Sunday, August 5, 2012

Ten Commandments for a Happy Writing Life

So, I'm reading The Pocket Muse by Monica Wood as (you guessed it) inspiration for a writing course I am developing. As a writer myself, I found this list interesting, but rather than just post it, I wanted to add my 2 cents, just because. I hope you find both the list and my comments useful!

1. Don't wait for inspiration; establish a writing habit.

Man, do I know that. Sometimes, inspiration hits you when you're in the shower, in the middle of a meeting, when you're on the phone, or even in the bathroom. Tough, isn't it? It just never seems to come when you're ready to write. But, I've found that if you want to write, you can't just do it when inspiration strikes, because the Muses are fickle and sometimes cruel. You have to set up a routine: one hour a day, 30 minutes a day, three days a week—some kind of pattern that means you have devoted yourself to writing. Face it, not all your writing will be good, but it will be ideas that you might be able to use. Or not. Basically, download whatever is in your head onto paper (or computer screen). Even if you're sitting in the chair for that hour with nothing to say, write THAT. Sometimes writing is like unclogging a drain. You just have to keep plugging away at it until the real stuff gets through. And, even then, it won't always be good, but it's a place to start.

2. Take time off.

I take this a few ways. (A) I know that after I've been sitting in my routine for a while, and I feel pretty good about it, it becomes just that—routine, and I feel like I'm scraping the bottom of a greasy barrel for ideas. And no one can make sludge look anything better than sludge. I find it best to turn off the computer. Step away. Do anything but write. You keep an engine revving too long, it becomes overtaxed. (B) Sometimes, you do actually have to take time off from work to do the creative stuff. Even if you love your job (and mine is my passion in life), you still need to put the brakes on, take a day or two off, and just make yourself write (see #1).

3. Read voraciously.

I write fantasy fiction, based in Greek mythology. Maybe I should say, I absorb Greek mythology, ever since I was 8 years old. I wouldn't say I'm a renowned expert, but I know enough. And, I know where to find the information I need. My experience with Robert Graves, Edith Hamilton, Bulfinch, etc. has given me a wealth of knowledge. It's another passion. My fantasy experience includes Piers Anthony, Terry Goodkind, Ursula K. LeGuin, J. R. R. Tolkien, Orson Scott Card, Mercedes Lackey, Marion Zimmer Bradley, David Eddings, and many others. I've done my share of reading the genre. As if that weren't enough to draw from, I've been a comic book reader since I was about 10. So, yeah, read everything you can, in your genre and anything else. You just never know when inspiration will come. Experienced readers become excellent writers. I'm still reading and writing, so I'll let you know when I feel I've hit that benchmark. :)

4. Shut out the inner critic.

I started writing this story ("The Olympus Corps.") in my senior year of high school (circa 1985), but I didn't really get heavily into the novel work until about 1992. There's a reason why it took me about ten years to finish and publish my novel (2012). I edited my work with every sentence or paragraph. I'd write and write and write, and then I'd edit and edit and edit. Lather, rinse, repeat. I had to stop doing that or I would still be writing the novel. You are definitely your own worst critic. Don't judge your work. Just write. Get the ideas out there. Once you have the raw material (and it will be raw), then you can mold and shape it later. It'll happen.

5. Claim a space.

Mine is the café at Barnes & Noble. Whether I'm writing blog posts or my novel work, I find one place that's mine to write in. For some reason, the background noise works for me. Sitting at home with the television and a couch as a distraction, it's so much better for me to write somewhere where I can take a break, walk around BOOKS, and drink as much coffee as I want. The nice part is that I have an unending supply of resource material at my disposal (yes, I do actually buy most of them).

6. Claim some time.

I suppose this goes back to #1, but you actually have to claim the time you want. It's all well and good to say, "Oh, I'll write this week." No, it doesn't usually work that way. Actually write that into your schedule. Don't change your mind when your friends call and want to hang out at Applebee's. Stand strong when someone offers you tickets to go see that movie you've wanted to see. And, perhaps the hardest of all, tell your significant other you already had plans when he or she wants to go out to dinner. You have to make time for you. No one else will. It's not easy to do, I know. As a teacher, I have all summer to do whatever I want, and I set aside time every other day to do something. And that sometimes means I fidget and squirm in my chair. Tough. If I made a date with myself to write, then—everything be damned—that's what I'm going to do. Books don't write themselves. Setting the goal and keeping it means you're more likely to keep doing that.

7. Accept rejection.

I have a really hard time with rejection. Many people do. I think I jumped into being an "indie" author (through an on demand publisher like CreateSpace) because I didn't want to query traditional agents and publishers. I finished my book when I was 40, and I honestly didn't want to start the process, knowing I'd get my share of rejections. But, my experience with rejection has come from a few readers of Task Force: Gaea. For the most part, I've seen some good reviews of the novel, but I also know that people who know me are more inclined to lean more positively than not. A few 3 star reviews were, obviously, tepid, even though they did point out a few positives. One rejection came from someone I knew on Twitter. He had been following me, reposting and "favoriting" tweets of mine for months. When he said he would offer a review of the novel, I sent him a copy. Well, I woke up one morning to a tweet (not even an email) saying that he couldn't get past page 60, so he had to stop reading. Yeah, that hurt. But, I have come to realize that just because I like what I've written, or other people have, not everyone will. Some of the other rejections I've received were a few 1 star reviews (without comments). Something that still bothers me is that, while many people have bought copies of the novel, only a handful have posted any reviews, so it leads me to think that they just didn't like it, but were afraid of posting a negative review, so they posted nothing. I could be wrong, and maybe they haven't started or finished it yet because of time commitments. When you put yourself out there, you risk rejection. It's part of the process, and it helps you grow as a writer (or in anything).

8. Expect success.

I'm a "glass half full" person for the most part. I've had my share of dreams that my novel will be an award winner or that it will become a television series or even a movie, but I think expecting success is more realistic when I just think that people will like and read my book. I do expect that I will be taken seriously as a writer, and I don't think most people care whether or not I've published through an on demand company or not. The paperback or Kindle or Nook is just as viable as any other text. I do expect myself to be successful, so I strive to be the best I can be. I plan book events, interviews, and conversations so I can showcase my talent. I don't claim to be the best writer ever, nor do I claim to rival any of the great fantasy writers of all time, but I do think I have a strong voice and clear grasp of what story I am trying to tell. And, you know what? I do write with a vocabulary that may be slightly more elevated than the average reader, but I make no apologies for that. If someone has to use a dictionary or Google, I don't feel that's such a terrible thing. I'm a teacher as well as a writer, and I do believe everyone should expect success.

9. Live fully.

Writing will certainly be a big part of your life. It has to be if you want to be a published author. But, it can't be the only thing you do. I'm a high school English teacher, my primary passion in life. I give myself 100% to my students and my career because I know I can make a difference. When opportunities arise, I take them. I can't simply sequester myself in one place and devote my soul to writing. I travel when I can. I challenge myself. A full life becomes the best inspiration. Take from real life and make it surreal.

10. Wish others well.

Build connections with others, including other writers. I say "including" because you should try to bond with readers as well. Being a successful writer isn't just about promoting your own work, it's showing people what you do. Potential readers (who could help you promote your work) want to see what you do and what you think. Talk about what you love outside of literature: food, pets, colors, whatever. Compliment others when they achieve success, even if you've not reached that success. What goes around, comes around. It really does. Sometimes, you have to swallow your pride to be supportive of someone.

Thanks, Monica! Rules to write by!

1 comment:

  1. David,

    Nice post! Just like you, I've struggled with many of these commandments. It's always good to know you're not alone in your thanks for sharing! Keep up the good work!



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