Whining Is An Art

Ask one person, “How’s it going?” and with a smile and shrug the answer comes back, “Not bad, thanks. How was your weekend? Did you see the game?” Ask another person, “How’s it going?” and with hand on furrowed brow he or she settles in to deliver a litany of ailments and problems.

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I think most people are sincere when they ask after another’s well-being but it can be difficult to take the brunt of a hypochondriac’s whining. We murmur our sympathy, nod with understanding, offer encouragement… and, as the minutes pass, begin edging away. If we’re lucky, a spouse or good friend will catch our deer-in-the-headlights expression and wander over to help us escape. If we’re not lucky, the edging away results in the speaker reaching out to place a detaining hand on our arm. Whatever the gathering — a twenty-year high school reunion, our mother-in-law’s funeral, the neighbourhood barbecue or our company’s annual convention — it’s our luck to end up trapped by a monologue, the victim of a poorly timed inquiry.

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There’s an art to whining. Perhaps the first person asked was pasty-faced or wearing a neck brace, but he didn’t actually complain. There was the option of picking up on the nuance of that shrug and responding, “You don’t look okay. What happened?” or of avoiding intimate details by accepting the invitation to discuss the playoff game instead.

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Do I need to ask which person you’d prefer to find yourself sitting beside at your next writers’ conference?

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A non-medical version of hypochondria exists in our writing environment. Writers are quick to bemoan the hours of solitary writing, the agony of revisions, heaps of rejection letters, agent availability, the lengthy publication process, extensive marketing requirements and the lack of time for everything.

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We’re good at complaining and we love it when others commiserate with us, but wouldn’t our energy be better spent determining our needs, prioritizing our time commitments and getting on with our careers? I like Margaret Atwood’s response when she was asked what she thought writers needed most:

“You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means there’s no free lunch. Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but ­essentially you’re on your own. ­Nobody is making you do this; you chose it, so don’t whine.” [Margaret Atwood]

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Hmmm… not a bad thing to remember next time somebody asks, “How’s it going?” Nobody is making you do this; you chose it, so don’t whine.

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What do you think? Am I being mean? Is it good once in a while to air out frustrations and share them with others?

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Unexpected Glimpses

Tiny sprigs of luscious new growth are appearing everywhere. It’s spring, so I shouldn’t be surprised by these sightings, especially since I’ve been waiting for them all winter. It’s the unexpectedness, though – the delight of discovery when I am glancing at one thing and suddenly notice something else – that catches me unaware and elicits such pleasure.

These glimpses are bonuses… bits of joy among the ordinary.

But what if (the writer’s favourite question), what if the telescope is reversed and you become the object glimpsed? What if in your writing you reveal just a hint of your authorial self to those who are immersed in the lives of your fictional characters?

Such glimpses are not bonuses, but interruptions.

Carol Benedict left a comment yesterday saying she wants readers “to pay attention to what I’m writing, not how I’m writing it.”  She was referring to a quotation by Somerset Maugham about style, but it also applies in principle to those times when we as authors write something that our characters wouldn’t say, see or know. Suddenly we have injected ourselves into the story. We have given the reader an unexpected glimpse of something that shouldn’t be there.

Do you think authorial intrusion matters to most readers? How do you avoid it when you’re writing?

Something Else They Said

It’s weird how it happens. You’re reading along and something the author says hits you like a slap upside the head. “That’s it!” you exclaim. “That’s exactly how I would have said it, if only I could have found those same words.”

What makes quotations memorable is how many times they impress readers as the perfect way to make a salient observation.  Yesterday I commented on what Richard Mabry said in a recent interview:

“God will change people with your writing, even if it only changes one person—because writing will change you.”

Today I found two more excellent quotations that I think are well worth repeating.

Anna M. Clark‘s  first book, Green, American Style just launched this month. In a guest post on Rachelle Gardner’s blog Anna says, “Now that I’m here, I realize that there is no here at all. Publishing the book, it turns out, is not a destination but a milestone in the journey.”

The other quote comes from Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting, published in 1999. In it author Robert McKee suggests that Anxious, inexperienced writers obey rules. Rebellious, unschooled writers break rules. Artists master them.”

For me, they’re all “slap me upside the head” quotations — ones I wish I’d said myself but, of course, didn’t. I have a binder in which I keep a lot of writing resources and you can bet I’ll be adding these to my inspiration section.

Do you have a favourite writing-related quotation?

Writing Advice Worth Remembering

Aspiring novelists are always looking for good advice to help guide them on the journey towards publication. I’ve read more books on the craft than I can count, but I’ve seldom read anything quite as succinct and astute as the words of author Richard L. Mabry in his recent interview with Jennifer AlLee.

When asked about the most important piece of advice he could give to a fledgling writer he replied,

“Every day, ask yourself, “Who am I writing this for?” If you’re doing it because you feel God’s leadership in that direction, that’s wonderful. If you’re doing it because you have a message, and the printed word is your pulpit, write on. If you’re doing it because you want to see your name in print, get a copy of the phone book.”

I chuckled and then read on to find just about everything else a writer needs to know neatly summarized in his next paragraph:

“Seriously, if you’re writing for the right reasons, then learn the craft. Attend conferences if you can afford them. Study good books on writing craft. Read the work of excellent writers, so you’ll recognize good writing when you see it. And then write, write, write. Have one book going all the time. Keep querying, so when one book garners nothing but rejections, you’ll have another option ready.”

He ended with a sentence that every Christian writer needs to remember:

“One final thought. God will change people with your writing, even if it only changes one person—because writing will change you.”

This is one savvy writer! He writes “medical suspense with heart” and his first novel, CODE BLUE, has just been released. Do I need to say how much I’m looking forward to reading it?

Terry Fox Remembered

Thirty years ago today Terry Fox began his Canadian coast to coast Marathon of Hope. His goal was to raise one million dollars for cancer research. He ran an incredible average of 42 km a day for 143 days. Unfortunately cancer stopped him before he could complete the run, and at age 22 it took his life.

Since then others have taken up what he started and have now raised over $500M.

Terry proved one person can make a difference.

TERRY STANLEY FOX

July 28, 1958June 28, 1981

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Beautiful Blog or Blogger Award

Receiving an award is always an honour. There have been a number of awards circulating the blogosphere during the past year, each suggesting the recipient’s blog has been providing value to its readership.

Joylene Butler surprised me with the “Beautiful Blogger Award” last week. I was honoured by this award but I admit to a bit of confusion. She called it the “Beautiful Blog Award”, but as you can see, that’s not what it says on the award logo. Joylene’s version seems more appropriate. Most of my readers have never seen me, and those who have would be quick to agree that if the award is based on looks then I really don’t qualify! :)  Anyway, many thanks, Joylene! You’re very sweet and I truly do appreciate the acknowledgement.

I’m told the rules are simple: copy the logo, choose those blogs that you find most beautiful (sometimes that means words alone), and link back to the one who chose you.

So here, in alphabetical order, are the blogs (bloggers) I chose for this award. All are published authors whose blogging words either educate, encourage, or inspire me — sometimes all at once.

  • BERTRAM’S BLOG – for Pat’s openness and honesty about her life and writing.
  • LAURA BEST, AUTHOR – for her pride in and promotion of a Canadian heritage.
  • AUTHOR, JODY HEDLUND - for sharing her faith and publication journey with total transparency .
  • WRITER JENN - Jennifer Hubbard, for her constant encouragement of other writers.
  • RANDOM JOTTINGS – Richard Mabry, for his Godly humility and writing ethics.
  • A HOLY EXPERIENCE – Ann Voskamp, for the oasis of her beautiful words.

Windy Thoughts on Writing

Wind whips through the trees this morning, flinging bits of branches to the ground and sending tiny fir cones skittering across the deck.

Our unpredictable springtime weather caught a few sailors off guard while they were anchored offshore from Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach. This morning they’re no longer offshore but onshore.

Photo Credit: Nick Procaylo , PNG

This is the kind of day I’d like to be where my daughter lives, wandering the Vancouver Island shoreline, wonder-filled by the power of the waves. Blustery windstorms invigorate me. Yes, I know they cause all sorts of damage and inconvenience. Schools in town are all closed this morning because of power outages. But I love the dip and dance of the trees, birds sailing the sky with wings outstretched to catch the currents, puffs of cloud sprinting from one horizon to the other.

Wind can have contradictory connotations… of inspiration, music, change, the Holy Spirit, violent energy, or welcome refreshment on a searing summer day.

I look for a writing analogy and think of the Muse – a force that moves words, sometimes like a breeze, other times like a storm, transporting thoughts from the unknown into our minds. I think of the words themselves – words with power to move, to invigorate, to devastate.

How do you experience wind in your writing?


Writing a Really Bad Novel

Every so often it’s good to laugh at yourself. While reminiscing about my embarrassingly bad first novel I came across an old article written by John Hewitt at PoeWar entitled, Want to Write a Novel Badly? Here’s How! In it he lists 32 steps. I won’t admit how many of them I employed in that first novel, but it did give me reason to laugh at myself. Granted, I choked a few times, too.

Here’s what John says:

Do you want to write a novel? Most people try to write a good novel and fail. Dare to be different. Try writing a bad novel instead. If you finish, you will have either succeeded in writing a bad novel or failed and written a good novel. It’s a win/win situation. Here’s a guide to writing an absolutely terrible novel. The path is clear. All you have to do is follow it…  [Read more]

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Facing Failure

Thanks to Kelly McMichael for pointing me to a video of the speech given by J.K. Rowling at the 2008 Harvard University Commencement. It is entitled “The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination.” There are three main points in the speech: one that focuses on failure versus success, another on having the power to imagine better for the oppressed in our world, and the last on the value of true friends. The speech is some twenty minutes long but well worth your time.

J.K. Rowling Speaks at Harvard Commencement

If you choose not to take the time, then at least take with you this comment:

“Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life. You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all. In which case you fail by default.”

From the perspective of rejection and failure in the world of writing and publishing it is something to cling to when you realize the journey J.K. Rowling has taken.