Weird Al looks like he certainly has a problem. The poor man has no face! I picked this picture deliberately to go with this post. This post is about my real problem as a creative individual (I hope.) Weird Al wrote and performs a song titled First World Problems, wherein he outlines such tragedies as having to brush his teeth manually when the batteries die in his electric toothbrush. I relate to that, I truly do. Because, I, too, am besieged by First World Problems, and not much else.
It’s taken a lot longer than I’d hoped to put up the shed I bought at Sam’s Club last Winter. My hearing aid batteries only last 4 or 5 days. My dog sometimes poops in the house. My house is so big that it’s almost impossible to keep clean. My optometrist recently moved far away and I have to find a new one. My local supermarket stopped carrying my favorite 35 percent fruit muesli in bulk. See what I mean? I could go on and on.
Boo-hoo, I hear you saying. I say that too, but this really is a problem. I have observed, and psychology backs me up on this, that the most creative efforts arise from relatively tortured circumstances. The one time I wrote a good poem was just after a break-up. It really was a good poem, but it’s gone forever because I lost whatever media it was on. (Another first world problem, I know.) It’s so bad that I actually got a comedy bit out of the situation. It’s a bit that ends with a song that I wrote, a song that is the only blues that I can legitimately sing. The song is called the I Ain’t Got No Troubles Blues.” And that’s the trouble with me. I’ll record it and post it to YouTube sometime, and put a link to it here while I’m at it.
Meantime, for my own version of Imposter Syndrome, I worry that I may never sell any significant amount of fiction because I’ve just lived too easy a life!
Written in response to some specific incidents. If you write with a computer (any electronic device) you should read this.
You may be reading this on a smartphone. You may be reading this on some sort of tablet (there are lots of them these days.) You may even be reading it on a desktop computer, which is what I produce this site with. No matter which device you use, you are, in fact, using a computer (yes, even if it’s an Apple product.) I am inspired to write this post because of several instances later where I’ve either advised, or had to, do a hard reboot on a device. (Most recently this desktop on which I write.)
The desktop story is that I clicked on a mail that looked like it was from the USPS. Delivery problems, it said. Okay, that happens. But instead of an email I got a loud message about how someone has used my ip address without my knowledge to access a site with dangerous malware on it, and now my computer is “locked up” because of that. Now, first of all, nobody can ever know whether you or a hacker used your ip address without your knowledge. What are they, mind readers? Second, the technical term is not “locked up.” What happens is that your computer is locked, and you are “locked out.” And thirdly, they wouldn’t put a phone number in the warning page. There were updates pending, so what the heck, I ignored the warnings from the loud page and restarted. My computer updated, but the loud page didn’t go away. So I did a “hard reboot,” aka a “cold reboot,” and everything is fine. Fancy that. Now, if you’ve never been an IT person, you might not even know what a “cold reboot” is. I mean, you turn your device off and on all the time, I’m sure. But you still have times when the thing seems slow, messed up, won’t run your favorite app, won’t even make a call sometimes. I speak from experience. A hard, or cold reboot will cure all of these ailments in any computer.
What is a hard, cold reboot? If you have a desktop without a battery you can easily demonstrate one. Just reach around behind the big box wherein the mystery that is your computer resides. Pull out the power cord, carefully so as not to damage it, and then wait thirty seconds, and then plug the cord back in. Poof! A computer has billions of teeny circuits that, taken together, represent everything the computer can do. Each teeny circuit (I’m talking electron microscope teeny here) is either on or off. When the computer is first turned on, it sets each teeny circuit to “off.” That makes a clean working area for what follows, which will first be your operating system, then whatever apps you decide to run. Starting clean like that means that your programs will all run optimally, you know, as near to perfectly as possible. You should do it once in a while even if you don’t have trouble, as a way to prevent trouble from cropping up.
But what if you have a battery in your device. My desktop, for example, is in fact a Microsoft Surface Pro 4 plugged into a docking station. It acts just like a desktop; I’m using a large format monitor, plus a real keyboard (bliss) and a mouse. Easy-peasy to use, but tricky to cold reboot. For many tablets, the trick to hard (cold) reboot is to hold down the power button until the device turns on again. Huh? Well, it’s on when you start. Press the power button and ignore the screen messages. After a bit your device will turn off. If you keep holding the power button down, the device will turn on again shortly. If it doesn’t start back up in thirty seconds, let go of the power button, then press it again. In fact, if you accidentally let go of the power button after the device is off, that’s okay too. Just press the power button (for a few seconds, usually) until your device restarts.
I’ve had Motorola phones that cold rebooted just like that. My Samsung requires me to hold down both the power button and the volume down button at the same time. Something similar works with every tablet and smartphone with a battery. With phones, especially, it’s a good idea to do that cold reboot every couple of days. I do it before I go out driving for Lyft or Uber, as their driver apps are veritable resource hogs. (I mean that they use up a lot of memory, processing time, network bandwidth, and battery. It’s the memory that causes problems, so a cold reboot makes sure the app has all that it needs.)
There you go: my public service announcement for the quarter, uh, half, uh, year? Whatever. Cold boot your device every so often. You’ll be glad you did.
In keeping with Mr. Wendig’s contribution, just prior to right now, I want to talk more about rejection, and how it absolutely is not something to worry about. I write from experience, as I have done sales in the past, and have been rejected plenty.
In insurance sales, there’s a rule of thumb that goes for every ten people you call, one will be willing to talk with you. For every ten people willing to talk with you, one will close on something you’re offering. And, results, naturally, vary with how well you present your case, and with exactly what it is that you’re selling. In real estate, for instance, the odds are longer initially, because nobody knows you from anybody, and they don’t trust you. Which is reasonable.
Book sales are still sales. Yes, you introverted kid you, it is necessary to plug your product. You can, of course, simply publish your work and then plug that. Or you can plug your unpublished work to agents and editors, sending query letters, pitching in person. Everybody involved in writing anything ends up knowing all about these things, right? And, what happens? In my experience, there are two types of rejections you receive as a writer. The first, unfortunately common, response to a query is, ready for it? Nothing! Nada! Rien! NIchts! As Caesar would say, NIHIL! Then there are the good ones.
The good ones are good by virtue of being real and definite. When I get an actual rejection note via email or messaging (I guess snail mail is still possible but I haven’t seen one in years) I am overjoyed that the person took the time to at least drop me a form note. My very favorite rejection letter (it was via USPS) was from Mad Magazine, because it was truly funny. Those are the rejections which I savor, those ones with a modicum of personal touch to them.
If you’ve published a few books that sold well, your marketing gets easier, but you’ll still get rejected a lot. And, here’s my advice about that:
DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT!
Ever heard the advice, “Just keep doing it?” Well, that’s true. You will be rejected, by many, and by some who will, in time, come to regret the fact that they rejected you. (Think Decca Records and The Beatles.) Keep writing, keep plugging your product. If one thing just won’t sell, write something else. You are a writer, right?
“I’m Anna Nomly, and we are the “Like a Fish Needs a Bicycle” society.”
That’s a line from chapter one of what will, of course I’m going to say this at this point in the process, be undoubtedly the YA RomCom runaway hit of some year to be determined. I’m putting it in the same high school as the YA I’m working on marketing as I, well, no, not right this minute, but during this same general time.
My goals for the year include getting a start on another project by the end of February, so, by gum, I’m on track. I’ve also been entering contests as they come up. RWA contests, that is. Amongst other things, they tend to give actual feedback. Not the big national contest, but the local chapter contests. So far I’ve entered everything I’m eligible to enter. My goals say I’ll keep doing that all year. Unless, of course, I win the big national contest. Stranger things have happened; I’ll let you know when that does.
Of course, there is a foil to the “Like a Fish Needs a Bicycle” society. If you want to know what it is, you’ll have to wait until later. To be honest, I have two pages written, and this is my first overt comedy novel. Should be fun. You know, ’cause it’s a comedy. You know, funny.
Your words will find an audience if you remember that there is more to a story than a plot. As a case in point, I’m going to use the lyrics for the song Africa by Toto. Africa was written by David Paich and Jeff Porcaro. Google’s display of the lyrics can be seen here. Mr. Paich has said that it’s about “a white boy [writing about] Africa, but since he’s never been there, he can only tell what he’s seen on TV or remembers in the past.” (source = Wikipedia) Before I go on, let me state that I’ve always liked the song. It’s in my main playlist on Amazon Prime. I think Toto was a collective genius in recording and releasing it. Weezer has covered it. You know you’ve made it when Weezer covers you, or Weird Al parodies you. In this case, Weird Al helped Weezer cover the song in their video. Check it out here. The Weezer cover was by fan requests. Okay, they’ve made it. The song rocks! But, it ain’t the lyrics, bub!
Take the second verse (please.)
The wild dogs cry out in the night As they grow restless, longing for some solitary company
What? Solitary company? What they hey? Do those dogs need a quiet place to masturbate? Do wild dogs even do that? And it goes on.
I know that I must do what’s right As sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti
Hey, look at that mountain over there! Looks just like another mountain doesn’t it? You could say “rises like Mount Charleston” and have as good a simile. Oh, my. Meanwhile, back in the first verse we find this:
I stopped an old man along the way
Hoping to find some long forgotten words or ancient melodies
He turned to me as if to say, “Hurry boy, it’s waiting there for you”
I’ve never been to Africa either, but I don’t imagine I could read the minds of old African men. (Remember: I like this song.)
Here’s the thing. As a song, there’s more to it than just the basic storyline. In this case that’s a wonderful thing. The basic oh-so-thin plot is backed up by the rest of the song. The central theme, drilled home over and over by the chorus:
It’s gonna take a lot to drag me away from you
There’s nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do
I bless the rains down in Africa
Gonna take some time to do the things we never had
The fade-out, the denouement if you will, takes seemingly forever, repeating that theme, and repeating that theme, and repeating that theme. In the song world, that’s known as “the hook.” I’ve seen memes of it on social media. And there’s the music, which is, frankly, rather haunting. The music is equivalent to the setting, the characterization, the voice, of a story. In this case, the music and the theme together make a hit out of what is probably the most lacking in substance set of lyrics ever penned. Heck, Does Your Chewing Gum Lose It’s Flavor (by Lonnie Donegan) has more meaning. They’re Coming to Take Me Away (By Napoleon XIV) is profound in comparison. but those songs don’t have the music, or central theme, to grab the listener (reader) and keep them listening (reading.)
You can probably think of a book or two in which the plot isn’t much, predictable maybe, ho-hum, except that you just had to finish the thing anyway because of how well it was written, how much you rooted for the characters, how memorable was the theme. Books are just like music. They need more than a good plot to be memorable. In fact, a good plot is sometimes secondary to the other elements that make a book great.
Something to think about while working on your 2019 projects. You’re welcome.
See what I mean? Sure, he can be crude, but damitol (a generic mood improving drug, you know) he’s sharp as a tack. And, if you ever sat on a tack in first grade, you know that those things are sharp!
What Chuck writes about (I’ve never met him, but I call him Chuck here, ’cause what’s he gonna do about it? It is his name!) is the fact that our ideas are just ideas. I’ve read that there are only nine plots, really. Or even five. Or even only one plot. You know the drill. Some ordinary person gets thrown into a set of ever wilder circumstances. They try a solution that makes it worse, and again, and again, until, well, you know. What makes you unique is how you relate that plot. The characters, are they compelling? The danger, is it high enough? The stakes, are they worth the trouble? You know all that, so I’m not going to belabor (belabour?) the point. Just pick a plot and run with it. Remember your tropes. Have fun!
What struck me about saying that our ideas are not that interesting is that it is a good reason why you should not worry about somebody stealing your latest story if you happen to show it around, and becoming rich off of it. For one thing, I doubt if you need more than your fingers and a few toes to count the total number of rich authors in the world. For another, it’s mediocre. How do I know? For all the reasons Chuck <grin> lists. And, remember, ideas are not copyrightable, so if you do see something similar, it’s because ideas tend to be “in the air” at various times, and nothing more. There are not a lot of instances of actual plagiarism, or story stealing if you will, in a typical year. The trick, like Chuck says, is to work your particular version of magic on the ideas and make the story wonderful.
Summertime Blues? Bah! In Nevada we’re upside-down on the seasons. Winter is the good one. Some years, like this one, it even rains a lot, which is a nice change. Summers are best avoided by staying inside and counting your air-conditioned blessings. But you do have to “Work all Winter just to Try to Earn a Dollar,” right? Well, sort of. If you’re a writer, you need to write all year, no matter what the weather, no matter whether you have a cold or the flu, and no matter whether your last project has sold or not. Hence, the Wintertime Blues. The days are short. The night is long and full of . . . nevermind. Somebody already used that one.
This winter I’m doing mostly editing. And entering contests with my YA. The editing is of a chapter book that I think is pretty timely (believe it or not) and that I think will be an easy sell. We’ll see. Now all I need is a new project to draft while I’m doing those other things. I love drafting, because I get lost in it. Even if the first draft turns out to be awful, I get lost in creating it. That ever happen to you? I figure it’s a sign that there’s at least a good idea in there somewhere.
Tomorrow evening I’m going to facilitate a goal-setting meeting for The Las Vegas Writers’ Group.I have my goals for the year, and I’m already meeting a couple of them. How about you? Are your goals written down and ready to be fulfilled? If not, I’d suggest that you get busy on them, before you do anything else. If you want to learn more about goals, come to tomorrow’s meeting!
Everywhere you turn this time of year, you are exhorted to set goals. You can look on a writer’s advice website, you can ask Dilbert’s Pointy Haired Boss, you can ask anybody, you just have to have goals. Much as I’d like to disagree with that sentiment, I’m afraid it’s true: you need to have goals.
Maybe they don’t need to be written down formally, but I find writing them down helps keep them straight as I go along. They don’t need to be in a particular format, but some of the formats and protocols can be very helpful in deciding where you want to go this year, or decade, or lifetime. (Unless you’re like Richard Blaine, and never plan that far ahead, in which case, you’re depressed.)* The true fact is that if you don’t know where you’re going, you probably won’t ever get anywhere. So, goals.
Maybe you want to sell that first novel this year? Get an article published in The New Yorker? Finish your short story anthology? Finally publish that book you’ve been sitting on? Attend a couple of useful conferences? It doesn’t matter, because it’s your life, and these are your goals, but you need to set them in order to achieve them. You can revise them during the year, but you need to set them in the first place. Okay? Good.
There are books about goal setting, and there are goal setting workshops, and you should check out these, and any other sources of help you can find. I met a major goal last year when I entered a novel in a nationwide contest. This year, I’m going to also enter it in as many regional contests as I can find. Hey, I like it, so it has to be good, right? And edit and polish my current chapter book. And start a new big project while I’m at it, because drafting is the most freewheeling fun part of the process, so I’ll be doing some. I expect to add a couple of goals this month as well, The Las Vegas Writers’ Group meeting is all about goals, and I intend to take advantage of the opportunity.
As should you, my friend. As should you.
*If you don’t get this, I’m sorry. Try googling the name.