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.

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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…

Madness ensues…

Nathan Bransford asked a really good question yesterday…What is the worst writing advice you’ve ever been given? A myriad of responses flooded in, and much of it sounded like some of the stuff I’ve been told.  In stead of talking about what shouldn’t be done, I thought I would chat a moment about what should. Consider this quote concerning fads:

Love. Fall in love and stay in love. Write only what you love, and love what you write. The key word is love. You have to get up in the morning and write something you love, something to live for.” 
–Ray Bradbury 

How true. How startlingly, frustratingly true. I lightly considered, as I complained about the current trends, changing my next project…or I should say I considered shelving my next project and replacing it with something that would fit the market. To even contemplate setting aside something that warms my soul to make room for something that fills my wallet, is true defeat.

So, in light of such a humbling revelation, I suspect I will get quite a good ways into book four this weekend. Nothing like stark reality to get the ink flowing again…

Really…how much coffee does it take?

I am on my third cup this morning. I also wonder why I can’t sleep at night. hmmm.
I suppose during this part of the process I should refrain from caffeine, but where is the fun in that? This brings to mind questions as to what things other writers find necessary for their craft. Where do you write your best? Are there any rituals you go through before beginning for the day?
For reasons even I cannot fathom, I like the scent of mistletoe year round. No, I’m not kidding.  I have two or three Yankee candles that are either said scent, or pumpkin spice, that I burn when I write. Coffee is another needful thing. I have a favorite place (lake cabin), though I can only go there on the weekend. My writing room at the house takes its place during the week. It seems too that I am at my best when its late. Darkness leads to less distractions, I suppose. Everyone is asleep, and the world outside of my door is quiet. I listen to music most of the time, only refraining when I am in the outline stage of a project.
What do I listen to? Musical scores mostly, and trailer music. (Movie previews, ass…not trailor park music. You should get out more often)
So what do you do? I realize this blog is scarcely read right now, but I have to start it somewhere.