Written Insomnia http://writteninsomnia.com the official website of MICHAELBRENT COLLINGS Wed, 21 Jun 2017 23:50:51 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8 http://writteninsomnia.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/cropped-Mb-Serious-128x128-32x32.jpg Written Insomnia http://writteninsomnia.com 32 32 Hope is a Dream, a Time Asleep… http://writteninsomnia.com/hope-dream-time-asleep/ http://writteninsomnia.com/hope-dream-time-asleep/#respond Wed, 14 Jun 2017 22:50:55 +0000 http://writteninsomnia.com/?p=564 After my recent retirement announcement, a few people have stated that my situation is discouraging, given that they have always hoped to make writing a career and here’s a guy (me) who HAD it as a career, but couldn’t hold onto it. A few have lost hope in their own talent, their own futures. Here’sContinue reading →

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After my recent retirement announcement, a few people have stated that my situation is discouraging, given that they have always hoped to make writing a career and here’s a guy (me) who HAD it as a career, but couldn’t hold onto it. A few have lost hope in their own talent, their own futures. Here’s what I said to one of them, and what I now say to ALL who feel this way:

 

Don’t lose that hope. This kind of “turn” hits almost every writer out there, successful or not. Some of them have banked enough millions that it just doesn’t matter – who, for instance, believes that Dan “DaVinci Code” Brown is going to have a writing career in ten years… or that he’ll even notice the money not flowing in any more. The rest of them, when they have downturns, work as pizza guys or notary publics or any of a thousand other things. And that’s okay, too!

 

Don’t hope to be a pro writer and to have all be roses and sunshine forever. You want to be a pro, then WORK YOUR ASS OFF FOR THAT. Then, when it happens (and I have no doubt you WILL make it happen), just know that this life, this creative world… it’s all based on dreams. And the one thing that every dream has in common: they all end eventually. And that’s not a bad thing, because “real life” is what supports and informs the dream, and what makes it worth going to again and again. And the dreams are scary, fun, thrilling, horrible, ugly, beautiful, hateful, and lovely… which means they are, in fact, just one more facet OF that real life.

 

Live. Live your best, and you will find your dream, whatever it is. And then, having found it, you may realize that your dream is not the perfect thing you thought it would be, and that real life – the waking world – is also a pretty neat place.

 

And, having experienced both, you will be all the wiser, all the stronger, all the better for it. Having experienced both, you will be able to enjoy either, and excel within the bounds of whichever reality in which you find yourself.

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The Press – A Powerful Enemy (of Itself) http://writteninsomnia.com/press-powerful-enemy/ http://writteninsomnia.com/press-powerful-enemy/#respond Mon, 12 Jun 2017 21:31:40 +0000 http://writteninsomnia.com/?p=562 Here’s a good example of being your own worst enemy:   I *DESPISE* those people – usually powerful – who don’t like having to answer questions about their decisions; especially those who, once questioned, react with all the grace of a two-year-old who’s had his lollipop ripped right out of his mouth.   So thisContinue reading →

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Here’s a good example of being your own worst enemy:

 

I *DESPISE* those people – usually powerful – who don’t like having to answer questions about their decisions; especially those who, once questioned, react with all the grace of a two-year-old who’s had his lollipop ripped right out of his mouth.

 

So this article, at first, made me angry.

 

A newly elected CONGRESSMAN? Hitting a reporter after the reporter DARED ask a question?

 

But then I read this line: “Jacobs [the reporter] said Gianforte [the ‘body-slammed me and broke my glasses’ after he asked a question about the Republican health care legislation.”

 

And I hear this in my head…

MbC’s Head: How dare he! How DARE a man in the Congressman-elect’s position BODY-SLAM a reporter and then — wait, what? “He broke my glasses”? That’s a weird thing to say after getting body-slammed. What about, “He shattered my femur” or, “He gave me a concussion”? Granted, the average congressperson has roughly the physical prowess of a quadriplegic three-toed sloth, but if the reporter got “body-slammed,” why is he complaining about his frickin’ GLASSES?

 

Uh-oh. And here’s the “own worst enemy” part. First of all, I deal with this kind of massive, ground-shaking level of complaint and fear for life and limb on a daily basis. I do, after all, have two pre-teens in my house. And any time it goes from, “HE/SHE ALMOST KILLED ME!” to “Also, look at this scratch on MY FAVORITE TOY,” I immediately know that the issue is not one of physical danger, but tender feelings with tewwible boo-boos.

 

This complaint, which devolves in a SINGLE SENTENCE from, “I was gravely attacked after doing my reporterly duty,” to “My glasses got busted by an old dude!” is, I fear, just the same.

 

About a year ago, a NY Daily News reporter (in)famously wrote an article called “What is it like to fire an AR-15? It’s horrifying, menacing and very very loud.”

 

In it, the reporter told of the massive terror, which he claimed ACTUALLY CAUSED PTSD in the instant it occurred,* that he felt upon firing the weapon.

 

“It felt like firing a bazooka.”

“I was just terrified.”

“The recoil bruised my shoulder, which can happen if you don’t know what you’re doing. The brass shell casings disoriented me as they flew past my face. The smell of sulfur and destruction made me sick. The explosions — loud like a bomb — gave me a temporary form of PTSD. For at least an hour after firing the gun just a few times, I was anxious and irritable.”

 

So how does this all tie in?

 

It used to be that reporters were there to keep the powerful accountable. They were there to uncover the truth, and to give us a more informed set of facts upon which to base our decisions.

 

Now? Now, sadly, they ARE the powerful. And we know the old adage about what power does. And we see, to our horror, that it’s true.

 

“He broke my glasses”?

 

Men and women of the press used to put their lives and careers on the line. Men and women of the press used to go up against the bullies, stand firm, and rely on the truth to take down those who abused their power.

 

Now? Now most of them put little on the line at all. Now men and women of the press are, all too often, the bullies themselves. Now they stand firm – no matter how unreasonable their positions – and rely on media pressure, mob mentality, and the threat of constant exposure to reprisals to take down those who stand in the way of the reporters’ power.

 

Is this always the case? No, of course not. And I don’t have all the details of the case of a man who was “body-slammed” and got a pair of broken glasses as a result. Perhaps it was a legitimately dangerous and terrifying event. But even if so, it doesn’t change the simple fact that “great reporting” used to mean timely, careful, and accurate dissemination of important information. Now it mostly means dissemination of information that is carefully timed to create the maximum buzz and anger. The accuracy is still there, but whereas “accuracy” used to mean “let us give the whole story, the whole set of facts, and let a human race that is mostly good come to the good conclusion on their own”; now it means, “what we said IS technically correct, and we’re going for the letter of the law because the spirit of the thing doesn’t pay as well.”

 

Freedom of the press is important – critical, really. But only if that press works to improve OUR freedoms, and not simply to create media firestorms, up ratings, and raise salaries.

 

There are good people in the press corps. I just wish I said that more from experience than from faith.

 

 

*The New York Daily News later posted this “update” from the reporter, Gersh Kuntzman, after a massive backlash to his use of the term “PTSD”:

 

Many people have objected to my use of the term “PTSD” in the above story. The use of this term was in no way meant to conflate my very temporary anxiety with the very real condition experienced by many of our brave men and women in uniform. I regret the inarticulate use of the term to describe my in-the-moment impression of the gun’s firepower, and apologize for it. [end quote]

 

I call bullshit – and those who know me and who read my posts know how rarely I use that term. The guy is a REPORTER. A professional writer whom we depend upon to provide full and accurate information. I know that when *I* write ANYTHING, from an entire book to a single WORD (like, for example, PTSD), that’s on me. Kuntzman says here that he made a mistake (only he doesn’t  even actually admit to any wrongdoing, just an “inarticulate use of the term” – which makes almost no sense at all, given that it is primarily used to describe indistinct speech patterns. If talking about the “cannot express oneself clearly,” definition, and if this applies to Kuntzman (especially since he admits it does), then he should not be publishing news pieces – even those of the op/ed variety – especially not on incendiary topics that require the utmost care to discuss and decide.

 

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Happy Easter http://writteninsomnia.com/happy-easter/ Fri, 14 Apr 2017 16:50:29 +0000 http://writteninsomnia.com/?p=548 It’s happening again.   It’s worse at the end of the year, but it happens now, too.   “Happy Easter!” “Happy Easter?” “Happy… Sunday?”   Every time there’s a religous-themed holiday, someone inevitably complains. Yes, there are the complaints about commercialization, or the True Meaning of [Fill in the Blank], or how the day brings outContinue reading →

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It’s happening again.

 

It’s worse at the end of the year, but it happens now, too.

 

“Happy Easter!”

“Happy Easter?”

“Happy… Sunday?”

 

Every time there’s a religous-themed holiday, someone inevitably complains. Yes, there are the complaints about commercialization, or the True Meaning of [Fill in the Blank], or how the day brings out the worst as people horde over slightly-underpriced doo-dads. But I’m not talking about those.

 

I’m talking about the paired complaints: “I wish they wouldn’t wish me Happy Easter/Merry Christmas/Whatever,” and, “Why can’t I wish people Happy Easter/Merry Christmas/Whatever without someone biting my head off?”

 

I mention “Christian” holidays above, because they’re the ones I hear most about. But I have no doubt there are similar arguments about Kwanzaa, or Diwali, or Vesak, or any other holiday that has a deity (or two or three or more) at its center – or at least at its genesis, since that argument that the once-Holy-Days have converted to nothing more than “Retail Day #7” or “Buy Overpriced Roses Day” certainly has some merit.

 

I digress. Sorry. I do that. Squirrel!

 

In all seriousness, though (yeah, like that’s possible for me), I hate this argument, this “Respect my religious holidays vs. “Respect my lack of faith/belief/interest in your religious holidays” dispute. Because it makes it about belief, and in so doing, it utterly misses the point.

 

Yes, the holidays have the beliefs themselves as their basis. Though you don’t have to believe in Christ to celebrate Christmas – at least in the trimmings: presents and cocoa and a wonderful excuse to be nicer to each other – you can’t have Christmas without Christ. You can’t have the holiday without its history. You don’t have to ascribe to the stories, but they’re there, and without them you don’t get the holiday – package deal.

 

Similarly, you can run around pelting people with colored powder, exchange gifts, and enjoy some of the greatest food of your life no matter what you believe… but that doesn’t change the fact that Diwali doesn’t exist without its history, without its god-stories of Krisha and Vishnu and King Rama.

 

Easter, of course, is the same. I love Cadbury Eggs, and that enjoyment is completely separate from whether or not I believe that one day a tomb was empty because its inhabitant had risen up and ascended to Heaven. But without that ascension story, Cadbury Eggs probably wouldn’t exist (and the world would be all the poorer for it).

 

Now, note that I call these things “stories.” I mean no offense to those who believe them – I’m a believer myself, and will be celebrating Easter this Sunday with egg hunts and food and family, but also with time in church, time in prayer, time talking to my children about what Easter means to us.

 

So no, calling them “stories” is not an insult. On the contrary, it’s a compliment. Calling them “facts” would actually lessen them in certain respects, because facts are what control our lives, seen or unseen, believed or not… but “stories” are what we choose, what we as humans have that is separate from every other creature. Every animal – every bit of matter, for that matter (see what I did there, ha!) – is governed by “facts.” By the realities in which we exist. Perhaps those realities include this God or that, or none at all… debating that isn’t the point of this essay.

 

Stories, though… if facts provide the framework, then stories provide the potential. Stories are what we choose to believe, and in so doing, point us toward what we hope to become.

 

And that’s the point of “Happy Easter” or “Merry Christmas” or whatever Holy-day that enters a greeting. It is about a story.

 

Stories are wonderful things. They entertain, they enlighten. But at their heart, the greatest magic they weave is this: they create communities.

 

An example – and please trust me, I actually have a point to all this, ya just gotta bear with me and pay close atten – SQUIRREL!

 

Sorry, where was I?

 

Right. Example.

 

Picture this: I’m in line for the newest Marvel movie. Behind me is a 15-year-old girl. Suddenly, I whip around and say, in tones of near-frantic worry, “Do you think Iron Man’s gonna DIE in this one?”

 

What does she do? In all likelihood, she’ll respond with a good-natured laugh, and then her own personal fan-theory about what’s going to happen; maybe something she heard about the plot on the internet. Someone a bit down the line will shriek, “Spoiler alert!” when she does that, and everyone laughs.

 

Okay, now picture this: In an alternate universe where everything’s the same, only here I’m in line at McDonald’s. Suddenly, I whip around to the same 15-year-old girl, and say, in tones of near-frantic worry, “Do you think they’ll ever bring back the McRib FOR GOOD?”

 

What does she do? In all likelihood, she laughs nervously, says, “Uh, maybe?” and then steps back a pace or two while covertly getting ready to hammer 911 onto her phone before the coo-coo can eat her face off.

 

What’s the difference? Same people. Same middle-aged guy and same teenager. We’re standing just as close to each other in both situations; we’re even wearing the same clothes, for crying out loud. So why the disparate reactions?

 

 

[continue to the rest of the article…]

 

 

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Happy Easter (part 2) http://writteninsomnia.com/happy-easter-part-2/ Fri, 14 Apr 2017 16:50:24 +0000 http://writteninsomnia.com/?p=549 The answer is simply this: because there is no story associated with the McRib. Sure, you might like it or you might hate it, but there’s no group-fable about the origin of the McRib, its slow ascent from the Barbecue Pit of the all-knowing Ronald McDonald, and its return to that savory underworld to bathe itselfContinue reading →

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The answer is simply this: because there is no story associated with the McRib. Sure, you might like it or you might hate it, but there’s no group-fable about the origin of the McRib, its slow ascent from the Barbecue Pit of the all-knowing Ronald McDonald, and its return to that savory underworld to bathe itself in the Sweet River of Semi-Sauce.

 

Marvel, on the other hand, does enjoy that group-story status. No one is claiming that Cap and Iron Man and the others are really gods (well, maybe a few weirdos at a Comic Con or two), but they are well-known enough and popular enough that they have become an indelible part of our lives. Their stories have permeated our culture, and our beliefs in regard to them define us, at least in a small part. If you doubt this, try posting “Marvel sucks” on a major internet forum and watch the near-genocidal war that begins as the DC vs. Marvel armies mobilize.

 

So… stories. Remember when I said that they create communities? That’s tremendously important, because it means that they define our friends and our enemies.

 

Do you know who is an American (or Paraguayan, or Ibo, or anything else)? It’s not really someone who lives in the U.S., or someone who holds a legal citizenship, or any of the political responses – there are exceptions to all of them that make those unworkable as a definition. No, what makes someone an “American” is that that person believes the same stories as the other Americans. They believe this is the greatest country on earth, or we have the greatest freedoms, or our healthcare sucks. They even believe the patently false stories, like that one about George Washington and the Cherry Tree, or that Lincoln wrote the Gettysburg Address on the back of an envelope.

 

We believe the stories… and anyone who doesn’t isn’t “American.” Anyone who doesn’t isn’t part of our tribe.

 

Anyone who doesn’t… is a potential enemy.

 

Sounds awful stark when you put it that way, but it’s true. Beliefs are our most prized possessions, so anyone who shares a different one – or even worse, actively seeks to denigrate or destroy ours – is at best a potential threat, and at worst a current target of attack.

 

Stories create communities. Stories forge bonds. Stories determine whom we accept, whom we reject; whom we love, and whom we hate. Because the stories are us.

 

Now here’s the thing, the point of this whole article: the stories are also how we invite others to be a part of us. Think about it – in high school, you gather with your friends and giggle or complain about what the teacher did, what that other kid said, why your parents are bigger jerks than her parents. At work, you gather around the water cooler to gossip. You meet someone new, and immediately you ask, “So what do you do?” or “Where do you go to school?” or any of those questions meant to elicit a story. Then you tell your own story, and now you have a shared set of stories – the creation myth of your own little clique.

 

How does it relate to “Happy Easter”? It’s because if someone says, “Happy Easter” (or, again, “Diwali” or “Kwanzaa” or “Day of the Festival of the Great Deity of Sesame Street” or anything they view as a religious greeting), they are not saying, “Believe what I believe” – no person, no matter how religious or how naive, believes in conversion-by-greeting.

 

What they are saying is, “I like you. I value you, either as a friend or just a fellow human with whom I share this world. I want you as a friend, and so I extend my most precious stories to you. You don’t even have to accept the story; the fact that I offered you something valuable and though you did not accept it for your own, you treated it with care and respect, is enough to create our own story, you and I: the moment I said I loved you, and you said you loved me back.”

 

It is not about forcing a belief on someone – at least for the overwhelming majority of us. It is just about the story of me, and what I see as the story of you, and the possibility of creating the story of us.

 

I believe in stories. I believe in communities. I believe the best tribes are the most inclusive, and I hope someday all of us will be included in that one Great Tribe of friendship. Not full agreement, not even full peace. But the recognition that we are all brothers and sisters, and fight as we might, we will be family at the end.

 

So, to you all, I say, “Happy Easter.” Because that is part of my story, and in saying it, I hope that this moment can be the first part of ours.

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AN MbC MUST-READ: Ten Steps to Overnight Success… (part 10) http://writteninsomnia.com/mbc-must-read-ten-steps-overnight-success-part-10/ Fri, 10 Mar 2017 18:56:03 +0000 http://writteninsomnia.com/?p=525 10) You cannot fail… … if you don’t give up.   As stated, I sold my first story at 15. Between that and my second sale, I accumulated well over 1,000 pages of rejections. Contrary to myth, none of them were nasty (though a few were a bit brusque).   But they all boiled downContinue reading →

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10) You cannot fail…

… if you don’t give up.

 

As stated, I sold my first story at 15. Between that and my second sale, I accumulated well over 1,000 pages of rejections. Contrary to myth, none of them were nasty (though a few were a bit brusque).

 

But they all boiled down to the same thing: “No thanks.”

 

Thankfully, my high school dating life had prepared me for rejection. But still, when adding the one thousand dating rejections to the one thousand writing rejections…well…it started to add up. It started to weigh.

 

In between all the rejections, I also received several “offers” that I did not think were right for me. Either the money was wrong, or the terms were bad, or I just got a lousy feeling from the person offering to make me rich and famous. But ultimately I endured a 20-year dry spell.

 

And kept on writing.

 

And this, then, is the secret to success. In finance, in love. In the sacred, in the mundane. In life…in writing. You must endure to the end. You must write until your fingers bleed, and then write some more. The only failed writer is the writer who has put a cap on his pen, who has turned off her laptop.

 

The only failed writer…is a person who no longer writes.

 

 

CONCLUSION

 

It might take decades to achieve your goals. Perhaps even longer. But one thing is certain: a writer writes. There is no other criteria, no other requirement. A person who writes is a writer. A writer who persists is a person who is preparing for success.

 

And those who prepare for success are those who most often find themselves ready for it when it comes.

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AN MbC MUST-READ: Ten Steps to Overnight Success… (part 9) http://writteninsomnia.com/mbc-must-read-ten-steps-overnight-success-part-9/ Fri, 10 Mar 2017 18:55:58 +0000 http://writteninsomnia.com/?p=524 9) Be prepared to be part of a big game hunt. And you’re not the hunter.   Some time ago I published a book called Billy: Messenger of Powers. The book was a young adult fantasy, full of adventure, with settings that ranged from a normal high school, to an asteroid in outer space inhabitedContinue reading →

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9) Be prepared to be part of a big game hunt. And you’re not the hunter.

 

Some time ago I published a book called Billy: Messenger of Powers. The book was a young adult fantasy, full of adventure, with settings that ranged from a normal high school, to an asteroid in outer space inhabited by a very irritable space scorpion, to the secret undersea living quarters of a mermaid, to the bowels of the earth itself. I wrote it as a present to my wife, who loved Harry Potter and had been asking me for years to write something in that vein — particularly since most of the work I had been doing was in the horror genre and she really wanted me to write something where the main point wasn’t someone trying to escape being “whacked” in some interesting way.

 

I wrote Billy, and had a blast. It was almost immediately picked up for publication by a small press, but I retained the rights to the e-versions and the audiobook version. In advance of the publication, I designed and put up a website, and with a marketing budget of about $200 I began my campaign. I sent out press releases, put bumper stickers on cars, stuck business cards in people’s doors…any way I could get the word out.

 

It seemed to work. Within a few months, the website (without the book being published yet) had already had over 250,000 hits. Then I published the book in e-format with amazon.com and smashwords.com. On amazon.com, the book quickly moved up several of the bestseller lists in the children’s literature fields. On smashwords.com, it shot to the top of the “Highest Reviewed” list, and was also one of the best-sellers in the Young Adult and Children’s books sections.

 

And then, out of nowhere, negative reviews popped up on Amazon next to every one of my books. I use the term “review” loosely: they were more attacks on my person, claiming that the positive feedback that had been garnered was the result of my having “sock puppet” identities that I used to boost my ratings. The person threatened to have Amazon look up the IP addresses of the positive reviews to verify they all came from me.

 

Apparently, this person made good on his promise. Because soon thereafter Amazon investigated…and the negative “reviews” were (all but one) suddenly withdrawn. This was not the end, however. A few days later I received an email from a fan who had become a friend, notifying me that a “review” with strikingly similar vitriolic verbiage had surfaced elsewhere on the ‘net.

 

I had the unpleasant feeling of knowing that I now had an enemy — one who was cowardly, who attacked in secret and without warning, and who apparently didn’t like something about me. Perhaps it was my face (I have a face made for radio and burlap sacks of the heavy-duty variety). Perhaps it was that my shoes were screwed on too tight. Maybe (just perhaps) it was because I was selling more books than this person.

 

For whatever reason, though, I had a new sensation: a bullseye on my forehead and a sign stuck to my back that said “public person…attack at your convenience.”

 

When you enter the world of writing, you are entering a world that is full of wonderful, generous, intelligent people. But, like any fantasy setting, there is always a troll or two hunching in the background, hoping to take a bite out of you at any opportunity.

 

CONTINUE TO PART 10

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AN MbC MUST-READ: Ten Steps to Overnight Success… (part 8) http://writteninsomnia.com/mbc-must-read-ten-steps-overnight-success-part-8/ Fri, 10 Mar 2017 18:55:56 +0000 http://writteninsomnia.com/?p=523 8) Be interesting. And interested.   Back to the story about my screenplay. I was asked to come in and talk to the executives about the movie. I appeared as requested, and since it was cold I wore a jacket. This particular jacket had “Black Belt Club” embroidered on it. One of the executives noticedContinue reading →

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8) Be interesting. And interested.

 

Back to the story about my screenplay. I was asked to come in and talk to the executives about the movie. I appeared as requested, and since it was cold I wore a jacket. This particular jacket had “Black Belt Club” embroidered on it. One of the executives noticed it and demanded “What does THAT mean?”

 

I told him it meant I was a black belt. (This is true. I also crochet. ‘Cause that’s how I roll.)

 

He gave me a five minute lecture about how karate was voodoo.

 

I asked — very good-naturedly — if he would like a demonstration.

 

He — very good-naturedly — tried to punch me.

 

I — still all in good humor — carefully put him face-down on the conference table.

 

Then I let him up.

 

And we had a two hour discussion about karate. Nary a word was spoken about my screenplay, but the papers for the script were in the mail less than a week later.

 

This is not advice to attack potential publishers or purchasers. But it does highlight a very real fact: given the choice between two excellent writers, publishers and other people involved in purchasing your work will choose the more interesting and interested one. Because of the pervasive nature of today’s media, a writer must (if he wishes to become a famous writer, as opposed to someone who writes for an audience of one) be prepared to be more than just a wordsmith. He must be a friend, an intimate, and someone that others can feel connected to and interested in.

 

Due to the incredible sums of money at stake whenever a publishing house is releasing “the next big thing” or a production company is backing a tentpole movie, the writer is no longer able to be the lone hermit in front of a computer. He must be prepared to be interviewed, to do book signings, to do lectures, and generally speaking to be poked and prodded like a veal cow about to take its last walk down the chute.

 

Not only that, but the writer must be aware that things like “privacy” and “one’s own opinions” have largely gone the way of the eight-track cassette: people have heard of them, but hardly anyone uses them or grants them any kind of importance. Being writers, you will be writing on the internet, where everything you say and do becomes words to haunt you for the rest of your life. Being writers, you will be available for television and radio interviews where your image and your thoughts are frozen in time.

 

Being a writer, you must prepare yourself for the fact that you must be more than just a writer. You must be a character. There are the occasional exceptions (J.D. Salinger has not, to my knowledge, appeared on The Today Show recently). But for the most part “the real you” may not be enough — particularly if “the real you” is shy and unassuming.

 

You are a writer. And if you want to be a successful one, you must also be a personality.

 

CONTINUE TO PART 9

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AN MbC MUST-READ: Ten Steps to Overnight Success… (part 7) http://writteninsomnia.com/mbc-must-read-ten-steps-overnight-success-part-7/ Fri, 10 Mar 2017 18:55:51 +0000 http://writteninsomnia.com/?p=522 7) Be clear.   This is something that is both very easy sounding and extremely difficult.   It is especially difficult in the realm of fantasy and science fiction, as well as other genre writing like horror or supernatural works. People read fiction to be transported to another place, to give them some experience thatContinue reading →

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7) Be clear.

 

This is something that is both very easy sounding and extremely difficult.

 

It is especially difficult in the realm of fantasy and science fiction, as well as other genre writing like horror or supernatural works. People read fiction to be transported to another place, to give them some experience that they would not otherwise have. The reader of a work of fiction must always and automatically “suspend disbelief” whenever reading: he must put away what he knows to be “true” in order to immerse himself in the “reality” of the story. This is why details can sink or save a book: too many things that don’t ring true, and the reader’s ability to suspend disbelief is undermined. The reader stops being an active participant in the book’s adventures, and turns instead into a critic, a scientist, an observer looking for what is wrong rather than enjoying what may be right.

 

And the idea of “suspension of disbelief” is nowhere more crucial than when writing genre works. In addition to the first layer of suspension (the fact that the reader is not really participating in the fictional adventures of the book’s protagonists and antagonists), there is another layer of disbelief that must be dealt with: the question of magic. Of alien technologies. Of ghosts and specters. These “make believe” aspects of genre writing present a special problem, as they inherently inhibit the reader’s ability to put aside the “real” in favor of the “read.”

 

The best way to deal with this problem is a facet of the critical characteristic of clarity. The best genre work always takes place in fully realized “worlds” with clear, easily-understood (or at least fairly easily-understood) “rules.” The presence of such rules can mean a fantasy windfall. Their absence can mean disaster.

 

One example of this is the blockbuster hit The Sixth Sense, one of the top-grossing suspense/supernatural thriller movies of all time. The rules are set up very early on in the movie: the movie’s young protagonist can see ghosts. The ghosts do not know they are dead. He can help them “move on” by finding out what unfinished business it is that they are remaining to deal with. These simple rules set the scene for both an engaging ghost story and one of the greatest surprise endings in modern cinematic history. And the surprise is complete and utterly earned because it follows the rules.

 

Another example of literary rule-making is in The Lord of the Rings saga. There, Tolkien draws upon a much wider palette in order to paint an epic portrait of an entire world at war. Unlike The Sixth Sense, which is an intimate, almost claustrophobic movie, The Lord of the Rings follows dozens of characters throughout the various landscapes of Middle Earth. The magic use is prolific and varied. But still, there are rules, and they are scrupulously adhered to. Elves have a natural inclination toward and protective sense over all things of nature. Dwarves prefer to be underground. Gandalf the Gray is quite a different person than Gandalf the White. Each has set characteristics, set attributes, and these are as unchanging as the DNA of any real human being.

 

A final example, if I may be permitted, is my book Strangers. These are the rules: a family wakes up and finds out that they have been sealed in their home by a killer intent on torturing them to death. Now there’s more to the story, of course, but the basic rule is that they’re confined to their home. There’s no way out, no way to contact others. It’s a simple concept, and the simplicity is largely what sells it.

 

Clarity is key in all fiction, but critical in genre work. A muddled magic system, an alien technology that is capable of some things one moment then incapable the next, a ghost that has muddled capabilities…these can be the genesis of confusion in the reader. And confused readers signal the death knell for a story.

 

CONTINUE TO PART 8

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AN MbC MUST-READ: Ten Steps to Overnight Success… (part 6) http://writteninsomnia.com/mbc-must-read-ten-steps-overnight-success-part-6/ Fri, 10 Mar 2017 18:55:45 +0000 http://writteninsomnia.com/?p=521 6) Constantly improve…but don’t overstudy.   Writing is one of the best pastimes in the world. It can be done virtually anywhere. Give me a piece of charcoal and a light surface and I am good to go. It can also be done for the entirety of one’s life — unlike, say, hockey or UltimateContinue reading →

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6) Constantly improve…but don’t overstudy.

 

Writing is one of the best pastimes in the world. It can be done virtually anywhere. Give me a piece of charcoal and a light surface and I am good to go. It can also be done for the entirety of one’s life — unlike, say, hockey or Ultimate Fighting, which tend to get much harder once you hit eighty or ninety.

 

It is also wonderful because you can constantly improve. No matter how accomplished, no matter how many publications you have under your belt, you can always learn something new. But that learning should not ever take the place of actually doing.

 

I was a missionary in Paraguay for two years. At one point during my service, I was in charge of giving training sessions to large groups of missionaries. This usually meant a three-hour torture session comprised of reading dry excerpts of manuals that most of us had already memorized. I decided to be different. I decided to be interesting. I decided to put on a show!

 

And did I ever! Every single missionary in the audience agreed it was one of the best training sessions they had ever had.

 

Then I spoke to the Mission President. He barely said anything about what I had perceived as a stunning success and quite possibly an evolutionary leap in the way church training sessions could be taught.

 

Finally, after talking to me about the missionaries in my care, the idiosyncrasies of the area I was working in, and sundry other items, he got around to his opinion of the training session. It was short:

 

“Did it ever occur to you that we have boring meetings for a reason? Did it ever occur to you that maybe we want them having more fun in the work than in the training?”

 

Though I do think that there is some room for a bit of fun in most things, the point was well-taken, and applies extremely well to writing. I have noted many writers who started off “hot” — the next big thing in fantasy, or sci-fi, or horror. They had a book or two hit the bestseller lists.

 

Then something happened.

 

They started being (gasp!) guest speakers at various symposia. They started lecturing on how to write.

 

And they forgot to actually keep writing. Or, at best, writing became their second form of amusement instead of their primary form of expression.

 

Similarly, we as writers must always improve ourselves. But we must not be sucked into the trap of “constant improvement, minimal accomplishment.” Read a book on characterization, fine. But then apply it immediately by writing a novel in which you have as a secondary goal (the first should always be to tell a good story) that you will write your best, most complex, interesting, three-dimensional characters.

 

Don’t miss the forest for the trees. And don’t miss the writing for the smug satisfaction that comes with just “learning” something.

 

CONTINUE TO PART 7

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AN MbC MUST-READ: Ten Steps to Overnight Success… (part 5) http://writteninsomnia.com/mbc-must-read-ten-steps-overnight-success-part-5/ Fri, 10 Mar 2017 18:55:41 +0000 http://writteninsomnia.com/?p=520 5) Play nice with others.   If you are trying to write for yourself — a book or a story that you are writing as some form of private psychotherapy, or just as a form of enjoyment that you never intend for anyone to read — then you can do whatever you want. But ifContinue reading →

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5) Play nice with others.

 

If you are trying to write for yourself — a book or a story that you are writing as some form of private psychotherapy, or just as a form of enjoyment that you never intend for anyone to read — then you can do whatever you want. But if you are writing the great American novel, or the next blockbuster movie, or next year’s bestseller, the reality is that your first draft is not going to make it through unscathed and unchanged. It will be pored over by executives whose jobs it is to find out what is wrong with your work in order to have an excuse to turn it down. This is because nothing will get an executive fired faster than backing a major flop. So it is natural that they will want something that is as commercially viable as they can make it.

 

This means you will be given notes. It also means that you will probably have to change things.

 

This is not to say that you relinquish all control. I have been in many story meetings where a story executive has made a suggestion for “a change or two.” Meaning that he thought the ghost should be less scary. Like Casper. Or a dog. In fact, the story should actually be about Lassie. But Lassie should maybe be a Leprechaun who grants wishes to orphans. And why aren’t there any orphans in this thing, anyway? Or dragons? Everyone knows that dragons sell. Or maybe not. But for sure the main character should have a scar on his forehead. But not a lightning bolt. That’s too on-the-nose.

 

Get the picture?

 

This happens more often with movies than with publishing, but it happens more the more money is involved.

 

And no matter how this event occurs, I have a tried-and-true method for dealing with such “contributions.” First, I calmly and sincerely thank the person for his ideas, then ask him to explain them to me. I have found that in the majority of circumstances the ideas, if not completely helpful, contain a kernel of truth that will end up improving the story. If the story exec thinks the magicians should be more like dogs, it may be because the “rules” of the fantasy have not been clearly set forth (more on this below), whereas the “rules” by which dogs live are simple and easy to understand. Message taken: clarify your magic system. And for bringing that to my attention, I thank (sincerely!) the story exec.

 

Occasionally, the person making such remarks will not be able to explain why he holds this point of view. In that case, I thank him (always thank people!) for his comments, then state something along the lines of “While I see where you’re going with the dog idea — and if that’s the way we all decide to go, then I can definitely work with that — I worry that it might change the novel/screenplay/story/haiku into something different…something that loses the very qualities you all loved enough to get together in this room to talk about.”

 

Usually this ends with the story remaining unchanged, and a story editor or creative exec who is now my friend because I just acknowledged that his idea had merit in front of his peers and bosses.

 

It pays to have friends. Compromise is a large part of writing for a large audience. Even Charles Dickens responded to readers’ suggestions when doing serial publications of his books.

 

Can we do any less?

 

CONTINUE TO PART 6

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