Make your own Author Swag

February 22, 2011

I came into a bit of cash and spent it on some self-designed goodies at Zazzle.

Ah, author-generated marketing! No, not really. This sort of thing is too expensive to be part of any sane business plan for promotion.

But spending money on swag like this is a chance to affirm your faith in your ability as a writer and your certainty in your future success.

They’re conversation pieces. Your friends will see them and ask what the hell you are up to. And you owe it to yourself to get comfortable about sharing your writing progress with your buddies and colleagues.

And they are wicked fun.

Here’s a mug with some tease copy for the novel I’m writing now. Do you ever wake up with cool descriptions of your novel in your head? I do, and I write that stuff down.

Here’s the other side.

Here’s a pin with a graffiti catchphrase from the novel. The main character keeps finding this scratched into park benches and spray-painted on bridges, etc.

Sort of like “Frodo Lives!” or “Who is John Galt?

This is the biggest, cheesiest hack in all my html history. Why the hell can’t I space these stupid pictures properly? Argh!

And this mysterious glyph on my book bag is a QR code, a two-dimensional bar code that usually encrypts website URLs, although they can encrypt any text (such as your latest short story). I’m strangely drawn to them — I think they look like Egyptian hieroglyphics. If you have the right app installed, you can point your iphone at one, and be taken to a website. This one, of course, sends you here.

You can create them for free here, and proofread your work here.

Lastly, here’s a t-shirt I can wear to Write On The Sound conventions and NILA Residencies. Wearing my blog on my sleeve, more or less.

(By the way, if you want a brilliant and Zazzle-free way to promote your published novel, check what marketing genius Seth Godin suggests. And if your novel is electronic, then check with Lindsay Buroker, who proposes something similar.)

Hack Your Brain, Bypass Writing Blocks

September 30, 2010

SMOKE is a game to engage your creative mind about your character by playing with metaphors. This is great for steering around creative blocks by skipping logical thought entirely. Some of your answers will be silly, but that’s okay, because some won’t. And some might give you the insight you were looking for.

Presented by Peter Elbow in Writing With Power, possibly adapted from John Gardner in On Becoming a Novelist. (Although I learned it from Bruce Holland Rogers.)

1) If your character were a color, what color would he/she be? (WAS a color, not the character’s favorite color)

2) If your character were an animal, what animal would he/she be?

3) If your character were a piece of technology, what piece of technology would he/she be?

4) If your character were a mode of transportation, what mode of transportation would he/she be?

5) If your character were a food, what food would he/she be?

6) If your character were physically constructed out of a particular material or substance, what substance would he/she be made of?

7) If your character were a type of weather, what type of weather would he/she be?

(You can make up more questions like these on your own. There’s no limit.)

8 Tips in 4 Minutes

February 24, 2010

Writers are not so special that the rules for success do not apply to them. Here are eight reminders to keep you focused, by Richard St. John, who interviewed 500 successful people and spotted the patterns.

There, that’s better. Okay, back to work.

The 10,000-hour Rule

July 14, 2009

So I’m reading Malcolm Gladwell‘s third book the other day, Outliers, which is not about writers. But it is about success, which is good enough. And it says right there in chapter two that it takes ten thousand hours of dedicated practice to become a world-class master at any particular discipline.

(Such as novelist.)

Three things about this rule struck me. First, the “any” part. Gladwell quotes neurologist Daniel Levitan:

The emerging picture from such studies is that ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert — in anything. In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers [there we are], ice skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals, and what have you, this number comes up again and again. Of course, this doesn’t address why some people get more out of their practice sessions than others do. But no one has found a case in which true world-class expertise was accomplished in less time. It seems that it takes the brain this long to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery.

The second thing that struck me was the total lack of exceptions to this rule. Aren’t there any geniuses, with a natural gift, who get there with only, say, 5000 hours?

Apparently not. Not even people like Mozart.

Gladwell cites Michael Howe in his book, Genius Explained, who wrote, “Many of Wolfgang’s childhood compositions… are largely arrangements of works by other composers… the earliest that is now regarded as a masterwork (No. 9, K.271) was not composed until he was twenty-one.”

And he had his 10,000 hours in by that time, see.

Well… what about Stephenie Meyer? She woke from a vivid dream in June 2003, drafted Twilight by August 2003, and had a six-figure deal by 2005. At this writing, 53 million copies sold. Genius? Luck?

(Don’t read too much into me mentioning Mozart and Meyer in the same freaking blog post. I haven’t read Twilight yet, but no matter how good it is, she’s not Mozart.)

(I mean, please. We all know Michael Crichton was Mozart.)

So I read up on Meyer. Turns out she earned a Bachelor’s in English in 1995. And she cited as inspiration for the Twilight series the works of Jane Austen, both Charlotte and Emily Bronte, and Shakespeare. Since 2005, she’s been writing faster than her publisher, Little, Brown and Company, can publish.

King and Meyer
Ahem. You’re telling me she hasn’t been writing since she was twelve? That she doesn’t have a trunk full of crappy novels at home?

Stephen King, if memory serves, sold Carrie in his early twenties. What about him? Well, he wrote four novels before that, and he was publishing short stories at his school (and freaking out his teachers) in the eighth grade. King put his 10,000 hours in before Carrie, I’ll bet.

Gladwell says of the ten thousand hour rule: “The people at the very top don’t work just harder or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder.”

Carrie Cover
By the way, have you done the math yet? 10,000 hours is:

Eight hours per weekday (full time) for five years.
Four hours per weekday (half-time) for ten years.
Ten hours per week (a weekend gig) for twenty years.

Which brings me to the third and final thing that struck me about it.

Which is that I find it encouraging. That’s odd. I must be somewhere near my 10,000 hours (I’ve thought about it and it’s impossible to tell. I keep crumby records). The ten thousand hour rule kills the notion that some of us will get published and others won’t, and it’s Lady Luck, that bitch, who holds dominion over us.

Just as there are no sneaky geniuses who cheat the rule, there are no cursed losers who grind away until they die. Gladwell described a study published in Psychological Review (“The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance,”) and wrote that the researchers simply couldn’t find any “people who worked harder than everyone else, but just didn’t have what it takes to break the top ranks.”

Nice. Even when I’m writing crap, I’m making progress. It’s a handy answer for my superego when it asks me, “Why are you writing when you should be working?!”

Hey man, this is, like, hour 9,973 for me. Back off.

(PS. If you know any exceptions to the 10,000-hour Rule, or if you know how many novels Meyer wrote before Twilight, please leave a comment.)

Fear of Failure

May 29, 2009

I’ve been reading Bare Bones, a collection of Stephen King interviews published in 1988. This is from a 1983 Playboy interview with him, about his young hungry days before he was published:

PLAYBOY: How did your marriage stand up under those strains?
KING: Well, it was touch and go for a while there, and things could get pretty tense at home. It was a vicious circle: The more miserable and inadequate I felt about what I saw as my failure as a writer, the more I’d try to escape into a bottle, which would only exacerbate the domestic stress and make me even more depressed. Tabby was steamed about the booze, of course, but she told me she understood that the reason I drank too much was that I felt it was never going to happen, that I was never going to be a writer of any consequence. And, of course, I feared she was right.

I’d lie awake at night seeing myself at fifty, my hair graying, my jowls thickening, a network of whiskey-ruptured capillaries spiderwebbing across my nose — “drinker’s tattoos,” we call them in Maine — with a dusty trunkful of unpublished novels rotting in the basement, teaching high school English for the rest of my life and getting off what few literary rocks I had left by advising the student newspaper or maybe teaching a creative writing course. Yechh!
Even though I was only in my mid-twenties and rationally realized that there was plenty of time and opportunity ahead, that pressure to break through in my work was building into a kind of psychic crescendo, and when it appeared to be thwarted, I felt desperately depressed, cornered. I felt trapped in a suicidal rat race, with no way out of the maze.

Sometimes we let fear of failure keep us from embracing our writing and making sacrifices to it. King is the first writer I’ve heard of who let fear of failure drive him to keep writing. For him, it was success or nothing — no other options were tolerable. That attitude made him miserable… but it also got him published.

Bare Bones