C. Hope Clark at Funds For Writers, a newsletter that I’ve been subscribed to for ages, posted an interesting link on Facebook: 10 Little Habits that Steal Your Happiness. The first tip is one we can all learn, to stop focusing on everyone else’s story. “Unfold your own tale and bring it to life.” Someone on (my favorite place) Twitter the other day said they were happy, but they’d be happier if they were J.K. Rowling. I know what they mean, but, we just can’t think like that. I could never write high fantasy or crime like Rowling does (heck, I never even spell her name right; Rowlings, Rawling…) But that doesn’t mean we can’t have goals to be successful.
I’ve been reading my free Kindle sample of The Productive Writer. Cohen says that we should make a list for our future goals and even if they’re ridiculously high, at least we’ll aim somewhere below high rather than somewhere behind mediocre. The list should include writers whose work feels somehow related to ours. I think that’s such a much better way of doing things, rather than saying, “I want to be successful, so I want to write about vampires and wizards so I can be successful too.” Granted, I understand there is a definite niche right there, but as my graduate professor said, “I’m really not interested in what the market wants.”
The kinds of writers I felt akin to were of the simplistic writers. The ones who didn’t mess around and just told you the story. Papa Hemingway is an obvious mentor, so is Raymond Carver. I was also taught with examples from Lorrie Moore (whom I met at UCF) and then later Dorothy Parker, J.M. Coetzee and Per Petterson when I did my thesis in grad school. That kind of writing was interesting to me; the slightly humorous but ultimately tragic. After school, however, I didn’t have academia to rely on, and I discovered more novels like Catcher in the Rye knocking around. Hence, I became a YA fiction reader.
I am not really a fan of anything far-fetched. I like people stories and even if there is some elements of horror, sci-fi, or the supernatural, it’s done within the regular constructs of the real world. Luke Skywalker, Leia, and Han Solo are all humans from other planets but that’s about as far as I can go. Carrie is a teenager with regular problems and a supernatural power. Ripley is an officer on a mining ship that’s trying to get back to Earth. The premises of Lost and The Walking Dead are that people are in “What If?” situations. The lives of characters have to be relatable to me in some way, otherwise I get super board. I can even get bored with comic book based movies sometimes just because it’s very, very formulaic (cue Scott Pilgrim who fought evil exes one after the other. The characters where great, but the video game plot just didn’t entertain me whatsoever – and I like video games!) Katniss Everdeen is an American fighting in a screwed up version of Big Brother. Miranda is experiencing a time travel mystery all set in 1970s New York. I’ve never been one to want the “escape to another world” kind of reader. I want to know the dysfunctional neighbour next door.
Anyway, back to the goals. Camp NaNoWriMo will be over soon and I’m just horribly behind. As always, I was going well for a while, then stopped after we went on holiday. I wrote a decent amount in two sittings on Monday (I also read that procrastinators and adults with attention deficiencies do better if projects are in bite sized chunks.) But by Tuesday I questioned my choice in projects, if the story would work, if my characterization was all right, etc. etc. I wrote about 500 words, then sat there second guessing myself.
But the best tip I found that made it feel all better was from Neil Gaiman who said,
For me, it’s always been a process of trying to convince myself that what I’m doing in a first draft isn’t important.
Holy crap, thank you! I read that, watched the saddest episode of Walking Dead (Season 3 – you know the episode), cried a bit, and got over my little hang-ups. Now I can go back to getting something done. I have until October, more or less, before any supply work will come in, so that leaves me all the time in the world to work. Aside from the little chunks of writing that help keep my concentration up, instead of one month, a novel could be written in three with shorter bursts of creativity. I can handle that.