Wyrdwend

The Filidhic Literary Blog of Jack Günter

THE DARK

I’M NOT A LOSER, BUT I DO KNOW THE DARK

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.

It’s Normal to Feel Like a Loser

by Michelle Griep

So you’re writing a novel, la-de-dah. Typing away like a rock star. Day after 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.

Advertisements

WRITING FOR A LIVING

Yes, You Can Make a Living Writing Fiction! 10 Tips from Elizabeth S. Craig

 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.
  • Expand into audiobooks.
  • Make your books available in foreign markets and subscription services through distributors like PublishDrive, StreetLib, Draft2Digital, and Smashwords.
  • Get your books in libraries through OverDrive, Baker and Taylor Axis 360, and Bibliotheca CloudLibrary through the previously mentioned aggregators.
  • Accept paid public speaking gigs to talk about your books and your writing process.

8) Continue learning about changes in the publishing industry, better promotional methods, and emerging markets.

Invest time reading blogs that inform self-published authors, such as:

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! )

 

BOOK OF THE WEEK

Fall to Pieces: A Southern Quilting Mystery

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.

OPPORTUNITY ALERTS

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.

ROMANCE AUTHORS! Here’s a list of 31 small presses that specialize in romance and do not require an agent for submissions. Also compiled by the Authors Publish Newsletter.

25 PUBLISHERS YOU CAN SUBMIT TO WITHOUT AN AGENT. These are respected, mostly independent publishing houses–vetted by the great people at Authors Publish. Do check out their newsletter

THE STAKES

Fotolia 97731354 M

“The biggest risk is not taking any risk.”

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.

—Steven James

NOT MUCH A’NOTHING FOR NOBODY

Yeah, indeed, I agree with much of this.

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.)

Also, get out into the Real World and do something worthwhile and really important. And keep doing those things for your whole life. Then you’ll have something decent and interesting to actually write about.

Writing, you see, ain’t really a singular profession about a set of mental obsessions. It is a peculiar expression of why life should be approached obsessively, and professionally.

Live only in your own head and that’s not only the only thing you’ll have for yourself, it’s the only thing you can give to others. And that ain’t much of nothing for nobody…

 

The Isolated Writer

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?

Help someone else defeat it.

 

CONTRIVORTIONIST

Contrived is a Four-Letter Word

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.

 

JACK’S RULES FOR WRITING FICTION (some of em anyway)

JACK’S RULES FOR WRITING FICTION

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.

 

Now have a good day folks.

THE CHANGES WITHOUT AND THE CHANGES WITHIN

How Self-Publishing Has Changed Authors

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.

THE OUTCAST TALE

Thursday, January 26, 2017

When God Gives You a Story Nobody Wants by Robin Patchen

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.

ON POETRY – TUESDAY’S TALE

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…

ON POETRY

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.

from my book, On Poetry

 

THINGS LONG UNSEEN – FIRST VERSE

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
His equal.

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
Unequaled

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…

 

NOBODY WANTS TO READ YOUR SHIT (for free – correction, I Do)

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.

 

No strings attached.
No e-mail address required.

Brand new and FREE from Steven Pressfield

NOBODY WANTS TO READ YOUR SH*T

…picks up where The War of Art left off.

Nobody Wants to Read Your Shit - by Steven Pressfield

.EPUBDownload your free Nook/iTunes/Kobo e-book here!

.MOBIDownload your free Kindle compatible e-book here!

.PDFDownload your free
PDF e-book here!

We’re giving it away (for a limited time) because we want people to read it. Simple as that.

Want more information or a paperback? Click here.

Thanks from Steve P. and everybody at Black Irish Books.

MY ADVICE TO WRITERS (and Everyone else)

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.
REWRITE OFTEN.

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.

Actually 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.

That’s my advice, take it for what it’s worth.

How I Wrote 10,000 Words in a Weekend

How I Wrote 10,000 Words in a Weekend

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 …

How I Wrote 10,000 Words in a Weekend // Something Delicious.  That much writing in so little time sounds crazy, right?  I thought so, too, until I did it myself!  Click the pin for my top tips for surviving the task and making it fun, to boot.  There's also a freebie guide to my must-have tools for a writing marathon!

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.
STOP.
 
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 from writing 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!

THE SHADOW MAN

Never-before-seen Tolkien poems written before The Hobbit are discovered

NEVER-before-seen poems written by J.R.R. Tolkien have been discovered inside an old school magazine.

JRR TolkienGETTY IMAGES

Poems by J.R.R. Tolkien have been discovered

The Shadow Man, written a year before his first classic work The Hobbit was published, was found after staff at Our Lady’s Abingdon school, Oxfordshire looked through back issues of its magazine.The poem, which was later appeared as Shadow-bride, and was released as part of the fantasy icon’s Adventures of Tom Bombadil in 1962.

According to the independent school’s principal, Stephen Oliver, they began to look through their archives after being contacted by an American Tolkien scholar, Wayne G. Hammond who had seen that two of Tolkien’s poems were listed in The Abingdon Chronicle.

MagazineOXFORD MAIL•SWNS GROUP

Tolkien’s work was found in a school magazine

Now, Mr Oliver believes that the poems may have been given to the magazine after Tolkien struck up a friendship with the nuns that were running the school.As well as The Shadow Man, the poem Noel was written to celebrate the birth of Christ.

Tolkien lived in Oxford at the time he wrote the The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

Mr Oliver said: “We had no idea that we had a copy of some of Tolkien’s poetry so it came as a surprise when we found them. I feel pretty privileged to have been a part of the discovery.”An American academic got in touch with us to say that he was looking to find them and that they were contained in a publication called the Abingdon Chronicle.

“At first we couldn’t find the 1936 edition and referred Mr Hammond on to the archives of the Sisters of Mercy, who founded the school, which are in London.

The poemOXFORD MAIL•SWNS.COM

The Shadow Man

My excitement when I saw them was overwhelming

Stephen Oliver

“But after we were preparing for another event for former pupils, we uncovered our own copy and discovered the poems that he had been looking for.”My excitement when I saw them was overwhelming. I am a great Tolkien fan and was thrilled to discover the connection with the school.

The magazineOXFORD MAIL•SWNS.COM

The poem

“The school magazine was something that was produced each year to provide things like updates on the alumni and would also contain bits of poetry.”It was brilliant to find it and it’s great that we have found such a great bit of heritage to tie to our school. We had no idea that there was a link between us before that point.”

THE WAY OUT

OPTING OUT

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
5. entertainment

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.

Have a good day folks.

THE YEAR OF CHARACTER

THE YEAR OF CHARACTER

I’m sitting here tonight (last night actually) working on the major characters that will be a part of my fictional book and novel series. I’ve spent much of the past week doing the same.

One invaluable thing I learned from James Patterson’s Master Class on commercial fiction is the importance of ongoing, serialized characters that others adore. I’ve known this intellectually for a long time based on my own reading history both as a youth and throughout my life (John Carter, Tarzan, Spock, Jesse Stone, Sherlock Holmes, Doc Savage, Batman, etc.) but looking back on my fiction writings I’ve realized that it hasn’t really sunken in until now. It had sunken into my mind long ago, but not into my soul. Not until now however. But now, finally, I am fully getting it.

I’ve always been a “Story-First” kind of guy and looking back upon it all I suspect I very much now know why. I was trained and self-trained to write stories through D&D (Dungeons and Dragons) and through game writing in general and D&D was indeed the very most excellent practice and training for story-development. But because I so rarely played and was almost always the DM or GM (Dungeon or Game Master) and was always the one creating worlds and writing the stories I never concentrated much at all upon “Character Development.”

That is to say I always let my players develop and run their characters with as little possible interference from me as I could ever get away with. Therefore almost all character development was in their hands and I become STORY AND PLOT AND WORLD FIRST and in many senses, I just habitually adopted the idea of STORY ONLY. Character-Work was for them, I was the World Man.

Not that I couldn’t write or develop characters, I did have several characters of my own I played and I developed some very complex Non-Player Characters (NPCs) but that kind of thing happened rather rarely compared to my World Building and plot and background elements development and so Character Development became a secondary and almost a background issue to me as a fiction writer and story teller. I realize now that I have for most of my life had this sort of subconscious psychological habit of developing stories in complex detail but sort of letting Character Development handle itself in a laissez-faire fashion when I did not outright ignore the issue.

But now that I realize this fault and oversight in my own writings, and the way I go about writing, I have decided that for me this will be the Year of the Characters. This year Characters and Serialized Characters become equally important to me as Story and Plot and World Building.

This is to be my Year of Character, and the genesis of the development of the Great Characters of my Fiction Writing Career.

This year I build Men and Characters and not just Worlds.

FIRST WORD COUNT 2373 +

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.

MASTERING THE MARKET – HIGHMOOT

An Accomplished Writer Takes a ‘MasterClass’ From a Gargantuan Selling Writer

What James Patterson had to teach me about writing—and selling—books

Web_MasterClass2_Morgan Schweitzer

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 The New 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.

PHOTO CREDIT: Micke

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.”

Screen shot 2015-08-03 at 3.01.01 PM

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.

APPRENTICES AND MENTORS – HAMMER, TONGS, AND TOOLS

Designing Your Own Apprenticeship: How to Build a Team of Mentors

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.

The Art of Designing Your Own Apprenticeship

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:

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.

Accidental apprenticeships

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.

This is what I call an “accidental apprenticeship.” Here’s how it works.

Designing your own apprenticeship

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

IMG_4753

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:

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:

Resources

  • To read more about the Bronte sisters and how they helped each other become great writers, check out Bounce by Matthew Syed.
  • To learn more about accidental apprenticeships and how they work practically, listen to this podcast I did on apprenticeship.
  • To learn how to create your own mastermind group, listen to this podcast.
Want to dive deeper into this? Get my best-selling book The Art of Work plus $250 in bonuses including free videos and a workbook.

What’s one thing that you could do today to start creating the kind of community you need? Share in the 15 Comments.

About Jeff Goins

I am the author of four books, including The Art of Work. I also run an online business teaching writers how to get the attention their work deserves. Every week, I send out an email newsletter with free tips on writing and creativity.

THE SCALE OF YOUR WORK

Amazon Pays $450,000 A Year To This Self-Published Writer

Jay McGregor

CONTRIBUTOR

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.

THE PLACE WHERE… HAMMER, TONGS, AND TOOLS

I completely concur. Place is every bit as important as plot. And some places are every bit as profound as any plot. And some places are inseparable from plot.

In short place is not only a tool of plot, it is the anvil on which it is truly shaped.

Before You Can Write a Good Plot, You Need to Write a Good Place

Author Linn Ulmann makes the case for the importance of here in “Something happened here.”
Doug McLean

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.

IT’S NOT JUST WHAT YOU SAY, IT’S WHAT YOU IMPLY BY OMISSION

This statement is entirely true: “It’s what is left out of the song that keeps us coming back for answers.”

This image, and the accompanying lyrics, are superb examples of this.

Lyric Of The Week: Traditional, “Barbara Allen”

Written by March 9th, 2015 at 8:40 am

Forget_Me_Not_Songster_-_Barbara_Allen_p.1It’s been beguiling audiences for a half-millennium or so, perhaps longer than that. It’s been covered by artists ranging from the sublime (Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, The Everly Brothers) to the slightly ridiculous (John Travolta and, in the 1951 Warner Brothers short “Robin Hood Daffy”, Porky Pig.) So what is it about “Barbara Allen” that makes it so enduring and affecting?

The first known reference to this mysteriously captivating folk ballad dates back to 1666, in an entry by the famed English diarist Samuel Pepys. Pepys called it a “Scotch song”, and it flourished throughout the United Kingdom in that era until it was brought to the U.S. by immigrants. As the population of the America slowly spread westward, the song went with it, as noted by famed musicologist Alan Lomax in his book The Folk Songs Of North America. “This ballad, if no other, travelled west with every wagon,” Lomax wrote. “As someone remarked, they sang ‘Barbara Allen’ in Texas ‘before the pale faces were thick enough to make the Indians consider a massacre worthwhile.”

What transpires in “Barbara Allen” is simple enough on the surface. Yet since the lyrics provide little exposition or back story, the reasons for the behavior of the main participants are enigmatic. The song tells the story of young William who, as he lies on his deathbed, calls out for Barbara. She takes her time getting to his side, only to treat him coldly due to a social foul he committed against her at a tavern. On her journey home, she hears the “death bell knellin” and, knowing it tolls for William’s death, suddenly regrets her hardness and knows she will soon die of grief for him.

Harsh stuff, right? Maybe too harsh, even for audiences who were used to Shakespeare’s plays and their numerous deaths. As such, a variant on the song quickly arose that included a leavening epilogue whereby the lovers are buried side-by-side. From William’s grave grows a rose, from Barbara’s a briar, and the two flowers eventually intertwine, providing the deceased pair eternal unison.

It’s whats left out of the song that keeps us coming back for answers. If all William did was drink a toast to the wrong ladies, surely he didn’t deserve treatment so nasty from a girl he truly loved. Or was this single incident indicative of his wayward behavior as a whole? And what changed in Barbara’s mind and heart from the time she left him to when she heard that bell? In that short journey, she transformed from hard-hearted to sympathetic without any middle ground spent in consideration of all that had transpired.

This sort of unexplainable behavior from characters was also emblematic of Shakespeare (think King Lear or Hamlet), so maybe the original writer had that kind of strangeness in mind. It makes the song more psychologically realistic, since we all tend to do things when guided by passion or spite that defy logic and reason.

The murkiness of the motives and the beauty of the melody is an irresistible combination. As such, many legendary contemporary artists have found the song irresistible. Dylan, for one, not only covered “Barbara Allen” at various times in his career, but he also used Barbara’s home base of “Scarlet Town” as a jumping-off point for an equally mysterious song on 2012’s Tempest.

While there have been many powerful and moving renditions of “Barbara Allen”, Art Garfunkel may have given the definitive modern reading on his 1973 solo album Angel Clare.  Whatever lesson you take from the song, whether it’s that even a moment of taking the one you love for granted can come back to haunt you, or that life is too short for petty grievances, you’ll likely be mesmerized by the mercy Garfunkel’s ethereal vocal grants these two lovers. It’s just too bad they didn’t show each other that same kind of mercy until it was far too late.

PLATFORMING

Author Platforms 201 – Part Two – Consistency

Starting last Tuesday and continuing today and next week I will be exploring the issue of author platforms and how to get one.  At the conclusion of this series of blog posts, The Steve Laube Agency will offer a downloadable document that will include the three posts plus additional information and resources.

__________

Last week, I talked a little about the need to develop a “message platform”, which must be in place before you get a website, Facebook page or start any social media effort.

Today I am still not going to talk at all about how to use Twitter or Instagram or any specific social media. Media is the vehicle to communicate. Maybe at one time “the media is the message”, but in the 21st century, with ubiquitous media, “the message is the message” and that is where it belongs.

Today we will continue to explore how to determine what your message platform is and what you need to begin implementing it.

Most people have heard the term “branding” or “brand management” as it relates to consumer products like breakfast cereal and cars. Simply defined (so even I can understand it), effective branding limits creative expression within certain boundaries. If you are a label designer for Campbell’s Soup, there is a template you use to maintain the Campbell’s brand so anyone can recognize a product at a glance.  An artist who desires to express herself creatively would view that job as a start, but probably not last long in that highly controlled environment.

Authors are brands as well. When anyone, from an agent to a reader looks at an author some immediate thoughts will come to mind, whether positive, negative, clear or confusing. Of course, you desire to project a positive and clear image, but often times, the way we operate is contrary to that.

I am not talking hypocrisy or sinful behaviors or walking the talk. I am referring to having a consistent message, delivered creatively, one that attracts readers and followers and meets the expectations they have for you.

Toe-stepping alert#1: Many less-than-interesting messages from authors have been posted in various media because “I need to post something today, but I can’t think of anything right now.” Until you become truly a rock star and people really want to know what kind of shampoo you use, don’t lose focus and talk about things that lack connection to your message. (Unless your message platform is about hair care, then shampoo is fine)

Whether you recognize it or not, you have a theme to what you write.

  • A novelist might have an approach that shows how characters can learn from mistakes.
  • A non-fiction author might use extensive research to undergird whatever they write and is known for attention to detail.
  • Another novelist shows how people go about their lives unaware of the spiritual world in the background.
  • A writer of Bible reference works desires to make the Bible understandable to everyone.
  • A writer of children’s books might want parents and children to interact about important things.

None of the above are necessarily the topic of a book…they are an author’s approach to their writing. That is their message platform, which is the first step for developing the author platform we hear so much about.

Toe-stepping alert #2: Most authors have no idea what their message platform is until someone else tells them.  If you try to figure it out yourself, you are engaging in a form of self-deception. We never see ourselves as others see us. Ask someone who will be honest. Don’t ask close friends or family. They will be nice and usually agree with whatever you say.  “Of course, you are smartest person in the world”. Thanks mom.

Bloggers, columnists, talk-show hosts, comedians, teachers, pastors and others who are responsible to deliver regular presentations make it a habit to always be on the lookout for illustrations and content. In many cases, they carry a small notebook with them everywhere they go, ready to capture a thought. Of course, these days, a number of people use a notes app or voice memo function on a smart phone. Use whatever you want, but do it.

Eyes and ears open, antennae up.

Look for stories to support your message platform everywhere. Let’s say your message platform is to highlight the good things people do for one another every day. That’s an easy one. You look for people doing things for one another.

Toe-stepping alert #3: If you don’t write or record the idea immediately, you will forget it. I don’t care how smart you are or how much you can memorize, the first time your phone rings you’ll forget what you were thinking about and the thought will be gone like a coin dropped on the couch.

Suppose your core message is harder to define. This is where asking multiple people is extremely important. Tell people to be straight with you. Anything else will not be helpful or at best, will send you off on a rabbit trail.

Finally, the framework for all message platforms is a commonly used item. A calendar. There are dates that mean something, like MLK Day, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, your grandmother’s 100th birthday, the anniversary of the day you got your driver’s license, etc.

By mapping out your message framework with a calendar, you will have a much easier time acquiring a specific message than if you try to figure out something without it. An idea from this afternoon might be great for next Spring or two years from now.

Toe-stepping alert#4: If you do not consistently plan your platform messages, then you will have regular moments of brain-freeze and you will shelve your carefully crafted platform for something less-than-important. The more you waste the time of your devoted followers who expect something from your core message platform, the less devoted they will become. (Unless you are super-famous, then we want to know what flavor of hummus you like best)

Next week, I’ll close this series of blog posts with a specific approach you can view the way you conduct your author marketing.

But if I forget what to write, anyone want to know how I feel about buying food from vending machines at rest stops along interstate highways?

Author Platforms – Part One

– See more at: http://www.stevelaube.com/author-platforms-201-part-two-consistency/#sthash.w12ysvl6.dpuf

11 STEP GUIDE TO SCENE/SCREEN WRITING

11 STEP GUIDE TO SCENE/SCREEN WRITING

This is not my Tool, I did not write or create it. Nevertheless I think it is a very useful tool, and one worth using.

NOT THE WAY

Friday, December 12, 2014

How NOT to Query an Agent

Working for a literary agent, definitely has its moments of hilarity. My most recent reason to LOL? I was pitched to.

Yes. Me. The administrative assistant. And here is the crazy part: I was pitched a manuscript to an email address that really isn’t really common knowledge. And on top of that: I don’t get the query emails. That goes to a completely different person.

So why did it come to me, you ask?

I have no idea. Which prompted this post: how NOT to query a literary agent. Sharpen your pencils; get out your note pads, this is going to be riveting (and maybe save you the embarrassment of making easy, amateur mistakes)

  • You hear it everywhere. You’re about to hear it here too: READ THE SUBMISSION GUIDELINES ON OUR WEBSITE. Yes, I just used about every function on the Word program to emphasize that statement. Seriously, all your problems will be solved if you take a few minutes to get these few facts straight. When you do, you’re a sight for sore eyes for those of us who get the queries (or shouldn’t get the queries as the case may be…)
  • Don’t put your entire chapter outline/back cover copy/reasons why you wrote this story in the query letter. Take an hour (or two) and Google query letters. Figure out how to write a good one. Have a critique partner give it a once-over (at the least). This is your first impression. It needs to be a good—GREAT—one.
  • Don’t tell the agent that you are going to be “the next NYT bestseller” or “Nicolas Sparks” or “Janet Oke”. Yes, these things just came through in a query letter that landed in my inbox. And if you are going to claim to be the next hot name, please be sure to at least spell it right.
  • Don’t tell the agent that you need them to publish their book. Um, excuse me, but duh. Be humble when you approach an agent. They have a ton on their plate. Usually many, many authors that they are managing their books and careers. To take the time to read your next best synopsis is a chunk of time out of their day. Realize that it’s not all about your needs and frame the tone of your query accordingly.
  • Don’t give your life story. The reason why you wrote the book. The story behind the story. Nothing. Don’t go there. Stay away. The agent doesn’t care. Now, if he/she picks up the book, reads it, signs you to their agency and you become friends, well, then yes, you probably will tell them the why behind the book. But right now you’re not BFFs, you’re strangers. You wouldn’t walk up to a handsome stranger-dude at a cocktail party, stick out your hand and tell him all about your dog dying when you were four, right away would you? Of course not. Don’t do that to the agent you are querying either.

Yes, that’s a lot of don’ts. Believe it or not, these all came out of a query letter I should have never gotten this week. So: read the guidelines. Write a pithy, word-catchy query. Have a great product to share with the agent. Be humble. Be patient. Email the right person and you won’t become an illustration on some agent’s blog anytime in the near future. 😉

CLOSE TO HUMAN

The Art of Close Writing

By posted at 6:00 am on August 5, 2014 10

570_close

coverJonathan Russell Clark sits at his desk, writing an essay about free indirect discourse. Surrounding him are books by authors who employ the technique with considerable skill: Jane Austen, Gustave Flaubert, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Stephen Dixon, and Joshua Ferris. He recalls a time when he did not even know what free indirect discourse was, and a time, later, when he knew the term but viewed it more as a descriptor than a crucial component. He remembers how his relationship to the term evolved over the years: his initial distrust of it, as many of his favorite writers cavalierly disregarded the tactic; his frustration with its limitations: how would he communicate the thoughts of other characters if he couldn’t leave the brain of the protagonist?; his eventual understanding of its importance while reading James Wood’s illuminating (though much debated) book How Fiction Works, in which he refers to it as “close writing”; and then, finally, his acceptance and full embrace of the method. Though he still admired novelists who could successfully avoid using free indirect discourse, he knew he would never break from it himself. It was just too liberating, the way close writing allowed his sentences to spill out of him, effortlessly, like thoughts, rapid and rabid and rampant, just spit out onto the page––it was so easy, or, well, easier, because it’s not as if he’s without problems, creatively speaking, oh he has problems, like how is he supposed to know which thoughts are important and which simply aren’t? and why is he unable to write economically, why are his pieces always longer than they need to be?––but yeah anyway, he now loved close writing because it made writing fun.

To be clear: close writing is not vital to all fiction. In fact, it doesn’t even speak to most fiction. For instance, first-person narrations cannot use free indirect discourse. When a character is speaking directly to a reader, the aim of close writing is already happening; no technique required. Also, novels and stories that feature an omniscient narrator are similarly excluded––all-knowing narrators simply tell us information. The skill required to pull off such a voice is its own subject. No, close writing only relates to third-person limited narrations, and, even more specifically, ones with an active interest in the inner lives of the characters. Not all fiction cares about that.

Here’s how James Wood explains close writing:

So-called omniscience is almost impossible. As soon as someone tells a story about a character, narrative seems to want to bend itself around that character, to take on his or her way of thinking and speaking. A novelist’s omniscience soon enough becomes a kind of secret sharing.

And later:

Note the gain in flexibility. The narrative seems to float away from the novelist and take on the properties of the character, who now seems to “own” the words.

Without being able to articulate it, free indirect discourse appealed to Clark greatly. Novels that used the style effectively gave him a giddy sensation, the prose seeming to not have been written but transcribed from a person’s mind but filtered through the ostensibly distancing third-person point-of-view, and though he didn’t know it, he came to depend on such techniques to let him “settle” into a character. Even more striking, when he read a piece of fiction (especially in a workshop environment) that failed to use close writing and didn’t effectively employ another style, something irked him as his eyes moved over the words. He was made uncomfortable by these stories, but he didn’t know why. What the hell was it?

When he finally learned the term––in a college course, he thinks––he started to understand what it was that had been bothering him. Once he read How Fiction Works, he knew with satisfying finality. Free indirect discourse. Close writing. Thankfully the grey cloud hovering over his frustration had a name. Nameless things give aimless dreams.

coverHow important is free indirect discourse? In the history of the novel, it’s extremely important. Clark at first didn’t even realize that the technique had to be developed at all, but in fact it was an astonishing feat. According to Michael Schmidt’s monumental and astounding work of scholarship and criticism, The Novel: A Biography (a book so big and important it merits its own essay, which is forthcoming), early iterations of the novel concerned themselves less with verisimilitude than outright deceit. When Daniel Defoe composed Robinson Crusoe (or, to use its full title––no joke––The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, All Alone in an Uninhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having Been Cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein All the Men Perished but Himself. with an Account of How He Was at Last as Strangely Deliver’d by Pirates), “he believed he had to honor readers’ expectations of a true and edifying story. An untrue story had to seem true.” The nuanced psychology of the characters was irrelevant to the task of moral tutelage. But the method of mimicking eventually morphed into the representation of human thought.

covercoverGenerally, the development of close writing into its modern form is attributed to Gustave Flaubert in novels like A Sentimental Education, but the early traces of “inner monologue” are as subtle and elusive as the technique itself. Gabriel García Márquez “detects the original use of ‘interior monologue’” as far back as Lazarillo de Tormes, a picaresque work from 1554. James Wood points out an example in Pope’s mock-epic The Rape of the Lock from 1712. Jane Austen, who died four years before Flaubert was born, occasionally abandoned her lofty point-of-view in order to take the reader into the character’s mind, if only briefly, as in this passage from Pride and Prejudice:

Elizabeth felt herself completely taken in. She had fully proposed being engaged by Wickham for those very dances:––and to have Mr. Collins instead!––her liveliness had been never worse timed. There was no help for it however. Mr. Wickham’s happiness and her own was per force delayed a little longer, and Mr. Collins’s proposal accepted with as good a  grace as she could. She was not the better pleased with his gallantry, from the idea it suggested of something more.––It now struck her, that she was selected from among her sisters as worthy of being the mistress of Hunsford Parsonage, and of assisting to form a quadrille table at Rosings, in the absence of more eligible visitors.

Austen’s tactics are very subtle––the exclamation point punctuating the shock over Mr. Collins, the italicized she, and the sound of contemplative flow in “There was no help for it however”––but those little moments of language all belong to Elizabeth, not Austen. It is Elizabeth who can’t believe she has Mr. Collins instead; it is Elizabeth who can’t believe that she was selected from among her sisters, and it is Elizabeth who doesn’t think there was any help for it however. A reader may not be able to articulate with precision the, as Wood describes it, “marvelous alchemical transfer” that just took place, but they’ll feel it. They’ll understand Elizabeth a little bit more.

Flaubert took it a bit further. He organized his entire style around close writing. In A Sentimental Education, the prose moves into the protagonist Frédéric’s mind without any explicit hint at the shift. Here is Frédéric’s first seeing Mme Arnoux, the older woman with whom he falls in love with:

Never before had he seen more lustrous dark skin, a more seductive figure, or more delicately shaped fingers than those through which the sunlight gleamed. He stared with amazement at her work-basket, as if it were something extraordinary. What was her name, her place of residence, her life, her past?

Those last questions are Frédéric’s, as if transcribed verbatim from his thoughts. But where did that shift happen? There was no, “He thought…” Instead, the language slips first into the character’s vernacular––the words “lustrous,” “seductive,” and “delicately” are all Frédéric’s––and then into his mind. It’s quite a nifty trick. “Thanks to free indirect style,” James Wood writes, “we see things through the character’s eyes and language but also through the author’s eyes and language. We inhabit omniscience and partiality at once.”

If this all seems very basic to you, consider that there was a time when close writing simply didn’t exist. Additionally, though readers and writers often implicitly understand these ideas, sometimes the act of naming something and recognizing its traits leads to understanding. Like David Foster Wallace’s fish parable, sometimes you have to say: This is water.

coverMoreover, once the modernists enter the picture, close writing is taken to new depths: the inner thoughts of characters become just as important––or more important––than the plot. Virginia Woolf and James Joyce went so far as to construct novels that took place in a single day, Mrs. Dalloway and Ulysses, meaning the reader spends most of the narrative inside a mind as it thinks. Joyce loved to catalogue very ordinary thoughts, and through Leopold Bloom he mastered close writing like nobody before him. Here is Bloom just after he is first introduced, as he prepares breakfast for Molly:

Another slice of bread and butter: three, four: right. She didn’t like her plate full. Right. He turned from the tray, lifted the kettle off the hob and set it sideways on the fire. It sat there, dull and squat, its spout stuck out. Cup of tea soon. Good. Mouth dry.

Listen to the fragmentary nature of Bloom’s thoughts as they mingle with action. Taking Flaubert’s technique even further, Joyce gives us full access to Bloom’s mind with almost no indication he’s doing so. His thoughts aren’t profound––they’re quotidian, mundane, banal. Clark’s favorite moment comes when Bloom is unable to recall someone’s name:

Stream of life. What was the name of that priestylooking chap was always squinting in when he passed? Weak eyes, woman. Stopped in Citron’s saint Kevin’s parade. Pen something. Pendennis?

Who hasn’t had a similar moment, a name stuck on the tip of the tongue? Then, a full 25 pages later (in the 1922 text, that is), as Bloom assists a blind man across the street, and whose face strikes him “like a fellow going in to be a priest,” it suddenly hits him: “Penrose! That was the chap’s name.” The image of a priest brings to mind the “priestylooking chap” whose name he couldn’t recall earlier and he’s able to conjure the name, except Joyce doesn’t clue the reader into the association. The line is simply plopped down in the middle of another scene.

Virginia Woolf wastes no time delving into her titular character’s inner life. After her famous opening––”Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself”––the prose immediately becomes one with Mrs. Dalloway’s ruminations:

For Lucy had her work cut out for her. The doors would be taken off their hinges; Rumpelmayer’s men were coming. And then, thought Clarissa Dalloway, what a morning––fresh as if issued to children on a beach.

What a lark! What a plunge! For so it had always seemed to her, when, with a little squeak of the hinges, which she could hear now, she had burst open the French windows and plunged at Bourton into the open air. How fresh, how calm, stiller than this of course, the air was in the early morning; like the flap of a wave; the kiss of a wave; chill and sharp and yet (for a girl of eighteen as she then was) solemn, feeling as she did, standing there at the open window, that something awful was about to happen; looking at the flowers, at the trees with the smoke winding off them and the rooks rising, falling; standing and looking until Peter Walsh said, “Musing among the vegetables?”––was that it?––”I prefer men to cauliflowers”––was that it? He must have said it at breakfast one morning when she had gone out on to the terrace––Peter Walsh.

Who’s Lucy? Why does she have her work cut out for her? Why is Mrs. Dalloway buying flowers? And who is Peter Walsh? Why does he suddenly appear in her mind? Remember: this is the first page of the novel. In 1925, when Mrs. Dalloway was published, people still expected some exposition, some introductory orientation, but Woolf provides none. She doesn’t have to. That’s the power of close writing.

>Since then, free indirect discourse has become an integral part of third-person novels. Grab any one at random and you’ll probably find that it employs close writing. And there are still writers who experiment with this voice in their fiction. Stephen Dixon’s I. plays around with the separation of author and subject. The protagonist’s is named I., which means Dixon gets to write sentences like: “I. met Fels more than twenty years ago.” Yes, it’s third person, but it’s also first.  Dixon, then, further erases the gap by having the character, I., also be the writer of the prose, so that he can stop in the middle of a paragraph (which, in Dixon’s fiction, are always long) and say, “Oh, he’s not explaining himself well,” or “What’s he going on about?” Then, those murmurs of uncertainty become full-blown self-doubt:

Oh, stop with the crypt of memories swinging open and all that. Fine, then what? Simply this: he finished something yesterday––okay, a short story––wanted to start something new today––story, novel, two-page short-short: what did he care? A fiction of any length––even a play if it was possible––because he gets agitated with himself and grumpy with his family if at the end of the day after the one he finished a fiction he still doesn’t have something to work on the next day. In other words––but he thinks he explained that okay.

He continues to edit himself as he goes, noting, at one point, “that last parenthetical sentence could be clearer, and he knows it’s going to take work.” After a lengthy explanation of I.’s morning, he writes, “He could have done that so much more simply: he finished writing something yesterday, wanted to start writing something today, saw the obituary and started to write.”

The transfer of voice from the author to the character, here, is thrown right back to the author. Dixon’s I. is also the writer, so close writing here traces not simply the character’s thoughts, but the very words he’s typing. Thinking and writing meld into one organism. Dixon’s metafictional approach could be thought of as elaborate autobiography, but whatever it is it shows how close writing can still be stretched and expanded for new purposes. Dixon’s work is often neglected, or deemed too difficult for casual enjoyment. Too bad; he’s wonderful.

coverThe last writer Clark wants to focus on is Joshua Ferris, a writer noted for his experiments with voice. His Then We Came to the End is written in first-person plural, an entire office represented with the narrative we. Recently long-listed for the Man Booker Prize for To Rise Again at a Decent Hour (in the first year Americans were considered), Ferris is one of contemporary fiction’s most assured practitioners. His abilities with close writing are prodigious, as unequivocally demonstrated by his New Yorker story “The Pilot.” It basically focuses on the neuroses of Lawrence, a wannabe television writer who gets an email invitation to a producer’s “yearly blowout.” “He’d R.S.V.P’d,” we’re told, “but not immediately. Two days after the message came in. Two days plus maybe an hour.” When he receives no reply from her, he starts to worry:

He would have liked a reply. After a few days went by, he’d have liked a reply a lot. Was his e-mail too effusive? Was it a mistake to use the word “sick” to describe her show? Or maybe she was just busy shooting the season finale. She was just busy shooting the season finale. He should have just written back quick-like, something like “Thanks for the invitation, Kate. See you then.” Then she might have quick-like hit Reply, with a confirmation, and he’d have known that she knew he was coming. Did she even know she’d invited him? Sometimes, with e-mail, some programs, you hit All Contacts or something and invite people you didn’t even mean to invite. Of course she’d meant to invite him. He just didn’t have any confirmation that she’d received his R.S.V.P. That was kind of unnerving. But, think about it, would he then have to confirm her confirmation? That wasn’t really feasible. It was just…Everything was fine. She was just wrapping. He was too effusive. “Sick little fuck-you”: that might have been––no, it was fine––just a little insulting? No, no, it was fine, who knows, not him.

That is a virtuoso stretch of comic writing, and a better representation of human thought as it occurs than almost anything Clark’s read in his life. The thoughts interrupt each other, the narrator oscillates between two poles of neurotic uncertainty, even repeating himself to emphasize a statement’s validity (yet inadvertently showing how questionable Lawrence finds that validity), and yet the reader never loses the train, the writing is crystal clear, the rhythm natural. Even though Lawrence isn’t technically narrating, he owns every single word on the page. The reader is in his mind.

Close writing really is an amazing thing. Consider that this essay right now has been narrated in the third person, and yet there is no question as to what Clark’s opinions are. There was never any confusion over “who” was asserting the statements made above. The “marvelous alchemical transfer” made it so the separation between Jonathan Russell Clark and some ostensible narrator disappeared––after a while, you probably stopped noticing, except for the occasional use of Clark’s name. Here, of course, Clark and the author are the same, but the same technique used in fiction functions the same way. The writer disappears and only the character is left––the voice, the thoughts, the little details that make us human.

ALL GREAT LITERATURE from MEMORABLE LITERARY LINES

All great literature can ultimately be reduced to three basic pronouns: I, you, and us.

LE GUIN’S GOOD ADVICE

By the way I’ve said for years that “Show, don’t tell” may just be the single most juvenile and straight-jacketing piece of writing advice I’ve ever heard in my life. Show, don’t tell is an appropriate device for certain genres and in certain situations, it is the kiss of death for great literature and poetry.

 

 

10 Writing Tips from Ursula Le Guin

At the National Book Awards a few nights ago, Ursula Le Guin was honored with the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, a fancy sounding award that basically means she’s the bomb (she really is).

Ursula Le Guin writing quote

I’ve been reading Ursula Le Guin for a long time, since I first discovered The Earthsea Cycle, which re-invigorated my love for fantasy.

She’s also famous for her science-fiction, especially The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed, and was one of the first to show the world that women can not only write great science-fiction, they can often do it better than men.

Le Guin is a “genre” writer who constantly worked to push the boundaries of what we think of as genre. Besides sci-fi and fantasy, she wrote poetry, creative non-fiction, and literary fiction.

I honestly believe she will go down in history as one of the greatest writers, literary or otherwise, of the 20th century.

Ursula Le Guin’s Quotes on Writing

With that in mind, here are ten quotes from Ursula Le Guin on her process as a writer:

1. “Show, Don’t Tell” is for Beginners

From ursulakleguin.com:

Thanks to “show don’t tell,” I find writers in my workshops who think exposition is wicked. They’re afraid to describe the world they’ve invented.… This dread of writing a sentence that isn’t crammed with “gutwrenching action” leads fiction writers to rely far too much on dialogue, to restrict voice to limited third person and tense to the present.

2. So Is “Write What You Know”

From ursulakleguin.com:

As for “Write what you know,” I was regularly told this as a beginner. I think it’s a very good rule and have always obeyed it. I write about imaginary countries, alien societies on other planets, dragons, wizards, the Napa Valley in 22002. I know these things. I know them better than anybody else possibly could, so it’s my duty to testify about them.

3. Do Your Job as a Writer, and Do it Really Well

From Paris Review:

But when people say, Did you always want to be a writer?, I have to say no! I always was a writer (tweet that, emphasis mine). I didn’t want to be a writer and lead the writer’s life and be glamorous and go to New York. I just wanted to do my job writing, and to do it really well.

4. Shoot for the Top, Always.

Ursula Le Guin writing quote

From Paris Review:

When asked what authors she measures her work against, Le Guin says:

Charles Dickens. Jane Austen. And then, when I finally learned to read her, Virginia Woolf. Shoot for the top, always. You know you’ll never make it, but what’s the fun if you don’t shoot for the top? (tweet that)

5. Write Like Who You Are

From Paris Review:

Hey, guess what? You’re a woman. You can write like a woman. I saw that women don’t have to write about what men write about, or write what men think they want to read. I saw that women have whole areas of experience men don’t have—and that they’re worth writing and reading about.

6. Learn from the Greats

From Paris Review:

It was Borges and Calvino who made me think, Hey, look at what they’re doing! Can I do that?

7. Writing is All About Learning to See

Ursula Le Guin writing quote

From Paris Review:

A very good book tells me news, tells me things I didn’t know, or didn’t know I knew, yet I recognize them— yes, I see, yes, this is how the world is. Fiction—and poetry and drama—cleanse the doors of perception. (tweet that)

I love this, by the way. It reminds me of Oscar Wilde’s quote, “No great artist ever sees things as they really are. If he did, he would cease to be an artist.”

8. Begin Your Story with a Voice

From Paris Review:

How should you begin your story?

With a voice. With a voice in the ear. That first page I wrote, which the novel progressed from, is simply Lavinia speaking to us—including me, apparently.

9. Focus on the Rhythm of the Story

From Paris Review:

I want the story to have a rhythm that keeps moving forward. Because that’s the whole point of telling a story. You’re on a journey—you’re going from here to there. It’s got to move. Even if the rhythm is very complicated and subtle, that’s what’s going to carry the reader.

10. Don’t Waste Time

From Paris Review:

And one of [the things you learn as you get older] is, you really need less… My model for this is late Beethoven. He moves so strangely and quite suddenly sometimes from place to place in his music, in the late quartets. He knows where he’s going and he just doesn’t want to waste all that time getting there…. One is aware of this as one gets older. You can’t waste time.

How about you? What do you love about Ursula Le Guin? What has she taught you about writing?

PRACTICE

Use tip #5 and write like who you really are.  Write like a woman or a man or an American or an alien or an Ursula Le Guin or a Joe Bunting. Write just as you are.

Write for fifteen minutes. When your time is up, post your practice in the comments section. And if you post, please be sure to give feedback to a few other writers.

Happy writing!

About Joe Bunting

Joe Bunting is a writer and entrepreneur. He is the author of the #1 Amazon Bestseller Let’s Write a Short Story! and the co-founder of Story Cartel. You can follow him on Twitter (@joebunting).

THE MIDDLE WAY

I planned it all for everything
But nothing was what came,
Then started out at once from here
To find it all the same

Once I took up all my time
Planning my whole life,
That never got me anywhere
Or very much but strife

I’d sometimes head out sans a plan
That never went so well,
I’d some of this, and some of that,
But rarely did excel

I recall these habits old and lost
To wonder where they led?
Neither ever led to(o) much
Or kept me warm and fed

Now I see them as extremes
And both as incomplete
Neither one quite workable, and
Filled with dead conceits

Today I plan for what I should
Not for what I can’t,
Flexible at either end
There is no “must” or “shan’t”

Your life is yours so plan it well
That is some Wise advice;
But life is unpredictable –
Opportunity’s Device

So make your plans and work them well
Til better comes your way,
Then be ready thus to pounce
Without a planned delay.

THE MASTER OF HIS BETTER CRAFT (A LOOKING GLASS WILL DO)

I used to practice all the time before I learned to do it
Then I practiced even more to help myself accrue it
I wrote and wrestled, scribed and scored
A thousand lines a day,
I exercised with great accord
If even I do say,
By practice trained I forged my mind
Repetition’s Child,
Drill and Duty, Craftsman’s Kiln
A Master will beguile;
The modern man thinks everything
Is only thin technique, but
Training born and bred in blood
Into the Real Man seeps
If you would be the Great Maestro
Then you must toil long
The road is hard, the trail discards
Those who don’t belong;
And who does not, you might ask
Not deserve to be
The Master of his Better Craft,
The Lord of High Degree?
You need not track with Spying Glass
A Looking Glass will do,
That man who will not sharpen skills
Will soon be bid “adieu.”

(the same, of course, applies to the mastery of all things…)

 

What New Research on the Brain Says Every Writer Should Do

German brain researchers studied the brain activity of people who were actively writing, and they discovered one thing that every person should do to become a better writer. Ellen Hendriksen, the Savvy Psychologist, explains how the study worked and reveals the secret.

By

Mignon Fogarty,

Grammar Girl

August 22, 2014

Page 1 of 2

[Note: If you’re listening along with the audio in the player on this page, you can follow along with the text of the first segment by opening the Money, Monies, and Moneys page in a new window.]

Sponsor: Thanks to Audible for supporting our channel.  Get a free audiobook of your choice at AudiblePodcast.com/GG.

 

Ellen Hendriksen is the host of the Savvy Psychologist podcast, and she recently sent me an article about researchers in Germany who studied people’s brains while they were actively writing. They looked at both professional writers and novices, and they found differences. The professional writers showed brain activity similar to what researchers see in people who are good at music and sports.

Mignon: Before we get into the findings, they used something called an fMRI scanner. What does that actually measure?

Ellen: This is a great question—there are so many fMRI studies in the news these days, but much like “gluten” or “Obamacare,” most of us don’t know what fMRI really is, even though the term gets thrown around a lot.  So this is a perfect opportunity for a quick primer!

fMRI stands for functional magnetic resonance imaging.  When an area of the brain is used to think thoughts or perform a task, it requires more oxygen, so blood flow to that area increases to meet the demand.

The fMRI scanner uses a strong magnetic field combined with radio waves to create images of this contrast in blood flow—the oxygen-enhanced blood in the active part of the brain reacts differently to the magnetic field and therefore stands out against the less oxygenated blood in the quieter parts of the brain.

The images allow neuroscientists to pinpoint what parts of the brain are in use during a given task, plus there’s no exposure to radiation like in an X-ray or CT scan.

Mignon: What did you think was most interesting about this study? Is it ground-breaking or does it build on things researchers already knew?  

Ellen: I’d say both.  It is groundbreaking because this is the first time neuroscientists have looked at the brains of experienced writers writing fiction in real time.  Two previous studies have had participants make up stories in their heads while in the scanner, but this is the first time we’ve been able to catch the brain in the act of writing.

What’s the useful takeaway message for writers? Practice.

Logistically, this was hard to pull off.  You can’t have a computer in the same room as the scanner because of the magnetic field, so the researchers asked writers to write longhand.  But, you have to lie down in the scanner, so they couldn’t have the writers sit normally to write.  Finally, you have to be absolutely still in the scanner—just like with a regular camera.  If your subject moves, you end up with a blurry picture.  So the researchers had the triple whammy of figuring out how to get people to lie down with their heads perfectly still, but still write longhand.  So through a set of double mirrors and a custom-built writing desk, they jury-rigged a system.  You’ll find a picture on the QDT website.

This study was also important because the next frontier of creativity research is identifying neural mechanisms—in other words, this is the first study to nail down how the semi-mystical qualities of creativity and expertise in professional writers manifest as neurons and blood flow.  It’s a little bit like pulling back the curtain on the wizard to reveal his gears and levers.

It’s also important to say that creativity and expertise are very difficult to study.  There’s so much that goes into it: originality, intelligence, talent, practice effects, motivation, culture.  So while this study is a nice shovelful towards the excavation of creativity, there’s a lot more to uncover before we can get a definite picture of what we’re even unearthing.

– See more at: http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/what-new-research-on-the-brain-says-every-writer-should-do#sthash.knnnXVbB.dpuf

SO WHAT? ACTION IS ACTION

It’s only a starting point anyway. With focus and practice you’re liable to become much, much better over time. You don’t improve at anything sans practice.

Nobody reading your blog? 10 reasons to persist!

TOOLS OF THE TRADE

Tools to Help You Write a Novel in 30 Days

November is National Novel Writing Month; here’s the best software to help you write 50,000 words in 30 days.
The Best Writing Tools for NaNoWriMo

Contents

November is known for turkey, Black Friday sales, not shaving, and—since the year 2000—the month when writers try to (finally) craft the Great American Novel. We’re talking about the fifteenth annual National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

What began as a little event in San Francisco in July 1999 (it moved to November the next year) has ballooned into something far more than national—it’s a worldwide phenomenon, backed by a non-profit company created by the founder, Chris Baty, that doubles as a major cheerleader for writers.

It’s free to participate, but your tax-deductable donations are encouraged to keep it afloat. That’s because you don’t really need the NaNoWriMo site to get a book written. But think about the “rule” you’re expected to follow to “win” at NaNoWriMo: You have to write a 50,000-word novel in just 30 days. That’s 1,667 words a day. Stephen King might snap that much off before lunchtime, but the rest of us need encouragement.

Take the first step by announcing your novel at NaNoWriMo.org, and on November 1, start recording your daily word count. You’ll earn badges along the way and get advice via newsletters (some by famous authors) and the forums. You can build a community of fellow WriMos online and locally through events.

In the end, you’ll have a novel. It will probably be crappy. No, it will definitely be crap-tastic. But that’s okay! The only rule of NaNoWriMo is to finish—because that’s the hardest part. Some famous modern novels, such as Wool, The Night Circus, and Water for Elephants all started life as NaNoWriMo novels. We’re not saying you’re that good… but if you work on it after November, maybe you can get it out there. (That’s a whole other story.)

To truly succeed at NaNoWriMo you need things we can’t help you with—like an idea, and a plot, and characters, not to mention the gumption to spend hours each day clacking at the keyboard. But we can point out bsome of the absolute best software and apps you can get to make it all a little easier to write, plan, and count all those precious words. After you win by writing that 50,000-word tome—that’s the same size at The Great Gatsby!—you’ll have all the tools you need on hand to keep writing. Always keep writing…

THE BOOK OF THE GREAT MAN

The Book of the Great Man is marque of his make
The shape of his concepts is thus hard to shake
Anyone living can write of his views
Will they then flower, or merely amuse?

True is the market that all wares will sell
But what of their value and which things will tell?
Only by testing do theories breed facts
Time then will prove what the Great Man redacts

But all men have theories, and theories will out
Today that’s as true as the proof that’s without
For of every treasure there are gilders of gold
Thus hoards breed aplenty, and sometimes they’re sold

Cause the peddlers of wares know the ways of their marks
So copper is bronzed, and silver is sharked
Scribes promptly copy and with furious pace
Books breed like mayflies (or is that junebugs?), tis part of the race

Yet still there are tomes that expose what is Great
That most will know clearly come early or late
‘Gainst fashion or fad or aging they’ll stand
To any with Wisdom they’ll still give command

Rare is that written that works in this way
More rare still that record that forever remains
Though what of it people? Thus always was so –
True in the making, and true when bestowed

So write like the First Bard or whine like a whelp
Somewhere there’s shelf-space and someone to help,
But ask me at sunset, or ask me at dawn
I’ll still say the same thing – Book to Last Long…

THE WELL OF WISDOM…

Most of this advice is quite good.

Advice on Writing from Modernity’s Greatest Writers

by

What sleep and plagiarism have to do with the poetry of experience and the experience of poetry.

I recently stumbled upon a delightful little book called Advice to Writers, “a compendium of quotes, anecdotes, and writerly wisdom from a dazzling array of literary lights,” originally published in 1999. From how to find a good agent to what makes characters compelling, it spans the entire spectrum of the aspirational and the utilitarian, covering grammar, genres, material, money, plot, plagiarism, and, of course, encouragement. Here are some words of wisdom from some of my favorite writers featured:

Finish each day before you begin the next, and interpose a solid wall of sleep between the two. This you cannot do without temperance.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Begin with an individual and you find that you have created a type; begin with a type and you find that you have created — nothing.” ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald

Don’t ever write a novel unless it hurts like a hot turd coming out.” ~ Charles Bukowski

Breathe in experience, breathe out poetry.” ~ Muriel Rukeyser

A short story must have single mood and every sentence must build towards it.” ~ Edgar Allan Poe

You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.” ~ Saul Bellow

Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal.” ~ T. S. Eliot

Fiction is a lie, and good fiction is the truth inside the lie.” ~ Stephen King

Good fiction is made of what is real, and reality is difficult to come by.” ~ Ralph Ellison

The problem with fiction, it has to be plausible. That’s not true with non-fiction.” ~ Tom Wolfe

You cannot write well without data.” ~ George Higgins

Listen, then make up your own mind.” ~ Gay Talese

Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about. It is this genuine caring, not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style.” ~ Kurt Vonnegut

Write without pay until somebody offers pay; if nobody offers within three years, sawing wood is what you were intended for.” ~ Mark Twain

And then, of course, there’s the importance of knowing what advice to ignore:

WORK WITHOUT CEASE

For the most part, very sound advice…

Henry Miller’s 11 Commandments of Writing and Daily Creative Routine

by

“When you can’t create you can work.”

After David Ogilvy’s wildly popular 10 tips on writing and a selection of advice from modernity’s greatest writers, here comes some from iconic writer and painter Henry Miller.

In 1932-1933, while working on what would become his first published novel, Tropic of Cancer, Miller devised and adhered to a stringent daily routine to propel his writing. Among it was this list of eleven commandments, found in Henry Miller on Writing — a fine addition to these 9 essential books on reading and writing, part of this year’s resolution to read more and write better.

COMMANDMENTS

  1. Work on one thing at a time until finished.
  2. Start no more new books, add no more new material to ‘Black Spring.’
  3. Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.
  4. Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!
  5. When you can’t create you can work.
  6. Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilizers.
  7. Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.
  8. Don’t be a draught-horse! Work with pleasure only.
  9. Discard the Program when you feel like it—but go back to it next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.
  10. Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.
  11. Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.

What’s your brand, author?

THE TRUE BRAND

I agree with both the original post and the comments made by dpnoble (on the comments page).

I think the question really comes down to this, “what is exactly is meant by a brand (as dpnoble said), what does it represent, and how is it expressed?

Is a brand an expression of the inherent nature of the formulating individual (or individuals in the case of a company or corporation) and does the individual who created the brand adapt that brand over time to changes in their own nature and personality and achievements (in which case to me that is a perfect Brand or Marque for that individual), or does the brand-creator seek to create a static, unchanging, unadaptable, unreal, or “fixed brand or image” to which they seek to conform themselves for the sake of the brand no matter what they are really like?

If a brand is a Flexible Mark that expresses both individuality and flexibility over time (as well as makes a statement about certain unchanging things, such as ethics and morals and character, etc.) and that establishes a natural association between the brand itself and the actual individual who created the brand then I think branding (in that sense) is both perfectly logical, and entirely valid and profitable.

If branding is merely the fixing of a stale and static image or artificial set of characteristics to which the individual attempts to conform or comport themselves, then branding is to me a very big mistake and likely to be highly ineffective as either a business or a personal tool. The brand will eventually become transparent and noticeable for it’s overt hypocrisy rather than for its integrity and truth. What you really want is a True Brand that is not separate or divorced form whom it truly represents.

The Man should be the Brand, the brand should not be the man…

THE WATER OF UNDERSTANDING

I think that to a large extent the man has a real point. If you don’t get out and live life how can you possibly write anything worthwhile about life?

Important observations require that you actually observe important things occurring.

If all you do is spend all of your time taking courses to learn technique then you’re just making observations about observations. All you know is merely academic. You’re just navel-gazing.

Yes, you should definitely learn good, solid techniques. That is part (though only part) of your responsibility in being a good writer. But you should also be out in life observing it as it really is and living it so that you will have something true and real (rather than merely artificial and imagined) to say about it. The modern idea that writing is (or should be) an entirely detached and intellectual pursuit is not only repugnant and irrelevant, it’s also just plain silly and unrealistic.

The larger part of your time ought to be spent in living life and writing on that, not learning writing as a substitute or replacement for never having lived.

Experience is the fountainhead of observation, and observation is the Water of Understanding.

Creative writing courses are killing western literature, claims Nobel judge

Horace Engdahl swedish academy nobel prize literature judge
Horace Engdahl, of the Swedish Academy, in Stockholm. Photograph: Fredrik Persson/AP

Western literature is being impoverished by financial support for writers and by creative writing programmes, according to a series of blistering comments from Swedish Academy member Horace Engdahl, speaking shortly before the winner of the Nobel prize for literature is awarded.

In an interview with French paper La Croix, Engdahl said that the “professionalisation” of the job of the writer, via grants and financial support, was having a negative effect on literature. “Even though I understand the temptation, I think it cuts writers off from society, and creates an unhealthy link with institutions,” he told La Croix. “Previously, writers would work as taxi drivers, clerks, secretaries and waiters to make a living. Samuel Beckett and many others lived like this. It was hard – but they fed themselves, from a literary perspective.”

Engdahl, who together with his fellow members of the 18-strong academy is preparing to select the winner of this year’s Nobel literature award, and announce the choice on Thursday, 9 October, said it was on “our western side that there is a problem, because when reading many writers from Asia and Africa, one finds a certain liberty again”.

“I hope the literary riches which we are seeing arise in Asia and Africa will not be lessened by the assimilation and the westernisation of these authors,” he added later in his interview with Sabine Audrerie.

Engdahl told the French journalist that he “did not know” if it was still possible to find – as Alfred Nobel specified the prize would reward – “the most outstanding work in an ideal direction”. Today’s winners are usually 60 or more years old, he said, and are thus unaffected by the changes he described in the life of today’s writers. “But I’m concerned about the future of literature because of this ubiquity of the market. It implies the presence of a ‘counter-market’: a protected, profound literature, which knows how to translate emotions and experiences”…

A WRITER IS JUST A WRITER…

I think that is true in part. I never wanted to be a writer, per se. That is I am neither enamored of writing, or of being a writer. That is I never woke up as a kid or as an adult and said to myself, “I want to be a Writer! That’s all I’ve ever wanted to be my whole life...” That’s not me at all. I know a lot of people apparently feel that way, they think it a cool or important profession, in the same way some people think being an actor is some great thing. I do not. Not in and of itself anyway.

I think of it far more as being a very careful observer of important things and then a recorder of those things so that those observations will not have been wasted. That is to say that, to me, neither the writing nor the writer is as important as the far more important things being observed.  Though you want both the writing and the writer to be excellent at their various tasks.

However, the important things being observed need a good and reliable method or technique of being recorded (in this case writing) just as much as they need methods of solid and careful and accurate observation.

In that way I will imitate other writers, by studying their solid and worthwhile recording techniques. Just as in being a detective I have long studied solid methods and techniques of proper observation and analysis of what I have observed.

But I’m not in love with the idea that writing is either a cool profession (it may or may not be an important profession, that just all depends upon both the writer and the writer’s subject matter and observations on that subject matter), or that writing is some sort of special or important activity in and of itself. Because it is not.

I am a writer but a writer is just a writer. The things I write about, if they are of any importance at all, will long outlive me. Because if they are truly important they should…

NOT THE REAL KING, BUT STILL HE COUNTS

I think most (not all but most) of this advice on writing and being a good writer is truly pragmatic, solid advice any wise writer would do well to listen to and heed. The only trouble is that the title of the article is somewhat misleading.

King is not a great writer by any stretch of the imagination. He is an excellent storyteller, but not a great writer. He will not be read en masse in the future as will be still be Shakespeare, Homer, or Hugo.

He is a popular, famous, and wealthy writer. Like Nicki Minaj is a popular, famous, and wealthy singer. But she is not a good singer. In the modern world you don’t have to be any good to be famous, popular, and wealthy. You just have to appeal to people and tell them (or show them) what they want to hear, not necessarily what they should hear.

Nothing wrong with being famous, popular, or wealthy though, and I’m glad he is successful. His story ideas are often quite superb. But he will not carry far into the future because he is not a good writer. His ideas may but his writings will not.

Shakespeare was hardly what one could call successful during his lifetime. Homer likely was not. Yet still they are here hundreds if not thousands of years later. And often quoted. Can anyone really imagine that will be true of the writings of Stephen King? And that is what really makes for a Great Writer.

Of course from Stephen King’s point of view, who cares? Certainly he shouldn’t. He is successful, and rightfully so.

I think the author of the article just said “Great Writer” as shorthand not for Good Writer, but Successful one.

Which is what he actually is. However I’ve never read anything he’s ever written that’s even close to great. Or in any way profound.

The advice is very pragmatic and solid though. I recommend it.

22 Lessons From Stephen King On How To Be A Great Writer

stephen king

Renowned author Stephen King writes stories that captivate millions of people around the world and earn him an estimated $17 million a year.

In his memoir, “On Writing,” King shares valuable insights into how to be a better writer. And he doesn’t sugarcoat it. He writes, “I can’t lie and say there are no bad writers. Sorry, but there are lots of bad writers.”

Don’t want to be one of them? Here are 22 great pieces of advice from King’s book on how to be an amazing writer…

Axtschmiede

Sharp Words For Your Mind

Jarrad Saul

Travel and Lifestyle: Jarrad Style

Mephit James' Blog

From one GM to another.

Kristen Twardowski

A Writer's Workshop

The Public Domain Review

The Filidhic Literary Blog of Jack Günter

Art of Shaima Islam

Fantasy Art and Illustration

Fantastic Maps

Fantasy maps and mapmaking tutorials by Jonathan Roberts

Matthew Zapruder

The Filidhic Literary Blog of Jack Günter

Susie Day | children's author

books for kids about families, friendship, feelings and funny stuff

The Millions

The Filidhic Literary Blog of Jack Günter

The Public Medievalist

The Middle Ages in the Modern World

The Filidhic Literary Blog of Jack Günter

Clive Thompson

Journalist, author, musician

terribleminds: chuck wendig

Chuck Wendig: Freelance Penmonkey

Researchers in the world

Travel the world, meet researchers

The Last Word On Nothing

The Filidhic Literary Blog of Jack Günter

The Missouri Review

The Filidhic Literary Blog of Jack Günter

The Normal School: A Literary Magazine

The Filidhic Literary Blog of Jack Günter

The Ploughshares Blog

The Filidhic Literary Blog of Jack Günter

%d bloggers like this: