Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The eternal question

Blame it on the moon, on the waning days of autumn, on some mystical alignment of the planets, but the past several weeks have been a wasteland for me when it comes to writing. Even a pair of reasonable successes were overshadowed by a handful of rejections (aren’t they all?). The mental saboteurs came out in force, reminding me of the miniscule chances of ever publishing a novel via traditional means, of the ever-growing slush pile that is self-published ebooks, of the lack of measurable income on the horizon for any but the most gifted and fortunate author in the sea of writers I follow on the ’net.

Why bother? echoes daily. My words fall into a black hole on the ether, or simply fill up my hard drive. My WIP languished, unable to hold my attention long enough to add to its meager word count. I searched my files for the why-I-write essays stored there, my own and others. I stumbled across a recent blog by Jonathan Allen, Shaggin’ the Muse, addressing that universal question when a quote from author Clive Barker resonated:

“I don’t find myself terribly interesting and that’s one of the reasons why I write in the mode of trying to escape from the coral that is me. The removal of the limitation that is the self into the place that is the image are things that are boundless, this is the mystical heartbeat of what I do. It’s always been that…I write out of anxiety and obsession, I write out of hope and passion. I don’t write out of stale marketing ideas because someone paid me a million bucks.”

Anxiety and obsession pretty much describes my life. But so does hope and passion. I need to focus on the latter. As the tabbed post on this blog notes, I write because I must. That is enough.

Last week, I returned to a previous novel that needs “just one more” good rewrite only to decide the potential I thought it held has faded with the summer sun. My writing group doesn’t agree, bless their ink-stained souls, and they urge me to shoulder on. That’s what we do for each other, besides pointing out overused adverbs and missing commas. We encourage and cajole and push and hector. Our weekly sessions offer not only accountability, but emotional support; for all of that, I am more than grateful.

Today I managed 750 words on the stalled WIP, including a new side story and a meshing of previously unrelated scenes.

Tomorrow, I’ll write more. And the day after that. And the day after that. Whether anyone other than my faithful writers group (and my supportive hubby) reads my words, I’ll write more.

That’s what I do. I’m a writer.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A legacy worth cherishing

With the recent death of Steve Jobs, much has been written about his legacy. What will he be remembered for? Not having drunk the Apple Kool-aid, I’m not terribly concerned about where the company is headed without him. He was certainly an innovator, but there are others, possibly in large part thanks to his creations. That should be sufficient legacy for anyone, I would think.

The question did start an interesting discussion with Hubby. Do we have a legacy? Do I? What do I want to be remembered for? Is being remembered by future generations truly a driving force for some people? I’ve never understood the desire to see monuments and buildings carrying the family name. It’s not something I need or want.

Certainly as a writer, I hope my work (if I ever manage to publish something substantial) will be remembered. But me personally? Not so much. I’ve never had enough of a concept of self-worth to consider such an eventuality, and I don’t see that as something that will change in my next fifty years.

However, a gentle prod from the universe reminded me of the legacy I’ve already helped produce – our children. One is easy-going, letting life happen and pretty much riding the wave and living for today (like Hubby). The other is much more focused, task-driven, with at least one eye on the future, determined to finish something of note (like me, only more so). Fortunately Hubby and I have moved from our extremes to a more compatible center and don’t drive each other too crazy; not sure the kids will ever meet in the middle, but they’ve outgrown the teenage antagonism.

Now they’re of an age where life decisions are more profound. I’m pleased they still come to us for advice, and actually seem to listen to what we have to say. This week when my mom-gene kicked in to worry over what-ifs of the directions they seem to be heading, I had not one pleasant surprise, but two.

Somehow, in the chaos of our life, we managed to raise a couple of pretty smart kids, wise beyond what I expected to hear when I expressed my fears. To the laid-back child, I reiterated our “use your head” mantra from their childhood, all while hoping heart would not be silenced. To the Type-A child, I urged listening to the heart while keeping the head in counselor mode. It was only after I offered these words that I realized how they reflected the lessons of our marriage onto our next generation – balance.

I was humbled when both children responded with thoughtful, reasoned positions on the decisions they face, and an awareness of the future potential of their actions for not only themselves, but for the greater community. We must have done something right, and I am awed by the living outcomes.

I could ask for no greater legacy.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Pay it Forward Blogfest

I’ve been slowly culling my unmanageable Google Reader list, working to keep only those blogs which are truly useful or entertaining, and making some progress. Then one of my regulars, Elle Strauss, posted a note about the Pay It Forward Blogfest organized by Matthew MacNish and Alex Cavanaugh:

“The idea is to introduce everyone to everyone else. We want this to be an easy post that allows you to meet and follow as many other bloggers as you can. In your post, we would like you to please list, describe, and link to three blogs that you enjoy reading, but that you suspect may fly under the radar of a lot of other bloggers. Or they can be famous blogs, as long as they're awesome.”

Usually I avoid these things, blog rolls and you-list-me-I’ll-list-you, but for some reason, the tone of Matt and Alex’s posts caught my attention. Now I have nearly two hundred new blogs to consider – yikes!

Picking three of my favorites (besides the wonders of Elle, noted above, which is already on the list) was not easy, but here they are:
• Natalie Whipple’s Between Fact and Fiction – humor, insight, and a real-life perspective on lots of issues I share
• Justine’s Tribal Writer – anyone who speaks to the “Badass Creative Woman” is worth a second look, and a third
The Bookshelf Muse by Becca Puglisi and Angela Ackerman offers a fascinating series of tips on incorporating sensory description in writing through a series of thesaurus (thesari?) covering weather, emotion, character traits…priceless!

These last two definitely don’t fly “under the radar,” as suggested, but they’re definitely awesome and worth reading for lots of good reasons:
TerribleMinds by Chuck Wendig – usually vulgar, often laugh-out-loud hilarious, always insightful
The Vandal by Derek Haines – an ex-pat Aussie living in Switzerland. Need I say more?

I wouldn’t dare go back to my weekly writers group if I didn’t include the following efforts, all with their own unique quirks:
• Tami Absi - FrankenPig
• Lori Lopez - Lost in the Writing
• James Reynolds - WriterJames

Now to work my way through the Pay It Forward list and discover new gems! Hope you’ll join me -

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Breaking up is never easy…

Facebook, I’m breaking up with you. I’m not dumping you entirely; we can still be friends, and we share too many mutual acquaintances who are important in my life to ever sever the ties completely. But you’ve become too possessive, too nosy. Your insecurity is showing. You demand to know everything about me, where I visit, what I read, who I like and don’t like. Then you don’t have the common courtesy to keep that information to yourself, seamlessly sharing it with people I’ve never heard of. I’ve tried to stop you. I’ve applied all the available filters and privacy settings, avoided the ubiquitous games and apps, but it’s no use. And while I don’t like to be superficial, you’ve let yourself go, become cluttered and unwieldy and downright unattractive. Oh, I know, you’re trying new things, flashy news tickers (annoying!) and profile timelines (creepy, at best). Enough is enough. We’re through. I’ve found someone else.

Google+ is seductively clean and elegant. My professional friends don’t have to hear about the family reunion, and Aunt Jan isn’t inundated with writing advice and rants. I know FB tried to make that possible, but it was too little, too late. Many of the hard lessons I learned there can be implemented much more easily on G+, and I don’t have to try to undo the mistakes of the past, whether they were mine or the platforms. I’m starting over, wiser and more focused, aware of my social networking needs, my likes and dislikes. I’m more cautious who I allow into my circles, screening new followers and keeping overlap to a minimum.

I’ve also learned the hard way (thank you, FB) that it’s best, for me at least, to severely curtail the negativity. Political rhetoric, especially as the never-ending campaign cycle kicks into high gear, is no longer welcome. I’ll stick with pleasant family connections, humorous friendly chats, and informative writing notes and commentary. Social networking at its best, I hope.

FB won’t disappear from my life completely. I’m too paranoid by the publishing industry’s insistence on its vital importance in building a writer’s platform, although I’m not entirely convinced they’re right. I’ll still drop in (probably far too often, knowing me) to see what my friends are up to, add the occasional witty bòn mót to the discussion, keep up with the events listings for my writers group. But if you’re looking for me to chat online, you’ll find me on G+ or Windows Live Messenger. Drop me an email, send me a text. Always glad to connect.

As for Twitter, eh…seems more like a noisy teenager clamoring for attention than a useful tool. I’m there, but not enamored. But G+? I’ve found a new online home – hope you’ll stop by!

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Different paths up the same mountain

I’m amazed at the vitriol a Google+ query has provoked over the harmless, well-intentioned writing exercise called National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo, or just NaNo). One commenter went so far as to label NaNoWriMo participants – of which I am one – “morons and the ignorant,” “fools,” and “an embarrassment to writers,” possessed of “delusions,” with an extra stab at those who write romance novels (I do not), and then claim his comments were not hateful. I can’t imagine what he hoped to accomplish, or to gain, with such animosity, but I referred the thread to Nathan Bransford’s post Don’t Be A Jerk.

The commenter felts his remarks were “misconstrued and responded to based on those misconceptions,” and ended his several statements by wishing NaNo participants well. To be fair, he was not alone in his negativity. Others took NaNo to task for its supposed “tourist” aspect of writing by daring to allow hobbyists to call themselves writers for a month. There were thoughtful comments as well about the necessary work which comes after NaNo, work which founder Chris Baty stresses in his companion book, but my issue is with those who chose to tag NaNo itself with derision because it doesn’t take writing “seriously.” That aspect is up to each individual writer and shouldn’t be blamed on a light-hearted vehicle to help get folks writing. There are many paths up the mountain, and not all who embark on the journey are through-hikers. Barely twenty percent of those who begin NaNo cross the fifty-thousand word goalpost; those who do are entitled to a bit of celebration before they begin the trek of edits and rewrites, if that is their chosen path.

A more reasoned approach comes from Chuck Wendig’s always entertaining blog where he provides his customary list of advice for would-be NaNo participants, at least one of which the aforementioned abusive commenter would do well to heed: “We’re not all robots who follow the same pre-described program.” Lighten up, do what you to do in order to get the words down on the page. It’s not easy; NaNo is not easy – but it’s a trial run of what to expect in the writing life, and for many, the only time they will allow themselves to write. What their lives and egos do with the output after the game ends is their call. I hope they move on from what Wendig calls a “zero draft” produced in that thirty-day sprint, but the marathon of a dedicated writer’s life is not for everyone.

My 2005 NaNo effort became the basis for my creative writing thesis; my 2006 draft, after many rewrites, edits and revisions is with an agent for consideration. In the meantime, I’ve published several short stories, an anthologized personal essay, and a non-fiction history book. NaNo was not the end for me, only the beginning. It gave me the confidence to push forward with my writing, knowing I really could finish a novel-length manuscript. To deride such an accomplishment by anyone who makes the effort is cruel and unnecessary, whether they take the remaining difficult steps to publication or not.

A recent post by Jami Gold offered related advice to those who are bombarded with conflicting “expert” opinion on the publishing end of writing, wisely reminding would-be writers, “Every one of us has a different path to success because we each have our own definition of success…” If the path of NaNoWriMo works for you as it did for me, take it.

We’ll meet up again on the other side and celebrate our respective journeys.