Jennifer Kan Martinez
"Sailing on Light"
Welcome, writers and storytellers. As you soar through life, wings flapping furiously, may this be a little rock for you to perch upon, rest for a while and maybe find some inspiration.
"The business of the novelist is not to relate great events, but to make small ones interesting."
Hi, fellow writers,
How's the new year going so far? Feeling productive and inspired? In case you're in a rut, here's an interesting piece on the process of writing a novel by Cary Tennis from salon.com.
My writing group and I have been talking a lot lately about divulging very personal details in our stories, and I really like this quote from Neil Gaiman:
The moment that you feel that, just possibly, you're walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself. That's the moment you may be starting to get it right.
After we pour our hearts and souls and every ounce of love and sweat and tears we've got into our work, we have to separate ourselves from it and see it as a separate thing of beauty (hopefully), like a child. It came from us, but it has to be able to live on its own.
Or as Quentin Bell said:
A book is so much a part of oneself that in delivering it to the public one feels as if one were pushing one’s own child out into the traffic.
And lastly, The Semplica-Girls Diary by George Saunders. Have you read it? He's been hailed as the writer of our times, the best short story writer, a writer for writers, etc.
I especially liked this part:
Stood looking up at house, sad. Thought: Why sad? Don’t be sad. If sad, will make everyone sad. Went in happy, not mentioning bumper, squirrel/mouse smudge, maggots, then gave Eva extra ice cream, due to I had spoken harshly to her.
Have to do better! Be kinder. Start now. Soon they will be grown and how sad, if only memory of you is testy, stressed guy in bad car.
So, while some may say the published/written word is dead, and our modern era is all about TV and online videos, I like to think of Janet Steen, who says, "There is a corny, stubborn part of me that believes writers are still the ones to show us the way, to help us muddle through our deeply messed-up culture and maybe even be better people."
As Lori R Taylor says:
Let the power of words light the candles of our souls setting the world on fire, inspiring greatness; for all things good can one day be great, if only you believe.
Saunders finishes a story about Dubai as follows:
“Don’t be afraid to be confused. Try to remain permanently confused. Anything is possible. Stay open, forever, so open it hurts, and then open up some more, until the day you die, world without end, amen.”
(Also posted on my other blog.)
T.S. Eliot talks about "distraction from distraction by distraction" in Burnt Norton, and boy, does that seem appropriate for our modern world.
Edinburgh philosopher John Llewelyn says this "denotes a way of life lived utterly unseriously, in which one allows oneself to be driven hither and thither by one whim after another without rhyme or reason."
Sounds like people watching TV and/or youtube videos for hours and hours. Did you see that hedgehog video? The Korean "Gangnam Style" video and its many spoofs? Some guy from New Jersey singing the Numa Numa song? And we wonder why there aren't as many Leonardo da Vinci types today. Maybe it's because we waste our time looking at pictures of bathroom remodels on pinterest or of people's babies on facebook.
Malcolm Gladwell talks about honing one's craft, be it basketball or poetry, for 10,000 hours to attain mastery. Perhaps if we spent less time being distracted by space-fillers, we would all be masters of some craft by age thirty.
But although Eliot uses these words to refer to distractions that are random and aimless except that they have the temporary effect of relieving boredom, they are not only distractions from other distractions that kill time. They are, as Eliot’s poem preaches, distractions from what can give to a life sense and direction and seriousness.
Imagine if instead of wasting time playing video games, we logged those hours with Habitat for Humanity and helped build homes for people. Or volunteering as a Big Brother/Big Sister. Or learning a new language.
I wouldn't preach being serious all of the time-- I am a big proponent of play. But I also think we could play better. Instead of mindless entertainment, let's engage in creative play, outdoorsy play, and constructive play. Learning a new dance versus laughing at some inane video online. Reconnecting with old friends instead of checking email for the hundredth time. Saving up to travel to a new country rather than spending a fortune on an expensive pair of boots.
So, for 2013, I'd like to be more creative, more productive and play better.
Happy new year! I hope your 2013 is off to a fabulous start.
If you're a writer, I hope you either have a writing group (the best), some form of peer editing (also helpful), or at least someone who will read your work and give you their honest opinion (the bare minimum). A big part of having a writing community is that it encourages (forces) you to write because you have to meet at least some kind of deadline, and writing in a vacuum for no one but yourself is fine but like trees falling in a forest with no one listening. Unless you see it as a form of journaling-- a form of mental exercise to keep you sane. In which case, carry on. As my old acting teacher used to say, what's good in art (crazy emotion) isn't good for life. So, keep the sanity in real life, save the crazies for your art.
It took me years to find a writing group that wasn't self-indulgent (touchy-feely "everyone's a great writer") or simply not that good (for my particular taste), and now that I've finally found one, I can see what a huge difference it makes. My group is tiny-- it's a librarian, an English professor, and me. (I think they rather got the short end of the stick with a coffee shop owner being the third in their more literary group.) But it's luxurious-- we meet for brunch and only talk about one person's work each time. We all have different styles, different topics, and fortunately, I truly enjoy reading their work. It's so nice to be able to have these conversations now that I'm out of school and don't get it otherwise.
We just started, so we are still polite as we get to know each other and each other's work-- but I'm looking forward to getting to know these two women both as people and as writers, hunkering down, tightening up our work, and really sharpening our craft together with no-holds-barred honesty. Ideally, this will be a lifetime partnership where we encourage each other to be productive, help each other turn out insightful, entertaining and beautiful prose, and root for each other's success.
And did I mention it makes you write? That may be the true greatest benefit. Especially if you are a procrastinator looking for excuses not to write. Heck, most of us are just so busy with life, we can't find time to write. But if you are truly passionate about writing-- if you feel compelled to write as described in Letters to a Young Poet-- then finding a tribe to write with is inspiring, fun, and challenging in the best of ways.
So, if you were waiting for a sign to get fired up, this is it. If you don't yet have a writing group, go start one!
Okay, writers, the writer in me is back. (Sorry the pregnant version of me was taking over for a while-- she was rather pushy.) And I have potentially useful information for you if you are interested in, say, publishing your novel and haven't a clue as to where to start.
I know there are many roads to success, but here is one possible way to proceed:
1. Write your novel. Once it's completed, put it aside for a while, then read it again. Get rid of anything you don't need. Tighten up your sentences. Add life where you can.
2. Have people you respect read it, tell them to be honest with you, and then either accept or reject their suggestions.
3. Read your novel again, and pretend you are your worst enemy. What would you ridicule? What could be stronger?
4. Give your novel some more space, and read it again-- this time, as your best friend. Find the parts of the story that compelled you to write it, fall in love with your characters all over again, revel in your revelatory ending. Pat yourself on the back that you actually completed a novel. Many people talk about writing one, but few actually do.
5. Check out Nathan Bransford's blog. For better or worse, I don't really read blogs. But his is no ordinary blog. This agent-turned-author has insightful (and entertaining) advice on everything from how to edit your novel and how to find an agent to writing a non-fiction proposal and how to format your completed manuscript. Interested in self-publishing? Or determined to go the old-fashioned traditional publishing route? He goes over the pros and cons of each. And so on.
6. Once you feel your work is as good as it's going to get (because you definitely don't want to be hacking away at one piece for the rest of your life), put it down and start your agent search. The easiest way is to visit agentquery.com. You can search for fiction agents that are interested in multi-cultural chick lit or offbeat middle grade sci fi mystery. Whatever you're working on, you can select the genres to see who would be a good fit for you. (Whether you need an agent is a long debate for another time, but I'd recommend it for many reasons.) Once you've narrowed down to the agents you like best and think would both understand your work and pitch it well, submit away! (Nathan Bransford's blog has tons of tips on how to submit, how to write a query letter, etc.)
7. Instead of just sitting around and twiddling your thumbs, praying an agent will request a partial or even a full (woo hoo!) copy of your manuscript, move on. This is what will keep you sane. Forget about your last project and launch yourself wholeheartedly into a new project. Then, start the whole process again. Hopefully, while in the depths of your new project, an agent will sign you, pitch your project to a great publisher who will jump at the chance to share your work with the world, and you'll get a huge advance and become a millionaire inspiring throngs of people with your work.
Good luck! :-)
Jennifer Kan Martinez is a writer living in California. Follow her blog "Sailing on Light" and find some inspiration.