Saturday, May 18, 2013

Kerouac, Vonnegut, Ellis, Mailer, and You. Or, Why You Write.

Jack Kerouac said, "What a [writer] most wishes to hide, revise, & un-say, is precisely what Literature is waiting & bleeding for."

Kurt Vonnegut said, "We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down."

A writer friend and I have been discussing writing and publishing. He's not sure which way to go, traditional publishing or indie publishing.

In an email I sent, I said the following:

Treat your writing as a business. It's something serious. You put time into it every day, either by pecking the keys or by thinking about what you're going to say when you sit down to peck the keys.

Create a formal writing practice and practice a set number of days per week. Then, take the # of hours allocated per day to writing and divide it into 4.

Say it's 4 hours per day.

Spend 3 hours writing (75%), and 1 hour marketing and building your brand (25%). This can be anything from creating a website & blog & Twitter & Facebook & Goodreads account, to researching the publishers & agents who work with [authors who write books similar to yours].

Indie pubbing is the new slush pile. That's the new reality of the publishing world.

Set small goals for that 25% of your time.

Otherwise it can become overwhelming. If you do sometimes feel overwhelmed and discouraged, it's okay to simply take a step back from all the marketing and brand-building and go back to writing. Forget about all that stuff and focus on the creativity.

Because as Brett Easton Ellis says, 'Write for yourself. Work out between you and your pen the things which most intrigue you.'

Norman Mailer said, 'Writer's block is nothing more than failure of the ego.'

He's right.

Because you are occasionally going to get one- and two-star reviews. But you will also get four- and five-star reviews. But a mere 1% of readers take the time to write and post a review. Most readers say nothing. It's therefore impossible to know how they felt and what they thought of your book.

You may find this unsettling. Discouraging. To the point where you wonder can you even do this? Are you ever going to make any real money? Are your books any good? Will you be able to support your family this way? What else can you do? How can you make money? Now you have to go and write/edit your Work In Progress and you have all those thoughts in your head.

But then you go back and read your five-star reviews your four-star reviews and you feel better and you go back to writing/editing. You get out of your head, get out of your own way, and get back to work.

Being a professional, regardless of profession, means leaving your emotions out of the equation. It applies equally to writing. It's tough because writing is deeply personal. But when a firefighter pulls a person out of a smashed car and does CPR and the person dies before their eyes, that is also deeply personal.

They still get up and go to work the next day.

Because that is what they do.

Just like writing is what you do. You get up every day and you do the work.

Because there are days when the writing flows and the words come and the story happens and the characters speak and its pure magic happening before your eyes and you wonder where it's all coming from, how can you be doing this? It must not be you, because 99% of the time you feel like you have no idea what you're doing.

Yet it all works out in the end. The story reaches its inevitable conclusion which hopefully also feels like a surprise to the reader.

Then the day comes when the story goes out into the world and must stand on its own because you did the best you could with it, and whatever stars it gets on Amazon are beyond your control. Some people will connect with the work, will love it, will give it five stars and will gush and rave. Others will give four stars and will be more subdued. But they still liked the book. Others will give one or two 2 stars. There may be something to glean from those reviews. That you will have to decide for yourself.

And then tomorrow you get up and go back to work.

You sit down in front of your computer and try to figure out how you can share your books with the world, how you can make your books better, how you can make yourself better.

Because that's all you have control over. You can't control reader feedback or the number of stars. So you must do your best not to obsess over them. You must be like Tom Cruise in TOP GUN. Cocky and arrogant and sexy and confident that you can do ANYTHING. You can make the words do what you want them to do, make the characters run and play, stumble and fall, laugh and cry, live and sometimes die. You must do your best not to be like Maverick after Goose was killed during the flat spin that wrecked their airplane, confidence shot, self esteem in the toilet, ready to quit. You're not going to be happy unless you're going Mach 2 with your hair on fire, your fingers flying across the keys as the magic happens and the story pours out of you and onto the virtual page.

Because this is what you do.

You didn't choose this; it chose you.

That's what a calling is. It means you keep writing no matter what. You do not deny, belittle, or ignore your gifts. You cherish them and use them to the glory of God or whatever your personal concept of Source/Life may be. You get up and you go to work. You're a writer. You write. That's what you do.

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