Paper Crowns and Battle Cries

 

“It started out as a feeling

Which then grew into a hope

Which then turned into a quiet thought

Which then turned into a quiet word

And then that word grew louder and louder

Until it was a battle cry

I’ll come back

When you call me

No need to say goodbye

Just because everything’s changing

Doesn’t mean it’s never been this way before

All you can do is try to know who your friends are

As you head off to the war

Pick a star on the dark horizon

And follow the light

You’ll come back when it’s over

No need to say goodbye”

~Regina Specktor (from ‘The Call’)

If you’re going to dream, dream big. If not, don’t waste your time. You’d be better off painting your house, or doing your taxes, or trying to nail jello to the wall.

No, seriously, think about your average kid playing make-believe. Do they do it halfway? Do they adjust their creations to fit with what is likely or plausible? I sure as hell didn’t. Not only did I not account for reality, I’m pretty convinced that I lived life until I was in my mid-twenties under the assumption that magic was, in some way, real. I don’t mean literally, per say. More like that vague feeling that all young people have where they are under the impression that *they* can live forever. That sort of thing. Maybe there really is another world out there. Maybe this isn’t it. Maybe my lost socks are on to something.

There is a point where you lose that blissful ignorance though. For some of us, this moment comes earlier in life than for others. I’m always the last one to know. I was eleven when I found my Easter basket in my mother’s bedroom closet, and I’ll never forget the hit to my gut when I realized that this meant that Santa Clause wasn’t real either. It was a very dark day in my household.

Some of us have that same sort of, innocence, when it comes to being authors. Some of us go on to live eternally through our words. Others, give up and let go of the dream and move on to “adult” things—rational and likely things. As usual, I’m still holding on here. I have no misgivings about reality, don’t mistake me. But, I believe in more than what is probably going to happen. I have to. What good is life without goals, or destinations, or a future to spend time imagining?

Planning and being wise, aren’t bad things. I don’t mean that either. You’ve got to have your head on straight and a game plan. But, if we spend SO much of our efforts working towards specific objectives (uber fame, being J.K. Rowling, etc), then we will lose the magic that makes those things possible in the first place. There are no magic formulas, only magic. This goes back to a comment Anthony made on my ‘Sex and the Art of Author Marketing’ post a week ago or so…all of your extra-writerly stuff has to be done for the right reasons, or else it is purely for naught. I couldn’t agree more with him. This might all sound like common sense, at least it does to me as I type it out, but damn, it certainly doesn’t enter my mind when I start to worry about the pace of my career, or how my books are selling, or how the media/public perceives me.

It’s like the lyrics to the song I posted above…it’s a battle cry that we’ve got to keep on our hearts. This dream, of living our lives as authors, is larger than any set of rules, or fenced perimeter, or glass ceiling. There is marketing to be done. There are details to attend to. But don’t ever, ever lose track of the bigger picture of what you want. Be that child in the yard who is building a castle of sticks and stones, living life as a king or queen…even if your crown is only paper for now.

The gold will come later, I promise…

Unless you give up on it, and file that dream away with other lost things. Socks, for example. Or discarded ideas. Or ambitions.

Where is all of this talk of battle cries coming from? My time on Facebook this past week. That’s where. I hear so many writers talking about absolutes and how “things are,” and “conforming to the industry” and so on. God, it’s like hearing two children in the yard discussing the weight bearing properties of a cardboard box.

Hello, it’s a cardboard box. Chances are, you won’t have it forever.

I won’t be in this place in my career for the rest of my life. So why stress out about what is expected of me right this moment by an ambiguous, man-behind-the-curtain, kind of “Industry”? That’s useless. And for all my day dreaming, I’m still fairly pragmatic at the end of the day. The dreaming makes these things happen, therefore, that’s what I do. A query has never once in the history of the “Industry” sold a book. Period. No, hear me…THE BOOK sold itself once the full was requested, signed, pimped out, or sold directly to the publisher from the writer. I’ve seen stellar queries, that receive one request for novels after another, and yet…the books never get picked up. Know why? Because it was never the query that they were looking for in the first place.  You can argue semantics till you are blue in the face, that the book would never have been picked up had it not been for the query, but you’re missing the forest for the trees. THE BOOK, the story, the make-believe, the magic, is what was signed in the end.

So, that’s where our focus should be. Everything else, will work itself out. How can I say that? Easily, because I still suck at queries. I’ve got five novels under contract, and I can’t write a query letter to save my damn life. I can write them for other people (at gunpoint), but never for my own work. I doubt I’ll ever have that skill.

All I am capable of, is dreaming—of wearing paper crowns and carrying that battle cry like it’s burned onto my heart. That’ll just have to be enough.

If there be dragons…

After fighting with a scene for three weeks, which included yelling at my keyboard, pulling at my hair and much weeping and gnashing of teeth, I’ve finally broken through the fog. How? I realized that it wasn’t the logistics of the scene that were hurting my ability to write it…it simply didn’t need to be written. I needed several main characters to encounter a, well, let’s say hardship, and instead of crafting a useful way for this to happen I was rushing through what turned out to be an extraordinary scene in the process. Let me be more specific; I hurried them through some rather fantastic scenery in order to be on solid ground and encounter said foe, and by doing so I was missing out on all that I was eventually able to do in the original setting.

All that gibberish to say that if a scene is giving you that much trouble, there are two reasons for it: It deals with something you personally aren’t ready to deal with, or it’s being forced. Check your motives. Does it sound like a plot device? Could your novel/short-story do without the whole scene? (This is good to ask for any scene you write).  There may be many parts of the story that you write only for yourself, because keep in mind that a reader only needs to read what will push the narrative forward. Now, that’s not to say that it will always be obvious how it does so. A scene/chapter may only be for character building purposes, but you have to be unbelievably careful in doing this, you stand the chance of losing your reader’s interest. In other words, yes you can learn alot about James Bond with internal dialogue while he’s on the John, but it won’t have near the staying power as hearing that internal dialogue while he is in captivity somewhere (where he will inevitably sleep with the enemy and blow something up…but I digress).

I learned alot through this…and I may have encountered this lesson before, but as I’ve already said, each novel is different. Every story has its own characteristics and everytime I begin a new chapter, its like beginning a new relationship. There is the courtship phase, the newly-wed phase, the seven year itch (please God don’t let this drag on anymore), and hopefully the blissfully comfortable familiarity of someone you’ve known all your life. There are basic guidelines and ideas for all novels/relationships, but not all of them apply to every piece.

So very lost…

“So, here are two pervasive reasons that people write novels: (a) for the approval of others and (b) for the sake of writing itself. Nobody does it for either reason alone. There are easier ways to get approval, and the novelist who works in isolation, never publishing, is not a true novelist but a hobbyist.”  Donald Maass

I’ll admit, he had me through the first line. By the end of the quote, I was slightly put off. In case you don’t know, Donald Maass, is a literary agent with his own agency in New York. He wrote a book, which is where I obtained the little gem of wisdom above. So, my question is, are you telling me Emily Dickinson was not a true poet? In fact, here is a list of other works that were published posthumously:

So, tell me again how being published makes me a ‘serious’ novelist? Maass actually has a great deal of good advice in his book. However, it was clearly written by someone who has more of an eye on the market than on the craft of writing.

In the opening chapter, he remarks that there are a good many ‘novelists’ out there who write because they feel they must…who adopted the identity of ‘writer’ in adolescence and never learned to let it go. I have worked closely with teenagers for the past decade, and I’m afraid I disagree. There are a myriad of psychological reasons why someone who has the desire to write, cannot.

It has always come easily for me.  Though I have never felt forced to pen my thoughts, I have known others who struggle with it daily. It has nothing to do with their want to write, more with an inability to say what they mean or the reluctance to come to terms with their own emotions. It isn’t just because they’ve likened themselves to angsty, reclusive writers … but nice try, Maass. I’m sure many people thought that was a brilliant insight. Perhaps it is. I just fail to believe that those who consistently publish soulless drivel are any more true in their endeavors than those who don’t care for the scrutiny of the likes of agents, editors, etc.

I mean, even a blog can get you blacklisted these days…