Wednesday, February 1, 2012
Slowing down to listen to the lessons around me helped me to not only focus on one important task at a time, but I found that the things that gave me joy were already given to me. I wouldn't desire a blizzard in the middle of summer's heat for the simple reason that I don't desire a world in chaos. Therefore, I don't strive to fight against a natural season of life because of what it is teaching me; and then there are the surprises that wait for me in the garden.
Saturday, November 28, 2009
My new website is now available and offers the latest in my fiction, book contests, appearances, and everything you'd like to know about my books and where I'll be speaking next. My blog has also moved to my website, so I invite you to bookmark the new cyber-address since I will not be back to blog here any more.
See you there!
Your Friendly Neighborhood Author,
Monday, June 15, 2009
Thank you for your diligence to visit Words to Go. I'm integrating my website and blog into one easy-to-manage site and invite you to bookmark the new location.
Here it is:
You may also catch up with me through FaceBook and Twitter.
I'm reducing the amount of technology I manage, hopefully creating a more focused target for staying in touch with readers and friends. Thanks for helping me with the move. See you in the new place!
Monday, May 18, 2009
Food for the writing soul:
#1 The Temptation to be Inauthentic: In order to please readers, I might be tempted to invent a protagonist and world who does and says all of the correct platitudes within the safe setting of a world where a deux ex machina wraps up the heroine’s chaos in a tidy package while at home my own world continues to come unraveled never again to be wound back tidily onto the original spool. Do write authentically. The readers need to know they are not alone and that will please them to no end.
#2 The Temptation to Live For Recognition: After my novel lands on the shelves, there is that temptation to hold my breath, waiting to see if the readers approve, tell all of their friends, and then spread the word like mad that a literary phenomenon has entered the world. Writing for the audience of one means progressing to release your story to the community for which it was written and then focusing on the next story.
#3 The Temptation to Live in Fear: What if I fail? What if I never sell another book? What if I die and my books are tossed into the grave after me? What if I write too honestly and the readers turn their backs on me? Our identity is what it is and its value measured by the honesty that compels us to be ourselves.
#4 The Temptation to Compare: Think about it: There are only a few famous novelists. But readers tend to flock where other readers flock rather than around writers. If we attend the national book conventions, there’s that dread of the long line at the bestselling author’s booth and the comparisons we’re tempted to make. The temptation to check the bestseller list as soon as it’s posted is another way we compare. Our culture of celebrity nags us into comparisons. Remember why you started writing and compare your current story to the last one you wrote.
#5 The Temptation to Exaggerate: I once sat on a platform with T.D Jakes at a book convention—we shared the same publisher that year. One novelist sitting next to me said, “You know we can claim now that we shared the platform with T.D. Jakes.” I’m glad she was kidding, but I’ve seen that type of exaggeration when it comes to publicity and how we try and create a measuring stick for readers that makes us appear successful in hopes of creating our own bandwagon. Walt Wangerin once said, “But isn’t propaganda, after all, a lie?” Explain the unique qualities of your stories honestly and allow the readers to find you—they will!
#6 The Temptation to Feel Chronically Inadequate: I think that if you add together, 1,2,3, 4, and 5, you get #6. The erosion of the soul, IMHO, is taken into avalanche mode when I deceive myself into believing that by attacking my own worth I’m self-abasing. I’m a lot more effective when I’m focused on the task at hand rather than self-absorbed nit-picking. Surrender mode is a perpetual struggle for me even when I know that it will ultimately give me peace and contentedness. And to what should we surrender--that our beautiful imperfections are what make our stories so gallant and readership-worthy.
#7 The Temptation of Pride: It can crop up when we get reader mail or, if unpubbed, when we get the first kudo from an editor or an author reader at a workshop. Pride slides in the door with good reviews, top sales figures, fan mail, a book contract, or awards. The old cliché is “New Level, new devil.” So we have to avoid success? No, just fixing our eyes on it. Think of success as the Medusa of writers. Avert eyes, keep eyes on the work in front of you. A post-it note for the heart: “Don’t believe your own fictions.”
#8The Temptation to Manipulate: For “the market” or for financial reasons, I am tempted to write about overtly sympathetic or holly-go-lightly worlds that might manipulate the reader’s emotions. While true that our job is to help the reader suspend disbelief, gratuitous writing clumps up a lot of unearned emotion and summarized exposition robbing the reader of depth and believability. Part of our purpose as writers is not to overlook the genres that readers love; but every genre should have its gems that provide an artful story that might open an otherwised closed heart.
#9 The Temptation of Envy: It creeps in when a close writer friend gets a highly starred review or an award. I have to train myself to remember #4. It’s hard.
And finally #10 The Temptation to Be Angry: Writers might be tempted to get mad at readers who fail to follow and promote their writing ministry; or who email complaining because they've taken a slightly different road than they took writing their last book/story/article. Every writer desires to grow and success's double-edged sword is that it can pigeon-hole a writer. There are writers who complain if we don’t write fast enough to suit them yet want their books highly and skillfully wrought. A writer might get angry when caught between the cultural gap of readers who want books that portray a sanitized ideal and those who want their fiction kept real—its hard to please both types of readers. We have to choose and live with our choice--and our integrity. The writer might get angry when he or she quits a job to stay home and write and then runs out of advance money before the book is finished.
Henri Nouwen said, “This is not an open, blatant, roaring anger, but an anger hidden behind the smooth word, the smiling face, and the polite handshake. It is a frozen anger, an anger which settles into a biting resentment and slowly paralyzes a generous heart.”
Allow the generosity of sharing your stories with the world to multiply into a mountain of rich ore. Keep your thoughts elevated and your feet on the high road. Your words will show it.
Saturday, May 16, 2009
In her book For Writers Only Sophy Burnham asks the question “When did you first know you were a writer? Did you always know?” Oftentimes, the writer is the last one to know.
I once edited a student writer’s essay; I’ll call him Larry. Larry was assigned a report, a factually
When I selected a few “shine” papers to read aloud to the class, Larry’s mouth fell open as I read his name in front of his classmates. He was mystified. I was delighted. I had found a gem among the requisite essays and was the first person to tell Larry, “Yes, you are a writer and probably a novelist.” Hang the assignment! Larry was a storyteller and up until that moment, did not know.
For years as I struggled in misery in real estate, I recalled the day that Professor Francis Gwaltney, III pulled my freshman essay out of the stack and asked my permission to read it aloud. He asked me, “What is your major?”
My father had insisted that I major in elementary education. I told my professor and he said, “You’re no grade school teacher. You are a novelist.” Like Larry, I was mystified. His words nagged at me, nipping at my Nikes until the day I gave my words story form. Years later when I got my first little book deal I remembered Francis Gwaltney and was still mystified. How had he known that I was not simply a writer in the raw, but a novelist? As I read Larry’s essay to the class, I finally realized why. Author Francis Gwaltney, also Norman Mailer’s best friend, was at that time writing his thirteenth novel. He knew like I knew that Larry was a storyteller. Nothing profound, but it takes one to know one.
It could be that each of us write because we have been prodded into the writing arena by a writer who first saw within us a seed of potential. During the long nights as we bend over our keyboards writing for the audience of one, pondering words and their meaning, behind us is a voice of encouragement that won’t stop nagging at us to keep trying until we get it right. The words have formed like a thunder cloud overhead—you are not a baker, a butcher, or candlestick maker; you are a novelist and won’t be satisfied until your life takes the form for which you were made.
When did you know?
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
This morning some of my writer friends are posting a link on FB to literary agent Chip McGregor’s blog. Chip’s post got my internal cogs turning again, thinking about the journey toward publishing. It reminded me of the writers who approach me because they think that I’ve got a magic wand to wave over their manuscript. I only wish.
For every manuscript pushed in my direction, I have another sad story of an emerging writer looking for a shortcut. The most painful ones are those who did somehow realize that they needed to first finish one. They worked feverishly, often at night or whatever hours they squeezed in after work, to complete a novel. They’ve somehow swallowed the myth that by finishing their novel, they will next meet an agent or an editor (or even more erroneously, a novelist) and sell their story.
There are many myths that writers swallow that set them up for failure. It’s because they attend a writers’ workshop, meet an editor, and then they’re told, “We would never look at a manuscript from an unpublished novelist unless it was finished.” Then that writer connects the wrong dots. What that editor should also say is that most writers must finish many, many stories before they sell their first one.
I was recently flooded with calls from writers who read an interview and then, finding my number is, yes, published, called me. First of all, let me say that I took the calls because so many hurting souls were touched by a personal story I’m sharing publically. I might steer them toward good counsel. But, over the phone or even in an email, I can’t do much good for a new writer. They sound so eager and breathless and unfortunately desperate to talk to an insider. I can scarcely get the words out before they’re cutting me off as if I haven’t heard repeatedly, to the tenth degree, their story. It's taken a lot of courage for them to call, I realize, but often they've not prepared their heart for the realities they're about to hear. They come after "answers" rather than knowledge. They've pulled out a spade and started digging in the wrong places. “
But I’ve finished this book. Don’t you understand?”
“Yes, I understand, but—“
“My pastor read this. He says it’s good.”
“Sell it to him.”
“My grandmother loves it too.”
“If I could meet with you, say, once a week, you could help me shape this up.”
“I can’t. I have to keep writing myself.”
“What’s your editor’s telephone number?”
“She won’t even call me back,” I say, laughing, checking my watch. My page in front of me is not getting any more filled up with words as I listen very sympathetically to this person digging metaphorical holes to find a back way into publishing—through my fence.
“What’s her name then?”
“You should find an agent. They list their numbers publically.”
“What’s your agent’s name?”
“She isn’t taking on new writers.”
“But this is frustrating!”
Now you might begin to realize why authors stop answering their phones. We hate making perfect strangers mad at us. We need readers not enemies.
But to any new writer I offer this sound, dual advice: While you are attending writing workshops on crafting, also attend the workshops on publishing. A big part of the journey is learning to ask the right questions of the right people—and then stopping there and genuinely thanking them for sharing. You have to grow, not just your story, but your business savvy too. The writer’s way is a journey. Enjoy it for the imperfections of the terrain, the straining at the bit to learn one tiny bit of wisdom that cost you $450. plus travel expenses. If you really want it, as John Ortberg says, you’ll have to enter into a life of training. Go down the path of legitimacy and you will go far.
Monday, April 20, 2009
This is the list of readers who posted Sunday, April 19 in response to the article you read in the Charlotte Observer. At my request, the Observer posted an invitation to visit my blog Words to Go and ask their readers to leave feedback. The first 25 posting (and leaving your name) were selected to receive a free autographed copy of Painted Dresses.
Thank you for your warm response. If you posted anonymously and left no name, it was assumed that you were not entering the contest. Here is the list:
This contest is reliant on the reciprocal response of winners, especially if you left no full name or email addy. If you left an email addy, you’ll be contacted through email. Otherwise, please respond directly to me at pattyhickman at bellsouth dot net. (spelled rather than linked to avoid web crawlers.)
Thanks for visiting me at Words to Go!