Tuesday, April 22, 2014

S is for Salinger

Whom do you write for? As you're writing, can you picture your audience? Knowing who your target reader is directs what you write and how you write it. Writing for children is different from writing for adults - not any less difficult, just different - and so is writing for teens. 

Some write for an audience of one; this again affects the writing, depending on who that 'one' is. A love letter or poem is both similar to and different from a worship song to God. And then there are those who write for their own eyes only.

J.D. Salinger, author of The Catcher in the Rye and four short story collections, was known for his reclusive lifestyle. In today's dose of writerly wisdom, he shares his perspective:
“I love to write and I assure you I write regularly... But I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it.”
Writer, know thyself. Whom do you write for? Why do you write? What do you write? Don't force yourself into a mould created by someone else or what you think an author should look like. Just because you've been published doesn't mean you have to continue pursuing that route if that's not your goal. Salinger never wrote another novel after The Catcher in the Rye; he preferred the short story form

Know thyself and let that knowing inform your writing.

Monday, April 21, 2014

R is for Rhodes

If you're a writer, what keeps you from writing? No new ideas? Burned out? Too busy or time management skills too poor? We talked a bit about the daily choices we make when we looked at E is for Evansand writers are notorious procrastinators.

But there's another thing that can stop us from writing, according to today's writerly wisdom from a Pulitzer Prize winner:
“If you want to write, you can. Fear stops most people from writing, not lack of talent, whatever that is. Who am I? What right have I to speak? Who will listen to me if I do? You’re a human being, with a unique story to tell, and you have every right. If you speak with passion, many of us will listen. We need stories to live, all of us. We live by story. Yours enlarges the circle.” ~Richard Rhodes
Fear. It can certainly be debilitating and it's an emotion that everyone experiences from time to time in one area or another. With respect to writing, it's not just the fear that you have no right to speak or that you have nothing important to say. It can also be the fear of success, or its opposite, the fear of failure. It can be the fear of rejection - from publishers, readers, or critics - or the fear of not knowing what to do when you've finished a work. I'm sure there are other layers of fear you could uncover if you gave it more thought; feel free to submit them in the comments.

But I love how Rhodes' quote concludes: "If you speak with passion, many...will listen. We need stories to live... Yours enlarges the circle."
Which of your stories is crying out to be heard? Write it and enrich the life of your reader. Enlarge the circle.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Q is for Quinn

Some interesting - and unexpected - writerly wisdom today. I say 'unexpected' considering that the source has authored  thirty historical romance novels. Here's her observation:

“You always get more respect when you don't have a happy ending.” ~Julia Quinn
What? No happy ending to a story in the romance genre? Sounds like heresy! But it does make me want to read one of her books to see how she gets away with it!

Or maybe I'm reading that wrong. Maybe she's bemoaning the fact that she doesn't get much respect because her endings are happy. On the other hand, she's a New York Times bestselling author, which sounds like respect to me.

What are your thoughts on her comment? Do you agree? Do authors get more respect when they have less happy endings? Does that kind of conclusion seem more authentic? If you're a writer - romance or otherwise - what kind of ending do you aim for?

This reminds me of how Gone With the Wind wraps up. Scarlett tells Rhett she loves him and he says the classic line, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn." To which she hangs her hopes on tomorrow being another day, a day she might be able to win him over again. Not happy, but hopeful. 

Perhaps that's the goal: not to depress, but not to tie things up in a neat little bow either.  Like life. Even though we enjoy happiness along the way (at least I hope you do), it's not all a "bed of roses." While we want stories to take us away from our daily lives and to entertain us, the best ones also have the stamp of realism. Fantasy and traditional romance may be the best genres for those who want a complete break from the real world, though even writers of fantasy aspire to create a world that is true. A universe unlike our own, or a utopian/dystopian cosmos, but one that has an internal consistency.

As I think about the way my own novel will end and measure it against Quinn's advice, I believe I've penned a conclusion readers will be happy with, and one they will respect.

Friday, April 18, 2014

P is for Porter

You'll see from today's quote that the source of our writerly wisdom was a rather feisty lady:
Oh God! how I have to beat myself over the head to get started every morning. ~Katherine Anne Porter
Of course, I assume she's being facetious or tongue-in-cheek, rather than literal; otherwise, it really would be rather painful.

What Porter alludes to is the discipline it takes to be a writer. It's not easy getting up every day, sitting in front of the computer or with a pen and paper in hand. It takes a force of will or internal drive. Writers are known to be great procrastinators. One who hates to cook and clean will find herself cooking and cleaning in order to avoid the writing that needs to be done. (I'm not referring to myself, by the way; I have other methods of procrastinating!)

But is a writer who doesn't write regularly still a writer? I think the question is rhetorical. In case you're unsure, though, the answer is 'no'. Unfortunately not.

I struggle to be disciplined. I'm not perfect, but hopefully I'm getting better. I find that routine helps. Not just to work at it every day, but preferably at the same time and in the same place every day. For me, that's at the computer in my living room in the mornings.

Do you need to write 7 days a week? Not necessarily. Five will do - whatever five days work for you. And three to four hours at a time or according to a certain page or word count.

Do you need anything special to get going? Music or the television playing in the background? A cup of coffee at hand? A particular pen or type of paper?

Find what works for you - a beating over the head if required - and do it. It's the only way you'll actually get anywhere with this craft.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

O is for O'Hara

John O'Hara was a Pennsylvania author who first became known for his short stories, then went on to write novels. He was highly praised for his ability to write authentic dialogue, and even though I also have a pretty good ear, this knowledge makes me want to read at least some of his work

Here's some writerly wisdom from the great man: 
Nothing could so quickly cast doubt on, and even destroy, the author's character as bad dialog. If the people did not talk right, they are not real people.
 If you're a writer, how does your dialogue stand up? Are you destroying your characters with your inability to make them speak the way real people do? Do you read your work aloud to hear how it sounds? Do you get others to read your work aloud to you? Sometimes this is better than reading it yourself, even if the person doing the reading misses the nuances of tone. You hear how it sounds to others and can correct misconceptions or make changes that clarify what you want to convey.

Nothing is worse than creating one dimensional, incredible characters (and by that I mean non-credible, not fantastic). We want our characters to come alive, to be three-dimensional, complex and believable - just like we are. Dialogue is a huge part of that and impossible to avoid.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

N is for Nabokov

Ah, the notorious Nabokov, author of the infamous Lolita. What wisdom would he offer the writer?

Simply this:

The pleasures of writing correspond exactly to the pleasures of reading. ~Vladimir Nabokov
In other words, if you don't enjoy writing, if you don't love the work you're producing, perhaps you shouldn't be doing it. I mean, apart from those rare times when the words flow freely from your brain to the page, we all know that writing is hard work. GeNe Fowler is oft-quoted as saying, "Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead." 

Ask yourself why you're writing. Are you a masochist? Do you enjoy staring at the page or screen waiting for those drops to form? Is writing something you love to do? Is it something you need to do? Do you believe that anyone can write a book and, therefore, you are merely taking up the challenge? Do you have anything worthwhile to say?

Yes, writing can be hard, but there should also be some pleasure in it. Putting your thoughts and ideas into words, thinking of an audience, using the gift God gave you...

Sometimes we start writing because we love reading (unless the book is so awful we throw it across the room). Reading is indeed pleasurable - it takes us out of the quotidienne, shows us how people think and act in different situations, introduces us to places we may never see, etc. Never stop reading; never stop stretching your mind and your spirit. But please, only keep writing if you love it, too.  May you feel as SharoN O'BrieN did, that "Writing became such a process of discovery that I couldn't wait to get to work in the morning: I wanted to know what I was going to say."

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

M is for Maugham

Hard to believe, but today marks the half-way point in the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Still lots of good stuff to come; it's not all downhill from here! (Though I feel a bit sad that there were absolutely no comments on J is for Joyce and L is for Lamott).

Today's writerly wisdom comes to us courtesy of the letter M and the author of the well-known (and semi-autobiographical) work, Of Human Bondage

“There are," says W. Somerset Maugham, "three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” 

I take this to mean that there is no great formula for writing a novel, especially one that might be considered classic, a bestseller, or of literary merit.  You either have a compelling story, well-told, or you don't; besides which, there's the effort or luck of getting published, finding an audience, and catching the eye of reviewers. Worse luck, you have a shelf life of about six weeks after your book comes out; after that, if sales aren't good enough, your work gets pulled and returned to the publisher. Maybe there's something to be said for online retailers, after all...?

Anyway, if you google "writers who broke the rules", you get over ten million results. Just looking at one of the hits you discover several authors who bucked the system with extremely successful results. Ever heard of The Time Traveler's Wife (Audrey Niffenegger), To The Lighthouse (Virginia Wolf), or The Lovely Bones (Alice Sebold)? Yup - rule-breakers all.

What can we conclude from this? Knowing the rules is important, but in the end, they're just guidelines. The most creative minds can't be confined or restrained by arbitrary edicts or authorities. Use your imagination, combine with talent and skill, and write the story only you can write. That's the best recipe I have for writing a novel novel.