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.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Mastery, Chemistry, Discipline, Community - today goodbye to Productivity

In writing, as in everything else, it is easier to know that "something" feels wrong, or flawed, or misstated than to know what that "something" could be. 
Is it worth any effort to revise it? Or should you just throw out the whole kit and kaboodle? Make a few changes around the edges? Leave it as it is, and hope no one notices? Or, rework it all? 
Will anyone care, or even notice, except you? And, if only you care, is that enough reason to make an effort? If so, how much effort and how many hours is the overhaul worth?
My answer, in the case of our Four Factors of Success in Writing, was to change "Productivity" to "Discipline".
If you have not already fallen asleep, you can read the short version of how that came about. 
First, I was, finally able to internalize that success in writing is, if you'll pardon the adverbs, entirely and emphatically different than success in publishing. Ask Emily Dickinson.
Second, I came to realize that my confusion resulted in part from latching onto external signals. Name a successful writer? Why, J K Rowling. She makes gazillions. 
Third, among groups of writers, the most animated -- and endless --  discussions are more often about how and where to get published; and less extensively about the writing itself. Not always, and not in every setting, but often. 
Even students in writing workshops often confuse the kind-of sort-of wanting to write well with the really-really wanting to be published.
Nothing the matter with getting published as a number one priority. I'd like to be on all the bestseller lists too. 
But, Getting Published would be a separate blog.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Four Writing Books That Have Opened My Eyes

Many of us hold two conflicting thoughts about learning in our minds at the same time. 

One, everyone best learns differently. 

Two, everyone, surely, best learns the same way I do.

Which is why I was simultaneously surprised and unsurprised at a recent Writers' Group meeting when a member stated in passing that he had never read a book on writing, that he never intended to do so, and that he just goes about writing in his own way, guided by his own lights. What's particularly annoying is that he is a good writer of both imaginative fiction and non-fiction.

Another good writer, of short stories this time, finds courses and workshops most helpful. Another likes a particular online course that includes various improbable assignments.

So, I offer this list of four books knowing (reluctantly knowing, I must confess) that not every writer will rush to read them.

I also know that another Writing Group colleague read one of these books, and recommended it for passages I could only vaguely recall - while I benefited from other parts of the very same book.

Here they are, then, all very different, each speaking to a different aspect of our vocation, so therefore listed in no particular order. I know I have mentioned some of these before, but the list has now grown to Four.

  • Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process by John McPhee
  • Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg
  • Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on the Writing Life by Anne Lamott
  • Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Mastery, Chemistry Productivity Community - today Productivity

Productivity is the ratio of Output to Input. In commercial enterprises, the usual productivity measure used is the amount of revenue earned divided by the number of paid hours worked. To use this traditional productivity measure for writers is not meaningful.

So, I have used Productivity to mean anything that has a number attached to it. How much? How many? How often? How soon?

My personal experience, including my experience listening to others who write, is that Productivity can be, simultaneously mind you, the most boring, infuriating, frustrating, soul-killing, elating, prideful, discouraging, ignored, fixated-upon, dismissed-as-irrelevant,or disappointment-inducing factor of the four measures of success. And the Productivity factor, depending on the writer, is either the least discussed, or most talked about aspect of writing, accompanied by either the greatest fanfare or the most modesty.

Please keep in mine, Emily Dickinson would have scored pretty close to zero on many of the Productivity factors listed below.

The Productivity notion, as with Community and the other factors, is for you to select the metrics you want to measure yourself by. And, so you may retain your sanity, ignore the rest at least for the time being.

So, for example, and in no order whatsoever:

  • Self-imposed deadlines
  • Group, publisher or other external deadlines
  • Word count specifications
  • Line length specifications
  • Number of stories, novels, poems written
  • Number of stories, novels, poems submitted
  • Number of stories, novels, poems rejected
  • Number of stories, novels, poems published - no revenue
  • Number of stories, novels, poems published - some revenue; or revenue over / under $X; or $ Advance
  • Number of speaking / workshop engagements, offered
  • Number of residencies, teaching positions, offered
  • Number of requests for coaching, mentoring
  • Number of requests for more stories, etc.
  • 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
  • Number of submissions per acceptance or dollar earned
  • Amount of time ignoring / sacrificing the rest of my life
  • Percentage of writing time that is mostly joyful
  • Number of forms (poems, light verse, short stories, flash fiction, biography, etc.) tackled
  • Year-to-year increase / progress in productivity

So, the writer who produces the final version of a short story in one hour, submits it to one publisher who pays her a million dollars for it, and who receives a tenured professorship from a prestigious university would have an extremely high Productivity score.

Personally, right now for me, I'm pretty happy when colleagues say they like what I have written, offer constructive suggestions for improvement and, sometimes, a magazine or newspaper says "Yes".

That's a higher Productivity standard than I had for myself a year ago. 

Thanks to everyone, you know who you are, who have helped.