Thursday, February 4, 2010

Oh Seriously, You're Gonna Make Mistakes, You're Young

What's that, I finally realized  there was a new post editor I could upgrade to on blogger? Why did it take me this long Astonishing!

From this post onward, I'll be using more of the features more easily accessible through the new post editor for some pretty sweet new formatting elements. Plus, I'm planning on renovating and overhauling this blog this year. It's 2010. I think it's time. You may have noticed the slight change to the main title - though I don't have a novel on shelves yet, I am technically published; a step beyond merely 'aspiring.'

And look at this, easy jump breaks! Now I can post without clogging the entire front page of the blog up with massive text-walls! (You have to click the post to get to the rest of the wall.)

Now, let's take a look at a variety of goals I'm setting in 2010 for this blog, for myself professionally, and personally. I've been saying "This is gonna be a big year!" every year since I launched Spiral Reverie back in 2007. Granted, each of these years have had their own "big" moments to qualify them as such. But as a professional writer, I'm especially set on 2010 being a big step forward into that "real world" I always hear people talking about. (That doesn't really exist, you know - it's just how people rationalize their misery in adulthood.)

Holy crap, time for a rough bulleted list of my goals for 2010! (You never saw these before because my HTML is incredibly rusty and I was never very good at these.)
  • Find Representation. 
  • Get Project 27 Days published as soon as reasonably feasible.
  • Enter Short Story Contests.
  • Produce regular new short stories?
  • Complete as much as I can of Project Princess.
  • Spiral Rever-Renovations! / Improve Traffic/Marketing
  • Pursue Novel-Marketing Ideas
  • Find Enjoyable Work/Get out of North Carolina/Get my life out of this hole
  • Refill that Music Void
Break-Break-Break It Down!

Yes, number one is, by far, finding an agent willing to represent me. Someone who believes in my work and will get behind it 110%. (Or 200% - or any other arbitrary percentage exceeding 100%.) Within the next day or two, I'll be closing out the month by sending out my first two query letters to possible agents - I'll probably either get a response (Or none, indicating to move on.) within the next 4-6 weeks following that, so if I hear anything, it'll be between late February and early March. After researching a variety of successful query letters, I've done the best I feel I can with the query-writing process at this point. If the two I'm contacting end up rejecting me - as is far more likely than not, given the odds of any given agent accepting you as a nobody out of left field - hopefully they'll at least give me some advice or direction to further refine my process or point me toward anyone or any group in particular that they'd think might possibly be more interested in representing me. At this point, taking my first step forward into the professional world where money is at stake, I need all the direction I can get as I learn more about the industry and how to thrive there.

Publishing's the next big step if I manage to get an agent this year. The agent search itself is new, uncertain territory to explore, but hopefully territory I won't have to spend too much time (Ideally not years.) struggling through. I have one particular publisher in mind that I think 27 Days would be well suited for, but I don't have any other specific ones in mind yet. Beggars can't exactly be choosers when it comes to publishing, but in the least, having one publisher in mind that strikes me as possibly giving me more of a shot than others isn't a bad place to start, methinks. Any other further ideas would come from actual dialogue with an agent - the professional back and forth I haven't experienced yet, which I'm really looking forward to.

I was actually going to enter an NPR short story contest last year but didn't quite manage to finish the story by the deadline. The subject was interesting, centered on capturing a very brief moment and drawing the reader completely into its essence. You had to be able to read the story in its entirety in three or so minutes, if I recall correctly. I like what I wrote for it, but it's still incomplete - I might complete it and do something with it at some point. Not sure what just yet. But in only having been published once a year and a half ago now, I need to pad my writing resume and qualifications by entering more contests - if I can at least place or pull off some honorable mentions, even that would be something. So this is going to be a major focus this year - producing content for and entering both contests with paid and free entry.

In addition to that, I'm thinking that I should start writing more short stories in this blog as well, challenging myself to start writing an original short story or two every month as opposed to just around various holidays. Perhaps with more than just the weird and whimsical going for them. This is a fiction writer's blog, after all, and while those of you who've stuck around know - and have hopefully enjoyed - the eclectic subjects I babble about, I feel like I should step up my fiction writing content here to see if I can draw some more interest from more of the blogging community of my fellow writers. As an introvert, I've never exactly excelled at networking, so to me, it's impressive that any of you read this thing at all. As part of more of the general overhaul work I'm doing on Spiral Reverie this year, focusing my writing a bit more on stories - not that I intend to drop all the other subjects, mind you - as so to work on fitting in more with fellow writers on the intersphere and hopefully developing some more contacts. Networking and marketing are very important to professional writers, after all. If I'm going to go anywhere - as I'm deadset on - I can't let myself remain adrift forever.

Project Princess is a very different sort of story from 27 Days, though I'm hoping that similar audiences will find great enjoyment in both. The writing process is divided quite a bit from 27 Days in that where 27 Days was written around a structure of a certain number of days - each chapter following an entire day - roughly ten single-spaced pages each, I don't have anywhere near as rigid a skeletal structure with Project Princess. Writing itself is an organic process wherein the characters ultimately take over the consciousness of the story and dictate the events to the writer. This happened with 27 Days, and a lot of things happened - including an additional chapter and epilogue - that were not in the original planning or vision. The work took on a life of its own, as they say. I expect the same will happen with Project Princess, and everything else I write, for that matter. But as it stands, I'm not trying to set a certain number of single-spaced pages for each chapter in this second novel - I'm going to let the writing simply take itself wherever it needs to go and see how the chapters end up dividing themselves. I'm using more of a theatrical approach to the chapter infrastructure this time, dividing up each arc into an "Act" and each chapter into a "Scene," much like 27 Days' "The (Number) Day" chapter structure. Once I get further into the novel - now that I'm working on it in earnest - I'll probably get more comfortable with this structure, and hopefully won't end up with something as riskily long as 27 Days turned out. (Though debut novels as long as 27 Days have been published and succeeded before. So while it's not going to be easy, it's not a hopeless situation either. I believe in the strength of the story and characters.) The matter of setting as character - something I explore in all of my novels so far - is being approached differently in Project Princess as well, with a lot of discussion of the setting's history, politics, and the conflict between popular myth and historical fact. I'm hoping that'll add a level of depth and intrigue to really bring the reader into Project Princess's world.

Time to talk Spiral Reverie blog renovations. As visuals and layouts go, people like and tend to need variety and change - this is something I have neglected as a blogger, not being particularly great at web and visual design. In fact, Spiral Reverie as it still appears now was never really intended to continue with this this rather barebones, amateur layout. I ended up preoccupied with producing at least semi-regular substantive content (Substantive to the point at which I'm sure it turns off a lot of potential readers - as a blogger, writer, and aspiring novelist hard at work to make the writing success thing happen, I have a lot to say, obviously - though I don't plan on discontinuing these ultra-long, substantive posts, either. Just to supplement them with shorter, more readable ones more often.) and never really got around to redesigning the blog's look.

Now that I've finally begun actively looking into working on overhauling Spiral Reverie, I've started hitting some new walls. For one, template issues. Like most, I don't particularly want to have a blog that looks like so many others. I'm more interested in keeping something completely fresh and unique going, using either some photos or some original visual art for the backgrounds and overall visual blog flavor. Unfortunately, none of the default blogger templates are particularly unique or appealing. And while there's some neat ones on other template sites, rather than using one of those, I'd much rather have something completely unique and original for myself. Thus, here is where my problems begin.

Compared to growing competition from blog networks like Wordpress, Blogger seems to be falling quite a ways behind in terms of ease of attractive visual customization. The basic options we get in terms of layout and customization are simple and attractive, but at the same time dated, amateur, and in no way easy to do anything overly unique or elaborate with. My general problems here come down to that I've never been great with visual aesthetics, let alone any kind of web design - a personal weakness. And in order to pull off something more impressive on Blogger, it seems like you really do need fairly advanced HTML knowledge, to be able to code your own template. A lot is left to be desired by the user friendliness in Blogger web design, especially considering how much web design doesn't tend to require advanced HTML or CSS knowledge these days.

At this point, I'm not even sure what kind of visual theme I'd like to go with - some kind of artistic photography, urban night photography, deep space/galaxy images, the night sky, blurred lights around a nighttime cityscape, and snowbound themes have crossed my mind - let alone where I'd begin to start on things like this. I'm at a loss as to where to even begin in regard to an interesting original background image or how to implement it in a way that isn't distracting or obtrusive, but rather complementary. Frustrating as it is, and as much as I'd really like to completely visually overhaul Spiral Reverie, my own skills are completely lacking to the point of seriously limiting what I'm capable of changing here. I'd probably need to work with a professional web designer to pull off the kind of template and changes I want, and from what I've seen, professional web design for blogs like this isn't cheap - not the kind of money I have to begin with, let alone the kind I have the ability to throw around on something like a blog overhaul.

As is, I like the shades of gray and what these simple colors stand for to me, but it's also obvious after all these years that it's not a visually appealing configuration that's going to draw many readers and make them want to stick around. Gray-on-gray just doesn't do it for most people, so I may see if I can slightly change some of the colors on here soon for a better contrast. There's a lot of very simple blog designs out there that look great despite their visual simplicity on account of a great set of contrasting colors. Obviously, even doing that is not exactly my forte, but in the meantime, I'd like to try to move toward a more workable color configuration.

And as I said, as much as I want this blog to thrive on substantive, worthwhile writing, I have facts to face up to. Most of my posts are intimidatingly long - to the point of undoubtedly driving off numerous potential readers. I need to work on writing with more brevity, less epic Hulk Smash posts that might drive most potential readers off entirely. I won't weed those out entirely, as they're still my meat and potatoes in many ways, but I need to work on padding this blog with much more frequent short posts - those are what seem to drive the best blogs, and like all writers, I need readers. (Not that I don't appreciate every one of you who makes a point of dropping by here, whether with regularity or merely on occasion, and whether you comment or not. Someday, you can all say you were reading this weirdo before the rest of the world became aware of his astounding genius and feel superior. It would be wrong for you not to do this.) And the fact is, the current bare-bones, amateur look of the blog with this gray color scheme isn't doing me any favors. I want something complex - but not baroque - and appealing in its subtlety. Difficult.

Being nothing of a graphic designer, visuals are not my forte. I don't own a camera, and the kind of photography I'd like to do, I can't due to not having a driver's license or car and living in a city where there isn't really much of an urban landscape to work with. As cities go, North Carolina is one of the least interesting states for urban architecture and art photography. I could try my hand at drawing some things - I really need an original banner and would like to at least put one of those together soon, but I'm not even quite sure where to start in making a good one of those - but I can't really draw with the mouse, either. (Not to mention, my current mouse is gradually breaking on me.) If I'm going to pursue any kind of drawing work on my computer, I need to pick up a writing/drawing tablet at some point. And in general, I need to gradually shift over to and adopt a blog layout that'll make for easy integration with a future website when I finally get hosting and a domain name for an actual author website. As an amateur web designer at best, I have my work cut out for me. I can't really look for any professional design help until after I've made it professionally, and - one can only hope - made enough of a splash to have a publisher's marketing arm working with me on improving things like this blog's overall look. In the least, having learned to use Photoshop in the past, I'm going to try to refresh myself on a free alternative like Gimp sometime soon and see if I can get comfortable with image editing on that. Marketing is both the job of the author and the publisher, after all, and you need to work together. As it stands, I'm still on the farthest fringes of the literary world as published authors go, and if luck isn't on my side, it may be another year or two before I have a real chance at getting something on bookstore shelves.

In addition to this focus on trying to update the look of this blog to something more appealing to draw more readers, I'm planning on beginning another post type or two here soon. In the least, I'm going to be discussing a few fun little browser games that're great for zoning out and relaxing to in an upcoming post, and I'm thinking of starting a regular feature highlighting some interesting videos from sites like YouTube. Not exactly my content exactly, and it's an idea I've shied away from in the past year, but it would technically still be more blog content and more to discuss in terms of areas of interest. I need to do more movie posts - there's a returning major cinema feature returning from last year next week - and start bringing in music discussion too, as I've been meaning to for some time. If I ever get a webcam at some point, I may take a crack at some surreal comedy sketch vlog-type things too if I can figure out video editing software enough.

If I'm going to make any headway with agents or publishers, I need to be able to demonstrate that I've put some real thought into marketing, too, as authors are expected to be actively engaged in the marketing of their work these days. And you'd really need a pretty notable out the door hit on your hands if you're going to get the book tour/TV appearance treatment, as many to most authors never get at all and I'm certainly not expecting. These days, the internet and social networking venues are vital to developing a presence as a new writer - something I've been working on for years and continue to, seeing as Spiral Reverie itself isn't exactly getting hundreds of hits every day, and not always even in the double digits on bad days - and as an internet addict, it should be plenty viable for me to make use of as many outlets as I can to develop more of a presence, as difficult as it can be to get attention for your creative work when competing with a sea of others also similarly tuned into "LOOK AT ME!" mode. (Doesn't help that I'm an introvert by nature, either - that makes me more naturally inclined to avoid attention than work myself half to death in seeking it.) And so, it seems to me that the main places to focus these days, where I could ideally do my end of the marketing, would be Facebook, Twitter, and video sites, which I don't have any experience in broadcasting on yet. I figure that would be something to work with professional publishing marketers on, putting together content for YouTube, Vimeo, Dailymotion, et al. I've got the aforementioned sort of surreal vlogging spoof ideas, possibly some video Q&A type stuff assuming anybody notices that I and my work exist at all (And if that fails, there'd be all kinds of marketing issues at play, no doubt.), perhaps some attempts at a few sort of promotional viral comedy videos promoting the book, and maybe a novel trailer video or two with some good music. Those have been springing up in recent years as well and seem like interesting multimedia approaches to book marketing. Something possibly worth pursuing.

I'm not exactly maximizing what I should ideally be able to get out of Twitter and blogging yet either. I finally broke 100 followers on Twitter recently, though how many of them are actual active users and human beings, I can't say. And I just recently hit 30 open followers here on Blogger recently as well - milestones for me, but as a writer, naturally, my goals are much loftier. I haven't even made any lists yet on Twitter. Clearly that's a hurdle I need to overcome. Perhaps doing something more with it than just stalking a few celebrities, webcomic artists, and comedians I like. I've been wanting to get a unique background for Twitter, too, as many have. I'll be launching a Facebook reader/fan page at some point when I've actually got a publisher and release date for Project 27 Days, too. Social networking is kind of a funny thing when you have virtually no social life. Something that needs remedying as well, but really can't be until I've gotten out of Raleigh and begun a new life of sorts elsewhere.

At the moment, I'm still debating seriously trying to create a couple of comedy blogs this year run by fictitious characters on Blogger and Twitter. I first got into Twitter to follow a viral comedy character from Something Awful's video game review parody Flash Tub series Gaming Guyz, and I've liked the idea of creating internet social media-based comedy characters, since that sort of thing has gained a lot of popularity lately, particularly considering the recent followings Tremendous News' Twitter characters have gotten. It's one thing to create characters like this, however, and another to successfully take them viral. If successful, such characters could help in establishing more of a web presence and up traffic to this blog, and as an utter nobody as a writer still, I need traffic. There's a lot of things to take into account, however - both Tremendous News and Something Awful already have big established followings. When you've already got a popular, successful site going, it's not hard to launch successful viral comedy ventures on a service like Twitter. I, on the other hand, have never been particularly good at advertising or marketing my own work because I feel like going around to every website I could and spamming about it - as some certainly do - is incredibly obnoxious and I would feel embarrassed trying to canvas for my own work that way. It's hard to get any kind of even decent-profile - as high-profile's probably realistically out of the question - exposure to original characters if you're a complete nobody and no one would notice original meta social networking/blog comedy like that. Attempting to launch sort of comedy mascot characters of sorts like that and having it fail because you're a nobody and no one would care about these characters to begin with wouldn't look so good in the long run. And I'm not sure whether additional blogs would be too much, or if it'd be better just sticking with Twitter as a platform for weird absurdist character-based internet comedy. There's a lot of factors to weigh, and as it stands, because I'm in no way a professional web designer, every corner of the internet I run looks embarrassingly amateur.

As for getting unstuck both geographically and in life, I've begun expanding my job search to the west coast. Appealing as New York and New England in general are to me, I need to spend more of my life traveling the world, seeing different places, and living in different parts of the country. (I've been considering Toronto, too, but it's hard to say how easy it would be immigrating to Canada and finding affordable housing and a job I'd enjoy while living somewhere I don't really know anybody. As is, finding enjoyable work I'd be well suited too is tough since I'm already in my mid-twenties and still haven't held a paying job, though one would hope becoming a published novelist would add something meaningful to a resume.) California's similarly as expensive as the northeast - particularly San Francisco and LA, the most intriguing - but while I wouldn't have the cold, snowy climate I'd really like, it would be a massive cultural departure from the southeast. Something I've needed for as long as I've lived down here.

A good friend of mine moved to San Francisco for grad school the better part of a year ago now, and he's had nothing but great things to say about that part of the country, even directed me to Berkeley as a potentially more affordable area of the San Francisco Bay area to look into. I do need to be open-minded. The future - everything I want, everything that's possible, even the prospect of success itself - is big, bold, and scary. But I want to stop fearing success, be more assertive, get out of here and out there in the world, and live life, regardless of how badly the economy's crashing. I am trying to take a relatively recession-proof approach to my creative ambitions.

Lastly, on music. I picked up the cello back in 4th grade when I still lived in Ohio, then had to quit for a year until I had access to a music program at school from 6th to 8th grade. I quit after that, not having had time in my high school schedule to continue - and I was under a lot of pressure to continuously improve at rates that were really damaging my enjoyment of musicianhood. Since then, no longer playing music has left a void in my life, and I've wanted to try writing my own for the longest time. I spent some time messing around with free midi sequencers back when I was thirteen or so, but never quite got to that point of comfort with them where I could bring the kinds of music I had in my head to life. I'm still young, the window hasn't shut on the part of my life where I could feasibly get good enough at an instrument or two to begin writing my own music hasn't closed yet.

Music is vital to me as a writer, as well. I can feel great music in my veins when listening to it. It consumes and inspires me, and helps to serve as sort of a pathway for my imagination to travel when writing, creating moods, and constructing characters. Given my past with music, I know that within me the capacity to create and contribute worthwhile music to the world exists. It's just a matter of exploring that path while it's still a viable option. And I need to blog about it more often - I just haven't as much yet, probably in part due to how many hipster blogs there are out there all about the music scene. I'm too nerdy to be a hipster - too authentically nerdy instead of ironically, oh no! - and while I have some amused curiosities about that subculture, I'm more inclined to make fun of them in my writing. But there's no denying that they have the music blog scene completely locked up. (At least, when it comes to the kinds of music I listen to.)

As long as I'm still alive, I want to pursue as many creative projects as I can - I've got well-developed ideas for a humorous comic book series, a number of comedy sketches, some humorous mascot characters (At least one of whom I'm hoping to visually get to the point of introducing in some capacity in the coming years. I'd try my hand at bringing cartoony doodles to this blog, but I lack a writing/drawing tablet, and that would really be the best way to approach that sort of thing at this point.), and even an absurdist comedy film script in mind that I'll probably tackle formally writing after I finish Project Princess and get to work on my already-planned third novel. (On top of all this, I'm also writing an iPhone/iPod Touch game my older brother is programming as well. There will be coverage of that here when there are things to show.) So while my main goal is to be - and to define myself as - a novelist, I'm also pretty much shooting for the stars by wanting to be this eclectic weirdo who's created in numerous mediums. A novelist (Hopefully a good one) with fingers in many pies, you could say, writing all sorts of things and dabbling in all these media. I am a nerd and a pop culture junkie who loves film, television, music, and comedy as well as literature, and I want to try everything I can while I'm still kicking around on this still-habitable rock.

Ambitious though this all is, it's not like I have much of a personal life to get in the way of pursuing my lofty ambitions. At the moment as I write this, I'm a complete nobody in his mid-twenties still living at home with his parents who hasn't accomplished much. I may not be able to pull off all - or possibly even most - of what I want to accomplish in my life. But there's something to be said for trying. For writing that dumb movie script and chucking it out there. For figuring out which kind of guitar or synthesizer keyboard is most appealing and going from the very basics to seeing if I can master them to the point of instinct and learn to compose my own music. For establishing enough of a name for myself as a writer in whatever media I can - primarily as a novelist, obviously, my core - to hopefully make some contacts with people in comedy and comics and collaborate with. That's what the internet and social networking are all about, after all - creative people getting together and collaborating. And cooped up inside as an antisocial introvert with no paid work yet in his mid-twenties in the south, far away from the major cities where things are actually happening (Where you want to be as a creative person.), I'm not starting from the greatest place. But it's hardly the end of the world, and hardly a brick wall.

I've spent the earlier half of my twenties mostly isolated and working on projects and school. At this rate, grad school probably isn't going to happen at any point - at least, not any point soon. I may as well set my sights high and get my life on track for something meaningful, substantive, and ideally financially sustainable.

There, everybody's token late winter season suffusion of talk about life, my ambitions, and the future. I have to do at least one of these posts a year. Here's hoping I actually accomplish some things this year. There's a lot I want and need to do and I'm turning twenty-six in two and a half months. I need to get my life on track.


livenomad said...

LOL, I didnt know about the post editor, thanks. Am a bit more behind than you are with the technology. Its good to set goals, it sets a perspective to the larger picture instead of bumbling along not knowing where our overall destination is. Good on you for doing this and getting on with planning your next novel/s. I should do this soon as well to help kick start the new year. :)

Benjamin Fennell said...

No problem, haha. I have no idea how far behind I was, but it's a nice upgrade, to say the least.

Indeed. I've got a lot of goals and a lot of things I want to do with my life in general, but I'm going to take a shot at accomplishing as much of the above as possible. I figure it's worthwhile to try to take stock and get a little perspective at least once a year, anyway. To reorient myself, as we all need to. I have a good 4-5 novels roughly planned out at this point, and by the time I'm finished with those, I'm sure I'll have just as many more fairly plotted out as well. Good idea. It definitely helps to clear your head a bit. Gives me more to think about and focus on while waiting for agent responses. :)