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Posts Tagged ‘authors’

Ivan IlychHaving made all those comments encouraging each of us not to compare ourselves with other writers, I admit to being the worst offender. It seems to be human nature to do this, and maybe there’s not really much we can do to control it in ourselves. In “The Death of Ivan Ilych,” Tolstoy (that genius) writes “. . . the mere fact of the death of a near acquaintance aroused, as usual, in all who heard of it the complacent feeling that, ‘it is he who is dead and not I.'” (Emphasis mine.)

DesiderataMy favorite quote in relation to making comparisons, however, is from “Desiderata,” Max Ehrmann’s classic poem. “If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater or lesser persons than yourself.” In fact, nearly every line of this poem can be taken as advice for writers. It’s worth re-reading from that perspective, interpreting those lines as advice to authors. Try it.

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love machineThere is a famous incident about Jacqueline Susann. She was on an episode of The David Frost Show, which aired on July 16, 1969, promoting her novel The Love Machine. After a discussion of Susann’s appeal and business tactics, a critic, John Simon, spoke up. He demanded to know whether Susann was trying to write art or trash. Jackie did the best she could to counteract his apparently hostile challenge and the exchange became heated and snarling. What I wished then, and now, is that someone had brought up the obvious point. Those are not the only two choices and I refuse to be trapped into thinking they are. I refuse to accept what is a false dichotomy. John Simon, it seemed to me, was just trying to create a stir. Whether he intended to hurt Ms. Susann, I have no idea. But I would have wanted to ask him, “Okay, in which category do you place Kipling? Douglas Adams? Maeve Binchy? But mostly, why is there a need for categories at all?” compareVery few of us writers will end up in the same class as either, say, Toni Morrison on the one hand or [fill in the name of some trashy writer here] on the other. There’s a ton of great writing out there in between the extremes that will never win the Pulitzer or the Nobel but is still worthy and entertaining. My last post counseled all of us writers not to compare our output with others. Likewise we need to avoid denigrating the quality of our own work by wishfully comparing ourselves to Jane Austen or Philip Roth. I had a writer acquaintance a few years ago who had a very successful career writing romance novels. Yet she fell short of her own ambitions. “The novel I wish I could write is ord pepe 3Ordinary People [by Judith Guest].” Meanwhile, most of her friends would have killed to have had her level of success. Sure, we all want to be the best writers we can be. But writing quality, like quantity, is all on a continuum and we each have our place on it.

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compare1Occasionally my electric company sends me a charming, colorful letter informing me that I am using far, far more electricity than most of my neighbors who live in dwellings of a similar square footage to mine. The flyer includes “tips” on how I can use less. I can only surmise this is the same tactic employed by traffic control officers when they put those “your speed” signs along surface streets. Studies have shown that those signs do indeed cut down on speeding. But if this electric company letter is meant to shame me or increase my self-monitoring of electric use, and thereby help me cut back, it’s not working. We’re all for saving energy, but we’re already doing all we can, including the measures suggested by the flyer. But, consider this: I know my neighbors. Many of them are single. We, on the other hand, are a two person household. All of them work at jobs outside the home, so they’re gone all day during the week. A couple of them travel extensively, sometimes being away for a month at a time. Of course they are using less electricity at home than we are. If any of them retires, or adds a partner or other person to the household, their home usage will likely increase. Suddenly it will appear as though I have “improved,” relative to others, when in fact I haven’t changed a thing. Comparisons, with little or no context, mean nothing.

This is a long way of saying, when you are a writer, don’t compare yourself to anyone. I see messages frequently on the forums that I belong to about other people’s output. This one writes four books a year, or that one has published 80 stories in her career. My production seems piddling by comparison. But I don’t know the details of those writers’ lives, what circumstances they have, where or what they’ve published, or under what conditions.

On the other hand, I don’t want to compare myself to my other writer friends who are still struggling to publish their first piece, and maybe have been for years.

It’s like the old gravestone verse:

gravestone“Remember me as you pass by, As you are now so once was I, As I am now so you will be, Prepare for death and follow me.”

We’re all on the same path, just at different points along the way. You (and I) are ahead of some and behind others. Accept that. Then take the next step, whatever that may be for you. I’ll have further thoughts on this in my next post.

 

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turnaround2I got another story back a few days ago. No surprise. I had sent it to a top market where there’s a ton of competition from big name authors. Nevertheless it’s always worth a try. (Well, almost always.) Within days of the rejection, I had that story out to another publication. This is one case where I know the advice from successful writers is spot on, and I act on it as conscientiously as I can. Know the markets, keep your best work circulating and keep good records of where stories have been. It’s about increasing your chances of acceptance. It’s about keeping hope alive.

 

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novelNo one can ever really convey to another person what it’s like to: have a baby; buy your first home; retire; or write a novel. Sure, you can read about it. There’s no shortage of material devoted to helping the individual or couple embarking on one of these adventures. Sometimes, retirement or having a baby can be an unexpected development. Still, most of us have the option to choose whether or when to forge ahead. But the very fact that so many others have gone through the same experience gives us reassurance that we can succeed. And this reassurance is justified–except for writing a novel. Writing a novel is hard in a unique way. So, before you decide this is the path for you. read J.A. Allen’s blog post 8 Things You Must Do BEFORE Buckling Down to Write that Novel. Read it, heed it.

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invest 3Investing can be hard. Not because of the research involved or the principles to master, although that’s hard enough. Investing is hard because you have to do it in the present while not seeing the results until the future, sometimes the far, far future. You have to have faith that efforts or sacrifices made today will ensure a better life years later. And yet, if one doesn’t take actions in the present, it’s impossible for the investment results ever to materialize. There are other life activities that follow this model. One is learning a musical instrument. Another is physical fitness. You can’t forego daily, sometimes boring, practice for years and suddenly be an accomplished musician or have physical strength and stamina. Plus, if you don’t work out or practice your instrument, your skill level actually diminishes. For writers, it’s daily writing, or as close as we can achieve, that must be practiced. If you aren’t making incremental progress on your book, it won’t suddenly appear. If you don’t practice craft, you’ll never get any better. Meanwhile, there is no guarantee that results will ensue, or when, if ever. No guarantee of a book contract or a contest win. Like with exercise, musical or physical, you simply have to have faith that it will pay off. However, physical exercise has one advantage, in that it often results in feeling better rather quickly. Even a short walk can boost one’s spirits and sense of well-being. Writing has the same advantage, at least for me. I always have the sense that every time I write, even if it’s only a page, I’m becoming a better writer. It’s my investment in the future author that I hope to be. Though I can’t recall the source or the exact quote, Woody Allen once said, “It’s the dailiness that counts.” Yes.

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fruit salad 2At a restaurant a few days ago, I had a side of fresh fruit with my burger. It was so refreshing, I thought I’d recreate it at home. I bought a selection of fruit at a store that’s usually pretty dependable in its produce. Everything looked appealing. I thought I knew how to judge quality. But when I made up the fruit salad it was a disappointment. The strawberries were sour, the grapes were tough-skinned and the melon was still unripe. Perhaps they were picked too soon. Some fruits will “ripen” or develop more sugar content if left out on the counter for a few days. Some never will. I have a choice: I can just throw it all out and try again. There was a time I was much poorer and wouldn’t have even considered tossing edible food. But even then I had no illusions that that the fruit would miraculously start to taste better.

Sometimes my writing ideas and efforts are like that. They seem exciting and full of potential when I first think them up. But as I work with them further, I realize they are not going anywhere. They aren’t working and I can tell they aren’t going to get any better. As with the fruit, should I just throw it all out? There was a time when I did not have faith that ideas were abundant. I only had a few and didn’t know when I’d get more. It was an attitude of scarcity. While my mind still doesn’t spew forth ideas the way I’ve heard other writers brag about, I now have faith that it’s a never ending supply. There’s no need to cling to ones that aren’t exciting. Throw them out. Make room for something better.

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