Monday, July 30, 2012

Borrowed Truths

Who was it that said “Write what you know?”

“Write what I know…hmm…” A second later your face glasses over and your shoulders fall.

“I don’t know much. In fact, I don’t know anything. I’m not a flipping encyclopedia, am I? I can’t remember the last time I murdered someone, slopped pigs, filled a Senate post, adopted a child, won the lottery, or sailed on a clipper ship. How am I supposed to write convincing first-hand descriptions about administering poison or swabbing a deck?”

If it makes you feel any better, you can’t. It’s impossible. You will never get to the heart of the particular event or encounter like someone who sat on the front row.

“Well, then my writing career is over,” you say. “I’ll put down my pen and take up scuba diving.”

If that’s what you want, go for it. But don’t let a little thing like inexperience keep you from writing gripping imageries. You may not be Jack the Ripper, but I bet you’ve fallen victim to hatred or a moment of insanity at least once in your life. Draw on the dark side of your character, the times you’ve undergone such angst in similar settings and write as close to the situation as you can. Depend on colleagues, research, or the testimonials of convicted felons to fill in the gaps. Most readers haven’t a clue of what it’s like to shoot someone. Any research you glean is bound to satisfy to a near degree. As long as you pull from your store of authentic emotion, those who do reminisce about the good ol’ days might still relate to the borrowed truth of your made-up world.

After you write your scene, you may cringe at the angst, or at the million other sentiments your descriptions invoke. You’ll realize you’re close then, close though not exactly a serial killer. Nor should you believe writing about his antics will turn you in to one.

You laugh. You’ve worried about Stephen King for years. 

I’m sure he’s a perfectly normal guy.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Offering the Widow’s Mite

I’ve been thinking about inadequacy lately, and  how we often perceive ourselves less than we are. Like a disease, this malady—if allowed to develop unchecked—can stop us in our progression toward our goals. I’ve worked feverishly at my writing for over twenty-five years now and possess little proof of my efforts. As a result, occasionally, I fall victim to the life-sapping belief I’ve failed to reach my honored place in the industry.

The other  night I visited with a spiritual leader of the church I attend. I unloaded all my failures and weaknesses, confessing my lack in writing, in mothering, in marriage, in service…well, I included almost every aspect of my life in the equation. I drew a sympathetic smile from him, not for any lack I possess, but more for my misguided observation of who I am.
He talked of the parable of the widow’s mite and asked me what it meant. I thought about his question for a moment. My answer: However small the talent we hold, if we give everything we have, it is enough. He reminded me, “Worth more than all the rest.” 
That concept might be difficult for us to accept in this world of comparisons, in the sharp contrasts of one individual over another, but the concept rings true. The Savior didn’t look at the widow’s offering in any monetary value, only at her willingness to give all for her beliefs. Those who identified themselves as giving much, had actually held back more than they contributed, had elevated themselves to an honor they didn’t deserve.
What does this have to do with writing? Everything. Sometimes writers get sucked into the whirlwind of numeric successes—how many words, how much can we get, on what scale does our work compare to someone else’s. Not only does the emphasis take away from the joy of journey, but we demote our best efforts and forget our all is the most valued requirement. Who’s to say our steadfastness and the product of our efforts isn't praiseworthy? Does a measure exist that accurately describes our determination and ability to improve?
We should take note of how our words effect our own hearts, how the labor builds confidence and shows commitment as we learn. The rewards will come, maybe not as we hope or as soon as we desire, but if we even lift one soul with our words, we have accomplished something important. If, in the process, we change our own erroneous ideals, the rewards are even more priceless. And if in perseverance, we discover our love of the craft and the energy invested has helped more than just ourselves, we discover value far greater than the rest.
The thought gives pause. It gives new vitality to our writing. We and our struggles are worth far more than we realize. The sooner we accept this, the more productive and successful we will become.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Nasty Business of Writing

Am I the only writer who hates the business of writing?

The other day, I visited a blog where the author apologized for her infrequent posts. Instead, she was editing her manuscript.

What? How dare she write? Take her out back and flog her!

Publishing houses and their slow, highly-competitive, money-crunching mentality require writers to invest greater portions of their time selling their name and products. They don’t give out free marketing help anymore, especially to a lesser-known author. And if writers publish their own books, they are guaranteed even less time to write. Add an outside job, family, and keeping up with all the social platforms, and authors might as well shove available prime writing time nose first out a ten-story window.

How are writers to remedy this? The pat answer: They do the best they can and without apology.

Writers must plan to succeed. Even if they sell a book, the process will take years before they can survive on the craft alone. Thus, authors need a strategy, a means to achieve their writing goals. Below are just a few suggestions to make the road less bumpy:

  • Establish a set writing time. Listening to the muse only when the mood strikes or during different times each day is less productive than working on a specific schedule.  
  • Get organized. Apply the same talent used in organizing a book to the business of writing. Keep supplies and research where you can find them. Everything should have a place and a method in its application. 
  • Set goals. A to-do list helps. Plan the night before what writing takes precedence the next day. Check at the end of each session to reevaluate progress and adjust goals accordingly. 
  • Create a budget, stay within the parameters. Be realistic. 
  • Keep good records. Learn how to keep track of expenses and to do taxes. I know, I know, this makes me grumpy too. 
  • Keep contacts handy. Searching through cupboards for someone’s phone number wastes valuable writing time. 
  • Invest in a website, business cards, high-speed internet, a good computer, and printer. These are the necessities of the writing business, and they help writers present a professional face to the world. 
  • Get trained. Take a class, read how-to books, attend conferences, and join a support group (the operative phrase here is a support group. Avoid spreading yourself too thin). 
  • Most importantly, WRITE. Every day. Don’t allow business and organization to take over. Maybe the first item on your to-do list should reflect the purpose of the bits of housekeeping I’ve listed in this post.

Didn't we set out to write all along?