The Writer's Mailbag: Installment Fifty-Three
Let’s Start a New Year, Okay?
Well, you guys, and gals, keep sending in questions, so I guess we might as well usher in the second year of the Mailbag. In other words, don’t blame me that this series won’t die. It’s all your fault!!!!
Remember that most of what I'm about to say is simply my opinion. It's what I've learned over the years but I also believe that in writing, there is no one way. We all have our own ways of approaching and practicing this craft. I'm just tossing out my opinions and if they stick on your writing wall then fantastic.
Shall we begin? We’ll start out with a question from Carol, one I’m sure many of you can relate to.
Bleak and Forlorn
From Carol: “I always enjoy Monday reading here--your mailbag. I am dealing with motivation right now. I know you have spoken about this before. I remember a blog I had many years ago and got at least 1,000 views for doing absolutely nothing. I promote my blog regularly and well...My question to you is when the chips are down and things look bleak in the arena I explained--what can we do? I hope the question is clear and I didn't get too wordy as I usually do.”
Carol, I’m fairly certain this is something all writers understand. Considering the number of blogs and articles and online sites that are flooding the airwaves these days, it’s amazing that any of us get any views at all. And then there are Google updates and adjustments, and seasonal adjustments, and after awhile we all start to feel a little foolish for having tried this writing/art/crafts gig.
Normally I’m the voice of calmness and patience regarding this topic. Normally I would say chill out, but how long can a person practice patience in this business and still retain some sanity? I had a mentor who kept telling me if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, but remember that the opposite is equally wise, namely that if it is broke, you damned well better fix it.
In other words, if what you are doing isn’t working, it just might be time to try something different. Is your approach to marketing sound? Are you seeing the entire game board and making all the moves you can make? Have you thought of consulting a marketing pro? We have a couple at HP who I believe in strongly….Heidi and Cristin….I can put you in touch with them if you like.
Short of that, I’ll leave you with four words….think outside the box.
From Ann: “So there's a question for you: How do you give priority to articles, aside from those which you write for others and apart from your novels? I tend to go for the one on which I have the most information but how do you tackle this?”
Interesting question, Ann, but I would expect nothing less from you.
I’m a “seat-of-the-pants” kind of guy. By that I mean I go with the inspirational flow. Whatever feels right at the time is what I write. I have a bevy of unfinished articles sitting in my laptop. Some will sit for months until the inspiration arrives and I can finish them. Some seemed like a great idea at the time of inception but then they dried up two paragraphs into them.
The only articles that are scheduled and come off at the same time each week are the Mailbag articles. All others wait until the muse speaks to me. Luckily, so far, she has kept the lines of communication open.
From MizB: “The question of how to price your writing is a difficult one for me, since I've always been paid a salary for my writing and editing. I'd like to hear more about this. Thanks for being our writer friend, Bill.”
MizB, for a freelancer, this is always one of the toughest questions. There are guidelines to be sure, and you can find those by following The Writer’s Market of the Writer’s Digest. This question pops up at both of those sites from time to time, but the final word on it all is the pricing is your decision if you are a freelance writer. What will the market bear? What is your direct competition charging? And for me, most importantly, what is my time worth? I do a quality job on my writing and I will accept nothing less than quality pay.
I also get a bit creative. I do weekly blogs for a local business called the Eastside Urban Farm & Garden Center. My wife and I do a lot of business with that shop since we are urban farmers, so I do the blog for them and they give me a 10% discount on all my purchases. That’s my pay for that job and to me it’s worth it.
How Much Dialogue
From Bill: “My question is about dialogue. I'm working on a new fiction book and as I go I find myself using dialogue more than I ever have before. How do I know if I'm overdoing it with dialogue.”
This really is a great question, Bill, and I’m glad you asked it.
There is no easy answer to this question. One size does not fit all. There is no golden rule that says twenty lines of dialogue per chapter is acceptable, but twenty-one is unacceptable. Dialogue is just one facet of novel-writing. It is important but not more important than pace, scene-development, character-development, plot or action.
The first question any author should ask regarding dialogue is….is it necessary to advance the story and plot? Dialogue should propel a story. There should always be a purpose for it. If there isn’t, and if it does not advance the plot, or at least help us to understand the characters better, then reject it. Readers don’t want to read a conversation between two characters unless there is a purpose for that conversation. A 100,000 word novel does not allow an author to have random, meaningless discussions between characters. Those types of things are better served in rambling, 500,000 word Russian novels. J
The Changing of the Voice
From Paula: “How do we determine our own voice, bro? And what if our voice changes from work to work? Is this good, bad or indifferent? Must we be vigilant? I prefer to be natural...just "me." I know you are you...but you claim it is different from just 10 years ago.
I see this in my own writing....and I was concerned, but I now feel this is a good thing......”
Well, Paula, I feel it’s a good thing too, so there you go.
My writing voice has changed over time, just as I have as a person. I think that’s natural. I look at my first novel and then look at the last one I just finished, and it’s like two different authors wrote them.
My voice is also different when I’m doing articles on HP as opposed to doing articles for customers. I think that’s necessary. Customers want their businesses promoted. They do not, for the most part, care about my literary chops, so I tend to mute most of my “voice” when I’m doing the customer thing.
But you asked how do we determine our own voice, and my answer to that would be that our voice will determine itself over time. The only conscious decision I’ve made regarding voice is to make it as conversational as possible. I’ve always wanted it to “read” like a good friend is talking to you and telling you a story. I always keep that in mind as I write….but any other determination regarding my voice has simply happened over time.
Sheez, Sis, are you confused yet?
Next Week for Sure
The questions are already pouring in for next week, so the Mailbag will return. Thanks to all who asked questions, and thanks to all who read this installment.
I’ll see you next Monday. In the meantime, remember that writing is a gift. It’s a gift to the author and it’s a gift to the readers. Wrap it up, put a bow on it, and make it extra pretty.
2015 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers spread their wings and fly.”