Welcome to the Weekend Edition in which I share a little of what I’m up to with my writing (when I’m not here) and what I’m reading (between the covers and around the web). I’ll also pull back the curtain a little on my version of the writing life (but not so much as to be indecent).
I hope you enjoy this little diversion and encourage you to share your own thoughts, posts, and picks in the comments. I LOVE hearing from you and seeing the world from your perspective.
Happy writing! Happy reading!
Writers doubt their instincts. They doubt their talent. They doubt their choices. They doubt that they will ever be as good as the other writers they admire.
Doubt does not discriminate. It gets all of us – from the most virgin newbie to the most seasoned veteran.
Only last week, J.K. Rowling admitted that she regretted her pairing of Hermione and Ron in the Harry Potter series.
In a post inspired, I can only imagine, by that news, New York Magazine (not to be confused with The New Yorker) published a post chronicling the regrets of some of literature’s best known icons. Among those on the list are Mark Twain (who looked back and wondered if he should have written Tom Sawyer in the first person) and Stephen King (who rewrote almost every page of The Gunslinger for a later edition).
Even my recently rediscovered favorite, E.B. White, openly expressed his doubt. In a letter to his wife he despaired over progress on a piece he was writing, saying, “Have reached the stage where I am suspicious that it is perhaps the lousiest concoction I have dreamed up to date …” Boy, don’t we all know what that feels like!
So, the next time you’re feeling down about your work and facing down your demons while battling an awful case of comparisonitis, please remember that you are in good company.
What I’m Writing:
Although I’m always so grateful to have work, I absolutely get frustrated when things get so busy that I have to rush through everything and still wind up working late (and early) and having to forego many things I would like to do (such as taking the day off to share my daughter’s snow day). The ebb and flow of work is, however, a very real part of life as a self-employed writer. Sometimes, work is scarce and you have to busy yourself with personal projects while you wait for the next paying gig. Other times, you manage to find the Holy Grail of the freelancer’s life – a balanced workload. And then there are the times when your work queue is like a slow-motion, twenty-car pile-up and all you can do is sit by and watch while clinging to the feeble hope that when everything stops spinning you’ll be able to go in with the jaws of life and extract survivors.
The key to survival is to roll with the punches. As I explained to my ten year-old daughter at bedtime last night, a self-employed writer has to make hay while the sun shines. Sure, it’s a bit stressful when all the work gets compressed into a short period of time; but even so I wouldn’t give up this lifestyle for anything. I know that, eventually, things will level off and I’ll have a few weeks of blissful breathing room. I can’t wait.
What I’m Reading:
Meantime, even though I haven’t had time for creative writing, I made time for some reading. I know enough that I can’t lose both my writing time and my reading time without risking my sanity. So, last weekend – when I found myself in a momentary lull brought about by the various balls I’m juggling being in other people’s courts – I parked myself on the couch with a couple of books and didn’t move for the better part of the day.
Interestingly, the two books I wound up reading this week are polar opposites in terms of style and craft, voice and genre, and even era.
First, I blew through the middle grade novel, The Angel Experiment: A Maximum Ride Novel (Book 1) (affiliate link). I borrowed the book from the library for my daughter who recently read The Hunger Games trilogy and has since found every other book wanting. Betsy, a lovely woman and fabulous children’s librarian, recommended the “Maximum Ride” series by prolific author, James Patterson. I have never been a huge fan of Patterson because of his writing “model” of working with ghost writers (something he discussed openly in an interview on NPR, “James Patterson on Writing All Those Books“). But, I was desperate to find something my daughter would read.
I read the entire book in just a few hours. It’s a fast-paced urban fantasy with chapters nearly as short as the ones in Dan Brown’s blockbuster, The DaVinci Code. The writing is simple and straightforward. There is lots of exposition. The characters are fairly one-dimensional. The plot twists feel manufactured and not totally unexpected. Reading this book was kind of like eating an entire bag of cheese curls in one sitting. It was entertaining, but there was no substance. Chewing gum for the brain. Still, if it gets my daughter to re-engage with the written word, I’ll be happy.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is a collection of letters and essays titled E. B. White on Dogs (affiliate link).
Let me say that I have long been an ardent admirer of White’s work. His books Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little were two of my first favorite books. It wasn’t until recently, however, that I came across some of his essays and swooned a little. This collection is especially charming because each of the included items is somehow related to dogs, often to White’s own dogs, a diverse bunch but mostly comprised of dachshunds.
This is the kind of writing that on the one hand inspires me and on the other hand makes me want to abandon writing all together. Each of these pieces – whether a professionally published essay or a casual letter to a friend – is full of beautifully crafted sentences that elicited from me quiet but emphatic (not to mention outwardly audible) grunts of appreciation.
Reading two such different types of books, one so close on the heels of the other, forced a comparison that otherwise would seem ludicrous. But, like Andrea Badgley observed in her recent post, Growth Spurt, writers often become critical readers. While Andrea’s epiphany focused on the role of good structure in a work of fiction, I was struck by the vast range of quality. If The Angel Experiment was a bag of cheese curls, E.B. White’s writing was a beautifully arranged and deeply satisfying platter of fresh fruit, aromatic bread, and a selection of the finest cheeses money can buy … all accompanied by a perfectly paired glass of merlot with a bit of dark chocolate for dessert.
There really is no comparison when you get right down to it.
Does that mean I will never read another “cheese curl” book? Nope. I will read plenty of them, I’m sure. But, I will know and appreciate them for what they are, and I will only indulge every once in a while. After all, if people are what they eat, writers must certainly be what they read.
P.S. – Little side note and bit of trivia: our own Wendy Thomas is the great niece of E.B. White. Quite a nice, if intimidating, bit of literary heritage there!
And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:
- More Twitter Followers: How to Get More Twitter Followers Today by @IanCleary – A few easy and useful tactics
- 4 Ways to Become a Better Writer, Even If You’re Short on Time by @lisatella via @thewritelife – Loved these tips!
- 33 Unusual Tips to Being a Better Writer Altucher Confidential by @jaltucher – And these tips are definitely unique. Not for everyone (James doesn’t pull punches), but may be just the kick in the butt you need.
- The Form Rejection Letter Decoder Thingy via @brevitymag – Too funny
- The Days When You Don’t Feel Like Writing by @ChuckWendig – Another kick in the pants (or possibly the head), delivered with the love and caring of one writer encouraging another
- A Call for Writers to Organize: Hugh Howey Interview by @Porter_Anderson via @JaneFriedman – Fascinating piece on how one man is working to organize authors so they are better able to stand up for themselves in the marketplace
- 12 Reasons to Keep a Journal by Stacia Pierce – As if I needed convincing …
- Kill Your Darlings. All of Them. by @kwicoff via @shewritesdotcom – It’s hard, but someone has to do it, and it really should be you.
- A Brain Scientist’s Take on Bad Reviews by @thecreativepenn – This explains a lot and makes swallowing less-than-stellar feedback SO much easier!
- No, Things Were Not Easier “Back in the Day … by @DanBlank – … “And other narratives we cling to to avoid the hard work of success.”
Finally, a quote for the week:
And that’s all from me.
I hope the rest of your weekend is full of time to write and read. Remember that we all have our doubts and the only thing to do is push past them and get the words on the page. You can figure out the rest after that.
Thanks for stopping by! See you on the other side.
Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.