Monday, March 28, 2011

Real Writers Aren't "Aspiring"

...They're Too Busy Perspiring. And Conspiring...

A writer writes.

Being published doesn't make one a writer.

Nor does being famous, rich, successful, a bestseller, or an alcoholic.

What separates writers from non-writers is that one does what the other does not.

This is why it grinds my gizzard every time I visit a blog or read a tweet from a self-described "aspiring writer." (Grrrrr....)

These are people who avidly follow the #amwriting, #amediting, and #pubtip hashtags. They monitor their daily word count. They stay current on what agents are looking for, know who's open to queries, and warn others about the occasional slimeballs they encounter.

These intrepid souls write while holding down full time jobs, raising children, caring for ailing parents and spouses, going to school, going through divorce, battling debilitating illness, and enduring rejections.

They are not aspiring. They are the polar opposite of "aspiring." They are "doing."

Doctors don't save every patient they encounter. Lawyers don't win every case. This fact of life, however, never induces them to call themselves "aspiring." Nor does it keep them from charging their clients handsomely for the privilege of being practiced upon.

In the same vein, writers don't always find a publisher for every thing they write. That doesn't mean they're "aspiring," though.

See, here's the thing. Aspiring writers talk. Writers write.

Sure Signs That You're a Writer

* You have a deep and abiding love affair with caffeine. Or chocolate. Or Cheetos. Or another major food group that is bad for your body but good for your muse.

* You are happiest in worlds of your own building.

* Your characters are as real to you as real people. (And your fondest desire is to meet them in real life.)

* You consider watching TV, going to movies, and reading books work-based research. In fact, you are incapable of watching or reading something purely for entertainment. Instead, your inner critic maintains a running commentary on the good, the bad, and the ugly. [Bonus points and kudos if you've learned not to voice your inner critic's comments aloud, thus enlightening all within hearing distance.]

* You have had at least one Brilliant Idea just before falling asleep and have told yourself "I don't need to get up and write this down. It's so good, I'll remember it in the morning."

* You have learned from painful past experience that if you don't immediately get out of bed and write something down, you'll forget it, no matter how brilliant it seems at the time. For this reason, every room in the house, including the laundry room and the guest bathroom have pens and scratch paper readily available.

*  You have at least one pet named after a literary character. And it never ceases to amaze you how no one understands the reference.

Sure Signs of an Aspiring Writer

* You talk about wanting to write a book. Someday. When the kids are grown. When you've finished school. When you're retired. When you win the lottery.

Talk = Expire. Respire. Aspire.  Write = Perspire. The two are mutually exclusive.

*  You don't bother to learn about the publishing industry. You figure that when you finally write your magnum opus, the world will beat a path to your door.

Ignorance is the opiate of the unpublished.

* You badmouth current bestsellers, the state of publishing, and popular writers.

If you can't say something nice, produce something better.

You don't read. You don't have the time. You aren't interested in what's being published. All the publishers throw out there is crap anyway.

You refuse to go to class or do the assignment, but are prepared to groan and moan about never getting a diploma.


So you see, in my opinion, there is NOTHING attractive about being an "aspiring" writer. To paraphrase Yoda: Do. Or do not. But if you choose to do not, stop yapping about wanting to do.

Here's to all you writers out there. May you delete "aspiring" from your bios, 'cause you've already made it.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Tips for Tackling the Final Proof

As far as I'm concerned, there are five major "excitements" that happen in any given book project. The first is when the contracts are signed, and the project is a definite GO. The second is when the first draft is written. The third is when the final manuscript is sent off to the publisher. The fourth is receiving the galleys for final proof and approval. And the fifth is actually holding the printed book in my hands. Today, the galleys came.

To those unfamiliar with printing jargon, galley proofs, or galleys are a test copy of what will eventually become a printed piece. The "galley" was the long metal tray printers used for typesetting. So, originally, "galley proofs" were copies of the typeset print that was not yet divided into pages. I liked it when galleys were photocopies of the book as it stands -- all laid out in pages that I could hold my hot little hands and flip through. The galley I'm working on now is a .pdf file that I annotate and mark changes with notes.

(Dirty little secret: I prefer hardcopy proofs. Its easier to compare formatting on page 2 with formatting on p. 222 in hardcopy. Its also easier for me to compare things like leading and kerning space when I have the physical thing in my hands. But paperless progress pushes on regardless of my personal preferences.)

The purpose of galley proofs has always been for marking corrections. Of course, I went over the manuscript with a fine toothed comb before I sent it to the publisher. But the galleys are my FINAL CHANCE to make sure everything is perfect before the printer turns it into something permanent.

Seeing the galleys is exciting. It makes the book seem that much more real. But signing off on them is also fraught with a certain amount of trepidation. My biggest fear (and a valid one) is that I am so familliar with the text that I mentally add words to make it read right, since I know what it is "supposed" to say.

I have a three-part system for tackling galleys. I don't know if it would be right for everyone, but for those who are interested, here it is:

First, I read the entire book from start to finish -- preferably out loud -- and make any corrections that I find.

Next, I read the book backwards. I go page by page and work toward the beginning. I find that reading the pages out of sequence makes me pay more attention to the words, and keeps me from mentally filling in any blanks that might still be there.

Finally, I make sure that all page references are correct. At this stage, I also read all of the photo and illustrations captions out loud to make sure that they make sense.

Proofing is not for the faint of heart or the fried of mind. I can't do hard-line proofing for more than 2 1/2 hours without a break. My eyes start to glaze over, and all the words on the page start to look just fine.

I live in fear of the little mistake. (Not to mention the Big One. I once screwed up when proofing a calendar and allowed it to go to print with Good Friday a WHOLE WEEK before Easter. True story.)

Mistakes can sneak past even the most discerning of editors. For instance last night, after several hours of line-by-line editing, I knew I had to take a break when the word "form" masquerading as "from" nearly slipped by me.

Other things to watch out for:

Leading The leading is the spacing between paragraphs. During the process of designing and laying out the manuscript, it is very easy for the spacing to change from one width to another. Check for consistency.

Kerning This has to do with the amount of space around letters, or with the amount of space that separates letters within words. This is another variable that can change throughout the manuscript. Consistency, again, is key.

Spacing It's very easy to add a space or delete a space after the ends of sentences. Some publishers put two spaces between sentences. Others put only one. It doesn't matter which is chosen. It only matters that the choice remains constant throughout the book.

CAPS, Heads & Sub-heads Check for consistency of font, style, size, color, and capitalization throughout the book. Sometimes the designer will change his or her mind in the midst of a project, but will forget to make the appropriate changes in every chapter.

Table of Contents A quick read-through of the table of contents, comparing its text with the actual chapter titles and sub-titles is critical.

Sequencing If photos or illustrations are present, check two things. First, make sure that any in-text references specifically cite the correct figures. Secondly, make sure that photo citations are in numerical order -- without any duplications or omissions.

Captions Double check that the captions actually refer to the pictures they are citing. Also make sure that all photo and illustration captions are in the same format.

Headers & Footers If the book title is included on every page, or if the chapter titles are on corresponding pages, make sure that they are spelled correctly. Make sure the names are correct. Also, make sure that their placement on the page is consistent throughout the manuscript. For some reason, this is a big one. It's VERY easy for errors in headers & footers to slip by the designer. Forewarned is forearmed.

Margins This is an easy one to overlook, but take a moment to flip through the manuscript and make sure that the margins are consistent throughout. Especially check for margin consistency of bullets or numbered lists within the text.

Internal References Make sure that all page references and self-citations within the book are accurate.

Sound tedious? Yup. But it beats telling the publisher about an error that makes it to print.

Of course there are any number of picky things that remain to be checked, double checked, and considered. But you get the idea. And, hopefully, you don't find any glaring problems in the galleys, so that the book can head out to the printers!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Great Expectations

For the past few days, I've been wrestling with this truism:

You Get What You Expect.

Half empty? Half full? What do you expect?
A friend was recently bemoaning her current situation.

I suggested that her expectations would be met, no matter what they were. If she expects not to be able to find a job, she won't. If she expects to work at a place that doesn't value her expertise and labor, that's where she'll end up. If she expects to find a job working for people who think she's amazing, she will.

The big questions are: What do you want? and What do you want to do?

Follow your dream and do what you want. But you'll never achieve anything worthwhile if you don't believe it's possible.

Those who know you may know you can do a thing. But they don't count. You need to know you can do something before it will happen.

My friend countered with a lengthy list of every roadblock standing in her way. Her education, her career choice, her family, her finances. All were huge, mountain-sized obstacles, impossible to surmount and overcome. At the end of this litany of woe, she said:

It's not a matter of what I expect in life. If that was the case of just being able to expect it, you would be richer and have the career you wanted, it just doesn't work like that.
Ah, my glass-half-empty friend, I'm so sorry to say, but it does. You see, after much soul-searching, I have come to realize that I DO have what I expect.

I DO have the career I want. I make a living writing. But the crux of the matter -- the niggling little truth that my friend hit upon -- is that deep down at the soul level, I don't expect to make a fortune at it. Writing is too much fun, I hear my inner voice whisper. Something this fun can't possibly make you a ton of income.

In The Wedding Date (an arguably awful movie with the premise that a gigolo is the ideal candidate for a serious relationship when one has a broken heart), the main character operates on the philosophy that everyone has the relationship he or she expects.

Of course its easy to argue against such claims. "I never expected him to be an alcoholic. Or a drug addict. Or to sleep around. With my mother. And my grandmother. And my sister. And my brother. I certainly never expected him to steal my IRA. And my savings account. And my shih tzu!"

However, a germ of truth lies at the heart of the Theory of Expectation. Because as nearly everyone on the outside of a relationship looking in knows: if the relationship wasn't what you expected, you would leave.

Ingrained expectations are the reason why a woman I know refuses to give the time of day to a man who has adored her for years. Her father was a hard hearted, heavy handed man. This is what she expects a "real man" to be. Her expectations have caused her to lose out on a lifetime of love.

Expectations are often the reason why people stay with abusers, take back adulterers, endure disrespect, and excuse the inexcusable. We say we know what we want. But in reality, what we expect is much more of a defining factor that determines what we get.

In the 1960's, psychologist Robert Rosenthal conducted several landmark studies on expectancy.

In one, rats chosen at random, and labeled "maze dull" or "maze bright" actually performed according to their labels.

In another, 1st & 2nd grade students labeled at random as "ready to bloom" at the beginning of a school year showed marked IQ test improvement over their peers at year's end.

When it comes to my writing income, I have become a self-fulfilling prophecy. And so, lately I've been revisiting the Expectation Truism and meeting it head-on. Because expectations, once recognized, can be changed.

What expectations do you have for your writing? Have they helped or hindered your success thus far? What are your plans for bringing your expectations more in line with your dreams for success? I invite you to share your views in the comments below.