Wednesday, January 26, 2011

writing advice

Some advice for writers, in no particular order of importance:

Be willing to take risks in your writing. The craft of revision allows us to re-write what's not working, but we'll never know whether it works if we don't try, and all too often playing it safe doesn't work.

As a writer, you are a witness as well as a participant. Being a witness often involves more than observance. It also requires listening. Practice stillness. Not an easy thing to do in a world of so many distractions. But you'd be surprised how even a few minutes of stillness per day can profundly affect the writing process.

You have to write the book you would want to read. Ditto for the movie you want to see, the song you want to hear, and so on. Marketing and promotion and platforms and all that are important from a business standpoint, but don't let that figure into your writing process. From an academic perspective, write the paper you would want to read, not the one you think would get the A. In my experience, the A comes to you when you stop giving it so much attention. Kinda like cats.

Re-reading is re-writing.

There's nothing wrong with wanting to be a bestseller, or wanting to make a living as an author, and a comfortable one at that. There's nothing wrong with wanting to be a famous novelist. Reject the voices that tell you you're never going to make any money from this, or that you're not a true artist because you want to make money. Know your intentions, and honor them. Take the path that is right for you. Commit. Persevere.

Hone your craft.

Perfection has no place in a first draft. It only serves as an obstacle to your creativity. Allow the writing to suck, because it will (and quite often) throughout the process. Embrace the suckage because it's the only way you'll have any fun.

When writer's block strikes (and it will), ask yourself what you're really afraid of. Nine times out of ten it's the fear that you're no good. Then do the best you can to write through it. Sometimes it's just not going to work, and you've got to allow that, too. The sun is always shining behind the clouds.

When it comes to chocolate chip cookies and adverbs during the writing process, consume the latter in moderation, not the former.

Which of the above pieces of advice most resonates with you, and why? What are some of your favorite pieces of advice from other writers?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

can I go again?

I'll be turning 41 next week. Yeah, that went fast, didn't it.

I've been reflecting on this past year of being 40 -- how extraordinary it was. One of the most extraordinary years I've ever had. So many dreams come true. So many successes. A few failures along the way, too. Some deep lows as well as steep highs. And as the cycle rolls to an end, I feel as most roller-coaster enthusiasts feel the moment they get off the ride: Can I go again?

Seriously, I'd like to be 40 all over again--well, not exactly re-live it all, just keep being 40 for another year. As if it was the number that somehow manifested all the good fortune. I want to make it last a little longer. Keep drawing all that good energy to me. Keep meeting the people I want to meet (or have already met, and meet them again), achieving the goals I want to achieve, and manifesting the intentions of my creative imagination. Keep having all that fun.

And let's face it: I'd like to keep covering up those greys.

It's easy to fall into the trap of trying to stay on top of the mountain once you've reached it, especially since there's nowhere to go but down. We've seen it before: Some people (and not necessarily the ones I mention below) who achieve phenomenal success so early on become paralyzed by that success and can never quite live up to it. And of course, the demanding public and critics never let them forget it. Everything McCartney, et. al, ever did following Sgt Pepper was forever compared to it, as Brian Wilson was to Pet Sounds, Michael Jackson to Thriller, Aaron Sorkin to The West Wing, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck to Good Will Hunting, JK Rowling to Harry Potter, and so on. We want Oscar-calibre on demand. We want to keep them on the pedestal, where they dazzle so brightly in the sunlight. We want the thrill of the roller-coaster ride to never end.

But it has to.

Thing is, some never realized it was a phenomenon in the first place.

It'd be pretty difficult to match, much less top, the year I've had. I can already see myself falling into the trap of disappointment at times: Sure, my book sales are good right now, but not as good as this time last year... But I can't let myself get sucked into that. I can't create with the intention to match that success; otherwise I'll never be satisfied, and I'll never, ever make it. I can't hold every achievement and every moment next to the Year of Being 40.

But that's not to say that I can't set the bar high on my intentions. No, I'm still thinking big. But I'm thinking big for this year. A new year, new ideas, new markets, new events, new readers, new possibilities. A new ride, with new thrills of its own. A new mountain. Different, rather than better or worse than the last one. That's my goal, to keep sight of that.

And numerologically speaking, "1" is an important number this year. So perhaps 41 will bring a magic all of its own.

As long as I get to keep coloring the greys.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

a writer's resolutions

You think: This is going to be a great year. I'm going to write 2,000 -- no, 5,000 words per day, at 6AM, every day! Right after my 3-mile run and my power breakfast of Wheaties and fresh fruit!

You do: Sleep until 9AM after activating your snooze alarm five times, eat two pop tarts, and spend two hours on Facebook and Twitter. When you open Word, you stare at it blankly, close it, and check what's on Food Network.

You think: This is the year I'm going to blog every single day, and it's going to be full of pith and wisdom and keep my readers clamouring for more!

You do: Stare at it in fear, day after day, wondering if the last wise thought you had came to you in a caffeine-induced hallucination during your 13-hr drive from Raleigh to Long Island. Come to think of it, did you ever have anything worthwhile to say?

You think: I'm going to write a novel and finish it in six months. No more of this two-year revision process! I'm a writer, dammit! This stuff oughtta just flow out of me like water! Heck, maybe I'll even write two novels this year!

You do: Re-read and revise, re-read and re-vise, re-read and revise, because it's that eighteenth draft that makes the difference, that scrutiny of choosing one word over another, that making sure you've woven your plot together without a dropped stitch somewhere that could potentially unravel the whole thing. It takes a little bit of time.

You think: I'm gonna sell a zillion copies, have my own merchandising empire with coffeecups and pillowcases and dolls that say catchphrases from my novel, and that's all before the movies get made!

You do: Publish your novel, obsessively check your Amazon rankings, and celebrate when the number of copies sold has exceeded your low expectations.

You think: This year I'm going to be the envy of my friends with my glamorous writing life!

You do: Thank God for your teaching job with health insurance while you're banging your head on the table after discovering halfway through your revisions that you wouldn't even buy this book if it were published. Heck, not even if it was free.

This year, I resolve to listen to what my characters have to say, write and read a little bit every day when I can (and some days writing is thinking), and accept that some days it's gonna suck and some days it's gonna be blissful. I'm going to try to be mindful in all areas of my life while allowing myself to play every chance I get. And when I'm not in the mood for any of it, I resolve to hug the teddy bear I got for Christmas (because I've decided you're never too old to have a teddy bear) and allow the words to come to me another day. Because they will. They always do.

As for the blog -- well, I can't make any promises.

Happy 2011, everyone. :)