You ever see one of those masked magician shows? You know, where the guy tells you how magic tricks really work at the risk of being blackballed by other magicians across the globe (sidenote: being blackballed by these guys would seem much scarier if they were more like Voldemort and less like Penn and Teller…anyhow). Today, that’s me. I’m going to dispel some of the myths and murmurs I’ve heard over the years relating to what writing is and what writers do. Without a mask. Because I’m fearless.
In this edition, I want to talk about the idea that it’s just easy for (some) writers to knock off story after story like they’re a print factory (Cough-STEPHEN KING-Cough). Obviously, when it comes to personal experience I can only speak for myself, but I know enough writers, and have read enough about writers by writers to infer that what I’m about to share with you is pretty universal.
If there is a such thing as a muse, she’s a lazy $&#^*. She’s the equivalent of those people who find out you’re a writer and say stuff like, “I’ve got this great idea. [they tell you their idea and it isn’t great at all]. You can write it, then WE can sell it and get rich. Just promise not to steal it.”
Oh, I promise, and my word is ironclad.
Anyway, the idea may come in a flash. In its skeletal form it might be the right mix of suspense, and comedy, and have a dog in it. That’s the fun part, the dreaming it up.
Getting it on paper legibly, with the words in the right order is another story all together.
You have to do the work (I’m in the midst of an anxiety filled revision at this very moment), and there will be times where it’s tempting to just do something less strenuous. But, the sense of fulfillment when you finish…the knowledge that someone may read what you slaved over and enjoy it…dulls the birthing pains.
It’s never NOT hard, folks. But it is worth it.
I know I’ve been missing in action, and I do apologize, but it’s been a hectic month. I turned 31 last week, and I’m also going through the most intense time in my writing career thus far.
I can’t talk details at this moment, but I hope to be able to share some of the things that have been happening sometime in the future. In the meantime, I want you to know that I’m still here and I plan to resume the writing advice immediately after the Thanksgiving holiday (Let’s be real, you don’t really care about any of it prior to the holiday…all you’re thinking about is Turkey…me too).
So don’t eat too much (or do…it’s all good). Travel safely (for those of you who are going to get felt up at security checkpoints because of the new TSA regulations, just go to your happy place). We’ll chat again in December.
I usually try to veer away from politics, particularly here. It’s a no-win argument. However, now that the mid-term elections have passed, I’ve heard–more like read on Facebook–several friends make statements like, “This is crazy…I’m moving to Canada” because they didn’t like the outcome.(Apparently, one of the parties is more powerful than the other…imagine that.) What strikes me most odd is that 2 years ago, after the presidential election, about an equal number of friends made similar statements about leaving the country.
News flash: nobody’s left yet.
These morning-after tantrums are similar to Post-Superbowl/NBA Finals/World series bitch fests about unfair referees, blown leads, and steriod use. The party system has become more about what team you root for, how much the other team sucks, and personal investments in being right (not politically right, but It-pains-me-to-ever-be-wrong right).
And, it’s all just noise.
Here’s a game, folks: Name the changes and constants of the last decade (or two, three, four decades). You must do it without tossing blame over the wall. In other words, make your observations without naming a single politician or pointing a finger at an opposing party. If this is hard for you to do, well, you have to ask yourself if you’re concerned with the problems, or just rooting for your team?
I watched a movie on television this weekend, and was jarred by some of the quotes:
“The steel mills were laying people off left and right. They finally went under. We gave the steel companies a break when they needed it. You know what they gave themselves? Raises.”
“I worked there for ten years and things just seemed to dry up. They lost fourteen banks in one week.”
“The poor and the underclass are growing. Racial justice and human rights are non-existent. They have created a repressive society and we are their unwitting accomplices.”
“I deliver a hard day’s work for my money. I just want the chance. It’ll come. I believe in America. I follow the rules. Everybody’s got their own hard times these days.”
[A subliminal message on a dollar bill] “THIS is your God.”
The film was John Carpenter’s THEY LIVE. Yes, I realize this is a science-fiction film, but it was meant to paint a broad picture of the socio-economic climate of the day. The film was released in 1988. Twenty-two years ago. Draw your own conclusions.
I did vote yesterday. Not that I have any particular faith in the system, but because people fought and died for me to do so (long after some other people fought and died for a more privileged group to have the same right…another story for another time). In an effort to not dishonor the sacrifices of my ancestors, I picked the team colors I could tolerate, grabbed a pom-pom, and screamed for my preferred team captain already knowing the outcome would be more significant in record books than in my everyday life.
You know the old saying, “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss”. It’s an old saying for a reason.
Hey, gang. Sorry for the MIA act over the last week and a half. Didn’t mean to leave you hanging, but life gets in the way sometimes. I know you come here to talk about The Job, and I’ll give you an update on how that’s going momentarily. Before I do, I wanted to impart some wisdom upon you.
Writing can be a number of things. Therapeutic, fun, relaxing, exciting…you get my point. But, it can also be something else that doesn’t sound so pleasant. Writing can become all consuming.
Each time you hit a goal it’s like a shot of some drug. Trust me, the first time I walked into a bookstore and picked up something that contained MY WORDS, I didn’t sleep for two days. It felt that good. Anyone who’s ever had too much caffeine will tell you that when you crash, you crash hard, and the type of jovial high I experienced was no different. As great as it is to see your words in print, the feeling doesn’t last.
You want to do it again. Each rejection you receive is like being denied that drug you want so badly, and if you don’t control you jones your mood can change, you can become despondent, other things in life begin to matter less. This is a bad place to be.
Here comes the best writing advice ever…
Live your life, don’t write your life.
I’ve been all over the emotional spectrum when it comes to putting words on paper, but what I’ve come to realize is reaching the next goal isn’t the same as reaching happiness. Things don’t always go your way in this business (in fact, they rarely do) but if you start hinging your emotional well-being, your needs, on how this industry reacts to you then you’ll soon be generating your own misery.
Thus, my hiatus from blogging this past week. I was living my life, and I may write about some of what I did one day. Probably not though. Some things you use to mine material, some things you use just to keep yourself sane. Know the difference, and know which is most important.
Now, The Job. As you know, I’m out on submission. And, I’m waiting. That’s all. Not the most exciting update, but there’s a lot of waiting in this business. I expect good news soon, though. When I hear something you all will be the first to know.
In the meantime my current novel is about 35% complete. This one’s been rough to write. Not for any emotional reasons, the words just feel thick in my brain. They’re coming out slow, like squeezing molasses through a pinhole. I will press on.
Next time folks, I’m going to talk to you about the various #litchat conversations happening over on Twitter. Good stuff that might be worth your time.
In the meantime, get away from the computer, take a walk, kiss your spouse. Live. If you can learn to get your high from the everyday stuff, then maybe you don’t ever have to come down.
Quick post today. My new friend Aimee L. Salter does a really neat thing on her blog where she posts query letters that actually snagged agents or publishers. The query for my YA Mystery WHISPERTOWN is currently featured. Check it out here: Aimee’s Blog.
For more winning queries be sure to add Aimee’s blog to your RSS feed or some other preferred reader. Follow her on Twitter, too.
However, if we can take a moment to think back on the less-than-savory exploits of our own past, we might find story telling gold.
It’s not an easy thing to do, to look in the mirror and see things as they really are, not as we wish they were. I don’t know if anyone ever does it successfully, but it’s the ugly moments that are most real, and if you can wring them for all they’re worth you can create real characters.
Real heroes (based on you).
Real villains (based on you).
Think about it. I’ll discuss this in a bit more detail next post…
Neither do Crouch, Kilborn, Strand, or Wilson…the authors responsible for DRACULAS, a new horror novel collaboration available exclusively through eReader devices like the Amazon Kindle. Lately, there’s been a lot of talk about story medium (particularly surrounding Kilborn AKA JA Konrath), the digital revolution, and the future of publishing. This tag-team match of high octane thriller-horror writers may very well stir that pot once again, but I’m not here to talk about that.
I want to talk about sweet red candy. Blood. Particularly the RIVERS of it running through this tale.
The premise is simple enough. Terminally-ill billionaire Mortimer Moorecock purchases what tabloids call a “Dracula skull”, supposedly the fossilized skull of the Count himself (or one of his cousins). The goal: immortality. Upon pressing this skull’s crocodile-like fangs into his own neck, Moorecock succumbs to vicious seizures. His caretakers rush him to the hospital where things go horribly wrong. The infection changing Moorecock into a blood-crazed predator spreads quickly and what should’ve been a quick trip to the ER turns into a battle for every single person in the hospital to survive the night.
And what a battle it is.
I haven’t read a book like this in…well, ever. The mix of comedy, gore, and horror combine for cycles of laughter, wincing, and heartbreak. When you consider that four different authors put the words together, it seems like a miracle that the story is even coherent. They pull it off though, with seamless transitions between characters and voice. As an added bonus, this book comes with DVD-like extras that pull the curtain back on the process that birthed this beautifully bloody gorefest.
Some may call DRACULAS a throw-back to blood-soaked vampires who didn’t shop at Banana Republic and romance brooding teenage girls. On well level, I agree, but I would simply add this type of vampire probably should’ve been the standard all along.
If you feel the same, then this is a must-read.
Sidenote: Did Sam Raimi ever make a vampire movie? One of his old-school, guerilla style horror films that’s gained cult status but has somehow escaped my memory? If not, and if I ever have an audience with the man, I would beg him to adapt this. There’d be very little for him to do. Hire great actors. Hand out Kindles. Let the cameras roll. I may start a petition. And if you read DRACULAS, I think you’d be happy to sign it.
Here’s the part you’ll rarely hear. Sometimes, I (and I suspect other writers of this as well) just can’t do it. It’s NOT writer’s block, but pure frustration that has nothing to do with writing. And it breaks the rhythm.
Example: I need to replace the windows in my condo because it’s getting cold and sometimes I swear my current windows don’t even have glass in them. The guy came to give me the estimate. Based on his company’s commericals (“$165 Installed” x 3 Windows) I expected a price of approximately 500 bucks. Ha!! Apparently, “installed” means just that. Doesn’t count disposal fees, aluminum wrapping, window guy’s kid’s private school tuition, Google stock, and whatever the hell else is covered in the additional fees. Basically, the price doubled my ignorant estimate.
Then, two hours later, my dryer decides it’s no longer happy generating heat at my command. Now my wet, clean laundry simply swirls, like a laundry smoothie. I don’t think the dryer will end its heat strike without a mediator (i.e. repair man, who I’m not even sure exists…do people still fix dryers? Aren’t there some Maytag ads about this very subject?).
My point (aside from using my personal public forum to express my monetary woes) is to tell you that I did not complete my usual three page minimum today.
But Lamar, didn’t you just say in your last post that you have to have a routine and stick to it?
Yes, I did. I also said that I rarely skimp on my routine. This is one of those rare moments. I’m not afraid to tell you this because I want you to know that I still want The Job. And I still consider myself dedicated. But, sometimes dedication/determination/discipline isn’t enough.
I sat in the seat. I put some words on the page, but my mind kept wandering to my wallet*, visions of repair bills dancing through my head.
I can forgive myself for the lapse, though. I’m giving you permission to forgive yourself, too.
I’m going to write three pages tomorrow (probably very early in the morning, so early even coffee is still groggy). If you ever feel some personal frustration, take time off and come back the next day. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Every job necessitates a personal day from time to time. Even writing.
*How do you like the picture for this post? It made me think of writing another sequel for the Wall Street franchise. “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps Because It’s Too Busy Running From Lamar”.*
*Alternate image: Picture a whole family of little animated dollar bills, kind of like the Smurfs. Instead of living in mushroom houses, their homes would be little change purses like your grandma carries. Then, I’d be like Gargamel, always trying to find them to make stew. Or something. I don’t know.
I just thought about werewovles. Don’t know why. A lot of writers are doing werewovles these days (and much better than I probably could) so it’s not a topic I really want to write about. Then I thought about writer’s block, which is another topic that a lot of writers seem taken with, particularly whether it’s real (like werewolves) and what to do about it (unfortunately, for those who claim to suffer from it, a silver bullet probably isn’t that effective). So…DING!…blog topic there you are.
Whether or not writer’s block is a myth is a point of contention. Many writers take the position that writer’s block doesn’t exist, that it’s just fear/laziness/lack of skill that prevent a writer from putting words on the page. To a certain level I agree (mostly with the fear part), but I think it’s just a matter of semantics over what you call it.
To hear someone say they have writer’s block, then repsond with ‘that’s not real’, is a bit condescending. You wouldn’t say that to a person who claims to be a werewolf (mostly because you’re probably questioning their sanity and your safety). While you might not fear an insane backlash from telling a person they don’t have writer’s block, you should consider that the writer before you may just see things differently, and playing high-brow doesn’t help anyone.
Mythbusters are only fun on TV.
If you or a friend should face the mythical beast, there are a couple of ways to beat it back. Examine your manuscript and do one of the following:
Keep writing. Unless you hear howling/growling behind you. Then, I would suggest running*.
If you make it ’til morning, let’s have another talk about reality vs. myth. ‘Kay?