Are You an Author or a Writer?

When I’m looking for something new to read I’ll often peruse samples of self-published books on Amazon.com.  It’s a treasure trove of brilliant stories and superb writing.  Sadly, it’s also a quagmire and finding the gems among the mud can be a hassle.

Last year I came across a book, the details of which I will refrain from giving.  I only read the first few sample pages and promptly put it down.  It was nothing but passive voice, info dumping, endless adverbs and paragraphs with the same word used half a dozen times.  It read worse than most nanowrimo drafts I’ve seen.

I put the book out of mind until I happened upon its sequel the other day.  Curious, I read the sample pages to see what improvements the author had made in his writing.  None.  He still had all of the novice mistakes and sloppy editing that’d plagued the first book.  He clearly didn’t care about improving his craft, he just wanted to get his book out there.

In one of my writing groups we have people wander in with their shiny new manuscript, ready for us to be awed.  These new people have either visited other groups where they received a pat on the head, or they’ve never been to a writers group before.

My group is arguably one of the more brutally honest.

When these new people receive their critiques, there are three common results.

1. They never come back – Hurt that we didn’t love their piece, we never see them again. I feel sorry for these people, because they can develop into exquisite writers if only if they could handle the constructive criticism.

2. They get defensive – These people are fun to watch. They aggressively try to defend their writing, and how they’re right and everyone else is either wrong and/or stupid. They subsequently also never come back, but I have no sympathy for this group and say good riddance.

One girl received a particularly harsh criticism.  Her character was a 25-year-old beauty queen, philanthropist, helicopter pilot, brain surgeon billionaire (I’m not exaggerating).  The character was also a complete jerk, yet somehow everyone in the book fell in love with her.

In previous critique sessions, the author had been told that this won’t work, but she ignored all advice.  Finally, fed-up with the same character appearing again and again, one of the people who’d critiqued her simply said that he wished this character would just die in her Olympic-sized swimming pool.

A short while later this girl returned with a new piece.  This time her character brutally murdered someone with the critiquer’s name…in an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

After that we never saw her again.

3. They accept the criticism and try to improve, carefully looking over the comments and taking to heart the points that would best help them. Sometimes critiques are hard, but they return slightly better than before and ready to learn.

I have seen incredible talent blossom from those who are willing.

To be an author is easy; you just have to put words on paper and get it out there for the world to see.

To be a writer takes effort.  Writing, Revision, Critique.  You bleed red ink and still come back for more.  You are never at the pinnacle of your talent.  Always strive to build upon your craft and become something greater.

Don’t just be an author.  Become a writer.

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The Gods Conspire Against Nanowrimo

It’s that time of year again.  Nanowrimo.  For those unfamiliar with the the program, it’s a hellish experience where you write a whole novel in November.  The monthly goal…50,000 words.

No editing allowed!  That’s hard on someone like me who prefers creating and polishing a chapter a week before moving on.

I dove head first this month into Nanowrimo’s swirling morass or adjectives and pronouns, and I am doing very well indeed.  My word count is well above the daily goals and I’m on my way to completion.  Joy!

Yet, you know, it’s during the good times when the Universe points its finger at you and say’s “no!”

Bills come due when you have extra money.

Things break right after you’ve fixed them.

Starcraft II – Legacy of the Void is released…right in the middle of Nanowrimo!

Now, I’m not a big gamer anymore.  There was once a time when I could spend weekends and evenings playing computer games until well into sunrise the next day.  Those times have passed.

Starcraft is one of those exceptions, and I can still lose myself in it just like my twelve year old self.  So, why?  Oh why Blizzard must you present me with this most terrible of temptations during a month when my sole focus should be pounding my head against my keyboard?

Curse your devilish timing and hedonistic temptation!

My Silence is Broken

It has been some time since I last posted, and I promise to be more dutiful in the future.  I’ve been busy editing my first book and writing my second.  It’s an interesting process, but sadly I neglected my time here.

Another reason I haven’t written much was my preparation for the League of Utah Writers conference and writing contest.  For those who don’t know of the league, I’ll include a link.  It’s wonderful organization that has helped me improve my writing immensely.  I’m particularly thankful for the Cache Valley branch and the incredible aid they’ve given me in the last few years.

I presented a fun class on how to use foreign/artificial languages in writing and reflecting culture.  It took me several days to prepare the slides and presentation.  I wore my yukata for effect and while nervous sweat beaded my neck, the presentation went wonderfully thanks to a group of excellent students.

I only submitted four pieces to the competition this year and am overjoyed that my “Five Minutes” took first place in Creative Nonfiction.

I need to give those who prepared the most successful conference the league has ever had a big thanks.  Especially to the league’s president and conference planner Amanda Luzzader.  It was a huge success Amanda!  Great work!

A New Prescription

Last week I received a new prescription for my glasses.  It’s been six years, and with each, I’ve noticed my vision worsening.

It’s quite amazing how clear things are now.  It’s like the difference between a DVD and Blu-ray (with my normal vision being VHS).  The mountains are crisp and clear, trees no longer look like globs of color and I’m not worried about driving at night.

Oft times, you reach a point in a project where your vision blurs, and you find yourself unable to notice simple details.

Sometimes a character doesn’t quite agree with you, or the story veers off course.  The longer this goes on, the more frustration grows and less clear the road.  Relax, clear your vision with a walk, vacation or separate project and you’ll be amazed at the change in vision.

I recently hit a snag in a middle grade story I’ve been working on, and each word felt like I was writing myself into a corner.  I didn’t know what the problem was and frustrated over every dead-end chapter.  I finally set the project aside for a few weeks and I worked on something else.  After clearing my head, I immediately pinpointed where my story derailed.  The answer was obvious, how could I have missed it?

If a project struggles, then work on something else, and come back with a clear mind, thankful for the change in prescription.

So it begins…

My journey into the blogosphere.

Yeah, I know, that’s a pretty cliché and/or cheesy opening.  The fact remains, however that aside from reading the occasional blog post and commenting here or there on a topic that interests me, I’m fairly new to this.

So, where to start…

My name is Dustin.  No, no, no, that’s too plain. 

I’m from Logan, Utah.  Guck, no one cares about that!

I am a writer.  Almost…needs something else.

Hello, my name is Dustin, and I have a writing problem.

In all seriousness though, I do enjoy writing, and to author a (series of) book(s) has been a dream of mine for years.

I penned my first chapters in a delightful little café called Citrus and Sage (R.I.P.).  The manuscript shined.  You know the golden glow that a work of legendary art beams.  Well that was my writing.  I waltzed into my first critique group, passed the papers out and waited in baited anticipation for two weeks for the results.

Of course I didn’t know how to write and knew I had a lot to learn, but my chapters couldn’t have been that bad, could they?

Two weeks passed and I scrambled into my group waiting to hear the glowing praise that’d surly come my way.  Little did I known that I’d entered the crucible.  The Cache Valley branch of the League of Utah Writers was notorious for its brutally honest, soul crushing critiques.  I left that evening with my spirit near broken and my glowing chapter bleeding red ink.

Now, here we are, two years later.  My book is finished (looking for an agent) and my writing has improved near exponentially.  Am I perfect…absolutely not.  I never will be.  I still don’t know how to write and still have a lot to learn.  But at least I can lean back now and give proper advice to shiny eyed noobs who wander into my group with their own glowing pieces of cannon fodd…er…artwork.

So, what can you expect from me.  Why bother to continuing reading this blog after that egregiously long story?  Well, you’ll…umm…I can…I…I like fluffy kittens, that’s why.

Periodically, I’ll post honest book reviews, writing tips, commentary on the game of Go, whatever I’m thinking about, how not to use grammar (not in actual articles, but evidenced in my ignorant disregard of such) and of course, fluffy kittens.

Now to those of you who made it this far, welcome.