Is your writing as strong as good tea?

The patience of tea refers to its quality after being brewed many times. Good teas – patient teas – maintain complexity and flavour with multiple infusions. The flavour evolves each step of the way, as Joshua Kaiser one of the world’s leading tea experts demonstrates here.

Likewise, patience builds a good writing career.

(Word count: 342                Reading time: 1-2 minutes)

  • First we have to learn to write well. Consider Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule: it suggests that 90 minutes a day practice for twenty years is needed to master something. I’m unsure if I agree with that onerous a requirement but I do know that writing proficiency demands practice, as least as much as sports, music, or art. There is no way out of this.
  • Then we have to wait for recognition.
  • While the first two processes are underway, we must dip into the world of social media where, Suw Charman-Anderson reminds us, maintaining a blog or website is a long game. It can take months or even years to develop a strong following.

In other words, if you want to carve out a career as a writer, be prepared to cultivate the virtue of patience. Tolstoy said, “The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.” Right now the publishing industry is battling for sales in a constantly changing, more-distracted-than-ever market. Prepare for a wait. How?

  • Keep writing.
  • Keep studying the craft of writing.
  • Throw yourself into new experiences and enjoy the moment, embrace the now. It will ultimately feed your writing.
  • Meditate. Seriously: take time to breathe and relax.
  • Stay strong and determined – two essential skills.
  • Slow down. There are shortcuts but, if you take them and publish or submit before a novel is well-polished, you may burn a lot of bridges.

Impatience is the intolerance of anything that thwarts or delays us. It’s a wonderful quality in a character. In a writer a lack of patience crimps the prose and taints the voice.

What are you waiting for in your writing life? Are you like patient tea, transforming with multiple infusions of practice and feedback?

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Photo by: Ragne Kabanova

What does it take?

"If I could I would always work in silence and obscurity, and let my efforts be known by their results." Emily Brontë. How would she view the cyber arena of writing?

Word count: 374   Reading time 1-2 minutes

The internet has moved the goalposts for 21st century writers. Now, among other things, we are now supposed to:

  • Read a lot.
  • Write a lot.
  • Write a mission statement.
  • Join a writers’ group (for fellowship)
  • Join a critique group (for feedback).
  • Take courses.
  • Join a book club. At least one.
  • Attend writing conferences and festivals.
  • Build a platform, a brand: blog, tweet, join facebook, LinkedIn, read other blogs, comment on other blogs.  
  • Build a professional bio.
  • Be camera friendly.
  • Pitch books in live situations or, at the very least, start the bruising process of querying agents and publishers.

After the book deal:

  • Teach or mentor other writers.
  • Organize a book launch.
  • Organize appearances and book signings.
  • Visit booksellers and book buyers.
  • Organize a book tour.
  • Start again at the top of the list.

While these suggestions only scrape the surface of the recommendations I’ve found, this list, even in its pared-down form, triggers a breathless claustrophobia in me. It doesn’t seem to leave a lot of room for the two essentials of writing and reading. What are the choices? Few, as far as I can tell, so I pick and choose the things that I hope will build a robust writing career.

Still, that list makes me wonder how the 20th Century’s five most reclusive writers would fare if they were to publish their books today. Georgette Heyer, who sold her first book at age 17 and wrote 55 more over the next 50 years, granted only one interview in her entire life. Would she have flopped in the cyber age?

In the end, as interesting as it to compare the current writing world to days gone by, it’s best not to spend too much time thinking about it. As L.P. Hartley said, “The past is a foreign place. They do things differently there.”

What are you doing to build your writing career? Are all these things simply too much for one person? How do you choose and what do you choose?

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Photo from Wikimedia commons, Dan English

Are you a fair weather writer?

Word count: 374            Read time: 1-2 minutes

The skies over Vancouver cleared last week and the rainforest deluge stopped. These sunny winter days are stunning but I miss the downpour that traps me inside. Dark wet weather is the perfect backdrop for my writing. Regardless, I work every day because, A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.” E.B. White

Today’s blinding sunshine didn't keep me from my novel even though I wanted to lace on my boots and hike through the forest. Instead I struck a compromise: once I’d broken through the rock wall in the plot in front of me - okay maybe chipped a little hole in it - I could go for a walk. But first I worked. "The fact is that writing is hard work, and sometimes you don't want to do it, and you can't think of what to write next, and you're fed up with the whole damn business. Of course there will be days when the stuff is not flowing freely. What you do then is MAKE IT UP. I like the reply of the composer Shostakovich to a student who complained that he couldn't find a theme for his second movement. 'Never mind the theme! Just write the movement!' he said." Philip Pullman

In our last seven weeks as residents of Australia, the LM and I toured our favourite spots, spending a few days here, a fortnight there, ten days with friends in the Hunter Valley. That was when I wrote my first YA novel. The weather was heavenly, the beaches were seductive and the wine flowed; it was Australia after all. Yet every day, no matter what distractions beckoned, I wrote for at least an hour. By the time we got on the plane to Canada, I had a viable first draft; it was that easy. Of course it would have been even easier not to have bothered but then I would only have had memories of those last weeks, not a SFD.

What propels you to stay on course with your project? When does the weather help you write and when does it offer a reason to play hooky? What deals do you make with yourself when temptation calls?

Learning through leading

Word count: 484    Reading time: 2 minutes

About a million years ago when I was immersed in all things karate, Sensei Wong told the intermediate class if we wanted to get our black belts then we had to teach the lower ranks at some point. He said that teaching developed a deeper proficiency. I recently read a similar sentiment expressed by Yogi Bhajan, “If you want to learn something, read about it. If you want to understand something, write about it. If you want to master something, teach it.”

I’ve been reading about the craft of writing fiction for years now. I’ve blogged about it for the past 18 months. When I took on the Young Writers’ Club, I wanted to give something back to the community. I didn’t know what a rich two-way process it would be.

Some of the early benefits have been:

  • Focused research. Each time I set a new exercise, I analyze what it entails and how to best approach it. This week I set a poetry-writing challenge so I had to clarify the techniques for my own understanding. Then I had to whittle that down to a few digestible sentences.
  • Improved organizational skills. Not only do I have to prepare enough material for the two-hour workshop, I also have to make sure I have a cheque for the facility rental, payments from the drop-ins, permission forms from all the parents, extra pencils, pens, and paper just in case, and snacks to perk everyone up at the end of the long school day. I have to set up the room in fifteen minutes. At the end of the session I have to quickly return it to its pre-YWC state.
  • Improved interpersonal skills. I’m really interested in the kids’ writing and love what they produce. However, they need to learn how to critique and encourage each other. In order for them to take the rudder, I have to step back a little.
  • Validation. I don’t ask the members to do anything I haven't tried myself. When they follow my methods and produce wonderful writing, it’s proof of the pudding.

I’m looking forward to a long association with the Young Writers’ Club. These kids cram the monthly meetings into their hugely crowded timetables because they love writing. They deserve all the encouragement they can get. Writing isn’t like dance, music, or sports. There are few if any public displays of accomplishment. There are no bright canvases or shiny sculptures to show off. As many writers know, recognition can be a long time in coming.

So the YWC members come only because of their commitment to write and then write even better. In return, I offer the commitment to help them follow those dreams. How lucky I am to master so much more about the craft of fiction (and now poetry) along the way.

Where and how do you share your love of writing? What are you learning as you do that?

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Photo by: strixcode

 

Happy new reading year

 Word count: 410                                Reading time: 1-2 mins

If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time (or the tools) to write. Stephen King.

Last year I read 60 books and dozens of short stories (thank you The New Yorker and Sarah Selecky’s brilliant online course Story Is A State Of Mind). I worked through fiction and nonfiction, books on the craft of writing, children’s books, YA, thrillers, historical fiction and classics. How can I remember all this? Easy: every time I finish a book or story, I list it on a spreadsheet, summarizing its merits or shortcomings. I note authors who moved me. When a writer has delivered a particularly powerful scene, I copy-type it to discover what it feels like to be so skilful. I am a determined apprentice who wants to learn from the masters.

I’m not going to list all the books I liked here. That’s what Goodreads is for. I’m not trying to be a book reviewer so I use the GR site simply to vote for captivating novels. Because taste in literature is so wildly subjective, the books that disappointed me are not included in my GR list. Maybe I didn’t understand what the writer tried to achieve. Maybe I didn’t empathize with the main character. The failures may be all mine.

Which leads to the question: why keep reading books that disappoint me or are poorly written? Edward Albee answered that question:  If you are going to learn from other writers, don't only read the great ones, because if you do that you'll get so filled with despair and the fear that you'll never be able to do anywhere near as well as they did, that you'll stop writing. I recommend that you read a lot of bad stuff, too. It's very encouraging. "Hey, I can do so much better than this." Read the greatest stuff but read the stuff that isn't so great, too. Great stuff is very discouraging.

I finished 2012 with Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. If I read only at this level all year round, I’d give up writing forever. She’s that good. So, in the day or two, after I’ve finished Flynn’s Sharp Objects, I’ll pick up something less humbling. And I’ll learn something from both ends of the spectrum.

What have you read recently? Do you find the books that inspire you are also the ones that slightly discourage you? What are your guilty reading pleasures?

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Book photo by: Sglaw