Success isn’t a result of spontaneous combustion. You must set yourself on fire.
- Arnold H. Glasow
A somewhat creepy quote just in time for Halloween, I think. Can you imagine what it must feel like, to set yourself on fire? Let’s think of it in the literal sense, first.
There are the branches and twigs, all dried to a satisfying crisp so they will catch flame. There are the ropes, to keep you in place as the flames grow higher and start to lick at your feet. There is the stake to which you bind yourself, and the gasoline in which you douse yourself. There is the doubtful assistant, who ties you up, and lights the flame for you. There are your shrieks, though of triumph or horror for completing the task, we’ll never know.
Gruesome. Happy Halloween.
Now let’s look at this as a giant metaphor, because who doesn’t like a good metaphor?
As a writer, you must set yourself on fire.
There are your ideas (branches and twigs), happily fermenting in the back of your mind and ready to explode on the page. There are your goals and aspirations (ropes), to keep you going as the going gets tough and the rejections evermore painful. There is the blog to which you commit yourself (the stake), and the people who comment (gasoline), holding you accountable. There is your critique partner (doubtful assistant), who asks you questions, and encourages you when you’re ready to give up. There are your shrieks, though of triumph or horror for completing the first draft and having to start the second, we’ll never know.
I encourage all of you to set yourself on fire. Be the passion that brings your work to life, and others will feel it in your writing. As sung in The Sound of Music, “Nothing comes from nothing; nothing ever should.” What does that mean? It means that, like in the quote at the beginning of this entry, success won’t spontaneously combust for you. Success will be a result of an arduous process into which you pour your heart, soul, patience, and resources.
Set yourself on fire. Join NaNoWriMo, and feel the flames burn ever higher as you blaze toward the finish line. Good luck, and may the muse be with you.
Leave a comment about something you do to get fired up about writing. Do you listen to music? Do you watch a favorite movie or read a favorite book? Do you talk to people about your writing?
The other day, I indulged during my break time and did some reading on self-publishing. This is self-publishing in the literal sense, meaning that I would handle the interior and exterior layout design, select the printer for the book, obtain my own ISBN, set up a business account, find the printer, and handle distribution.
In other words, to self-publish, I would be a micro press, a.k.a. small business owner. I’m not sure people realize that, in order to be a true self-publisher, you are effectively going into business. This is very different from publishing through Aventine Press, for instance (their services are excellent, but have high retail prices).
Why Would You Self-Publish?
There are multiple reasons for self-publishing, the first usually being that the author doesn’t want to jump through hoops to find an agent, an editor, and then shop around the big name publishers. In the 1990s, this was seen as the extreme vanity of selfish authors, hence the name “Vanity Press.”
A vanity press, also known as a subsidy press, is where the author pays a fee for the publication of the book. The press owns the ISBN, provides a template cover and interior (some packages provide more customization), and prices for small print runs are large due to the print-on-demand technology.
So there is a stigma against self-publishing authors who do it simply because they want to see their name on a book. These authors are seen as “cheating the system,” as it were. And then there are the authors who believe in the very spirit of self-publishing, like Zoe Winters.
Authors like Zoe and myself take great pride in our work, and turn to self-publishing because of this very fact. We also have an entrepreneurial spirit, which we apply to our passion for writing.
These are the two extremes of self-publishing authors: those who self-publish because they’re tired of the rat race, and those who self-publish for the sincere pleasure and pride of having self-published. There are other reasons for the authors who fall between these extremes; all are stigmatized against by the big name publishers and chain bookstores.
Is Self-Publishing for Me?
It depends. Do you have money? Because you’ll need it, to set up your accounts with Lightening Source, a wholesaler, for instance. Do you have storage space to hold your copies? Because if you go through Lightening Source, you are your own distributor and marketer.
But here is the most important question: what is more important to you, seeing your name in print, or putting your name on a book that you guided from draft to publication, hiring professionals as needed? A self-publisher invests in their book the same way a company invests in a product. If the product (your book) fails, you’ve lost the money you invested. If it succeeds, you receive all profits.
Zoe knows a lot more than I do about self-publishing, so I suggest checking out her blog. My experience is with vanity publishers, but for my next book, I do plan on releasing self-published print and e-book versions.
Which, by the way, I’m up to chapter 22 in the second draft! Things are coming along pretty well, I think, considering I’m a full-time graduate student.
“When I have an idea, I turn down the flame, as if it were a little alcohol stove, as low as it will go. Then it explodes and that is my idea.”
- Ernest Hemingway
This quote describes my idea process fairly well. Many of my ideas come from that liminal state of mind between sleep and wakefulness. This can get frustrating, because who remembers to grab a pencil and paper when half-asleep? I’ve trained myself, thankfully, to keep a pad of paper within flailing distance of my bed.
But that’s the end result of an involved idea process. How do ideas begin? I’m a people-watcher, for one. I often will sit in a crowded place with my headphones on, and my music turned down really low so I can hear the conversations around me. This isn’t to spy on people, but rather to grab impressions.
Maybe Lord Hartwell walks like that man, and scratches the back of his head like that little boy. Maybe Mary twitches her nose to the side like that woman when she smells something she doesn’t like. Mr Spencer sneezes like that old man over there, despite his only being 26 years old.
I take these impressions, along with snippets of stories I hear and read throughout the day, and do…nothing. I think about them for a while, try to decide why I find them interesting, and then I continue with my day. As a graduate student, I have a lot to do, so it’s almost never a problem to let my ideas stew.
A couple of days later, my idea will explode like Hemingway’s stove, and I’ll scramble for pen and paper. I’ll write furiously, scratching out words that don’t work because it takes too much time to erase. I’ll feel triumphant if I catch everything in the first attempt, and then I’ll fall asleep with a smile on my face.
The next morning, I’ll wake and examine what I wrote. Sometimes, I’m pleased with it, and decide it will definitely go in the new draft. Sometimes, it’s complete trash, but I tuck it into my journal anyway, because it’s a piece of writing and all writing counts, whether it’s trash or not. Practice makes perfect, right?
How do your ideas come to you? Do they explode into being, or do they sneak in unawares?
“If we wait for the moment when everything, absolutely everything is ready, we shall never begin.”
- Ivan Turgenev
When someone finds out I’m a writer, I inevitably hear about how they have a couple stories of their own lurking in their head, or three novels half-started, etc. Which I applaud, because I’m always happy to hear about fellow writers doing their best to write.
Rarely have I ever heard a story where they finished the work.
Sometimes this is because they’ve lost interest. Sometimes they cite the dreaded Writer’s Block. Sometimes they just don’t know how to begin.
J.A. Konrath declares that there’s no such thing as Writer’s Block. He also says you shouldn’t listen to people who say you must write every day to be a writer. Which I agree and disagree with.
Writer’s Block happens to me, but only because of the quote at the beginning of this post: I suffer from perfectionism, which means there are times when I want everything to be ready for me to write. I want to write, but some part of my brain tells me that the conditions aren’t right, aren’t “ready,” for writing. So I stew, fuss, and complain until my brain figures out that I don’t need perfect conditions to write, I only need to make time to write.
So I do agree with Konrath’s point that you don’t need to write every day. I’d like to alter his assertion, however, by claiming that even if you don’t physically write every day, you do at least think about writing. While you’re waiting in line at the grocery store, ask your characters questions to know them better. Study the people around you and note interesting personality ticks that could help flesh out your characters.
There’s no such thing as perfect writing, remember. There is always room to improve. So don’t let your need to get it right the first time stop you from writing. Let me tell you that you won’t get it right the first time you put it on paper.
Don’t let that blank sheet of paper intimidate you.
If you feel like writing, but don’t know how to begin, write about that! Write about how you’re feeling about your work, or lack thereof. Write about what you did today. The point is to get used to writing, in any form.
Like musicians, writers can only improve by practicing. This includes reading and writing a lot. When you feel the urge to write, just do it. Don’t let your fears crowd your ideas. The moment you put pen to paper, you are ready. There is no better moment to begin than now.