Friday, August 28, 2020

Writing: Suggestions On How To Start

How to write a novel? The simple advice is, "Just start." Along the way, heed some other advice: "Be prepared for rejection," "It's not easy," and "Don't give up."

Mine is not advertised as "sure-fire" advice, but it's the way I learned. First, I attended a writing conference. Actually, I attended several of them. This may be too expensive for some of you, but if you really want to learn writing, go to one. There are many good ones out there. Now, it's apparent that most are not currently held in the usual format. But if you're serious about writing, start here.  Writing, like algebra, will eventually start to make sense for you. if you keep on. And you'll pick up small tips that you'll incorporate into your writing until they become automatic.

While you're deciding about a conference, start reading. Learn how to plot, with books like James Scott Bell's Plot and Structure. Learn how to catch the attention of the reader by reading Noah Lukeman's The First Five Pages. There are too many books to mention--I have a two-foot shelf of them in my office--but read to learn how to write. And also read books by other authors. Read the good stuff, and imitate it. Read the bad stuff, and avoid it.

Notice that I don't mention editors or agents. If you go to your first conference expecting a contract, prepare for disappointment. If for some reason you do get one, count yourself fortunate. But keep learning anyway. Somewhere along the way, you may make contact with an agent or editor who says they think your writing shows promise. Even if they don't offer representation or a contract, take those words and cherish them. And don't lose the name and number of the person who shows interest. You may be able to come back to them, either with a markedly revised manuscript of the one you showed them or (more likely) another book.

And keep on writing. It's the only way to get there. But even if no one but you reads your work, you'll be the better person for writing it. And that may be enough.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

"Tempus Fugit"

People consider themselves fortunate when they find the love of their life. I've been doubly fortunate, because after death took my first wife after 40 years of marriage, God sent another woman who taught me how to smile again. And, no--this isn't our anniversary, but a post on another site made me stop, look around, and see how much things have changed.

Recently I thought it would be neat to have dinner at one of the places where we first got together when we were going out. That's when I first discovered that time changes things. The restaurant where I proposed to her was out of business. So was another one we used to frequent during that time. I wanted to show her the ice cream parlor that my first wife and I used to go with friends after church, but it had become part of a row of businesses in a strip shopping center. And the church where my wife and I used to attend had changed so drastically that I almost didn't recognize it.

What's the lesson from all of this? Enjoy what you have when you have it, but don't try to revisit it years later. Thomas Wolfe said, "You can't go home again." I'd add, "You can't depend on things not changing. They do. So enjoy them while you can."

Friday, August 21, 2020

Writing: Where I Fit In

I practiced medicine for almost four decades, first as a solo practitioner and then, for the final ten years, as a professor at a well-known medical school.  I’ve been retired from medicine now for almost twenty years, but despite my having a certain amount of success as a writer, I still keep my medical license active and stay current with my Continuing Medical Education. At first it was primarily because I didn’t know how long I’d be successful at this writing thing, but finally I had to admit that, although I’ll probably never go back to the practice of my specialty, I enjoy staying up with advances in medicine.  And, believe me, it takes a lot of work to stay current. But if I don't, my readers will let me know.
I know writers who continue to teach and keep up with the latest classroom advances in order to do it well. Other colleagues work at their “day job” while still writing. Matter of fact, the number of folks who are able to leave their employment and write full-time is relatively small. The advice, “Don’t give up your day job,” is not just a joke.
As for me, that’s where I stand—with both feet still firmly planted in both professions. Writers, where do you come down? And readers, do you think about an author as someone who follows or has followed a different profession? Or are you just interested in him/her as an author?

PS--in case you're curious, I take tests like this to keep up my CME level. Here is one of the questions from a recent exam:
1. Lumateperone is:
a. a 5-HT2a receptor antagonist and a D2 receptor antagonist
b. a D2 receptor antagonist and an alpha1 receptor agonist
c. a D2 receptor agonist and a histamine (H1) receptor agonist
d. a 5-HT2a receptor agonist and an alpha1 receptor agonist

And, of course, you all know the correct answer is a.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

"Life Is Like A Roll Of Toilet Paper"

Seems sort of unusual for a title of a blog, but bear with me. By this, by the way, I don't mean that it's to be hoarded--as many people began to do with this pandemic. Nor do I mean that it's important and not to be wasted--although that is true as well.

When we're young, we don't give a thought to our mortality. We're bulletproof, our whole life lies before us, and there's no time to think of what comes later. It's not until we get toward the end of that span that we think more seriously of what our life has meant--especially to others.

Lest you think that I'm suffering from some incurable disease, let me assure you that, other than the things that come with advancing years, I'm still sound. But every once in a while--no matter our age--it never hurts to think about what has gone thus far. In interviewing prospective individuals applying to our residency program, I sort of liked to bring them up short by asking them to summarize their own obituary in just a few words. At that age and stage of life, it was good for many of them to think of the years ahead of them and give thought to how those would be spent.

So, whatever your age, remember that your life is like a roll of toilet paper. And the closer you get to the end, the faster it seems to go. That's what I mean by this title.

PS--Tim Allen says that life is what happens between trips to the emergency room. Your thoughts?

Friday, August 14, 2020

Writing: Footprints in Sand Or Cement?

I decided to look  back ten years to see what I posted. It seemed to be appropriate then, and  yet again today. When your book (if you ever get it published) is out, will it leave footprints in the sand, or cement? How about the prints you leave with just your everyday life?

"When my book, The Tender Scar: Life After The Death Of A Spouse, was published I had a friend comment on the cover: "How sweet. His and hers handprints in the sand." It wasn't long until another made a similar comment, except he said, " cement." Which is correct? I wasn't sure then. I believe I am now.

"Cynthia and I used to enjoy trips to South Padre Island. Long walks on the sandy beach were just the time to talk, to plan, to relax and enjoy. And, since she matured but refused to actually grow up, she would sometimes stop and make a footprint or handprint in the sand. Of course, the incoming tide would erase it, but it was fun.

"What child has not been tempted to use the surface of a newly poured sidewalk as a tablet and inscribe his or her initials on it? And many workmen do the same to mark their work, a lasting memorial to what they've done.

"Last week Kay and I attended a golf tournament put together to raise funds for the children of her oldest son, Phil, whose life came to a tragic end this spring. We were sitting in the pavilion at dinner when I saw the pattern of a perfect leaf in the cement floor. We looked and found several others in various places. I don't know if this was a happenstance or a deliberate decoration, but I do know one thing: people will see those leaves for many years to come.

"Doing some things are like footprints in the sand. They're evidence of good times, and those are admirable. But other actions are like footprints in cement: enduring evidence of something done along the way. 

"At the tournament we encountered dozens and dozens of people whose lives Phil had affected in a positive way. After Cynthia's death, I heard numerous stories of how she'd influenced the lives of others. These were footprints made in cement, and they'll be around for decades.

"What kind of footprints are you making? I hope you're walking barefoot through the sand often enough to produce a smile. But I hope you leave some reminders in cement of the positive things you've done, as well."

There you have it. What kind of footprints are you your writing, in your living?

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

A Word Of Thanks...

On weekends, because we're in the "vulnerable" group and stay home a lot, I usually choose a tee shirt instead of my usual polo short. I had forgotten that I chose the one that had "veteran" on the front of it until a young man came up to our table at lunch and asked what kind of cheesecake we preferred. I didn't know what to say, but eventually my wife answered. In a few minutes, he was back and presented us with a to-go container bearing a slice of flavored cheesecake. He asked what branch of service I was in, and I answered, "Air Force." He replied, "I was in the Army. This is to thank you for your service."

That stuck with me. Then my wife reminded me that the printing on the back of the tee shirt said something to the effect that I swore an oath to protect this nation from all enemies, foreign and domestic, and no one had relieved me of that oath yet. I've thought about that a lot, since then.

How long has it been--other than on Veterans' Day or Memorial Day--since you thanked a veteran for his or her service? How about thanking a policeman or fireman? How about thanking anyone for serving in any capacity, especially during these tough days? I plan to. How about you?

Friday, August 07, 2020

Writing: Encouragement

Writing is full of discouragement. When I write, I sometimes think of the words of Steven Furtick: "The reason we struggle with insecurity is we compare our behind-the-scenes with someone else's highlight reel." An author may take a year to write the 80,000 to 100,000 word book that is read in a few days. And while it's nice to receive the words that come in after the publication of a new book, there's always the thought that comes creeping into an author's brain: What if this was it? Suppose there are no more ideas forthcoming.

Besides that, is an idea enough? I've said before that anyone can have an idea, but it takes an author to convert it into a full-length book (or even a novella). It's hard work sometimes, although at other times it seems that the words simple flow onto the page. (Those times, by the way, are far between for me). While we're writing, we may get messages like "So-and-so has won the Such-and-Such Award" or "So-and-so's novel, (fill in the blanks), has been awarded the Murgatroyd Medal by the Happy Readers Society." And usually we're glad that these works have been recognized. We may even know the authors mentioned. (It's a small group, but growing larger all the time). Nevertheless, at times it's difficult (though we try) not to be just a bit jealous.

I've addressed before the reasons we write. Most of us feel successful if we get a few nice words in a review for the novel we have published, but what really keeps us going is a message like the one I just received--simple, short, but much appreciated. "Looking forward to your next novel." Six words that make me want to go back to work on my WIP.

Do you post reviews? Good. Do you show a book as "to-be-read" on Goodreads, and follow it up with your recommendation? Good. But if you contact your favorite authors to tell them you're anxious for their next book...  Wonderful. That will keep an author going for quite a while.

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

What To Write About?

Sometimes a subject for this blog post just pops into my mind. Sometimes I have to think about it. And sometimes there's simply nothing there. Kneeling instead of standing for our National Anthem? Too controversial.Politics? Not a chance. Religion? Even worse. I have feelings about all of these, but don't feel like writing about anything controversial.

Then I see the Space-X capsule splash down, I see two men whom I don't know and will never meet emerge from it, and my heart is filled with national pride. I'm not going to the Moon. Goodness knows I'll never volunteer for the trip to Mars. But as I hear the commentator talk about all the advances that have been made as a primary or secondary benefit to space flight, I'm glad that America is back in the game, so to speak.

I'll have more to say about controversial subjects in the future, but for now, I'm simply proud to be an American. How about you?