Writing, as a profession, has many drawbacks – low pay, near constant rejection, and of course, the perception that anyone with two fingers and maybe a toe for the spacebar can do whatever it is an author does. In popular imagination what a writer does seems to consist mainly of drinking, living in dilapidated, Miss Havesham-esque hovels, and pulling genius 500 page books out of their butt in 6 weeks or less. And most people think they could manage that – you know if they sat down and really tried. I’m not entirely sure what they base this on other than the fact that Havasham-esque dilapidated drinking while turning random crap into a term paper is how most people remember college.
Now physically it is possible that typing 40 words per minute for 6 hours a day (I’m leaving 2 hours per work day for eating, bathroom breaks, and cat videos) could get you a 500 page work in about 9 days. (40 words x 60 min. = 2400 words, 250 words per page = 9.6 pages per hour & 57.6 pages per day x 8.75 days = 504 pages with time left over for an extra cat video). The problem is that the words don’t already exist – they have to be invented, discovered, and strung together in the right way. Even for this blog (currently a mere 229, 230, 231 words) I’ve already deleted about as many words as I’ve written. You need words that not only mean the right thing, but sound like the thing, and conjure imagery so that the reader can see the right thing. Basically, finding the right words is not as easy as it looks. But it’s also one of the best things about writing.
Not every word I write is gold. But I have written a few things that have a beautiful symmetry, a fricative taste in the mouth, and leave a crunchy thought in the brain. Those are the good days. And those are the days that keep me pursuing writing. Because sometimes, if I work hard enough, I get to make something wonderful, artistic and meaningful.
But now here’s a picture of a cat in bread – because today is not one of those days.
I read Marjorie Brody’s post yesterday “Passion Knows NoGenre” with interest. Marjorie was discussing that she hates being tied to one particular genre, but that the general industry wisdom is to do exactly that – stick to one thing! I love Marjorie’s rebellious flare, but the topic also tied into something I’ve been pondering for awhile: pen names and branding.
As a graphic designer with over a decade of industry experience I have referred to myself periodically as a “branding expert”. Branding is about capturing the concrete and implied qualities of a company or person in their visual, advertising, and on-line representations. Branding seems trivial to some, but as human beings we do it ALL the time. Only most sociologists call it “stereotyping”. Humans seem to prefer to have a short little label to stick on people. We don’t really like being forced to confront the broad spectrum of human reality – it takes too long and we’ve got better things to do with our time. What I do as a graphic designer is try to lodge the preferred stereotype in a consumers mind before they apply their (usually not as complementary) own.
Which is why I don’t usually tell my graphic design clients that I’m a writer. It confuses my brand. I can see the thought bubble form: If she writes, then she can’t really be a graphic designer; everyone knows you can’t have TWO talents. Fortunately, the writer brand is equivalent with “poor” so when I tell writer friends that I also do graphic design they just nod. But industry wisdom has the same “does not compute” problem with genre. “But she writes Mystery, she can’t also write (fill in the blank).”
And up until now the only way to write something different was to use a pen name. But with the online world being what it is and with lawyers being blabbermouths, keeping a pen name identity a secret is hard to do. The other problem is that as writers have become more and more responsible for their own publicity they realize that it’s hard enough getting recognition for one name, let alone building buzz for an entirely new, second name.
Which is why I find the development of the new style of pen name so interesting. “Wrting as” has become the marketers new favorite phrase. Such as: Laura Spinella writing as L.J. Wilson pens Ruby Ink! (I’m half way through my advance copy and it’s a fantastic, saucy romp of a book – pick it up on March 31!) “Writing as” is now code for “I’m not writing in the same genre, so be prepared for something different.” And I couldn’t be happier about it. At last writers have found a way to break out of the genre trap! Perhaps in a few years Pen Names will be the new industry wisdom. We’ll just have to see which pen name Marjorie chooses.
I’m monumentally bad at dates. The Christmas after I got married my mother-in-law got a new pair of sneakers and she said, “Oh, I wish I’d had these on XX of some-month-Bethany-doesn’t remember.” And I said, “Really? What happened on that date?” And they all stared at me because it turned out that was the day I got married. Which may seem a bit rude to my poor husband, but in my defense I also can’t remember what year I graduated from college. And one time I spent an entire day being really annoyed because my friends kept calling me (I was in the middle of a project) to wish me happy birthday. Every single call was a surprise. So, I’m not saying that I will absolutely forget that some day (14th? 15th? No, seriously, what day is it?) in February is Valentine’s Day, I’m just saying that the odds are not in my husband’s favor. But on the other hand that means if he remembers all that lovely chocolate will be a wonderful surprise.
Unfortunately, this type of memory blockage also means that my memory for VERY IMPORTANT FACTS related to my characters is also somewhat lacking. Like last names, eye color, the details of their backstory. Given enough time and rewrites it all gets a bit fuzzy. Bulletproof Mascara, for instance went through 9.5 rewrites (I’m counting the typo catching pass as .5 of a rewrite). That means that the villain Jirair Sarkassian went from being Texan to Armenian somewhere around draft 6. And in An Unseen Current (Available everywhere April 28! Available for pre-order on kindle now!!) I dropped an entire villain between draft 1 and 2. Which wouldn’t be much of a problem if I didn’t insist on writing sequels. It’s a bit of an embarrassment to have to read your own book to find out what you wrote, but apparently readers insist on continuity and well, just generally making sense. But having just read Bulletproof Mascara and Compact with the Devil (in preparation for the forthcoming High-Caliber Concealer), I can honestly recommend my books to people. I’m very funny and my plots actually do make sense. I give myself two thumbs up. I probably can’t review myself on Goodreads, can I?