Musings on Genres, Shame, and Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?

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Genre Wheel from Good Reads Wheel-A-Thon

I don’t tell my ‘academic’ colleagues that I write fiction. I don’t talk much about my non-fiction writing to my fiction-writing community. I LOVE e-readers because they don’t reveal whether I’m reading a steamy romance, popular history, angst-ridden literary novel, nineteenth-century article on hospitals, or an idiot’s guide to something technical that even my nine-year-old already knows how to do.

Why do I do this? Why hide my reading and writing habits? Am I ashamed of something? Scared? Yes, of course. But of what?

In switching between genres I’m scared of crossing social boundaries—of entering unknown, perhaps even unfriendly, territory; of not knowing the rules of acceptable behavior; of feeling like an outsider; of being judged, teased, criticized, left out . . . wait, this is starting to sound like conversations I’ve been having with my daughter about playground interactions.

So, does this mean genres are the literary equivalent of  cliques? Hmmm. Bear with me for a little while on this.

First off, I’m not saying cliques (or genres) are good or bad in and of themselves. They exist. I’m also not interested in examining the varying characteristics of different literary genres. I do want to examine how we use them, what we potentially get from them, and what we lose by them. [Read more…]

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About Jeanne Kisacky

Jeanne Kisacky trained to be an architect before going back to her first love--writing. She studied the history of architecture, has written and published nonfiction, and has taught college courses. She currently fights valiantly to keep her writing time despite the demands of a day-job, a family, and a very particular cat.

Literary Hypochondria

night_sky_by_petr28It is daunting to be an unpublished writer amidst the stellar cast of this blog site’s regular contributors. It is even more so when in their actual presence. At the UnConference in Salem I recently had the pleasure of meeting a number of the regular blog contributors, and of hearing their insight, wisdom, and practical guidance for writing good fiction. Each of the sessions was valuable, each had a takeaway, each was enjoyable, and each was top notch. And yet, processing the sum total of all that input proved a challenge I was not quite ready for. By the middle of the conference, the sneaking thought in the back of my mind that had been plaguing me for months was becoming less sneaky. Should I give up trying to be a writer? Would I be better if I stopped?

The first days of the conference were exhilarating. I went to numerous sessions and I left each one jazzed about the new strategies for curing my ailing manuscript. I stole time in the evenings to apply the recommended literary treatments. I reworked the first page, to give it story questions and draw the reader in. I looked for the story underlying the plot as a means of better focusing the scenes. I strengthened the inciting incident in my protagonist’s past, which kept him from getting what he desired in the present. I made sure each page had microtension. I analyzed my deepest fears to find the place where my voice would come from and tried to focus that onto the page.

By the third day of this inundation I went to sleep believing that all I had to do was continue to apply the proper dosage of the various literary ‘treatments’ and my story would soon be glowing in healthiness. My manuscript would be cured. I woke up in the middle of that night and knew, with the absolute terrified certainty that only comes with three a.m., that in fact I wasn’t curing my manuscript. I was treating it, yes, but in a manner that looked only at individual symptoms and not at the bigger picture.

I had become a literary hypochondriac. [Read more…]

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About Jeanne Kisacky

Jeanne Kisacky trained to be an architect before going back to her first love--writing. She studied the history of architecture, has written and published nonfiction, and has taught college courses. She currently fights valiantly to keep her writing time despite the demands of a day-job, a family, and a very particular cat.

On the Many Dreams of Writing

Choice_by_vladstudioLately, I’ve been feeling like my life is living me. I have dreamed of being able to make a living as a writer since I was a teenager, but after several years of being a stay-at-home parent/part-time writer, I have recently taken on a new day job. Since I started spending a large chunk of my time in an office, I have been struggling with the feeling that I have given up on my dream of being a writer.

During the early months of my new job, when that feeling was particularly strong, a couple comments on a benign post on the Writer Unboxed Facebook group nearly brought me to despair. The post asked people to tell how long they’d been working on their WIP. The answers varied–from weeks to months to years. Some commenters expressed the opinion that spending years on a work without publication was a waste of time. I have been working on the same unpublished work for several years, so that comment hit hard.

I’ve spent the last few months arguing with that commenter in my head. This post is my answer, and an explanation of why it bothered me so much. [Read more…]

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About Jeanne Kisacky

Jeanne Kisacky trained to be an architect before going back to her first love--writing. She studied the history of architecture, has written and published nonfiction, and has taught college courses. She currently fights valiantly to keep her writing time despite the demands of a day-job, a family, and a very particular cat.

Love Every Word

loveveryword-neoformix04022014Everyone who writes likely has a favorite book (or a hundred). And within those favorite books are favorite passages. My most often-revisited books fall open to specific pages, the ‘good parts’–those which hit an emotional high, or which spark a resonance within me, or even those that had me so completely enraptured in their literary spell that I forgot myself.  I have re-read those passages so many times that they have become a part of my writerly being, and the best I can hope as a writer is that someday, someone’s well-loved copy of my book will fall open to a certain page.

Those ‘good parts’ provide important lessons. I am currently revising a project that has been in progress for more than a decade. I have set it aside for years at a time, unable to find the secret magic that would make it what I believed it should be. But this time around, I finally feel like I’ve found the work’s soul. The magic secret was to set only one clear goal in editing–to treat every passage, every sentence, every word, as a ‘good part.’ This requires looking at the work from the ‘inside,’ not the ‘outside.’

In prior attempts to revise this work, I had edited it with various specific goals in mind, all of which had to do with the work as seen from the outside. I was editing to reduce its scale or simplify the overall structure in order to make it ‘acceptable.’ This editing approach was the product of fear and uncertainty. The first (admittedly bloated and awful) draft was roughly 300,000 words. I cut it down to 220,000 and sent it to rather shocked beta readers. I cut some more. I watched other writers’ reactions when I mentioned it was down to 200,000 words, and I became focused on length. I was looking at the work as a product, something to be fit into a package. And it wasn’t fitting. I tried to make it fit, by breaking it into two volumes. But then there was no satisfactory ending to part one. I tried streamlining the plot, cutting characters, but the story lost its heart.

Now, I am doing what I should have done from the beginning. [Read more…]

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About Jeanne Kisacky

Jeanne Kisacky trained to be an architect before going back to her first love--writing. She studied the history of architecture, has written and published nonfiction, and has taught college courses. She currently fights valiantly to keep her writing time despite the demands of a day-job, a family, and a very particular cat.

How to Work Smoothly with a Graphic Artist, Part Two

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Colin Harman, 2010.

This is the second of a two-part post that provides basic advice for writers on how to work with a graphic artist.  In the first post I covered knowing what you want, finding the right graphic artist, and the basic graphic design process. In this installment, I will outline money issues and mention a few potential landmines to be aware of in graphics.

Money Matters

Probably the biggest hurdle to working with a graphic designer is the matter of payment. Money is hard to come by, and there are plenty of demands on it. Here are some suggestions for how to talk money with a designer.

Set a Budget. The best thing you can do to make money less of an issue while working with a graphic designer is to make a completely honest assessment of the funds you have available for design and be clear with your prospective designer as to budget amounts and flexibility or inflexibility. If you only have $100 and there will be no chance for that to increase, ask the designer if it’s possible to get the product you are interested in for that amount and no more. Plus, be sure to pick a payment strategy (see the list below) that works with not only the level of money available, but the flexibility of that amount.

Fee Strategies. There are a number of different strategies for how a designer charges for their work (for example check out this post). Choosing the right money relationship depends on how much work you are looking for, how flexible your budget, and how flexible the designer is on payment options, and the size and flexibility of the designer/design firm you are hiring: [Read more…]

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About Jeanne Kisacky

Jeanne Kisacky trained to be an architect before going back to her first love--writing. She studied the history of architecture, has written and published nonfiction, and has taught college courses. She currently fights valiantly to keep her writing time despite the demands of a day-job, a family, and a very particular cat.