Monday, August 25, 2014

Persistent Writers: Why To Develop Lizard Skin

    The deciding factor for writers who will be remembered and those who won't isn't talent.
     It's lizard skin.
    Certainly, it helps to have talent. But in the beginning, growing a thick skin is just as important. Good but oversensitive writers sometimes give up after their first rejection slip while lousy ones continue on their stubborn, error-filled ways. In the end, it can be these inconsequential (but do-or-die) writers who are the ones to achieve a modicum of success.
     Don't let that stop you. There is a natural order to these things and life is ultimately fair to writers who try, I think. Also cheering is the fact that the really bad ones only get so far before their lacking ingredient--actual talent--becomes obvious to all. (You don't really think the author of 50 Shades is respected for her literary gifts, do you?)
     What I regret are all the good ones who gave up too soon.
     Part of developing the thick lizard skin that enables you to survive in the cold world as a unknown writer lies in simple routine. Reporting introduced me to the discipline of writing every day (whether I wanted to do it or not), so that's what I do.
    I was lucky. When would-be literary giants ask their famous counterparts how they did it, they always say the same thing: I write every day.
     Nobody likes this unglamorous answer. It's like being told to eat the tofu you left on your plate. I've observed that even reporters--who of all people should know better--will reject this answer and ask the famous writer for another one.         
reptile coloring pages     I suppose it's human nature to look for a shortcut. And really, there are shortcuts out there--you could set your cap for the CEO of a publishing house; you could climb to the top of a tall building, threatening to jump unless someone offers you a book contract.
     Or you could write every day until you get somewhere.
    Then you, too, will be able to crawl out from under your rock to sun yourself in the warm glow of publication.

Monday, August 18, 2014

In Praise of Speed: Why To Write Fast

     A poet once told me he suspected reporters learned things about writing that poets and fiction writers never got a chance to learn.
     Too right. I was attempting to write poetry and short stories long before I ever stumbled into journalism. And the first thing I learned after going over to The Other Side was to stop taking myself so seriously.
     When you begin with poetry or fiction, the production of every word is a kind of torture. I blame this in part on creative writing instructors who make one feel that no matter how well your story is written, it could have been better. These same creative writing types are prone to agonize over every comma in their own writing.
     None of us are Shakespeare. None of us are Tolstoy. But defeatist comparison is largely what writer's block is all about. Every writer has something to contribute. No writer born is perfect. Each one of us is unique.
     There will always be exceptions to the rule, but for most writers, fast writing really is the way to go. At the least, it ensures you will produce more than a couple of half-written poems before you die.
     Working under daily newspaper deadline made me a better writer. There's no time for existential torment when you're reporting. The grunt reporter was laden each morning with two to three back page stories, another for the front page if he or she was lucky (readers actually saw your byline then), and any number of briefs ranging from notable deaths to translating cop speak so you could produce an accident report.
     Thrashing through all that for a morning deadline while stopping to answer the phone every ten minutes kept one busy. You had no time to spend worrying overmuch as to whether you should use "to" or "at" in your copy.
      As a picky writer (and born procrastinator), this necessity for writing at top speed sometimes annoyed me. I do think editors tended to shout at me more than the others because I refused to let go of a story unless it was done to my satisfaction. But any reporter in that newsroom would probably say the same since the editors shouted at everyone.
     All that editorial yelling taught us that a good enough story that was finished was a far superior beast to a perfectly polished story that was unfinished.
     There was a time when telling the truth took precedence in newsrooms and it was satisfying to be a reporter then. A lot of writers who were more naturally inclined to fiction did well as reporters. But while our hearts were in reporting, it was not the kind of writing that would ever touch our souls: even then we knew that only poetry and fiction tell the real and literal truth.
     Charles Dickens' exaggerated portrayals of poverty in London had more to do with truth than the sober newspaper depictions of Victorian life which concealed social ills with robust factory figures and toasts to the Queen. The Grapes of Wrath. Dr. Zhivago. Franny and Zooey. You get the idea. If the words have no heart, there is no heart.
     But those of us who left the newspaper business when things began to unravel took a few good things away with us.
     So if you want to make it as a writer, don't take yourself too seriously. My advice is to write your first draft fast and to not stop to polish it. This forces you to focus on the story, not the language, and the story is what sells books.
     You can do the pretty stuff later. 
Copyright © 2014 Marilyn Storie

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

I Don't Want To Be A Fat Writer: The Locomotion Promotion

    We all know that you must make sacrifices to write. And I have finally accepted that I will never get away from this computer long enough to do more than minimal housekeeping and to ensure my teenager doesn't starve (not that she ever would; she learned to forage for herself from an early age which, come to think of it, could be why she was so enthralled with The Hunger Games series).
     She will cook for the both of us now, with the downside being that I get to do the dishes--we both hate doing dishes. It also means we eat a lot of French fries and pasta dishes with the occasional salad thrown in to stave off rickets. It doesn't save me a lot of time.
     Or lose me any weight. My immediate goal is to make enough so I can buy a treadmill to walk/write on. By the by, I have a couple of horror short stories just out this week, one to read free on Wattpad and a more adult-oriented one available as a 99 cent download on Amazon. Just sayin'. Getting back to the topic, though, I don't mind staring at a computer screen all day, but what I really don't like is all this sitting down business.
     I have always been fascinated by the writing habits of great writers. Balzac, an archetypal spendthrift, turned night into day to ensure none of his creditors could interrupt his train of thought; numerous romantic poets, including Byron, kept a skull or two on their desks. Hemingway in particular has always interested me because he wrote standing up at a drafting table. I am also intrigued by his nervous habit of coring the rot and bruises out of apples with a penknife as he wrote. It would certainly beat devouring jelly babies or pulling out your eyelashes while you polish your language. And if you were feeling particularly dark that day, the knife would be handy.
     Back to the standing, though. As I've mentioned before, I worked for years as a daily newspaper reporter. I never wanted to become an editor, though it meant more money/status/job security, for one reason: every desk editor I ever met had a bad back or was working on one.
     It would be fine if you could go directly from reporter to managing editor (those guys got to take lunch; the desk editors worked straight through due to newspaper deadlines), but that never happened at any newspaper I ever heard of, not even if your relative owned it.
     Sitting still has repercussions. My only exercise this summer has been mowing the lawn once a week. I went to great lengths to explain to the wide-eyed neighbors yesterday that my sudden weight gain was due to working hard sitting on my ass. For some reason, they didn't get it.
     The general perception out there, however untrue, is that fat people are lazy people. Writing may be the only profession whereby rapid weight gain is a sign of success, not laziness. It means you've been socking away 12, 14, and 16 hour days to keep up with your clamoring fans.
      I don't know why more writers don't mention this instead of relying on head shots only: really, we should be equated to leaders of primitive cultures where your status is dependent on the girth of your waist. A fat writer is an affluent writer. The more you weigh, the more you can afford to eat. The more you write, the more you weigh, the more readers you have. It's revolving karma. But no one appreciates this.
      It's a shame that being overweight carries a literal increase in stature, but not status--otherwise, we could have writing contests based on our weight. Indie writers have it the worst, too. The necessity to sit still for long periods of time is accelerating. You can't get away with just writing anymore, not even if you're the genius your mother always said you were.
      You have to blog, reblog, tag, twitter, retwitter, follow; leave hearts, stars, and messages with that hideous smiley face some disco-trotting joker turned computer nerd decided to resurrect from the 1970s--it doesn't end. Writers devote up to four hours a day doing promotional stuff on line. To become a successful writer in the new sense means social media of all kinds is mandatory. Mandatory.
     When you combine this with "just writing"--a seven-hour day at the least if you plan to do it full time (and if you want to really succeed, those regular writing hours are more often 10 to 12 hours a day)--that's a lot of sitting still.
     Remembering the '90s, when workaholics with no time to spare wandered gyms at lunch with work they'd brought from their offices (I myself cruised about in those days carrying weights; my idea of a good exercise was one where you got to sit down), I've realized I need to maximize my time.
     Hemingway the athlete had it right. Back in the 1930s, as a reporter himself, I'm sure he took note of all those groaning, moaning, bad-back desk editors at the Toronto Star. And it's amazing how fast you fall apart when you do nothing but sit. Four months ago, before I returned to fiction writing in earnest, I was in great, if not excellent, shape for my age. Four months. That's all it took for me to bloat up like a dead thing left sitting in the sun. Now I need to lose weight or buy a new wardrobe. And while I've never had a bad back, I surely would if I kept on without making some changes.
     I've rearranged things so I can write à la Hemingway, standing as I type. It's a temporary fix for now. I've worked at jobs before where you must stand in one spot. I've never liked standing still. And I've always thought it would be lousy for your knees over time. Walking on a treadmill, however, sounds ideal.
     So this is a locomotion promotion. I'm interested in hearing from anyone else who is coping, or thinking of coping, with a similar problem.
     But please don't suggest a head shot. 

Copyright © 2014 Marilyn Storie

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

How things work

     A goal of blogging once a week to start with didn't sound so bad. Not at first. Not until I got enthusiastic again, messing about with how things work. As a result of that deeply regretted enthusiasm, no one will be reading this second blog any time soon--not until I slog my way through the mud-deep horror of hooking my own domain up with this blog. I have, in fact, royally screwed things up.
     This is one of those hideous computer problems where you can't back out once you've gotten yourself in--it's the equivalent of being caught in a Sumatran man trap except for that I'm a woman and, most luckily, more or less flat-chested. As well, you have to wait 48 hours between tries to see if you've fixed the original problem so the bloody torture could go on for days. Days.
     I will blog on schedule today anyway, whether my words continue to disappear into a laughing black hole or not. But, like most people messing around with websites and such, with no help other than that of a disdainful teenager who stays watching vines in her bedroom WHEN I'M BEGGING YOU FOR HELP HERE YOU ROTTEN KID, I am bitter. I discovered the correct instructions for adding a domain shortly AFTER I balled everything up by following instructions that turned out to be years out of date. Because, of course, that is How Things Work.
     I have had enough learning experiences in life. This last year, in fact, has been a blur of learning. There is never time enough in life to assimilate knowledge so it can be converted to wisdom. I have a godlike or possibly cowlike urge to remain unmoving and ruminate on all the new things I have been forced to learn and swot up on, simply in order to publish a few wretched books on the Internet.
     I do not dare give in to that urge. I must, in fact, write twice as hard and as fast to catch up to where I was before I immersed myself in the tank (in my view, staring at a computer screen for fourteen hours on end defines sensory deprivation).
Because that, my friends, is how things work.

Text Copyright © 2014 Marilyn Storie