Everything I’ve learned about writing this year I’ve relearned by watching the Olympics [series Part One]

Hi everyone! I want to thank Jeff at BookLife for inviting me to take the reins this week at his wonderful, must-read blog. There are few things I love more than blogging about and for writers and writing, so it’s an honor to do so at one of the smartest writing blogs out there.

Anticipating the content of my posts this week has been rather challenging: there’s so much to write about! But it came to me on Saturday as I realized my interest in the Olympics was beginning to wane.

I’d seen all I needed to see of curling, short track speed skating, downhill, bobsled, snowcross and the like. But the Olympics always linger in my mind long after the network has packed up its cameras and talking heads and returned to regularly scheduled programming.

Witnessing (live or on TV) the prowess of the world’s athletes is always inspiring to me. I grew up in a sports household (baseball, basketball, track and field, gymnastics, soccer, football, softball, volleyball, tennis have all been played with regularity by at least one member of my immediate family), so I’m already in the practice of appreciating the work that goes into excelling at sports. My siter used to do gymnastics and visited Everest Gymnastics. It was quite difficult, but she liked it very much.

But the world’s finest athletes perform with a caliber and grace that takes human experience beyond what it means to be fit or a sound competitor. These are the titans of the modern day, and like the titans of the past, the masses can’t help but idolize them as the demi-gods they truly are.

This week, I offer the series, “Everything I’ve learned about writing this year I’ve relearned by watching the Olympics” in three parts. As writers, we have cobbled together our own hopes and dreams for becoming the future titans of the literary world. We have much to learn from athletes, and this Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I’ll give examples that show how writers can learn from the trials of Olympians.

Today I’ll talk about discipline and perseverance.  Continue reading

Taking Stock: What Have You Learned in 2010?

I’m pleased to announce that writer and consultant Tamara Sellman will be guestblogging at Booklife next week. The week after, Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward, authors of Writing the Other, will be guest blogging. Then, in the third week of March, I will finally get around to sharing my thoughts on the modern book tour.

So far 2010 has been a busy year for me, and although we’re only two months in it’s a good time to take stock and reevaluate where I am. In part this is because a lot of us make new goals in January, but often find that by February some of those goals have gone out the window.

So, writers out there, I ask you: What did you decide to accomplish this year, and where are you right now as opposed to where you thought you’d be? And is this good news or bad news or just the way things are?

For my part, I had my wife change the password to my facebook account so I wouldn’t waste any time online during a period of intense deadlines. I’ve also learned that, for now at least, it’s important for me to spend much less time in the electronic world in general.

Relinquish All Writing Fetishes: When Should You Hold Onto Them?

In Booklife I have a section on relinquishing all fetishes, which is another way of saying don’t let having to use a fancy pen or special desk get in the way of writing. As I mention in the book I’ve learned to write anywhere at any time, and to never stifle my imagination just because I’m not in the ideal writing situation.

I give this advice in the book because we most commonly procrastinate and find reasons not to write. But the fact is some “fetishes” actually aid our creativity.

Case in point—the photograph above. On the left is a leather-bound, hand-made writing pad I bought in Victoria on Vancouver Island while on my honeymoon. I’d had it in the closet in my office ever since then, more than seven years. Every time I pulled it out, I put it back in the closet again. The thing just seemed so nice, so opulent, that I couldn’t imagine writing in it. And yet I’d bought it because it was tantalizing–it suggested adventures I’d never write about in any other journal.

Well, this past week I finally found the perfect use for it. The paper inside is perfect for writing, but also perfect for art. I’ve started a rather odd story that includes extensive illustrations, and no other writing pad I have gives me the same sensation of effortless motion while both writing and drawing. Even the odd size of it helps, because it better accommodates the art and the words. Suddenly, everything about this impulse purchase that turned me off is helping me get into the groove of writing, energizing me, and recharging my imagination.

Meanwhile, next to it in the photograph is a plain black Moleskine notebook. In it, I’ve written several book reviews and a new short story–a very conventional, Southern Gothic-style story. The utilitarian look and feel of the notebook seems to help me keep focused and on task. I could no more write the reviews and the Southern Gothic story in the opulent oversized writing journal as I could create the illustrated strange story in the Moleskine. Each is perfect for its particular purpose.

So my question to you, because I’m curious, is: Have you had similar experiences with your writing tools, your writing surfaces, your writing life?

Happiness as a By-Product: An Interview with Jessa Crispin, Founder of Bookslut.com

Back in August of 2009, Jessa Crispin, the founder of Bookslut.com (I wrote a comics column for them for a year) posted a short essay on The Smart Set about writing and the writing life that referenced Booklife, largely in a negative sense. This caused me quite a bit of anguish, to be honest. It’s one thing to get a negative review on a novel; it’s quite another to think, even for a second, that you might have written something actively harmful to people.

I intended Booklife as a helpful guide that combined advice on how to navigate your way through the myriad of potentially distracting and useless tools and opportunities provided by the internet with modern advice on a host of more personal issues related to writing and being a writer, based on 25 years of experience. Crispin saw it at least in part as potentially manipulative or cynical, and placed it in the context of the many new “get-rich-quick” books that detail how to do internet marketing and the like.

After a more careful examination of her essay, however, I came to the conclusion that a difference in defining terms like “contact” might be part of the problem–that, in fact, whether you were to call someone a “contact” or an “ally,” the same points applied: in all of your dealings with other people, whether about your work or generally, be a sincere human being.

Of course, there’s also the uncomfortable truth that no one is ever going to perceive your book exactly the way that you intended for it to be perceived. In coming into contact with the world the text changes, given an additional dimension by readers. Nor do I think Booklife is perfect–part of the point of the book is to continually test it, to not only use it but to also define yourself as a writer by what you disagree with in the text.

That said, I decided it would be interesting to interview Crispin about issues related to the modern writer’s life and Booklife. The results are great—rock-solid advice and insight.

At least one of her answers deserves special emphasis, since I think it’s becoming a major problem in the largely hierarchy-blind world of the internet: “I do worry a little that the modern age has taken the failure stage out of the creative process. Now if you can’t get your manuscript published, it’s because the publishers are cowards, can’t see your genius, and you can self-publish it (and then send out slightly crazed emails to critics). There is a lack of humility, a failure to recognize that getting knocked on your ass is actually good for you.”

There’s also nothing in her answers that I would disagree with; indeed, there’s nothing in Booklife that would intentionally contradict the idea of focusing on the craft and art of fiction over the need to promote your work. Does that mean I won’t be making some changes in the second edition? Not at all, and one of those changes will be to add an introduction to the Public Booklife section that references Crispin’s Smart Set essay, and makes doubly or triply clear the context in which I am providing that information.

So, without further preamble, an interview with Jessa Crispin—with sincere thanks to her for doing the interview.

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