Sunday, May 5, 2019

Another Step in the Writer's Journey

Here are a few things that can happen -- insights, skill building as well as results -- when you write something. I will use my professional wrestling light verse mentioned in the previous post as an example of the good things that might happen. 

But first.

Some time ago, I wrote a deservedly unpublished piece about men I have known who use the diminutive of their name -- Jimmy, for instance -- way past the best-before date. I thought it was a clever cultural comment. Turned out, it wasn't. For at least three reasons that made themselves clear to me. 

First, there are some cultures where it is commonplace and, believe me, very acceptable. To have called Jimmy "Jim" would have been the equivalent of calling him "George" or "Hey you", or worse. 

Second, for some it is a mark of warm affection bestowed by others. As in, "What a great guy Johnny is."

Third, some men give themselves a "y" name. Our neighbour, "Ulysses William, was always called "Billy" by his family and himself.

The piece I worked hard on over many drafts (Discipline) was received by two Writing Groups with some respect for its structure and wording and so forth (Mastery) but it just didn't connect (Chemistry). They fulfilled their Community membership by letting me know their supportive but lukewarm reception, and I fulfilled mine by sharing the piece with them, listening to them, and weighing what they had to say.

On the other hand, and example of the good stuff that can happen when a developing writer such as myself ventures outside the boundaries of what "everyone agrees" is likely or even feasible.

After considerable effort (see previous post) I was able to shorten the "Wrestling" piece to 450 words. In the seemingly endless process (Discipline), I discovered I was writing more about my father and my relationship with him than about the actual wrestling match. This required some finagling (if that's a word) to be true to the lighthearted nature of the piece, and my father, and myself. (Mastery).

The piece was a combination of brief introductory prose and light verse. There are no boxes to tick on any publishers submission form for such a combination. This publishing fact was reinforced by both Writing Groups (Community). I listened but decided to forge ahead anyway because it felt write. (Delusion isn't a category, but often should be).
I ended up writing a 450 word Guest Column accepted by a local newspaper, The Sarnia Journal. The editor informed me that he was accepting it even though they almost never accept verse. But he liked it. And, ta da, there was a Letter to the Editor (my second ever) from a woman who said she didn't like wrestling but she admired the piece (Chemistry) enough to go to the trouble of writing a letter.

So, from all this I think I have learned that:

  • Technical proficiency, while often the prominent reason our work connects with readers, isn't always the only reason.
  • Pieces written outside established categories ( for example, prose plus verse) is risky if the goal is to be published by someone else. At the same time, it may be the right thing to do from the sole vantage of the work itself
  •  We often uncover our hearts in the process of writing something, even light verse about professional wrestling. Even if we thought we knew what we meant to write about.
Continued progress and good fortune in both our journeys.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Three Quarters of the Way Through a New Article

When I was a young teenager (bear with me), I loved to watch professional wrestling. The names were Lou Thesz and Dick the Bruiser and the Sheik and Larry Chene and Happy Farmer Humphrey. So, if you're thinking Hulk Hogan or Ice Cold Somebody-or-Other, you need to re-calibrate.

In any case, there was live wrestling in my home town of Sarnia and I have been welcomed as a Guest Columnist on more than one occasion by a local weekly newspaper (The Sarnia Journal) so I thought a neat little article about local wrestling back in the dark ages might be welcome.

Somehow that turned into a light piece of poetry. That didn't quite scan. And somehow, the more I wrote, the more my old wrestling flame wanted me to jam into this flimsy little vehicle I had begun to create. 

So, I had to start again. I am now at an 845 word mix of prose and verse. My newspaper has a maximum of about 450 words. He's an understanding editor, and I am always happy to work with him, but not that understanding.

So, now I'm on Draft 7, taking that to my Writing Group, pretty sure it is too long regardless of an editor's limitations.

For this work along, in tandem with annoying my wife, also understanding but not limitless, if the final article is published somewhere (I have a half an idea, maybe) I will receive Zero Dollars and a limited number of readers - including my cousins.

I will, however, have added to my writing skills and satisfaction.

This is the writing world for most of us - although it's possible I'm a little more compulsive than most.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Talent, a Stone and Pieces of String

I don’t know if I have the Talent to be a writer,” you say.
Put another way, “Is there any point in, I mean really, c’mon now, my even trying?”
First,” you say, “I’m sure I don’t have the Talent. And then I think I do because I want it so badly. I read what some other people have written and think I could never do that. Maybe I should just forget about all this writing business. And then the next day I think I really want to write. Mysteries, maybe. Science Fiction. Something. And then other days I think ‘this is stupid’. And then I get an idea for something else and I try again and I work harder. And then I trip over yet another difficulty.”
Some days, my Doubts take over my life and I spend all my time trying to figure out if I have the Talent, and I don’t really write anything. Or I write something I am just so dissatisfied with, and then I think what’s the point?”
I’ve read all kinds of articles such as 7 Easy Steps To Writing. Amazon lists over 20,000 titles under How To Write A Book. If I had any Talent, couldn’t I just pick one of these recipes and follow it? Yes? No?”
I’ve read about successful writers and everything seems to come so naturally for them. If I had any Talent, wouldn’t that be, shouldn’t that be, the same for me?”
It’s almost always there, isn’t it? Your Doubt. That stone in the writer’s shoe.
But, look around, up from your foxhole for a moment, and you will see that if you had no Talent, you would have no Doubt.
We have all looked at published authors, but all we see from them is the Porsche in the showroom, not the grease stains on the garage floor.
Sitting in your favourite writing room when it sometimes feels like solitary confinement; staring at the blank page; getting halfway through and realizing the rest of the story just won’t work. Hours spent editing; no one else understanding or caring about what you are doing; not making a dime but instead paying a reading fee for your work. Work they probably won’t publish. And, if they do publish it, your only pay may be inclusion entombed in an obscure anthology, something not even your cousin in Winnipeg will ever read again, cluttering up your bookshelf, calling out to you for one more re-edit, just to get it right. With all the worry and work you put into it, you can’t bring yourself to just toss the thing out. Now can you?
There is no multiple choice test for Talent the way there is for, say, knowledge. But there are hints, pieces of string, lying around waiting to be picked up.
You write something. You think it has possibilities. You pick up that piece of string.
You say you have a deep yearning to write. Do you have a deep yearning to pole vault or repair small engines or do close-up magic? Yearning is another piece of string.
If you didn’t have anything to say, you wouldn’t even think about writing. But you do have something to say, and a voice to say it with, and you know it. That’s another piece of string.
 As writers, we sometimes pause at the intersection of Walk and Don’t Walk, but we don’t need to live there a minute longer. There are lots of reasons to quit writing, but obsessing over whether or not you have the Talent is not one of them.
You have Talent. You know you do. Get your sweater dirty. 
Keep writing.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

I Reserve the Right To Be Smarter Today Than I Was Yesterday

Here are some useful ideas I'm reasonably certain are true.

The best explicit advice I have received in the past two years of writing has been "Write". It's all very well to talk about Writing, it and learn about it and read about it and so forth, but none of that gets you very far unless you actually write on a regular basis. Preferably until you can barely stand it any more. The only thing worse you can imagine is Not Writing.

The second best insight I have come to terms with by listening to others is that "Writing" and "Editing" and "Getting Published" and "Selling What You Have Written" are four distinct activities. I have discovered some things, by now, about writing. I know nest to nothing about any of those other things.

Writing Success " requires either:

  • Little reflection (Just Do It), or
  • Lots of reflection (The unexamined writing life is not worth living)
For me, the "lots of" option will not let go of my leg. For you, it may be a waste of time. Either may be just the right one for you.

If you are interested in what Writing Success means, I have some thoughts that may be useful.
  • We all need to distinguish between "Successful Writing" and "Successful Acceptance". This is difficult to do in the face of repeated "No's".
  • Everyone's definition of Writing Success is personal. We all contribute and find our satisfaction, not only in separate ways, but in different proportions.
  • No model is perfect. At the same time, some models are more helpful than others. 
  • Here is my updated version of the Four Factor Model of Writing Success -- Mastery, Chemistry, Discipline, Community. Mercifully brief descriptions will appear on the next blog installment.
For some of us, Writing Success looks relatively balanced:





For others, it is more like this:




For others, it would be this:




For others, this:




And so forth.

Now, when I am at my most sane, but have found myself immobilized, frustrated, out of time and ideas, I check to see if I am trying to achieve goals in all of the Four Factors immediately, simultaneously, and with excellence. Good luck, especially if you have not been writing for years.

The old joke response to "How do you eat an elephant?" is "One bite at a time." Some of us are happier and more gifted in one or two Factors, some or all of the time.

So be it.

Each of us is unique. 

But we're not likely Martians.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Four Factors of Success -- Community Footnote

Last night I read one of my shortish verses at a Writer's Group. It was intended to be wistfully reflective about losing love. 

Oops! Instead, it was greeted with disbelieving laughter, clearly regarded as some sort extended double entendre - a hundred miles from my intention. 

First I will tear all drafts of the verse up, burn them, and scatter their ashes. One of the virtues of a Writing Group is that you can be happily humiliated by other writers in a safe setting.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Dr Bobby Greenleaf Lovejoy - Question

There has been considerable speculation regarding the current whereabouts of the good Doctor.

Now that Labour Day has come and gone, we are, all of us kids, looking forward to Halloween. In previous years, Dr Bobby has gone out nowhere except, perhaps, to the greasy spoon with great soup down the street. He let the Halloween world come to him, thank you very much.

But now that he has been captured by the poets' muse, perhaps this Halloween anything is possible.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Mastery, Chemistry, Discipline, Community - today Discipline

Discipline. Not much inspiration in that word.

Yet, if we are serious about the art and craft and heart and spirit of writing, consistent creative effort and diligent hair-tearing reworking is part of the deal.

Now, it’s true, we do encounter writers who report being able to run, pretty much, with their first draft. Mavis Gallant, a fine and prominent author indeed, often wrote her first and final draft in one sitting. Good luck locating another example.

It probably isn’t you.

The rest of us, inspired or not inspired, need to write regularly.

Writer’s block in the creative process? Use the internet, or your friends, or the back of a cereal box for writing prompts. Stare out the window. Go for a walk. Do whatever is both healthy and helpful for you.

Write regularly.

Soul crushing frustration in the editing and polishing process? Well, the childlike quality of the writer’s process is usually in inverse proportion to the number on the draft. Sorry. But you’ll feel better when you reach the final version. Usually.

Write regularly.

Here are some potential disciplined effort measures. Select one or two of these for yourself. Or create your own.
  • No less than 300 words a day, five days out of seven. (Poets pick a number.)
  • Self-imposed deadlines
  • Word count each sitting
  • Number of stories, novels, poems, different forms tackled
  • Number of pages produced each day / week
  • Number of pages edited / revised each day / week
  • Number of hours spent writing / revising each day / week
  • Number of words generated each day / week
  • Percentage of writing time that is mostly joyful

If we can’t build our mansion today, let us build a birdhouse.