Five of the most interesting blog posts and resources about writing and publishing I’ve found on the web this week:
1.) The website Brain Pickings dissects author Zadie Smith’s 2008 lecture at Columbia University’s Writing Program in the post, Zadie Smith on the Psychology of the Two Types of Writers. It’s worth the read for this gem alone, “It’s such a confidence trick, writing a novel. The main person you have to trick into confidence is yourself.”
2.) Co-founder and publisher of Scratch magazine, Jane Friedman, wants you to ask yourself three questions about your new novel: Why make this? Why make this now? Who cares? In her post Friedman says if you plan on selling your work you need to ask the questions editors and agents will be asking, and you need to have the right answers. You can read her post, How to Tell If Your Story Idea Is Mediocre, here.
3.) Aerogramme Writer’s Studio’s November & December list of contests, competitions, and publications includes awards such as the John Steinbeck Short Story Award for a work of fiction up to 5,000 words and publications like Diverse Voices Quarterly which aims to be an outlet for “every age, race, gender, and sexual orientation.” Click here for Aerogramme’s complete list.
4.) Publishers Weekly reporting that New York Times reporter Stephanie Clifford landed a seven-figure book deal for her debut novel, Everybody Rise, a story about a female striver in Manhattan, circa 2006. St. Martin’s Press acquired the novel which has already been sold for film to Fox 2000. Read more about Clifford’s deal here.
5.) The app, Write or Die, “aims to eliminate writer’s block by providing consequences for procrastination.” These consequences range from playing an annoying sound when you stop writing to actually deleting your writing, one word at a time, if you don’t keep typing. Write or Die is a little too stressful for me, but for you kamikaze writers out there, it might be the ticket to increased productivity. You can try Write or Die for free, or purchase the app for Mac or PC for $20.
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I ran into a little writing wisdom last week that made me sigh.
I sighed because I knew it was true.
I sighed because the nugget of wisdom focused on what’s probably one of the hardest things about the entire writing process.
Here’s the wisdom delivered by English writer, Zadie Smith. Smith’s novel, White Teeth, was included in Time magazine’s 100 Best English-language Novels from 1925 to 2005 list. In other words, Ms. Smith can write. Yet, this is what she had to say about the writing and editing process:
“When you finish your novel, if money is not a desperate priority, if you do not need to sell it at once or be published that very second – put it in a drawer. For as long as you can manage. A year or more is ideal – but even three months will do…The secret to editing your work is simple: you need to become its reader instead of its writer.”
Smith goes on to say, “ I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat backstage with a line of novelists at some festival, all of us with red pens in hand, frantically editing our published novels into fit form so that we might go on stage and read from them. It’s an unfortunate thing, but it turns out that the perfect state of mind to edit your novel is two years after it’s published, ten minutes before you go on stage at a literary festival. At that moment every redundant phrase, each show-off, pointless metaphor, all of the pieces of dead wood, stupidity, vanity, and tedium are distressingly obvious to you.”
If Zadie Smith is “frantically” editing her novels even after they’ve been published, then what hope do I, unpublished and untested, have?
Well, actually, it’s not hopeless. You see, as much as I’d like to hit “publish” on my story right now, I don’t need to be published this very second. I want to be, oh how I want to be, but I don’t need to, and that offers me a little breathing room. Breathing room that some writers just don’t have.
As I write this post, I’ve got first drafts of two novels sitting in a draw. I started writing my current WIP (work in progress) about a year ago. The first version of that story differs so greatly from what I have now, that it’s surprising even to me. Setting it aside for weeks at a time helped that story immensely, in ways that probably only stepping away from it for long periods could have.
I recently attended the Georgia Romance Writer’s Moonlight & Magnolia’s Conference. New York Time’s Best Selling author, Marie Force, was one of the speakers. Her talk was both motivational and fear inducing (more on the fear inducing in a later post.) One of the things Force emphasized was taking the time to produce your best work. Particularly if you’re working on a series (which I am.) If you’re working on your series, the first in that series has to be the best thing you’ve ever written (until you write the next thing.)
Readers don’t come back for writing that’s “just okay.” They come back for great. And for most of us, being great will take time. Lots and lots of time.
“Don’t follow the feeling, follow the plan.” I first heard this piece of advice while listening to NPR on the way to work one morning. The story was about Macular Degeneration, and featured a woman who loved to read. As the macular degeneration robbed her of her eyesight, she found herself falling into depression.
The psychologist being interviewed for the piece talked about therapy for individuals in this situation. The therapy involves making a plan. In this woman’s case, she not only loved to read, she loved to cook, but with her eyesight failing, she could no longer read her recipe books. The plan was to create recipe binders. Each binder would hold one recipe, each page in the binder one ingredient. Obviously using this method took longer than she was accustomed to, but she eventually was able to prepare a huge dinner for her entire family. In her words, the meal covered everything “from soup to nuts.”
“Don’t follow the feeling, follow the plan,” was a constant reminder to follow the plan and the recipes she’d so carefully laid out, regardless of how she was feeling on any particular day.
As writers we’ll most certainly have feelings of self-doubt. We will feel incapable, inadequate, incompetent. We will question our talent, our ability, and we will, at times, feel like throwing in the towel. I know this, because I feel these things on a regular basis. It sucks, it can be debilitating, and while we’re feeling it, it is for most of us, counterproductive.
And this is where plans come in. Don’t follow the feeling, follow the plan. Your plan is to write your book, your short story, or your screenplay. It is to query agents, to submit your essays or to self-publish. Your feelings will derail you at times but if you can write despite of these feelings, if you can stick to your plan, eventually you’ll be able to do what you set out to do, from soup to nuts.
Photo credit: Flickr
I borrowed the term “The Ugly Middle” from a writing blog I follow called The Write Practice. You can read the original blog post here. That post refers specifically to writing, but as with so many writing related topics, the lessons can apply to much more.
Beginnings are exciting. Endings can be triumphant.
The middle though…sometimes the middle is the mess.
It’s far enough from the excitement of the beginning that you sometimes forget why you started. And so far away from the end that you wonder why you started in the first place.
I’ve now, in earnest, been writing fiction for over a year. I know, for some of you a year sounds like nothing, and in the scope of a writing career I’m aware it’s a drop in the bucket. BUT a year in I realize that I seriously underestimated the sheer amount of effort, work, time, and mind-space it would take to actively pursue writing. A few months shy from publishing my first short story I’m realizing the magnitude of what I’m trying to do. In many ways, I’ve entered the ugly middle. Continue Reading →
A while back I noticed an increase in people “fighting” on Facebook threads. Not just about politics, religion, race, and sex – you know the hot button issues. But on just about everything. From breakfast battles (paleo vs vegan) to cat lovers vs. dogs lovers (full disclosure: unabashed dog lover here,) social media has become a pretty contentious place.
As writers we know that feedback and criticism come with the territory. Especially when we write with our authentic voices. Everyone’s not going to like what we write, and that’s okay. But in my opinion, your personal Facebook feed (for the most part) should be one of the places that’s off limits. And my fear is that some writers, turned off by the negativity of some social media, will be discouraged from engaging all together. And for a writer, I think that’s a dangerous thing.
On my own feed I realized that there was a problem when one person in particular, no matter what I posted, would swoop in and find something critical/negative to say. Every time. From the mundane breakfast post (“that stuff will kill you,” she said, her vegan flag held high) to more serious political posts I made during election time when I encouraged people to vote (“politics is a sham, and that’s why I don’t vote and people who do vote are just sheeple,”). It was getting to the point that before I posted anything I’d cross my fingers and hope she wouldn’t see it. I was restricting my voice for fear of confrontation. Continue Reading →