Why Books?

“I’m not interested in writing short stories. Anything that doesn’t take years of your life and drive you to suicide hardly seems worth doing.” – Cormac McCarthy

I complain a lot about writing books, about how difficult it is, how I’m not very good at it, and how whatever book-length work I’m currently tackling is going nowhere. More than once, experienced writer friends have suggested I work on shorter pieces. “Why not essays, magazine articles, or blog posts?” my well-meaning friends say. I’ve published all of those and they aren’t enough.

I love the enormous puzzle of writing a book. I love the structural problems, the all-consuming nature, and the possibility that one day, I might have my name on the spine. I love the heft of a book and the heft of the book journal I carry with me when I go to a coffee house to write. The book journal for Twenty-Six Point Freaking Two is over three hundred hand-written pages. It details my efforts, step by step, and has come in handy several times when I’ve done silly things like saved two different versions of the book in two different documents with the same name.

And what’s more compelling than pushing myself to the edge of madness? I mean, I’d prefer not to go back to the psych ward, but it doesn’t feel like meaningful work if I’m not dashing myself against the rocks. I hammer out first drafts (often in November) and spend years thereafter polishing and refining, content even as I’m driven nearly insane. My poor husband. Let’s all take a moment to light a candle for him, shall we?

I’m not saying I’m good at writing books. I honestly am probably more suited to shorter projects given my low energy level, short attention span, and the fact that I’m easily confused. That’s why I use yWriter software to keep track of things.

Currently, I’m fighting a bit of depression about Twenty-Six Point Freaking Two having queried more than one hundred agents and received either rejections or no response. I’ve also queried two niche publishers and received no response from either of those. I’m not ready to self-publish, but it’s time to take stock, figure out the next right steps, and continue to nudge agents.

Over the past twenty years, I’ve worked on nine books, none of them yet published. I refuse to give up. Twenty years. Some days I fear I’ve accomplished nothing, but that’s not true. I’ve learned how to write books and trained myself not to quit, both admirable skills. And I have the scars to show for it.

One Space or Two?

There’s a discussion over at the ywriter forums about whether to use one period or two after a sentence.

IMHO, one space is correct for manuscripts. The two spaces came from a previous era when we used typewriters and dot matrix printers and nonproportional fonts and two spaces after a period made the documents much easier to read. Nowadays proportional fonts will adjust the space after the period anyway, making it unnecessary to use two spaces. While wikipedia isn’t the definitive authority, it does explain it well here.

And here’s the MLA ruling on the issue – one space. http://www.mla.org/style_faq3

Having said that, there is still some controversy over the issue. A recent poll by literary agent Nathan Bransford found only a slight majority of his readers in the one space camp:

In a minority view, the APA publication manual blog wants two spaces, but it recognizes that:

. . .the usual convention for published works remains one space after each period, and indeed the decision regarding whether to include one space or two rests, in the end, with the publication designer. . . .

So, I’m in the one space camp.

If you’ve put two spaces in, it’s easy to do a universal find and replace. Just search for “.[space][space]” and replace it with “.[space]” It might take a little while, however for those of you (like myself) who learned to automatically hit the space bar twice after a period, to retrain yourselves to only hit it once. It did me anyway.

How Do You Begin?

“I always do the first line well, but I have trouble doing the others.” – Moliere, from The Ridiculous Precieuses

My quest to fall in love with a new book project has made me think about how I stumbled upon the idea for my last one. I’ve been in an on-line writing practice group since July 1997. On October 24, 2004, I wrote the following opening lines on the topic, “This is What I Know:”

Normal people would have rallied around a bottle of Jack Daniels or resigned themselves to a lifetime of platinum drips to prolong the inevitable. But we were not normal people. My father was not a normal man.

When I reread the full 10-minute piece, I knew it had the makings of a book. Dad’s death. My depression. Our golf. Three topics intertwined. Even though it wouldn’t be a novel, I signed up for National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo) and used the month-long structure to pull the material out of me. During November 2004, I wrote 50,000 words about my father and golf. Each day I pulled up a memory and wrote 2,000 words not stopping to figure out how the pieces went together. Of that original writing practice, not one complete sentence remains in the book, but it gave me the doorway into the project. That’s what I’m looking for again – an opening.

Now I have two projects, a novel and a memoir, vying for my attention. I alternate working on them. For the novel, I look forward to NaNoWriMo again this November. With the memoir, I’m using the free novel-writing software yWriter. I hadn’t discovered yWriter when I began the last book, but it proved exceedingly helpful to plot the NaNoWriMo mess after I’d written it. This time I’m attempting to plot both books before I begin the writing. I find this awkward. There may indeed be two types of writers: those who plot before they write and those who plot after. Ignoring the strong possibility that I might be an after-the-fact plotter, I’m creating chapters and scene descriptions, trying to make something vaguely resembling a three-act play.

I don’t have a complete answer to the question, “How do you begin?” So I’d love to hear your input. Please let me know how you begin a writing project. I imagine there are as many methods as there are writers.

(c)Nita Sweeney, 2008, all rights reserved

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Mac Envy

I learned to word process in 1987 on Word Perfect 4.1 for DOS. PC logic lives deep in my bones. But today, for the first time in twenty years, I felt jealous of a person with a Macintosh laptop. She had a program I wanted and couldn’t have, a program just for Macs, a program for which I have yet to find a parallel.

The program, Scrivener, does a lot of what yWriter, the novel writing program I use, does plus a few bits more. And, it has an elegant interface that looks like an actual corkboard. The index cards look like index cards and things move around all WSYWIG and lovely. I was smitten.

Luckily it was just a crush. It passed. I’m not going to go buy a MAC – yet. I still love my IBM thinkpad. But for a few moments today, the earth stood still.

When All Else Fails . . .

. . . get more software.

While my attempts to use various types of software to write my book have not been completely productive, according to the recent New York Times article by Rachel Donadio, “Get With the Program,” other much more successful writers have had great luck with computer programs. Most of the authors included in the article, however, didn’t mention software specifically designed for writing. They credited Excel, Microsoft Project, voice recognition software, Mindjet MindManager, Microsoft OneNote, and even the Logitech io2 pen for their assisting in their success. Only one writer quoted in the article used actual “writing software,” Dramatica Pro.

The Times article failed to include, yWriter, the free (yes that’s right – free) writing software I mentioned in a previous post. I wish I’d kept working with yWriter when I first test-drove it more than a year ago. yWriter has the features I most want, is easy to use, and like I said, it’s free! Simon Haynes, creator of yWriter, and author of a series of humorous sci fi novels featuring Hal Spacejock, has an update in the works which has tempted me to try it again. Simon correctly guessed that I had moved the entire document too quickly to Word Perfect and yWriter2, the version I was using, didn’t have an easy way to switch back and forth. In yWriter3, available in beta, Simon has added that and other features. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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