Pragmatism, The Art, and Publication

- Part II: Postmodern Tales of Show-Don't-Tell
- Part III: Will You Please Stop Writing, Please?
- Part IV: The Seven Reasons Why Writers Fail to Publish
- Part V: On to Publication and Greatness

On to Publication and Greatness

A few of my favorite quotes to start you off:

"The thing that teases the mind over and over for years, and at last gets itself put down rightly on paper—whether little or great, it belongs to Literature".

          Willa Cather

"Any [human being} which an idea, however subtle and unexpected it may be, finds lacking, is not a writer. The inexpressible does not exist."

          Théophile Gautier

"Human society is the embodiment of changeless laws which the whimsicalities and circumstances of men and women involve and overwrap. The realm of literature is the realm of these accidental manners and humours—a spacious realm; and the true literary artist concerns himself mainly with them."

          James Joyce

"Literature is where I go to explore the highest and lowest places in human society and in the human spirit, where I hope to find not absolute truth but the truth of the tale, of the imagination and of the heart."

          Salman Rushdie

"To me, literature is a calling, even a kind of salvation. It connects me with an enterprise that is over 2,000 years old. What do we have from the past? Art and thought. That's what lasts. That's what continues to feed people and given them an idea of something better."

          Susan Sontag

Intimidated, or inspired? Hopefully, the latter. But the real question is: do you dare challenge yourself to become a great writer? ... And why not? Let literature be your calling also. Allow yourself to explore the highest and lowest places. Immerse yourself in the intricacies of human society and the worlds upon worlds of history and culture. Learn to express that which teases the mind over and over for years. Above all though, retain a sense of humility about you. Never become a legend in your own mind. Think of yourself as humankind's devout servant. Give yourself a mission.

Mission or not, you will *at least* endeavor to be a successful writer (if not a great one) if for no other reason than my rep and the rep of this shop depends on it! Anyway, I've come up with a few practical items here to keep in mind during the course of the shop, and afterwards.

First, a big question: "on demand" or "muse"? Must you wait for the "muse" to stop by and rattle you into incredibly original activity? No. You must be able to write "on demand," AND as a result of inspiration. However, once you have addressed the former in a methodical fashion by asking the questions below, the latter should make itself known as a matter of course. Questions such as:

  • Where do I want to be published?
  • What do I want to write about?
  • Why do I want to write about it?
  • What subject matters/goals best suit my current skills as a writer?

How to answer? Back to Raymond Carver for a second. Carver admired Chekov and sought to emulate him. Carver, like Chekov, devoted much of his writing life to providing the reader with a window onto the life and times of average people. Carver chose a mission, honed a style, and got on with it. Should you imitate Carver? No. But you should give considerable thought to the questions above and create a niche for yourself, if possible--set goals and plan accordingly. It's always better to work with a plan and on a schedule than to approach the act of writing haphazardly.

Once you've decided what area or areas you'd like to concentrate on, you PROTOTYPE some stories. You relax and jot, fiddle, and draft. You start five stories at once, you invent interesting and provocative titles, themes, story ideas. You sketch characters, give them lives. You make a list of those items that will cause conflicts, suspense, or (like the creature in "Fat") a "focus of tension" in the story. You use your IMAGINATION(of all things!) Also, you RESEARCH your area, collecting notes, articles, scraps, and you keep a JOURNAL for your thoughts and discoveries. You ASK QUESTIONS OF YOURSELF pertaining to your fiction, e.g., "What will the reader like about this story?" (Good question?) or "How will my character react to this?" etc. Esc ... Oh, and you carry around at all times a palm pilot or a little notepad to enable instantaneous muse jottings. If the muse kisses you, a record must be made, or you will hate yourself later.

And by all means, you don't use any of the above to procrastinate actually writing your story. You close in on it and then pounce!

Second, and this might go without saying, but YOU MUST READ WELL. You can't always write what you want, but if you try sometime, you might just find, you write as well as you read (or maybe better). And this gets to the issue of VOICE. What is it? Basically, it all comes down to putting down your words in a manner that is both sufficiently accomplished and at the same time, comfortable for you. Actually, you will probably use different "voices" or styles for different types of stories. One style or voice might be appropriate for a whimsical childhood tale told first-person by a seven-year old, and quite another if you are writing a 3rd person about two Prussian lancers on the eve of Waterloo.

Regardless, you must read the best fiction in your genre (and sometimes outside it) if you are to have any hope of writing well. The voices of those accomplished writers soak into your nervous system a bit at a time. They work in your brain to build new synapse and tissue till these cellular bits of energy are throbbing away, ready to do your bidding and channel your thought into masterful prose ... Ok, I'm getting carried away, but neuroscience has proven that the brain increases in complexity and enables itself to accomplish what might have been literally unthinkable only a year before. So the good news is:


PFAH and HUMBUG to "talent!" Stuff and nonsense! When did you ever see a child prodigy sit down and write a masterful slab of prose? Never, that's when. And why? Cause it takes years of brain honing to prepare any human being for the act of masterful writing.

And now for some maximum brain honing. On to the workshop!