Less Than Smart

Less Than Smart

Explosion
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Have you ever watched wedding shows and laughed at the couples for their decisions? Do you think you could make better choices? That you’re smart enough to plan things differently and avoid certain pitfalls or mistakes? Maybe you’re in the middle of planning a wedding right now, and you have notebooks and binders full of lists, diagrams, tabs, and contingencies (not a bad idea given the current Apocalypse situation the world finds itself in). You and your potential spouse are intelligent, and you’re determined to prove yourselves smarter than all of those people.

Been there, done that – failed epically.

Our wedding was November 14th. And while I will admit the ceremony and reception went off without a hitch (okay, tiny hitch – he forgot his vows downstairs and had to run down to get them), everything leading up to those hours? Colossal disaster. And definitely not in any of the notebooks or plans. Which came as a complete shock because we were those people: convinced we were smarter than everyone else out there and capable of defeating the wedding misery bug. We’d laughed at so many people, taken so many notes, anticipated so many potential problems. We honestly thought we’d prepared for the worst – and that includes the Zombie Apocalypse.

No matter what you do or how much you think you’re ready, you can NEVER out-smart a wedding disaster. No one, it turns out, is that smart. Things you never thought of or anticipated WILL go wrong, and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. (Well – cry; you can cry. A lot) We learned that the hard way – over and over the entire week before that ceremony. And the irony is everyone chose to tell us that – the DAY OF.

We thought we’d found the answer to avoiding stress – even in the face of increasing COVID-19 numbers. I mean, there was stress leading up to the week of the wedding, and I’m surprised I wasn’t bald, but we assumed that was normal. It was all going to be worth it, though, to have everything locked down and in place. Our planning was going to pay off and allow us to settle down and find relaxation. I mean, how many people have a week to get ready for their wedding day? It was brilliant.

In theory…on paper…

Our first stress-free day happened when we got home – three days AFTER the wedding. When there was just the two of us and the FurKids. (And, considering we were looking at leftover food stuffed into our fridge, there was some lingering stress) Our sheer “brilliance” found us stressed out, miserable, and regretting the decision to HAVE a wedding the remainder of the week. (Please note: WEDDING, not marriage) And there were notebooks, binders, lists – the whole shebang. We were SO intelligent.

You can’t plan for everything – no matter how hard you try. NO ONE is smart enough to pull off perfection (and anyone who claims so is lying through their teeth). Things WILL go wrong (sometimes spectacularly), and you have to let them. A horrible thing for a perfectionist to admit (and accept), but it’s the truth.

Did the ceremony involve laughter? Yeah – not always where I thought it would, but yeah. (I knew I should have made someone ask him to check for those vows) Were there tears? Yes – but they were the ones I’d hoped for. Did the music changes happen properly? Nope – but it was okay.

Did we get to eat at the reception? Damn straight. (Even if it wasn’t much since I felt sick after the preceding week of hell) Were we so happy to see friends we haven’t seen in ages? You better believe it – even if it was behind masks. Was I bummed the music ended up overrun? Yeah – I worked hard on that playlist. Did it break my heart to see people leave? Of course – I have no idea when I’ll get to see them again.

Will I ever do this again?

Not on your fucking life.

Weddings are a living nightmare – the people who tell you that aren’t lying. There’s nothing wrong with the Justice of the Peace. Given a second chance, I’d skip it. Correction, I don’t want to skip seeing the people I haven’t, but the other stuff? Yeah – out the door. It wasn’t worth it.

You can’t plan for everything, no matter how smart you think you are. I wish I could sit here and tell you differently (that was the original plan). Chaos theory works. If you can accept that, then have at it.

Ghosting (for Writers)

Ghosting (for Writers)

Ghost hand prints
Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

What do writers want more than anything else in the world? To see our work published. To run around and wave a book or magazine and point to our name on the cover or below an article. (It’s harder to wave the internet around, but when you work in online formats, you try to do the same) That’s the dream – to have the world think your writing is worthy.

Why else would we work day and night at our craft?

Which is why it can sound bizarre, crazy, or even counter-intuitive for a writer to sit here and tell you, you may have to work as a ghostwriter a time or two in your career before that magical byline happens.

What’s a Ghostwriter?

A ghostwriter, to be blunt, is a writer who does the work and receives none of the credit. Your writing goes up on another site, often under the guise of another person entirely. Occasionally, it even gets attached to another author’s name (which SUCKS!). You have no rights to the work, and (most of the time) you can’t include the work in the your portfolio – no matter how fantastic the piece might have been.

Some clients specifically label a job as “ghostwriting,” while others skip the step, and you find out down the line as your name disappears from the posts. (Reading contracts closely is always a good clue)

Sounds awful, right?

Why Ghostwrite

So why in the world would an intelligent, aspiring writer EVER agree to do such a thing? Because it’s WORK! Even if your name isn’t attached to it, your voice, style, and quality gets out there for people to read. You may need to work within a specific framework, but your voice always shows through. No one else writes the way you do – no matter what. The more you write, the more people read, the more they put 2 and 2 together.

Also, as you continue to do a good job and build a solid reputation, the more clients start to contact you. A healthy job satisfaction with positive reviews attracts new clients. They aren’t going to worry whether you have your name plastered all over; they want to know you’re reliable and competent. THAT matters more and more, especially as plenty of “freelance writers” out there feel quantity matters more than quality. If you stand out for solid, dependable work, you attract MORE work.

And some clients ARE willing to let you use that ghostwriting in your portfolio. They may ask for specific reference links, but if you’re allowed to keep it and hand it to future clients? That’s worth it, isn’t it? I’ve had a couple of clients who allowed me to do so, and it built up my portfolio nicely, especially in the beginning.

Staying Humble

Do I ENJOY writing without credit? Of course not. Who wants to do something and not get the credit for the hours they spent researching, writing, reviewing, and editing? However, it’s reliable work. Some of my highest bonuses have come from ghostwriting work. And it’s WORK. I’m not foolish enough to call myself a bonafide success and demand that I get a byline every time I turn around. (That’s how you STOP getting work)

Whether my name appears under the title or not, everything I work on SOUNDS like my writing. I have a distinct style and way of writing, and it comes across no matter the topic. As every assignment goes out and spreads through the internet, people start to get a feel for my voice. They recognize MY writing – even without my byline. That’s how I view ghostwriting.

It keeps me grounded. It reminds me to stay smart and breathe when a new contract comes up devoid of credit. And it makes that byline work all the sweeter.

If I never did any ghostwriting, I wouldn’t be the freelancer I am today – because I’d likely still be scrambling for work. Everyone starts somewhere. So before turning into a writing snob, stop and think through both sides.

Writing is writing. No one else will sound like you – and THAT’S what matters the most.

I Say No

I Say No

Hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil skeletons
Image by Paul Brennan from Pixabay

For anyone who reads YA books, you’ve likely encountered this unspeakable evil: present tense. My first experience was Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games. And while I’ve read the entire series, including her most recent prequel (where she thankfully abandoned that annoyance), I loathed the gimmick. Which is all the affectation is for most writers: a trend that makes no sense for the story they’re writing.

So don’t do it!

I’ve read YA for years now (I also write it – so the pairing makes sense), and I have no idea where this sudden surge in present tense came from. But it needs to stop. It’s an obnoxious style choice that lends nothing to any of the stories I’ve read over the years. As a matter of fact, it’s the number one reason I’ll put a book back on the shelf rather than bringing it home. I’ve encountered the fad so many times, I now crack an unknown author (and several known authors) open and skim the first few lines to check for the abomination before I take the risk.

Present tense writing hamstrings the author – and the reader! Both are trapped within the current moment, resorting to countless flashbacks (the bane of the reader’s existence) to recount anything that happened prior to that instant in time. Such books are also limited to first person, denying a reader the chance to explore the thoughts and motivations of others around the protagonist. Sure, you can label chapters with other characters to get around this shortcoming, but it’s still a limitation. It’s why the Hunger Games movies triumphed over the books (something I rarely say). They fleshed out a narrow concept Ms. Collins failed to bring alive with her choice of tense.

Present tense is a worthless evil!

I think authors (or editors – whoever’s making the stupid choice to champion this tense) feel that present tense builds suspense or heightens action. As a reader, I assure you – it doesn’t. Reading present tense is complicated. It bucks the natural rhythm we’re adapted to, especially with those frame shifts as a character has to constantly recall events from the past. It’s the worst roller coaster ride in the history of thrills. You jerk back and forth, falling out of the story constantly. There’s no suspenseful build, no creeping anticipation. Instead, you fight to hold onto the story with everything you have, screaming internally for one concise paragraph.

The affectation falls flat, and so do the stories. I’ve seen magnificent worlds and plotlines sink into the mud of barely readable because of poor tense choice. I’ve dismissed entire series because I barely made it through the first book. I’ve refused to even read some authors because they only work in present tense, and I can’t tolerate one more. The blurb on the jacket is tantalizing, but my brain refuses to swim through the murk.

Your tense choice MATTERS!

Can you use present tense in your writing WELL? Yeah, you can – if it makes SENSE! In Rin Chupeco’s The Girl from the Well, she has a ghost character with a fragmented memory and distant sense of self. (Unhappily, all of her characters use present tense, which is why I never read the second book – much as I adore her as an author) THAT character? It makes sense to use present tense. A ghost adrift in a different age, attempting to regain memory? They would only move in the moment. I can applaud present tense use in that situation because it’s justified.

I’ve used present tense myself – ONCE. My short story, “Pains of Glass” features of character stripped of memory. She awakes with nothing. If you have no past, you only exist in the current moment. So I used present tense to reaffirm the loss of a history. It’s the only time I’ve done so.

Give me a REASON for the character to live and breathe in the moment, to race from breath to breath, and I’ll applaud your choice. Otherwise, all you’re doing is following a limping trend that contributes nothing to the story. Bethany Morrow’s A Song Below Water came the closest to annoying me the least with her present tense choice. Her character’s reside so much in their minds, in their thoughts, that the tense felt almost right. And then the action happened, and everything fell apart again. It was close, but not still not right.

Tense matters to a reader.

When you write, you don’t write for yourself (okay, you do – a little). You don’t write to match a trend. You write for your READERS. So think about them, and what they NEED. They need to sink into your world and characters. They need to feel emotion and share thoughts. They need to look up from the end of a chapter and wonder what time it is, what day it is. They need to believe those people and creatures you’ve imagined could be real.

They don’t need to throw the book across the room because they keep falling out of the plot, stumbling between tense changes. So unless you have a good reason for it, leave present tense alone. Let it die already.