Weekly Musing: Dear Former Me

Sometime in the past

Dear Soon-To-Be-DH Hanni,

Why is this letter addressed to someone named DH Hanni? That most certainly is not your name. Soon, though, it will be a pseudonym you come up with to publish under. Publish you say? Publish what? What’s one of the few things you’ve always felt came naturally to you?

I hope the answer was writing. Remember how easy the words usually came when you wrote all those papers and essays? Pity you never got assigned creative writing. Perhaps you would have discovered earlier your writing skills extend beyond the purely academic. Sure, you’ve messed around here and there starting a story or written down ideas. My point is, in a short amount of time, in about a couple of years, you’ll pick out the name DH Hanni to write under. Spoiler: You’ll even get published under it!

Future me apparently harbors some delusion we can time travel. We can’t; it’s still not a thing. Never mind the details. If time travel were possible, here’s what I would have told myself years ago.

  • Go ahead and write. Write it all down. Some stuff will be good, some will be damn good, some stuff will be meh, and some of it should be set on fire. Just write.
  • Hold onto the joy you feel when you write.
  • Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid of any idea, of any character, any genre, or any emotion that scares us in real life. Don’t be afraid to express anything. Even if someone or a group of people don’t like it, it doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with you.
  • Because of your personality, you’ll start researching everything you can about writing including the publishing industry. Don’t do this! There’s such a thing as too much information. Just focus on writing. The more information you learn, the more it will stick in your mind and follow each word you write. You’ll begin to overanalyze every idea and dismiss many before you even write.
  • If you read this is 2010 that idea you’ve got right now? You’ll work on it on and off for years, investing hundred of hours in research, writing, re-writing, re-re-writing, before concluding the project has run its course. It’ll be a “file this in the bottom drawer” type of book. Don’t beat yourself up over it.
  • You’ll continue to be an outliner, but it’ll be different from how you did it in school. No strict way to do it, thank goodness. You’ll also discover whatever you’ve outlined will pretty much be thrown out the window. You can be quite changeable. It’s super frustrating.
  • Be careful about who you listen to and what advice they give. Especially when you gather the courage to allow others to read your work and give you feedback. A lot of what you hear will honestly make little sense. A lot of people, including yourself for a while, will regurgitate advice from famous and not-so-famous authors who are themselves regurgitating advice they were given. I’m not saying completely disregard everything, quite a bit is valid, but really question it. Not all of it applies to everyone.
  • It’s okay to have your own approach to writing. This ties in some with #6 as over and over you’ll hear that a “real” writer writes every day and writes no matter what. Don’t buy into this. Damn real life, you bitch. Find whatever works best. Each writer has their own process and that’s okay. In fact, don’t read anything about the best process; it doesn’t exist.
  • Don’t worry about learning anything about the publishing until you’ve got something you believe strongly in. The sooner you learn about the industry, the more discouraged you’ll feel. Just concentrate on the writing itself.
  • Don’t spend any time brushing up on it. Go ahead and get a couple of grammar books to look up things. There are people who can help as well. You’ve always been solid in this area, though there are rules we’ve forgotten, you don’t have to spend time trying to learn it all over again.
  • You’re a better writer than you think you are. You’ve got solid fundamentals. It’s your mind more than anything which interferes with your creativity. Cut out the noise before it even begins.

There’s definitely more, but I want you to know that you’ll finally conclude writing is something you’ve always wanted to do and explore. It’s such a great fit. Pity we didn’t think about it sooner. For you, future self, writing is how you express yourself best. You’ve always known this. Now is the time to go for it. It’ll be a long, unpredictable road (and you hate unpredictability, I know), often with nothing concrete to show for it. Just stay focused on the writing and don’t beat yourself up so much as you are prone to do.

Be kind to yourself.

Love,

Present Me

Advertisements

Weekly Musing: End Game

Something I have thought a lot about this year is what is the ultimate writing end game? I’m not necessarily referring to my personal goals and fantastical dreams but what ultimate purpose does a story serve? Whom am I supposed to be writing for?

The genesis for these questions has been paying more attention to advice I read and hear about what an editor/agent/publisher wants and expects. It’s not that I necessarily disagree with certain points made just that it gets me thinking.

When I first picked up the pen everything I heard talked about writing for yourself first and foremost. At least in the first draft. Personally for me the first few drafts are like that since I fumble around a lot with what I think the story is. The other piece of advice I heard was as you revise, think of the reader.

But now it seems like more and more it’s about impressing a single person be an agent you’re querying or an editor who accepts un-agented manuscripts. Tons of information exists out there about how to write a killer first sentence, paragraph, page, or chapter. Some workshops offer the opportunity to have you work read in front of a panel of authors and editors who will raise a hand, ring a bell, squeal like a pig, whatever when they would have stopped reading. Books exist of how to write a great first 50 pages apparently forgetting most books are longer than that but again, it’s all about hooking an agent or editor.

Admittedly at this stage in my career I haven’t explored too much about the business side of writing (it will be a goal of mine for 2016). But this bugs me, it bugs me a lot. To me it sounds as if once you get to a certain point in your writing it’s a lot less about thinking of the reader and more about impressing a very small group of people. Yes, publishing is a business and of course the salability of a manuscript is an agent, editor, and publisher’s job. I also understand and greatly appreciate an editor and agent’s time is incredibly limited and valuable. After all they get inundated with hundreds to thousands of manuscripts every year. A person can’t possibly read each and every one in depth so there should be standards.

I worry this mentality is damaging to the craft itself. I wonder if the industry has always been like this or if the disturbing trend of the last decade of soundbites, 140 characters or less, too-long-didn’t-read has invaded the centuries old art of writing. If you can’t metaphorically punch an editor or agent in the face, you’re shit out of luck.

I also think this line of thinking may just be insulting to the average reader. Nowadays, because of the mergers of major publisher after major publisher, anytime a certain type of story becomes popular, publishers pop out book after book written similarly. Yet I’ve heard over and over a writer should not write to toward a trend because by the time your work is ready, the trend’s probably over. So where did they find all these people in the first place? Somebody’s gotta be writing to fit a trend.

When I think about older books, the classics, it amazes me because imagine if those manuscripts were presented today. How many would honestly get published? So many of them break the current “rules” of the trade be it shifting POV, or head-hopping, repeated words and phrases, purple prose, paragraphs that are too long, too many adjectives, too many adverbs, what have you yet those stories endure.

This is what makes me conflicted as a writer. On one hand we are to write for ourselves and for, hopefully, a readership that will be enthralled with our prose. On the other hand, if we can’t make that first line pop or paragraph or page or chapter infect an agent or editor, we may never get a chance to have a readership. But look at some of the bestsellers in the past few years. Some of them started off as self-published novels that found readership based upon the merit of the story which then got the attention of publishers.

What truly is the end game for a writer then? It’s certainly not to write for ourselves or even to entertain our reader. At this point it clearly feels as if it is more about what one person thinks of the story. And we wonder why some truly awful books become bestsellers while others languish in someone’s drawer or computer. Perhaps the focus should be once again on the writer and the reader and quality work.

I hope I remember this if and when I get published

I stumbled upon this post via Facebook. http://www.maryrobinettekowal.com/journal/debut-author-lessons-hate-mail/ It reminds me a little bit about when I used to post my stories for critque on an online website and the very first story I ever wrote, got a less than great review. I suspected the person didn’t honestly know what they talking about because they kept using literary terms that when I looked them up, didn’t jive with the context they used them in. Since the other critques were helpful and more positive, I took it with a grain of salt but I was still royally upset for several days. I know people won’t like everything I write for a variety or reasons because as a reader, I don’t like everything I read including works by my favorite authors.