20 September 2013

What I (re)learned this week

Here are three fairly unrelated things about writing that I learned in the last week-ish.

1. You can't just go on about your busy business and expect the ideas to elbow their way past all the other junk into your brain; you have to make space for them to come. You have to invite them and wait.

Photo by Rick Campbell
Sigh. I thought I knew what I was going to blog about this week. Twice I started blog posts, got a paragraph into them, and then abandoned them. I'd start writing, and then I'd realize I didn't really know what I wanted to say. But instead of sitting with it, instead of making space to think about it, I moved onto the next thing. And I almost didn't write a blog post today because I didn't already know what I wanted to write.

But then I realized what I was doing and I gave myself permission to take a few minutes - "Just five minutes," I said to myself - to sit down and think about it. Just mull it over a bit. What had I been doing this week? What did I learn that other writers might be interested in? And then I got all meta on myself and was like, "Well one thing you learned, just now, was that you have to give yourself permission to stop for a moment and make space for the ideas to come rather than expecting them to be there already." And then I thought of a couple other things I learned and a post was born.

The same thing happens with my stories. Right now I'm working on a flash fiction piece called "The More Beautiful" that's been giving me a hard time for months. And by "giving me a hard time," I mean I don't know what the frack to do with it. Each day that I've scheduled time to work on it (like today), I feel a sense of dread because I still don't know what to do with it. As if somehow not thinking about it and not staring at it would reveal the answer? I don't know. So far sitting and staring at it hasn't revealed the answer either, but at least I'm showing up. As Elizabeth Gilbert says in her TED talk, if my Muse isn't holding up her end of the bargain, that's hardly my fault.

Still, making space to write is hard for me. I resist it. It doesn't feel productive. There aren't guaranteed results; in theory, I could sit there for half an hour and never figure out what to write. But the truth is, it usually doesn't happen that way. Usually I do figure something out. Usually my Muse ends up throwing me a bone. I just somehow keep forgetting that and have to relearn it over and over.

2. Hinting at your fictional characters' histories makes them more complex, human & believable.

One of my clients described one of her characters as someone who reminded the narrator of a man from a commercial that was on TV when she was a kid. Brilliant! There are lots of ways to make fictional characters more three-dimensional and lifelike, but one way to do it is to have them associate this landscape they're seeing or this person they're talking to with something from their past.

Example: Margaret stood on the beach looking out at the stormy sea and was reminded of a painting her grandmother had on her living room wall: blue-gray sky and midnight waves with just a ribbon of white froth.

3. Submitting to markets is really hard. 

It's hard because I don't know whether my work is any good (I know that I *like* it, but that doesn't mean it's *good*); it's hard because it takes a lot of time to sift through all the potential markets and try to figure out whether their editors will dig what I'm writing; and it's especially hard because (truth time) I don't make a lot of time to read lit journals and mags. And by "a lot of time," I mean "any." 

I realize this is a cardinal sin in my profession. I realize that, as a serious writer and a serious editor, I need to be serious about supporting literary journals and magazines. But I haven't figured out how to fit reading them into my schedule yet. (Heck, I haven't figured out how to fit half the things I want to do into my schedule - or budget - yet.) Even when I find a market whose content leaps out at me, content that is not only budget-friendly (i.e. free to read) but also weird and different in all the right ways, like Booth Journal, it's not on my radar to go look at it every week. Or even every month.

Also, when we were together my ex-boyfriend got published in a shit-ton of lit mags and journals, and the only ones he read cover-to-cover were the issues he was published in, so what does that say about the whole business? (Possibly that he is a better writer than I am, but I am not ready to seriously consider that possibility yet. I'm still in the "different but equally good" stage of denial.)

So here is my dilemma: Do I cut something else out of my schedule to make room to read lit mags and journals? Do I submit to lit mags and journals with a sort of scatter-shot approach and hope that some of my pieces land in fertile soil (to completely mix my metaphors)? Or do I give up on this whole submitting-to-journals-and-magazines idea and self-publish collections of stories and poems instead?

Thoughts? Suggestions? What did you learn this week about writing?

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