The Myth of Talent

A couple of months ago on the old RMFW blog, I talked about the Myth of Craft. The Myth of Craft promises us that if you learn how to write the perfect book, you will get money, fame, and your own purse dog.

I don’t buy The Myth of Craft like I don’t buy The Myth of Talent.

We’ve all met the talented writer. “Ooh, she has so much talent, surely she’ll hit it big. Wow, between her talent and her craft, she’ll surely land an agent.”

Maybe.

I have talent. I think most of the time my innate talent doesn’t help me because I think I’m too fancy, my books are too literary, and my “talent” gets in the way of me telling a good story. I fall in love with my words, and I don’t want to cut them. And more and more, I’m not cutting them because I like ‘em. If you don’t like my books, don’t read my books. *Insert a spit-storm raspberry here*

Then the internet laughs at me and says, “Well, son, that’s why you don’t have an agent or a big contract with a big traditional publisher. You don’t respect the craft and you think you have talent. Learn how to write and cut that purple prose.”

And maybe they are right.

But who cares?

As I’ve said before, this game is about doing it. It’s not about who has the most talent or who knows the most about craft, it’s about people who sit down, write books, edit books, and publish books. It’s about people who finish projects.

You can’t sell a perfect book you haven’t written. You can sell an iffy book that is finished. Some people will like it, however iffy, and some people won’t. It’s art we’re dealing with, people, weird, subjective, wacky art.

For example, many people have said my third book, Elizabeth’s Midnight, is their favorite. However, it doesn’t have very many Amazon reviews and it doesn’t sell as well as the others. Why? I don’t know. Art. Who knows?

Talent isn’t a bad thing, unless you fall in love with it, which I have. Better yet, talent has that mythical quality to it that I don’t think represents reality.

I love the idea of the genius writer, who sits down and spins gold with every word. And I wanted to be that. I wanted to write books in a vacuum, and use my innate brilliance to conquer the literary world. I didn’t want to learn craft, or suffer through edits, or any of that. I wanted to be a god!

Then I wrote books people couldn’t read. And then I had to learn how to tell a story. And then I had to learn about how to work with an editor. Learn, learn, learn.

Craft. Craft. Craft.

Ha, so if you wanna believe in a myth, go for the Myth of Craft versus the Myth of Talent.

My talent has helped me in one way: people have always encouraged me to write because they could see the spark I have. For a little while, the praise felt nice, but not much anymore. It’s never good enough or quite specific enough and I’d rather have book sales than praise. Oh well.

My friend Linda once told me that there’s talent on every corner and there is tons of genius writers in the world and I’m just another one. When she told me that, I kind of panicked. So my talent wouldn’t be enough???

Nope. Better than talent? Determination and courage and the will to write and publish.

I wish it were different. I wish there was magic to the talent and a guarantee of utter world-dominating success.

But there are no guarantees.

I will say this. It is nice using the talent I have and not letting it sit dormant. There is a magic to using my gifts to create, and while that may never turn into fortunes and fame, there is a feeling of satisfaction.

So use that talent you have. Write books. Edit books. Publish books.

Rinse. Repeat.

 

Lazy Writer’s Syndrome

Strategies to keep your story hot and productive

There’s nothing worse than Lazy Writer’s Syndrome. There are no symptoms in its early stages. It only becomes apparent when we look up from our busy lives and realize we haven’t been writing for—oh, ten days, ten weeks--ten months.computer-1053809_1280

We have an ongoing accountability system in my critique group. Those of us who choose to participate report in once a week with their new words written.  Originally, we aimed for the word count equivalent of 20 pages.

Any incentive program needs to be flexible to succeed, and ours has. When vacations, illnesses, family emergencies and the like occur, we adjust our weekly goals—or we just keep doing the best we can and turn in a wimpy report with pride because the overall goal is to keep writing new. It’s been an effective program for me.

Our reports vary from “Sent a query and wrote 300 new words” to amazing reports of over 10,000 new words. It depends on what life is presenting to us.

At times when I’m not writing new material, it’s seldom due to writer’s block. Rather, it’s because I’ve let the story get cold. When the story’s cold, the characters don’t drop in and talk to me. For those of you who think that sounds bizarre, it could also be expressed as moments when plot solutions come to you out of the blue—when showering, walking, or during the alpha state when sleeping.

If the story’s not “hot” – fresh and on my mind, as in when I’m writing new material – those character voices and plot inspirations never visit.

Never.

If I’ve allowed the story to get cold, I’m shut out. As Jeff Probst says on Survivor to the losers of the Immunity Challenge, “Head on back to camp. I’ve got nothing for you.” That’s when I languish in an “empty creative mind” state, which makes it paralyzingly difficult to fill the writer’s chair.

Here, then, are my strategies for recovering from Lazy Writer’s Syndrome.

  1. Maintain a calendar for one week.
  2. Record your activities in quarter-hour segments for that week
  3. Review and prioritize. Abandon all "perfect" goals -- neat house, varied cuisine, excessive volunteer work, new hobbies that can be explored another season/year.
  4. Maintain a calendar and enter small writing goals daily. "1 hour writing, "2 hrs writing" etc. I achieve much more success when I draw a little square box in front of my goals. This satisfies the “gold star” child in me because it gives me an opportunity to put a check in that box. I know, it’s silly. But it works!
  5. Only after #4, schedule other stuff that needs to be done. (This “rocks and sand” concept is from First Things First by Stephen Covey—highly recommended reading. It changed my life. It can change yours, too.)
  6. Consider meditation. When you come home from work, go to your special place and decompress with meditation.
  7. If you’re spent from a demanding day, consider a power nap. For me, I only need 15-20 minutes and I'm "almost" as rejuvenated as I am in the morning.
  8. Be kind to yourself. It takes planning and fortitude--and a healthy dose of tenacity.
  9. Finally, team up with a fellow writer or group of writers and agree to post your progress once a week. Once a week gives you the freedom to have a couple of lackluster days but still turn in a respectable week's end report. Call it BICFOK (Butt in Chair, Fingers on Keys) or create your own name for it.

You can defeat Lazy Writer’s Syndrome! Good luck, and if you have some tips to add, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Grateful for the Freedom to Write

CPJ photo of journalistsThanksgiving is over. Carcasses of unpardoned turkeys have been cleared from the table, their remains packaged or put in sandwiches, their bones thrown away or placed in pots of water for nourishing soup in the cold days ahead.

And like the remains of our feasts, there is a lingering thought for gratitude—the central theme of our Thanksgiving holiday.  As writers, perhaps we can spare a moment to ponder the greatest gift we have – freedom of speech. What would happen if suddenly we weren’t able to say or write what is important to us? What if our stories were stolen, replaced only with “acceptable” thought?

Since 1981 the Committee to Protect Journalists has promoted freedom of the press worldwide, and defends the right of journalists to report the news without fear of reprisal. Why? Because according to CPJ’s mission statement, “Journalism plays a vital role in the balance of power between a government and its people. When a country’s journalists are silenced, its people are silenced.”

If the freedoms that CPJ protects were curtailed, it is very likely that some of our best stories would also be kept from us.  Imagine the discussions that would NOT take place because stories like Fahrenheit 451, To Kill A Mockingbird, or Animal Farm would never be published.  How rich would our lives be without Gulliver’s Travels, Lord of the Flies, or The Manchurian Candidate?

Think this couldn’t happen? On May 10, 1933, Nazis raided bookstores and libraries across the country of Germany and burned the works of Jewish and other “non-German” authors. Books by Jack London, Ernest Hemingway, Albert Einstein all fell victim to the flames of hatred and small-mindedness. Freedom of expression was assaulted along with those books. Freedom to think became a ghost-like and fragile energy in Germany for the next 12 years.

And here in the United States, soon after the atrocities of Jewish persecution, and attacks on the freedom to write, we endured the McCarthy years, and the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Many writers in Hollywood at that time lost careers and family, or opted to use pseudonyms in a desperate hope to continue writing and earning a living with their words.

So yes, if there is a spare moment between the holiday shopping, work as usual, and greetings to friends and family, perhaps we can say a little thanks to those who believe that the freedom to write is paramount to a successful society.

The Committee to Protect Journalists illustrates clearly the importance and dangers of speaking your mind. Since 1992, one thousand, two hundred, twenty journalists have been killed around the world for doing what you and I take for granted—they wrote.

In gratitude I write this post today; grateful for the teachers who taught me to read and write, grateful to those who read and share my stories, grateful for those yet to come, who will impact our world with their care-filled prose, their willingness to debate. I am grateful for the words that empower me each day:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press . . .”

My Seriously Overdrawn Bank Account

Courtesy of "The Atlantic"
Courtesy of "The Atlantic"

I am seriously overdrawn. And I have to think that many of you out there as well. No, I’m not talking about your real money bank account. I’m talking about your emotional bank account. The place where when things are going great, you’re making massive deposits, building up that rich volume of happy, fun, chipper, and all sorts of “good collateral.”

Also the place from which you make withdrawls in the form of fear, worry, anger and other “bad debt.” The election has been a serious draw on my emotional bank account. I’ve seen friends and family, people whom I love, respect, and want to be around, change into happiness-sucking, vitriolic, swearing, overbearing, bankrobbing….Whew, you get my drift, right?

I am so glad it’s over. I have absolutely no comment either way on how it went because my opinion is my own and no one else is going to change it. I also know that I’m not going to change anyone else’s. Which is how it should be.  According to Merriam-Webster, an opinion is: a belief, judgment, or way of thinking about something; what someone thinks about a particular thing. Period.

As writers we have a vast quantity of words we can use. We have big, honkin’ thesaurus’ sitting next to us. So let’s focus on kind words. Interesting words. Compelling words. Thrilling words. And maybe, for just a little while, put away the swear words. Whether you are happy or sad about how things went/will go, remember that this same thing happens every four years. And every four years approximately half the people out there are in your shoes, good or bad.

I hate being overdrawn. Especially when it’s because someone else wiped out my account. I keep that account for things like a call in the middle of the night about a family member. Funerals. A fight with my husband. The loss of a treasured pet. I NEED to have that cushion in my account so that I can keep my sanity when something bad happens, and can’t afford to waste it on what might happen, what someone thinks is going to happen, what the media tells me is going to happen. I am more than willing to expend some of that collateral on behalf of others outside my family and close friends, but I have to weigh how much I’m willing to give to someone else, especially someone who may not value that sacrifice and just want more.

Photo from Jocuri
Photo from Jocuri

So please, let’s all be friends. Try to make the best of everything, and work toward ensuring no one suffers from anything we can help alleviate. Give yourself time to recoup your losses in that account so that you aren’t too emotionally depleted to write, to enjoy, to be happy to wake up in the morning.  And remember all the millions of things for which you get to be thankful, since Thanksgiving is right around the corner.

And then, Write On!

How I got my agent…like a noob

An amazing thing happened recently. At least it's amazing to me. Perhaps not the holy grail for a new writer, but a scaled down, still just as gleaming, slightly less voluminous cup which is but one step closer in the long and seemingly impenetrable process of becoming traditionally published.

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, genders of all sizes and identifications, I have found an agent for my novel, currently titled, Deity Six. Cue brassy horns and angelic fanfare. Or, ya know, just sit there, in all statistical likelihood, not reading this and going about your day. Whatever. I don't care anymore. I got an agent! There's a "nah, nanny, boo boo," joke in there somewhere, but what do I look like, a writer?

What an agent means:

An agent is your ferrywoman/man across the rapid strewn and violent river Styx  separating you from the publishing world. First let's be clear. You don't actually need an agent. If you're highly self motivated, a great self editor, or just simply aren't seeking the external validation provided by traditional publishing, then self-publishing is probably for you. It comes with its own pitfalls, but that's an assessment for another day. A good agent will help you edit your book, make sure it fits squarely into the genre it needs to be in, review and negotiate any publishing contracts for you, and pull your head above those rough literary waters when it inevitably feels like you're about to go under. All for the nominal fee of some money off the contract and any future royalties they've managed to secure you, as well as a reasonable portion of your immortal soul.

To sum up: if you don't want to worry about self publishing, about doing your own leg work and wish to grasp tightly to the more confident leg of another person whilst they bodily drag you, kicking and screaming, through the cliche tossed waters of publishing, then an agent is definitely for you!

Some details:

My contract was fairly straight forward. One year contractual obligation on my book, wherein I would not seek alternate representation. They would do the best of their abilities to find it a good and loving home, as well as help me with some basic editing to make sure it fits the genre it's supposed to. After that period of time, if no sale/deal has been made, the rights and ability to do what I wish with (the book) return to me. There were some other things involved with it, but at that point my mind wandered off and I went in search of a cheeseburger. So, sorry about that! The contract also stipulated that the representation was for the book/novel in question, only. Not for me as a writer. Meaning, that I was free to pursue different realms of publication or representation for any/all of the other works I currently have tucked into my questionable belt.

How I actually did said agent wrangling:

For me, finding an agent had a great deal to do with connections. Keep in mind the process will likely be very different for you, as this is not a "how to" guide/one size fits all for literary agents. This last April I attended my first writer's conference where I met a super cool person (currently my editor on this blog post, as a matter of fact), who is a professional and published author. This author, who shall remain nameless *cough, sputter* J.A. Kazimer *cough, cough* became my friend. She then convinced me to attend a second writing conference. (For my take on writing conferences check out what I had to say about them here!) Now here's where it gets tricky. At this conference, this friend I'd cultivated (because, social skills), then...INTRODUCED ME TO HER AGENT! See. Personal connection. Word of your behavior and professionalism transcends boundaries. From there it was up to me. After speaking with my once and future representative, it was discovered that we got along well (an important element), she was interested in the premises of my writing (equally important), and my physical presence didn't send her eyes into uncontrollable and rather unpleasant twitching (possibly less important). Following the conference I sent her my query and some pages (I think 30, according to her request). She requested more. And upon reading my full manuscript she then showered me with lavish and much deserved praise and promises of riches, then told me of her interest in representing this book, and by default, me.

A summation to end...like, one other summation:

In total I queried in the neighborhood of about thirty different agents in the genre of my book, DEITY SIX, if I neglected to mention it before, which happens to fall under Young Adult Science Fiction. Between one third to a half of those agents queried did not respond...make of that what you will. Finding an agent, in macrocosm, is about a few things: Persistence (don't give up). It's a numbers game (also don't give up). And subjective luck. You could have written the greatest novel to have ever been written, but if you're not putting it in front of the right eyes it will still never get picked up. And to be fair about the whole thing, finding yourself an agent isn't the end...it's the beginning. The work starts there, and will probably get harder and more frustrating in many ways. So prepare yourself. I'm only just getting into the suggested edits from my agent **tee hee** and it was enough to cause a minor panic attack. So if there's anything to be taken away from this post it should be this: Don't give up. Revise when you need to. Do your research. Attend events and conventions. Be professional.

And...don't...give...up.

No Service

I have no service.

I’m writing this as I ride along in my husband’s car surrounded by Wyoming plains. Yesterday we visited the Crazy Horse memorial and Mount Rushmore (both of which I had never seen before). After, we spent the night in charming little Deadwood, South Dakota where I proceeded to win sixty dollars on an automated roulette table. This morning we visited Devil’s Tower, if you’re a fan of Close Encounters of the Third Kind then you’ve see this amazing national landmark on film. It’s hard to imagine that a tremendous pillar of stone could be so majestic—but that’s exactly what I was thinking as I stared up past the pines at this symmetrical wonder. By this evening, we’ll arrive at our final destination, Helena, Montana, and we’ll be spending the week visiting family and eating too much food.

But right now, brush, pine trees, and a delicate smattering of snow surround me. Plains stretch all the way to the horizon under a clear blue sky and there is a lone pickup truck on the road ahead of us. Clusters of deer stare out at us as we fly past them grazing on the side of the road. I suck my breath every time I see one; it’s too easy to imagine an ill timed leap out in front of us.

We just crossed the border into Montana along highway 112.

Stoneville Saloon is advertising “Cheap Drinks, Lousy Food” on a twelve foot sign outside a rundown aluminum shack—I buy myself some local beef jerky from the gas station instead. It sits at the junction where we turn onto 212, you have to pay for your gas inside, but they still let you pump it first.

It occurs to me that I’m very much enjoying having no service. I like this feeling, this middle of nowhere. Out of contact with everyone except those that are in this car with me, the ones that mean the most.

218 miles to Billings. I pour a handful of sunflower seeds into my husband’s palm. My kids are asleep in the backseat. If you were trying to call me right now, I wouldn’t hear you. I’m enjoying this tremendously. There is no email out here on 212.

I hadn’t realized how much this writer’s life would lead me to pour myself out, in small, seemingly innocuous increments, spread across a digital nonreality, a landscape that left me dry and exposed to the ebbs and flows of others, their every thought, feeling, disappointment...cluttering up my own head space.

Maybe I have been too long confused about what is required of me in the name of claiming a writer’s life. All that “putting yourself out there” while far less seems to be said about “filling yourself up.” This drive, this place has me half filled already—imagine what effect a hike might have?

That creative well, it can run dry. We can, inadvertently, dump all its rich contents out into vacuums of digital oblivions. Those virtual social connections that pull us in every direction and that all too often, especially lately I suppose, squeeze the heart, fill the head, and stress the system so that it can become close to impossible to catch the thread of a sentence, envision a scene. I have not been able to hear what my characters are saying.

Out here, I’m forced to be unconnected. I guess I forgot how amazing and beautiful that could be. All this not knowing—it feels like a blank canvas.

My husband slows the car as we drive through Broadus, Montana—my phone wakes up and cheeps at me. I have 4G, but I’m not ready to come back just yet.

It’s nice that they make these things with an off switch, I’ll be using it more often.

 

Rocky Mountain Writer #65

rachel-delaneyRachel Craft & Wild Magic

This time on the Rocky Mountain Writer we have another writer who contributed to the RMFW short story anthology Found, published last September.

Rachel Craft, who writes as Rachel Delaney, had a story called “Every Drop of Light” included in that new anthology.

Rachel Craft is a full-time engineer and part-time writer. After deciding to pursue writing as a second career, she discovered RMFW and never looked back. Her short fiction has appeared in Cricket magazine, and her first middle grade novel, Wild Magic, was a finalist in the RMFW Colorado Gold contest.

On the podcast, Rachel talks about the distinctions between young adult and middle grade fiction and what sparked her interest in speculative fiction, beginning with a story she wrote about her fourth-grade math teacher’s evil twin brother. She also talks about how moving from state to state as a child may have helped her develop her storytelling talents.

Rachel lives in Boulder with her fiancé and Jack Russell terrier.

Found Anthology

Intro music by Moby Gratis

Outro music by Dan-o-Songs

Intro music by Moby Gratis
Outro music by Dan-o-Songs

For suggestions about content or to comment on the show, email Mark Stevens. Also feel free to leave a comment about the podcast on iTunes or your favorite podcast provider.

Host Mark Stevens: http://www.writermarkstevens.com

Audio Books

I love audio books.

One of the reasons is that I live alone and I like someone to read a story to me before (or while) I fall asleep. For these, I choose books I've already read/heard before (and I DO reread and re-listen to books in my library).

Like many people, I enjoy listening to books while driving, particularly on long trips.

And I also use new books and/or new audio books as a reward for doing good work, or making wordcount.

Last night I gave myself a guilty pleasure and listened to an audio book, Sweep In Peace, by Ilona Andrews.

Advice first, then ramblings. Audio books are GREAT for getting the feel of the language, of different accents and rhythms of speech from Jane Austin's upper class British to an east Texan twang.

When I first started listening to audio books, I listened to old favorites of Jayne Ann Krentz. To my surprise, the reader put the emPHAsis on different words and phrases than I did. It was both disconcerting and illuminating. There's old common wisdom that you should read your work aloud (I don't have time with the schedule my publisher wants), and we do this at my critique group. It can help immensely, particularly if you have a run-on sentence or one of the made up words (like chwisge – whiskey) to see what works and doesn't. Sometimes I won't change a very alliterative sentence or an awkward one, but most of the time I do.

The best audio books I've ever listened to are the Elizabeth Peters historical mysteries read by Barbara Rosenblat. They are just incredible, particularly the ones that have the boy Ramses growing up, Ms. Rosenblat ages his voice...(and one of the best titles ever is The Last Camel Died At Noon). The Harry Potter audio books are exceptional, too.

I won't say the worst I've listened to – mostly because of the books themselves, not the authors' best works – but sometimes the actor screws it up. I listened to one where the actor made the hero's voce sort-of upper crust nasal, this was a ROMANCE and the hero didn't sound acceptable.

My absolute favorite audio books are romances where a husband-wife team read the hero/heroine's point of view, such as Smoke and Mirrors by Jayne Ann Krentz, and Linda Howard's Kiss Me While I Sleep. When Dick Hill makes the car noises, it had me rolling...

And since I love audio books, I am more aware of dialogue in my books, providing enough tags or movement so that my narrators have the cues they need to change their voices for different characters.

The Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Blog Needs You!

laptop-and-notebook
http://www.1001freedownloads.com

First:  Co-editor Julie Kazimer and I are looking for one new regular monthly contributor to the RMFW Blog. If we have several applicants, you get a bonus point if you're already familiar with WordPress. You receive a second bonus point if you are funny (as in humor writing). And you get more points if you promise to be obsessively on time (as in getting your posts in draft or scheduled at least a week ahead of time). Regular contributors educate and inform, focusing on their writing craft or writing life areas of interest. Self-promotion is minimized. Click here for the current list of contributors.

Second: Starting in January, we also need at least two guest bloggers per month and sometimes more. The submission guidelines are posted under the Blog link on the RMFW website. We'd love to see some new faces on the blog this year. If you're interested now or later, email us at blog@rmfw.org  The guest bloggers are invited to add an author photo and recent release cover art to their posts, but should still aim to educate and inform.

Third:  We need volunteers to participate in the Getting to Know You Project for 2017. For that one, we give you three questions to answer and request an author photo and social media links. Click here for a sample of the GTKY post from 2016.

RMFW Members Only:  Occasionally we feature guest posts by conference keynote speakers, agents or editors, but those are rare exceptions. We want RMFW members for these open blogging positions. Doesn't matter if you're published or not. Doesn't matter whether you opt for traditional publishers or prefer to do it yourself. Doesn't matter what genre(s) you write. Doesn't matter if you write under your own name or a pseudonym.

What's Important: You have something of value to share with the world about writing craft or the writing life. You know your grammar and punctuation. You meticulously proofread your own work. You strive to meet deadlines.

You can contact us by emailing blog@rmfw.org