2014/04/17

Reader's Block

I Believe in Story | Reader's Block

Reader’s block is a torturous affliction. It is much like its close cousin, writer’s block. Rather than the lack of interest or motivation to write, it is the lack of motivation or interest to read. It’s normal to come across one book in the haul that just doesn’t do it for you. But with reader’s block, the problem of one book turns into an epidemic of book after book, normally lasting anywhere from one month to one year—or even worse.

The most common symptom of reader's block is the inability to connect. The stories don’t resonate and the characters don’t relate. No conflict, turmoil, or cliffhangers are enough to make the reader care at all. It’s natural to blame the books or the writer.

I know all about reader’s block. I’ve been suffering for the better part of six months. I’ve finished, in earnest, three books worth remembering in that time. Very unlike me. I’ve started over two dozen. After the fourth of fifth chapter of luke warm emotions, I drop it back off at the library, desperate to find the cure. I become rather frantic, irrational and emotional. This is normal. Sometimes, I even fear I may never read again.

I’ve tried every genre and style, eager to find the one that will bring me out of my hole. I become a very picky reader during a block. I need a story to grab me almost immediately, and make it as effortless as possible. I certainly wouldn’t advise digging through War and Peace during a reader’s block, but hey, give it a shot if you think it will work. You have nothing to lose.

This is certainly the worst reader’s block I’ve experienced. The only correlation I can see in my recent activity to suggest a reason is that I started writing my own novel around the time my reading became an issue. As someone who always advocates reading as a partner to writing, I couldn't understand how the two couldn’t coexist in my life.

I’m still living with the affliction to this day, but I won’t give up. I still pick a book up every day; whether I trudge through something half-heartedly or I revisit an old friend, I treat reader’s block the same way I treat writer’s block. The only cure is to keep doing it.

A few last things I’ve learned to rid a reading dry spell:

  • Go for something quick and rewarding (read: genre fiction of choice).
  • Read the first book to a series, that way the cliffhanger in book one will draw you to read book two.
  • Read a book made into a movie that you haven’t seen. Not only will the preexisting picture of the setting and characters be less work for your brain, you’ll have incentive to see the flick (only after you finish the book of course).
  • Read an encore (something you’ve already read)!
  • Go to the library, grab each and every book that catches your eye, then find a quiet place to spend an entire day getting to know each one... like speed dating. This is normal behavior, right?
  • Keep at it! It won’t last forever.
  • 2014/04/16

    Becoming A Writer

    I Believe in Story | Becoming A Writer

    From the time I was 10 years old, when my mother bought me an old Royal typewriter from a yard sale, I knew I wanted to be a writer. One of my favorite memories is sitting at the coffee table, my typewriter before me, punching out stories based upon a favorite cartoon. I suppose that would be a first foray into fan-fiction. As time passed, I grew up and entered high school. Nothing had changed; I still wanted to be a writer.

    During this time, I got my hands on a copy of a book titled Becoming A Writer by Dorothea Brande. You might not be familiar with this book. It’s not one that writers mention constantly when they discuss our craft and the works on such artistry. They mention titles like Stephen King’s On Writing, Ray Bradbury’s Zen and the Art of Writing or Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. In fact, you may have never heard of Dorothea Brande; she was born in 1893 and died in 1943. Her writing career spanned from the Roaring 20’s to just before World War II.

    In 1934, Becoming A Writer was published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons of New York. The modern copy that you find in today’s bookstores will have a foreword by bestselling author John Gardner, of Grendel and The Sunlight Dialogues fame, once called a literary outlaw by Barry Silseky. In that foreword, Gardner writes that “The root problems of the writer, whether the writer is young or old, just starting out or much published, are no different today than in 1934, when Becoming A Writer was first published.” He’s right.

    Ms. Brande’s methods and style are what I call clear, simplistic, and straightforward. Reading her work, I do not get the sense that she has placed herself above me, or feels that she is superior to me in any way. The language she uses is plain, with an engaging voice more like a close friend or an older sister might use. She also does not spend a great deal of time going over example after example. She presents her ideas and then walks the reader through the method of putting those ideas into action.

    My senior year of high school I first picked up her book. The desire to be a writer still blazed within me and I was planning on going to college for a degree in Journalism. As I began to prepare, I also began to work towards competing in a regional talent contest. Using the advice that Ms. Brande wrote of in her book, I worked feverishly every day on a short story to enter into the competition.

    One of the biggest pieces of advice that Ms. Brande puts forward is the necessity to constantly write. To write every day. I took her lessons to heart, and at the end of my senior year I had won first place in the writing portion of the talent competition. I was elated. I’ve kept that copy of her book amongst all of my writing tomes. It is there, to this day, almost twenty-two years later. A well-worn, beaten, coffee-stained paperback with a pink cover. Every now and then, when I needed a kick in the pants or a friendly hand to guide me in the right direction, I picked it up and read one of the short chapters.

    Life, of course, got the better of my plans. I joined the Marine Corps and then the Navy, devoting a full career to military service. I’ve been all around the world. I’ve been in all four oceans, most of the seven seas, and set foot on every continent but Antarctica. I have not been published, but because of the words of an author, gone fifty years before I read her work, I write on. I take time to put pencil to paper, or fingers to keyboard, and write something every day.

    If you have $10-$20 available, I encourage you to find a copy of this book. Be it online, in a store, or wherever you can find it. It is 173 pages of some of the most brilliant, thoughtful, and straightforward advice on writing that you will find. It has encouraged me to hang onto the dream of a bright-eyed, ten-year-old boy and continue to put words on paper in the hopes of making people smile, cry, laugh—or even all three at once. Maybe it will have a similar effect on you.

    2014/04/15

    5 Steps to Handling Query Rejections Like A Boss

    I Believe in Story | 5 Steps to Handling Query Rejections Like A Boss

    The life of an aspiring author is often likened to living on a rollercoaster. We are inspired to write a shiny new idea, we spend months pouring over said idea, writing and deleting, outlining, drafting, romancing the characters and their story, until we have a complete manuscript. We send it to critique partners or friends or husbands or wives who have no choice but to read. We revise our very soul onto the page and then we seal it in blood.

    When all that has been accomplished, and a polished manuscript stares brightly back at us, we write our query. If we’re smart, we spit shine that baby as much as our manuscript. We pour over literary blogs for agent interviews, follow the #MSWL hashtag, make spreadsheets of agents we love who might love our book. Then, and hopefully only then, do we hit send.

    More often than not querying results in rejection. Google query stats and you will find numerous blog posts on the subject. It will make you want to delete your query letter and go have a stiff drink in the afternoon.

    Don’t do that. Read my guide instead.

    Handling Rejection Like a Boss Step #1
    Recognize that your query and the manuscript it’s pitching are not perfect, not right for everyone, and in the end, not the only thing in an agent’s inbox that needs attention. Agents have no obligation to you. Accept that and stop feeling entitled. Acceptance is the first step to almost anything. Really, it’s not that hard. Don’t be a whiner.

    Handling Rejection Like a Boss Step #2
    Agents are not villains. They want to find new clients (if they are open to queries, but if they are not then don’t bang on a closed door expecting it to open only for you) and if you do your research, you may just become one of them. You also might not—even with research, a fab query, great pages, so on, etc., these things are not a guarantee. For whatever reason, it still may not happen with said agent. Get over it and move on.

    Handling Rejection Like a Boss Step #3
    The internet is a magical place where you can make new friends, connect professionally with agents and editors and authors, take Buzzfeed quizzes, and scroll through countless gifs of Benedict Cumberbatch being swoony. It is not a place to vent your frustration with the agent that just rejected you. This path leads to destruction. Turn away. Call your best friend, have drinks and cookies, lament in private and without your Twitter app open. After a particularly disappointing rejection, take time to be sad in the company of other writers, in the privacy of a cone of silence.

    Handling Rejection Like a Boss Step #4
    Write. Write another book. If you are getting feedback on pages from agents, and there are problems with your current manuscript, feel free to edit or revise, but remember this: at some point you will query all the agents who might connect with your project and you still may not have representation. Have another book ready to start querying if that time comes. This is a business. As much as we love our books and want each one to have its day in the sun, that just might not happen. I know, I feel you, I do. Write another book anyway.

    Handling Rejection Like a Boss Step #5
    Believe in yourself, but be humble and willing to learn. Being honest with yourself during the querying process can save you a lot of heartache, and maybe even more importantly—in a changing, unpredictable field like Publishing—time. This is a process that no one, not even Veronica Roth, perfected right out the gate. The good news is that with persistence, with humility, with honesty, and a lot of hard work, you can make it.

    I am a querying writer. I blush when asked how long I’ve been in the query trenches and if I see an end in sight. This guide is as much for me as it is for you. We are in it together.