My story, “Forensics & You,” just went live at HOBART today! If you have a few minutes today, please give it a read. I hope you enjoy!
As a writing instructor, I often wondered how my students had made it through high school with their limited writing skills. To me, their writing was an indication of the condition of their minds. In this digital age, many are losing the ability to communicate, and not just through writing. In a recent conversation with the principal at my daughter’s high school, she said some of her students can’t even talk face-to-face anymore. When she asked one to apologize to another, that student asked if she could text the apology instead.
Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, David McCullough said, “Writing is thinking. To write well is to think clearly. That’s why it’s so hard.” His assertion is supported by modern psychology. If you’re interested in this, here’s an article by Keith Oatley and Maja Djikic from Psychology Today: “Writing is Thinking.”
When I came back to writing at the age of 28, I wanted so badly to be published. Now, I’ve never actually stopped writing. I churned out essays as an English major, but when I say I came back to writing, I mean stories and poetry. I grew up absent from my own childhood, preferring to create alternate worlds instead. I also read. A lot. I preferred the written word to the harsh reality of life in an unstable and abusive home. Probably what saved me was the ability to safely escape through books, and writing provided a way for me to order my thoughts and deal with things in a productive–rather than destructive–way.
Because writing came so naturally to me, I thought I would be published instantly. I was mistaken. I had to learn how to edit. I had to learn the meaning of revision. Re-vision: taking another look. Looking deeper. Reading as if you’re someone else. The words we find so pretty and perfect often fall short of our intentions. In my post about balance, I discussed how “most of the editing and revision process happens inside my head, before I even begin to write.” It hasn’t always been that way. I had to learn that writing is a process.
This week, I proofed my story, “Fear of Sudden Things,” for EMBER: A Journal of Luminous Things. [I should mention that I also read through most of the issue after I finished proofing mine. It is a beautiful publication–for younger readers, as well as adults–filled with magical illustrations, stories, and poems by talented artists and writers. It is worth a subscription, for sure. But, in the words of LeVar Burton, “you don’t have to take my word for it.” Check it out for yourself! You’ll be glad you did!]
As I read through my story, witnessing it in the digital form before it goes to the printer, my vision blurred from tears of sheer amazement. I wrote it close to 2 years ago. When I submitted, they accidentally rejected it. Then, a few months later, an editor contacted me and stated that Brian Lewis was asking about my story. They then realized their error. Laughing, I told them in my reply that things like this happen to only me.
I mention this because the story was rejected, then accepted back in March, and I am just now proofing it for publication. The entire process has taken 2 years. On Sunday, I received an acceptance from HOBART for my story, “Forensics and You.” I sent an immediate letter of gratitude and received an instant reply to proof the story, which will appear in the web edition on November 24th. I wrote this story last June.
Long story short: the entire process requires patience, faith, and an unbeatable confidence in your own ability. I cycle through loving, hating, doubting, and back again–even after publication. I worry that it’s never good enough. But this says more about the state of my mind than my writing. It’s determination to keep going that leads me to success. When Yoda said, “Do, or do not. There is no try,” it’s obvious he wasn’t a writer. He was a Jedi Master. Sometimes trying is all we mere mortals can do. The rest is up to the editors, readers, agents, publishers, and whatever other employees handle our writing. I imagine the editors at PLOUGHSHARES sitting plumbers and cleaning ladies down at computers to filter through submissions. It’s probably a good practice. I mean, If plumbers and cleaning ladies actually want to read it, who wouldn’t?
As writers, we all know how difficult this industry can be to breakthrough and find success. Some days it can be exhilarating while other days it can be so frustrating. Today’s the day we want you to show your support of other writers by finding a book you enjoyed (especially by an author trying to find success) and leave that writer a nice review on Amazon or B&N or Goodreads. When you have a book published, you’ll realize how valuable and uplifting those reviews can be (especially when you’re having a tough day).
Thursday was the perfect day for this because I had just finished reading Amy Lukavics’ Daughters Unto Devils in the wee hours of the morning. So, taking Mr. Klems’ advice, I logged on to Goodreads and left my first ever review:
“Daughters Unto Devils left me breathless. I mostly binge-read it, and found myself clutching my chair at certain points along the ride. I’m also a YA writer and often deal with paranormal themes in my writing, so I know the difficulty involved in achieving this level of reader interaction/emotional response. Amy Lukavics successfully balances the paranormal elements with the human factors (i.e. characters’ relationships, desires, fears, etc.) in this book. Aside from the sheer terror I experienced numerous times, there were tender moments between Amanda and Hannah, which showed a change of heart for the protagonist–a very difficult thing to capture this well in writing. Though I understand some readers’ frustrations from the parents’ choices, even this was a realistic depiction of the stubbornness common with pioneer mentality. Overall, it read like a realized folk-ghost-tale, as the author intended. A+”
5 STARS to Amy Lukavics, with her debut YA novel, Daughters Unto Devils.
Have you written a review? If so, please leave a link below. If not, consider writing one for a book you loved, especially for a new author. Who knows–when the time comes, maybe he or she will write a review for you!
Today is November 1st–day one of NaNoWriMo. The goal: write an entire novel in 30 days. This is the first year I will be participating in the madness. If you want to join the fun, you can just do it or go to the National Novel Writing Month website and sign up. At this site, you can track your progress, get support, and meet other writers. Either way, come back here and let me know how it’s going. We can encourage each other along the way!
Let the games begin! And may the odds be ever in your favor!
If this is your first attempt at writing a novel, here are a few resources to help you get started:
10 Simple Habits to Help You Write Your First Book (Life Hacks): Simple tasks to put your writing potential in action.
How to Write Your First Book (BuzzFeed): 21 successful writers share their stories about overcoming writer’s block, completing, and selling their first books.
How to Start Writing a Book, 1st Chapter (Writer’s Digest): A sampling of advice, tips, and guidelines to inspire your “first steps from blank page to finished piece.”
Though the words may differ, the advice is always the same: If you are a writer, you must also read–widely and often. Among my stacks of lit magazines, poetry collections, young adult novels, encyclopedias of paranormal/supernatural phenomenon, and geography/history resources are quite a few books on writing. I pulled these 4 to show you:
Writing from the Heart: Tapping the Power of Your Inner Voice by Nancy Slonim Aronie (top left)
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott (top right)
Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing by Margaret Atwood (bottom left)
Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg (bottom right)
There are others–such as Stephen King’s On Writing and most of Janet Burroway’s guides on narrative craft–that I return to often. But these are the books I’ve heavily marked with scribbled notes in the margins and little fluorescent tabs sticking out the sides.
In Ms. Aronie’s Writing from the Heart, I like the practical exercises she prescribes.
Write about a lie you told. Do not soften the circumstances. Be tough but gentle. Be tough in writing the truth, but be gentle on yourself. You were just being human. Do you think you’re the only person who lied to get what you wanted?
Write about a lie that was told to you. (p. 72)
From Bird by Bird, Ms. Lamott tells us
One of the gifts of being a writer is that it gives you an excuse to do things, to go places and explore. Another is that writing motivates you to look closely at life, at life as it lurches by and tramps around. (p. xii)
There is a door we all want to walk through, and writing can help you find it and open it. Writing can give you what having a baby can give you: it can get you to start paying attention, can help you soften, can wake you up. But publishing won’t do any of those things; you’ll never get in that way. (p. 13)
In Negotiating with the Dead, Ms. Atwood lets us know that “it is artists who possess the secret identities, the secret powers, and — if posterity goes their way — the last laugh… As for artists who are also writers, they are doubles twice times over, for the mere act of writing splits the self into two.” (p. 32)
As you can see from the picture to the right, my copy of Writing Down the Bones is dense with tabs. I read Ms. Goldberg’s book while riding the bus to David Zimmerman’s novel writing class one summer in grad school at Iowa State University. In addition to the assigned and workshop readings, I chose to dive into this book that was recommended to me by a professor while I was still an undergrad at Simpson College. I believe it was one of those situations where it meant more when I finally got around to reading it, more than if I had read it back then. As if the right time would present itself, like a chance encounter with a person who’d been placed in your life precisely when you needed them the most. Such is a good book.
In Writing Down the Bones, Ms. Goldberg discusses the way we have to distance ourselves from the place (be it a physical or an emotional state) we need to write about. She gives the following metaphor:
Our senses by themselves are dumb. They take in experience, but they need the richness of sifting for a while through our consciousness and through our whole bodies. I call this “composting.” Our bodies are garbage heaps: we collect experience, and from the decomposition of the thrown-out eggshells, spinach leaves, coffee grinds, and old steak bones of our minds come nitrogen, heat, and very fertile soil. Out of this fertile soil bloom our poems and stories. But this does not come all at once. It takes time. Continue to turn over and over the organic details of your life until some of them fall through the garbage of discursive thoughts to the solid ground of black soil. (p. 14)
While writing, I return to these works often, and I may mention them again here.
How about you? What are you reading? What gives you inspiration? Whose advice do you find yourself returning to, time and again?
Even the Greats receive countless rejections before they’re recognized as “great.” Stephen King, Sylvia Plath, Kurt Vonnegut and Gertrude Stein all used their rejections to drive them to keep working, and work harder. They didn’t let these stop them, and the world is better for it!
Last week’s Prairie Schooner e-newsletter featured an interview with Adam Zagajewski titled, “The Border Between Sadness & Joy,” where Zagajewski discusses success:
I think success is the enemy of the poet. Poetry arises out of inner life; out of some contemplation, sometimes out of lament, and success creates an artificial reality. It’s not you− if you happen to be acclaimed. I haven’t reached this degree of success, luckily, but I can imagine there is a degree of success that cuts you away from real life, from real people.
Last time, I mentioned contacting fellow writers. In her response, Lisa Fay Coutley said, “It’s exciting, those earlier days of meandering and working your ass off. If that’s where you are, in a lot of ways, I think that’s the best part. It’s like new love. Enjoy it!”
For me, this adventure is like being a new mother. No one can possibly articulate how difficult it will be. On the same hand, no one can possibly describe how rewarding it can be.
As K.M. Weiland describes, “The magic ingredient in fiction is that special something that socks readers right in the gut and leaves them breathless with joy or sorrow (or maybe wabi-sabi, the Japanese term for that impossibly beautiful combination of the two).” (Outlining Your Novel, 66)
This July I will deliver my fifth baby. Because they arrive without specific care instructions each child is a beautiful mystery. Like Adam Zagajewski, I haven’t reached the degree of success that removes a writer from reality. I only know the magic of discovery involved with each new creation of poetry or fiction, and the overwhelming feeling of wabi-sabi that inevitably comes each time. And I will take Lisa Fay Coutley’s advice and enjoy it while it lasts.