Tag Archives: Why We Write

Writing Quote: Rainer Maria Rilke

SC Blog - Rilke - go into yourself quote“Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write.

This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must,” then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse. Then come close to Nature. Then, as if no one had ever tried before, try to say what you see and feel and love and lose…

…Describe your sorrows and desires, the thoughts that pass through your mind and your belief in some kind of beauty – describe all these with heartfelt, silent, humble sincerity and, when you express yourself, use the Things around you, the images from your dreams, and the objects that you remember. If your everyday life seems poor, don’t blame it; blame yourself; admit to yourself that you are not enough of a poet to call forth its riches; because for the creator there is not poverty and no poor, indifferent place. And even if you found yourself in some prison, whose walls let in none of the world’s sounds – wouldn’t you still have your childhood, that jewel beyond all price, that treasure house of memories? Turn your attentions to it. Try to raise up the sunken feelings of this enormous past; your personality will grow stronger, your solitude will expand and become a place where you can live in the twilight, where the noise of other people passes by, far in the distance. – And if out of this turning-within, out of this immersion in your own world, poems come, then you will not think of asking anyone whether they are good or not. Nor will you try to interest magazines in these works: for you will see them as your dear natural possession, a piece of your life, a voice from it. A work of art is good if it has arisen out of necessity. That is the only way one can judge it.”
― Rainer Maria Rilke

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Do You Want To Be Published or Do You Want To Be Read?

SCEW - WordPress embedded icon - glass lookThe average employee will put around 2,000 (+/-) hours per year into a job. That’s eight hours a day, five days a week, week in, week out, excluding holidays, paid overtime, and the odd Monday morning I’ll-kill-myself-if-I-have-to-go-in-there time.

If there’s any truth to the the 10,000-hour rule for mastering a skill set, it would take approximately five years to accomplish anything meaningful on the job. Of course, give or take, considering differentials like intelligence, talent, ambition etc.

Let’s just say the average “writer” has one of these jobs that causes bills to be paid and food to be eaten and dumpster-diving to be forestalled. Let’s just say. Now, the 2,000 hours does not include off-site time spent finishing reports, ulcerating quietly on the bathroom floor, crying, or doing research.

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Important research.

Now, there are maybe another good 50 hours left in the week .  That’s pretty awesome, translating to potentially 3,000 more hours during the year to excel at something more important to you, like writing.

Oh, but oops – forgot about preparing meals, eating, and cleaning up after meals. Shopping. Housework. Yard work. Grooming. Childcare. Trying to figure out why the printer won’t print.

Friends. Social time. Sick time. Down time.

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Does this count as socializing AND rest?

Even if writers were left with half that time free (a generous estimate) to concentrate on writing, it would take a minimum of nearly seven years of dedicated effort to produce writing that resembled anything like mastery. Notice I said writing and not a manuscript. That’s because telling good stories is a whole nuther level of mastery and requires far more than a skillful way of stringing words together. Of course, that seven years includes everything from pre-writing to final editing, whether you’ve told a good story or not. Bear in mind that even after the Beatles began their insane rocket-ship ride to celebrity it took years to produce their truly great material.

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Then there’s the publishing process. It can take years of rejection and tinkering and full-out rewrites before a junior editor sifting through a slush pile notices you – if it’s a particularly good query. But even the query process has its own learning curve. If a query is noticed it might be 3-9 months before they let you know, and if a full manuscript is requested it can take up to a year or more before it’s read. If they like what they see, rewrites may be suggested. Make that “suggested”, ie: do it or get lost. Depending on the involvement, tack on another year, then another waiting for an analysis of the rewrites. Then there’s the hurdle of the editorial board approvals at every stage.

If it’s accepted, throw on another 1-3 years before a book reaches a shelf.

If it’s rejected, back  to square one.

This is why so many turn to self-publishing as an express route to authorship.

So, what is all this getting to? Writing is not like making popsicle-stick birdhouses. Treat it like a hobby, and you will be lucky if you can get your Gammy to take a copy.

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Oh, uh – hey, yeah that’s – and you did this yourself? Well, don’t you worry, Gammy knows EXACTLY where this belongs.

Maybe you feel the years slipping between your fingers, and as becoming a published author dims on the far horizon somehow it becomes more urgent than ever. Before I’m 30, you say. Then: before I’m 40, 50, once I’ve retired.

Before I die.

But no, you say. No way am I waiting years, decades to get this done. That brass ring is right there, if you could only reach –

Yes, do it. Do. It. Go ahead, self-publish, get your work out there and you’ll be the next Wool, and then it’ll be you making them bloody well wait for that contract.

Stop. Please. Stop and think for a moment about what it means to be an author versus a writer.

Be a writer first. Being a writer is all about you. Write because you love it and you have a story to tell, because it helps you work through your issues, because it relieves the stresses of life and lets you express yourself. But being a writer doesn’t mean being  readable  or publishable.

Becoming an author is no longer about you, because there’s another mind involved and that’s the reader. Becoming an author means you have a story that needs to be communicated to readers, because no matter what your issues are or how many stessors there are in life, you are first and foremost dedicated to perfecting your craft and raising your work to the realm of art no matter what the consequences are.

Because being publishable starts with being readable – and that includes everything from children’s fiction to complex works that require an annotated concordance just to read.

Readability is good storytelling. Good storytelling attracts readers. Publishers are looking for great storytelling because they want to attract readers. Because, ultimately, readers mean sales. Not always, but mostly they know a good story when they come across it. And remember that what gets published is not always that good because the bulk of what comes in for review is just so gut-wrenchingly, pukingly awful. Sometimes what gets published is just the best of what came in, and that can be very little above mediocre. Rejection is not a way of hurting writers, but a way of saying you’re not there yet. Rejection is Writing 101 at the university of work harder, write better.

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Not. There. Yet …

So why are you going to self-publish? To attract readers? Oh my dear, self-publish because you have readers, because you have the stats to prove you can get more readers besides your besties and your family (hey, Gammy!). Readers don’t come because you’ve put your work out there. They don’t even come because you’ve set off a monster marketing and PR campaign. They come because the story is worth reading. To them, not to you. That’s why Wool happened.

Is it panic, then, because you want your name in print before you die? And what will that get you in the end? Humiliating failure with no up-side except maybe some vicious trolling and online snark to rip a hole in your soul (as opposed to, if you’re lucky, some very generous commentary from an editor in the process of rejecting you).

Because what’s the point in being published if nobody reads your work? Notice, though, that I’m not talking about sales. I’m talking about readers. Readers are not necessarily sales, but readers are definitely necessary – and absolutely pave the way – for sales.

Is wanting to be a published author such a blind ambition that you’ve lost sight of what it takes to have readers?

The time is necessary, fellow writers. Time is your investment, and not just the hours per day you dedicate at the keyboard, but the years of doubt and questioning and self-reflection required to move a story from its sacred position in your mind to a sacred position in the reader’s mind. Invest in this time no matter how much is required of you, and do it gladly because it is the birth canal that will bring story from within you  into the world. It’s messy and it’s ugly and many can’t go through with it. But like a baby’s gestation from zygote to beautiful autonomous infant ready to take on the world, the writer requires a gestation in order to become an author. Writing requires a gestation to become storytelling.

Ten thousand hours. Five years. Seven years. Ten.

So how about it: do you want to be published?

Or do you want to be read?

If you’re tired of trying to figure out how to tell a great story, stay tuned to this blog for news about a revolutionary new structuring tool that will help you not only get the bones of your story right, but also help you keep track of changes so your story makes sense from beginning to end no matter how many drafts. Be sure to subscribe to this blog to be kept in the loop so you can be among the first to try it out. In the meantime, download my free fiction-timeline-worksheet-3-0-sandrachmara to help get your story working now.

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Women and Writing: Epic Fail

If you’re a woman and a writer, and if you publish, you have about a 75% chance – give or take – of being universally ignored in literary reviews. This according to the latest data collected by VIDA now reverberating throughout the literary community and stirring up every shade of argument and apologia.

Are the lines really drawn between genders or is something else going on? And if women are so under-represented in the literary world, what’s getting in their way? Is male dominance so entrenched as to expressly give preference to inferior writing because the author is male?

It’s frightening to imagine the business model that represents. Ultimately, it’s like some kind of sick Soviet delusion that crams the Lada down the public throat because it can’t admit what a failure communism is, doesn’t care what the market wants, and won’t concede to the better – though flawed – system of democratic free-enterprise.

Are we to believe that some nefarious patriarchy is so moronic and self-destructive that brilliant writing will be systematically and pointedly pushed aside to serve a male agenda, even at the risk of lowering standards, profitability, and overall readership?

The VIDA people trot out arguments about the ratio of submissions and qualitative rubrics to dismiss the proportionality of reviews to submissions between the genders, cited by editors and publishers to explain the representational discrepancy. In other words, editors and reviewers are saying that 75% of the attention goes to male writers because 75% of the submissions are from male writers. VIDA doesn’t buy that, and believes it can mathematically chop up quality in an analysis to determine that these reviews are preferentially ignoring works of a higher calibre because the writers are women. The idea of qualitative rubrics is curious, since writing quality and publishability are so utterly subjective that it’s hard to imagine a statistically viable rubric for a process built necessarily on variability and inconsistently personal taste, which may differ widely within a single publication from editor to editor, much less from publication to publication. Even two comparable qualitative samples in writing cannot possibly express the broader scope of ineffable narrative factors that make one story a failure and the other a success.

A recent Globe & Mail article by newly minted publisher Linda Leith is likely to kick up a lot of dust just as it appears to have settled. She explains, without blame or setting up an argument about the causal chain, that in her experience as an editor, women fail both in the quantity and quality of submissions, and that if a publisher’s objective is to select the best of the best – well, the numbers are in favour of men. Hands down. Why women are submitting so infrequently relative to men, and why the writing quality is so poor are questions that must be asked and answered.

To this, VIDA would say that it’s the job of the publisher to go out and solicit women writers.

If editors must scramble to solicit writers who lack the wherewithal, ambition, or talent to find markets for their work, should they be published? Are they even ready for it? Such a publishing model – pushing the disinterested and the halfhearted – the half-baked – into publication just to make the numbers look good – is a recipe for mediocrity and failure. It does not answer the core questions about submission rates and quality.

Successful women in any field have been successful because they wanted to be, and they had the chops to flip inevitable chauvinism right on its back. Margaret Thatcher was not solicited to be Prime Minister to even out the gender score. She earned it. Oprah Winfrey did not become an entertainment powerhouse because some special interest group recognised the triple-whammy of her gender, racial, and weight disadvantages, and so coaxed her out of the shadows like some shy, dungeon-blinded patriarchal captive.

Will men go out of their way to shut women out? Some. But not all.

For anyone who wants what they want there are many routes to success, and they will turn and push and turn and push until something gives. They just do it. And if resistance and failure put an end to their efforts, then they likely didn’t want it with the same single-mindedness as the competition.

The internet is too immediate and too accessible to leave stuffy journals of yore with such overarching power. Even if the Old Boys are still at it, readers will effectively and efficiently bypass disingenuous publications that continuously churn out mediocrity that comes by way of skewed ideological positions, or more directly by pushing their version of the Lada on a public with a taste for something else.

No review can make a reader passionate about bland writing. A lack of formal reviews won’t keep a brilliantly written novel by a woman from the big prizes, or from the perusal of the general public. Readers will choose and buy, now more than ever, based on the opinions of other regular readers. Nothing can be more democratic and anti-chauvinist and anti-patriarchal than that. They will assess online commentary and reviews because they trust the integrity of even the most basic likes and dislikes, and ultimately they trust the aggregate.

So if the Big Boys are pursuing a dead agenda a hundred years past its due date, then the public will reward them by rendering such journals and their reviewers irrelevant, thus bringing to an end formal, knowledgeable literary reviewing. If such is the case, good riddance.

In the end it’s the depth and the storytelling magic that matters, not the review. Readers will always be attracted to beautiful writing, a sense of insight, and the writer’s connection – intellectually, spiritually, emotionally – with the broad sweep of the human condition.

Not male condition. Not female condition.

The  human condition. How beautiful. How full enough for us all.

Maybe that makes all the difference.

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Why We Write

Writing has been one of the most important facets of my life. It has been joyous, agonising, cathartic, and pure torment – at times all at once.

On any street or in any crowded room are closet writers struggling with a great fiction work of the 21st century; we know someone who writes or wishes they could write.  They are people whose minds and hearts and souls have already been touched by some great novel or philosophical work.

What is it about the act of creation in this particular form that people seem to claim so freely, and that utterly claims those who practice what has been identified equally as craft, art, and skill?

Those suffering PTSD, in particular war veterans, are increasingly advised to turn to writing in order to exorcise those demons coiled in the depths of their consciousness.  After spending much time researching the Vietnam War era and reading the multitude of stories posted online, it has been surprising to read about how many of those vets saw relief from their symptoms for the first time in 40 years only after they began to write their stories. Writing seems to have allowed them to objectify their pain, and to untangle it from the pleats of their brains once the unspeakable has finally been voiced.

What’s interesting, though, is that for the first time in history these narratives can bypass the publishing world and still have an audience, and the generations of an entire era have been embracing the technology that allows it to happen. Most will only ever occupy one place along the continuum that defines the writer but the common ground is the same: storytelling.

What’s truly amazing is that no matter why the writer gives life to words, and no matter how transformative the practice is personally, it’s what writing does for the reader. That someone else’s expression – and in some cases the simple retelling of an event without deferring to form or style or structure – can, in its plainness and honesty, somehow become equally transformative to the reader is why writing can hold within its power the agency to incite, provoke, stimulate, engross, entertain, madden –

The potential is infinite. No painting ever brought on a revolution. No symphony or concerto ever stopped time in its tracks and restarted the clock at zero.

But writing has.

It’s this possibility, in the smallest and grandest of ways, that makes anyone face the blank space before them and begin the metamorphosis with a single word.

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