Archive for January 24th, 2014
I’m a writer, not quite professional (as in, no sales, yet), but I’m focusing on craft, and project revisions to increase those chances. If they say that it takes, on average, about 10 years of slogginng and crafting, and drafting and redrafting – once the writer starts to take things really serious – I’d guess I’m somewhere in the middle of that.
A few things that Scalzi recently posted got me thinking about career aspirations, and the existential question of “why am I doing this?” also interpreted as “what do I hope to gain from this?” Then I started reading Prince of Stories (about Neil Gaiman) last night, which added a subtle funk of inadequacy. (Judging from the three original posts below, I’m guessing there’s a degree of reflection going around in the water.)
But this current bout, with me, started anew with the Scalzi posts. First up, a discussion of Seasons (which includes a baseball analogy…if you don’t get it from the context, check out the original post):
Being published (by major publishers primarily, but with some notable exceptions) is like being in The Show. It means that you’re working at the top levels of your field — just having a book out there in the world means you’ve got skills that distinguish you from the mass of people who hope to be where you are. It’s an accomplishment in itself.
But as with major league players in their idiom, not every author is going to be an instant, obvious success. Not every book is going to get into the bestseller lists. Not every book is going to get nominated for an award. Some writers have instant hits; some have to keep at it for years, slowly building an audience of readers. Some authors will never hit it big; some that do hit it big will have it happen just once. Sometimes authors will be dropped from their publishers and need to find another one. Sometimes they will have to use a different name to get published again (and sometimes they will be a hit under that different name). Sometimes the book an author thinks is their best will sink while something they think as inconsequential is a major hit.
Hurley first (edited for select bites, for brevity here, but the whole of the original is well worth a read):
It was the answer to a question posed to Kevin J. Anderson in an interview, about what he thought a writer required most in order to succeed in the profession.
So I wrote “Persistence” on a sticky note and pasted it to my chunky laptop.
I have it pasted above my computer monitor, still.
The question was, how long?
I’d soon realize persistence wasn’t an end game. It was the name of the road.
It’s persisting in the game after you know what it’s really all about. After the shine wears off. It’s persisting after all your hopes and aspirations bang head first into reality.
But it got me to thinking again – what’s my measure of success? Is it money? Copies sold? Or is it the act of persistence itself, the act of continuing to write when everybody tells you it’s a bad deal, and you should just suck it up and stop?
Persistence, I realized, was not the end goal. It was the actual game.
This shit takes time. It takes input. It takes other people. It takes self-evaluation. It takes knowing when a book is wrong and when to dust off your hands because it’s right. It’s about not worrying about getting to perfect because no such thing exists.
Your writing career will be long. Lots of peaks and valleys. Lots of digging in dirt, lots of learning “wax-on, wax-off,” not sure how waxing a fucking car will teach you goddamn karate. Lots of living to do, lots of reading to do. A world of of thinking, what feels like literal tons of doubt pushing down on your neck and shoulders. And, obvious to some but not obvious to all:
It’ll take a lot of writing.
I own that it’s my career to make, to write the best stories I can, as clean as I can.
I vascillate between: (mentally) kicking myself for waiting so long to focus on craft/not doing more, reading more sooner than my mid-30s versus accepting that I was not in the right head-space for anything beyond just putting words on a page to matter (aka – “craft” wasn’t a priority). The old “spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak” thing, and it took until I was staring at 30 for it to click tht if I was going to write, I needed to get on that shit.
While I had a creative writing degree (BA), I was rusty and knew it. I was 10 years removed from writing anything more than random scenes, snippets, initial explorations of ideas. Each experience over the last few years has accelerated my thinking, carved years off the trial and error of going it alone. The MA got me writing again – and an “honorable mention” for a short story. Scott Card’s Writer’s Workshop gave me new understandings on story, and how to read for technique (including how to read for critiques). Viable Paradise, similar – about logic and causality for world-building, and craft. [A 1-on-1 session with TNH laid the foundation for revision clarity – how to think about each word in a draft, and assess its necessity/focus word choice for brevity and effect.] The MFA for writing a novel…how to think in novel terms, and refining that long of a project. [Thanks to TE’s thorough notes, I’ve discovered many foibles that I put into a first draft – favored words/phrases or other tics – and how to rethink them, or limit their pervasiveness. Point of note, see my Hemingway post.]
Which, I guess, is a long winded way of saying: I get the mindset of the long game (“the long con” as Hurley and Wendig call it). I’m doing this because the nagging of ideas has always been there. To say I can’t not write isn’t quite right; I can’t not think about story seeds, and wonder, “What about…?” I’m doing this because some of the ideas nag me enough that I can’t get them to leave me alone, they keep swimming back up, poking at me like a country kid pokes a stick at road kill. Like Scalzi suggests in his piece, hell yes I want to make it to The Show, have work that can be considered what Wendig identifies as “good enough for the bouncers to let into the club.”
I’m doing this to be a role-model for my kids, that you have to work for what you want. You have to work to follow your dreams. I’m doing this so that, if nothing else happens, they’ll have something tangible as a way to connect with me. [That’s a major thing for me, and why I’m keeping a journal for JH at the moment, and plan on starting others for the twins.]
I’m okay with the long game, even though I may frustrate the hell out of myself at times in the short run.
I’ve made no bones about advocating that writerly folks should check out (the Hugo Award-Winning!) Writing Excuses podcast. One of the folks on the cast, indeed likely the one with biggest name recognition when they started, is epic-fantasy author Brandon Sanderson.
This year (the 2013 season), one of the stretch goals included ” Brandon Sanderson – Live Streams a Story.” As Sanderson describes it:
…this is going to be so very much more than such a simple sentence indicates. If we hit Pat’s goal, I’m going to get on Twitch.tv (a streaming site with an integrated viewer chat) and then I’m going to brainstorm and write a story according to audience direction.
That’s right, I’ll let you have a say in deciding turning points, descriptions, and general mayhem in the story. I’ll explain what I’m doing each of the way via Twitch’s integrated webcam feature, and will try to do an extended Q&A as well.
The thing happened last week, and the full video is here. If you’re interested in process (especially if you’re a fan of Sanderson’s), go check it out. WARNING: the full video’s about 4.5 HOURS long, so you may need to plan for installment viewing unless you have a large block of time to devote to the feed.
As of this writing, there’s still a few stretch goals to be unlocked, and just over a week before the 2013 iteration closes, if you are inclined to donate or bid on any ofthe remaining auctions.
Sometime last year I read Writers Workshop of Science Fiction and Fantasy. An article by Joe Haldeman struck me, enough so that I felt a need to write about the resonance. (Hmmm… looks like I first started this in August, 7th to be exact.)
The article? “Hemingway Talks About Writing”
Haldeman muses in response to a Hemmingway essay, titled “A High Seas Letter: Monologue to the Maestro.” He describes the piece as an 8-page essay of writing advice to “a young hobo [that] showed up on Hemingway’s doorstep, asking whether Hemingway could teach him how to write.”
My first reaction was to seek out a copy of the original article (here’s one version).
One of the Hemingway insights in that article (and what initially triggered my desire to respond) indicates drafting by hand. [quote below from the original Hemingway]
After you learn to write your whole object is to convey everything, every sensation, sight, feeling, place and emotion to the reader. To do this you have to work over what you write. If you write with a pencil you get three different sights at it to see if the reader is getting what you want him to. First when you read it over; then when it is typed you get another chance to improve it, and again in the proof. Writing it first in pencil gives you one-third more chance to improve it…It also keeps it fluid longer so that you can better it easier.
I started doing this (with fountain pen, not pencil) a few years ago, motivated in part by Neil Gaiman’s process. [Not specifically because Neil does it, but in trying to figure out a process that works for me, I discovered sitting in front of a computer to compose didn’t. That might change if I try speech-to-text software, but I found scribbling on paper disconnected the inner-critic enough to get something out.]
That same essay includes the “stop in the middle” advice that is often referenced, but also the advice to edit as you go (ie – read over/polish the previous day’s work at the start of a new writing day). That last one, I think, is the best skill to master early.
From the Haldeman piece, the Hemingway essay strikes me as something that should be handed out early in a creative writing course, supplemental material in a course pack, for students to consider while trying to figure their own workflow/approach.