Forget About the Barbie!

A Writer’s Roadmap Thursday Postcard

Writing a book? Here are 4 no-fail shortcuts to a good first draft:

1. Make it true. Fiction or nonfiction, capture the truth as you understand it. 

2. Make it clear. You’re talking to someone when you write. Who is that? Use words that are easy to understand and remember. It’s not the words that make a piece deep, it’s the mind behind them.

3. When the draft is done, separate your intentions from the piece itself. This can be sad. Like Christmas morning when you wanted a Barbie and you got a dollar store fashion doll. You can still play with her and have fun, but first you have to FORGET ABOUT THE BARBIE.

4. Go back and make it graceful. This involves omitting needless words.

Cheers,
Pat


Raising Questions

Want a good way to start your book?

Sometimes, seeing a book’s opening unfiltered through the act of choosing it (reading the blurb, seeing the cover and the author’s name) reveals its essence more directly.

The following quotes are openings from four books. Two are novels, two are nonfiction.

As a fun exercise, see if you can identify a) which of the four following quotes are from fiction, and which are nonfiction, b) how they make you feel, and c) whether you’d want to read on.

#1: The greatest hunger in life is not for food, money, success, status, security, sex, or even love from the opposite sex.

#2: The North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance agent promised to fly from Mercy to the other side of Lake Superior at three o’clock.

#3: The French painter and writer Paul Gaugin–by most accounts mad, bad, and dangerous to know–suffered acutely from cosmological vertigo induced by the work of Darwin and other Victoria scientists.

#4: I am already at an age and additionally in a state where I must always wash my feet thoroughly before bed, in the event of having to be removed by an ambulance in the Night.

How did you do?

I’ll post the sources next week, or if you’d like to know sooner just drop me a line: info[a]awritersroadmap[dot]com
or, sign up for my newsletter and you’ll get the answer in your mailbox next week.


Is Idleness the Mother of Invention?

A Writer’s Roadmap Thursday Postcard


…Invention, in my opinion, arises directly from idleness, possibly also from laziness. To save oneself trouble.”

Agatha Christie
An Autobiography


Ain’t that the truth?

Christie is the best-selling novelist of all time. She also lived an interesting life. In the first world war she worked as a nurse and became a certified apothecary. Her books started coming out in 1919, and aside from the jigsaw puzzle plots, for the history buffs among us they shine a weird light on the interwar years.

Her son in law said of Christie, “You never saw her writing.” But she did write, obviously!

She used a Dictaphone and school notebooks to work out plots. She got ideas by paying attention. Eavesdropping in a tea shop, hearing a name, reading a newspaper article about a swindler. Embracing what might seem like life’s idle moments.

Whether you write full time or on the side of a day job, here is something to ponder: How can you be idle this week?

Cheers,

Pat


Photo & quote credit: Bookish Santa: Spreading Books With Love


The Myth of Talent

If what you’re writing isn’t the quality you wanted or hoped for, it’s easy to think, “I’m not good at this.”

I don’t have the talent

I don’t know how

My stuff is boring

This sucks. What’s on Netflix right now?

Image by Jan Vašek from Pixabay
There’s always something on Netflix! So let’s put that whole idea aside.

The myth of talent is that people become masters of their job, sport, or art, because of an innate skill or inborn trait. And in fact, according to this article in Scientific American, it’s true that professional basketball players have significantly better-than-average visual acuity—a physical trait—and that prodigies score high on working memory, which is substantially heritable.

But they have also spent thousands of hours focused on building skills in their area of interest. We might wonder what came first—the useful trait, or the hours spent practicing what they wanted to do?

With writing, it doesn’t matter. If you like sentences, you can learn to be a great writer.

All you need to do is write a lot, read a lot, and learn a lot.

It’s a bit like gardening in that way. Anyone can garden, just like anyone can write a book. But if you see yourself as a black thumb, which I did for years, it can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Image by Markus Spiske from Pixabay

All my plants died, some slowly, some quickly. Inside, outside. It didn’t really matter, they died.

My history with tomatoes
  1. I’d plant the seedling and then forget I’d done it and do nothing. It would die quickly.
  2. I’d plant the seedling and water it once. It would die a little slower.
  3. I’d plant the seedling and take care of it regularly enough that it actually grew, but then I wouldn’t pick it. It might as well have died, because it just rotted on the vine.

The pattern is apparent (death of the plant), and so is the reason for it (lack of persistence). To be a green thumb, one must persist beyond the first stage of planting the seedling.

It’s the same with writing

Steady attention and skill building, project after project, is better than talent in the end. The writers who succeed are the ones who don’t give up.


Mentors Over Metaphors

A Writer’s Roadmap Thursday Postcard


“Writing is like driving at night. You can see only as far as the headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

 E.L. Doctorow, in interview,
Vogue magazine (Nov. 1984)


Good metaphors like Doctorow’s express a truth, and can help guide you through writing a few pages or chapters, or even an entire book.

But sometimes you want more than helpful quotes. Novelist Jenny Shank writes:

“Perhaps you could win a writing contest and the illustrious judge could pluck you out of obscurity. Or maybe you could attend a workshop taught by a writer you admired and try to dazzle them. Once you had a mentor, they would guide your development, recommend your work to their agent and editor and, voilà, you have arrived.”

None of that happened. Shank’s mentor, Lucia Berlin, eventually came to her not through being brilliant in the right places, but rather through what seemed like a series of obstacles and setbacks.

My own mentors have been night school and MFA teachers, other writers (online and in person), and books that were doing what I wanted to do–what one of my students described as “books that make a hidden part of me feel seen.”

Helping a writer through an entire project is not usually what mentors do. Mentors are more of a “how to be a writer” assist. They confirm that it (writing) can be done. If they’re in a position to give you feedback, they can bolster your belief that your stuff is worth the time it takes to read. Or they can tell you about things they learned the hard way. They can share opportunities, give you a reality check, and steer you toward books that do well what you’re trying to do with yours.

If it weren’t for mentors, whether in books or in real life, I might have stopped writing a long time ago. We’ll never know, because one always appeared when I needed them. Sometimes money changed hands, sometimes not. As my skills and experience grew, new mentors showed up to help me through the next phase.

If you don’t have a writing mentor at the moment, or you’ve never had one, I recommend keeping your eyes open. You’ll recognize them when they cross your path.

Cheers,

Pat


“The best mentorship is not a kind of leading, but a kind of being with.” 

Jenny Shank

Lucia Berlin: My Mentor in Being an Outsider

by Jenny Shank, Poets & Writers Nov./Dec. 2021
[photo credit Buddy Berlin; Literary Estate of Lucia Berlin]