Giving yourself permission to quit

Sometimes short stories, novels, poems, and even science fair projects get tangled up like wet kite string and no matter what one does, the whole thing gets worse and one starts to doubt himself or herself about all projects. Nobody likes telling characters to get out of their lives when a story won’t come together, and yet, trying to force it to come together sort of guarantees that it will never come together.

So, we start avoiding the manuscript for weeks at a time. The next time we look at it, the thrill is gone. What we thought was going to be a joyous story looks more and more like raw sewage.

Have you been there?

If so, you know that the manuscript is sitting on your computer like an evil spirit. It knows you’ve been taught to push through the problems in a story, and fight your way to the end of it. Now, if you’ve signed a contract with the publisher to finish this manuscript, you may have no choice but to get drunk and just do it. Otherwise, it’s causing more trouble than its worth.

I think it’s better at some point to give yourself permission to quit. Set the MS aside and search for something new to write about. I just did that, and it feels like the weight of the world has been lifted off my shoulders. Until the moment I cried “uncle” on the story, I was becoming convinced I’d never write anything again. Now I’m free.

Every story, I think, begins as something with potential, yet it’s still an experiment of sorts. We’re not duty-bound to see it through if it isn’t working for us. Maybe it will work in a year or ten years, but today, it’s sapping our strength.

Let it go.

Malcolm

My short story “Shock Treatment” appears in this new anthology.

 

I Just Published a Book: Why Am I Depressed?

But back home in Maine, after the rush of congratulatory e-mails dwindled and my modest book tour ended, the dark chill of fall descended and a depression set in. For years, I’d been laser-focused on writing during the hours my son was in school. Now I drifted around the house in my gray sweatpants, refreshing Twitter and Instagram, and reading Knausgaard and Cusk. I felt despondent. Rudderless. Tired. Inexplicably, I felt like a failure. Rather than feeling gratitude for what had happened, I obsessed over what hadn’t. My book hadn’t become a bestseller, received a rave (or any) review in the New York Times, or landed me my ever-since-girlhood fantasy interview with Terry Gross. I judged myself for the brass rings I hadn’t grabbed. As much as my memoir mattered to me, to the rest of the world it was just another book.

 

Source: I Just Published a Book: Why Am I Depressed? | Poets & Writers

Jessica Berger Gross talks honestly about a common problem many writers share, the depression that often follows the release of a new book. Bestselling authors may be too busy to be depressed, or possibly the depression takes longer to arrive. Finishing a book is a personal triumph, all the work from A to Z, that one’s expectations are high, not so much expectations of fame and fortune, but of euphoria or at least quiet satisfaction.

As Gross writes, it’s not so much what happened, but what didn’t happen. After the initial hoopla, the author goes back to his or her desk, plays a few games–or maybe a lot of games–of Angry Birds or Words With Friends, and starts wondering whether or not they have it in them to go through the process again.

It’s like climbing Mt. Everest and realizing nobody noticed. It was a dangerous thing to do, especially Alpine style without oxygen or ladders or fixed ropes, but back on Facebook where it seems like somebody might want to hear about it, there’s mostly silence. Fortunately, the depression keeps one from caring about that even though that is one component of the depression.

Small-press and self-published writers have the added burden of realizing that their yearly website fees are costing them more than they’re earning.

I don’t think vanity leads to this depression, that is, thinking one should be famous, should be talking to movie studios, should be recognized on the street, or be receiving invitations to speak at book fairs and panels. It’s more that one finds himself/herself fretting about lack of satisfaction, lack of happiness, and the lack of all the feelings s/he thought would be center stage in his/her consciousness.

After a while, the muse screams, “Suck it up; you felt all those wonderful things while you were writing and now you’re not writing.” You protest this for a while until you give in and say, “Okay, I’ll climb K2 solo via the famous ‘Magic Line Route’ and if I don’t come home dead, I will have had a wondrous time.”

Or you say, “I’m thinking about 75,000 words of storytelling about a man and a woman who discover they’ve ended up married after a drunken Vegas weekend and God wants them to figure out whether they’ve been cursed or blessed.”

Authors are trying to figure out the answer to that question all the time. The answer is “both,” but don’t quote me on that.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the satirical mystery “Special Investigative Reporter.”

If you’re an author, why’s your online stuff out of date?

Presumably, part of an author’s platform is composed of a Facebook page, a blog, a website, and a Twitter account. Letting these go out of date seems about as silly as a bricks-and-mortar store publishing an old phone number on a billboard. So, why does it happen? Better things to do, perhaps. Or, tired of social media, perhaps. Or dead, perhaps.

Reasonable excuses, perhaps. Yet, I feel a bit discouraged when:

  • I try to follow an author on Twitter and find that the author’s Twitter link in their Facebook about page or their website leads to a message telling the account doesn’t exist.
  • I click on the blog menu selection on the author’s website and find no new posts for four or five years.
  • I notice that an author’s Twitter profile touts a NEW BOOK that was new a year ago.
  • An author’s Facebook page or profile sits there for months with no activity.

Nobody asked, but it seems to me it would be better to delete these out-of-date references and accounts until the author needs them again. In the old days, misspelling a source’s name in a newspaper was considered especially egregious sin, partly because it was sloppy and partly because one figured that if the name was wrong, perhaps other “facts” in the story were also wrong. At best, an out-of-date platform is a similar bad sign to prospective readers, agents, and publishers.

I get it. Promotion via blogs, websites, Twitter, and Facebook tends to ramp up when a new book comes out. Makes sense, I suppose. However, a continuing presence of up-to-date online material will be vital if an author starts looking for a new agent or publisher and discovers the platform has fallen into disuse for five years. That tells an agent the platform isn’t a positive factor in the decision about representing an author.

Really, it’s not that hard to delete links to Twitter accounts and blogs that are no longer active. Worse yet, authors are disappointing their readers by letting a blog sit there with nothing new to read.

By the way, if you find out-of-date links on any of my sites, please let me know. Seriously, I like to practice what I preach even though I’m as disorganized as anyone can be. (I just updated my Twitter profile picture before writing this blog.)

Malcolm

Smothered by Others’ Expectations

Many children, teens, and adults go through life with little or no support from anyone including parents, teachers, spouses,  and friends. This lack is often the theme of TV shows and novels: we see a person who’s been through hard times finally getting a little support from somebody else and finally believing in themselves enough to try.

The flip side of that record can also be a problem. Some kids’ families–through tradition and/or grades and/or the results of various tests–are overtly expected to do great things. That scenario can be better than one in which everyone expects you to fail. However, it can also become a burden.

As a teenager and a young man, I was always expected to become a writer, partly because my father was a writer and partly because I had shown some early inclinations in that direction. Life–as people often say–got in the way. So, I ignored my writing many times because I was tired of being pushed and I was tired of being asked about it.

It got to the point where–had I just survived some hideous accident–somebody would say, “Well, in spite of that, I hope you’re keeping up with your writing.”

“Hell no, I’m not.”

As a former college teacher, literacy volunteer, and writing mentor, I still don’t know where the line is between too little support and too much support. So, more often than not, I remain silent in day-to-day life about writing because I really don’t know what to say. The support I received was damaging, representing a constant pressure to have a manuscript accepted by a magazine or book publisher, to win a contest, or to put together a winning column in a magazine or newspaper.

The constant pressure to perform brought me to the point where I ignored or sabotaged my own goals. I never want to bring another person to that point. My daughter was an excellent documentary editor, then gave up her career to raise a family. I said nothing, for I didn’t feel the right to second guess her choices the way so many adults second-guessed my choices. She has a great family and has done some great volunteer work. I’m proud of her for that.

It’s hard to stay carefully silent when one’s children and one’s students go out into the world. I want them to know that I’m here if they need me, but that I’m not here to smother them with my expectations. I hope they will be happy and successful because that’s what I always wanted people to hope for me when I was young and rebellious and uncertain about the future.

Malcolm

‘I Got it Bad (And That Ain’t Good)’

That’s my favorite song title, an oldie but a goodie that premiered in Duke Ellington’s Jump for Joy review in 1941. While the review never made it to Broadway, this song (which is jazz) was sung by dozens of singers.

Those of you who’ve read any of the novels in my Florida Folk Magic series, know that I’m partial to the blues. Jazz was a close second, followed by folk songs and a smattering of country music. Rock usually didn’t speak my language.

In yesterday’s post (Rainy Day Memories), I wrote about the kinds of events that add fuel to an author’s work over and over. We often write a story or a poem because we got it bad and that ain’t good. When an author’s feeling the blues (and great jazz), s/he’s connected to himself/herself at a deep level and assuming s/he’s not drunk, can often write some very good stuff. The emotion and power are there, and they fuel the story even if the story has nothing to do with the song the author is listening to.

Rainy day memories work that way, too. We replay them again and again. They may never appear in a story as they happened, but–happy or sad–they are the power that connects us to what our characters are feeling and living through. The memories in my previous post have snuck into many of my stories. When we return to such memories, we return for a reason, I think. As Dr. Phil might say, they were often defining moments. So they have power. So they’re something within us we still need to figure out, perhaps solve or get past. Our fiction helps us to that.

As an author, I often hope that when “I’ve Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good,” that my fiction or nonfiction finds people who are feeling that way and helps them get past it–or, at least, understand it. You’ve probably heard stories out of Hollywood where child actors were told their dog had died in order to get them to shed real tears for the scenes they were about to film. I don’t think most authors need to conjure up the worst that’s even happened to them in order to write. When we connect with the characters as “real people,” we feel what they feel.

Nonetheless, rainy day memories often help us get to that point whether we feel like we got it bad or we feel like jumping for joy.

Malcolm

In addition to magical realism and contemporary fantasy, Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the recently released satirical mystery “Special Investigative Reporter.”

 

Masterful Wordsmithing with Metaphor and Imagery 

Metaphors, similes, and creative imagery can be useful, creative tools for relaying emotion. In case you don’t remember, a metaphor, according to Reedsy, is “a literary device that imaginatively draws a comparison between two, unlike things. It does this by stating that Thing A is Thing B.” A simile compares things, usually with as or like.

Filmmakers carefully construct image systems similar to how writers use motifs in fiction: with color, placement, sound, or emblematic imagery. They are used to subtly manipulate the emotional state of the viewer.

This is clip art and not a photo of Jane, Lakin, or me.

Take the time to add these skills to your writer’s toolbox because they will help you become an emotional master.

Source: Masterful Wordsmithing with Metaphor and Imagery | Jane Friedman

I have a strong bias against the term “wordsmithing” because it’s often used to imply that a writer is like a mechanic who simply tunes up a story or an article that needs help–like there’s no art in the process. Nonetheless, this post from Jane Friedman’s site has some good ideas for those of us who are constantly trying to improve our stories, essays, and articles.

This post includes a fair number of examples that show just how “creative imagery” is used. C. S. Lakin does a good job with this post, one that veterans and emerging writers alike can read for fresh inspiration.

I find that these how-to posts remind me of techniques I learned a long time ago but haven’t actively thought about for years. They’re kind of a jump start.

Malcolm

 

 

How honest should a writer be?

A relatively well-known writer on my Facebook friends list shares a daily journal-style entry about her writing life. It includes new books accepted, poems written, meetings with publishers, and rejections received.

When I first noticed her mention of rejections, I wondered how somebody so widely known ever received rejections. The fact that she acknowledges this, gives hope for the rest of us. On the other hand, the gurus of writing and promotion tell us to always be positive. That is, we’re told not to mention projects that fail, manuscripts that are rejected, or problems with publishers or publicity plans. Negatives in any of these areas are said to turn off prospective readers.

The author I’m referring to has more books than I can count in print and a very wide following. So, she can break the guru’s rule. Plus, she’s never nasty about things that don’t work out. That’s a plus, I think.

I wonder how often famous writers send off a manuscript via their agents and get a “sorry, not our cup of tea” response. If they do, we never hear about it. I suppose the gurus would say that if we did hear about it, it would sound more like a failure than an honest look at how the writing business works.

Authors have work-day problems like everybody else, but if we mention them, we’re accused of having a sour grapes attitude. Professionals are expected to move on to the next project and not worry (much less rant) about the projects that don’t come together. I guess I can see that. Yet, I still respect my widely known Facebook friend who reports both rejections and acceptances.

I hoped to get a short story into the last issue of Glimmer Train, a well-respected fiction magazine that is ceasing publication at the end of this year. No dice. They didn’t like it. Oh well, nothing ventured, nothing gained. Perhaps I should have spent more time with the story or placed a different focus on it. One never knows. Author’s usually don’t get a critique when a magazine doesn’t like a submission.

Those rejections are practice, though. I dislike sites that provide writing prompts because I see no reason to write a story that is simply practice. If I write it, I want to spend enough time on it to make it worth submitting. Sometimes these stories don’t sell. But, I’ve been told not to speak about it because (supposedly) it chips away at my platform as a writer. Is this good or bad? I really don’t know. When I think of bestselling authors, I know that most of them don’t have blogs that discuss the books they submitted that the publisher rejected. So, maybe the rest of us shouldn’t dwell on that either.

How often do you see a headline such as LATEST JAMES PATTERSON NOVEL REJECTED BY GRAND CENTRAL PUBLISHING? You never see those kinds of headlines. Does this mean everything Patterson submits is accepted? I don’t have a clue.

So, as aspiring, emerging, and small-press authors, we’re told to be positive every step of the way. If we’re not, we’re told we’ll look like amateurs or writers not worthy of a second look by prospective readers. Do you see authors this way? Must we be perfect or ignored? There’s so much competition out there, most of us feel a lot of pressure to appear perfect even though we know we’re far from it.

The gurus tell us we don’t have the luxury of telling the truth about the business of writing. Well, I don’t care. Who you know is more important than how well you write. That’s where it’s at because publishing is seldom fair.

Malcolm