Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Maureen’s Musings on a Hot Summer Day

I’ve been inundated with requests for interviews lately and it’s all very nice but interviewers all seem to have the same generic questions. Of course, each and every request comes with a friendly statement that I should feel free to “speak” (write) about any topic I’d like and the questions are just suggestions. So, I usually try to give an interview that offers up a new angle (I hate repeating myself) and try to execute a clever end run around the same-old/same-old.

Nonetheless, I’m going to answer one of the most persistent questions right here & now (I’ve created a hybrid question that melds together all the possible variations on the same theme); to wit: “what was/is your inspiration; what inspires you when you write; where do you find your inspiration; how can writers find inspiration?” and yada yada yada ad nauseum.

Which reminds me of Stephen King’s great aphorism:  Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration. The rest of us just get up and go to work.”

Writing is a job – and a damn hard one. Writers don’t wallow in inspiration; writers wallow in work… lots and lots of hard work.

By “writing” I refer to the art, technique, and maintenance required to call oneself an author – one who is still living, breathing and generating new works.

If you’re an author today, whether you’re highly successful or not, you’re an independent business person; you run a business and that business is you. The truth of it is also this: if you don’t think of yourself as a business you will most likely never stand a snowball’s chance in hell of becoming successful commercially.

All authors today are either small business owners (the ma’ and pa’ stores of the industry) or, if they’ve hit the career jackpot, they will either manage or direct the management of a vast enterprise that – guess what? – is still all about them. Before Rowling there was Disney… and between Rowling and the one-book-to-yet-be-discovered author there’s a great group of A-Listers: Grisham, Patterson, Evanovich, Meyer. They have turned their ma’ & pa’ stores, their small proprietorships, into large corporate endeavors but it’s still all about them.

YOU must make it all about YOU; no one else can do that for you.

Which is a nice segue into this next thought:

I continue to be amazed at the author-wannabees who disparage indies because they’d rather “wait for an agent.” They remind me of the desperate spinster thinking that if she catches the bridal bouquet she’ll be the next gal at the altar.

Yeah: we all know how that works. Look around you, sweetie; the girls who make it to the altar have been on the dance floor all night workin’ up a sweat -- while you sat at a table full of babushkas talking about all the women they know who died in child birth... 

Talk about fun...

Seriously, as someone I know once put it: Those who can, DO; those who can’t, TALK ABOUT IT.

Put another way: given the vagaries and realities of today’s marketplace, waiting for an agent to find you makes perfect sense only if you’re really sure you never want to get published.

And whatever gave these wannabees the idea that once they get an agent they don’t have to work to promote themselves? Aren’t they reading what everyone’s been writing? This is something I see all the time – it’s the wannabee mantra: “I don’t want to do all the stuff it takes to be an author today; an agent will handle that for me… so I’ll wait until I hook one.”

What are they smokin’? I guess that’s OK if you want to hang around for five or ten years…

Me? I have a life to live, baby!

Some more rambling musings:

·         You are an author when you actually author something; publication has nothing to do with it. So finish that damn book already and quit talking about it. And spare me your word count. Who the hell cares how many words you wrote today? That tells me nothing. It’s not about the damn word count, kid; it’s about the quality of your writing. A novel is not a novel because it has 110,000 words – the Chicago Yellow Pages probably has 10 million words but that doesn't make it a library.  

·         Perception really is everything: both for you and those you want to follow you. So please! Stop it already with the whiney Facebook pages, blogs saturated with angst and self-absorption and all those Twitter profiles that scream “author wannabee looking for a spouse.”  You know the ones: they say “aspiring novelist looking to have my self-worth and talent validated by a total stranger I haven’t even met yet.” (Think of the spinster: how many offers is she going to get with a sign around her neck that screams “Send me a man to give me an identity, make me feel pretty and loved, give me some babies, and help me avoid bankruptcy”?  Yeah: that’s sexy as hell; a lot of guys are gonna’ bite the bait on that one.)

·         As to the “inspiration” question: I never knew a “natural born” anyone who needed “inspiration” to be what came most naturally to them, especially in the creative arts. Inspiration is overrated and as a term seriously overused. The burning need to write, or paint or dance or make music is not borne of inspiration external to self – it is self. It emanates from within; it’s your soul crying out to be free as only you can be free, as only you are; it is a life force within you and if it is true and genuine it cannot be denied.

So where does the work come in? Ah, I knew we’d get back to that point: just because it’s your natural born talent doesn’t mean it’s not work. The need to express yourself through writing or dance or music is inborn – it comes from somewhere deep inside and takes us back to self. How successfully one may transform the inner need to write or dance or make music and become an author, a ballerina or a pianist hinges on discipline and the capacity for hard work.

In my opinion, anyone with a burning need to write or dance or sing can certainly do so and probably will do so – they will find some way to express that need. However, turning pro requires kicking it up a notch. It begins with first learning the tools of one’s expression; with the writer it is having a solid command of language, grammar, punctuation. (So, yes: I do believe if you want people to read and respect your writing you must write well – and that includes knowing the rules of the road.) Even Mozart took lessons (remember Salieri?). It was only after Mozart mastered scales that he could soar and become… well, Mozart.

Here’s my advice to anyone who wants to transform their inborn need to write into the business of being an author:

Maureen’s Rule #1: Master language – from the double negative to the dangling participle: get it down. Once you have it mastered then and only then can you decide how to creatively play with the rules and become an e.e. cummings or James Joyce. There’s a world of difference between breaking the rules for emphasis or to push the boundaries of literary license and just being an unlettered clod. 

Maureen’s Rule #2: Practice, practice, practice (if you really love to write, this is the easy part).

Maureen’s Rule #3: Draft, draft, draft (this is the part that requires serious discipline, if not carloads of humility).

Maureen’s Rule #4: Draft some more (this builds muscle and also confidence).

Maureen’s Rule #5: Don’t be the spinster at the wedding. Don’t wait for a date. Don’t wait for a lover. Don't wait for anyone; ever. It's your train, your schedule.

Maureen’s Rule #6: Love yourself. Dance with yourself. Hire yourself – Become Your Own Agent.

Maureen’s Rule #7: Did I mention you need to draft a lot?

Maureen’s Rule #8: Finish the damn book already.

I like this pic so much
I'm using it twice! Remember:
U can do this
Maureen’s Rule #9: Publish the damn book already (you can do this baby, you really can...).

Maureen’s Rule #10: Prepare for the wedding but while you’re waiting for the guests to arrive: write another book.

Note: Any sexist language in this article is purely for literary convenience. These comments and rules are applicable to both sexes and analogies can go either way... I'm sure you can figure it out, right? 

Final Comment:
Remember ---> Authors write; everyone else just talks about it. ~Maureen Gill

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