Writing and Other Hobbies

instax

credit: instax.co.uk

I consider writing a very serious hobby.

Call it a “passion” or any number of other descriptors, but it’s something I spend a lot of time doing and thinking about.

While I’ve always written, if you asked me 10 years ago what my main hobby was, I would have said “music”. Everything took a back-seat to my being in a band and writing original songs.

Until that band broke up…

Since I got rid of my smartphone and have more creative free-time, my long dormant photography itch has returned, and I purchased a Fujifilm Instax camera.

This got me thinking about friends and fellow creative people who have “too many hobbies”. There are only so many hours in a day, and as creative types get older, “adulting” often assails our best efforts at output with jobs, families, and other un-creative nonsense.

So what can you do? My choice has been to limit my hobbies. If you buy into the idea of the Renaissance Soul then you’re probably shaking your head right now. In my opinion, that whole concept is just a feel good exercise for people who cannot commit to something. During the ACTUAL Renaissance people were discovering new things, these days I’d wager the majority are just intrigued about emulating those they follow on Instagram. I blame the internet, and MTV.

But I digress.

I feel like two hobbies is the right number for those who want to really excel at their passion. Why two? Because you need a secondary hobby to maintain creativity when you’re burnt out on your primary one.

Everyone gets burnt out by their passion on occasion. It’s just a part of the process. We happen to call it “writer’s block”. When burn out happens, you can always refuel your tank by relaxing and enjoying different media. But if you’re the kind of person who recharges their batteries by doing something creative, then a second hobby can do the trick.

instant photograph

credit: 500px blog

Photography can get expensive (just like writing), but it doesn’t have to (just like writing). Learning to use a decent point & shoot digital camera in Manual mode, along with an instant film cam force me to re-learn fundamentals like composition, lighting, and the “exposure triangle”. It can also be a fairly quick hobby, snapping some photos and slowly improving my editing. Taking a few days off from writing to explore another hobby that requires different creative muscles makes me feel refreshed when I sit back down at the old manuscript.

I don’t really know where I’m going with this post, other than saying it’s good for writers to have additional creative outlets, but not so many that you’re distracted and unable to put the time needed into your writing.

Do you have other hobbies besides writing? Do they help when you’re blocked? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

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On Writing, Smartphones, and “Waking Up”

glasses

Something happened last month that has profoundly affected my creativity.

My smartphone broke.

Yellow jackets get pretty ornery around late summer (they sense their collective impending doom), and as luck would have it, I got stung in the hand while scrolling Twitter. My phone hit the sidewalk and even a fancy $3 case and screen protector couldn’t save it.

What does this have to do with writing? Everything, as it would turn out.

Enter the flip phone.

I’ve contemplated how much I relied on my smartphone for a while now. I used it too much, and research is showing the negative effects of technology overload, especially on creativity. I decided to switch back to a flip phone as an experiment, and the results were almost immediate.

This is what I found:

  • I’m perfectly OK without a smartphone. I have other computers/devices (GPS, laptop, etc) to access maps and information when I need it. It’s freeing to not feel “connected” at all times.
  • I AM BORED AGAIN. I realized just how long it had been since I felt boredom. I was literally programmed to grab my phone to “fill in the spaces”. Now that the flip phone only serves very intentional functions (calls, texts, email) my body and brain are literally retraining themselves to accept true downtime again. Walking around, standing in lines, all those things that prompted smartphone use are filled with contemplative thought and observations.
  • I realize how pervasive smartphones are. I’ve joked that I’m “awake” now, but being more present has allowed me to see just how often other people are on their devices. It is nearly constant. Kind of scary, but this experiment is about me, not about what others are doing.
  • My attention span is slowly returning. Deliberate, focused consumption of books, movies, and television (even a newspaper!) without the risk of distraction has made me realize the strange cognitive dissonance that “two screening” had caused. For the first few days I felt randomly distracted and jittery sitting through an entire movie. That is slowly fading, and I find myself contemplating what I give my attention to more deeply.
  • I have gotten so many more story ideas in these bored moments. Creativity appears to be expanding to fill those gaps.
  • I have more time to write. Those little (and not so little) pockets of free time are spent writing instead of mindlessly scrolling on a screen.

This endeavor is still burgeoning, but so far I’ve seen mostly positives for the trade offs in convenience. Will I ever get a smartphone again? I’m not sure. But for now I’m enjoying a newfound well of creativity, and only paying $20 a month for something that won’t break if it bounces off a sidewalk.

The Benefits of Reprints

clonedcells

I recently received an acceptance note (hooray!) that one of my short stories was accepted by a literary journal as a reprint. I haven’t seen much discussion of reprinted works on here or social media, so I figured I’d post for the benefit of other authors who might not have given them much thought.

Expand Your Audience

Reprints are an excellent way to get your existing work in front of new readers. My short story “Yard Sharks” was originally published in a print-only lit mag. That means it had a relatively narrow audience. The literary journal that picked it up as a reprint is online, so it will now exist in a whole different medium; with the power to share it more easily. Reprints can breathe new life into an old story, and you never know who might read it.

Keep Up Author Momentum

We can’t always write new stuff. Life happens, and even the best of us get occasional writer’s block or just need time to recharge our creative batteries. Submitting existing work for reprint is a great way to keep your “author momentum” going, and “make your writing work for you” as a friend of mine said. It gives you a positive goal and something to talk to your readers about in those extended periods of downtime when you are either struggling with an idea or perhaps deep in the throes of revising a novel.

Validate Your Work

What’s better than having a publication accept your work? Having two publications accept it. Or three. Or five.

Publishing is a numbers game, and a networking game. There’s clout to be had when editors or outlets look at a piece that has been picked up multiple times. It implies quality, which might mean the difference between them giving you an opportunity versus a rejection.

Seeking Reprints

There are fewer literary journals and anthologies that accept reprints than don’t. Most places want previously unpublished works. That said, there are still a number across all genres that are willing to give good stories another home. Just be sure, as always, that you read submission guidelines carefully and that all your republication rights have effectively returned to you before you seek new pathways to reprint your work.

 

Free Books and The Devaluation of Art

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I’ve written on the topic of art devaluation before.

I’m a subscriber and regular listener of the Print Run Podcast because I enjoy their agent’s take on current publishing industry trends. In a recent episode, they touched on the devaluation of art, specifically books, and I tossed around some ideas that are now this post.

I’d like to talk about giving away your work for “free”.

First, I assume you want an audience. That’s probably our shared goal as writers and authors, right? A readership who connects with, and enjoys our work. (To be clear, I am not counting sending out ARC’s or other review copies to outlets. That’s a necessary part of any book marketing plan.)

That said, money is nice too. Even if you take those profits and reinvest 100% of them into pencils, cover illustrations, or an ink cartridge to print query letters for your next book, it can be a wonderful motivator to encourage the creation of new work.

Here are a few trends I’ve noticed over the past year–positive and negative–that seem to be emerging around authors giving away their work for free.

Less Authors Are Giving Their Books Away

It seems like “freebies” are less frequent, outside of contests, in major channels like Amazon and Bookbub. There are still a number of ebooks priced around a dollar, but I find that far more acceptable than simply giving work away.

I still look back on my Kindle giveaways as a mistake. Sales are one thing, but I gave away hundreds of ebooks and have no measurable way of knowing that they ever got read. While this may be a good strategy for authors who have an established backlog to get new readers drawn in, I have always felt it’s the equivalent of a sleazy club promoter trying to get bands to play free “for the exposure”.

The marketplaces are far too crowded to “get noticed” by giving away free stuff. It’s just an outmoded tactic. You’re better off giving away book-related chachkies at a live event hoping they convert paid sales.

I take less authors giving away free books as a good sign, which leads me to my next point.

Buying Books Is a Good Thing

Why? Because cost underlies perceived value.

In a world of supply and demand, scarcity breeds value. Since the “digital revolution” has essentially made scarcity a thing of the past, worth is reduced. Maybe you’re old enough to remember buying CD’s. One album that cost between $15 and $22. Now $20 will buy you a 4 month subscription to any number of music services that have nearly EVERY SONG EVER RECORDED on demand.

Ergo, music is effectively worth about $5 a month. Sure, your favorite song is still a priceless work of art, but don’t tell that to the record execs. Another example is the recent resurgence of vinyl records, which are relatively expensive, but buyers attach value to the highly analog experience of listening to their favorite artists on a record player.

What I’m getting at is when you price your book at $0, there isn’t much reason for readers to care about it. They’re much more likely to read something they plunked their hard-earned cash on than not. Even more compelling is the psychological phenomenon that they are more likely to ENJOY your book, rather than let their brain suffer “buyer’s remorse” after spending said cash.

Giving Away Books Hurts Authors

It hurts all of us. Seriously.

I hate the term “a race to the bottom”, but in this case it kind of is. I used to naively believe that self-publishing was a bold new frontier, and in many ways it is great. That said, the ingenious (and kind of sinister) way Amazon and other online retailers have allowed self-published authors to wage a proxy war against “gatekeepers” on their behalf is hurting everyone. The marketplaces are flooded, with prices going down the drain as everyone tries to undercut for “visibility”. Writers are generating an almost endless supply of books for Amazon’s horn of plenty, and sets readers expectations that books “should” either be cheap, free, or part of an unlimited monthly subscription.

It is insidious because you cannot really blame anyone without sounding like a curmudgeon. Everyone wants books. And why not for cheap, or even free?

Well, because ultimately in this cycle, authors don’t get paid. Even the self-published ones who see better return percentages need to enter the market at low prices and constantly fight the monthly tsunami of new releases.

It’s a slow erosion.

Books Are Worth It

To end this on a more positive note, if you put all this time and effort into making a phenomenal book, or busting your hump to find an agent and publisher, then you should be paid for your efforts.

Don’t feel like you owe readers freebies simply because that is how popular culture and tech have devalued art & media.

Writing is a craft, and craftsmen get paid for their time and skills.

So how do you feel about giving your work away? Have you ever given away free copies of books or submitted stories to non-paying outlets? Is it a strategy that has actually worked for you and your readership?

Tell me down in the comments.

The Active Word Checklist

Hot on the heels of “The Weak Word Checklist”, another great post by K.M. Allan with an “Active Word” checklist. Another one to bookmark for reference when you’re re-writing those drafts.

K.M. Allan

“Keep your prose active.” It’s one of the most well-known pieces of writing advice and one of the most frustrating.

Sometimes when writing, especially when you’re first starting out, you have no idea what words are making your prose non-active. You’re just writing, using the words that sound right.

It’s not until you see the difference creating an active voice makes to your story that you understand why it’s a tried-and-true recommendation. Take the following sentences, for example…

Non-Active: Sarah’s fingers fumbled in her skirt pocket, trying to reach for her cell phone.
Active: Sarah’s fingers fumbled in her skirt pocket for her cell phone.

Non-Active: The fire at the entrance had reached one of the glass doors and was turning it black.
Active: The fire at the entrance reached one of the glass doors, turning it black.

Non-Active: When her gaze crossed the entrance, she couldsee someone standing in the middle…

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