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Related to my last post, I think that as I get older, I am less interested in definite answers, and more interested in the questions themselves. Asking and exploring.
From “What Do We Want from Writing?” by Tim Parks:
It’s time to rethink everything. Everything. What it means to write and what it means to write for a public — and which public. What do I want from this writing? Money? A career? Recognition? A place in the community? A change in the government? World peace? Is it an artifice, is it therapy? Is it therapy because it is an artifice, or in spite of that? Does it have to do with constructing an identity, a position in society? Or simply with entertaining myself, with entertaining others? Will I still write if they don’t pay me?
And what does it mean to read? Do I want to read the things other people are reading, so I can talk to them? Which other people? Why do I want to talk to them? So that I can be of my time? Or so that I can know other times, other places? Do I read things to confirm my vision of the world, or to challenge it?
(Note: The rest of the piece is kind of pessimistic, not very much in line with my mindset. But I liked this part.)
I love Sarah Enni’s podcast, First Draft. It’s basically a series of interviews with YA writers, conducted over the course of a cross-country road trip.
Episode 32 features Kiersten White, one of the authors whose blog I followed religiously when I first started learning about the business side of publishing. She was ahead of me on the path, and I learned a lot from what she was going through. Also, she was wickedly funny. (And still is, on Twitter.)
KW: I feel like blogs are a great way to hone certain skills, especially humor. Because humor in writing is its own language. And so you really need practice with it.
As with so many writers, Kiersten has blogged less and less over the years. In this First Draft interview, she explains why.
KW: I used to give a TON of advice on the blog. Like, I would give writing advice, I would give publishing advice. But honestly, the more I wrote, the more I was like, “Oh, I don’t have ANY idea what I’m doing, and I don’t feel comfortable telling anybody else.”
KW: I see people who are just starting out, they give a TON of writing advice. They give a TON of publishing advice. Because that’s what they’re figuring out, and so that’s what’s on their mind, that’s what they’re interested in. Once I was sort of IN it, I was like, Well, I’m not interested in it anymore, because it is what I’m doing. It’s not something that I’m aiming toward, it’s something that I’m IN.
KW: And then yeah, I just felt a huge fraud giving writing advice, because it’s like, Well yeah, that worked with that book, but with this book, NOTHING is working. I think the more you write, the more you realize, Oh I’m terrible at this.
SE: Yeah I think that IS the trajectory a lot of people take, who have done blogging as a regular part of their journey to get to a certain point. And then you learn enough to know that you know nothing.
(I will resist the urge to make a Jon Snow joke.)
I don’t think I’ve ever really given much writing advice, largely because of what Kiersten discusses above. I’m a writer, but that doesn’t make me a writing expert. I’m just like every other person trying to put words on the page. What works or doesn’t work for me is constantly changing. I don’t even know if that means that I am inherently fickle, or that I simply haven’t found the right method yet. Either way, all I can do is keep trying different things and hoping for the best.
What I prefer to share is my experience. Not “This is what you should do,” but rather “This is what I have done and how it went.”
(For the most part, that’s how I try to approach all things, not just writing.)
Hopefully that’s as valuable and interesting to others as it is to me. It’s why I listen to podcasts like First Draft, and why I still read writer blogs even though I know they can’t give me a magic formula. I like hearing about everyone else’s experiences. I like tapping into the mutual struggle. It makes me feel less alone, and sometimes it sparks ideas — a new technique, or something that I can incorporate into what I’m already doing.
Anyway, if you’ve ever wondered why I don’t talk more about my career or my works-in-progress, that’s why. I will say this, though:
1. I am always open to questions.
2. I have saved up a bunch of notes from my time in the query trenches and on submission. Someday I will turn those notes into posts.
“Not a Real Writer: How Self-Doubt Holds Me Back” by Lindsay Merbaum
I’ve watched people who were next to me at the starting line cross over into Multiple-Books-Published and Award-Winning territory while I lag behind, sweating and panting. When they are nice people, I am truly happy for them. When they are not, I hate their guts. But their success or failure has nothing to do with me personally. It’s not like there is a finite amount of books humanity can ever produce and every time one is published, my chances diminish. If anything, other people’s success should only encourage me: if they did it, so can I.
No matter what accolades or publishing credentials I accumulate, I will be myself and the work will be the work. It will be great or garbage regardless of whether or not other people want to publish and honor it.
Sometimes the most important work you can do as a writer is just living.
It can be a torturous, thankless process, but the act of storytelling is so essential to my identity that I’m not sure who I would be without it.
I’ve come to accept that my writer’s doubt is something I will probably never get over.
What I struggle to do now is to put writing first, which can be hard when you don’t already have a celebrated book or major award under your belt. How do you justify the time devoted to writing when it doesn’t put food on the table, when you don’t receive much recognition for your efforts? It’s easier to just binge-watch Netflix and not think about it.
Spoiler level: HIGH. If you don’t know what happened on last night’s episode of Grey’s Anatomy — and don’t want to — then walk away now.
I could make a long list of things that last night’s episode of Grey’s Anatomy did wrong. From ridiculous plot points and redundant dialogue, to bad green screens and cheap fake-outs. There were dozens of violations, offset only by a few brief moments of brilliance from Ellen Pompeo, the endearing mother-daughter duo that Derek rescued, and Patrick Dempsey’s pretty face.
But that list, however long, is all small potatoes. That list is all forgivable.
What isn’t forgivable is the death of Derek Shepherd.
I’m not upset because he was McDreamy and I’m some moony fangirl. I’m upset because the act of killing off Derek broke a sacred, unspoken agreement between storyteller and audience.
A television pilot, like the first chapter of a book, is a promise to the viewer. This is what the story is about. This is what you’re signing up for.
The pilot episode of Grey’s Anatomy promised viewers that Meredith and Derek were the endgame. That they would get their Happily Ever After. That’s what I signed up for. Of course there were going be obstacles in the way. A first wife, a bomb, a cute vet, depression, a shooting, etc. That’s how storytelling works. Writers raise the stakes; we raise our expectations and investment.
Last night, our investment went completely bust.
I know there are reasons for what Grey’s did, even if I’ll never really know what those reasons are. Regardless, I think the better decision would have been to shut the show down. It has had 11 good years. It launched Shonda Rhimes’s career. It highlighted diversity in mainstream television. Rather than being pushed around by whatever off-screen ish came up — and eroding the artistic integrity of the story and main characters along the way — Grey’s should have gone out on its own terms, with a spectacular and fulfilling series finale reminiscent of its glory days.
But no one asked me. So I guess instead it will limp ahead for as long as it can.
In fairness, it’s not impossible for fans to enjoy Grey’s going forward. I’m sure there will be good, smart developments for many of the characters. (I’m particularly interested in Karev, Jackson, April, and Amelia.) But there is no longer any way for Grey’s to deliver on its original premise. It’s a fundamentally different show now.
Would I still have listened to my mom 10 years ago — “You have to watch this new doctor show!” — if I had known that the pilot was, essentially, a lie? I don’t know. Maybe. Okay, probably, because it was really damn good. But would I have continued past Season 3? No way. That was the end of the best years. I wish I’d seen the decline coming, found a good stopping point sometime during Season 4, and just gone off on my merry way.
(Ironically, that’s pretty much what my mom did.)
Will I quit the show now? I’m not sure yet. Part of me says I already put in 10 years; I ought to see this through to the end. But another part of me knows that those 10 years are a sunk cost; I can’t include them in the calculation of what my time is worth moving forward. And when I think about other shows I’ve quit — Scandal, Heroes, Chuck — I have no regrets.
So we’ll see.
I suppose what’s more important is that this has made me think much more critically about my own beginnings and what I’m promising to readers with my opening chapters. I don’t ever want to be guilty of this kind of betrayal.