2. Creative Direction
E.L. James. Love her. Hate her. The fact is, there are many people that have purchased and read the 50 Shades books, and they have been wildly popular. I myself have not read them, and based on what I have heard, they are not my cup of tea. One thing these books have really seem to have contributed to is that openly reading sex stories, and talking about sex openly, have become more normal. A really big thing has been that it has become more normal for women to have a sexual identity and a sexuality. As a therapist, I think this is all great.
My point with this is that this book has opened up something of a social movement. I think that society has already been moving toward a more positive view of sexuality and feminine sexuality, so this is not the only factor, but I think it is still hard to deny that these novels have had an impact. If you are not aware, they are fan fiction, based off the Twilight novels (which I have also not read, but they are in my wife’s teacup.)
These novels are fan fiction, and are riddled with raunchy sex that no one has ever openly admitted to enjoying, outside of the red light district in any major city. By every traditional metric, they really had no reason to be successful, and yet they were wildly successful. There is even a movie adaptation coming soon.
As I stated in the previous post on this topic, I do think there are great reasons that traditional publishing has worked for many years. However, I also think there are reasons that self-published novels are rising in popularity. The 50 Shades books would have never been published by a traditional publisher. As I understand the history of this story, it started on websites dedicated to fan fiction, and was later picked up by a small, nontraditional print-on-demand press. From there, E.L. James went on to be named one of Time’s one-hundred most influential people of the year in 2012.
Whether the books are on my “must read” list or not, I have to recognize their reach and impact. I have heard the writing is very poor, yet these books started a movement often referred to as “mommy porn,” that helped many women get more in touch with their sexuality. By all traditional rules and reasoning, this should never have happened. Whether you love E.L. James and her writing or not, you have to respect the impact. This new direction was only possible through a nontraditional means, forging new ground, with new rules.
So that was my point with all this. I truly believe that writing is an artistic expression. Yet no other art form has so many “rules” that people have to follow. Try to find the equivalent to “show don’t tell” in the world of painting. Realistically, I do not think you will find it, because no other medium of art is bound with so many rules regarding how to express yourself in an acceptable manner. I want to reiterate that I am not a black-and-white, all or nothing type of thinker. I do very much strongly believe that authors should have their books professionally edited, regardless of how they choose to publish them. Therefore, I am not a completely “throw the rule book out the window” type of person. At the same time, I do not know of any other art form that is so rule bound as the writing industry, and artists at times should test the limits and functionality of those rules. E.L. James tested those time honored rules with the 50 shades books, and not only proved some of them to be outdated, but also had an artistic impact on society.
Traditional publishing uses the antediluvian rules that are the very foundation of publishing since before the Gutenberg press, and those rules have a reason and a purpose, because they have been proven to work. I myself would use a traditional publisher in a heartbeat if the chance presented itself, and I believed that the contract would be beneficial for both parties. However, I really believe that the ability to self-publish has become more than a vanity, it has allowed for creative expression by artists that would have normally not have been allowed to publish, and one may argue the impact has been negative, but one cannot argue that those artists have had an impact. In the end, I think society generally benefits from less fettered, creative expression from modern artists, whether it comes from paint or pen.
More on this topic in a later post, stay tuned! Please also comment below, and let me know what you think!
Let me be clear right from the start, I am not a dichotomous thinker. So this is not a self-publishing versus traditional publishing, there can be only one! type of post. I have a lot of respect for many traditionally published authors, and I think it makes quite a bit of sense for those want to be the next J.K. Rowling or Stephen King. I once held that the only way to have a book published was through the traditional means of going through an agent and big publishing company. Over the years, however, I have come to really believe in self-publishing.
1. The Free Market
I honestly believe that there are a few things that should not be free market based, because the concern for profit countermands the very premise of those industries. I do not see publishing as one of those industries. When a few big hands control the flow of any media, there will be both advantages and disadvantages. One advantage will be a more precise control on quality. This makes great sense. If I find a few typos in a book I spent ninety-nine cents on, I will be able to quickly move on. If I find typos in a book I spent fifteen dollars on, I will probably not buy from that author at full-price ever again.
That is often the argument against self-publishing, that the quality suffers. I would contend that there are many ways of determining quality. One way is through the proper use of grammar and punctuation. Another is through sticking to proven elements of literary style. Yet another is through creativity and compelling characters and story. Creativity is one thing that suffers when novels are pressed through a mill whose very design is to ensure conformity to established standards.
I do very much strongly believe that grammar and punctuation are important. As a college instructor, I do really wish I could get many of students to see the value in using proper grammar and punctuation. I also believe that authors can look toward general elements of style that work well. For example, I was very thrown off when trying to read a book with an omniscient point-of-view, and I just could not get into the book. Third-person-limited just works. That is how it became an industry standard. However, I have also read excellent books that had serious flaws, but I still enjoyed them. House of Blades, by Will Wight is a great read. It was a very imaginative fantasy story, in an interesting and unique fantasy world. It has more errors in it than an Astros game. Mr. Wight has not followed some rules, including using professional editing, and having a professionally designed website. Yet he has really done well with his books. How? To me it is easy. The books are imaginative, have compelling characters, and are just fun to read.
Do I wish he had his books edited to remove the glaring typos? Heck yes. However his books have been successful because there is more to the success of a story than following paint-by-number rules that the publishing industry has built their empire on. Again, please do not misinterpret me, I am not saying that those rules are wrong. I am just saying that they do offer only a limited view. Not a wrong view by any means, just limited.
I think that general rules of thumb serve any industry well, especially one that tries to channel creative expression into something that a general group of people will relate to and want to consume. As stated at the beginning though, I am not a black-and-white thinker. There are many ways to achieve success, just like there are many different ways of measuring success. Please come back as I explore this topic further, and explore my other thoughts on why self-publishing here to stay, and why that is a good thing.
I have read the advice a million times (that may be a slight exaggeration), writers write, and they must do so every day. I look back at the last year, and I just have not met my writing goals. So I need to re-examine my goals, including how realistic they are, but also whether or not my writing habits are going to be sufficient to meet my goals.
The Argument for Writing Daily
I get the argument for writing every day. It take discipline to be a writer who makes a living by writing, because it is one of those jobs where no one is likely to notice if did not show up one day. So a writer needs to be disciplined and focused in order to get words on the page, make revisions, and generally just make a living. It takes it from being a hobby, to being a career. Since I have not met my writing goals over the last year, I certainly do get that I need to write more often. Writing daily also sets a writer up to be in the habit of writing. I know that is important as well. I can tell you that there have been some weeks where I probably had the time, but decided to do other things.
The Write Time
One thing that is tough for me, and that I see as a flaw in the argument is that writing is not my career. I work a full time job as a therapist, and a part-time job as a college instructor. I am a busy guy. I can tell you that writing is definitively a part of both of my jobs, so I do certainly get a lot of technical writing in. The writing as a therapist is often documentation that includes narratives and descriptions of sessions, so I get plenty of practice there as well. So I do get writing in, but let’s face it, it is very different from creative fiction writing. Since I am not yet making a living as a writer, I still need to make my living in the best way I can, which means that my current jobs come first. Not only do I enjoy them, but they put food on the table. I realize that if I spent more time on writing, it would eventually put food on the table as well, but I am not willing for my kids to starve in the meantime.
One hurdle for me then, is having the time to write fiction. I do think about my stories and my writing every day, but I do not always have the time to write. I do write at work, but it is not the same thing. So fitting in the writing is something I know I need to do more of.
Joanna Penn discusses her writing style as being more of a binge process. Like me, she has a day job, and does not have the time or energy to write every day. She feels her creative energy builds until she finally finds some release when she has the time. I can really identify with this. She also says that she takes a lot of time to compose her work before she starts writing it. I can also identify with that.
I am not sure I can truly work as a binge writer, as she and other writers fully describe it. I do have those times in my life where I have more time than other times. That is just the truth of my reality. So in that regard, I can certainly identify with that binge writing. However, for me, it is more of a time issue than it is that my creative process is such that I need things to build and then release.
Still I Write
I can’t write fiction every day, I just do not have the time. If that is what it takes, then I would just have to face the fact that I cannot ever be a true author. I refuse to believe that. I am patient and I don’t mind my writing career taking years to develop. I think that patience and diligence is a perfectly acceptable way of breaking into writing, even if I cannot write every single day.
Having said that, I still know I need to write much more often. I am particularly interested in using technology to help make writing easier. I remember reading once that Brandon Sanderson wrote his breakout novel on a smartphone while riding the subway to and from work. I have no idea how true it is, but it certainly sounds plausible. So I have decided that I need to come up with firmer goals, find more time to write, and test out and use technology tools to help me in doing so. I will try to share what technology I find that works for me in future blog posts, but be patient, because I am not one of those people who writes every day. And I am okay with that!
I have always believed, in my writing, that there is a distinction between the science of writing and the art of writing. The science of writing is like math, it is formulaic and calls for rules of grammar and composition. There is also the art side of writing, which calls for free expression.
I do think that there are numerous important times, when going back for the edit, that it is important to rework a sentence or phrase to try and convey the art while maintaining grammatic integrity. I also believe there are times when it is important to ignore convention, and express the word painting in a more artistic manner. Sometimes the things that need to be conveyed in writing are not neat and orderly, like a grammar rule would make it seem. Life is messy. Emotion is messy. And sometimes writing needs to be messy too. (Did you see how I started a sentence with “and” there?)
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