Ideas & Intimacies

fadeI once told a class, “It’s hell writing and it’s hell not writing. The only happy state is just having written.”

Even in non-fiction one has to distance themselves from the information to become objective and create a flow. You have to think, research, create a hook, think of the psychology behind your characters, think of how to strategize and all that takes time. Did I say think several times? Concentration is required.

It’s only an uninformed person who believes that once you have the material you simply speed away at the computer.

When I was a columnist writing on philanthropy and the arts, I once encountered technical problems. With a deadline approaching, I borrowed my brother’s home office. My sister-in-law was surprised that my 750 word column took me an hour and a half to complete. Being a reader she was right-on. Not everyone is that astute. What I didn’t tell her is that I had already spent 2 hours thinking and planning my strategy.

Over the years, I’ve come to experience the certainty of my statement. It doesn’t get easier or go any faster. It’s a process. If you’re a writer, you have to write. But writing can be difficult.

In fiction, the days when inspired beauty flows straight from the brain of God via your computer into the world are few. It has to come through you, which is why you need quiet, solitude and space to concentrate. Even then, it can be a lot of staring at the blank screen, or writing a sentence only to delete it, or trying to get into the head of a character who persists in remaining opaque.

New forms can be either very exciting or very challenging. The best time-out is to read. But then one has to be careful that what you write is authentically yours and not something that got buried into your unconscious as a recapitulization of another’s labor.

It takes truth to stay focused and commit to what you write on paper.

Unfortunately, despite their integrity, writers are not appreciated. Because it’s not a visible art form until it’s completed which takes time, and no one can see or connect with what’s going on in your head, it gets undermined. It’s not like speaking. Speaking tolerates mistakes, writing does not. Considered the most difficult art, as a human art, it takes logic, skill, practice and creativity. Both hemispheres of your brain have to perform and be adept. Writing requires that you use them systematically and intelligently. There is no cookie-cutter technique.

A painter may have before him the beauty of nature, the sculptor the figure or cast, the musician sheet music, a dancer their body, but a writer must relate sound wholly to a character. An imagination must be used to draw a mental picture and correlate language to move an audience emotionally. And that is why all artists need the writer. So that the writer can transmit their artistic message and form a mood.

Writing as the art of expression has to be easy to read and well executed. It’s got to have form and movement to create an entire world. The medium is wholly abstractrelying on visual symbols: words, you have a recipe for an art that takes a long time to learn and great labor to enact.

And just when you think you are done, you’re not. Just like death and taxes, you can always count on re-writes. No one is exempt except for the novice who mistakenly believes they are finished.

Finally, there is a massive amount of rejection, where you have to pick yourself up and go again, even when you feel fragile.

So there you have it, reader, not the easiest road but the one I chose and that I pledge my allegiance to, heart, mind and soul.

Do you agree or disagree with my statements and why? I’d love to hear your comments.

Do It… For Love

A teacher I know remarked how she would like to stay at home and run a blog. It got me thinking about what people think is involved versus what it actually takes. So this post is intended to dis-spell some blogging myths.WritersLife

1.The only thing bloggers do is run their blog.

Most bloggers either have a full-time job, a family, or even if they are a full-time blogger they have a schedule and most likely are busy doing other work; writing, freelancing or are consultants.

2. That it’s expensive to build a blog.

There are so many templates especially on Word Press that are free, or inexpensive.

3.That you write a post and then publish it immediately.

I often get asked: when do you have time to write your blog? The answer is, I can write a post at anytime and schedule when I want it to post. Most bloggers do this as well.

4. That everyone in the blogging world is nice.

The blogging community is an amazing thing to be part of and I’ve met incredible people along the way. People also can get nasty toward bloggers who monetize their content saying it’s not a real job. There’s a dark side to any online comment thread, it’s the nature of the Internet, and something that everyone will encounter at some point.

5. That blog posts take a few minutes to write and publish.

Some do, some do not. You have to be your own editor, and I am meticulous about my words, since they reflect me/ my work. But like anything, the longer you do it, the better you become.

6. That you need an expensive camera.

Fashion or Beauty blogs require a good quality camera – as does video. I am a visual person so I cannot post without a visual. But, I don’t think that it equates to running a successful blog.

7. That bloggers get freebies.

It astounds me when I hear someone say they want to start a blog because they want free perks. It really defeats the objective of having a blog and in my opinion, is juvenile. Do it for the enjoyment. Not from what you may or may not gain. The relationship between a blog and a business is something that needs to be nurtured so it can grow and work well together. That can only happen when you invest in relevant content.

8. That bloggers work with any brand to make sales.

Blogging has become a large industry, bloggers are being asked to participate in campaigns, giveaways and to do reviews. Bloggers cannot say yes to everything and say no to things that are not mutually beneficial or interesting to their readers.

9. That you must have a blogging niche.

I’m of the mind-set that it helps. But you don’t need to pigeon-hole yourself. Lots of blogs cover a wide spectrum of things and blogging awards categories have got broader. It’s good to find your ‘specialty’ and be unique in your style and tone, but you don’t need to fret over not knowing what your topic is, it will develop over time.

10.That it’s all about numbers.

Most of the time it’s about traffic, referrals, followers etc. But that’s not everybody’s key metric. Blogging can also be for engagement; be it the emails, the tweets, the letters, the friendships. For me personally, it’s about finding and growing the right audience; the people that I want to reach, share my ideas with, because as I see it, communication is awe-inspiring.

Should you or shouldn’t you… a word on Writing Contests

Many times novice writers enter contests even if they’ve never submitted a single piece of writing to a literary journal or magazine. This bewilders me. There are hundreds of journals and presses out there just waiting to read your work for free. So why pay somebody to read your submission?

While winning a contest can bring you attention as a writer, it’s not a good idea for it to your prime motivator. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll win any contest of note if you’ve never published anything, anywhere. Contests are not the place to start. Literary journals are. Once you’ve published your shorter work in literary journals, and have yourself in circulation, then you can begin selectively entering contests that you think you might have some prospect of winning. Build your resume first, and it can happen, otherwise, you are throwing your money away.

When you feel that you are ready to begin entering contests, do your homework. Contests can be a great way of calling attention to a writer’s work, but you have to know who you are submitting to. Contests can be scams that prey upon unwary writers desperate to get their work into print. To combat this, I recommend you check out the Writer Beware website, (http://www.sfwa.org/other-resources/for-authors/writer-beware/) which keeps track of such things, and has good advice on what to avoid.

So are all writing contests bad? No. Contests are one of the few ways of gaining recognition in the less commercial avenues of writing, such as literary short fiction and poetry, where you are unlikely to make your mark based upon sales alone.

However, even good and reputable contests often have entry fees, and your chances of winning are slim, so you will want to set up a budget. If you are going to dish out funds, use it to support presses and writing organizations whose work you believe in, those that are publishing good work by authors you admire. Support organizations with which you yourself would want to be affiliated. Contests are only as good as the presses, journals and writing societies that back them.

Please feel free to leave your comments, any additional information, or resources that you may have.

Good luck with your submissions!

I didn’t mean to push your Buttons, I was looking for Mute

comeon

This week chatting with a friend, I remarked that blogging is like magazine writing. You need to welcome a reader in, and not hide your ideas in cluttered writing that assumes the reader understands you, but encourages them to learn from you.

Some years back I had a friend of a friend who, when asked a simple question, would tell you everything she knew/thought about a subject. We met at a class. If you asked where you should park, she would tell you the history of the parking lot, explain the institution’s relationship with the lot, contrast this with other parking locations, and somewhere in there, if you were lucky, and on rare occasion, would be where you could or could not park.

It didn’t help that her voice was loud and incessant.  Being sensitive to sound, I get affected mentally and physically by tone of voice. Sound has power. Loud noises, and constant chatter are counter-productive for a writer and increases stress hormones.

After her monologue, I learned to nod — “Uh huh”— and my interest would sharpen when she said something relevant to what I wanted to know.

That’s how some have learned to write internet material, they ramble every facet of a subject in one post, while throwing out opinions.

The problem with this is we do not naturally write the way we read. Most people tend to write long-winded, assuming readers will read every word. They don’t. As Hemingway said, “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”

Writing with clarity and brevity can be learned with practice over time. Here are ten suggestions for writing a better blog post:

  • Choose a topic readers identify with.

  • Make your tone conversational.

  • Have a good opening paragraph.

  • Write your post in a logical sequence.

  • Keep in mind; Blogging is a bit of sales, — if you choose a “how-to” strategy — insert supporting elements.

  • Convince your reader the problem merits their attention.

  • Know that you provide value by offering readers how to solve a problem.

  • Increase depth by reflecting on how to make the post more memorable and useful for your readers benefit?

  • Finally, offer solutions and present ideas to consider.

  • Edit and revise.

Keep in mind, a blog post is not a lecture; or a monologue, by making it identifiable— and engaging with a story there is a discovery made tangible.

Making your head burn

 

FireBurn

I love the month of November; I’m energized with ideas and projects and there are opportunities everywhere. Take for example NaNo, http://nanofiction.org/about a way for an emerging writer to get a start. Then there’s Writer’s Digest http://www.writersdigest.com/competitions/short-short-story-competition another opportunity. The list of writing competitions goes on, just remember, dear writer, Google is your friend, you can find more on your own.

Yesterday a young man asked me about creation. The creative process can be a strange thing. Sometimes we know exactly what we did to achieve our art, and other times we have no idea where the inspiration came from. That’s part of the excitement, but can also make frustration build. Making your head burn, heat spreading toward your heart. How do we reliably access this inner muse?

If you’re the type of writer who hates to plan ahead and the joy is in the discovery of that first draft then try this: free-write. I do this in my classes and students would get stumped. Now I invite students to bring a journal. Personally, this is what I use. I also use index cards. This technique, is to put anything and everything on paper and just keep going.

It can be done whenever, and will free up the writing self. The idea is to put anything on paper and I mean anything, it doesn’t matter as long as it’s coming out of your head and to the ends of your fingers… the point is to keep going.

When the critic intrudes and tells you that what you’re doing is awful, tell the critic to make an exit, and keep writing. If you work on a computer, try dimming the screen so you can’t see what you’re doing. It makes for a great start and is the literary equivalent of scales at the piano or a dancer doing a warm-up.

If your a planner, and not comfortable with a loose outline, then write detailed summaries of a scene. That will leave room for a story to develop organically. Taking this approach, you can analyze what you are going to cover and you won’t be staring at a blank screen. This way you can layer your story; with conflict, character arcs and find out how to get a solid start on writing a story.

Have you tried either technique? Which works for you?

And the winner is…

I’m a tad late with this posting but every year, the literati place their bets on Japanese author Haruki Murakami winning the Nobel Prize in Literature. Instead, the Swedish Academy announced that the honor had gone to French author Patrick Modiano. The historical novelist has been hailed as “a Marcel Proust of our time.”

Personally, I like Murakami’s work and am not familiar with Modiano; read more about him here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patrick_Modiano.

But even though Murakami still isn’t a Nobel Laureate, he’s written numerous works that demand to be read. The 65-year-old author has been writing four hours a day without fail for around 35 years—so I’ve narrowed down his output to four essential novels that are perfect gateways for newbies:the read

Norwegian Wood
Murakami’s fifth novel is the most quintessentially Murakamian, setting up many themes that would become familiar throughout his career: An adrift male protagonist, sudden alienation, love triangles, dreamlike sex scenes, disappearing women, unanswered questions, the transformative power of music. Listen to this:

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles
Perhaps Murakami’s most lauded novel—or at least the one that’s usually listed highest on all-time greatest lists—starts out with an unemployed man looking for his lost cat. His search turns into a heady, lengthy journey as he meets an odd cast of characters and witnesses shocking acts of violence. The multiple time-lines and the fuzzy line between reality and fantasy can be disorienting, but keep reading.

Kafka on the Shore
Brutal in parts, fairytale-like in others, this is one of Murakami’s most beautiful and mysterious works. Plus, cats can talk.

1Q84
The success of this epic established Murakami as a true international superstar. It’s release was a global event—in some parts of the world, Harry Potter-like in scope. Probably Murakami’s most aggressively weird novel, this mind-bender explores alternate worlds and the big ideas: death, religion, love.

Though Modiano has written over 40 books and received critical acclaim in France, he is not a household name in the U.S.—only six of his works have been translated into English. The author has drawn from his own life—he is of Jewish-Italian descent and grew up in a Paris suburb in the aftermath of World War II—to pen a number of novels about the Nazi occupation of France. The Academy said it selected Modiano “for the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies and uncovered the life-world of the occupation.”

Have you read Murakami?  What did you think of his writing?  Do you plan to and why?