I used to save my weekends for my entertainments. Watching TV and occasionally (very occasionally) playing video games, or just sitting around and relaxing. Because I don’t do these things during the week. Occasionally I’d also go somewhere, like to a movie. Or a bookstore, or library, or I’d work on one of my novels or books. The idea being that I used my weekends for relaxation and entertainment.
Now I have a totally different weekend routine and schedule.
Because I realized that my weekends were not advancing me. At all. As a matter of fact they often allowed me to regress in my progress so that come Monday I often had to intensify my efforts to make up for lost productivity or advancement on the weekends.
I used to think my weekends were for entertainment and relaxation.
Now, instead, I think of my weekends (and conduct my weekends) as an opportunity for recreation, fun, and enjoyment.
I take pleasure and enjoyment now in different kinds of things, some very different from my prior weekend schedule, some subtly but still noticeably different from my previous weekend activities.
So let me now sketch out some of the activities I currently engage in during the weekends:
1. I continue my physical training from the week before. Not as hard, but in a relaxed form. Often this involves things that stretch me out, enhance my flexibility and my reflexes (very helpful considering my prior injuries), or allow me to recover from weight lifting and hiking in heavy packs. Things such as boxing, sword fighting, working on stealth, climbing, throwing the discus, hitting baseball, yoga, tai chi, etc.
2. I am teaching myself to play the guitar and to play far more complex chords on the piano than I normally do.
3. I spend time with my wife and kids and pets
4. I have gone back to drawing and sketching and architectural design
5. I learn new languages or improve my mastery of languages I already know
6. I practice and study Theurgy
7. I continue listening to the lectures I had been listening to during the week
8. I play games (board, role play, wargames) either with family and friends or by myself
9. I walk in the forest, explore, or Vad
10. I listen to my scanner or radios or monitor other communications (HAM, shortwave, etc.)
11. I study mathematics and physics (and other sciences, such as epigenetics, chemistry, biology, etc. as the mood strikes me)
12. I read for pleasure ( have returned to genre reading, such as sci-fi, detective, mystery, horror, fantasy, historical fiction, children’s literature, etc. – basically the same kinds of things I write)
13. I write a poem or song (if I’m in the mood)
14. I make notes in my notebooks to prepare for the upcoming week
15. I listen to music with a special emphasis on discovering music that is new to me
16. I work on my wood-craft and soon I plan to buy a small forge and master some of the arts of metalcraft (knife and sword and axe-head making)
17. I am taking up working with drones and 3-D printers and small robots
18. I try to come up with a new business idea or review our investments
19. I invent, build, or repair something, or renovate the house
20. I travel locally, throughout the state, or into nearby states
Now I’m not able to do all of these things every weekend, of course, except spend time with my family (assuming they are not somewhere else), teach myself guitar, and every weekend I try to study and practice Theurgy and explore or spend time in the woods.
But the point is that my weekends are far more active, enjoyable, productive, profitable, and refreshing (they are now Recreationally- oriented) than they are entertainment-oriented. And usually by Monday I am far more energized and ready for the new week than was previously the case.
My advice to you, and I know we live in an entertainment driven culture (movies, video-games, sports, etc.) that promotes entertainment above all else (in many cases), is to skip or put aside the entertainments as much as possible and focus instead on Recreation and more Beneficial Activities.
Personal activities, physical ones, social ones, educational ones, acting on your true goals and objectives, on your hobbies and avocations – focus on the things that bring you the greatest pleasure and fulfillment rather than upon those things that merely distract and entertain you.
For mere entertainment is a time-consuming and life-wasting trap. And more often than not it is a profit-wasting venture rather than an enriching one. And I mean that in both the financial sense (think of how much money you piss-away on bad films, group sports – where you don’t even play, you just sit on your asses watching others play, and mediocre video games) and in the general sense concerning the fact that you are wasting your perishable time and life-span on essentially useless activities.
Now before anyone thinks that I will say that I am not against all video games, or films, or even spectator and group sports. I am merely saying that far too much time is uselessly and profitlessly expended on the pursuit of these things as mere distractions and entertainments from actually living and accomplishing truly worthwhile endeavors and enterprises. Hell, even just a casual weekend hobby – such as rocketry, flying drones, exploring, , reading for pleasure, etc. is likely to be far better for your mind, body, and soul than merely sitting for hours upon your ass passively consuming (for the most part) films, television shows, spectator sports, and video games.
Finally, and not to be overlooked, by being more active on the weekends your sex drive increases. So, more sex with the wife. Sometimes a lot more.
You know, it’s funny. I never actually feel like a “loser.” I have absolute confidence in my own capabilities and talents. No worries for me there. Never have been. I don’t face personal doubts about myself. I have limits, I know them well. I have many extraordinary abilities. I know that too and precisely what they are. I also understand that usually my extraordinary abilities far outweigh my limitations.
On the other hand I do often feel like the Batman sitting atop a gargoyle 60 stories up in the pouring rain on a cold, moonless, pitch black night completely unnoticed and scanning the city for some sign of life. Which is exactly the way it is supposed to work when you’re the Batman.
When you’re a writer though… well, the dark is not your friend.
So you’re writing a novel, la-de-dah. Typing away like a rock star. Day after day after day.
And then, out of nowhere, whap! A horrific thought slaps you upside the head, yanking you out of the story and paralyzing you so that your daily word count takes a serious nosedive. Suddenly you wonder if you’re an author, that maybe all the things you write are just slobbery bits of drivel bubbling out of you. Panic sets in. Perhaps you’re not a for-real writer. Maybe you’re an impostor. A poser. An orangutan mimicking kissy noises in front of a mirror. Or worse — maybe the zombie apocalypse really did happen and you’re nothing but a body operating on rote memory because shoot, if you read what you’ve written, those words certainly look like a person with no brain wrote them.
Or maybe you’re just a loser.
Never fear, little writer. I’m here to tell you that you’re not a loser. You’re normal. Every writer hits this point at some time in every single manuscript they write — and sometimes more than once. Hating your writing and feeling like pond scum is par for the course. Why?
Because creation is the process of making something out of nothing, and that something takes blood, sweat, and tears to mold into a beautiful masterpiece.
Think about this . . . Babies don’t pop out of their mothers all smiley faced and swaddled in fluffy rubber ducky blankies. They come out screaming and howling, all mucked up with oobie-goobies and require a good cleaning and lots of love. You don’t think that mom had second doubts during the heat of labor? She’d have packed up and gone home at that point if she could.
That’s how it works for your story, too. Don’t pack it up. Press on through the birth pains. Push out that ugly story so that it can be cleaned off and wrapped up into a beautiful book cover.
The only way out is through, folks, no matter how you feel. Take your hand off your forehead (yes, I see that big “L” you’re making with your forefinger and thumb) and get those fingers on your keyboard instead.
Make a Living Writing Fiction: Follow these Ten Steps
By Elizabeth S. Craig
I’ve been asked by everyone from writers with day jobs to high school students if it’s possible to make a living as a writer. The answer is easy—it’s definitely possible. The next question is trickier to answer—how does one go about making a living as a writer?
Although some writers hit it big with a blockbuster book, the rest of us need to work harder and smarter. We need multiple books with multiple income streams to make it.
Here are my tips and best practices for making a living writing fiction.
I’m doing it, myself (if I weren’t I’d definitely be looking for a day job):
1) Write a popular genre that you enjoy reading and writing.
If you’re looking for commercial success, it’s best to choose a genre that’s popular with readers. There are readers who avidly follow new releases in their favorite genre, reading as many as they can get their hands on. Writing for those readers makes discoverability much easier than writing ‘a book that’s so unique, it’s impossible to categorize’ (something I’ve heard a writer say before).
But the second part of that tip is equally important—it’s vital that you choose a popular genre that you enjoy reading and writing. If you’re branding yourself to a genre, make sure it’s one you know inside and out. This will be much easier if you like reading those types of books.
2) Know what readers expect from the genre.
There are always specific conventions to follow.
Most genres have a particular pattern to them…readers expect to see the stories constructed a certain way. These conventions are helpful because they give us guidelines to follow.
It’s fine to ‘think outside the box,’ but probably better not to start out that way if we’re looking for success. It’s better to experiment after we have a more loyal readership and even then it can be tricky.
I’ve known well-established writers who flouted cozy mystery conventions and suffered poor reviews and angry readers because of it.
If you’re not sure what the conventions for your chosen genre are, step up your critical reading and note similarities in the books. Read customer reviews of these novels on retail sites to see what’s worked and what hasn’t for readers.
3) Write in series.
Readers enjoy reading series and writing in series definitely makes the process easier for authors. With series, we have a set story world, characters with developed traits, and a structure to work from. It’s a terrific time-saver and a way to quickly create more stories without having to reinvent the wheel each time we start a new book.
4) Write quickly.
If you can release at least one book a year, you’ll soon find yourself in a position to make more income.
Having several published books makes it easier to run promotions. You could lower the price of the first book or even make it free. You can give a book away to readers as an inducement to join your email newsletter list. Aside from the promotional aspect, having several published books gives us more ‘real estate’ and visibility on retail sites.
You can also write faster and more accurately by keeping a story bible for your series, noting any facts that you’ll need to know for future stories (character eye color, style of dressing, lisp, the street the protagonist lives on).
That way you won’t have to take time to reread your own books to research basic facts about your series.
Another way to make the most of your valuable writing time is by giving yourself a short prompt at the end of each writing session to remind yourself where you left off and what you plan on covering next.
5) Self publish.
I write three series, all of which started out with a trade publisher. I’m continuing two of them independently.
That’s because I realized that I was making more money by self-publishing than I was by publishing at Penguin-Random House…with fewer self-published books.
6) Publish well-edited, well-designed books.
Happy readers make for repeat readers. Make quality part of your brand.
Self-publishing, it’s said, is a misnomer. It takes a team to create really solid products.
7) Make your published books work harder for you.
Have your books available in print as well as digital. Use both CreateSpace and IngramSpark to maximize your international reach.
Jane Friedman and Porter Anderson’s Hot Sheet. (Paid subscription required.)
9) Be responsive to criticism.
Read your reviews, especially the critical ones. If enough readers comment or complain about a particular aspect of a character or your stories, consider making a change to strengthen your books and make them more appealing to readers.
10) Work smarter instead of harder with marketing to open up more time to write.
Promo can eat up time better spent writing. Make a focused list of promo areas you want to pursue and then mark the time to research, create, and implement on your calendar (Facebook ads, BookBub, etc.)
But also consider working smarter and setting up strategies that will help you in the long run without the continuous investment of time.
Tweak keywords and keeping book metadata consistent for better discoverability.
Link to your other books in your back matter.
Make sure to have your newsletter signup link in a variety of places, including your email tagline, website sidebar, back matter of your books, and Facebook page.
Inform your newsletter subscribers whenever you have a new release.
This approach won’t appeal to all writers and isn’t right for all writers. This type of production schedule is intense and multiple releases each year can create pressure for the writer. It can take a while to see significant returns…it’s usually a slow build. But for those of us who’d rather write instead of pursuing a day job—it’s worth it in the end.
What other tips have I missed for writers interested in writing fiction for a living? And thanks to Anne for hosting me today.
By Elizabeth S. Craig (@elizabethscraig) February 19, 2017.
Elizabeth writes the Southern Quilting mysteries and Memphis Barbeque mysteries for Penguin Random House and the Myrtle Clover series for Midnight Ink and independently.
She blogs at ElizabethSpannCraig.com/blog and curates links on Twitter as @elizabethscraig that are later shared in the free search engine WritersKB.com. Elizabeth makes her home in Matthews, North Carolina, with her husband and two teenage children.
(Note from Anne: Follow Elizabeth on Twitter! Her “Twitteriffic” links are the best way to keep up with the publishing industry that I know! )
When a quilting event falls to pieces, Beatrice works to patch things up.
Dappled Hills quilters are eagerly anticipating new events at the Patchwork Cottage quilt shop. The shop’s owner, Posy, has announced ‘Sew and Tell’ socials and a mystery quilt group project.
But one day, instead of emailed quilt instructions, the quilters receive a disturbing message about a fellow quilter. When that quilter mysteriously meets her maker, Beatrice decides to use her sleuthing skills to find the killer before more lives are cut short.
Creative Nonfiction magazine seeks TRUE personal stories or profiles about people starting over after a failure or setback. Up to 4000 words. Paying market. $3 submission fee. Deadline June 19, 2017
C.G. JUNG SOCIETY OF ST. LOUIS ESSAY CONTEST $10 ENTRY FEE. Theme: Memories, Dreams, and Sensualities. They are looking for personal essays that add something unique to the conversation about Jungian ideas. Winners will have the opportunity to read their essays at our conference, Jung in the Heartland: Memories, Dreams Sensualities, October 2017. Winning essays published on the website. 1st Prize: $1,000. 2nd Prize: $500. 3rd Prize: $250. 3,500 words. Deadline: May 1, 2017.
LitMag pays up to $1000 for short stories! $250 for poetry and short-shorts. No reprints. They don’t consider work that’s previously been published either in print or online (including personal blogs.)
Write non-fiction? Impakter Magazine is looking for non-fiction articles and interviews (1000-3000 words max) in 4 verticals: Culture, Society, Style, Philanthropy. Articles about politics are also welcome but need to meet the magazine’s standard of high-quality content. The magazine publishes daily (except week-end) and each piece attracts 10-40,000 viewers (in majority college-educated millennials). No submission fee.
Publish with the Big 5 without an agent! Forever Yours, Digital-first Romance imprint of Hachette is now taking unagented submissions, from novellas to sagas (12K words t0 100K words.) No advance. 25% royalty. Professional editing, design, publicist. Print books over 50K words.
It’s a quote you may have heard before, and likely it resonates with you because you know that sometimes the greatest adventures lie just beyond the choice of risk.
This is true in life and it is also true for characters in fiction.
Without some measure of risk, a character cannot experience true growth. Without growth, there’s no adventure. And without adventure, there’s no story.
If you’re a writer and you feel like your story is just not escalating or growing your character, then follow the advice below. Excerpted from my latest release, Troubleshooting Your Novel, here are a few thoughts on raising the stakes for your character:
You’re playing a game of cards, and the stakes keep getting higher.
Are you all in or not?
The most intriguing and compelling characters aren’t the ones who play it safe and hedge their bets, but the ones who gamble more than they can afford to lose. A person who never risks will never know the sting of loss. Some people might say he’s better off because of that.
Your readers would not.
Let your character take risks—and sometimes, let him get burned.
The stakes are simply who gets hurt, in what way, and how deeply if the protagonist fails to accomplish his goal. Always consider the consequences: what disaster will befall him in this scene if he fails in his pursuit?
If nothing vital is at stake, why would it ultimately matter if he loses?
And here’s the key: The stakes need to be high enough for readers to care, but also believable enough for them to buy into what’s happening.
Because of the narrative force of escalation, you’ll continue to raise the stakes as the story progresses—not necessarily in terms of how many people are affected, but by how deeply the failure or loss impacts the main character.
So, while it would certainly raise the stakes to plant a bomb in the middle of a stadium filled with fifty thousand fans, it’s not necessary to put that many people in danger. Depending on the story, that type of scenario might come across as completely unbelievable. But putting the life of the one person he loves on the line would make it personal and it might be all you need.
The higher you raise the stakes, the more you strain credulity. This is one reason thrillers are often longer books—they have incredibly high stakes, so the writer needs to take the time to set up a world in which those stakes are not just believable, but inevitable.
What’s at stake in your story? Justice? A relationship? Someone’s sanity or well-being?
Life itself can be at stake, the future of the planet can be at stake, and so can the destiny of the entire universe. (I’m not sure you can raise the stakes much higher than that. But if you can make it believable, go for it.)
Think in terms of “or else” and “if … then.” For example, “We have to accomplish this or else [the terrible consequences will come to pass].” Or, “If we don’t accomplish this, then [the terrible consequences will come to pass).”
The security or well-being of any aspect of the character’s existence can be at stake. Ask, “What part of her would die (in a literal or a symbolic sense) if she fails?”
Defining the stakes will also likely help you define your premise, which is usually a combination of stakes plus dilemma. (However, don’t think that you need to do this before you start writing your story. Often, the premise will only become clear to you as your story develops.)
The more specific the tasks, timing, and consequences, the sharper the story will be.
My overall advice though is this. (And it has always been this.)
Live an extremely active life which includes plenty of getting out in the real world, socializing with real people, and physical exertion. Get out in the sunshine – hike, chop down trees, box, lift weights, haul stuff, work the land, observe, discover, record, take note. I always do my best work, both physical and creative (writing stories, poems, songs, inventing, making scientific discoveries, etc.) while busy at other things or engaged in physical activity.
Then I memorize those things in my head (excellent and stimulating mnemonic practice) to write down or record later. I prefer to write absolutely alone and undisturbed, sure, but I best initially compose, create, and work out of doors, among nature, animals, and God’s great creation (the very best source and inspiration for sub-creation), while at physical labor, or among other people at fascinating and fun enterprises.
That entirely alleviates “loneliness” and “isolation,” keeps you physically, mentally, psychologically, and spiritually fit and happy (and I am immensely happy), and makes your work far more fun and meaningful. It will also likely keep your socially fit.
I for one cannot imagine any attempt at “isolated or inactive (passive, static, sedentary) creativity.”
That, to me, would be entirely self-defeating and the thought of that kind of “creative practice” both revolts and repulses me. (It’s not so great for your Word Hoard or your knowledge base or business reputation either.)
In general, writers do not do their best work in a group. The very nature of creative writing is a solitary pursuit, but without taking great care, can morph into a feeling of isolation. And this can occur whether an author lives in a quiet rural town or in midtown Manhattan. (The one in New York, not Kansas)So, how does an author, feeling isolated and alone stay motivated? How do they develop and maintain a marketing platform on their own? How do they maintain their creative edge when most of their time is spent in relative solitary confinement?First and foremost, they need to continually hone their skills. This agency has many resources available on our website and Steve Laube heads the Christian Writers Institute, providing anyone with mentoring through classes offered and great information. www.ChristianWritersInstitute.com
But how do you overcome the feelings of isolation and loneliness which afflict so many authors? When you need someone to hold up your arms, what do you do?
Left unaddressed, isolation can lead to discouragement, creative-paralysis, and a myriad of other bad things threatening to stop writers of all experience levels in their tracks.
I am going to suggest a course of action counter to what you might think. To “zig” when you expected to “zag.”
Please bear with me as I tell a short story.
Over thirty years ago I attended a people management seminar. It was a broad ranging presentation over several days with some excellent teachers. About a hundred people were in this particular group.
Breakout groups were for new managers, refresher skills for experienced managers, those at government offices, non-profits, public corporations, etc. I still recall some of the presentation material today as very helpful.
I clearly remember one session on developing employee worth and self-esteem. The presenter’s approach emphasized the need for a manager to first have a high level of self-worth and personal confidence and once they had a “full reservoir” of each, distribute them to their staff.
It made sense.
But as we learned how to develop a high level of self-worth, I recall thinking their approach was different than my Christian faith would have directed. It pointed to somewhat “artificial” means to puff up one’s self rather than anything of depth.
After all, repeating “I am good, I am great, I am wonderful” only goes so far.
In a breakout session, we went around the table giving our impressions of the material and I mentioned the concept of giving and receiving (never mentioning the Bible or Jesus).
You want to feel appreciated? Show appreciation. You want to feel loved? Love someone.
I suggested if a manager wanted to increase their own sense of worth, they should focus first on improving the worth of others.
The stunned silence around the table combined with the apparent appearance of antlers growing from my head (based on the looks I received) proved I was suggesting a foreign concept.
Of course, as believers we do give from our abundance as God has lavished his grace on us, allowing us all to give others grace from his overflowing supply. But I felt this level of theological discussion was too much for this particular business seminar!
So I just kept it simple at the “Give much, receive much” level, which was confusing to anyone committed to a “Get first, give a little” strategy.
Let’s consider author isolation in a similar counter-intuitive manner:
If you need encouragement, encourage another writer. Read the books of people you have met at conferences and correspond with them.
If you need mentoring, start by mentoring young writers (middle school students are a good start). You don’t need an MFA to mentor a twelve year old in creativity. Teaching is the best form of learning.
Register and attend a writer’s conference with the specific purpose of seeking out an isolated, discouraged writer (even if you are one) and offer to be their accountability/encouragement partner. (As opposed to going to a conference looking for someone to do this for you.)
Help another writer establish their author-marketing platform.
Help shape someone else’s work.
Start a writer’s group and devote yourself to others’ growth.
Start a creative writing group at your public library.
Start a writing group in your church.
Connect with homeschooler groups to discuss creative writing.
Recommend other authors’ books to your friends.
When you spend time helping someone else, your own writing,
creativity, sense of purpose and value improve exponentially.
The more you focus solely on yourself, the less you will grow.
So how do you overcome the dreaded Isolated Author Syndrome?
Someone wrote to say, “I’ve been offered a contract on my novel. Since I don’t have an agent, should I seek one at this point? And if the agent accepts, should he or she still receive 15% of the deal, even if they didn’t market my book or secure the deal for me? Would it be better to have the agent simply review the contract for a fee?”
There’s quite a debate about this issue. I suppose many agents would say, “Sure — call me!” They’d be happy to get 15% for a deal they’ve done no work on. But my advice would be to think long term. Is there an agent you like and trust — someone you want to work with in the long term? If so, call him or her. Talk about the situation. Explain that you’ve already got a deal. The agent may be willing to take less in order to work with you. They may review the contract for a fee. They may have some insight into your situation. But don’t sign with someone just because you think you need an agent and someone is willing to say yes. If, for example, you’ve got a $10,000 advance coming, make sure it’s worth the $1500 to have the agent assist with this contract. Sure, it may be worth it — if you’ve got a complex situation, or a novel that is going to be made into a movie, or a potential bestseller… those probably call for a good agent to get involved.
That said, it doesn’t really seem fair to me to take the full comission for a book I didn’t sell, though not everyone in the industry agrees with me. You can always talk with a contract-review specialist, who will review your contract for a flat fee (usually somewhere in the $500-to-$1000 range). You can also talk with an intellectual property rights attorney, but be careful — they’re generally paid by the six-minute increment, and their goal is often to keep the clock moving. The longer it takes them, the more they are paid, so don’t agree to this without some sort of ceiling on the cost. And make sure you’re talking with a lawyer who knows publishing contracts, not someone who is used to doing real estate contracts or Grandma’s will. (I know of at least one author who paid more to have a top-flight entertainment lawyer review the contract than they were paid in advance dollars.) Generally speaking, your family lawyer won’t have enough experience to really help you with a publishing contract. Again, I’ve noticed a pattern among some agents to claim they can help you if you already have an offer on the table. That may be true, but check them out… you may not need an agent on this deal, but perhaps could use some help on the next one. Still, congratulations on getting the book deal, by the way.
Another writer asked, “Should I worry about a literary agent who turned me down, but suggested I work with his editorial service?”
Absolutely you should worry. Here’s how this commonly works — you send a manuscript to an agent, who says, “I really like this, but it’s not ready. However, we have an editorial service here who can help you. For just $1500, they’ll get this proposal ready for us to represent…” The agent sends you to his editor friend, then pockets half of that “editorial fee,” so he or she is making money off the author. That’s a total violation of ethics for literary agents (and I’d argue the reason we’re seeing some agents do this is because we’ve had a group of people jump into agenting who don’t really know what they’re doing). The Association of Author Representatives has a clear canon of ethics printed on their web page which precludes an agent from doing this very thing. It’s ripe with potential for abuse. It’s why I keep a list of editors I trust close at hand, to recommend to writers who need help, but I don’t have any editors on staff, don’t try and sell authors editorial services, and don’t get any sort of kickback if I do recommend someone. My advice: If an agent tries to cross-sell you some other literary service that charges you a fee, stand up and walk away. You can find a better agent. The same thing goes for an agent who tries to sell you their marketing assistance. There are too many scam agents who are basically trying to sell editorial or marketing services for a fee, rather than trying to help you place your book.
And another author had this situation: “I signed with an agent, but wasn’t happy. I fired that agent, and moved on to another. But now my first agent is claiming that anything I ever talked with her about is her responsibility! She claims that if I ever get a publishing deal for the projects she represented, she is to be paid the agent’s commission. Is that legal?”
This is an issue I just can’t fathom. I understand getting paid if I’ve done the legwork — let’s say that I’ve worked with an author to develop a project, showed it to publishers, and started to get some interest. If the author hears about it, fires me, then approaches the same publishers to try and get the deal and save themselves the 15% commission, I should still get paid. I state in my agency agreement that if I’m working with a publisher on your behalf, I’ll still get paid even if you fire me and do a deal with them within a year.
But I’ve seen this a few times lately — an agent claiming that if you EVER sell the book they represented, they’ll still get paid. To me, that sounds like a scam. I’m not a lawyer, so I cannot give legal advice, but I would think this would be awfully tough to have stand up in court. My advice: read any agreement carefully before you sign it. If the agent has a clause that’s incredibly restrictive like this, ask to have it altered.
Okay, I’m just working through a bunch of the questions people have sent me. What have you always wanted to ask an agent?
Thinking about joining a professional organization? This post is geared to the writer who has decided what type of books to write and wonders if memberships would enhance the proposal. Those who are undecided would be better served by attending a few conferences as a nonmember to discern career direction.
When investigating professional organizations, I recommend asking yourself questions:
Can I afford to join? Some organizations keep dues reasonable. Others are pricey. Dues often increase. If the math doesn’t work for you, don’t join, at least not at this time in your career.
Do I have time to participate? If you are already overburdened with work and family life, unless you can reorganize your calendar or drop other activities, now is not the time to join.
What conference opportunities does the organization offer? If you join an organization that offers, say, a conference in Hawaii every year and you will always feel uncomfortable with the expense and time needed, this might not be the right organization for you. But if they offer convenient local chapters where you can participate, then this organization offers promise.
Will I meet the right editors and agents through this organization? Visit the organization’s web site. Most will have either the past year’s or current conference plans posted. Do the editors, agents, and mentors specialize in or are they knowledgeable about the books you want to write? Look until you find a conference with the professionals who will be the most helpful for you to meet.
Does the organization cater to my career plans? Look for organizations with a mission to grow the writer you are or wish to be.
Will agents and editors be impressed by memberships? I take memberships into consideration but I never accept or decline based on memberships. What the membership tells me is that this author has connections, or at least the ability to be in contact with other authors writing similar books. These relationships are helpful on both a personal and professional level for the author. Membership also says that the author has taken steps to shore up a career and didn’t just write a book on the fly and hope for the best.
Can memberships hurt my career? Years ago, I received a submission listing so many organizations’ acronyms that if the author had been an active member in each, she’d have no time to write a grocery list, much less a book. I asked for elaboration, but never received any.
Please be focused and thoughtful before joining any organization. And remember, the membership is for your personal and professional growth. Enjoy!
Are you a member of any professional organizations?
What is the biggest benefit you see from joining professional organizations?
What professional organizations would you recommend?
Few things irritate fiction readers more than a story peopled by characters who act and react without any apparent reason for what they’re doing and saying. No reason, that is, except to illustrate the author’s message. Or prove the author’s point.
Well, you say, don’t we all have a message or point in what we write? Isn’t fiction about letting our characters take the readers on a journey of discovery and even realization? Yes…and no. Writers of powerful fiction keep in mind that the story trumps all. The story, and the characters who people it, should be crafted such that it all presents ideas, challenges understanding, and encourages discourse. It should feel authentic. If a character faces a struggle, we need to understand why he is struggling. If a character experiences joy, we need to know why that even brought her joy. When a fiction writer just has characters do and say what will prove their point or “teach” their message, without showing the why behind it all, without laying a sound foundation for the character to do and say what he is doing and saying, that writer is no longer writing fiction, but delivering a sermon. Or even worse, a story that’s…wait for it…contrived.
Dear ol’ Webster defined contrived as: “having an unnatural or false appearance or quality : artificial, labored.”
When it comes to fiction, I define contrived as “weak writing.”
Think about it. The last thing you want your readers doing as they read your book is constantly stopping, frowning, and asking, “Why did he do that?” or “Why did she say that?” I’m not talking about the good kind of “why,” where readers want to keep reading to discover the answer to the mystery or the story question. No, this kind of why means the characters aren’t doing their jobs. They’re on the page, acting and speaking…but it doesn’t mean anything because you haven’t given reasons for what the characters are doing.
Suppose you have a hero who is constantly second guessing himself. He goes one way, and then another, and then another entirely. If we don’t understand what’s making said hero do such things, we end up thinking he’s weak, wishy-washy, and even irritating. “Make a choice, idiot, and stick with it!”) But if we know WHY he’s acting that way it changes everything. When we know that our hero was abused as a kid, that every time he took a stand he was punished, that every decision he’s ever made has been ridiculed…then we realize that he’s not operating out of being a twit, but out of a deep-rooted fear. When we understand the why, we are far more willing to go along with what, on the surface, is maddening behavior. Understanding the why gives readers a sense of empathy, and even encourages them to root for the character. (“Come on, dude, you can do it! Grow a spine!”)
Remember, though, the reason, the why, has to be sound. It can’t be just, “I’ll have him say this because it’s what I need him to say now.”
Yes, we novelists have created our characters. And yes, we have reasons for writing the stories we’re writing (and that applies to general market writers as much as Christian writers…we all have a message at the core of what we write), but folks, do your characters–and your readers–a favor and make sure your characters aren’t just puppets on the page. Flesh them out, let who they are and why they are, what drives them and what terrifies them, what delights them and what upsets them, unfold with the story. Let your characters come alive on the page, let them be authentic in what they say and do, and let them have solid reasons for it all.
When you lay a solid, credible foundation of why, story, your characters, and your readers all benefit.
Write what actually happened even if you have to change it around a bit to make it work right. As a matter of fact if you wanna avoid a lawsuit then change it around a bit anyway. It’ll still be true even as a story.
Write what you have actually lived. If you haven’t started living yet then for God’s sake go out and do that first. Before you write anything else. If this is the only thing you ever learn about writing then it is still the best thing you can learn about writing. Writing after all is never really about the writing, it’s always about the living.
It is far better to be good than perfect, which you’ll never be anyway.
If there is no poetry in what you’re saying then no one will remember it long, much less ever bother to quote it. You want to be quoted, and quoted a lot, whether you’re smart enough to know that yet or not.
Say exactly what you mean even if it takes the reader years to figure out what you really meant by that.
Don’t sit on your ass all day in a dingy little room and expect to compose anything worthwhile to say about anything. Ever. Yes, writing takes discipline and even isolation at times. But if you spend all day living in your head then you deserve to spend all day living in your head. Plus the only thing you’ll have to say anything about will be the crap that goes on in your head. If you don’t get that then try running that sappy, self-indulgent crap that constantly floats in your head by somebody else. Somebody normal I mean.
Dialogue is only really great if it’s absolutely real, but if it’s too real then it’s probably not. Really great I mean. Furthermore if you have to explain it (or that) then don’t bother, that’s what overpaid college professors are for – in other words if you assume everyone is a dense dumbass who can’t figure anything out for themselves then chances are you’re the dense dumbass. Instead just say it like it really is, only fictionally.
You owe the reader at least as much as yourself. To you that should mean a very high bar indeed. So high that you shouldn’t always make it over.
Don’t be boring. That’s usually dull.
Don’t turn everything into damned politics. That’s always stupid.
Again, go out and do something. Something worthwhile, something big, something fascinating, something risky, something exciting, something heroic, something self-sacrificial, something really tough to do… Learn to actually live. Then write about that. 9 times outta 10 shouting at a damned protest, running riot, and pissing on police cars ain’t what I mean. Maybe that does excite you but then again, in that case, you should probably be a professional protester instead of a writer. No, I take that back. Don’t be a professional protester. Not in any case.
If what you write seems like Real Life only it ain’t then you’re getting pretty good at fiction. If what you write in real life always seems like fiction then yeah, you still gotta lot to learn.
Write for the ages not the moment. Because that way they’ll either eventually catch up to you or you’ll catch up to them. Either way, it works.
Assume someone in the far future is gonna one day read what you wrote. You’ll want them to laugh at what you meant to be funny, and be sad at what you meant to be tragic. Not the other way around. But the way a lot of writers operate nowadays you would think they were trying for the opposite.
Write like it is an Heraclian labour (or, if you prefer, a Herculean labor) but still natural as hell. Not like, “ah to hell with it,” is still natural for you.
It ain’t rocket science people, it’s just Real Life and fiction writing. Unless it is fiction writing about rocket science. Then yeah,rocket science it up some.
If you think writing is the most important thing in the world then you are an absolute, self-indulgent, naive, juvenile fool who has never really done anything truly worthwhile in life. If you think writing is a cosmic vehicle for “expressing your soul,” or “sharing your innermost thoughts and dreams” then I both pity and laugh out loud at you. If you think writing can’t be as important as anything else in life, or is not a noble, manly (got nothing to do with gender or sex modern kiddies – I’m talking about Mankind), virtuous, and High Enterprise, then yeah, you shouldn’t be doing this. You’re wasting everyone’s time, including your own. But either way don’t make such a big deal of it. That totally belittles your efforts and work.
On the other hand don’t take anything I said above to be somehow political. I have to keep saying that over and over and over again because a lot of people are so stupid and self-absorbed nowadays.
Language is so important that it should be both invisible and sublime. Vocabulary is so important that only the truly ignorant don’t understand what I mean when I say that.
Despite all the modern, common, herdish, tribal, and currently popular bullshit advice on writing assume your audience is intelligent, well-read, curious, eager, and possessed of an excellent personal mind and Word-Hoard. If they ain’t then help them get there. Nobody is inspired by the scribblings of a dumbass with the vocabulary of a six year old, especially a dumbass with the vocabulary of a six year old pretending to be a writer. If somebody wants to habitually consume that kind of swill they can just watch TV or surf the internet.
Nobody gives a crap about what you say if they can’t apply it to themselves, however, if they can usefully or wisely apply it to themselves then even your crap will make a real impression.
It takes a long time to become really good at something. Don’t sweat that, but do work hard enough every day to break a good sweat at it.
Try and write just like everybody else and you surely will.
So you’re ahead of your time, or a throwback to a prior age… big deal. It shouldn’t bother you. If you’re just like everybody else then you’re just like everybody else. If that’s what you’re shooting for then why bother to write about it. Not worth recording anyway.
If all else fails – then Blood. Preferably your own, but whatever the situation really calls for.
(Fire often works too by the way. And explosions. Most anything with a lot of movement and activity.)
Ten years from now the most popular current advice on writing will still be shit, just like it is nowadays, only by then everybody else will know it too. So project forward and beat most other people to the punch.
As a literary agent, not a day goes by when I don’t encounter the changes in thinking from authors caused by the expansion and availability of self-publishing.
It’s understandable, because there are over twice as many books self-published every year in the United States than are published by traditional publishers.
Traditional and self-publishing generate over one million new books every year in the U.S. alone according to RR Bowker. Two-thirds are self-published.
According to the United Nations cultural arm UNESCO, well over two million new books are published annually by traditional publishers worldwide.
The Federation of European Publishers reports on the status of book publishing across the continent. They show revenues and traditional publisher title output are generally flat over the last five years, but the number of titles available in print has grown from 8.5 million in 2011 to 22 million in 2015. Digital printing and self-publishing bring more titles to market and keep more in print longer.
However, those 22 million titles generated slightly less revenue in 2015 than the 8.5 million titles did in 2011. Not revenue per title, but total industry revenue.
No wonder book publishing is a challenge for everyone.
Self-publishing has become ubiquitous and is here to stay, but has also created the impression traditional publishing has changed far more dramatically than it actually has.
If you are self-publishing and desire someday to be published by a traditional publisher, you need to change your thinking depending on your intention.
And learn a new language.
How has self-publishing altered the thinking and professional language of authors? There are five primary areas (and probably more if I think about it).
Control – traditional publishing has always been more of a collegial collaboration between publisher and author. Give and take. Negotiation. Honestly, some authors simply should never be traditionally published because of this. They view control as a non-negotiable and will not relinquish it.
Timing – You get an idea, write it and publish it as a self-published author. When I tell an author it will take 15-18 months or longer to get a book published traditionally, the stunned silence says it all.
Quality of Manuscript – there is no such thing as a finished manuscript. Even if it is edited by three Nobel laureates and chiseled on stone tablets, the manuscript isn’t finished until the publisher says it is. And now you know why some authors self-publish!
Length of Manuscript – There is an optimum length of a traditionally published commercial product based on the type of book. Self-published authors write the length they want. A 6,000-word memoir is a thirty-two page free pamphlet, not a commercial book. A 375,000-word novel is generally not commercially viable as a 1,200-page book selling for fifty dollars. If an author cannot tell me how many words are in their manuscript, only it is 200 manuscript pages, they have been completely influenced by self-publishing thinking. Self-publishing is by pages because your costs are a function of the number of pages.
Cover Design – The dead giveaway you are a self-published author is you have a final cover, approved by friends and family and ready for print. Covers at a traditional publisher involve input from a dozen people or more who develop covers as part of their profession. Leave your cover at home when talking to a traditional publisher.
So, when I get a proposal from an author telling me they have a 275 page, finished manuscript, need it published in less than six months, and the cover is already done, I know I am about to disappoint them significantly with my reply.
Sweeping generalities can be tricky, but compared to most self-publishing models, traditional publishing is still a slow, methodical, careful and deliberate way to publish, involving many moving parts with creative input from a wide variety of professional people accountable for the long-term financial health of the publisher.
So, if you desire to self-publish and also be traditionally published, be very careful about control, timing, manuscript quality, length and cover design to make sure you use appropriate publisher-language. For self-publishing, the author is in control of everything, which some find very comforting.
Then you learn the hard truth of all book publishing, no matter the path you take:
Half of all published books don’t sell particularly well, but you never know which half.
As an author and freelance editor, I’ve had the privilege of knowing and working with a lot of writers, and I’ve discovered most have one at least one thing in common: a sense of urgency to publish.
Since the majority of my writer friends are Christians, I’m not sure if the rush is unique to Christian authors or universal among all, but I do suspect that believers may feel a bit more hurried, what with the need to get the message out there and share the truth with the world.
Would that we were all so eager to witness to our neighbors, but I digress.
Whether you’re published or not, you may feel a sense of urgency about your writing projects. Maybe you worry that somebody else will come along with the same idea and beat you to it. Maybe you worry that by the time your book reaches your audience, the perfect opportunity for your message will have passed. Or maybe the worry is more personal than that. After all, none of us is getting any younger.
With the explosion of indie publishing, impatient writers don’t have to wait any longer. All it takes is a few clicks of the mouse, and you can load that book on retail sites, making it available to your adoring public.
You can indie publish, but should you?
I’m not knocking the process. I’m indie published myself, so I consider this a valid option. The question I want to tackle isn’t whether or not you should take this route. The question is when. Even if the Lord handed you the story, the image for the book cover, and the title, that’s not proof He wants you to rush out and throw it on Amazon. Not sure I’m right? There’s plenty of biblical justification for waiting:
Abraham was told he’d have a son and then waited 19 years before little Isaac was born.
Biblical scholars estimate David waited 10-15 years after he was anointed king before he finally ascended to the throne.
The apostle Paul didn’t begin preaching until more than a decade after his conversion.
I’m sure there were times when Abraham, David, and Paul felt the waiting was unnecessary and wished God would hurry it along. Abraham and Sarah did hurry their promise along. We know how that turned out. David not only waited but, for much of that interim, had to battle just to stay alive. The time wasn’t wasted, though. Lessons are learned in the waiting. Patience, perseverance, and faith, of course. But I suspect some of those lessons were more basic than that. For instance, David learned how to be a leader others were willing to die for. If he’d been crowned sooner, he may not have become the greatest earthly king in Israel’s history. After all, he began as a shepherd, lowly and obscure.
Maybe you have a book you believe needs to be published. Maybe it’s a book you think the Lord gave you, and maybe it even came with a promise. If so, be patient. The anxiety fluttering in your stomach when you think about this project—that isn’t from God. When you pray and trust, you’ll be filled with peace, not worry. But if you force your way through doors He hasn’t opened, the anxiety will likely grow. And the book will not have the impact it could have if you’d remained in His will.
I’ve seen too many books brought to the light through indie publishing that weren’t mature enough, weren’t seasoned enough, weren’t ready to be there. Instead of jumping ahead, trust that when God wants you to publish your words, He’ll make it clear. He’ll open the right doors and lead you to exactly the right the people who can help make it happen.
In the meantime, move on to other projects. Build your newsletter list, learn new marketing strategies, make connections with other authors. Mostly, keep learning, keep growing, and keep improving your craft. It may be that if you come back to that project in a year or two, you’ll realize you can make it shine.
I speak from experience. The Lord gave me a book almost four years ago. It’s the only time I’ve ever felt one of my stories came from God, and, still, it was the hardest book I ever wrote. I believe that with the help of a great editor, it can be my best book. But that story has been pitched and pitched, and nobody’s interested. I write and publish other books and help other authors do the same while that book languishes silently on my laptop. When I pray about it, I don’t have a clear direction. I don’t feel free to indie publish it, and no acquisitions editor has shown any interest. So I wait. The last thing I want to do is treat His gift with haste and carelessness. I trust that God has a purpose in the waiting and a plan for the story He gave me.
The Lord may make you a promise, give you a vision, or impart to you a message, and then ask you to wait. He’s been doing it for thousands of years, and He’ll keep doing it today. You could choose to be like Abraham and Sarah and rush ahead, or you could trust God’s timing, which is always perfect.
Last Sunday a church friend and I found ourselves in a conversation about the recent presidential election and potential ramifications thereof. They’re hard to avoid lately unless you’re a mole. The service was about to begin and we needed to get to our seats, but the short interlude of sharing diverse vantage points prompted an idea to share with writers who struggle to identify a unique angle for their books. A fresh approach is a must if you want to grab the attention of agents and editors.
Here’s why. A unique angle is one of the first things they look for in a proposal. If it isn’t apparent from the beginning, chances are it won’t get read beyond the first two pages. This is especially true for new writers but also for established authors, because there are no entitlements in publishing. Published authors have to maintain the edge if they hope to get the next contract. So treat the search with a positive attitude because the return will be great.
Your special angle is your friend for these important reasons:
It makes your story or your nonfiction book stand out from all those other similar books out there. Think like an editor. Why should he publish your book when there are others already available that say essentially the same thing? Or tell a very similar story?
It tells you what to include in your book and what to leave out. Knowing your boundaries makes the writing easier.
A fresh new approach makes your book more interesting, which in turn will attract more readers.
But finding that new and different angle can be the hardest challenge in the writing process for many writers.
Here is one approach to help you. Begin by recognizing that the most exclusive part of your book is YOU. You are a unique individual with experiences and perceptions as singular as you are. Dig deep to recall people, personal and worldly events, places, and even objects that made a memorable impression on you over the years. No one else will have an identical response to yours. Use them to your advantage. Ask yourself:
Why? Be specific.
How? In what ways did it affect your future perspectives, likes and dislikes?
When? Was the time and place important to the impression it made on you?
Next, think about how you can use your noted particulars to differentiate your book. Perhaps for assigning a quirk to your protagonist that affects her reactions to events in the plot? Can you also use this to add tension and crises in the story? You might be surprised by ideas that pop up about how to skew your Christian living book’s theme. Even a little bit can be enough to produce a unique angle. Or it might take more thought, but at least you have some tools to work with.
Your personal reactions and impressions are unique to you, but you are not alone in them, so don’t hold back because you think you are a strange exception from the majority. Chances are the reader following you’ve been attracting already feels a connection to your personal impressions in subtle ways.
How did you arrive at a unique angle for your WIP? If you are still working on it, what is holding you up? If you have a different method for pinpointing a fresh angle, please share it.
Your book needs a unique angle to get agent and editor attention. Here is one approach to finding it. Click to Tweet.
Here is one approach to help identify a unique angle for your novel or nonfiction book. Click to Tweet.
Well, my first private and personal Hell Week is over. Under my belt. I’m not gonna say it wasn’t tough, because it certainly was. On the other hand it was extremely good for me. So I’ve decided to make it a quarterly event for me (once a quarter, every year).
Actually I had to spread my Hell Week over 12 days because, and maybe it is just this time of year, once or twice I would have to spend most of a day driving my wife to Columbia or Rock Hill or elsewhere because of her car accident. So I would either have to add days onto my scheduled week to make up for that or if I had to do something else for half a day just redid that same day the next day. So that was difficult, but doable.
Tuesday was the most difficult on my schedule because on that day I did nothing but physical training (weights, routines, boxing, sports, athletics, combat, etc.) from 5:00 AM until 10:00 at night although I actually had to switch that day to Thursday because of helping my wife. It was hard, I won’t lie, and hard to push myself in that way even though I’m in pretty good shape.
Some of the other days that required thinking all day were also difficult. It’s perhaps harder than most realize to force yourself to think and focus all day on purely mental and psychological tasks with only meal breaks or times for physical training or weight lifting. Also Sunday was surprisingly hard as although it might seem easy and relaxed according to what I had scheduled I spent most of the day fasting and in Prayer Vigil. A long prayer vigil after a rough week is a surprisingly hard undertaking. It was difficult and taxing to concentrate and not fall asleep. Especially considering my prior lack of sleep. Occasionally I had to do other things to stay awake. That surprised me, but it was true.
Still, I haven’t done anything like this since my thirties and so I have to say that after it was all over and looking back on it I had a ball and it was extremely beneficial for me. I either learned or relearned what I am truly capable of at my age and even though I’m in my fifties I can honestly say that in many ways I performed as if in my thirties. And I feel far superior for the effort.
Actually, as I told my wife, “I feel sharp as a timberwolf and tough as twisted iron.”
I recommend this to everyone.
Some of the things I learned or relearned as a result of this Hell Week: I really like getting up every day at 5:00 AM (actually 4:30 because I always have my clocks set 1/2 hour ahead), I can go hard without much sleep (always have been able to do that though I’m glad to be back to sleeping regularly), I become dehydrated easily so I have to always force myself to drink, I like eating healthy and light, I like pain in my muscles but not in my back, my powers of concentration and focus are still pretty sharp, I much prefer physical activity to sitting on my ass and being in shape to being out of it, cold don’t mean much if you’re moving (every day I did my morning hike and run and tire hauls in freezing or near freezing weather and in short sleeves and it never bothered me once and I rarely felt cold), and I can push myself pretty hard without any one else needing to do so. And I can adapt pretty easily to almost any circumstance. Also the amount of real work I got done during Hell Week was rather impressive. In sheer quantity that is, though I had no real time for editing or refinement, that will all have to come later, now that I’ve returned to my normal work schedule.
For the next seven weekends however I will be testing myself to determine just how much good Hell Week really did me (performance wise) and what my levels of progress actually and precisely were. That should lead to further program imporvements.
As for Hell Week I have already set about improving and refining the program (as a result of my experience) and to expanding upon the idea. I am now developing a new, more comprehensive program that I call Lifelong Endeavors that will encompass my Day to Day Activities, my Regular Training, monthly and quarterly Challenges (such as Hell Week and Survival Challenges), and Quests (far larger enterprises and expeditions I want to undertake in life such as funding and leading an archaeological expedition).
I’ll discuss all of that later though. In other posts. For now I have other work to do.
Have a good day folks.
Thanks for reading and see ya later.
I’m serious though, try your own Hell Week. It’ll be extremely good for you, you’ll be surprised at just how far you can push yourself if you really try, and it should do you a world of good.
By the way, if anyone is interested you can find my personal Hell Week Program at this link (the prior post).
Develop your own though. For what you need to do. Don’t just use mine, though you’re welcome to. Design your own.
here is my actual Hell Week Program after all necessary improvements and revisions.
No, I’m not afraid I’ll wash out or be unable to complete it but it will be difficult. Especially Tuesday and Friday. I’m not kidding myself that it won’t be hard.
But it’s a good start to incorporating all of my old training and educational and survival and CAP and others forms of training into a single program or set of programs geared to improve me at this stage and era of my life. And I’m already working on integrating all of these things into a single, unified Field System of Training. I’ll talk about that later, after Hell Week.
For now it is sufficient to say that I begin my new Hell Week tomorrow.
I’ll probably be incommunicado for a week therefore. I might make a quick post on progress, but I doubt it.
Here is the background on my Hell Week. Or just see previous post.
Below is the program itself.
Have a good week folks and I’ll see you when I can. For now I’m gonna go drink some water, listen to a quick radio play, and then go to bed early. Tomorrow I begin.
General Program Principles
Stand at Ease, legs far apart when in public
Employ your charisma at all times in public
Be Friendly and helpful to all
Assist anyone you can
Breathe deeply and calmly even when training
Sleep 6 to 8 hours at night if Program allows
Sleep in tent or on floor
Cook own food or eat food raw
Exercise or Work to failure or to task completion
Drink only water and coffee – hydrate often
Take all Metaergogenics
Whenever you go out into the public dress superbly and be generous
Network and interact freely and with all
Complete all 7 days without excuse
Progressive resistance in all tasks and categories as you proceed
Serious injury or unforeseen outside circumstances are the only acceptable reasons for non-completion, then must start all over
No entertainment or rest between functions unless Program allows
No TV, radio, film, internet, or email unless specified
No sex with wife during Program
Test every Saturday after completing Program for next 7 weeks (one function per week)
MONDAY – CREATION AND DESIGN
Wake – 0500
Aesic Practice – ½ hour
Breakfast, Water, Metas – ½ hour
Music ½ hour
Exercise Animals – ½ hour
Hike 1 ½ mile – ½ hour
Research – 1 hour
Snack, water, coffee, rest, stretch – ½ hour
Game Design and General Design – ½ hour
Lunch, Water, Metas – ½ hour
Lecture – 1 hour
Write short story – 1 hour
Snack, water, rest, coffee, stretch – ½ hour
Write song – ½ hour
Write poem – ½ hour
Artwork/sketch – 1 hour
Dinner, water, metas – ½ hour
Write novel – 2 ½ hours
Warmann – 1 hour
Submissions and Marketing – 1 hour
Work in Notebooks – 1 hour
Stargaze – 1 hour
Read – 1 hour
TUESDAY – PHYSICAL – WARMANN
Wake – 0500
Aesic Practice – ½ hour
Breakfast, Water, Metas – ½ hour
Music ½ hour
Exercise Animals – ½ hour
Hike in pack 2 miles – ½ hour
Research – 1 hour
Snack, water, coffee, rest, stretch – ½ hour
Football – ½ hour
Lunch/water, metas – ½ hour
Soccer – ½ hour
Run 1 ½ mile – ½ hour
Snack, water, coffee, rest, stretch – ½ hour
Shooting – ½ hour
Snack, water, rest, coffee, stretch – ½ hour 1
Baseball – ½ hour
Warmann – 1 hour
Weight Lifting – 1 hour
Dinner, water, metas – 1 hour
Boxing – ½ hour
Sword/knife fighting – ½ hour
Stealth and climbing – 1 hour
Warmann – 1 hour
Work in Notebooks – 1 ½ hours
Read – 1 hour
WEDNESDAY – INVENTION/INNOVATION
Wake – 0500
Aesic Practice – ½ hour
Breakfast, Water, Metas – ½ hour
Music ½ hour
Exercise Animals – ½ hour
Hike 1 ½ mile – ½ hour
Research – 1 hour
Snack, water, coffee, rest, stretch – ½ hour
Warmann – ½ hour
Lunch, water, metas – ½ hour
Lecture – 1 hour
Observe Nature – 1 hour
Snack, water, coffee, rest, stretch – ½ hour
Invent – 1 hour
Design – 1 hour
Innovate – 1 hour
Dinner, water, metas – 1 hour
Submissions and Marketing – 1 hour
Study – 1 hour
Warmann – ½ hour
Work in Notebooks – 1 hour
Write – 1 hour
Read – 1 hour
About once a month I regularly test myself on some matter: physical, mental, psychological, spiritual, intellectual, creative, etc.
I do this to see how my daily and weekly training routines have improved me, or not.
Recently however I have been reading a book called, Hell Week by a Norwegian guy name Erik Larssen, former paratrooper and now an entrepreneur and performance coach. He suggests putting yourself through a Hell Week whenever needed.
I think his idea makes a great deal of sense and so I have designated the first week of September my upcoming Hell Week. He has a sample program but I will be modifying it for myself and my own objectives. Anyway I figure I can put myself through my own Hell Week maybe twice a year or so and see how that benefits me.
The types of training my Hell Week will include will be:
Testing will follow Hell Week for the next seven weeks, one Test per week
That way my Hell Week program will mirror the kinds of things I’ve done and trained in for decades now.
I’m thinking I might follow up Hell Week with a modified one week Survival Challenge in the woods in autumn. Pack enough food to have one meal per day, no fire, find my own water, explore a lot. Then if I need more food I can trap it or fish it. But part of it will be to see how little food I really require. And to sharpen thing like my senses, my nightvision (which I really only practice much with my telescope watching the moon and stars), to go back to sneaking a lot, to toughen my body back to natural environmental conditions, and to see what my dreams are like in those conditions.
Also my wife liked the idea of Hell Week so I’m making a very simplified form of Hell Week for her and the girls which I’ll call Hell Day that they can do once a month.
After Hell Week I’ll also choose one day a month (I’m thinking the first day of the month) to do a Hell Day just to keep me sharp and to improve my self-testing.
Friday 25 March 201612.04 EDTLast modified on Saturday 26 March 201607.42 EDT
The Harry Potter author JK Rowling has shared some withering rebuffs publishers sent to her alter ego Robert Galbraith, in an effort to comfort aspiring authors.
Rowling posted the rejection letters on Twitter after a request from a fan. They related to The Cuckoo’s Calling, her first novel as Galbraith. But Rowling also saw Harry Potter turned down several times before the boy wizard became one of the greatest phenomena in children’s literature, with sales of more than 400m copies worldwide.
Asked how she kept motivated, she tweeted: “I had nothing to lose and sometimes that makes you brave enough to try.”
When she pitched under the name Galbraith without revealing her true identity, she faced many more snubs. Since then, Galbraith has published three successful novels but the first was rejected by several publishers, and Rowling was even advised to take a writing course.
Rowling erased the signatures when she posted the letters online, saying her motive was “inspiration not revenge”. She did not reveal the full text of the most brutal brush-off, which came by email from one of the publishers who had also rejected Harry Potter.
Rowling said she could not share the Potter rejections because they “are now in a box in my attic” before offering the Galbraith letters. The kindest and most detailed rejection came from Constable & Robinson, who – despite the advice about a writing course – included helpful tips on how to pitch to a publisher (“as on book jackets – don’t give away the ending!”). The publisher added: “I regret that we have reluctantly come to the conclusion that we could not publish it with commercial success.”
The short note from publishers Crème de la Crime said the firm had become part of another publishing group and was not accepting new submissions.
When The Cuckoo’s Calling eventually found a publisher in 2013, it was achieving respectable sales before the secret of its authorship broke, and it then shot to the top of the bestseller lists.
Joanne Harris, author of a string of hit novels, joined the Twitter discussion to say she had so many rejections for her 1999 book Chocolat, later adapted as a Hollywood movie, that she had piled them up and “made a sculpture”.
Rowling, Harris and their literary disciples are in excellent company. Eimear McBride, the 2014 Bailey’s prizewinner for her first novel A Girl is a Half-formed Thing, accumulated a drawer full of rejection letters before a chance conversation led to her book being published by Galley Beggar, a tiny independent publisher in Norwich.
James Joyce’s epic masterpiece Ulysses, regarded as one of the greatest Irish novels, was repeatedly rejected by baffled publishers before finally being published in a tiny edition in Paris in 1922 by his friend Sylvia Beach’s Shakespeare & Co bookshop: a copy of the first edition sold a few years ago for £275,000.
TS Eliot, in his role as an editor at Faber and Faber, turned down George Orwell’s Animal Farm as “unconvincing”. Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 was rejected as “not funny on any intellectual level”, and John le Carré‘s first spy novel, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, was passed from one publisher to another with the withering comment: “You’re welcome to le Carré – he hasn’t got any future.” Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick attracted the memorable response “First, we must ask, does it have to be a whale?” It did.
If you are a young black male and you don’t understand that police are sometimes spooked by you, especially if you live in a high crime, urban area, then you aren’t thinking this out very far. Now as a black kid or man is that necessarily your fault? If you are law abiding and peaceful and doing the best you can, then no, it is not your fault. But at the moment anyway, it is the way it is. And no one can argue the way things actually are. You might not like it, and in this case you shouldn’t like it, but you can’t argue it’s not true.
If you are a police officer and you don’t understand that a lot of young black males (or others) are sometimes spooked by you, especially if you react to them with automatic suspicion or an assumption of guilt, then you aren’t thinking this out very far. Now as a cop is this your fault? If you are a good cop and doing the best you can, then no, it is not your fault. But at this moment, anyway, this is the way it is. And no one can argue the way things actually are. You might not like it, and in this case you shouldn’t like it, but you can’t argue it’s not true.
Everyone is spooked. Sometimes for entirely legitimate reasons and sometimes for assumptively dubious and entirely erroneous reasons. And when people are spooked, then rightly or wrongly, bad things tend to happen. People react instead of carefully observe, people are triggered by instinct rather than reason, people’s emotions become actively paramount rather than their common sense. The result of those habits are often very bad (certainly stupid and unnecessary), even murderous things.
But no one but criminals and terrorists and very bad men will benefit if young law abiding citizens and young men and the police are spooked of each other, and are reflexively hostile towards and automatically dubious of each other.
What’s the answer? Hell, I wish I could tell you the answer. The one that will work in every case. But no answer will work in every case. That’s just not real life. Not the way real people are. People are people. They will at times revert to their worst instincts or their most illogical and counter-productive habits. Or even to bad or incomplete or misguided training.
However I can tell you this much: When you are angry at each other, and vengeful towards each other, and automatically suspicious of each other, and spooked by each other then no real good can come of that. And no solutions either. Sometimes though, just really thinking and dwelling on the problem can give you an understanding of how to start.
However I can tell you what ought to be happening. What ought to be happening is that young black men, the law abiding and decent and good ones should be working with the police to take down criminals and thugs and terrorists in their own neighborhoods and to straighten out those neighborhoods for everyone else. (Including for the benefit and safety of their own children and women.) What ought to be happening is that cops should not to be automatically suspicious of all young black men who live in a dangerous area (and yes, they have every right to own personal firearms and maybe even more reason than most – because, well, think about it, they live in a bad or violent or high crime neighborhood) and instead the police ought to be conscripting the young, decent, good ones as allies and informants and friends to help clean up bad neighborhoods. (And good cops cannot stand beside or defend bad ones, or even wrong ones.) There should be an alliance and a true friendship and a partnership between citizen and police, but that has to run in both directions at once and respect and protection and cooperation and trust has to also run in both directions at once, and keep running in both directions at all times and as much as humanly possible.
Now I fully understand human beings and their true natures. I’m not fooled by how things will have to go or will go, or are even likely to go. And I’m not gonna try and deceive you with a bunch of feel good, talk-show, pop-psychology, fairy dust and glitterized bullshit. Mistakes will be made and will continue to be made. That’s human nature. Humans are imperfect. But no one should defend wrongdoing in either direction and over time the mistakes should become fewer and fewer, and even less and less egregious.
But this shit has got to stop people. My nation is already entirely fucked up enough as it is. Manslaughter and mass murder and unending suspicion and chaos and innocents being slaughtered and riots in cities and snipers on rooftops and kids shot dead out of suspicion is not the way. We’ve nowhere else to go from here but straight down to hell.
Being spooked all of the time will make spooks of far too many of us. Dead men in a dying land. It is a false hope to live as ghosts in a ghostland, to be half-men in a dead land, when we could be a Great Thing in a Great Land.
We should all be living and thriving and growing and developing, and at and about worthwhile, profitable enterprises.
What we’re doing right now ain’t working, and it can’t work. And, in the end, because it cannot hope to succeed, for anyone, it will have to be abandoned anyway. Or to stubborn self-ruin we go.
I hate even mentioning shit like this because I despise politics being interjected into life and death matters and matter of Right and Wrong. Right and Wrong should always stand on it’s own because, well hell, it’s fucking Right and Wrong. If you don’t get that then I can’t help you. Truth is you should never have to interject race or class or sex or any other far lesser considerations into Right and Wrong. But my wife is black, and my kids are half-black, and a lot of my good friends are black. And I grew up around cops and I’ve worked crime and tracked murders and rapists and thieves (and I know exactly how it works, I’m not in the least naïve or misguided about how criminals and terrorists are) and a lot of my good friends are cops and God-damnit it all to hell this ain’t fucking working.
I’m sitting here about to cry just thinking about all of the totally useless, murderous, violent shit I’ve seen over the years and I don’t fucking cry. And I keep thinking, Christ in Heaven, damn this mindless, habitual shit, don’t they ever, ever, ever fucking get it? How useless this shit is? How utterly unnecessary most of it is!!?
And if they don’t get it by now then what will it actually take?
Look, I’m under no illusion that most criminals are not gonna get what I’m saying. Nor are they gonna care. But by God, why can’t the rest of us? Get it?
So start now. For God’s sake. For your own sakes… Start doing things differently. Start treating each other differently. What in the fuck do any of us have to lose if we all do this differently?
Otherwise this shit is all you’re gonna have and this cycle of idiocy and death is all you’re going to have to hand down to your children and grandchildren.
You’ve already bankrupted them. Do you want to hand them down this useless shit too?
So man the fuck up already people, throw in together, and stop being so bucking spooked when you don’t need to be. And stop giving out reasons for others to be spooked by you too.
Because what we’re doing right now can’t possibly work over time.
And we’re running the hell out of it.
Pray for your nation folks. Pray for your own understanding. But just as importantly, if not more so, start doing things differently.
This shit is all on us. The solution will be on us too.
Or the doom and the fucking damnation will be.
And I for one have had a fucking nuff of the doom and the damnation.
I want to see things they way they ought to be. I want to see all men behaving as they should.
Well, it ain’t really a Tale for Tuesday, but it is a tale about how you should tell what you can’t really tell when you try. Not in words, anyway…
Poetry involves the minute manipulation of words in such a way that they are constantly and subtly altered in definition, either so that they take on a broader and more flexible implication than they have ever possessed before, or so that they take on a more narrow and peculiar resolution in terminology than they have ever before possessed.
Do this wisely and well and with patient and practiced craft and you will be considered a master of phrasing and sound, perhaps even possessed of real poetic genius. Do this sloppily or shoddily and in haste and without regard for the demands of true meaning in language and you will be considered a mere dilettante or perhaps even a hapless hack.
1. The inability to grasp or take into your own custody that which you only partially perceive or understand. Your ability to apprehend is suspended until you can understand or know more.
2. The failure to understand the Code or Message or Language or Evidence being presented to you. A coded obscuring of the obvious and the resulting apprehensive feeling that one is failing to both apprehend and comprehend some vitally important matter. Often leads to an almost mystical, uncanny, disturbing, and creepy feeling of being choked off from or hung just out of reach of the Truth.
I call this/these state(s) apprespension. The inability to grasp what is patently in front of you (even though you plainly see or hear it) because it does not fit what you assume to be true or real, because it contradicts normality or the available evidence, or because you have not yet put all the pieces of the puzzle together in your own mind. I’ve felt it a near infinite number of times working on cases, for even when you know the Truth there are still details missing or “ungrasped”
(Unapprehended, unconfirmed, your full understanding is suspended. Your grasp “hangs in the air” unable to be retrieved. And to tell you the truth most of the time, at most things in life, you will never know the full account and all of the Truth, just some basic part of it, substantial or not. Your apprehension therefore is “suspended” and incomplete.)
When it comes to mystical and supernatural and preternatural matters, matters such as noted in the link here to Chesterton and Browning, that the world is speaking a Secret Code, or that God is speaking a through other things in a language you can only partially understand, that things are being said you cannot quite make-out, or can make out only in part, I also call that Apprespension, but I define it a little differently. It is that weird, uncanny, creepy, unnatural feeling that you are apprehensive that you cannot comprehend what you are sure you are sensing or seeing or hearing. That you are apprehensive that your comprehension is fully capable of knowing what you can only partially discern, and therefore your understanding is suspended and unrealized. Or choked off, if you like the hanging metaphor better.
In any case that is the term I use, Apprespension. (You could also use comprespension, but that to me seems even less accurate.) Though when it comes to describing states like this all words are wind, and all words are at best, only partially accurate and only incompletely descriptive.
“ONE of the deepest and strangest of all human moods is the mood which will suddenly strike us perhaps in a garden at night, or deep in sloping meadows, the feeling that every flower and leaf has just uttered something stupendously direct and important, and that we have by a prodigy of imbecility not heard or understood it. There is a certain poetic value, and that a genuine one, in this sense of having missed the full meaning of things. There is beauty, not only in wisdom, but in this dazed and dramatic ignorance.”
~G.K. Chesterton: “Robert Browning,” Chap VI.─Browning as a Literary Artist. (1903) http://bit.ly/28Tx4o8
This morning, right after waking, I began this poem.
I wrote the first two stanzas in bed, in my bedside notebook, went downstairs, fed the animals, made breakfast for the wife and kids, and then sat down at my desk and hammered out the third stanza. It wasn’t hard. It flowed as if I had taken no break in between.
I started in on the fourth stanza which to me was absolutely brilliant (the best part of the entire work) and right as I got to the third line of the fourth stanza the power went out at the house, and for some reason my backup power fluctuated as well so that my computer shut down. By the time I rebooted I had lost the entire fourth stanza.
I tried reconstructing the stanza from memory but I was so pissed off and taken off guard by the unexpected power failure (why should that happen at the start of summer with not a cloud in the sky I ask you?) and by the delay in reboot time that I ended up producing a mere shadow of my original effort.
I’m still satisfied by the stanza, and the poem overall so far, and it is far from finished, but just to be honest the fourth stanza isn’t nearly what I produced the first time around. So I apologize for that. This is yet another valuable lesson in why I should never compose at my computer, but only in my notebooks.
Nevertheless I am pleased with the poem and when it is finally finished I suspect I will name it, Things Long Unseen.
That is, at least, the place-holder name I am giving it for now. Enjoy and have an excellent and productive and profitable week my friends.
THINGS LONG UNSEEN
I shall exceed all things, and having so excelled all things
Shall bow to me, not as brutish, mindless slaves but as one man
Instinctively declines his head to yet another in whom he recognizes
The loss of me is not the less of me, and the lending of me
To another is no lack of either thing made true in itself,
For pushed on by High Labour where can I go but where
I am, and where I Am dwells a still fairer land than I may truly
Ever know, though God knows, how much I wish for such
Things long unseen
I shall excel all things, and having thus exceeded nothing
Shall bow to me, nor find an alien compass with which to navigate
That Long Frontier that I so long ago remembered in myself
The less of me is what is left of me, for the debt of me
To another is both the loss and gain in ourselves untrue,
Subsumed in Reckless Profits, destined where I know not that
We are, or when, or how, or why it is that we know these things
Improper in themselves, though we all know how much we wish for
Things Long unforeseen…
Steven Pressfield is giving away a free download of his new book, Nobody Wants to Read Your Shit.
You should download a copy before the free offer expires. I really like and admire Pressfield’s work, both his historical fiction and his non-fiction.
The War of Art was superb. I added it to my personal library. Everyone should read it.
This will likely be another excellent tool for writers.
I can’t wait to read my download of this new book. I’ll start it this weekend. Afterwards I anticipate that I’ll add it to my personal library as well.
The other day someone asked my advice on how to conduct myself as a writer. Or actually, to be more accurate, my advice on how they might better conduct themselves as a writer based on my prior experiences. Since writing is basically a “lonesome occupation” requiring a great deal of commitment, isolation (to a degree I’ll explain momentarily), focus, determination, self-discipline, and real work. They were having trouble dealing with the “lonesome” part of the occupation.
I repeat my advice to them here in the case this assists anyone else. Of course this advice could just as easily apply to artists, inventors, poets, songwriters, and even (to some extent) entrepreneurs of all kinds (all of which I am) with but a few minor modifications. So this is my Highmoot for this Wednesday.
THIS IS MY ADVICE
This is my advice after having worked for myself for decades. I’m about evenly matched between being an introvert and being an extrovert. I too do my very best work alone. However I prime myself by going out and observing people. Going to places that are active, like labs, industrial complexes, malls, museums, libraries, city streets, performances, college campuses, Vadding, to shops, exploring other towns, theaters, etc.
I do this for a day or two about once every two to three weeks. Although depending on my work schedule I may not be able to do it but once a month. Nevertheless I do this as much as I can and regularly schedule such things.
(Aside:One place though I never go to is coffee shops. Everyone there is on their computers or cell phones and the interactions are limited and about all you see anyone doing is staring at a screen. Coffee shops are, for the most part, horrible and pretentious work environments, with people tending to merely congregate together in order to appear to be working, when in fact they are not truly working – they are seeking to socially escape real work by the public appearance of a displayed but primarily unreal act of “business.” On this point I entirely agree with Hemingway, coffee shops and cafes are the very worst places to do any actual and real work, though they give the plastic social facade of appearing to be busy.
The very same can be said to be true about coffee shops as “observation posts” on true human behavior. The types of human behavior evidenced in most coffee shops is unnatural, artificial, pretentious, deceptive, and rehearsed. People in coffee shops and cafes are extremely aware that they are being observed, indeed this is one reason so many go there, to observe and be observed (in a sort of pre-approved, socially accepted and promoted play-act), in the place of actually working. I almost never trust the close observations of human behavior I make of people in such environments. Such behaviors tend to be no more “real” than the work supposedly occurring in such places, and just as artificial as the plastic illuminated screens they seem so utterly devoted to, and the technological implements they are eagerly seen to be worshiping. My advice is to skip such places entirely if you can and go rather to where real work can be done and you can make true observations about actual behaviors, be those human or animal. Places like I mentioned above. End Aside.)
Then I come home and my mind and soul are primed with observations and ideas and stories and poetry and songs and invention concepts and business proposals.
When I’m at home and working, and tire, or am bored, then I go outside and clear land, hike in the woods, explore the nearby lands (I live out in the country), go fishing, track and observe animals, climb trees, cut down trees, cut the grass, etc. I said I do my best work alone, but actually I do my best work alone while doing something physical, and then I work in my head as I labor. Both because it is excellent practice to work in your head as you labor (the bodily labor frees the mind to wander and work) and because working while you labor is an excellent Mnemonics Technique. Sometimes I’ll write entire poems, songs, scenes from my novels, sections of business plans, create prototype inventions in my head, etc., then memorize the same and store them in Agapolis, my Memory City as I am physically laboring and only after I quit and go back into the house will I write down what I created.
I know modern people are not big on memory or Mnemonic Techniques (so much the shame for them), but I learned such things from the Ancients and the Medievals and if you ask me a superb memory and good control over your own memory is a far better set of skills and capabilities for a writer (or most anyone) to possess than a thousand cell phones or a hundred laptops or tablets or even a dozen internets. A good memory increases not only your overall intelligence but is fundamental to establishing, developing, and properly employing an excellent vocabulary. So practice writing or creating first in your head (after all you can do such things even when you have no access to even pen and paper), then fully memorize what you do, and only then write it down. Such exercises are not only important to do (because of what I mentioned above), but will pay many dividends in any of your creative endeavours and enterprises. Rely not just upon mere technology for your best creations and for your most important works, but rather upon what you most deeply impress upon your own mind and soul. That is both where creation begins and where it will be properly shaped and forged and worked into worthwhile and well-crafted final products.
I don’t know if this helps you any in your own creative enterprises but my advice is go out at least once a month, or as often as you need it, and do nothing but observe and generate new ideas. Then let them ruminate and percolate through you and within you.
If you thereafter feel all cramped up and unable to work smoothly then do something strenuous and physical outside. The labor will do you good and also set our mind free to wander. Then when you are primed and relaxed go to work.
To simplify to a very basic formula: Prime + Observe + Labor + Work + Memorize = High End and Valuable End Product.
After the necessary revisions for proper refinement, of course.
But just because you work alone doesn’t mean you are a prisoner of your environment and just because you work alone doesn’t mean you always have to be alone.
Go wander, go labor, go explore, go meet new people, go people watch, memorize, and then actually Work. Don’t just wade into crowds and pretend to work.
Be extremely good for ya. And it will probably make you a helluvah lot better writer than you’ve ever been before. No matter what you’re writing. And it is awful hard to be lonely, or a slack-ass, when you are actually doing Good Work.
I’m a relatively solitary writer but I do have a few people who are always in my corner ( ❤ ) and I was lucky enough to befriend a fellow writer on Twitter just when I was starting to think of taking this on. I tweeted in conversation to her about what, to me, was a crazy idea …
I’ve mentioned a few times now how I wrote the final 10,000 words-ish of my rough draft over the course of a weekend, something heretofore unheard of for me. I’m still a little disbelieving that it actually happened, but it did! I have the printed pages to prove it. As I’m getting back into editing them this week, I want to share with you how I managed to do this, in hopes it’ll help you bust through that unbelievably obnoxious end bit that seems to drag on forever and ever.
It’s time to get it done; let’s do it!
STEP ONE: DECLARE YOUR INTENTIONS
If you tend to keep your writing a relatively private affair, you can take this step by writing it down on a bright flashcard or piece of paper and sticking it up somewhere you’ll see it constantly: “This weekend, I’m going to write ‘X’ words” or “This weekend, I’m going to barrel through my list of remaining scenes.”
And so I did! I declared my intentions on Twitter and to my steadfast cheerleaders, and off I went. Well, almost …
STEP TWO: PROACTIVELY REMOVE OBSTACLES
It’s one thing to create make-work for yourself and do the dishes as a form of procrastination, but there’s something to be said, for me at least, in having things in a wee bit of order before you take on something as momentous as a 10K writing marathon. While I love a bit of cozy clutter, there is a tipping point, especially when I know I’m going to be mussing up my writing area anew with mugs of rooibos tea and peanut butter cup wrappers and empty plates. Before you settle in for the weekend, spend half an hour cleaning up around your workspace. For bonus points, run to the store and ensure you have supplies (tea bags are a big one for me).
Oh, and if your computer is as insistent and persnickety as mine is about doing updates and doing them NOW or I’ll slow your computer down to a turtle in a swamp race, do the updates before you start. The less reasons we have to lose momentum, the better.
STEP THREE: MAKE A LIST (OR TWO)
I work best with music piped in through my headphones. It doesn’t need to be instrumental or lyric-less, either, though I’m fond of trance, dubstep and chillstep for keeping myself revved up and typing. If you know it won’t hinder you, songs with the right lyrics can be key to knocking out those pages. Queue up whatever music inspires you and have it ready to go. Just make sure you don’t get caught spending three hours making a YouTube playlist, needing to get it just right.
The second list that made a tremendous difference for me was one I’d started a week before, of scenes that still needed to be written. Depending on how much of a planner you are, you may already have something like this, or maybe you’re just going to wing it. I find it helps to have at least a line or two written to summarize each of the scenes beforehand.
And the satisfaction you get from crossing the scenes off your list as you go? Priceless.
STEP FOUR: WORK IN SPURTS
Tempting as it may be to motor through without pause or sleep or stretch, this does not necessarily a successful writing weekend make. We need the occasional break to rest and refuel, to do Downward Facing Dog or the Cobra, to make a fresh pot of tea or look out the window. It feels scary to step away from it, I know, but it will feel a lot scarier to be going, going, going, GOING and then THUMP to a halt when you’re only halfway there. Finish your thought, carry through your spurt, then walk away for a few minutes, or at the very least get out of your chair and stretch a little. Your story isn’t going anywhere. In fact, it might even have a little treasure waiting for you upon your return, just waiting to be unwrapped. Why deny it the pleasure?
STEP FIVE: DON’T THINK TOO HARD
Probably the biggest anvil to fall on your head and derail your writing will be your own self-doubt: what if the ending sucks? What if the whole thing stinks? I don’t know what I’m doing! I’ll never finish this properly. I’m tired. I’m a crap writer. I don’t know why I ever thought I should write a book.
Right here, right now, make a commitment to yourself to just keep moving until you feel yourself fading. When you fade, take a break. Do something else. When you’re writing in spurts, you don’t give yourself time to think, and that’s crucial. What’s even more crucial is doing something energizing and awesome in those mini-breaks so you don’t have the chance to go all cerebral.
It’s a rough draft. It’s not going to be perfect, unless you’re one of those writers. (I jest, I’m sure they’re lovely souls!) You just have to keep moving, past your self-doubt, past your self-limitations, past every roadblock you’d fling in your way. This is where that list of scenes to write comes in handy, because you can just focus on the one you’re writing until it’s done, cross it off (yay! celebrate! briefly!), and move on to the next one, and the next. One scene, one paragraph, one sentence, one moment at a time. This is how we write. This is what it takes.
STEP SIX: CELEBRATE YOUR AWESOMENESS
When you’ve crossed off the last scene, written your 9,967th word, do yourself a favour: before you do anything else, drop down a few lines and write “THE END” in big, bold letters. Let it sink in. You made it!
Seriously, if there was ever a time to feel proud of yourself and celebrate how awesome you are, this is it. Don’t you dare downplay it. Taking a rough draft from start to finish on anything, let alone a book, let alone finishing in a weekend, is a remarkable feat. Gather your cheerleaders, bake cupcakes, do a little dance; whatever you want to do, do it! You deserve it.
BONUS MISSION: BE READY FOR THE AFTERMATH
I’m not going to lie: like anything that you pour your heart and soul into, especially in such a concentrated period of time, it’s going to leave you both euphoric and ragged. Once you’ve set your book (you wrote a BOOK) aside for a week or two to let it, and yourself, rest, you might feel a bit of a letdown, like you’re not sure what to do with yourself. Your everyday routine is waiting for you, and you’re reluctant to go back to the status quo.
Chores, work, kids, Life, that has to happen, and it’s going to happen. But there is joy in that, not to mention fodder for our writing, and we owe it to ourselves to embrace it. We can also, though, start a new story, or write a poem, or work on a scrapbook. Something creative to sink our teeth into while that book rests and waits for us to return.
In the meantime, have a bit of rest yourself. You’ve earned it!
(Psst! If you’re antsy to get writing but are still a little unsure about this 10,000 words in a weekend stuff, check out Rachel Aaron’s post on how she went fromwriting 2,000 to 10,000 words a day – your productivity will soar! Janna Kaixer also has a brilliant post on writing 10,000 words in a day, with some great tips about setting yourself up for success.)
Do you want to virtually ensure your chances of being able to power through your next writing session? Build a solid character foundation first with my free email course. It’s a fun, inspiring process, and the results will see you through oodles of writing blocks. Click here or the image below to find out more!
Since I began recuperating from the operation on my wrist in July until today (Sunday, 1/31/2016) I have now conducted three experiments on how valuable the internet is to me compared to how much time I make use of it. (For researching, as a networking vehicle, source of discovery, blogging and communications platform, marketing venue, commenting base, etc.). This includes all aspects of the internet from email, blogging, networking, facebooking, pinterest, exposure of my work, marketing, etc.
I have averaged the three experiments together and have found that I should safely be able to dispense with somewhere between 75% and 90% of my total internet time (depending upon what it is being used for), time that I can far more productively devote to my inventions, writings, songwriting, and businesses. Not to mention the time I can devote to other things like my artwork, my scientific experiments, and even my recreations. These are the results of my experiments and analyses.
What I found the internet to be almost entirely useless for:
1. indirect and inbound marketing – almost entirely unprofitable hype
2. Truth discovery
3. discovering subjects of real interest that could not be accessed elsewhere
4. politics and influencing others
What I found the internet to be only moderately useful for:
1. staying in contact with family and friends
2. growing a network through indirect contacts or comments
3. Direct Marketing (email, sometimes blogging)
4. gaming, hobbies, recreations
5, selling and buying
What I found the internet to be useful for or even occasionally profitable for:
1. research and concept and idea and article discovery
2. idea generation, invention generation, story generation, etc.
3. education through lectures, eBooks, etc.
Nevertheless if you average all time spent on the internet versus the return on time invested it is blatantly obvious to me that most of the internet (the vast majority actually) is over-rated hype and highly unproductive and a distraction from Real Work and achievement. Just as much as is say television and the desire to be constantly entertained or drugged or drunk, etc.
Therefore, that being said I have am giving up about 75 to 90% of what I do on the internet and of the remainder of my internet time I will redirect my efforts into other and more productive and valuable venues.
Otherwise, as regards the internet, I will do exactly as I did with television and video games. I will give them up completely or only indulge those things on the weekends or holidays.
Therefore as of Monday, 2/1/2016 the bulk of my time saved by dispensing with the internet will go to far more productive and useful activities and outlets. And into time spent with family and friends.
AN ACCOUNTING SO FAR AND A BIT OF ADVICE FOR NATIONAL NOVEL WRITING MONTH
My Word Count output for the first day of NaNoWriMo 2015 and my novel The Old Man was 2373 words plus (I lost count after that because I wrote another scene right before bed). Today, since it is raining so hard and I can’t go help my daughter look for a new car, I plan to have an output of 3000 or more words.
I have also been using the Writing Tools I received in my NNWM writing packet along with my own Tools.
This morning I wrote what I thought was a superb introduction and set of first lines for the science-fiction part of the novel. But I still have a lot of work to do today.
Rather than in order or in linear or chronological progression I seem to be writing the book out in independent scene-sections as they occur to me. Which I’m assuming my mind will knit together in proper order later on.
I am very much enjoying working “sans editing” or by avoiding the editing altogether process as I go. This has made the writing process itself much, much easier. And this may be a better and faster way for me to write in the future, though it takes some mental effort on my part for me to get used to. Old habits die hard.
Also I am not typing anything myself but rather producing the manuscript in long-hand at my kitchen table or in bed. The way I used to write as a kid. Before I got my first typewriter in High School or my first personal computer. I very much recommend this (recently rediscovered) method. It not only produces a superior thought and plot flow, it is much more psychically comfortable than typing or dictating at my computer or office chair, both of which I detest.
Plus as I go back to hand-writing I am once again becoming very quick at it.
Tomorrow I plan to conduct a test to see how quick I am at both methods, composing at my computer, and at hand writing. I suspect I am faster at hand-writing. Certainly I enjoy it more and it is far easier to write in that way.
Part of me greatly adores and admires words, as they are man’s chief means of communication and the primary treasure of his High Word Hoard. Another part of me, an equal part, absolutely distrusts and detests words as they are the means by which far too many men habitually deceive themselves and the rest of the world, and mankind’s primary method of excuse making in order to avoid noble and just action.
(As a writer) I am like a man caught in the grinding maw of some bizarre and fantastic creature who is sometimes angelic, and sometimes demonic, yet always dangerous.
1. Do you want to create an hyperlink in your post that references an older post? Rather than having to type out the URL or look for it in another window/window, use the search for other content arrow in the link box. Choose the link you’d like and click ADD LINK. There is no reason to check off the box “open in a new window” when you are referencing your own site. In fact, that can get super annoying for mobile readers. Only use that when you want to take someone to a webpage off of your site.
2. The screen options tab at the top right of the screen will give you more options on your post screen. Do you want to change the author or adjust the commenting ability? Enable all the options in the screen option tag. Then they will appear as options below your post to turn on/off or edit.
3. Your theme may support a format option on the right hand side. These options change the layout look of your post. The WordPress default themes use formats. Pick from the options to change the format of the page to match the type of media you want to display.
4. You can create “private” posts that are only available to a specified population of users. On WordPress.com, you can choose to make your entire blog private, but on self-hosted, the easiest way to hide content is to password protect it. In the publish box, click on visibility and change the setting. A box will pop up that allows you to write in a password. Click okay.
5. Pre schedule your posts if you think you will be away for a while. Just be sure your timestamp is accurate to the time zone you are in! To change the timezone, go to Settings > General.
6. Write an excerpt (activate it in the post screen option) to customize how your post appears around the web. If you are using an SEO plugin, it’s called the meta description. One difference between the two: The excerpt box will display if you have your blog posts set to an excerpt format, whereas the SEO meta description usually only shows up in Google search results or in places where you share the link (like on social). The excerpt will show up in RSS feeders (if your blog is set to only show excerpts).
7. Make sure only an excerpt of your post blasts out to email subscribers. If they are reading the whole post in the email, there’s no reason to click on the link and go to your blog. To change how your blog posts display, go to SETTINGS > READING and change the option to summary.
8. If you want to control how much of a post displays on the homepage, use a jump break. It’s also called a more tab and it cuts off the text and inserts a READ MORE link for people to click.
9. You can edit the permalink of the Post URL if you changed the title or want to rename it. Click edit next to the link that appears under the post title. There are several instances when you DO NOT want to do this – and that is:
When you’ve already published a post and shared it online
If you are on WP.com and think you may move to self-hosted. Why? Because when a blog imports and a redirect is done, custom permalinks can cause issues.
10. Download a WordPress app on your smart phone or tablet so you can blog and respond to readers on the go.
11. Use the little eraser button to undo pre-formatted text that looks wonky on the post screen. The eraser helps get rid of any extra formatting that may have happened if you wrote the post in a different application. You can also use the T on the clipboard button to paste text and remove extra spaces and tabs.
12. Use the quote button to accent certain parts of your text.
13. Change the name of your images to keyword friendly titles. That way ifpeople are searching in Google images, they are more likely to stumble upon your blog.
14. Use the toggle full screen mode if you are easily distracted when blogging. The fullscreen button is next to the jumpbreak.
15. Menus can be created using pages, categories, or external links. You can even use a combination of all three! When you first set up WordPress, it uses your pages as a default menu. For a full explanation of using categories on your menu bar, check out the post below.
16. Do you want an author bio to show on every post? Edit the description in your profile and it will show up! Go to USERS > EDIT and adjust your description and add your various links.
17. WordPress.ORG users can create an archive index page followingthese instructions. This acts as an index for your entire site and is a nice auto-populated list of your posts, ordered by date. To check out my archive page, you can click here.
18. You can blacklist cyber bullies using email addresses listed in the discussion settings of WP. You can also filter out any comments that use trigger words you define.
19. Do you want to change how many posts show up on the main page? Go to settings and then click on READ. You can change it there. If you like infinite scrolling (which is when posts just keep loading and loading), you can install Jetpack and activate the infinite scrolling module. Of course, not all themes cooperate well with it, so that’s something note.
20. Change the media image sizes (so that thumbnail, small, medium, and large are set to parameters you generate). Go to settings and media.
21. Get a breadcrumbs plugin that allows users to easily find their way back to the homepage with a trail like this Home > About Me > Personals. Get the plugin here. Several themes like Genesis and Weaver will automatically include breadcrumbs in their structure.
22. Did you know that you can share powerpoint, word docs, and pdfs on your blog too? Just click the image button to see all the file types available. You can upload them through the media library just like a photo. When you want to include them in your post, they will be inserted as a link that opens up a new tab.
23. Do you struggle with getting your numbered lists to format correctly?Simply type out each item in your list and hit enter. Don’t try to use indented spaces or tabs or anything fancy. Just type, return, type, return. When your list is finished, highlight all of it, and click on the either the bulleted or numbered list button in the toolbar. It will automatically adjust the spacing, indentation, and add either a bullet or a number!
24. Do you struggle trying to get two images to display side by side? I have an entire post on how to deal with images and image galleries on WordPress. Of course, there are a million plugins you can use as well, but I prefer to teach with the basics first, because installing something that could weigh down your site.
25. Do you feel confused about the difference between a Page and a Post? A page is a static piece of content. It’s like a webpage. It isn’t dated, nor does it show up in any sort of RSS feed. Great uses for pages are your ABOUT page, RESOURCES page, CONTACT page. A post is a dated piece of content that gets pushed out to your RSS feed. It’ll show up in readers. It also is categorized and tagged in your database differently than a page. Think of a post like a daily newspaper article and a page as a brochure for your business or blog.
Many of these work for both WP.com and WP.org users, but any mention of customizable plugins is for WP.org users only. For WP.com users, the edit screen is now a new light blue color with a different interface. You’ll have to revert to the classic editor in order to make sense of these tips. The option to revert to the classic editor is on the bottom right of the edit screen.
The MasterClass ads started popping up in my Facebook feed a couple of weeks ago. Evidently I fit the demographic of a person who might be willing to cough up 90 bucks for three hours of online lessons taught by a famous person, imparting wisdom on how he or she got that way and how, presumably, I might even do the same, once I mastered the lessons in the MasterClass.
Knowing how scarily well Facebook appears to understand my life, it is unlikely that anyone there (man, or machine) saw me as a candidate for the Serena Williams MasterClass in Tennis, or the Usher MasterClass in the Art of Performance. Back in 11th grade, I played Lady Macbeth in the Oyster River High School production of Macbeth, but I doubt Facebook was aware of this fact, or had me pegged as a possible buyer for the Dustin Hoffman MasterClass in Acting.
It was the James Patterson class they must have recognized as right up my alley—the one titled James Patterson Teaches Writing—a class described as offering advice on how to write a best seller. No doubt this one was offered to me because I am a writer, myself. Just not the type whose name tends to show up on the bestseller list.
I, too, could be one of those writers whose books the person on the seat next to you on the airplane always seems to be reading.
In the 42 years I have worked full time—day in, day out—as a writer, producing, so far, 15 books (a couple of memoirs, a collection of essays and a bunch of novels). I have made it onto TheNew York Times list for a lifetime total of four weeks—back when the movie version of my novel Labor Day sent the novel that inspired it very briefly onto the charts. Other than that one heady moment, I have labored, like most of my writer friends, in one level or another of financial challenge. But I have held onto the undying faith that any day now, things might change, and all those readers out there who have been buying books by people like Jodi Picoult and James Patterson would suddenly realize what they were missing, and pick up one of mine, instead. And then I, too, would be one of those writers whose books the person on the seat next to you on the airplane always seems to be reading.
Meanwhile, I continue to drive a 1995 Honda Civic and clean my own bathroom. And, in my ungenerous moments, I confess to having harbored a certain not-particularly-attractive level of bitterness over the success of writers like John Grisham and—above all others—James Patterson, a man who holds the title as the world’s best-selling author, publishing so many novels a year that he needs a whole stable of collaborators just to keep up with the demand.
But when this MasterClass announcement showed up in my feed, a new thought came to me. I could hate the man for selling so many more books than I do. Or I could humbly acknowledge that maybe the guy knows something I don’t, and sign up for his class. Which I did.
Confession: At the time I plunked down my $90 for James Patterson’s class, I had never actually read a novel by James Patterson. This didn’t keep me from having a low opinion of the man’s oeuvre. He was pandering to the masses, I told myself. Churning out schlock.
But here’s where another voice piped up in me. Over my many years of publishing my work (novels that may sell 5,000, or 10,000, or if I’m really on a roll, 20,000 copies, to James Patterson’s millions), one thing I’ve acquired is respect for readers. Readers may not be the ultimate arbiters of what makes great art, but they can sense a good story, and even more so, sense when something is inauthentic or written from a place of cynicism or contempt. If a writer approaches his or her story with the simple goal of selling a lot of books, the reader is likely to smell it, and stay away. Something in the work of James Patterson has kept readers ponying up their dollars over the course of a career that now includes 76 best sellers. Maybe I could learn a thing or two about what this quality might be. Maybe I could even acquire it?
So the other day I sat down to the first of the 22 lessons in the James Patterson MasterClass.
Now, just to be clear, I didn’t get to confer personally with my instructor. I also didn’t have to drive anyplace, or show up at a specified time. Paying the fee gave me access to an extremely well-designed website where, at any hour of day or night, I might tap into James Patterson’s lectures—pausing when I wanted, to work on one of the assignments that accompanies each lesson, in the hope that my words might even catch the eye of James Patterson himself. I could have taken as long as I wanted to absorb those 22 segments, but given that I’m not getting any younger here—and that 42 years is an awfully long time to have one’s books not showing up the bestseller list—I decided to get on with it.
I could hate the man for selling so many more books than I do. Or I could humbly acknowledge that maybe the guy knows something I don’t, and sign up for his class.
Just over three hours later, I officially graduated. And though I entered into this project with a large measure of skepticism—worse, even: I entered anticipating that his lessons might offer up some great comedy material—by the time the last lesson was over, and Mr. Patterson (Jim, to me, now) had set me loose to write my best seller, I had developed genuine respect for the man. Even affection. If I met him at a book festival some day, and the opportunity arose, I’d greet him like an old friend.
What changed? For starters, Mr. Patterson possesses an abundance of good, solid common sense and some genuinely valuable wisdom. Not necessarily about the art of writing, mind you. But about storytelling. And at the end of the day, if you ask me (and more importantly, if you ask readers and book buyers), that’s what matters most. A person can write the most beautiful, lyrical sentences (as James Patterson will be the first to tell you, he does not), but if the story doesn’t grab a reader by the throat, and—having grabbed on—hold her there, none of the rest may matter all that much.
Some of the topics Mr. Patterson covers in his MasterClass: Where he gets his ideas. How he designs his characters—and what makes a character compelling. Villains. Creating tension. Dialogue. Here he goes into some detail about the importance of writing dialogue that doesn’t sound like real life—which would be tedious. But rather, writing dialogue that’s wittier, tighter, more filled with dramatic tension and suspense, than what actually happens around the dinner table, or anyplace else in the real, not-particularly-exciting lives people try to escape when they pick up a James Patterson novel.
My friend James Patterson is a big believer in the importance of a great outline. These days, in fact, the outline may be the main thing he actually writes, while he turns over the actual writing to his stable of co-authors. This is how he manages to turn out three or four novels a year, and still fit in a few holes of golf most days.
Still, James Patterson believes in hard work. Seven days a week, in his case—though Mr. Patterson doesn’t call writing work, because he loves it so much. This is a man with an unmistakable passion for what he does.
Some other things James Patterson believes in: Research. Surprises. Action. (If a story isn’t galloping along, it’s sinking. Fast.) He’ll tell you that your first sentence had better be a killer. And that every page needs to contain a measure of drama and intrigue; suspense and excitement that keeps the reader in her chair. (I say “her chair” because it turns out that the vast majority of James Patterson’s millions of readers are women. A fact I might not have anticipated.)
James Patterson came to writing from the world of advertising, and he remains (as I, sadly, am not) a businessperson. “Don’t set out to write a good thriller,” he says. “Set out to write a No. 1 thriller.”
It’s a refreshing aspect to the man, that he harbors no illusions about his gifts. “Let’s face it,” he tells us. “I’m not writing War and Peace.”
“I’m not that concerned with style. …Don’t think about the sentences,” he advises. Just keep that train roaring along.
His stories may be unlike anybody else’s, but his MasterClass is hardly free of clichés: Writing is “a great ride.” A character’s dialogue “fits him like a glove,” and above all else, we should avoid “two-dimensional characters.” A big plot development is “an ‘aha’ moment.”
Never mind all that. The man understands dramatic storytelling. When he tells us to write in such a way that our words “turn on the movie projector” in a reader’s head,” I could not be more with him. I even say the same thing, almost word for word, to my own writing students, in the classes I teach, whose modest enrollment numbers (I now realize) probably have something to do with the fact that not once in all the years I’ve taught writing, myself, have I ever promised I could help anyone write a best seller.
Can James Patterson’s MasterClass accomplish that? Not if a person doesn’t have some natural instincts. (And from the writing samples submitted online by some of my fellow students, I can attest to how many do not.) The MasterClass has not been created—nor will it be—that can impart talent, or originality, or simply a good ear.
Still, James Patterson’s MasterClass is in no way a rip-off. Even if a person never finishes her novel, or finds an agent, or gets her work published, James Patterson will no doubt leave her feeling fired up to write a story. It will inspire people, and make them happy. It will not put them down. What James Patterson is selling here, as much as anything is a glimpse at the dream, and the feeling that it might actually be possible. (Among the segments in the MasterClass is one covering that age-old dilemma: “What to do when you sell your novel to Hollywood.” Now there’s a problem…)
As my friend Jim says, we should reach for the stars. There are worse things an individual might do than to nourish hope and enthusiasm for creative expression, or simple entrepreneurship. James Patterson is great at that. For the three hours it takes to listen to all 22 segments of his MasterClass, students may actually get to feel like writers. They can even post a few sentences of their work up there, and if they are among the lucky ones, James Patterson himself may actually offer up a response. One woman wanted to know how she might protect herself from the danger that someone, seeing her writing on the site—including Mr. Patterson himself, perhaps—might rip it off. Having seen her work, I might have told her not to worry.
See how mean I can be? James Patterson would never say anything like that to one of his students, or dampen, in any way, their aspirations. To James Patterson, any one of us out there taking this class may be the next James Patterson. And if we aren’t… well, you don’t have to become Jimi Hendrix to get some joy out of fooling around on the guitar. And let’s not forget, Buddy Holly only played three chords.
With modern men it’s Either/Or with everything they do
You must “kill your darlings” see or they will butcher you
You must “this” or you must “that” but never both at once
There’s no room for compromise, conform, or thus you’re done
In life you cannot do it all, in art you cannot be
(so they say)
You either choose to play it small, or choose you must agree
You’re told this way is for the best by popular decree
For if you vary from that plan then there’s no guarantee
Of course there never was a risk that came with sure success
It’s Either/Or you see my friends, surely you’ll confess
That every piece of sure advice was once just enterprise
If you do not know that word it surely still applies
Now Either/Or is half of chance, I’ll grant you that is true
And both together, certain not, do not success ensue
But if you think that Either/Or by either issues Fate
Then you will soon discover kid that both will come too late
See some things they are right and just and some things they are wrong
And some things they are short, or fat, and some are tall, or long
Now of those things most modern men they treat them all the same
Evil is the twin of Good because they have no shame
Yet many things in life are not so ease-ly misconstrued
Not confused by sorcery they need some close review, and
Of those things all Either/Ors are theories in the air
Either this or never that is just a fool’s affair
The Keepers of those Mighty Gates that tell us all what is
Rarely ever venture forth in battle to enlist, and
If they do they found one way, but many paths are still
Untrodden in the hidden wastes, and through the untamed fields
So Either/Or I say to you, yes, either may be best
But you will never know that friends until them both you test…
Posted: 09/13/2015 1:22 am EDT Updated: 09/15/2015 11:59 am EDT
No matter what experts tell you, no matter what trends, conventional wisdom, social media chatter or your friends in the Facebook writers group insist upon, do NOT write four books a year. I mean it. Don’t.
Unless they’re four gorgeously written, painstakingly molded, amazingly rendered and undeniably memorable books. If you can pull off four of those a year, more power to you. But most can’t. I’d go so far as to say no one can, the qualifier being good books.
Beyond the fact that the marketplace is glutted with an overwhelming number of books already (many of dubious quality), writing good books simply takes time, lots of it. There’s no getting around that time. It involves learned skills, unhurried imagination, fastidious drafting, diligent editing, even the time to step away, then step back, to go over it all again. And, unless you’re a hack (and we know there are plenty of those out there), isn’t the whole point of this exercise to write good books?
Our most highly esteemed, widely applauded, prodigiously awarded, read and revered authors know this to be true. Donna Tartt, last year’ s Pulitzer Prize winner forThe Goldfinch, took eleven years to deliver that masterpiece. This year’s winner, Anthony Doerr, had written only four books in his entire career before penning All The Light We Cannot See, wisely taking years to craft his stunning tale. The cultishly-beloved Harper Lee had only To Kill A Mockingbird in her catalogue before this year’s controversial release of Go Set A Watchman (which some are convinced was not of her doing). Even others amongst our best, who do put out work on a more regular basis, do so with focus appropriately attuned to the quality of the book, not the depth of their catalogue or the flash-speed with which they crank out product.
But, you say, I’m not interested in writing Pulitzer Prize winners; I don’t need to be on The New York Times bestseller list; I just wanna see my name up at Amazon and sell a few books to family and friends, and, hey, if I go viral, all the better! They say write to the market, so I gotta write to the market. I mean, look at E.L. James…she’s hardly Chaucer and look what’s happened to her!!
Point taken. Which actually brings us to the point: what is your point?
What’s your point as a creative, an artist; an author? A purveyor of the written word? Why are you here, what is your purpose, your goal as a writer? What do you hope to achieve? Is it fame and fortune at any cost, quality be damned? Or is it about finely crafted work? It’s important to know, to decide, because those principles will guide and mandate every decision you make from there on out.
I bring all this up because I experienced a snap the other day, one triggered by an article from Self Published Author by Bowker titled, Discovery: Another Buzzword We’re Wrestling to Understand. In it, the writer lists many of the familiar instructions toward procuring success as an indie writer — social media, book reviews, networking, etc. — but her very first suggestion to self-published authors looking to get “discovered” was this:
Publish. A Lot: For those of you who have spent 10 years writing your last book I have news for you. You have ten days to write your next one. Okay, I’m sort of kidding with the ten days but, candidly, the most successful authors are pushing out tons of content: meaning books, not blog posts.
In most categories, readers are hungry for new reads, new books, and willing to discover new authors. You’ll have a better time getting found if you continually push new books out there. How many should you do? At a recent writers conference some authors said they publish four books a year. Yes, that’s right, four. [Emphasis mine.]
So, her first piece of advice to self-publishing authors wasn’t to put more focus on fine-tuning one’s craft, it wasn’t about taking time to mull and ponder what stories, what narratives, most inspire you to put “pen to paper”; it wasn’t even a suggestion to be relentless about working with professional content/copy editors and cover designers to create the best possible version of your work. No, it was the insanely insane advice to pump out at least four books a year.
And people wonder why there are stigmas attached to self-publishing.
First of all, in looking at her point of reference, I suppose it depends on what you define as a “successful author.” I have a distinct feeling this may be where the disparities lie. Perhaps my own definition is a different one.
When I self-published my first book, After The Sucker Punch, in April of 2014, I had, by then, put years into it, doing all those many things I itemized above. Because I not only wanted to publish a novel, I wanted that novel to be a work of art, a book of depth and merit, one that would not only tell a compelling story but would meet standards of publishing that authors of the highest regard are held to. I wanted it to be a book that would favorably compare with anything put out by a traditional publisher. My choice to self-publish was a result of not having engaged a publisher by the time my book was done and I was ready to market it. It was not based on the notion of joining the “second tier club” where one is unbound from the stricter, more demanding standards of traditional publishing.
“Second tier club”? Yes. As insulting as that sounds, particularly in relation to self-publishing, there is no question that there are two tiers operating in the culture of the book industry. Take a moment to think about it: based on what advice is given to self-published writers, some of which I shared above; based on the”free/bargain” pricing paradigms of most book sellers hawking those writers; based on the corner (quality)-cutting measures required to pump out endless product to meet the purportedly endless demand of those sites and their bargain-hunting readers, “second tier club” is no misnomer.
Where the best of traditional publishers set their sights not only on commercial viability but award-quality work, nurturing authors with enduring skills and profound stories to tell, in a climate that is selective (perhaps too selective) and based on the notion that that level of quality and commercial appeal is a rare and valued commodity, self-published authors are advised to, “Crank out loads of books. if you have to write little teeny short ones to get your catalogue pumped up, do that! Don’t worry about covers; your readers don’t give a hoot about artwork. It’s all about genre, easy reads, and low, low prices! And speaking of low prices, don’t even think about selling your books for more than a dollar or two, because readers who do bother with self-published books are too accustomed to bargain-basement prices to spend any more than that. This is the 99¢ Bargain Circus Book Store, where we push quantity over quality every day of the week!! CRANK OUT THAT PRODUCT!!”
I’ll bet good money Donna Tartt, Anthony Doerr, and other quality writers aren’t getting that same message from their publishers. First tier, baby.
Look, if your point and purpose as a writer is largely related to the numbers — of books sold, of Amazon ranking, of reviews garnered, of Twitter followers and Facebook “likes” — then, certainly; follow the advice of the article quoted about. I know many self-published writers who are, and though I have no idea how well that’s working for them, it’s certainly the prevailing trend.
But if your point and purpose as a writer is to take someone’s breath away, capture a riveting story, translate an idea — whether fantasy, love story, science fiction, human interaction, tragedy, thriller, family saga, memoir, non-fiction — in a way that raises hairs or gets someone shouting “YES!”; if you’re compelled to tell that story so beautifully, so irreverently, with such power and prose as to make a reader stop to read a line over just to have the opportunity to roll those words around one more time, then don’t listen to that advice.
Instead, do the opposite: take your time, work your craft; look for the best possible ways to tell your story and allow yourself time to change your mind, sometimes often, until you know it’s right. Allow your editors time to help you mold your narrative into peak condition. Give your formatters and copy editors time to comb through your manuscript, again and again, to make sure everything is perfect. Work carefully with your cover artist to create the most gorgeous, most professional book cover you can. TAKE YOUR TIME.
Then take lots more to research marketing options; ask questions, weigh contradicting information, and come up with the best possible strategy for your book. Do what you choose with professionalism and without the misguided push to the “top of the list,” that pervasive attitude so rife with desperation and panic. You’re not in a race, with anyone. You are a professional author working your book your way. Be an artist, don’t be a carnival barker. Be a wordsmith, not a bean-counter. Be patient, not hysterical. Transact wisely, but don’t lose your soul in the process.
I know I’m bucking the trend, and certainly there are quality issues and dubious motivations floating around both tiers. It’s also certain that, if you follow my lead, you will not be able to write four books a year, at least not four full-length books. You will write, perhaps, one. But if you do it right, taking time and taking care, you will have written one excellent book. One you’ll be proud of years from now. One your friends and family will keep on their book shelves. One readers across the globe will talk about on social media. One that tells the world, I am a writer and this book is my legacy. Then you’ll go write another of those…and so on.
The rest of it — sales, rankings, reviews, viralness, likes, tweets, awards, kudos, peer admiration… all that? If you do it right, if/when any of those things come, they will be warranted and well-deserved. You can celebrate them authentically, because you did not sell your creative soul to get them. You actually made the far, far better deal.
CLARIFICATION- Because the last thing I want is to insult a fellow author, let me clarify, because it seems to be needed: This is NOT a screed against authors who CHOOSE to publish multiple titles annually (according to many, I’m faulty in assessing that that’s difficult to do well!), nor is it a suggestion that there is only “one way” to do things. In fact, it’s the opposite. The whole point is choice rather than mandate. When the mandate to publish in volume becomes the most prescribed way to reach success, it leaves many authors feeling pressured to publish more quickly and more often than they’d prefer, with some left feeling as though taking the time to craft a book is devalued. Neither should be true. I’m simply championing choice, the personal decisions every author makes about how they’ll reach success. For those who enjoy publishing in volume, who do it well and find it successful, that formula works. But for those who don’t, I’m suggesting forging your own way unshackled from the mandate. That is all. Best with your writing!
Thank you for your time in answering our questions about getting published. Let’s begin by having you explain to us why you decided to become an author and pen this book?
SW: I had once published a magazine, called Living History. With each issue I wrote a publisher’s letter and often “ghost” wrote a few articles. I found over time that I preferred the writing to the publishing. After the magazine went out of circulation, I decided that I would get to the writing I liked via my favorite reading genre – the historical novel. I grew up reading Thomas B. Costain, James A. Michener, Leon Uris, Wilbur Smith, and C.S. Forrester. Later on, I read many of Bernard Cornwell’s books. I learned a lot about history from those writers. Yet the stories entertained.
Is this your first book?
SW: No, The Cavalier Spy is the second in the Revolutionary War action and espionage series I call Yankee Doodle Spies. I know the name is a bit “kitschy,” but I like it. I plan on eventually writing eight books in the series.
With this particular book, how did you publish – traditional, small press, Indie, etc. – and why did you choose this method?
SW: I went with a small trade publisher, a small press called Twilight Times Books. A friend, the late Lee McCaslin, referred me to Twilight Times Books. He was a published author himself and was looking for a new publisher for his second non-fiction book. When he learned Twilight Times Books published mainly fiction, he referred me and I was accepted and given a contract for the first three books in the Yankee Doodle Spies series.
Can you tell us a little about your publishing journey? The pros and cons?
SW: Well, I did all the usual things. After my first manuscript was done, I went on line to search for an agent. I also met with Dave Meadows and Michael O. Varhola, both published authors. Dave has written several naval espionage novels. Michael writes popular history, travel and ghost haunting books. They provided me lots of insight and encouragement. Lee McCaslkin did as well. But most of our dealings were by phone and email. I actually wrote a chapter in his book, Secrets of the Cold War. Then began the long and frustrating search for a literary agent. Mostly by luck (or unluck) I found two and had contracts with them. They provided feedback on my writing but it was a bit of drag and die. I would get some generalized comments. After I would address them and resubmit, I’d get more (different) generalized comments. It was clear different folks were reading these, as occasionally the comments clashed. In any case, I never was submitted to a publisher. In one case I was dropped. In the other, I did the dropping. These were not paid agents but fairly renowned New York agencies. I’d rate the experience as extremely frustrating, not to mention nerve grinding, but I did learn from it.
What lessons do you feel you learned about your particular publishing journey and about the publishing industry as a whole?
SW: The most important thing I learned was to park my ego at the door. When you are writing, you have complete control of the world you are presenting. But once you get into the publishing phase, the situation sort of reverses. Editors and publishers now have a legitimate right to comment and suggest changing things. You have to trust them. And you have to let go of a part of the creative process. The author creates a work of literature for people to read. The editor and publisher have to turn it into a product for people to buy. The kind of fiction I write doesn’t really fit the cookie cutter mold.
Would you recommend this method of publishing to other authors?
SW: Yes, I would. I find the publisher accessible and well versed in all aspects of the business. And this publisher supports its writers.
What’s the best advice you can give to aspiring authors?
SW: I’ll say that there are a whole bunch of folks who will shut you down. For them, your work is a business decision. This is especially true of some f the agencies. I’d say – find your style… your voice, and hone it. But don’t try to change it. I’d also say be very patient…. And keep writing!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
S.W. O’Connell is the author of the Yankee Doodle Spies series of action and espionage novels set during the American Revolutionary War. The author is a retired Army officer with over twenty years of experience in a variety of intelligence-related assignments around the world. He is long time student of history and lover of the historical novel genre. So it was no surprise that he turned to that genre when he decided to write back in 2009. He lives in Virginia.
1776: His army clinging to New York by a thread, a desperate General George Washington sends Lieutenant Jeremiah Creed behind British lines once more. But even the audacity of Creed and his band of spies cannot stop the British juggernaut from driving the Americans from New York, and chasing them across New Jersey in a blitzkrieg fashion. Realizing the imminent loss of one of the new nation’s most important states to the enemy, Washington sends Creed into the war-torn Hackensack Valley. His mission: recruit and train a gang of rogues to work behind British lines.
However, his mission takes a strange twist when the British high command plots to kidnap a senior American officer and a mysterious young woman comes between Creed and his plans. The British drive Washington’s army across the Delaware. The new nation faces its darkest moment. But Washington plans a surprise return led by young Creed, who must strike into hostile land so that Washington can rally his army for an audacious gamble that could win, or lose, the war.
“More than a great spy story… it is about leadership and courage in the face of adversity…The Cavalier Spy is the story of America’s first army and the few… those officers and soldiers who gave their all to a cause that was seemingly lost…”
~ Les Brownlee, former Acting Secretary of the Army and retired Army Colonel
“Secret meetings, skirmishes and scorching battles… The Cavalier Spy takes the reader through America’s darkest times and greatest triumphs thanks to its powerful array of fictional and historical characters… this book shows that courage, leadership and audacity are the key elements in war…”
~ F. William Smullen, Director of National Security Studies at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School and Author of Ways and Means for Managing UP
Recently, a friend wrote a book about how she’s always longed to go to Paris but finally resigned herself to the fact that she won’t. And she’s okay with that. Because Paris, for my friend, is not something out there. It’s what’s right in front of her.
I love that. She’s given up on the veneer of a life captured on Instagram and rejected the promise of fulfillment a city can bring. Instead, she’s embracing the life she has to live right now and discovering some extraordinary lessons in the process.
For some reason, I couldn’t help but think about my recent post on Medium on networks and how Hemingway’s move to Paris changed his life and career. But for every Hemingway in Paris, there’s a Bronte in rural Haworth.
As I’ve said before, creative success does not happen in isolation. So what network did the Bronte sisters have access to, living in rural England in the 1850s? Certainly not the host of influential artists and authors Hemingway had in Paris in the 1920s. What was the team of mentors that led to their inarguable contribution to the world of literature? Who did they?
Well, they had each other. And in light of my friend’s book, I am left wondering:
What if the thing you’ve always wanted was actually right in front of you?
The other weekend, I hosted a conference of 150 people from all over who had come together to learn how to build an audience around their messages. At the conference, we kept bringing up the metaphor of the “table.” For us, this meant the place where life is shared and lives are changed. We had people sit at round tables and told them to discuss each speech delivered from stage, sharing what they learned and helping one another apply the lessons.
One takeaway was the table you’re called to may not be a new network. Often, the place where breakthrough happens is the place you find yourself in right now. And that little idea changes everything.
In the Middle Ages, we had a different way of getting experience and gaining access to networks.
Under the apprenticeship system, a person worked for free in exchange for an education. The student often lived in the same house as the teacher. This was the way a person became a professional — it was a totally immersive process — and it began as early as age twelve.
After completing the first stage of apprenticeship, the student, now called a “journeyman,” could venture out and travel to other cities for work. What a journeyman could not do, though, was take on apprentices. That right was reserved only for masters.
In many ways, a journeyman was still a student, though now able to be paid. To be a journeyman meant applying the techniques your teacher had passed down to see if they worked in the real world. It was a test, to see if you had what it took.
There was a certain amount of restlessness to being a journeyman. After a season of wandering, you had to submit a master work to the local guild and if they found it worthy, you were accepted in the guild, becoming a master. If not, you might have to wander forever.
How long do you think this process of apprenticeship took? How long to learn a new trade, practice it, and eventually earn the right to teach others?
A far cry from the modern two-month internship today, an apprenticeship took at least ten years. It was an excellent way of learning a skill under the guidance of someone wiser and more experienced. But in modern times, this ancient art of diving deep into a craft has but disappeared.
Now, the responsibility for reaching your potential is up to you.
This is more than a challenge; it’s a cruel taunt. Pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps can only take us so far, and despite what we’ve heard, there is no such thing as a self-made man or woman. We are all products of our environment, influenced by the people we encounter and the places we live. In other words, we need help. So how do we find it?
Finding your calling will not happen without the aid and assistance of others. Every story of success is, in fact, a story of community. Some people will help you willingly, while others may contribute to your education on accident. But if you are wise, you can use it all.
Three years ago, three people I barely knew got together and decided they wanted to start a mastermind group. Each asked three other people, and that’s how the twelve of us started getting to meet every week. We’ve been doing it ever since.
Honestly, this was not the table I hoped to be invited to. I didn’t even know it existed. But this group has been the source of my greatest professional and personal growth in the past decade. Finding your own network may lead to a similar breakthrough. Just remember these three steps:
Decide what you want to learn. Try to get as specific as possible. Listen to your life and pay attention to what it says. Once you get clear on this, share it with people you know so that you can get connected to others who want similar things.
Identify a community you can learn from. Don’t look for a single mentor; look for a group of them. Most mentoring is not between individuals but amongst peers. Even in the Middle Ages, this was often the case. In the studio of a master, there were sometimes a dozen students all working together under the tutelage of a teacher but also learning from each other.
Use the collective resources of the group to help everyone reach their goals.If the group is not already meeting together, then it’s your job to call them together. Help everyone understand what each individual brings to the table and encourage them to share their talents.
This was what the Bronte sisters did for each other. They didn’t have access to the world’s greatest writing teachers, so they became the network they needed. They created their own group of mentors that would help them succeed, writing stories as little girls and sharing them with one another.
I think the lesson here is obvious: Don’t neglect the opportunity you have to create the network you need with the people who are already around you.
Don’t miss where you are right now
At the Tribe Conference, when we were saying goodbyes on the last day, I was happy to see people who sat together all weekend exchanging phone numbers and email addresses. They got it. Community creates opportunity. And if that’s true, then one of the best things we can do is create more communities.
Sometimes, I think, we get the wrong idea when we see people who succeed because of their network. We think the largest groups with access to the most important people are where growth happens. But often, success is the result of everyday effort multiplied by a small group of people.
We forget that when Hemingway went to Paris, the world didn’t yet know who Gertrude Stein or Ezra Pound was. James Joyce was only beginning his literary career. And Paris was just a cheap place to live.
When you think about your Paris, that place where your greatest growth happens, try to remind yourself that these places can happen anywhere — in the hustle and bustle of 1920s Paris, the rural farmland of 1850s England, and all points in between.
And as you consider who should be sitting at your table, that small group of people who will transform your life, remember these people do not have to be famous. They just have to be committed. What makes a group special is not the prestige of any single member but the collective wisdom it shares. This is where that old quote by Margaret Mead still rings true:
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.
When we gather around any given table, we create community. And we can always squeeze in one more chair. If you don’t have a seat yet, then you just might be the one who is supposed to call everyone together.
In case you missed our little gathering, here are some snapshots as told by the attendees themselves:
Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.
The London Book Fair lands on an unusually sunny three days in the capital. The scorching rays – rarely seen at all, let alone in April in the UK – seem at odds with a closed-off indoor book fair. But that hasn’t stopped scores of page-turner enthusiasts scouring the giant exhibition centre’s main floor, looking for publishers to schmooze, books to buy and advice to receive.
It’s the advice from authors who’ve ‘made it’ that seems to resonate most with attendees. Seminars and workshops are scattered in between the stands – all packed with a baying audience that fire off seemingly endless questions. They’re all trying to piece together an escape route out of the doldrums of full-time work.
One man, Mark Dawson, has a queue of wannabe writers lining up to speak to him as we sit down for an interview. Dawson is one of the self-publishing success stories that Amazon likes to wheel out when journalists like myself come knocking. But Dawson’s success isn’t down to simply publishing his crime-thriller series and hoping for the best.
Dawson has become an entrepreneur. With the self-publishing platform, he had no choice. The tactics he employed to promote his series aren’t game-changing, or even particularly clever, but the scale in which he implemented them is what made the difference.
To date he has sold over 300,000 copies of his series about an assassin called John Milton. Dawson says he pocketed “ six figures” last year and he’s on course to make much more this year. And he’s got plans for bigger and better things for this series outside of print form.
For the past few years I’ve been developing Tools to assist me in my career as a fiction writer, songwriter, and poet. In preparation for pursuing those careers.
I have decades worth of Tools regarding my business-careers as a business, copy, and non-fiction writer, and inventor (and as a poet, I’ve been a poet since I was about age 8 or so), many of which I have been posting to my Business Blog, Launch Port.
But here in Wyrdwend I’m going to start making it a habit to post some of my more useful Writing Tools in the form of Templates. I’ll arrange them all into a sellable book, or e-book, or workbook, something like that, maybe in a year or so. I’m too busy right now.
I’m giving you permission to use these tools, or to use them as idea-generators to make your own. Tools, as opposed to actual Works, I consider more public property than proprietary or personal intellectual property. Yeah, in book form I’d consider them mine, but in this form, if you find them useful, then use away.
Each week, barring some unforeseen exigency, I’ll be posting a different Tool, or a different kind of tool (writing, songwriting, poetry, etc.) that you can make use of in developing your own works. Some of these tools I modified from tools suggested to me by others, some contain partial information or design components from other sources, many are entirely my own creations.
To start I give you a very, very simple and easy to use tool. Nevertheless it should (if properly employed) contain vital and succinct information about your Work (Book or other Major Work) that you can use as an elevator pitch, to formulate a written pitch, or to simply keep the fundamental and primary elements of your work clear, distinct, and easily marketable.
Linn Ulmann spent her childhood trailing her famous parents as they traveled the world. As the daughter of director Ingmar Bergman and the actress Liv Ullmann, two legends of 20th-century cinema, her “home” shifted time and again. The one constant was a Swedish island, Fårö, where she returned each summer to visit her father.
Now, she’s fascinated by the way our surroundings shape us. In her interview for this series, the author of The Cold Song used a short story by Alice Munro to illustrate the way setting drives her writing, and how place and memory help dictate the stories we tell.
The Cold Song concerns a cast of characters affected by the disappearance of Milla, a 19-year-old au pair working in a coastal town south of Oslo. After two years, her body—and the grisly manner of its death—is uncovered by three boys searching for buried treasure. With this act of violence at its heart, the novel explores the unexpected ways a crime haunts people who knew the victim, inflaming their secret sources of guilt.
Linn Ullmann is the author of five previous novels, including Before You Sleep and A Blessed Child; her work has been translated into more than 30 languages. She spoke to me by phone from her home in Oslo.
Linn Ullmann: When my father died six years ago, and we were selling off his property on the island of Fårö where I grew up, I kept a diary in a big, black notebook. It was a strange thing: a book that mixed notes on practical arrangements with ideas for the new book I’d started writing then. (This book was a mix of the book I did eventually write—The Cold Song—and another book I didn’t write, about the death of a father.) The notebook was a reading diary, too. In between meetings about the funeral, and what to do with his things, and how we were going to bury him, I was reading Alice Munro.
I’ve read her in many stages of my life. I love the way her voice just sucks you in, the way her stories walk you as if to the unexpected edge of a cliff, towards moments that—in their violence or sense of life-changing possibility—are like sudden free fall. During that time of mourning, I’d written down this passage from her story “Face”:
Something had happened here. In your life there are a few places, or maybe only one place, where something has happened. And then there are the other places, which are just other places.
This quote—“Something had happened here”—resonated so much with me. I found it very moving because of where I was right then: starting a new book, having just lost my father, in the only place I had ever really called home. At the time, this was a very desolate island with a few sheep farmers living on it. Fårö was my home until I was three years old—and though I moved very, very many times, I returned every summer for the rest of my life, until my father died. These lines struck me on a profoundly personal level, and I had no choice but to write them down.
I’ve just re-read the story now, and am again blown away by it. It’s impossible to retell a story by Alice Munro, because there are so many ins and outs and digressions, before everything comes together in this surprising, magical way—but this is a strange love story about a boy who has a wine-colored birthmark over half his face. As a child, he’s friends with a girl about his age. Twice, she tries to make her face look like his—once, using red paint, and again later in a more permanent, devastating way. She does this out of love, or a destructive thing that love can sometimes be: “I love you so much that I want to be you.”
There’s so much else in this story, which gives the whole broad arc of the narrator’s life. We learn about his relationship with his father (who, moments after his son is born, remarks, “what a chunk of chopped liver”). We learn about his career as a successful radio actor, before TV—an industry his birthmark bars him from—takes over broadcast drama. But what sticks, in the end, is the moment in the basement of the childhood home where the little girl splashes red paint on half her face and says, all hopeful, “Now do I look like you?”
At the time, this gesture deeply wounds the boy, and his family interprets it as an act of terrible, mocking cruelty. The two children are never allowed to see each other again. It’s only as an adult that he learns—the afternoon of his father’s funeral—that she later used a razor to cut his same mark on her face. This act—of fidelity? Of shame? Of atonement?—casts the moment in the basement in a totally different light. Perhaps she was a person who identified with him so completely, that she was willing to trade her unblemished face for his. The narrator begins to realize that exchange in the basement was a crucial moment of his life; even though he didn’t realize it at the time, it may have been the closest he ever came to having his marred face looked upon honestly but without reproach, with something like love.
There’s no big sign saying Here’s the turning point. There’s no Sliding Doors scene that tells you, “Here’s the big moment!” But by the end of the story, we sense that this is what matters most to this character, as he looks back. After the revelation at the funeral, he decides not to sell the house where he grew up, where the exchange in the basement happened, as he had planned. Instead, he lives inside it for the rest of his life.
In other words, he comes to see that the childhood house will always be his reference point, his stage of greatest significance. I think it is this way for many of us: There is maybe one place, when we look back, where something happened. Or only a few places. “And then there are all the other places,” Munro writes: important too, but not distinct, not above all else. Those precious few settings where something happened are where meaning resides—they contain the story, they are the story. Yes, I think that, to Alice Munro, story is place—the two are that deeply connected. You do not have a story of a life without an actual place. You can’t separate one from the other.
I think that’s why she’s intensely local in her fiction, like many other great writers (Faulkner, Joyce, and Proust come straight to mind). Munro’s stories unfold in remote places in Canada that I’ve never been to—but in these geographically small places, whole worlds play out. The best writers provide a sense of events unfolding in this specific place, a place that informs and feeds the characters and events. What comes first: the place or the story? The story or the place? With great fiction, it can be impossible to distinguish.
I’ve been a reader of authors who have a strong sense of place, because in my own life I’ve been somewhat placeless. I always traveled as a kid, and went to a new school every year. I lived in New York, I lived in Norway, I lived in Sweden—we travelled around, we moved, and I continued doing that into my adult life. I have been something of a placeless person—so I try to find that in literature, I guess. I seek out books and authors who are very place-specific. For me, in a way, the experience of sitting with a book is the closest thing I have to “home.”
And this reminds me of another Munro line, from her story “The Bear Came Over the Mountain”:
There are places that you long for that you might not ever see.
Some places you never actually experience yourself, but are always important in your life anyway, even if you never go. Places you learn about through literature and other people’s stories can take on intense personal significance, as Munro’s Canadian hamlets have for me. I have this second quote written with the lines from “Face” in that big, black notebook; I probably wrote them on the same day. Somehow, I feel like these two passages—because they are about place in literature, and where things happened, whether a physical place or interior place—are what Munro is all about.
In my own work—the way I actually write—place plays an essential role, too. A choreographer I whose work I love, Merce Cunningham, was once asked, “How do you start a dance?” He said, “Well, you have to begin by showing up.” I think that’s brilliant, and it goes for writing, too. You can have all these novels in your head, all these characters and ideas, but if you don’t actually show up to your writing day—the physical place where you get the work done— you have nothing.
The characters, too, need to “show up”—the story needs to happen somewhere. Again, Munro: “Something happened here.” That line could be the epigraph to everything I write. The “here” is every bit as important as the “something happened.” For me, the two cannot exist without each other; setting and character respond to and inform one another.
When I begin writing, I need to have a place. It can be a small: even a single room, though I like to be able to see the layout, the colors, the objects inside. I need to have that stage so that my characters have a place to move around. If I can develop that sense of place—and that other crucial quality, the narrative voice—then I feel sure I will find a story, even if it takes some time. If I don’t have the place, and I don’t have the voice, I’m writing without a motor. It all becomes just words. But once the voice comes, the “here” comes next, and then the “something happened”—what we call plot—follows from it.
In this way, writing becomes a listening experience—a way of being responsive to what you have written, and letting it guide you. Some writers say “the characters come to me,” or the “characters become alive to me at night.” Bullshit. I don’t believe that my characters are alive. But the process requires a form of artistic listening, of understanding the consequences of the decisions you’ve made. If you are lucky enough to find voice and place, there are real consequences to those choices. Together, they limit the possibilities of what can possibly come next—and they help point the way forward. Your role, then, is to not stick to your original idea—it is to be totally faithless to your idea. Instead, be faithful to voice and place as you discover them, and to the consequences of what they entail.
That’s why it’s often more fun fumbling around with notes and good ideas before the writing actually starts—it doesn’t require as much intensive listening. Most writers start out thinking “I’m going to write about such-and-such grand idea.” That’s fine when it’s all up in your head. But the minute you start putting words down, you begin to confine yourself to certain possibilities, and you must be prepared to abandon what you thought you were writing about before.
There is a Norwegian novelist who says “Writers must beware of their own good ideas.” You have this great idea, and then you start writing—and maybe something happens, and your voice starts taking you places. But if you start to think, I’m going away from my great idea, I have this wonderful idea! I need to get back to my idea—you stop following the consequences of the place and voice you’ve chosen. This is a mistake. You see a lot of decent books and plots that are fantastic—the writing might even be really good—but still somehow feel completely dead. I think that’s because there’s a great idea, a compelling premise, but a lack of honesty that can only come from listening closely to your writing. Those beautiful moments when you’ve just got to put the book away for a while because it’s so intense—we have a Norwegian word, smertepunkt, which literally means “point of pain”—can only come from this kind of honest listening. And Alice Munro is an absolute master of it. She dares to take the consequence of a voice, and a place, and follow them to where it takes her.
Place dictates who we are and how we see—this is true in life, as well as fiction. I see it in the way my father wrote about his first impressions of Fårö in his autobiography, Magic Lantern:
If one wished to be solemn, it could be said that I had found my landscape, my real home. If one wished to be funny, one could talk about love at first sight …. This is your landscape, Bergman. It corresponds to your innermost imaginings of forms, proportions, colours, horizons, sounds, silences, lights and reflections. Security is here. Don’t ask why. Explanations are clumsy rationalizations with hindsight. In, for instance, your profession, you look for simplification, proportion, exertion, relaxation, breathing. The Fårö landscape gives you a wealth of all that.
He decided because of the shape and the light and the proportions that this was where he was going to live and work. And that place is the central place in my life, too. I think probably reading these Alice Munro stories right after his death was why I copied over those quotes. They struck me—because he was dead, and also because I was mourning the fact that I was also losing my place. The island, the house on it, that’s all going to disappear now—and all the memories there, too. You cannot separate memory and place. There are certain places, if we go there, either in our writing or in reading or in life, that conjure up our deepest memories. And memories are all about who we are.
I always wondered if it really was my place. That became the big dilemma in the years after my father’s death: Was it my place, or was it his place? Places are always complicated in that way.
The island is not a place that says “Love me. Look how beautiful I am. You’ll be happy here.” It is not a place that tries to charm or seduce you. It’s beautiful in its starkness, in all its different rocky greys. There are old stone formations, called rauks, that are millions of years old. Red poppies grow in the summer. In the winter, there are countless shades of white. The surrounding sea, the Baltic Sea, is a broken sea: it’s losing oxygen, is filmed with algae on it, and very still. A dead ocean. It’s beautiful, but severe. The nature and the temperament of the whole, stark place—yes, you might fall in love with me, but I don’t know if I’m going to return your love ever. I know that I love the place, but I don’t know if the place loves me.
With some of the greatest loves you have, that’s the dilemma you have to live with.
Ten years after the publication of his last novel, Kazuo Ishiguro has come out with a new book, The Buried Giant. A former winner of the Man Booker Prize and considered one of the best British writers alive today, Ishiguro is a master of the understated. His works feature narrators that speak so simply and so plainly, they appear to have almost no affect at all. Still, their stories are dark and poignant, and it’s often not until the last few pages of an Ishiguro novel that we realize how deeply we’ve been moved.
In The Buried Giant, an elderly couple sets off on a journey through a mythical England populated by ogres, dragons, knights and giants. Axl and Beatrice are in search of their son, whom they can’t quite remember how they lost. This is because the inhabitants of The Buried Giant’s mythical world suffer a collective amnesia, a ‘mist’ that keeps them from holding onto certain memories, both personal and historical. As we travel with Axl and Beatrice, the novel asks us what memory (and forgetting) means to a person, to a couple, to a society. In many ways, the book is surprising (The New York Times calls it ‘a departure’), but it also showcases some of Ishiguro’s most essential qualities as a writer: subtle prose, a dreamlike atmosphere, and powerful questions about loss and memory.
I sat down with Ishiguro in Knopf’s office early on a Friday, just before it began to snow. We talked about his writing process, collective memory, Inglourious Basterds, and his new novel’s recent role in the conversation about genre.
Chang: Each of your novels is so unlike the one that came before it. The Buried Giant has surprised a lot of readers. Can we talk about what influenced you while you were working? What books were you reading, or drawing upon?
Ishiguro: Well, I did a great deal of research and read quite a lot before I wrote the book. But I don’t know that the books I read during the actual writing process necessarily have much to do with it.
I find that when you’re writing, it becomes quite a battle to keep your fictional world in tact. In fact, as I write, I almost deliberately avoid anything in the realm of what I’m working on. For instance, I hadn’t seen a single episode of Game of Thrones. That whole thing happened when I was quite deep into the writing, and I thought, ‘If I watch something like that, it might influence the way I visualize a scene or tamper with the world that I’ve set up.’
Chang: It sounds like the planning stage and the writing stage were two very separate parts of your process.
Ishiguro: Yes, it’s really when I’m planning the project that I actively look for ideas and read very widely. I spend a lot of time planning. I’m quite a deliberate writer in that way. A lot of writers I know just work with kind of a blank canvas. They feel it out and improvise on it and then they look to see what kind of material they’ve got.
I’ve never been able to do that. Even at the start of my career, when maybe I would have been a little more reckless. I’ve always needed to know quite a lot about the story before I start to write the actual prose. I’ve always needed a solid idea before getting started.
Chang: How do you know when you have a solid idea?
Ishiguro: It’s got to be something that I’m able to articulate to myself in about two to three sentences. And those sentences have to be compelling, much more than the sum of their parts. I should be able to feel the tension and emotion arising from that little summary I’ve created, and then I know I’ve got a project to work on. With The Buried Giant, for example, the starting point was something like: ‘There’s a whole society where people are suffering some sort of collective, and strangely selective, amnesia.’
Chang: And that was the summary you had in mind before you sat down to the page?
Ishiguro: Yes, but that’s not quite enough for an idea. That’s more of a concept. I guess if I had to write the next line of the summary, it would be, ‘There’s a couple who fears that without their shared memory, their love will vanish.’ And then the third line would be that the nation around them is in some kind of strange tense peace.
Alright, so I didn’t literally write those sentences down, but that’s how I start a project. I start with something quite abstract like that, and then I start to plan and do my research.
I tend to read quite a lot of non-fiction around the themes I want to explore.
Chang: Are you fairly careful about curating what you do read or think about while you plan a novel?
Ishiguro: Not necessarily. For this book in particular, I read a very good Canadian book called Long Shadows by Erna Paris, It was written in the early 2000s and documents her travels, looking at the various kinds of brewing or buried trouble. There was also Postwar by Tony Judt, and Peter Novich’s The Holocaust in American Life.
Now, those nonfiction books went into it the research part, but I find that almost anything around that point can be influential. Around that stage is when I’m most sensitive, or most open to influence. Almost every movie I see, every book I’m reading, I’m thinking: ‘Is there something here that might nudge me toward an image, or an idea, or even a technique?’
I remember I happened to be watching Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds at a formative point. There’s a long scene where the American guys are in a German bar, pretending to be German soldiers, and they’re playing this game and speaking in bad German, and it goes on for this incredible amount of time. You know it’s going to end in some terrible violence, but it goes on and on.
That seems to have nothing to do with my book. No one would detect Tarantino as an influence while reading The Buried Giant, but I thought it was such a great way to deal with an explosion of violence. You actually don’t have to spend a lot of energy on the violence itself. It’s the lead up, the tension. So, yes, I’m quite open to reading or hearing or seeing anything at that point in the process.
Chang: What was behind the decision in setting The Buried Giant in a mythical, medieval England? Did you know this would surprise people the way it has?
Ishiguro: Often the setting comes quite late in the process. I usually have the whole story, the whole idea, and then I hunt for the location, for a place where I can set it down.
It’s sort of like I’ve wandered into people’s countries without knowing where I’ve landed.
So I’m a little bit naïve, maybe, about what the finished thing will look like in terms of genre. It’s sort of like I’ve wandered into people’s countries without knowing where I’ve landed. And after I’ve been there for quite some time, someone says ‘you realize you’re in Poland now.’ And I say, ‘Oh really? I just followed this trail of stuff I needed.’
I didn’t wonder how people would define or categorize The Buried Giant until it was done. And then as publication approached, I started to see it from the outside. I’d been so absorbed with trying to get the thing to work from the inside.
I did think about setting it in a very real contemporary, tense situation. I considered Bosnia in the 1990s as a setting, and well, I thought about Rwanda but didn’t consider it for too long, because I feel unqualified to write about Africa. I know so little about African politics, African culture. The disintegration of Yugoslavia I felt closer to, because I live in Europe. These massacres were occurring right on our doorstep. I wanted to look at a situation in which a generation (or two) has been living uneasily in peace, where different ethnic groups have been coexisting peaceably and then something happens that reawakens a tribal or societal memory.
Chang: What made you ultimately decide on this more distant reality?
Ishiguro: Well, if I had done that you’d be asking me why I was suddenly interested in Yugoslavia, and if I have relatives that used to go there, and what do I think about what Milosevic did or said on this or that day. It becomes a completely different kind of book. Some people write those kinds of books brilliantly. It’s almost like reportage. They’re very powerful and very urgent books.
Maybe in the future I’ll feel compelled to write that kind of specific and current book, but right now I feel that my strength as a fiction writer is my ability to take a step back. I prefer to create a more metaphorical story that people can apply to a variety of situations, personal and political.
Setting the book in an other, magical world allows me to do that. Every society, every person even, has some buried memories of violence or destruction. The Buried Giant asks whether awakening these buried things might lead to another terrible cycle of violence. And whether it’s better to do this at the risk of cataclysm, or whether it’s better to keep these memories buried and forgotten.
The same question applies at the personal level, say, in a marriage. When is it better to just leave certain things unsaid for the sake of getting on together? Is there something phony about a relationship if you don’t face everything that’s happened? Maybe it makes your love less real.
Chang: Do you feel that the conversation about genre boundaries, which has been a major focus of the book’s reviews and press, has taken away from these questions the book is asking?
It’s a much broader conversation, isn’t it? What do we call fantasy?
Ishiguro: I didn’t actually anticipate that there would be so much attention paid to the genre of the book. I read Neil Gaiman’s review in the NYTBR which opens with the words, “Fantasy is a tool of the storyteller.” It’s a very interesting piece that, in a way, is much bigger than my book. It’s a much broader conversation, isn’t it? What do we call fantasy? What do we call sci-fi? I guess the subtext is that mainstream fiction and literary fiction look down on fantasy tropes but, as Gaiman argues, those tropes can be very powerful, and they’re part of an ancient tradition. There were a couple of other pieces that appeared like that. And of course, there was a bit of a spat with Ursula K LeGuin. Although, she’s since retracted what she said on her blog, which was gracious of her. I think it’s a much larger dialogue she’s been involved with in the past with authors like Margaret Atwood, for example.
I think the positive side of all of this is that it is quite an exciting time at the moment in fiction. I do sense the boundaries are breaking down, for readers and for writers. Younger readers move very freely between genres and between what used to be fairly strict categories of ‘popular’ and ‘literary’ fiction. My daughter and her generation, for example. They were quite literally the same age as Harry and Hermione when the first Harry Potter book was published. In a way, they kind of followed that whole storyline in real time, year by year.
For that generation, one of the coolest, most exciting things to happen in their young lives was reading books. Of course, now they read widely just like any person interested in literature, but their foundation, their love of books is based on Harry Potter, Philip Pullman—that whole explosion of very intelligent children’s literature that they grew up with. It’s very exciting, I think—this shift in what constitutes ‘serious’ fiction.
Chang: Even though The Buried Giant has arguably nothing to do with Japan, I love the way there’s still something Japanese that comes across in its style and tone. Are you very conscious of language and tone when you are writing or does that come more naturally?
Ishiguro: At the beginning of my career it was quite deliberate. A Pale View of Hills was set in Japan. My characters were Japanese, so of course they had to speak in a Japanese kind of English. And in An Artist of the Floating World, the characters were not only Japanese but they were meant to be speaking in Japanese even though it was written in English, so I spent a great deal of energy there finding an English that suggested there was Japanese being spoken or translated through. Maybe some of that effort has stayed with me. I use a formal, careful kind of English, but to some extent that may just be my natural or preferred way of using the language.
For example, the butler in Remains of the Day is English, but he often sounds quite Japanese. And I thought that was fine, because he is a bit Japanese.
Chang: Right, that’s one of the brilliant parts of his character.
Ishiguro: In The Buried Giant, I wasn’t thinking consciously about Japan or Japanese, but the priorities of the language, I suppose, are still the same. I quite like language that suppresses meaning rather than language that goes groping after something that’s slightly beyond the words. I’m interested in speech that kind of conceals and covers up. I’m not necessarily saying that’s Japanese. But I suppose it goes with a certain kind Japanese aesthetic; a minimalism and simplicity of design that occurs over and over again in Japanese things, you know. I do like a flat, plain surface where the meaning is subtly pushed between the lines rather than overtly expressed. But I don’t know if that’s Japanese, or if that’s just me.
Wow. While doing my research this morning I just happened (if you believe in that kinda thing) to run across Jeri Westerson’s Literary blog.
I have read several of her books, and as a matter of fact Shadow of the Alchemist was the last I read. I consider her one of the very best historical fiction authors (male or female) working today. I highly recommend her works, and her works have also influenced my own writings. So she is my Highmootpost for the day.
Well, King Richard III is now buried in Leicester Cathedral, when he really wanted York Minster. But instead of the royal family intervening, they stayed out of it, for many reasons. One, he was considered a usurper by their blood relation King Henry VII and one with a crown usually stays clear of any mention of “usurper.” And for another, well, it seems more in the realm of archaeologists at this point. But should it be? This isn’t some ancient Briton pulled from a bog. This is a famous/infamous king of England! And whether you believe he murdered his way to the throne or not (evidence can go either way), he was still an anointed king and as such, should be afforded the honors of a king.
And, in the end, he was.
The distasteful fight over where he should eventually land was amusingly medieval. After all, as my medieval detective well knows, there is much coin to be made by possessing the “relics” for a pilgrimage/tourist site. And coinage there will be.
I’ve only seen spits and spats of footage of the funeral and will likely catch more in the ensuing days, but it has been interesting to see how one goes about reburying a king of old–how to go about a religious exercise when the man was Catholic in a Catholic (at the time) England that is now Anglican due to his rival’s son’s marital circus. To see the armored honor guard on their horses, one with scoliosis as Richard had, and wearing proper fifteenth century armor seemed the right thing to do. Yet other re-enactors, who were in fifteenth century garb, were criticized for taking advantage of the situation and “playing” during such a solemn occasion. The man was medieval. I say lets have those trappings. Heck, the whole show was medieval, whether in a modern setting or not.
At least Richard has his honored place now, instead of the ignoble burial in a parking lot. His bones told us what he probably looked like and explained the medieval rumors of his physical crookedness. The DNA of his descendants told the story of the truth of the bones. Too bad the man himself cannot tell us the truth of his life and death.
I’ve read the vast majority of these books. A few, about seven, I have not.
Some I regret having read at all, they were a complete waste of my time, like Catcher in the Rye, and I’d never read them again.
Some I have read more than once, such as Crime and Punishment or One Hundred Years of Solitude, some I read annually because they are that good, such as the Odyssey, and some I read continually and in different languages, such as the Bible.
This would not be my list, certainly not my order, but it is a fairly good list.
Real Reading is far more than just mentally decoding terms and words, it is psychologically apprehending and comprehending the very most subtle and sublime ideas and ideals that it is possible for man to ever understand.
Real Writing is far more than just encoding and transcribing phrases, it is transmitting, mind to mind and soul to soul, the very marrow of manhood and the very embodiment of human experience through script, so that it may be read again whenever needed into the design of the future.
My personal take on the true nature of real reading and real writing