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Why I hate writing, Part 4

Who would have thought that my love/hate relationship with writing would be such that I would need to write not just one post, but a series of them? I suppose I could simply categorize my writing posts under “Me ranting incessantly”, but that category is getting pretty substantial, and they might get lost in the shuffle.

I have issues, people!

In case you’re interested, you can find Parts 1 through 3 here:

Why I hate writing
Why I hate writing, Part 2
Why I hate writing, Part 3

Now, where was I? Oh, yeah…

Last Friday, Rachelle Gardner (who, in case you didn’t know, is a literary agent) wrote a post which asked the following question:

“(So) if you had a choice, which would you rather be:

(1) An author publishing steadily to positive reviews and strong critical acclaim, but selling low numbers of books and therefore unable to support yourself with your writing…

or

(2) An author publishing frequently (maybe two books a year) to average reviews and sometimes even being called unflattering names like “hack” yet making an extremely comfortable living and never having to take on other work.

To simplify: Great reviews, critical acclaim and awards… or great sales?”

Of course, I chose “both”, because she’s not the boss of me. Then she told me the point was to choose one, to which I responded, “I don’t wanna”, then she accused me of being a cheater… (This all happened on Twitter, btw. Not on her blog. But I digress.) Anyway, my point is (and I do have one), is that Rachelle posed this as a “thought question”, and rightly so. Because it really got me to thinking.

Not so much about choosing to be a critically acclaimed, award winning author or a best selling one, but about what lengths will you go to achieve the latter?

Before you get to be a published writer, chances are the words you share with the world are yours. They may be edited, but probably self-edited. Whatever point or message you are attempting to convey will be retained. The questions of critical acclaim or strong book sales are largely theoretical, because let’s just be honest: It might not even occur to you that once someone buys your story they may want to change it to fit a certain audience. You write because you have a story to tell, not to fill a niche in some yet unsaturated demographic, right?

Now, don’t misunderstand me. I think editors are the unsung heroes of the literary world. A good editor can make a good story even better, and it is in the best interest of your agent and publisher to do what they can to help you tell your story to an adoring audience. But how much control are you willing to give away in order to see your name on the best seller list? And at what point do you stop writing from your heart and start writing what you think people want to read?

I wonder about this because I have read so many best selling authors who start out with such promise, only to be disappointed by their later books. I don’t lay the blame completely on the marketing of a writer. I think some writers only have one or two good books in them, and that’s okay. What’s not okay is when they continue to write anyway because they think writing something is better than fading into obscurity. You know, like Margaret Mitchell did after she wrote Gone with the Wind or Harper Lee after To Kill a Mockingbird. I bet you probably had to google those writers just to refresh your memory…

I guess the moral of my rambling story is this: If you are fortunate enough to have your work read by a large audience and achieve financial success because of your gift, please don’t take it for granted. Remember why you started writing in the first place. Don’t be a lazy book whore.

Editor’s Note: While I have a rather long list of well known authors whom I consider to be lazy book whores, I will not share any of them here so as not to offend them. While I’m quite confident that none of them read my blog, some of you might really enjoy their books, even though they’re crap. Kidding. Mostly. (See? I’m a great self-editor, huh?)

If you haven’t already entered to win a free, autographed copy of Snow Day by Billy Coffey, see details on Monday’s post. I will be accepting entries until Sunday.

Be brave (repost)

How to Draw a Picture (Part Eight)
(Excerpt from Duma Key by Stephen King)

Be brave. Don’t be afraid to draw the secret things. No one said art was always a zephyr; sometimes it’s a hurricane. Even then you must not hesitate or change course. Because if you tell yourself the great lie of bad art–that you are in charge–your chance at the truth will be lost. The truth isn’t always pretty. Sometimes it’s a big boy….

The bravery is in the doing, not in the showing. The truth can be hidden away again, if it’s too terrible for the world to look at. And it happens. I’m sure it happens all the time.
 

 

 When an idea comes to mind, an artist will often be consumed until he or she can breath life into it. But what about writer’s block? Or the feeling of being overwhelmed by a white canvas staring back at you? Or the chord progression that just isn’t quite cutting it? Why do you suppose that happens? How do you get past it?

I have a theory.

Would you consider the possibility that there are moments, emotions and feelings you dare not share? Things dark, sinister or shameful? So incapacitating that if you could hide them from God you would?

I’m fairly open here in my writing, but there are some things I simply cannot share; or maybe just refuse to share. I know, I know…confession is good for the soul, but some things are between God and me. For now, anyway.

One thing in particular. A story that’s been locked away for too many years. So, I’m going to heed the words of the great sage Stephen King: “The bravery is in the doing, not in the showing.” I’m going to sit down and write a story that will never be told, because “the truth can be hidden away again, if it’s too terrible for the world to look at.”

So, how about you? Do you have a story that will never be told? That you’ve hidden well?

It seeps out, you know.

Through the cracks in your heart.

Why I hate writing, Part 2

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From a very early age, both of my children have uttered the phrase “It’s not fair!” on numerous occasions. They didn’t overhear it from their parents; it didn’t have to be taught to them. I think the concept of fairness and unfairness is ingrained in each of us. We cry out for justice when we perceive injustice. Unless of course we perceive the scales tend to tip in our favor, then maybe it’s not so big a deal.

This is another reason I hate writing–or more specifically–the business of writing and publishing. Because it’s not fair. Don’t believe me? Peruse the New York Times Best Seller List and note how many books on that list are written by or about celebrities, or go to the local bookstore and try NOT to find a vampire romance novel. Meanwhile, your literary masterpiece sits on the corner of your desk held together by the giant binder clip of despair.

But here’s the thing: it can’t possibly be fair. Because what constitutes good writing, or rather, good reading is so completely subjective, and the publishing business is–well–a business.

In the book Harry Potter and Philosophy, William Irwin states:

“(J.K.) Rowling is not Shakesphere, nor has she ever claimed to be. But as Mark Twain once said of his own books, they’re less wine than water, before adding this, ‘Everyone drinks water’…Something’s popularity is decisive evidence of neither its truth nor falsehood, neither its value or worthlessness.”

So what’s a writer with dreams of publication and at least a small amount of notoriety to do against seemingly insurmountable odds? Most of you who have been at this for any amount of time already know what I’m about to tell you, and I’m no expert, but I play one on the Internets. So I’ll offer you this unsolicited advice (I know–you’re welcome):

  1. Man up or put your big girl panties on. (Or both–I’m not here to judge you.) Be ready for the long haul. It’s been my observation that behind every overnight success story you’ll find a long path of blood, sweat, tears and rejection letters.
  2. Study your craft. Read books about writing, plot and structure and (please!) basic grammar and sentence structure. You may be good, but you can always be better, and “the road to hell is paved with adverbs.” (Stephen King)
  3. Devote serious, uninterrupted time to writing. Even if what you’re writing is utter crap, keep writing. No one else has to see it, but if you’re really committed to writing, you can’t just write when you feel like it. If you don’t take this seriously no one else will either.
  4. Live a better story. Then write a better story.
  5. Don’t quit your day job just yet.
  6. If you think a life of a writer is too hard; that you’ll never make it, quit. Do something else.
  7. If you found yourself nodding your head while reading the previous point and feeling a huge weight being removed from your shoulders, you’re probably not cut out to be a professional writer. (See previous point.)

And remember this bit of advice from the Great One:

“You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness or even despair–the sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind or heart. You can come to the act with your fist clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page.

I’m not asking you to come reverently or unquestioningly; I’m not asking you to be politically correct or cast aside your sense of humor (please God you have one). This isn’t a popularity contest, it’s not the moral Olympics, and it’s not church. But it’s writing, damn it, not washing the car or putting on eyeliner. If you can take it seriously, we can do business. If you can’t or won’t, it’s time for you to close the book and do something else.

Wash the car, maybe.”

~Stephen King, On Writing

Why I hate writing

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Do you know what I was going to call this post?

Why I hate writers.

In the interest of full disclosure, you should know that I’m in a really pissy mood right now and I’m not sure why. Two years ago, I would have done what any normal person would do. I would yell at my kids or eat a half gallon of Blue Bell ice cream, or turn on the Wii and box a few rounds. Heck, I may have done all of these things simultaneously.

But I’m not normal anymore.

I’m a writer.

I can sit here and say, “Well, I’m not really comfortable calling myself a writer. After all, I have no plans to ever have anything I write published into a book. Clearly, I’m not invested enough into the craft to call myself a writer, yada, yada.” (Unless, of course some publishing type happens to be reading this and wants to offer me an obscene amount of money to write my memoir. Please validate my existence!)

Whatever. Here I sit banging away at the keyboard, searching the depths of my soul as to why it is I’m so angry. I’m actually sitting here wondering if I should take a spiritual approach to writing about my anger, or if I should just go with my standard “katrant”. This is why I hate writing. Because everything becomes potential material. I’m always writing. Whether it’s in a notebook, on the computer or in my head. It won’t stop! Why won’t it stop?

Back to my original statement:

Why I hate writers.

Good writers and bad writers. All of you. I blame you all.

Good writers: I blame you because when I read your work I feel inferior. You force me to study the craft so that my writing can be better. This is an investment in time and energy. I don’t feel like investing right now. I just want to do what I feel like doing. But you make me look bad if I do that. Thanks for nothing.

Bad writers: I blame you because when I read your self indulgent, flowery-worded diatribes it gives me a false sense of confidence. You make me think I’m actually better than I am with your badness. Truth is, I still suck, just not as much as you do.

Okay…

Not really. I don’t hate writers. I love writers – all writers. I love writing – good and bad. All writing encourages me to write better. It’s just so darned frustrating sometimes.

I think I’ll eat some ice cream…

Carry on…

EDITOR’S NOTE: It occurred to me after writing this post that upon reading it, approximately 96% of people reading who consider themselves writers would wonder (if even for the briefest period of time) if I was referring to them when I mentioned “bad writers”. That’s another thing I hate about writing. It tends to do a number on your self esteem. Not to worry. I’m actually NOT talking about 96% of you.

And now you’re wondering if you’re in the 4%.

See what I mean?

Why do you write? (by Stephen Parolini–sort of)

If you consider yourself a writer–and if you’re reading this post, chances are pretty good that you do–you’ve probably asked and (hopefully) answered this question and given yourself a satisfactory answer.

As I’m assuming you’re a writer because you’re still reading this (you are still reading this, right?), then I will also assume you have hopes of having your work published. If you’re already published, kudos to you. That’s quite an accomplishment.

Still on my assumuptions bandwagon, I’m going to assume you know that good editors are the unsung heroes of the literary world. If you haven’t read his blog already, I’d like to introduce to someone I consider one of those good editors. And I’m not just saying that, I know that he is…you’re just going to have to trust me on that one. Someday I’ll tell you I told you so, and you’ll say, “Dang! She’s always right.” (Oh, I’m kidding. Mostly.)

Where was I? Oh, yeah…

I said this post was by Stephen Parolini–sort of because it’s not actually a guest post. It was a thoughtful answer to a question I posed on his blog, The Novel Doctor which I threatened to cut and paste and call a blog post. And that’s what I’m doing. The original post was A Compelling Reason, and he posed the same question: Why do you write? Read it. It’s excellent–as are all of his posts. Did I mention he’s also a fantastic writer? To understand the entirity of his answer, I invite you to go back to the post and read it and the comments. Some excellent, writerly conversation there. But on to my question:

My comment/question was:
I know you’re right. Writers write because they want to matter. But that’s assuming they don’t already matter. And at what point do you know you matter? After your first book? Your second? Does it need to be a critical and commercial success?

To quote the late John Candy from the movie “Cool Runnings”, “If you’re not enough without it, you’re never going to be enough with it.”

…or something like that…

To which Stephen replied:
Here’s the surprise (and it’s not really a surprise): we already DO matter. Every one of us. But we don’t always feel like we do. So we write. Or we draw. Or we sing. Or we tell really bad jokes in a really loud voice in a room full of strangers. We want that validation Kristin refers to above.

But you’re asking a slightly different question: When do you know you matter as a writer? The short answer? When you’ve written.

Period.

Of course, being a culture of comparison, we want a better answer than that. We want to quantify our “mattering,” fully aware that even a huge success doesn’t really change our intrinsic value – just others’ perception of it. (And in some cases, our own perception of it – which explains why some successful authors appear to be full of themselves.)

Okay, so let’s quantify it. Let’s put aside the psychological (and spiritual, because it really is a spiritual question, too) and look for a moment at the practical.

Probably the best measure of whether or not you “matter” as a writer (ie: are someone others might consider a success), is if you sell enough copies of your current book to keep publishing houses interested in investing in the next one. According to this measure, as long as you’re getting published, your writing matters. This is true whether your books are consistently on the bestseller list or practically unheard of except to your loyal fans.

Of course, there are exceptions. Here’s one: “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Did Harper Lee’s writing matter less because she published just one novel? Do I even need to ask that question?

In summary: you already matter. You just don’t feel it. So you write. And you seek validation for what you write – because it’s validation of you. And you know you shouldn’t seek validation for yourself this way, so you try to deny the belief that “more sales” means “mattering more.” But you have a hard time denying this because you’re human and broken and you’ve been taught that success is measured in numbers, not intangibles. Is it any wonder why the writer’s life is such an emotional roller coaster?

Okay. That’s enough meandering on this topic for now. I’m sure I’ll have more thoughts five minutes from now. Maybe even contradictory thoughts. But hey, that’s just how I roll.

One last thing, though. It’s another mathematical formula, but I think it’s an important one for writers to consider, no matter how many books they sell:

A writer really only matters to readers one at a time.

To read more from Stephen Parolini, read his blog The Novel Doctor and follow him on the twitter at @noveldoctor

Three People (by Billy Coffey)

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image courtesy of photobucket.com

Though my workdays are normally filled with all the commotion and stress that a thousand college students can generate, the days between June and mid-August are mine alone to enjoy. It’s only slightly ironic and more than a little unexpected to me that summer break means even more to me now than it did when I was in school, but it’s true. Never let it be said that a little separation between yourself and others is a bad thing.

Despite the fact I have plenty to keep myself busy, I also have plenty of time to myself. Time that will be spent writing. Which is what I tried to do just a bit ago, and with unfortunate results.

I had just started typing when the buzzing began. First in one ear and then the other and then back again. My right thumb punched downward on the space bar and trampolined my hand upward, waving through the air.

“Stupid fly,” I muttered.

The buzzing returned, and this time the fly actually bounced itself off my head. More waving. More missing. Then the creature circled around and landed right on top of my computer screen, staring at me.

Black, juicy one. Hairy legs and monstrous eyes. And a wingspan that seemed almost unnatural.

Where it had been and how it had gotten into my office escaped me, and I really didn’t care. All that mattered was that I went back to work. I shooed it away and went back to my typing.

SMACK!

Against my head again.

I wheeled my chair around and swiped at it, missing the fly but not the stack of books on the opposite table, all of which tumbled to the floor.

SMACK!

“Dang it, you come back HERE!,” I yelled. “I’m gonna KILL YOU!!”

I roamed around my office for the next five minutes. Found nothing, of course. No buzzing, and no kamikaze attacks. So I sat back down and started writing. Four paragraphs later,

SMACK!

And then after that SMACK!, it stuck. To my head. And I swear, I swear to you, that fly made a beeline toward my ear. I was convinced it was going to burrow in and eat my brain.

I jumped up, slapping at my head and flailing my arms in every direction. The fly somehow managed to retreat back to whatever hell it came from and left me alone. For the moment.

But I knew it would be back. Oh yes, I knew. Which is why I put on my cowboy hat (to prevent any future burrowing) and started to fake type.

Two minutes later, buzzing again. And just at that moment I transformed myself into some strange Jedi/Mr. Miyagi/redneck hybrid, sliced through the air with an open palm—

—and connected.

The fly tumbled backward through the air and crashed against the far wall.

That was five minutes ago.

I’m back at my computer now. Order has been restored. But now I’m suffering through the fits and stops of trying to write, because every sentence I’m trying to type is interrupted by more buzzing.

The fly is still alive, though just barely.

It managed to right itself a bit ago by flopping back onto its legs, but it can’t do much else. Every attempt to take to flight has been both paltry and meaningless.

And now I feel guilty.

There are certain religious adherents who would say I sinned a bit ago, that every creature is worthy of respect and life and that by denying those things to them I deny them to myself. Others would say the sin was letting both haste and anger lead me to do something I now regret.

I suppose a sort of atonement is called for now, though I’m not sure what the proper course of action is. Should I walk over and euthanize it with my boot. Or should I try to nurse it back to health with small tweezers and bits of rancid meat? I’m not sure.

I am sure of this, though. We can try to model our lives to the Good, to walk straight and never wander, to be our very best selves. And sometimes that will work. But who we truly are deep down in our broken souls will always be there, ready in an instant to bare its teeth.

That is, I suppose, why we are all three people in one—there’s the person we want to be, the person we are, and the person who must daily choose which way to lean.

To read more from Billy Coffey, visit him at his blog What I Learned Today and follow him on twitter at @BillyCoffey

Writing Faction

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If you want to tell what you believe, write non-fiction. If you want to tell the truth, write fiction.

~ Stephen Parolini (@noveldoctor)

When I sat down to write my post for Tuesday’s blog carnival, I was planning to write a story about the strength of hurricanes. It was going to be a teaser for another story I’m writing about the aftermath of Hurricane Ike.

Well, the best laid plans, yada, yada…

That’s not what happened. What happened was that another story began pouring out of my mind and heart and onto the page. I wrote furiously, just trying to keep up. I don’t know where it came from, but I knew it was true. The island, the safe harbor and the people? Complete fabrications. But that doesn’t make the story any less true, metaphorically speaking.

When I set my pen down and read over what I had written, I was satisfied. I felt like I had conveyed what I was feeling without breaking the cardinal sin of writing—telling instead of showing. As I sat down to type what I had written in long hand, it occurred to me that the story could say different things to different people, depending on their life experiences and perspective. I was delighted to read the wonderful comments and have my initial thoughts confirmed.

I don’t always reply to comments, but I read and appreciate every one of them. That is especially true for Tuesday’s post. Each analogy relayed a truth that hadn’t occurred to me while I was writing it: The danger of apathy, relying on God to be our fortress in life’s storms, the power of faith and prayer, the slow erosion of our culture. Some read an environmental message, others a message of the dangers of big government and/or big corporations, while others read a more personal or spiritual one.

And they were all correct. Because my truths aren’t necessarily yours.

Sometimes we can read our own stories into someone else’s.

I love it when that happens…

***

Oh, and about the title? No–that’s not a typo. Faction will appear on tomorrow’s Katdishionary post. I know–it’s been awhile since my last update. Try to contain your excitement.

Building your Platform

“You need to build your author platform.”

If you’re a writer seeking agent representation and/or looking to get your manuscript published, those words rank right up there with:

“It’s not you, it’s me”

and

“We need to talk.”

But it may not be as difficult as you might think. I’m certainly no expert, but I’ve learned a thing or two about how to effectively market an up and coming author on the internets over the past year, and I’m sharing a few of my secrets over at Author Culture today. Hope to see you there.


Billy Coffey’s debut novel Snow Day will be released in October of this year. Stay tuned for more details…

An Open Letter


This post was originally written for and appeared on my friend Brian Russell’s website a few months back.

I had just finished reading the book The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. It’s about overcoming and avoiding the roadblocks we face in any creative endeavor.

Inspired by what I read in this book, I posted an open letter from a muse. Perhaps she sounds familiar to you. Perhaps not. Some muses are more demanding than others…

An Open Letter

It’s me here. We need to talk. I’m feeling neglected. Yes, I understand that your life seems overwhelming. Your child is sick, your spouse needs more of your time, cutbacks at work mean more work for you. Add the beginnings of what very well may be an ulcer and mounting bills to the mix and you have all the elements of a first class physical and emotional breakdown.

Now, I’ll let you in on a little secret: I don’t care. To me, they’re simply excuses; reasons to succumb to your fears. Ignore me at your own peril. Every day that goes by when you refuse to meet with me is a day I will wreak havoc on your life. I care not about your sickness and your busy schedule. I exist only to be satisfied by your offering. Curse me or bless me. But remember that you created me.

The white canvas, the blank journal page, the blinking cursor on your computer screen, the potter’s wheel, the unfinished song which sits quietly beside your guitar or piano, and countless other places. Where will I be?

Don’t indulge yourself with the illusion that you don’t know where to find me. You know where I’ll be. And I’ll meet you there.

Relentlessly yours,

Your Muse

“There is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”

~George Bernard Shaw

Compassion for a passion

From Merriam Webster:

Passion:
(4b) intense, driving or overmastering feeling or conviction
(5b) a strong liking or desire for or devotion to some activity, object or concept

Compassion:
sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress with a desire to alleviate it

Some of you probably know the story of how I happened to stumble across a blog called What I Learned Today a little over a year ago. You may even know how an offer from me of a weekly guest post developed into a working partnership between Billy Coffey and me. What you may not know, or fully understand, is why I offered to help Billy. In a nutshell, it’s because I have compassion for his passion: writing.

If you haven’t already done so, I would recommend reading his post today: Compassion in the Cold. It give a glimpse into just how long he’s been pursuing this almost lifelong passion of his. It is a story of one of the many crossroads in his writing career. Our chance meeting through the blogosphere (if you want to call it that–I don’t believe it was) is another.

Shortly after he started guest posting for me, he mentioned to me via email that he had a manuscript he was trying to get published. He had had several rejection letters from agents and publishers, many of them telling him the same thing: You need to build a platform. What I Learned Today was that platform. Again, many of you may already know this part of the story.

Now here’s the part you may not know. By the time I offered the weekly guest spot on my blog, Billy Coffey was once again ready to give up his dreams of ever being published. Billy is a strong, determined person, but rejection and obscurity after years of trying can wear down even the best of us. Having read his manuscript, there was no way I was going to let that happen if I could help it.

So help I did, and continue to do so. Because it was the right thing to do. Because a world without his stories would be a little bit darker and a little less hopeful.

I’ll be the first to admit that I had no idea what I was doing when I first agreed to help him. It’s been a learning experience for both of us. But I know one thing for certain: that small, still voice telling me to offer my help was not my intuition, it was God’s voice, and I have seen His hand over and over this past year:  Billy signed with well known literary agent Rachelle Gardner, signed a two book deal with FaithWords, and has received generous praise for his debut novel, Snow Day, including the following from his childhood hero:

“Everybody needs a snow day! To slow down and take a breath of what is really important.” (Don Mattingly, 1985 American League MVP)

The latest bit of exciting news came last week. Billy sent me a link to FaithWords Fall/Winter catalog, which just so happens to have the cover art from Snow Day gracing its cover. Here’s the link:FaithWords Fall 2010/Winter 2011 catalog.

If you scroll through the entire catalog, you will find on page nine a description of first time author Billy Coffey’s novel Snow Day nestled between football legend James Brown’s new book and New York Times best selling author Philip Yancey latest offering. I’d say those guys are in very good company!

This is not a post about what I did to help out a struggling writer. Billy Coffey’s work is well deserving of all the attention it has received and will continue to receive. I write this because I want to challenge you. If you know someone who has a dream, and can’t seem to get over the hump by him or herself, offer to help them. If you believe in what they are doing, have compassion for their passion. You may just find, as I did, that helping others is a passion of your own.

“There comes that mysterious meeting in life when someone acknowledges who we are and what we can be, igniting the circuits of our highest potential.” ~ Rusty Berkus

This post is part of the blog carnival on Compassion, hosted by Bridget Chumbley. To read more, please visit her site.

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