Investing 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.
Posts Tagged ‘authors’
At 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.
As I mentioned in my last post, I’m reading Everybody Behaves Badly: The True Story Behind Hemingway’s Masterpiece The Sun Also Rises. The author, Lesley M.M. Blume, recounts the incident when Hemingway’s wife, Hadley, gathers up all his manuscripts “including his short stories, poetry, the starter novel and all of the carbon copies of these works.” (Emphasis mine. Because that’s the most chilling part–that she took the backup copies as well as the originals.) She packs it all into a valise which then goes missing at the train station, never to be recovered. Blume goes on to say that Hemingway used the incident in a later unpublished short story. What she doesn’t say is that in a posthumously published novel, The Garden of Eden, Hemingway creates a much harsher version. In that book, the character of the wife deliberately destroys some of her writer husband’s manuscripts. Whether intentional or accidental, this sounds like a terrible thing for a writer to undergo. But both in the real life version and the fictional one, that turns out not to be the case. In the novel, the writer, David, was able to reconstruct the entire lost story from memory, and even improve it as he went. In the real life version, Hemingway “came to believe that ‘it was probably good for me to lose the early work.'” Ezra Pound’s counsel was that “memory was the best editor.”
Recently I lost two blog post drafts before I had a chance to save them. Even at the moment of recreating them, I could tell the new versions were better than what I had lost. This doesn’t mean that I would be glad if all my notes and drafts suddenly got wiped out, as it did for a friend of mine whose work was lost in a warehouse fire. What it does mean, is that the writing was there in our heads before it ever got set down on paper or in a computer file. If the physical or electronic copies are lost, the work still exists, right where it originated, waiting for us in our writers’ brains.
When I talked about where to discard books when you are ready to, I hinted at a couple of tricky situations. You probably already know what they are. One is when you have a book which you no longer want, but it is signed by the author. Could be several reasons for this. The one most common for me, is that I got caught up in the excitement of a dynamic author talk/reading and bought a book, only to realize later, it’s not my kind of thing at all. I have a lot of writer friends, and I used to buy all their books just to be supportive. A good motive, sure, but I ended up with stuff I didn’t really want. One time I really did want a book from an author, but she was sharing a table with another writer whom I did not know. It felt awkward ignoring the second author, so, sure enough I bought both of their books. In all of these cases, of course, the author graciously autographed the items to me. But then, how do you get rid of them? Yeah, I can pass them on in one of the ways described in the previous post. But, (call me over-sensitive), I’m not comfortable having my name end up in books being perused by other book buyers. (And with a name like mine, it couldn’t very well be anyone else.)
In the past, I have solved this by 1) razoring out the offending page, as long as it does not make the book unusable for someone else, or 2) using liberal black marker to obliterate my personal information. (I know, some of my friends will be appalled to read about defacing a book in any way. Tough.)
I also don’t like to just dump a signed copy, because, wouldn’t you know it, somehow the author him or herself will stumble across it, and I don’t want to be a factor in the chagrin they must feel at finding their hard work reduced to a giveaway pile. Worse still, if the author is a friend, I’ll be running into her any minute now along with her hurt feelings and insulted ego. Sure, every writer knows this is the ultimate fate of many of their books. One bestselling author (I can’t remember who), jokingly remarked that being a bestselling author meant that he could brag that he had more books in landfills than any other writer.
Now, I have a new method. I don’t let authors, whether they are my friends or not, sign their books when I buy them. After all, I buy books at signings to support the author’s work, not obtain a souvenir or treasure. (I have a few exceptions, perhaps two or three signed books that I do cherish, including Schindler’s List, signed by Thomas Keneally.)
And when I sign my own book for others, I sign on the first page of the front matter, which is blank. That way, if they, sometime in the future, want to razor that page out, the rest of the book remains undamaged. In the next post, I’ll tell about how one of my own books ended up at a used book store, but with a much more positive ending.
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