Archive for November, 2013
This morning on Weekend Sunday Edition, Rachel Martin interviewed Daniel Menaker, writer and past fiction editor of The New Yorker and Editor in Chief at Random House, about his new memoir, My Mistake. Although I have since read the transcript of the interview, I originally missed the middle of it and returned to hear him say, “Yeah, I think we write for attention.” My immediate thought was, “That’s odd. I don’t think my main motive for writing is attention.”
Maybe “real” writers do want attention, but I want the story to get attention, not me. Sure, I wouldn’t mind answering some questions about the story or the writing of the story, but that doesn’t mean I want to do it face to face. For me one of the allures of writing is that I can do it behind the scenes and not have to be front and center. Yes, writers who are gracious and entertaining and informative the way Mary Doria Russell was at the recent Readcon event in Greeley are a delight, but it’s hard for me to believe that most writers want to be on the hot seat, being questioned and photographed. Most of the writers I know want to write and publish. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard one of them talk about how they’re writing so they can go on tour or be featured on Oprah or interviewed on NPR. I don’t think one of us in any of the writing groups I’ve been part of have expressed a desire for fame. Publication, yes. The allure of money, occasionally, but most of us who have been in a group long enough seem to give up on the big bucks and just aim and wish for publication.
My next thought was, maybe that’s what I’m doing wrong; I don’t want attention enough. Possibly that thought is related to another blog a writer-friend reposted the other day, The One Thing You Are Doing to Block Your Writing Success. In this blog the author talks about not calling yourself a writer and how that might be harmful to your career. In other posts on her blog she talks about Myers-Briggs type and relates that to writing and writers. I wonder if, in part, my response to her post and my not usually telling people I’m a writer is related to type? Or, in general, not liking attention being called to myself?
Of course, at some level I do desire attention, the attention of an agent, then an editor which will lead to the attention of readers. There is, also, the matter of the blog. Of course I want people to read my blog and comment and respond. I see that more as interaction than as attention-gathering, though. And yes, in the back of my mind I often have a specific person I want to read a particular work, but again, it’s mostly for the work that I desire attention, not me.
I’m wondering if others who write feel this way or if their primary motivation in writing so to gain attention to themselves?
Tom HIlbert, the coach of the Colorado State University volleyball team, posted a Weekend Ted Talk. The talk, via The Huffington Post, was titled The Key to Success. The CSU Rams are currently one of two undefeated teams in D-1 volleyball in the nation and are ranked #10. I’m suspecting one of the reasons Tom found this talk interesting is its relation to the team and the fact that they keep finding ways to win when this year had been presented as a rebuilding year. Friday night’s game was played against Air Force, our instate conference foe. The Falcons are perennial bottom dwellers in the conference standings. CSU is 41-1 against them, having last lost in 1982. While watching the cadets battle us on Friday, I turned to the woman sitting next to me and said, “They play with grit.” Even though they had to know they were likely to lose, they kept playing without a hang-dog attitude. One very long rally earned the respect of the crowd and they were given a round of applause.
The aforementioned TED talk suggests that IQ isn’t a good measure of success but grit is. What does it mean to have grit? Merriam-Webster online defines it as “mental toughness and courage.” Dictionary.com includes pluck, an indomitable spirit, and firmness of character. The lecturer, Angela Lee Ducksworth, defines grit as the passion and perseverance to accomplish long-term goals, or working hard to make dreams or goals a reality.
I never feel bad when CSU beats AF, mostly because I know these players have a chance to be successful in other areas of life, partly due to their grit, but obviously, grit in this instance does not guarantee success in volleyball. My question is, does it equal success in writing?
Ms Lee Ducksworth states many talented individuals do not meet with success, just as there are many smart people who are not successful. Submitting writing for publication is the one area of writing that I would agree requires grit. When you are faced with a deluge of rejection, you have to be able to get back up and resubmit. One other quality of grit that is mentioned in the short lecture is that those who demonstrate it do not believe failure is a permanent condition. Definitely a necessary characteristic to have as a writer. Most published authors had to exhibit some amount of grit in order to obtain the state of publication. One of the few successful authors who comes to mind who did not have the grit to continue to seek publication is John Kennedy Toole. Confederacy of Dunces,
the 1981 Pulitzer Prize winner, would be considered successful by most criteria, although the same may not be said for the author since he committed suicide prior to the book’s acceptance. It was his mother who exhibited grit in her determination to get his book published.
What about other aspects of writing? Does it take grit to finish a novel? A short story or poem? Or is the grit in the editing and rewriting? And even if you have the grit, say, to finish Nanowrimo, we all know that 50,000 words does not equate with success in publication. Possibly we could use the mentality that those who are successful have the grit to revise and rewrite to the point that their work is accepted and published. Certainly that is one type of grit, the determination to be published no matter what, and by that definition, anyone who is unwilling to conform to the exacting demands of agents/publishers/genres may not have the grit necessary for publication. Of course it is necessary to be flexible enough to listen to the critiques of others, but to some degree it seems to me that saying that an author who has spent time and effort concocting the best piece of writing of which they are able who is still not able to find a route to publication lacks grit, is an example of blaming the victim. Often you hear that if you are good enough and have worked at perfecting your craft, you will find success. If that is true, then someone who doesn’t find success did not maintain grit long enough.
This unsuccessfully published individual might still have had the grit to finish a novel or other piece of writing, but does having a finished product equate with success?
If you are a talented author with the will to complete a piece of writing and the grit to seek publication, are you guaranteed success? I think there are plenty of us out there who would respond no. What other factors are involved in writing (as in publishing) success and do they require grit in some form?
A recent article in SALON, Better Yet, Don’t Write that Novel, lamented that NaNoWriMo is a month-long event for writers and doesn’t celebrate readers. Laurie Miller lauds the efforts of some reading challenges as being more rewarding than the intent of NaNoWriMo. Although I mostly agree with what she has to say, I don’t see a problem with people spending (wasting) their time trying to write 50,000 words in a month. I’ve done it before. The results were less than desirable and I ended up with a mess that is difficult to edit into something readable. Many of the comments to this article mention programs that do promote reading such as One City One Book, National Reading Month, Canada Reads, etc. The recent READCON put on by the Highplains Library District in Weld County, CO had something for both readers and writers. Three of the members of my writing group attended together.
The morning featured a number of writing-related sessions. Later in the afternoon a talk on self-publishing and how to do it right was presented by Jessica France from indieBook Library. This hour was an overview of a longer session on the intricacies involved in putting your own book out there and making it successful.
The first event the three of us participated in was a Zine Workshop, introducing us to a new concept. A volunteer from the Denver Zine Library gave us a very brief introduction to zines and allowed us to browse through a representative sample from the collection. Then we made our own. The majority of participants at this small workshop appeared to be high school-aged. Creating our own small booklet utilizing discarded library books and out-of-date issues of magazines was fun. Interestingly enough, the three of us, all writers, used mostly pictures and few of our own words to create ours.
Another event we did not attend involved creating bookmarks and a third was a contest to design the best library in Minecraft. A quiet space for those who where NaNoing was also available.
All of the planned events were free, but many were ticketed. A Steampunk tea–costumes encouraged–looked well attended and as if everyone was having a great time. Unfortunately, we hadn’t planned ahead and were only able to land one ticket. Our lunch also ran over, making us too late to attend. Instead, we toured the Bookmobile, something I hadn’t done since childhood. For at least one of my friends this was the first time she’d been in one. Each of us won a prize–a screen cleaner, a book, or a DVD, just for taking the quick tour. Each branch of the Library District had also created a display celebrating a genre of literature. Most of the displays included a small treat, an interactive feature, and a book list or two.
Sessions on establishing book clubs, a “whodunit” webinar, photo contest, reading recommendations, and more were presented for readers. The highlight of the event, though, were the talks by authors, including a local authors’ panel. This panel ran the gamut from a nationally known bestselling author to a self-published YA author. Two guests of honor were Craig Johnson, author of western mysteries, and the multifaceted Mary Doria Russell. This was what had interested me in READCON in the first place. I’d read The Sparrow when it came out as well as the follow-up book. After that I was vaguely aware that she’d written other things and had the idea she was writing historical fiction, but I’d never bothered to check out her other books. She was a delightful and funny speaker, as well as a gracious signer of books. I wished she was, if not in my writing group, at least my friend. Her talk about Doc Holiday convinced me to buy the book, Doc.
The last event we attended, and the other main reason we decided to make the trip to Greeley, was the book signing, which was accompanied by samples from two local breweries. I hadn’t expected the beer to be free. Since it was, we were able to purchase another book or two from more local authors. I enjoyed both the amber and chocolate porter samples from Wiley Brewing. Books pictured: Doc by Mary Doria Russell. Murder at the Brown Palace by Dick Kreck, Antler Dust By Mark Stevens, Backwards by Todd Mitchell, Living with Your Kids is Murder by Mike Befeler.
I attended two writers’ conferences as well as a writers’ retreat this year and in many ways I enjoyed this event the most. Possibly it was because it was free. The shortness of it might have helped, or the fact I attended with two friends and met at least two new local writers. Possibly it was the lack of pressure; no agents to worry about impressing. As a non-overly gregarious introvert, I often watch as others butt into my attempt at conversation or negate my tentative beginnings. There was none of that here. It was all about the book. The lines to have books signed were either nonexistent or very short. Mary Doria Russell was completely approachable and gracious in responding to questions. (At an SCBW (not yet i) conference I once stood in a long long line to have a book signed only to have the author, who was chatting with a friend the whole time, look up when I got to her and say, “Oh, I’m not signing anymore.” I’d really admired her writing, but her less than friendly dismissal completely reversed my feelings. Possibly I should have blamed the organizers. They could have announced that after a certain time/number of people/some other marker the author would be done. I agree she had to eat lunch; the problem was the arbitrary and almost nasty way she decided to stop that bothered me.)
The High Plains Library District is to be commended for this fine program. Many of us will be looking forward to attending again next year. Oh, and the teeshirts were great. I loved the color on the front and the design on the back and that they were heavy and black.