Thursday, January 27, 2011

Writer Frustration

Being a writer, just like being any kind of artist, is hard.

Now, I'm not saying that being a mathematician or a brain surgeon or a psychologist isn't hard.

But being an artist is hard.

To a certain degree, certain talents and jobs within the math or science realm can be quantified without belonging to a "fuzzy set" (See what I did there? Aren't you proud of me? I'm a bit proud of myself....) I should throw in the disclaimer that many of these observations are coming from someone who is not in the 'quantifiable' studies so feel free to pipe in at any time on this. But, usually, and I *really* mean usually here, (I managed to take AP Calculus, my friends)...math problems: there's a right answer, there's a wrong answer, yes? And if you get the answer right then you get an "A" on the test.

These are poor, very basic examples, but you get my drift.

Writing requires not only a thick skin, perseverance, stubbornness, and a little bit of insanity, but also self-confidence. Loads of it. Because unless we have that, all we're basing our "A's" on is what other people think of us and tell us about our writing. There is no 'correct' way to write beyond the general rules of grammar and syntax. So it's really all based on conjecture and opinion. And I don't know how many times people have told me, when I explained my future plans to them, to practice my lines: "Would you like fries with that?"

Advice like that, whether serious or not, infuriates me. Especially when it has come from people who call themselves my friends. Never let someone step on your dreams. They may be dreams that require the moon, they may be dreams that just require a book in your hands with your name on it: being able to hold that novel between your fingers and think, hey, look at that. That's me. I never did think my name would look good in print, but what do you know. It's kind of...catchy. To have people across the world read your work-- or just the people in your's a tiny miracle, isn't it? I imagine so. And even then, what people like that don't realize is that writers will *always* have work, one way or another. Who was it who wrote the application that allowed the waitress to get a job at the restaurant to ask if you'd like fries with that? Hm.

Here's something I've learned about the world: there will *always* be somebody better than you. Faster, stronger, smarter, better with words; whatever it may be that you are striving towards, driving as hard as you can towards being your best and your all, you are going to meet that person who just blows you out of the water. No contest, they're just *good*, and it always seems like they're just like that naturally. Almost like they're that good just to spite you (dramatization alert).

Well let me tell you. People work hard. I do believe in raw talent, but people work hard. Every single person I have ever been envious of in their art, or their writing, or their whatever, has worked day and night on it from that one moment they found that passion. They haven't given up, they haven't listened when someone tried to tell them to quit or try something else, they haven't let criticism get them down. Because admit it-- even the most constructive criticism can be hard to hear.

The main problem with writing that I have struggled with has actually been a recent development. I wrote for a good five years before I ever encountered it. Self-esteem. Self-worth. Talent. Where does it come from and how can it be defined? Do you have it just because you say you do, or is it dependent upon others? Or is it a mix of both?

It is *so* easy to brush off the compliments and encouragement given by family and friends. Oh, they're biased...they don't really mean it...they don't want to hurt your feelings. But when they give criticism, oh, they're being, if your family doesn't even like your stuff, you really have no talent...give up now, you're never going to make it into a career or even a hobby...find something else to do. And then when someone who you think 'should know' criticizes you, it feels like the end of the world.

And if they gave you praise, what then? Would you feel instantly better about yourself? Or just until the next critic came along?

You will never please everyone, my friends. Something I have learned today-- within the past few hours, actually-- is that your fans are your fans, no matter who they are. So what if your family and friends are the only ones who like your work? They're readers too, and their opinions matter just as much as the next person. And if they're the only ones who ever like your work, is that not still precious? Are they lessened because they don't have a horde of ecstatic fans backing them? I don't think so.

Today I was told I needed to 'practice writing'. At first it made me laugh a little, just at the irony of it. Then I became a bit depressed. I thought, I *have* been practicing. I've been practicing for eight years. If those years aren't showing through, then what in the world am I doing? I thought I was an OK writer. Maybe even a good one. And then the silliness of that hit me.

Eight years. That's not even a decade. In the writer's world, I am a child just learning to put words together like macaroni beads on a piece of dental floss. And many of us are so, so young. We look at young authors who got 'discovered' and we think-- that could be me. I should be able to do that. I can do that. And I've had family members tell me I should: why can't that be you, they say? Well, in all actuality, it *could* be me. I'm not saying it's impossible. But the chances of it are a lot like winning the lottery. The majority of Americans, at some point in their lives, say they want to write a book. The percentage of those who actually do is very small, and the percentage of those who actually get published is even less (don't quote me on this because I don't remember where I read this and I can't find the book at the moment, but I think it's something like 80% say they want to write a book, about 10% actually do, and then less than 1% actually get published, something like that...) Hence, the lottery.

But has that stopped me from trying? Has that stopped any of us?

But back to the point. I'm young. Sure I've been 'practicing' for eight years. But I've got about 70 years, give or take, of writing left in me, maybe, if my mind holds together. And if medicine continues to advance like it is, why not? That is a long time. And even then, even when I'm 40 or 50-- will I be done growing? Is there a magic age where, *ding!* you've reached your peak, you're now the writer you have been craving to be and from now on will always be?

No! I guarantee you that when I'm 40 I'm going to be looking at my work thinking-- that can be better, I wonder how I can rewrite that, and then ten years down the road I'll look at it again and think, oh my, I can't believe I ever wrote as poorly as that. We are always growing and changing, from day to day. We are always practicing writing, with everything we do, every scribble we put down on paper. So really, the advice to 'practice writing' is very good advice. It's encouragement. Keep doing what you're doing. Work more often, work harder. Don't give up.

So I'm going to practice writing. I'm going to keep on keeping on, as it were.

There are thorns on the road and rough stones. We can't wear our shoes because that would ruin them (the logic makes sense, don't question it). Our feet will get dirty, cracked; they will bleed; they will ache.

But I will dance nonetheless, searching out my story, down the gravel road towards the willow tree that awaits me. And I do hope that you will dance with me.

That's all for now friends. We'll talk again soon!


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Beginning

In the bright, sparkling world of today, almost everything is dependent upon some kind of technology. It makes a margin of sense, mostly: emails and Facebook save time and resources that would otherwise be spent sending a hand-written letter. Cellphones make it so you can call on the go rather than wait to get home or use a pay phone to contact the Otherverse (as in humans). The list goes on and on, and many despair over some uses technology has come to and how it has caused a kind of degeneration of the mind (chat and text speech, for example, showing up in high school essays, or the fact that students are no longer being taught to write in cursive because everything is typed these days and font settings can do that for you. I personally dislike the Kindle, or whatever it is they're calling it these days, because I am partial to the smell of books, new and old, and all the crisp secrets that they hide within their pages. Bookbinding is an altogether special kind of magic for me.)

Well. Everything in moderation, I say. I personally would rather send an email than give a phone call-- if I am talking to someone, I want it face to face so that I can see eyes, expressions, not just my wall as I try to hash through a bodiless conversation over a phone. But I digress...

Either way, the world revolves increasingly around the internet and electronic media. That means that classes are being held online, interviews are being held over Skype, and yes, potential employers could even be looking at your Facebook.

Or your blog.....*ding!*

Hello everyone! This is Maudlin's Shoes. It's going to be a bit of an experiment for me in many ways. First of all, we'll see if I can get any consistent readers with what I have to say-- that in and of itself, too, will be an adventure...what I have to say, I mean. But we'll get to that in a minute. The main purpose of this blog comes in a set of three: blogs can be useful for those in the writing world to prove workmanship, originality, scheduling, etc. That last can also be part two of the purpose: as a writer it is important to write every day, or, barring those of us still in school who have twenty essays a month to turn in (I exaggerate), at least once a week, as will be the chronology of this blog. The more you write, the more you want to write, and the better your skills become. I will be using this blog not only to explore my own opinions but also as a kite onto which I can tie my other projects, letting the breeze and updraft pull the rest out of the shlump they have been reduced to through work and priority.

No matter how busy we get, writers, our own work should *never* be reduced to the lowest priority.

So we now come to the last purpose of this blog: writing. My special love is fantasy and most of what I discuss will therefore follow in that genre's footsteps. From book and short story reviews, the pros and cons of fantasy creatures, personal cliches, writer versus writer, methods and theories, on entering the big, scary world of writing (as I am currently a student headed that way, it'll be rather fresh for all of us!) as well as fantasy across the cultures, from Ireland to Japan to China to Atlanta, GA...well, you get the idea. I'm sure we'll come up with much more as we go along.

But why is this blog called Maudlin's Shoes? The title is based off of a poem called "Tom o' Bedlam", a 17th century (at the latest) poem about wandering madmen-- or Bedlam Boys. The first stanza goes:
For to see Mad Tom of Bedlam,
Ten thousand miles I've traveled.
Mad Maudlin goes on dirty toes,
For to save her shoes from gravel.

You can read more about Tom of Bedlam under that first link there on the side. But Mad Maudlin is the character here that I'm interested in. There have been many times I've considered myself, from an outside eye, as a rather mad-looking character wandering the woods barefoot, and in my more Romantic, imaginative times I could see myself filling those footsteps: barefoot, following the wind, living by the air like the Bonny Mad Boys...

So save your shoes, my friends. There are many pebbles to consider between here and whatever destination it is we're headed towards. Tie them up with a sash around your waist and get your feet dirty. It's time to feel the bare stones, mud, and grass beneath your feet....

Until next time!