November Hodgepodge 2013 – Keep Writing!

[Are your fingers flying feverishly on a NaNoWriMo project? Or are you you working on something else? Here are a few quotes to encourage you to keep writing!]

I don’t impose any word count or number-of-hours quota on myself, or have any rules, except one: persistence. Nothing glamorous. No epiphanies. Just revisiting and rewriting. For me, momentum is far more important than inspiration.
– Pam Muñoz Ryan

Write in any way that works for you. Write in a tuxedo or in the shower with a raincoat or in a cave deep in the woods.
– John Gardner

The tragedy of life is not death, but what we let die inside us while we live.
– Norman Cousins

A goal is a dream with a finish line.
– Duke Ellington

“Go back?” he thought. “No good at all! Go sideways? Impossible! Go forward? Only thing to do! On we go!” So up he got, and trotted along with his little sword held in front of him and one hand feeling the wall, and his heart all of a patter and a pitter.
– Bilbo Baggins, in The Hobbit

Keep going; never stop; sit tight;
Read something luminous at night.
– Edmund Wilson

I learned never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.
– Ernest Hemingway

There is neither a proportional relationship, nor an inverse one, between a writer’s estimation of a work in progress and its actual quality. The feeling that the work is magnificent, and the feeling that it is abominable, are both mosquitoes to be repelled, ignored, or killed, but not indulged.
Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.
– Norwegian proverb

[Okay, that last item is not really about writing, but it might help you find an extra ounce of gumption in the face of literary or life’s headwinds.]

October Hodgepodge 2013

Here are a few thoughts (about creativity and the writing process) to savor:

”Inspiration usually comes during work rather than before it.”
– Madeleine L’Engle

“You climb a long ladder until you can see over the roof, or over the clouds.  You are writing a book. You watch your shod feet step on each round rung, one at a time; you do not hurry and do not rest.  Your feet feel the steep ladder’s balance; long muscles in your thighs check its sway.  You climb steadily, doing your job in the dark.
When you reach the end, there is nothing more to climb.  The sun hits you. The bright wideness surprises you; you had forgotten there was an end.  You look back at the ladder’s two feet on the distant grass astonished.”
Annie Dillard, in The Writing Life

No matter how hard you work on your writing, there will always be other writers who are better, faster, deeper, more popular, richer. And that’s fine.”
– Jane Yolen, in an interview in the Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast blog

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”
– Albert Einstein

“There are painters who transform the sun to a yellow spot, but there are others who with the help of their art and their intelligence, transform a yellow spot into the sun.”
– Pablo Picasso

“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease forever to be able to do it.”
– J.M. Barrie, in The Little White Bird, “Peter Pan” chapter

“To learn something new, take the path that you took yesterday.”
John Burroughs, naturalist (1837–1921)

November Hodgepodge – Being a Writer

Don’t, please, get precious about your working methods. . . . The more you humor your inadequacies by compensating with phony environment, the tougher your work will become. You have to be in a mood. I grant that. But if you haven’t the understanding of yourself to be in any mood when you wish – then don’t fool around with the mood business. Be an automobile salesman. I would like you to be able to write as well as you can with pen, pencil, and typewriter, in tree houses, boiler factories, and on subway trains. I insist you must be able to write as well as you can with a stomach-ache, a crying baby, a paving drill going – and on a typewriter that has a non-functioning “e” and an inoperable backspace. If you want and need to. Then – for your regular surroundings – any moderately quiet, well-ventilated room with an ordinary typewriter table and chair will be paradisiacal.
– Philip Wylie (1902–1971), co-author of When Worlds Collide (1932)

I can’t decide for you whether or not you have got to write, but if anything in the world, war, or pestilence, or famine, or private hunger, or anything, can stop you from writing, then don’t write . . . because if anything can even begin to keep you from writing you aren’t a writer and you’ll be in a hell of a mess until you find out. If you are a writer, you’ll still be in a hell of a mess, but you’ll have better reasons.
– William Saroyan (1908–1981), author of The Time of Your Life, for which he was awarded a Pulitzer Prize, which he declined to accept.

I believe there are writers who enjoy writing. For my part, I loathe and abhor it. I enjoy immensely sitting in an easy chair before the fire, closing my eyes and rapturously envisaging the sweep, the drive, the sounds, and the fury of the masterpiece – they are all masterpieces at that stage – which I am going to produce. But writing – ah! That is a different pair of shoes! . . . No sooner am I seated at my desk than I want to get up again, to wander about the room, look at the view, eat apples, suck toffee . . . .
– A.J. Cronin (1896–1981), author of The Stars Look Down

I confess, right at the start, to the doubts  – and sometimes outright dreads  – that go with me as I climb the stairs to my study in the morning, coffee mug in hand: I have to admit to the habitual apprehension mixed with a sort of reverence, as I light the incense . . . and wonder: what is going to happen today? Will anything happen? Will the angel come today?
– Gail Godwin (1937–), American novelist

I have no idea whether what I write will be of the remotest interest to anyone else. Some mornings when I read what I wrote the previous day I think it’s fairly entertaining; other times I think it’s pure rubbish. The main thing is not to take any notice, not to be elated or upset, just keep going.
– Maeve Binchy (1940–2012), Irish novelist

[Quotes from Wylie, Saroyan, Cronin, and Binchy appeared in issues of The Writer magazine, in Feb. 1938, Sept. 1938, Dec. 1938 – it was a good year –and Feb. 2000 respectively, and all reappeared in The Writer’s Handbook 2002; quote from Godwin is from “Rituals and Readiness: Getting Ready To Write,” a wonderful article in The Writing Life (1995), a collection of essays by National Book Award winners.]

 

Excellent Resource for Authors Looking at Self-Publishing

I got a copy of this book recently, and I immediately found myself in the next several days recommending it to several authors who were considering self-publishing.

The book is The Fine Print of Self-Publishing by Mark Levine. The brilliant thing about this practical volume (4th edition): it looks in considerable detail at key differences in the publishing contracts and basic options offered by the leading self-publishing companies.

The companies analyzed include the big players: CreateSpace, Lulu, Outskirts Press, and others—a total of 24 self-publishing operations from Aventine to Xulon. Levine looks at them through a magnifying glass, discussing the pros and cons of each.

He also divides the players into four groups: Outstanding, Pretty Good, Okay, and To Avoid (the list for that last category includes Trafford, PublishAmerica, Xlibris, and iUniverse, among others.

In the Outstanding category, for instance, he includes Aventine Press, one I’ve often highlighted in talks I’ve given at writers conferences because of its quality, price, and services.

CreateSpace, another avenue I’ve often recommended (mainly because of its close connection with Amazon), is listed as Pretty Good. And Levine will tell you why he’s judged it to fall in that range.

I also recommend that newbie self-publishers read this book just to understand the ins and outs of contract language. There’s indeed a lot of fine print in these contracts. While you can’t negotiate the deal in these standard packages (as you can with an indie press and to some extent with a big press), you can get more of what really matter to you and your project by picking the right publishing partner and the right package within that company’s options.

This book is described as a Consumer Reports–type report, and I concur. Buying this book (list price $16.95) may well save you a ton of money, headaches, and heartaches.

It’s subtitled: Everything You Need to Know about the Costs, Contracts & Process of Self-Publishing. If you want to take the self-publishing plunge, buy this book first.

The Inherent Insecurity of Being a Writer

I loved this insight into the writer’s mind.

It’s by Dennis Palumbo, essayist, novelist, TV screenwriter, and a psychotherapist specializing in creative issues. (I included one of his pieces, “The Three Cosmic Rules of Writing,” in the first New Writer’s Handbook.) Dennis has counseled many other writers, as he says in this great blog post, “Gut Check,” on the Huffington Post:

For over twenty years now I’ve counseled writers through the turmoil . . . [of fantasies, fears, phobias, insecurities, and all that surrounds writing and pitching and trying to get published.]

Now, he has a new crime novel of his own recently published: Mirror Image, by Poisoned Pen Press. (“Dennis Palumbo establishes himself as a master storyteller.” – Stephen J. Cannell; “a standout mind-bender! A wonderfully constructed novel.” – Ridley Pearson)

So . . . of course, with all his experience as both a writer and therapist, he should be on top of the “expected pragmatic and emotional challenges.”

I love the honesty of his answer:

Guess again. In the months leading up to my new novel’s release, I have (in no particular order) obsessed about the book’s title, fantasized one minute about getting on the best-seller’s list and then in the next was absolutely convinced that no one would buy it at all, yearned for my agent to be completely devoted to my personal and professional well-being to the exclusion of all else in his life, already mentally answered potential bad reviews with pithy, scathing rejoinders, and felt unloved and unappreciated when a friend even looked like he was anything less than totally thrilled or profoundly moved at the thought of my novel coming out.

Believe me, I could go on, but space doesn’t permit. The point is, despite the knowledge and insight gained from long-time careers as both a writer and a therapist, I found myself wrestling with the same dilemmas as every other author.

Why? Because, like it or not, if you’re a writer, there’s no escaping the writer’s life.

So true. Likewise, as one who finds it easy to edit other people’s work, when it comes to my own, I admit I find myself agonizing over minute concerns. Let’s face it, being a writer is a psychologically tough thing. On every page, we face the insecurity of looming doubts: are we saying this as well as we can?/as it should be said?/in a way that will move readers to spasms of joy and admiration and applause for the beauty of the wordsmithing and storytelling?

Or am I a literary oaf?

Indeed, there’s no escape.

This is why it helps (immensely!) to have a good writer’s group, or a trusted and skilled first reader, or a gifted editor . . . to help you avoid the over-niggling, to shut the doors on those pesky tiny gremlins, and instead to focus your attention on the big matters: What’s good here? Why is this worth writing for publication? Is it ready? What really most needs fixing to get it done and out the door?

Without obsessing.

If nothing else, I recommend reading (at least parts of) your work out loud; it not only tunes you to the sound of the words, but also provides a curious buffer to those inner thoughts of doubt, as you hear the words as if they exist on their own.

Thanks, Dennis, for affirming that our hesitations are normal. Now, let’s get over ’em, find the techniques that work for us, and write like the gifted writers we can be.

Olympic Spirit for Writers – Gold Medals Ahead?

During the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, while watching each evening (hey, I’m a big sucker for all the emotional challenges, amazing feats, and sheer pageantry) . . . I had a few thoughts about what we writers can learn from these competitors.

One of the problems with writing is that we often can’t imagine practical things like training and practice and competition . . . we don’t set realistic plans . . . and don’t do the day-to-day things needed for success. You may want to be a great writer. Want to get published. And you sit down and write, sometimes without any real feedback, coaching, or self-knowledge about what your real strengths are and how to get better.

I’m struck (negatively) by the titles of instructional books for writers: Write Your Novel in a Weekend, No More Rejections, The Wealthy Writer. Nice marketing titles, and the contents may contain a lot of valid info . . . but the premise is misleading, I feel.

Better to look at the successful habits of the Olympic Athlete.

1. Work Hard.
The Olympic competitors didn’t get there by sitting on the couch, wishing they were in the Olympics. They got up each morning, put nose to grindstone, shoulders to weights, feet into skis and skates and running shoes, and trained themselves to perform well.

2. Have a Training Plan.
You won’t get that Random House deal or win the Upper Slobovian Literary Prize without a plan for sending out many queries, getting short pieces published, making lots of contacts, going to conferences, developing networks of people who can help you.

3. Break It Down into All the Parts.
Evan Lysacek, in responding to the Russian whiner Evgeni’s insistence that landing a quad jump should have won him a gold medal, pointed out that (surprise!) you are judged on everything that happens when you step on the ice. Every stroke. Everything that people see in your performance. So the better you are at understanding and improving all the little things, the better you’ll do at winning the big one.

4. Train with the Best.
It’s often overlooked, but winners often have worked with good coaches and picked good training partners. It doesn’t always happen on your own. Last night in the Ice Dancing finals, the pairs that won the medals tended to train with other top competitors. It helps to have others around you to set the bar high. And it helps to have skilled coaches who can deliver positive feedback for the good things, but also point out those flaws, weaknesses, habits that you’ve fallen into that are keeping you from that next level, and to help you know what to do next.

5. Pick the Right Niche.
You aren’t going to be good at everything. For every Bode Miller who can win multiple events, there are the specialists that pick and train for specific events and types of venues. For instance, speed skater Shani Davis was a gold medal contender in the 1500 meters, but admitted that his long stride was best suited for a speedier track; he had a harder time on the rough Vancouver ice. Look long and hard at where you actually excel. It’s not always what you want to be good at. I’m struck by the Olympic competitors who started in one event, but then switched to another and found success.

6. Don’t Let the Judging Throw You Off.
Some events are won by pure, unquestioned speed. But a lot of the competitions are subject to judging. The winners win at the whim of judge’s tastes, selective application of standards, perhaps nationality. Yes, occasionally you’ll fall victim to the French judge–syndrome (the maligned figure skating judge of the 2002 Olympics who admitted to voting based on outside pressure). Guess what: happens all the time in literary and other fields, too! Take-away: if an editor gives you the thumbs-down, don’t crumble. Move on to Plan B.

7. Look Ahead to the Next Race.
I love the athletes who can enjoy today’s results, but are also always looking ahead. What happens today is worth honoring, whether victory or defeat. But you can influence how you do next time . . . by focusing on it far before that next competition arrives.

8. Strive for a Personal Best.
I love this approach. Good athletes and good writers don’t achieve success overnight. Instead, they stay focused on improvement. Often, small increments are the best. Many small stepping stones is a more realistic way to get across a big river than a few giant leaps. What is your current personal best? What can you measure and improve? The number of responses to your best blog post? Moving up to a better class of rejections? Achieving better sales next month than this month? Measuring something is a key part of making it better.

9. Enjoy the Pageantry.
Take time to smell the roses. I think it was Scott Moir who said to his partner, Tessa Virtue, in the pause at the end of their gold-medal ice-dancing routine for Canada: just look around, enjoy this moment. Life is surprising, amazing, eccentric. Appreciate all the minor sports, the competitors from Ghana or Peru, the friendships, the brief, brief moments of glory in the sun, and all the human friendships and ambitions and passions that lead to that.

10. Go for the Gold!
What causes someone to sit on a little bench on top of a mountain chute, then shoosh down and up to fly the length of a football field with boards on your feet? I love the story of Vinko Bogataj, from (then) Yugoslavia, the Slovenian ski jumper made famous by the ABC Wide World of Sports as the “agony of defeat” poster child. He was the ski jumper who slipped on the down-run, tumbled off the jump, and landed in a wild heap, suffering a mild concussion.  But according to the Ski Jumping USA homepage, Vinko was taken to the hospital for observation . . .

. . . where he promptly phoned the ski club to confirm his competitor registration for the following year. He returned to jumping, later to coaching.

We writers don’t have Olympic moments . . . at least, not on TV. But we’re as crazy, in our own way. We’re committed to things that others don’t always understand why we do them, things that don’t always earn us a lot of money. We suffer the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat.

And we can learn to be great at what we do.

We can learn to be Olympians.

Words Can Change the World, I Think

Words can change the world . . . or a small piece of it.

Or so I believe.

However, in a writer’s discussion not long ago, someone asked: what are some examples as proof of that?

I’ve been thinking about that ever since. Writing is so often meant to carry our thoughts and words far beyond us, to places where we won’t always see their effect.

Well, here’s something. A little fable. Not proof of anything, since it’s fictional.

It’s a link to a beautiful 5-minute film.
I’d call it “The Blind Man’s Sign” – a short film about the power of language.

Click here to watch:
Historia de un letrero (A short original film, with subtitles)
written & directed by Alonso Alvarez Barreda

And let’s keep thinking about that question:
As writers, can we make a real difference in the world with our words?

Four Reasons Not To Self-Publish a Novel

Is self-publishing a short-cut to fame . . . or a short-circuit?

Here’s a bit of tough love for novelists. I’ll give you four good reasons not to self-publish your novel. Instead, stick it in a drawer! Better things might happen to you if you do.

First, I’m not a big fan of self-publishing as a great option for most writers. When you hear success stories . . . remember: your actual results may vary!

But writers are hopeful and by their nature persistent. Novel writers, especially so. After a zillion hours slaving at a keyboard, what if your novel sits unpublished, on a shelf or forlorn inside your computer?

Self-publish! many will say. But below are some counter-arguments, why deciding not to publish a novel may lead to more positive outcomes.

Yes, it’s nice to be able to tell friends that you are a “published author.” If this is what you desire most, then certainly you may put up your own money to publish your own book.

Yes, others have self-published; a few have even achieved fame and fortune. But it is also the source of a tremendous amount of sub-par writing – work that is poorly edited, meandering, overblown, inconsistent.

Frankly, because of the quality problems in the self-publishing world, most book buyers (individuals or stores) are not going to look for their next purchase in the ranks of POD novels. There may be lovely, shining needles in those literary haystacks; your novel may be one of them. But if someone wants a needle, let’s be honest, there are easier ways to find one than searching through gigantic mounds of moldy hay. Most readers will look elsewhere.

So even if your novel is well-written, self-publishing it will likely throw disappointment in your face. You may sell only a few dozen copies, plus those you give to friends and relatives.

To complicate the matter, there are those who gain from encouraging you to publish to “fulfill your dream.” Magazines and the Internet abound with ads, rich with tales of writers who have succeeded in this way. The advertised services have a vested interest in encouraging you to print your work, whether this is best for your career or not. So their ads suggest grand things ahead if you are bold and ambitious. Take advantage of the wonders of POD! It’s cool, it’s modern, it gives you control. Publish your work, and it is “available worldwide!”

But let’s think a bit more deeply about your choices and likely outcomes. Take a moment to look at some positives . . . if you set it aside. Consider how you might benefit by deciding to stick an unpublished novel in a drawer.

1. You can give it a long rest. A sojourn from endless tinkering can offer a fresh perspective later, an insight to fix a fatal flaw. Too often, beginning writers undermine their work by reworking it too often; such manuscripts might have been saved if set aside, then returned to later . . . much later, when your skills have advanced!

2. You can recycle pieces. If a work is unpublished, you can freely recycle major elements: characters, plot twists, dialogue, anything. If you’ve gone ahead and published it, you can’t. Many beginning authors write first novels with lots of good pieces. But overall, the work just doesn’t form a compelling whole. But certain elements – an engaging character, a plot twist, a wonderful scene – can invigorate a next new work. (A good bit of your first novel might even become a secondary plot within your next novel.)

3. You can pitch it later. If you write new work that’s accepted for publication, you have a great opportunity to pitch earlier works to your editor. Why? He or she now has a relationship with you, an investment in your name. Naturally, that editor might be receptive to earlier works. Even if those works are flawed, a supportive editor might suggest useful changes. Of course, you have improved tremendously as a writer and now can see ways to fix that earlier work!

4. You can keep the fire in your belly alive. Consider how most successful writers achieved their greatness. Rarely did they get their first work published! Instead, they wrote and wrote . . . and agonized when those first attempts didn’t get published. But they persisted to write new material that carried them to fame. If they had published that first, likely inferior work, it might have proved a detriment, even a blight on their career. Worst of all, it might have dissipated their drive to write something better.

Instead, push yourself to improve. Many unpublished writers are very good writers, but just need to learn to craft a better story – with a more appealing hook, richer characters, a tighter plot.

Don’t get stuck. Start a second work. Keep multiple projects underway; it’s a professional practice that will pay off. Work hard on manuscripts, but understand the difference between persistence and obsession.

Desire to write a new and better work. Create new characters, dramatic scenes, compelling premises. Interweave more small stories and sub-plots. Let your writing skills mature.

This article doesn’t tell you when to stick a novel in a drawer and move on to the next work. But don’t self-publish work if it doesn’t live up to the reasonably high demands of the outside world. Avoid a petulant stubbornness to prove the world wrong . . . by publishing it yourself.

Consider that decision in light of your overall career path. What’s best for you if you want to become a successful writer?

Writing a first work that remains unpublished – a beloved first manuscript reluctantly put aside to begin your next exciting project – is a real and meaningful rite of passage.

[For more articles on related topics for writers, or to sign up for my free Writing Tips email newsletter, visit www.greatlakeslit.com.]

The Guts to Write

To be a writer takes a bit of courage.

Why? Because each time, you start without knowing if what you write will work . . . or how it will work . . . or if anyone will ever enjoy reading it!

That’s okay. That’s the core of writing. Be brave. Write anyhow! And don’t worry about how good it will be . . . even great writers are a bit afraid of what will happen when they sit down to a blank page.

Here’s what a couple of very famous writers had to say. It’s good advice for young writers (and those of any age!).

I admire anybody who has the guts to write anything at all.
– E. B. White, author of Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little

We have to continually be jumping off cliffs
and developing our wings on the way down.
– Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., author of Slaughterhouse Five and other books.

You can’t try to do things; you simply must do them.
– Ray Bradbury, author of The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man, Fahrenheit 451, and many other books

You fail only if you stop writing.
– Ray Bradbury

So . . . don’t worry if you’re a little afraid. Write something anyway.
You only fail if you don’t write.

A Thanksgiving Thought: Why Do We Write?

We’re approaching The Curve.

That’s how I think of the end of the calendar year (just a few weeks away!). Is New Year’s Eve really the start of something as new as a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes?

In my mind, it’s a continuation. We round the curve and see a new landscape. But it’s one that’s been there all along; it wasn’t created in the moment of the ringing of the New Year’s bells.

To make a successful turn means . . . braking a bit, so you can see the terrain and be ready for what’s around the bend. But maintaining good forward momentum.

(Some curves are nicely banked as we speed through them. Others have surprises!)

I’ve never been a big fan of New Year’s Resolutions. They seldom succeed, perhaps because they are based on a false sense of newness. I like continuation. (Which includes constant but small, sustainable change.)

And as a Midwesterner, late November and the spirit of Thanksgiving really kicks off my desire to look at my life and resolutions. Why wait till January 1? Now’s the time to build up the right momentum to see you smoothly around The Curve.

(Do I have enough wood chopped and stacked to see me through? Am I the cricket, fiddling and hopeful as the first snows fall, or the ant filling the storehouse with abundance?)

I took a minute to look back at the purpose behind this blog, launched on February 13, to expand on my mission as the series editor of The New Writer’s Handbook to help more writers build a successful writing career, step by step. At the core is my belief: if we write well, we can make a real difference.

I closed that first post with a message from Ralph Waldo Emerson:

“Words are also actions, as actions are a kind of words.”

Preparing to round the corner, here are more thoughts on that basic issue: why do we write?

“One can never pay in gratitude: one can only pay ‘in kind’ somewhere else in life.”
– Anne Morrow Lindbergh

“I feel we are all islands – in a common sea.”
– Anne Morrow Lindbergh

“Do not try to push your way through to the front ranks of your profession; do not run after distinctions and rewards; but do your utmost to find an entry into the world of beauty.”
– Sydney Smith (English essayist and clergyman, 1771-1845)

“An aim in life is the only fortune worth finding. And it is not to be found in foreign lands, but in the heart itself.”
– Robert Lewis Stevenson

“We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?”
– Ray Bradbury

Let me close by sharing wonderful words from a colleague, Bruce Holland Rogers, who wrote a great essay, “On Being a Minor Writer,” found in part in The New Writer’s Handbook 2007 and also available for 49 cents here from Amazon Shorts. (I also highly recommend his book, Word Work: Surviving and Thriving as a Writer.)

We are writers, not profit centers. We live in the world of numbers, but we can choose to remember that the world of numbers is all made up. It’s one way of seeing things, but not the only way.  . . . We can choose where our focus is. Jesus said, “Be in the world, but be not of it.” Buddhism instructs us to be awake, but to live without attachment. Other great religions remind us of this same thing. We must do our business in the marketplace, but not confuse the marketplace with the Supreme, with our ultimate purpose.

Measurement, comparing one degree of success with another, keeps us apart.  . . . But we’re not so different, whether we’ve made the bestseller list or are still seeking our first sale. We’re all of us minor writers. Our measurements don’t matter nearly as much as our immeasurable contributions. Measuring keeps us from living in full communion with one another and the world.

Preoccupation with measuring, with seeing how your career stacks up, steals time from making your contribution. Making your contribution, your deepest offering to readers, means that you don’t try to impress, but only to reveal the impressive thing beneath your work: the language, the subject matter, or whatever it is that you love. Love something, and then get out of the way so that from the side you can point to what you love. That’s how you contribute.

What will you contribute in the coming year? What will be your deepest offering to readers?

That’s my Thanksgiving thought . . . thanks to all those writers sharing their words with the world.

Spirituality and Writing

As we wallow through the political conventions (Republican this week, Democratic last week), I find myself thinking about our role as writers, and to what extent we practice spirituality in our craft.

I can’t define spirituality for you (maybe not even for myself). It has something to do with a deep connectedness, compassion for others, a generous spirit, a search for meaning, a willingness to serve as well as lead.

Does our writing reflect that?

Do we try to have a positive influence on our community? Whether we might vote for Obama or McCain, do we gather in the shade and water the roots of the Common Good, a venerable old tree that’s been buffeted and bashed like a live oak in New Orleans?

I might want to encourage truth, as in “telling truth to power.” But truth is hard to find, let alone tell. And too often, it’s told to those in power, by those out of power . . . in a woefully slanted fashion, just to grab some power for ourselves.

Better, as writers, to help to keep channels of communication open. To observe and contribute ideas. To look for ways to connect, not divide.

As a student of the literary genre of fantasy, watching the conventions, I feel that political rhetoric tends more to that tradition than to nonfiction. It’s more often wishful thinking and fanciful construct than truth.

And in many ways, truth (even Stephen Colbert’s “truthiness”) is over-rated in talking about the common good.

More important? The aspects of spirituality I mentioned: compassion, generosity, connectedness, meaning, service.

Dorothy Day, Catholic activist for the poor and working classes, said:

I believe that we must reach our brother, never toning down our fundamental oppositions, but meeting him when he asks to be met, with a reason for the faith that is in us, as well as with a loving sympathy. . . .

She also said: “We have all known the long loneliness, and we have found that the answer is community.

From Gandhi:

Be the change you want to see in the world.

For writers, perhaps that means crafting words that bring us closer together, to nod and smile, to hold hands and breathe the same air, and to share a delight in the wonder of the world with everyone.

New Writer’s Handbook 2007 wins Gold

I just heard the exciting news that my editorial baby (the inspiration for this blog), The New Writer’s Handbook 2007, took the Gold (for Careers category) at the ForeWord Magazine’s Book of the Year Award ceremonies at BEA (Book Expo America) in Los Angeles this afternoon.

Hurrah!

All hail to my publisher, Scarletta Press, led by the indomitable and visionary ex-Brit (and ex-rugby player) literary maven Ian Leask.

And thanks to the rest of the crew at Scarletta Press, especially artistic director Nancy Tuminelly of Mighty Media and her ace designers, Chris Long and Tracy Kompelien. Yes, you can tell a book by its cover. And by its outstanding typography throughout. Thanks also to editorial expert Alexei Esikoff for her many hours of wordsmith polishing.

Terrific people to work with.

And kudos and cartwheels to the 60-plus contributors, from Jane Yolen as lead-off batter to the closer by Mary Pipher. I could mention a lot of the others by name, but I’ll just say that a piece by Bruce Holland Rogers is one I read the most often to other writers at signings.

But enough of the praise. As I say, the proof is in the pudding. Does this book help you in some fashion? You’re the one that counts.

More than awards, I love comments like this one posted on Amazon.com by Verne Wheelwright of Harlingen, Texas, for the Handbook 2007:

I needed something to get my enthusiasm for writing up, and this book did that. I was writing with motivation again before I finished the first section.

Music to my ears. Thanks, Verne.