"Explain to me please, why in our literature and art (that) so often, people absolutely incompetent in this field have the final word?"

- Mstislav L. Rostropovich, Master Cellist, Conductor
People Don't Write Books

Author Jonathan Rogers was passed up by Senior Ms. America in last April's Music City Half-Marathon. It proved transformative.

Here in my forties I have gained wisdom from running that I never gained from books. To wit: I have learned never to ask, “Can I run 13.1 miles?” (the answer is probably no) but only to ask “Can I run to the next telephone pole” (the answer is probably yes). To apply this principle to my line of work, people don’t write books: they write sentences.

Writing is Hard

The author of Making Nice, Matt Sumell, talks about why writing is hard, how autobiographic his fiction is, and the fact he almost dropped out of his MFA program many times.

Every story is different, and every story comes with its own specific difficulties, so every story also comes with its own specific anxiety and panic until it’s done. Only—as they say—it’s never done, just abandoned. Cycle through that for a few years, a couple decades, and maybe you’ll develop a base level of frustration. Maybe you’ll get depressed. Maybe you’ll chuck a chair, or a candle, or punch a wall. If you’re like me, maybe you’ll punch a wall and then get mad at your pants when your swollen hand doesn’t slip into the pocket easily.

My Writing and Editing Continues at a Steady Pace

A year ago I announced my transition into freelance writing and editing, and I remain thankful for the opportunities the Lord has given me. I’ve had a year’s worth of strong, interesting challenges, mostly in the area of writing small group studies for various churches. Those opportunities have come through the good people of Docent Research Group, who have been serving pastors and ministry leaders for many years. I couldn’t ask for a better team.

The Lord has also given me projects through Christian Editing Services, a network of professionals who can take a writer’s manuscript from rough draft to published in a timely manner. Their service listing is comprehensive, from academic editing to writing website copy, illustration to book trailers. I always look forward to receiving a new message from my CES editor in chief.

Last year, I mentioned my connections to a couple websites. I have much less of a connection with them now, but I guess I haven’t ruled them out completely. My largest project from the year came to me through independent channels. I was asked to edit a pastor’s devotional commentary and help usher it through publishing channels. That book is being published this month through Lulu.com. I’ll link to it when the sale page is up. Do join me in prayer that it finds a healthy readership.

Maybe I have something deep broken in me, because I feel both called to this work and completely inadequate for it. Even writing this simple post, I ask myself what I think I have to say and criticize every word I type. But pushing those thoughts aside, I enjoy putting words together and helping writers reach readers. I intend to do more of it over the coming year, if the Lord provides the work. More than ever before, I rely on our Lord for wisdom and daily bread. He has been generous with me, for which I am deeply thankful.

Strunk & White Approaches 55

Geoffrey K. Pullum of the University of Edinburgh hates the popularity of Strunk & White's Elements of Style. He doesn't believe the frequently recommended little book deserves it.

Following the platitudinous style recommendations of Elements would make your writing better if you knew how to follow them, but that is not true of the grammar stipulations.

"Use the active voice" is a typical section head. And the section in question opens with an attempt to discredit passive clauses that is either grammatically misguided or disingenuous.

We are told that the active clause "I will always remember my first trip to Boston" sounds much better than the corresponding passive "My first visit to Boston will always be remembered by me." It sure does. But that's because a passive is always a stylistic train wreck when the subject refers to something newer and less established in the discourse than the agent (the noun phrase that follows "by").

For me to report that I paid my bill by saying "The bill was paid by me," with no stress on "me," would sound inane. (I'm the utterer, and the utterer always counts as familiar and well established in the discourse.) But that is no argument against passives generally. "The bill was paid by an anonymous benefactor" sounds perfectly natural. Strunk and White are denigrating the passive by presenting an invented example of it deliberately designed to sound inept.
Of course, many writing teachers and word lovers like the book. NPR talked to Barbara Wallraff about why she's a fan.

"There's a certain Zen quality to some of [the book's rules], like, 'Be clear,'" Wallraff tells NPR's Renee Montagne. Read the rest of this entry . . .

Taking a Break from Contracts

History author Susan Wise Bauer talks about taking a break from writing under deadline--well, behind deadline--for a few years.

"So about a year ago, I promised myself that when I hit my last big deadline, I wouldn’t sign another contract immediately. Instead, I decided to take six months and just write. Go down to my office and work on anything that struck my fancy. Read, reflect, experiment, let my horizons expand."

A few weeks into this hiatus, she entered 'fish mode', and you'll never guess what happened next. It completely blew my mind. I was weeping by the end of her story. Ok, I'm not saying what you might easily conclude I'm trying to say. All I'm saying is click the link to her post to see what 'fish mode' is and how Bauer feels it.

That's all I'm saying. Really.

Oh, and I should also say that Bauer is the excellent author of several history books, such as The History of the Medieval World: From the Conversion of Constantine to the First Crusade. Her newest book is The Story of Science: From the Writings of Aristotle to the Big Bang Theory.

Are You Ready to Write a Book?

Stephen Altrogge, Barnabas Piper, and Ted Kluck have recorded 29 episodes of their Happy Rant Podcasts, talking about stuff, junk, and things, to be specific. Here they chat about when one is ready to write a book and buying your way onto the bestseller list. They introduce proven schemes to move your book forward and reach readers you wouldn't have reached with the subject or quality of your writing. If your book is mediocre, these guys are willing to take your money and move your book. Some may call this selling out. The Happy Rant crew calls it selling up. The bottomline is giving them your money. I'm sure it works. I haven't tried it, but I'm sure it works.

What Do Professional Writers Earn Per Year?

Digital Book World’s new survey of just under 1,900 authors found fairly low annual earnings. Dana Beth Weinberg tells the Guardian, “We see for the third year in a row – even though we made a strong effort to get representation in the survey from successful indie authors – that most authors aren’t making much money and most books sell very few copies. We also find that traditionally published authors and authors who combine traditional and indie publishing have higher annual incomes on average than indie-only authors. Last year, we took a lot of heat for these unpopular findings, especially from the indie community.”

Authors publishing through both traditional and independent methods earned $7,500-$9,999 per year, thousands more than authors who published with either method exclusively.

How Often Should the Indie Author Publish?

Author Mike Duran takes on conventional wisdom for indie publishing success: "write faster and publish often." He says writers should consider the quality of their craft and how fewer, better books will make a stronger career than many adequate books.

In another post, Mike suggests we not discount near-death experiences entirely, but take a cautious approach to them, believing the jury is still out on their validity.

24 Things No One Tells You About Book Publishing

Industry insiders could probably make several lists of twenty-four secrets or misunderstood facts or contentious minutiae about publishing, but here's a good list on the writing life from Curtis Sittenfeld. I like this one most:

10. The goal is not to be a media darling; the goal is to have a career.

The Easy Way to Become a Writer

Neil Gaiman explains one of the easy ways to become a writer. You just wake up one day, after having tasted the fruit of a certain tree. You'll see what I mean.

Doubt: Your Unwelcomed Companion

Nicci Cloke writes about beginning the year as a new novelist.

This time of year is one of the worst for The Doubts, with social media churning out list upon list of books to look out for in 2015. Author Claire King rightly explains here how unnecessarily stressful it can be — especially for a debut novelist — to scan those and not find your book listed. And, let’s be honest — there’s always some handy stick-shaped internet fodder you can find to beat your poor old ego with.
In the post to which Ms. Cloke links, Ms. King observes, "MOST of us are not the most anticipated. But if your pool of debut authors is limited to you and the ones everyone is shouting about on twitter and in the newspapers it’s very easy to feel like the poor relation."

The Lizards of Storytelling

Author Jeff Vandermeer, a three-time Fantasy World Award-winning novelist who co-directs the Shared Worlds teen writing camp, says, "The way we're taught to analyze fiction is to break down and do a kind of autopsy. But I think writers need to be more like naturalists or zoologists when they study story because then you're looking at how all the elements fit together."

See infographics illustrating this idea and more from Wonderbook: The Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction.

Starr endorsement

Author Rachel Starr Thompson takes up valuable space in an interview to say nice things about my work.

I could never do the grit Lars Walker does, but I kind of wish I had written The Year of the Warrior. Wolf Time is amazing too. Actually, I love all of Lars’s books. - See more here

November Is National Novel Writing Month

Men's LacrosseEveryone has a novel in them, they say. And those works of art or escapism should be published for everyone to read. Apparently, millions and millions of books are being published in the US every year. A small percentage of those books are novels (or fiction novels, as some call them). A very small percentage of the novels published over the last three or four years have depicted the world in chaos as Harry Potter and his friends discover they have been left behind in a uniquely British rapture.

A little under 200,000 people profess to be writers in the US. The rest are too ashamed to admit it. The latter are mostly the ones who participate in library-sponsored parties for NaNoWriMo writers, where anyone can gather with other strangers for a few hours to scribble or type at the first of at least 50,000 words. They will be hear great advice, like this from Chris Baty:

  • Jot down the names of your characters to stop a Mike becoming Matt or Mick as you write.
  • Eat peppermints: a Nasa-funded study showed the peppermint plant increased alertness by 30 per cent.
  • Go outdoors with a newspaper, a pen and a notebook. Close your eyes. When you open them spot ‘Your Person’ and write down everything about them. Close your eyes. Open your paper on a random page and let your finger choose a spot. Open your eyes. The thing you’re pointing to has a link to the person you just collected. Work it into your next chapter.

Many will say, "Just get it written." They may insist, "The story must get out of you." But let these stats depress you. And while you're thinking over your plans for next month's exercise, ask yourself whether your story is worth pursuing.

"Nine times out of ten, your idea is really quite mediocre and has been done before, actually a number of times and in a number of different ways," Laurie Scheer states, but you haven't read those stories. You're just invested in your own. What still lies before you is the biggest challenge for all writers today: whether you want to write or to have written.

Go ahead and write 50,000 words next month, and if you love it enough to keep at it, then keep writing. Words are awesome. If you don't love it, maybe you can organize that library party into a community lacrosse team.

Watch the Writer in Action!

Here's an amazing in-the-moment video of an actual writer working his craft!

Must All Sentences Be Short?

Remaining in the deep pockets of the short-sentence lobby for years was enough incentive to prevent Roy Peter Clark from writing this piece in favor of the long-sentence opposition party.

"When I fight this anxiety," he writes, "when I advise writers to 'Fear not the long sentence,' my encouragement inspires looks of alarm from teachers as if I were advocating taking all the garter snakes out of high school terrariums and replacing them with anacondas."

Or a natural fear of powerful, short-sentence lobbyists, who might leave conveniently unedited documents on reporters' desks which could embarrass their former supporters. Clark appears to have no fear, however, spilling the beans with items like this:

By my count, there are three main reasons to cast a long sentence:
  • To take a journey through a physical or emotional landscape.
  • To create a catalogue or inventory.
  • To build a mosaic of logic or evidence.

Writing as Product Development

Barnabas Piper reminds writers that their ideas are their products, so they should work through product development before launching them. "It means that you are probably the worst judge of whether your idea works."

Aaron Armstrong also has a bit of encouragement on writing better.

Why Are Writers Great at Procrastinating?

headstandMegan McArdle, a columnist at Bloomberg View, attempts to explain why writers are great procrastinators. She suggests many, perhaps most, writers haven't failed enough. They have rested on their natural talent for too long and believe that the talent is all they have to offer. They don't see their talent as a muscle that will grow with exercise; rather they see it as a solid that can be tested for purity. If the world discovers they aren't as good as they sometimes appear to be, they will be certifiably, undeniably doomed.

"This fear of being unmasked as the incompetent you 'really' are," McArdle writes, "is so common that it actually has a clinical name: impostor syndrome. A shocking number of successful people (particularly women), believe that they haven’t really earned their spots, and are at risk of being unmasked as frauds at any moment. Many people deliberately seek out easy tests where they can shine, rather than tackling harder material that isn’t as comfortable."

When faced with this fear, people may choose to hamper their own performance. She quotes Alain de Botton, saying, “Work finally begins when the fear of doing nothing exceeds the fear of doing it badly.” "For people with an extremely fixed mind-set," she continues, "that tipping point quite often never happens. They fear nothing so much as finding out that they never had what it takes." (via Lore Ferguson)

The Ghostwriter Speaks

"There's an old saying that you should never judge a book by its cover. Today, perhaps, that conventional wisdom has rarely had more meaning. To a degree that might astonish the reading public, a significant percentage of any current bestseller list will not have been written by the authors whose names appear on the jackets."

Andrew Crofts, "one of Britain's most invisible and yet successful writers," has written out his experiences as a ghostwriter for 40 years. Bestselling ghosted works include a lot of "misery memoirs." (via Prufrock)

A Debut Novelist: 'Subject Matter Matters'

Ted Thompson, author of The Land of Steady Habits, talks about his business in ways that make him uncomfortable. "I feel like I’m bordering on saying something sacrilegious here, but here it goes: There’s a common strain of thinking among writers, particularly literary writers and the institutions that foster them (conference/colonies/workshops), that insists a book is only as good as its writing."

Although he still believes in the preeminence of good writing, he know believes subject is very, very, and also very important. "Once a manuscript leaves your desk, subject matter is the primary (and often only) way it is discussed. So if you haven’t figured out a quick way to answer that cringe-inducing question 'What’s your book about?' in a way that interests other people, somebody else will. And that will be how the book is sold..."

He goes on to say how surprised he was that people in publishing actually want to love your book and that the slowness of the whole process is understandable.

Words at Leisure in Unanchored Intelligence

Essays are a dead form, says author David Hughes. “But today we no longer have access to the state of mind in which such useless but diverting conceptions appear in the unanchored intelligence [another nice phrase]. Our conceptions must be vast or hasty or topical; to ride the storm of the uneasy mind we are in, an idea must be sensational, it must walk on the water or fly faster than sound. A poet manqué does not write essays: he joins the staff of an advertising agency, where one word is an expensive item, or he talks about the films he is going to make.”

Patrick Kurp spells out the joys and perils of Hughes' opinion on essays in today's post. "Good essays," he says, "even the most impersonal, are suffused with the essayist’s sensibility. No one else could have written them."

Horwitz Not Thrilled with Digital Bookselling

Tony Horwitz, author of Confederates in the Attic and Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War, writes about the thrills and spills of being a digital bestseller.

I finished writing in late January, just as the State Department prepared to issue a much anticipated report on the Keystone XL. If I were writing for a traditional publisher, I’d have to wait months to see my work in print. This time, I’d be read within days, right on top of the news!

Exhausted but exhilarated, I headed to the liquor store for a celebratory bottle and returned to an urgent call from my editor in Sydney. “Mate, we’re [bleeped],” she said. The Global Mail’s backer had had a bad financial setback at his firm and evidently decided he could no longer afford a folly like quality journalism. He’d abruptly pulled the plug just hours before I filed my copy, making The Global Mail a dead letter.

Worse still, for me, Byliner hadn’t yet inked its deal with the Aussies. Suddenly I had no platform for a very long story on a subject that was about to be all over the news. And I’d yet to be paid anything beyond my original travel budget (which I’d overrun, in any case).

At this point I called my literary agent, whom I’d foolishly failed to involve in the project. (Another fantasy of the digital world: Writers can do it themselves and dispense with all those middlemen.)
And there's more.

Build Your Writing Career

39 Things to Remember While Struggling to Build Your Writing Career by Kimberly Grabas.

Some good thoughts here, not about incomplete sentences, but stuff like failure, personal manifestos, practice, and simply doing it. "Writing is supposed to be hard work." Yeah. It's not hard work like pulling weeds either. It's hard work like speaking the truth in love when you'd rather throw snark from the corner.

The Writer by petebritney on deviantART

The Ideal Reader, Who Doth Know?

Patrick Kurp talks about writing and discusses the diary of WWI veteran: "The 'ideal reader' is a phantom. The writer who says he writes exclusively to please himself is a solipsist, and one who writes exclusively to please others is a whore. Neither is worth reading. I won’t pander just to pack the house, nor will I resort to fashionable chatter."

J.M. Bertrand on Writing

Thus spake Mark Bertrand:

"Things that don’t matter don’t keep getting done. Things that do become second nature. The key to any discipline, I suppose, is figuring how to make it matter."

So if we want to be writers, we must decide writing is what we actually want to do. And whatever work that must go around the writing too must matter--the research, the market opportunities, and the spiritual nurturing that keeps us closer the Lover of our souls.

"Writers already lead uncomfortably quantified lives, measuring our worth in the number of words written today, in the number of books in print and how well they’ve sold. All of these metrics speak to one kind of quality –– my quality of life –– without addressing another, the quality of my work. The best written books aren’t always the bestselling..."

Far more than any philosophical writing, Bertrand says reading novels exposes and explores him in unexpected ways. "In novels I face up to things I never seem to in other kinds of writing."

Best Apps for Writing

Lifehacker has a list of apps it believes have the chops to help you score no matter what cliché you're throwing their way. Looking for something free of the usual on-screen distractions? Something to help you edit or write a screenplay? They've got it.

Words: They're What's For Breakfast!

  • Previous edited stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald are being released without the content edits. "Before these stories were bowdlerised, they contained antisemitic slurs, sexual innuendo, instances of drug use and drunkenness. They also contained profanity and mild blasphemy. The texts were scrubbed clean at the Post," James West, general editor of the Cambridge edition of Fitzgerald's work, said. He believes the stories make more sense without the tempered language. "One of the commonplaces of Fitzgerald criticism, for decades, has been that he avoided unpleasant topics and realistic language in his magazine fiction. We can see now that this was not altogether his choice."
  • If Eskimos have 50 words for snow and 70 words for ice, do they experience these things more richly than the rest of us? Do their words shape their world? John H. McWhorter says not quite. We can think about concepts for which we have no words, and our world isn't really shaped by our use of language. "...language has only a minor effect on cognition and no effect on a person’s view of the world—that is, in this case, how humans understand time, causality, color, space, and so forth." Reports about studies that supposedly show the opposing view are exaggerated.
  • Crossway Books is throwing a sale in celebration of Crazy Busy winning Book of the Year.
  • The only measure of a writer is that you want to remember his words.

Do Literary Writers Succeed in Digital Publishing?

Do literary writers find readers and make money in digital publishing? Not yet. Porter Anderson writes:

Literary fiction, by contrast, has no content guidelines, makes no promise of one topic or another, varies vastly in style and form. Not surprisingly, then, it’s perennially difficult to define without a fight. Claims of serious intent and/or artistic achievement may be asserted by fans of literary fiction. Its detractors love to charge that it focuses on language over plot; “navel gazing” poetics over entertainment; precious reflection over storytelling.
But Jane Friedman says you can see some successful writing if you look beyond the book length form. She says, "Thoughtful, intelligent 'literary' work is doing quite well digitally if you step away from book-length or novel publishing and into journalism-driven or nonfiction-driven publishing. Most of the following outlets and platforms include some fiction, too, just not a lot." These platforms include: Byliner, Atavist, Medium/Matter, Symbolia, The Magazine, Storybird, and Hi.

In general, she says, people don't want to read short stories or poems on no-name sites like Brandywine Books. Big name sites, like The Poetry Foundation, get readers, but not others. I think the field may still be in flux as more readers read everything onscreen. I also think literary writers should reflect on the poverty of our recent literary traditions and develop a new perspective based more on Shakespeare and Milton than on Freud and Beckett.

Two Authors To Write 30 Days Live On Podcast

Indie Authors Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant have obtained funding for a live writing exposition through their podcast. "'Fiction Unboxed' is a publishing experiment. Platt and Truant are full-time authors, determined to prove with their Kickstarter project that well-told stories can bloom from excitement and inspiration, rather than from a 'true artist's' tortured soul."

They are doing this, naturally, by torturing themselves for a month.

Apropos of nothing, here's an audio skit.

Two Authors To Write 30 Days Live On Podcast

Indie Authors Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant have obtained funding for a live writing exposition. "'Fiction Unboxed' is a publishing experiment. Platt and Truant are full-time authors, determined to prove with their Kickstarter project that well-told stories can bloom from excitement and inspiration, rather than from a "true artist's" tortured soul."

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