Ghostwriting

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In the near future, there will be a scandal in literature, I predict. I’m not sure if that’s in fifty years or in two hundred, but I feel it will happen one day. So far, I have zero proof that it is happening on a major scale but I do think it is happening now as we speak.

What is this conspiracy theory that has me wearing tinfoil on my head? Ghostwriting, and to be more exact, that major, blockbuster writers are actually frauds.

First, what is a ghostwriter?

As the name implies, it’s a phantom force that does the writing for someone. No, not a literal ghost that floats in a white sheet but someone else who writes for you.

Ghostwriting has been around for a long time. And as long as it’s out in the open, I see nothing wrong with ghost writing, as long as the reader is made aware.

Most biographies are co-written, meaning they were ghost written by another author. I’m sorry, but that reality star from Jersey Shore probably really didn’t sit down and write down their autobiography and was, more likely, just a recorded interview that was then later written by a ghostwriter. Sorry to break your heart.

But as I stated earlier, as long as the ghostwriter is acknowledged, usually following the non-writer’s name with a “with” I think there is nothing wrong with that. What I am suggesting is something more sinister. I’m suggesting that full on authors are not writing their books and are not who they claim to be.

I first came across ghost writing as a Tom Clancy fan. He had a new book out, Op-Center, and I couldn’t wait to get my teeth into it. After the first chapter or so, the book felt weird. It just didn’t seem like Mr. Clancy. It was as if his writing was…off.

I then see that it was co-written with another gentleman and upon reading the notes, it became clear the Mr. Clancy was more of an adviser than a writer on the project. I felt had at the time, but in retrospect, Mr. Clancy did nothing wrong. The co-author was right there, on the front of the book. Clancy fans would later dub these “asterisk books” since they weren’t really written entirely by Tom Clancy. And that’s fine. I think its great for an author to brand him or herself and become their own little empire. If a director can produce poor sequels and have the money come in by not doing any of the actual work, why can’t a writer?

However, later on I saw that Glenn Beck had written a book of fiction. This had me floored. How could a man, with a radio and television show be able to write a bestselling book? I looked right there, right on the cover, and Mr. Beck’s name and his alone was on the cover. My spidey-sense tingled that something wasn’t right.

As I did a little bit of research I found out, yet again, that there was no secret. Mr. Beck openly talked about that he didn’t actually physically write the books but they were written for him, based on his ideas. He even credits them inside the acknowledgments.

So I was wrong to assume that Glenn Beck was a phony, trying to pass himself off as a fiction writer. But that still got my wheels turning.

Doing an Internet search, however, one does come across plenty of ghostwriters who make small fortunes deceiving readers. These writers, write some of the bestselling stuff out there and have someone else’s name on the cover. This is what I’m talking about. And this is what bothers me.

As for the actual ghostwriter, I don’t feel that they are to blame. I completely understand creating something, getting a check, and then passing along the glory to someone else, someone more marketable. But the real villain is the person acting like they wrote the book.

No one has been outed, yet, but it’s just a matter of time before they are.

Sure the faux-writer has made the ghostwriter sign a million pieces of paper that he or she can’t disclose the fraud. It may even last a hundred years until everyone who is involved is outed. By then the ghostwriter and phony writer would be dead is dead. But what then? What happens when the years past and the truth comes out? Why aren’t these fake writers afraid of that?

Think about your favorite author (if it’s me, thanks for reading mom) and now imagine that you found out that he or she is a complete fraud, that they had someone else do the work for them. How would you feel? Deceived? Angry? All of thee above?

And that’s what I just don’t get. Why do it if you’re gonna get caught? And trust me, you will get caught. Maybe not now, but eventually you will.

Don’t worry. I don’t think it’s any one of the major writers like JK Rowling or Stephen King. These guys have written extensively about their writing habit. But I do see that some more, less famous writers will be made out.

And that’s what stuns me. When you and I are dead, do you want the world to look back on you as a fraud? I mean, sure, during your lifetime you had the fortune and honors of being a writer but what then? What about your legacy? All the work you may have done, either big or small, will be tossed to the trash bin of history, just another fake who wanted fame and fortune in their lifetime.

So that’s my fear. One day these writer’s will be found out. The public will cry out (as well they should) and then it will make all writers suspect. And that’s what burns me the most. Here I am, year four, five, or six, (I’m not sure) of slaving away and learning the craft and then some bozo is gonna through me and everyone else who worked hard into a shadow of doubt.

I guess the only solace that any writer and reader can have is that these people will be outed one day and with it, their legacy shamed. And there’s nothing worse than that, in this lifetime at least.

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I Turned Pro

Saint Philip Neri

This is an open letter to two people. Author Steven Pressfield and, more importantly, to myself.

I turned pro.

Those three words, not I love you, have been the hardest to say. Honestly, I thought they’d never come. Mister Pressfield always talks about how you will know the moment you turn pro. It hits you. I never believed him, until today, until a few moments ago.

I have been a dilettante on a lot of things, and in particular, my writing. I have finally finished a rough draft but that has been through wishy washy commitment at best.

Then today happened.

Someone in my family just lost their job. The reality of life, money, and all that just hit me. I asked if there was anything I could do. She asked that I pray for her.

I consider myself a man of faith, but I know, in my heart of hearts, I would not share her faith in the same time of need. I would ask God why He would repay for all my faith by cutting me off. But I did as she asked, and I prayed.

Every morning and evening I try to bookend my day with prayer. In the morning, I try to read about the day’s Saint. Today, May 26th 2015, was Philip Neri’s Feast Day.

As I read his autobiography, I wasn’t even paying attention. My mind was in another place, obviously. My heart was aching for my loved one but I continued on reading about the Saint. He was a good, pious man who received lots of attention from everyone around him. Like many Saints, this story is told several times over. Basically what I’m trying to say is, coupled that story with my mind on other matters, I wasn’t really paying attention to the biography.

As I got to the end, there was a quote from the Saint, “Let me get through today, and I shall not fear tomorrow.”

And that’s when it hit me, God has been listening. This Saint’s story that I didn’t think was different, was. Every Saint’s story is particular if you know how to look. I wanted to stop reading, I wanted to give up. Out of respect for the Saint since I was not giving his life’s story the proper attention it deserved. And then finally, that quote.

I prayed to the Saint to pray for my loved one and myself. I looked out the window and smiled. In a rush it all came to me. If she was on the chopping block, I could be next. I had to do something. Something not just for me, but for her, but for all my family.

May 26th 2015. That’s the day I turned pro.

Now you’ll have to excuse me, I have work to do.

The Writing Myth

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So this is like my fourth or fifth post on the craft of writing, but this is the one that I’ve been itching to write about. The myth of writing.

First, what is craft? I keep saying that word and if you’re a new writer, you’ll be hearing a lot of it too. Craft simply means the art and creation of writing. There is a ton of stuff that goes into creative writing. You have to learn how to master as much as you can, all these different skill sets to get better at the entire act of writing fiction. I’m not sure there will ever be an all around great writer, but your job is to not be bad at a lot of the aspects but trying to be good or at least better than average on all the different aspects of writing.

You can be good at description but stink like a gym sock when it comes to dialogue. Your grammar might suck. You can’t really spell that good. You don’t understand the basics of story structure. You don’t know how to create suspense. You don’t know how to organize your ideas. The list goes on and on, and all these things make up what people call the craft of writing. (By the way, I can be pretty bad at all of them.) Our job as writers is to get better at all these different aspects of writing. Which brings me to the subject of this post, the writing myth.

There has been a long debate as to what is commercial fiction and what is literary fiction. I think there isn’t one. It’s just that there are some book snobs and then there are not.

For most of my life, I bought into the writing myth too. I thought like most people, great writers were just born with it, having a great book inside of them just waiting to come out and then one day – BAM – while their hair has grayed they sit down for the next two to six years in a cabin or somewhere in Africa and then out comes nothing but pure genius.  That’s not how it works.

Writing, is like any art. You need to practice and do a lot of it. That’s it. You can talk about painting and playing a guitar all day. You can read about painting and playing a guitar all day. Heck, you can dream about that painting and song all day too, but at the end of the day, the only thing that will get you closer to painting that painting and playing that song is to, wait for it, start painting and playing. Crazy, I know.

Sure, there are flukes, freaks of nature, but they are not the norm, they are the exception. There are examples of folks who wrote their first book and it was genius, but for the rest of us, most of the time, to learn something, you have to practice the skill over and over.

That’s why it irks me about literary snobs. There’s the rightful saying that those that can’t, teach, but I also think that there should be something along the lines of, those who can’t create art, critique.

Take some of the best writing that has come out in the past few years. Like Stephen King’s 11-22-63 and John Grisham’s Sycamore Row. Had these two books come from a new writer, they’d be getting awards and acclamations up the wazoo, but instead, since these men have created previous works that – gasp – appealed to large sections of the public and have also written some clunkers, these books are to be just recognized but not applauded for the great pieces that they are. Hot tip people, that’s not how it works, that’s not how anything in life works. No one just grabs a guitar or a paintbrush one day and knocks out a Rembrandt or a Stairway to Heaven. What it takes is a lot trial and error, mostly error.

As of right now, I have three works in different parts of disarray. A novel and two short stories, both for my eyes only. Every time I look at them, I am so unhappy because as a person and a writer, I keep changing and growing. Things I was once proud of I now hang my head in shame about. Why? Because it’s a process, that’s why. And if you want to get good at this writing thing, you need to swing your bat and strike out more than you get hits.

So when it comes to your writing, don’t expect to write your Magnum Opus the first time out. It does, but rarely, happen. Instead, just do what nearly all successful writers do. Suck a lot. First in private, then in public. Eventually, you’ll stop sucking and something good will come out. As for those who will then hold your first or early works against you for your entire writing career, it doesn’t matter. They were too scared to suck and played it safe anyway. Don’t let their envy be a reason for you not reaching your success.

I am a Writer

IMG_2760One of the first things you need to do is change your attitude. You need to stop thinking of yourself as someone who may write, to someone who does write. Again, I can hear your excuse making mind (more on that weasel in later posts) doing what he does best, make excuses. “But I haven’t written anything yet! How am I a writer? I’m still reading your stupid blog posts!” First, thank you for reading my stupid blog posts. It’s nice to know someone is. Second, you can’t get to where you want to go unless you start acting like it.

It’s sort of like someone who is successful at losing weight. Where most people say to themselves, “I’m overweight by a hundred pounds,” and that thinking gets them nowhere, you need to think like those that do lose the weight instead. Most of there minds think, “Okay. I’m a fit person. Starting today and now, I am an exercising, health food eating freak. It’s just who I am. These extra 100 pounds? No problem, I’ll just do what I do and it will come off eventually, because I’m healthy.”

And that’s what you need to do to. Not lose a hundred pounds because you look wonderful. Trust me. I’m an Internet blog post from the past. What I mean is, you need to start thinking and acting like a writer.

Now, I’m not saying you run into your boss’s room and quit your job and announce to the world that you’re gonna write the next Harry Potter, once you buy some pens first. You can even keep it to yourself. But the most important thing is, look at yourself as a writer. Treat yourself as a writer. Act like a writer. Eventually, you’ll become a writer.

This mindset does several things. Of course the first thing folks think about is the confidence it gives you. That’ not bad. But what really matters is how you look at the world, and in turn, yourself. You start reading books on the craft of writing or watch an interview of your favorite author. Only this time, you’re not a fan but his or her equal. It’s a mental game changer.

When you start reading books like a writer, or watch movies and television like a writer, or just walk around thinking your a writer, you will become that writer faster than someone who was full of doubt.

Now, this doesn’t mean you should just daydream and do nothing. On the contrary. You need to get into the habit of writing above all things. (If you haven’t noticed yet, I’ll be saying those words over and over again, habit and writing.) There is nothing more important than actually writing something, anything. It is better than writing nothing at all. However, this slight change in thinking, this paradigm shift, will make your sitting that much more important.

Guess what I suggest you do know? That’s right, write.

No, seriously. Stop reading this.

You’re still reading this and not writing. Why are you reading this?

Where to Start

IMG_2761On my last post, I ended with saying that aspiring writers need to get into the habit of writing. Okay, so you turned off the Internet, opened up an empty document, or grabbed a pen an paper, and you just sat there, frozen. I thought this writing thing would be easier?

Writing isn’t easy, but it isn’t hard either. Like most things, getting started is the hardest part. So what should you do when you’re stuck at the blank screen?

Journal

Just write about your day. What’s on your thoughts or your mind. Anything at all. The important thing is to just write for the sake of writing. Once you do this, you are 180 degrees from where you were; someone who was dreaming about writing, to actually writing. I can already hear your objections through the magic of space and time, “What does me talking about my laundry have to do with my space western zombie story?” Everything. Again, I cannot stress how important the act of actually writing is.

Is you, sitting around, writing about how the room you’re in looks actually part of the novel you have in your mind. Yes! Especially if you’ve never really written before. We are talking about not writing, as much as getting into the habit of writing.

Look at it this way. If you spend a week not writing, after that week is done, you would have finished exactly no writing. But if you wrote everyday, just for five minutes, you will more than likely write at least one sentence about your WIP (work in progress) which is 100% more than the first example.

Journal About Your WIP

Write about your story. You don’t have to write your story, but it wouldn’t hurt. Just start by talking to yourself. It could look something like this:

okay. here i am. i was reading this webpage by this dumb guy named tony hernandez and dude was sayin that i just need to write and that anything is better than nothing. well here i am! nothing. see, he is stupid. I should have listened to everyone who gave him a bad review. But he also said to write about my story. I’m not even sure what it is! i mean, there’s a cowboy and he’s in space. but why is he a cowboy in space? I guess he’s like a sherif or something. Yeah! that’s it. he’s the sheriff of a planet, or a star system. Whatever. and then, a zombie apocalypse brakes out on a spaceship and he needs to check it out.

And so on and so on. Seriously. Just write. If journaling doesn’t start it, then talk to yourself about the story. What scene is it? Where are you stuck? What do you want your story to be about? Sometimes, you’ll have a scene in your head. Write it! Just write anything. And then, do it again later. Either that day, but at least the next.

On Writing

IMG_2757This will be the first of hopefully many posts on the art, craft, and creation of writing. It will be by no means extensive or the magical one-stop shop for all aspiring writers needs. What this will be, is a journal on my thoughts and experiences that I’ve had as a would-be writer. Lord willing, I become some sort of successful writer one day and this will help other writers go from dreamers to creators. And most importantly, save them from the mistakes that I made.

Where I Am

To understand where I am I guess I need to start where I began.

First of all, my status is: unpublished. Pretty gutsy for a guy who hasn’t had a single word written to think that one day people would want to come back and hear what I had to say about the process. Call it cocky, call it confident. I think I’m a pretty good writer and I hope that one day my work will reach an audience. An audience that includes future writers.

It all began with an idea, a what if that rolled around my mind. I am keeping my work’s title private now, so we’ll just call it Red Corvette. Like most story tellers, I had this idea for a story, the big event that happens in Red Corvette. It ate at me and ate at me, until I had enough and thought that I wanted to write this. I needed to write.

So where do you start as a writer when you haven’t written anything in your life?

That was the question that I had, like most writers. I grew up poor and was a high school dropout. The closest thing I ever came to a creative writing class was when I went to community college and took a pre-English 101 class, because I failed to place. There was a time where we free wrote for sometime in our class in our journals. I loved it! But like most of my schooling endeavors, I quit.

I bring this up because I want to bang home the fact that I have had zero creative writing teaching classes. If you hate my work, you probably already knew that. No fancy diploma or literary background. Just a kid from the barrios of West Side Phoenix and a dream.

So how did I start off my writing? With perseverance.

When you don’t know something, the first thing you do is search the Internet and I was no different. I read tons of articles and blog posts. Read some posts on message boards. But mostly, I searched Amazon for books on writing.

I told myself that I would buy one, maybe two, books on writing. That was nearly forty books ago. I cannot stress enough how important it is to buy, and read, books on the craft. More on that later.

The first book I bought was The 90-Day Novel, by Alan Watt. After looking at so many books, I finally decided on that one. It was getting great reviews and it seemed to answer my questions I had about writing. The results were instantaneous. Just after the first exercises I was rockin’ and rollin’, getting the creative thoughts from my head onto paper. It was great.

Not sure how long after that, maybe a week or two, but then my writing fizzled out. I won’t blame the book, heck, I give it the highest recommendation since it helped me start my path to writing, but it was too unstructured for me. I didn’t know that at the time, but it was my first real foray into the writing process.

It had done it’s job though. I knew I could write, and more importantly, I loved it! I knew there was something there. I just needed the right guidance.

So again I went to the World Wide Web and continued to search and search. I came across a writing workshop by Holly Lisle. Again, highest recommendations. What sold me on one of her products, How to Think Sideways, was her wonderful book, Mugging the Muse. This book is jam packed with tons of stuff that every new writer should be aware of. I bought the How to Think Sideways course and was well on my way to becoming a creative writer.

Then I went to a hemophilia summer camp.

I am not blaming the interruption of my studies for the fact that I was not getting everything out of the course. More than not, it had fallen into the same issue that happened with my first book; I got what I needed from it.

These two resources are invaluable but I needed more. So I broke my rule and I bought another book on the craft (art) of writing.

And then I bought more. And then more.

I have now bought quiet a bit of e-books on writing and their paper counter parts. I have probably spent about three to four-hundred dollars on writing material. If you’re scoffing at this, old Tony would have too! But now I realize, that as someone who had no education in writing, spending under $500 was nothing compared to all the knowledge and insight I’d be missing if I didn’t buy them. In fact, it pales in comparison to what people pay in college. That wouldn’t even cover a semester of a creative writing school!

So I guess that’s what my first, major point is. Get as many resources as possible. You don’t need to buy them, but it doesn’t hurt. Start by reading what other aspiring writers do. Go to kboards Writer’s Cafe. Trust me, I wish I would have done this earlier. Do an Internet search of [your favorite author] and [writing process]. More times than not, you’ll get some cool links to some interviews they have given.

Also, diversify your intake. Don’t just read about writing, check out videos, and listen to audio books. My favorite audio book is the inspiration to the title of this blog post, Stephan King’s On Writing. Part autobiography, part writing class, it is all great to listen to the master talk about the craft of writing and his journey. Plus, since he reads it, it’s probably the only time most of us will get to hang out with the man.

And finally, just do it. Just write. Something. Anything. Don’t wait for perfect conditions.  If you’re reading this now, odds are you’re on the Internet so that means you’re on a computer. Close your Internet browser and open up a text document and just start writing. Every computer has one, even the most basic text DOS will work.

Don’t have a computer? Grab a pen and a piece of paper. Just write already! The hardest part is starting. Stop waiting for the stars to aline. Tip: they never will. Read about writing. Watch about writing. Listen about writing. And most importably, write. I don’t care if it’s a pencil on a napkin or an envelope, just start doing the most important thing when it comes to writing; getting into the habit of actually writing. Then you step back from that envelope, and if you want, you can toss those few sentences away in the trash can. But everything will be different. You’ll no longer be someone who wishes they were a writer, but you’ll officially be one, a writer.

Welcome to the club.