Tuesday, December 28, 2010

What I like about young writers.

I like their optimism, their 'knowing' that they can do this.
I like their openness to experience and to expressing their experience in words.
I like their sense of wonder, because adult-life situations are new to them.
I like their naivety, their freshness, their sense of investigation.
I like their soul-searching.
I like their bravery.
I like their openness to fantasy and all the different genre's of literature.
I like it that they know where they're going and that they don't know where they're going: it's all discovery for them.
I like it that most of their lives are still in front of them; they can experiment, fail, and start over.
I like it that they can get better at writing.
I like it that they don't know what they are going to do with their futures: writing is only one option.
I like it that they have a lot of living to do.
I like it that they are not a finished product.
I like it that they are open to friendship and form close bonds with their friends.
I like it that they want to share.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Young Writers

I'm very interested in the young writers I see on Webook. I hope I can help them in some way.

By young writers I mean teenagers. They are inspired and full of ideas, but their ideas are pretty basic--boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, boy and girl fight, other people get involved, there are jealousies. It's all about relationships. At least, that's what I gather from the young writers I've been reading. And it's refreshing. It's really what life is about for most of us. Their characters just don't have the burden of working and raising a family and going to war and things like that. Their characters are involved in pure animal relationships. Maybe we older writers could learn something from these younger writers. Maybe D.H. Lawrence was a teenager at heart.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The History of My Writing (2).

I wrote my first novel when I was nineteen. I had been reading a lot of Ernest Hemingway during my first two years of college and my style of writing was similar to his--a lot of short sentences, a lot of dialogue--and was based on those college years. I still have the novel, but I've not looked at it in over thirty years. I'm almost afraid to. I did no more novel writing until after I graduated from college and, if memory serves me correctly, not until after I served two-years active duty in the navy. I spent the next two years working and completing my naval service as an active reservist. During those two years I wrote at least two or three novels. I still have them, but I've done nothing with them. I moved to Rhode Island for a year and wrote another novel, about WWII, and tried to get it published after completing the third draft. A literary agent looked at it and said the writing wasn't professional enough. That was my first rejection letter. Instead of polishing it, I wrote another novel as a knee-jerk reaction to being rejected. I had married and worked part-time and wrote part-time, but the need for money became overwhelming and I began working full-time. My writing from that point on, for the next thirty years, was sparse and varied. I did polish one of the novels, The Temple of Eden, which became the basis for much of the fiction I've written during the past ten years.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Literary agents, synopsis, queries, and sample chapters.

Why do agents ask for a synopsis (a short paragraph, or no more than one page), a query letter (no more than one page), and sample chapters? I know they want to get a good feel for your novel before looking at it. But still, why don't they look at all three, instead of just looking at the synopsis and saying 'no.' Or just looking at the query letter and saying 'no.' In other words, why don't they look at the sample chapters to see if the writing works for them. I'm submitting one of my novels through Webook to literary agents. I'm paying a small fee to have my queries tracked. Of the six agents who've looked at my submission, three looked at the short synopsis and said no, two looked at the short synopsis and query letter and said no, one looked at short synopsis, bio, and query letter and said no, and one looked at short synopsis, query, and sample chapters and said no. There are another seven agents who've yet to look at my submission.

What I deduce from this is that the short synopsis is critical. If the agent doesn't like it, she'll go no further. Then, if she does look at the query, it has to be even better than the synopsis. So, I need to make my short synopsis sizzle, and the query letter heat the sizzle to a higher temperature, or agents won't even bother with the sample chapters. And, finally, the first page or two of the sample chapters needs to sizzle. (I won't try to define 'sizzle' at this point. But it needs to be addressed.)

Granted, this is a small sample. But small samples are usually representative of the whole. (I submitted only to agents who wanted all three: short synopsis, query letter, and sample chapters. Many agents only want to see a query letter, and some request a query letter and short synopsis only. I felt that my chances were better if I could submit to agents who wanted sample chapters. Apparently, not so.)

Oh, and one other observation: the agents are so busy, they'll look at your submission when they get around to it.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The History of My Writing (1).

As an older adult, my reasons for writing have changed from what they were when I was a teenager and young adult. They've changed even from one or two years ago, before I retired. Right now I write because it's what I do. I love writing. I cannot not write. But it's harder to write now than it was a few years ago. The drive isn't there.

I wrote my first stories when I was a fourteen-year-old. I was fascinated with telling a story, the art and the craft as well as the story. I was awed by sci/fi. I read several doomsday books and wrote a doomsday story. I was also fascinated with the stories of Edgar Allen Poe, and I wrote a horror story that my English teacher read in front of all his English classes. I had found my direction, my passion in life--writing. But I was still a teenager and was interested in many things: girls, playing football, and being on the chess team, in high school. I wasn't much of a student, though. I did admire poetry, although I didn't understand it hardly at all. I got through high school with mediocre grades. I didn't know how to study, and was more interested in going out and doing things. But, deep inside, I had the desire to be a writer--a desire that has never died.

Do depressed writers take their writing more seriously than the non-depressed?

In my opinion, writers suffering from depression do take their writing more seriously than the non-depressed. The depressed person probably takes many aspects of life more seriously than do the non-depressed. They tend to see the world in black and white terms. Or, maybe they are more deeply affected by various aspects of life. A person suffering from depression does not see the world objectively. He sees it in a very personal way--a negative way.

Some forms of depression can be combated with talk therapy, because the person's views of the world are warped by some kind of misconception. Clear up the misconception, and the depression clears up. Some forms of depression are caused by traumatic experiences that the sufferer has to work through to clear up the depression. The key is that, eventually, they both find relief. But the chronic sufferer of depression, the one who's disease is caused by brain chemistry, has a different problem. Talk therapy isn't going to clear up her depression. It may help her to deal with the depression better, but the depression will continue. Somehow, brain chemistry has to be improved, and only drugs can do that. But drugs which relieve depression have side affects that can be depressing in themselves (if not depressing, then aggravating.)

The writer may suffer any of these types of depression, which will affect the way she views her writing. The story can be an attempt to understand her depression without talking about it directly (she may not even realize she's suffering from depression). The writing becomes a kind of therapy, which may be successful in relieving her depression. Her entire writing career can be a method of dealing with her depression, which might save her from suicide. I think depressed people tend to be obsessive; for writers, the obsessiveness probably flows into their writing. If their writing is a form of therapy and the therapy doesn't work, they may see suicide as the only way out.

Friday, November 26, 2010


What makes a character live on the page? The same things that make real people live.

Beliefs (philosophy, religion, politics).
Economic status.
Emotional stability.
Energy level.
Family background.
Fate, destiny.
Friends and enemies.
Gender and sexual preference.
Honesty or dishonesty.
Hopes and dreams.
Mental ability.
Obsessions, compulsions, fears, regrets.
Past experiences.
Physical appearance and self image.
Speech patterns.

The story, plot, and perhaps your intuition, will tell you which elements to emphasize or dwell on. I'm a strong believer that character drives plot. If you know your characters inside and out, they'll tell you what to write.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Whether to finish what we've already written or to start something new?

If you're like me, you're always wanting to go on to something new to write about--a new story or novel or poem. The question becomes should you, or should you polish what you've already written and start trying to get it published before going on to something new?

Obviously, it's not an easy question to answer flatly 'yes' or 'no.' The excitement we feel in starting something new can't be denied. It's one of the reasons we write. We always think this new story is 'my best ever.' And it may be. And it may be a delusion. I've been writing a long time, and that's the way I did it for years and years. I have written perhaps ten or more first drafts of novels. It's only in the past ten years or so that I've begun to polish, polish, polish. It's definitely not as much fun. But it is rewarding in its own way. Besides seeing the folly of some of what I originally wrote, I've become more professional in my approach. I've learned the value of patience and tenacity. And my chances of getting published are increasing. (I feel sure very few people have written a one- or two- draft novel that became published without more work.) Rewriting gives us the best chance to learn how to write. Seeing our mistakes, inaccuracies, poor word choice, poor dialogue, poor description, poor plotting, poor choices between telling and showing, and on and on, teaches us better than any other method. Just going on to the next novel or story, then the next and the next, without completing anything, teaches you very little.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Literary Agents

Don't you love getting rejections from literary agents? I've come to see them (the rejections) as a forgone conclusion. Agents are inundated with queries. I can imagine how difficult it is to read them and decide whether there's a best seller lurking between the lines, especially when they know that strong query letters are in some ways harder to write than novels. I feel sorry a bit for agents. They might be the most powerful brokers in the literary world, yet they are just guessing. I suppose, taking on an unpublished writer is like walking out on a limb; perhaps their reputations are at stake. They don't want to make a mistake.

Perhaps my query letters should begin "I know you don't want to read this letter, and you don't want to look at my manuscript. Please forgive me for wasting your time. Just stamp on it in big red letters REJECTED  and send it back." Or, maybe, I shouldn't send query letters at all.

I wonder how many outstanding novels were rejected because of poor query letters. How many times have agents taken a look at a manuscript because of a great query letter but the novel turned out to be poorly writen? I have struggled to write good query letters, but none has ever landed me a further look. I am not angry or bitter or even disgusted, just baffled about how to make the letters better. I've read many articles on how to write a query letter that will grab an agent's attention. I've yet to get it right. Or, maybe, my story line just isn't interesting enough. I can't make my historical novel sound like a mystery or adventure or vampire/romance. My books are what they are. I keep trying to make them sound great in a few sentences. Someday, I'll get it right. And, if my novel is not professionally written, it'll get rejected still. Some people do get it right, both ways--query and manuscript--and that gives me hope.


I'm tempted to self-publish my novels. However, I know the chances of them being widely read are minimal at best. If they're not good enough to get published through the agent-editor method, then they probably aren't ready for publication for any number of reasons. They just might not even be interesting. (I've entered some of my novels in contests, and the reviewers said their opening chapters weren't interesting enough to make them want to read on.) They might have structural problems. My grammar and spelling are mostly correct. But it does seem that, as my writing groups read my novels, they almost always find little things that can be improved. They find redundancies, mixing up of characters' names, inaccuracies of historical facts, some grammar/spelling issues, metaphors that don't work, images that really don't convey what I'm trying to convey. The list goes on. If I self-publish, I'm putting it all out there for my embarrassment. Perfection is impossible, but excellence isn't, and excellence (a difficult quality to define, it's different things to different people ) should be one of the aims of a writer. I'm sure there have been less than excellently written books that have been published through traditional methods and even hit the best-seller list. To a certain extent, it's a matter of pride in your work. I don't want to be ridiculed even as I laugh all the way to the bank.

But self-publishing is tempting. A book is a physical object we can show our family and friends, perhaps even ourselves, that we've done something, that, at least, we tried. (This is not meant to imply that all self-published books are poorly written, or even that the majority of them are. It just means that you can put a poorly written book out there if you want to. It's your money. The writter and editor, if there is one, of a self-published book, should have the same commitment to excellence as those of traditionally published books.) For now, I'm passing on self-publishing. I view it as a last option. But I'm always open to change.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Writers and Suicide

Do we take our work as writers too seriously? Do we mistake the forest for the trees? Do we invest too much of ourselves in our writing? Or, when writers and other artists commit suicide, is it something they would have done anyway? Why did Hemingway kill himself? Or Sylvia Plath? Or Hart Crane? What was the hopelessness that caused them to  want to die? Of course, we can only speculate. Hemingway was well respected as a writer. His work had been a success--at least to the outside world. Plath and Crane were young when they died. It's a little easier to see the connection between their writing and their deaths. Yet, they all had problems that had nothing to do with writing--alcoholism, depression, perhaps for Crane a sense of failure. And, back in their days, there weren't the drugs we have today to fight depression, and I have no doubt that depression played a part in the deaths of all three. Had Hemingway failed as a writer, and Plath and Crane succeeded wildly as writers, they all may still have committed suicide. Which begs the question, Is there a connection between depression and writing? Do depressed people tend to take their writing more seriously than the non-depressed?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Great Writers

Sometimes, I wonder how the great writers like Shakespeare, Chaucer, Cervantes, Jane Austin, Charles Dickens, Tolstoy, and all the others managed to write at such a high level without being in writing groups. How did they do it--write beautifully, grammatically correct, excellently in all phases? How did they learn it? How did they figure it out? It just came natuarally to them, I guess. Perhaps, being educated at an early age in the classics is a huge advantage. It seems that, besides being genuises, the quality of their education had something to do with it.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Writing As a Lonely Occupation

Yes, writing is a lonely occupation. But, as a fiction writer, I'm involved in my characters' lives, which can be sort of like having company. Of course, they are not real people, but sometimes it seems like they are. I care about their lives, their dreams, their relationships. I can have a hard time when one of them dies. Usually, when I start a story, I don't know much about my characters, but after a while I know them really well. I like character-driven stories. Plot is important. But the characters are more important. One of the ways writing is less lonely is by participating in writing groups or workshops.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Writing Groups

I belong to two writing groups, both of which have helped me enormously. One group is reading the first half of a novel I've written, the other group is reading the second half. Even at this pace, it'll probably take until next summer to finish reading it. However, this isn't the first time it's been read by a group, so this is more like fine tuning. In the mean time, I'm attempting to find an agent.

Writing groups are a big help to me. Besides sharing our writings, we have a lot of fun too. Both of my groups are excellent at critiquing, very professional in approach. Part of the key is the leader. John is more like a moderator. He doesn't present any of his own work. He strickly makes critiques and makes sure we're on track. Of course, he's paid. The rest of us do the paying. But it's worth it.

It's very important that no one in the group take anyone's critiques personally. Occasionally, it happens, and that person ends up dropping out. But it's their own fault for taking it personally. I appreciate all the feedback I get. I accept probably 95-98% of all suggestions made, because they're correct and it makes my work better.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


This morning, before everyone else in the house got up, I managed to revise the chapter my writing group critiqued last night. Gotta work when you can.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Writers' Websites

Two websites I like are and Both offer a wealth of information for writers.

Writing Time.

I'm up early today. The rest of the family is still sleeping. Maybe I'll be able to do a little writing. They say writing is a lonely occupation. It is--in more ways than one.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Writing and Living

We dedicated writers also have to live. Sometimes living seems to make writing impossible. Interruptions are never ending. Illnesses can be a problem. Household chores definitely never end. Some of us even have to work at some job to pay the bills, and we usually hate it that we do. Yet, somehow, we keep going. Then, add to it that, once we've written something we think is pretty good, it's almost impossible to get it published. Are we insane? Let me know, please.