Category Archives: Misery poker

If You Can’t Beat ‘Em

It’s lucky that just the other day I told a coworker my idea, otherwise I wouldn’t have a witness. Here’s the idea: A website where various contributors give advice on how to get started reading the work of famous authors, giving recommendations of three or four books and the order in which to read them.

And it turns out, of course, that such a site–or rather, column on the book blog Book Riot–already exists. And will soon become a book called Start Here.

I learned long ago that any good idea will probably occur to more than one person. And if you have an idea for an article or book and someone else puts it into writing before you get a chance, you should just pat yourself on the back for having had a smart thought, be thankful you didn’t actually write the book or article only to be lapped, and move on to the next good idea.

In this case, however, there’s an opportunity to pitch in, in the form of a Book Riot contest, so watch this space for my Start Here article and use the comments to (a) guess who I’ll write about and/or (b) tell me who you would want to write about (and maybe you should write about them!).


Eight things that seem more important than working on novel No. 2

  1. Eating cake
  2. Watching Gordon Ramsey
  3. Deciding Slate’s tech writer is a tool of Microsoft
  4. Stressing about not working on novel No. 2
  5. Reading blog posts about writing
  6. Writing blog posts about writing
  7. Wondering what the deal is with Tumblr
  8. Thinking about ice cream

Well, when you put it that way …

Why Write a Novel 2

In this season of summer movie sequels, it seems like a good time to follow up on the post I wrote last year in which I mused about my reasons for writing a novel.

Although I’m still some months away from querying agents, I’m starting to think about that phase of novel birthing. I’ve been doing research on what makes a good query, reading agents’ blogs, trying to become more knowledgeable about the book industry. No one’s ever hid from me the fact that selling a novel and making a living (or even a fraction of a living) as an author are both really tough to do. I’ve known that from the beginning. It just seemed best not to worry about that fact incessantly while I was working on my book.

But the more I learn now, the more the reality hits home. Here’s the common wisdom: Publishing is a rough road. So write because you love it.

The thing is, I don’t think loving writing is enough to sustain me on this journey. If I were writing just for the love of writing, I’d put my pages in a box or on a thumb drive and be perfectly content. I think the point I’m trying to make in a circuitous way is that for many of us “aspiring,” “emerging,” or what-have-you writers, love of writing is fundamental. (That’s not true for everyone, but probably for a good chunk of writers.) The fantasies that we could make a living doing what we love every day and that we could have an audience for our work are secondary.

But sometimes, it’s true, those secondary things trump the fundamental in our minds. If only someone would notice me and give me a nice chunk of money, I could quit my day job and write.

In order to banish that fantasy and get down to the brass tacks of writing, actually doing what we love, I think we need something more. A sense that we want to be challenged. A sense that we want to set a goal and accomplish it. A driving passion for a particular story. A need to be heard. A little bit of craziness.

In that way, committing to write a novel is sort of like getting married. Love sets the foundation, but it takes a lot more — including the crazy conviction that you can beat the odds — to make a strong marriage.

What do y’all think?

Get Me Out of Here!

When you’ve been working on a particular scene for way too long, and you just can’t seem to write your way out of it, you have a few choices:

  • Work on another scene or chapter for a while.
  • Shake things up: Change a key event in the scene, or make a character do the opposite of what you thought they were doing, or switch the dialogue around so that X says what Y said and Y says what X said.
  • Delete the scene. Go ahead. Do it. See how easy that was?

‘Shut Up and Get to Work’

This week, a coworker told me about a friend of his whose first novel was going to auction. A few hours later, the book had sold for five figures.

At first, I was like, “Wow, that’s so cool for your friend.” A few hours later–definite pangs of jealousy.

I wasn’t jealous of the book sale. I was jealous that this person I’d never met had finished his first novel.

Here’s some advice from blogger Tayari Jones: Don’t get pissy about who got published other than you. If you haven’t completed your novel, “shut up and get to work.”

And remember, you started writing because you love to write. When I say get to work, I am not telling you to pick up a hammer and start breaking rocks. When I say get to work, I’m saying get back to you. Get back to where you started from when you said you wanted to be a writer, when you didn’t know anything about the business.

I’ve been saying all along that the business of publishing does not concern me until I FINISH THE DAMN BOOK. But, I do think well-channeled jealousy is not necessarily a bad thing. It has spurred me to action more than once. I prefer to focus my jealousy on the types of things I can control. I can control, for the most part, getting the writing done. I can’t control, for the most part, whether someone decides to publish me. And of course, if I haven’t finished the novel, whether anyone would publish my work is a moot point.

So, kudos to my coworker’s friend for finishing his novel and doing all the hard work it must have taken to make it sale-able. And congratulations to him for getting a publisher.

And kudos to me for cutting the first three pages of a chapter yesterday and getting my characters right into the middle of the action. Baby steps.

Why Write a Novel?

Back in April, when I was thinking about starting this blog, I made a list of about 30 topics I thought might make good posts. (I was on leave at the time; my brain was free and creative.) No. 5 on the list: Why write a novel?

The question now is: What was I thinking? How on earth do I answer that question?

Why write a novel? I used to write poetry. Writing poetry is no piece of cake, but you can write the first draft of a poem in minutes or hours, on a napkin or the back of an envelope. You can see the fruits of your labor. Maybe no one else in the world will ever read that poem, maybe it will take you years to revise it to your liking. But in the meantime, you can move on to the next poem.

A writing teacher of mine in college, a writer of novels for children and young adults, told me, “Poetry is nice, but you’ll never get anywhere doing that.” Or something along those lines. Her words didn’t influence me to want to write novels–I was already writing short fiction and had always loved novels best of all types of literature–but they stuck with me.

Why write a novel? As I have said, writing a novel is hard. It takes stamina. It causes guilt. Right this minute, I should be working on my novel. I should always be working on my novel, if I ever want to finish it.

Why write a novel? It’s all about the story. Which is funny, because I didn’t set out with a complete plot–or any plot, really–in mind. I just saw characters I liked and wondered what made them that way, what motivated them, what stories I could uncover for them. The length of a novel gives so much room to explore. It’s exhilarating, and tiring, like searching for the Northwest Passage.

Wanting to write a novel is also about–surprise!–writing. Good writing days, when things are flowing and moving along, feel really good. Plus, when I finish writing my @#$@#%#@ first novel, I will be a better writer than I was when I started. I know that for a fact. I will have learned to hone, to cut, to plot, to characterize. I can always learn more, of course, but I’ll be further along the way.

There are more reasons to write a novel: To move people, to share a view of the world. But those things seem far away. At the moment, I focus on the reasons connected to the process of writing, because I’m in the thick of it.

Fellow novel writers: What are your reasons?

What keeps you from making time for writing?

Here’s what keeps me from writing:

6:30 a.m.-7:45 a.m. Wake up and get self, husband, and toddler ready for the day

7:45 a.m.-8:10 a.m. Drive toddler to daycare

8:10 a.m.-8:20 a.m. Extract self from daycare

8:20 a.m.-8:30 a.m. Drive to work

8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Work, with 1/2 hour break for lunch

5:05 p.m.-5:15 p.m. Drive to daycare

5:15 p.m.-5:35 p.m. Coax toddler to car

5:35 p.m.-6:05 p.m. Drive home

6:05 p.m.-8:00 p.m. Make and eat dinner, go for walk with family, clean up kitchen, bathe toddler and put him to bed

8:00 p.m.-10:30 p.m. Watch television, talk to husband, check Facebook, write blog, pay bills

10:30 p.m.-10:45 p.m. Get ready for bed

10:45 p.m. Go to sleep

Sure, there’s room for writing in that 8 to 10:30 period. But by that point in the day, I’m often gablosted and just want to veg.

Tonight I wrote for an hour and a half or so, because my husband cracked the whip. Surprise, surprise, I feel much happier than I do on the nights when I don’t write (which is most nights).

So, wanna play my misery poker and tell me what keeps you from writing? Or better yet, share your tips for carving out the time to write. I’ll share some things that have worked for me in a future post.