Talent?

I wrote in the previous post that if a writer has talent, s/he will write. Good grief! What an over-simplification!

Writing takes more (or less) than talent. It takes desire. Perhaps more than talent. People who some would say have no talent still write, and write a lot. People who have talent but no drive write almost nothing.

So that’s what every writer is up against: is it talent or drive or (please oh please) is it both? That is what the publication hurdles are in place to determine. Writers who are honest with themselves can admit this.

I just can’t get on board with all the excuses writers come up with about why they can’t write or can’t get published. Over 30,000 new hardcover titles are published every year. Over 50,000 if you include trade paperbacks. Polls estimate there are between 6 and 8 million unpublished novels in bottom drawers. Ponder that for a minute.

Writer’s Block: Leaping That Low Hurdle

Is there really any such ‘thing’ as writer’s block? Does it exist as a condition? It sounds like a neurosis. It sounds as if some foreign agent has foisted it on you. At the very least, it is your subconcious mind who is to blame.

Here’s an interesting short history of writer’s block as a phenomenon. From this article it seems clear that writer’s block arose from the idea that writing was some sort of metaphysical activity, that art is transcendant. Is it? Isn’t writing, or any art, an expression of talent, of skill? Writing requires imagination. You either have it or you don’t.

My point is, if you can call yourself a writer, simply write. There is no such thing as writer’s block. It is a psychological construct we have built into our own fragile selves. Remove it from your mind, delete it as an excuse, and see how much more work you get done.

Here are some tips on beating writer’s block, though I really only agree with the one that says, ‘Just start writing anything.’

The words will come. If you have talent, the words will come.

Oh, to Have My Book Stolen!

What a fine list to be on, the list of most shoplifted authors: Jack Kerouac, Bill Burroughs, Charlie Bukowski, and Paul Auster. That’s cult status. From an article in Columbia College Today.

An occasional shoplifting problem has made some booksellers keep Austerís works behind the counter

and a bookstore manager commented on NPR that The New York Trilogy was the most frequently filched Auster novel, including one incident where a stack of 20 copies was taken in one fell swoop.

Auster is one of my favorite authors, though I came fairly late to the game. I started with Oracle Night (which is a crappy title, but it’s a great book), and then did The Book of Illusions, then the New York Trilogy and Leviathan. Don’t worry, I’ll read the rest.

The Revision Continues

Will it ever stop?

I keep coming across parts of the story that need more development. My wordcount has swelled by 3000 words over the last two weeks. By the time I’m ‘done’ it will probably be close to 75,000. I’ve imposed a deadline for myself of June 29 so I can bring a copy to my parents when I fly north for my sister’s wedding on June 30.

I was at Starbucks for 5 1/2 hours today. I don’t know if my heart can tolerate this barrage of caffeine much longer! Just this past March I went ‘caffeine free’ for six weeks, and now I find my coffee intake slowly creeping back up to where it was before (a half gallon daily!).

Writing is Easy — Getting Published Is Hard

In an interview over at 3:AM Magazine Lisa Williams offers this:

It’s getting harder and harder to publish serious literature and when it is published,the problem is to get it noticed. As a result we see fewer writers out there tackling…themes of memory and the importance of the past.

Is it really getting harder to publish serious literature? (I can ask this as a novice, as an unpublished author who hasn’t even begun submitting.) Is there any credence to this notion that serious fiction is unmarketable and therefore unpublishable? How much of this is trumped up by disgruntled authors?

I have a sense that there are a lot more people writing novels today due to easier access to higher ed. I also have a sense that a lot of it is crap (just ask Miss Snark). Most people don’t want to hear that, but it’s true. It’s true with any form of art.

Working on the Weekend

I’ll be out of town for the weekend so I might not be able to post until Monday. It all hinges on whether or not the place I’m staying at has WiFi or not.

In the meantime, read a book. Something literary, please.

Five Thousand Dollars

That’s the median annual income for an American writer according to a 1981 study commissioned by the Authors Guild Foundation. A 2000 follow-up study on the midlist (i.e. books that are not blockbusters; they tend to be ‘serious’ literary fiction or nonfiction books with comparatively modest sales) indicates that this has probably not changed significantly in the last 25 years. Is it safe to hope it has at least kept up with inflation? That would mean an average median income of about $11,000. Woo hoo!

The Whole Library Digitization Thing

I’ve been thinking recently about Google’s campaign to digitize the libraries of several major research universities, and so have a lot of other people.

I’m not sure if there’s really a threat here, at least not yet. Some writers and publishing industry types are very worried that the book biz is going down the same path as the music biz and the movie biz. But people don’t read books on their computers. At least not yet.

Will there be a time when it’s as pleasurable to sit with an e-book as it is to sit with a paper book? Sony has apparently developed an electronic reader that uses a new display technology that will utilize less battery power and will (eventually) realize the ‘dream’ of a little slab of electronics that will hold thousands of books that could be purchased cheaply (good for readers, bad for publishers), but still I wonder if that could ever take the place of a book.

Jonathan Franzen once wrote in an essay that he regards books as one of humankind’s greatest creations (I’m paraphrasing from memory here but I think it was in the very fine collection linked to above). I agree with him. Come to my house and you’ll see books everywhere. As my father-in-law once put it, books are on every flat surface in the house. I can’t imagine ever deriving the same pleasure from an electronic reader.

Although, to be fair, before I purchased my laptop (with it’s easy-on-the-eyes LCD) I never thought I’d do much reading on the computer at all. Now I can spend hours surfing blogs and reading newspaper and magazine articles.

That experience, though, does not make me think I’ll someday read a book on my computer. The way I read online is wholly different from the way I read a book. Online, I’m jumping around, following links, rarely finishing a whole piece.

Which raises another question: are we heading for a new literary form? Will the novel morph into an interconnected, multimedia narrative? I can almost imagine a novel online with a web interface, a non-linear story with flashbacks and tangents that could be read in conjunction with the main story line or as stand-alone features. Would such a ‘novel’ have any ending?

It seems all a little ‘Choose Your Own Adventure-ish’ to me right now, but interactive entertainment seems to be ‘where it’s at’ right now. Look at the Matrix storyline that incorporated a videogame. Look at what Lost is doing with websites and now a novel.

Would you read this?

Here’s my first attempt at a query letter. Tell me what you think in the comments section.

10 June 2006

M_. Agent Soandso

1000 Fifth Ave.

New York, NY 10010

Dear M_. Soandso,

I am writing to query Lithium, a 70,000 word complete novel. Lithium centers on the character of Marianne Caxton, a poet and novelist who suffers from manic depression. I became interested in manic depression after reading Kay Redfield Jamisonís memoir An Unquiet Mind.

Marianne abandoned her son Mark at the age of three after discovering his father Quentin was having an affair. The story is told from Markís point of view. The action begins with Mark returning home to his fatherís house in Seattle and learning of Marianneís murder.

Mark sets off to the Midwestern college town of Ann Arbor where Marianne spent her last days. He is searching for the answer to the questions, ďWhy had she left? Where had she gone? What had she done? Whom had she met, lived with, gotten drunk with, fucked, broken the heart of (besides the obvious)? Whom had she loved? What goes into nineteen years of life?Ē During the process Mark must fight through his own severe depression during the summer of 2001. He learns of his fatherís affair with Marianneís sister Laura, and he entangles himself in two separate affairs as he discovers the story of his motherís life and death.

Lithium spans the last quarter of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first. It is a story about renewal, about rising from the wreckage.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Thomas Litchford