The Importance of Being Persistent

In an earlier post, I wrote a letter to new writers where I described how the path of a writer is one that winds, ebbs and flows. How do you keep following the same path? One of the qualities that a writer must have is the ability to be persistent. Well, that one word can have a lot of connotations, so I’d like to explain what “being persistent” means to me.

So what does it mean? Well, if you want to be a writer it means you don’t give up. It means when you “think” you have no readers, no chance of success, or that you’ve just written something terrible you keep on the path. You see, it is too easy to drown in self-pity or thoughts about how you’re a horrid writer, but the truth of the matter is that you (and only you) have control over that. To be blunt, if you think you suck — get an editor, or get your work critiqued. If you believe you can’t write horror because your fight scenes are terrible, try perfecting your dialogue for a while instead. Practice, practice, practice and play with your words. If you take a break, plan to get back on that wagon, but don’t ever give up completely.

I’d like to share with you a personal anecdote, because I think it applies here. Not every story I’ve written I enjoy, and truth be told I never read my work after it’s been published. (Unless it’s for an author reading). I did once, when I was nine. I had won a Halloween fiction contest for a community publication; seeing my words in print was a very meaningful experience for me, so powerful that I read that story over and over again. It seems a little silly to me now, but I still have this vivid feeling of “winning.”

When I was young, the world was a magical, musical place. I didn’t realize how many writers were out there, and I didn’t understand writing is a multi-faceted business until years later. When I did, I put down my pen and paper for a time because the competition was overwhelming. Once I started writing again, though, I never stopped and never looked back.

Writer Lucien Soulban had an excellent thought related to that recently on Twitter. “Words of Wisdom for Writers: Their success is not your failure.”

Everyone’s path as a writer is unique, including my own. Just like there isn’t “one way” to write, there isn’t “one way” to follow that path. However, if you want to be a writer, you need to be persistent about it. There is enough opportunities in the publishing world for many writers out there, and just because you may admire another writer or you’re not finding yourself on the fast track to success, doesn’t mean that you are a crappy one. All it means, is that your path may be different. Remember, your words are footprints on that path, so don’t give up. I didn’t.

An Open Letter to “New” Writers

Dear Writer,

First? I’d like to congratulate you on your decision to become a writer. Being a writer has never been an easy thing for anyone to do, at any point in history. I’m not talking about technology, I’m talking about writers like the Marquis de Sade or Edgar Allen Poe or even Beatrix Potter. Journalists like Margaret Fuller, Alice Dunnigan, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward have challenged the way we think about our world through their reporting. From comic book writers to biographers and everyone in between, the list of writers who’ve influenced our social consciousness goes on and on.

WalkwayBut I’m not writing this letter to talk to you about why writing is “difficult” or why it’s “important.” No, I’m putting these words together for an entirely different reason. You see, the path you take to becoming a successful writer really has three trails that intersect with one another. The first trail is the one that led you to your decision to write — whether that be “just” a short story or a blog post, that’s what started you on the path.

The second trail is very hard to see and is, at times, invisible. It’s the journey that you have to take with your dreams. It’s an ever-shifting mist of visions that you’ll be on the New York Times bestsellers list or ending up on Oprah. This mist-filled trail always appears to be just out of reach, even though you try to grasp the shapes that seem to appear right out of thin air. Where can you find this second trail? Believe it or not, it hovers right above the third one.

The third trail is your journey, the one that you take to achieve your goals as a writer. You must cross oceans, deserts, mountains and green valleys. Sometimes the trail is marked, and it’s really easy to jump over that next puddle. Sometimes you have to blaze your own path.

In all my years as a writer and as a presenter, there’s really one fundamental reason why “new” writers fail. They simply gave up. Why?

Let’s go back to that trails analogy. Remember the second one, where the mist is kind of a distraction? Your dreams are important, because they inspire you. Unfortunately, some new to the craft latch on to those dreams and try to follow them by talking about writing without actually doing it! They’ll talk about how great their novel is, but they haven’t written a word. Then, when an agent or a publisher hasn’t deemed them to be a great writer, they give up. In another example, I’ll often see writers who berate themselves because they are “new” by saying: “I’ll never write like…” or “I can’t make any money doing this…” No one said the path was going to be easy: there are a million and one reasons I can give you not to become a writer, but there are equally as many reasons why you should.

The secret to achieving your dreams has nothing to do with someone else coming down from a cloud in the sky, validating your work as a writer. The secret is not about being positive or having luck, and it certainly isn’t about having blinders on about “how great” you or your work is, either. In order to unlock your dreams, you simply need to be persistent and (at times) a little stubborn.

What does that mean? Well, part of that journey is up to you. I have to get to my own writing now, but I’ll share more about how to make your own luck later this week.

In the meantime, I encourage you to pick up your pen and write.

    Kind regards,

Review of www:wake by Robert Sawyer

www-wake-cover When I first started reading science fiction, I didn’t really like it at first. It wasn’t until I started reading Frank Herbert’s Dune that I enjoyed its possibilities. To me, science fiction is at its utmost best when it extrapolates and experiments, taking the “what could be’s” and turning them into “what if’s.”

www:wake by Robert Sawyer is that kind of a book. It takes a slice of our modern, everyday life and the topic on everyone’s mind — the internet. The first in a trilogy, this book is about a young, blind girl named Caitlin who wishes to see. Internet savvy, Caitlin travels from her Canadian homeland across an ocean to find her elusive sight.

Caitlin Decter is young, pretty, feisty, a genius at math—and blind. Still, she can surf the net with the best of them, following its complex paths clearly in her mind. But Caitlin’s brain long ago co-opted her primary visual cortex to help her navigate online. So when she receives an implant to restore her sight, instead of seeing reality, the landscape of the World Wide Web explodes into her consciousness, spreading out all around her in a riot of colors and shapes. While exploring this amazing realm, she discovers something—some other—lurking in the background. And it’s getting more and more intelligent with each passing day… –SOURCE: www:wake on

What’s interesting about this book, is not the mechanics of the plot or the story. It’s the character of the internet looming ominously in the background. It’s the social commentary on how we interact with the world wide web and how our world is connected. (That connectivity reminded me of the Otherland virtual reality series by Tad Williams which is now being made into an MMORPG.) As the first book in the series, www: wake lays the foundation for what is to come.

If you are remotely involved with the internet or a self-proclaimed math geek, I think you’d really enjoy this book. The development of an internet consciousness is fascinating (and a bit scary) to read, and Caitlin’s mathematical prowess acts as a benchmark of the internet’s character evolution. In a way, I regarded the character as a modern-day version of Ghost in the Shell, but more gritty and realistic. I also enjoyed the fact that Caitlin — although blind — was not a helpless character, but is depicted as a normal teenager who has her ups and downs just like everyone else does. Her blindness is not a crutch, in this instance, but an integral part of the story. It’s the way we “see” the internet’s true nature and watch as he twists and shapes into a higher consciousness. To what end? Well, that’s what book two is about.

In www:wake, Robert Sawyer asks the question, “What if the internet was a living consciousness?” I don’t know about you, but the thought that it could even remotely be possible scares the living snot out of me. Which is probably why this first book was so interesting to me, because after all — that’s what science fiction is (in my mind) supposed to be about.

Not Happy with your Writing? Pick Up a Pen instead of a Keyboard

penOne of the things that I’ve discovered, is that if you overload yourself on the business of writing and the essentials of everyday life, your writing can be affected in ways that you don’t even realize. I find that this is especially true if you “rush” toward a deadline.

If you find you’re not enjoying your writing anymore, or if you realize that your writing has become crunchy and mechanical, I recommend putting away your keyboard and picking up a physical pen instead. Sometimes, all it takes to create a great story, is to channel the writers of old by getting back to the basics of writing implementation. Sometimes, all you need is a great pen, a journal or an old typewriter and some fancy paper to remind yourself that writing is not just about typing away on your computer. Often, the way we put the words down on the page can have as big of an impact on us as what we’re writing.

How do I break away from the computer while I’m on deadline? I’ve found some great writing implements and other creative tools that I use to help me focus.

glass-pen-and-ink-set I picked up this glass pen and ink set at a renaissance faire. The glass pen can also be found underneath a special name, as a Murano glass pen. What’s neat about this set is that it’s pretty inexpensive yet you get two glass pens and six inkwells of various colors. I’ve had a lot of fun with lettering using my set, too.

I find that it’s essential to have on hand an excellent box of paper for all manner of correspondence. My box is a stack of #24 pound, white linen paper with matching envelopes. They weren’t cheap (good paper never is) but it’s an investment that I don’t regret. When I’m offering writing submissions through print, I typically print out my cover letter on my fancy paper then opt for plain, white paper for the actual story or article. You can typically find a really nice box of paper through your local printing company, or you can go to an office supply store. Expect to spend about seventy-five dollars for the set.

dover-ornate-letters-and-initialsI’ve mentioned the products that Dover Publications offers before, in my review of five copyright-free clipart and photo sites. Through Amazon, you can get the books discounted at a great price, and you can sign up for free art samples from Dover directly. I really enjoy this particular book because I can use the ornate letters in various writing projects for that extra touch. The ornate alphabets range from medieval lettering (i.e. what you might find in projects for illumination) to Victorian-era replete with scrollwork and ivy. Why not make your own stationery for your business letters and correspondence? When was the last time you sent a hand-written note?

Last but not least I’d like to mention some of the journals I’ve used over the years. Every journal I own has a history to it, either I’ve received one as a gift or I’ve picked one up for a special occasion. One of my favorite types of journals to get are the ones with a magnetic flap on the front. Although it takes a little getting used to, the flap is nice because you don’t have to worry about the journal’s pages opening. I’ve seen many fellow writers taking a journal with them everywhere to write ideas down, and this is a practice I need to do more often.

Hope these ideas have inspired you. If you have any to share, let me know!

Is Your Next Writing Project Worth the Trouble? Use the K.I.S.S. System and Find Out!

There are a lot of ways to communicate your point, but sometimes the simplest vocabulary and the shortest sentences offer the the biggest benefit. While every writer knows and understands that, what’s not so simple is our process for making decisions.

Enter the K.I.S.S. system, which stands for Keep It Simple Stupid. (The acronym can also be used to describe Keep It Short and Simple, too.)

Sounds easy enough, right? Well, the challenge for a lot of writers is this little thing called “the brain.” This spongy mass tends to get in the way of great writing because it’s easy to “over-think” your projects and what you’re working on. Having a strategy to write is one thing, but thinking about your writing so much that you end up either a) not writing or b) writing something you’re not happy about. Our writing ends up suffering because we feel obligated to write something rather than focus on something we want to write.

If you feel you’re over-rationalizing your projects, then read on because I’ve got good news for you. You can use the K.I.S.S. system to simplify your woes and get back to writing what you want to write. All you have to do is ask yourself these simple questions and limit your responses to one, two or three word answers.

I’d like to help you by using an example. Let’s say you are tasked with writing an e-book about how to use WordPress. Here’s how the K.I.S.S. system can help you:

    1. What am I writing? – e-book
    2. Who am I writing it for? – first-time users
    3. What is the format of my project? – how-to, non-fiction
    4. What is the primary focus? – explain main features
    5. Do I need to do any research for this project? – no
    6. Do I need to use any additional skills? – yes, screen shots
    7. Is the project paid or unpaid? – paid
    8. What do I achieve by working on this project? – money, publication credit
    9. Do I own the rights to the content? – no
    10. Is there a contract? – yes, work-for-hire
    11. Are edits including in the contract? – no
    12. Is this a project I want to write or have to write? – have to, money
    13. Am I getting paid fairly? – no
    14. Is the publisher reputable? – yes
    15. How much time will this take? – 10 to 15 hours

Here you can see that fifteen questions, broken down into simple answers, offer a wealth of information. In this example, the writer can see at-a-glance what the project will entail from the legal side of things to the production side. Based on these fifteen questions and responses, is this a project you would take on in your schedule?

If you’re interested in a related topic, I offered a little bit of information on this when I designed some writing exercises to learn word conservation. The K.I.S.S. system can also be applied to the way in which you write as well. A writer’s style is often something that develops naturally over time. Using simple, clear phrases can help improve your writing in some cases, but may not work for every project that you’re writing for.

What kinds of questions would you ask yourself when working on a project? Can you limit your answers like I did?

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