Posts Tagged Writers Write

The Kind of Writer…

Fantastic exercise at my writers’ group last night, perhaps aided by a margarita or two due to the last-minute switch from Noodles and Company to Chevy’s.  We were given a series of six questions meant to explore who we are as writers and who we want to be as writers.  I figured it would be fun to throw the questions out to a larger crowd and explore the answers a little.  These questions have been taken and modified from Aine Greaney’s Writer with a Day Job, which has unquestionably become the next book about writing I need to read.

Question: I was to be the kind of writer who…

I’ve been thinking about this lately, often right here in the blog, as I’ve seen more and more of the community of writers who exist out there.  Who revel in successes and take time to help those who are on the way up.  My answer for this was that I want to be the kind of writer who remembers starting out and remembers that writing successes are not a zero sum game.  This was an interesting question, because it was the one that got the widest variety of answers.  Largely because the phrasing is rather wide open.

Question: I want to be known for…

The questions were all looking for our end goal dreams as a writer.  How far were we reaching?  Why are we doing what we’re doing?  It’s fine if you only ever want to be a hobbyist writer, the questions weren’t meant to judge how far you wanted to get as a writer, just explore.  To this one I answered, “settings.”  I can’t imagine setting a story in the real world.  I spend far too much time there to then site down and make it the focus of my writing.  The closest I’ve come was setting a story in modern-day DC, but infesting it with the horsemen of the apocalypse and various angels and demons.  And that’s likely the closest I’ll ever come.  The three novels I’m working through outlining are set in an alternate 1870s in a state that never existed, the late 2070s in a Tysons that never will be, and Xibalba.  Good ole Xibalba.

Question: My ultimate goal as a writer is…

This was a hard one.  The answer wasn’t hard, I just put down “success.”  But then I got pegged with the follow-up question about how I defined success.  First, as a defense of the answer, I’m not really ashamed to say that I want to be successful as an author.  My own definition was really outlined in the previous questions.  Success for me includes being able to live, if not fully, but at least partially on my writing.  It means being able to go into a bookstore and seeing my name.  It means being invited to conventions, maybe even being a guest of honor one crazy future day.  It all seems really daunting right now, but that was the point of the questions.

Because the questions weren’t about getting answers.  The questions are about setting directions.  Figuring out waypoints.  So you want to be a successful writer, what’s the first step along that road?  For a lot of us starting out, the answer is the blindingly obvious: writing.  Yet that was a hard realization for myself as a writer, one that I came to only about a year ago.  And one that I know others are just coming to.  Step two, the one I’m working on now, is putting myself out there.  Getting stories out to anthologies.  Right now it’s getting my brain back into novel mode, while not letting my short stories grow moss.  It’s churning, it’s grinding, and yes, it’s work.

So I’ve thrown those three questions out there.  I’d be interested to see what answers other people have.

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Real Advice from a Fictional Writer

I won’t ever call Castle the most accurate portrait of a writer’s life.  But it’s about the best television-friendly portrait available.  Thus I was thrilled when this week’s episode included Castle giving his daughter some great advice after getting a college rejection letter.  I’d put a video clip up, but it’s not available as just a clip, and the whole episode will disappear from Hulu in a few weeks (starts almost exactly at 35:00).  So some transcription:

Alexis: How do you do it dad?

Castle: Do what?

Alexis: Well, that letter that you have framed in your office.

Castle: My first manuscript rejection?

Alexis: Yeah, how can you stand having it there?

Castle: Cause it drives me.  And I got twenty more of those before Black Pawn ever agreed to publish Hail of Bullets.  That letter?  That letter reminds me of what I’ve overcome.  Rejection isn’t failure.

Alexis: Sure feels like failure.

Castle: No.  Failure is giving up.  Everyone gets rejected.  It’s how you handle it that determines where you’ll end up.

It probably sounds better actually delivered by Nathan Fillion.  Castle himself is a fictional writer, but the people creating his lines are all real writers, who likely have all gone through that rejection process, so while the speaker may not be real, the words are.  They apply across any facet of life, rejection isn’t just a beast that stalks writers.  But it is constantly nipping at our heels.  I’ve been lucky this year with two acceptances, but I’ve gotten twice as many rejections.  Because everyone gets rejected.

I’d like to just link from this to a post on Ingrid Sunberg’s blog where she compiled a list of famous authors and the number of times they were rejected.

So take your rejections, learn from them, grow from them.  Don’t give up because of them.  Keep writing, keep moving forward, and just keep trying.  Other people may reject you, but you are the only one who can defeat you.

Yes, that was treacle and sounded like an inspirational poster reject.  My blog, my rules.  Oh, and watch Castle.  It’s a great show and a master class at keeping plot twists interesting.

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Inspiration from the Master

I’m going to write this post very slowly and deliberately so I don’t gush.

Deep breath, and begin.

Last night I was in attendance as Neil Gaiman’s tour promoting the 10th anniversary edition of American Gods hit the Press Club here in DC.  (Holy crap, guys, I got to see Neil Gaiman).  The event was a metered affair, featuring a few readings, talking about his inspiration for writing the book, and taking submitted questions from the audience.  (He totally announced his next book for the first time yesterday).  I’ve never had a chance to listen to an author that I respect so much just talk about his inspirations and, to a lesser extent, his process.  (He’s totally the bestest writer and I got a signed book and…)

Shut UP inner fanboy.

Alright, decorum.

The goal of the event was largely to push purchases of American Gods, a goal I can understand and respect.  To a certain extent almost everything that an author does in public is about driving sales.  Hell, this blog is about driving sales, and I don’t even have anything yet to sell you (Steam Works, this summer, Hydra Publications).  Especially since the event was a book tour event and not a convention event, it wasn’t really about connecting with authors and instilling inspiration.  But it was.

See, here’s the thing.  That gushing fanboy above?  That’s me.  That’s the me that has loved every exposure I’ve had to the talents of Neil Gaiman.  That’s the me that is jealous that he can move so effortlessly from novels to short stories to comics to teleplays to music production to children’s books.  Hell, he even mentioned he’s working on a musical.  A musical!  Have I ever told you about the musical I want to write?  Now’s not the time, remind me later.  In the end, I think Gaiman is who a lot of writers want to be like, that potentially unobtainable level of cross-media production and mastery.  So something about just being there and being reminded that he’s a real person, yeah, it’s a geeky fanboy thing of me to say, but it does inspire me to push on with my writing.

And especially?  Getting back to my novels.

I’ve moved towards short stories lately, which I think has really helped me grow as a writer.  But it was at the cost of walking away from one of my favorite novels that I’ve started, Capsule.  It’s really time to walk back again.  And to even start looking beyond that.  I know where the next few scenes of Capsule go, trust me, I’ve actually been thinking about it, even if I haven’t been talking about it.  And I’ve been thinking about how to write a story around two characters my wife and I created, setting them in a steampunk world for a novel I’m currently calling Nickajack in my head (though there’s totally a book by that name, I know).

So.  Yeah, there it is.  What’s the lesson from last night?  I’m not going to be Neil Gaiman.

Unless I work a hell of a lot harder.

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Write, Don’t Edit

WYSIWYG text editors are possibly one of the finest innovations that has hit the world of writing.  Look, I never had to generate a manuscript on a typewriter, I don’t know what it was like, but the ability to go in and shift a sentence around, insert a paragraph, change a character’s name, all without having to completely retype a manuscript?  Brilliant.  Can’t imagine living without it.  The ability to edit is always right there at your fingers.

The problem?  The ability to edit is always right there at your fingers.

There are two directions I could take this.  I could look at the need to push forward, or I could look at the need to edit more deliberately at times.  This is the former.  The latter is on Unleaded.

For me, editing has always been a siren song.  Back in college whenever I was working on a piece of long fiction, I’d start by editing what was already there, and then adding on new material at the end.  The problem with this?  Well, there’s a joke I love.  Guy gets a job painting the stripes down the middle of highways, because that’s the kind of job people get in jokes.  So he goes out the first day and he paints five miles of stripes.  His boss is thrilled, that’s more than anyone has painted in a day before.  Next day?  He just paints two miles.  Well fine, perhaps he exhausted himself over performing the day before, and that’s still well above the average for two days.  Third day?  Not even a quarter of a mile.  Boss calls him into the office, asks what’s wrong, why is his production slipping off so much.

“Well,” he says, “I kept getting farther from the bucket.”

And there was the problem.  I was leaving my bucket at the beginning of the story every time, and going back before I ever went forward.  So the part I was editing got longer and longer, and the amount of energy I had left when I got to the end was less and less.  This killed many an early novel attempt of mine.

What got me out of this funk?  Nanowrimo.  It’s a large part of why I recommend people try the one month novel challenge, because it forces you to move ever forward, not stop and doubt yourself, and certainly not give into the temptation of going back to make just one change.  Now, I’m not going to say this is the best and healthiest way to write any novel.  There’s always going to be some editing that happens as you go, but the trick is to get out of the mindset that everything preceding has to be perfect before forging ahead.  In the days of typewriters, the only direction available was forward.  Stick in the next sheet of paper, write the next scene, because editing wasn’t a simple process of find-and-replace, or highlight-and-delete, it was a more literal process of rewriting.

And this is where my mantra of Writers Write perhaps comes out the strongest.  You’re writing a story, you’re not fiddling with it, pursuing it, editing it, nitpicking it, wandering around it, or any other verb, you are writing it.  So get to it and actually write it.  Then, when you’re done?  That’s the time to go back and really start the editing.

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For a friend

Why do we write?

Do we do it because we expect instant gratification?  Do we do it because we expect any kind of gratification?  Surely not, because if we’re looking for either, we’re practicing the wrong damn craft.  Do we do it for the fame?  I suspect most Americans today would be hard pressed to name 20 living, working writers without having to fall back on names like Shakespeare.  Do we do it for the money?  Because a penny a word for something that I poured my heart and soul into feels like very little in the way of compensation for my work.

Why do we write?

We write because at the end of the day, thoughts flow through our brains.  They insist upon themselves.  They put pressure on us, and they demand that they be put down into words, translated from the odd whimsies of imagination into prose and poetry.  We write because it satisfies in us some innate need, some urge that grabs us and won’t let go until we do so.  We write because we must create, because we hope that some little piece of ourselves might find its way into someone else’s brain, and once there might germinate and create new ideas, new iterations.  That it might grow.  That it might evolve.  That our ideas might become the raw DNA from which more ideas might spring forth in the future.

Why do we write?

We write because it’s a noble craft, a craft older than the words that we use to exercise it.  Cave walls in Europe speak to the insatiable need of humanity to tell stories, to pass those stories on, and to present them in a way that future generations can access them and grow and learn from the knowledge.  We write because Shakespeare wrote.  We write because Dickens wrote.  We write because Dostoyevsky wrote.  And even if we can never be as great as those men, we still push to follow in their footsteps, to be part of that same craft from which giants emerged.  Because at one point each of those giants was someone no one had ever heard of.

Why do we write?

We write because we’re writers.  We write because at the end of the day we want to sit down and subject ourselves to the often frustrating pain of creation, just so we can then bear our souls and suffer the heartbreak of rejection.  We write because being a writer is being a masochist.  Tough skin comes with the job title, and even when something hurts us, and hurts us hard, we rise again knowing that next time we will do better, next time we will achieve more, and we will be able to hold our accomplishments up high and say “see what I have done!”

Why do we write?

We write to prove wrong the people who say we can’t.  Or we shouldn’t.  Or we’re not good enough.  Or that no one reads.  We write out of spite.  Out of a single bloody-minded determination that we can.  We should.  We are.  And they will.

Why do we write?

We write because it’s in our bodies.  Our blood, our souls, our very being.

Why do we write?

Because we’re writers.

So when you’re down in the absolute pit of despair, wondering whether you should go on, just remember.  It’s okay to doubt.  That’s part of the human experience.  But also remember that you set out on this path because you felt it deep within you.  Find that feeling again.  Grab it.  Hold onto it.  Follow it down the damnedable rabbit holes that it creates through your mind and psyche.  Because in the end, far better days await you.  The marketplace of ideas is growing at a rate that is unheard of in the history of publication.  There is a hunger out there for the writer’s craft, and we exist to satiate the beast.  Even the best have bad days, or just plain bad luck.  In the end, feel sorry for yourself.  Then get up, brush yourself off, and find your next target.

Because we’re writers.

And that’s what we do.

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Writers Write

I think that’s going to be my new mantra, and something that I need to get tattooed backwards across my forehead so I can read it in a mirror.  Anyway, another Wednesday, another post over in Unleaded, this time exploring the few things I’ll say against Nanowrimo, basically the line between having written and being a writer.

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