JK Rowling attributes her success to failure

I get daily emails of encouragement from major league baseball manager Clint Hurdle, many of the posts coming from other writers and motivators. The post the other day was written by Steve Gilbert.

He tells of a period in Rowling’s life when she hit rock bottom; her mother died, she was getting divorced, didn’t like her job, and thought about suicide. She had an idea for a series of books while sitting on a train, but did not act on it.

Rowling then changed her life. She writes,  “Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy to finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one area where I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter, and a big idea. And so rock bottom became a solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published in 1977 with a run of 500 copies, 300 of which went to libraries. Sales now are over 12 million.

I am not recommending would-be-writers blow up their life and do a reboot. Reboots may carry a virus or two, but her opening line is what grabbed me. Strip away what is not essential in your life. It is another way of saying get your life in order, pursue what you need to do, stripping away what is preventing you from your goal.

We all waste time (from time to time) and that is okay for it can be relaxing, freeing anxiety and stress. But it can also become a habit that, like any addiction, can be consuming.

Consume yourself with your passion, not your distractions.

QUIZ-who wrote world’s first novel?

The modern novel, according to many, began with Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe, published in 1719.

Or, as other scholars have suggested, Don Quixote, by Cervantes, published 1605.

But the truth of the matter is, as far as we know at this time, the first novel was written 700 years before Robinson Crusoe. It came not from the west, but from the east.

I write ‘as far as we know’ because their remains the possibility, remote though it is, that a manuscript of some type could yet be discovered.

The country where the novel originated is Japan. And the author of the first novel called The Tale of the Genji was a woman. And she was the first to use a pen name.

She did not intend, nor chose, to use her pen name of Murasaki Shikibu. She was, it is believed, to be a lady-in-waiting in the Heian Court. It was considered rude to record the names of women who came from noble families, though some exceptions were made, primarily for a princess or an emperor’s wife or companion.

Their is controversy of how the novel should be presented. The original translation was done in six volumes, but subsequently it has been reduced to 54 chapters. The feeling by Edward Seidensticker was that 54 chapters are the original text, that the cut chapters are not of the same narrative.

Murasaki began her novel around 1002. The Japanese, like the Chinese at the time, did not regard this form of writing worthy. Poetry, history, and philosophy were the genres one wrote in. Women could write diaries or vernacular tales and Murasaki essentially merged both in Tales of the Genji.

I have not read the original translation. I have the Seidensticker abridged version. And reading her novel I found myself amazed how modern it feels. Too bad we don’t know her real name.

Sources used for this blog:

The Novel 100 by Daniel Burt

A Little History of Literature by John Sutherland

The Tale of the Genji

 

 

Why rewrites-Take a Peek

To give some insight into rewrites I will show the original opening paragraph to a short story that is due in two weeks. Then I will show the revision and indicate reasons for change.

The original opening:

On a white park bench near a cobblestone footpath in Queen’s Park, London, sat Mayda Engel waiting for the American writer, Gordon Manton, renowned for his mystery novels and of being suspected in his wife’s death eight years ago. No body was found; no hint of a crime scene, but of course the rumors, the suspicions. It’s always the spouse isn’t it?

And now the revised opening:

Mayda Engel looked left, then right, before glancing behind her. She was sitting on a white wooden bench near a cobblestone footpath. Her heart pounding, her breath laboring, her mind wavering back and forth; yes she was meeting a murderer at his request, but no she told herself, he was never arrested, only suspected. His wife’s body was never found, no crime scene, nothing to indicate murder, only malicious gossip eight year ago when the wife of writer Gordon Manton disappeared. Mayda didn’t believe he was a killer, but still, one can’t assume, or at least, should not assume.

Reasons for the revision:

The original is bare bones, giving the facts as to who (Mayda), where (Queen’s Park, London), what (waiting) and though it indicates who she is waiting for, there is not enough hook.

But in the revision, she is clearly apprehensive, looking left, looking right, looking behind her. Her heart is pounding, her breath labored, her mind wavering. Is she meeting a killer? It better engages the reader.

The original is passive, the revision more active. I also dropped the location of London because I revised the entire story, making cuts about why Gordon bought the house which resembled the Keats house in Hampstead, therefore location was no longer important. The cuts were done because it added little to nothing and was not needed. When in doubt delete.

A writer always wants to get things right and because of that there is a tendency to spend a lot of time on each paragraph. This is something Goethe did. He said he wrote one page per day and never looked at it again. But he said, he would rewrite that page over and over, and over and over. And again and again.

Everyone is different in their approach. But maybe it is best to write down the bare bones, keep writing with an active mind, getting down as much as you can before your mind shuts down. Then let it sit, get back to it with a fresh mind and see what is missing and fill in the details.

No matter your approach the key to writing is the rewriting. And the rewriting. And maybe I will give it another look tomorrow.

Here are two collection of e-book short stories available on Amazon.

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How writers should handle critiques

I woke up in the morning the day after publishing my first e-Novel with anxiety and dread my bed companions. They were not who I wanted to wake up with.

Every writer, every artist, has within them a lurking virus ready to infect the artistic insecurity with paranoia; imagination running amok seeing brutal judgements from unseen readers.

But the reviews over time were fair and more positive than I expected. Of course there was one review that upset me, but I realized he/she missed the point. Others got it, and that is one thing to remember. Whatever you write will be liked and disliked because some people, like my brother, does not like cheese, and others, like myself, love cheese. We have different tastes, different biases, and different views. Nothing is written in stone except the 10 Commandments and they disappeared..

Something just as unnerving is the anticipation of reading judge’s critiques from writing contests, like the one I recently entered, for these are professionals with stern judgement, so anxiety peaks, dread blackens, insecurity sinks, and paranoia makes you cower in the corner, so do not open the envelope like a six year-old at Christmas, ripping open paper to get at the goodies, for there are no goodies here; instead place it on a table, let it sit while you circle it for a few days, building up your immunity enough to open the envelope. You must be in command.

Here is what I found:

One judge did not like my opening paragraph and my hook. The other judge did. The judge who disliked my hook did not like my tension/pacing, but the other judge did. One liked my grammar, the other didn’t. There were some things they agreed on, so what did I learn and what can you learn?

Here is what I learned:

You must read a critique with a critical eye. If two judges disagree you must strive for objectivity-not easy when it comes to your creation-but again, I let it sit before going back my story. Your story must be read as if it was written by somebody else. If I thought one of the judges was correct, I changed something because I saw their point and agreed, but if I believed one of the judges was wrong I left it alone. Case in point, one of the judges who did not like my hook, thought one passage should be cut, but the action to me tied in with the end of the story and since the other judge had no problem with the opening and after numerous reading of the opening I left it as is.

Finally, one must realize that each judge has an opinion, but that is all it is. We all see things differently and we writers must critique the critique and not take other’s judgements at face value.

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Paul Auster; who writers are; their output, part two

In previous blog I quoted from Paul Auster’s novel Brooklyn Follies about who writers are and what writing is. Today I quote from same book regarding the output of writers. rather than quote from the conversation I will list writers and how much they wrote or how long it took to finish a book.

James Joyce wrote three novels

Balzac wrote ninety novels

Kafka wrote his first story in one night

Stendhal The Charterhouse of Parma in forty-nine days

Melville wrote Moby Dick in sixteen months

Flaubert spent five years on Madame Bovary

Musil worked for eighteen years on The Man Without Qualities and died before he could finish

Milton was blind

Cervantes had one arm

Marlow was stabbed to death in a bar room brawl before he was thirty

 

The point is it takes as long as it takes to finish your story so don’t go into a panic if you have trouble finishing because of other things going on in your life. Of course you don’t want to write for eighteen years and then die before you are finished, and nor do you want to die a bar room brawl with a knife going through your eye. But at least Marlowe finished his plays.

Do what you can when you can. Persistence can take you down the road to completion.

The best way tp predict your future is to create it-Abraham Lincoln.

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Author Paul Auster; what writing is and who writers are, part one

One of my favorite writers-and I have many-is Paul Auster and in his novel Brooklyn Follies the following passage considers what writing is and who writers are:

“Take a close look at the lives of poets and novelists, and what you wound up with was unalloyed chaos, an infinite jumble of exceptions. That was because writing was a disease, Tom continued, what you might call an infection or influenza of the spirit, and therefore it could strike anyone at any time. The young and old, the strong and the weak, the drunk and the sober, the sane and the insane. Scan the roster of the giants and semi-giants, and you would discover writers who embraced every sexual proclivity, every political bent, and every human attribute-from the loftiest idealism to the most insidious corruption. They were criminals and lawyers, spies and doctors, soldiers and spinsters, travelers and shut-ins. If no one could be excluded, and what prevented an almost sixty-year-old ex-life insurance agent from joining their ranks? What law declared that Nathan Glass had not been infected by the disease?”

Writing was always something I wanted to do, but early rejection dissuaded me. Later in life when the regrets of unfinished desires in life weighed heavily on my spirit, I became infected with a ravenous hunger to finish what I started.

I had doubts, I had fears, and like Nathan Glass, felt I was too old. The doubts and fears, however, were no match for the fear of not writing, of not moving forward, of having that monstrous ogre of life regrets go unquenched.

I have written two collection of horror/twilight zone type of e-short stories and three e-novels and a fourth to be published soon. Success does not matter, movie deals do not matter, for feeding this wonderful infection is life giving.

If you feel you are infected, do not wait. Start writing.

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COOL: The Mysterious definition of cool.

I have always associated the word ‘cool’ with hip slang of the 1950’s and also with jazz. Imagine my surprise when reading Moonstone by Wilkie Collins published in 1868 when I came across the word ‘cool’ used thusly:

“She has been a guest of yours at this house,” I answered. “May I venture to suggest-if nothing was said about me beforehand-that I might see her here?”

“Cool!” said Mr. Bruff. With that one word of comment on the reply I had made to him, he took another turn up and down the room.

In other words, Bruff liked the idea. The usage seems contemporary as in ‘good idea’ not from a writer who was a friend of Charles Dickens. I had to explore the coolness of this find.

My Dictionary of American Slang has three columns on ‘cool.’ In the 1920’s cool was slang for killing someone, no doubt a gangster term. ‘Cool’ can  be ‘to postpone; to wait for; to be in control of one’s emotions; aloof, unconcerned; thrilling, groovy; satisfying, pleasant; crazy, gone, mad, wicked, far out, among other meanings.’ And yes, the weather can be cool.

None seemed to fit what Bruff meant. So I checked Online Etymology Dictionary and found the following: “calmly audacious” is from 1825. Now that is what fits for Bruff’s comment. Franklin Blake needs to talk with Rachel, a woman who refuses to see him. But it is imperative he talks with her to help unravel a mystery. So when Blake sets forth his idea, Bruff thinks it is an audacious plan. Cool!

Who knew?

Wilkie Collins was hip to use ‘cool,’ the perfect word for the reply. It reminded me to always search for the right word for the right reason in my writing.

Here are my cool e-Books, two fictional mysteries and a collection of short stories.

 

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Two exercises to tone up your novel writing

In order for your novel to flow smoothly, keeping your readers interest, there are two writing exercises to challenge yourself with to make the writing better.

One is to experiment with short stories, and I include flash fiction as well. Writing a short story  is like going on a diet. It forces you to take the fat out of a story, leaving you with lean writing. In a short story you can not pad with cake and ice cream, meandering through a landscape of unneeded calories as you struggle to build a word count acceptable for a novel. Short stories and flash fiction  mean getting to the climax quick with shorter wordplay, using fewer words, and less is more. It is about thinning your writing, compressing and condensing.

The second exercise is to write poetry. I confess my creative sense and sensibility does not lend itself to this discipline. If I could overcome this obstinate obstacle my novels would be better. But do as I say, not as I do. Challenge yourself. I do have a degree in English Literature and have read and studied poetry, so I have background to fall upon. What poetry does is force you to develop a better understanding of imagery and metaphor. And of course a rhythm.

Imagery are the sensory feelings and thoughts conveyed to the reader through words; so use the right words for the right image. For instance, take the cliché phrase ‘He has as much chance as a snowball in Hell.’ Blah. How about ‘He has as much chance as a Dracula does of getting a suntan.’ Two things here, a cliché has been eliminated and a more colorful imagery has been put in it’s place.

All writing, even a novel is an experiment, but through short stories and poetry, you are preparing yourself for a marathon called a novel and the better prepared you are the better you will do. When you compress your writing from exercising through short stories and mix in appropriate imagery you will be a lean, mean writing machine.

I could have written more, expanding on my theme here, but I am trying to cut down on words.

At Amazon my E-books, fat or thin, depending on your sense and sensibility.

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