More fiction than non

It’s been a few weeks since I last blogged, but that is actually a good sign.  I’ve been putting my writing energy almost completely into my book in progress.  What is still very difficult is that it’s so slow…a drip, drip, drip rather than a steady flow.  And as soon as I start thinking about how excruciatingly LONG it will take to actually finish a draft of this thing, that’s when self-consciousness chokes off the flow completely .  Sigh.

Last night I finished reading WE ARE NOT OURSELVES by Matthew Thomas.  The book swept me up in it’s empathetic storytelling, doling out the story of Eileen Leary over many decades.  It’s amazing how a novelist can do that — present you with someone to care about, to root for, as if they are someone you know personally.

It’s both inspiring to me to read such a good book, and overwhelming.  I’m genuinely awed by the almost magical way a writer can conjure up another world; and there’s still a big part of me that thinks, “How did they DO that??”

12 thoughts on “More fiction than non

  1. Good Morning, Arthur!

    I don’t know if this will help you or not, but I have a couple of writing tricks/tips that help me when my writer’s muse doesn’t seem to want to move forward at a pace that allows creativity to click at a less hampered pace.

    One trick is to have a second manuscript that I am working on where I feel less pressured/encumbered. For example, my writing partner wanted to toy with writing an adult Sci-Fi, action/adventure novel, but my passion is children’s books, particularly chapter books for reluctant readers. Dabbling in a different genre was intriguing and intellectually interesting, but was unfamiliar territory for my writer’s muse. Consequently, it was easier for me to find myself staring at a mostly blank screen trying to decide what line should come next or where the action should take me if I was working in the adult manuscript. However, if I spent 30 minutes in my chapter book manuscript, with two characters I’ve grown to know and have fun playing with, I can then flip to the adult manuscript and my creative muse is already warmed up and ready for action. This, of course, requires you to have another manuscript on the side that you can play around with and have fun, but not feel the same writing pressure that you feel with your current manuscript. I used a similar technique to this to survive medical school. My brain could only endure so much anatomy (all that rote memorization), so I would flip to a more engaging subject that I enjoyed learning (like embryology or physiology) for 30 minutes, then flip back to anatomy. I found that, by spending time in a subject I enjoyed that also came easily and naturally for me, I could warm my brain up and keep it more engaged when I had to focus on something that was more tedious. Any time my brain decided it couldn’t take any more anatomy, I would flip back to one of my favorite subjects so that I could keep studying.

    The other trick I use is to leave the screen open, but walk away from my laptop and engage in an activity that doesn’t absorb my brain (so that my creative muse is free to wander), but allows me to take the pressure off of writing because I’m not staring at a blank screen. By leaving the computer up and running, I’ve committed myself to coming back to my writing in ten minutes. But I’ve taken the pressure off because I’ve walked away from the screen.

    The activity can be pretty much anything, as long as my brain is free to wander. Washing dishes seems to work better than starting a load of laundry or running the vacuum cleaner. I’m convinced that’s because, the moment I get the sink full of soapy water and my hands wet (i.e., the least convenient time to return to my laptop), my brain decides that that’s the most amusing time to unlock my creative muse.

    Doing something that is physically relaxing, that allows you to let go of the pressure and stress of writing also works well -like taking a shower. Also not a convenient place to write. But, if you have a place where you are stuck in your manuscript and can take the pressure off of your writer’s muse by stepping away from your manuscript for ten minutes to unlock your muse, you can often come back with your muse in full gear.

    I know that, what works for one writer, doesn’t work for every writer. I hope one of these tips will help your writer’s muse to be less elusive!

    1. Thank you, Jennifer. That’s actually VERY helpful. I appreciate all the advice and will definitely try those things out. (I have done some of that switching back and forth — that’s essentially what this BLOG is for…!) It does work. 🙂

  2. You are very welcome, Arthur! We have to help each other out in this world. After all, we are all part of the same tribe. Writing is one of those professions where we absolutely need the tribe. It’s one of the things I love most about being part of the writing world -that sense of community and the feeling that “we are all in this together.” I still love that song you performed with Mike Jung when he came out with his debut book, Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities. Now that was definitely being part of the tribe! You and Mike were absolutely fabulous!

    I had a suspicion you were using your blog to propel your writing forward -in two ways: to help unlock your writing muse, and to keep you accountable to your writing because you’ve committed to a project by announcing to the tribe that you had a project under way.

    Any teasers about your project? Genre? Readership? I can’t wait to see what you’ve been working on!

    Happy writing, Arthur. And don’t forget to enjoy the ride! 🙂

  3. Hello Arthur,

    I have been reading your blog for quite some time, and I absolutely love your imprint and the books that you have published so far. While I cannot write a great deal about it in this comments section, I am currently working on a novel, my genre being fantasy for young adults. I have read about your high and ongoing interest in discovering books that are original, captivating and memorable – the sort of books that stay with you from childhood and well into adulthood. Having said that and truly relating to your way of thinking as a writer and publisher, I feel as though you would be the right person to read my novel and to give me your opinion of it. Is there a way that I can submit the first two chapters or a bit more directly to you (an email address)? I would truly appreciate it, and look forward to hearing from you soon.

    Thank you.

    1. Hi Penelope,
      I have no idea how long you’ve been traveling along your journey towards becoming a published author. From your post, you are clearly working on at least one novel -which is a courageous and exciting adventure. I’ve been traveling along the writer’s journey for about ten years now. One of the things I’ve enjoyed most about this journey is the camaraderie and support of fellow writers. Any time I attend a writer’s meeting, participate in a critique group, or attend a writer’s conference, I find myself surrounded by people who are eager to support each other in their creative efforts and who are willing/eager to share advice, insights, knowledge… about writing and the writing industry (including how to acquire an agent, gain the attention of an editor, where and how to submit a manuscript…), and, just as importantly, how to strengthen our writing and our writing skills so that, when we do approach and agent or an editor, we increase the possibility that we will be successful.

      Because I truly don’t know where you are in your journey (but I suspect from your post that you are earlier in your journey than I am), I thought I would share some wisdom that I have gained in my own journey, in my hopes that I can help you with yours -because I wouldn’t be where I am today without the help of those who have traveled before me.

      The most important piece of wisdom I can share with you is this:
      While I know that the burning question on every aspiring writer’s mind is, “How do I get my manuscript in front of an agent or editor who will publish my book?” the most important question should be, “How do I strengthen my writing and my manuscript so that, when I do have the opportunity to get my manuscript in front of an agent or editor, I increase the possibility that I will find representation/achieve publication?” Fortunately, once the second question is properly addressed, the first question will often naturally answer itself.

      Here are some tips to help you achieve the answer to both questions:
      1) If you haven’t already done so, I would strongly encourage you to find a writer’s group in your area where you can attend writer’s meetings and participate in critique groups. Fellow writers will not only provide you with encouragement, they will help answer many questions about the writing industry and the process of becoming a published writer. They can also help you strengthen your writing. Many of these meetings are free and the cost of becoming an active member is usually low/extremely reasonable.

      2) Consider attending some writer’s conferences. Cost on these opportunities varies. But I consider the cost of conferences to be part of an investment in my writing career. At conferences, you not only have the opportunity to learn about many aspects of writing and the writing industry, you also have the opportunity to network with fellow writers and, often, with editors and agents (I first met Arthur Levine at a writer’s conference in Kansas, and then, almost a year later, inadvertently found myself in the same elevator with him at a conference in New York -a conference that I didn’t know Arthur would be attending). Many conferences also offer the opportunity to obtain critiques directly from agents and editors and/or to participate in pitch sessions where you can pitch your manuscript directly to an agent or an editor. For the majority of writers (particularly in the beginning of their journey) this opportunity does not ensure representation/publication, but you will gain direct feedback from professionals in the industry that will help you grow as a writer, if you apply the knowledge you are given.

      3) Consider hiring a “book doctor”/ freelance editor (who has experience editing manuscripts in your genre/target audience -i.e., young adult fantasy). Again, cost on these opportunities varies. As with conferences, I consider these costs to be an investment in my writer’s education and not a guarantee of publication. In fact, “book doctors”/freelance editors are not publishers (although some of them previously worked within the publishing industry). The purpose of these opportunities is to help you strengthen your manuscript and learn skills that will make you a stronger writer -similar to taking a writing class at a local community college -except you get to select exactly what manuscript you want to work on and get feedback directly on that manuscript.

      4) Consider participating in a writer’s program designed to help you become an author of books for children/young adults. Although this requires an investment of both time and money, this can be one of the most valuable steps you take in your writer’s journey. Even if you are a college graduate, possibly even an English major, there are skills associated with becoming a successful children’s author that often aren’t taught in traditional classrooms. There are several opportunities around the country, and some of them don’t require any travel -i.e., they are taught strictly through online courses or through the mail.
      I will share this piece of personal information with you: By the time that I decided I wanted to become a children’s author, I was already well established in a rewarding career, one that required 15 years of higher education (college level and above). I also already had multiple publications in scientific journals. Even so, I recognized that, when it came to writing great children’s books, there were probably skills that I had never been taught -because I hadn’t started my life with the goal of becoming a published children’s author. As it turns out, I was correct. Although I felt like I had the skills to write for children when I was 37 years old, ten years later, I recognize that my writing skills have come a very long way over the past decade -far enough that I’ve had several editors tell me that my work is ready for publication and an agent offer me representation. Admittedly, my journey has been longer than some because I haven’t traveled my path in a straight line and because I have other priorities that sometimes divert me off my path for months at a time -like a family and an aging/disabled father who is nearing the end of his life. But the pace at which I have traveled along the path has worked for where I have been in my life as I have traveled this journey and, more importantly, I’ve allowed myself to enjoy the ride.

      I wish you well in your journey, Penelope. And I hope I’ve offered you some insights that will help you as you travel along the path to publication.

      Sincerely, Jennifer

      1. Thank you for your detailed and insightful comment, Jennifer. I really appreciate your helpful thoughts, as well as your openness in sharing your journey as a writer.

        I wish you well, too.

  4. I just want to say how very proud of you I am Arthur. You are brave. The fact that you can put yourself out there on the proverbial ‘limb’ and confess your fears, anxieties, and truths about the writing process you’re experiencing when so many of us writers revere you as a literary icon championing amazing literature to publication as a legacy is magnificent. Its so nice when writers like myself, unpublished newbies, can learn that our fears, anxieties etc. are very similar to a literary giant as yourself. We are not alone. Thanks for the peek into your ivory tower.

  5. I’m having a fantastic time reading this blog. Thank you for sharing your process with us. It’s a struggle, but also a pleasure on a deep-seated level, to stoke the creative fire, isn’t it? We live by an estuary and there have been these incredibly large fish leaping out of the water lately, perhaps they are spawning and trying to escape prowling sea lions under the surface. Every time they rise out of the water, the pelicans, sea gulls, and other shore birds all pounce even though the fish are too large for the gulls, etc., to capture. I think of writing like that – it’s important to know when the fish are leaping and go out there and chase your story even if not always easy to capture:) I wish you good luck, fun adventures, and lots of leaping fish.

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