Time Suckers

FB-f-Logo__blue_512This morning I stumbled onto a blog post at Online Writing Simplified about Facebook and how it could be killing your writing career. Jaipi Sixbear did mention that Facebook can be a good place to promote your writing, but her post focused mostly on how Facebook can distract you from actually writing. I agree that Facebook can be a huge time suck, and I’ve fallen victim to it more times than I want to admit. But it’s not the only way to procrastinate, as most writers know.

It’s hard work to write. Most people, especially those who’ve never tried to write a book well, don’t realize just what hard work it is. While it’s important to get the butt in the chair and do the work, we writers, much like cats, like to take a circuitous route to that chair….

My Time Suckers (in addition to Facebook)

  • E-mail: second only to Facebook in time spent on it. I have business e-mail accounts as well as personal, and I’ve learned that if I don’t want to make myself crazy, I need to keep up with my e-mail on a daily basis as much as possible.  If I do, the time spent on it decreases.
  • Reading blogs: As I’m cleaning out e-mail, I’ve received e-mails of blog posts. They beckon me with their interesting topics.  I often read them, comment on them, and return to cleaning out e-mail. This activity takes time, true, but it also builds relationships across the internet.  Sometimes I even find ideas for my own blogs.
  • Research: I think I finish the necessary research for a piece in the first third of the time I work on it.  The rest of the research is purely me satisfying my curiosity and having fun.  But it can be a major time suck if I’m supposed to be writing.
  • Computer issues: I recently spent a week cleaning my hard drive, updating drivers, and giving my computer a tune-up.  I hadn’t done all that since I’d bought it two years ago and it truly needed the attention.  But it was time-consuming and often left me in a bad mood, certainly not a place for writing.  Computer issues can really suck the time and life out of a day, though.
  • Home projects: I work at home (as well as part-time in an office) and I have projects all around me that scream for my time: filing, possessions sale project (photography, documentation, advertising on the internet, contacting experts for appraisals, etc.), filing, and of course, cleaning, which is never done. At the moment, I’m up to my ears in home projects because I haven’t had the time (or energy because of my health) to work on them with the part-time job demanding my time, too.

I remember a time (she noted wistfully) before personal computers when I seemed to have unlimited time for everything in my life, even socializing with friends.  Electronics have not necessarily freed up time for other things in our lives.  They certainly haven’t freed up time for my writing!

What are your time suckers?

My "Office"

My “Office”

Fame

Fame (1980) from Movie Poster

Fame (1980) from Movie Poster

Do you want to be famous? I’ve been asked this at times when a person I’ve met finds out I’m a writer.  Or a variation is the statement, “Oh, I bet you’ll be famous someday.” These comments make me cringe inside. Plus, they rarely include any mention of money, remuneration for my writing, or becoming wealthy as a result of my writing. There is a truth of this world: fame and fortune rarely visit writers, whether that visit is short or long, or they’re together.

From the beginning of my writing career in elementary school, I’ve known that I didn’t want to be famous in the Hollywood sense, i.e. a celebrity. What I’ve wanted is to be known.  That is, known as a writer who tells good, entertaining stories, a writer who is worth a read, a writer who’s worth following. I’ve wanted my writing to be known, also, not just me as a writer. For me, the writing is the most important thing and I wouldn’t mind if it were more famous and known than I was.  I do not want to be a writer celebrity.  I cherish my privacy, my solitude for writing, my anonymity.  I believe these things are essential for a writer to be able to work well and effectively.  I admire those who have been made into celebrities and they continue to write, amazed that they found the way for themselves to work around the intrusions of their celebrity.

John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck

Maria Popova, at her blog Brain Pickings, wrote an article about John Steinbeck and his response to his fame.  While reading it, I thought again about my own thoughts on fame, and how much sympathy I felt for Steinbeck’s frustrations with fame.  He complained how often people equated fame with wealth, and that fame did not equate to wealth at all.  Unless, of course, it was a wealth of frustration, loss of privacy and of time to write, as well as a wealth of people showing up and asking him for money.

000-money-backgrounds2-prwNo surprise there.  In American society, we define success in terms of making money.  So of course people would assume that Steinbeck had made a lot of money because he was very successful.  But writers cannot define success in terms of money like the rest of the world.  I believe writers need to define success in terms of wealth of readership, fans, and then there’s actually finishing a book or story, then getting an agent to represent it, then having a publisher publish it.  These are all successes.  Some relate to money to a certain extent, but it’s more about the acceptance of the work than the sale of it.  Yes, we love what you’ve written and we want to support it, publish it, insure that it reaches a lot of readers.

Even in Steinbeck’s time, even in the 1930’s, the publicity machine ate up people as much as it does now.  This is another result of fame and success.  The publicity.  PR people can’t spare barely a moment for an unknown writer, but someone who’s known, who’s had a bestseller, who’s made a lot of money — the PR people can’t get to them fast enough.  Steinbeck complained about their  demands on his time in this excerpt from his diary Working Days: The Journals of The Grapes of Wrath:”

Why do they think a writer, just because he can write, will make a good after-dinner speaker, or club committeeman, or even a public speaker? I’m no public speaker and I don’t want to be. I’m not even a finished writer yet, I haven’t learned my craft.

Like any true writer, he resented the outside demands on his writing time.  He was frustrated.  I’m amazed that he managed to finish The Grapes of Wrath during this time.  Then that novel became a bestseller, feeding his fame, and just making the PR machine even louder and more insistent. Steinbeck, like any writer, was grateful to get paid for his work and to no longer be poor.  But he wasn’t grateful for the fame and PR machine.

Know what you want.  Know what your intent is. Know what you’re getting into if you want to be famous, I say.  Otherwise, it will consume the innocent with destructive glee. Or better: be careful what you wish for, you may get it…..

Some Thoughts on Point of View

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Writers struggle with point of view in a prose narrative.  Which point of view would be the best to tell the story?  From whose point of view?  How to write the point of view you’ve chosen?  These are all craft questions. I’ve written about point of view before here. What I’m interested in today is more of a storytelling question: Why is point of view so important in writing?

That makes me think about how we tell stories.  Think about an experience you had and how you described it to a friend.  What you brought to the story was your unique perspective on the experience.  You also brought your personality, your background, and your knowledge to the telling.  Your unique memories. Your friend is aware of all these things.  Someone else with the same experience — someone who was with you, for example — would tell it differently.  So, your point of view in telling the story provides a perspective that no one else can give it.  The same thing occurs with written stories.  The point of view anchors the story either in the author’s perspective (omniscient or omniscient third) or in a character’s.

Writing in a specific point of view provides a writer with a way to control information about characters and action.  For example, writing from a first person pov limits the reader to the narrator’s eyes, ears, and experience of what is seen, heard, learned, and known.  Omniscient pov gives the reader what the writer wants the reader to know at any given time in the story from a broad perspective, but may not get inside characters’ minds.  For that, a writer chooses omniscient third pov close on one or more characters.  I used this pov for Perceval’s Secret and the entire Perceval series.

the_monsters_of_templeton_coverI recently finished reading Lauren Groff’s first novel, The Monsters of Templeton.  Groff used the omniscient third pov close on one or more characters also.  It gave her the opportunity to move the story forward through different characters and their perspectives, although the main character is a 28-year-old graduate student named Willie Upton.  Groff even tells the story from the pov of several different fictional characters that appear in a series of novels written by one of her characters.  Each pov brought a fascinating character to life, in his or her own voice and from his or her own experience and knowledge.  This gave Groff’s novel incredible depth and richness in the storytelling, as well as the road map for releasing information at the right time for the story and Willie’s quest.

Mrs. Dalloway coverVirginia Woolf, in Mrs. Dalloway, began in Clarissa Dalloway’s pov, but soon flows into another character’s pov, someone Clarissa meets or passes on the street.  In this way, Woolf passes the storytelling baton from one character to the next and back to Clarissa in a fluid and smooth way.  The pov changes occur subtly sometimes, too.  Woolf can then look at a situation or a character from multiple angles described by different characters and give the feeling that it’s all happening at the same time.  It reminded me of a long tracking shot in film-making.

So why is point of view so important in writing and storytelling? As I thought about this it occurred to me that a character’s pov shows how the character thinks.  Writers can show readers that individuals do not all think the same way which can expand a reader’s thinking and view of the world.  We each have our unique way of thinking, of perceiving the world.  This is a crucial understanding about the human condition, not only in literature but in real life. It has the potential for promoting empathy, understanding, acceptance and respect for other people, whether from the same or different cultures, whether known or foreign.  And then I realized that I finally understood why Joseph Campbell had picked writers as modern shamans…..

Are you part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group? #IWSG #amwriting

ccyager:

Ah, yes, writers exude insecurity and flood the world with their self-doubts. At least that’s the stereotypical version of a writer. We can be notorious, though, for insecurity and self-doubts among our close friends and fellow writers, stereotype or no. I think a writer who isn’t must be some kind of psychopath. I’m going through a bit of a rough patch of insecurity and self-doubt right now — of course when I have the most writing to do — and was reminded again by Damyanti over at Daily (W)rite that there’s actually a blog of writers that a solitary writer like me can go to for support and encouragement. I’m reblogging her post below.

Originally posted on Daily (w)rite:

Thanks to Alex J. Cavanaughfor organizing and hosting theInsecure Writer’s Support Group every month! Go to the site to see the other participants.

——

Insecure Writer's Support Group Insecure Writers!

I had dropped out of this group, because I could never remember to post on the right dates, and was on hiatus for a while– but so many of my blog-friends are on it, I have always read the IWSG posts.

The premise of the group is simple– we writers can be an insecure bunch, we need all the support we can get and who best to support us than our fellow-writers?

The avowed purpose is:

To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

I’ve signed on again, and have scheduled…

View original 225 more words

Finding Voice

notebook-computer-writing-blogging

In the last three or four days, two different writers have brought up the issue of beginning writers finding their voice in published interviews I’ve read and they expressed it in almost the same way:

“…the imitative mode. Try to write through your influences. Then and only then will the writing organically graft from the evolved craft of poetry and only then will the poet begin to envision a place for themselves.”  Poet Major Jackson, in interview in the Sept. 2015 The Writer

“You need to write through your influences, shake off the voices or celebrate them — write with a sense of moving towards what is truly yours eventually. But to do that, you’re going to have to screw up a bit….”  Novelist Ian McEwan in the Summer 2015 Dickinson magazine

What does that mean, “write through your influences”?

Writers never write in a vacuum. We are influenced by many things, including our own backgrounds, educations, and experiences. These two writers are talking about influences on writing, and that usually means other writers. So, those influences would be the authors that a writer is reading or has read as well as writing teachers. We often learn by imitating what others have done.  That is part of the process of writing through your influences. To study closely what a favorite writer does with language, structure, plot, etc. I’ve also heard of the technique of actually copying, by hand, a piece of writing in order to get inside of it.

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Until a writer has done the work of writing through influences, i.e. studying the writing, understanding what the other writer does or does not do and why, it will not be entirely possible to develop a unique voice. Every writer struggles with this. Every artist struggles with this. Composers are probably the closest in process to writers. It’s important to be confident in one’s voice, to feel comfortable with it, and to be natural in it. And what is “voice”?

Voice is the unique way a writer writes, her writing style, use of syntax, diction, punctuation, character development, dialogue, and especially the language (or words), etc., within her work. I love that this is called “voice” because each of us has a unique way of speaking, too.  There is a rhythm to the prose that will be unique to the writer, for example, just as in the rhythm of speech. For a reader, what’s important is ease of reading, the smoothness of the prose. Once a writer has found her voice, her prose radiates confidence and is easier to read.

I don’t know when the writer’s unique voice takes over and leaves the voices of writing influences behind. It’s different for each writer. It’s mysterious. And it’s rare for a writer’s voice to emerge right at the beginning, without working through the influences, but I suppose it happens. I cannot think of an example. I think also a writer’s voice evolves over time, but always remains unique to that writer.

Take note: a writer can copy one of his influences’ voices, the style of writing, but cannot really fake a true voice of writing. I have to admit that I’ve not thought much about my own writing voice for a long time. I continue to read voraciously and eclectically which is a crucial part of being a professional writer. I note a writer’s style, especially the use of words to create images, and often get ideas for my own writing. And now I trust in my own creative process that I’ve developed over the years to produce my unique, true writing voice….

My "Office"

My “Office”