Monday, June 04, 2012

Striving for a WIP that's actually "in progress"



The arrival of spring combined with the arrival of a less-than-sunny attitude toward writing has really slowed down the flow of my creative juices for the past couple of months. I started two books, felt the sluggishness set it, waffled between both projects, then set them aside. Many things about the GLBTQ* writing community have recently (and rather seriously) stanched my enthusiasm for it. So I've been disengaging myself from the whole author thing.

Last night I lay awake, thinking about my two stalled WIPs and how I need to get one of them going. I can't publish a story every two to four weeks like some writers in the genre -- a feat that profoundly boggles my mind -- but I should be able to manage something every three to six months. My position on this overcrowded playing field is tenuous enough. I need to keep my name out there. I need to produce, and to the best of my ability.

That final clause threw my thoughts onto another track. Does it even pay to write well? Maybe I should follow the lead of some of my peers and strive for quantity, compose a few tearjerkers or sex romps or chuckle fests every couple of months. There'd be nothing wrong with that. Readers seem to enjoy the output of speed writers as much as or more than that of poky writers. My books thus far haven't exactly blown people away, so I wouldn't have anything to lose.

Stephen King, the decades-long Grand High Master of every bestseller list in existence, seems to imply it doesn’t pay to fuss over craftsmanship. He’s proclaimed that James Patterson is “a terrible writer,” Dean Koontz is “sometimes . . . just awful,” and Stephenie Meyer “can’t write worth a darn. She’s not very good.” (I have a feeling Steve was pulling his punches when it came to good ol’ Steph.) Yet King readily admits – because really, the facts speak for themselves – their books sell like crazy.

I've seen this in the m/m romance genre too. It's a compelling argument, I realized, for altering my mindset.

After my thoughts took a few more turns (and by then it was 2:00 a.m.), a title for one of my WIPs popped into my mind. Remember that story with the polka band? I decided to call it Xylophone. Unfortunately, along with the title came a premise that's heavy rather than light. So much for altering my mindset. After hours of tossing from side to side and considering how to jump-start my productivity, I landed back at the same place: facing a project which, like Merman, is going to take a while to complete, strain my brain in the process, and yield the same unspectacular results in terms of reception.

Damn, I hate the way my imagination works. I so wish I could just say FUCK NO to most of my ideas, devise a works-every-time formula, and keep capitalizing on it!

22 comments:

Tam said...

Hmm. A better question may be does it pay to write at all? If I figure my hourly rate for my two little shorts, it's probably about $1/hour. Wheeee.

I think your books are widely praised in the literary sense, but it does seem like many readers just want Doritos. I'm as bad as anyone else. Sometimes I don't want to think too hard, just feed me mind-candy and let me escape for a couple of hours. However I find that gets a bit much after awhile. I can't imagine existing on a steady diet of such, but it seems some do.

So my answers is ... who the hell knows. I don't think anyone working a full-time job can churn them out. I know I've had friends say "Oh you should write X". Yeah, sure. You should come and do my laundry.

I wonder how it is for the vast majority of authors who have books in traditional stores. Those who are propped up next to Stephanie Meyer. Sure, she's raking in the dough, but what about the other 250 YA authors in that section. I guess they get advances, but if you don't produce sales, you'll never get another one. Shades of Grey is another one, seems to be widely panned for it's poor quality but hell, the author's raking in the dough. Crappy TV shows stay on the air for years, shitty movies are tops at the box office. Meh. Culture sucks. ;-)

Hope you can find your mojo.

Mara said...

I think you and I were separated at birth. I have these same thoughts! I sell a handful of copies a month (apart from the week I was ~extremely~ fortunate to be reviewed at DA) and I know part of the lack of sales is because I don't promote my work, but even when I do, I can't come anywhere near the sales of books that m/m readers generally love.

Like you, I've considered trying to write faster, lighter (and, in my case, angstier and sexier) without fussing over every last word. I used to write fan fic that way. But my writing habits have changed. Last night, I spent three hours trying to make the arrangement of words in two paragraphs fit the image in my head. (And it's still not right.)
In the time it takes me to write one book, other writers in our genre have written three or four.
They're making me feel very unproductive.

But fretting over how fast and how carefully to write always comes back to whether I'd be happy with the end result. Would I be proud of something I'd rushed out just to keep readers remembering my existence? I want to say no; but then I haven't really tried to do it yet, so who knows. :D

Like you, I go back and forth on it until my characters remind me I'm hopelessly in love with them and their stories. Then the compromising is pushed off, to be reconsidered at another date.

Cris said...

I wish I could answer the question. It frustrates me as an avid reader that so many popular books are crap. People that don't read much end up on a bandwagon and think that my kind of books are crap because they think the ONE book they read is indicative of the genre. I just spent an hour yesterday trashing 50 Shades with a friend that bought it just because everyone is talking about it.

I read so much (6-8 books a week) that I run out of books by authors I know I can trust and end up taking chances on a good blurb that frequently proves to be a massive waste of my money. Thank goodness for Goodreads so I can get decent recommendations from multiple like-minded readers.

But while you being on my auto-buy list won't make you rich (unless I clone myself a few million times), you can at least know that I consider the money I do spend on your books well worth it. AND I'll keep spending it as long as you keep writing books that you feel good about.

I hope that's worth something even if it doesn't actually pay the rent :)

K. Z. Snow said...

"Hmm. A better question may be does it pay to write at all?"

Exactly. And I'm not thinking in strictly financial terms. I love to write, but doing it professionally has ended up making me feel like something of a loser. To say that's depressing is an understatement. To say that depression has been crippling me is closer to the truth.

And damn it, I can't seem to find the recipe for those Doritos!

K. Z. Snow said...

Mara, it honestly pains me to hear a writer of your caliber express the same feelings! Keep in mind your work has been widely, resoundingly, and deservedly praised; that can help take the sting out of poor royalties.

Plus, you're fortunate that your characters issue their periodic reminders. I must admit, I have a love-hate relationship with mine. I adore them while I'm creating them, but when they're out in the world, I find myself thinking, Why don't more people like you? What's wrong with you?

Lordie, what a miserable lot we are! :)

K. Z. Snow said...

Thank you SO much, Cris. I'm inexpressibly grateful for loyal readers. Actually, making money isn't the overriding issue for me. If I had to pick one, I guess it would be appreciation. I just want to please readers (so I don't feel like Salieri in the movie Amadeus, resigning himself to being a "mediocrity").

As I said to Mara, writers are a sorry, often wilting bunch of divas. ;-)

Anne Tenino said...

KZ, snap out of it! *slap*

Did that help? No? Didn't think so.

Okay, first thing—if you wrote to sell pablum to the masses, would you respect yourself?

Second thing—your books are highly respected, and you have a huge influence on more people than you realize.

Third thing— (((((hugs)))))

Fourth thing—I think everyone gets like this sometimes.

That probably didn't help, either, huh?

L.C. Chase said...

K.Z., I think your work is brilliant and I always look forward to reading your stories. Not once have I been disappointed. Its funny, I was feeling like a bit of a hack last week, and also sometimes feel the pressure of "write more/faster". The thing is, I want to write a quality story I can be proud of at the end of the day. I can't power write and I'm not even going to try. And when it comes to days/times like what you're feeling now, I find some fresh air and a change of scenery always helps me pull out of a funk.

Like Cris, you're an autobuy author for me. You keep writing and I'll keep buying because you have a beautiful voice.

And what Anne said, you DO have a huge and positive influence on people. It would be a sad day if you chucked your quality A-list writing to blast out a bunch of D-list sitcoms.

*hugs*

As for writers block and gloomy thoughts, a change of scenery, getting outside, and getting my mind on a completely different track for a while always does the trick.

Chris said...

*hugs*

K. Z. Snow said...

Anne, it all helped. :) Hugs back at ya. At least you made me smile.

But "snapping" out of it might not be easy. This has been a multifaceted slump, some aspects of which weigh more heavily than others. Maybe if I just take a break (from the Internet in particular), I'll rediscover the joy of writing. 'Cause really, that's what I want the most.

K. Z. Snow said...

Hey, L.C. It's always such a pleasure to see you here!

Feeling like a hack -- oy, yes, the mediocrity syndrome! That's a tough one to uproot. In my case, it's because I'm not sure anymore what constitutes a "quality story." Standards seem so muddled now, they've left me confused and at-sea.

So, yes, I've been taking a breather, mostly through gardening and reading nonfiction and (shame on me!) watching TV. I'm waiting for all the bouncing doubts in my mind to settle so I can start sweeping them away.

K. Z. Snow said...

Thanks, Chris.

Pender Mackie said...

I know how frustrating and worrying it can be to compare yourself to more prolific writers, especially when in a slump. But I believe that in the long run we have to write for ourselves first and the reader second (though it doesn't always pay the bills).

Hang in there, K.Z.

K. Z. Snow said...

Thanks, Pender. I'm hangin'. (!)

Mara said...

I see your work deservedly praised, too, though I think it deserves much more attention. Attention is just such a challenge to come by.

I'm also with you on the parental disapproval when your characters don't win over every reader immediately. :D But I'm less annoyed and more overprotective. I want to grab my characters back and cuddle them until they feel better.

I don't think we're a miserable lot, so much. We're only human. We want things to make sense, too. We want to believe that the writer who knocks herself out crafting a story over the course of a year will do *at least* as well as the writer who puts out a rather first-drafty piece and sells movie rights on the first go-round.

And when it doesn't happen that way, it's only natural that we begin to wonder where we must be going wrong.

I don't mind the low royalties (mainly because I don't need them to survive at the moment.:)) I think it's more the feeling that I'm missing the boat somehow by *trying too hard* when I don't have to. And I know how ridiculous that is. But it's not an easy feeling to shake, sometimes.

All of this just to say I really feel for you and I devoutly hope you can shake off the gloom (though I know depression can knock you down and hold you there) and the effort to write down the story will seem worthwhile again very soon.
In the end, it *is* very worthwhile. Just the few readers who've told me that something of mine cheered them up (perversely enough, that makes me cry) :)
How awesome is it that we can write something that will lift someone else up?
And YOU do that. You, K.Z. Snow.

Karen said...

K.Z., It makes me sad to hear that you're suffering this bout of self-doubt, especially after I read and absolutely loved Carny's Magic. (I posted a short compliment on Q&A with JL on "What else are you reading?") Since I often struggle to find exactly the right words for an email or blog post, I think writers are amazing. Even to complete even one beautifully-written book a year is amazing. I think you're way ahead of that. Please accept a hug from me as well.

K. Z. Snow said...

Hi, Karen, and a big welcome to my blog!

Never, ever feel hesitant about commenting. As you can see, even "professional" writers (and I use the term loosely) don't always think they know what they're doing. :)

Believe it or not, yours is the first comment I've read about Carny's Magic . . . and you have no idea how happy it makes me. (I adore those characters!) But I've been hunkered down, trying to avoid feedback I just assume will be negative.

Thank you so much for speaking up. (And hugs back!)

Erika said...

NOOOO Pleeeeaase don't ever model ourself after one of those cheesy hacks that seem to release something every 5 seconds. I always wonder how they do it, read a sample, and then I'm like, "Oh right... It's because they suck." Mediocrity seems to be for the masses....blah.

I, like Cris up above, am a prolific reader and sometimes feel the need to cleanse my mental palate with some fluff. This is because there's only so much awesomeness out there, which sucks for fast readers like me. However, I'm always here waiting with bated breath for writers like you, who are excellent regardless of genre, to release something new.

I do understand how depression can throw you into a sink hole you feel you can never climb out of but you definitely need to know that you rock. You have made me cry multiple times and I never want your novels to end. Sadly I'm not much of a review writer or I'd be all over the net gushing about your books.

I've actually been waiting for "Carny" to come out on Amazon or I'd have devoured it already and been here to squee over it. You've been on my auto buy list since I first read Visible Friend, after which I promptly bought the rest of yor m/m novels and will continue to do so as long as you keep writing them.

I sincerely hope you continue to write your complicated, odd, endearingly weird characters and not-the-norm books because I know I'm not the only one that would be saddened if you stopped.

K. Z. Snow said...

Hi, Erika!

I deeply appreciate the feedback I've received from readers like you. This whole business, and the m/m genre in particular, has gotten so wonky in the past year or two that I can't seem to determine what readers are looking for.

So . . . I need somehow to work my way back into that space where the writing alone brings me satisfaction, a space where the ratings and reviews and lists and contests and popularity levels are superfluous.

Thanks for taking the time to drop by!

Blaine D. Arden said...

*hug*
It's hard not to think the grass is greener on the other side, but that greener grass won't make you happier if it means selling yourself out.

I'm convinced quality will prevail, in the end

K. Z. Snow said...

Thanks, Blaine. It's so nice to see you here!

The crux of the problem for me is, I feel I can't trust my own judgment. My standards have been shaken loose from their moorings. I'm not sure anymore what constitutes quality, and even less sure what it takes to please readers.

Blaine D. Arden said...

Thanks :) I've been meaning to reply sooner... but I get easily distracted (by writing, mostly, so it's not necessarily a bad thing)

Maybe it's a sign you need to step back a bit. I hope you'll find that confidence back. *hug*

Of course, as a writer, I'm a relative newby, and I'm not sure I have the first clue about what readers actually want... for now I just write the stories I have in my head, and hope they love them.

As a reader... I have my guilty pleasures, but there are books I sort of hop-skip through, because there's one tiny plotline I like... and the rest... *sigh*
I have no idea what some people are raving about...