Multiple Enthusiasms

Infinite jest. Excellent fancy. Flashes of merriment.

Tag: craft

There are lots of ways to share a book and, in doing so, improve as a writer. Not all those ways are created equal, and some work better than others.

I’m pretty sure there are various websites that basically serve as online writing workshops, and I’m nearly certain that part of Richard Nash’s Red Lemonade has some of that functionality, wherein writers post chapters and stories and the best rise to the top. I’ve participated in both writing groups and online writing workshops in the past, and they all share one thing in common: all are best with a smaller amount of material, and honestly most effective for short stories.

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The other day I mentioned you have to decide for yourself what “good enough” means to you. I want to elaborate.

I opened this “Add New Post” page with the intention of noting that I don’t mean it’s okay to be mediocre.

But then I got to thinking, “What’s mediocre?” Just like we wonder “What’s ‘good enough’?”

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Lately, I’ve noticed an uptick in the numbers of writers (and agents) discussing when it’s time to give up on a book. Not in the sense of beginning to write a story and then realizing, at some point, that the meat of it isn’t there and it’s not meant to be a novel, but rather in the moment when it’s time to look at the finished product of a novel, acknowledge it’s not good enough, and move on. Such moments inevitably come after a long, slow process of submission and rejection. Sometimes the thought seems to be that if enough literary agents pass on a novel, it must not be good enough for publication and is better off trunked or drawered, ignored but never quite forgotten, dismissed but never quite put out of mind.

Other times, the time to shelve or drawer or trash or bury a book comes later, after an agent has already accepted a project for representation and taken it out on submission to editors, all of whom read the book but scratch their heads because they can’t figure out how to sell it or don’t have room in their lists to do so.

I don’t think you should ever give up on a story just because someone else doesn’t get it, and between the condescension of agents purporting to know when to start a novel and the outright masochism of writers kowtowing to business and commerce and market and all the other factors that have absolutely nothing to do with either writing a good book or telling a good story, I’m just not sure which is worse.

Should you give up on a story? I don’t know. I can’t tell you that. But I can tell you how to make that difficult choice. I know. I’ve done it before.

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I mentioned the primary reason Inside the Outside came to my attention was that its author, Martin Lastrapes, contacted me personally after I commented on a post he wrote. His contact came at a serendipitous moment; I’ve never really run interviews with authors before, but I’ve been corresponding with pen monkey extraordinaire Chuck Wendig, who offered me an interview spot on his site to help with promoting The Prodigal Hour. In addition to writing a ridiculous amount of material and posting every day to his site, Chuck is also a new father, which is to say I sent him answers to the questions he posed but it’ll probably be a couple more weeks yet before he runs it.

Point being, given that Chuck’s generosity, when Martin emailed me, I decided to pay it forward. I downloaded his book and agreed to take part in his web tour. So without further ado, an exciting interview with Martin Lastrapes:

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Just read a post by Jane over at “Books as a Business”. It’s a mostly good article with some interesting analysis, though I would change the title, at least; books are what we read, while publishing is a business.

Which aligns with my previous couple of posts, staying on the theme of writing as creative endeavor and publishing as business endeavor. The other day, I was chided on Twitter by dietpopstar for using the word “monetizing” with regard to writing, and who told me I’d “lost my way” as I’m supposed to be “a fucking artist,” and such considerations were “vulgar.” She’s arguably right about my using the word “monetize,” I admit; I probably should have chosen a different word or phrase, like maybe “I gotsta get myself paid, too, yo.” Which, at least, is funnier.

And that’s the trouble with blogging. Not the funnier part. The part about having to get paid.

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I don’t know why, but I’ve always wanted to post a blog from Leavey Library, here at school. I’ve posted from my office once or twice, but never from here. I come to the library fairly often before class–I like to arrive on campus early by at least an hour. Stop by the Writing 140 program office to pick up my mail, and then swing over here. Usually I read some magazines before class, or finish any last-minute preparation. I was going to read Wired today.

This is my last visit to the library. After I leave and go to class, I’ll probably never return. No reason to, really. No more classes.

In half an hour I’ll begin my final class at USC. Nothing to teach, of course; today is the day for the impromptu essay and students’ evaluations, and there’s nothing left to teach anyway.

It’s hard to teach writing, because often the most important aspect of strong writing is confidence, which you really can’t teach, anyway. Sure, talent is important, and craft, and work, and all the other stuff, but ultimately there’s that moment when you need to believe you’ve got something to say, and that singular self-belief is pretty much impossible to teach. Really, it shouldn’t be taught, anyway; that moment, that realization, has to come from within. It’s often less about inspiration than realization, and frequently, that realization is of the self.

Part of me correlates this idea with faith, which is why, I think, I favor more Eastern/esoteric spiritualities–they teach that true enlightenment comes from within. They don’t look to some barely famous rabbi for their salvation, nor place their entire faith and lives upon a myth. True faith, I think, is the kind of dirty that comes with real work–I think of Joseph Fiennes’ fingers in Shakespeare in Love. It’s certainly not easy.

Anyway, I’m off to say goodbye to my students, one last time. So far as they’re concerned, that’s all they wrote.