Tag Archives: being a writer

It’s all in the timing….

This morning, I stumbled across a brief interview with a young Whiting Award-winning writer, Kaitlyn Greenidge, in the September 2017 issue of The Writer. She was asked: “What is the most important thing you’ve learned about writing?” Her response:

I think that it takes a long time. There is no rushing it, and the work exists on its own timetable, outside of your own personal deadlines.

My first thought was, Oh, wow, now I know why I’m having such a hard time finishing that short story I want to finish. And reading on, the next question was “How has this helped you as a writer?” Greenidge’s response: “It is hard to be patient, but that’s what is needed.”

It certainly is hard to be patient in a world of impatience, populated with people who want instant gratification. Including me. As a writer, I know from personal experience that a story cannot be rushed. I know that characters exist in their own universe and their time is not my time. Hard as I try, the characters will do what they will, live as they will, speak as they will.

But I start to feel guilty when I don’t have the time to spend with the characters and their stories. I’ve felt this acute guilt the last 3 months as I’ve been getting used to a new fulltime job and the 5-day-a-week schedule that goes with it. I think about the various projects that await my attention. I read and read and read, which is valuable for a writer in and of itself. The actual writing I’ve been doing during the week has been focused on business writing, not creative writing. The weekend comes and suddenly I’m up to my ears in chores, catching up with e-mail, working on blog posts. I have not written in my journal for 2 years. Every day I get up and think, something’s got to change.

I can only hope that my characters won’t abandon me.  I have not abandoned them. I’d much rather be spending time with them. And I am starting to figure out ways to shift when I do chores, when I do e-mail, etc. My goal is to empty my weekend schedule so that I can spend 2 days writing fiction.

It took me years to write Perceval’s Secret. I thought I knew Evan Quinn after I finished the first draft, but as I delved deeper into researching conducting and conductors, I found I didn’t know as much as I thought. Research will do that. And Evan was slow to trust me with his real story. But once I had the uninterrupted time to spend with him, he began to talk…and talk and talk and talk. He simply would not shut up, and talked out 5 books instead of one. That’s fine. I’m certain that once I’m back in the swing on fiction again, he’ll return with more information so I can finish his story.

So, I’m learning patience with myself and my work schedule, and learning how to shift things around to accommodate my writing. It’s a slow process. But I have to think that characters also need to be patient with their writers, i.e. my characters patient with me.

Are you a patient writer?  How long does it take your stories to emerge? Have your characters been patient with you?

“What do you do?”

the-writer-february-2017This past week, I read in the February 2017 issue of The Writer an article about how to deal with that often terribly uncomfortable question. Writers who also have day jobs don’t always feel discomfort at that question because they can simply cite their day job as what they “do.” But what about the freelance writer who works fulltime at it? Or the creative writer who’s able to write fulltime because of decent book sales or a large inheritance? How do you answer this question?

The freelancer who wrote the article began with his answer and how he’d crafted it to show how successful he was at writing on a freelance basis. In other words, if you’re financially successful as a writer, flaunt it. If you’re not, talk about something else. We all know writers get no respect, not like doctors, lawyers, dentists, and just about anyone else who works for someone else. Of course, if you are employed by a magazine, newspaper, television or radio station and your job is writing, you’ve somehow managed to make it into respectability.

When someone asks me what I do, I usually say I’m a writer. The next question usually is, “What do you write?” Now, I could reply a lot of different ways here, because I write a lot of different things. But I usually take the intention behind the question is to find out if I’m a published and known writer vs. unpublished and unknown. When someone asks a doctor what he does, they usually don’t ask what do you doctor?  They don’t ask a lawyer how she does her job, although they might be interested in the type of cases she takes on. But with artists, there is this question of legitimacy, and what confers legitimacy? You got it!  Money, usually via publication.

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A couple years before my father died, I made my annual Christmas visit to my parents’ house. I had quit my fulltime job with the intention of changing careers, and I’d already realized that I wanted to write. When my father asked what I planned to do, I told him. “You can’t write,” he responded. I almost laughed. As if he truly knew what I could or could not do or had some sort of control over what I did. A few days later, my older brother enlightened me. “In the family, we view writing as a form of prostitution.” Ah, so that’s it. And this from a family of book lovers and readers.

I went on to earn money as a freelance advertising copywriter while I also wrote fiction. But my family never accepted my writing or that I was actually doing it well and gaining valuable experience. What they said to me, though, prepared me for what other people would say — my family showed me the worst right away. So, when someone asks me what I do, I’m happy to tell them I’m a writer, that I’m published, that I write a lot of different things, and yes, they can read my work online. After that, I mention my other job in an office, working for someone else.

My "Office"

My “Office”

Learning and Growing as a Writer

Thanks to "No, I do NOT have too many books!" on Facebook for photo.

Thanks to “No, I do NOT have too many books!” on Facebook for photo.

“…you cannot grow in the great art form, the integration of action and contemplation, without (1) a strong tolerance for ambiguity, (2) an ability to allow, forgive, and contain a certain degree of anxiety, and (3) a willingness to not know and not even need to know. This is how you allow and encounter mystery….”           — Father Richard Rohr

Allow and encounter mystery. Collaborating with my imagination means allowing and encountering mystery. I have no idea how it works, I just know it does and that’s enough for me. I tolerate not knowing, ambiguity, and anxiety in order to participate in this collaboration because I know it works, it’s fun, and it is deeply satisfying.

Above my desk is a post-it in light green and on it I’ve written “TRUST in the PROCESS.” Let go of control. Play. Trust my imagination. As I’ve been working on Perceval’s Shadow this past week, I’ve realized that my imagination demands that I tell Evan Quinn’s story even if it takes me five novels to do it and a totally unknown amount of time. That is certainty I’ve not felt before. It rides on a sense that even though I’ve been away from Evan and his story for a while, he has not gone anywhere, but has waited patiently for me to return. I find this both reassuring and spooky.

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Then today, as I was digging through my pile of notes for things to write at this blog, I found the quote above, and a list entitled “Lessons Learned from a Private Investigator” without attribution. I suspect I’d saved the latter because of the note about the website where the writer had found the list: Diligentiagroup.com.  This website is for a private investigation business in New York that also has a blog. The writer, a mystery writer, noted that he/she spent a lot of time researching websites, blogs, and books by police, agents and private investigators for her/his writing and had found this particular website’s blog. The list could be also titled “Lessons Learned from My Years as a Writer.” Here’s the list:

  1. Always be learning. Learn by doing and observing others.
  2. Know thyself. Know your strengths and where you need help, and don’t be shy about either.
  3. Differentiate yourself. Don’t be ordinary. Create a brand.
  4. Authenticity. Being genuine and authentic is very attractive these days when the world is wrought with fake and “Buy my book.”
  5. Stick to your principles. Be honest and straightforward. Protect your reputation.
  6. Be helpful. Good things happen when you lend a helping hand.
  7. Don’t be everything to everyone. Pick your genre, find your readership base, and avoid trying to write for every reader out there.
  8. Do work you are proud of. If you write slow, so be it. If you write Christian, erotica, YA, whatever the style, voice, genre, own it.
  9. You are never the smartest or dumbest person in the room. Ask questions. Learn more. Help others do the same.
  10. Don’t stop thinking of new ideas. You’re in a creative environment, and change is happening all around you. Be constantly seeking ways to be unique.
  11. Adapt. This industry changes fast. Roll with that change.
  12. Embrace technology. Yes, that means learning ways to publish, brand, and network, whether you like it or not.
  13. Follow the facts. Make decisions or form opinions based upon fact, not rumors, gossip, innuendos, or half-truths.
  14. Be inspired. Be aware of the world around you.
  15. Do great work. Don’t shortchange the quality of your writing.
  16. Be skeptical. Operate with a critical eye. Don’t fall for the latest class, how-to, software, or book that claims to teach you the perfect way to (fill in the blank).
  17. Persistence. Probably the most important of the list, persistence carries you through those times when you think you should not be writing.

And then I would add two more, two very specific things:

  • Read everything but especially read what you love because that is what you will write. I learn something from every novel, essay, poem, short story, or nonfiction book I read.
  • Write something everyday. Even if it’s only a paragraph in your journal or a letter to a friend, write, write, write.

If you haven’t already found it, here’s my job description for a creative writer.

Keep writing, learning, and growing!

Credit: Walt Disney

Credit: Walt Disney

An End

Designed by Christopher Bohnet, xt4, inc.

Designed by Christopher Bohnet, xt4, inc.

Only two chapters left in this revision of Perceval’s Secret.  One is longer than the other, both need tightening.  So far I’ve cut 37 pages and about 10,000 words.  I’d hoped to cut about 14,000 words, so I’ll return to the first half and go through it with an editor’s nit comb.  My cutting really hit its stride during the second half.  Once the revision is done, I need to complete the front pages and the back pages that include table of contents, copyright page, author’s note, acknowledgements, bio and a book club discussion guide.  But I’m quite pleased with the way this work is progressing.

I’m also experiencing a reticence toward the work, sort of like pumping the brakes or digging in the heels.  Every time I’ve done a complete revision, I’ve experienced this.  Plus a sorrow, and not wanting it to end.   Even though I know it’s not “the end,” it’s never really “the end,” it’s still an end.  I love the work of revision, love to improve the writing so that the story will shine.  But I have yet to figure out how to deal with this strange emotional funk.

In the past, my strategy for dealing with the emotions was to just power through the work, finish the draft, and tell myself that I’m proud and relieved to have it done.  Suppressing those emotions didn’t actually deal with them, and they returned even more powerfully the next time I approached the end of a writing project.  It could be anything — an essay, a personal letter, a business letter, a blog post.  I learned my lesson.  It’s better to face the emotions of an end rather than stuff them.

More recently, as I’ve approached the end of a draft, I’ve made certain that another project was waiting for my attention immediately.  Even this time, I am gearing up to work on Perceval’s Shadow, the second novel in the series, to revise the first draft.  But I think that will need to wait until I have the larger e-publication project done and the marketing campaign launched.

Writing business work triggers its own special kind of emotional response.  Usually negative.

But right now, today, I’m grappling with this crazy hodge-podge of feelings connected to being so close to the end of this draft of Perceval’s Secret.  Writing about it has only intensified the emotions.  They like attention, I see.  They make it easier for me to procrastinate, write other things — like a blog post — go to a movie, read.  It’s hard facing an end, even with all the positive aspects of it.

First of all, finishing the revisions means that I’ve completed the draft.  Done.  I have a novel.  Second, it feels good to complete something, to look back at the surprising moments, the deeply satisfying moments, and know once again that I am a writer.  Third, it means that it’s that much closer to being read by others, especially this time, as I’ve been preparing it for e-publication. Fourth, I’ve learned so much more about the characters through this revision, and grown as a writer.   And last, I know that I’ll spend more time with the characters in the second book in the series (and the third, fourth, and fifth books).

I’m not sure what else I can do with these emotions.  They are there.  I acknowledge them.  Some days, they’re painful.  But perhaps they are a measure of my commitment to the novel and my writing….