One frequent piece of advice for avoiding writer’s block we hear is: write something, anything. But where do we start? How do we seek out and capture that elusive abstract we call inspiration? I had the chance to lead a young writing group recently. I … Continue reading Finding Inspiration at the Library: Two Writing Sessions
Food is an intricate part of literature. Eating While Reading A joke from I don’t know how far back is that literature is a one-handed occupation, ostensibly because the reader is supposed to be doing something with the other hand. I confess that usually … Continue reading Food and Literature
Writers are wordsmiths. We not only choose our palette, but we also must describe with nuance and subtlety. We craft something new out of the same stuff that generates pharmaceutical commercials and memes with misplaced apostrophes. Writing is, for the most part, a solitary … Continue reading Why It’s Good to Be Critiqued: Writing with Color
Garbage in, garbage out. My first experience with social media was on a platform one of my housemates used quite often, and he thought I should try it. I don’t know if it was because I was a chick, or because I used the … Continue reading Finding Good Stuff on Social Media
Nobody said it would be easy to finish a novel, get it published, have people read it. This last bit is important: because if no one actually reads my words, I have been ostensibly shouting into a paper cup. The pages of exposition, dialogue, and conflict I’ve created could become just so many trees falling in a silent wood.
Writers know that writing isn’t easy. Writing is a job. (I know because Anne Patchett says so!) The only people who dismiss writing as a profession also think teachers have it easy because they have summers off, all doctors spend their Wednesdays playing golf, and flight attendants are just glorified waitresses.
Writing requires discipline, too, that may be compared to entrepreneurship, that is often described as business. After all, writers create a product that then must be marketed, sold, and consumed. Writing a good book takes time and talent, a talent that can be honed with patience and persistence.
Stories of persistence paying off are legendary. J.K. Rowling submitted her first novel to dozens of publishers before Scholastic picked it up. And unlike other professions that have overwhelming odds like being a professional athlete, singer, or actor, there are no age limitations. But becoming a best-selling novelist isn’t winning the lottery.
In Writer Unboxed, guest writer Jordan Rosenfeld gives us Seven Secrets of Highly Persistent Writers. Only one of the seven secrets refers directly to the writing itself. While the details of the piece are important, let us suffice it to say that my biggest take away is that successful writers are the ones who don’t give up.
That’s easy to follow when the writing’s going well. When I get into my novel, have the time to delve in deep and not come up for air for two to four hours of uninterrupted writing, I can get a lot accomplished. Sure, the word count goes up, the writing is smooth, the wording is nearly final draft quality, and I get that runner’s high writers and artists secretly long for.
But lately I’ve been experiencing a sort of Zeno’s Paradox with my novel. I’ve been so close to finishing for months now. The word count has slowly ticked its way up, but my solid blocks of time are less frequent, and I’m still a few chapters shy of a finished draft. As I get closer to that horizon, it just seems to be receding in front of me.
Sure, life has been a distraction, but my real problem is that I’m doing other kinds of writing. It sounds good, but I’m keenly aware that I’ve lost focus. My worst excuse is that April was Poetry Month and poetry, my first love, seduced me. Have I been squandering my writing time on poetry? Is writing poetry a form of procrastination? Or is it just another way of flexing my writing muscles?
Maybe it’s a classic case of the grass is always greener. Sonia Chung, about a year ago, explored the ability of poets to transition to novelist (and novelist poets) in her article Fiction Is a Trudge, Poetry Is a Dance: On Poet Novelists begins with her own disappointment of being told she might be a poet after making huge efforts to write prose.
But then, we all ask, why can’t we be both? My optimist self says this penchant for writing poetry could be a boon. Go for it, the muse on my other shoulder says, send out submissions to poetry magazines. I could go on and on about the relative accessibility of one genre over another, but is it really about whether time spent on blogging or poetry writing is less worthy of my energy than my novel?
The truth is, it’s easy to lose focus and get caught up in the excitement of something fresh when you’ve been working on a full-length novel for months. Can someone with a short attention span have the fidelity to see the process through?
I’ll have to get back to you on that.
We call main characters protagonists. We like to call them heroes. Then there are those pesky anti-heroes, when the main character we root for is really a bad guy. But what if main characters aren’t particularly heroic? Is it enough that they just survive? How … Continue reading Is Survival Enough for a Dystopian Hero?
You don’t want me in your book club.
For someone who loves books, I have a funny way of showing it. I consume books like a dieter goes after a chocolate cake, and I don’t stop until there’s nothing but crumbs on the plate. I get in there and dissect them. It’s gruesome. Like a dieter who doesn’t keep sweets in the house, since I don’t get enough opportunities these days to discuss books, when I do get to book club, I can’t help myself. I’m annoying.
There are at least five distinct reasons you don’t want me in your book club.
- I read the book. I mean, really read the book. I don’t generally skim (although there are some good arguments for skimming, it’s never been my thing.) I go to book club to read books I might not have chosen myself, so I don’t skimp on the reading time. I am not one to speed read. I have been introduced as, “the one who remembers everything in the book.” I don’t have a photographic memory or anything, but I’ll remember most details, even from books I read as a child, so you can imagine that I have files at the ready: plenty of events and sensory details to refer to in any discussion.
- I have read a lot. I come to the table with context. If it’s a famous book, I have probably read a review or heard an interview with the author. I have two (otherwise useless) degrees that required reading heavy quantities of fiction, drama, and poetry, as well as reading and writing literary criticism. In a recent book club, we read an adaptation of a famous work that I’d read a few times, at least twice for literature courses. I have read a wide variety of canon classics as well as popular literature; I’m not an amateur when it comes to reading.
- It is often stated that there are only seven or so plots in literature. I love a good adaptation and appreciate when writers use allusion to honor authors who have gone before us. On the other hand, I am easily annoyed by writing that is too derivative, or becomes too clichéd. I have read too many books, so I won’t be all that thrilled with a plot that reminds me of that other book, especially when that other book was so much better. I can also predict a plotline rapidly, so often the element of surprise is lost on me. I cut my baby teeth on mysteries, making me one of those people who can predict the ending of most movies or books.
- I am also a writer, something I’m working on as a (so far unpaid) profession. I have been studying and practicing writing as a craft. All those writing pitfalls readers notice but can’t put their finger on? I have been training for years to identify them to avoid them in my own writing. No writing is perfect (which is why it’s so difficult to do, to finish, to let it go.) Let’s face it, there’s always something to question when it comes to writing decisions. Whether an unknown and known author is guilty of infodumps, clichés, or forgetting the cardinal rule of show don’t tell, I may be a little too quick to point out those sins and even name them.
- I have lots of opinions stemming from experience with people I’ve known, jobs I’ve done, places I’ve lived. And my crazy memory doesn’t just apply to things I’ve read. I’ve met a variety of people from different states, countries, of various ages and demographics. I’ve sold shoes, liquor, coffee, groceries. I’ve taught kindergarteners, elementary students, middle schoolers, high schoolers, college freshmen. I’ve held leadership positions and worked menial jobs. I’ve been through a lot, but, perhaps more importantly, I’ve seen much more. For every stereotype card someone pulls out, I’m prepared with real world information to refute it. And I’m not too shy to bring it up.
Sometimes during book club I hold my hand over my mouth, trying hard not to talk too much. I love to hear what my fellow book clubbers have to say, and I learn so much from how others in the group are affected by the book or how they see the relevant real world issues involved. But my enthusiasm for books runs deep, so, despite my best efforts, I may continue to talk too much. Maybe we should work out a signal? You can gently kick my foot under the table or something.
See you at book club!