had never been a strong point of mine. Truth is, I can’t balance a checkbook without needing a calculator. I have a full time public service job that I most certainly didn’t take for the salary.

Did I dream of being a rich successful author? I’d be lying if I said no. I’m sure there are a lot of other people out there with similar aspirations. But, the visible minority are not the whole of the matter. For every Amanda Hocking and Stephen King, there are a million other Tobias Buckells, and Daniel Abrahams.

There was a while where I thought I was the most awesome person in the world and New York would be knocking down my door to get me to sign on the dotted line. I got so lost in the chance that I might win something, that I forgot to do anything. I would lounge around, plucking grapes off the vine and discussing with myself whether or not the Muse was planning to come over for a drink.

And then I thought about reality and the whole writing life seemed to slide off into oblivion. I let the rest of the world distract me that I forgot to make time for me. And that made me forget why I started writing when I was in 7th Grade.

It was because I liked it.

It made me happy. I told stories that I wanted to read.

It wasn’t to seek some sort of gratification or a self-fulfilling prophecy of making a million dollars. It was because I was having fun.

So? What’s the best way to kill the distraction demon? Don’t forget that you’re having fun.

If you’re finding yourself lounging around, waiting for the Muse to come visit, go out and find her. We think of writing as a passive activity: Sitting at the desk, relaxing on the couch, laying in your bed while you balance a laptop on your legs and plug away at a keyboard.

But there’s so much more to it than passively listening to yourself bang away on keys. Go out on an adventure, watch the sunset, climb a mountain, or hike a trail. Have yourself an adventure and let your mind wander. Think back to the simpler times when distractions weren’t an issue and all you could do was run and play.

Read a book. Work on something or anything else. The more you work to quiet the voice that says “you can’t”, the better chances you have of hearing the one that says “I believe in you.”

Write!

It’s Okay to Talk to Yourself.

Don’t mind the stuttering, the staring. Forget everyone that’s around you. One of the biggest complaints I hear from aspiring writers or envious onlookers is that “there’s never enough time to write.”

Truth is, there’s always time to write. Especially if you think outside the glowing metal box. I had the honor of hearing Kevin J. Anderson speak, and that’s when I learned his dirty little secret.

Kevin talks to himself. So did Upton Sinclair. In Sinclair’s prime, he was turning out 8,000 words a day, seven days a week. That was enough for him to employ two stenographers full time while he dictated his stories. The ending to the sprawling epic “Wheel of Time” was dictated to eager ears and hungry tape recorders on Jordan’s death bed.

I never believed it could work. I tried several times, and after stuttering and stopping three words in, I said to myself: “Screw it.”

After six months of beating myself up because “the words just won’t come”, I decided that this needed to end. I had the whole of Golden Hills’ first draft written, the only thing I was missing had been this one niggling scene that was beginning to drive me insane. It was supposed to be the fun scene, the epic battle where the good guys win and the bad guys get ground into bonemeal. But, why wouldn’t it come to me?

I had been so wrapped up in perfectionism and staring at the blinking black cursor that it was giving me a headache. I’d sit down with every intention to write one word, maybe two. And so I would be there and slowly start typing: “This is my awesome ending.” Backspace, this isn’t good enough. So, I’d try again: “Your head will explode from how awesome this scene is.” Delete. Still not good enough.

And so it would go for days, weeks, six months at a time. It was terrible, all I’d do was wrestle with semantics. Nothing was good enough, nothing ever was.

Frustration really started to settle in. Around this time, there were discussions going on in a message board about Kevin’s dictation methods. Other writers were debating the usefulness, the awkwardness and all that good stuff. Figured I’d give it a go, jump on the band wagon. I dusted off my Sony digital recorder. And I spoke. To myself.

Much awkwardness ensued. “The round went high and wide.” Pause. Repeat. You sound stupid, try again. And so it went for about two weeks. I’d talk to myself in the car, get a few sentences in and feel even dumber than when I began. So I’d quit and go back to my music, my audiobook, flipping off the knucklehead that just cut me off, whatever.

Weeks became months and the frustration really started to amp up. I went back to talking to Kevin about camping and hiking. I’d talk to other friends about what was and wasn’t working on the draft. I came back and decided to rewrite a whole subplot, create a bunch more scenes that were unnecessary, and delete whole chapters. All for the first draft.

Finally, I said the heck with it. I went out into the swamp with my Reader and my digital tape recorder. I stopped at the river and reread the last chapter that I had written [it was the original first draft, with a scene I had since deleted] and something happened. I don’t know what. But something happened. I got that funky lightheaded feeling that only comes from perfect mental clarity.

And then I pushed record. As I rounded the ravine, stepped in some mud, and ruined a perfectly good pair of socks, I did not push stop. Except for when the trail took me under the interstate, and then I couldn’t hear myself think. Soon as I got through the bridge, I hit record again. An hour gave me a little over 4,000 words. Words that needed to be said. It didn’t matter how terrible they were, because there was no backspace key. There was only one way to go, and that was forward.

While orating is not my preferred style (Scrivener, Chai Lattes, and New Age Music, for those who were curious), I found that it works wonders when you need to knock the cobwebs out of your head.

Prior to finishing Golden Hills, I had come off a six month slump where I just couldn’t find the time, didn’t listen to the muse, whatever. You name it, I used it as an excuse.

But there’s a saying I learned which does not bear repeating in polite company [excuses are like a certain unnamed body part every living creature has] and once I wrapped my head around that and took a walk in the woods…I found out that my excuses were nothing more than simple excuses.

Or distractions.

But that’s a matter for another post.