Friday, January 23, 2015

Writing: Miss Steaks

Do errors bother you? I like to point out scenes in TV shows or even movies where something that shows up in one view is moved in another. And, even though I love the writing of Robert B. Parker, even though Bob had a doctorate and was a college professor when he broke in as a novelist, I've found errors in his novels. A number of writers don't do research, and it shows in the errors they make. Does that make my enjoyment of the work less? No, it's just something I watch for now that I'm writing myself.

I hope you noticed that the heading of this post has changed the word "mistakes" to "miss steaks"--perfectly acceptable words, spelled correctly, but not what was meant when they were written. Autocorrect is responsible for many of the errors we see in posts and emails, and I always advise writers to turn it off (as I do) and proofread their manuscripts for misspelling.

A finished book from a traditional publisher undergoes at least three edits (macro edit, line edit, proofreading) by publisher representatives, plus multiple edits and responses by the author. Yet errors creep in. And hawk-eyed readers point them out. But pointing them out to the author won't really help (unless they're an error of style or substance, something he/she may wish to correct in future books). They can be brought to the attention of the publisher so they can be corrected in a subsequent printing (if the book goes that far), providing you can make contact with said publisher. Some publishers make it easy to send them a message--some are so difficult to contact one would think they were in the witness protection program. It varies.

Do errors in a book, movie, or TV show bother you? And, if you find one, what do you do about it? I'd like to know.

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(Image via Freedigitalphotos.net)

NOTE: If you think writers "have it made" after they get their first contract, check out my blog post on the subject.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Life Is In The Hyphen

Dr. Steve Farrar said something interesting on Sunday. If we walk through a cemetery, we see lots of headstones with someone's name, their date of birth, and their date of death. But, as Steve pointed out, although when we start and finish our journey through this world are important, the real story of our lives is in the hyphen. What do we do during those years, however many there are?

For a decade, I and my colleagues devoted several days to interviewing medical students who had applied for specialty training in our department. The almost-physicians showed up dressed in their best, all primed and ready to answer such stock questions as "Why do you want to train here?" and "What are your plans for practice after you finish your training?" But none of them was ever ready for a question I put to them: "What would you like on your tombstone?"

That's sort of my question. What would you like people to remember about you when you come to the end of your life's journey? What would be in the hyphen on your tombstone? Have you thought about that? I hope you'll leave a comment and let us know.

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NOTE: If you want to hear me read the first several minutes of Critical Condition, my last novel of medical suspense, click here.

IN ADDITION: If you want a chance to win a signed copy of  Critical Condition, check out this website and enter:

Friday, January 16, 2015

Writing: Envying Other Writers

All writers (whether published or "pre-published"--i.e., wanting to be) are subject to envy of the successes of others. When I saw this from Randy Ingermanson recently, I wanted to share it with you. Here it is, with his permission.

If there’s anything that can wreck your writing career, I’d say it’s envy.

What do I mean by “envy?”

Envy is not merely wanting what somebody else has. 

Envy is the feeling of resentment you get when wanting something somebody else has.  

The problem is that the publishing world naturally breeds envy. Here’s why.

It’s just a fact that different writers get very different results from their writing. Most writers earn hundreds of dollars per year or less. Some earn thousands. A few earn tens of thousands. A small minority earn hundreds of thousands. A very few earn millions. A tiny handful earn tens of millions.

This tells us that rewards aren’t proportional to talent. Those writers earning millions aren’t 1000 times more talented than those earning thousands. 

In fact, it’s possible for one writer to do far better than another with quite a bit more talent. See my article on The Success Equation earlier in this issue for an explanation of what drives the rewards of writing. Talent is part of it, but there are other factors that matter a lot.

When you see somebody earning a lot more than you, it’s all too easy for the “that’s not fair” mentality to kick in. 

And that’s not smart.

What goes wrong when you envy other writers? Isn’t that just another name for good healthy competition?

No, it isn’t. 

When you envy another writer, you are the one who gets a sick, nasty feeling in the pit of your stomach. Maybe it keeps you awake at night. Maybe it sucks all the happiness out of your life. Maybe it causes you to dream of ways to hurt the other writer. 

All of these steal energy from YOU, energy that you desperately need in order to write better. You can’t afford that.

So what do you do about envy? A little logic goes a long way here.

It’s not wrong to want to achieve the success that you see somebody else achieving. It wouldn’t harm them at all if you were to up your game so that you were doing as well as they are. 

By the same token, their success is not harming you. When other authors do well, they are not taking money that is rightfully yours. They’re taking money that their Target Audience has decided is rightfully theirs.

So you begin by making a decision to let go of any resentment of other writers. But it doesn’t end with that.

When you see somebody earning vastly more than you, ask yourself why that’s happening. Think about the Success Equation. What accounts for this other writer’s success and what could you do to imitate it?
  1. Are they writing for a larger Target Audience than you? If so, do you want to write for a larger Target Audience, or are you happy writing for the one you have?
  2. Are they doing a better job of delighting their Target Audience? If so, can you learn any tricks of the craft from them that would help you delight your Target Audience?
  3. Are they using better discoverability tools than you are? Can you use those same tools to make your work more discoverable?
  4. Are they more productive than you are? Can you learn from them and increase your own productivity?
Sometimes none of the above explains the discrepancy in earnings. 

Sometimes, luck is the answer. Luck happens. If it happens to you, be happy and enjoy the ride. If it doesn’t, remember that nobody deserves luck.

Sometimes, the other writer is vastly out-earning you because she’s been at the job for thirty years and you’ve been at it for five. If that’s the case, then carry on. If you build your career right, time is your friend.

The key thing here is to not allow envy to derail your career. It doesn’t hurt the other writer. It hurts you.

Put envy aside. It’s not a lot of effort and it has huge rewards. It might be the smartest thing you do all year.

Once you do that, you can take it one step further. You can learn to be happy when others are successful. That’s the flip side of envy. Instead of letting bad feelings ruin your day, let good feelings boost your day.


Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, "the Snowflake Guy," publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 10,000 readers. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com.

(image via FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

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And if you missed my post with my free short story, Epiphany Encounter, click here.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Ars Longa, Vita Brevis

I dreamed the other night that I adopted a new Twitter handle: Ars longa,vita brevis. Not only was this phrase unwieldy (and too long) for that purpose, but I had no idea why these words popped into my mind. When I looked up the phrase on the Internet (What did we do for research before Google?) I discovered they were a variation of a quotation from Aphorismi, written by the physician, Hippocrates.

Scholars seem to think that what the ancient Greek was saying was that it takes a long time to acquire and perfect one's expertise (in this case, medicine) and one has but a short time in which to do it.  I've been retired from medicine for over a decade now, and although I had in mind golf and travel as a way to fill my days, God seemed to have other ideas. Since that time, I've spent a good bit of time trying to learn writing, and I'm still learning. Couldn't this aphorism be applied to that--or any other profession--just as well as medicine, as Hippocrates originally meant?

What about you? Do you need a reminder that there's still more to learn, whatever you're doing? Have you reached a point where your attitude is, "I've learned all I need. This can't be improved. Besides, what difference does it make?" I hope not.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on all this. But hurry and leave them. Remember, life is short.

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(Photo of Greek ruins via Freedigitalphotos.net)

Friday, January 09, 2015

Writing: Short Story

Writers of fiction write all sorts of things: novels, novellas, short stories. Here's a short piece I wrote, suggested by an off-hand remark of Kay's. Epiphany, for those not familiar with the term, is also called "twelfth night," and supposedly represents the day when the Magi found the Christ child. In Western culture, it marks the end of the Christmas season.

EPIPHANY ENCOUNTER

A small door in the side of the garage eased open. The man looked out and smiled when he saw how darkness cloaked the driveway, alley, and yard opposite his house. The bark of a dog in the distance briefly broke the silence, then died away.

Almost two weeks earlier, on Christmas Eve, the scene might have been different, with people returning from midnight Mass or holiday parties. A few days ago, New Year’s Eve, sporadic fireworks would have served as a backdrop to raised voices and slamming car doors. But tonight everything was quiet.

He ducked back inside the garage, emerging a few moments later with a burden slung over his shoulder. The long bundle was wrapped in a plastic tarp, and the portion that hung down in front briefly brushed against his knee as he shuffled toward the driveway where his dusty Chevy Impala sat.

He dropped his bundle with a thud next to the rear of the car.  He fished for his keys and unlocked the trunk, carefully swinging it fully open. Then he manhandled the long mass into the cluttered space, bending it to make it fit. Carefully, he eased the trunk lid closed until it clicked. By now his heart was pounding against his chest. Rivulets of sweat coursed down his back. But he’d succeeded. The next part would be easy.

He was at the door when he heard tires squeal in his driveway. He turned and was bathed by red and blue strobes, followed by a bright light in his eyes. Two policemen emerged from a patrol car, each careful to remain shielded by the door.

“Put your hands up,” the driver said loudly.

“What’s wrong?” he said. He started to reach into his pocket for his wallet, but apparently that was the wrong thing to do.

In a moment he was facedown on the concrete, handcuffed, with two policemen glaring down at him past drawn pistols. “What’s the meaning of this?” he asked, striving to maintain his dignity.

“What did you put into the trunk of your car?”

“Uh, nothing,” he said.

“Would you like to give us permission to look?”

How much could he object? Better to cooperate. “Uh, I guess so. The keys are in my pocket.”
One officer retrieved the keys and slowly opened the trunk. “It’s a bundle, wrapped in a tarp,” he called to his partner.

The other policeman edged over to the open trunk and peered inside.

 “I assure you, it’s perfectly innocent. I was going to dispose of it. That’s all,” the man said.

“Let’s have a look,” the first policeman said. “If I just move this loop of the rope a little…” He used a pen from his pocket to do that, then teased aside the folds of the tarp. “And we can see—“ His interjection was a single word, sharp and loud.

“A Christmas tree,” the other policeman said. “We responded to a call from a neighbor who was convinced this man was bringing out a body, but it was just a Christmas tree.”

“I told you it was innocent,” the man said. “Now will you let me out of these handcuffs?”

 As he dusted himself off, the man said, more under his breath than addressing the police, “That nosy neighbor. I might have known.”

“I’ll let the shift commander know,” one of the patrolmen said. “We’ll take any more calls from her with a grain of salt.”

In five minutes the police car was gone, five minutes that included an apology by the patrolmen for what had just taken place and assurances by the man that he was willing to forget the incident.

He entered the garage through the smaller door from which he had exited minutes before. Once inside, he flipped on the light and navigated through the boxes and furniture that filled the garage, stopping at a chest freezer against the far wall. He used a key from his ring to unlock the freezer, lifted the lid, and checked to make sure the body inside was still there.

“Now that I have that dry run out of the way, when I move you for real I don’t think there’ll be any trouble from the police, even if that neighbor calls again.” He closed and locked the freezer door. “And, after all, I’ve waited almost two weeks. What’s one more day?”

So, what do you think? I hope you'll let me know by leaving a comment. And, if you'd like to pre-order my next novel, Fatal Trauma, click the link on the book title for print or e-reader formats.

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