Posts Tagged ‘the writing life’

Oh, the unbearable glamour

This is my second post on the myths of being an author. Some of these casual assumptions are great fun, but they may not be at all true to life. The reality of being an author and getting and staying published is far less dramatic than many people believe when they start out. But the truth of it is also less daunting!

The last post on “myths” was on finding Mr. Big, or the person we assume will save us and how (not) to get this person’s attention.

Myth #2. The Glamour and Prestige

Most of us starting out would never admit that there’s a teensy part of us that imagines life as an author is glamorous. We say instead that we have always wanted to write, that we have stories inside us that demand to be written, or more self-deprecating: we just don’t feel suited to doing anything else.

But deep down, there are images: sitting at a desk in front of window, sun streaming in, ink flowing from the pen; the line of people at the bookstore eager for our signature on a book; holding forth on Oprah on How I Wrote this National Bestseller. “Oprah, it started when I found a tattered newspaper on a park bench with a minor story on the Prime Minister’s cat. . .” Read More…

Starting a novel: Granite or fun house?

Today’s post: the mental state of being at the front-end of the novel. I love the start of novels. It may be the only time I can say I am unabashedly happy as a writer. Other times I may be confidant, poised, satisfied, or happily resigned. But there is only one sequence when I am in love: At the beginning.

Other authors do not love beginnings. Mary Higgins Clark has said:

“The first four months of writing a book, my mental image is scratching with my hands through granite.”

In contrast to this–quite common, I believe–writing experience is mine:

Springtime at Giverny - Monet

Springtime at Giverny – Monet

“The first hundred pages or so, my mental attitude is that of being lost in a fun house–no, not lost, more staggering from one wonder to another”

Read More…

Ups and downs

It was an up and down week.

It’s not the week I would normally talk about. But these are the scenes from the cutting room floor, the little realities of the writing life:

The ups

  • Hitting my stride on WIP, reasonable page count this week. Not great, but given what else is going on around here, quite respectable.
  • Advance Reader Copies of A Thousand Perfect Things will have full color wrap around cover, I learned this week.
  • Received a lovely advance blurb from a well-known writer for Perfect Things.
  • Wrote a tough scene for the WIP. Wondered if I could pull it off, but love it. Read More…

Dealing with discouragement

Okay, I’ve heard enough. You’re discouraged. Is it all worth it? Is the writing life what it’s chalked up to be? Have you missed the boat?

If you don’t have time to read this post, here is the short verson:

  • Yes, it’s worth it.
  • No, it’s not what it’s advertised as.
  • There is no boat.

Now on to the details:

I’ve been hearing a lot from aspiring writers lately about fears and anxieties. If I really had answers, I’d be a rich therapist, of course. But from what I’ve seen over my fifteen year career, here are some of my truths about Discouragement.

1. Be realistic. Discouragement is like belly fat. You’ll fight it your whole life. Don’t beat yourself up over a little bit of muffin top. (You’re already discouraged, don’t add self-loathing.)

2. There is profound connection between discouragement and inflexibility. If you have to have what you expect, then you’re clearing a path for discouragement to find you.

3. Discouragement gets a toe-hold in you when you don’t have clear goals. How do you know if you’re failed if you didn’t have a goal? If you don’t meet a goal, what about your other goals?

4. Discouragement comes from a lack of faith and courage. I was shocked when I first realized this. But look at the root of the word: DIScourage. When we lack courage, we’re open to self-pity. Self-pity leads to the loss of friends. Loss of friends leads to being alone at Christmas… oh, wait, we’ve already seen that commercial.

5. You must battle discouragement directly. Have an attack plan. It’s not enough to say “I shouldn’t be discouraged.” That leads to being discouraged over not being able to overcome discouragement. Oh, you’re not that crazy? Good. (But you’re probably very young.)


The sooner you understand that the writing life is full of ups and downs, the sooner you can stop fretting. We all go through it (not much of a help, but still…) Your life as a published author is not going to look like your hero’s life. And even your hero is not as content as you might think. This is a tough, fascinating, rewarding, exasperating business. Welcome to the family reunion. But seriously, it will help so much for you to shed your idealism about writing and realize that it is a fine vocation, but it will not save you. What saves you is a good life, deeply lived.


Make a vow that you will always have one more project envisioned after the Work In Progress (WIP.) This keeps you from putting all your eggs in one basket. Perhaps you can have two projects going at once, such as a short story to spell you from the novel. The publishing world may or may not buy my WIP; but I can hardly wait to finish it so I can move on to another exciting project. Be driven by passion, not ambition. That is, don’t count on a “very nice” offer on the WIP, at least don’t count on it to the point where a non-sale is the source of Deep Discouragement. You write ’em, take your knocks (or your money) and rush on to the next glorious chance to tell a story.

Set aside fifteen minutes a day to come up with a short story idea or the next novel idea. Can’t keep in mind two plots at once? Yes you can. Your own brain is the most under-utilized system on the planet (hey, mine too!) Few of us are working at a level of personal and creative mastery. Push yourself. But above all, be ready to punt if and when WIP falters.

Clear goals

In order to know if you’re heading in the right direction, you need your own personal, true goals. Not someone else’s goal. Yours. Write them down. You might think your goals are clear, but for most people, they are mushy. Write ’em down. With deadlines. The goals can be things you can’t control and things you can (Publish WIP before my birthday in 2013. Sell short story to a magazine this year. Write 4 new pages every week.) If you don’t meet these goals, rewrite them. Look at them every day. A goal is not a must-have, it’s a want-to-have. Make a commitment to pursuing your goals with passion and integrity. This leads us to:

Faith and courage

I’m not a spiritual counselor, but I’m pretty sure if you don’t have a source of inspiration in your life, you are going to handicap yourself. Does your inspiration give you encouragement to dream and keep going? Does your inspiration, whether it is religion or humanism or core values, allow the power of the day to flow into you and show you joy? If not, start here. Find your meaning; assess what it’s all about. If you don’t know this, it will be about ego, and ego leads to discouragement.

Now, to courage. Don’t be the skinny kid on the block. Develop your mental muscles. Learn an attitude of courage. Act like it even when you don’t feel like it. Call on your courage during the day in whatever visualization works for you.

Hey, it’s a mind game. And one day, after years of practicing courage, you will face a really dread demon, and guess what, you’ve got the right stuff. You learned courage one day at a time.

For more help on this one, here is my post on the subject. Scroll down to the subhead Courage.

Attack plan

If you are feeling discouraged, get organized. Have a plan. Actually, you should have a plan whether or not you feel discouraged. Set goals for your career, your personal life and your mental health. List them. Follow up with integrity and energy. Put your list out where you can see it. Rewrite your list frequently, even if it doesn’t change. Become goal-oriented, and value oriented. Remember that if you aren’t following your list, you aren’t being true to yourself, or your list isn’t true. Keep tweaking it. This is not a pointless exercise, it is a process to go deeper into your life and spend your time wisely.

In the midst of all this, you will find Discouragement slinking away, waiting for you to forget what you’re all about. It is waiting in the corner and will inevitably watch for weakness and days when the baby has been up all night or another rejection letter shows up. Acknowledge the creature. Firmly suggest that he go feed on someone who is a push-over. He will respect you for it. And though he will never entirely go away, he will grow smaller.

Sailing on

And the boat? (As in missing the boat.) This one has to do with feeling like one is too old to aspire to the writing life. Talk about a discouraging premise! You aren’t as old as you will be next year or a decade from now. Did you start late? So what? If writing is your passion, you have the rest of your life to immerse yourself in a fascinating pursuit that no one can deny to you and that will immeasurably sweeten your life with stories and writing friends. The boat has not left the dock. There is no boat full of successful authors that has sailed without you. Every day has the same chances as any other day. There is no boat.

What I Believe

Every December I find myself waxing philosophical about myself, the writing life, storytelling and the perfect lasagna recipe.

No, I’m not going to share my current lasagna recipe (some things are just too personal for blogging) but I am willing to share my articles of faith about writing. None of the following can be proven, but:

I believe that . . .

1. – the world is becoming a better place for writers.

2. – the writing life is the most rigorous program in the world for self-knowledge, inspiration and personal growth. And yes, I Have tried Buddhism.

3. – no matter how good a writer you are, you can always improve. And need to.

4. – the marketplace disciplines us, if we will only listen.

5. – to keep my writing fresh I need to move out of/beyond what I’ve done before.

6. – fine stories are much more important than fine writing.

7. – the most inexplicable part of writing is where stories come from. I  build novels up carefully, but where the glittering story kernel comes from in the first place remains an astonishing mystery. But if asked, I will always say: A PO Box in Spokane.

8  – despite my thwarted desire for a year on the NYT best seller list, I am mightily compensated in this work by my friendships with, and the company of, the people I’ve met in publishing.

9. – this story (whatever the current work in progress) is the best I’ve ever done. When I stop believing that, it won’t be fun any more.

10. – if I’m not giving back to aspiring writers and the writing community, my lasagna will turn watery and the top strip will be too crunchy.