It takes a certain degree of gumption to write a blog. My "web log" began when I made an assignment to a group of college freshman to dip into web-based media: either write a blog or build a website. Because I had already built a website, I decided to experience blogging so I could relate.
I anguished over the topic of this blog. At the time, I was about a year into writing fiction and nearing the end of my first manuscript, which I was trying not to think of as a mid-life crisis. (Loss of sanity. Check. No foreseeable income for months of work. Check. Funny looks from family, including dog. Check.)
But I plunged in. I decided to write about my journey to finish my book and get it published. Oh, such a creative topic, as I later read in the online advice about writers and blogging.
"Don't write about writing," warned scores of authors, advice gurus and social media marketers. "It's soooo unoriginal."
True, in some respects. Who cares about my word count, whether I finished a draft, discovered a really cool word in my numerous dictionaries or persevered while beating back small children. But I didn't and haven't given in to the negativity. And I'm glad I didn't. I'm still here, more than a year later (and you are, too) because I've learned a good deal while blogging, I've learned about the writing process and about commitment. It takes effort to come back here, suck up the doubts, and post each week.
I'm not too concerned about the outcome or gravity or opinions of my blog because essentially it represents my unfiltered thoughts. Hence, its name, Thoughts from jennysound, Notes on a Writing Life. Thoughts and notes are not WIPs (works in progress) or ARCs (advanced readers copy).
Okay, where is this headed? Here's the rub: writing anything is an act of vanity and humility. Blogs are the epitome of vanity writing. I write under the assumption that, yes, my thoughts are worth something (free, but worth a look-see). It is only an investment of time to write a post and time for you to read it. Aren't we important? Excuse me while I buff my nails.
But writing requires mounds of humility. I'm putting myself and my work (possibly of questionable quality) on display for review. You could slam it, spam it, essentially ruin my life with snark. Should I continue? What's really the point? (BTW, you are absolved from slamming, spamming and snarking. Just step away from the comment button.)
Let me take a quick detour of neurosis: I don't think some creative people experience the humility factor, and if they do, they don't let it show. Frank Lloyd Wright was once on the witness stand and identified himself as the world's greatest architect. Ever. He said he couldn't lie under oath.Whether or not that's true, it makes for a good example. I'm pretty sure there are writers (Hemmingway, Roth) who track pretty close to that level of ego about their work.
My justification for writing this blog is that I love words and love putting them together. I didn't always think this. I'm older now, and I like that I've admitted this to myself. I also believe in gifts of divinity and/or genes, and the ability to write is my gift. Writing makes me happy and contemplative. If I can impart either happiness or contemplation in anyone else because of my writing, all the better.
So, here I write. For a while. For myself. And, perhaps, for you.
Okay, so the Office of Letters and Light doesn't have a countdown clock for the rest of National Novel Writing Month. At least, not on the index page of the website. That's good because NaNo isn't about deadlines, in my opinion (like you're here for somebody else's?).
I hate guilt. Not finishing a goal induces it. So, NaNo can be a guilt-inducing exercise. Therefore, I think of NaNo as something else. It is an invitation to wander. Which I did. Not by 50K words, but by 10K, and, by God, I'm happy with the outcome. I'm 1/3 into a novella, if in fact I end up writing a novella. I'm definitely on the road to a prequel. Did I have more than a chapter written before the month started? Heck no. I have now a solid beginning, and I feel fine (because it's not the end of the world as we know it). I'm excited, not wallowing in pity that I won't have a full novel done by midnight on Wednesday.
Writing novels is hard enough to let myself go THERE -- the dark side -- the side every writer knows so intimately s/he begin to look like that nasty little ring keeper in the LOTR series (sorry, don't know the name of that character, although Gollum sounds familiar).
For anyone who finishes 50K this week, it's just the beginning. The novel will take on a new shape every time the writer sits down to tweak it. Again and again and again. It may sit for weeks, months, until it is fine and all the details are worked out in the mind and then on the paper. What you have now, you winners of NaNo, is piece of clay. Now the pounding begins.
This post evolves from my curiosity about ebook self-publishing and how the trend can help or hurt the unsigned, unpublished author.
Very organically, meaning by a natural outgrowth, the ebook self-publishing business has gained legitimacy with writers who feel the need to take their work to the streets themselves in an increasingly dismal marketplace. Writers are faced with many options and some tough decisions nowadays. Slug out the traditional route, clawing for an ever-shrinking publishing hole, or hold your breath and jump with two feet into self-publishing?
I do believe the stigma associated with self-publishing is as distasteful as you want to make it. If you take yourself seriously as a writer, you logically will also take a serious look at your publishing options. For me, it's been an evolution. First and foremost, there is the act of writing. There's the self-education to get better. Then, there's the coming to terms with feedback and criticism. Somewhere along the way, there is commitment. The last hurdle is the push for publication. For many writers, traditional publication basically means that their work is worthy. They've made it. The writing is obviously good. We think getting a book accepted by an agent or a publisher will validate our talent. I'm not so sure anymore about that last statement.
Brian Felsen, BookBaby President
My doubt increased after I spoke to Brian Felsen, the president of an e-publishing startup called BookBaby. Felsen let me hang out with him recently at the Portland, Ore., headquarters of BookBaby, CDBaby and HostBaby and unequivocally made the case for what he calls self-release. (Of course, we want release, in more ways than one!). In terms of economics and marketing, he sees self-publishing as the hands-down winner.
Granted, this is the nice man with the gun who suggested the bus to Cartagena. Disclosure statement: I took no gifts or gratuities to speak with him or to publish this post and the transcript of our interview. I'll still have to pay the $99 to e-publish my book via BookBaby, if in fact I choose to do so. I simply went on a fact-finding trip, and he was nice enough to cooperate. Laid-back, no question. A man not afraid to use the word poopy in an interview. Sure, he's running a multi-million dollar company that is breaking into a competitive market, but he was still a nice guy.
BookBaby is new among the electronic book publishers, competing with the likes of Smashwords and CreateSpace. It has released only about 4,000 titles in the last year of doing business. Its competitors have somewhat different models, though I won't outline the pros and cons here. At BookBaby, you pay an upfront fee, a real person processes your manuscript by hand, and it gets distributed to all the major retailers. The writer keeps 100 percent of the profits after the retailers take their cut. BookBaby has the benefit of being a spinoff of the highly successful CDBaby, a 13-year-old company that is the largest distributor of independent music.
Felsen is an artist and businessman. He writes poetry (no kidding), composes music and used to play rock 'n' roll. The way he sees it, self-publishing cuts out a lot of headaches.
"It doesn’t hurt you if you release your work now by
e," he said. "Either you can get it pulled down and then get traditional distribution
later or still give up the e-rights to it later, if you want to. Or, it’s the
calling card for you to get future works noticed, but you shouldn’t put
your career on hold and spend tons of money trying to go traditional with a
work that’s completed and drive yourself crazy if it’s not imminently
For e-rights, he says it's silly to let a publisher take them from you, especially when so little of the revenue from ebooks goes back to the writer. "There’s no warehousing or distribution, there’s really nothing. It’s
not rocket science. There’s nothing to it. The sort-of dirty little secret of
publishing is that publishers don’t add a ton of value in terms of marketing
your work to the readers. They market your work to book sellers. But so many
famous authors still have to go to book conventions themselves. They still have
to manage their social networking presence themselves, have a website and
Twitter accounts and reach out to fans and have contests and do all this stuff
that they do, but you’d have to that as an independent author anyway, so you
might as well keep the money."
His logic is this: The publishers and agents are already looking for plug-n-play writers. Why play their game? Do it yourself.
"Now, will traditional publishers look at you different?
Well, traditional publishers are going to tell you they’re going to look at you
differently because you are out there eating their lunch. So, you know, I talk
to people, to traditional publishers, many of whom I’ve interviewed on camera
for the BookBaby blog, and they would, they’ll say, ‘Yeah, there’s a stigma to
self-publishing.’ Well, of course, ‘cause they’re taking an unreasonable cut with
unreasonable overhead, and they’re going out of business, so of course they’re
going to say that. But if you’re self-released, and you’re one of the top
sellers, or if you win awards, they’re gonna want to sign you so badly and so
fast, they’re not going to say, ‘Oh, yeah, he’s just writing, a family
memoirist.’ No, not at all."
I still believe publishers are looking for high quality. But I also agree that their model of selling to book sellers is dying. They already know that. Where does that leave us whimpering newbies? The outlook, according to Felsen, isn't all that rosy in traditional publishing.
"As bookstores are going away, as the publishing houses are consolidating,
the mid-tail author is becoming more and more abandoned. It’s like the
shrinking middle class. The mid-tier author is not getting the advances that
they were. They’re not getting the publicity that they were; there’s not the
outlets that there used to be; advances that are doled out are doled out over
three years in quarterly installments, and it’s still not really—the pot at the
end of the rainbow is a very small one nowadays, and it’s not for everybody." The interview with Felsen is more indepth and worth a read. For every new author (and some of the old ones), every option is on the table. It may mean I'll need an attitude adjustment to worry less about how my work ends up with readers and to focus more on the real goal: satisfied readers. And those readers will let me know whether or not they're satisfied, regardless of how I publish.
A year ago, I started this blog as a way to keep track of my progress on my first novel. I completed the ending, about 12,000 words, in the first 12 days of NaNoWriMo. It was a thrill to finish a manuscript. Much has happened with it since then, and I continue to refine it. But I approached the idea of participating in NaNo this year with a completely different outlook. You might find this odd, but my idea was: it just doesn't matter what or how much I write.
Now, I will say I am working on a new novel, complete with an outline, and I am most definitely writing something that I intend to see published, but I am not pressuring myself in any way to get 'er done in a month. I think that is a grand idea, but I also know now: 1) what my process is like for getting a book finished; 2) what my process is for revising; 3) who I want to read it; and 4) what I will do with it once it's read.
In short, I'm feeling much more confident about who I am as a writer, which is not to say that I am totally convinced that my book will ever be published in the traditional way. It may not. I accept that. But I also know that what I've written has worth. It's a pretty cool story, and many people will end up reading it and enjoying it.
How it gets to the reader, well, that's another matter far afield from the actual writing. This month, I am loose to write again and worry about the rest later. And just like last time, it feels great.
Young or old, give thanks to the gentle reader. Writers must earn the attention of each and every one.
Recently, I heard the statistic that a person reads the equivalent of Moby Dick each week through digital bits such as email, Facebook posts and tweets. Can you imagine reading Moby Dick in a few days? (Actually, I'm simply trying to read it, but that's another blog post.)
are a precious commodity. We are fighting to be worthy of their short
attention spans and pocketbook demands. (Will you get to the bottom of
this post without checking your bank balance online, ahem?) Writers are
now asked to indulge readers online, inviting them into our lives via blogs, websites, tweets and Facebook pages. They want to participate in the story, not just read it.
novelists may be going the way of the storyteller. Before printing
presses, stories were handed down by oral historians, the storytellers,
and although the art form isn't dead, it is not a crucial part of our
culture anymore. Novelists may experience a similar shift because
readers' habits are changing. Social and digital media, the very tools
we use to connect with readers, are shaping our audience's expectations.
We might begin to see Moby Dick introduced to high school students in 200-word posts online.
What does this mean
for the novel and the novelist? The speculation is that we will write
shorter books. Instead of 50,000-80,000 words, readers will turn
increasingly to the novella, 25,000-40,000 words. Or, a reader will
download a book chapter by chapter and once she loses interest, then
she'll forego buying the rest. Will this mean we'll need to do better at
cliff-hanging? Maybe, or it could mean we'll write alternative endings
for every book we start. Click here for happy ending. Click here for more sex. Click here for explosion.
Our work will be increasingly dictated by the reader, which is worrisome to some extent because the generation growing up
on apps and YouTube rather than long-form fiction won't go for long
rides anymore. What to do? I think it is a good time to experiment. Try
writing a story in 5 to 10 chapters. I know writers composing Facebook
novels, in short chunks, for anyone to contribute in progress. Try
recording your first chapter with your phone camera and posting it.
Then, wait and see what evolves. We're just as vulnerable to evolution
as the manual typewriter.
Thanks for getting to the end without an ebill pay!
My labor may not be in vain. There is now a book about why I should slug along in half-hearted compulsion to read Moby Dick. The book is aptly titled Why Read Moby-Dick? You can read a story and find an interview on NPR today.
The reasons not to read Melville are numerous. Do I need a book explaining why I should continue on in my quest, which may take me several years? Perhaps. I'm still in the game. No applause necessary. I figure it's part of my writerly duty.
Of course, I haven't finished it yet. I haven't even gone beyond page ... I'm not going to tell you the page number. Moby Dick is a monster. The novel, not the whale itself, which has not made an appearance yet in my classic-lit guilt trip.You are cheering for me, right? Trouble is, I'm easily distracted. By other books. Coffee. Blogrolls. Biscuits. Oh, and revisions.
I get a little anxious thinking of all the books I'm never going to read. Ack. I need air. I want them, need them, would actually like to vacuum them up like crumbled Oreos, but no way is it going to happen. I'm doomed to plod through a book about every three weeks, that is if I am pushing (Roth's book is good right now). The clock is working against me. Oh, and sleep, I need a little shut-eye, too.
Today in Paper Moon Books on Belmont I acted willfully with another book, The End of the Affair, a Graham Greene novel that I've stuffed in my purse (after I paid for it). Wasteful retail therapy. It's not shoes for me, thankyouverymuch. I have a fear that someday someone who matters will ask me what I think of X author, and I'll respond with a dumb look. "I haven't read that writer yet." A completely shameful answer. I'll start practicing: "Is she the one who wrote (insert title)? Becausethatwas a damn good book."
(knock, knock) 2011? You in there? Don't mean to disturb you but...WHOA, what have you got on your head? Editing Goggles of Unusual Size and Thickness? Seriously. Those lenses look three inches thick. Okay, well, could we have a chat out in the living room? It's October now, and your stay is almost over.
Hey, listen, you've been, well, to put in mildly, a bit of a challenge. I know, I know, you've had a lot going on, but take this deadline, for instance. I think you are going to have to kick it in gear. Yes, I understand self-editing is a challenge. Yes, I also see you've got the goggles; they certainly aren't rose-colored like the ones you owned in Asheville. But, you've gotta hump. If you don't get these edits done, well, your window is shuttered.
Then what? NaNo? You're kidding, right? But you said that was for groupies and wannabes. Oh, a love-hate thing. Can't argue there. But you shouldn't get too wrapped up in it. I mean, look at how unproductive your June and July were. Hey, now! Keep it clean. Admit it, you didn't write a thing both months, that's a fact. And no, the really bad poems don't count.
And I hate to bring up another sore subject, (pat knee), but you've got that other manuscript shoved in a folder. You don't care? Ah, but I can see behind those goggles that you do. You don't fool me. Hold on a minute, 2012 doesn't deserve to start her year with that on her plate. Have you asked her yet if she wants to be handed a bag of writhing snakes at the door? She'll know what to do? Well, maybe you're right.
So, it's been nice talking to you. Hang in there. I'll let you get back to the editing. Need anything? You know you can't drink while you're writing. A shot of sake later maybe? Fine, and hey, in January, tell 2010 I said hello.
Let's face it. My vocabulary can suffer from bloat and dullness.
Back up, I'm revising a draft. Of course my vocabulary is a square peg in a round hole. Everything becomes a misfit when edits are underway. But, here are a few words I've had to replace to make my book easier to read for the market, which in this case is romance:
consecrated (There are four confessions in my story, go figure, those 17th Century French radicals!)
entombed (How about just inside or buried?)
umkempt (Seriously, I love this word, but maybe not so much. I kicked it aside, boot.)
absolution (Again, religion is a subtext of this time period.)
cordiality (Happy, duh.)
soirees (Fancy Nancy word for parties.)
cavort (It's short but a sure reader-stopper.)
wrest (I actually found this word twice. Could I have just had my character grab the damn thing?)
chiseled lintels affixed (All these words were right in a row; yes, I tell you, it's the architect I'm married to.)
Now I could go on, but I'll stop there and tell you my other dilemma (problem). I find that there are aspects to writing romance that burn me. They have to do with the exchanges the characters make in body language and facial expressions. I've tried to limit looks and gazes, but sometimes there aren't good replacements for those words. Interior dialogue does the trick sometimes, but when the guy wants the girl, hey, a little smoldering eye contact can't be substituted (replaced).
If you have been reading this blog with any consistency, you might find me all over the map. I'm using it to experiment. One belief I have about writing is to try it all. Make a fool out of myself. Write one way, then write another. Take up several topics and none. Does it really matter in the end? The conclusion I can draw after having done this for a year is: everything is temporary, especially the thoughts I have that I try to get down here. All I have is my voice (as in, my writer's voice). I will use it, and it will ring with some and not with others. Also, I get a little sadistic joy in just putting shit out there -- allow an idea to float into your world and, perhaps, in some small way, make a ripple.
A long, generous rope. My patience is epic when I'm reading a book.
I slaved over Stephen King's The Stand for months as a teen. This summer, I've slugged through 81 pages of Moby Dick, but I'm not quitting. Unfortunately, I had to stop reading a historical novel recently for lack of interest, and frankly, it killed me to admit to it, late one afternoon, with a hand on its cover: "I'm just not into you." Sniff.
I view giving up on a book more as a personal failure. "It's me, not you. You're a good book. I'm the one with the problem." But my thinking has changed a bit as I've been trying to write fiction. I do feel greater empathy with other writers. I want to give them a chance to capture my attention. But with family, my own writing/revisions, social media, laundry, I have to get real.
So I stopped reading Bluebird, or the Invention of Happiness by Sheila Kohler last week. I wanted to like it. The cover was pretty. It coincides with a country and time period which I am also writing about: France, pre-Revolution. I figured I could learn a few historical details for my romance. Plus, Kohler is an award-winning writer. I thought the book would be a pleasure. It wasn't.
I started to let it sit for days. I couldn't recall the names of the main characters. In one chapter, the mother dies, and by the time I had picked up the book again, I'd forgotten that detail. Oops. Kohler's writing is sharp, but the story wasn't compelling me to hang with it. And, this is my take-away: books we don't care for also help our own writing.
I probably wouldn't have understood why her story didn't intrigue me unless I had recently taken a workshop with suspense novelist Robert Dugoni. Dugoni is a popular writer of high-tension books, and he's also on the circuit for writing conference. In his session about creating plots for page turners, he focused on the characters, particularly the protagonist. He suggested several key points for strong stories in regard to the main character:
1. The story must be personal to the protagonist. It must affect him/her on a deep level. Example: If you begin a story with a murder and your main character is the police investigator, why is this particular murder of consequence to him/her? Is the dead person a former lover, a streetwalker who was an informant, the spouse of a colleague who s/he was having an affair with? Make it matter and soon.
2. You must show early what your protagonist wants. To win (what?), to escape (what?), to retrieve (what?), to stop (what?).
3. The character(s) must experience obstacles. Torture them. Put things in their way and more than once. What stands in his/her way, major and minor?
His ideas identified, in part, why I didn't connect with Kohler's story. I wasn't sure what the main character wanted, what the story was going to offer me and why I should care. Granted, she wasn't writing suspense. She was writing historical fiction, where there are usually no smoking guns. But I wanted to feel something for her people, and I couldn't muster much. It could be a matter of taste. Dugoni hated Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. I liked it. He thinks J.K. Rowling is a genius. I haven't felt like picking up her books (maybe next year).
I still feel a little like I failed in my attempt to read Bluebird. That's the compassionate side of me, but it's not typical of most fiction readers. They want the goods, and we have to give them compelling reasons to stick around.
Crazy stuff you get to do when you are are a writer:
1. Spend hours in a library or bookstore and call it research.*
2. Write page upon page of a story, then delete it and pronounce your day productive.*
3. Horde dictionaries.*
4. Be critical of other people's use of words ending in -ly.*
5. Laugh at the stupidity of free writing. Then free write some more.*
6. Discover other writers crazier than you are.*
7. Write about subjects you don't know a thing about, including God, whom you think is laughing at you.*
8. Blow off criticism.*
9. Be thankful for every criticism because you'll likely bend to it later.*
10. Drink three French presses before noon, then break into the beer since no one cares, and you're in your pajamas anyway.*
Although my first novel is a romance (which may surprise those of you who know me), bigger issues preoccupy me more often than not. I may be writing escapist entertainment, but my conscience zeros in on issues of social justice, politics and culture. An article recently in the Sunday NYT affected me. The Elusive Big Idea describes the decline of "thinking." We don't want to think about much of anything. The author, Neil Gabler, a big thinker himself, blames in part the unprecedented amount of information available to us that pushes out all the important ideas. We happily (for the most part) ride this info glut and look for the cheap thrill. We find new gadgets or games or Lindsey Lohans to distract us. I find Twitter is a huge, useless distraction. What we don't care about are big ideas that shape our lives (movements and cultural shifts and science). We may indeed be amusing ourselves to death (ever heard of Neil Postman?), and I believe we are at the very least amusing ourselves into decline.
But besides the info glut, we do it by consuming, too. Fewer are able to spend with much gusto in this economy, but consumerism pushes us to work more to maintain our hard-earned leisure time and the stuff that fills it. I do it, too. I love to eat out and buy books and rent movies and drink wine and have a barista make me a coffee once and a while. Yours may be shoes or hot rods. Feeling like we need the new SmartPhone also puts a burden on us to work harder and skip or skim over the rest, and I mean here, the world. Who actually likes bad news? Paradigm shifts? Politicians? Sure, if they are your brother- or sister-in-law. Otherwise, tuning them out is just fine. Same with people with big ideas. The majority would say: "Sorry, Mr. Gabler. Nice ideas, but let me get back to my xBox." It's easy to relax with WiFi. Recharge the old iPad. Open up Facebook. Fire up the Kindle. And, while they're at it, read a romance.
Wondering how to get your book "out there"? Try this.
Go to a conference. Spend 30 bucks. Sign up with a bunch of strangers to talk to an agent in a windowless room. Show up way too early for appointment. Sweat. Get called in like at the dentist. Find a seat next to the six strangers. Sweat some more, look hungry around a banquet table with a really bad tablecloth. Hmm, hungry is not the right word. Desperate, or maybe, pathetic.
Agent, who could be old, young, man, woman, introduces the egg timer. Announces the process. Flips the timer for three minutes and points to first writer. You may not be able to hear what the writer is saying because he/she is nervous, too, and aren't speaking up, but it goes something like, "I've written a 75-thousand word .... " or "<Title of book> is about ... ". All the while you are trying to determine what the hell you are going to say. Although you've practiced, right? Of course, you've practiced.
Within a minute or less, the agent will have: 1) asked you a question you didn't expect; 2) told you he/she does/doesn't want your sample chapters and, maybe, why, or 3) listened and said nothing. All of which make you sweat more. Someone tries to make a joke between pitches. You try not to crawl under the bad table cloth or jump out of your seat when you are done and run out. Turn over.
Being a writer is part social commentator, philanderer, fool, catatonic state, mistaken identity, sorcerer, troublemaker, trash talker, kingdom builder, diva-licious, lunatic, calamity, wall flower, dike thumber, ditch digger, doppelganger, rambler, rolling pin, Slim Jim, Janis Joplin, juggernaut, jumper and jackass. I try to write something that pushes me every day. God save me.
Wing it and worry about the looks later.
Glenn Beck doesn't think
before he opens his mouth
and gets millions stuffed in,
spewing incongruent thoughts
and hate and absurdities.
TV makes Gods infallible.
Women, move up.
Take control of your voice
and your lovely turncoats
before the takeover begins.
Don't take my absence from posting as a lapse in seriousness. I take this blog not as a means to an end. Hell, it's not a means to anything. It is a diary, an open book one. Sure, I'm editing out the hardcore life. Can't spread it all out there, but I am serious about writing, and I am taking the steps I need to make publication happen. This blog doesn't happen to be one of the ways I believe will get me there in the end. So I come here and vent and jockey around a little for kicks.
I have been on hiatus because of two reasons: the big one, a cross country move. I am no longer avlwriter (Twitter), just jmfwriter. The m stands for May. I live in Portland, Ore., now. The second one, my book has been with an agent on an exclusvie basis for the last seven or so weeks, and I've been taking the off time to pack/move/unpack and bullet out some ideas for the next manuscript. And read. Another writing project I was working on is on ice.
But I have heard from the agent, and I will be making a third round of revisions and sending it back out for a second read. I continue to query. I've missed the writing. It's time to get back to it, throttle ahead.
...streak. That's it. That would get me the most publicity. Lady Godiva into a few bookstores after my book is published and try the outlandish with the already idiotic game of reaching readers and building audience. This business of being a writer in the socially connected world makes me a bit edgy.
Frankly, I have to stay positive to appear professional. So, I wear that badge. But slay me for blogging about writing (very unoriginal, so I've read. Even my twitter handle @avlwriter, yawner) and find a subject to draw people into your marketing snare (here's my blog about fine wine, and by the way, buy my book).
Hey, if you read my book (once it is published), here I am. Ask me questions. Follow my virtual a**. Let's be tweeps. Whatever. Just let me write.
All four of my dictionaries are packed away for a move to Portland, OR. I miss them. I stopped using dictionary.com because it's germy. You can pick up more goobers from that website than a frosted doughnut dropped face down at a swimming pool locker room. Just consult the Wall Street Journal.
It's been maybe four or so days living without them, but I've gone to the place I usually keep them several times now to look a word up, only to remember they're packed. With four, I usually look up a word in at least two dictionaries and compare. The definitions are always different. Word choice is everything, isn't it?
The NYT Book Review from April 10 has an article about a book of poetry, Beautiful and Pointless: A Guide to Modern Poetry by David Orr, and the reviewer, David Kirby, writes that more poetry readers tend to love poetry than simply like it. He uses an unscientific method to conclude this (ubiquitous Google search), but it's interesting. I'll apply that to my dictionary habits. I think I love words.
Things I do much less frequently (sometimes not at all) to make time to write:
LESS: Balance my checkbook. Cook anything worthy of more than a C+. Bake. Weed. Dust. Vacuum/wash my car. Mop my bathrooms. Chase dust bunnies. Wash my dog. Volunteer at school (ouch, I know). Drink alcohol (ouch, I know). Facebook. Shop for groceries. Polish my toenails. Attend social events. Worry about whether I'm attending social events. Did I mention alcohol? Match socks. Wear socks. Sort socks. Read the newspaper. Watch TV. And, shower.
What I do more of that helps my writing:
MORE: Give in to the urge to write. Spend time with my family and dog. Run. Let other people cook and praise their offerings. Read. Rummage for chocolate. Think about drinking alcohol. Love. Watch good movies. Write this blog. Read blogs. Tweet. Encourage others to write. Be satisfied I can't do it all.
Just typing Moby Dick into a blog post got me more hits. Hey, yeah, I'm still reading it, although I put it down for about three weeks to read Veronica by Nicholas Christopher. I like MB; my speed stinks. I anticipate, yes, probably, looking like, mid-November to finish MB. "What!" you say (or shout). That's how slow I am. And I'll throw in another book or two to gum up the progress.
But I'm courageous to admit my effort will be drawn out, don't you think? I'm courageous to have this blogspot and let you in on the less-than-fascinating life of a hopeful novelist. I'm courageous to even write, period. I love and fear going to libraries and bookstores. Love the possibilities, the treasures underneath the covers, many I'll never open. Fear that I am nameless and swimming in a sea of writers. And most of the retail shelves are backlist. The new stuff never makes it out.
Dash it all. I'll get there. I'm persistent. If a writer doesn't have a pound (or ten) of it in reserve, forget it. Soon, it'll be more than Moby Dick that gets people to hit this blog. But hey, come all.
How do you read this post's title? Do you think of yourself as the one I'm addressing, that you are my love, and I'm making an intimate connection with you? Or do you read it that writing is my love? Or that I'm writing about my love, a person or possession? A piece of writing is such a personal message. Everyone takes something different away from the meaning of the words. You, the readers, develop a relationship with the story and the characters. Or you read a section with a nuance that was desired, and you get it, or you insert your own nuance unintentionally. My readers have provided interesting and good feedback on my work so far. I enjoy getting their perspectives. Sometimes, it makes me strengthen or change parts, but mostly, it makes me appreciate that they see the writing with unique meaningfulness.
What did I mean: Writing, My Love. If you've read this far and come back for more, then by all means ...
There comes a point when you write and stop thinking you can't do it. Because you are doing it and whether the audience is large or small, the words come forth and you let them and give in to the compelling need to get them out. I've gotten to that point recently. It becomes about the writing itself and not the outcome. Not that readership is unimportant. I do believe readers will come, too. I just allow myself to write without consequence and worry less about the other stuff -- am I good enough? will this sell? am I building a strong platform? am I reading the right books? is my feedback valid? I'll continue to worry, but I'm allowing myself the freedom to enjoy the part that gives me the greatest satisfaction, which is exactly what I'm doing right now. Ink and bytes and lead.
A copy of Moby Dick is warming beneath my computer as I type. How does one begin an epic? I'm four pages in, and so far, I'm not intimidated. But frankly, I never wanted to read Moby Dick until recently.
I've started a new novel project, and it's not a romance. Far, far from it. Although it was a great experience to write my first MS (website), I've moved on to wider pastures. Green as before but much wider. More on the new project in a future post.
I am admittedly not well read. I read slower than average (likely) because I don't skimp. I want to understand the meaning of every passage and word. If I don't know a word, I look it up. If I don't understand a passage, I reread it until I do (am not 100% hard-headed). I generally don't write in margins of books, but I dog-ear. I like rereading the good parts. All that slows me down.
Moby Dick, obviously, brings up a lot of connotations. I'm ignoring the negative to read it with an open mind. Heck, the forward, etymology and extracts prior to Chapter 1 were enough to keep me interested as I launched into this endeavor. It'll take me a while. Settle in. Dickens next.
... the same reason I get out of bed. I feel compelled. It's not an obsession (we'll revisit that). It's not an unnatural act. I write because it is a joy and feeds a yearning to discover. I feel both joy and discovery when I wake and when I write.
Fiction writing is very new to me. I never wrote a piece of fiction until August 2009, unless you count in 2nd grade when my parents went out on "date night," and I scribbled a story on loose-leaf titled "The Girl with Blue Fingernails." Awful. But I wish I still had it. What was I a really trying to say? (that's a joke)
I "discover" by pulling my imagination in sometimes obscure and always interesting directions from experiences still available in my brain. I'm more of a pantser (someone who writes by the seat of their pants) than a plotter, in that respect. I like to see what bubbles up. I plot but in a loose sort of way.
One of my favorite lines from a children's book, The Hello Goodbye Window, is delivered by a grandfather, who, upon the day's start, rises and declares: "Hello world. What have you got for me today!" That pretty much sums up my philosophy for waking and writing.
A typical Sunday morning. I wake early (like 7), lament it's not earlier, try to get to the coffeemaker and computer before anyone else wakes up. Oldest daughter hears. Sits by the screen. Opens Guinness Book of World Records. "Did you know an ostrich can run 45 miles per hour?" I ignore and listen. Nod. Try to come up with another word for sharpen. She keeps reading. Lights are too bright. I dig out a dictionary of the four on the counter. A really large, 1/2 foot thick, bad boy usually has it. I go for the pocket-size with the tabs. It doesn't. "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs made that much money?" She wants breakfast. I say French toast. I take a notebook paper on clipboard to the kitchen, plus the Sunday NYT, and a dictionary and pull out the bacon. Start cooking and reading and writing. Try not to burn anything. Get caught up in a story about a millionaire poker player (and I'm a writer? He's 21, no 22. It's hopeless.) Scribble a line I want to add to my story. Drain the bacon. Crack eggs, whisk with milk and dip white bread, first gets too soggy, splatter the pic of the poker player with cinnamon slosh. Run for thesaurus. Try (again) not to burn while I read, look up a word. Say hello to the second child. Finish my cup. Refill it. Find the right word.
Poor little blog reader. Aren't you feeling lonely? Wouldn't you like a friend or two? For some commiseration or a grin? I've been busy, but I didn't forget you, of course. It's hard work, writing a novel. To craft it for all to see, to make it sparkle with sensation. This is where the unwinding occurs, between ink smears and rewrites and log lines. The self-doubts and small triumphs ("You actually liked my MS?!"). So, come and sit a while. Put your feet up. Read and unwind with me. You're welcome.
Seriously, revisions aren't the worst.
It's fill-in-the-blank time. Round 'em out time. Ditch the sh*t time.
Thank you, Find and Replace. I've swiftly deleted eyes and looks and now on to the un-'s.
I have about 632 words that begin with un- on 300 pages. It goes with the theme. Suicidal/celebate man.
Time for a pen knife. It'll be fun.
It is March now. I continue to write. I harbor few notions of the outcome, and that's a good place to be. For now. I operate in a vacuum of delusion -- that I'll write something someone wants to read.
I've asked several people to read my draft. A few have finished. I've placed an obligation on them. I'm requesting their time. And in my life, time is very precious.
One reader wrote me a thank you note. I was incredibly humbled. I should be thanking her (which I did; a bottle of wine is forthcoming). A college buddy apologized for not having started sooner. She has two pre-schoolers, and she's a stay-at-home mom. Again, I had to thank her for even saying yes.
In the scheme, they are a sympathetic audience. Reading to be nice, and often, to satisfy their curiosity. It's a look inside me, bumps and soft spots. Artists, you are a special group of fragile hearts. May I live up to the inclusion.
It's pointless to want something as luxurious as time. I sneak in the writing. I think my manuscript could be fixed in a long weekend. Three days and four hours? My husband says I can estimate the time it takes to build his drawings with scary accuracy.
However, my 76 hours would mean no showering, very little sleep, shots of espresso, creaky joints and sporadic fits of shouting. I won't get the chance. I have to operate in sprints. Fifteen mintues here; a half hour there. I've filled a couple of spiral notebooks; they are more mobile, less conspicuous than a battery-hungry laptop.
When I open the screen, the groans within the household are nearly as deflating as knowing I'll never get that 76 hours.
If I write twice a day for 15 minutes each session, my revisions will be done: July 30. Insert fit of shouting.
Emily Dickinson wrote a line about leaving your heart ajar for ecstasy. Pretty sure she wasn't talking simply about you-know-what.
I heard the full quote today and connected it to some issues rolling around in my head about writing romance. Characters in fiction need to live and breathe and feel and think vividly, and love plays a big factor. Love of self and of life and of the tangible, and in romance, the intangible.
A reader of mine asked me a difficult question about my female protagonist. Why did she fall in love with the male protagonist? Hard question when the attractive qualities and reasons seem obvious to me. I've had to sit quiet with that question for a while and ask myself the same. Why do we fall in love? What are the reasons a person tumbles into the emotion and attachment? Save me the science. I want the ethereal.
Mary Oliver, poet, wrote: "Tell me, what will you do with your wide and precious life?"
Is there God? More specifically, where do you find God, or its lowercase version? In this, the writing, there is some God-bound reality. Do I believe in God? Not in a physical diety, soluble or insoluble being. So where is it/he/she/them? In the writing?
It is the search. The conscious wandering. I write to know. Write to understand. To dream, to please. And to connect with something other than myself.
Guilt has been my companion lately. Having been a "serious" journalist at one point in my life, crafting a romance novel seems a low-road preoccupation. What difference does my writing make when people are fighting for democracy in Egypt or suffering from bizarre weather events due to climate change? Pushes the periscope down a few clicks.
And it's not as if I'm devoid of social consciousness. Prior to and including yesterday, I'd say I've overcompensated for the questionable merit (my spin) of writing romance. I give to charity, parent full-throttle, teach ethically and believe in the worth and dignity of all people, especially on a small planet. So, I need to get over it.
A supportive writer told me, "God loves stories, tell them." If I believed in God.
Eat. I write. Use napkin. I write. Do the dishes. I write. Scratch list for grocery. I write. Pour the dog some chow. I write. Find a hard-to-quit book. I write. Sell your worth to everyone you meet. I write. Take it down a notch for humility's sake. I write. Remind yourself its about loving it and nothing else. I write.
When you walk into a bookstore or library, and you wish you could know all the thoughts of what were in the books, and you think time never allows it, but oh, all those secrets. I want them. Used to be, you could open a pressurized can and the little puff releases and the treasure peels open and you consume it. I've finished reading a book and am looking for another pop. It seems I'm getting pickier because there's only so much time, and so many pops left and I gotta get to all the good ones with all the great secrets before my mind goes, which won't be for another 60 years, but I have to start paying attention now or I won't find the singing lines. What are you reading?
Back at it. Writing again after letting my MS rest. Feels good. If anything, persistence will see me through. Showing up. I'm showing up. Finished a wonderful book, still thinking about it. Leaving pens and paper around the house. Savoring early morning epiphanies that expand my plot. Those are sweet.
I'm trying to carve out space to work on revisions. I have about ten+ copies of the MS floating about in various hands. Some readers I've heard from, and I'm making notes on things I want to change. All good progress. I've started back to work (PT teaching a college course on journalism) and am looking for a full-time job. Crazy weather has hindered by child-free hands/head. Turning on lots of lights to keep away winter gray. Trudging on. The notes I've scribbled here and there about changes to the book make me happy. Saw a good word today above the wheel-well of a muscle truck: rumble. Working that in somewhere.
There's a reason merry-go-rounds are a relic of parks. They knock riders mercilessly. I'm feeling a little like that during book revisions. In fact, I'm calling it the humility phase. I've decided to ride this spinning toy, and the mess-ups are knocking me down a few notches.
A new board game we got for Christmas made me think of the merry-go-round. The graphics with the game show a retro playground, where tall, silver slides and merry-go-pukes are fixtures. Kids notice everything. "They don't have those anymore," and you nod your head in agreement, thinking Thank God.
I'm getting my dose of face-in-the-dirt humility from my readers. My head is whipped, and I try not to let the handrail whack me in the temple or get trapped under the whirling sphere. Once this case of nausea and terror passes, I'll get back on that bumpy platform and ride, sister, ride.
From my office window this second, I see snow. The ground is covered. The tree limbs are white. The kids' swing in the big oak is the only thing moving outside besides the flurries. I could do without snow.
Let me enjoy: This first sip of coffee in the morning. Always my favorite.
What else to enjoy? Holding my eight-year-old's hand. Staring eye-to-eye with my oldest daughter. Every morsel of gourmet food my husband makes, despite the mess in the kitchen. Placing my head on the pillow at the end of the day.
I'll try enjoying this snow, too. I dislike cold, but I like the quiet and the slowing down.