NEW YEAR, NEW WRITING GOALS

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It’s that time of year, as the holiday crooners croon. New year’s resolutions and all that. Lots of creative folk take this time of calendar molting to reflect and to set writing goals for the coming months. Of course, we all know that most people don’t stick to their resolutions. We all have this incredible sense of annual renewal, but according to U.S. News, about 80% of resolutions go off the rails by the second week of February. Not the best odds, but setting goals is important, worthwhile and hope does spring eternal, so maybe this year will be the year you stick with the new game plan!

 So, let’s discuss.

I don’t really do New Year’s resolutions. Why? Because I set goals throughout the year. Resolutions are ongoing. Example: this past summer, I made a “To-Do” list that included ideas for five short stories I wanted to write. I finished them all. The cool thing? I’m confident they are some of my best. My longtime literary agent feels the same. All of these stories are in my forthcoming collection.

I love making “To-Do” lists and it’s vital that I write them down on paper and keep the list somewhere that I see every day. Digital “To-Do” lists just don’t cut it. WRITE THINGS DOWN. ON PAPER. I have recruited my entire family into this endeavor and we all take great delight in crossing accomplishments off of our long list of goals. So, start writing down your goals and stick them in front of your nose!

The next thing I would suggest to all you New Year’s dreamers is to make the resolution, stick with it to the best of your ability, and them give yourself a few days to blow it, to fall off the wagon. Just make sure to climb back on the next day. Taking the pressure of yourself, affording yourself a few days off, is paramount. Creativity must not be a chore. Sure, there’s work involved, but when it becomes albatrossian, you may as well be living the nine to five cubicle dream.

Next step in the writing resolution gambit? Set a somewhat realistic daily writing output for yourself. 250 words? 500 words? This is a page or two a day. Again, if you don’t hit this every day, it’s A-Okay. Just nail it four or five days a week for sure.

The moral of this story is that the only person who is going to make your writing resolution a reality is YOU. Stop procrastinating. Stop striving for perfection with your first draft. The only failure is in not trying.  Make steady progress. Slow and steady wins the race. A little bit everyday adds up after a month or two. And please, please, enjoy the process! Creativity is a gift! It is a privilege. Life can be very hard. It can be tragic and sad. Remind yourself, your writing is always with you.

We all started reading and writing for the pure enjoyment of it all. Never forget this.

I hope 2019 is your most prolific year yet.

Happy Writing!

UNSOLICITED WRITING ADVICE

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It’s been awhile (and several iterations of long-ago blogs) that I served up a platter of unsolicited advice for writers. Yeah, sure, everyone with a blog and the near sentience of a low-IQ squirrel can offer up wisdom for would-be-writers. But here’s the deal—I have been writing professionally since 1993. That’s (gulp) a quarter freaking century. I have probably published close to a million words if you count the books, the feature stories, reviews, comic book scripts, radio scripts, short stories and essays. And I have the war wounds to show for it. Along the way, I developed carpal tunnel (first 80,000 word book) and went from 20/20 vision to desperately seeking an ocular correction (second book; 140,000 words). But hell, it’s all in the name of the mighty word, right?

I’ve been teaching writing since 2001 and every day people ask for advice. So here are a few random thoughts, in random order, for any random people who might stumble upon this.

1. Read

It stuns me when young students mutter an apathetic proclamation of youth-induced hubris: “I don’t have time to read.”

Yes you do! I have interviewed so many musicians over the years, amazing creators, and they all listen to music constantly. All of them. And they listen all the time.

Could you imagine a film director who doesn't watch movies?

So read. Read anything. Novels. Short stories. Magazines. Newspapers. Graphic novels. Poetry. Just read. Through osmosis, you will become a far better writer.

 2. Write. Write Something Everyday.

Stop it with the excuses and the “I don't have the time” or the “I’m tired” routine or the “I’m not feeling it” banter. Write in the notes app on your phone. Scribble on napkins. Blog. Write well-crafted emails. On good days, write your magnum opus.

Just write.

Even if it’s just 30-minutes a day. Every time you write, you learn and you grow.

3. Make a List of Words You Love

Anytime you read and land upon a word you like, write it down. Look up the definition and make a note of its usage. Save it. These words will become a part of your lexicon over time. Words are tools. Collect them. Store them away. Build your arsenal.

4. Finish Shit

Young writers start far too many things and finish far too few. This is why so many writers are good at beginnings and awful at endings. They don't practice the follow through. Keep your story starts and musings and come back to them when inspiration strikes. Then finish them.

5. Jettison the Self-Doubt

There’s nothing worse than the neurotic, insecure writer. It’s boring and it gets you nowhere. Stop the whining and get your work done. Tell the shadowy nag of self-doubt to go lock itself in the port-a-potty at the gates of Hell.

6. Trust Your Subconscious

When we read and we write everyday, we train our subconscious in the art and craft of writing and storytelling. So trust your instincts. They are almost always right. As Ray Bradbury said, “Your subconscious is smarter than you are, so get out of its way.”

This means trust your first impulse with a piece of writing. Follow it through. Once done, then you can intellectualize, analyze, ponder and obsess.

7. Get an Agent

I have had the most remarkable agent for 17-years. She has always stood by me. I just had dinner with her last week in Manhattan. We have a new project just about set to be pushed from the nest. She has always given me great advice. Sure, we have disagreed at times, as dynamic creative teams often and should do, but she has been my partner and she has negotiated for me and defended me and allowed me to focus on being creative. Thank you Judith Ehrlich!

Funny story: in 2001 while at the National Book Awards, Ray Bradbury handed my agent a beautiful, leather-bound edition of The Martian Chronicles. Inside, he had written, “GUARD SAM!”

Judith has done just this for almost two decades.

8. Don’t Self-Publish

Okay, there are exceptions here, but generally, don't do it. Self-publishing is a vanity project with poor distribution. How do you get your book into stores and into libraries? You don't. The neophytes all think their Facebook author page will result in runaway indie-wildfire, and this has happened, but your odds are greater of getting gored by a great white shark.

Truthfully? Let's be honest. Self-published books often look self-published. Big houses don't want them for good reason.  The pre-publication outlets (PW, Kirkus, Library Journal) won’t touch them either.  Get your book in shape. Get an agent and shop it. Patience, grasshopper.

9. Stay Hungry

Be prepared to work your ass off. Never lose touch with your motivation. Never be above pounding the pavement. Stay humble and WORK.

10. Love it

If you don't love it, don't do it. You’ve got to want this. No one else will want it for you.

Well, maybe your Mom will. Or your Dog. But you get my point, so go!