The Biggest Lie of Them All

“I grew up in a place where everybody was a storyteller, but nobody wrote. It was that kind of Celtic, storytelling tradition: everybody would have a story at the pub or at parties, even at the clubs and raves.”  Irvine Welsh

It’s visceral, isn’t it? This calling that we’ve entered into?

It’s no wonder we take things like criticisms, rules, guidelines, reviews, and the like, so seriously. I posted a link on my FB page several days ago that led to a post written by a good friend of mine over at The Lit Lab. The heart of the post was centered around the lies we’ve allowed ourselves to believe about writing and about being a professional author (you can find that post here). Reading that inspired list led me to start thinking…what lies have we told ourselves, or allowed ourselves to believe, about what it means to BE an author—a storyteller?

*You can’t develop your voice as an author until you’ve written for years and nothing that you write prior to your first published work will be worth holding onto.

Um…shall I list all of the famous works of literature that were the author’s firsts? I’d rather not, since it would take me more room than a single post on WordPress allows. This is utter bullshit, I don’t care if an agent (or any other authoritative figure) has told you otherwise. Think of it like this: Not everyone needs to date around before finding the one they’re destined to spend their life with. Some do. Others know the moment they meet them. Some authors spend years in silence, never penning a thing, then suddenly they find their voice and set off writing like their keyboards are on fire.

*All advice from reputable sources (agents, publishers, editors, critique group members, alpha & beta readers), is good advice.

Need I mention again, Tolkien’s advice to Lewis to nix Father Christmas from the Chronicles of Narnia? Even as I type that it sounds like good advice doesn’t it? Except for all of those children who listed it as their favorite part of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. And the fact that Lewis, in his heart, knew that Father Christmas couldn’t be cut from the story.

*You MUST know everything about the craft of writing, in order to be a good storyteller.

Have you never been to a bar before? Have you never sat around a campfire and heard Uncle Whoever retell his childhood escapades in such a way that has the whole crowd dying with laughter? Have you never been to summer camp and been huddled beneath your sleeping bag in dread terror while some counselor (me), or fellow camper (also me) told you the scariest story you’ve ever heard? Do you live under a rock? Storytelling, to some folks, is second nature. I think I can safely say that I’m one of them. You likely are as well, but haven’t gathered the guts to state that you believe that for the record. And before you go there, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t learn the basics. All I’m saying, is that the first guy or gal who told a story, likely didn’t know the parts of the story by what would become their “proper” names. Those are merely formalities. Imagine it like two people who speak different languages, meeting and falling in love. Sure, there might be a little fumbling around in the beginning, but eventually you develop your own method of communication and everything else falls into place. If it’s meant to be, you don’t have WORK at it that hard. It. Just. Is.

*In order to be a great author, you have to be able to write outstanding queries.

I’m sorry, I can hardly type from the tears I’m shedding in laughter over this one. I’ve read this on more than one agent’s blog, and a couple of publishers, but ironically, I’ve never seen it on an author’s blog. Wonder why? Gee…hmmm….give me a second. ‘Cause it’s…you guessed it….total shit. Some of us, just aren’t short-winded. Period. Yes, it’s a fault. Yes, it sucks. YES, it means it’ll take longer to get someone’s attention if you’re in that category and you’re unpublished. Does it mean you won’t ever be successful or famous? No. Not at all. And frankly, I have no idea where this idea came from. Queries and novels are not the same thing for a reason, and the pervasive idea that if you can’t sum up your novel in 300 words or less, then you don’t know what it’s about, is LUDICROUS. And I don’t mean the band.

Seriously, this one is one of the worst bits of writing “truth” I’ve read. It’s terribly discouraging and does nothing but make writing a query harder for those of us who struggle with writing them in the first place. So, do yourself (and me) a favor and don’t spread that horse manure. If you only knew the number of NYT bestselling authors who hired a ghost writer to write their queries for them…(how do I know this? Because I know a handful of ghost writers who have written them for NYT bestselling authors).

*The difference between authors and writers, is that authors have been traditionally published.

I think I just threw up a little bit in my mouth. Really? I’ve read that one on writers’ sites. Shame on you! You ought to know better. Do you think that because you are published that you have the right to make others feel less worthy than you? No, writers are folks who write. Period. This encompasses everything from obituaries and classified ads, to text books and personal weblogs. Authors, tell stories. That’s all. That’s the distinction. Check out Webster if you don’t believe me. Now, I will give you the caveat that in order to be an author, you do have to have actually *finished* a novel, short story, or novella. Publication has nothing to do with it. That’s merely recognition for having done something, it doesn’t have any bearing on whether you’ve actually done the thing or not. If you’re still “researching” that first novel, and have been for the last ten years, then you’re still a writer. Only when you’re done do you get to call yourself an author. Even if your cat is the only sentient being to set eyes on it after that.

I think even Donald Maass may have stated that in one of his many manifestos on how to be a bestselling author.

How ’bout I’ll just settle for being an author, and let the cards fall where they may. Hm? K. Thanks.

*But, the biggest lie of them all is this: As an author, I am worth the value that others place on my work.

Nothing, nothing, nothing could be further from the truth. I’ve told myself this one. I’m willing to bet that at some point in your writing life, you will too. There are two kinds of authors: Those who’ve bought the bullshit, and those who will. Not a single one of us is exempt from taking a reviewer too seriously, or a crit partner, or an agent, or an editor. Not a single one of us is exempt from wondering, at some dark moment, has this all been worth it? Not a single one of us is exempt from feeling, in a moment of weakness, like our hold on the English language is a tad more tenuous than we’d suspected.

Truth is, we’re all learning, and no work is perfect. No work is without its quirks. No author is free of them either, but isn’t that what makes our calling so great? No other profession in the world is quite like it. Some might come close, but they’ll never reach the heights that being an author will show you. You’ll never take another path and reach a higher summit.

Whatever lies you believe…don’t believe the biggest of them all. At the very least, do yourself, and the rest of us who will (or already do) love your writing, and your characters, and your worlds, do us the favor of having faith in your natural instincts.

Writer’s Conferences, Ravens and Writing Desks

Our trip was restful and rejuvenating. I am sleeping well and while I am not fully where I’d like to be on my current projects, there is at least a little more hope on the horizon. I found myself looking up writer’s conferences today, along with low residency MFA’a in popular fiction…only to find myself at a loss as far as where I fit into all of this ‘professional’ writing business. See, I don’t write short stories and with great frustration I found that MOST endeavors require them to be in your portfolio–if you are to attain any level of serious respect, as an author, anyway. Hmmm. I simply don’t manage ‘brevity’ well. I write epic level, worlds at war, kind of stuff. It doesn’t occur to me to write in short order.

Oak Mountain 2009

Oak Mountain 2009

So, after flipping through one non-encouraging blog after another, reading all of the necessities to become a successful full time writer, I decided that I should do something wholly non-official and unproductive (professionally speaking, of course)…I signed up for NANOWRIMO (or National Novel Writing Month). Now, before you laugh or condemn me to hell, let me explain why I don’t give a damn about your opinion on this either. See, I’m not doing it for you, I’m doing it for me. And I’m fairly prolific anyway, so 50,000 words in a month doesn’t sound like any big whoop–considering that I can easily crank out 30,000 in a week if I don’t have anything else (much) going on. Yes, dear, I realize that quality is more important than quantity…but talk to Asimov (actually, I think he’s deceased) and King (whose status among the living has been debated since the publication of ‘The Stand’) if you want reasons for why being prolific doesn’t mean you’re a naffin at your craft. But, there are MULTITUDES of bloggers, experienced writers and generally recognized nit-wits out there who loathe this whole idea and spend an absurd amount of time whining about its existence in the universe. That might also be the other reason I have decided to devote November to this endeavor. You say it is ridiculous and a waste of time and will likely produce nothing but drivel…well, ‘swell’ I say. I wasn’t producing much more than that these last few weeks anyway.

So, in November, I will ideally begin work on a novel loosely titled “Ravenwood” and leave all of my other projects on a shelf till I have at least 50,000 words down (which if success is to be mine, will be the end of said month). I’ve drafted the characters and have a general idea of where the novel will go–it deals with warlocks and whatnot, since I’m all vamped out for the time being (what with playing vampire wars on facebook and all…*sigh*). So, wish me luck–or laugh at me, whatever fits your fancy. Why did I title this blog this way? Well, just why is a raven like a writing desk?

Down the Rabbit Hole

Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland

I can’t tell you the last time I was actually depressed. Its been awhile for sure. While I was  cleaning the house today, I finally realized why I’ve been so sluggish lately. I have been a little under the weather since I left work. But, there is a difference between the blah feelings of fighting off a cold and the tell tale signs of, my good old friend, depression. So, as much as I hate to admit it–I need to.

Depression affects everything. My writing, my social life and most certainly my ability to function on a professional level–not that my writing career is really soaring or anything. Still, getting up and out of bed has a pretty high correlation to productivity. It’s likely the reason I haven’t been sleeping too well lately (though last night wasn’t too bad–which, come to think of it, could have been the cough syrup–Codeine’s good stuff.

I’ve lost weight–not a ton, but enough. My appetite sucks. I look awful; pale, lackluster complexion and dark circles under my eyes. What’s worse, is that I am already on an antidepressant, though it isn’t for depression. It’s for Trigeminal Neuralgia (long story). I think part of it, is that I didn’t see myself here at 28. I thought things would be different by now. I’m not normally this translucent or vulnerable in blog posts, but everyone’s got to confess sometime, right? I suppose this is mine. My heart is broken. And its broken deeper than I thought. I haven’t really written much more than a few paragraphs or a few drafted ideas in nearly two months. I know that my sadness has to do with my lack of really spending time with my passion (articles don’t count for me as writing), but its a vicious cycle. You would think it would be easy enough to sink into another world when I have so staggeringly little interest in this one, but it’s not that simple. When I was in Jr. High, it was…but not now. And there isn’t enough codeine in the world to make that pain go away. There isn’t enough alcohol or Saturday morning cartoons, or pictures of better days or songs on the radio.

I’m not usually a fan of weepy, emotional writing. I grew out of that when I left freshman year in college. But, my guts feel like they’ve been ripped out. And there is just this big hollow place left. I don’t want to hear about God, or how much Jesus loves me. I know all of that. I’m tired of cliche answers. There simply isn’t anything to say. Sometimes life hurts. Period. This is one of those times. Even Christ allowed people to suffer–wasn’t Peter stoned and crucified upside down? Just in case anyone was contemplating telling me how God doesn’t want me to feel this way. I think he’s got  bigger things to deal with than my petty issues. I don’t need to pray for God’s wisdom on what eye shadow I need to wear tomorrow–I’m not one of those people. I was long, long ago. But after getting burnt enough, you realize that religion and holiness have nearly nothing to do with each other.

Is it really darkest before the dawn? I heard that somewhere. I feel a little like Alice, and I keep waiting for a rabbit to follow–for something to change, but it never really will, will it? Childhood is over. My friend and I often lament how things have so changed since we were younger. How did we become so bitter?

Caterpillar: Who are YOU?
Alice: This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. I — I hardly know, sir, just at present — at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.

The Duchess:
I quite agree with you. And the moral of that is: Be what you would seem to be, or if you’d like it put more simply: Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise.

Alice: But I don’t want to go among mad people.
The Cat: Oh, you can’t help that. We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.
Alice: How do you know I’m mad?
The Cat: You must be. Or you wouldn’t have come here.
Alice: And how do you know that you’re mad?
The Cat: To begin with, a dog’s not mad. You grant that?
Alice: I suppose so,
The Cat: Well, then, you see, a dog growls when it’s angry, and wags its tail when it’s pleased. Now I growl when I’m pleased, and wag my tail when I’m angry. Therefore I’m mad.

Alice: I’ve had nothing yet, so I can’t take more.
The Hatter: You mean you can’t take less; it’s very easy to take more than nothing.

The White Queen: Can you do addition? What’s one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one?
Alice: I don’t know. I lost count.

Alice: And how many hours a day did you do lessons?
The Mock Turtle: Ten hours the first day, nine the next, and so on.
Alice: What a curious plan!
The Gryphon: That’s the reason they’re called lessons, because they lessen from day to day.

So, there it is…my thoughts for the day. If you are here from facebook and feel generous enough to comment, please, please do so at the blog itself. http://www.jschancellor.wordpress.com  (besides, the blog looks cooler)

quotes taken from about.com