is the thought that goes through my head when I look to the past, especially when it comes to my writing.
Maybe it’s a version of impostor syndrome. Maybe it’s performance anxiety, in which it’s easy to think the worst about one’s own work. Maybe it’s…
Well. It probably owes to many factors. But creatives are saddled with the cliche of uncertainty about the worth, goodness, and success of their own work, because the cliche is (as far as I can tell) overwhelmingly true. The main way I’ve seen out of it is to adopt a Kanye-level ego and self-absorption, and screw that, I’d rather be unsure.
But back to me (no ego here; I’m so modest!).
I chose the rail junction image because I’m a person who always sees alternate paths. I see the future as a hugely ramified maze of paths — which is of course where I draw stories from and why my stories tend to be clustered within a century or two of the present. I see the past the same way, and spend too much time wondering at what might have been or even regretting the paths I’ve chosen. And that regret is sometimes rightful — what if I’d never wasted so many years in alcohol dependency and self-hate? But that’s unproductive and I try to look at it, evaluate it, acknowledge any lessons that might be present, and quickly retire it. And I work with a couple of mental health professionals to help me be better at that, because I’ve historically kinda sucked at it.
So of course I also wonder what could have been if I’d talked to some professionals ten years ago, or twenty, or thirty-five. Hmm.
See what I mean?
The present is the same way. Endless potential paths. I have a nasty tendency to want to travel all of them, and getting stuck like the proverbial ass trapped between two equally attractive bales of hay.
And so, all of the above in mind, I want to continue to build on my past writing… but also, every few weeks, I get the urge to cut ties with my past writing (oh, it could have been better, boo-hoo, you get the picture) and dream up a catchy pseudonym because S.A. Barton isn’t flashy and also conflicts with the much-more-search-engine-present and popular Beverly Barton. And sometimes even the hideous zealot-ideologue revisionist fake-historian David Barton, who I wish I didn’t share a last name with.
Look, I know keeping the name I’ve kept for six years is the better choice. But for me, it’s difficult not to agonize a little over what might have been. What if I’d chosen a “better” nom de plume?
(This post appeared on my Patreon page first, ten days before it appeared here. If you become a patron, you can see stuff early too!)
I get to make up words…
A successful typo! "Stingles," stings+tingles. It's staying in the story because I can invent words if I want, dammit
— S.A. "Hey You Buy My Books" Barton (@Tao23) December 17, 2017
…and invent my own punctuation rules…
I hate the way standard usage of em-dashes looks, so I place them floating between the words they separate.
Indulging quirks like that (and looking stupid to some people, I'm sure) is one of the perks of self-publishing. https://t.co/Zep3onm4CZ
— S.A. "Hey You Buy My Books" Barton (@Tao23) January 18, 2018
…And write the titles the way I want them.
Another quirk: I know the common rules for What is Capitalized in Titles and I think it's arbitrary silliness so I choose to Capitalize All Of The Words, favoring consistency and simplicity. https://t.co/9U9RKFqiYM
— S.A. "Hey You Buy My Books" Barton (@Tao23) January 18, 2018
This post has happened before, with different examples. It happens often enough that it has its own tag, “cover art”.
This familiar old story is about self-publishing on a shoestring. Self-publishing when the often reasonable prices of people who design covers for a living are out of practical reach. And trust me, paying someone else to make covers would be nice, and I might have found a way to make it work if I was writing novels. But, as of this writing, I have 71 distinct titles out, because I’m silly enough to write a bunch of short stories instead of just a few longer works.
Trust me when I say that paying for 71 professionally designed covers is beyond my means.
So I’ve been making covers for a while now. I keep them simple, believe me. I’ve seen some of the videos and blog posts that professional designers make, showing them making covers with (a slight exaggeration, perhaps) 849 layers and who knows how many cool ‘shop effects.
I’ve kept it simple, and cheap. When in unfamiliar waters, stick to the basics and learn them very well. So around the beginning of 2012, I downloaded GIMP, free image-manipulating software that is a distant cousin to Photoshop, and started figuring this cover design thing out.
Through practice, I’ve gotten better since January 2012. Above, the cover on the right represents my skills in October of that same year. I’d gotten slightly better — some of my earlier covers were even less appealing — but not much better. The left/top/better-looking cover is one I made tonight, because I had done a bit of writing and hit a point where I had to put the story I was working on down and do something else. So I made dinner, and then I decided that poor old Adversary, long burdened by one of my early cover attempts, deserved better.
It does deserve better, it’s a good story. Of course, I always say that, because I wrote the thing. Nevertheless, I think it’s good and it deserved some new ‘clothes’.
I could, maybe, have gotten away with keeping the base art. Or — wait — no. It’s too monotone. Too ‘someone stirred the tomato sauce a bit too hard and got froth in it’. But even worse than that, those white fuzzy drop shadows. Ugh. I can’t believe I thought that looked good.
Perhaps worse is the tagline in front of my byline. “A short story by,” I have come to understand, is shorthand for “I am very new at this.”
There are worse things than being a n00b. But it puts some people off; despite the old saying we really do judge a book by its cover, even those of us who say we don’t. We do, we definitely do. It’s just that some of us have realized that a cover is not always the whole story and make it a point to check out the contents. In a perfect world, nobody would have to bother with learning how to make a prettier book cover. But this isnt’ a perfect world, and for every person who says ‘even though that cover is ugly, I’m going to read the blurb and see if it sounds like a good book’, twenty scroll right past looking for a prettier cover.
So that “A short Story by” tagline had to go. You’ll note that I did the one-word-title-in-giant-stacked-letters thing. I’ve seen that style knocking around on a few recent books, so I thought I’d give it a go, too. Maybe it’ll fall out of fashion and I’ll find myself redoing this cover again in a few years because that style will have become cliche by then. Or maybe not.
In any event, I think the title, and the whole cover, look much better now. It’s still a very simple cover, but I think that it has a bit more impact and just plain looks more appealing. And the top-heavy layout of byline and title left me with a blank at the bottom that was a nice place to put a little one-line teaser tagline, which I like to do once in a while.
That might be a n00b move, but I don’t care. As long as it doesn’t say “A short story by” anymore.
Poor Bodhidharma is really getting a workout.
I have a certain amount of trouble relaxing. Burning some nice incense is one of many ways I attempt to deal with that; as you can see, my incense burning dish really gets a workout.
It’s more than a problem relaxing. It’s a manifestation of my inner perfectionist. I have seen other writers mention their own perfectionism, and it usually relates to editing and re-editing their written work into oblivion, and them being afraid to let it out into the world, terrified that there will be an error they’ve missed, or an imperfect expression.
That’s a concern that I share, though not strongly. Of course I worry that I’m sending a story out to an editor or into self-published distribution with a glaring mistake, a gaping plot hole, a patch of ludicrously overwrought prose, or something similarly embarrassing. But it’s not a huge worry for me. I can hit the ‘send’ or ‘publish’ button without losing sleep.
For me, it’s about feeling that I’m not doing enough. When I have a great writing week and produce a ton of good work, I end up thinking about how much more I could have produced if I had somehow made more time for writing. When I have a crappy week, I feel like I’m Atlas and I’ve just dropped the world on my toe, and it has promptly rolled away threatening to flatten a bus full of nuns or something. It’s just terrible.
And it’s counterproductive. My gawd, it’s counterproductive. I’ve lost sleep over the perception of lost writing production or lost brainstorming time (and therefore lost ideas), then spent the next day feeling crappy and sluggish because I haven’t had enough sleep, which means that I produce little or nothing that day, which means that I feel even worse about my now two-day-old string of lousy production, which means…
Worrying about how much more I could do leads to doing less. It’s really very simple.
It’s another thing altogether to remember this when I’m feeling like I’m not doing enough. But I keep reminding myself, and I get a little better –a little, tiny bit better– as time passes.
I figure by the time I’m 150 I should have this whole ‘relaxing properly’ thing down pat.
Tags: Aromatherapy, author, Bodhidharma, creative process, creativity, distractions, failure, Goals, going with the flow, Habits, hyper, impatience, Incense, lazy, Mood, Perfectionism, persistence, problem, procrastination, Relaxation, Self Esteem, self-care, Short Sightedness, Worry
When I started self-publishing, I had a few stories saved up. I had been writing for a few months, and shopping around a few of the stories to magazines and e-zines. I collected a bunch of rejections, and a few rejection-plus-please-send-mores. Which was encouraging, those last usually mean ‘I like your writing, but I have stories that fit my next few planned issues’ themes better’.
But it was slow. It’s not their fault. My understanding of the magazine and e-zine trade is that the folks evaluating submitted stories are buried to their eyeballs in freshly-submitted stories. There are a LOT of people writing and submitting stories. Some of them suck, some of them are good, some of them are amazing. To find out which is which, someone has to read them all.
I don’t like slow. I’m a hyperactive sort. If you let a diagnostic type get hold of me, I wouldn’t be surprised if they slapped a label like ‘ADD’ or ‘ADHD’ on me. I’m impatient. So I started self-publishing.
Interestingly enough, it was after I started publishing my own stories that someone accepted one of my stories, Carniphobe, and published it. It’s the April 2012 issue of Musa Publishing’s Penumbra ezine, if you’re curious.
But that’s not what I started out to write about, damn my wandering mind.
I started this to write about hat #2 that an indie writer like myself must wear. Hat #1 is writing, of course. But hat #2 is creating the covers. You know, those visual statements that people looking for a nice new ebook to read look at alongside ten or a hundred others see before they see anything else. Before they even read your blurb to see what it’s all about. Titles matter at least as much, but that’s hat #3 if I ever write that blog post. I’ve bought ebooks with ugly covers and attractive titles, but let me tell you: it takes a hell of a title to overcome an ugly cover.
Like anything else, making a decent cover takes practice. Visual arts are not my focus as a writer, the written word is. So I have gone through quite an evolutionary process in cover design.
After publishing my 40th title, I have started to look back and re-evaluate my earliest titles’ cover art. I have just finished redoing the cover for my 1st title, Who Wants To Be The Emperor. It should be replacing the old cover at the various outlets that carry my ebooks (see them in the right sidebar over there?) over the next couple of weeks.
Let me show you exactly what I mean when I say my cover design skills have evolved. Guess which is the old cover I made a year and a half ago, and which is the one I made on the date of this blog entry.
Pretty much anything you do, it takes persistence, practice, and time to develop your skills. Don’t assume… don’t EVER assume… that what you’re doing right now and the way you’re doing it is good enough. There is ALWAYS room to improve your skills and your craft, no matter what it is.
- The Value of Reading for Indie Writers (genrebookreviews.com)
It is free.
Go read it. You don’t even need an e-reader or e-reader app. You can view the thing as a webpage if you want, by choosing the ‘HTML’ option. It’s about 2,500 words, you can finish it while having a light snack.
I hope you enjoy it.
…and you can read the full interview here. I think you should. I also think you should buy some of my fiction, but what do I know?
I’m just an author. 🙂