Monday, January 14, 2008

Be True to the Star Within You

Today was a red letter day for me as far as writing was concerned. I finished a chapter that has had me stumped for two weeks and when I typed the last words I felt estatic because it was really, really good! What was so interesting about the writing process is that it went in an entirely different direction than I had originally planned.

At first I wanted the chapter to follow the same bullets as Sister Beck's talk but I couldn't force my muse into the unnatural pretzel shape I would have had to in order to package it that cute-ly (probably not a word but you know what I mean.) Then I was going to string together unrelated topics with a thin thread of logic that was making me hate myself as a writer- a very bad thing.

Finally I let my writing lead me. This meant long delays as I searched for new information, rather than manipulating my copy into the information I had already gathered but as I let my mind follow its natural path, I found new corners I hadn't considered and ended up full circle- even using a quote I had found two years before and simply adored but thought I'd never be able to use again. It was exhilarating.

I consider myself a VERY immature writer with a lot to learn. Perhaps that is because I am a VERY immature person with a lot to learn, but this is something I hope I have learned sufficiently to never forget. When a writer writes, he or she must be true to his own voice. When we try to cut corners or package ideas, we cheat ourselves and the reader. I'm not saying we don't need to edit or adjust our tone to meet our audience but in so doing we must still be true to our inner voice.

A few days ago I received an awesome Christmas CD from my cousin Peter Asplund. His entire young family sings and raps and he does this cool remix thing- it is a joy to listen to. Anyway, in his accompanied letter he mentioned his young daughter is very talented in many ways and has perfect pitch. Apparently they have been encouraging her to sing so she left the following note on her parents' door-- I've lost the original so please accept my paraphrasing until I find it amid the ocean of papers on my desk- but it went something like this: "I know you and Dad are encouraging me to sing. Music is not my inner star, art is. So please stop it. I must follow my inner star."

It is so refreshing to hear of a child so assured of her "inner star" and it is a little embarassing that it took me so long to remember to find mine and follow it.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Idealism vs. Pragmatism in the Publishing World

Years ago I heard a story about Abraham Lincoln that has stuck with me. During his early political career as a statesman, Lincoln became frustrated with the unwise decisions of a collegue who had recently been voted as state treasurer. Specifically, the man, a Mr. Shields, I think, made a rule that state taxes would only be accepted in gold or silver and not the paper money issued by the state. The irony of the situation made for easy attack and Lincoln wrote some scathing letters to the local newspaper under a psuedonym. Others added their feelings also incognito and the whole thing snowballed into a vicious attack of the man's character. Sheilds was so offended he demanded of the editor who started it and Abraham Lincoln's name was divulged. The man challenged Lincoln to a duel which was cancelled at the last minute but since that time, Lincoln vowed he would be more careful with his words, realizing their power.

The unsubstantiated part of the story (and if anyone finds out if its really true, I'd appreciate a resource) is that when Lincoln had sensitive things to say he would often write one letter with his true feelings in plain English and keep that copy for himself and then write another gentle, well-crafted letter to send out to the world.

As idealistic, unpaid writers we often live in a world of passion, fantasy or twisted fiction far from the realms of paid technical writers. As we create our prose, we sometimes grow a sweet attachment to the cleverness of our plots but in so doing relegate them to be forever archived or to sit unnoticed on Snippets or some other sites where no one really reads them.

This was me. Then one of my sisters (I have seven) read my manuscript and made a suggestion to make it more marketable i.e. take out the entire plot and make the subplot the book. At first I was offended, how could I destroy my masterpiece? A few months later after thirteen rejections I bent and it sold! What a surprise. I felt excited but shaken at the same time.

A few weeks later one of my past missionary companions from Scotland who I haven't seen in twenty years somehow found the original version on Snippets and loved it. She encouraged me to keep it and I thought of Abraham Lincoln.

Recently I've been doing a lot of research on C. S. Lewis and I found out that he hated writing nonfiction. "Mere Christianity", "The Problem with Pain", "The Great Divorce" were more obligations. While writing the "Screwtape Letters" he confessed that he hated what it did to his soul and would not write a sequel. Even "The Chronicles of Narnia" weren't his favorite work. No, he liked fiction...and perhaps most ironic of all the man who had difficulty with simple math and disliked science as a rule, loved to write science fiction. "Paralandrea" was one of his personal favorites, which very few C. S. Lewis fans have ever read. "Til We have Faces" which was his biggest flop, was the book he claimed to be his very best. There is even some question whether these books would have been published at all if C. S. Lewis hadn't pragmatically bent from his first love of poetry (like Elder Maxwell he wanted to be a poet) and write that which the public was reading.

As writer's we often are driven to write what is in our hearts but sometimes the result is not very marketable. On the other hand, if we stifle that creative muse within us, we can lose the power of our unique voice- the very thing that makes our writing meaningful. Perhaps, Lincoln didn't have a bad idea. Go and write your heart's desire. Do you BIAM. Then turn around and look what is selling. Can you take a current work and shift it into something marketable? If not, can you find a project that fills a hole or enter a contest or write a magazine article. Anything to strenghten your portfolio.

Hopefully, if you balance your writing efforts between the idealistic and the pragmatic you can create a big enough name to release your real dreams on the world like C. S. Lewis did. Even though many didn't read his favorite books, I did and both stories lifted me and opened my eyes. I love "Til We Have Faces" best and if you have self-esteem issues (feel fat or ugly) you've got to read it. It starts out slow but the last chapter is life changing!

I believe, maybe idealistically, that most writers long to be read. That is why we write, it is part of the drive and I hope that those who are willing to pay the price will do what it takes to become part of the "conversation of humanity"- even when the price is bending not morally but perhaps artistically. It isn't unethical to do so, only pragmatic.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

A New Year's Curse

I have a friend from Chile who has spent the last week feverishly cleaning her house. In her country there is a tradition that however your house looks on New Year's Day is the way it will look like most of that coming year. Well, we had a wild day yesterday. My husband was working and I was trying to update my website but it wasn't going well. Meanwhile, the kids were running to the park, playing with friends and watching TV. I totally lost track of the time and when my husband walked in the door, I suddenly looked up and realized we were already late for a party. We got the kids cleaned up and ran out the door, leaving a tornado behind us. So I guess I'm cursed to spend the next year up to my armpits in piles of old school papers, dirty socks and sneakers, and cast off jackets and scarves.

Luckily, I don't believe in curses. I'm actually looking forward to wonderful things happening in the next year. My second son who will be leaving on a mission (the first is still out.) Another son will hopefully finish his Eagle and go off to college. The other kids are doing well in school. I'm going to have my first book published and my second book has already been accepted (if I ever get the rough draft done.) Lastly, I am surrounded by wonderful people in a new area of the country and hope to continue to meet new people both professionally and socially.

It looks to be a great year. Now if I can just get a a corner of my desk cleared off... oh, well. Maybe I do believe in curses.