The Dry Zone

“Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.”
—Stephen King

Starting something new it’s easy. You have been thinking about this project for quite some time, maybe even holding back until you were 100% sure. So you have this backlog of plans and ideas, even if they are half thought out, they are there in the back of your mind. They might be just early, early seeds of ideas, but it is all there.

The Dry Zone

So one day you start. And you have all this energy. And all those ideas that have been slowly cooking in the back of your mind take shape. And you produce and feel productive. And for a while it works out.

But then, routine settles. The fountain of ideas dries up. Then reality hits you, the well has dried up. This is what I call the Dry Zone. This one single thing is the biggest struggle—by far—of any creative mind. After a quick and exciting start you’ve lost your momentum and your energy is depleted. All you are facing the long road ahead. And you ask yourself, now what?

Beginnings are easy because they offer something our minds are always excited about: change. The Dry Zone, though, is the opposite of change. Is routine, stagnation, monotony. Change does happen, but it is excruciatingly slow.

Now what? Hard work.

Crossing the Dry Zone is the real challenge of any artist. The real challenge of any new project. Looking ahead at the Dry Zone, all the eye can see is work. Don’t abandon here. Do persevere in the face of monotony and know that the Dry Zone separates beginners from pros.

“I know you’ve heard it a thousand times before. But it’s true–hard work pays off. If you want to be good, you have to practice, practice, practice. If you don’t love something, then don’t do it.”
—Ray Bradbury

Writing Serial Books, Short Formats for a Distracted Audience

Good things, when short, are twice as good.
—Tom Stoppard

I have the theory that we read more than ever. Book reading is slightly on the down in the last decade, but we don’t know how online reading is doing. Like with TV, the audience might be moving to streaming, or in the case of books, to online sources (news sites, blogs, web fiction, etc). But we don’t know, because those who measure these numbers don’t know/want to look to new media.

So we might disagree on whether or not we read more or less, but what it’s clear is that reading habits are changing rapidly. Writers and publishers are now catching up on the trend to satisfy those that demand immediate gratification. Short attention span might be to blame. Or not, because the demand for short story formats is really not new.

Serial fiction writing trends

It happened before

In the early 1800 novels were serialized in paper journals. Dickens being the most known example. He is kinda considered the father of the serialized format in papers. Another example? Dumas’ The Three Musketeers serialized in a Parisian magazine, or in the US, Uncle Tom’s Cabin that was released in 40 installments and published by an abolitionist periodical.

The 19th century had penny dreadfuls, dime novels, and short-fiction magazines, that apparently were all the craze back then. The early 20th century saw the success of the pulps, short magazine-like publications of fiction. Interestingly enough, pulps covered mostly genre fiction and it is known today for its exploitation themes. It looks like sensationalism sells and has been doing it for over a century now. Until WWII pulps were the most popular avenue for short fiction.

Serialization was popular in the US as in Europe. The Bonfire of the Vanities, was published in 27 parts by Rolling Stone magazine. And more recently, the popularity of sites like Watpadd have pointed to a possible resurgence of the format.

New initiatives

And, as if to test the theory, James Patterson is new publishing a whole series of short books under a new (not really) format called Bookshots. Books that run around 30,000 words and that, without the marketing, are simply Novellas.

They’re fast reads that pack a lot of punch in a little package. It’s usually hard to find novellas in print. They’ve become the darling of the ebook world. BookShots, on the other hand, are being  published in print with wide, and I mean WIDE, distribution. They’re designed for readers on the go who want to be thrilled or romanced in one or two sittings.
—What the heck are BookShots

Serial Box is another example of this same short format for quick consumption, in this case inspired by tv show habits.

[Serial Box] aims to be “HBO for readers.” Serial Box releases “episodes” (not “books”) over a 10 to 16 week season. Each season is written by a team of writers. […] The process is directly modeled on writing for a TV series. “We begin with the equivalent of a showrunner and three or four supporting writers,” Barton explains. Together, they break down the plot, talk through the characters, and map out current and future seasons.
—Can Serialized Fiction Convert Binge Watchers Into Binge Readers?

Serialized fiction is nothing new, and has always have great support. As a new writer short stories and novellas are very attractive. Plus it is quite common to hear writers recommend series of books as a way to keep readers engaged. It’ll be interesting to see how the independent publishing industry, much more welcoming of changes and experimentation, evolves the concept.

Sunday report: August week #2

Oh, man. This week was rough. My very carefully constructed plot fell apart. AND I had to keep on writing 500 words 1 at least on each of my morning and evening sprints.

My goal is to write daily each day of the working week during my commute, at least 500 words each way. Some of my writing sprints were a bit of a mess, but I got all my ideas there. I forced myself to follow my plan, but in a couple of occasions new ideas took over. Once draft #1 is out I will need to go back and rewrite the new ideas in.

The numbers

  • Monday: 1696 (762 + 934)
  • Tuesday: 1509 (780 + 729)
  • Wednesday: 1314 (567 + 747)
  • Thursday: 1250 (626 + 624)
  • Friday: 1175 (563 + 612)

Total: 6,944 words

Edna Ferber

  1. actually I set my goal to be 555 each sprint or 1110 a day. 

Kealan Patrick Burke on Succeeding at Self-Publishing

Kealan Patrick Burke reminds us that writing is just half of the job of a writer. The other half is selling.

“I was naïve and supposed that if the book was more widely available, the amount of promotion I would have to do would be minimal, that the exposure itself would sell it. Nothing could be further from the truth. One of the lessons I had to learn the hard way (and it’s same no matter what the medium), is that no matter how good a book is, nobody will read it unless you teach yourself to be a savvy marketer. It’s a simple fact that many people continue to ignore, and then they blame Amazon, or competing writers, or the publishing climate, when quite often it comes down to the world not being aware that your book exists.”

Kealan Patrick Burke, Want to Succeed at Self-Publishing?

Kealan Patrick Burke

John Scalzi on Manboy Audiences and Women Protagonists

Just recently I read the news about Alters, a new comic book with a transgender superhero. It seems that media creators are starting to feel more and more comfortable with diverse characters. I think many authors have finally lost their fear to cast outcasts in their stories. It’s also a good idea to realize that (1) audiences are becoming more comfortable with minority roles 1 and (2) audiences are largely composed of minorities 2.

It is about time that we move past the default straight-white-male hero.

But this is just the latest chapter of man-boys whining about women in science fiction culture: Oh noes! Mad Max has womens in it! Yes, and Fury Road was stunning, arguably the best film of its franchise and of 2015, and was improbably but fittingly nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Oh noes! Star Wars has womens in it! Yes, and The Force Awakens was pretty damn good, the best Star Wars film since Empire, was the highest grossing film of 2015 and of all time in the domestic box office (not accounting for inflation. Accounting for inflation, it’s #11. #1 counting inflation? That super-manly epic, Gone With the Wind).

And now, Oh noes! Ghostbusters has womens in it!

A Short Review of Ghostbusters and A Longer Pummel of Manboys

John Scalzi

  1. wishful thinking? 
  2. statistic mine 

On Writing but not just being a Writer

Fortune cookie

David Toussaint talks about when he realized he was a writer:

I’ve answered the question a million times, and it still confuses me. Truth is, I never discovered I “wanted” to be a writer in the same way that I never discovered I wanted to have four limbs, brown eyes, or food to eat. To invoke that perennial gay expression, I was born that way.
David Toussaint, When Did You Realize You ‘Weren’t’ An Artist?

I’m an artist not a “writer”. I write as a form of self expression, but I don’t consider myself exactly a writer. Before writing fiction I wrote code, before I wrote code I painted, before I painted I took photos and before that, in a time now long forgotten, I made money as an illustrator. I constantly read about writers that “always knew they were writers” or how they “couldn’t be anything but a writer”. I very much understand that sentiment, but what I feel is a slight but noticeable variation.

I create because I have to, but I also find freedom in changing mediums. I do feel that I have to focus on a medium, but that’s slightly different than being loyal to it. Without focus there can be no progress, no growth of skills, and ultimately no mastery of the trade.

I’m a creator first. A