Some months back I met a girl who wanted to be a writer. We connected in the way people sometimes do. You know, there are just some people you like and who like you back even though you just met. We got to talking about For You, Mother and where that came from. I was honest in that I pulled from a lot of my experiences, especially loving people even when they don't deserve it. I mean the story is fiction, but the themes are not. "I don't have that," said said. " I never went hungry. I never felt unloved. Nothing truly bad has happened to me in my life. My parents were great so I don't even have that to write about. I could never write a story like that."
"Then don't," I said. "Write about great parents. Write about a girl who hasn't been hurt or wounded, write about how she fits into a world where so many people have."
Being in Korea at the time that Love, Eat, Pray came out, I don't think it had the impact on me that it would have if I wasn't traveling. But this video below exemplifies why she's a successful writer and speaker. She has found HER truth and the guts to share it, no holds barred.
I finished up editing the Worst Dog-- well, editing is never 100 percent done, but go with me on this-- and started to dig into the Hearse. When I read parts of this novel, I have these moments. Wow, I wrote that, I think and then I set at the cafe`, computer and printouts spread over enough space for four people, coffee cooling (I have a confession, I much preference the smell of coffee to the taste) and play solitaire.
I've been in this funk for a few weeks. I couldn't pin down exactly what is was because you know, I want to edit it. I want to put my new skills to the old grindstone. Instead, I scrubbed my bathroom walls, emptied all the kitchen cabinets and wiped down the shelves, and scrubbed all the places in between.
Finally, during one of my solitaire marathons I was able to pin down what this thing is. I don't like to abandon my old work, but my new work is... I hesitate to say better. Lets go with different. It's different in a way that's good and working on it feels like I'm moving forward. Working on the old stuff feels in many ways like retracing my steps.
I recognize that none of my first novels are literary masterpieces. I had decided to clean them up and submit them to agents which I haven't really done and editors which I haven't done at all. I'd even be happy just self-publishing them. I believe in my heart of hearts there is a reader for every story, even the bad ones and connecting with that one read whom the story is meant for... well that's what rocks this story teller's world.
And this is a lot of words to say, I want to move forward and backward at the same time.
My first big dream was to not only to own a horse, but to go racing across open fields. There were always a lot of really, big fallen trees in this fantasy and my horse would leap them all with ease. All the books I read said jumping horses felt like flying and that's what I imagined. Freedom and flying. As so often is the case, the reality was not remotely close to the dream. Staying on a horse at anything faster than a walk requires a lot of balance. And unlike a car, the horse had a mind of it's own. In the beginning it rarely went where I wanted it to. And most shocking of all was the fear. I'm a worry wort by nature and so every time I mounted a horse, I was overcome with fear. I was determined to jump though. After years of practice,I did. Nothing so grand as the obstycle in the picture. Nope. A little ple 18 It turned out to be less a feeling of flying and more controlling terror long enough to get over the obstacle. And when I couldn't do that, the horse was more than kind enough to stop and put his head down so I could go sailing over the jump on my own. Ow.
What does this have to do with writing? The reality of writing and the fantasy of being a writer are two different things and when you fall off, you got to get back on.
It became clear to me very quickly that after months with 13.3 inches, albeit rocky months, 10 inches would no longer do. (Get your mind out of the gutter I'm talking about computer screens.)
Before I leaped this time I did some research. I wanted to find out if the SSD drivers are really better. As it turns out more gigs does not mean more speed. In other words 550 gigs of sata would not be faster than 128 gigs of SSD.
1. Light. I like to go walking, biking and hang out with friends. And I like to take my computer with me. It quickly became clear that despite LG's problems I still got a lot more writing done because I'd fire it up for 30 minutes between doing this or that. This the primary reason I did not choose another Lenovo. If you've every rummaged through a woman's bag, you know it's already full of stuff. A five pound computer will feel heavy in no time.
2. 12.5- 13 inch screen. My Lenovo is light but I've never liked the small screen. I never really got used to it either.
3. 6 hours or more battery life.
4. (Optional) Matt screen. Since I use my computer for writing the image quality of a glossy screen has never been a selling point.
5. SSD (not optional)
After much research, I settled on the Samsung Series 9 ultrabook. There are a lot of good models and if I'd been stateside Toshiba (!1.09 kilos) would have won me over. But there were issues noted about the noiseof the fans and the screen wasn't covered by warranty. Since it's not a common computer in Korea I suspect replacing it would be very expensive. Finally one user mentioned the body warped while he was traveling and since I travel a lot that was a huge factor. But the biggest factor was price. In the U.S. the Toshiba costs about $700.00 and the Samsung $1300. But in Korea I was looking at close to $1600.00 for the Toshiba. The Samsung is just a little more expensive.
One of the interesting things living abroad is the cost of technology. Most of the chip sets and software are developed by American countries. This results in a higher price for computers even when they're made in the country you reside.
In the end my needs forced me to bite the bullet and spend a little on a computer. This also meant the Macbook Air was on the table. I know lots of people ho love their Macs and I've always wanted one. Or so I thought. But Mac has made some interesting business decisions such as not supporting flash and overpriced add-ons wires for things Ethernet that that come standard on a PC. To connect to internet and connect my larger monitor I had to buy two wires at $50.00 each. These same wires run about ten for a PC.
Finally, because all my software is PC, I was either going to have to buy windows for Mac (the mac track pad is slippery on windows) or replace all my software ( about $500.00). So when I compared what you get for the money, the Mac didn't add up for me either.
The Samsung 9 serious offered every feature I wanted and every features I liked but wouldn't not buy a computer over (such as a back-lit keyboard). Finally, it's damn sexy.
You don't have to watch a lot of reality TV before you see competitors trying desperately become what they think the judges want. From a psychological standpoint the need to fit in is hardwired into our DNA. Back in the day, I mean really back in the day, if you didn't fit in you were tossed out of the village and probably got mauled by a bear.
Of course its 2012 so fitting in still maters. I bet you thought I was going to say the opposite. Nope. We are social creatures and fitting in matters. From American Idol to the Glee Project to Project Runway contestants are striving to find where they fit, not only in the competition, but in a larger world. Writers are different only in that the bulk of our time spent hone our skills is spent alone. It's good for nurturing creative abandon. Sooner or later, the need to have our efforts reinforced by others sets us to sharing our week, either with a writing group or with friends and family. We like it when our friends say "your hair looks good" and we like it when people say, "I liked that story."
There is nothing wrong with wanting approval. There is nothing wrong with being part of the crowd. Just watch a little reality TV and you'll see that talent isn't only a piece of the equation. The IT factor is somehow being you-- all the things that make you different from the talented person next to you -- and somehow fitting in.
How do you do that? Own who you are. Don't try to be somebody else. Don't try to be the person other people think you should be.
I'm perturbed today. I'm perturbed because in the process of catching up on Janet Reid's blog I followed a link to the Solon article "My book was a bad idea." This is a well writing article but the conclusions the author draws... hit a nerve, so much so, that I'm about to refute several points of the article. To be fair the author simply wrote about her personal truth.
Summary (For those smarmy individuals who are too busy using pirate words to read the article.)
In the article the author talks about how she secured an agent based on her experience as a journalist and her pitch to said agent. While I'm sure that there are lots of details left out, for writers such as myself ... ones who have received so much rejection it's practically a national past time-- a story such as this seems mythical. The author quit her job and moved abroad to write her book. The book took four years to finish, wasn't fun to write, and her agent dumped her. Subsequent agents rejected the manuscript. In the meantime she had a baby and the baby led to an epiphany of sorts. The author concluded that her love for writing wasn't as pure as her love for her child. Based on this conclusion she wrote a second book about raising her baby. This book was rejected resulting in her final conclusion that both books were a mistake.
I think that there are a lot better lessons that can be learned from this story.
Don't count your chickens before they're hatched. You know I'm a reality TV fan and so I can't resist using So You Think You Can Dance. On this show dancers of every style try out. The really good ones go to Las Vegas where most discover they have no talent for irritating little things like choreography, hip hop and ballroom. Just like ballroom and contemporary dancers hone sills specific to their style, novelist hone skill specific to writing a novel and journalist hone skills specific to writing for magazines an newspapers. Moreover there are a thousand reasons why books don't get published just as their are a thousand reasons why the dancers don't get on So You Think You Can Dance. A lot of good dancers don't make it and its not for a lack of talent. The author assumes that she didn't sell the book because it is a bad book. A lot of first books are. But I really don't like saying that. First books are first books. They're a first attempt at something very hard. Remember the first time you rode a bike? Tried roller blades or tried to long division on your own. Was it pretty now. Remember the first time you had sex. Ugh, you groan. But it got better. So do second books and third books. A first book generally doesn't hatch into a chicken with a fledgling rooster fertilizing the the prose.
Let's look at So You Think You Can Dance again. There are always a handful of people who quit their job to be on the show. This brings me to lesson two. Don't put all your eggs in one basket. The dancers who quite their job to be on the show not only have to deal with the let down of rejection but also the void of nothing to go back to. And there are all the people to whom they announced "I quit my job because I'm going to be on the show." Argh, that's painful. You know how I know. Because I've done this a time or sixty. It's never fun to admit failure. But it's only failure if you look at it that way. This brings me to lesson three. Look on the bright side.
At the end the selections on So You Think You Can Dance, the judges remind the 15 to 20 contestants that don't make it on the show, that this isn't a failure. It's a triumph.
Out of nearly a million dancers who try out every year, they made it to the top 30 or 40. Or in this case, you finished a friggin book. Yikes that's awesome. Time for BEER!
But you still made the mistake of putting all your eggs in one basket and you counted your chickens before they hatched. And you broadcast your folly to the world so that now when they ask you if your book is published yet you get really embarrassed and a little defensive. Lesson four. Don't feel embarrassed. Take ownership of your mistakes, learn from them and move on. If your a writer it should be to your next book or short story or whatever floats your boat. If your a dancer and you really want to be on TV you try out for every casting call between here and Timbuktu.
This brings me to my last lesson. If you do you always did you you'll always get what you always got. While there might not be a dancing connection, there is a great example of this in the character of Rick in The Walking Dead. He continues to make the same tragic mistake again and again. Even on the last episode where he finally steps up, he's doing it for the same reason he risked lives to save the boy impaled on the fence. He continues to repeat the behavior while expecting a different result.
There's a lot I don't know about what the author didn't put into her article. But it seemed to me, barring the motives for the book, she approached it the exact same way, expecting it to be successful. When it wasn't she drew the same conclusions that she drew when her first book was rejected. Writing the book was a mistake.
I spent 11 years writing my first book. Well, if I'm to be candid, I spent the bulk of those years grandly dreaming and boasting. I made a lot of mistakes during those years, not all of them related to the book, though it influenced a surprising number of choices. I suppose this is why I have so much to say on this subject.
I can't imagine looking upon that book as something I wish I'd never done. I learned a lot, not only from writing the book, but from all the screw-ups. In many ways I'm a reformed royal screw-up. Okay, so not really all that reform. I 'm a glutton for punishment, what can I say.
To summarize: Writing a book is never a bad idea. The things you do based on what you think will said book's success are another matter. Now go drink a beer. Make that two. One for you and one for me.
M.R. Jordan is a writer, editor, sporadic blogger, and lover of beer. Lives in South Korea with her two cats, Bear and Geumbi.
Bear (Gom in Korean) then (above) now (below)
Geumbi (Gold in English)... then (above) and now (below).