Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Time for Next Steps

Whatever those next steps may be.

My "Goodbye" advice to all of us is to Keep Writing.

Who knows? Some day, any of us may receive a rejection letter like this one:

Dear Bob Boulton:

Bob: Thank you for submitting your story to our little magazine. 

We regret, and we are all, all of us, in agreement on this, we regret we are not in a position to publish it. My goodness we can barely sleep at night at the thoughts of this decision.

We want to assure you that your story received due, even excessive, consideration just to make sure we haven't been acting hastily Nine months for a response time is a new record for us. Our editors, as we make very clear in our Submission Guidelines, are all unpaid volunteers who work day and night in the service of the Arts. Every last one of them read your submission and were, each f them, struck speechless. Not only do we ask your forgiveness for not publishing your story, we also ask that you never submit anything to us again. Your skill as a writer and your insights into Hunan Nature are simply so magnificent in comparison with the others who submit to us that for them to read what you have written would we think be unduly discouraging for them. Perhaps the Paris Review might want to look at your work.

But not us. 

Sincerely yours.

So, I will say goodbye to Bob's Write from the Start now with my final two words: Keep Writing.


Monday, May 10, 2021

Good Writing

Whether your story or poem is to be found in The New Yorker, The Paris Review or in your top desk drawer along with Emily Dickinson's work, no matter. Good writing is good writing. "Published" or "paid for" is different than "good". Likewise, bad is bad even if it's on the best seller list.

And, to make this even more frustrating, there are different kinds of "good". A successful author of literary fiction I know decided to write a Harlequin Romance and make some actual money. It flopped. No publisher would buy it. Even though she has all the technical craft / skill / art in the world, a Romance wasn't as, they say, "her".

Someone said,"Write what you can, not what you can't."

For a new or renewing writer, my experience tells me -- Don't be too quick to decide what you can and what you can't write. For me, those old devils "What should I write" and "What do other people think I should write" kept popping up.

Simultaneously, I needed to listen to what people connected with in my efforts, and to shake off then opinions of others. Maybe you don't. For me, Writing Groups have been so helpful in this regard. 

Try a lot of things -- short stories, poems, reviews, essays, whatever. The day will come when you can say to yourself, "This may or may not be Tolstoy, but this is my neighbourhood."

There is no single standard for "good". Except to say, what sells and what is good -- these are two different things. Sometimes they coincide, sometimes they don't.

As far as this blog has been concerned, I have tried to limit my self to "writing" rather than "getting published".

Best two pieces of advice I have ever received? "Avoid adverbs." and "Keep writing".

Friday, May 7, 2021

Moving On

Well, it's time I think to figure out a useful way to wrap up this blog. My hopes, were and are, to produce something ("musings" DH calls them) uniquely useful to those beginning to write or renewing their writing life.

There are many sites around where skills can be learned, priorities considered, trends commented on and so forth. What I found missing in my own efforts was "What's it like to be doing this writing thing? Am I delusional? Have others thought this or that, right or wrong?" (Or, in the words of Waylon Jennings about Hank Williams' career, "Are you sure Hank done it this way?")

After 5 or 6 yers of plugging away with a smidgeon or two of improvement and finding myself in at least the right neighbourhood of my own voice, my ability to help others because I too am a just-being-born writer is now past.

I'm not sure what my next stage is, but I'm guessing it will be just as painful, joyful and interesting.

For my upcoming final one or two blog posts, I'll put together a few sentences of what I may have learned, for myself at least, along the way.

Cheers. Bob.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

If It's Not One Thing It's Another

 It's so much easier to read other people's work and be amazed or delighted or aghast than it is to sit down and write something. Anything, just about. To engage in informed insightful discussions with writer cronies about the merits and otherwise of something we have all just read, how affirming. Perhaps accompanied by herbal tea. Or sherry.

So much more civilized than writing and sharing and afterward saying, "It's you now, OK, I guess.  That part near the end's pretty good, I think. Maybe."

And, reading often opens up possibilities for our own writing. Such a recent reading experience for me has been Suppose a Sentence by Brian Dillon, a book of essays about the pleasures and intrigues of selected single sentences from published books. I had hoped and anticipated it would be mostly about old friends. You know, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times" and so forth. It wasn't. Some of the authors, let alone the sentences, I have barely heard of. I was disappointed.


After reading through the book's entries, I found myself intermittently captivated. So much so that, one thought led to another and I decided to write a review of the book. A few more thoughts led me to what appears to be an eccentric online book review site. We'll see what they think of my pwn eccentric approach.

But, here's the thing.

I'm genuinely excited about this. Who could have guessed? This is not something I would ever have attempted without reading Suppose a Sentence. And an added instance of enthusiasm for my own writing work.


Added to the usual advice to developing writers such as I am of "Keep Writing" I feel confident to add "Keep Reading."

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Labels Categories and Such

When I think of poetry / a poem / a poet, there is a certain level of sophistication, evocation, and insight I imagine. Wallace Stevens, for instance.

So, when I write something that is sort of poetry, I have been reluctant in the extreme to call it a poem. Even more so, I am embarrassed beyond words to refer to myself as a "poet".

I need to discover the correct word. When I do write something from time to time, it is always as bad as the word"Doggerel" implies. "Verse" can sometimes, but not always, serve as the word for what I write, but "Versifier" is unbearable.

With the help of other colleagues, I have been pointed toward the poetry of Billy Collins (poet laureate so tough to argue); GK Chesterton (whose poems are lighthearted and have a certain bouncy rhythm); and now Tony Hoagland. And have been advised that what I write may be termed "narrative poems."

Somehow that nomenclature provides me with a certain stature. Don't you think? Perhaps not a Poet. But poet?

All in all, I think labels serve editors and publishers and some critics far better than they serve writers themselves. 

I am convinced that whichever of the 9 Muses is whispering over my shoulder -- or yours -- is not overly concerned with trends.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

The Semplica Girl Diaries


Everyone has his or her own individual path towards fulfillment as a writer. 

If I were searching for the most banal yet truest statement about developing as a quality writer, that would be it. There are nevertheless those who point to a particular technique or example or principle and say, "That's what good writing is all about." You can be certain these folks, experienced and excellent as they may be, are talking through their collective hats.

Often these same writers offer excellent advice. I'm beginning to think the most concrete feedback on a particular piece of writing is the most useful.

For me, I am at a\the point in my own apprenticeship when I am attracted to re-visiting some of my previous work with a view to improving it with whatever new skills I have developed over the past while. At the same time, I am also attracted to other writers whose work I am better able to appreciate now than before. 

Alice Munro (how wonderful she is. (I know you're sick of me referring to her.)

David Bergen as I mentioned in previous posts. 

And now, I have surprised myself by enjoying and admiring George Saunders. I am halfway through reading his short story "The Semplica Girl Diaries" in his book of short stories "Tenth of December". This is another example of what is possible to do -- I am unlikely to try to emulate it but its existence expands the possible. 

The fact that he worked on this story for "more than a dozen years" also makes him my kind of guy.

So, it's tempting for me to say, "So what you should do is review your previous work to revise it with your new skills; and read tons of writers who are new to you." That might make me sound like an expert and I am fully aware of how new writers struggle to locate a checklist of the right answers so they too can be published and fulfilled. They pay for courses and workshops editors and practice writing sites and what-not. These can be helpful for certain. The same ones, though, are not similarly helpful for all writers. 

And none of them, none of them, are magic. 

Monday, February 22, 2021

David Bergen 2

For me as an apprentice writer, the relief I found in reading Here the Dark was the very misgivings I mentioned above. 

Alice (there she is again!) Munro is so consistently magnificent (I'm running out of adjectives) it has been difficult for me to imagine ever writing anything as good as even my least favourite story by her. But in this book are stories of a quality that I can see myself attaining some long day from now if I work at it.

Not stories like his. He is definitely a literary writer -- and sometimes this strikes me as unnecessarily contrived. Oooh, see how sophisticated this is. But sometimes it's a wonderful structure. His stories often do not end in a finished resolution. It's as though we have experienced part of complex lives and relationships just like real life. But they have not been tied up into a neat bow. Just like real life.

So, the counsel of this developing writer is to read mostly good stuff, don't try to copy it (that will never work well) but glory in the realization that our own good work, accessing our own muse, is possible. 

Persistence, even (or possibly especially) in the face of lousy results, is one key. This I know for certain. Let us all, as a writing group colleague says, "Keep writing!"