Our Writerly Roundup blog series features a curated collection of articles on the craft of writing and the creative life that we don’t want you to miss.
It’s Never Too Late to Start (or Finally Finish) Your Novel, Janet Clare, Literary Hub
As we near the end of 2018, contemplating the passage of time is a common exercise. Janet Clare explains the ambivalence we might feel:
Whether the years are filled with sublime happiness or utter sadness, or, like most of us, with a combination of both. It just goes, and sometimes, our dreams go with it. We turn around and 10 or 20 years have whipped by and we are left to wonder what else we could have, should have, done
For writers, this reflection might mean evaluating missed opportunities or not trying hard enough to meet certain goals. Clare describes this feeling:
As a lifelong reader, I admired writers above all and I’d always wanted to write. But it seemed there was never the time or the space or the confidence, to begin. Plus, I’d been married to a writer, which works for some, but not for me: not enough air and patience for two of us. Then everything changed: divorce, business shuttered, remarriage. Though well past 40, I finally sat down to write nearly every day.
Engaging in the process and practice of writing helps a writer discover important truths. Sometimes this wisdom arrives later in life.
I kept writing for another year until I had what I thought of as a first draft. But the real turning point came when I happened into an extension class at UCLA with the best of all possible teachers—someone who became a mentor, a guide. It’s likely I wasn’t always the oldest person in his class, although, sometimes, I might have been. But it didn’t matter, and I didn’t care. I rarely divulged any personal information, wanting to be as anonymous as possible to avoid any preconceptions. I threw out everything I’d written and started over, changing the story’s perspective from third person to first. Writing, as every writer knows, is rewriting.
Clare decided to couple her work ethic with a deep belief in a commitment to the story she wanted to tell. This meant learning to figure out what fit in her vision and allowing the story to unfold over time.
After I’d fired my original agent, I made a number of attempts to connect with the right person, until I finally gave up. But I still believed in my story. Meanwhile, I worked on two other books. . . for years.
Despite the hurdles Clare faced, she pushed through and persevered through the process. She shares the lessons from this exercise:
But I truly believe in the power of never giving up, and I like to think it took just as long as it was supposed to. I write to be read, and hopefully this story will find an audience. But the most important thing I’ve learned, beyond the extraordinary joy of writing, was to never stop, to always make time to do what you love most, and above all, power on.
Pushing through the doubt and rejection is difficult, but if there is a commitment to the process, success will unfold organically. For writers who want to give up, heed Clare’s advice – keep going.
Living the Dream, Dorothy Rice, Brevity
I suspect many writers have dreams of seeing their book sitting on the shelf of the local library. For Dorothy Rice, this particular vision meant she had made it.
As a gangly, frizzy-haired introverted kid, I’d always been more at home in the school library than on the playground, and my first vision of fame involved having a row of my books on one of the library’s shelves. The girls who didn’t want to be my friend would read my name on those spines, and boy, would they be impressed. By high school, I still wanted to find my books in the local library, but it was even more important that my photo grace the cover of Rolling Stone. All the boys who’d snubbed me would be sorry then.
Rice saw her published book as a way to cultivate the life she wanted.
Fantasies of how becoming a big-time famous author would transform every aspect of my life evolved with age, but the gist remained the same; books would be my ticket to international star status and all the trimmings—beauty, dangerous boyfriends, a killer wardrobe and enviable hair.
So often our dreams look different from reality. The writing path is littered with writing, rewriting and the grit of staying with the process. Rice learned to dispel the notions about writing she developed as a kid:
Eight years later, being a writer doesn’t resemble any fairy tale I’ve ever read. As for most writers I know, the journey has been paved with plenty of rejection, disinterest, and the rude realization that writing is hard work. It involves skills and insight that don’t accrue by wishing and hoping.
Writers learn that focusing on fame isn’t necessarily fulfilling.
Linking my sense of self worth, satisfaction and joy to validation from others—the one aspect beyond my control—proved a recipe for anxiety, disappointment and depression. My perceived failure to become ‘famous’ strikes at the core of my sense of who I am and hope to be.
Learning to appreciate writing for its internal validation became paramount for Rice. Her definition of fame evolved.
What I want now is to express what it is to have lived a particular life in particular places and times. When I get it right, when I read my words back to myself and think, yes, that’s it, there’s no better validation.
Living the dream doesn’t look the way I imagined it at ten, twenty or even fifty. It isn’t the incredible writing career I fantasized. But I have the luxury and time to live a literary life. This is the dream, here and now. The fairy-tale bits have fallen away, but my life is still transformed.
A sustainable writing career involves thinking about the real reasons you chose to write.
20 Ways to Generate Article Ideas in 20 Minutes or Less, Mridu Khullar Relph (@mridukhullar), Writer’s Digest
Sometime trying to generate different ideas is difficult. Relph offers advice on how to think about new topics for articles. Her advice includes doing the following to fight writer’s block:
1. Pick up any trade magazine lying around the house (perhaps even this one!). See that cover story? How can you modify it so that it appeals to a consumer magazine or newspaper audience?
2. Pick up today’s newspaper and read a national story. How can you make it local? Alternately, take a local news story from your neighborhood or regional newspaper. Can you find ways to make it a national story?
3. Think about the two biggest problems you’re facing right now. For example, say you’re struggling to find a job and because you’re always busy working or looking for jobs, you have no time for a social life and therefore no friends. Combine the two topics to come up w ith a clever idea. “7 Ways Your Friends Can Prove Key to Your Job Search” could be one angle. “How Your Job Is Killing Your Social Life—and What to Do About It” is another.
4. Find the hidden character in a news story, profile or narrative piece. The article may be about the star of the movie, the president or a famous chef, but who is doing the important behind-the-scenes work? Share what a day in the life of a White House staffer or sous-chef looks like.
5. Log in to Twitter. What are the top five trending topics in your region, in your country and across the globe? Choose a few to write about.
To generate momentum for new story ideas, I often travel with a journal and jot down observations that interest me with the intent that I might late write fiction or a nonfiction piece.
Best Books of 2018, NPR.com
I love end of the year book lists. How many books have you read on this list? Do you have a favorite?
Have you read a compelling article about craft or the creative life that you think should appear in the next Writerly Roundup? Please send links to lmblogcontact (at) literarymama (dot) com—we’d love to hear your input!