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December 23, 2003

Varieties of insanity known to affect authors
Posted by Teresa at 11:05 AM * 199 comments

  • If I could just get people to read my manuscript, I know they’d love it.
  • You must not love my book if you want me to make all these changes.
  • My first novel took a long time to write, but now that I’ve been through the process and gotten my feet under me, the rest should go much faster.
  • If only you’d get behind my book more, I just know it could be a bestseller.
  • I got a bad copyedit. No one shall ever touch my text again, no matter how much it needs it.
  • The cover doesn’t look like I imagined it would. I must now do my best to bring Western Civilization to a screeching halt.
  • It was somebody I’ve never heard of. What can they do to me?
  • Picking up a quickie work-for-hire gig writing a media tie-in novel isn’t going to affect my productivity on the ongoing series I have under contract at another house.
  • If you don’t pay me the big advances, you won’t have any incentive to promote my books.
  • I know I’m three years late on this book, and I didn’t warn you that I’d finally be delivering it, but you’ve now had it sitting on your desk for a month! Why haven’t you read it yet?
  • My book’s been optioned! I’m gonna be a bestseller! Alternately: Hollywood beckons! So long, suckers!
  • I write brilliant sex scenes. How come you keep cutting them?
  • I’ve set my novel aside because I’m working on a nonfiction book about [some complex, recondite, and divisive subject where even the experts tread softly, about which I’ve very recently conceived an obsessive interest] that will finally Set Everyone Straight.
  • My last book actually earned out and made a few bucks in royalties. Why aren’t you doubling my next advance?
  • If you really loved me, you’d advertise my forthcoming book in the New Yorker and the New York Times.
  • Your editorial comments are brilliant. I adore them. No one has ever understood my writing as well as you have. I am now so paralyzed that I can’t revise the book.
  • I’m tired of being poor. I’m tired of writing well-reviewed books that go out of print. I’m going to sell out and write a trashy bestseller.
  • Why, when I sell this well, do I not get award nominations and prestigious reviews? Alternately: I get all these great reviews and award nominations. Why don’t I sell better? Alternately: It’s your fault I don’t sell better—my fans love me!
  • If only you didn’t insist on packaging and marketing my books in the ways that have hitherto made me a bestselling category author, I just know they could be reaching a much wider audience.
  • I want you to publish my next book under a pseudonym so I can find out whether it’s my writing or my name that’s selling.
  • I’m writing for an audience that doesn’t yet exist.
  • Yes—but when I do it, it’ll work.
Addendum: I knew there’d be some I missed.
  • This is all about me, isn’t it—me and my books? That is what you’re talking about, right?
  • Oh my god, this manuscript is awful. Why didn’t I see that before I told them it was finished? What could I have been thinking? I can’t show this to anyone. If I let them read it, they’ll never respect me again. Nobody will. I’ll have to change my name and move to Lubbock to live in a trailer and work in a hardware store and never, never, never tell anyone ever again that I’ve had anything to do with writing or publishing.
Robert Legault came up with one that made me wail in-memory-of:
  • I have a friend from my church/school/local bar who knows all about editing and is going to typeset/copy edit/proofread the book for me, so I don’t need to deal with your production staff.
Further additions:
  • He wrote that how fast? And that’s his first draft? Aaaargh! He’s the real writer. I’m just a talentless plodder who’s put together a bag of tricks.
  • I’m not a real writer. I don’t know what I’m doing. I just dash this stuff off. For some reason, people seem to like it. Or anyway, they’ve liked it so far.
  • He’s a real writer. I just make stuff up. He writes from the heart. Alternately: He’s genuinely creative—a real writer. I just endlessly rehash my own experiences.
  • Any day now, everyone’s going to see through me.
Comments on Varieties of insanity known to affect authors:
#1 ::: Kellie ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2003, 02:05 PM:

Guilty of the third one. It's one of my Resolutions to remedy this.

#2 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2003, 02:13 PM:

That last one is not just for writers -- it's one of the classic pathologies of programmers.

#3 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2003, 02:19 PM:

"People say kind things about what I write, but I'm totally unable to interest a publisher in buying any of it. Perhaps I should give up writing altogether?"

#4 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2003, 02:23 PM:

Hmm. Is the sex scene one a delusion about their quality, or a lack of understanding of why good sex scenes still have to be cut?

Are they only to be cut when they add nothing to the plot (much less the story), like other types of scenes in like case, or is there another reason?

#5 ::: Kellie ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2003, 02:32 PM:

Perhaps this one was too obvious to have mentioned:

Author reads title of this post, thinks, "Oh, no. She's talking about me. This is all a subtle stab at me." Reads list. "WHAT? She didn't realize I was joking when I said that about my next advance? Although my last book did earn out and make a few bucks in royalties. More than a few, dammit."

#6 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2003, 02:55 PM:

Kellie, that sounds like the "I just read about hypochondriasis and I'm sure I have it" syndrome.

#7 ::: Dave Kuzminski ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2003, 02:56 PM:

Oh... my... god... I'm sane.

#8 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2003, 03:06 PM:

It was somebody I?ve never heard of. What can they do to me?

I don't get that one. Explain, please?

I?m writing for an audience that doesn?t yet exist.

I sometimes feel like I'm living on a planet that doesn't yet exist.

#9 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2003, 03:07 PM:

Living in the pre-existence days of a better nation?

#10 ::: Meredith ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2003, 03:08 PM:

> My first novel took a long time to write, but
> now that I92ve been through the process and
> gotten my feet under me, the rest should go
> much faster.

You mean that's not true? Oh dear, and I was so looking forward to it. :)

#11 ::: Jason ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2003, 03:14 PM:

I /think/ the "no one I've ever heard of" bit is about reviewers, Mitch, but I could well be wrong.

I think what I like best about this list is that it cuts pretty much every which way there is to cut - successful or not, published or not, brilliant or not and so on. Which makes me wonder: are there /any/ sane authors out there? All of the stories I keep hearing come down to "really nice, but a little... uhm... quirky."

#12 ::: Kellie ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2003, 03:16 PM:

Xopher, are you calling me a hypochondriac? :)

#13 ::: FranW ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2003, 03:24 PM:

Seriously, isn't #3 actually true? My Writer-In-Residence took 3 years to write her first novel, 2 years to write the second, 1 year to write the third, and 80 days to write the fourth. I figure by about 2009, she should be able to write at least one book per day :-)

#14 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2003, 03:28 PM:

Kellie, the question is, do you THINK I am?

#15 ::: Cory Doctorow ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2003, 03:32 PM:

"My first novel took a long time to write, but now that I92ve been through the process and gotten my feet under me, the rest should go much faster."

This was very, very true for me. YMMV.

#16 ::: Kellie ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2003, 03:39 PM:

Xopher, actually I think you're trying to thwart any and all attempts at wit I may make in this thread. It's very transparent, really. I write brilliant comments. How come you keep trying to upstage them?

This is fun. Do we get points for writing a comment that incorporates as many of these items as possible? Some kind of "Demonstrate Ten Neuroses and Get the Next Ten Free" or something?

#17 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2003, 03:41 PM:

Wait, you mean they're charging per neurosis now? Oh, man, am I in trouble...they're gonna knock my door down in the middle of the night, I just know it.

Oh, no, now I'm running up the bill some more!

#18 ::: Elizabeth Bear ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2003, 03:45 PM:

I write sex scenes to give editors something to cut. I probably shouldn't have let on, should I? The gig'll be up now. They'll start cutting my fight scenes instead.

Jason: "Writers is nuts." It's positively axiomatic. *g*

A list of truisms if I've ever seen one, although I do think the productivity ones depend on if you're a three-book-a-year-writer or a one-book-every-three-years writer.

#19 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2003, 03:59 PM:

Fran, your writer-in-residence is something else again.

To speak generally, pace is unpredictable and individual. Stephen King's natural speed is so fast that at the end of a novel he has to brake by throwing out a drogue-chute novella. Joseph Heller is very slow indeed. As you heard us say at VP, most beginning writers can write faster than they imagine; but that's relative. Once they get their feet under them, many writers turn out to have a natural working speed. Mike Resnick's is faster than Yog's, and Yog's is faster than Vernor Vinge's.

Even then it's not a constant. Jane Yolen, usually a reliably productive author, found herself taking longer than expected on Briar Rose. That was a difficult book. One of my authors developed a serious medical condition, had to be medicated for it, and found his previously well-established writing speed cut in half. Some years later he got it back, so good on him.

Once in a while, there'll be a piece of writing that just falls right off the tips of your fingers, soaks into the keyboard, and spits back out of the printer as polished text. It doesn't happen nearly as often as the inexplicable delays. There is no justice. Nevertheless, it does happen.

At the other end of the process, writers will sometimes find they've written themselves out, or at least written themselves into a temporarily sparse and depleted condition. Their favorite stage properties and costumes and turns of phrase will seem unutterably worn and dingy. They'll find themselves wondering whether the paragraph they've just typed isn't a near-duplicate of some paragraph of theirs in an earlier work. The writing may or may not take forever, but it feels like it does.

Much variability.

What's the imprudence in #3? Assuming on not enough evidence that the pace of your writing is going to speed up. It may well do so. It may not.

#20 ::: arthur ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2003, 04:35 PM:

"Joseph Heller is very slow indeed." He certainly is. He was also fairly slow, although not nearly as slow as he is now, before he died.

#21 ::: LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2003, 04:43 PM:

DATA

Book #1 (really #2): 2.5 months (65k words - Astropilots)
Pace: 26k words (~105 ms pp) per month
Life Factors: Unmarried, f/t job, no kids


Book #2 (really #3): 6 months (60k words - Glass Houses)
Avg Pace: 10k words per month
Life Factors: Married, f/t job, no kids

Book #3 (really #4): 3.5 years (160k words - Greenwar)
Avg Pace: 3.8k words (15 pp) per month
Life Factors: Married, f/t job, mononucleosis for seven months, pregnancy and one infant-to-toddler for remainder.

Book #4 (really #1): 14.5 years (140k words - Proxies)
Avg Pace: 800 words (3.5 pp) per month
Life Factors: Unmarried to married, f/- and p/t jobs, one preschooler and infant-to-toddler.

Book #5: 1.75 years (150k words - Burning the Ice)
Avg Pace: 7.1k words (28 pp) per month
Married, p/t job, one preschooler and one toddler, minimal child care.

Book #6: still in progress with around 65k words after 2.9 years
Avg Pace: 1.9k words (7.5 pp) per month
Life Factors: Married, f/t (seriously sucky stressful) job most of that time, two kids in school.


OBSERVATIONS

1. Working f/t didn't really slow me down, sans children.

2. Having children slowed me down considerably, but not impossibly.

3. Working fulltime with kids has repeatedly had a deadly impact on my pace.

4. Though not reflected in the data, my pace on Book #6 has more than quadrupled now that I'm working part time again.


ANALYSIS

As long as I can continue to work part time rather than full time, it looks like I can count on a pace comfortably above 5k words a month. Say 5k just to be conservative. I've decided to try to avoid writing 150k+ word novels. Say, 120k words or less.

So, 120k words divided by 5k words per month equals 24 months. So, a book every two years? I'd love it if I could do better, but that pace seems iminently doable.

That means a page quota of 20 per month. So I'll commit to this starting in January.

(Go girl, go!)


-l.

#22 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2003, 04:49 PM:

Sanest author I've worked with to date? That would be James White. He was an author, so that probably means I failed to notice whatever was loony about him; but for all practical purposes that's indistinguishable from sanity.

#23 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2003, 05:13 PM:

Claude Muncey writes: "That last one is not just for writers -- it's one of the classic pathologies of programmers."

Also the next-to-last.

"I'm coding for an audience that doesn't yet exist" is a pretty good description of the people who keep insisting on creating 3D interfaces so that your computer use can suffer from all the limitations of a meat body, like having to slowly walk around and explore a library, instead of using a mundane 2D display of titles and instant search.

#24 ::: John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2003, 05:16 PM:

I92ve set my novel aside because I92m working on a nonfiction book about [some complex, recondite, and divisive subject where even the experts tread softly, about which I92ve very recently conceived an obsessive interest] that will finally Set Everyone Straight.

You scare me sometimes, Teresa. Just getting way too close on that one....

#25 ::: Tiellan ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2003, 05:41 PM:

> No one shall ever touch my text again, no matter how much it needs it.

My favorite version of this was an author screaming "I don't need a f***ing editor!" at my one-time boss. When it became my job to copyedit his work, every time I found the slightest error in his text I gloated privately. :)

#26 ::: Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2003, 05:45 PM:

Which makes me wonder: are there /any/ sane authors out there? All of the stories I keep hearing come down to "really nice, but a little... uhm... quirky."

I was taught that the technical term is fruitbat, as in, "All writers are fruit bats."

In fact, I believe that term derives from an issue of Izzard.

#27 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2003, 05:49 PM:

"I want you to publish my next book under a pseudonym so I can find out whether it’s my writing or my name that’s selling."

Doris Lessing actually got to try that with her Jane Somers (?) novels. I don't know how the sales were.

"I’m writing for an audience that doesn’t yet exist.

Yes—but when I do it, it’ll work."

I think Delany got away with that one with _Dhalgren_--or were there other similar books to show that the audiance existed?

#28 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2003, 05:52 PM:

Nancy, you mean you think Delany was writing for an audience when he wrote that?

Seriously, I was an instant Delany fan when I read Dhalgren. Yes, it was my first Delany novel and still my favorite.

#29 ::: Jaquandor ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2003, 06:03 PM:

"Oh, come on. I know there couldn't be more than X months' worth of manuscripts in front of mine", where X = ([number of months since submission]-1).

Usually uttered while thumbing through the day's mail, before even leaving the mail delivery area of the apartment building.

#30 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2003, 06:09 PM:

A lot of the really successful stuff is written for an audience that doesn't exist; "Paradise Lost", "The Lord of the Rings", whatever the first successful Western was.

It's just blessed unlikely that one's own book is one of those books.

#31 ::: Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2003, 06:11 PM:

I want you to publish my next book under a pseudonym so I can find out whether it92s my writing or my name that92s selling.

I'm sure you're aiming this at the Richard Bachmans of the world, but it's too damn close to the reason many authors reluctantly adopt pseudonyms:

Bright New Author sells first novel; it does respectably well, i.e. comes close to earning out its advance.

BNA's second novel doesn't do as well as first novel

Advance orders from Barnes&Noble and Borders of BNA's third novel are miniscule. The book falls through the floor 96 despite the fact that as a writer BNA is beginning to hit her stride and turn out something that is really worth reading.

After conferring with her agent, BNA adopts a pseudonym, Luminescent Novascribe. Her fourth book gets a 1st-novel advance, and 1st-novel attention from the chains, and sells rather well, because it's significantly better than the typical first novel

Luminescent Novascribe's "second" book's sales take off from the first one, and the chain store's database takes note. LN's career is on an upcurve to long-term sustainability, while BNA's has crashed, burned, and is unrecoverable.

It's almost enough to make one want to publish one's early work under a pseudonym so that the chains' computers don't hate you when you switch to your real name with your mature work.

#32 ::: BetNoir ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2003, 06:26 PM:

May I please link your list to the livejournal community I started, cranky_editors?

Thanks for a laugh at the end of a LONG day.

BetN, medical editor

#33 ::: Lisa ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2003, 08:04 PM:

You know, if you substitute "teacher" for "editor," and "paper" for book, I've heard pretty much all of these from students . . .

#34 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2003, 08:07 PM:

I was reading through all these neuroses thinking nervously "I don't do that, do I?" until I got to the last: Yes97but when I do it, it92ll work when I snickered happily and yelled "Bingo!" I do that.

#35 ::: Scott Lynch ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2003, 08:18 PM:

I dunno how many authors who've "made it" come up with this one, but my favorite pathology from assorted writer's groups and mailing lists I've lurked at (and from one or two real-world associates) is:

"I'm going to write something in [insert genre here] to show all the poor benighted idiots who work in [insert genre here] how it should be done. What? Of course I don't read [insert genre here], because it's all crap."

Corollary:

"Because I don't read [insert genre here], my conception won't be diluted or influenced by the established conventions of [insert genre here]. Therefore, I won't repeat the mistakes that writers of [insert genre here] always make."

#36 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2003, 08:53 PM:

95I have a friend from my church/school/local bar who knows all about editing and is going to typeset/copy edit/proofread the book for me, so I don't need to deal with your production staff.

#37 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2003, 09:41 PM:

I got a bad copyedit. No one shall ever touch my text again, no matter how much it needs it.

The phrase "no matter how much it needs it" doesn't belong.

My books need copyediting, surely. However, the amount that they may be improved by a good copyedit is only a small percentage of how much damage a bad copyedit will do to them.

Why risk it?

#38 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2003, 10:00 PM:

As we can see, Our Jim is still in recovery from a Very Bad Copyedit. The doctors say he'll be sitting up and taking solid food in just a few months.

#39 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2003, 10:06 PM:

Graydon makes an excellent point about how a lot of really successful stuff really is "written for an audience that doesn't yet exist." Transcendently good work does sometimes call its own audience into being. Good trick if you can pull it off.

And speaking of Dhalgren, for all the crap that novel took inside the SF field, it sold nearly a million copies over a period of ten years. That isn't a flash in the pan of literary faddism. It's word of mouth--people who love it telling other people about it, who turn out to love it too.

(The Pan of Literary Faddism, of course, hangs on the wall of the Kitchen of Plain Old Storytelling, from whence it is frequently heated up on the Stove of Popular Demand. All of this taking place in the House of the Seven Gables, or perhaps the Rising Sun. It's certainly been the ruin of many a poor boy. And God, I know I'm one.)

#40 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2003, 10:49 PM:

There's something I should have said from the start. Every one of the misconceived ideas on that list has been independently invented by two or more authors. Three of the items are word-for-word quotes from specific authors, but they're not far from being word-for-word quotes from other authors as well. I apologize for not making that clear. I also apologize for my failure to foresee the effect my post would have on authors who read it. But most of all, I apologize for omitting several utterly characteristic varieties of auctorial lunacy. I'll be adding them to the bottom of my post.

Graydon, "Perhaps I should give up writing altogether" is one of the classics. It strikes the good and the bad, the marginal and the wildly successful. And -- yipes! That reminds me of another one. This one strikes when the novel is almost done, or done and newly delivered: "Oh my god, this is awful. I have no talent and I'm losing my mind. If I show this piece of @#$%! to anyone, I'll be ruined for life."

Christopher, the one about sex scenes was contributed by a fellow editor. It could refer to the author being delusional about the quality of their sex scenes. It could be that they've misjudged the conventions of the current YA market. And it could be that the deletions are all about maintaining the pace of the narrative, nothing to do with the specific content; a scene where the characters go bowling would get cut too.

Kellie, "Oh, no -- it's all about me" is so obvious that I missed it completely. It's one of the entries I'm adding to the main list.

Dave, does this demonstrate that you're sane, or that you're within the standard range of auctorial lunacy?

Mitch, "It was somebody I've never heard of. What can they do to me?" was addressed by Rudyard Kipling in The Jungle Book:

There is none like to me says the cub,
In the pride of its earliest kill;
But the jungle is great, and the cub he is small.
Let him think for a while, and be still.
I ran into a case like this when I was a juniormost little slip of an Assoc. Mg. Editor who hadn't been working at Tor very long. It was one of my first publishing parties. Right after I walked in, a tall author who was riding high at the time looked down at me, leaned over, and said "And who are you?"

I squared my jaw, swallowed hard, and in a small voice said, "I'm the last person who sees your text before it goes to the printer."

He was much more polite after that.

The issue here is the oft-underestimated complexity of the publishing universe. It is very complicated. It's full of people with inscrutable job titles who may have it within their power to withhold favors or do you harm; not to mention the sweeties, college roommates, and former assistants of people with inscrutable job titles. Prudence and discretion ring like silver, and polite manners are good as gold.

We all write for audiences that don't yet exist, living in a world that's yet to come. That's a great truth. But if that's your response to your editor's request for certain specific revisions, you may have a problem.

Elizabeth, when I read your bit about writing sex scenes to give your editors something to cut so they'll leave your fight scenes alone, I'm afraid I felt it being entered in indelible ink on a permanent 3" x 5" card of memory. Is there some admission I can trade you, just to keep things even?

Laura: Of course you feel conscience-stricken. Of course you can lay it all out in terms of periods of your life, relative productivity, wordcounts, and Piagetian stages, along with useful observations, and earnest resolves for the future. That's just like you. It's why, when I first met you, you were living with Steve in a microscopic apartment in Soho, being the Vice President in charge of Environmental Compliance at Salomon Brothers, writing novels, having your first child, and fretting about not being able to get more done.

They were good novels. Good kid, too.

Jon H., I must admit I've wondered about that impulse.

John Farrell, I promise faithfully that I had a different author in mind. No idea you were doing that ...

I've put my foot into it, right?

I think the worst time I did that was at a Readercon, during the early stages of a room party. Only a couple of guests had arrived. One was a skiffy author who's now critically acclaimed, though at just that moment he was smarting over a bad review of his latest book.

"I'm tired of this," he said in his Southern-uplands accent. He'd been hitting the refreshments pretty hard. "I'm tired of the whole SF lifestyle. I'm going back to academia, get myself some respect."

"Oh, don't," I said. (This was back in my time as a litcrit reference series editor.) "You know what'll happen. You'll publish one title every five or ten years, get glowing reviews from all your literary buddies, all very respectable, and it'll sell -- what? A thousand copies? Two thousand, maybe?"

The author's friend suddenly looked greenish and gutted. "Oh god," he said. "You've just reduced my entire adult life to a cliche."

I sucked air, fast. I'd unthinkingly rattled off the standard pattern for an ambitious writer turned academic, and there he was in the room with me. You know the sound of unretractable truth hanging in the air? It was there on both sides.

"I'm sorry," I said. Long pause. "I could pinch my head off and flush it down the toilet?"

"No," he said. "It wouldn't help."

...Enough. I'm going to go watch another DVD episode of a popular serial entertainment with Patrick.

#41 ::: Grant Barrett ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2003, 11:19 PM:

"I want you to publish my next book under a pseudonym so I can find out whether it92s my writing or my name that92s selling." [...]Doris Lessing actually got to try that with her Jane Somers (?) novels.

Romain Gary did it. He disliked the Paris literary scene, and felt that his novels were well-reviewed and won prizes because of complex social play, not because of the quality of his writing. So he wrote under the pseudonym Emile Ajar, and for his second novel as Ajar won the Prix Goncourt. The secret was largely unknown until after his death. Basic summary here.

#42 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2003, 11:46 PM:

See? A common auctorial impulse. I suspect we don't get to hear about the ones whose books tank when published pseudonymously.

#43 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2003, 12:10 AM:

When I had my first story, "Kayli's Dragon" published, I was working at an advertising agency here in KC. One of our ad writers (they fancy themselves 'creatives,' sorry if I offend, but doing copy on demand from client is very different than being individually creative and writing fiction) disparaged me and said "Oh, you've had a commercial publication in genre fiction." in a condescending fashion and generally pooh-pooh-ed the whole thing. He continued, "I've HAD a NOVEL published and it will be a great literary success. The University of Iowa Press thought it was the best thing they've ever published."

I mentioned this to my sort-of mentor Robin Bailey. He said, "just wait. See what you earn. I'll wager he makes nothing or next-to-nothing on his book." Well, Kayli's Fire made about $3000 over it's life span, in reprints and the LEGAL foreign sales (I've been pirated in many former Soviet bloc countries... plus Italy (gee, publishing it in a text book can't be violating copyright, can it?)) I serously doubt his novel ever gave him that much. And because I work at a regular job for a living, those extra royalty checks were a bonus that I wasn't looking for.

Plus I sold two other stories that were continuances of the first one to Marion. AND may eventually produce a chapbook if I can figure out a fourth story in that world.

And when I asked the guy about what he got paid for it, he looked at me stupidly "advance? What do you mean advance?" When he told me it was a great honor for them to actually publish his book, I just said, "yeah, whatever." And he SHUT UP about me being a genre writer just about completely after that.

So I have a dim view of academic publishing. Especially fiction.

#44 ::: LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2003, 01:03 AM:

God, Teresa, sometimes I want to just shoot myself and end the agony. (Kidding. I'm kidding.)


-l.

#45 ::: Elizabeth Bear ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2003, 01:28 AM:

That's okay, Teresa--I'll just have to learn to write *really good* fight scenes. Or possibly bribe you with the comestible of your choosing.

Actually, it's my firm belief--or running joke--that sex scenes and fight scenes work the same way--and don't work the same way when they don't work. i.e., the ones that work are actually plot disguised as action, and the ones that don't work are filler disguised as titillation.

Or in any case, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Ahh, and somebody finally pointed out my particular auctorial insanity: at some point approximately halfway through the MS, every book is unfinishable. And at about 5/6th of the way through, it's suddenly the worst tripe ever written.

Yep. That sounds familiar, all right.

#46 ::: Reimer Behrends ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2003, 01:34 AM:

Paula,

I don't know about Italy, but German copyright law allows quoting a work in its entirety ("Grodfzitat") in a scientific work for the purpose of discussing or analyzing the quoted work, if that purpose requires the unabridged inclusion of the work.

Now, that doesn't cover including a work in a textbook for the purpose of simple duplication, but Italian law may be different again. Continental European copyright law is substantially different in nature from traditional American copyright law. It is generally an "author's right", rather than a copyright. Authors tend to have more protection than under American law, but there are also usually more express limitations on the scope of exclusive rights to balance the author's right over his or her work with the public good. So, it may theoretically be perfectly legal under Italian law to include whole works in limited cases (such as for textbooks).

#47 ::: Jazz ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2003, 02:26 AM:

I am amused and appalled, but not surprised, at how many of these delusions are isomorphic to those of artists and designers. Particularly, I think, designers.

I'm designing for a kind of user that doesn't yet exist. Oh, yes.

And I'm convinced that When I do it, it'll work is responsible for far, far too much consumer-product landfill space.

Oh, look, another convergence device...

#48 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2003, 03:26 AM:

TNH: "The issue here is the oft-underestimated complexity of the publishing universe. It is very complicated. It's full of people with inscrutable job titles who may have it within their power to withhold favors or do you harm; not to mention the sweeties, college roommates, and former assistants of people with inscrutable job titles. Prudence and discretion ring like silver, and polite manners are good as gold."

One of the best pieces of advice I ever got in college journalism classes was that a reporter should ALWAYS BE NICE TO THE SECRETARIES. ALWAYS! The secretary can give you the runaround and make sure you don't get an interview with the mayor by 5:30 pm, in time to make the first edition. Or the secretary can say to you, "Oh, hi, Mitch -- the boss is just wrapping up a call -- I'll let him know you're on the line."

My journalism teacher recommended that you learn the secretaries' names, buy them donuts and coffee, give them a card on their birthday. I don't go that far -- but I'm always nice to the secretaries. Sometimes I write their names in my rolodex, next to the entry for the boss, just so I can say hi to them by name when I call the boss.

In general, I find that you can't work to impress people with how important you are. Either they know how important you are, or they don't, and if they don't know, puffing yourself up will make you look less important, and also make you look like a twit.

Graydon, "Perhaps I should give up writing altogether" is one of the classics. It strikes the good and the bad, the marginal and the wildly successful. And -- yipes! That reminds me of another one. This one strikes when the novel is almost done, or done and newly delivered: "Oh my god, this is awful. I have no talent and I'm losing my mind. If I show this piece of @#$%! to anyone, I'll be ruined for life."

A seasoned author and friend, with a dozen published novels under her belt, who makes her living and supports her family with her income as an author, recognizes this as simply a routine part of the writing process, nothing to get worked up about or take particularly seriously. You wake up one morning when the novel is well along, it all looks like garbage, I've lost all my talent, I'll never write another publishable word again, we'll be thrown out in the street and have to live under a highway overpass and eat garbage thrown out of passing car windows, blah blah blah, nothing unusual here, hey do we have any more coffee?

Change of subject.

I was bitching to another friend, also a successful author, about some changes my editors wanted to make. At the time, I was working for a magazine with too much management, and they drove me crazy sometimes. My friend gave me a great piece of advice: He said editing changes can be divided into three classes. One class is changes that improve your work. Of course, you should agree to those instantly.

The second class is changes that make no difference. You have a character named Jonny, your editor wants the name to be spelled Johnny. Who cares? Agree to the change. It's not worth incremental about, and it gives you some incremental goodwill with your editor -- or, if you don't get any goodwill, at least you avoid being labelled as an author who fights over petty changes.

The last category is changes that would make the work worse -- those changes, and only those changes, are changes you should oppose.

Sounds like common sense, but it's very easy for me to get very defensive about my work, and start fighting the editors about EVERY DAMN THING.

...Enough. I'm going to go watch another DVD episode of a popular serial entertainment with Patrick.

More "Buffy"? I'd sure love to see you or Patrick just post at length about your thoughts and opinions on "Buffy," "The Sopranos," and whatever other TV you've been watching.

Have I recommended "E.R."?

Elizabeth Bear: "Actually, it's my firm belief--or running joke--that sex scenes and fight scenes work the same way--and don't work the same way when they don't work. i.e., the ones that work are actually plot disguised as action, and the ones that don't work are filler disguised as titillation."

Reminds me of the novel "The World According to Garp." His sex scenes read like fight scenes -- the lovers are often angry with each other, they yell at each other and shove each other and fall out of bed and accidently bang their head on the end-table. A cheating wife is performing oral sex on her husband in the car when her husband, in his own car, accidently hits her car and she-- well, what happens next is what you think would happen.

"Garp" is set in a prep school, and varsity wrestling figures prominently in the novel. The wrestling scenes read like sex, with wrestlers locked in an embrace on a floor covered by soft mats, in a closed and sealed room with the air warm and moist with healthy sweat and exertion.

Scott Lynch: "I'm going to write something in [insert genre here] to show all the poor benighted idiots who work in [insert genre here] how it should be done. What? Of course I don't read [insert genre here], because it's all crap."

I have completed two works of fiction -- you haven't read them, they haven't been published. I certainly did take the attitude on both of those works that I would show the benighted idiots how it was done. So far, the only thing I showed 'em was how to finish stories that won't get published.

Now I'm working on Opus #3, and my hopes are considerably more modest. I hope I have the sticktoitiveness to finish it, I hope it gets published professionally. I'd like it if Boing Boing and a couple of other blogs that I admire say nice things about it. If it turns out short length, I'd love to see it included in Gardner Dozois's "Best Of" anthology -- yes, I know that's pretty ambitious, perhaps laughably so, but a boy's got to have dreams, doesn't he?

But mainly, at this point, I hope to FINISH it. If I can get it done, formatted nicely double-spaced with headers and my address on the front page and a cover letter and stuffed in a 9x12" envelope with another 9x12" SASE inside -- well, I'll consider that a success right there, and anything else that happens will be a bonus.

#49 ::: Karen Junker ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2003, 06:18 AM:


That whole self-doubt thing is so unappealing. Maybe I'll channel Gertrude.

#50 ::: jane ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2003, 07:02 AM:

I think of myself--even after 40 years of professional writing--as incredibly sane. But Gad, T--I have said EVERY ONE OF THOSE THINGS. (Except the sex one. I can't write sex scenes. They make me giggle.)

I have to go and lie down now.

Well actually, I am already lying down, recovering from knee replacement surgery. Maybe they took out my sense of humor at the same time?

Jane

#51 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2003, 08:14 AM:

Mitch, we've temporarily run out of Buffy--until they release the sixth season on DVD, at any rate. So we've resorted to methadone.

#52 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2003, 08:50 AM:

I read the list with a sick, sinking feeling in my stomach, recognizing that I was guilty of at least 30% of the pathologies ... then I remembered that I'm also prone to mild hypochondria. That's my excuse, and I'm sticking to it.

On the other hand, it seems like a good idea to use this as a springboard for a list of reference points writers should bear in mind if they feel a little bit frisky. Any recommendations? ("Being edited is not really as bad as being followed down a dark alley and mugged. Seriously. Count the bruises then check your wallet -- what kind of mugger gives you money?" "Once you sell the book you do not own it exclusively any more." "Count your advance, multiply it by ten: that's the amount of their turnover your publisher has gambled on making your book a success. You don't really want to cost all those nice people their jobs?" And so on.)

Oh yeah: on the writing speed front -- the last novel I wrote took 24 days to first draft (91,000 words). But I expect, in a day or two, to be finishing my next novel ... four years and six months and 140,000 words after I began writing it. (And yes, I have been working on it continuously in the background, all that time.) This is why the next person to call me a fast writer will be glared at ...

#53 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2003, 09:14 AM:

"Reminds me of the novel 'The World According to Garp.' ... A cheating wife is performing oral sex on her husband in the car when her husband, in his own car, accidently hits her car and she-- well, what happens next is what you think would happen."

Hominahominahomina... wait a minute... she's performing oral sex on him and they're in two different cars?

Truly, there were giants in those days.

#54 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2003, 10:07 AM:

Good morning, all; back to comments.

Tiellan, one does have that reaction. I know of an instance where, for extra-textual reasons, a novel that badly needed copyediting had to be given the kind of kid-gloves treatment where you correct the misspellings and mark the em-dashes, but do nothing else. The reviewers were not kind to it. One major review venue flat-out trashed it, citing exactly the kind of errors a copyeditor would have caught.

Reviews don't usually circulate to Production. This one did, and was much appreciated. That's not the usual reaction. Production may not actually, personally love every book that comes through the pipeline, but they wish it well, and want to make it as good as it's in its nature to be. But in this case, any good they might have done the book had been rejected in advance, and they weren't sorry to see it come to grief for want of it.

Jaquandor, it's not the books queued up in front of yours. It's the other work that's landing on the editor's desk that week. Not only can you not predict it; often the editor can't either.

Alan, wrong end of the stick. Authors who do the name-change thing when their last several works haven't sold well are being brave and practical, not crazy. That item in the list is for the very successful writers who want to publish books pseudonymously so they can see whether people love their writing for its own sake. I expect it's less irritating if the author doesn't have other books under contract, and doesn't expect to get their usual advance, or the kind of marketing and sales support they've come to expect for their non-pseudonymous works.

BetNoir, of course you can. You can also tell me where I can read it, if it's publicly available, and tell the participants that I'll happily take their suggestions on insanities I've neglected to list.

Lisa, so far I haven't had an author tell me the dog ate his manuscript. Someday, one will. It's just a matter of time.

Yonmei, I think may have identified a characteristic human insanity there.

Scott, I deliberately didn't mention the insanities of writers who haven't gotten published yet. Those are for another list -- a very long one.

Robert, that one made me wail reminiscently. I've added it to the list as you wrote it because I figure you'll grump at me if I rewrite it, but I'd have said " I have a friend from my church/school/local bar who knows all about editing and is going to typeset/copy edit/proofread the book for me, so you won't need to do any of that stuff." Authors who say things like that don't tend to be clear on the existence of the production staff.

By the way, I recently had a discussion with a new Tor author, no one you've heard of, who turned out to have everything finished, ready, and in excellent order. He kept saying things like "I've been trying to think of ways to make your production easier," and "I can help with the pre-press, if you'd like."

What's his background? Comics. That industry is so screwy that their freelancers can wind up being the ones who nail the production deadlines.

James, do you want us to clean and return that bloody shirt of yours, or keep it around to wave at peccant production editors?

Paula, I find myself wanting to defend your ad writer just a little bit. Writing good commercial copy on demand is a hard job, and to do it well takes more than a little talent and creativity. Also, the University of Iowa Press is quite respectable. On the other hand, if the guy's going to diss the genre, and the whole enterprise of commercial fiction, then to hell with him.

...

Do I have time to finish this before I have to get washed and dressed and out of here? Maybe. Let me see.

Elizabeth, sex scenes and fight scenes: I'd have said they're similar because in order to be good, they have to be planned out and written even more carefully than the rest of the text; but I swear, half the time you'd think the author wrote them by typing as fast as possible, with both eyes closed and their face turned away from the screen.

...and here the time runs out. More on this later.

#55 ::: jennie ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2003, 10:08 AM:

Paula Helm Murray:
So I have a dim view of academic publishing. Especially fiction.

Whereas outside of its attempts at fiction, I think academic publishing is one of the coolest things going. Why? Because without academic publishing houses publishing small runs of books that will only appeal to a handful of experts or deeply engaged enthusiasts would never get published. There's no way a trade publisher can justify publishing books like Ancient Literary Sources on Sardis (John Griffiths Pedley, Harvard University Press, 2003); (Andrew Ramage, Harvard University Press, 2004); Peacemaking Among Primates (Frans de Waal, Harvard University Press, 2004), to choose a few from the HUP catalogue. These probably aren't going to be your New York Times bestsellers, but one of them may prove immeasurably valuable to someone's research.

Trade publishers are the best vehicle currently extant for bringing fiction and books of general interest to the general public. They must publish books they think will sell and earn out the advances paid to authors, and maybe even make some money for everyone. So their mandate is generally some variation on "Publish books that lots of people will want to buy. Put the books in bookstores where people will find them. Tell people about the books, so that they will buy them." Academic publishers, subsidized by grants, have a different mandate: to publish works that "increase knowledge" (that's a quote from one of my publishing instructors). If the book makes money, that's a bonus. So they can publish small print runs of books that address the small, poorly populated corners of the readership, most of which get purchased by university libraries and a bookstores, and a few of which get purchased by the handful of experts in the field. Every so often, they publish a book with broader appeal, and it finds its way into the Trade.

So, while one may not ever make a living writing for academic publishers, I'm inclined to think highly of them, all the same. Without them, how would I ever get my Oxford Classical texts, my studies on Mycenean pottery, or surveys of textile findings in Late Roman Britain, my commentaries on Plautus and Vergil or my studies of Troubadour lyrics? How would the physicists and the statisticians get their cutting-edge texts, and the lit crit people their essays? Who would publish the dictionaries of Middle Egyptian?

The moral is, I think, that in a perfect world, every book for which there exists a readership and an author also deserves a publisher. The trick is finding the right match.

#56 ::: Lisajulie Peoples ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2003, 10:18 AM:

re: authors who publish under a pseudonym to see if it is the writing or name that sells.

Anthony Trollope did this - two novels under another name. They did poorly and he acknowledged that it was his name that sold.

#57 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2003, 10:19 AM:

"Perhaps I should give up writing altogether..."

I am reminded of Aaron Sorkin saying "I love writing but hate starting. The page is awfully white and it says, 'You may have fooled some of the people some of the time but those days are over, giftless. I'm not your agent and I'm not your mommy, I'm a white piece of paper, you wanna dance with me?' and I really, really don't. I'll go peaceable-like." And this is a guy whose TV show won the Best Drama Emmy four years running, every year it's been nominated. So it ain't just you, bubby.

P&T: if you want the remaining Buffy eps, I'm pretty sure you can lay hands on tapes. Somebody on the list must have them...

#58 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2003, 11:06 AM:

Glenn --

I like writing. I hate the idea that no one is ever going to read it. (This may properly belong in Teresa's other, longer, list.)

And, well, ability and the perception of ability are not very well correlated at all.

I'm tempted to propose a reliably inverse correlation, because the very able can see, a little dimly, what someone yet more able might have done.

That tenuous possibility becomes their standard for judgement, without the pause to consider either how effective their own work is observed to be, or how materially possible the degree of ability necessary to execute the dimly seen possibility might be.

#59 ::: Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2003, 11:15 AM:

So, Teresa, do you have any plans to map these various insanities onto DSM-IV?

#60 ::: Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2003, 11:17 AM:

By the way "Insanity Set Mappings onto DSM-IV" is a plausible-sounding topic for a mathematical paper. (You think authors are crazy? Check out mathematicians.)

#61 ::: Adam Lipkin ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2003, 11:28 AM:

Are pseudonyms always the author's idea? I think I remember reading an interview with Iain Banks, where he said that his publisher wanted him to use a pseudonym for his science-fiction novels-- I forget why, something about audience maybe-- but he (IB) was resistant; eventually he wore down, and chose the fiendishly cryptic "Iain M. Banks" as the false name.

#62 ::: jennie ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2003, 11:31 AM:

Oh, yeah, I almost forgot about my current extension of Robert Legault's "I have a friend from my church/school/local bar who knows all about editing and is going to typeset/copy edit/proofread the book for me, so I don?t need to deal with your production staff.:

"I've typeset my [unedited] chapters [of a multi-author textbook] in TeX and we can do the entire book that way, and it will make it all so much easier for everyone!"

#63 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2003, 11:36 AM:

Re that author name-change thing . . . .

A number of years ago, relatively early in my career at Tor, I received an awful horror novel submission which was presented by a known agent as a first novel. I rejected it politely.

About two years later, I was reading reviews when I found myself reading a plot summary that sounded terribly familiar . . . it was the book I had rejected, now published under the name of a bestselling author. It became a bestseller, too.

I had to tell Tom what I had done, even though the event was in the past. His response: "How bad was the book?" I said, "it was terrible." He said, "it's okay, then."

#64 ::: BetNoir ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2003, 11:57 AM:

Thanks so much!

If you go to Live Journal and search for the communty "cranky_editors" that should get you there!

#65 ::: Paul Hoffman ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2003, 12:53 PM:

"I wrote this specifically to get the Wired/slashdot/MeFi crowd to love it, so you can't change anything or it will all collapse."

"Your copy editors are crap. They're changing much more than the editors at [other publishing house] did on my last book."

"OK, so the whole thing is a bit obscure. Let me just add a new first chapter and see if it makes sense then."

#66 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2003, 01:24 PM:

On my way out the door shortly, but:

James Dickey wrote ad copy. He's one of the best poets of our time. The two facts are related.

Two of the best works of fiction I ever read came from academic publishers--and I'm not counting A Confederacy of Dunces in this, which is the canonical "rejected by everyone" story.

Ellen Gilchrist's first collection of stories, In the Land of Dreamy Dreams, is as good a book of short stories as I've ever read. All her books are now available through Little, Brown. Jim Twiggs' Transferences is an evil little masterpiece trashing psychoanalysis. I guess it's out of print. Both originally came from the University of Arkansas Press.

God knows, academic publishers publish a lot of crap fiction, and don't get me started on poetry. There's also a lot of very fine work there. These are examples.

I don't think the problem is academic presses per se, but the glut of MFA programs, and the official conceit that their graduates' theses are all, by definition, publishable works.

P.S. I should note that, while I've only spoken to Ellen Gilchrist once in my life, Jim Twiggs is a friend (whom I haven't seen over in a decade)--but I still think he wrote a hell of a fine novel. People with actual agents and novels published by mainstream publishers helped him shop it around. The subject matter was thought too raw and ugly to sell. It is raw and ugly, but appropriately so.

#67 ::: Simon ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2003, 01:38 PM:

What's worst, Melissa Singer, is that the bestselling author probably thinks that his success with his novel under his own name proves that he was right, and that you were a lousy editor for rejecting it.

Please don't fall for this. Without even knowing anything else about the case, I'm sure you were right.

About books written for audiences that don't yet exist - the authors who are really doing this are usually very modest in their expectations, and are writing these books not with an audience in mind, but simply because they can't not write them. It's the ones who make the declaration confidently who are of questionable sanity.

#68 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2003, 01:41 PM:

Mitch - maybe I'll read Garp after all...

(The Pan of Literary Faddism, of course, hangs on the wall of the Kitchen of Plain Old Storytelling, from whence it is frequently heated up on the Stove of Popular Demand. All of this taking place in the House of the Seven Gables, or perhaps the Rising Sun. It's certainly been the ruin of many a poor boy. And God, I know I'm one.)

When I read stuff like this, I think it's a crying damn shame that you're editing instead of writing (as much). But then I think of the editing work you do, and instead honor your sacrifice.

By the way, Patrick, if you haven't also watched Angel, it's worth a go. Not quite as cosmic as Buffy, but at the very least the crossover eps would be of interest.

#69 ::: Jazz ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2003, 01:53 PM:

Glenn: I am reminded of Aaron Sorkin saying "I love writing but hate starting. The page is awfully white and it says, 'You may have fooled some of the people some of the time but those days are over, giftless. I'm not your agent and I'm not your mommy, I'm a white piece of paper, you wanna dance with me?' and I really, really don't. I'll go peaceable-like."

You know, I wasn't under the delusion that I'm the only person that gets that kind of tough love from white pieces of paper, but I have to admit that it's nice to know it goes all the way up to the top.

Worse than white pieces of paper, though, are glowing blank white windows on a computer screen. They scare me. I have to dirty up paper before I can face them, which oddly enough helps get over the other neurosis... okay, this is getting pathological. I'll stop.

#70 ::: BSD ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2003, 02:11 PM:

"Important people with inscrutable titles" are a feature of any sufficiently complex profession or society. (Assistant CBAnalyst at the OMB springs to mind -- some guy with a calculator who can essentially thumbs-down near any reg or rule).

And as for "I've set aside my novel to write a highly specialized nonfiction piece", well, one of the ... hazards... of the Genre is the quick translation of that to "Or, I could just, yknow, write a discursive and specialized novel relying upon knowledge of said subject..."

#71 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2003, 02:15 PM:

Kip W - Yeah, what I meant to say is that in "The World According to Garp," "a cheating wife is performing oral sex on her lover when her husband, in his own car, accidently hits her car and she-- well, what happpens next is what you thnk would happen."

Although I agree that the other way is better. Or, if not better, than more stfnal.

Proofreading. We've heard of it.

TNH: Paula, I find myself wanting to defend your ad writer just a little bit. Writing good commercial copy on demand is a hard job, and to do it well takes more than a little talent and creativity. Also, the University of Iowa Press is quite respectable. On the other hand, if the guy's going to diss the genre, and the whole enterprise of commercial fiction, then to hell with him.

What Teresa Said -- I wanted to address that point last night but I was tired and every time I wrote something, it came out sounding more hostile than I meant it to be.

I am a writer, editor and I do production for a couple of webzines, on computer security and open source and general Internet issues. What I do is a hybrid of journalism and commercial writing, and it's hard. You think it's so easy, you give it a try.

#72 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2003, 02:17 PM:

And even my last post was still more hostile than I meant it to be. Also, more self-important.

#73 ::: Elizabeth Bear ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2003, 02:21 PM:

Xopher--

Garp is worth reading.

Teresa--

I would say fight scenes and sex scenes are similar because they're both all about tension and conflict, action and reaction, subtext and advancing the storyline without looking like that's what you're doing.

They also get reread more than the rest of the narrative. Which is another reason why they need so much rewriting. *g*

#74 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2003, 02:27 PM:

And of course SF can give you aliens for whom the fight scene and the sex scene are the same thing. (There are these flatworms....)

#75 ::: Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2003, 02:45 PM:

Paula, I find myself wanting to defend your ad writer just a little bit. Writing good commercial copy on demand is a hard job, and to do it well takes more than a little talent and creativity.

I just re-read Dorothy Sayer's mystery, Murder Must Advertise. Large chunks of it are set in an advertising agency in the Thirties, mostly amongst the copy writing staff. Sayers once worked in as a copy writer, and so her depiction of the office is funny, sharp, and somewhat edged. I'm given to understand that it's also a fairly accurate picture of the profession. I have a lot more respect for commercial ad writers now than I did. The copy writers in that book are viewed as loons by the rest of the company, and justifiably so. What they do is enough to make anyone turn into a fruitbat.

#76 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2003, 03:07 PM:

I've done critique group reading (Both amateur and published), and similar, and I swear that every time someone has declared their writing is on the edge, something the Big Name editors (At Tor or F&SF, depending on the length) would never consider because it's too far in left field -

- it's been something pretty typical, actually, and I've read successful books published by Tor or in F&SF that were far, far more outre.

It seems to me that the neuroses that involve we timid writers doubting our own skill are the ones that keep us trying to do our best work, and remembering to actually edit. The ones about over-estimating our own skill are the ones that get the damn book finished, let go, and onto the editor's desk at last. Pity we can't time the fits of self-doubt and self-love to hit only in the moments when they're liable to help instead of hinder the system.

The ones that involve being rude to those trying to help... well, that's another issue. (Note to self: Don't do that if you should be so lucky as to get accepted anywhere big. And remember this no matter what happens.)

#77 ::: John Scalzi ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2003, 03:25 PM:

Charlie Stross wrote:

"Oh yeah: on the writing speed front -- the last novel I wrote took 24 days to first draft (91,000 words). But I expect, in a day or two, to be finishing my next novel ... four years and six months and 140,000 words after I began writing it. (And yes, I have been working on it continuously in the background, all that time.) This is why the next person to call me a fast writer will be glared at ..."

I'm laughing as I read this because Charlie warned me about the potential time suck of novel #2 shortly after I sold novel #1, and I kind of shrugged him off. Now, of course, I'm writing #2 and it's taking far longer than I want it to. (You were right, Charlie! I owe you a beer. )

Perhaps amusingly, I noted to someone in e-mail that hopefully after writing #2 I'll have internalized some of the new writing techniques I'm doing it in it so it'll take less time the next time around. Of course, then I see a very similar comment in Teresa's list. But in my case, you see, it'll be *true*.

Paula Helm Murray wrote:

"Sorry if I offend, but doing copy on demand from client is very different than being individually creative and writing fiction."

Different, yes. Mutually exclusive, no. As I write both I can say that each has helped the other -- my business clients like that a lot of my writing for them comes in from a different angle that the usual copy they get, and that has to do with writing fiction. From working with clients, I get the advantage of trying out a lot of different writing voices, which informs my individual creative work.

And sometimes the two coincide quite nicely; in one scene in my upcoming novel (#1, which is done, not #2, which is not), there's a scene where a character reads from an informational brochure for a particular product. I guarantee you the brochure sounds absolutely authentic.

On my personal Web site, I got into a tussle earlier in the year with another writer about whether writing from other disciplines can inform writing in other disciplines (particularly when they seem as disparate as novel writing and ad copy). I believe yes; he believes no. I won't caution to guess which of us is correct, but I will note that to date I have sold both ad copy and novels, and the other writer has sold neither.

#78 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2003, 04:18 PM:

I've done both, I think ad copy is more like poetry.

I've done poetry too.

I don't know if I over-rate or under-rate or what, I'm too close to it to see that. Thaank goodness, because thinking about that is one of those centipede things.

The only insanity I know about that I didn't notice is "My son/daughter/aunt/cat can draw and has done a terrific cover for the book".

#79 ::: Ivy Blossom ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2003, 04:27 PM:

My first novel took a long time to write, but now that I92ve been through the process and gotten my feet under me, the rest should go much faster.

What, are you telling me this isn't true?!

*weeps*

#80 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2003, 04:40 PM:

Lydia: I was taught that the technical term is fruitbat, as in, "All writers are fruit bats." In fact, I believe that term derives from an issue of Izzard.

You mean, they all sleep hanging by their feet, and piss from that position without fully waking up?

No?

But T said that's what fruitbats do....

T: wonderful description of Stephen King's speed. (I remember when Crays were considered fast computer -- so fast that they allegedly required three HALT instructions in a row in order to stop.)

#81 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2003, 05:30 PM:

I'd write if I had time. I guess we'll never know. One day it'll run out and it won't matter.

Every so often I've forced the time to be there, and some of those times I've batted something out that I showed to people who enjoyed it, and when I've sent it out, it came back, and that was it.

For the last couple of years, I've been trying to get organized to send some cartoons out. I could do the creative stuff, but I'm a terrible agent.

#82 ::: Adam Lipkin ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2003, 05:38 PM:

Something to add to the list, maybe:

"How can you reject it? Don't you know who I am??"

Applies more to the authors I see submitting papers to my office (I work for a scientific journal) than for novels perhaps, but could be a crossover.

#83 ::: Dave Kuzminski ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2003, 05:44 PM:

Sadly, sane, except for the fact that I have this writing Jones that keeps throwing ideas into my head which I feel bound to submit to publishers even when they reject those words. Hurts worst when the rejected submission is the first part of what became a series. However, that's what you get for writing even when it's not like anything you've ever read, yet there's got to be something out there like it already. Isn't there?

#84 ::: Elizabeth Bear ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2003, 06:48 PM:

TNH:My first novel took a long time to write, but now that I92ve been through the process and gotten my feet under me, the rest should go much faster.

I found that once I figured out how to finish them, they all proceed at approximately the same pace (for me, it's ~1500 wpd. I know people who write much, much faster than that, of course). The trick is actually getting the butt in the chair and doing the ~1500 wpd. They pile up a lot faster than you'd think.

But it does seem that each writer has a more or less consistent rate at which he or she puts words on paper, and attempting to vary that rate either up or down for other-than-negligible periods of time has Consequences.

Of course, fire, floods, divorce, acts of god(z), crying babies, neurotic cats, armed insurrections, and rewrite requests can all have an impact on that.

Jazz:You know, I wasn't under the delusion that I'm the only person that gets that kind of tough love from white pieces of paper, but I have to admit that it's nice to know it goes all the way up to the top.

And somebody also mentioned the acceptance of what a friend of mine calls the "I Suck week" as a hazard of the profession. I think it's more than a hazard of the profession (the writer's equivalent of tennis elbow?): for me, at least, it's an essential step in getting better. One must acknowledge the suck to improve away from it.

I believe, in a Zen sort of thing, that one must have "I suck" and "I rock" both at once--as someone noted above, the I suck keeps one working to get better instead of stagnating, and the I rock keeps one's head out of the oven.

#85 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2003, 08:38 PM:

John: I must now confess that I just finished the current novel ahead of schedule ... by all of 24 hours!

I will extract that beer from you next time our paths cross, but only on condition that you let me return the favour.

#86 ::: Jame Scholl ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2003, 09:34 PM:

Patrick wrote:
"Mitch, we've temporarily run out of Buffy--until they release the sixth season on DVD, at any rate. So we've resorted to methadone."

By "methadone," you mean "Firefly?" The box set's wonderful. Especially the bit where Whedon goes off about French existentialism for an hour while commenting on "Objects in Space."

"Theresa's gone missing."
"Quick, get me the 'Hardware' section of the Lubbock phone book."

#87 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2003, 09:42 PM:

Here are some of the insane things I've said about book-length manuscripts I've completed in some form or other (several of which were published):

* It's only a contract for the U.S. Air Force, my employer got paid over $1,000,000 but I get no royalties and nobody will ever read it, so forget about it... [spawned sequels]

* It's only a contract for NASA, my employer got paid over $1,000,000 but I get no royalties and nobody will ever read it, so forget about it... [spawned sequels]

* I co-authored this, but a more manically self-promoting author not only paid me my share of the advance, but paid me extra for removing my name as co-author, and he rejected my favorite scenes anyway, so forget about it... [my favorite scenes showed up anyway, it spawned a movie for which I got nothing]

* I co-authored this, but the seriously demented co-author balked at the contract which had the routine clause about either author being able to complete the work if the other dies, and split all proceeds with the other's estate, because he read this as an incentive for me to murder him
[listed by the publisher, but I think he was wacked out enough that it never got published]

* The editor who requested it was Terry Carr, and Robert Silverberg returned it to me when Terry died, but my copy vanished in the mail, and it was the only copy of that version after the diskette messed up, so forget about it...

* My wife liked it (she co-authored) but she thought it too long, so I let her cut it; then the German publisher liked the cut version except wanted it longer; then that publisher stopped buying SF, so forget about it (although Greg Benford vouches for thre astrophysics)

* Several respected editors wrote that they personally liked it, but thought it was over the heads of the typical audience, so forget about it...

* Nobody wants to buy a Hard-Boiled Lord of the Rings, so forget about it...

* Stan Schmidt liked the pitch, didn't like the 9,000 word expanded outline, and then independently Bill Gibson and Charles Sheffield wrote something else with an identical premise, so forget about it...

* I got the $2000 for signing, the editor didn't like the draft, SFWA arbitrated, and I got to keep the $2,000 in return for giving up on the next $6,000 for delivered and final, and now its obsolete, so forget about it...

* It correctly predicted the fall of the USSR; correctly predicted the missing tons of Communist Party gold; but Russian history then diverged from the novel, and I'm not known for alternate history, so forget about it...

* It's 3/4 done ["Axiomatic Magic"], pitchable as "Harry Potter meets A Beautiful Mind", but I'm bogged down on the ending, and been away from it for too many months...

* Too cryptic, except for Theodore Roethke fans, so forget about it...

* The guy who allegedly had the deal with the infomercial producer got screwed in a big divorce trial, and so the video will not be done, and the book that goes with it is orphaned, so forget about it...

* It's at least 3/4 done, but I don't have an agent who can sell a Self-Help book, let alone one with graphs in it, and I don't expect to write in this genre again, so forget about it...

My wife despairs about my getting done or nearly done on these few thousand pages, and not harvesting the money. I admit that, but find it SO much easier to start writing a new book than sell or do final rewrite on an old one...

And it's SO much easier to post directly on the web, as I've already done for some 5,000,000 words (in writing terms, i.e. 30,000,000 alphanumeric characters), so who needs publishers?

#88 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2003, 11:24 PM:

Teresa writes:
Elizabeth, sex scenes and fight scenes: I'd have said they're similar because in order to be good, they have to be planned out and written even more carefully than the rest of the text; but I swear, half the time you'd think the author wrote them by typing as fast as possible, with both eyes closed and their face turned away from the screen.

Guilty!

Well, insofar as my one and only sex scene so far goes. I've yet to have anything like a fight scene (not counting arguments), and I don't think it'll give me the same willies.

Also, my sex scene mentions no actual acts of sex. This is because I was too busy trying to write with my eyes closed and as fast as possible, which at my typing speed is fairly fast.

Now the kicker?

I used to moderate rec.arts.erotica.

No. Really.

#89 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2003, 11:34 PM:

And now, in bass-ackwards sense:

I went down the list and was... vaguely pleased, I suppose, to find very little in the way of my own thoughts on it. Except possibly being somewhat guilty of number one and three.

But I think I'm justified in number three, in that, in a sense, it took me 20 years to write my first book, counting from the very first time I ever tried to write a novel all the way up until the very first time I completed one, albeit a totally different one. :)

(Looked at in another sense, it took me 7 or 8 years to write that first one, as its an outgrowth of some prior RPG plots I GMed. Looked at in the probably most realistic sense, it took me two months to get the background and outline settled and 34 days to write the actual first draft, as opposed to book number 2, which took me about a month of pre-writing, a false start that involved scrapping most of 9 chapters after about five months, and then about 45 days to actually write the now-finished draft, which means I slowed down a LOT.)

(On the other hand, I wrote book #3 in 30 days. Hooray for NaNoWriMo.)

(I'm not counting editing time here, though, so maybe I'm being disingenuous. Counting editing time, beta reading, and the real calendar passage of time, book #1 is technically not done at 14 months, though it damn well will be done by the end of the year if it kills me.)

(Now I am done boring you with my needless parenthetical remarks.)

I am afraid I will suffer the second addendum point, however. Probably about 22 seconds after mailing my first query out.

#90 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2003, 12:00 AM:

Jennie: OK, I give up. What's TeX?

#91 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2003, 12:07 AM:

TeX (and a variant, LaTeX) is a typesetting language, very useful for math formulae. I'd characterize it as partway between a markup language and actual code; other's opinions may vary.

I used to use it to typeset academic books. My current business uses it to create GIFs of formulae to be displayed on the web, in a roundabout fashion (SGML code -> LaTeX code -> dvi -> ps -> GIF).

#92 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2003, 12:16 AM:

James D. Macdonald:
My books need copyediting, surely. However, the amount that they may be improved by a good copyedit is only a small percentage of how much damage a bad copyedit will do to them.
Why risk it?

Well, that really depends on you, doesn't it? This I can say: I have found any number of things that I am supposed to keep confidential, that would have been very embarrassing to the author had they made it into print.
And if what doesn't get caught is potentially libelous, or is something quoted without permission, the harm to the author can be very great indeed.
On the other hand, if the [in your opinion, which may very well be correct] bad copy editor does things to your book you don't like (and I've certainly had to clean up such situations many, many times), there's a marvelous little device on the end of a pencil called an eraser. Or you could do like one author i know and actually have a little rubber stamp that says "STET" made up. A bit of extra labor, but problem solved.

#93 ::: Rachel Brown ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2003, 01:05 AM:

For whatever it's worth, my first book took several years to write, but my second one only took six months. So number three was actually true for me.

#94 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2003, 10:53 AM:

By "methadone," I meant Angel.

#95 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2003, 11:11 AM:

Guilty on a number of counts, but for the most part only in thoughtcrime. (Lots of thoughtcrime, lots and lots of thoughtcrime....)

Rather than the "I Suck" Syndrome, my own stumbling block might be better termed "Salieri Syndrome." I think I'm a "good" writer, with occasional strayings into "very good" territory.

But I want to be more than just good. And those occasional "very good" stories were the ones that seemed to write themselves, almost like I was channeling some ancient High Priest of Atlantis who wrote peachy-keen sci-fi on the side.

I want to be Mozart, not Salieri, dammit!

(And would those writers who seem to be the Mozarts of SF please stop making it look so EASY!, thank you very much.)

#96 ::: Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2003, 11:14 AM:

Calling TeX a "typsetting language" is generous ... kind of like calling Windows an "operating system".

#97 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2003, 02:25 PM:

PNH: By "methadone," I meant Angel.

Harrumph. "Angel" is a fine show in its own right, especially the early episodes with Doyle in them -- the show never quite recovered from his departure, although it is still a fine show.

One area where "Angel" is superior to "Buffy" is that "Angel" has almost no Buffy in it. "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" is one of many TV shows where the eponymous character is the least interesting one of the regular ensemble.

#98 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2003, 02:48 PM:

Alan, seeing as how I spent well over a year using it to typeset dozens of textbooks, and the company in question had been doing it for years (and did it for years after I left), I don't think calling it a typesetting language is 'generous'. Simply 'accurate'.

I won't start an OS war here, but I will say that just because you don't like the way something works doesn't mean it doesn't work.

#99 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2003, 04:34 PM:

Alan -

TeX is in sober truth of fact a Turing-complete programming language; people have (for whatever reasons of mad whim) written BASIC interpreters in it.

It is also the case that for many years, Donald Knuth gave cash prizes to people who found bugs in his code. Exponentially increasing ones.

This is a standard of commitment to coding quality that I don't think anything else can match.

Relentless form/content separation and complete disdain for graphical tools and all, TeX does work, and works very well. (As do the LaTeX/TeTex/MikTeX etc. macro toolsets built on top of it.)

#100 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2003, 04:57 PM:

I'm not sure how the Buffy/Angel conversation wound up in this thread, but I will remark that it's interesting to be in the middle of catching up on both shows, and to be hearing at the same time so many people's forceful arguments about what's good, what's crap, where it all went wrong, why it's good anyway, etc.

No doubt I'll have firm opinions when I'm done watching the run of both shows. Meanwhile, all views Noted With Interest. I haven't actually read very much about either of them (although I'm aware of such enterprises as this). One of the most cogent pieces I have read (leaving out the observations about fanfiction, of which I know nothing) is here.

#101 ::: Kellie ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2003, 05:12 PM:

Nuts. She's going to put together a list of Unpublished author craziness. There go my hopes of sanity. I'm rehearsing the sinking feeling of being caught with my hand in the cookie jar. Nuts.

#102 ::: LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2003, 06:49 PM:

Bruce, I too have suffered the Salieri complex. It's a bitch, ain't it?

(In fact, I think one of the reasons for the "I never read the other works" insanity Teresa mentioned in the main post, which I've also been guilty of, is a fear of giving up in despair.)

(And the irony is that Salieri was a lovely composer. I really enjoy some of his works. Though he may indeed have been jealous of Mozart -- I'm not sure how much that was apocryphal -- he was no musical slouch, either.)

The trick that works for me is to remind myself to keep my eyes off those around me and only compete with myself. I seek excellence in my own work, but try not to compare myself to others.

Who are we to judge what we might do in the future? Even the literary giants had their stinkers, their off days, and their learning periods. We need to give ourselves permission to be less than perfect. Or, iow, "The perfect is the enemy of the good."

Anyway, fellow feeling and season's greetings.


-l.

#103 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2003, 07:06 PM:

I personally feel that Electrolite is Salieri to Making Light's Mozart, but don't mind me.

#104 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2003, 08:00 PM:

> "I'm going to write something in [insert genre
> here] to show all the poor benighted idiots who
> work in [insert genre here] how it should be done.
> What? Of course I don't read [insert genre here],
> because it's all crap."

That one scares me particularly, because I've seen the terrible results which come when people tell themselves they're dabbling with trashy genre material that's beneath them.

And yet... I've got an idea that wants to be a book, and it wants to be a technothriller, a type of book I don't normally have all that much time for. I can predict all too well what will happen if I fall into this trap.

#105 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2003, 09:03 PM:

Relentless form/content separation and complete disdain for graphical tools and all, TeX does work, and works very well.

True. But the real truth of TeΧ isn't the tool, it's the story. Donald Knuth, working on his masterwork, The Art Of Computer Programming was so annoyed at the state of typesetting by the third novel, that he decided to take a brief break and write a tool capable of doing the typesetting he needed to do. This was in 1973.

He hasn't published Vol. IV yet. He is, however, now beyond the stage of preparing to write it, and is actually writing it. Meanwhile, there has been a new release of TeΧ and METAFONT fixing a couple of really subtle bugs, the current versions are 3.141592 and 2.71828.

And, I apologize for not spelling TeΧ correctly. Neither <sub> or <span> are allowed in comments, thus, I've no way to subscript the e.

#106 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2003, 09:11 PM:

Wow, Mitch, your view of Angel is pretty much the exact opposite of mined. I think the show improved after Doyle left, and improved even more after Lorne showed up. (Which isn91t to say that it hasn92t had bad patches, but the end of last season was wonderful.)

#107 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2003, 09:35 PM:

There's an association of mathematicians that has a speaker in every year who is a mathematician who isn't working as a mathematician in to talk about their work; it might be the Americian Mathematical Society or something that simple, I don't remember.

They had Knuth in one year to talk about metafont, and what makes it work. (For those of you who don't know, metafont is a way of defining a font as a set of points and then arbitrarily scaling and otherwise manipulating it.) The room full of mathematicians in the picture had this amazingly uniform hit-with-a-fish look, very familiar to anyone who has tried to understand Knuth's optimizations in The Art and Science of Computer Programming.

It was tremendously reassuring.

#108 ::: LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2003, 09:46 PM:

Nah, Patrick; Electrolite is fine malt whisky on a winter's evening, with a small circle of witty and thoughtful friends in the salon -- it goes down smooth, hits you between the eyes, comes with great conversation, and only comes around occasionally, in small but memorable doses.

Whereas Making Light is dim sum midday on Canal Street -- crowded, delicious, varied, noisy, exotic, you're surrounded by so many sights and sounds you can't figure out what to look at next, and you find yourself overeating because it's all soooo good....

I wouldn't trade either for the world, actually.


-l.

#109 ::: Danny Yee ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2003, 10:00 PM:

Jennie did a good job defending academic presses on the basis of their publication of obscure non-fiction. But I think they perform an important service in publishing obscure fiction, too - if it wasn't for the University of Nebraska Press, who would print a translation of Irmtraud Morgner's The Life and Adventures of Trobadora Beatrice as Chronicled by Her Minstrel Laura?

#110 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2003, 10:54 PM:

On the off chance that anyone who likes this list *hasn't* already read Edward Gorey's _The Unstrung Harp_--well, you must run out and do so.

#111 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2003, 12:54 AM:

Laura, you are a wonder, and thank you.

#112 ::: Zack Weinberg ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2003, 01:17 AM:

Graydon - Knuth still gives cash prizes to people who find bugs in TeX or METAFONT. Quote from http://sunburn.stanford.edu/~knuth/abcde.html#texbk.

If you do succeed in finding a previously undiscovered bug in the programs for either TeX or METAFONT, I shall gladly pay you a reward of $327.68. Corrections to errors in The TeXbook or The METAFONTbook are worth $2.56, as in all my other books.

I have heard that people tend to have the checks framed rather than cash them.

I use and like TeX, but it is Not For Everyone, and (shouldn't this be on the list, suitably generalized?) I have the arrogant suspicion that I could design a better input syntax.

#113 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2003, 02:28 AM:

There is very little that is For Everyone.

About the only thing that comes to mind, really, is oxygen.

#114 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2003, 06:00 AM:

Avram: Wow, Mitch, your view of Angel is pretty much the exact opposite of mined. I think the show improved after Doyle left, and improved even more after Lorne showed up. (Which isn?t to say that it hasn?t had bad patches, but the end of last season was wonderful.)

... whereas I think last season was pretty dreadful, and there were times when we considered stopping watching it. All that stuff with Connor, bleah.

This season is looking pretty good, though.

And I do like Lorne, and I think they're using him pretty well this season.

#115 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2003, 08:51 AM:

Quoth Erik Olson: Donald Knuth, working on his masterwork, The Art Of Computer Programming was so annoyed at the state of typesetting by the third novel, that he decided to take a brief break ...

Why don't you nominate him for a Hugo for lifetime achievement? I'm sure I'll be happy to vote for him, too, once he nails down the climax of the eight-volume quest for the ultimate algorithm ...

#116 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2003, 10:14 AM:

Some belated comments on comments:

TNH: Sanest author I've worked with to date? That would be James White.

I am obscurely reassured to know this.

PNH: (The Pan of Literary Faddism, of course, hangs on the wall of the Kitchen of Plain Old Storytelling, from whence it is frequently heated up on the Stove of Popular Demand. All of this taking place in the House of the Seven Gables, or perhaps the Rising Sun. It's certainly been the ruin of many a poor boy. And God, I know I'm one.)

. . . there would be a Frying Pan of Doom [*] joke in here, if I could just stop wondering what fuels the Stove of Popular Demand . . .

[*] Appears in a short story by Patricia Wrede in her Enchanted Forest universe.

Mitch: One of the best pieces of advice I ever got in college journalism classes was that a reporter should ALWAYS BE NICE TO THE SECRETARIES. ALWAYS!

I thought this was a universal rule. And not just because I used to be one.

#117 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2003, 10:52 AM:

But it does seem that each writer has a more or less consistent rate at which he or she puts words on paper, and attempting to vary that rate either up or down for other-than-negligible periods of time has Consequences.

I don't know enough authors well enough to venture a guess at percentages, but this is certainly not universally true; some people gestate/research/... (outline?) forever and pour out the results at amazing speed. This holds even for novels; Brunner wrote that he put Stand on Zanzibar in something like three months, after thinking about it for some much longer time. Or read Neil Gaiman's blog; he does public things (not just appearances, but the media work that has to be done with other people) for weeks or months, then goes off to a quiet place to write. (How steadily do/did they or other ]cyclic[ writers work once they get down to it? Damfino, but I certainly get the impression many let the fast and slow days happen rather than trying to keep an even pace.) I suspect that every solitary task has its pluggers and its sprinters and that good results can come from either method, as they do in writing.

#118 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2003, 11:32 AM:

Charlie Stross,

I used to see Donald Knuth riding a certain elevator up and down the Laboratory for Mathematics at Caltech, and taking notes.

"Poor old codger," I thought. "That's what happens to mathematicians when they get cranky and uncreative." Then I saw his reverse engineering of that specific elevator in (was it Vol.3?) of The Art of...

Then I heard a bit of it read aloud on a live broadcast of Firesign Theatre (some of whose writer/actors I saw most recently at Allan Ginsberg's memorial).

But "the climax of the eight-volume quest for the ultimate algorithm" -- isn't that when the source code of the ultimate algorithm is thrown into the Cracker of Doom, by fr0d0, to be decompiled?

#119 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2003, 11:46 AM:

Is that a Sourcerer Code joke?

#120 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2003, 12:32 PM:

I also note that many writers have a natural writing length. Some people write brilliantly at 750 words and turgidly at 7500, others can't say anything at 7500 and require 75,000.

Other writers have a natural pace. Some require 50 words an idea, some 500, some 5000. Writers violate these at their peril-- "but when I do it, it'll work."

#121 ::: LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2003, 01:20 PM:

Re natural lengths and "when I do it, it'll work" etc....

There are definitely good rules-of-thumb about what does and doesn't work in fiction, but I remember something Patrick told me once on the subject that has stuck with me for a long time. He said, Writing is a process of winnowing through ever deeper layers of subjectivity.

There's no one right style or method, in other words. Some idiosyncratic technique that one writer uses to stunning effect is an utter flop in the hands of another.

There really is something mysterious at work, when a writer writes, and the process is as obscure to the writer (if not moreso) as it is to anyone else...


-l.

#122 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2003, 01:54 PM:

Kate, not only have I read The Unstrung Harp; or, Mr Earbrass Writes a Novel, I've read it so many times I have it halfway memorized.

#123 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2003, 04:27 PM:

David McDaniel, the best writer of Man From UNCLE novels, stuck a very obscure reference to The Unstrung Harp into The Vampire Affair, MFUNCLE novel #6. The book begins "It had begun to snow," and ends "It was still snowing": the two sentences which are all we get to see of the novel, The Unstrung Harp. Naturally, he inscribed a copy to me: "To Tom -- will we ever forget the bloaters?"

#124 ::: Stuart ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2003, 07:34 PM:

Laura,

Salieri has been slandered. During his life he was more popular and financially successful than Mozart and his many fine operas have been unfairly neglected in recent times. He also ranks as one of the most successful music teachers ever. Among his students were Beethoven, Schubert, Liszt and Hummel. Only Nadia Boulanger and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov can compete with him for quantity and quality of famous students.

He was an orphan who was taken in by a man who adopted him and paid for his musical training. He in turn supported and trained a number of orphaned or indigent students. Altogether a kind and decent man who deserves to be remembered more favorably than Amadeus would lead you to believe.

#125 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2003, 10:35 PM:

Thank you, Stuart. I always thought that there was something fishy about that story.

I suspect, however, that the mythic one (as portrayed in Amadeus) was the intended metaphor here.

I suspect the real Daedalos, assuming there was one, wasn't a vicious murderer either. (In the unbowdlerized version of the story, Icarus' wings don't fail because he flies too near the sun -- they fail because Daedalos has sabotaged them out of jealousy.) But in metaphor he is.

#126 ::: LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2003, 10:52 PM:

Stuart, thanks for the info re Salieri. I actually suspected as much, especially after hearing some of his work one time.

Don't get me wrong; I love Mozart. And I haven't heard much of Salieri's work. But I have a pretty well trained ear with regard to classical music, and what I was hearing of Salieri's was no mediocrity. It was lovely.


-l.

#127 ::: Kellie ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2003, 12:33 AM:

From Mitch: ALWAYS BE NICE TO THE SECRETARIES. ALWAYS!

From Kate:I thought this was a universal rule. And not just because I used to be one.

It is universal. Nothing will make difficult what should be the simplest things if you can't treat secretaries as equals - in the "we're all human beings trying to get through this thing called life" sense. Your life will continue to get more difficult because of the other universal secretarial rule: Secretaries Talk. A Lot. Which, when you get right down to it, sums up a great deal of human interaction in general. And gets back to Teresa's original item. Be polite because you don't always know just Who It Is you are pissing off.

#128 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2003, 01:56 AM:

My mother was the Secretary (to day they'd say "Supervising Executive Assistant" or somesuch) to the President of a book publishing company in New York City. Being Magna Cum Laude in English Lit at Northwestern helped a little. That meant that she actually ran the office of the President, and was uncredited (sometimes vaguely acknowledged) editor of numerous books

I've been Secretary to several corporations and nonprofits. The same term applies to anyone in any office doing related functions, at whatever level. I'm tempted to include Secretary of State in that fuzzy set.

But yes -- treat all secretaries as equals unless proven otherwise. They run the world.

Be nice to them -- and to everyone else, until they give you good cause not to. Then be polite still. It drives them nuts.

#129 ::: Insanity Kills ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2003, 02:46 AM:

Oh, Gee! I started a book so complicated in plot and then once I was halfway.. POOM! I read this note, "If only you92d get behind my book more, I just know it could be a bestseller."... I just realized that people don't go deep into books... Aughhhh! So much waste... i feel sad. I think I need comfort... I'm too young to be going through this!!!!!!!!!! :(

#130 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2003, 08:06 AM:

A play I once saw contained the advice "Talk to the people who bring you your food the same way you talk to the people you eat the food with." Courtesy should be the default; if you're ever rude, it should be with careful calculation of your goal and the consequences.

#131 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2003, 09:29 AM:

Always be nice to the staff. Bosses can only do you odd favors. The receptionist can save your life -- or make it a living hell.

Related advice is Brett Farve's advice to young quarterbacks: Take your offensive linemen to dinner. Often. Let them eat whatever they want. Pay for it. Smile.

You'll note that Farve is still able to play football.

I've always rallied to give the faster computers in a buy to the admin staff, unless there was a developer that had a crappy box. Simple business case -- who spends more time generating work on a given box? They get the faster box.

I tended to have a slow one -- but vi doesn't need many cycles.

#132 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2003, 09:38 AM:

Kellie: I've long thought that everyone ought to do a stint in a service job (cashier, receptionist, waitstaff, that kind of level); hopefully it would make it easier for people to remember that the people doing those jobs are people too, and people with rotten jobs, too.

#133 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2003, 10:03 AM:

Stuart/Laura: I can't recall having heard any of Salieri's music, but I'm not surprised that Amadeus gets him wrong; the Shaffers seem sometimes to be more interested in surfaces that will catch the audience's attention than in facts. (This is not an utterly depraved sin in a popular entertainer, but I don't mind knowing whether I'm dealing with Ken Burns or Parson Weems.) If I correctly recall a discussion of The Wicker Man (from ~25 years ago in Cinefantastique Quarterly), the story was born when one of the Shaffers walked in on the Padstow Mayday festivities and decided there was someething horribly sinister behind them -- his quoted words made him sound like a trainee for Upper Class Twit of the Year. (I've never been there on Mayday, but I've seen enough reports of it to wonder what Shaffer was thinking.) And speaking of being weak on history, I wonder whether Shaffer was clear on the difference between Salieri and Mozart's student Suessmayr (who completed the Requiem after Mozart died); there's at least one letter indicating that Mozart didn't think much of him, and subsequent critics have been just as unkind.

To be kinder, the fragments I remember of Amadeus suggest the argument not just that Mozart was better, but that he had it so much easier -- a child prodigy, a court darling, a man who reportedly composed a movement in his head while playing billiards at a party and scribbled it down afterwards. This leads back to the comments above about pluggers and sprinters; leaving aside the L. Ron Hubbards, there are writers who seem (at least from the outside) to pour out good stuff effortlessly. Two of the insanities I don't see on T's list are -"My stuff can't be any good because it's so much harder for me to write than X"- and -"My stuff must be so much better than X's because I put so much more effort into it."-

"Insanity Kills": of course people get into complicated books; Wolfe, Crowley, Delany, and so on don't sell like Grisham or Clancy but they sell enough that editors keep buying their work. I'd say the question is more whether a new writer has the chops to make the complications worthwhile working through; e.g., Delany wrote The Ballad of Beta-2 before The Einstein Intersection, and Wolfe had been writing for ~15 years before he started the Book of the New Sun. (A new author may be handicapped in this; most editors really want to find new talent, but I suspect most of them have limits as to how hard they'll try to penetrate an unsolicited submission from an unknown.)

Also -- I expect T will correct me if I'm misreading, but I think that quote refers more to promotion than evaluation. Publishers spend a lot to promote the Grishams and Clancys, but some authors think that such promotion is all they need to become bestsellers. (I'm sure there have been cases where publishers underpromoted books -- a court decided so in Starr in the late 1970's -- but until H. Beam Piper comes back from the dead with plans for a cross-time conveyor, such cases will be hard to prove.) You have to dig to see the rotten numbers some heavily-promoted books put up, because publishers certainly won't tell the world "Boy, did we waste money on that stinker!"

#134 ::: Lydy Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2003, 02:48 PM:

But yes -- treat all secretaries as equals unless proven otherwise. They run the world.

If I ran the world, I'd make more money.

#135 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2003, 03:01 PM:

Lydy Nickerson,

"If I ran the world, I'd make more money." Good point. So my mother went back to school, got a Masters Degree, got a teaching credential (thesis at the Bank Street College of Education on Montessori and Piaget), so that she could earn even LESS as a 3rd grade teacher in an inner city (slum) school in Brooklyn, New York. She was a great teacher, and soon had her students, with whom the world had otherwise given up, outscoring the "good class" on standardized exams. To make ends meet, she also typed audiotape transcriptions of, for instance, the first English translation of the "Pippi Longstockings" novel.

But, when she was in the hospital (Sloan-Kettering Memorial) dying of ovarian cancer, many of her students wrote to her. I still have some of those letters.

Money isn't everything.

If you had all the money in the universe, and bought everything in the universe .. where would you put it, anyway?

#136 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2003, 05:24 PM:

In one of the clerk-owned People's Department Stores that you'd already given away, now that you no longer had to get up the morning to file index cards for other ex-owners, and were free to spend all the time you wanted playing guitar or taking care of fish?

#137 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2003, 08:21 PM:

Dear Lenny Bailes and his guitar-playing fish,

I can almost hear the elevator operator in that vast People's Department Store...

First Floor: everything, entirety, entireness, ensemble...

Second Floor: aggregate, aggregation, all, all that, all things, all things considered, allness, business, complex, each thing, fixins'...

Third Floor: lot, many things, sum, the works, total, universe, whole, whole bit, whole caboodle, whole enchilada, whole lot, wholeness, whole shebang ...

Fourth Floor: accumulation, collection, everyone, gross, group, integer, jackpot, mass, quantity, sum, sum total, total, unit, utmost, whole...

Fifth Floor: everyone

Sixth Floor: absoluteness, collectiveness, collectivity, completeness, complex, comprehensiveness, fullness, gross, intactness, integrality, integrity, omneity, omnitude, oneness, perfection, plentitude, sum, sum total, the works, total, totality, undividedness, unity, universality...

Seventh Floor: rest rooms, cybercafe...

Eighth Floor: universe, cosmos, macrocosm, natural world, nature, world...

Ninth Floor: amount, assemblage, assembly, being, big picture, body, bulk, coherence, collectivity, combination, complex, entity, fullness, integral, jackpot, linkage, lot, lump, oneness, organism, organization, piece, quantity, quantum, result, sum, sum total, summation, supply, system, the works, totality, unit, unity...

Tenth Floor: all possible alternate everythings...

Eleventh Floor: Con Ops, Green Room, Bar, Restaurant At The End of the Universe...

and so forth.

Or is that "guitar-playing phish?"

#138 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2003, 10:59 PM:

Yesterday on my lunch break, I picked up a copy of NEW TIMES, our local alternative weekly paper. When I opened it up to read, one of those ubiquitous AOl disks slipped out into my lap.

How does that tie into this topic? Because the two-word password printed on the disk's packaging was:

WRITES-SULLEN

Sometimes I feel like, yeh, "Everyone's a critic", but this is carrying things just too damned far!

(Besides, I don't write sullen. I write grumpy. So there. *hmmph!*)

#139 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2003, 03:01 AM:

Ever read "Hogfather" by Terry Pratchett? (http://www.dymocks.com.au/ContentDynamic/Full_Details.asp?ISBN=0552145424) and probably somewhere on Breastless or your online book catalogue of choice.
A good story, but it still doesn't help solve our problem of whether we should institute our own Antipodean, Southern Hemisphere midwinter festival of some sort, or adapt Yule/Christmas/Saturnalia/&c to a midsummer version.

#140 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2003, 04:07 AM:

If you had all the money in the universe, and bought everything in the universe .. where would you put it, anyway?

Everywhere.

#141 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2003, 07:22 AM:

David: I'd pay for a night in the penthouse suite at Hilbert's Hotel.

Oh yeah, that reminds me -- I think I almost invented another form of writer's insanity this week, but managed to (just barely) fight it off. Namely: "my editor's telling me he only wants a 100,000 word book, but he doesn't know what he's talking about -- he'll be much happier if I send him my 300,000 word masterpiece."

Now I've got until Hogmanay to write it.

#142 ::: Dave Kuzminski ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2003, 12:09 PM:

Be glad they want your work. I still have to fight to get a manuscript read or critiqued before it goes anywhere. Only 100,000? I can fill that. ;)

#143 ::: LNHammer ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2003, 12:55 PM:

I look at "low" rates like ~1500wpd and wimper. My sustainable average is one 7- or 8-line stanza a day. And then there's rewriting.

---L.

#144 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2003, 12:56 PM:

Laura: I know many rules for writing. The biggest are:

If it works, it's right.

If it doesn't work, no amount of extratextual theory will make it right.

The best pieces of writing advice tend to be very simple. It's the execution that's half the problem. The other half of the problem is believing simple advice.

No two writers do anything the same way.

That last one has a couple of attendant observations:
The more accurately a writer describes his or her writing process, the weirder it sounds.

Any honestly tendered piece of writing advice is going to turn out to be useful to someone, no matter how batshit it sounds to everyone else.

Generally: I like the remarks about secretaries and other support staff. I cherish poor opinions about people who slight and otherwise mistreat them.

There are a few agents and assistants-to-agents in the industry who've never figured out what a bad idea it is to mistreat editorial assistants. This isn't just a matter of the assistants telling their bosses about it in colorful detail, though they often do. But the assistants never forget -- your first year or two in publishing is as memorable as your first year or two of high school -- and where do these guys think editors come from?

The other side of that rule, which I teach to editorial assistants, is that they'll have happier lives if they're polite to production. In cases where they can't be polite, they must be fair.

The only think I ever had to teach someone working under me in production was -- no, scratch that. They already knew everything.

Charlie, the trouble with your dilemma there is that you or your editor might be right, depending on the book.

#145 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2003, 01:29 PM:

As to the right length for a book -- remember the character in Isaac Asimov's fiction who was busy rewriting "The Odyssey" into limericks?

Connecting this with another thread, J.R.R. Tolkien had been Japanese, would The Lord of the Rings been a series of Haiku?

I'd be happy to see an extra 200,000 words from Charlie Stross. But is this the reverse of an example of the insanity that I confessed to, where it's easier to start a new book than finish and old one: namely, it's easier to keep writing in the same universe than to invent a new universe?

And if you had all possible universes, where would you put them? "Dear Editor: enclosed for your consideration are the manuscripts for all possible novels. I think that we have a good P&L on this, since the Library of Babylon is sure to buy at least one full set..."

#146 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2003, 01:31 PM:

I've added some auctorial insanities to the main list. Their relationship to the ongoing discussion should be evident.

#147 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2003, 02:07 PM:

Any day now, everyone92s going to see through me.

That92s not just authors.

#148 ::: Dave Kuzminski ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2003, 08:16 PM:

Just hope I someday have that much insight into people. In the meantime, I'll keep plodding like a typical Plugger (tm) until I earn one of those TNH inspired covers.

#149 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2003, 11:02 PM:

remember the character in Isaac Asimov's fiction who was busy rewriting "The Odyssey" into limericks?

{nitpick}
I have to admit that I don't. I do remember one of the Black Widowers rewriting the "Iliad" into limericks, though. One book per story. He mercifully gave up somewhere around book 8.
{/nitpick}

#150 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2003, 01:15 AM:

Johnathan Vos Post wrote:

"Connecting this with another thread, J.R.R. Tolkien had been Japanese, would The Lord of the Rings been a series of Haiku?"

If so then Tolkien would have been a very, very odd Japanese person indeed, as haiku really aren't used to tell stories of any length.

No, instead it would likely have been a serialized story, continued over long period of time, and at the end Sam and Frodo would have simultaneously thrown themselves off the cliff into Mount Doom in a spectacular double suicide, proving the true loyalty of master and servant.

I have had Far too many Japanese literature courses.

#151 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2003, 03:16 AM:

Or it would have been a manga story. Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin would be teenage girls in sailor suits. Aragorn, a bishonen with long, flowing hair. Legolas, a bishonen elf with long, flowing ears. Gollum would be a tentacle monster and Frodo would keep the ring in her panties. Gandalf would shout things like 93Super-bridge-breaking fire strike!94 and 93White tree cleansing uterus!94 when casting his spells.

#152 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2003, 04:55 AM:

Avram: As well, of course, as "All your base are belong to us."

Teresa, don't be silly. There was much to be learned from working under you. Though perhaps not always what you thought you were teaching.

#153 ::: Robert Runte ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2003, 07:52 AM:

With only slight modification, most of these also fit graduate students working on their thesis / dissertation.

#154 ::: LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2003, 08:52 AM:

CHip, I agree with your take on AMADEUS.

Teresa, I like your rules. Especially the first two.

Complexity is one of my biggest bugbears as a writer. My Beast doesn't like when I say no; it can't play with that idea in this work, too. We're working on being just a weensie bit more self disciplined... :)


-l.

#155 ::: Kellie ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2003, 10:41 AM:

Any day now, everyone92s going to see through me.

Ouch. That's so dead-on that I'm going to start looking over my shoulder for Teresa's hidden webcams and change the url of my blog because she's reading it far too closely.

Or not. I've been told that this is a big insanity common to women due to various and sundry cultural subtleties. I was quite disappointed to learn this as I thought I had been unique in harboring this fear.

Which, surprisingly, brings me back to the secretarial discussion. My current job as a secretary - sorry, "Executive Assistant" - is the only one I've had where I'm not really afraid that my peers and colleagues are going to one day rise up and say, "Phony! You're lucky streak is at an end! Now the world knows you're nothing but a hack!" I worked in science under this constant fear until one day my rather, erm, "interesting" thesis advisor with her own plethora of neuroses decided to tell me I wasn't smart, I had just gotten lucky. That I had fooled her. I was leaving science for other reasons until that point (primarily so I could have a job that actually allowed me to pursue writing), but now I stay away from science because my secret's out. I think being exposed as a scientific hack will free my writing from this insanity, strangely enough. Likely not, and I just don't realize how debilitating it will become should I make it to the Big Time one day.

Another addition to the Be Polite to Secretaries Rule: Rattling off in high jargon the problem you need to speak with the boss about is not polite. It is also not treating us as equals, unless you know for a fact that such jargon would be comprehensible to the secretary. If you do not know this, it becomes quite obvious that you are either not so bright or talking down to the help. Both of which will not impress the help.

#156 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2003, 11:59 AM:

Kellie, it's a form of insanity so widespread (especially among creative types) that I'm starting to be surprised more professional attention hasn't been paid to it.

A directing mentor of mine called this the Smart Monster - the nasty thing that follows you around and threatens to expose to the world what a fraud you are.

I wonder if the fears so many writers have of editors (a fear I share, to an irrational degree) have a lot to do with this - if the work needs that much correction, it must mean that the Smart Monster is right, and you're not so talented after all.

But, as another of my directing teachers said, there always comes a time when you Doubt The Work. This is true of any endeavor. Sadly, it's usually around about the three-quarters mark - much too late to go back, but with an overwhelming amount yet to be done before reaching completion.

Knowing that Doubting The Work is part of the process sometimes helps. But not always.

#157 ::: Alex Steffen ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2003, 12:26 PM:

"Oh my god, this manuscript is awful. ... I92ll have to change my name and move to Lubbock to live in a trailer and work in a hardware store and never, never, never tell anyone ever again that I92ve had anything to do with writing or publishing"

Eek. (cringes in self-recognition)

#158 ::: Kellie ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2003, 01:06 PM:

It's a form of insanity so widespread (especially among creative types) that I'm starting to be surprised more professional attention hasn't been paid to it.

Dan, I'm not too surprised. Think about it: Do you want to be the one to host seminars and write self-help books about a fear that being successful in such things is a product of luck rather than ability?

#159 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2003, 02:09 PM:

There's been plenty of work done on it, actually. It's called Impostor Syndrome. There even was a book with that title, IIRC.

#160 ::: LNHammer ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2003, 02:20 PM:

Concerning Salieri and Mozart, everyone here does realize that Shaffer didn't create the myth in Amadeus, yes? Pushkin did, in a one-act play. Shaffer did, actually, an interesting adaptation of the idea.

---L.

#161 ::: Kellie ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2003, 02:23 PM:

Whoa. So it is. For anyone interested in plumbing the net for info on Imposter Syndrome, check out www.impostersyndrome.com. They have a quiz for you to take, so they must be serious and professional.

#162 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2003, 02:41 PM:

LNHammer, I did not know that. Shaffer, you see, made hash of the story of the kid who blinded a couple of dozen horses, too, so we've learned to distrust him...just kidding.

#163 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2003, 02:45 PM:

"They have a quiz for you to take, so they must be serious and professional."

Well, they look serious and professional, but any day now, they're going to be found out.

Personally, I know I'm bright and capable, I just can't believe that no has yet discovered what a lazy slacker I really am.

#164 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2003, 06:03 PM:

I have not read the "Impostor Syndrome" but am familiar with the concept. But I thought it was a matter of age, not occupation. I thought that it was typical of (Americans at least) in their 20s and 30s. College was "not real." First jobs were accidents. 20-30-somethings find themselves eventually ensconced in a profession, and wait uncomfortably for someone to tap them on the shoulder and denounce them as impostors. But after doing the same thing for decades, maybe in one's 40s or 50s, once becomes convinced that one actually can do whatever it is.

Of course, not too long after you are too old to be hired anywhere else. It's against the law to say "you're too old" -- so you hear "You're overqualified."

Then the economy was driven into oblivion by the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/Ashcroft administration. I happen to be typing this on a computer at the Employment Development Department in Pasadena, one-stop shopping for jobhunters, at which I volunteer 4 hours per week or more by conducting 1-hour videotaped mock interviews for unemployed lawyers, teachers, engineers, managers, and other professionals. My panel and I provide written critiques, and tell the subject what to look for on their videocasette when they go home.

It seems that the system in place for our parents, where you can stay in one job until retirement, is completely gone. What took its place is the "career portfolio" -- you will change jobs, and moreso, change entire industries many times in your adult life.

For our parents, only one needed to work for the family to own a house and buy a new car every few years. Almost all my friends are couples where both work 50 or 60 hour weeks, and still live paycheck to paycheck. That means that REAL family wealth has been cut in half for most families.

The Heritage Foundation measured a decline in class mobility from about 25% some 20 years ago (1/4 of boys eventually earned more than their fathers, corrected for inflation) to more like 12%. Not a good thing.

Another thread had someone LOL at something I wrote, and comment (I may be paraphrasing) "who said the Left has no sense of humor?"

Other than my above econorant, are my politics so clear in this venue? Face to face, my conservative friends are sure I'm a conservative, my liberal friends are sure I'm a liberal, my libertarian friends are sure I'm a libertarian. Oh, I must be an impostor! Hmmmm...

#165 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2003, 11:58 PM:

Is "I'm having too much fun" a variation of the impostor syndrome? Gaiman occasionally speaks of expecting somebody with a clipboard to appear at his door and say -"It says here you make up stories for a living. Right, then; show up at your desk in the office on Monday."-

#166 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 12:34 AM:

I'm feeling just grumpy enough to mention that if Patrick posted to it a little more often maybe Electrolite wouldn't feel like Salieri to Making Light's Mozart.

Hmmph.

MKK

#167 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 01:22 AM:

Mary Kay, I can't hear you; I appear to have blood coming out of my tongue.

#168 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 01:57 AM:

Oh, come on, Mary Kay. Mozart hardly ever posted to his blog.

#169 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 06:11 AM:

Gandalf would shout things like ... 93White tree cleansing uterus!94

So would he grow breasts immediately beforehand?

#170 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 11:30 AM:

Omigod, Patrick...if it's backing up to your eustachian tubes, to an emergency room, go! :-)

Avram, you're right of course. If he had, he'd have made many joke posts in the styles of other writers, but his own posts would end each paragraph the same way...for the first few years, anyhow.

#171 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 12:32 PM:

Patrick: I'm not entirely sure I understand that remark. Biting your tongue? Surely you can't be wanting to say something snarky to me. I've been posting fairly regularly to my blog. Except when I was in OK with only a dialup connection and family to contend with. Not that anybody actually appears to read it...

Okay, that's it. I've now descended from grumpiness to self-pity. It's time to go out for breakfast.

MKK

#172 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 12:50 PM:

Food is good for dispelling self-pity. It's dashed hard to whine with ones mouth full, I find.

Hey, that's a grook! (Remember grooks?)

#173 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 02:19 PM:

So New York's "Mostly Mozart" festival could become "Strictly Salieri?"

And, if Mozart had a blog, it would offend standards of community decency somewhere, and risk censorship?

Avram: "Frodo would keep the ring in her panties..." LOL! Frodo did have awfully big eyes in the movie...

Saw bio of Rod Serling on TV recently, with interview clips for Twilight Zone producer, major actors, widow Carol Serling. Bottom line: the prodigiously talented teleplay author Rod (who speeded up his writing from 6 months per Playhouse 90 episode to 30 hours per TZ episode) did NOT have too much fun. He was haunted by his World War II experiences (many marvellously fictionalized on TZ), unable to follow his early success with any other TV series where he had any creative control, and less than pleased with his feature films (7 Days in May, etc.). He himself referred to his own work as "temporarily adequate." Good to see Mark Scott Zicree interviewed, too. I once submitted a long poem to Twilight Zone Magazine: over 30 lines long, and each line rhyming with "Twilight Zone." Editor liked it, had no policy about poetry, and so rejected it. Still unpublished.

Regarding Impostor Syndrome, see also:

Cambridge University Press a325 (290pp) a323 (plus a32.25 p&p per order) from 0870 800 1122

Faking It, by William Ian Miller
'Tis the season to be phoney
By Michael Bywater
26 December 2003

"We have reached what is, at least peripherally, the fulcrum of the year's fakery. As the Church by Law Established would have it, God puts on human flesh, we discard many of its lineaments - envy, prudence, spite, restraint - and don the more or less dissembling robes of Christmas at Dickens's Dingley Dell. We welcome the unwelcome, air-kissing those we'd rather air-stab, burying hatchets so temporarily that their edges remain unblunted, scattering randomly infectious bonhomie like so many Typhoid Marys of seasonal goodwill...."

Had the odd experience of, while moving some of my roughly 500,000 pages (really) of documentation out of the home into a storage shed, of finding an unpublished chapter of my PhD disseration, from 1977. It read pretty well. Spent half a day retyping it (had used an IBM Selectric in 1977) as a Word file, reformatting, updating references. Emailed it as an attachment to a co-author of mine, so that he can tweak it, and we can submit it to a big Complexity conference in Boston, May 2004, where we're already presenting some other papers (on Chaos in Economics, and a paper I've co-authored with my wife and 14-year-old on Quantum Mechanics and General Relativity). And that's not the oldest piece of writing that was dug out of inventory and later published. There was a poem that I wrote when I was 11, a mnemonic verse for "pi", where the the first 111 words in the poem had the same number of letters each as the first 111 digits of the decimal expansion of "pi." That was published in Word Ways, the Journal of Recreational Linguistics, which was started by Dmitri Borgman ("Language on Vacation") and later edited by Ross Eckler (formerly in charge of the U.S. census). There are many weird and wonderful things that can be done with words, which are NOT fiction, poetry, or any other recognizable form of literature...

Felice y Prospero Nuevo Anno!

#174 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 03:31 PM:

Frodo did have awfully big eyes in the movie...

Jonathan, Elijah Wood's eyes look closer to human-size in the movie than they do in real life (I mean un-digitally-altered photos; I have not, alas, seen him in person). Elwood doesn't really look like a human being; maybe that's part of why I like his look so much. Humans, feh! Who needzem? :-)

#175 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 08:07 PM:

I started to speculate what LotR would look like as anime. Then my brain tried to escape through my ears. I conclude I'd better just go home and not think about it any further.

#176 ::: Dennis ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2003, 01:21 PM:

"That publication doesn't count; I'd met the editor once in a bar. That one doesn't count either."

#177 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2004, 02:21 PM:

Picking up a quickie work-for-hire gig writing a media tie-in novel isn?t going to affect my productivity on the ongoing series I have under contract at another house.

Oh, that isn't a lie that writers tell themselves. We know perfectly well that the WFH gig will slow us down.

What is true is this: We know that the car needs new brakes right now, and the grocery store doesn't run a tab.

A quickie work-for-hire media tie-in book will put money in our hands right now, and it doesn't have to be particularly well written, it just has to be done by Thursday. The other book, with our real names on it, has to be good, and will put money in our hands ... six months from now? A year? People who've died in car crashes or who have starved to death don't turn in their books either.

We have to make the choice, and it's a hard choice, but the cash-right-now will win.

I am a man of honor. I have decided to give up writing. But I have also decided that I will fulfill all my current contracts first. Because I am an honorable man.

#178 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2004, 05:34 PM:

Jim - If you've really decided to give up writing, I'm sorry to hear that.

#179 ::: Keith M Ellis ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2004, 04:13 PM:

Although I know that Amadeus is factualy flawed, I do think it stands on its own merits. More than that, though, it's close to my heart because it brought me to the awareness that one is far, far more likely to be brilliant enough to recognize or intuit transcendental genius than to realize it. The lesson of Amadeus isn't that Salieri was a bad composer, it was that he was very good composer. With some talent, work, and luck, some of us may hope to be Salieris. Statistically, none of us will be Mozarts. Many of us may imagine that we could be a Mozart because we feel that we comprehend an essential quality of that sort of genius...and that puts it within our grasp. But does it? And what other unsuspected mysteries97of circumstance or alchemy97may likely seperate the good, the very good, and the great?

Salieri's fictional sin was that he couldn't make peace with reality. That's not uncommon among creative folk.

#180 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2004, 11:55 PM:

Keith, it's the Curse of Daidelos. Some very goods avoid it; Siegfried Sassoon, for example.

#181 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2004, 12:48 PM:

Amadeus was an example of Envy as a deadly sin.

#182 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2004, 07:56 PM:

There are some works that I think you have to be over 30 to fully appreciate, and I think "Amadeus" is one of them. (Strangely enough, these are NOT the sort of works sold in "adult" stores. Go figure.)

Salieri had achieved a certain amount of respect, which he deserved, because of a lifetime of hard work cultivating his regular-sized talent. Just as he was in middle age, preparing to enjoy the well deserved reward of his life of toil, he watched Mozart come up and zoom right past him, with no effort at all. So Salieri was envious. And Jim Macdonald was right.

Back in the dotcom boom, I used to regularly get PR people trying to pitch me to write profiles of their clients, who under-25 entrepeneurs who were already CEOs of dotcoms and had financial values of tens of millions of dollars. Mostly I politely dismissed those requests, but I sometimes responded: "So this guy is young enough to be my son (well, if we lived in Appalachia, at least) and he makes more money in a single year than I'll make in my entire career? Why, precisely, do I want to listen to him talk about himself for an hour? If I wanted to get that depressed, I could rent 'Brian's Song.'"

#183 ::: Anton Sherwood ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2004, 01:29 AM:

Yes - but when I do it, it'll work.

Isn't that one of the key principles of politics?

#184 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2004, 05:06 AM:

I feel like I have to weigh in on the Tolkien as anime subject, even though likely no one cares by now.

Anime/manga is not sailor moon. Classifying it as inexplicable sexy malaprop theater is a lot like assuming fantasy is scantily clad women rescued by burly, sword-bearing men with no character development. That might be what sold pulps, but it's only the stereotype. Manga (Japanese comic books) is the primary medium of storytelling in Japan, reaching more people than TV and books.

If Tolkien had been Japanese and written a few decades later, when manga was starting to become popular... well, I don't see his work being very different at all. I also see it reaching even better market penetration and mainstream appeal, as it has much in common with some popular Japanese stories.

Possibly the series would have been more introspective, more bluntly moral. But the values of honor, tradition, and nobility are very Japanese. It likely would have had better pacing, due to the demands of a weekly/monthly publishing schedule.

The one change I could easily see would be more deaths. There's nothing like manga for killing off beloved characters and NOT bringing them miraculously back, especially in serious, epic stories.

And if you're going to take it in the "anime as comic sex romp" route it's already been done. There's a well known pornographic anime which tells the story of what happens after an elf and a human fall in love (it turns out their anatomies are slightly incompatible, so the husband goes on a quest for the ultimate marital aid).

And as for imagining what the fellowship would have looked like drawn anime style.. well I'm pleased to say that hundreds of very earnest, charming, and amazingly talented Japanese high school girls have already done that for you. Legolas is the only one who often looks distinctly anime-style, while the humans and hobbits tend to live in a stylistic limbo between big eyes/smooth lines and accurate sketching. It's quite charming, and I had quite a good day looking at the LotR covers at a girl's fan comics exposition. I did not look inside to see what the fellowship was... erm... up to, because these girls have very active imaginations. I will say that Legolas and Aragorn were most often featured on covers, with Sam and Frodo a close second..

#185 ::: Kass Fireborn ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2004, 12:09 PM:

Let's beat dead horses with sticks. Or dead topics with baguettes. I'm not picky.


Actually, I would say Sailor Moon isn't even necessarily Sailor Moon--there are vast differences between the english dubbed episodes shown in the US and the episodes as originally shown in Japan, and even vaster differences between the anime versions and the manga.

But I do agree; The Lord of the Rings in manga or anime probably wouldn't have been hugely different. It's a format and a point of origin, not a sweeping broad style, and while certain characteristics--the eyes, for example--tend to be common, they are not definitively universal. And Record of Lodoss War if nothing else shows the fields are not entirely unfamiliar with the epic quest thing.

It's a lack of understanding of form that continues to mean that people think of things like Sailor Moon (english), Dragon Ball Z, and Ranma 1/2 (if even that) as exemplary of the entire thing rather than simply one portion of it. After all, Ghost in the Shell, Hellsing, and Spirited Away are anime too (grabbing titles at random here).

(And aren't topic mutations fascinating? Look where we started and look where we are now!)

#186 ::: Rng ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2004, 10:43 AM:

Kss, d y thnk LTR wld lk bttr n nm?!..

btw, tm t rtrn t th tpc :)

Rng.

#187 ::: Rd Krtchwll ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2004, 06:55 AM:

Wht n ntrstng dscssn. Fns f LTR1-3, cm hr!

#188 ::: Anton Sherwood ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2005, 03:26 AM:

I have heard that people tend to have [Knuth's] checks framed rather than cash them.

Mine got lost in the clutter on my desk before I had finished gloating about it.

#189 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2005, 10:42 AM:

Anton Sherwood:

I generated one of those fake papers from the MIT server. My son, a 16-year-old Computer Science major, expressed particular hilarity at a fake citation by Heinlein and Knuth.

Now I'm wondering.
"The Moon is a Harsh Mantissa"
"I Shall Fear no Eval"
"The Man Who Sold the 1001"
"Double Star Means Exponentiate"

#190 ::: Melissa Mead ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2005, 07:54 PM:

I unwittingly started reading this thread from the beginning, not realizing how old it was. Sorry for the backtrack, but thank you, everyone who posted things like
"Perhaps I should give up writing altogether" is one of the classics. It strikes the good and the bad, the marginal and the wildly successful. And -- yipes! That reminds me of another one. This one strikes when the novel is almost done, or done and newly delivered: "Oh my god, this is awful. I have no talent and I'm losing my mind. If I show this piece of @#$%! to anyone, I'll be ruined for life."

It helps to know that I may be insane, but I'm not alone. ;)

#191 ::: S. Elias Marx ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2005, 04:45 PM:

Melissa said:

"'Perhaps I should give up writing altogether' is one of the classics. It strikes the good and the bad, the marginal and the wildly successful."

Every single author I have ever spoken with has uttered these words at least once. You are not alone. The compulsion to write is an illness, bringing to mind an old joke.

"A great healer travelled down the road one day and came upon a man sitting by the side of the road weeping. He said, "What's the matter, my son?"

The leper replied, "I am a leper, o master, and I beg you to heal me."

So the healer placed his hands upon the leper's head and healed him.

A little farther down the road, the healer came to a second man weeping, and said to him, "What's the matter, my son?

The man replied, "I'm blind, o master. Will you heal me?"

And the healer placed his hands upon the blind man's eyes and healed him.

Still farther down the road, the healer came upon a third man weeping, and said to him, "What's the matter, my son?"

The man replied, "I am a writer, o master."

And the healer sat down and wept with him."


That's about the size of it. We're all stuck with an illness even deity can't cure.

Steve

#192 ::: Liam Jackson ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2005, 08:42 PM:

Guilty as charged. Which one? Just throw a dart at the list.

#193 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2005, 10:10 PM:

On the other hand, if the [in your opinion, which may very well be correct] bad copy editor does things to your book you don't like (and I've certainly had to clean up such situations many, many times), there's a marvelous little device on the end of a pencil called an eraser. Or you could do like one author i know and actually have a little rubber stamp that says "STET" made up. A bit of extra labor, but problem solved.

Replying very late to a comment from Robert L, December 25, 2003, 12:16 AM:

I've come up with a better plan. The copyeditor, after each mark, shall write "STET" in the margin. I'll go through afterward and erase the ones that need erasing.

#194 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2005, 12:34 AM:

At a convention I've forgotten, years ago, Deb Notkin and I made up a bunch of STET rubber stamps and gave them to authors. That's the first instance of them that I know of, but independent creation seems really likely. The stamps were very popular. Probably an early Bay Area Potlatch.

They say memory's the second thing to go.

#195 ::: Anton Sherwood ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2006, 03:19 PM:

JVP (April 16): huh??

#196 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 02:33 PM:

three years later, and this stuff is still damn funny.

#197 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2007, 12:18 PM:

Slightly more than three years later, I know my pet program must have some fatal hidden flaw, and that any day now people will find out, and laugh me down the street...

#198 ::: douglas carter ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2008, 05:31 AM:

I am probably guilty of saying half of what I have read on this page. My problem is that I have written nearly 10 novels and 2 screenplays but there all only half finished. What the heck is that all about? Someone told me I was afraid to finish a novel in fear that once it's published I would be kicking myself if I came up with a better storyline. I seem to get motivated and write like 40 pages and when I get up in the morning I look at it like it's covered in snot and go ''Naaa maybe I'll get back to it tommarow''. For the love of everything holy please let me know what the heck is going on so I can fix it. For now I am walking away with my head down and kicking my can down the road sad and pathetic.

#199 ::: Jen B. ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2008, 11:21 AM:

Douglas:

This thread is kind of old so you probably won't get many replies.

A site often mentioned around here to help writers is Absolute Write. They've got a lovely forum area for writers to help each other.

My own problem with finishing (or never starting things) is that I am my audience. If I'm bored with the story I won't finish writing it. And if I don't think I can put it on paper "as good as it is in my head", I won't, for fear of ruining the story for me.

Good luck to you.

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