Tim wrote to ask, "So what's the worst stuff you've been sent this past week?"
1. A guy sent me a proposal this week detailing how we can reduce the instances of sexual abuse and the problems caused by adultery in our culture. His solution? Voluntary castration. No, I'm not kidding. Huge appeal in THAT idea. Though I suppose it would, um, trim the problem. (Sorry.) A very circumspect idea, don't you think?
2. A woman sent me a very brief query to tell me she has written a 20,000-word memoir (that alone gets me all excited -- just think of all those popular 80-page books you've been buying) about "the times I brought drugs to school." Very uplifting.
3. One poet (YES! A POET!) sent me a book of "poems about anti-terrorism." Really. And it's only 607 pages long. REALLY.
7. One more, taken from a novel pitch: "In the tradition of the movie Left Behind with McCauley Caulkin where a boy is left to fend for himself..." Um... It's "Culkin." And that wasn't "Left Behind," that was "Home Aone." And that was a movie that was intentionally funny, whereas the "Left Behind" movie was just stupendously bad, and therefore funny. (I was working at the agency that represented it, and we got an advanced showing. I still remember standing up, turning to one of my co-workers, and saying, "I must have hair all over me, because that movie is such a dog it sheds." Kirk Cameron can NOT act.) Aside from the fact this author doesn't know what he's talking about, I'll bet the idea is a real winner.
8. And my favorite: "The proposal you are about to read is GUARANTEED to sell a billion copies..." No kidding. A billion copies. I'm about to wet my pants in excitement. (Yawn...)
Always nice to occasionally share stuff from the Dark Files... My thanks to Shannon Potelicki, who is doing some work for us now, and who helped pull together some of these weiners -- I mean, "winners."
Think about this for a minute...
Hundreds of posts.
250 average readers per day.
A half-million visitors.
Time to hang it up.
I've said what I have to say, and while there are still questions out there (including about 300 in my in-box that I meant to get to), I'm going to wrap it up. I feel like I've said plenty, I'm starting to go over some of the same material, and I need to just go focus on the authors I have the privilege of representing. So I'll blog once more, to say good-bye, but then I'm done. I'm going to fold up my tent, cash in my soup ladle, hand over my keys, and all those other overdone metaphors for wrapping it up.
No more blog posts. No more bad poetry. No more whining about dopey queries and stupid ideas. No more offending the faithful. Time to spend my words on something else. I'll leave it all up, so you can wander through the archives a bit (once more, for the hundredth time -- if you come to the bottom of the page and see a little yellow arrow that looks like this > , there are more pages to see on the topic). But I'm done. It's been fun.
We've had a bunch of "get to know you" questions lately, so I thought I'd group several of them together...
Andrew wrote to say, "You used to be a publisher with Time-Warner -- why did you go back to agenting?"
1. A proposal with a cover letter that starts with the words, "Firstly and most importantly..."
2. An incoherent sci-fi book proposal (even though it says clearly on my website that I don't do sci-fi) that was something about children, dogs, demons, and a white vase. No idea what the story was, although I'm sure it had deep meaning.
3. A proposal from a guy whose mailing address is a correctional facility.
4. Two action-adventure novels, neither any good, and both sent to me by people who haven't spent five minutes on my website to figure out who I am or what I'm looking for. One began with the words, "Dear Agent." The other had my name, and began with the words, "You probably won't like this, but..."
5. A nonfiction book by a guy who claims that to become a Jesuit priest you have to murder a protestant (um... I'm not making that up).
6. One very nice card from an author.
7. Random business crap (apparently every bank on earth wants to offer me a credit card).
8. A letter from the AARP. NO KIDDING. THE AAR-frickin'-P! Like they think I'm old or something.
9. Two new books I represented -- Lisa Samson's wonderful new novel RESURRECTION IN MAY, and Chad Gibbs' hilarious look at the role of faith and fanaticism in SEC football, entitled GOD AND FOOTBALL.
10. And a letter from a woman who sent me an unsolicited proposal for a book about her abortion. I sent back a short note saying that the book she's created won't sell, that there's no market for the book she is proposing. Her response was to send me this note:
Okay, not really. I wrote back and told her she might not be tough enough for the writing biz yet. And she may want to check into counseling.
11. And while I'm on the subject of stupid people, have you noticed the new marketing tool companies are using of dropping random notes into the "comments" section of a blog? I recently got this comment after my post about writing conferences: Your blog picture, I like it very much, so have a pure heart, the children stood in the bustling fidgety city.
At first I thought he'd been smoking his crack pipe while reading my blog, then I realized his address was "Buy Viagra." It fits it well with the other two recent comments I've had: The house is the place for you people! With it we are free from sun and wind! You speak very good! It enjoys popular support! Now we all need a house! and Keep up the good work. I fell in love with the wood tables and wanted them for my school.
I was thrilled to know we are free from sun and wind, and I'm sure the wooden tables are great, but since my post had nothing to do with either topic, I had to wonder what possessed these people to write. Both of these come from morons pushing Air Jordans (probably in fidgety cities). I think this is a great new concept, since all of us online are totally interested in seeing people drop by to sell us products. We just don't get enough of that on TV and radio and via internet commercials.
12. BUT, if you're looking for some places where you might actually go just to enjoy the writing, let me suggest you visit two sites. www.jennybjones.com is the website of YA author Jenny B Jones, and it consistently makes me snort coffee through my nose. www.lisamckaywriting.wordpress.com
is the site for Lisa McKay, an Aussie who has lived all over the world, but has just moved to Laos and is chronicling her new life. It's literate, funny, and very well-written stuff. Both authors have won awards for their writing (Lisa is the author of the cult hit MY HANDS CAME AWAY RED), so check them out.
It's cloudy and in the 60's on the Oregon coast today. We just haven't had the scorching summer the rest of the country has gone through. Maybe I'll walk down to the beach and contemplate my speck of position in the universe so that I can be nicer. In my next life.
Daniel asked, “Is the ability to craft great similes and metaphors a gift, or can it be learned?”
My guess is that it's a gift. I've watched some people in the industry and been amazed at their ability to "see" the link between one action and another. I wish I could do that.
And his follow up question: “What are some good learning tips for creating great metaphors?”
Beats me. I've never been good at metaphors. (Or, in metaphor, "When it comes to creating metaphors, I'm a lawn chair." See? Awful. I hate coming up with good metaphors.) Maybe you could just learn to steal the good ones.
Lynn asked, “I've been asked to collaborate on a book with someone -- what are some of the legal necessities I need to keep in mind?"
It’s a random list, depending on the topic of the book, the audience, the authors… but here are a handful of suggestions:
1. What's the subject of the book?
2. How long will it be?
3. How many words/chapters are each person's responsibility?
4. What are the due dates for each?
5. Who gets to pitch the idea? (me? the partner?)
6. What's the split of the money? (50/50? 60/40? 70/30? In whose favor?)
7. Are both names on the cover, the title page, the copyright?
8. Who owns the finished product?
9. Who has to get permissions?
10. Who pays for permissions?
11. Will each writer warranty their work?
12. Will we promise each other not to create competing works?
13. Who takes the lead with the publisher on things like title, subtitle, cover, art, etc?
14. Is there a kill fee if the book is cancelled?
15. If killed, who owns the work that's been done?
16. Can either party withdraw? If so, how?
17. Worst case #1: does moral turpitude effect this?
18. Worst case #2: upon death, what happens to the writing?
19. Do we take disagreements through an arbitrator?
20. Is this is to be confidential?
Does that help?
Tom asked, “What’s the one writing story you like to tell at writing conferences?”
That's easy... In 1919, a young man who had been injured in the war in Europe moved to Chicago, picking one particular neighborhood in order to be close to the noted author Sherwood Anderson. The young writer, impressed with the critical praise heaped on Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, had heard the novelist was willing to assist beginning writers. The two men became close. They met every day to read together, exploring the writing of newspapers and magazines, and eventually tearing apart the inner workings of novels. The young man brought his own work to Anderson, who helped him see how he could improve his craft. Anderson even introduced the young writer to his network of publishing associates, and helped him publish his first novel, which was met with critical acclaim. Its title was The Sun Also Rises. The young man’s name was Ernest Hemingway. Sherwood Anderson then moved to New Orleans, where he took another young author through those same paces, even putting up $300 of his own money to help that beginning writer’s first novel get published. The novel was entitled Soldier Pay. The author’s name was William Faulkner. Anderson would then move to California, where he worked with a young writer by the name of John Steinbeck. Sherwood Anderson shaped modern American writing more profoundly than any author except Mark Twain. Most of the writing instructors of the late 20th Century were, in one way or another, disciples of Anderson.
And the reason Sherwood Anderson was so committed to mentoring beginning writers? Because when he was young, a more experienced author by the name of Theodore Dreiser had invested in his own life and craft. It's why I'm a fan of beginning writers finding a Sherwood Anderson to help them develop.
Those of us who dare to write about the spiritual life face a daunting challenge—how do we practice what we preach? How do we keep our writing authentic? As we “write for God,” how do we tend our own souls?
Spiritual disciplines are simply practices of faith that create some space in our lives for God. If you have ever sat down to read your bible or pray, you’ve engaged in spiritual disciplines. But there are many other disciplines that will help us to grow, while ultimately improving our writing.
It’s important to listen to God’s direction on which disciplines are needed in our lives. God may call us to embrace solitude and silence for a season. He may ask us to build trust by giving.
The most commonly practiced disciplines are study and prayer—also called solitude or quiet time with God. Writers need these. But here are three other spiritual disciplines that I have found a particularly helpful as a writer:
1. Community. But we also need the balance of authentic community. Writing is a solitary venture—we bravely face a blank page, alone but for the thoughts in our head. We need the discipline of setting aside our work to connect with others—and not just via Facebook. God may speak to our hearts, but we need to test those leadings with the wisdom of friends, mentors and people who love God, love us, and are willing to speak truthfully to us. That’s what community is.
We need time with others who can speak into our lives, offering encouragement to counter our natural neuroses. Sometimes, we need someone to read what we have written and assure us that it is not awful, so that we can have the courage to write a little more. We need others to guide us when we get off track.
Join a small group, preferably not made up of just other writers. Pull yourself away from the writing for a time to actually nurture others by praying with them, listening to them, simply enjoying them. Celebrate and enjoy the gift of friendship.
2. Inspiration. When we take time to notice and to be inspired by beauty, we connect with God. Walk through a garden or an art museum, read really great writing. In a way, this is a form of listening prayer, of hearing God through beauty.
I hear God in the beauty of creation, in the careful staccato brush strokes of a Monet, in the grace and athleticism of a modern ballet. So my spiritual practice includes taking time to pry myself away from the computer and get outdoors each day—to notice beauty of snow on tree branches or spring flowers blooming. It also includes occasional outings to get my fill of “culture” in the form of music, theater, art or other beauty, because it draws me into the presence of God. Such activities are not a waste of time—they feed my soul, which nurtures my writing.
3. Sabbath. Most writers do not go to an office to work. We carry a notebook and furtively scribble in it when thoughts or images come to mind. We sit in coffee shops in or in the spare bedroom and pound out words on the computer. Hence, we’re easily tempted to work 24-7. Our lives are unframed by trivialities like a calendar. However, if we never rest, our reservoir of words will run dry. We need to honor God by keeping the Sabbath.
In nearly two decades of Sabbath-keeping, and being a professional freelance writer during those same decades, I’ve found that there is a beautiful mystery when we honor God by obeying his command to take a day of rest.
You may be worried that taking a day off will put you further behind. But Sabbath actually has the opposite effect. In the weeks that I don’t write on Sunday, my overall production (measured by words written, articles finished, whatever) is higher than it is on the weeks I don’t stop. And on Mondays, after a day of rest, my productivity soars.
During World War II in England, a factory conducted a productivity study. Workers were put on a schedule of working twenty-one days in a row, then having a several days off, and their productivity measured. Then, by way of comparison, the workers were put on a six-days-on, one-day-off schedule. On each schedule, the number of days worked was the same. Yet when they got to take one day off per week, their productivity doubled. God gave the command for Sabbath because he made us and knows how we would function optimally.
Writer Cec Murphey has found this productivity principle to be true in his life. (I tell his full story in my book Rest: Living in Sabbath Simplicity). Cec is a prolific writer, having written or co-written 104 books and more than 700 articles. He makes his living primarily as a ghostwriter, taking other people’s ideas and shaping them into books. He’s taught at over two hundred writers’ conferences. At seventy-four, he still works full-time and has no plans to retire. For most of his life, Cec says, he was a bit of a workaholic, even in seemingly spiritual careers as a missionary, pastor, teacher, and author. Today, he’s still very driven and highly disciplined. But he’s found that he’s a much happier man, and no less productive than before, now that he has incorporated the practice of Sabbath rest into his life.
At first, Cec could not even conceive of taking a whole day off from work. So, he started gradually, with just taking one or two hours after church to simply do nothing, to relax. “After a while, I gradually made it three hours, then four,” he laughs. Now he understands that value of keeping a Sabbath, and gets more done by taking time away from writing.
Build the practices of community, inspiration and Sabbath into your life, and you’ll find that your soul, and your writing, will flourish.
-Keri Wyatt Kent