Sunday, June 24, 2012

Writers Going Boldly



The late Ray Bradbury was a living, breathing testament to the joy of writing. He loved what he did and he did it every day. He wrote where his imagination led him. He explored his own inner universe, never quite sure where the path would lead but absolutely delighting in the journey.

His practice was to wake up and start writing and see what happened. He’d explode. “Every morning I step on a landmine,” he wrote in Zen in the Art of Writing. “The landmine is me. After the explosion, I spend the rest of the day putting the pieces together.”

That was his practice from his earliest days as a writer. Even after he was married and had mouths to feed he found a way to make income as a writer while writing what he loved.

That’s the ideal, isn’t it? Yet in the past, only a few writers ever truly realized this dream.

I remember how happy I was when I first started writing. It was love. There was something rapturous about it, even though I had a lot to learn about the craft. Maybe it was because I was in touch most directly with my imagination and passion. I was just letting it rip. I was a landmine.

I worked hard at the craft, too. I enjoyed that as well, the way a race car driver enjoys working on his engines. And then came the day I got published. And after that, contracts. And now, looking back, a career. I’ve been one of the lucky ones.

But it struck me the other day as I woke up and started the coffee going that I was more eager than ever to get to my writing chair. Because when I sit in it, I can take myself wherever I want to go. Boldly. Like Capt. James Tiberius Kirk, I am on the bridge of my own Enterprise. If a galaxy looks interesting, I can tell my inner Mr. Sulu to take me there.



So I’m writing boxing stories and zombie legal thrillers and stand alone suspense and stories about vigilante nuns. I’m writing essays on writing and soon will be releasing non-fiction booklets on a variety of topics that interest me. Plus, I know that anything I write will get to readers and make me a profit.

You know, in all the recent debating about self v. traditional publishing (both of which I continue to maintain are of value) one thing perhaps isn’t emphasized enough. Writers who write what they love, care about it, figure out how to do it better, then repeat the process all over again—those writers may be having the most fun of all.

Of course, as my blog brother Gilstrap reminded us on Friday, a certain amount of sweat equity (which he maintains is gained only by going traditional, and I maintain can be had privately) is necessary for someone to develop into a real writer.

But you can sweat and still find joy, and most of that is in the freedom to write what you want to write and letting the market itself decide what to do with it.

“The first thing a writer should be,” Bradbury wrote, “is excited. He should be a thing of fevers and enthusiasms . . . . [A writer must] look to his zest, see to his gusto.”

When you do that, it will show up on the page. And when it shows up on the page, readers will take notice.

Do you want to write? Really? Enough to work at it lovingly every day? To study the craft because you desire more than anything else to communicate with the reader in the most effective way? Enough to boldly go where no writer has gone before? Or, at least, to put your own footprints on some previously explored planet?

Then do it. And pay no attention to the naysayers. Brenda Ueland, in her classic little book If You Want to Write, says this:

"Everybody is talented, original and has something important to say. Everybody is talented because everybody who is human has something to express. Everybody is original if he tells the truth, if he speaks from himself. So work with all your intelligence and love. Work freely and rollickingly, as though talking to a friend. Mentally (at least three or four times a day) thumb your nose at all know-it-alls, jeerers, critics, doubters. Work from now on, until you die, with real love and imagination and intelligence. If you are going to write you must become aware of the richness in you and come to believe in it and know it is there."

20 comments:

  1. It's an incredibly sad thing to wake up every day and do that which you once loved, but in a strangely perverted, trudging sort of way, knowing you're following a dream but not quite sure if it's your dream anymore. There's a spark there, something beautiful, but it's buried under a heavy layer of crap.

    That's what it's like to write, not that which you love, but that which you believe sells or that which others claim to be important.

    If we don't have our naked joy for writing, our animalistic urge to put pen to paper and "go where no man has gone before", we have nothing but smothered misery.

    Thank you, James, for a very inspiring post. :) I know for sure there is nothing else in the whole world I'd rather do than write science-fiction, even if it takes me the next twenty years of "explosive mornings" to get to the place where my work can make others bristle with the same joy I feel.

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  2. The love of writing--just writing what was in my head, what I invented, what woke me up from dead sleep, what made me sit in a chair writing and not going out with friends, or to the bars when I was young--paid off in the long run.

    The hope or dream of being published is really a separate entity, like a lurking monster in a sea of dashed hopes and inequity. you dare to set foot there, hoping to lay claim, as all your heros (authors), have to conquer the monster.

    Writing is the pure joy from within in all real writers.

    Publishing is something all together different and I've been around long enough to understand that had very little control over it (rejections). I've now self-pubed and also have a (small) publisher. Either way works for me.

    But nothing can replace the joy I have had of writing for 40 years.

    Thank you for reminding me, James!

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  3. Great post, Jim. And I have to say there are often days I ask myself, DO I want to be a writer?

    Short of digging ditches or herding school children, I can't think of a tougher way to make a living wage and I can honestly tell you that I don't always love it.

    Instead of looking forward to climbing into the writing chair every morning, I'm more like Dorothy Parker: I love HAVING written.

    But then the checks come in and the emails from appreciative readers fill my in box and I can't help feeling that this is the best job in the world.

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  4. I have it written on one of my whiteboards: Attitude of Gratitude.

    I see it every day and remind myself that I am one of the very lucky few who gets to live my dream and do what I always dreamed of doing for a living. Took me 25 years to get to this point, but even the worst day writing is better than the best day asking, "Do you want fries with that?" :)

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  5. Already I can see in these comments the very zest and gusto Bradbury talked about. It's inspiring. Thanks, scribes.

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  6. Rob, I know what you mean and that's a good reminder. A pro is going to have days when he pounds the keyboard like Spartacus whacking the rock quarry. But then there will also be those times when you go, "Man, that was good. Did I just write that? Maybe I can do this thing after all."

    And yes, HAVING written and seeing that book edited, polished and sent to market, that's another kind of joy. Or, perhaps in some cases, a relief.

    But it's all part of it, and I try to write at least a little bit of something every week that I'm not under contract for or planning to publish myself. Just to get to that exploring stage again.

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  7. Ever since I found out that books came from actual people and not magical book fairies, I've wanted to be a writer. I wrote lots of short stories and half novels and essays and poems all through my childhood and teen years.

    There was a certain sort of abandonment in that writing, even though I wasn't learning craft and query guidelines.

    When I became "serious" about my writing, some of that changed. I am a better writer for it, and I thank heavens every day for the tools I have now, but sometimes it's a struggle to get back to that place where I am exploding on the page daily.

    Thanks for the reminder, Jim. This is exactly what I needed to hear. :D

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  8. As always, your posts are dead on. I'm in a trudge and sludge stage right now. Trying to hustle the freelance work and trying to balance my two day jobs.

    Then . . . a flash fiction contest pops up. Oh man, those prompt words are crazy, I'll never be able to do anything with those. Crud. Wait. Ya know . . . typetypetype . . . oh yeah, that'll work . . .

    To me that is the same rush as fresh powder on a black diamond slope.

    Now, back to the sludge. Terri

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  9. So exactly who was that "Fletch the Expert on All Things", anyway?

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  10. Let's keep this combox on topic, Jim, and not get off on personal tangents. 'K?

    I will take this opportunity to say: I love spirited discussions, even strongly worded, so long as they don't get personal or offensive. Fletch lived up to that spirit. He gave strong opinions and backed them up, and others engaged him. That's the way it's supposed to work when the post itself is strongly worded.

    So debate away here on TKZ. Play hard, but play fair.

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  11. As an encouragement I'd like to tell Vero and the others it did take me twenty years to get published. I did it without an agent but got one quickly to help with the negotiations. I'm not making a lot of money. I like to say not yet, anyway. :) I work a full time day job I love, but will never give up writing. But do it because you cannot not do it.:) Otherwise another Star Trek truth may come to you. "After a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing, after all, as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true."
    --Spock in 'Amok Time'

    James Scott Bell was a great teacher to me along the way in my pursuit of publication and still is. I hope if you live in the areas where he'll be teaching in that you will take advantage of his experience. So keep on writing as Jim would say. And if you live in the Cincinnati, OH. area I'll see you at his workshop in September.

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  12. Great last paragraph, Jim. Especially the final sentence. Tells it like it is.

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  13. Jillian, I've referred back to that Spock quote often.

    Scotty has another I refer to often: "The more you overtake the plumbing the easier it is to stop up the drain." That too can apply to our writing.

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  14. I like to go boldly, especially if I get to wear Cpt. Kirk's cool shirt like the one in the pic, and not the mock turtle neck thingies of other shows.

    Oh....and I want a Phaser....set to kill.

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  15. Hey BK, that's another great quote. I can hear Scotty saying that now AND asking for another 30 or so minutes to fix something. I could use that on deadline too. :)

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  16. Absolutely love the Kirk analogy. Sometimes the drudgery of the business aspects weighs me down but the writing always buoys me back up. Thanks for this post.

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  17. I don't think I ever wrote with the intention of getting published. I started writing because it helped me get this stuff out of my head so that I can understand it better.

    People don't realize how painful it is NOT to write. But I do also study the craft in case one day I might actually finish something I started other than a blog post! But, that's me.

    I go boldly to my blog and to the Tallahassee Writers Association Newsletter. That's it for now, but someday! Look out! :D

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  18. AMEN, Brother. WRITE ON!! (Thank you for this wonderful inspiration.)

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  19. Lurking no longer...I read THZ daily and love the writers here. I wanted to give you one of my favorite quotes as I think it applies here.

    "Ability is what you're capable of doing, Motivation dtermines what you do, Attitude determines how well you do it." - Lou Holtz

    I too dance to a different song, somtimes other will listen, sometimes I'm dancing with myself. The key is to always dance.

    Great column James,

    Bill Hunter

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  20. Bill, thanks for coming out of lurkdom. Love the Holtz quote.

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