You’ve taken the classes, attended the workshops, read every Writer’s Digest book they’ve put on the market. You’ve written, and written, and then when you thought the calluses couldn’t get any harder on the ends of your fingers, you wrote some more. You’ve suffered the rejection slips. Oh, how those rejection slips sting. To hell with those who love them, plastering them all over their room for motivation. We hate them. I don’t care how hard you tell me you love them, you don’t. You can’t. They are printed (mostly canned) evidence of someone thinking your writing isn’t good enough.
I had nothing about which I planned to blog today. Just one of those days when we who call ourselves “Indie” or “Unpublished” or “Striving” or “Starving” feel all the bad words at once. Then the paperback proof of the book in which I take the most pride in—as you’ve heard me say, countless times: my magnum opus—arrived a day early! And it’s really gorgeous. You never know how the artwork of the cover will translate to the hard copy. You just don’t. And I find building the spine and back art the most difficult of all. And we all know the most important part: the pages. The words on the white page.
I thought my day couldn’t get any better. I thought even if only a handful of people ever buy this book, I will be proud of it until the day I die.
Sounds dramatic. Sounds like hyperbole.
But I felt that way. To hold it in my hands—I am a lover of my Kindle, I really am, but nothing will ever compare to a book. I am sorry for the trees, but a book is a book, not a piece of plastic. The two in my eyes will never really compare.
But my day could still get better. Twenty minutes later, in fact. One of the writers I respect most in this world of “Indies” and “Hopefuls” wrote her honest review of my book. She’s the most talented independent writer I know—Jo VonBargen, a true poet. I read her words all the time (Two-Bit Bard) and mostly don’t say anything because she’s that good. For me to attempt to heap praise on or offer congratulations or a pat on the back to her eloquence?
She emailed me last night that she was reading my book and loving it. That made my evening. But the review she wrote today accomplished more than (as I told her) cause my ego to dance around like a drunken leprechaun shouting “who’s got the pot of gold now?”. It reminded me of why I wanted to write in the first place. Ironically, I could have just as easily said “she reminded me how to write the very best book of which I’m capable.”
They are one and the same—a short list, actually (since I’m also trying to dispense advice here, too):
1) Write from your heart. Or your soul. Or your emotional core. You can call it whatever you like. But don’t confuse this with your “muse”. Your muse is your creativity, and yes, she’s important, too, but writing from the heart means not holding back when you are afraid someone will see your own pain in the words you put on the page. I read a comment by another writer who has an incredible gift (you can witness his story capturing here). His name is Caleb Pirtle. Caleb said: “I’ve been around a long time and interviewed a lot of people and heard a lot of stories. They may not be all true. But they were told to me as truth.” Which leads me to number two:
2) Listen. Not just to yourself, or to those talking to you—listen to the stories that are being told. Storytelling is not just a written event—far from it. People of all nations have been passing along great stories (as Caleb Pirtle points out, some true, some not true, some believed to be true) for thousands of years. Don’t just shrug them off, waiting impatiently for your chance to jump in. Jack Durnish said it best when he complimented Pirtle in that way only Jack can: “Age is wonderful if you’ve had the good sense to keep your mouth shut and your eyes and ears open. You can’t help but collect stories like a coil of sticky paper collects flies in an old country store.”
3) Let a part of you into your characters. As human beings there are particular experiences, anecdotes, views, tragedies, loves, losses, victories, dreams, failures, fears, and successes we can each relate to at a human level. Let those emotions out of you and infuse your characters with them. Otherwise you risk paper thin (or worse, papier-mâché) characters with:
No great story.
Somewhere in the distance I hear a young Michael Jackson singing “easy as 1-2-3.”
Ah, we all know it’s harder than that. But I almost guarantee that if you follow the above advice, your writing will improve beyond what it is today. Far beyond. Still no promise of success; no guarantee the rejections won’t keep coming in, stinging you, papering your walls. But here’s the thing:
You’ll know you left it all on the page, now won’t you?