Often enough, I refrain from telling new acquaintances that I write. I'm fully aware of the veer the conversation will likely take:
"A writer, really? How exciting!"
Oh, here we go. "Well, I dabble, really."
"Have I read anything you've written? A novel perhaps?"
My grocery list, perhaps? "Quite possibly."
"Oh, my. Which one?"
Hooked. "Do you remember the one with the rabid Saint Bernard?"
"You mean, Cujo? I thought Stephen King wrote that?"
"Yes, yes, indeed. Stephen King wrote Cujo. I wrote the other book about a rabid Saint Bernard. Did you read it?"
"No, I don't think I did. Really? There's another book about a rabid Saint Bernard?"
"Dozens, actually. In fact, it's become a whole new genre. Everyone who's anyone is writing a rabid Saint Bernard book these days."
"You don't say? Aren't they all . . . well . . . similar?"
"You bet. Why mess with a proven formula?"
"Huh. Doesn't seem right somehow. Have you written anything else?"
Ah, a true glutton for punishment. "Sure. Did you read Catch-22?"
"Of course. By Joseph Heller. One of my all-time favorites."
"Then you'll absolutely love my Catch-78."
"I beg your pardon? Catch-78?"
"Yup. The further adventures of a group of wacky flyboys living it up on some godforsaken fictional World War II island. Bombing Nazis never goes out of style."
"But Catch-22 is one of the greatest anti-war novels ever written. It's an American classic."
"You don't have to tell me, brother. Or any other writer, apparently. By the time I whipped through my book, Catch-23 through Catch-77 were already published. I had to settle for 78. Hey, I've got a first- edition 78 I can let you have for a song--personally inscribed by yours truly."
"No, thank you! Don't you ever write anything original?"
Ah, the moment I always drool for. "Why bother?"
Okay, I'm kidding. A little.
Still, I have got a grudge against the traditional mainstream publishing business. And not over sour grapes, either. My walls aren't papered with rejection letters. In fact, I've never submitted any of my work to a 'traditional' publishing house. I believe they're 'traditional' by reputation only.
See, I'm not in the recycling business. But trad publishing is. By extension, much of the reading public is, too. Just look at the covers of the books being promoted by the big houses. The most prominent feature on the covers of these books is the name of the author. Books are no longer chosen for publication based on their literary merit. No. They're chosen according to the 'wow factor' of the author's name. And the reading public has been trained to respond like Pavlov's dogs. Visit any sunny beach in America--seventy-five percent of the books being smeared with SFP 15 will have James Patterson's name billboarded on the cover.
There was a time when publishing houses were true talent scouts, mentors, nurturers. Now, they're bankers. And their currency is fame rather than talent. Publishing was once an admirable art. Now, it's a robotic, repetitive, predictable production line.
But don't be discouraged, fellow writers. Yes, I know I've become jaded. But it needn't happen to you. There are still high-quality, principled traditional publishers out there. What's more, we have the Internet. New writing venues and platforms (like this one) are springing up all the time.
And, of course, there's always self-publishing. But that's a rant for another time.
I began writing at a very early age: My father taught and wrote. My mother wrote and wrote. That says a whole lot about how I was raised: If you descend from a pair of writers, it’s pretty much a given: You’ll write too. I was an only child and probably spoiled, but I loved to read and, as Mom and Dad were usually both pretty busy, I was indulged. By the time I was five I had more books than your average library. Writing my own was the logical extension.
Writing, though, was never a pastime or a hobby. Even as a child, well before it became a passion, a compulsion and a necessity, it was something I took seriously, even if I didn’t pursue it seriously: I wrote -- mostly poems and the occasional short story (which I’m sure were pretty awful although my mother, bless her heart, hailed them as creative masterworks) -- squirreled away what I wrote, and went on to something else.
Thus, I spent a lot of years being a writer who didn’t admit he was a writer, because writing seemed, well -- not too hard a task, but too difficult a career to follow. Let’s face it: You don’t become a writer really expecting to make a living as one, and all of us, sigh, need to make a living. And writing takes up a lot of time; there are lots of other things you could be doing, like falling in love and building an enduring relationship, raising a family and admiring the growing balance in your retirement plan.
(Instead, for reasons only God could divine, you, like me, choose to write. Bravo! Or, in the eyes of much of the “real” world: Hiss. As those people are wont to say: When are you gonna get a real job?)
So, as a young man, I did none of those things I could have been doing. Instead, I dabbled. (The profession line on my business card of that era read “dabbler in life, literature and other interesting things.” Witty, perhaps, but also painfully true.) Sometimes I dabbled with intent (I wrote a really terrible novel when I was in my mid-twenties, and a less terrible one in my early thirties), sometimes without.
Until the late 1980s, when I decided it was time to put up or shut up: Write, I told myself, or stop talking about it. It’s a maxim: Writers write! Anything else we do is a waste of time.
So, with a dubious heart and many a misgiving, I wrote. I sat at my typewriter, then at my word processor, then at my computer, and I poured words onto paper. Every single day (or, more accurately, every single night, since I worked nine to five). They weren’t all good words, but enough of them were that I felt I was beginning to get the hang of what being a writer really meant. I was creating -- something that, I hoped and believed, some stranger would someday read and be moved by! I loved that, and the discipline of writing daily -- even if, sometimes, it was just for fifteen or twenty minutes -- was, at long last, helping me find my home in the world. (It’s a discipline I try to still maintain, because it’s still very helpful. The creative process is plenty hard. All help is welcome.)
In those days, I wrote almost exclusively plays, since I’d grown up in the theatre and it was a medium I was comfortable in. (Besides, there were those two awful novels yellowing in my drawer.) The first play I wrote was okay -- not great, but okay -- so I wrote another; it was better. I wrote a third and sent it to a contest. It was selected as runner-up, and the theatre staged it. So I wrote more plays and, in 1992, not one but two theatres mounted world premieres during a single week. One got lukewarm reviews, but the other got raves and won a bunch of awards.
I was off and running.
I’ve been running ever since.
And what have I discovered? Well... running is exercise, and exercises are intended to teach. In the process of flexing my literary muscles, I’ve learned a bunch of useful tricks of the writing trade, both as a playwright and as a fiction writer. Perhaps the most important “trick” I’ve learned is how to rewrite. Rewriting is what makes a good play or story a really good one. I spend a lot of time with something before I send it out into the world; everything can always be just a little bit better. (One of my plays underwent twenty-nine drafts. Most of my stories go through ten or fifteen.)
There are times -- between drafts -- I leave the piece alone, for a week or a month or even longer, so I can come back to it with fresh eyes. I’ve learned nothing I write is ready until I can go through it from first line to last and want to change nothing but punctuation. (This, by the way, is no exception. Even though it’s “just” 1554 words, it has undergone eight or nine drafts to get to what you’re reading.) That means it may be months before something’s “done” (or ready for an editor to review it. I’m proud of the fact, however, that no editor with whom I’ve worked has ever requested significant changes. Almost always, they’re less substantive than cosmetic).
Of course, all that rewriting requires a good deal of patience. That’s something else I’ve learned, to be patient with the story and with myself. Trust me: Crossing the finish line is much more rewarding when you’re the turtle.
And something else I’ve learned, also patience-related, that’s been of particular value: Getting rejected is just another part of The Writer’s Life. Scott Fitzgerald received one hundred twenty rejections before he ever sold a story. I read somewhere that Kon-Tiki was declined by twenty-seven publishers (back in the days when there weren’t the thousands there are now, thanks to the Web, and self-publishing was strictly a vanity affair) before it became an international bestseller. My first novel, Noir(ish), was rejected by more than sixty publishers and agents before an agent accepted it, and he sent it to more than twenty houses before Penguin bought it. (Ironically, the same day, another house, a small press, also made an offer.)
Thus, the lesson: Grit your teeth and have faith. A really good playwright, and good friend, once told me: Every good play will find a home. He’s right. So will every good story, article, poem and novel. The home it finds may not be the one you’d hoped for, but a home is a home is a home, at least when you’re building your résumé, and -- as long as you review the contract carefully and the editor isn’t a Gordon Lish who’ll rewrite your work to suit his own taste -- living in it can be comfortable. (Honestly? If I had it to do over I’d have accepted the small press’s offer to publish Noir(ish). Being able to say “I’ve been published by Penguin” impresses people but, in the three years after Penguin issued the book, the house didn’t do squat to help it. On the other hand, Robert Peett, the owner of Holland House, the small press that published my short story collection American Blues, and Bob and Jan and Mark Babcock, whose Deeds Publishing issued my novel Animation in 2015, have worked their butts off.
Another lesson: All that is publishing gold does not glitter. (And, just by way of sidebar: I’ve requested and received a reversion of rights from Penguin. Now I can send Noir(ish) to markets which really want it, and will promote it accordingly.)
What it comes down to, I suppose, is that to be a writer you have to do it for love, and re-do it for love; and then wait and wait for that love to be returned. It will happen. I’ve been taking and pursuing writing seriously now for more than twenty-five years. I’m not rich and probably never will be (unless I win the lottery. I play it faithfully), but I still love what I do, and I love that other people validate it, by publishing my work and, especially, by reading it. So I keep creating, I keep plodding along relentlessly in my determined, turtlesque way.
In an essay I wrote several years ago, I said
“For many years, I said I wrote because I could. Later, my
rationale was that, like breathing, it was easier for me to write than
it was not to write. Those are both true, but they’re not the truth.
That, I’ve come to realize, is -- I write because it’s my way to
“I’m striving for immortality.”
That is the truth, and every word I write is infused by that realization. It took a while to learn but now that I have, it makes getting up in the morning and sitting down at the terrifying (and sometimes terrorizing) blank screen much easier. After all, most of us want to be remembered. What we -- you and I -- create is the writer’s way. And all those lessons are its path.
For years, I was guilty of writing for hours and then throwing all of my words into the digital or physical trashcan. My writing journey started when I was just a child, reading comic books and making my own on the pages of one-dollar notebooks. I imagined stories about bigfoot and caped heroes.
When I was in junior high, I had an English teacher who took a special interest in my abilities and encouraged me to enter a contest. I won a place (though I honestly don’t remember if it was first or not), and my writing really began. That teacher will always have a special place in my memories.
In high school, I purchased a paperback copy of a Writer’s Market and started sending out submissions. I had some successes, mostly with poetry, but many misses. I encountered a few unkind editors who did not mind giving a fifteen-year-old kid what-for. I dreamed of one day being an eccentric writer who sustained himself on words. Another one of my teachers did not think this was such a great life plan and encouraged me to be an English teacher. I balked at this plan and went back to my writing for a few years.
I became an English teacher.
For the first stretch of my teaching career, I really did not write much. I would scribble ideas down and then thrown them away. Sometimes I would start my epic novel or my searing life story, or even a few short poems, and they too would make their way to the rubbish heap. I suppose all those years of rejection had seeped in, along with some other bits of life, and I felt defeated. Maybe I thought all I would be was a purveyor of other peoples’ words for the rest of my life, reciting them to the students in my classes.
“Really, kids, Updike was a genius…”
Then one day my wife told me to start finishing and stop throwing my drafts away. She’s a wise person. By some twist of luck, I was smart enough to listen. I went back to my drafting. Instead of throwing ideas out, I started recording them in notebooks again (this time without the colorful pictures of my childhood comic book authorship, which I am now seriously considering adding back in).
Acceptances started. I’m not talking about multiple-figure deals or even enough money to really count as income, because that still hasn’t happened, but at least a few acceptances, then more and then more. In 2014, over the course of some snow days, I put together a poetry chapbook, which was published by an outfit called Red Dashboard. It’s available on Amazon, and a few copies are out there in people’s hands. How many copies? So far, not as many as I would like, but that’s okay – it’s still a success, and still a published book.
Good authors know when to cut. In fact, I could have turned any one of these short strung-together anecdotes into a windy diversion. I’m not saying that work doesn’t need to be edited. My composition students know me better than that, and there’s a famous Eudora Welty quote to back up the principle.
What I am saying is just the wisdom that has been passed on to me, and I do call it wisdom. Don’t throw your drafts away. Get a thumb drive and save them, or a journal and write them down. Save second and third drafts. You never know when that word you forgot you wrote down a long time ago will come swimming back to you.
It’s been a lovely journey of scribbling so far, and I’m sure there are other rejections to come. That’s okay because the acceptances feel nice and, let’s face it, there is a writer inside us who simply won’t stop interrupting our sleep in the middle of the night to write down an idea or two.
Saturday, I attended a wedding at Trinity United Methodist Church on Market Street in Charleston, South Carolina. I’ve attended a lot of weddings over my lifetime. This one was different: The minister was a woman, and her sermon to the about- to- be wed couple seemed deeper and longer than the perfunctory “Who gives this woman to this man?” ritual I’m accustomed to.
This reverend advised the importance of two things for a good marriage: trust and vulnerability. The crux of her message: You are giving your partner control of your heart. You are making yourself vulnerable. And therefore, a husband and wife never should keep secrets from each other. This is the covenant they make on their wedding day.
As I listened, I longed for my notebook to jot down ideas she expressed, but obviously hauling out a journal during nuptials would be as gauche as un-pocketing a cell phone and recording it. So, memory had to suffice. While she elaborated on what she meant by trust and vulnerability, my mind scrolled to correlations between the covenant a man and a wife must pledge for a solid conjugal foundation and the covenant a writer must make with his craft and reader if she wants success.
Trust. A scribbler of words must trust that she has a message, a story that needs to be told, and the ability to tell it. She must trust she’s mastered aspects of the craft well enough that her writing will attract readers to her pages. In addition, the writer must trust the reader’s intellect to understand what is written, and she ought not overstate the obvious. One makes a pact with one’s reader. A writer must strive to fulfill that reader’s wants; therefore, she has to figure out what those wants are. If the reader is strolling the horror genre aisle of her bookstore and chooses a gruesome thriller, then the author of said chosen book better deliver scares and fitful sleep. A tacit promise has been made. If we writers plan to carry readers along with us on a journey, we’d better not disappoint. Like a spouse, a writer is expected to remain faithful to what’s been promised to the person selecting him. Find voice and keep the tone throughout; don’t deceive and don’t let down---these are the vows earnest scriveners make.
The covenantee-writer must be vulnerable. This means a writer lets his guard down. If he cries as he scribbles his memoir, chances are the covenantee- reader will also weep. If the writer laughs aloud at his clever phrasing in his humorous jaunt, likewise will the reader. Writers, like spouses, must be authentic, never fake. When one marries, one allows another soul into one’s private, inner sanctuary—one’s soul. As an author shares his feelings, thoughts, research he too is giving of himself during the sometimes grueling task of putting words on paper; he can be opening himself up to heartache and disappointment. Was it Hemingway who said writing was like cutting open a vein and letting it bleed? Not to suggest that all penning is painful or mortally wounding; however, if you--the writer--aren’t open and sensitive, chances are readers won’t connect with you.
Of course, this analogy doesn’t apply to journalistic writing, which should be “Just the facts, ma’am” and not an emotive op-ed. Yet, if you’re a novelist, an essayist or even a travel writer, you should show personality, humanity, and a willingness to merit a reader’s time and money. Like newlyweds at the altar, writers enter into an agreement with readers. As a wordsmith, you make a pact that you’ll deliver a story and in doing so you make yourself vulnerable to criticism- sometimes unfair- and to an invasion of privacy. Because failing to compose with emotion means failing to achieve a bond with readers. Without trust and vulnerability poured into your work, readers will consume it the way they do newspaper ads, emotionless. No one wants to stay in a sham, cold marriage, and no writer wants a reader to slam shut his opus and declare, “What a waste of my time! I’ll not be fooled by this guy again!”
So, let us, dear fellow writers renew our vows to keep in mind our partner--the reader--while we record and elaborate and poeticize. Let us fulfill our promise and help our devotees stay the course i.e. turn those pages and finish our books. That is our commitment and our covenant with those who read our prose. AMEN!
On occasion, I'm privileged to read and review stories written by emerging authors. For the most part, I'm impressed. But now and then, I'm compelled to make . . . suggestions. These suggestions almost always include admonitions about 'too much', or 'too many'.
Too much usually refers to description. Sure, we all like to get poetic about weather, and light, and color. But at what cost? Often, we pay the price in pace. Our prosaic indulgences may please our sensibilities, but do they really add to the story we're trying to tell? Not always. In fact, too much description frequently adds disruptive 'drag' to a story.
Too many almost always refers to dialogue and action tags. To me, nothing reveals an amateur writer as much as unnecessary and clumsy speech tags. Dialogue should be an organic smooth glide. Incessant tags disrupt this glide, causing readers to . . . trip.
What follows is a story written entirely in dialogue. No extraneous descriptors, no speech tags.
I wonder if you'll find anything missing?
"Hey, Old Man, mind steppin' over here to the stove and tastin' this broth for me?"
"You ain't tryin' to poison me again, are you, Prudence?"
"If I'd ever tried to poison you, Henry, you'd be second-generation worm meal by now. I probably should have done it forty years ago. But at this late date . . . I'd probably be doin' you a favor. Now, raise your old bones and come taste my broth."
"What kinda broth is it?"
"What kind of fool question is that? You watched me pluckin' a pullet all mornin'. What kind of broth do you think a pullet makes?"
"Feather, I reckon. Though I ain't at all partial to feather broth. Tickles my throat."
"Feather broth? I've never heard such nonsense. I swear your brainpan is gettin' sparse as your pate. It's chicken broth, Henry. You happy now?"
"Don't know if I'm happy or not, seein's how I ain't tasted it yet. But I'm surely relieved it ain't poison broth, ner feather. Hmmm. Needs a mite more salt, you ask me."
"Oh, you always say that. Can't you ever once tell me I did something right, Old Man?"
"And leave you with nothin' more to shoot for? Don't seem Christian-like to me."
"What do you know about Christian? You ain't seen the inside of a church since our weddin'."
"And I won't, neither. 'Tis widely recommended, never return to the scene of a heinous crime."
"Crime, was it? I'll show you a crime. Try to keep breathin' while I get the rat poison. Then you can taste the broth again."
"But the broth don't need poison, Prudence. It needs salt."
"What do you know? Everyone agrees you don't salt the broth, you salt the soup. And this here broth ain't been made soup yet."
"Then why in the name of Hazel's halter did you make me get up to taste it?"
"The way you lump around like a mushroom all the time, I got to get you up once in a while. How else am I to know when it's time to call for the undertaker . . . and dance a jig? What do you want in your soup, Henry?"
"Don't you go pressin' me, you ol' mule."
"Chicken, then . . . but no feathers."
"Henry Derby, I hope you're havin' yourself a good time japin' me, because the Day of Judgment will soon be upon us."
"Sooner than the soup, rate you're goin' at it."
"That's it, Old Man! You're gettin' dumplin's in your soup--not because you like 'em, but because that's what I want. And you're gettin' plenty of turnips in it, too--not because I like 'em, which I do, but because you don't. How do you like them apples?"
"Anything you say, Prudey."
"Anything I say? Since when? And the last time you called me 'Prudey', you still had hair on your head and a spring in your . . . bib overalls. What 're you tryin' to run on me, Henry Derby?"
"Run? Prudey, you know I barely got the starch to stand. I ain't runnin' nothin'. I'm just tryin' to make up for funnin' you about your broth."
"Make up? You? Good Lord, at least I know what a stroke looks like now. Really, Henry, are you okay? You seein' a bright light and hearin' your gran'mammy callin' to you?"
"I'm right as rain, Cinnamon."
"Cinnamon? What in the blazes are you talkin' abo . . . Oh, you spied the bag of apples I drug up from the cellar, didn't you? That's it, ain't it? And you thought you'd wheedle a pie out of me with all your sweet Prudey-talk. I swear, you ain't got the principles God give to a red-reared baboon. Ought to be ashamed of yourself."
"Don't you 'Yes'm' me. But if I was of a mind to do some bakin', you want I should add raisins to the apples? Apple-raisin makes a mighty fine pie."
"Whatever you say, Prudey. But don't forget to add a pinch of salt to the crust dough this time."
"What do you mean, 'this time'?"
"Sometimes you forget."
"I ain't never forgot. And I ain't never made a turnip pie, neither, but there's a first time for ever'thing."
So? Did you miss the descriptors? Did you miss the dialogue tags? I doubt it.
The truth is, readers have imaginations--and they appreciate being given an opportunity to exercise them. Keep that in mind. Give your readers credit for being able, even eager, to read between the lines.
Methinks sometimes folks invent things to make other folks, who don’t understand the invention, feel stupid. Take Bitcoins. What the heck is a Bitcoin? A better question is: Why in the world would I pay money to own something I can’t hold, see, or understand?
At least with “Go Fund Me” I get it. That’s a cyber way to beg. I grasp Pyramid Schemes, too. But Bitcoin? I’m stumped.
As a small girl, I couldn’t figure out how things worked like telephones, galaxies, and taxes. I decided not to worry about it and resumed playing with my Barbies because I was young and not supposed to comprehend adult concepts.
Now, I’m an adult many times over and still don’t understand cell phones, the theory of relativity, or Buffettology. Only recently have I mastered the difference between an ETF and a UFO. Yesterday, on TV, I listened to attractive, 30ish, intelligent-seeming, male twins hawking “Bitcoins.” I gathered they are a cybercurrency that uses computer energy. Is that right? Who understands this besides Stephen Hawking? Does he even get it? More importantly who’s investing in this fairy dust?
Me, I like things I can understand. A week ago, I attended a writers’ reading where a writer has his moment at the podium with a mic and a captive audience seated before him. Each scribbler read her esoteric, profound, eclectic, poignant, sophisticated, obscure, urbane, highbrow, complex, cryptic, impenetrable, gloomy poems or the equivalent in prose. My fellow attendees seemed acquainted with each other’s product and they oohed, aahed or clapped after each rendition. The moderator appeared visibly moved by every performance After each piece, I physically pushed my chin up to shut my agape mouth. I sat dazed and confused. I couldn’t discern what my fellow wordsmiths were talking about but roughly I think it was: adultery, child abuse, incest, patricide, and maybe haunted trees with animal spirits? Pure obfuscation! My turn came. I was last on the roster. I read my simple, non-fiction story about last year’s New Year’s Eve. I relayed how we spent it not in revelry in Times Square, nor in the midst of overflowing champagne fountains, nor on an exotic vacation, but at a local Chinese restaurant with another couple whom we’d known a long time. My epiphany was that this is what is meant by Auld Lange Syne. “And there is a hand, my trusty friend, and give us a hand of yours…” Robert Burns wrote two and a half centuries ago that we should appreciate our beloved friends. His message was crystal clear. If this audience seated before me tried to excavate my tale for a deeper take-away, then they left as frustrated as I was when weed-whacking their mumbo-jumbo.
So, what does this reporting of a writers’ mic night have to do with Bitcoins?
Well, I say if you don’t understand something, if the concept is murky, and you must have it explained to you many, many times and even then, you’re not sure you’ve understood, perhaps it’s not real, but phony. Therefore, avoid making an illegitimate investment.
If the prose or poetry you’re reading or, worse, composing is muddled and confusing, ask yourself why. Could the complicated, convoluted, chaotic verses be akin to the Emperor’s New Clothes? Are your drawn-out metaphors, flowery hyperbole and ten-dollar words there to camouflage that nothing important was said? Are you as a writer trying to play the Wizard of Oz and disguising weak content behind an elaborate curtain of obscure and meaningless words?
Although not a fan of acronyms, I believe in one: KISS. And KISS should be applied to writing. Keep it Simple-- Scrivener!
So, here it is the New Year. January, 2018. A special time of determination and resolution for over-eaters, over-drinkers, and, even, over-writers. Yeah, you, Bub. You know who you are.
I'm guessing you are one of three-million-seven-thousand-and-twenty-two authors planning to make 2018 The Year of My Best Novel Ever. Good for you. I'll tell you right now, I'm utterly enthralled by your exuberance. Titillated by your tenacity. Awed by your artistic audacity. Go for it, man. Let it fly! Work without a net. You have nothing to fear but . . . second thoughts. Yeah, those second thoughts.
So, before you serial-crack your knuckles, dust off Roget's, and refill your printer's ink reservoirs, perhaps you'll allow me to offer a rousing ration of encouragement, a delicate potion of 'fear not', and a tonic for those second thoughts.
Don't be afraid to write small. I'm not speaking about length here, but about the issues, themes, motifs you plan to build you story on, or around. Not all stories need to shake the world. I'm speaking especially to you writers who may not be all that experienced. Life includes death, but, unless you're a mortician, it's not the center of the Universe. Don't be afraid to lighten up on the doom and gloom.
Anyone can write a bombastic story 'torn from the front pages'. But it requires special skills and dexterity to write a compelling tale based on a snippet of back-fence gossip, or conjured from a snapshot culled from an old family album. Despite what the word 'blockbuster' implies, everyday human interest stories still interest everyday humans. Don't be afraid to write small.
Don't be afraid to infuse your characters with . . . character. If your characters can't sing, my friends, all they can do is drone. If that's okay with you, well, welcome to the ranks of the International Association of Disappointed Self-Published Authors.
Intricate plots are fine. But readers relate better to intricate characters. Readers fall in love with characters, not clever plot devices. Invest your time in giving your characters tics, and quirks, mannerisms, and attitude. Give them flaws. Give them doubts and back-story. Above all, give them more depth than a cardboard cutout. Don't be afraid to infuse your characters with . . . character.
Don't be afraid to take your time. Listen, I know you're breathless. I know you're sashaying to those ants in your pants. I know you're deliriously desperate to punch the 'Send' key. Well, cool your jets, Bucko. You're not done yet.
What? You don't believe in drafts? Editing? Polishing? Refining? Who do you think you are? Me?
Forget it! Even I'm not arrogant enough to be me. I edit. I polish. I even (Lord, help me) expunge. Okay. I've said it. Yes, I expunge. You want to make something of it?
Listen, my friends, every writer needs to come to terms with his or her own verbal flatulence. You know what I'm talking about. That moment when we become so enthralled with our own artistic brilliance, we just naturally get . . . gassy. Yeah, flagrantly flatulent. Are you prepared for that kind of embarrassment? I should think not.
Do yourselves a favor, writers, take the time to purge the gas--as well as the SPAG. And, while you're at it, why not punch up the dialogue? Tweak your transitions. Mend your metaphors. Spit-shine your similes. Expunge the evil extraneous. Yes, expunge until your ribs ache. Most of all, don't be afraid to take your time about it.
Don't be afraid to read while you write. The saddest excuse for a writer is the one who claims he's too busy writing to read. Reminds me of the bus driver too busy watching the road to consult a map. No telling where he'll end up.
Spare me your excuses, writers. They're all variations on the same theme: 'I don't read while I write because I'm afraid I'll inadvertently steal a word, a line, a passage, an idea.' Sounds reasonable, right? Well, it stills smells like crap to me.
There's a giant gorge between 'reading' and 'plagiarizing'. That being said, reading is a boundless source of inspiration. But being inspired by a book is a far cry from plagiarizing it. You'd be hard pressed to produce a single author who hasn't been inspired, and doesn't hope to inspire others. Reading isn't stealing. Stealing is stealing.
Writing without reading is like clapping with one hand. Don't be afraid to read while you write.
Well, I've got plenty more to say, but who doesn't? Besides, you've get better things to do than listen to me. Go forth into the new year, writers, and be fruitful. I need inspiration, too.
Lee Allen Hill is just a leftover hippie with a penchant for word-slinging.