If You Need Permission, Babe, You’ve Got It

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames.

It’s Friday again! Which means, time for another Friday writing post. I suggest you click back a day and read Dame Toni’s most excellent Brain Frozen, Need Help! Because she says it better than I could.

Today I’m resurrecting a Golden Oldie from my blog vaults. This post went up in July of ‘07, and is taken from an actual email I wrote to an actual young writer’s desperate call for help. I think it’s held up pretty well, in conjunction with my other advice to young writers. So, without further ado, here’s something I wrote pretty much two years ago and reread this morning. It fired me up all over again. Oh, and please note: there are four-letter words ahead. If that bothers you, stop now.

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The Mystery of the Mask

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames. Check us out!

Let’s talk about magic.

Plenty of magic[1] is the utilization of more-or-less psychological principles to effect a change in the practitioner. Where there’s belief, there’s a sword to be used. Swinging it effectively takes practice and self-knowledge. The things you believe about yourself and how the world works, especially those core beliefs you hold on a unconscious level, affect your daily (and indeed, the rest of your) life to an incredible degree.

This does not have to be a bad thing. There are thousands of tools for uncovering, reshaping, and altering those beliefs. Some of them are self-help, some of them are psychological theory, some of them are occult, some of them are just plain common sense. You’re bound to find something that works somewhere. The key is to practice consistently enough, to not fall prey to the ersatz jolt of accomplishment that simply learning about a principle provides. You also have to use the principle for a long enough period of time to discover if it works for you.

There are a few principles, however, that are as close to guaranteed as you can get with a tool meant to affect complicated human beings. One of them is the principle of the mask.

A very wise man once told me, “Beware what you pretend to be, because if you pretend long enough, you’ll become it.” It’s one of those cliches built around a grain of truth. The longer you wear a mask, the more it becomes your real face. It’s just one of those things about the way we’re wired. It is also an invaluable tool.

Say you want to write for publication. The best thing to do is to start treating your writing like you’re already published.

Note: I do NOT mean that you slack off, or think that you’re God’s gift to the written word and no editor shalt touch thy purple…prose. That’s a fast track to Never Getting Published, also known as Being Such A Speshul Snowflake You Shoot Thine Self In Thine Own Foot.

No, what I advocate is practicing behaviors that get authors published and keep them finding new work. Here’s a (by no means comprehensive) list, to show you what I mean:

* Act as if writing is a priority, and make time for it.

* Act as if you are open to revision, whether it comes in the form of a rejection letter or a (gasp!) personalized rejection letter[2].

* Act as if some part of your income depends on you being professional, pleasant, and well-informed about writing for publication.

* Act as if your writing time is precious and meant for writing, not for checking email, playing video games, or talking about writing.

* Act as if you already have a professional relationship to lose when you interact with other professionals. (Don’t know what I mean? Read this.)

* Act as if editors, agents, and publishers are your fellow soldiers, in this to make money from providing quality, just like you are.

* Act as if your fellow writers are colleagues, not enemies or ladder rungs. Colleagues are not buddies and they are not enemies, they are people you are in a professional relationship with.

* Act as if it is your JOB to WRITE. I can’t say this enough. So many times I see “writers” who don’t make it a priority to get the words out. This is not professional behavior. And guess what? Not writing is a really sure way to not get published.

Notice any trends?

Do I guarantee that you will get published if you start acting this way? No. I do, however, guarantee that your chances of getting something published will rise exponentially, if not astronomically. I do guarantee that making writing a priority will force you to produce more, which is one of the only sure ways to learn enough to start producing quality. I do guarantee that treating your writing career as an arena where you have a professional reputation to lose will help you avoid a few mistakes, not to mention some pain and grief.

A funny thing starts happening once you start this kind of pretending. There’s a few months where it feels like ill-fitting shoes–not quite natural. Then it becomes habit, which is your best of servants or worst of masters. The mask begins to feel natural, and it’s then that the magic occurs. It’s subtle at first, but it gathers strength the longer you practice and the more ingrained it becomes. Your chances of getting published, and getting published again (which is the trick to producing an income stream) go up to the point where you can start taking advantage and playing those odds effectively.

The mask, the pretense, becomes your real face.

Of all the metaphors I use to belabor the point that writing makes a writer, this is the one the majority of my students has found most useful. Like all useful tools, it isn’t as complex–or as simple–as it appears. What you get out of it is in direct proportion to how much effort you put into it. I cannot guarantee you publication, but I can tell you that this is a way to maximize your chances most effectively.

I like my magic to have a practical side.

So, Happy New Year to you, dear Readers and fellow writers. What mask do you want to wear this year? I suggest you make it one you like.

Now, if you’ll pardon me, I have some writing to do. Over and out.

[1] I am not talking about conjuring tricks here.
[2] A personalized rejection letter, or one with a personal note about what was wrong with the story, is one of the last wickets before acceptance. Oddly, it is also one of the wickets where a majority of people get discouraged and stop trying.

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

Goodbye, 2009

Well, another year has come to a close. It’s been a helluva ride. I’ve been broken and remade, done things I never thought I could do, and kept going the whole time. The things I feared most happened, and I discovered the world didn’t end. I’ve discovered I’m actually pretty capable, and lots of things I was taught and trained to believe about myself are not true. It’s been an uphill battle all the way, but now I feel like I’ve reached a hilltop and am looking around wild-eyed with my sword in my hand. Come on, I’m saying, who’s next? Who wants a piece of me next?

I realize this is not the healthiest emotional state, but it’s better than numb grieving or pained apathy. I’ll take it. The battle’s over, now I need to start calming down and patching things up. Harder work, because you’re not in fight-or-flight with a tight adrenaline focus. But all in all, nicer work.

I am not going to miss 2009. It’s been a great year in terms of teaching me I’m tougher than I think I am. Still, that’s the sort of lesson one doesn’t ever really like learning.

So. I’m deciding that 2010 will be awesome. It will be a lucky year, a great year. And if it isn’t, I’m still going to treat it like it is. That’s my Major Luck Experiment–a whole year where I look entirely on the bright side.

I’ll wait for those of you who know me to stop laughing before I reiterate: this is my goal. I’m gonna do my damndest.

I have other goals. Not resolutions. Resolutions are sort of airy-fairy; goals, however, I know about. I know how to break them up into little chunks and work those chunks methodically out of the way. Goals, I understand. I can kick the ass of any reasonable goal, and identifying the unreasonable ones in order to make them reasonable is one of my specialties.

So here are some of my goals for 2010:

* Read one poem a day.
* Get back into the Latin self-study; starting in February
* Continue with my now-habitual six-days-a-week exercise regimen
* Continue with the diet plan
* Grow my hair out (it’ll happen mostly without me, but it’s nice to have at least one goal like that)
* Take a basic digital photography class
* Make time for Krav Maga or yoga classes (I am not picky, not one little bit)
* Clean out my garage (again)
* Write the homicidal-fae and Bannon-and-Clare books, between the stuff I’m contracted for
* Get all my work in on or under deadline, barring major disasters or Acts of God
* Shrug and smile and say, “Oh well, I’ll deal,” more.
* View everything that happens as good luck, one way or another

Whew, what a list! How am I going to fit all these things in? Like I said, I’m no stranger to breaking things up into little chunks and chewing the life out of each chunk. I begin to think it’s the only way I ever get anything accomplished.

So, welcome, 2010! I’ll be watching drunken shenanigans occur out in the rain on my street (I know several of my neighbors have reserved firecrackers for this occasion) when the clock ticks over. But I’ll be smiling quietly, probably with a glass of wine I began sipping and savoring when the little ones went to bed, and I will have my first act of the New Year be two sentences.

“Hi, 2010, we’re going to kick some ass together. Let’s get started.”

Over and out.

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

All and then it’s nothing to me, yeah…

Yeah. Like this:

You and I got something
But it’s all, and then it’s nothing to me, yeah
And I got my defenses when it comes to your intentions for me, yeah
And we wake up in the breakdown
In the things we never thought we could be, yeah…

I’m not the one who broke you
I’m not the one you should fear
We’ve got to move you darling
I thought I lost you somewhere
But you were never really ever there at all… (Goo Goo Dolls)

Yes, I want to get free. But you don’t need to talk to me. I’m done talking. Now I’m moving.

There are hard days and easier days. Today is somewhere in between. But when I’m on the treadmill and running, I find pieces of myself I left behind so I could fit in your cupcake tin. They slide back into place like they were never gone, and I feel more and more like myself. Each day is better as the other physical things migrate out of the house–kind of, I don’t know, like bits of shrapnel leaving a wound.

I’ve made my way out of the cocoon. The wings are dry. I’ve climbed the damn tree I was hanging in.

Now I’m going to fly. I’m scared, and there’s no net…but the worst has already happened, and I’ve not only survived. I’ve just plain thrived. I guess I didn’t need what I thought I did. Lesson learned, I won’t forget it. Ever.

Now I’m gone. Really gone. Gone gone gone.

And it feels good.

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

Oh, Louisa May. You go, girl.

It’s funny–the further along I go, the more the Universe steps in to help out. I could also view it as my thinking changing so I can take better advantage of opportunities. Potayto, potahto. Like I told the Princess when she asked me if the gods are real: whether they’re psychological constructs or actual beings, the net effect is the same–and you need to be just as careful about what you believe.

Anyway. The Selkie sent me this great link about Louisa May Alcott this morning; the American Masters episode is on tonight. (I will probably not watch it; our telly is DVD-only.) Of all Alcott’s work, I liked A Long Fatal Love Chase best; Little Women irritated me beyond bearing but I persevered because it was a Classic. I did like Jo the best out of all the March sisters, true. It was impossible not to, really. I wanted to slap Meg and send Beth to a hospital. And Amy? I’d slap her twice.

The thing that strikes me in this article about Alcott is that she decided what she was going to do, and she wrote what would sell because she wanted the money. This is treated as a revelation, because in our society artists (and women artists in particular) are not supposed to be in it for the filthy lucre. Money is at bottom, implicitly supposed to be the preserve of men. (As Ann Crittenden points out, when Motherhood started becoming sacred was when mothers started getting really economically screwed.) It’s news that Alcott was a hack, yet the fact that Poe, Dumas, and Dickens were hacks lacks a certain power of titillation.

Reading the Alcott piece, and listening to the interview, I was struck with a single vivid scene: Louisa May, like Scarlett O’Hara, swearing she or her folk would never be hungry again. Louisa May wrote to sell because her family was hungry, and instead of bemoaning it and dying gracefully she decided to do something about it.

Nobility is hard to come by when you’re starving. We have these myths of the Noble Poor, and that’s what they are–myths. I’ve been poor, and there’s nothing noble about it. It’s terrifying and dirty and ugly. When people are frightened and hungry, nobility is the exception. You can’t count on it.

Louisa May Alcott “resolved to take fate by the throat and shake a living out of her.” (Amen to that.) There was none of this “I’ve been rejected so I’m going to give up and bemoan that Editors don’t want my Precious Prose.” Instead it was, “I’m going to find out what they want, and I’m going to give it to them the best way I know how, and they are going to pay me for it. And if it takes me getting rejected fifty times, why then, I’ll get rejected fifty times. Or a hundred. Or a thousand. But they’re not going to lick me.”

Oh, Louisa. Over a hundred years ago you decided this, and you’re still an inspiration. You go, girl.

As for me, dear Reader, I’m gonna go take Fate by the throat and shake some more. Care to join me?

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My sister’s here and I’m about to engage in preparations for Cookiepalooza. It’s very simple: I invited a bunch of people and will be making sugar cookies. There will be wine, laughing, and a spaghetti feed for whoever wants to stay and eat. That way I get all the fun of making cookies and I don’t have to overeat OR throw them away. Plus, my friends get cookies. Everyone wins!

Of course, I would be still fighting off the flu while I do this, but that’s academic. I’ve only got a mild case and I’m dosing it with cranberry juice, orange juice, and a whole lot of water. I’m going to drown this nasty bug. Thank God I didn’t get the stomach-ill portion of it–no, the Little Prince came down with that. There’s an amusing story in there that will mortify him when he’s a teenager, so I think I’ll keep that in reserve.

The holidays are upon us like ravening hounds. You think if I throw enough cookies behind me it’ll slow them down so I can escape?

Yeah, me neither.

Over and out…

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