Nothing Matters But the Words

Last week I got the tweaks back from an author new to me. We’d had some great email and Facebook conversations, and she’d been very calm and professional. But until the tweaks arrived, I didn’t realize she’d been doing some homework: she’d read my post on how to format your manuscript.

Don’t insert space (returns or otherwise) to bring the beginning of your chapter halfway down the page, one of the entries reads. The typesetter will take care of that later. We’re editing now, not prettifying.

A lot of people seem to miss that one. Or don’t believe me. Or something. After all, open any novel and you’ll see with your own eyes that the chapter begins in the middle of a right-hand page, yes?

My author left me a note in the margin of the first chapter, right under the deletion of twelve or fifteen returns: So does this look right now? Starting at the top? You can’t imagine how many books/blogs/seminars have told me to start every chapter in the middle of the page. Think of all the time I’ve wasted.

This, friends, is a woman after my own heart. Yes! Think of all the time I’ve wasted, scrolling through all those stinkin’ returns in all those manuscripts. So let me tell you again: to a manuscript in the editorial process, nothing matters but the words. Making this manuscript look like a book is someone else’s job, and that happens during the production process. Later. When we’re done.

I can’t imagine why “they”—the people writing those how-to books and blogs or presiding over those how-to seminars—would say such a thing. Because, you know, they’re wrong. But I have a theory. I think the people who are telling you to start your chapter in the middle of a page have never actually been involved in the production of an actual book. They’re just makin’ it up to “add value” to whatever they’re selling you. Those of us who do work on books before they go to the typesetter know—repeat after me—nothing matters but the words.

Choose your experts wisely, kids.

Now, shall we review? I see manuscripts with all sorts of fancy typefaces, with underlining and different sized fonts. I see boxes drawn around call-outs, and space inserted after Every. Single. Paragraph. Don’t do that stuff.

Instead, use Times or Times New Roman in twelve-point type. You can use bold, italics, and roman, and nothing else. Use page breaks to separate chapters. Learn how to use tabs and indents. And save us both some time and don’t add extra space before you begin a chapter. Because right now, nothing matters but the words.

Tweet: When we’re editing, nothing matters but the words. Honest.
Tweet: Making the manuscript look like a book is someone else’s job; it happens in production.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Short Saturday: It’s Not All Bad News

In case—after reading this week’s posts—you think I’m all gloom and doom, I’ve got a treat for you from my friend, author Judy Christie. She recently released her eighth novel, and she’s got something to smile about: readers.

When you’re a writer, there’s no one more important. Sure, agents, editors, publishers—they’re important too. But at the end of the day, a book is nothing without a reader. Judy says,

As a novelist and book columnist for the local newspaper, I experience every day a zest for books from readers of varied ages and professions and geography, ordinary folks who appreciate books, who yearn for good stories, who are generous with their time and money and encouragement. Who love to talk about books. Who feel passionately about what they like—and don’t like—to read.

Want to know what makes a good book? Ask a reader.

… and she goes on to list ten (ten!) really good reasons authors should turn that frown upside down in her recent blog post, “10 Reasons This Novelist Is Smiling.” Read it, and you will too.

Tweet: When you’re a writer, there’s no one more important than a reader. Get it?
Tweet: 10 really good reasons authors should turn that frown upside down from Judy Christie.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Posted in Authors & Other Writers, The Book Biz | Tagged as: , , ,

We Can’t Go On Together With Suspicious Minds (2/2)

The Hachette/Amazon standoff seems to have fanned the flames of the traditional vs. self-publishing discussion. Actually, it’s not much of a discussion any more. As I noted recently, publishing journalist Porter Anderson reported abuse—in the form of comments on a post—for something he’d written. Similarly, publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin notes,

I don’t see the “Amazon versus the publishing establishment” battle as a moral choice, just a tug of war between competing business interests. (There are societal questions at stake, which some might see as moral choices, but the companies involved are doing what is best for them and then arguing afterwards that it is also better for society.) When I wrote what I intended to be a balanced piece about the Amazon-Hachette battle, it brought out the troops from the indie author militia in the comment string to call me to task and accuse me of many things … I expect this post will do the same, which I find an unpleasant prospect.

I worry about this lack of civility directed at people like Anderson and Shatzkin, who are both routinely fair and balanced in their reportage, but that’s a subject for another post.

What concerns me here is the discussion about the Great Self-Publishing Money Tree. To wit: You shouldn’t necessarily believe everything you hear about it. Data is hard to come by. Remember that books with ISBNs (all traditionally published books and some self-published books) can be tracked and counted and sales figures and profits extrapolated; books without ISBNs (a great many self-published books) cannot be tracked in any way. Even if a self-pubbed book does have an ISBN, Amazon doesn’t share sales numbers. And private citizens are not required to divulge their income-tax returns, even if they are claiming in their blogs and elsewhere to be making money hand over fist selling self-published novels. (I’m not naming names, but I’m sure you know who some of the very vocal self-publishing evangelists are.)

Some of them are (making money hand over fist). But—as we discussed earlier this week and as Bob Mayer points out in his commentary “Successful Authors Are Outliers, Not Statistics”—they are outliers. The rest are employing what we might call the Facebook Phenomenon: they are putting a good face on things (their sales figures, say).

Shatzkin makes a similar point in another post (one I highlighted recently):

So far, the commercially successful self-published authors overwhelmingly, if not entirely, fall into two categories. There are authors who have reclaimed a backlist of previously published titles and self-published them. And there are authors of original genre fiction who write prolifically, putting many titles into the marketplace quickly. Successful self-publishing authors are often in both categories but very few are in neither. Those two categories are nearly 100% of the self-publishing success stories but a minority of the books from publishers. (Emphasis mine.)

I don’t write this with the intention to discourage anyone from self-publishing. (Although you know I’m opposed to bad—that is, unprofessional—self-publishing. I’ve written about that quite a bit.) It would be helpful to pay attention to Mayer’s comment—

I know very, very few traditionally published authors whose first manuscript was accepted for publication. But how many indie authors are not publishing their first manuscript?

—and apply it to your own career trajectory. How many times have you heard the story of a new author with a runaway best seller who has one or two or three earlier manuscripts gathering dust in a drawer? Those were the author’s practice novels.

Instead, I write this to encourage you to filter what you hear on the interwebs, kids. Investigate. Look at the data and know what you’re getting into. People can be biased, whether it’s intentional or unintentional. They can be so excited about their good fortune—like Hugh Howey (mentioned in the Shatzkin article linked above)—that they become evangelists for the Great Self-Publishing Money Tree. Remember that Howey is an outlier.

As I mentioned in my previous post, the road is long and the way is hard, but the rewards—though maybe not the financial ones—can be very satisfying. It’s important to remember that building a career as an author takes an investment of time and, if you’re self-publishing, money. If you get a handle on your expectations, do good work, and exercise patience, you may find your dreams fulfilled.

Tweet: What concerns me here is the discussion about the Great Self-Publishing Money Tree.
Tweet: Some folks claim to be making money hand over fist selling self-published novels—but are they?
Tweet: Building a career as an author takes an investment of time &, if you’re self-publishing, money.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Posted in The Book Biz | Tagged as: , ,

Getting Good Advice (1/2)

When the Boy was a sophomore in high school, he announced he wanted to major in music when he got to college. Naturally, lots of people had lots of opinions on this topic. (Go to a conservatory. No, go to a liberal arts school. Be sure you go to a prestigious university. No, go to a state school and save some money; go to the prestigious school for your graduate work. Follow your passion! Are you kidding? Unless you’re Joshua Bell, you won’t make much money in the arts. And so on.)

But the best advice he got—and the advice he followed—was this: Don’t major in music unless you can’t imagine doing anything else with your life.

The same might be said for the writing life. The New York Times recently published an op-ed (“Why Writers Are Opening Up About Money [or the Lack Thereof”]) in which a literary agent is quoted saying “the financial landscape for writers has always been really difficult.” She goes on to say it’s particularly unpredictable during the current financial climate.

I’m not sure hopeful writers fully understand this. It’s not wise to look at J. K. Rowling or John Grisham and think theirs are career paths you will likely follow. Like superstar violinist Joshua Bell, Rowling and Grisham are not the norm; they are anomalies. Outliers is the popular term.

One hears (or thinks in one’s heart of hearts) “I’m going to write a best seller and make a lot of money” but from a statistical viewpoint it’s just not bloody likely. One can revel in the work, grow intellectually and as a human being, meet interesting people, and leave behind a body of work that others will appreciate. But the vast majority of those who feel called to write—because they can’t imagine doing anything else—are finding it harder and harder to make a living.

This spring the Guardian published this moving article, which points out in black and white how the publishing landscape has changed:

Ever since the credit crunch of 2008 writers have been tightening belts, cutting back and, in extreme cases, staring into an abyss of penury. “Last year,” said novelist Paul Bailey, speaking to the Observer in 2010, “was sheer hell”. Off the record, other writers will freely confide their fears for the future, wondering aloud about how they will make ends meet.

And if that’s not enough for you, this piece—about an author giving up the literary life because he can’t afford it anymore—will break your heart.

I myself have had similar conversations in the last few years: with an author who was without a contract for the first time in twenty years, with another who says it helps to have a personal patron of the arts (a spouse with a good job), with yet another who has ten successful books in print but still has to get up and go to a job (not writing) every day. Advances just aren’t what they use to be. Neither are sales, except for those outliers.

It’s a bit of a perfect storm, as the Guardian article points out.

The years 2007–2010 are pivotal: first, as Thomson has described, came the credit crunch. And it occurred at the very moment that the IT revolution was wrecking the livelihoods of those creative classes—film-makers, musicians and writers of all sorts—who had previously lived on their copyrights.

And let’s not forget the sheer competition for readers made possible by digital self-publishing. (That said, there are success stories, such as the one recounted here by Mark Edwards. You should note, though, that this self-publishing success follows on the heels of a not unsuccessful traditional publishing career trajectory, which I’ll discuss again in the next post.)

Well, the Boy took his music major. Today he teaches and performs and is happy doing the work he couldn’t imagine living his life without. It’s not always an easy life and it wasn’t without struggle to get it up and running—there was a point at which we were both reading and discussing Seth Godin’s book The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick)—but he’s happy. (And this makes his mother happy.)

The road is long and the way is hard, they say, but it’s not without its rewards. I’ve been living inside some version of publishing for twenty years, and I can tell you a career in writing isn’t easy. Honestly, I don’t know why anyone would pursue it … except those who can’t imagine doing anything else.

Tweet: Writing for a living: don’t do it unless you can’t imagine doing anything else.
Tweet: It’s not wise to look at Rowling or Grisham & think theirs are career paths you will follow.
Tweet: Write a best seller & make a lot of money? From a statistical view it’s not bloody likely.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Short Sunday: Until …

The word until can be a preposition (it took until late that evening to unload the truck, for example) or a conjunction (we kept unloading until it got dark) and for many years I believed the shortened version of this word was ’til. As far as I was concerned, till was something you did to arable land. With a tiller.

Until I heard a piece on the radio a few years ago. I can’t find that now, but here is an interesting post about it from Motivated Grammar:

Why would anyone spell it till if it’s coming from until? Well, it turns out that till isn’t derived from until. Till and ’til are actually two different words with two different etymologies. Till is the earlier form, attested as early as 1330; Until is actually derived from till, not the other way around as in ’til (a backformation which showed up much later).

What you can take from this, of course, is both ’til and till are acceptable. I myself tend to use the former.

Note: A software snafu kept me from working on the computer for the last thirty-six hours, but I seem to be back in business. My apologies for the delay.

 

Tweet: The word until can be a preposition or a conjunction, but there’s more to it.
Tweet: Why would anyone spell it TILL if it’s derived from UNTIL?

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Posted in Words & Language | Tagged as: , ,

The Power of a Good Book

This human interest story was on the national news last week, so you may already know about it, but I think it’s special and has a great message. More than one message, actually. It’s set in the South, from which so many good stories emanate, and it goes like this …

Born in Valdosta, Georgia (where I was born!), a boy spends his days doing the things boys do—mostly running and jumping and playing in the yard with a ball. He isn’t much of a reader, but by the time he graduates from high school (Valdosta, again) he’s an All-State, All-Dixie, All-American football star. He goes on to the University of Georgia in Athens (Go Dawgs!), where he is a star wide receiver. Everybody in Athens knows him.

Everybody, that is, except the nice lady he meets in the bookstore one day.

The bookstore? The stereotype we have of top athletes—not least American football players—doesn’t include an image of a man reading a novel. By his own admission, this football player didn’t read very well when he entered college three years ago. Who knows what makes him think he should practice reading the way he practices football, but that’s what he does. He starts reading fiction and the door to another world opens. He enjoys that world.

The football player doesn’t have years of practice choosing the next novel to read the way we longtime book enthusiasts do, though. So when he’s encouraging a friend to read for pleasure—as one does—they end up at a bookstore on a Sunday afternoon, trying to make a choice. And asking the lady standing next to them in front of the best sellers rack what she might recommend. To read. For pleasure.

An enthusiastic conversation ensues. (This is a risk one takes when one asks a reader about books.) The lady mentions the novel her book group is reading. The young man has heard of book groups. He’s long been intrigued by the phenomenon and wants to experience it himself. “May I join your book group?” he asks.

You can watch two short video clips about this football player to learn the rest of the story:

Star Football Player Steps Out of His Comfort Zone” and “A Different Side of Malcolm Mitchell.” They’re fun and inspiring and they have a great message, as I noted above.

1 A good story is a powerful thing.
I’ve written about finding that one magic book and I’ve written about how the Boy learned to read. We know the Harry Potter books “turn boys into bookworms.” And we know that reading fiction changes people, particularly young people, in measurable ways. People who grew up with books, with parents who read, know this instinctively, but not everyone is that lucky. When a young person finds a novel that makes him want to read another one, it’s a beautiful thing.

2 A bookstore fosters community.
The importance of bookstores in the community cannot be underestimated. It gives readers a place to discover new books, of course, but more than that, it brings together people from all walks of life and with all sorts of interests. Because a bookstore is a place you might go for a magazine or a newspaper, a Bible or educational materials, as well as a book, whether fiction or nonfiction. It’s a place, says novelist (and bookstore owner) Ann Patchett, “where you can take your children and let them play, and look at books … We have to raise up readers.” It’s a place where you find people meeting for book groups or for public readings. It’s a place where you run into friends.

3 Don’t be afraid to make a new friend.
We get into ruts, we do. We’ve been running around with the same bunch for the last twenty years. And sure, it’s comfortable. But if we take just one little step outside the path we’ve worn between home and work and the drycleaner, we might learn something new, might experience something wonderful, might have new opportunities for growth. I’ve had this experience myself. And look what happened to the football player!

4 Discussion enhances appreciation of a book.
How many times have you had the experience of wishing you had someone with whom to discuss the book you just read? It’s a lot easier now that we have social media, but before Facebook and Twitter, we book geeks buttonholed each other: Whad’ya think of the ending of Gone Girl? Book groups are a great way to stay intellectually stimulated and to be exposed to other opinions and ideas. In one of the videos, Malcolm notes he would never have chosen The Light Between Oceans on his own, but there he was reading it. Reading itself is a solitary thing. But discussion makes it more fun.

5 There’s always room for one more.
When you cultivate a spirit of generosity, you never know what wonderful things will grow from it. You need look no further than this story to see the truth of that.

Tweet: The bookstore: a place where you run into friends, whether you know them or not.
Tweet: The stereotype of top athletes—not least football players—doesn’t include a man & a novel.
Tweet: When a young person finds a novel that makes him want to read another, it’s beautiful.
Tweet: The Power of a Good Book: This is a risk one takes when one asks a reader about books.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Posted in Miscellany | Tagged as: , , , ,

Just Say Yes

Some years ago, I read a book called The Secrets of Six-Figure Women* by Barbara Stanny. (This is not a post about money; the book itself is about career building.) Stanny, a writer by trade, was struck by the strategies highly successful women commonly tended to implement—no matter what their field of endeavor. (Strategies like declaring intention, letting go of the ledge, and knowing where to find help.)

The point that struck me was number five: The Stretch. It can be summarized as Just say yes. For freelance writer/editors like me—and my friend, best-selling author Amy Parker—this is particularly pertinent, because clients often ask for something you haven’t included on your menu of services. You can turn the work down … or you can just say yes, and go for it.

Amy is a just-say-yes author. You remember her, don’t you? I introduced y’all a few years ago. She’s written more than one article for me and suggested topics for others. We still have a “How’s work?” meetup every few weeks.

Amy’s best known for her picture books (fiction) for kids—together they’ve sold more than half a million units—and some publishing experts have advised her to stick with what’s working. But when a publisher offered her an opportunity to write nonfiction for adults, Amy said yes. That yes led to others. And those led to Frederick.

“You need to meet Frederick,” Amy was told. “You need to help him write his story.” This yes led to Frederick: A Story of Boundless Hope, Amy’s newest book, a coauthorship with Frederick Ndabaramiye, a young man from Rwanda.

Amy’s been working on this book for three years. I wanted to know what she’d learned from saying yes to this project.

“I didn’t know what I didn’t know,” she told me over coffee. She’d just pushed an advance reader’s copy across the table, and we were discussing what a huge undertaking it had been to get this story between the covers of a book.

Releases 16 September 2014

Releases 16 September 2014

Through Amy, I’d met the irrepressible Frederick myself. I’d heard all about the best ways to communicate by phone with someone in Rwanda. (Forget Skype video, due to the sporadic Internet connection, but do use Skype minutes. Expect dropped calls. Every. Single. Time. That annoying static. And there’s the seven- to eight-hour time difference that must be allowed for.) I’d gotten all round-eyed over the speed at which Amy had gone from “I need to go to Rwanda” to “We’re [Amy, her husband, Dan, and their younger son, Ethan] going to Rwanda next week.” I’d seen the photographs of Amy’s trip to Rwanda, and heard her say she was changed by it.

But when a writing collaboration involves someone from Rwanda for whom English is a second language, and you don’t speak Kinyarwanda, there are deeper communication issues than static and dropped calls.

“Frederick’s English is very good, but I had to really work for the human aspect of the story,” Amy said. “When Frederick says ‘It made me feel bad,’ bad could mean sick, angry, or disappointed. I would listen to the whole story, ask a lot of dumb questions, explain it back to him, revise my understanding, and write, using context to construe his meanings.” Frederick’s business partner, Zacharie Dusingizimana, speaks a more formal English very well, so his help was indispensable.

There is an accent to contend with too. Imagine the last call you made to a customer service center; you may have spoken with someone whose English was good, but heavily accented. You have to pay really close attention; it can be trying. And consider that when Frederick is on the phone, he’s holding it (a flip phone) to his ear with his shoulder or the end of his arm, so sometimes the speech is muffled. Did I mention that Frederick has no hands?

You need to meet Frederick, friends. In the wake of the Rwandan genocide, a teenage Frederick lost both hands in a brutal act of terrorism. The boy knew that if he survived, the best he could ever be was a street beggar. That he lived, honestly, is a miracle.

But Frederick’s story isn’t really about the horrific things that happened to him or his arduous recovery; it’s about the extraordinary things he’s been doing since then. It’s about his yeses. With Zacharie, he founded and operates the Ubumwe Community Center—which includes a preschool and primary school—to help the disabled. Frederick calls them “people like me,” and there are more than five hundred of them at the UCC every day.

I’m so glad I read this book. Frederick is my son’s age, and his story touched my heart. I cried; I was inspired. Frederick: A Story of Boundless Hope, releases tomorrow—on 16 September 2014.

* You don’t have to be building a career to find this book useful; these are good strategies for life, full stop.

 

Tweet: Strategy for success in your endeavors—Just Say Yes!
Tweet: My friend @AmyParker said yes to a book & and adventure. It led to this.
Tweet: Frederick’s story isn’t about the horrific things; it’s about the extraordinary things—his YES.
Tweet: AmyParker’s been working on this book 3 years. Here’s what she learned from saying yes.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Posted in Authors & Other Writers, Books You Might Like | Tagged as: , , , , ,

Short Saturday: Yes, Editing Is Expensive

I’m an editor, and, yes, I am well aware I’ve given you a quote that probably made you stop breathing for a moment. (Or, usually, just not respond.) So I was delighted when I found this pair of articles from an editor I don’t know but really appreciate.

In “Why are book editors so expensive?” and “The other reason book editors are so expensive,” Belinda Pollard says there are two key misunderstandings about freelance editing:

1. Editing a book takes longer than people think.

2. The fee isn’t an editor’s salary.

Yes, it takes a long time to edit a book well. (Which is the only way I intend to do it. In my opinion, there are no shortcuts.) I read a manuscript twice before I start to write the notes. By the time I’ve finished the notes (this often takes me a week), I’ve usually read the manuscript a third time, and some parts of it many more than that.

Regarding the second point, I don’t generally like to discuss this, since it sounds like a complaint (and I don’t intend it to be)—but yes, for example, the entity who is paying my employer’s withholding taxes is, you know, me. The entity who contributes matching funds to my 401K retirement fund is me. The entity who provides my business equipment is, again, me. If you have a corporate job, your employer pays for these things.

Read these articles. Think about it. I’ll save my rant for another time. :)

Tweet: Why yes! Yes, editing IS expensive! What are time and expertise worth?
Tweet: What is your time worth? It takes a long time to edit a book well.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Posted in The Book Biz, Your Editor Says … | Tagged as: , ,

Have You Read All These?

“My library was dukedom large enough …”
—The Tempest, act 1, scene 2 (Prospero)

Have you read all these? I used to hear that a lot from visitors when I was younger. Now I pretty much only hang out with other readers, who have no trouble believing that one person might actually have read as many books as they can see in my living room. I got an early start.

I am certain by now you understand I have … well, a book problem. Like Nick Hornby—who has, since 2003, been writing a monthly column for Believer magazine called “Stuff I’ve Been Reading,” which documents both books read and books purchased—I frequently buy more books than I can read. Or than I do read before I buy more.

This leads to the TBR (To Be Read) pile phenomenon. I’ve always had one. When I was young, it was small (maybe ten books). Now it’s probably a hundred books, and after reading this article (“In Defense of the TBR Pile”) at Bookriot, I am no longer ashamed to say so. I’ll get to them eventually. :)

I find these books—the TBRs—by reading book reviews, by browsing the bookstore, by talking with friends about books. Mostly by reading reviews—which includes reading books about books. No, really. Take those Nick Hornby columns: they’ve been collected into four (so far) books:

The Polysyllabic Spree (2004)
Housekeeping vs. The Dirt (2006)
Shakespeare Wrote for Money (2008)
More Baths Less Talking (2012)

I love Hornby anyway, but I truly enjoy these essays about books. And they’re not the only ones I own. I’m not talking about books about the writing life or author biographies or memoirs, though I’ve got those too. No, this is straight up nonfiction: books about books.* For example:

Caldecott & Co.: Notes on Books and Pictures (Maurice Sendak)
Ex Libris (Anne Fadiman)
One for the Books (Joe Queenan)
Reading Diary, A (Alberto Manguel)
Reading Lolita in Tehran (Azar Nafisi)
Reading the World (Ann Morgan)
Shelf, The (Phyllis Rose)
84 Charing Cross Road (Helene Hanff)

My recent reading of Joe Queenan’s One for the Books added several to my “have a look at these” list.

So, yes, I have read all those books. And while I’m fond of my books, I wouldn’t call myself a collector. You’ll see hardbacks and paperbacks side by side on my shelves, and while on occasion I might delight in a particularly special book, a first edition, a signed copy, I’m just as happy with one I’ve read, enjoyed, and marked up. (Yes, I write in my books. This may upset some of you and please others.) I love those beat-up mass market paperbacks from my high school days, when that was all I could afford.

Hornby writes (in The Polysyllabic Spree),

Books are, let’s face it, better than everything else. If we played cultural Fantasy Boxing League, and made books go 15 rounds in the ring against the best that any other art form had to offer, then books would win pretty much every time. Go on, try it. The Magic Flute v. Middlemarch? Middlemarch in six. The Last Supper v. Crime and Punishment? Fyodor on point. And every now and again you’d get a shock, because that happens in sport, so Back to the Future III might land a lucky punch on Rabbit, Run; but I’m still backing literature 29 times out of 30.

I don’t know … I’m pretty fond of Mozart. But I have been known to say that if I hold a book in one hand and the television remote in the other, the book wins every time. And reading books about books? Yes, it increases the TBR pile. And I’m OK with that.

Hey! Have you read all these?

Hey! Have you read all these?

*This is a significant category, it seems. Consider: Bibliotopia (Steven Gilbar); Book Lover, The (Ali Smith); Book Lust (Nancy Pearl); Gentle Madness, A (Nicholas Basbanes); Sixpence House (Paul Collins); Whole Five Feet, The (Christopher Beha) … and that’s just a sampling.

 

Tweet: Certainly you understand I have a book problem. I often buy more books than I can read.
Tweet: “My library was dukedom large enough …” Hey—have you read all these?

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Posted in Books You Might Like | Tagged as: ,

The Case for Procrastination

OK, not really. True procrastination is driven by fear; it accomplishes very little and sometimes makes things worse. But this is what I really mean: a few weeks ago I spent ninety minutes in my precious after-work hours on a blog post I ultimately decided I just couldn’t make work. I went to bed discouraged, thinking, What a waste! The next morning after some idle tea-sipping, I mentally stumbled on the hook that would make it work after all.

Because I wasn’t really idle, and I wasn’t procrastinating. I was thinking. (Annnnd drinking tea at the kitchen table and watching the birds at the feeder.) The problem with thinking, of course, is the activity isn’t visible. Sometimes others—bosses, spouses, Facebook friends—judge us, claim we’re procrastinating. Heck, sometimes we judge ourselves: not doing enough, not doing it fast enough, not crossing off everything on that to-do list.

Stop the madness, kids.

Here’s what might look like procrastination in my office: checking e-mail, looking in on Facebook, or sitting in front of a jigsaw puzzle. What they really are, though, are pressure valves. Editing (particularly copyediting) can be intense work; sometimes you just need to look away for a minute. Most of the time, a literal “look away”—from the document to TweetDeck, say—is enough. If you find a jigsaw puzzle on my dining room table, though, it’s a safe assumption that my stress level is very high.

Mistakes happen when you get so busy you don’t have time to think. And I don’t mean missing a comma or failing to see an important plot point or not crafting a perfect sentence. I mean things like sending a brusque e-mail that should have been softer, or interpreting a message from a business associate completely and utterly incorrectly (and, it follows, responding completely and utterly incorrectly).

It may look like procrastination when I delay writing that e-mail one more day (and if, in that day, the issue is settled without my having had to say anything, so much the better). It may look like procrastination when I delay firing off an e-mail answer (but after a cup of tea, a shower, or a good night’s rest I come up with a much better response).

It may look like procrastination, but I’ve learned that stepping away—from a project, a problem—is a good solution for me. A viable solution. Sometimes I just “hit a wall”; stepping away is mental health preservation. Sometimes I’m too stinkin’ busy with deadlines to deal; I’m prioritizing. And sometimes that thing I ignore resolves itself while I’m looking away.

So here’s how procrastination works if you’re in the writing pursuit. Or, at least, this is what it looks like for me. Creative work—no matter how rewarding or delightful or fun you find it—is intense. Hard work. You need downtime to process and prepare. (Julia Cameron calls this “filling the creative well.”)

I enjoy writing, and I look forward to the hours I’ve scheduled to do it. But if I find myself scrolling through my notes without actually writing, I stop. I’ve even found I end up with a better blog post if I write two-thirds of it, then come back and finish later. Or stop when I’m stuck, anyway, no matter how far along the piece is. If it’s not flowing, I just stop. Tomorrow (or later today) it will definitely flow; of that I have no doubt.

I think surrender is a key concept in the procrastination method of production. Too much forced-march forward motion—in writing, editing, e-mail answering, or anything else on your to-do list—too much intentionality can be counterproductive. And too much guilt for not pushing on right this minute is too.

Tomorrow really is another day. Think about it.

Note: For an interesting article about the thinking life, check out this podcast at Science Friday. And for a whole blog devoted to procrastination, see here.

 

Tweet: I wasn’t really idle, & I wasn’t really procrastinating. I was thinking.
Tweet: The case for procrastination: Mistakes happen when you get so busy there’s no time to think.
Tweet: The case for procrastination. As if you needed one. :)

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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