clues at the scene

clues at the scene

Friday, February 8, 2013

Ask Jack: Writer's Angst

If you have pockets or purses full of little bits of paper with plot and dialogue ideas on them, you're stuck. You are a writer. You are working on telling your stories. At left are three I have yet to file from this week. Look familiar?

Here's the advice column bit coming in: Ask Jack.

Now, there is the bit between the idea for your story and cashing the royalty check.

Somewhere in the in-between bit will come writer's angst.

You might be wondering about your use of language.

You might be in a quandary over your characterization.

You might think you have a plot hole.

You might wonder if this idea is original (did I read it in a story when I was in junior high?)  or you might wonder if it is sufficiently mainstream (elves, needs more elves - the attractive northern European ones with long flowing hair).

You might wonder what friends or family will think if they read it (invited or uninvited). You might be afraid that they'll recognize themselves and be hurt if they read it. (I'd hope they would be or you're not writing the right stuff; but that's me).

New writers are probably wondering if it is for naught: will it attract an agent? A publisher? An audience?

Authors are wondering if it will add to their reader base or alienate existing readers - or worse: result in dismissal by their editor for being garbage.

We writers are winsome group. We're full of beauty and hope and excitement except when we are not. When we are filled with angst we're bad company, poor writers, and generally just a pain in the ass.

We all feel these things and for most of us, we feel them all the time.

Here's the advice you need from Coach Day, my eight-grade football guru: walk it off. Nobody wants to hear  about your introspective concerns. Not. Even. You.

Self-doubt and useless concern are part of the game. It's going to come just like the next-day-at-work headache you'll get for staying up too late to "finish" something. You're stuck. It's a type of madness. Welcome to the asylum.

You cannot do a damn thing about the reader, the agent or the editor. You can make your best effort, use care in employing your craft, and try every day to do a little better than yesterday.

Ultimately, you can only control the story, your characters, and your use of language. Focus on those items. Let the rest go. Ignore the world of worry beyond arms' reach and master those elements you can touch.

Write something. Then write something else. You will not be able to over-publish. You heard that! You will be physically incapable of producing too much good material so try to avoid the corollary: producing too little good material.

Your twitter following is falling off ? Write something engaging. Do it well. Who cares about your social media bullshit. Umberto Eco didn't need it. Marquez didn't need it. Hemingway did not need it. You do not need it.

Write well and write often and the tweets will be ABOUT you and not by you.

No blog hits. Same advice.

Sagging sales? <guess what goes here?>.

Bad reviews? WTF? You are reading reviews?  Picture hamsters in diapers with Cheeto-stained paws and go write something else.

Not quite right for us? <all together now>

Write something engaging. Use care with the language and bring the best story you can muster.

Enough with the whining. You can feel self-pity when you're dead and they're putting the fifty foot statue of you over what is left of you. Write.

Change the batteries in the bullshit detector. Remember to employ the objectivity of self-evaluation of your work without introducing self-doubt. That is what we have bullshit detectors to do: evaluate and not doubt.

[ I've been a motivational coach for writing friends twice this week already. Yes - I know you weasels are reading this. No, I don't think your feelings are so delicate that when you recognize yourselves you'll be offended. You were offended long before that point. ]

Everyone has an endless supply of stories with meaning. If you think you don't then you just have too much you don't want to write about.

Remember the heartache in fifth grade when you knew you were in love but it was pointless because you were in fifth grade? You were in bed looking up (hoping nothing was there with you in the dark) thinking that this was the pit of misery because after all, nothing could come of it. Right then you knew that there was a billionth of a chance that this was it: the once chance for you and the complete happiness of being entwined in the heart of another. Because of the germ of fear that this was "the one" you - yes, you - were miserable to tears for feeling so much and being so young and dependent on everyone and everything else around you. That minute lying there you decided  you were going to grow up in your mind and not be imprisoned by the vagueness that came with physical age.

Have you written that story? No? Then you're not done. Write something. For good measure, write something beautiful.

Finish it this time you lazy bastard. Unfinished work is fish wrap.

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