Monday, March 26, 2007

Writer Bullshit: The Muse:

The muse is bullshit. Yeah, I know, I just shot a sacred cow. And what a way for me to re-enter my blog after a bit of a hiatus (was busy...writing. Heh I know, shocking)

The muse is a nice idea. It's a romantic metaphor, but too many people start to believe in it as some kind of literal immutable reality. “My muse isn't here today.” “I can't write when I don't feel inspiration.” blah blah blah. Bullshit.

As long as you have two hands and eyeballs and a working brain, you can write. (And really a working brain is the only requirement, since there are other methods of writing which don't require working eyeballs and hands.)

I believe the muse idea can be damaging to a developing writer and I don't accept it. I know from personal experience that most inspiration comes while in the act of writing, not before. If you don't start, you'll never get there.

The muse is like Dumbo's magic feather. You believe you need the feather to fly, but you really don't. You've got those big floppy ears that make you fly. The feather is just a nice idea. Magical thinking, but not real. YOU are the magic.

When you believe that, you'll be free of this silly belief that you have to be properly inspired to write. No you don't. I write quite often without a hint of inspiration and often my words from days of inspiration are not perceptibly better than my days when I wasn't inspired.

I know you want that first draft to be genius, but it's probably not going to happen. I know some people write and edit as they go along and end up with a perfect draft at the end of the novel. And if that's your method, I'm not going to knock it.

But I'm a draft writer. And anyone who has a paralyzing fear of the blank page, might try this method. The first draft is the crap draft. Really, it's awful. But if you start writing by draft, instead of expecting to get it right the first time, or before you can move on to other parts of the story, that mysterious and dreaded ailment, writer's block, is unlikely to darken your door.

How does one write the crap draft? You just write it. Really. Use an outline or don't use an outline. Have character sketches or don't have them. Just make a word quota for the novel, and a deadline can help. Then just write. ANYTHING. Really, you're characters will do something, I promise.

If you need proof of this, read: “No Plot, No problem” By: Chris Baty. If it was just his word only, you might not have to believe it. But tens of thousands of people meet up online every year to write novels (the crap draft) in one month and many of them succeed at it, and most of them just put words on paper without needing the muse to show up.

The most important thing to remember when you sit down to write the crap draft is: The words don't have to be right, they just have to exist. You can put the feather in the drawer now. And forget your muse. The muse works for you, not the other way around. If he gets uppity, fire him and keep writing.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Are you a Method Writer?

This post is inspired from a discussion on a yahoo group I'm involved in right now. When speaking of things like "Voice" there can be some VERY big differences of opinion.

Some writers believe that when you write, you expose your soul. It's about naked vulnerability. You aren't just telling a story, you are attempting to create art, because you are expressing a view/message about the world through a well crafted story. For the purpose of this post so there is no confusion, ART is when you SAY SOMETHING through a medium, be it a story, a painting, whatever.

It's not about being preachy/pedantic. Nor is it about writing Mary Sues. But it's very honest, very real. You can bet that this writer got turned on writing the sex scenes, laughed during the funny scenes, and cried during the sad scenes, even though they wrote it.

Perhaps these writers are Method writers. On the group, we were discussing method actors. Some actors like Dustin Hoffman absolutely BECOME the character. Others, just turn it on and off like a switch. The method actor may feel what they are doing is more "real" and the other actor may feel "it's just acting." Likewise, a method writer might believe they are "baring their soul" and "being honest and real" while a non-method writer might believe all writing is "fake."

Neither one is necessarily empirically "right" it's just that actor's/writer's way of approaching their craft. It's also a matter of differing philosophies. But what works for one actor, may not work for another, and so it is with writing.

There are also writers who try to completely separate their ego from the act of writing. (non-method writers) They are telling a good story and that's it. They have no desire to express the deeper parts of themselves. They don't plan to bare their soul, so don't wait for them to. They write the story, and then they clock out. That's their way.

I am a method writer. My characters are not me, but there is a facet/piece of me in them. I can't conceive of drawing from a brain outside of my own for information. (seriously, seeing my characters as speaking to me and telling me what they want told about them is too schizo for me.) I can study other people and I can try to understand their motivations, but everything I experience or do will always happen through the filter of my own perception and how I see the world. So therefore it will all be "me" in some sense, but very hopefully not in the mary sue sense. (Although if we got right down to it, the major problem with the Mary Sue is lack of honesty. Because they are built up as perfect idealism, and that's not real.)

I try to express things as honestly as I see them. I don't hide. I don't shy away from the material, I tell it as honestly as I can and I'm not afraid to show you my soul in the process. Now this isn't meant to imply that I think a "non-method" writer is a hack or is lying. I don't think that.

I DO think that many writers expose parts of themselves without understanding they are doing it. I really don't think you can write from a place of passion and yet have that passion completely separated from who you are as a person unless you're operating under some type of schizophrenic episodes. But I understand that for that type of writer, the "height" of their craft is to stay as much out of it as possible. (and I agree that author intrusion is bad.)

I'm more responsive to a writer who I feel has bared their soul. Their books tend to be elevated in my mind to art, and they stay with me forever. They weren't just telling a stylistically good story, but something that moved me. (Now don't get me wrong, you can bare your soul and either have nothing interesting to say to the world, or have a lack of stylistic talent, but that's another post...probably Wednesday's.)

Likewise I'm more responsive to an actor who is a method actor. More of the actor's self was given. It's the same with writing, more of the writer's self was given.

Writers who come from the other side of the fence see the "baring of the soul" writers as "self-indulgent" and all about their own "ego." But for a method writer it's not about ego, it's about sharing and being brave enough to reveal something very intimate.

Are you a "method writer?" Why or why not? How much of yourself do you reveal through your themes/stories?

Friday, March 9, 2007

More thoughts on rejection:

I forgot to post on Wednesday, it was a crazy day. Anyway... Welcome to Friday...


When submitting fiction you have two things going on: 1. seeking the right fit. And 2. creating the strongest manuscript and query letter it's in your power to provide. Number 2 is the only thing you have total control over. Number 1 is like dating. You'll have to kiss a lot of frogs.

I've come across a few personal blogs and websites where the writer just took rejection way too personally. They listed rejection after rejection and then went on about how impossible it is to ever get published and why waste the time and energy blah blah blah. (Well, I think...if you've determined that you're a 'lifer' in this thing called writing, you may as well write on a schedule and submit it.)

But the point is, this individual was completely disillusioned with “them” (the publishing industry.) And yes, I've had my own personal private more anonymous rants on this type of thing. It seems getting published just opens more cans of drama. Wheee. But yeah...not going there here, and probably not ever on this blog. Suffice it to say I think it's really na├»ve to believe that the world is your oyster once you're published and let's leave it at that.

But anyway on some of these: “I was rejected a lot of times which proves this is a big ole lottery and no one appreciates my brilliance” websites, you can view the actual query letter sent. And honestly and truly, I would have rejected them too.

Many times the query starts and ends with cliches and every single thing agents say PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DON'T PUT THIS IN YOUR QUERY, is in the query.

Such gems as:

“I'm an aspiring first time novelist.” (there is no need to shout this one from the rooftops)

“first book in a trilogy” (let them decide if they like this one first)

“my sister read this book and loved it.” (of course she does, she's your sister. I understand that everyone who likes me is going to like my work more than they would if I was a stranger because people WANT to like your stuff when they know you. A good friend of mine thought my rough draft of the paranormal was just brilliant and there was no reason someone wouldn't just snatch it up and publish it. I took that with a grain of salt because even I knew the book had a lot of problems. It definitely was NOT up to publishing standards.)

“I really think this book can be a bestseller.” (if the industry can't accurately predict a bestseller how can you? Most people do NOT hit the bestseller list with their first book. It indicates a bit of a “pipe dream” mentality if this is in your query letter.)

Instead of talking about how the publishing industry done you wrong and writing your own country song, go back to craft. Rework the novel, rework the query. Find someone who will be almost cruelly honest with you. People can tell you how wonderful you are after a book is published and it can't be changed. Work to change what you can actually change, rather than obsessing over what you can't.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Rejection and Validation:

Right now I'm in a yahoo group called Write_Workshop and a workshop is going on called “Rejection Hell” on how to cope with rejection. There is also a sister list for chatting called: Write_WorkshopChat.

We're up to day 3 of the workshop and it's about not losing your self-esteem due to rejection. (actually on Wed. 2/28 we're up to day 3 because I'm writing blogs ahead as the mood strikes me.)

I don't have "novel rejection" yet to go by. Because I just
haven't submitted any novels yet. If I know something isn't ready,
why send it out there? I've tried to determine if it's a "fear of
rejection" but I really honestly don't think that's it. It is a "I
know that one wasn't the one."

And while I could have worked to make it publishable...I was still
learning and finding my voice. I really think a lot of people rush
out the door too soon to try to get published. There shouldn't be all
this imagined pressure to publish while you're still learning how to
even say what you have to say.

But I have experienced rejection at the short story and article level.
And it rarely upset me for very long. I'd
be bummed maybe for an hour or so, but then I just went back to
whatever I was working on.

I mean I knew it wasn't personal. And I really believe that. Having
run my own business before, choosing someone else's work or not
choosing it really is just business.

I learned very early on, from a very different set of circumstances
outside of writing that you can't look to others to validate you. You
have to validate yourself. And not everybody will like you, period.

So you may as well stop trying to be anyone but yourself, because if
you change for acceptance, you might be accepted by one group, but
another group with shun you. That's just life.

Everybody won't like you. No matter how nice, smart, talented,
whatever you are. Someone will say you are a suck up. Someone will
say you're a smart ass, someone will say you're a know-it-all. And
from their perspective, it's probably true.

So it's more useful in the grand scheme to just look to form
connections with those, both in your personal and professional life
who DO get, like, and appreciate you or what you have to offer and for
whom you can return the same like and appreciation.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Pink Elephant: Writer's Block

You know there are some things that you just don't talk about in polite society. Like sex. Well, yeah, I'm not a member of polite society, so I talk about sex. And anyway, Stephen King says if you want to write, your days as a member of polite society are numbered anyway. I'm glad I got it out of the way early.

No, what I don't talk about much is Writer's Block. I don't believe in it. I believe I've said before that I don't believe in writers block unless you lose a hand or something. I don't believe it even when I have the classic symptoms. You know...whining, moaning, feeling like I can't write, lying back all dramatic on one of those fainting couches...

That's perfectionist's block, procrastinator's block, refusing to just type out the words so I can continue to be a prima donna block. But none of that sounds as glamorous or sexy as writer's block. Sure, the words I write, they might be shit. But if it's the crap draft, who cares? I can fix it later.

If it's revisions...well revising a novel is a big ass and not necessarily linear project. You make a big ole list about what you're going to do and you fix what you can when you can and don't spend hours obsessing over what you can't yet fix. It'll all come about in time.

Now some days I believe I am just exhausted. If you write several days in a row and feel tired, take a break. But call it a break. Calling it writer's block only serves to set it up in your head that such a thing exists, that writing isn't a choice, but something that flows magically from the gods. It's not a very empowering way to go about.

Of course this could be a quirk of me. I don't believe I get colds. I mean I believe they exist but I refuse to acknowledge if I get one. If I get the sniffles, I call it allergies and move on. Now the flu is something quite different, that I can't ignore or deny. But writer's block is sort of like a cold, even when I have the “symptoms” I call it something else and move on.