There are also tips here on how to protect your material, how to write faster and better, how to use your right brain to be more creative, and how to get support for your writing (click on the boxes on the right). My “Creativity Rocket” podcast features great interviews and tips on how to be more productive.
Please make use of all the goodies here, and if you have any questions, email me at
. Don’t put off any longer writing what only you can write!
Previously I've run across the rejection letter for The Diary of Anne Frank that said, "The girl doesn't, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling that would lift that book above the 'curiosity' level" and the one that said John Le Carre had no future, but this one was new to me (courtesy of The Daily Telegraph website):
"First, we must ask, does it have to be a whale?
"While this is a rather delightful, if somewhat esoteric, plot device, we recommend an antagonist with a more popular visage among the younger readers. For instance, could not the Captain be struggling with a depravity towards young, perhaps voluptuous, maidens?"
--Publisher Peter J Bentley, rejecting Moby Dick.
Anybody who has had dealings with Hollywood producers will find these comments have a familiar ring.
Hmm, how might it have ended up if Melville had taken Bentley's advice...
MOBY-DORIS; or, The Voluptuous Maiden
"Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering voluptuous maiden; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell's heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee.” "
I guess some of it could stay the same: "“Squeeze! Squeeze! Squeeze! all the morning long; I squeezed that sperm till I myself almost melted into it; I squeezed that sperm till a strange sort of insanity came over me..."
A month ago I wrote about a USA Today article that incorrectly used "awhile" in place of "a while" (link in related posts below). Just to review, Oxford dictionaries.com says:
The single word awhile is an adverb meaning ‘for a short time’, and should not be confused with the noun use of a while, ‘a period of time’: stand here awhile, but we stood there for a while.
Today USA Today had a headline that read, "Amazon-Hachette dispute may last awhile."
"Awhile" is the right choice because it modifies the verb "last."
However, a different word entirely would have been better. The first paragraph of the story reads:
"...Amazon has launched a defense against a rising chorus of criticism about its decision to limit the supply of books from publisher Hachette Book Group and warned that the tussle could be protracted."
Protracted is the opposite of for a short time.
Proofreaders and copy editors, send your resumes to USA Today.
If you are a writer there will be days...and sometimes years...when nobody cares about your writing. When you send things out into the world and the loud response is...silence.
It comes with the territory and in the later years when people do care you will look back and laugh..or at least smile...or at least not cry...about those times.
If you are experiencing those dark days, you may appreciate the quote below from a comic character named Bardin, written and drawn by the Spanish comics writer and illustrator Max. I found it in an appreciation of Max's work written by Paul Gravett.
As you read it, replace "cartooning" and "drawing" with "writing" or whatever other creative activity you do:
“Wake up, O cartoonists, wake up from your Marvel-ous dreams! Cartooning is an act of virtue! Let us undermine the syntax of sense, the logic of profit! Drawing is an act of love, free, anonymous and automatic!! It’s an act of selflessness and purity! Even though no one needs them, even though no one buys them or reads them, even though no one asks us or thanks us… WE SHALL DRAW COMICS!!”
A comment I hear sometimes when I listen to producers is "Why aren't there more fresh ideas?"
Let's leave aside the fact that if you come up with anything TOO fresh it scares producers. I think the problem is that a lot of aspiring screen-writers don't cast their nets wide enough when they look for sources of inspiration.
It's very tempting to look to the current line-up of movies first, classic films second, and everything else a distant third. This problem is much more prevalent in the US, and especially in Los Angeles, than in the UK and Europe, but it's not unknown here.
I was reminded of this when reading a brief interview with the comics author and illustrator who goes by the name of Max. When asked where he finds inspirations for his stories and illustrations, he replied:
"My inspiration comes from a variety of sources: myths, fiction literature, philosophy, art... and then, of course, what I see around me in the world. And nature and dreams, too. My stories tend to be quite related to the subconscious side of humans."
Confession: I find it just as difficult as everybody else to make the time to read things that are not directly applicable to whatever I'm working on at the moment. However it's worth setting aside at least a couple of hours a week to do so.
Actually, the fact that I'm working on a novel for teens/young adults is giving me an excuse to check out some of the excellent authors working in that field. I've just finished reading The Ocean at the End of the Lane (the first thing I've read by Neil Gaiman) and it took me back to the days when, as a teen-ager, I first discovered the wonderful stories of Ray Bradbury.
One option if you're reluctant to start reading a novel because you only have bits of time to invest is to rediscover the short stories of authors like Bradbury, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Flannery O'Connor, and of course those of the ultimate master of the form, Chekhov.
A few specific suggestions for short story collections: The Illustrated Man (Ray Bradbury), Dubliners (James Joyce), Nine Stories (J. D. Salinger), I, Robot (Isaac Asimov), and The Things They Carried (Tim O'Brien).
It's not a matter of looking for a specific idea, rather of filling your brain with a wide variety of material so that one day a new idea pops into your mind, one formed and influenced by lots of diverse sources. Often the ingredients will have blended so well that you won't even recognize them, only that you've had a fresh idea.
How much of the plot of his novels does Stephen King know before he starts writing? This is what he told Goodreads:
"I start a book like Doctor Sleep [his most recent book] knowing just two things: the basic situation and that the story will create its own patterns naturally and organically if I follow it fairly...and by fairly I mean never forcing characters to do things they wouldn't do in real life...For me, the first draft is all about story. I trust that some other part of me—an undermind—will create certain patterns."
He adds, "The basic pattern of a story or novel should be there in the first draft. Story creates theme; theme suggests certain events; the events become part of the story. Around and around it goes."
What about rewriting?
"When I read it over (after letting it rest and rise, like a good yeast bread dough), I usually see the patterns and can mend the places where they go off on the wrong track or disappear completely."
As proved by the many examples in my book, Your Creative Writing Masterclass, this is only one way of approaching crafting a story. Other authors won't start writing until they've worked out an outline in detail.
To find out what works for you, sometimes first you have to find out what doesn't. Eventually you'll discover the most effective and efficient way for you to write.
I think the crucial thing in the quote above is "never forcing characters to do things they wouldn't do in real life." Of course we're talking about their real life, which doesn't exist but has to seem that it does in your mind before it can exist in the minds of your readers.
In the recent BAFTA awards there was a category called "Constructed Reality." It's good to see an acknowledgment that reality show reality isn't reality. In order to capture viewers, the producers of such shows fall back on traditional storytelling.
A case in point: the MTV show called Catfish.
Each episode starts with the show being contacted by somebody who has been in an online relationship with someone else--often for several years--but never met them, never had a video call with them, and is beginning (!) to wonder whether they are who they say they are.
Then the two guys who front the show track down the other person who has sent photos in which he or she looks like a model but turns out to weigh 400 pounds, or be a guy who was pretending to be a girl, or a girl who was pretending to be a guy, or just somebody on a power trip (often a friend or relative of the victim).
Confrontation, tears, sometimes an apology but usually not, and a follow-up video phone call a few months later during which the perp says he/she has stopped doing all that, has lost five pounds, and is feeling much better about him/herself.
It's classic three-act structure.
Act One: Our protagonists, Max and Nev, are contacted by a victim and take on the quest: to find out whether his or her online true love actually is true.
Act Two: Progress and setbacks. They search on Facebook but there is no trace of that person. They try the phone number, but they get voice mail. Breakthrough: they find a link that tells them where the person lives, they go there, they approach...the door opens. The person is not who she or he pretended to be!
Act Three: Resolution. The victim asks why! why! why me?! The perpetrator (villain) refuses to apologize and gets shot down (not literally, so far, just by the victim saying they never want to see/him her again). Happy ending: a few months later the victim has moved on and the perp claims to have reformed.
Max and Nev have saved another victim and ride off into the sunset. In another town, another deluded soul awaits.
AND THEN THERE'S REALITY
The other day I read an article about how it really happens. Usually it's the perp who contacts the show and says I've been fooling this person for years and I want to come clean. Meaning, I want to be on television.
Then the show approaches the victim and says we hear you're in an online relationship yet you've never met, would you like us to find out whether this person is genuine? They say, Yes, I really want to know! Meaning, Yes, I really want to be on television. They agree to read a letter on camera that makes it sound like they approached the show.
Of course that makes sense--if the producers didn't already have a signed release from the perp, they'd waste a lot of time tracking down people who, when confronted, would just say screw you, I'm not going on TV (I think there are still such people...) and a week of filming would be down the drain.
Basically the story has been constructed, but the two guys who front the show are not told the details--I believe that only because it does inject a much-needed note of spontaneity and I don't think they're good enough actors to fake it.
I guess I should have written a letter during the first season:
"Dear Catfish, for several episodes I have been in a relationship with a TV series, and I am beginning to wonder whether the series is being honest with me..."
Ah well, I guess it's comforting that we're not in a post-story age, just a post-admitting-it's-a-story age.
Who Knew? is an occasional feature sharing weird stuff. In this case, thanks to NPR, the story of turnspit dogs.
The NPR report says, "The Canis vertigus, or turnspit, was an essential part of every large kitchen in Britain in the 16th century. The small cooking canine was bred to run in a wheel that turned a roasting spit in cavernous kitchen fireplaces."
They were bred for this kind of work and Darwin cited them as an example of genetic engineering.
The dogs replaced the previous mechanism: small boys. The boys stood behind a bale of wet hay to protect them from the heat, but their hands would blister and eventually somebody came up with the idea of replacing them with dogs and a hamster wheel type mechanism.
Jan Bondeson, author of Amazing Dogs, a Cabinet of Canine Curiosities, said, "The wheels were put up quite high on the wall, far from the fire in order for the dogs not to overheat and faint."
If a dog slowed down, a glowing coal was thrown into the wheel for motivation. At least they got Sundays off to go to the church with the family--because they were useful as foot warmers.
By 1850 spit-turning machines had replaced most of the dogs (their plight had also helped lead to the founding of the SPCA in America).
The breed died out. Bondeson says they were ugly little dogs "with a quite morose disposition." No wonder.
The Zen Habits blog listed ten questions that can help you take action. In this series of posts I suggest how to apply nine of those specifically to writing more. You can easily adapt them to drawing or whatever other creative activity you'd like to increase.
5. Does the pain of not doing it outweigh the fear of doing it?
This question gets to the heart of the issue: usually it's not really lack of time or any external obstacle that stops you from doing what you care about.
WHAT ARE WE SCARED OF?
There are lots of fears, actually, but the biggest one is fear of failure. What if you try to write a novel and you fail? You have your choice of several failures to contemplate: what if your idea is no good, what if you run out of steam halfway through, what if you finish it but nobody wants to publish it, what if it gets published but gets humiliating reviews? What if people will think you're silly even to try?
The pain of not doing what you'd love to do is more subtle.
STAB OR ACHE?
Whereas fears are like stabs, the pain of not doing is an ache. But it's an ache that can go very deep, that can settle into your bones. I've met a few people like that. It made them bitter. They looked for excuses--they didn't have a good enough education, or the publishing world was stacked against them, or you had to be part of the Hollywood in-group. I have a feeling the nights they woke up at 4am they knew they had defeated themselves.
If you want to go for it but the fear is stronger than the pain you can address either side of the equation.
OPTION 1: INCREASE THE PAIN
You can increase the pain. Think about what you're giving up. Think about how long you've made excuses. Think about how you feel when you look at the things you intend to do "soon" and realize it's the same list you had last year and the year before and the year before.
OPTION 2: DECREASE THE FEAR
My preferred solution is to decrease the fear. Not by assuming failure is impossible but by looking realistically at the consequences of failing.
If you fail, will you die?
Will you go hungry?
Will a mob congregate outside your housewith pitchforks?
Will it make the six o'clock news?
Frankly, hardly anybody will notice. And who says not getting the result you want is failure? How often have you looked back at things that seemed like failures or catastrophes at the time and realized they weren't, or at least not totally. If you learn how to write a good screenplay by first writing a couple of bad ones, are those failures?
I believe if you you look at the fear of failure realistically you can knock it out in the first round.
The Zen Habits blog listed ten questions that can help you take action. In this series of posts I suggest how to apply those specifically to writing more. You can easily adapt them to drawing or whatever other creative activity you'd like to increase.
4. Does this have major meaning in your life?
I've never been a fan of musing about the regrets you might have on your deathbed. I suspect the main thing you'll wish is that you'd had a better doctor. That's assuming you have the luxury of a deathbed instead of being squashed by a number 14 bus.
More important is what you are thinking right now--is there something you're putting off doing that would have meaning for you?
If writing doesn't have any particular meaning for you, let it go. Find something that does. Maybe you already have.
However, if the fact that another month has gone by and you still haven't dedicated any time to what matters to you bothers you, then this is a great question to ask not only about what you want to do, but also about what you are doing.
You're ironing the sheets. Does that have meaning in your life?
How about watching that box set of Doctor Who?
How about cooking for your family every night?
I'm not suggesting that these things are necessarily bad or trivial. It may be that ironing the sheets is your form of meditation. It may be that you watch that box set with your kids and afterward you discuss it and that's a way for you to spend time together. It may be that cooking is your favorite creative outlet.
On the other hand, you may be ironing the sheets because that's what your mother and her mother before her did. You may be watching that box set to kill time. You may be doing all the cooking because you haven't realized it won't kill your spouse to cook one night a week or that the world won't end if you get pizza delivered once in a while.
You can't spend 100% of your time doing deeply meaningful things but if you're not spending at least 20% of your time on those, then maybe it's time for a re-think.