The Blurb

THE BLURB. Doesn’t that sound like a good name for a horror movie? And having to produce a blurb already strikes terror in the heart of writers. It’s hard enough to write the book itself, but then, after you’ve slogged through writing anything from 80,000 to 200,000 words, you’re supposed to sum it up in a half-dozen sentences? What mental patient came up with that idea? Your book has twists and turns, nuances and insights, and how can it possibly be summarized in a few sentences without losing what makes it so special?

When I would attempt to write a blurb (or its nasty cousin, the query letter), I’d start by first writing a much longer, more detailed synopsis and then pare it down and down and down until it was at the maximum acceptable length. I still didn’t like it, I didn’t think it was a good representation, but that was what was required, so what else was there to do?

A couple years ago, I attended a writers’ conference that gave attendees the opportunity to pitch to an agent. That’s how I learned that a pitch is every bit as bad as a blurb, and possibly even more so because you have to do it out loud to a (usually) disinterested agent who has already heard far too many of them and doesn’t really care if they hear yours. (This was my first time to meet any agents in the flesh. I’m sure there are some who are very nice people – the law of averages would almost assure that, right? – but they weren’t the ones attending this conference.)

Prior to the conference, I’d found a book at my library, Selling Your Story in 60 Seconds: The Guaranteed Way to Get Your Screenplay or Novel Read by Michael Hauge. I no longer recall what it said to do (and my library no longer has this book so I couldn’t refresh my memory), but I do know I got my pitch down to the allotted time (which was something like 2 minutes for everything – come in, sit down, give your pitch, answer any questions, get out, NEXT!). And whatever it recommended doing may have worked, because the agent did tell me I could send her my manuscript. Only I didn’t, because (a) I thought it was a pro forma invitation probably made to one and all at the behest of the organizers of the conference, and (b) I took an instant dislike to the woman (imagine a fat, nasty spider in the guise of a human) and knew that even if she could sell the hell out of my book, I didn’t want to deal with her. (Was I ever sorry I didn’t send it in? No. I really dislike spiders and if I had to deal with the human version of one regularly, it would have given me endless nightmares.)

A couple weeks ago I began following a blog by the author of the book on increasing your writing output I mentioned in the post Words, Pages, or Time (her blog is called Pretentious Title at http://www.thisblogisaploy.blogspot.com). She posted about a book, Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting That You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder. I’m not the least bit interested in screenwriting, but apparently pitches/blurbs and screenwriting really seem to go together, as you may have noticed that the aforementioned book also referenced screenwriting. I found a copy at my library, and while I haven’t gotten much past the first chapter, I really did like what it said about ‘loglines’ – the one-sentence description one sees on a movie’s poster. He also implored writers to be able to answer the question, ‘What is it?’ about their book/screenplay, and gives ten genres that most screenplays fall into. These aren’t the usual book-type genres of mystery, romance, Western, etc., but things like ‘monster in the house’ or ‘rites of passage.’ These genres also seemed applicable to novels.

But it was the one-sentence logline idea that resonated with me. I figure if you can come up with one sentence to summarize your book, creating a tight, taut blurb should be a piece of cake after that. Even before I read that part of the book, I had already begun disliking blurbs that run to the maximum wordage allowed on their distributor. Oftentimes they would have so much information in them, I didn’t feel I had to read the book itself. A blurb I read the other day actually gave away the ending – why would the author do that? (It’s bad enough when you get a reviewer who gives away plot points that were supposed to be a surprise to the reader, but now can never be that because there they are, spelled out in detail in the review.)

But I digress. I intend to keep reading Save The Cat and will pass along any additional salient information I find in it. I’m not wholeheartedly sold on the book yet, and especially disliked finding that when I got to the end of Chapter One, there were ‘Exercises’ for the reader to do. Hey, I’m not in fifth grade where I read a lesson and then have to answer questions about it to make sure I had full comprehension. It seems to be a very grade-school thing to put in a book intended for adults (unless 5th graders are screenwriters these days?). Or maybe the author runs a class on screenwriting and this book is based on his lesson plans. Who knows?

What do you think? Would a movie called THE BLURB fall into the ‘monster-in-the-house’ category? And there’s already a built-in sequel: THE BLURB 2: QUERY LETTER!

LUCKY US

A week ago today, the power went out in my neighborhood. This happens far more often than should be warranted and often without any discernible cause. But last Friday, there was a brief but powerful storm that downed countless trees, and thus the power failure resulted. The power company advised repeatedly, since I was calling their automated info line every hour, that the expected restore time was Monday morning.

While our power failures occur year round, they tend to occur with greatest frequency in the summer months. Thus when summer was approaching, I decided it was time to buy a laptop so that when a power failure did occur, I could still be productive in the writing side of my life. I had never used a laptop before and after two months of typing on it, I’m still adjusting to its flat keyboard which just feels wrong to me, although I did become instantly smitten with the laptop’s portability. I could take it to the library to use their internet (I have a really crappy connection at home) and no longer had to sit in the lab with the regulars like Hooty Boy (who hoots constantly), the Giggler (who giggles constantly), Chip Man (who brings in a gigantic bag of potato chips and eats it messily while surfing the web), and more (Crabby Girl, the Sigher, the Pounder — I guess you get the picture as to what they’re like, as well as see I’m not very original in giving names to annoying people). While I liked the portable aspect of the laptop, Windows 8.1 I could live without, and MS Office 2013 is a giant step backwards, if you ask me. (Where’s the Windows Picture Manager? Where’s the draft mode for Word that lets you see the styles on the side of the screen? Really, what were they thinking, deleting some of the best features?)

As these things usually happen, because I bought a laptop, we didn’t have our usual number of power failures this summer. Last week’s power failure was my first test of using the laptop in what turned out to be almost pitch-dark conditions. It wasn’t a resounding failure but it wasn’t that much of a success. I had never noticed when the lights were on that the little bumps on the letters F and J to indicate hand placement were so minute they were almost indistinguishable from the other keys, so I kept putting my fingers on the wrong keys. You can imagine what that looked like when I started typing. Plus I couldn’t find the backspace key in the dark. I had to keep stopping typing to shine a flashlight on the keyboard to find it. When looking at the bright screen in the dark room started to bring on an ocular migraine, I gave up. It looked like I was going to waste two days because of the power failure; I couldn’t even bring my laptop to the library and use it (and recharge it) there, as the library was also closed due to a loss of power.

Fortunately, instead of the power being out for 72+ hours, it came back after only 27 hours. But that’s not why I titled this post ‘Lucky Us.’ It doesn’t refer to my family regaining power sooner than expected, but to the ‘us’ who write in this era.

I briefly considered writing by hand while the power was out. The trouble with that is, by handwriting alone, I could qualify to be a doctor. My handwriting is illegible even to me. Within seconds of having written something down, I can’t tell what it says. I am the Fran Drescher of handwriting. She wrote in one of her memoirs that she can control her nasal, annoying voice only if she speaks extremely slowly. I can write neatly only if I write very slowly, and there’s no way I can keep up with my own thoughts.

Living without power for just over a day made me reflect on what it had been like for people, or more specifically, writers, who lived before electricity. Of course they were better prepared for nightfall than we who are accustomed to having electricity are. They had candles and lanterns and oil-burning lamps so they could see in the darkness. But even with that part of the problem solved, they actually had to write, by hand, not on a computer, not even on a typewriter. A few years ago I was at the British Museum and they had a display of some original manuscript pages from Jane Eyre. First of all, Charlotte Bronte had lovely, legible, handwriting, and hardly any cross-outs or corrections. (Maybe when you had to do all the writing by hand, you were very careful about what you actually put down on the page.) They also had on display a few pages written by Shakespeare. I still have his complete works from a college course many years ago. It’s about two inches thick with microscopic print on tissue-thin paper. I wouldn’t want to be the one who had to simply photocopy all of that, let alone be the one who actually physically wrote it. Just think, he had to dip a pen or a quill in ink and write down all of those words. The prospect is daunting. Did he have time for anything else in his life?

So we are lucky to live now, not just because we have computers that allow us to not only type quickly but to make corrections easily and to print out what we’ve written with just a few clicks or taps on keys. We’re also lucky because with the advent of KDP and other e-publishing ventures, we’re not at the mercy of editors and publishers when we want to release our works into the world and see what happens to them. And, except for occasional power failures, we have light.

Lucky us.

Words, Pages, or Time

Of great interest to me lately has been becoming more productive in my writing life. For years the best advice I felt I ever got (mentioned in the post The Best Advice That I Can’t Give) has been to make sure you write every day, at least a page a day, to complete the first draft of a book in a year. I’ve always treated that as a minimum and did more, but that hasn’t been cutting it for me lately. So I’ve been trying to read everything I can find about ways to up productivity.

A lot of the stuff I found was about writing those very short non-fiction books that abound on Amazon, usually for about 99 cents. But because I am, to date, strictly a fiction writer, I didn’t find much help there. I did buy a book for 99 cents on Amazon (me being one of the last big-time spenders) by a fiction writer, with a title that promised to increase your word count to 10,000 words a day. That sounded good to me. It used to be, in the dark ages when typewriters were used, that the average word count for a page was 250 words for a double-spaced page; 10,000 words would mean 40 pages each day. (Not that I use a typewriter, and it seems unlikely anyone else does either anymore. Well, maybe Herman Wouk still uses one. He’s in his late 90s and still producing books, but then it seems I’ve read he was planning on e-publishing an indie book, so maybe even someone his age has switched to a computer-based word processing program.) I currently use Word set at 1.5 line spacing and that seems to average around 400 words a page, which would make 10,000 words a day yield 25 pages. Not bad.

The book wasn’t bad either, the writing both straightforward and entertaining. But the secret to the 10,000-words-a-day success was basically outlining. If you have everything planned out beforehand, when you sit down to write, you’ll be able to speed your way through your novel. She also suggested keeping track of your writing and notice at what times of the day your writing is most productive, and schedule your writing at those times.

It’s not bad advice but it’s not particularly useful to me. While I am very organized (almost to the point of OCD in some regards) in the rest of my life, I am more of a ‘let’s sit down and see what’s going to happen today’ kind of writer. My ‘outline,’ if you can call it that, for my current WIP consists of about four sentences (or phrases if I’m being honest). When I begin a book, I know where it starts, where it ends, and a couple major events in the middle. The rest — well, doesn’t most of the fun of writing come from those moments when your character does something entirely unexpected, that you didn’t even know he/she was going to do?

I do think I got a good take-away from reading that book, however. It made me examine my m.o. of having a page quota. I never extended it past that, in that I didn’t estimate how long the book would be or how long it would take me to get there. This time I did. I knew the length I wanted it to be, and I knew when I wanted to complete it. Because I’d actually counted (or used Word’s word count tool) to estimate the average number of words per page, I could calculate how many pages I needed to write each day to meet my time goal. Eureka! Doing that was something that had never occurred to me. While the number I came up with was over my standard two-page-a-day minimum, it wasn’t that much over (about 3.5 pages) and so far has been achievable. It’s by no means 10,000 words a day, but it’s certainly more than I was producing before, and on days when both time and inspiration are with me, I try to surpass the minimum.

However, scheduling writing time in general won’t work for me. The author of the book was a full-time writer. I don’t think there are many people who can claim that distinction, and our schedules can’t be worked around our muse. Even on days off that should theoretically give us more time for to write, there are always other obligations too. So I write when I can, and make sure I get my quota in — more happily now that I know there’s a finish date I’m aiming for, and should make.

I will continue to read any helpful articles I come across. There’s no telling what hints I might pick up and tweak to work for me. A combination of words and pages works for me, but time doesn’t. It may be entirely different for you.

I’m happy to be coming to the end of this post. Something about the title I gave it has made Michael Bolton’s old song, Time, Love, and Tenderness, start playing repeatedly in my head, and I can’t wait to send it elsewhere!

Happy writing!