The Craft: Rules for Writing, Rule #2: NO CRITIC

[This is part of a continuing series on the art of writing fiction.]

Well, I want to get back to my “Rules for Writing.” Today, I bring you my second rule. It’s the second most important rule and is a natural compliment to the first rule, “Get Black on White.” If you follow the second rule you’re guaranteed to get plenty of black on white.

The second rule is: NO CRITIC. critic[1]

This simply means that when you’re a writer, you’re a writer, not a critic. You MUST turn off the inner critic and let the writing flow.

To be honest, this isn’t a unique idea, it’s actually a slight adaptation of an idea I found in the first book I ever read about writing fiction aptly named, Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway. Here is how she sums it up.

[The] point is to keep going, and that is the only point. When the critic intrudes and tells you that what you’re doing is awful, tell the critic to take a dive, or acknowledge her/him and keep writing.

She returns to this theme again later:

…it is ideal, having turned your story over in your mind, to write the first draft at one sitting, pushing on through the action to the conclusion, no matter how dissatisfied you are with this paragraph, that character, this phrasing, or that incident.

Janet never uses the phrase, “NO CRITIC,” but the spirit is there. I have written “NO CRITIC” [always in CAPS] on sheets of paper to begin my writing day, on blank computer screens, or notes on my walls and fridge, but this blog post made me reconsider where I got the actual phrase from. After some thought and reminiscing, this is my best reconstruction.

It all happened long ago in Long Beach, California. I was a new writer and I thought I had found a cool book so I had to share my discovery with D—, of woodworking fame. So, I scrambled down to the Portfolio to share my discovery. I thought what I had found was real special, D— listened patiently and said,

“Yeah, well, it all really comes down to, no critic.”

I thought that was brilliant. No critic. So, I kept writing and not listening to the inner critic. And so did D—. Pretty soon, it was turned into all caps, “NO CRITIC” and was on the aforementioned post-it notes, sheets of paper and computer screens. Usually in red. And it became a mantra for us. Not only when we were writing, but in conversations with each other, at the gym, on the freeway, everywhere. The point was to use a good habit to drive out a bad one.

And it took lots of discipline. I don’t know how the rest of you read, but I read like a writer. That means I underline, I highlight, I analyze, I re-read, I read out loud, I read in the original language if I can (I know a little Spanish and Russian. I read Dante out loud to get the sounds though I don’t know a word of Italian). It was the same with my own stuff. So, it took tons and tons of practice before I could leave a bad phrase, overwriting, clichéd characters or stale dialogue on the page and keep going. It was those times when I stopped and focused too much on this or that flaw that I got caught and stopped writing for the day. Or never ever really got going.

So, here’s some advice: Get up, grab a piece of paper or a Post-It note write “NO CRITIC” on it somewhere you can see read it (when you write or in your daily routine) and say to yourself: “NO CRITIC.” And when you get down to writing, always have it ready so that when you get stuck, you can say it and keep on writing.

Two final points before I go. One, there is a time to reintroduce the “critic” to your work. For me, it’s about the third draft. This is when I polish, sculpt, tighten up the dialogue, lose long-winded descriptions, etc., etc. But this comes later, much later. And it has taken years of writing discipline to tame the inner critic and quarantine him to the later drafts. Second, the “in one sitting” advice mentioned above is clearly impossible to follow for novellas and novels. You need more than one sitting for a longer work. I will share my technique for doing this in another post. But for now, I will only say that the same NO CRITIC rule applies, but on many consecutive days: you will need to silence your inner critic each and every day, buckle down and keep going. Pretty soon, you’ll have draft one of a novel on your hands.

Good luck and remember, “NO CRITIC.”


A Short Blog Break

Well, it’s time for some vacation. I will take a blog break next week and plan to be back around Aug. 9 for a new posting.

Hope you enjoy the summer too.

NO CRITIC,

Darius

The Library of Lost Books One Year Later

On July 12 of last year, I launched my first novel and second published work, The Library of Lost Books. lolb_final_kindle_rev

At the time I was annoyed with the fact that there were so few stats out there about how many sales a first-time novelist could expect if they went the e-publishing route. I want to knock a hole through that wall to let the day light in, so today I’m publishing the stats for the first year of The Library of Lost Books collected via my Kindle stats from Amazon. Here they are.

Stats from July 12, 2012 to July 12, 2013 for The Library of Lost Books:

 

 

Sold

Giveaways

Borrows

US

136

1284

10

UK

69

300

1

Germany

2

44

0

Others

2

15

0

TOTAL

209

1643

11

Grand Total, Books on Device (Sales, Giveaways, Borrows): 1,863

To be clear, those are net sales, I didn’t count refunds. I didn’t include Nook sales either because they were minimal, i.e. five copies sold, tops. My e-book was only available on that platform for about 1 month anyway. I wanted to use the Amazon KDP Select program to give away my works for free and so could not make the book available on other platforms. “Others” in the graph above includes: France, Spain, Italy, India, Japan, Canada and Brazil.

So what does it mean? To me, it adds up to self-publishing success. I didn’t have any goals when I launched, I just wanted the story out there. I wanted to share the story with my friends and maybe a few other people. And most importantly, I wanted to prove to myself that I could write a novel. A few weeks later, my goals changed a bit and I thought that selling 29 copies and giving away 1,000 copies was more than I could ever hope for, because then I would get a paycheck from Amazon and I could say I was a professional writer.

That’s done. But getting to over 200 copies has exceeded my initial expectations beyond anything I could have rationally expected. Sure, they’re not even close to Stephen King numbers, but it’s humbling and satisfying to know that over 200 real people out there decided they’d at least give my book a shot using their hard-earned cash. When I combine that with the 1,643 downloads during giveaways, there are almost 2,000 Kindles out there that had my novel on it at some point. That blows my mind. To think that something I’ve created has become part of that many people’s lives, even if it was only for a moment to download it and leave on your e-reader.

I have more complete data, broken down by month and I may share that later. But for today, I’m only going to give you a few tidbits of analysis:

  • Since February I have consistently sold more copies of “Library” in the UK than in the USA. It’s especially striking when you consider the relative populations of the countries. I’m thinking it’s time for a British pub crawl/book tour?
  • The Germans seem especially adept at downloading the book when it’s free. They just seem to sense it. The ratio of sales to free downloads is 1:22 for Deutschland. USA is about 1:10. For the UK, God bless them, it is about 1:4. That last statistic shows the Brits are actually buying the book even when it’s not being given away. I hope that means that some of them like it.
  • The ‘Others’ category is very small compared to USA, UK and Germany. I had only two sales across all those countries. This may be good if it indicates e-reading devices have a long way to go before reaching mainstream adoption in those markets. Last year I was in Argentina and I noticed tablets and e-readers were almost non-existent. I’m hoping the e-readers market in those countries keeps growing.

So, that’s it. I just wanted to bring the stats for the book to a wider audience, nothing more. Mostly, I wanted writers out there how are thinking about self-publishing via e-book to have a frame of reference. But please don’t take it as typical or a good result or a bad one. It’s just one more data point to add to what’s already out there.

All for now, I’ve got to run! But not before I see you off with a musical palate cleanser.


As I was finishing the final drafts of the novel this song was big. I kept listening to it over and over. It was like a friend in those long, long months leading up to publication. Those days when I was trying to push through the final drafts, the proofreading, cover design and launch. Whenever I hear it, it takes me back to those not-so-distant days.

When I hear the strings at the beginning, I always have the same waking dream. It’s dawn in Madrid, the early morning when the sky is dull blue and the sun isn’t up yet. I’m walking along the deserted cobble-stone streets downtown. All the cafes and apartments are shuttered and everyone is finally asleep. And for a few minutes, it’s just me, a few garbage trucks and street sweepers in our own private Madrid.

[I will post video link to song, “Viva La Vida,” once WordPress/YouTube start cooperating again.]


In a continuing sub-series, I’m mentioning each time viewers from a new country visit the blog. This week we have:

– Slovenia.

Welcome to the blog!

It’s Fan Appreciation Day and Everything Is Free

As a big thank you to everyone one who has read this blog, downloaded my books, bought them, reviewed them, followed me on Twitter, mentioned me on their blog, or told their friends about me, etc., etc…I’m offering ALL my books for free TODAY ONLY on the Kindle store. Check it out:

Fan Day

That’s right. My short story, novella and novel are all free today. Stop by and download and spread the word.

It’s the first anniversary of the launch of The Library of Lost Books, and I wanted to celebrate in style. I figure with all the appreciation you’ve shown me over the last year, it’s the least I could do.


And A Little Housekeeping

Next week, this blog will return to more regular programming. There will be more posts about the Craft, Rare B Sides, Past Masters and works in progress. And most importantly my Rules for Writing, which I’ve neglected for far too long. (I’ve only posted one so far and promised five).

I hope you’ll join me. Until then…

Keep reading, keep writing,

Darius

Life on the Long Tail

As an Indie writer a lot of what I do falls under the radar. Call it the blessing (or curse) of the long tail. clip_image002

The long tail is an old concept now. It essentially was supposed to mean the end of “hits” in music, movies and books. The idea, as put forward by Chris Anderson in Wired, was that e-retailers could turn juicy profits by selling “small volumes of hard-to-find items to many customers.”

People are going deep into the catalog, down the long, long list of available titles, far past what’s available at Blockbuster Video, Tower Records, and Barnes & Noble. And the more they find, the more they like. As they wander further from the beaten path, they discover their taste is not as mainstream as they thought (or as they had been led to believe by marketing, a lack of alternatives, and a hit-driven culture).

That article sounds dated now, just nine years later. Blockbuster? Tower Records? Barnes & Noble? Oh wait, that last one is still around. It turns out hits are still alive too, but it also looks like low-volume, deep catalog media is here to stay. In fact, the recent surge in e-book publishing has opened opportunities for “long tail” e-books by your coworker, your aunt, your old school buddies. It’s a space where Indie writers like me can thrive.

For anyone doubting my, ahem, long tail cred (what a euphemism!), here are my sales stats for June:

  • 161 giveaways.
  • 13 sales

I’m VERY long tail. In a way, I could view this as a curse and a few weeks ago, I did. But now, I’m feeling better and my perspective has changed.

You see, the key with life on the long tail is lack of exposure. But this is both good and bad. When you succeed it is bad: I feel like “The Library of Lost Books” is a solid work, despite some flaws. It could have benefited from more exposure, a bigger marketing budget.

But the long tail can be kind when you fail. Your failure goes hardly noticed. Case in point: my release last month of “The Man Who Ran from God.” Even by my modest standards, it seems to have been coolly received: less than 100 giveaways, a few paltry sales. This left me discouraged. Wasn’t my second (long) published work supposed to get MORE attention, more downloads, more sales? Hadn’t things gone the opposite way?

Of course, I’ve discussed the reasons why it might not have done as well: wrong genre, new genre, a religious reference in the title. But none of that really helped. In my mind, it was a failure.

So what did I do?

Same thing as always: return to Epictetus. What is in my control? What did I have power over? I dipped back into the Discourses and read through a few. I started to reanalyze and found I had done fine. I had done what I could: wrote a solid manuscript, saw that it was well edited, paid for a good cover design. The rest was out of my control. I went to sleep that night after reading Epictetus feeling much better.

The next day I got up and went to work. Checked my stats on Kindle. Over the night, I had sold two more copies of the new novella in the UK. It’s not a lot, but it made me feel much better. I had done my best and a few people had decided it was worth their hard earned money to buy a book from an author they probably had never heard of. It might sound like nothing to most of you, but to a writer on the long tail, those two British readers really made my day.

It turns out that the holy grail, getting published, might not be all that great either. Or that, at least it will be more of the same. Only it won’t be on the long tail anymore, it will be in full sight of everyone. Successes along with defeats, will be broadcast far and wide. As Therese Walsh and Kathleen Bolton at Writer Unboxed put it, the only remedy will be to separate author from work, to discern what is truly you and what is not.

The warning is this: If at all possible, as soon as those final edits are in, divorce yourself from your book. You are not your book… You have made art or perhaps entertainment — or a mix of the two — but it is now turning into a commodity. It will take up shelf-space. It will sell wildly or it will sell poorly or, likely, somewhere in between.

That post ends with a final warning to all writers:

Publishing, marketing, being a commodity salesman — all of these things that just became part of your job interfere and sometimes interfere deeply with the creative process. And if you equate yourself worth with your sales figures, you are screwed — even if those sales are good.

Somewhere up there in philosopher heaven, in Dante’s Ante-hell, Epictetus is smiling.

Until next time,

Darius


In a continuing series, I’m mentioning each time viewers from a new country visit the blog. This week there are two countries to add to the list:

– Greece.

– Nepal.

Welcome!