Sunday, February 12, 2006

Do What it Takes

Writers are funny. We obsess about everything.

I've learned not to obsess, by obsessing. Counterintuitive? You bet.

This is not like winning the lottery, as Joe Konrath is fond of saying. It's not a quick fix; it won't make us rich (at least it won't make most of us rich).

So why do we do it?

I don't have a choice. Writing is hardwired into my DNA. If I never sell a book, I'll keep writing. This is who I am, not what I do. Sometimes, I wish I had a choice, but not really. There are worse vices than writing. I have some of those, too.

How do you tackle this addiction?

1. Marry a Saint. I already did, and you can't have my Saint. Go find your own.

2. Keep writing. Do not give up. Ever.

3. Read. Read great literature. Read within the genres in which you write. Read outside your genre. Read crap. Read fiction and non-fiction. That "Read fiction and non-fiction" part just paid off for me. Last night, I finished James L. Swanson's Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase For Lincoln's Killer. Best piece of non-fiction I've ever read. You read that right. I'll probably blog about this again. Great fiction and great narrative non-fiction have similar qualities, but the part Swanson really nailed was the villain. As Konrath has said, you need a great hero. But you also need a great villain. The villain needs to be evil, but also somewhat sympathetic. In other words, even as you hate the villain, you need to like him. Swanson does that, with a real villain, maybe the greatest villain in American History: John Wilkes Booth. Seriously. Run out and buy this book. It's truly amazing.

4. Marry a Saint. Right. Said that already. It bears repeating.

5. Finish your current writing project. I don't mean shelve it and come back and tinker with it. I mean edit the Hell out of it and make it the best it can possibly be, as if it were already printed, bound and on the shelves at bookstores everywhere. Don't talk about what it still needs. Don't whine about how the words aren't right. Don't moan that your agent won't like it. FINISH IT.

6. Start another one. I learned this the hard way. Just trust me here. You don't want much of a gap between your last great writing project and your next one.

7. Don't wait for your muse to inspire you. Make your own muse. Just write.

8. Stop relying on luck. You have no control over luck. Just write. Then write some more. When you're done with that, start writing.

9. Listen to your favorite music. Why do you like it? What do the lyrics say to you? Do you find yourself writing fiction like your favorite singers write songs? Or is that just me? I've always tried to write songs the way Bruce Springsteen does, and to a lesser extent, the way Johnny Cash did and Kris Kristofferson does.

10. Every once in a while, re-read a classic. Every couple of years, I re-read these three: All the King's Men, To Kill A Mockingbird, and A Lesson Before Dying. I learn something new every time. I spent ten years as a political consultant, and reading All the King's Men is a treat after that. Here's my favorite quote from the book: "Maybe a man has to sell his soul to get the power to do good."

11. And the most important thing: Marry a Saint.


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Blogger T.S. Idiot said...

Good advice. I know for sure I've got numbers one, four and eleven nailed, but the remaining are traits to be honed.

1:10 PM, February 13, 2006  
Blogger M. G. Tarquini said...

Thanks. I needed this kick. I also need to check your blog more often.

1:28 PM, February 13, 2006  
Blogger Adam Hurtubise said...

TSI--I love the T.S. Idiot tag. Laughing my ass off over here.

The great news is that numbers one, four and eleven are the most important rules by far. The others, you can accomplish with far less practice.

Thanks for the visit. Come back soon.

M.G.-- All writing is autobiographical. The kick was as much for me as it was for anyone else. Glad it worked for you. Worked for me, too. See the post above it.


1:39 PM, February 13, 2006  

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