After Word

What happens when you take a magnet to Robbie the Robot?

Well hello there, if you've made it this far you either made it all the way through or decided to flip ahead and see just what in the hay I'm talking about. Chances are you've read through, but if you haven't don't worry, no spoilers here, just me talking about subjects I feel are relevant to this book, writing in general, and How We Got Here.

The Creative Commons Thing

Even if I weren't using somebody else's material that dictated I go with this sort of license (and technically I don't have to even now. The only stipulations in place are- ‘attribute the original author’ and ‘you can't make money off this’. I would have put the same sort of legal fluff on mine. Why? Let's face it. I'm broke. Most writers, unless they're the Doctorows or Kings or Grishams of the world aren't going to get money off of writing.

Not sure where I read it, but a semi-random stat was you'd have to, on average, write four novels a year that succeeded in the market just to make what amounts to minimum wage through traditional publishing. That is assuming you go through a traditional publisher that happens to not immediately toss your manuscript into the junk pile and also happens to bother advertising and working through a distribution channel for your work. TOR is good at distributing. They also allow (at least some of) their authors to use a creative commons model and don't put DRM on their books.

Why do I care? I'm not publishing this I'm giving it away so what's the point? I like the idea of spelling out right off the bat that you, the person reading this, have a few explicit rights on what you can do. None of this limbo status where most of, for example, could get wiped out if publishers decided they want to stop pretending the place doesn't exist. I want to see what somebody else will come up with. Sure I'm taking a chance in that it'll be garbage and I won't want to look at it ever again, but on the other hand Viral, the guy that made Engine Heart, is giving me and anyone else like me a chance to go ‘Look at this man. Isn't it cool? You like it? Go nuts.’

Can't say anything for anyone else, but having somebody I don't know post something based on my work would probably make my day (assuming they aren't making money without asking first, that'd be rude). It'd say to me ‘Hey, you have fans that care enough to want to create something of their own based off of what you did.’ Sure making money would be great, but getting noticed and genuinely liked for the work you've done, that makes it worthwhile. Plus it gives people a starting point if they want to get into writing, which is important. After all everyone has to start somewhere and, if poking around on the Internet is anything to go by, usually people start by typing out stories for shows, or games, or whatever they like. This is no different than you and your buddy arguing over whether Darth Vader could beat Kahn, or how the Federation would do against the Empire, or other what if type situations.

Most of these stories, when looked at from the outside, suck. I know this because some of my first writing was horrible wheel of time fan-fiction in middle school that I would probably cringe at if I had to read today. The secret is everybody sucks when they start out. Writing is no different than anything else, so why should you or I or anyone else expect anything but straight out cringe-inducing until this might-be writer finds their feet.

That's perfectly OK. You're allowed to suck. The trick is learning from your mistakes and move forward. Fanfiction is a valuable tool in letting people take a set of given values, setting characters and so on, then concentrate on only a few things like getting those known values into a 'good' state. Trouble is fan-works are a bit of a legal gray area.Youtube CGP Grey sometime for a well thought out and easy to understand explanation on the problems of the American copyright system. This isn't me saying copyright is bad, wrong, and needs to be abolished. This is me saying as it stands people don't get to know whether that Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, or God forbid Star Wars bit of Fan Fiction they're breaking their literary teeth on could get them in legal trouble or not since as it stands it is up to the rights holder's discretion on if fan-works are kosher or not. Oh and Disney recently bought the rights to Star Wars so Good Luck ever seeing that enter public domain, but that's a rant for another day.

This rolls back around into 'why do I care' territory. Well I care because this is a fan-created story based on someone else's work that is being distributed because the guy that owns the setting's rights allows for fan made material. Seriously why is this even a thing? There should be something in copyright law stating if someone's not making money off derivative material as opposed to just making a copy and putting it up on torrent then it should be good to go.

Except that's not the case, for a lot of reasons I either don't quite understand or simply won't get into. Point is I'm a fan of Creative Commons because while it isn't perfect, it's a starting point to making things a little more balanced.

National Novel Writing Month

My writing 'career' didn't start with NaNoWriMo, but the yearly ritual of scrambling to write things has certainty helped get word onto page. I have done this for several years now. I've written whole books worth of text inside of a month. However this is the first time I will have done that in a month other than November. Why? November is when a bunch of people worldwide get together, figuratively speaking anyway, and start trying to hash out whatever story gets into their head. Most of what's written is garbage. Everyone that participates will tell you that.

You're free to write something you want. Anything and everything is fair game whether you base it off whatever shows you like, or want to write a biography or... anything, so long as you write. That's the best part about all this: If you don't do things in a traditional way that's alright. Want a story out of tweets? Do it. Blog posts? Go right at it! Didn't like that “All My Children” or “One Life To Live” got canceled and want to continue the story? Write it! Granted you won't be able to sell it (unless Amazon gets real smart about their whole fanfiction user generated content for existing properties concept and gets the rights to those franchises) but you'll have told Your story the way You want it told. There is no right or wrong way to do this so long as you put pen to paper (or keys to word processor) and Go.

Thing is there's also something in July so people that either lack the confidence or motivation to do so otherwise has a chance at writing something else they want. The 'rules' are a little more lax and the grab bag-o-swag isn't as plush but it's all about the community isn't it? A group of people writing away at whatever and using each-other for support, dares, references, and in general just seeing who can out-do who. Think of it like summer camp (since that's the theme) you don't have to go anywhere for and you don't have to pack bug spray. You can set your own target word count (like say if you feel you can only do twenty five thousand words or if you would like to shoot for sixty.) You can do that.

Advice to Would-Be Writers

So you want to write? You feel you have a story to tell but aren't sure if you have what it takes. I am no expert so I might be the wrong person to hand out free advice, but I'm going to share a few things so maybe you will avoid some of the problems I've had to deal with in the past.

First, and I've touched on this before but I feel it needs repeating, you are going to be terrible when you start out. Whatever you write will be nothing like what's in your head and it might even make you cringe a little toeven remember years down the road. Secondly you will get better as you keep writing. Even if you feel you can't and won't, write for a few months. Go back to the thing you started on and compare it to what you've got at the end of that little voyage of self-improvement. You got better! You might not understand how since you're probably beating on the proverbial walls of the Internet demanding for somebody, anybody, to look at this wonderful thing you wrote and tell you how to make it better. Maybe you didn't and you feel it's too embarrassing to share. Yet it's still better than that First Thing.

How do I know this? We're getting to my third point. I'm exactly where you're sitting doubting if anything I've got will catch someone's attention without having to mug them and demand, at metaphorical (hopefully, otherwise this will get very messy for you later) gunpoint, they read this thing and tell you how to make it better. As varied and as wide as the Internet is finding an audience is difficult. Finding one that will sit and give you feedback is next to impossible. You can't rely on outside people to help proof and guide. You might get lucky and have a friend or two that will be interested for a little while, but nobody will be as interested in the thing you're working on as you until it is finished. This is not, contrary to what you may be thinking, that people are selfish at heart and don't care about the effort you're putting in. Most people are simply very busy and usually have projects of their own. As frustrating as it can be the key thing to understand here is those same people that will cheerlead on the idea generating process and be super crazy enthusiastic about your book generally won't like reading the in progress material. Everyone wants the cake but nobody likes dealing with the twelve or so duds you tossed on the way to that cake.

Lastly there is editing. Maybe you like the idea of going over the same material again and again re-jiggling this and that to better sentence structure and correct those oddball but inevitable punctuation errors. That's never been me and I hate editing worse than almost anything that isn't listed as crimes against humanity. The last book I wrote was a collection of short stories, which was actually fun to write. Took me all said and done, with breaks here and there, about three months to write everything. Granted this wasn't three solid months since some of the material was old and I'd left sitting for awhile but if I had to sit and give a time frame I'd say three months for the first draft.

Editing that same chunk of words took at least six months, possibly as long as nine and I can't be sure because I didn't keep very god track and it wasn't a single solid 'I'm going to sit down and do this thing' process. It was more 'Oh I'm going to put this up on Smashwords let's give it another go through.' followed by swearing and cursing and me having to start picking everything around for what felt like the eight millionth time. You'll cry, curse, spit, howl, rage, and then cry some more before it's over and the whole time wonder if it's worth the trouble because at best, and this is being optimistic, you have to write and have published a minimum of four moderately successful books per year to make the equivalent of minimum wage. Oh it can be done and often has, plus you have the outliers like Jim Butcher, or Janet Evanovich that can make enough to live fairly comfortably with maybe one a year.

Nobody ever said this would be easy. Nothing worth doing ever is.

My Writing Setup

The great thing about writing is you don't need anything fancy; just grab your writing method of choice and start slamming words down on page. Some people have tried handwriting and I can see the appeal. It's just that with me personally my handwriting never progressed past 'second grade near unreadable mess,' plus I hate having to have to write a thing down and then have to type it down later for the sake of editing. This means I am very much a computer sort of person.

The downside of computers is how easy it is to go 'Oh hey I got an email notification', or 'let's see what's on reddit I might get an idea or three off r/wtf', or the ever popular 'I'm going to spend some time in minecraft toclear my head.' Then suddenly I'm missing a couple hours of time and nothing useful has gotten done and I'm suddenly needing to do more immediately productive things to keeping the house running. On the one hand the internet is a great place for resources ranging from how to format a thing so lulu, createspace, or whoever won't somehow make it unreadable. If traditional publishing is your thing though there's advice for writing cover letters, publishers both great and small, as well as resources, guides, and that rare and treasured bit of feedback that occasionally will roll in. On the other to get to all the helpful material you have to work past the temptation to just goof off and do whatever. It's hard, and it isn't something I can say with any honesty I've got a handle on. Mostly it consists of reminding yourself you have a project you want to get done with sometime before Whenever. If you have friends or family that can remind you of this then that would be very helpful as well, but the more self reliant you can be the better since, unfortunately, relying on other people tends to be a set up for disappointment. Like with finding feedback this doesn't mean they are bad people, simply less dedicated to the obsession of getting your story told than you are.

What do I use to write and what do I write on? Google gave me a chromebook at the tail end of 2010. After chromebooks started going on sale I flashed the bios on it so it could run Ubuntu. Why? Unfortunately while Google Docs is quite nice to have and I do recommend having it as a backup option, or if you plan on splitting your book up by chapter, for longer works the machine I have simply isn't responsive enough and things bog down to unpleasant levels.

Still, the keyboard works well, libre office does good for what I want in way of formatting, and gimp let me get a cover created even though my artistic talent decided to wave bye bye to me decades ago. All this from a computer that was considered very under-powered by modern standards when it shipped out. I would like better, but for writing it does just fine.

I had wanted to get an alphasmart as part of my writing setup because it looks like the perfect machine for task oriented doing things; months of battery life, connect to your computer of choice via usb, hit send, and it 'types' out what's in memory. No drivers no fuss no muss, and unfortunately no-longer being sold. The company that makes them is still around, but when schools are springing money for students to have iPads even dropping your price down to a fraction of that isn't going to grab attention when it's little better than a souped up keyboard and never mind if it'll do the job for cheaper you'll be seen as behind the times. Anyway while on the surface of is a gizmo that forces you to get on task would be ideal, I know me, so chances are high it was simply gadget lust going on.

My setup is easy to achieve; no fancy gadgets you couldn't pick up at walmart or amazon. It's really just me, usually music, and a chair to curl up in while I let the word's happen. Usually they're a bit out of order with a scene here, and another there, and I have to try corralling them into something that makes sense.

If you don't write that way don't worry. It takes all sorts of people and all kinds of methods to make a story with no 'one true path' that you must follow or you're going to fail. This can be annoying when you're like me trying to find a good way to do things and get what feels like answers that don't actually answer anything. It is what it is though and as much as I've hated that sort of 'advice that doesn't feel like advice' that's pretty much what I've ended up following and finding the most success in. When it's written, what then? After things are written and edited things get tricky and you have to ask yourself whether or not you want a traditional publisher. I've been going with the self-publish route for a variety of reasons. It's doable but you pretty much have to do everything from simple editing to advertising to... Everything a traditional publisher would offer yourself. I realize services like createspace and lulu offer some of these things for you, but it's expensive. The up side is I get to k ep the rights to my work and since I'm not literally starving that is good enough for me. Traditional publishing still very much has a place in the modern world. Granted I'm far from happy with some practices, such as ebooks costing as much if not more than the print version, but they have resources and experience where I the author don't. Is it harder than self publishing? Sure. You have to meet somebody else's standards, which might or might not exceed your own. Getting through the submission process alone is something of an achievemet, and then there's negotiating.

I have not done these things so I cannot comment on the difficulty past getting a manuscript accepted. What I can say, however, is that now is a great time for would-be authors; no matter what the economy suggests. It used to be unless you got published, or took the trouble of going some place to have your book printed and bound you had no chance of finding an audience. Now? Now there's traditional publishing, self publishing, putting all or part of your book up on the internet, ebooks, and in theory this gives you the world as an audience. Finding that audience can be a bit of a problem, but you have a better chance now than you would have even twenty years ago.

In Closing

Everyone has a story in them, even those people that don't like books have a story there. Writing is not the only way these stories get told, but it is the way I've chosen to tell the ones I have. This doesn't make me better than you or anybody else, but having had to repeatedly go through the process of refining these stories has made me a better person for the effort I've had to go through. So if you have a story find a way to share it with the world. Between Youtube, Podcasting, Game Modding, and all of the wonderful technology and the ways people can connect there is a way for you to share with everyone else and there are people that will want to see what you have done.

The world is a strange place. Go. Make it just a little bit stranger.

Andrew Singleton

Rock Island Tennessee


Additional Thoughts for the 2021 Gemini Edition

Given that most of my old drafts were early and in sore need of editing, and I had none of the later drafts saved? I had to go harvest text out of the epub, then when I realized that didn't have the original Afterword and GM Notes I had to go dig out the PDF and then clean that up.

Moral of the sotry: keep your backups updated.

Past that? Sadly my output has slackedo ff, but the initial thoughts do still hold true. Use Libre Office for editing, Focus Writer for drafting, and the AlphaSmart 9I have one of those now0 for trying to get work done away from the screen.