Tag Archives: Writer

Satisfying Art


by Lillian Csernica on September 13, 2013

“The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possible can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”
Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country

How do we create the art we want to create despite all the strictures that surround us?  I’m a writer, so I’m going to focus on writing.  I believe a lot of the same considerations extend to painting, dance, music, sculpture, etc.  With that in mind, let me recommend to you the wonderful little book Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles  and Ted Orland.  As a writer, I need to know what kind of writing I want to do.  Over the course of the twenty years I’ve been working as a professional writer, I’ve written novels, short stories, screenplays, magazine articles, magazine columns, newspaper articles, poetry, and a whole lot of personal journal entries.  We find out what we want to do, what we most enjoy doing, by trying this, that, and the other.  Effort is made, data is collected, conclusions are arrived at, and off we go.

STAGE ONE:  Explore the possibilities!  What do you really enjoy doing in terms of creating art?  Poetry, short stories, literary work, hardboiled detective novels?  Figure out what you want to do, then go find out how it’s done.  Don’t worry about getting it right the very first time.  T.S. Eliot said, “Anxiety is the hand maiden of creativity.”  For writers, anyway, it’s really quite simple.  Read a lot.  Write a lot.  Study the masters of the writing forms that interest you.

STAGE TWO: Now that you know what you want to write and how to do a good job writing it, go to it!  Every day.  Process goal or productivity goal.  Whatever suits your life.  The question you have to keep asking yourself: Is this me?  Is this my work?  Is this want I want to do, what my soul cries out for, what speaks to me at night when I’m only half-awake?  Or is it what somebody else wants me to write, what somebody else is telling me I should write, what somebody else wishes he or she had the guts to write?  Be on the alert for these differences.  People will try to hijack you the minute you prove you have the courage to break away from the churning mass of wannabes.

STAGE THREE:  So you’re writing.  Good for you!  What do you want to do with it?  Personal self-expression?  Family legacy?  Professional sales?  That’s all fine.  Not everybody has to get out there and endure the daily mud wrestling that means you’re a professional writer.  Given that the majority of the writing blogs I read are about making sales in today’s marketplace, I’m going to speak to that.  Dean Wesley Smith once made a bet with Nina Kiriki Hoffman.  They each had to write one short story a week for one year (and send them out to publishers).  They continued the bet for three years, and by the end of those three years, they were selling to the top professional markets.   The moral of the story?  They worked hard, they kept improving, and they set their sights high right from the start.

STAGE FOUR:  Go do something different.  But wait, you say.  I just learned how to do what I want to do, and now I’m making progress!  Why should I switch horses in mid-race?  The human mind needs and craves a variety of input.  You like to write about cars?  Go write an essay about geraniums.  You like to write short stories?  Write a dozen haiku, or sonnets, or your very own nursery rhymes.  People demand a lot of their “Muse.”  What nobody thinks about is what the Muse needs!  Feed that Muse, people!  Take her on a vacation and let her inspire you to do something fresh and new.  Who knows what adventures you’ll have?  Who knows what strengths you’ll discover?

Stay tuned!  Next, we talk about Money!

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Filed under Family, fantasy, Fiction, Goals, history, Horror, Humor, romance, science fiction, Self-image, Writing

V is for Vigilance


by Lillian Csernica on April 25, 2013

Many people do not understand those of us who choose to make our living through some form of art. Such people measure our success by how much money we do or do not make. They’ve got it backward. Sure, monetary success is great, but those of us who have suffered through the creative process and really understand the toll it takes know how to see things the right way around.

We don’t get paid for our art. We pay for the privilege of creating it.

Dancers sweat. Actors may start out as part of the stage crew while they work their way up to starring roles. Sculptors and potters and people who work in “found art” do exactly that: physical labor, over and over again, until what they’re creating matches the vision in their minds.

What about writers? We pay attention. Think about that. John Philpot Curran said, “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” I say eternal vigilance is also the price of inspiration. Writers keep their eyes and ears open and their notebooks handy. We write down whatever image, scrap of conversation, or burst of intuitive plotting that pops into mind. Then we begin the complex process of growing a complete story or novel from those little seeds.

People talk about the writer’s Muse. She demands payment in attention, observation, vigilance. The Muse doesn’t just drop an idea on our desks all gift-wrapped and pretty. She often points the way toward someone or something that could be useful to us. She’s like a consultant, and consultants don’t come cheap.

Keep alert for all the beauties and dangers and oddities and funny moments and sorrows of the world. Paying attention is the start of how we writers pay our dues.

Be vigilant!

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Filed under Blog challenges, Fiction, Writing

S is for Sabotage


by Lillian Csernica on April 22, 2013

From Wikipedia.org:

Sabotage is a deliberate action aimed at weakening another entity through subversion, obstruction, disruption, or destruction. In a workplace setting, sabotage is the conscious withdrawal of efficiency generally directed at causing some change in workplace conditions. One who engages in sabotage is a saboteur. As a rule, saboteurs try to conceal their identities because of the consequences of their actions.”

Psssst!  Here’s one of the dirty little secrets of being a writer. There are people who don’t want us to succeed. Among them we can count the least likely suspects, our very own selves. Now why on earth would we get in our own way? Simple. It’s really hard to go on writing book after book after book. A lot of perfectly reasonable obstacles can get in the way, especially if we have work, kids, school, or other serious commitments such as being the caregiver for another family member. On a day to day basis, the little tasks that demand our attention can also gang up on us.  When we allow these little tasks to get in the way of our writing, they become avoidance behaviors. We want to get today’s writing done, yet we rush off to fold laundry, answer the phone, groom the pet, trim our toenails, etc.  This is self-defeating behavior. Career-derailing behavior. Self-sabotage.

Now let’s look at the people in our lives who might have some motivation for spiking our writing ambitions.

  1. The “Good Intentions” crowd. These people think we’re chasing a hopeless dream, wasting productive time, setting ourselves up for the pain of rejection and disappointment. They think they know what’s better for us than we do. They don’t understand why we write and there’s not much point in trying to explain it to them.
  2. The Jealous Wannabes. We’ve all met them. They talk a lot about writing, but they don’t do much of it. Or they do write, but they refuse to listen to any input that suggests weaknesses in their writing style, plot structure, etc. They claim they know What It Means To Be A Writer no matter how unrealistic or self-defeating that idea might be.
  3. The Know-It-Alls. They hide behind a mask of information, but what they’re really doing is playing oneupsmanship games. No matter how much writing we do, the Know-It-Alls will quote some authority on how we should be doing either more or less at this or that pace. No matter how much success we achieve, the Know-It-Alls talk about the career patterns of Big Name writers. Notice the consistent behavior here. All Know-It-Alls do is talk, and that talk is designed to undermine our confidence, motivation, and momentum.
  4. The Dream Killers. These are hostile jerks who get their jollies from trashing somebody else’s hopes and dreams. They can put on the masks of the above three types, or they can be quite direct with their insults and mockery. Either way, they’re toxic and we need to avoid them.

How do we protect ourselves against such sabotage, especially when it comes from family or co-workers? Just smile. Smile, say thank you for their interest, and go on writing. Know these people for what they are.  Their efforts at sabotage are all about their problems and have nothing to do with us or our writing.

It’s hard, I know, but there’s nothing sweeter than announcing to these people the sale of a short story or a novel. Living well really is the best revenge.

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Filed under Blog challenges, Depression, Family, Fiction, Writing

G is for (Writer’s) Group


by Lillian Csernica on April 8, 2013

G is for (Writers’) Group

If you’re thinking of joining a writer‘s group, ask yourself these questions:

Is this group designed for the type of writing I want to do? Is the critique format based on a professional model (i.e. the Clarion method) or is everybody there to just cheer each other on?

Is the level of experience among the writers in the group close enough to mine for us to help each other, yet they’re far enough ahead of me so that I’ll be learning as I go?

Is this group committed to serious effort at production and improvement, or is it really just a social occasion? Worse, do any of the members try to turn every meeting into some kind of group therapy session?

Allow me to illustrate the different kinds of group dynamics you might encounter by describing three writer’s groups I’ve experienced:

Group #1: Ten members, some with novel sales, some with short story sales, some at the small press level. This was a good group for me. We were all working toward greater professional achievement, we used the Clarion method, and I learned a lot from the other writers. We had a few personality conflicts, but those didn’t become serious obstacles to the critique process.

Group #2: Just four of us, women writers who’d met through each other at SF conventions. We all have at least two types of writing in common, so we all bring something useful to each critique. We meet for the weekend when our schedules permit, talk shop, work on our stories, eat too much and stay up too late and enjoy the fact that we’ve become best friends. Thanks to each other’s help, we continue to make sales.

Group #3: Ten members, the emphasis on nonfiction and writing memoirs. What am I, the writer of fantasy and historical fiction, doing in this group? That’s a good question and a long story. I’m the youngest by at least ten years, but I have the most professional sales. While I defer to my elders, they defer to me about formal writing technique. In recent months the woman who organized this group has become very controlling and dictatorial. I really enjoy the people in this group, but my time could be better spent working at home. I now have to decide if the convenience and pleasure of meeting these people once a month is worth putting up with the control freak behavior of our Fearless Leader.

A writer’s group represents a serious investment of time and effort. Activate your social network for references, recommendations, and possible warnings. You want to find the group that will provide the best return on your investment according to your writing goals.

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Filed under Blog challenges, Fiction, Writing