C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

See all my books at AllThatChazz.com.

Do you believe in writer’s block?

Ever feel like a second-class citizen? Of course you do. Read this.

I last published on Christmas day, 2019. I’m very proud of Citizen Second Class and entered the year eager to dive into producing more novels and audiobooks. Then COVID-19 hit and, expecting to die horribly at any moment, the fire in my belly was extinguished. My OCD tendencies turned all their energies to wiping down doorknobs, hiding in my blanket fort, battling insomnia, and nagging my son about safety protocols. (To be fair, though he’s lost a year of school, the kid’s a real sport and I’m glad to have him on our team.)

As 2020 ground slowly on (what was May, 83 years ago?) my creativity and productivity faded. I’m still not the killer crusher I was on the word count front. I am improving for sure, but I still feel like I’m crawling out of a deep hole. Publishing five times a year without sacrificing quality or my senses was normal for me. I expect to publish two new books by Christmas: a prequel to This Plague of Days set in Ireland and a novel in the Citizen Second Class universe (which looks remarkably like plague-ridden Florida and Texas at the moment.)

I have a lot of books, so instead of writing, much of this year has been devoted to shorter bursts of fun stuff and to-do list chores: posting to social media, marketing and Amazon ads. The administrative stuff I used to do between writing sprints became the main thing. I’ve turned that model upside down and I’m back to prioritizing writing again. I promise myself to do one adult task a day. The rest of the time is for diet, exercise, and getting my writing career back to firing on all cylinders.

What are my weapons in this battle?

  1. Distance and distancing. Sorry, Americans, but being Canadian is soothing me at the moment. It’s generally safer up here in America’s hat. However, my wife works in the school system and will be returning to work this fall. Our relatively safe situation could turn to shit quite easily. We haven’t figured out how to handle her return to work yet. Dousing her in hand sanitizer and setting her on fire at the end of each day has been discussed, but I’m told that proposition is “shelved.” I’m not sure what that means, but now I’m afraid to ask.
  2. I am Captain Comorbidity. If I get it, I’m in grave danger. To give myself a chance lest I wind up on a ventilator, I went vegan almost two months ago. I’m losing weight and trying to eliminate a couple of the pre-existing conditions that could mess me up permanently. It’s working pretty well so far. I feel better and lighter. I even started growing my own food in our quarantine garden. So far, that’s yielded some lettuce and a cucumber crop of one cucumber. (Follow my daily accountability posts on food, exercise and writing on Instagram at robertchazzchute.)
  3. Insomnia absolutely robs my productivity. I feel run over the next day and can’t work. It’s been bad for years. Since COVID, it got worse. I have a sleep specialist to help with my sleep disorders and I spoke to him this week. The news was a bit disappointing. All he really had for me was sleep hygiene (protocols I know intimately already). However, with no other way out, I doubled down. Last night, I got three hours sleep. Two nights in a row before that, however, I got seven fairly solid hours. After the good nights, I have creative days and crush my word count goals.

    Healing my sleep is a process. I’m sticking with it because the alternative is miserable. Besides, with me sleeping in the cool basement under an open window and She Who Must Be Obeyed still in our bedroom, her sleep has improved.
  4. I stay home, of course. With the sunny days, I’ve taken to working outside. The blanket fort is nice for cold weather. Getting fresh air and sunlight are parts of my sleep hygiene protocol. Writing on the back patio is quite pleasant. I’m getting more words down. Good words. Words to publish, words to last.

    If you can change where and when you work, you might change the negative associations you may have with the attempt to settle down behind the keyboard. Try reframing and you might like the picture better.
  5. Very few people feel like running hard every day (and those few are being chased). I mean, THE COUCH IS RIGHT THERE! Lazy is easy. Distractions are easy. Doing shit is hard.

    Here’s how to make it easier:

    The hardest part is pulling on your sneakers and getting out the door. If you don’t feel like running five or ten miles today, tell yourself you’re going light, an easy two miles, all downhill and slow, with a tall cold glass of Guinness at the end as a reward. Once you’re out the door, resting inertia is overcome. You’ll probably go farther.

    So it is with writing. Don’t tell yourself you’re writing a book today. Your just going to put down maybe 500 words and see how it goes. The hardest part is starting. After that, momentum will probably carry you beyond those first, modest goals. And if not, not. A little done consistently is better than nothing done ever. It’s okay to take a day off. Writing is fun, remember? If you try and you’re really not feeling it, it’s okay to take a little time to recharge. You’re the boss.
  6. As detailed last week, I’m using accountability to keep me going: progress meters (see mine and the link to get yours from my author site AllThatChazz.com.) I’m also enjoying word sprints each Sunday, inspired by the Mando Method Podcast.

    Harness the power of a pre-existing writing community post your word count success to Twitter with the hashtag MandoMethod. Let #MandoMethod know and maybe author extraordinaire Armand Rosamilia himself will give you an attaboy!

That covers accountability. What else you got, Rob?

A friend of mine, author Gordon Bonnet, wrote a very down-to-earth post about his travails with writer’s block…or is it really writer’s block? Could changing fonts really help? Gordon’s got the scientific goods on his excellent blog. Have some tea and load up on the sympathy as you read his post on Skeptophilia. The post is titled Font of Creativity

Anything else?


When all else fails, grit your teeth, bear down, and deliver that baby.

~ I write apocalyptic epics and killer crime thrillers. Find all my books and more blog posts at AllThatChazz.com.

Filed under: writing, writing advice, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Two simple tools that work for writers

Two productivity tools for writers are making me happy and spurring me to up my word count. This can work for you, too.

  1. Show off your word sprints/word counts every Sunday via Twitter!

    Authors and master podcasters Armand Rosamilia and Chuck “The Great Buuuuda!” Buda of the Mando Method Podcast pump up writers’ mojo with the carrot and the stick of encouragement and accountability. When you report your word count each Sunday, simply add the hashtag #MandoMethod. Their ever-expanding writing community will pay attention. Attaboys are waiting.

    Regular readers here will know I’ve had a hard time living the writing life in 2020. That’s true for many of us, for obvious reasons. This hack helped me immensely. Over four writing sprints through the day, my word count shot up to 7,223. Normally, I top out at 1,200 to 2,000 new words a day. This Stella is getting his groove back!

    You can’t edit a blank page. Write more, get the words down on paper or up on the screen and get that draft done.*
  2. Word count meters!

    I now have two on my author site for a couple of my works in progress.

    I searched for progress bars for writers. My research led me to several broken links and a bunch of tools that were sub-par. Then I found exactly what I wanted. If you have a cover, you can add that. Want to stick a link on it (to a teaser or a sample, for example)? You can do that, too.

    It’s a simple widget to add to your blog and easy to update. It also serves as a promotional tool that lets your readers know what great things are coming their way.

    The meters really get me amped and moving. I don’t want to see a static progress bar and measurement gives me a sense of momentum. That which cannot be measured will not be improved.

How did these productivity hacks work out?

Last week, one of the novels I am working on was an idea spun from a nightmare. The entire book dumped into my head as I awoke. I got out of bed immediately and took notes. The new manuscript was 2% complete on Saturday. Two days later, it’s up to 11% thanks to reporting word sprints and the dopamine hits I get updating the progress meters on my author site.

Check out my word count meters on my author site, AllThatChazz.com.

If you want to add a meter for your website, you’ll find the link “GET YOUR OWN PROGRESS BAR” under the word count meter for this book (down the right-hand side of the page.)

Note: That progress meter tool is not an affiliate link. I just try to find what helps writers and share the good stuff.



*I am so in love with word sprints now, I’ll be posting my progress via Twitter regularly, not just on Sundays. See you on Sundays, though. Remember to add #MandoMethod!

Follow me on Twitter @RChazzChute.

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When you are blocked

We are surrounded with things to write about, enough to fill all the novels you could write in a long lifetime. If you are feeling blocked, go down into your feelings. Mine your emotions and reactions to inform your characters.

We don’t have just one epidemic. Besides COVID-19, we have epidemics of:

  • loneliness
  • existential angst
  • ignorance
  • willful ignorance
  • plain old stupidity
  • fear
  • poverty
  • frustration
  • anger
  • sadness
  • grief
  • loss
  • claustrophobia
  • emptiness
  • loss of identity
  • feeling our best times are behind us
  • helplessness/lack of power

For drama to arise from conflict, before your narrative arrives at love, renewed love, redemption, or resolution, you’ll probably have to go deep on the lack of those ideals.

Name your poison. Write about it.

~ Robert Chazz Chute writes apocalyptic epics and killer crime thrillers. Check out all his books at his author site, AllThatChazz.com.

Filed under: writing, writing advice, writing tips, ,

A Warning for Writers

I’ve used Google Docs to work with editors and beta readers for most of my books. Not anymore.

In addition to working as a suspense novelist since 2011, sometimes I take on book doctoring projects. I’m collaborating on a paranormal series with the Armand (The Great) Rosamilia and working with Gari Strawn of strawnediting.com on something right now. All of these book projects depend on the use of Google Docs. I got a nasty surprise recently and, if you’re a writer, you need to know about it.

I had just completed my second round of edits on a book project for another author when I discovered that Google docs had failed me. I doubted myself, at first. Then the realization set in: I’d made edits and corrections but the changes I thought were saved came back!

This set off a wave of disappointment, irritation and not a little anxiety. I thought I was nearly done with the project. I’d already pulled my trusty editor, Gari, into the mix. However, the truth could not be denied. We had worked from one master file in Google Docs and we couldn’t trust it anymore.


You can’t trust Google Docs, either.

What to do? What to do? To quote Ed Harris in Apollo 13, “I believe this will be our finest hour.” Gari and the project manager were understanding and supportive, focused on solutions.

I had no choice. I had to switch to an alternative immediately. There are several alternatives to Google Docs. Some are free or have premium options. After reading a recommendation from another book publisher, I decided to try Zoho.

I went with the premium version since I’m managing book projects for myself and others. Fortunately, I could make Gari part of the Ex Parte Press team through the app but the Zoho Writer app is free.

Signing into Zoho, I was a bit frustrated at first. I found the interface a bit clunky and non-intuitive. All I could think about was how I had to get past this problem to meet my deadline. Time was of the essence and I didn’t want to have to deal with a steep learning curve.

Unsure Zoho would be a smooth transition, I tried the free Microsoft’s free online platform. They needed confirmation that I wasn’t a robot so I clicked the button for them to send an email confirmation to activate my free subscription. That email never came. Neither did the text to my phone. While I was waiting or Microsoft to get their act together, I figured out Zoho.

Zoho wasn’t so bad after I did a little bit of checking, experimenting, and googling. Perhaps my initial disorientation was because I was so used to Google Docs. Zoho isn’t terribly expensive for the power user, but it is a primarily a business application. That means it has the mojo for major collaboration, but it’s not built with writers and publishers in mind. (To be fair, neither was Word. Plenty of people used Track Changes in the old days. I always hated Track Changes. Reading those little red squiggles, I thought I’d go blind.)

Because of its orientation toward formal communications in the business world, Zoho’s correction engine throws up a lot of flags you won’t need. It’ll question contractions, for instance. Possessives, like “parent’s house” got a squiggle under it, too. I wish Zoho was integrated with Grammarly. It’s not. If I could make one change, that would be it.

For comments and collaboration, Zoho is better than Google Docs and Word. You’ll get a lot of false positive flags of foreign words, for instance, but at least the notations are clear and easy to resolve. If you leave the browser too long, you’ll have to reload, but reloading is quicker than Google Docs. I found the application was much faster, allowing me to bounce around the document.

There are other alternatives besides Zoho you could choose. (Here’s a link to alternatives to Google Docs.)

Whatever you choose, be aware that the changes you make in Google Docs may revert or fail to save. You could lose a lot of time and effort that way. I sure did. This setback came late in our editing workflow, so I’ll be pulling all-nighters through to the end of June to get back on track.

Fair warning.

~ You write books. Do you read them, too? I recommend that. I recommend you read my books. I’m a suspense novelist who writes apocalyptic epics and killer crime thrillers. Check out the glories and a whole lotta whatnot on my author site, AllThatChazz.com.

Looking for more work/life balance? Me, too. More of that on today’s post about the writing life, how I’m battling insomnia, losing weight (and winning).

Filed under: Books, Editing, Editors, getting it done, publishing, writing, writing tips, , , , , , ,

Help for the Anxious Writer

If your book idea feels thin at first, consider that Ice Road Truckers barreled on for 11 seasons and found an audience. If you’ve got a grand idea for a novel, but it’s not springing onto the page fully formed, I have some suggestions. If you’re unsure of yourself as a writer, I’ve got ideas about that, too.

When you lack confidence:

  • You don’t have to stop where you are today.
  • If you write more than one book, each level of success will vary. Think in terms of moving forward instead of dwelling on failures.
  • Go deeper into characters’ back stories to find the way forward.
  • Elucidate motivations and deny what each character wants. When desires conflict, you’ve got drama.
  • Do you have the basics? Who, what, where, why, when and how.
  • Play to your experience and strengths, but it’s not necessary to write what you know. Write what you care about.
  • Go deeper on specifics without beating the reader over the head with your deepest research.
  • Get the details right. For many readers, procedurals and process are porn.
  • Set the scene to give the reader a sense of time and place. Don’t forget the smells and feels, the sense and impact of the location, but don’t go too hard on the weather report.
  • Find the next step in your plot by finding a logical move, but don’t succumb to the first easy answer that springs to mind.
  • Discover the logical surprise twist. Defy the reader’s comfort in thinking they know how the story will unfold.
  • Smooth out the bumps later so it looks like you planned the entire narrative from beginning to end.
  • Too much editing as you go will impede progress. You’ll have a sharp Chapter One with no Chapter 2.
  • Make your characters distinctive. Giving one twin a porkpie hat he adjusts and readjusts for 200 pages isn’t special enough.
  • If two characters sound alike and perform the same function in the story, they might as well be one person.
  • Put the manuscript aside and give it more thought so you look like a genius later.
  • Put it aside and don’t think about it. The answer often appears when you come back to it fresh.
  • Don’t put a manuscript aside for too long.
  • Don’t get overwhelmed or too precious about storytelling. Plenty of half-drunk half-idiots sitting around campfires have told entertaining yarns for thousands of years.
  • Focus on the A to B to C in the first and second draft. Action flows from character and is character.
  • Themes will emerge later. Don’t set out to write a theme. A manifesto has no plot.
  • Entertainment is Goal #1. Don’t set out to educate with a novel. That souffle will fall flat.
  • Your main character needs a fatal flaw or they’ll be boring. Too perfect is boring and inhuman.
  • Your protagonist needs more obstacles in their way. Heroes and heroines have to be smoked in the oven a long time before they’re done.
  • Your villain needs the complexity of nuance and a purpose they believe is noble. No one thinks they’re the villain.
  • No character should feel like a red shirt, easily sacrificed. Henchman #3 has a family and feelings, dammit!
  • Don’t allow a smart person to do a dumb thing just to make a plot work. That’s the sound of gears grinding in a rusty machine.
  • Avoid a story with one tone, particularly if it’s one grim tone.
  • Heroics and horror both have room for humor when the wit is well-placed (but if you aren’t funny, don’t force it).
  • Fight scenes and sex scenes are similar: they both need to acknowledge the breath, heat, emotion and effort involved.
  • Read more in the genre to make sure you’re hitting the tropes without surrendering to cliche.
  • Drop the boring parts and concede that not every idea is worthy of a novel. Your idea for a full-length novel might make a better novella or short story.
  • Make your characters more relatable but don’t succumb to the critic who says, “People don’t act like that.” This character, your character, acts like that.
  • Decide your protagonist is unchanging and the series is episodic (e.g. Sherlock Holmes) or decide on a story arc that allows for character growth. Ignore reviewers who demand your character be fully actualized immediately. They don’t have the patience to understand what you’re doing with that character in the next book.
  • Dare to write a bold plot point, but too many coincidences are death.
  • Disguise your deceptions until the big reveals strike.
  • Contextualize the fantastic with normality to enhance the suspension of disbelief.
  • Read your manuscript like a reader, not like a writer.
  • Pick your allies carefully. Writers are much harder to please than casual readers and their motivations are sometimes suspect. (Hint: most readers are of the casual variety looking for distraction and escape, not an argument over comma placement.)
  • Let go of what isn’t working. Harvest wheat, cut chaff.
  • Go deep to create an immersive page turner. Make a movie in their heads.
  • Find an editor you trust who is out to help you, not tear you down. Some editors get into this biz for the wrong reasons.
  • The right length is the word count that gets to the end of the story.
  • Rely on feedback from your real readers, not randos.
  • Rewrite to make the reading experience richer.
  • Revise for clarity.
  • Edit to get where you’re going at the right speed, avoiding detours, potholes and plot holes along the route.
  • Drop the ten-dollar words but don’t talk down to your audience.
  • Do not overwrite character descriptions. You’ll interfere with the movie in their heads.
  • Have fun. If you’re having fun, readers probably will, too.
  • Are you getting up from the desk often enough? Moving? Getting some air and enough sleep? Feed the body, energize the brain, charge up Ole Ink Hill.
  • The only reason you dislike your manuscript might be that you’ve reread and rewritten it too many times. Your personal draft limit will vary. Send it to your editor when you hit the wall.
  • Cute can work. Too twee? Less so. So much depends on what you’re writing. Consider the variables. Listen to your heart when you write. Listen to your brain when you revise. Listen to your editor before you publish.
  • These are broad guidelines. Sometimes it is better to tell rather than show. If it plays, it plays.
  • Some write like they talk. When done well, it will sound natural.
  • Some try to write as if they’re 17th Century British nobles.
  • Let the words come from you. With revisions, You the Writer will come across smoother than You the Person with Cookie Crumbs Down Your Shirt.
  • Stop being so precious about writing. This is art, not a procrastination project. You want it to be excellent, not perfect.
  • Lives do not hang in the balance, not even your life.
  • Finish.
  • Edit.
  • Proof.
  • Publish.
  • Some will love you no matter what you do. Some will hate you no matter what. Most don’t give a shit. Let go of demanding that your family care about your high calling. Stop caring about anyone outside your target audience. What does your brother know, anyway? He’s obsessed with golf and foot fetish porn.
  • Don’t depend on one book to make you famous.
  • Write another book.
  • Somebody’s going to hurt your feelings. Nobody hits a home run every time and not everyone’s opinion gets equal weight. Look for support in the right places.
  • You’re not writing a novel. That can feel overwhelming and possibly a terrible waste of time. Instead, you’re writing a little short story each day (or most days of the week, anyway). Each short story just happens to connect to the next short story. These stories are your chapters. Writer 45 to 55 or so, and behold! A book! See? Easier than it sounded at first!
  • Relax. Enjoy telling your stories. Focus on process now, not outcome.
  • With enough at-bats, you have a better shot at hitting home runs.
  • Don’t talk about writing more than you write.
  • Don’t give up unless you hate writing.
  • If you hate writing, there are plenty of other things to do that probably pay more.
  • If you love writing, there’s not much else to do.

    *If you prefer outlining, there’s nothing wrong with that and you might end up writing faster with fewer hiccups and less anxiety. Your mileage may vary and that’s a blog post for another time.

    ~ If you enjoy apocalyptic epics or killer crime thrillers, I’m your guy. Find all the books by Robert Chazz Chute at my author site, AllThatChazz.com.

Filed under: the writing life, writing, writing advice, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , ,

Should you quit the day job? Writing and finding focus.

I used to work as a Virtual Assistant off and on for the graphic designer, Kit Foster. I left his company to focus on writing. Sadly, apart from liking a Facebook post or two, I haven’t had any contact from Kit in a while. Authors still reach out to me looking for information regarding KFD. Since I haven’t worked with Kit since early 2017, I’m afraid I’m quite useless with regard to those queries. I’ve got more laser focus now and, if you can narrow your endeavors to better manage your writing and publishing energy, I recommend doing so.

A bit about quitting a job so you can spend more time writing…

I had four jobs for quite some time. Four! FOUR! Can you believe it? Neither can I but there it is. I ran myself ragged. I’m now down to two jobs: my publishing company and my clinical work. Depending on a bunch of variables, I may be down to one job by the end of this year. Working on my latest series, I’m just as busy doing two jobs as I was spinning four plates. Crazy, huh? I’m in a much better situation now. I still have to work hard to make time to get to the gym but I have to move heavy shit and do cardio to avoid falling apart. My schedule is still full but I don’t feel like I’m running a marathon day in, day out. I even take days off to relax, unwind and recharge. Don’t work so hard you forget to shower and don’t confuse busyness with business.

Negativity and scarcity can lead us to work too hard or work too hard at the wrong things.

A lot of people will tell you that publishing is more competitive than ever and the Kindle Gold Rush is over. This mindset can make you think you have to produce faster, do more and be more in an unending, self-destructive spiral. Don’t fall into that trap. Plan time off and take time off because no one will give it to you. Work at your pace rather than sacrifice quality. It’s not about filling up the page in a panic. It’s about filling the page with something good enough to revise so it becomes great (or at least solid and enjoyable).

We have to be more savvy about publishing than before, yes. Advertising has become more complex and mistakes can be costly. Though I’m very glad to have a backlist of a decent size, simply publishing more books isn’t the powerful marketing strategy it once was. Don’t be discouraged. This is still the best time in the history of the world to be a writer.

Some say the book market is oversaturated. That’s like saying there are more websites than there are stars in the sky so there are too many websites. You’re still looking at websites. Readers are still looking for books to read. You can still win fans. As I’ve said many times, I wrote for free for years and I will always write because I love it. It’s not like I have a choice! I’m not going to abandon writing to take up knitting or animal husbandry. I’m a writer. I write. You’re reading this so accept your fate. Write.

I joked the other day that Amazon pays so well I bought underwear at Walmart and didn’t even check the price before my purchase. Things are looking up. I’ve hired a new editor and I’m putting together a fresh apocalypse. (If you liked This Plague of Days, you’ll probably dig the next one, too.)

No matter the stage of your writing journey, at some point you will ask yourself  how you can best allot your work time. Is this your moment to make the jump from the midlist to the big time (or, at least, the bigger time)? Are you ready for a new beginning?

That’s not where the questions end.

Is writing a hobby, a serious income supplement or a career? (Note: there are no wrong answers to that question. Your response will frame your focus, however.)

More questions:

Can you quit the day job? Is that possible? If possible, is it desirable? Would you be happier or more stressed if you became a full-time writer? What does the money math say about how you should spend your time? Does your transition to the writing life have to be all or nothing? What sacrifices might others in your family or support network have to make? How much money do you need banked before you make the leap? Are your debts paid off? What do you need to be safe and comfortable (not just survive)? How many months of consistent sales is enough to make you confident quitting the day job is the right move now? Do you really want to write and publish or do your just want out of your old job? What are all your options? 

Even more:

What would your day look like if you could control it completely? Can you work to a schedule? Do you have to hire more help to make the writing life work? Much of our work is solitary but, generally, publishing is played best as a team sport. You’re the captain now. Got a plan, Captain?

Beyond calendars, budgets and math are the personal questions only you can answer.

Are you running away from something bad or running toward your dream? How do you feel about burning bridges? Will you be lonely if you become a writer? Do you have the discipline to take your work to “the next level,” whatever that means to you? What does success look like to you?

I’m still working on many of those variables but I can say that the more I focus my time, energy and attention, the better results I get and the happier and healthier I become. Happy writing, everyone. Happy life.

~ Chazz

To check out my books of dark and funny SF and killer thrillers, go to AllThatChazz.com. Cheers! 

 

Filed under: publishing, writing, writing advice, writing tips

The Curse of the Literary Snob

Recently I listened to mega-successful author Paulo Coelho on the podcast On Being. I recommend the podcast when you need calming voices discussing big questions. The interview made me think about how I write and what I might improve.

Something Coelho said resonated with me. He spoke of visiting his Japanese publisher and finding a single flower in a lovely vase in a sparsely furnished room. Coelho commented about how pretty the flower was. The publisher responded that it was elegant because no distractions in the decor detracted from its essence. It came to Coelho that elegance was found in simplicity.

This gave me pause. Intricately plotted and densely written books are often not well-received. It is tempting to break down failure to catch fire in a snarky way. You might guess that, in accordance with Chris Rock’s worldview, most people are B and C students. If you don’t appeal to B and C levels of understanding, blame the audience and claim you are too smart for them. (Please don’t do this publicly or everyone will hate you.)

Because Rock is a comedian and attributes the George W. Bush presidency to under-informed voters, condescension is a very seductive idea, isn’t it? It flatters any writer who suffers disappointing book sales. If people don’t “get it,” it’s their fault. Trouble is, writers are supposed to be communicators. If your book fails, is it really because you aimed too high or because you didn’t engage your audience?

Good communicators find broad audiences. As Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” If you’re aiming your book at an intellectual niche, fine. Do your thing, embrace the low sales and don’t complain about it. A better way may be to take those high falutin’ ideas and share them in such a way that they are more palatable and entertaining. We must write to entertain first. If you have world shattering thoughts to share, slip that shit in between the jokes and an engaging plot, please.

For a sharp example of this kind of communication, I recommend John Oliver on Last Week Tonight. He tackles complex subjects in a way that is engaging and more understandable than most news sources ever manage. You laugh and you learn. You discover something new but you enjoy the journey. A good book can do that, too, like when Fight Club teaches you how to make soap with stolen human medical waste. Fun ride, plus some solid tips on making napalm!

Usually when we speak of elegant writing, we think of poetic, dense and literary prose. Is that truly elegant, though? Or is it a slow slog that confuses and darkens more skulls than it illuminates? When we read, it shouldn’t feel like work. Work is what we’re trying to avoid when we’re reading fiction.

And now a sour note about literary snobbery that might make you uncomfortable, especially if you’re an English major of a certain vintage:

Yes, I tried reading Middlemarch and Ulysses. Are those books so well known because we their original audiences had fewer entertainment choices? Are those books still taught in university due to some strange cultural inertia unique to academia? How many people say they like that stuff but never get to the last page? Do they say they like that kind of reading because they think they’re supposed to? I’ve heard people say they love Ulysses. They might think they’re telling the truth. I don’t believe them.

And now, a timely Woody Allen joke: 
Interviewer: I really enjoyed your movie.
Woody Allen: You’re mistaken.

You can like what you like. That’s okay and not my point. Like what you like and write what you write. However, if you write like James Joyce now, don’t expect it to sell.

I once worked for a publisher committed to only creating “important books.” I’m sure he impressed his guests at fancy cocktail parties in Rosedale. Sadly, fewer important books were published because he quickly went out of business, unwilling to bend to the desires of the reading public. The books that some might call trash actually finance those niche works they claim to value so much. 

My measure of a good book is as follows: Does it make me forget what time it is? I love curling up with a book that keeps me turning pages, that tells a story and makes me wonder what will happen next. I love surprises. I enjoy things happening. I want the scene to come so alive that my mirror neurons fire and I am made to care about people who do not exist. I want to chuckle or even laugh loud and long. Awaken longing in my cold black heart. Make me think if you like, but not so much I realize what you’re up to. (Read Portnoy’s Complaint, read To Kill a Mockingbird again or devour any book by William Goldman for examples.)

Assuming elegance is found in simple writing, editing is the knife that prunes the bonsai tree. We cut away the extraneous so simple beauty shines through. Write first to entertain. I used to be resistant to this idea. Now I think that sometimes, yes, I done fucked up.

~ I am Robert Chazz Chute. I’m in the brain tickle business but I generally make readers happy they found me. Check out my author page at AllThatChazz.com. Buy my stuff. Laugh. Cry. Read like crazy. Occasionally projectile vomit.

Addendum: My favorite exchange with an English major.

Student: I love reading books so I’ve just started studying English.

Me: Hate it yet?

Filed under: Books, publishing, writing, writing tips

How to keep moving forward.

My wife, She Who Must Be Obeyed, deals with a lot of sad, difficult and traumatic situations in her noble work. She helps a lot of people but it’s not easy. To combat the downside, she keeps what she calls a perk file. That’s where she holds on to commendations and thank you letters from those she has helped. Writers should have a similar file.

As an author, you will have disappointments. It’s inevitable. As I wrote in a post below (The Writer’s Curse) we are imaginative and therefore perpetually dissatisfied. Copy and paste your fave reviews to a special file for those dark days to come. When the disappointments arise, reread those five star reviews and fan letters. Cherish them and keep going.

I’ve often thought about quitting, especially when I’m overwhelmed. (Quitting isn’t always a bad idea, either. More on that in a coming post.) I did stop writing completely for almost five years. Those were not good years. For me, the dissatisfaction of not writing is worse than the bad writing days.

This week, a reader reminded me why it’s important to keep going. Stories are powerful. I replied, thanking her for being a reader, of course, but her letter is too important an inspiration not to share with fellow writers. She wrote:

Dear Robert Chazz Chute,

I read zompoc because I need to read something that takes me away from my reality – a genetic condition that slowly transformed the woman who could turn somersaults in mid-air to the woman in a wheelchair.
Fortunately,my sense of humour is intact.
Friends, family and NHS have stuck with me, so I’m lucky compared to most disabled people.
And the connection with This Plague of Days?
It distracted me from my pain – always present unless I’m asleep.
Yep. Stories are that powerful.
Even when they’re stories about unrelenting terror.
This Plague of Days is an epic piece of writing.
But you know that already.
I just felt like telling you that I know that too.
And thank you for writing something that set me free, for a while.

~ I am Robert Chazz Chute and I am often sad. I get misty reading this letter, but in a good way. I am less sad this week thanks to this reader. You can check out all my stuff at AllThatChazz.com, or just read and reread this letter to get inspired to write something epic that distracts readers from their pain. Distracting us from pain is, I think, what it’s all about.

Now I’m off to write more. Thanks again, to all the readers.

Filed under: All That Chazz, publishing, Writers, writing, writing advice, writing tips, , , , ,

What qualifies you to say that?

If you’re looking for a brain surgeon, you don’t want an amateur (and probably not Ben Carson, either.) But there are a lot of topics where “expert opinion” is of questionable validity. For instance, the paid media pundits who predicted Donald Trump would flame out long ago have been proved wrong. Spectacularly wrong. Many still haven’t learned anything from what should have been a humbling experience. They’re still making political predictions based on what they want to be true instead of looking at what’s happening in the GOP primary by the math. (Please don’t take this as an endorsement of Donald Trump. I cab’t stand him. I am pro-reality, however.)

What makes a person an expert?

If it’s for purpose of commentary (as opposed to digging into organs with sharp tools for therapeutic purposes), anyone can be expert and everyone seems to think they already are. A lot of people have instant opinions on topics they’ve given no thought to. Experts, it seems, are everywhere. The number of “Social Media Experts” on Twitter is staggering, and most of the time, that title means nothing.

Recently, Sean Penn was ridiculed by professional journalists for his interview of El Chapo in Rolling Stone. He responded that (a) they were focusing on the celebrity angle instead of the drug war, and (b) he dared them to show him their journalist licenses. It was a clever retort to a lot of envious whiners from a guy who risked his life to go into the jungle to interview a killer.

Whether Penn’s story was well-executed is another issue. The core of it was, anybody who is willing can be a journalist now. I have a journalism degree. It’s hanging in my downstairs bathroom over the toilet, where it belongs. It got me interviews and jobs with major publications but, as a license? Ha! Let’s just say any degree — or no degree — will do now.

Report on any issue you’re of a mind to. Citizen journalism may not be polished, but it often looks more honest. The value of the journalism degree has eroded since the Internet disrupted a once-great profession. It’s not all the fault of the Internet, either. Many outlets have abandoned the journalistic principles that once made the calling worthwhile. For instance, when network news shows backed by defence contractors interview shills for defence contractors and don’t tell you who they’re really representing? Yeah, no good. Many so-called journalists downgraded themselves to propagandists when they decided to help sell a war instead of reporting on it. If those reporters had journalist licenses, they should have been revoked.

It seems that most of the best journalism isn’t accomplished by big media, anymore. The best journalism and commentary I’ve seen in the last few years has been reported by comedians (e.g. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver) and web-based shows with vast audiences they’ve earned through authenticity (e.g. The Young Turks.) These models of better communication dig deep, tackle tough issues in an understandable way and they don’t treat their audiences like idiots.

I bring this up because one of the books I’m writing at the moment is non-fiction. Someone (a fiction writer) asked me what qualified me to write it. As a former journalist, the premise of the question struck me as silly. Research any subject thoroughly and you, too, can be an expert. Read a bunch of books, go deep and bang, you’ve got yourself a qualified opinion because you are not informed by one expert, but many. You don’t have to be a nuclear physicist to have a worthwhile opinion about nuclear power. You don’t have to be a doctor to explain a vasectomy. (Just don’t try this at home, kids!)

I have 24 years of experience with the subject of my next non-fiction book. I’m also bringing in a co-author with  multiple relevant degrees and 20+ years in the subject, too. Our backgrounds will undoubtedly make a better book and we can refer to real life case studies from our work lives. However, you can write a non-fiction book about anything. Okay, if you’re an idiot, maybe not but, in general? To claim expertise, all you have to do is research. To write a book based on that expertise? All you have to do is write the damn book.

Make the world better and better informed. Those two things are one thing.

 

Filed under: DIY, new books, publishing, Rant, television, writing advice, writing tips

Writing and Publishing: It’s not too late

I’ve heard from several people about their experiences at the London Book Fair. After writing two books about publishing, writing this blog for years and publishing fifteen books or so, sometimes it feels like we’re all on the same page. We talk to each other so much about the depths of Independent publishing that we forget there are a lot of people for whom this is all brand new. They’re still hovering at the edge of the pool thinking the water looks too cold.

We’ve all read a snarky review or two that criticizes an instructional book as being “basic”, “nothing new here,” and “just for beginners.” Well, beginners need books, too. In fact, they really need them. I’ve made the mistake of thinking that, four or five years after establishing Ex Parte Press, everybody knows the basics. They don’t. It’s not old hat. It’s new hat. (That metaphor is really weird now that I see it in print. We’ll stick with the swimming metaphor from here on out.)

At the London Book Fair, author Joanna Penn mentioned that she had to explain what “KDP” meant to people. A lot of writers who have focussed their energies solely on traditional publishing don’t know the nitty nor the gritty of self-publishing yet. They’ve never dealt with the tiny details of formatting an ebook or hired a cover artist or had to fire an editor. This is wonderful news. It means you and I aren’t too late to the game. You’re already in, reading this blog, listening to podcasts about publishing and ahead of many who are still considering whether they should wait another year for an agent to find them and then maybe…maybe…maybe….

Meanwhile, we’re writing, publishing and selling books now. It’s good to get in early and, to my surprise, it’s still early.

Today I’m at London’s Central Library from 11 to 2 p.m. I’ll give a highly entertaining reading, meet some author friends I haven’t seen for a while and mingle with readers. I’ll sign and sell my books and answer some questions on a panel. Most of the audience will be readers.

Someone I meet today is a writer, but they aren’t a writer/publisher yet. By this afternoon, they could begin. They could choose themselves. They could stop waiting and start making their dreams come true. I hope so. C’mon in. The water’s warm.

Beginners welcome. Now swim!

Filed under: author events, author platform, author Q&A, author reading, book signings, business, Friday Publishing Advice Links, London Book Fair, publishing, robert chazz chute, self-publishing, suspense, writing, writing tips

Winner of Writer's Digest's 2014 Honorable Mention in Self-published Ebook Awards in Genre

The first 81 lessons to get your Buffy on

More lessons to help you survive Armageddon

"You will laugh your ass off!" ~ Maxwell Cynn, author of Cybergrrl

Available now!

Fast-paced terror, new threats, more twists.

An autistic boy versus our world in free fall

Suspense to melt your face and play with your brain.

Action like a Guy Ritchie film. Funny like Woody Allen when he was funny.

Jesus: Sexier and even more addicted to love.

You can pick this ebook up for free today at this link: http://bit.ly/TheNightMan

For my author site and the Chazz network, click the blood spatter below.

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