New Year’s Restitutions | Writing on the Ether

2 January 2013 iStock_000000449951Small photog HeroOfTheDay2441 texted story image

Table of Contents

  1. Nobody Dast Blame Us
  2. Maass Production
  3. Wendigging It

Nobody Dast Blame Us

You know the line, right? It’s Charley, in Death of a Salesman:

Nobody dast blame this man. You don’t understand: Willy was a salesman. And for a salesman, there’s no rock bottom to the life. He don’t put a bolt to a nut, he don’t tell you the law or give you medicine. He’s a man way out there in the blue riding on a smile and a shoeshine.

An infographic provided to the Ether by Goodreads on the Amazon-owned site’s 2013 successes. It shows us that some 25 million people were talking more about books than about the book business: There may be hope yet.

And we’re all salesmen on this bus. The books bus. If we weren’t before, we are now. We have every right to be wickedly focused on the business end of things.

Here at the opening of the 344th Year of Our Digital Disruption—how long, O Lord, how long?there’s nothing surprising about the obsession gripping the industry! the industry!

The digital dynamic does not and did not change the creative process.

No, it bites you on the business end. Distribution is its engine. The marketplace is its test track. Your career is its parking lot.

A lot of our colleagues never meant to be salesmen. Not really. Sure, sure, everyone in life sells something, etc., etc., but I’m talking about the near-eclipse of art by commerce that has occurred while the transition monster-trucked its way through publishing.

You couldn’t see one of the 8,762 obligatory stagings of A Christmas Carol this holiday season without somebody telling you that Charles Dickens was a great serialist. Would everyone please stop telling us that? We know, Dickens released in serial form. Got it. Does anybody talk about what Dickens wrote anymore? What those stories meant? How he crafted his characters or what he wanted us to remember about them? Do you really think he wanted us to dwell on the fact that he released stuff in serial form? Me either. I think he was making more important points about life than that. So could we move on now, please?

Likewise, you can see this reductio ad business in the 2014 edition of the Writer Advice Day Palooza that bombards us with teeth-gnashed writer-advice confetti each year.

As Elizabeth S. Craig put it in her, How To Meet Our Goals in 2014, “Since my blog reader was so chock-full of writerly advice for the next year, I felt I needed to run a post as an antidote. ”

And her antidote is a good one, especially if you’re in the grand-goals camp. She writes:

How low can you set the bar and still get what you want? I know that sounds awful, but for me, that’s how I achieve—I hit all my goals and that motivates me to keep hitting goals.  And if I hit my goal and keep going and write more…that doesn’t mean I don’t write the next day.  The next day I meet my very modest goal again.  With modern life—we’ve just got to be realistic about our time.

I hashed a brace of tweets on January 1 #HappyWriterAdviceDay. It’s been more like Writer Advice Week, of course. Almost charming. If Meredith Wilson’s The Music Man had been The Writing Man, we’d all be out in some desperately small-town-Americana town square telling each other how to do it. That’s what Writer Advice Day/Week is. Authors telling authors how to do it.

New Year really brings out the evangelist in so many of our good friends, doesn’t it?

Most of the posts I found for #HappyWriterAdviceDay featured our best and brightest telling our brightest and best that they have to write at least 500 words each day damn it, no matter what. Even if both your arms fall off and the power goes out, you still have to write 500 words each day damn it. Your spouse may die, your children may put out each others’ eyes with their Hunger Games archery sets, and terrorist attacks may collapse buildings on your head, but you have to write 500 words each day damn it, that’s it, that’s all, amen and awomen.

Some of these aren’t resolutions. They’re recriminations. Self-recriminations. The person who tells you most loudly that you have to write 500 words each day in 2014?—just might be the one who didn’t manage it (damn it) in 2013.

But I’ll say it again, in everyone’s defense: we’re being driven to this stark-staring fixation on word counts by the Digital Enablement. Nobody dast blame us. This is Boom Town, baby. Everybody can publish, publish, publish. Who cares if you have nothing to say? Write a book, anyway. No, write four. Per year. If you don’t, you’re a wuss. Five-hundred words…I told you that part already, right? Okay.

So amid all this content-more-content-faster-content cacophony of #HappyWriterAdviceDay, imagine my relief when I found Donald Maass, my fellow contributor at Writer Unboxed, writing:

There’s all the time in the world today. It’s a day for resolutions and lists, every item of which feels doable. The slate’s wiped clean. The calendar is a hopeful expanse just waiting to be filled with shining accomplishments and earned satisfaction. All is possible. Nothing is too difficult. The view ahead is clear.

When did Maass become such a relaxing person? That agency of his is about to open a maassage service, mark my word and get me an hour-long appointment as soon as it’s up and running.

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Maass Production

Today’s a good day to get off the highway. Give yourself some time to stretch. Have a coffee. Dream a little. Summon your ambition. Feel your power. The novel you’re working on has the potential for greatness. Today’s the day to discover it, own it, and plan for it.

Porter Anderson, Writing on the Ether, Jane Friedman, author, publisher, agent, books, publishing, digital, ebooks, Dave Malone, Seasons in Love, poetry, Trask Road Press
Donald Maass

In this pause of the assembly line, Maass recommends you ask yourself a few questions about what it is you’re writing, not about how much you’re writing.

When readers finish your novel, what will they feel most strongly? Which event in the novel should most strongly provoke that feeling? How can you enhance that event to guarantee that result in readers?

Are your eyes brimming yet? His piece is called Novel ResolutionsNovel, indeed, because he doesn’t mention word count damn it.

What makes novels in your category weak, derivative and predictable? Catalogue those elements then take a look at your own manuscript. (Come on, be honest.) Work out changes that will counter your readers’ expectations.

This next bit from Maass may even be illegal for open conversation in certain boroughs of Manhattan:

What makes a novel a classic? List the qualities. How can you enact each of those qualities in your pages?

He’s talking about literature. Classic literature. Remember that stuff? Wouldn’t it be amazing to restore some of our commitment to the work itself this year, not just to getting smarter and faster at producing it?

(Literature means all genres, thank you, and I’m looking at my one reader who loves to tweet at me that “literature” means only literary. I should have given her a dictionary for Christmas.)

What I really appreciate about Maass’ essay at WU is that he doesn’t slam us with another refrain of “Trouble Right Here in River City” about butts in seats and hands on keyboards. He actually advises you to take a moment—which didn’t have to be on New Year’s Day, do it now—to think about what you meant to write, what you may or may not be saying in a book.

For this, I’d like to shake his virtual hand. What a great thing.

I found a bit more headed in this direction, and I’ll offer it to you in case you, too, are tired of “the product” and would like to spend a little time thinking about “the meaning.”

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Wendigging It

Publishing is a container, and while choice of container is certainly important, it’s not the reason you’re here. If the only thing that makes you interesting is how you publish, your time in this creative place has a very short clock.

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, blog, blogging, journalism, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, The Bookseller, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Digital Book 2013, IDPF, BEA 2013
Chuck Wendig

This is Chuck Wendig. And I cannot say that in Writing Resolutions: 2014 and Beyond, he doesn’t push hard at the importance of actually doing the writing. Without telling us about the 500 words each day damn it, he does make it wonderfully clear that airy-fairying off into the nana of poetic promise won’t get the job done:

You should firmly get your order of operations straight: the writing comes first. The talking-and-reading-about-writing comes second. Writing advice is here to support your art, not support the illusion of your art.

But Wendig, a prolific producer, himself, mind you, brings some interesting observations to the table, in that special patois of his.

For example, here’s one of Wendig’s 10 resolutions for 2014: “I will give my work the time it needs.”


Better do that one again: “I will give my work the time it needs.”


Sometimes a story comes out fast. Sometimes it comes out slow…Overnight successes never are; what you see is just the iceberg’s peak poking out of the slush. This takes time. From ideation to action. From writing one junk novel to a worse novel to a better one to the ninth one that’s actually worth a good goddamn. From writing to rewriting to editing to copyediting. Don’t “just click publish.”

He’s not only talking to self-publishers, either:

Don’t just send it off half-baked to some editor or agent — they get hundreds of stories a day that are the narrative equivalent to a sloppy equine miscarriage or half-eaten ham salad sandwich…Take pride in what you do. Go the distance and get shit done. Not just a little bit done, but all-the-way-to-the-awesome-end done.

There are several more resolutions here well worth all our attention. I’m excerpting his comments about them. I suggest you read his full text.

“I will earn my audience”:

You don’t build an audience like it’s a fucking chair. And you don’t beat your potential audience about the head and neck with that goddamn chair, either. You earn them by being the best version of you. You earn them by being passionate and awesome and not-an-asshole.

“I will respect the role of storyteller”:

Storytelling is news, entertainment, myth, religion, memory. As humans, we’re biologically a turbid broth of genetics — but intellectually, we’re stitched of a complex quilt of storytelling memetics. Other people won’t respect your role. They think what you’re doing is a half-a-jar of horseshit. But being a storyteller? Choosing to do this thing? It matters. Stories make the world go around. Respect the role, and your choice of it. Storytellers matter.

This next one I find especially interesting. As the biz drives more and more decisions and detours, have you seen that blank look on some writers’ faces when they talk about their work? I have, too. Here’s Wendig:

“I will get excited about what I’m writing”:

What you do is you find a way to be excited about the work. You still make it yours. You own it. You claim it with the flag of your voice thrust into the earth of the work….Discover your own door into the material. Find the You-shaped hole in every story…Get geeked about your story. Write what thrills you. Every day of writing, sit down and ask: what am I going to write that excites me today?

As I said, Wendig does include what he terms “the simplest commandment of them all: write:

Write a little or a lot every day but goddamnit, write. Whether it’s 350 words or 3500 — the only way out is through.

But what sticks with me from his piece, like what sticks with me from good Dickens, is the focus he’s putting on what it is you’re writing and how it stacks up to the means, the modes, the digital machine we’re all feeding in one way or another:

You will succeed in the long run based on how you write and on the stories you tell, not on what method of publishing you choose.

What do you think? Even while being chased around the coffee table by digital in 2014, can we restore some emphasis on what’s being written?—and a little less on how many words damn it?

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Main image – iStockphoto: HeroOfTheDay2441

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