Category Archives: Spiritual Side of Writing
I wish you all a healthy, prosperous, abundant and joyous New Year. To my writer friends, I wish you rivers of words flowing easily and well, and mountains of eager readers. To everyone else, whatever your New Year’s wish is, I hope it is granted.
This holiday season has as usual been full of wonderful things–including some better-than-normal TV commercials. I was especially impressed with the beer company campaign showing crazed spots fans trying to influence the outcomes for their favorite teams with all kinds of odd rituals, and the tagline on the commercial: “It’s only weird if it doesn’t work.”
And doesn’t THAT speak to us as writers?
Writers are by nature superstitious. We never really know where the words are coming from, and when they’re going well, we want them to continue. When they’re not, we want to start the flow again. Either way, we’re never sure it’s what’s inside us that makes that happen, so too often, we ascribe it to an outside force we have to woo and anxiously placate.
What’s YOUR superstition as a writer? Do you have more than one? (C’mon, we all know writers have superstitions, whether they ever admit to them or not.) Do you give in to your superstitions or have you tried to bat them away and act like a ‘normal’ person? (Who am I kidding? If writers were normal, we wouldn’t be writing.)
I have a number of superstitions that affect my writing. Most I won’t mention, because as everyone worth their superstitions knows, the minute you tell it, you destroy the magic. (A lot like telling the story of your novel during a drunken evening with your friends–that’s a guarantee it’ll never get written.) And I’m in no mood, on this first day of a beautiful new year, to destroy any magic that might be coming my way in 2014.
But I’ll tell you about my superstitions involving numbers. It’s one of my longest-lasting superstitions, and as of this writing, it’s still true.
I have a peculiar relationship with the numbers 3 and 8.
They’re–well, how shall I put it? Lucky?
All I know is, whenever the numbers 3 and 8 show up in my life, something positive follows. For instance, 12 years ago when we left Chicago to move down to Charleston, and I was setting up our new phone service, I found out the area code for this part of South Carolina was 843.
An 8 and a 3–in the area code! That’s when I knew the move was going to be a good one. (And it has been; this has been by far the best place I’ve ever lived.)
At that time, the telephone company allowed you to pick your own phone number, and when I asked the woman on the phone for something with double numbers (easy to remember) that included the numbers 3 and 8, she suggested one that ended in 8833. And the other three digits, added together, came out to 8.
I’ve had that same phone number for 12 years. My South Carolina driver’s license also features the numbers 8 and 3, and the digits on my license plate come out to 3 (both through random circumstances–I had nothing to do with them). Are you starting to see a pattern here?
In choosing the price for two of my 2013 novels–STEALING FIRE and FORWARD TO CAMELOT: 50th ANNIVERSARY EDITION–I explained my superstition to my publisher at Drake Valley Press. She was totally on board with it, and together we experimented with combinations of numbers till we came up with pricing that would be fair for the books while still favoring my 3 and 8 trend (STEALING FIRE is $8.99 for the eBook, $17.99 for the paperback, FORWARD TO CAMELOT at $8.99 for the eBook, $23.88 for the paperback–add up the numbers and reduce to a single digit–it works).
I certainly can’t claim those digits affected sales, but STEALING FIRE became a #2 Amazon bestseller within a day or so of going live in July. CAMELOT has received the best reviews I’ve ever gotten, and both books were named to separate Top Ten lists for Best Reads of 2013. It will be interesting to see whether the pattern continues as both books continue in the marketplace.
Ultimately, what matters here is nothing but my belief that those numbers affect my outcome. When I see them in relation to a phone number, an address, or any other numerical designation, they make me smile. They make me trust.
Do they make me a better writer? Well … if I believe I am as a result of those numbers, then yes, I am. If I’m relaxed enough to do my best work because of some ephemeral (and probably silly) but recurring pattern that seems to bode well for me, then everyone involved with my work benefits. And so far (knock on wood), the 3’s and 8’s in my career haven’t let me down. Something good always follows when I spot them. (And yes, I’m looking.)
My mother always laughed at superstitions and said they were ridiculous. She may be right. I’m the only one who goes hunting for those numbers and lights up when they show up. Probably they don’t mean anything at all.
But, I mean, why take the chance?
What’s YOUR superstition??? And might it have anything to do with a new year meaning a fresh start and a new chance to do your best work?
Happy, happy Thanksgiving! This holiday wish goes out not only to all my American friends, family and colleagues, but also to those who may not celebrate Thanksgiving as a holiday (to be followed shortly by the ritual of Black Friday, which will make a man out of you even when you’re a woman). I believe that we need to take time to give thanks often. One day is not enough. But it’s good to have the reminder.
As writers, we need to be thankful for many things, and we need to remember how much we’ve been given. On days when we can’t think of a thing to write, it’s easy to forget all the words we’ve already written. When we don’t know how to get to the top of the mountain, we forget that we’re the ones who put up the mountain to begin with, and hey, we can move it if we want to. We can lop off a few feet or we can shrink it down to a hill, or a footpath. But we always have the choice.
We have many blessings as writers, and counting them often is a good exercise. It makes that mountain a lot easier to climb, in the long run.
This year especially I have so much to be thankful for. Every year at New Year’s I hope for the following year to be transformative. 2013 really was, and I believe my life and career will be substantially better going forward. I’m sure you have your own list of writerly blessings. Here, in no particular order, is mine:
1) My family, especially my two wonderful sons. Thank you for Colin’s scholarships to Clemson and for Kenny’s injury-free baseball seasons (all of them) and for all the time I’ve been able to spend with them, and for their forgiving me the times I didn’t. The truth is, much as you want the whole world to stand still and gape at your brilliance, there are days when you’re less than brilliant, and sometimes even less than kind. On those days (and the joyous ones as well), it helps to have people who love you and root for you. I will never forget that after Colin read the original version of FORWARD TO CAMELOT, his response was, “Gee, Mom, it didn’t suck.” I may embroider that on a sampler one day.
2) The three books I’ve published this year: STEALING FIRE and FORWARD TO CAMELOT: 50th Anniversary Edition, through Drake Valley Press, and REALIZING YOU (through CreateSpace). I’m so grateful they were out on time and for the wonderful reception they’ve all received so far.
3) Kevin Finn, my co-author on CAMELOT, for his patience and perseverance (especially when I argued) and for his talent, wisdom and willingness to concede on occasion (which I’m not sure I would have had the strength to do). His editor’s eye and his ability to coax me into cutting made the final version of this novel by far the best we have ever done. I believe the novel’s amazing reviews are due, in part, to the work we did this summer, cutting it down from an unwieldy 488 pages to a tighter and more manageable 382 pages. Thanks, Kevin.
4) Ron Doades, my co-author on REALIZING YOU. Ron and I struggled for a long time to create an entirely new genre, which was never easy, but his patience and optimism made the process so much simpler than it could have been. His vision for a new kind of self-help book was the catalyst for an amazing journey we both took. Thanks for inviting me along, Ron.
5) Drake Valley Press, for its hard work, prompt turnaround and endless dealings with the details. The company’s belief in STEALING FIRE and CAMELOT supported me greatly through two back-to-back production cycles. I’m not sure I could have gotten through it without their encouragement.
6) The reviews, which lifted up my heart with every line. Astonishingly, there hasn’t been a SINGLE negative review of any of the books, which is almost unheard-of. One of the two 3-star reviews of STEALING FIRE began, “STEALING FIRE is an exceptionally well written novel” and ended with “Perfect ending. Great beach read.” If that’s the worst thing I ever hear about something I wrote, I have NOTHING to complain about!
7) The cover art, which was an exercise in frustration on CAMELOT and REALIZING YOU and only went smoothly with STEALING FIRE, where I discovered almost at once the right image and already had the right color and font, so everything came together when they were blended. Kevin and I fought some of our toughest battles over the new cover for CAMELOT, and Ron and I went back and forth for the better part of a year over the final cover and cover text for REALIZING YOU. Nonetheless, they all came together beautifully, and just looking at the paperbacks on my bookshelf makes me happy. Thank you to the designers and publishers for a masterly job.
8) My author photo on STEALING FIRE and CAMELOT (same pic), which was beautifully shot by photographer Vicki Faith. I knew what I wanted to look like but wasn’t sure all those qualities could come out in a single image. She managed it, and bonus–it looks great on both book covers and every website where the image is displayed. Thank you, Vicki. You made me look glorious!
9) The readers who have already bought it and enjoyed it, and those who will in the future. The deep dark truth is, I don’t really write for readers. I write because I have an impulse I can’t resist. It makes me want to get it down on paper and it’s impossible to deny. The pleasure of crafting the story as I see it and then seeing it finished, as though by a force outside myself, is the greatest joy of my life. That others actually want to read it–and enjoy the experience–is the greatest bonus on earth. I am thankful for that impulse and the process that draws others to my work, and with all my heart, I pray it continues for the rest of my life and beyond.
10) Most of all, my heart goes out to God with thanks for the gift He has given me. It is so easy to think that what you can do, what seems to come naturally, is of no value–or that everyone else can do it too, so it’s not that important. If I’ve learned anything worth knowing this year, it is that this gift is only given to a few, and those who are given it are expected to use it constantly and wisely. It’s not for me to say whether I have used it wisely, or whether my efforts in the future will count as wise. I do know that this time, these last few years, are the first time I have felt I knew what I was doing as a writer. Whatever my shortcomings and whatever other writers can do that I can’t, I can still do what I’ve done this year. I’m very, very proud of all I’ve accomplished, and it’s clear to me that the only way forward for me is with my writing and with what I will learn through each new project.
My best wishes to everyone within reach of this blog, for the happiest of holidays, and especially for those writers who are struggling, for a way to find your light in the darkness. I promise, no matter how it seems right now, it’s there.
Today’s post is a combination of two posts I wrote recently for other blogs, about a strange but undeniable phenomenon that most writers don’t talk about… because it freaks us out. But I’m coming out of the ether (and the closet) to discuss it here, and invite you to share your own stories, if you dare:
Cue the creepy music …
Here’s today’s question for all you writers:
Have you ever written something as fiction that later actually happens?
So have other writer friends of mine. We can’t explain it, and we can’t control it. And when it happens, we think it’s cool… and a little scary. Believe me, this isn’t something we trying to do.
But I think I have an inkling of how it happens.
There’s a very famous example of this (I’ll tell you my own story later). A writer named Morgan Robertson published a novella titled Futility about the world’s greatest ocean liner, which on a voyage in April in the North Atlantic struck an iceberg on the starboard side and sank, 400 nautical miles from Newfoundland. There were not enough lifeboats for all the passengers, and more than half of those on board died.
Sound familiar? Of course it does. It’s the story of the Titanic. Heck, that’s not fiction; it’s history.
Except it’s not. Futility was published in 1898, more than 14 years BEFORE the Titanic set out on its maiden voyage, and years before it was even designed, let alone built. Yet Robertson eerily forecast the name (Titan/Titanic), the iceberg, the exact spot of the sinking, the lifeboat issue, almost the exact speed at which the ship was traveling, and the fact that the voyage took place in April in the North Atlantic and the ship struck the iceberg on the starboard side.
No one’s ever figured out how he did it. As a writer, I’m sure he was just… picking the story out of the ether, as it came to him. It’s what we all do.
He picked another story out of the ether in 1914, which described a sneak attack by the Japanese in the Philippines and Hawaii that began a war in the month of December–which described exactly the attack on Pearl Harbor, which happened in December 1941. Obviously, this is a guy who was really tuned in.
Now while you’re considering that, let me tell you about mine.
When I was fifteen I began writing my first stage play. I had first seen Jerry Lewis on TV when I was about nine, and I just loved him. (Still do.) But I didn’t know he had ever been teamed with Dean Martin, and when I found out, it shocked me, because their careers had taken such divergent paths afterward. So I decided to write a play that began with the breakup of a similar comedy duo, followed them through the years and ended at a charity telethon (modeled after you-know-what). I worked on it for years, and finally wrote the last scenes in July 1976. I set the first scene onstage at a New York nightclub, where the duo did a song and dance that ended their partnership. The entire third act took place at the telethon, where the penultimate scene showed the two reuniting onstage.
Six weeks later came the Labor Day telethon, a staple of our holiday weekend. And lo and behold! There was Dean Martin, walking onstage with Frank Sinatra (who engineered the whole thing), greeting a truly stunned Jerry Lewis with a hug. It’s a beautiful moment; you can watch it on YouTube.
But… I wrote it before it happened, virtually the way it happened.
And that first scene I told you about, the nightclub scene where they ended their partnership? I didn’t know it at the time, but that’s actually the way Martin & Lewis broke up—their last engagement was at the Copacabana in New York, the most famous nightclub of its time. I had no way of knowing. But somehow, I just knew.
It’s happened to me on other writing projects, too, most recently on the novel Forward to Camelot: 50th Anniversary Edition, and I don’t consider myself psychic. But I’ve thought about this a lot. Here’s my explanation, because I don’t believe in coincidence, and I do believe in the energy connecting us all.
When writers truly get ‘plugged in’ on a project, we not only plug into our own creativity and our passion for the project; on some level we plug into the universe, too, on our own crystal-clear frequency. We pick up invisible threads of information floating out there in the ether, which we call inspiration but might also be old stories still hanging around, or new events about to unfold. When we’re in the flow with our writing, we somehow have access to all that energy, and it just comes to us, as naturally as a bee to a flower. And we think of it as inspiration, when it might be real but invisible history, or the energy of an event about to happen. I also think we can only access it at moments when we’re really plugged in, through our writing. (You could say this is related to Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious.) It won’t work if you try to access it. There’s all kinds of magic out there in the ether, but you can’t chase it or command it; you can access it only when you and the universe are truly one.
So the next time you’re writing (cue creepy music here), be careful what you’re writing about. Because it may not be just a story. Your thoughts really can become reality… and do you really want that vampire strolling down Fifth Avenue?
Think about it.
Today’s blog is a re-posting of one I wrote for Nanowrimo participants as a pep talk in March 2012. It was published at http://www.nanowrimo.org. As I’m currently doing the (very last, I swear!) edits on STEALING FIRE before it goes to final production, this pep talk is perfect for my own state of mind. (The 1983 novel I mention in the blog is STEALING FIRE – and sadly, no, it WASN’T published last year. See what I mean?) Has this ever happened to you? Be honest:
For some of you, this year’s Nanowrimo is the first time you’ve sat down to write a sustained piece of fiction, and if so, my hands hurt from applauding your effort. I’m not sure anything in the world is harder than sitting in front of a blank computer screen (or piece of paper) and dragging something into creation that didn’t exist before. It takes all kinds of hard work, optimism and courage to put down one word, let alone 50,000 (or however many you’ve racked up). You deserve all the kudos in the world. Bravo.
For others, this is not the first time you’ve written fiction – or tried to write fiction. My hands hurt even more for you because you already KNOW what kind of effort is required – and in Nanowrimo, the take-no-prisoners approach to writing a novel, there’s no time to catch your breath and reflect. (Let’s be honest; there’s barely time to use the bathroom.) But you’ve written your words and now you may be facing an issue that could be the most difficult of all to overcome:
YOU’VE TOTALLY FALLEN IN LOVE WITH YOUR NOVEL.
This is partly a good thing – it’s kept you writing this long.
It’s also sometimes not so good – because it could lead to that desire to make it PERFECT – which is completely counter-productive to ever getting it finished. You won’t let it go until every phrase and every comma is touched by the hand of the divine (or at least a divine fingernail.) You’ll solicit endless opinions and rewrite endlessly. You owe it this kind of painstaking care; it’s your baby and given just a-little-more-time, you know you can make it perfect. But unless you can find it in you to LET IT GO, it can never really be a novel.
I know a little about this.
When I started writing books for hire years ago, I was always given a deadline, which I always met. Always. (I didn’t completely understand what `breach of contract’ meant and I was too scared to want to find out.) This meant that sometimes I wrote books badly or haphazardly or (once) hardly even knowing my subject (that was fun), but they got to an editor’s desk when they were supposed to.
How did I do it? Easy. I wasn’t emotionally invested in them. They were someone else’s idea and concept that I was hired to execute. So I thought of the job as sort of like writing a term paper: The deadline was always uppermost in my mind and getting it finished became the priority (like Nanowrimo). It might not be great, but hey, it would be done. (It helped that some of those books were published under a pseudonym, which meant if they were lousy, at least no one would know I was responsible.)
I go back to those books now and you know what? They’re okay. In fact, they’re usually better than okay. They tell a good story. They hold reader interest. I can be proud of them. And the mindset I used to write them was professional: GET IT DONE.
Then there are the novels that are all mine from start to (sort of) finish. I’m proud of those too – but what it takes to get THEM finished is nobody’s business. I started one novel in 1992 that wasn’t finished and published till 2003 – and that’s one of my success stories. I told everyone the research took years (and it did), but the real reason was that I procrastinated like crazy – couldn’t find the right beginning; couldn’t figure out the main character’s profession (usually this is self-evident; when it’s not, it can drive you crazy), couldn’t connect the dots of the mystery – and I had a collaborator! (If it had been just me, I’m not sure it would be finished yet.)
See, I like to write in pieces – have you done this? (I actually recommend it if you’re having trouble getting into your story.) Don’t try to write the novel from beginning to end. Usually when I start a novel, I have certain scenes (often not the first or most important ones) that pop out at me. A sentence forms itself in my mind. A description. A scene tells me what it’s about.
So I sit down and write it. A scene at the beginning, then maybe one in the middle. A little piece at the end. How about the epilogue? Those can be fun. In a strange way, it can keep you writing without getting crazy over being perfect, because you’re not really, you know, COMMITTED to this thing. You’re just writing scenes that may someday connect. You don’t know how yet – but you do know that when you finally write the tough parts, you’ll be more brilliant than you’ve ever been. Just not – you know – today. Maybe tomorrow. Or the next day.
I started a novel in 1983 that I wrote this way. A scene here, a piece there. When I added up the pieces (they were all in separate files on the computer), I had 275 pages of an unfinished novel – too much of a good thing to let go.
But sooner or later you have to connect the dots in order to write a novel – and that’s where giving yourself an inflexible deadline (like Nano) is so good. I had such a deadline in 2007, when I finally faced taking those piles of disconnected pages and forming them into a novel. And I only had ONE WEEK to do it, because I was entering a big writing competition.
I had to stop loving my novel and toying endlessly with words and phrases. Now I had to get down in the trenches – deal with the story and character questions I’d always avoided before – and somehow finish it.
In that one week, I cut 100 pages of the manuscript, wrote dozens of new pages (the scenes I was going to write `someday’ – well, someday had arrived), wrote connections between scenes so it was (more or less) coherent, and sent it in with my fingers (and my eyes) crossed. It made the semi-finals, but more important, I had something that still needed revision but was really, finally, a novel, with a discernible beginning, middle and end. (I did this in October, just before starting a NEW novel for Nano in November. And that year’s Nano was a snap; after what I accomplished in ONE WEEK in October, 50,000 words in November was a yawn. Perspective is everything.)
That 1983 novel will FINALLY be published this year – almost 30 years after I started it. That’s way too long. I needed years to get it down, but I also needed to GET IT DONE – something I delayed because I was chasing perfection. What I’ve finally learned after all these years is: When it comes to finishing ANYTHING, perfection is your enemy. Getting it done and being perfect are two factors that in my experience do not co-exist. Perfection is something you daydream about; typing THE END (the two most beautiful words in the English language) is solid reality.
And reality is way better.
Nothing we write will ever be perfect. But if we aim for damn good, believe me, we can all get there, and writing helter-skelter in November really helps. And in getting there, we become what we want to be: An honest-to-God NOVELIST. One finished novel, published or not, makes you a novelist. A hundred unfinished novels don’t.
I have a lot of favorite novels that I re-read again and again, and each time, they give me great pleasure (and teach me a lot about writing). I never ask myself if they’re perfect; I just love them. (A lot like my kids.) You can write a novel that will be loved by many, many people that will still never be perfect – and that’s fine. If you think about it, every novelist you admire has faced the same struggle with perfection, and they’ve won: They’ve written THE END.
So my advice to anyone struggling to complete a novel is: Avoid loving it too much. Love it just enough to get it done. It takes love, along with sweat, sleepless nights, cursing and a lot of chocolate, to finish a novel. Don’t ever expect to make it perfect; you can’t. Don’t rewrite endlessly; have the courage to write THE END and mean it, and know that while you can always write a NEW novel, you can’t write this one ever again. It’s the price you pay for being a novelist.
When it’s done, let it fly on its own. It will. I promise. Like your kids, it has more of your best in it than you think.
And just a little bit of your best, believe me, is all your novel needs. It’s truly divine.
Wishing you inspiration, magical connections and easy access to chocolate –
This spring has been a huge breakthrough for me, career-wise. For the first time in my life, there are no boundaries, no red lights, no barriers. Every question I ask is being answered, “Yes!” Opportunities are turning up out of thin air – and leading to even more opportunities.
After thinking I had no choice but to self-publish for the rest of my life, in the last month, I’ve signed to publish two books with Drake Valley Press, a medium-sized publishing house in North Carolina. DVP chooses their authors carefully and sparingly, produces their books with meticulous attention to detail, and supports them with a barrage of marketing and promotion strategies that are low-cost but highly effective. I’m consulted on every decision from punctuation to cover art to scheduling, and the mantra constantly repeated to me is, “Your name is on this book. You make the final call.” I LOVE it!
It’s the first time I’ve ever experienced such a sense of team play in publishing a book. DVP loves my work, and the feeling that other people care about my books—and will invest their own hard work and energy toward my success–is overwhelming.
STEALING FIRE, a love story, will be published on August 31st. FORWARD TO CAMELOT: 50th ANNIVERSARY EDITION, the reprint of the alternate-history novel about the JFK assassination that I wrote with Kevin Finn in 2003, will be published on October 31st. DVP will be focusing on promoting both books heavily for at least the first nine months and then steadily after that.
How did it happen? And why now, after I’ve been a professional writer for 25 years? I think because after all these years, I made a key decision, arising out of a fundamental change in the way I’ve chosen to live my life—and that has changed EVERYTHING. Literally. The universe is aligning itself to support my choices. Suddenly, nothing is hard.
The gurus tell you to visualize. SEE what you want in your future, imagine it, feel it happening to you. Theoretically, this brings you closer to that future. Well, either I’m too auditory for it to work (I hear sounds, music and words in my head all the time, but am much weaker at ‘seeing’ anything – blame all those years when my actual uncorrected vision was 20/400.)
What was that fundamental change?
Here it is. Drum roll, please: the fundamental change I made was deciding to LIVE MY FUTURE – RIGHT NOW.
I was one of those people who never lived in the now. I kept thinking that some time in the distant future (which I never quite defined), life would fall into place (didn’t know how) and I would make my living writing my own stuff, and everything would be wonderful. But years went by, I kept taking writer-for-hire assignments and never quite believed that writing my own original stuff would support me – and every time someone said something even slightly negative to me, I buried my original creative self in the sand and hoped no one knew where to find me.
Everything I did was ‘temporary, just until something better comes along’. But somehow, last year, the universe decided that wasn’t the way to go anymore. The writer-for-hire assignments dried up. I was no longer motivated to hustle for those jobs (and almost convinced myself I was no longer interested in writing, period), and my New York agent informed me a year ago that she no longer saw any point in representing me.
When your agent fires you, you know you’re on the wrong path. But how to get on the right one?
After thinking it over, I knew I had nothing to lose by LIVING THE FUTURE I thought I wanted, right now. Nothing else was working. The only jobs I could get paid $8.50 an hour and used none of my skills (and I had to take them; I desperately needed the income). It was profoundly depressing.
Early this year, I decided that visualizing my future wasn’t cutting it. No matter what rosy future I saw in my mind’s eye, it seemed completely disconnected to my present – and how to get from here to there was a problem too big for me to solve.
So I decided to go about it differently, using a two-pronged approach:
1) No more writer for hire. What I write from now on is MY OWN WORK. I stand or fall on it. I never felt like a real writer (whatever that is) fleshing out someone else’s ideas. I want to write my own. That’s why I became a writer to begin with (duh). Writing the books I have inside me is what keep me going – and I’ve previously delegated that task to some time in an undefinable future because I just could not imagine it on a day to day basis. But however well or badly I create a story, characters and world, that’s what I do, and what I intend to do for the rest of my life. While writing for hire is a GREAT way to get your name out there, to learn how to deal with assignments, editors, deadlines and the business of writing, it is not a substitute for letting your own voice be heard.
NO ONE BECOMES A WRITER TO WRITE SOMEONE ELSE’S STORIES.
2) I decided to stop even trying to visualize my future. Forget meditating with my eyes closed. Strategic planning (the business school version of visualization) never was my strong suit. I have trouble coming up with five-year plans; heck, I have trouble coming up with five-month plans. I can handle a week at a glance, but a life? Nope.
So the second decision was – STOP VISUALIZING AND START, INSTEAD, DOING EVERYTHING POSSIBLE TO FILL MY PLACE AS A WRITER RIGHT NOW. EVERY DAY.
What did that mean? For me, it meant no longer visualizing a project. It meant writing it NOW, with whatever creative tools I have TODAY. Get the idea, jot down some notes, write a first draft, make more notes, rewrite, polish, submit. Repeat. It meant no longer dreaming of being respected as a writer and earning the big house, the big car, the big whatever; it meant doing my very best as a writer TODAY, so even if no one else ever respects me, I can at least respect myself and be happy with some, hopefully most, of my own effort.
It also meant accepting the knife-edge of recognition. It’s lovely when someone writes to say they like your work. It’s not so much fun when someone posts a rotten review of your book on Amazon, where the whole world will see it. Accepting that I’ll never get 100% of the audience is one of those things that to me means I’m thinking like a professional writer who knows that as much fun as it is to create your own world, there’ll always be someone who doesn’t like it. I’ve decided to accept that (like I can do anything else!) and move on. Brooding about one rotten review when a dozen people like my work is stupid and unproductive. And, by the way, unprofessional.
I intend to have at least one novel, possibly two, published EVERY SINGLE YEAR from now on. That means sitting down and banging away at that keyboard NOW. Making short-term career plans NOW (I can do short-term). Having pages completed THIS WEEK, not next century. The more I found myself making ‘writerly’ decisions – whether on creative content or promotional ideas – the more I found the universe was treating me like a – gulp – respected writer.
What a surprise. (Second ‘duh’ here.)
I got invitations to speak at conferences I’ve never heard of, and for some reason, the conference organizers were THRILLED when I said I’d turn up. They offered me great speaking slots and – hello! – will pay me just to show up, apart from any book sales I made. The way the world is seeing me as a writer seems to be a reflection of the fact that I’ve decided to see myself as a writer – you know, the kind who writes from original ideas and presents something to the world that comes entirely from me.
It feels good. The hell with visualization – being highly auditory anyway (I hear songs in my head all the time), visuals just aren’t my thing. But being a professional writer is. TODAY.
“Let the word go forth from this time and place to friend and foe alike,” President Kennedy said (pretty famously) in his 1961 inaugural address.
I’ve spent a lot of time trying to capture the essence of President Kennedy and some other pretty famous people we associate with him, in my novel FORWARD TO CAMELOT (co-authored with Kevin Finn). So I thought that calling my blog ‘Let The Word Go Forth’ and devoting it to ruminations on the writer’s life would be the right way for me to venture into the blogosphere.
I’m kicking off this blog, then, with those immortal words, in hopes that they might lead to some immortal words of my own—whether in my blog or (fingers crossed) in my books or in other writing that I do. But I also hope that reading this blog regularly will help you, my fellow writer, to greater success in your own writing endeavors. I don’t pretend to know everything—or in some cases ANYTHING—about the million-and-one things we writers are supposed to know about living the writer’s life. What I do know is that it seems vastly more complicated than it used to be.
It used to be that writers only had to know their craft inside and out, and cultivate an individual voice, and adhere to deadlines that insure their projects are finished, and edit their work to fit the guidelines of correct spelling/grammar/usage, story consistency and character voice. And after we’d done all that, we also got to check our finished, typeset work — every single word — again for final errors and supervise the creation of the cover and write the cover copy, dedication, acknowledgements, and in the case of non-fiction writers, the bibliography and footnotes (whew!). We usually also had to produce media kits, with at the very least, a brilliant-sounding bio (some of my very best fiction is in my bio). Then we could (hah!) relax.
Now, though, it seems we are also expected to be at least conversant with promoting books via social media—Facebook and Twitter are the barest minimum—along with such staples as Amazon site promotion and a presence on sites like Goodreads and Pinterest, if you want to really show off. This does not even include the hours needed to drum up interest on virtual or local book tours (I prefer the virtual kind), local or national radio and TV shows and book reviews from ‘established’ reviewers.
I wasn’t thinking about all this stuff when I decided to be a writer. Well, in all fairness, most of it didn’t actually exist when I decided to be a writer. (I am now admitting in print for the very first time that I went off to college in the ’70’s with an Olympia manual typewriter — and felt good about it.)
But all these new outlets exist now, and not using them means possibly imperiling your career and your readership.
What’s a mother to do?
Grin, bear it and work your butt off, I think. And how to do all these things swiftly and painlessly and still have a life and write your next opus will be the subject of upcoming blogs as together we survey the writer’s life and decide how best to navigate those often-muddy waters. We’ll talk about the writer’s craft, the writing business, realistic vs. unrealistic expectations, and the spiritual side of a writing career, because all good writing–and living–has that element as well.
2013 will be, I hope, a monumental year for me, with the publication of three books: REALIZING YOU (with Ronald Doades), in the summer of 2013, STEALING FIRE (from my new publisher, Drake Valley Press) in September, and the 50th Anniversary Edition of FORWARD TO CAMELOT (also from Drake Valley Press) in November. Part of my blog will be an ongoing account of what I’m doing and how well it works out. I’ll be embarking on my first virtual book tour (looking forward to it!) and my first virtual review tour. Will certainly keep you posted!
Join me for tips, quips and maybe even a few tears as we work toward household-nameship together. (Didn’t think I could invent a word in the middle of my first blog, didja?)
Thanks for being on the journey with me – it’s so much more fun when you’re not alone.
LET THE WORD GO FORTH …