The life of writer should focus on ridding the world of cliches. Eliminating all those tired phrases and cringe-worthy crutches. Infusing the world around us with the new, the creative, the fresh. But think about how many cliches still exist about the life of a writer, or the process of writing. My favorite? Read short or long biographies about established authors and you’re bound to find some reference to how their characters took on a life of their own. Without fail, some author will describe how, during the writing process, their characters moved in unexpected directions and developed their own worlds, separate of what the author intended. The literary persons jump off the pages into flesh-and-blood people, “It’s Alive!” style, dragging their devoted writers, relegated to simple describers, along for the ride.
As a younger writer, I kept waiting for that magical process to happen. Result – I didn’t plan enough, waiting for inspiration and supernatural creation to take over. I’d always get stuck and never finish my stories. So I stopped waiting. Over the four years it took to create my novel (unpublished y’all – waiting for that particular version of magic to strike), there was no lightning from on high that made my characters Frankenstein-monster-like entities. What did happen was a lot of hard work, a lot of planning and replotting and revising and rethinking and re-everything. There were surprises that came from problem solving and reworking. But it all came from that weird stew that is my noggin. Writing can be magical in many ways, and the resulting read ideally even more so. But I feel a snarl coming on every time I hear tired cliches about the processes that occur during writing.
What about you? What writing cliches drive you nutty?
Us writers are supposed to have thick skins. It’s a catch-22: we’re supposed to be intuitive, observant, and sensitive to the things around us. That’s what gives us the material to be witty, satirical, heartbreaking, or simply kickass at selling stuff. But at the same time, we’re supposed to be hard, resistant to the “slings and arrows” that become part of our job. We get a lot of crap as part of been a working writer, criticism that’s both constructive and merely bitchy. And we’re supposed to be able to take it.
So how do we resolve that? The best I can figure, as unfortunate as it sounds, is that it only comes with time. After years of writing for highly varied (and highly critical) companies and clients, and years of merely surviving in corporate America, my natural inclinations for fight or flight are pretty dulled. While occasionally I still want to crumple down and cry after a particularly hard piece is met with disdain, or yell back in my best adolescent sneer, “well, you asked for this, stupidhead!” I can control it pretty well. I guess it’s compartmentalizing. When it comes to reactions to work projects, I’m shiny steel. When it comes to creating work projects, or my own fiction work, I call upon all that malleable softness underneath, all that feeling and emotion. I’m trying to remember this as I hear rejection after rejection for my novel from agents. I picture myself like Colossus from the X-Men (geek alert), with an impenetrable exoskeleton I can call upon at will. It helps.
What about you? What ways do you deal with the essential catch-22 of professional writing?
I refuse to call them resolutions. Resolutions are fleeting and fail without fail. Instead, they’re goals. Goals that just happen to be made around the new year. I made them, and they revolve around work – specific income goals, client wish lists, etc. All very statistical and nicely aggressive. I’m proud of them.
But I also made some other goals revolving around work/life, which, as any freelancer knows intimately, is hard to separate in our chosen profession. And I struggled with it last year – when to call it a day, when to respond after-hours to clients, and when to get out of my comfortable cave and talk to real, living, breathing people. I have a hermit tendency that’s given way too much room to grow with a home office and independent writing. So this year, my goal is to join a few more writers and networking groups, and take advantage of social opportunities when they arise.
I’m starting strong – signing up for some writers’ groups and meetings, reading for a book club or two, and reaching out to some folks I’ve never hung out much before, but who look pretty cool. I’m so proud of my introvert self.
I’ve heard that being introverted is naturally aligned with being a writer or other creative type. It makes sense – a willingness to devote yourself to unnatural hours and solitude means it probably feels comfortable. I’m definitely an introvert. I got over my adolescent fear of people and moved past the painfully shy period in my life. I learned to enjoy being with groups of friends at parties and out on the town, or simply one-on-one. But I also learned that I will often choose blissful solitude, whether its at home or going to a movie, when I have a choice. For 2008, my goal then is for more balance. Give myself the quality me-time that I definitely enjoy, but also try to get out of the house and mingling more.
What about you? Any introverts in the house? Any social-themed goals for the new year?