Avoid Mind Reading

Except your own. Writing to the market always falls short of the mark. Besides being a soul-numbing experience (because you end up essentially writing someone else’s inspiration), it cannot be researched sufficiently, drafted, rewritten, edited, rewritten again, shopped, edited, and published in time to capitalize on the market trend.  So, you have invested valuable time, energy, and effort in a project to which you are less than 100% committed, and about which you are less than passionate.

Start with what you want to read. Do what you think is right. Draft your concept.  Outline it, write a few chapters and share it with someone whose skill, perspective, judgment, interests, and discernment you respect.  Odds are that those pages will jump to life in the reader’s mind because you care, because you’re invested in something you want to say, in a tale you want to tell.

Trying to forecast the market, or read editors’ or agents' minds wastes your time.  It also paralyzes your writer’s instrument.  The skills that you develop as a writer are important, high performance, precision tools.  Don’t use your scalpel as a screwdriver.  Don’t use your best sagacious voice to make someone else’s hero sound interesting. Respect yourself, your ideas, and your time.  Follow your muse, your heart, and craft the stories you think matter, the ideas, subjects, and characters that wake you at 3:00 am.

Creative Writing & The Money Myth

Creative Writing

What is creative writing?  Opening to an idea, following where it leads, exploring it, getting inside it and crafting a way to bring it alive through story.  Creative writing is observing a subject, its strengths, weaknesses, contexts, perceptions and misperceptions about it, wants, needs, identity, senses... the full spectrum of facts. Then writing a story, poem, screenplay, stageplay, or novel in an imaginative way that is characterized by originality and expressiveness.

Why write? Developing an idea into a concept, then into a premise, and then writing about it is Sisyphean, like hauling a wheelbarrow up K2. No one undertakes this lightly. So why do it? Often, the ambition sprouts from a fertile childhood, a sense of otherness from earliest memory, or distinctive experience. Maybe something as simple as an insatiable curiosity to learn and understand. Michael Chabon ( in Imaginary Homelands, which first appeared in Civilization) describes it:

I write from the place I live: in exile.   ...    I bear no marks or scars. I haven't lost anything that isn't lost by everyone.

And yet here I am - here I have always been, for as long as I can remember knowing anything about myself - feeling like a stranger.

For his entire life, he says he has been engaged in

One search, with a sole objective: a home, a world to call my own.

The Money Myth

Charles Dickens, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Samuel Johnson ("No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money") notwithstanding, no writer starts writing for the money.  For most if not all of the writers I know there is never any rumuneration equal to a living wage for the work invested in a novel. "If you would be a reader, read; if a writer, write," said Epictetus.  Novelists write to learn, to understand, to experience, to entertain, to create a world in which to live. That's pretty much the sum of it.

Glimmer of Hope

An author-friend published in Glimmertrain.  She described it as a positive experience, the best she had had after years of publishing in newspapers and regionals.  She also credited publication of her story in Glimmertrain with helping her get a good NY agent and three years of promising work on a novel and anthology of short non-fiction. A colleague who learned that I had published a novel just shared a short story she'd written about a catastrophe averted. Her writing engages with a voice that is confident, yet doesn't take itself seriously. She set the tone in the first sentence, kept her contract with the reader, and revealed surprises along the way.  It was good getting to know this new dimension of someone I have come to know in layers, like a character in a novel.  I suggested that if she had not already done so she take a look at Glimmertrain and consider submitting her story there.

She just stopped by for coffee and said that she had visited www.glimmertrain.com and decided to submit to the sisters in Portland.  Here's hoping.

UPDATE:  31 August 2009

My story, "Robert's Rules of Order," did not win, place, or show. Neither did my friend's story. Eager to read the winning entries, discover some new writers, and learn what worked for the judges. Onward.