Um . . . You’re the Crazy Ones

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God bless my friends and family who’ve said I should proud of the accomplishment of completing and publishing The Silent PartnerTragically, they have no idea what they’re talking about.

“You should reflect and be proud of yourself.” “It’s such an accomplishment, you should rest awhile.” “You should be so proud of that review!” “Bask in the glory and be proud.” Glory? . . . REST?? . . . Pride? . . . Are you friggin’ kidding me? I’m behind! I’ve got to promote the novel somehow while I conceive my next work! There are more rules to learn, more writers to meet, more stories to tell . . . all while the clock ticks and the publishing world continues to evolve into a new universe while the economy doesn’t get off its ass. It’s madness!

Of course, I’m surrounded by good intentions with spirits around me that are pragmatic, thoughtful, and grounded. In some cases, very loving. However I, like many artists, can be creative, emotionally charged, searching, and inspired. I try to manifest all the aforementioned characteristics, well, most of them . . . and while I don’t know how I’m always doing with this bombardment of conflicts, paradoxes, and mixed emotions, I know when I’m focused on something, it will happen.

I knew once I started the book, I’d finish it. I knew I’d publish it. No matter what. To me, this isn’t amazing at all. I said, “This is what I’m going to do,” and I did it.

You’re already working on your next book? What’s wrong with you?” Some people think that a writer who submerges his or herself into a writing project for YEARS has a serious problem with reality. I think skydiving or racing a car from zero to 60 in 5 seconds is crazy. Coming from a family with 4 siblings, having that many children is crazy.

I’m fortunate to have an amazing array of wonderful people in my life. They’re just the ones who’ve lost their minds. Clearly.

Fighting for Your Writing Focus

If your personal relationships and obligations aren’t obstacles to your storytelling mojo, and you’re still having problems focusing on your writing, it’s possible that extreme levels of media stimuli are the culprit. From experience, I’ve been the happy, intended victim of over-stimulation of all media–that is, music, film and TV, sporting events, news in any form, social media, books (Gasp! Yes, this can happen.), and advertising all around us–all of which can hamper the coveted discovery of fresh, purposeful prose. And, sans the advertising plate that has glared at me from the urinal (the front sports page is much more pleasurable), I’ve been content and accommodating in absorbing it all, as it got in my way.

No doubt, sometimes various media have contributed to or downright inspired compositions from many of us writers. A song ever inspire you? A news story? A bad movie? (“Oh, done right, this story could have rocked it!”) A great one? Social media helps us connect–and sometimes promote, the news informs, and other stories around us may provide us springboards for our inspiration to tell our own tales. So how do we turn it all off so we can focus? Aren’t reading books supposed to help us with our own writing? (Absolutely they do.) So with the bombardment of inspiration and distraction, how do you determine which media to embrace and which to turn off?

What’s worked for me: Simply, if there’s a story that demands to be told, and it needs you to tell it, and you’re on a roll, stick with reading books and news headlines, watch the relevant games only, and embrace the music that fuels your fire. Doing this for two years or more of a writing project is impossible for most of us, but for those days or weeks when you’re in the zone (when our best work emerges almost magically), managing your focus in storytelling is simply keeping new, emerging stories in your head from vying for your attention. Keep a clear head the best you can.

You can also avoid public restrooms. If appropriate.

New Ideas and the Old Project

The biggest problem working on a project is when you want to get started on another one. Been there? The juices aren’t just flowing, they’re growing, and you know that moving forward with another idea–or group of ideas–is a bad move when project number one hasn’t been completed to satisfaction. How do you cope?

Consider letting your new idea ferment a little, like a good chianti. (No fava beans, please.) Let yourself be even more inspired–if that’s possible–to finish your current work. Maybe you’ll move faster, or obstacles will know to move out of your way when they see you coming. (Don’t think of yourself as Moses. It will come off badly, I promise.) Embrace and document all of your ideas, big and small, and put them in a drawer, on a Word doc, or on a memo on your iPad . . . whatever . . . but don’t let go the focus of your current project. Get it done.

After all, wouldn’t you rather have one finished piece of work–to your satisfaction–than ten unfinished ones?

 

“The Silent Partner”: Why I’m Bringing My Unpublished Manuscript to Life

Five years ago, the idea for the book first made its way onto computer screen. The first two and a half years I was on my own, discovering and writing. It would take a couple years for a first draft (that no one shall ever see, it was so bad). Over the next year and a half, my book editor, Wendy, assisted with multiple drafts while I attempted to turn the story into something people would want to read. Big discovery came here, too, along with humble pie and the revelation that I had no idea what I was doing. But quitting wasn’t an option. Too much time had been invested, and I’d learned resiliency years ago. It was time to learn how to write, and not fool myself that I already knew how. It didn’t matter how many writing books I had read or how many A’s I’d received in college studies. I now studied feverishly, unlike I’d ever studied anything before. (My college professors would surely be irate if they knew I had ignored such capacity to expand while in their classes.) The Silent Partner eventually emerged from an idea and poorly written story into a crafted and structured novel that, hopefully, will be read.

I had never heard of book trailers until about ten months ago, when Wendy said I should look into them, given my background and affection for film. Completing the manuscript had led to the additional challenge–and fortune–of finishing the book trailer to promote it. Now, with a number of agency rejections to back my claim up that my manuscript does indeed exist, soon the launch of the book trailer will showcase the book in a new medium. All in the effort to have a new voice and bring attention to the source material, acquire agency representation, and–more importantly–get The Silent Partner published.

The solitude of writing, rewriting, editing, revising, throwing away, and starting over again . . . gave way to collaboration with a team and crew of artists–from a number of disciplines–to bring The Silent Partner to life. Filmmakers–from a cinematographer to writers and directors–and actors, a producer-pal and location scout, a film editor and special effects pro, a composer, a band, a sketch artist, and book designer (to assist with the promo “cover” of the book). Many of them now friends.

What an incredible array of talents . . . all bound together for a book that no one yet knows exists.

5 Ways to Deal with Agency Rejection

Seeking a literary agent was once something I thought I’d fear. There were horror stories of writers griping that their unread manuscripts for their novels (usually, their first) were ignored by hordes of agents, who ignored their numerous calls, e-mails, and form letter submissions. These agents were to be an intimidating and untouchable gaggle of literary snobs, if I had listened. But as my sisters can testify, I never, ever, have done that.

After going to several writers’ conferences, I was humbled and realized there was work to do. My writing needed to get better. While it was highly unlikely I’d find the perfect match with a lit agent–that is, find someone who was looking for a story like mine in a genre like mine in a style like mine by an unknown writer like me–I discovered many lit agents felt that it was just as unlikely that they’d find the next story by a new writer that would captivate, entertain, and tease them with the opportunity to acquire the next great work that would sell. And that changed everything.

I do not have an agent. I don’t know if I’ll ever have an agent. I’ll continue to search for one, but I won’t be jaded by the current publishing system–with all of its strengths and weaknesses in the ever-changing publishing world–in its pursuit of the best possible material that the book-buying public will buy. I’ll be the best I can be, I won’t give up on my work, and the best that can happen will happen. I won’t stop. Because of this, my skills improved more in the last two years than they had in the previous ten. Progress.

Here are the five ways I’ve learned to overcome rejections–or lack of response–from my submitted query letters or requested manuscript submissions, and keep determined, focused, and sane:

  1. Recognition that taste is a big part of this submission and approval process. I’m not sure where I heard this, but if you want to call yourself an artist, you can’t blame the world because they don’t embrace your work.
  2. Somehow maintain life balance. We all have people and priorities in our life other than our passion projects, and remembering to be in those moments–physically and emotionally–not only makes the rejection process bearable, it can be something to look forward to conquering.
  3. Peppering instead of blanketing submissions. I’ve heard of writers sending out huge blocks of submissions to dozens of agents at a time. Why do that when you can send out a few, learn from your feedback, improve your work, and then send out more polished submissions? This requires a bit of patience, yes. Think of it–if you can manage it with time and expense–a lot like tuition!
  4. Network with other writers, successful ones included. Don’t hang out merely with lesser writers than yourself but ones who have other skills, mindsets, or success stories that you don’t. You’ll learn something like I have, and you’ll be inspired.
  5. While it pays to be attentive to criticism and other people’s judgements sometimes, it can be invaluable to find the belief in your project that no one else can. If you’ve done research and have studied the subject, the genre, the industry . . . and believe your work is great in a calculated way, fight for it. Quincy Jones had tried again and again to convince Michael Jackson to pull the song Thriller off his legendary album. The moral: In the end, if you don’t believe in it, no one else will.

The Drive


Most of my friends don’t write. It’s not that they can’t. God bless ’em, they’ve got better things to do with their lives everyday than write about life when they live it instead. But virtually everyone in my life inspires me one way or another, by either going after the things that are fulfilling them or by their fear of getting back up from their last mishap. And going for it. It doesn’t take a writer to inspire me, or an athlete, or a motivational speaker. It actually doesn’t take much for me to find the next someone to provide me a source of more drive.

Over the years, I’ve become inspired by people who believe in me and people who don’t. I’ve realized when you’re running on empty for whatever reason, you’ve got to find fuel in everyone and everything. My smarter or more successful friends can be motivating with their discipline and focus. Unemployed friends energize me with their own stories of what inspires them, and my content friends energize me so I never become that way.

As I imagine it, there’s little that can be more gratifying than accomplishing something few thought you could do. And who knows if those that did believe in you did it with any intentions other than pure hope for your success? (There will be some who never doubted, but not many.) Enjoy the authenticity of faith when you find it, and let it push you. Revel in the doubt and skepticism, and let it galvanize you. If you’ve studied–and pained to become not just good, but great at something–enjoy your travels. They’ll be adventurous. Sometimes, you’ve got to walk that road alone for a while before anyone notices you there. Unless, of course, you walk in the middle of it.

And own it, without anyone’s permission.

When You Run Out of Ideas to Write About

There are many articles and books out there to help the discouraged writer in search of inspiration. With no one right way to do it, many of my writer friends and entrepreneurs are looking for their next awakening. What will spur their emotions and catapult their careers? (Click here for 50 ways that one writer suggests to help you dig deep. I particularly enjoyed the “Read alumni newsletters” idea.)

This weekend I saw Limitless, with a well-written screenplay by Leslie Dixon, based on the gritty novel, The Dark Fields , by Alan Glynn. If you’re unfamiliar with the story, it’s about a writer with writer’s block that comes upon a drug that helps him uncover his previously concealed and unknown brilliance. Of course, plenty of problems arise, his life is in danger, and he discovered that he really could write. If it was only that easy . . .

The movie made me think. First, I don’t need a drug of any kind to be neurotic about keeping my home clean. Next, I’m careful not to approach the subject of acquiring ideation as an expert because I, like everyone, know only what works for me. Where do good ideas come from? And where do you go when you run out of them?

I don’t read books on where to get ideas, but I do read books. And the news. Sometimes, when I’m busy or just irritated with the prospect of having to read the news––in any fashion––I watch it. Then, there’s music and movies. I share my time with motivating friends who have ideas for their lives and want to be more of what they are. Spend time with loved ones, because that’s where conflict is sure to come up. (You know it’s true.) I’m curious to see new places and when I’m trying to save money . . . I read about them. Or experience them in a more time-economical fashion, like going to new parts of town and visiting cultured restaurants. And listen to more music and watch more movies! (I really should play more outside.)

Then again . . . I could actually open one of my alumni newsletters.

This blog entry is dedicated to my good friend, Jerry Jao.