Wednesday, July 30, 2014

John Straley: Why Should We Celebrate?

The final post in this month's series from guest author John Straley.

I would like to make something clear from the last post. It takes me four times as long to revise something as it does to write the draft. That’s how I figure out how long to spend working during the revising stage. The discipline for rough draft writing is to write so many number of words a night. The discipline for revising is to spend so many hours a night.

Also, what might not have been clear, in the example I used, 500 words is a minimum for every night. I never average it out, never carry over extra to the next day. Five hundred words minimum every day. I always seem to write more… I think you will too, because getting started is always the hardest part isn’t it? That way at the end of your two and a half months or whatever puts you close, you have way more than just five hundred words per day of writing. You have a good chunk of a slender book done, usually I am so close that I am a short ferry ride in an interior stateroom to being completely, and absolutely, finished and ready to take my before revision hiatus.

Remember… every day of writing has to be a victory. Every day you set a goal. Every day you meet it. Then you celebrate your accomplishment.

Now, why is writing worth celebrating?

Reason number one: we are all haunted by ghosts of memory and imagination. Writing allows us to make these ghosts real, and give them voice.

Reason number two: the world needs every one of us. Writing allows each of us a beginning to find the best way to contribute to one of the myriad solutions out there.

Reason number three: for God to exist in any meaningful way she/he/it needs our love and praise. Writing allows us to lay out the architecture of that praise whether it be poetry, prose, direct action in politics, scientific research, music, art… you get the idea… writing is handy in the praise department. (If you are an atheist and believe only in the big bang and the materialists view of philosophical truth, language is still your necessary manna from mammalian nerology.)

These are the best reasons to write, but you will notice none of them have anything to do with publishing. These reasons: self discovery, activism, spiritual praise can find many forums in the world, but if you decide to write a book there is an element that is not touched on in the three above. I think that element is the quality a publisher looks for first thing and is hardest to define: it is the quality in writing that lets a reader know the author is reaching out to them and them alone. It is the opposite of self absorption. Some writers do it with humor, or action, or pure entertaining brio. Whatever it is, this is the quality that makes your thoughts attractive to others.

Publishing is a business run by business people and right now that business is in a time of terrific change from the print era to the electronic. But if you can weave your ideas together with this clarity and narrative drive that puts the reader’s interest first, there is still money to be made and people willing to work with you to make that money. Success is uncertain, but this will always be true: there is absolutely no success without the sitting down and trying.

I am a great proponent of writing as much as possible without regards to the self. I feel strongly that if you want to write, the best thing to do is take the advice of my poetry mentor at the University of Washington, Nelson Bentley, to “Avoid Self Pity Like the Plague,” and just write as much and as un-selfconsciously as you can. (I work hard to take my own advice here) It is a great time to be a broke-ass writer. It is a great time not only because ghosts need fleshing out, the world needs saving and the divine needs our praise. This is such important work that we don’t have to do it for money, but we can do it in letters. We can do it on line. We can do it for our family and for the people we love.

And if we want to clear out the calendar and step up to the plate we can write a book, because writing a book is worth doing once in our life no matter what becomes of it. The first two I wrote were never published, but they were the most satisfying things I did in my early years. They taught me how to praise and how to get out of my own head, they taught me how to build something beginning middle and end. They taught me confidence by giving me the satisfaction of completing something. They made all my other books possible.

Just as sitting down on that first day to start your book will make all of your future books possible. Now is always the time to start. No matter how many times you want to put it off. Now is always a good time.

Just put the pen to paper.

The game is on.


Lynn Lovegreen said...

Beautiful, thanks for the inspiration! I am revising my current WIP right now, and celebrating as I go along. You're right, we can't wait for the rest of the world to validate us.

Andromeda Romano-Lax said...

Loved this, including the many excellent reasons to write, completely aside from publishing. Amen.