It’s getting cold outside, so come on in, get cozy, and welcome, to another edition of the The Writing Life.
Life. It is to be lived, of course, but for a writer, it is also to be written. One cannot help but write about what one goes through. It’s a part of that old cliche, vomited from the mouths of countless authors and instructors: “Write what you know.”
I agree, and I disagree.
On the one hand, if we write only about what we know, how are writers ever to branch out and create something vast and new? If we are to write only what we know, how is one to write a story about extra-terrestrials on a far away planet? Surely we know nothing about that. Or how is one to write about an alternate dimension poulated by tiny humanoids? Or a history that never happened? It is, I think, to live inside an oppressive box — writing about only what one knows.
On the other hand, as I’ve stated, one cannot help but write what one knows. What one knows seeps through the spaces between the words we write. It lingers upon every thought, like a strange odor one is never able to get rid of.
We write, ultimately, about ourselves and what we think and feel about the world. What we know. As Henry Miller so aptly said, “The writer writes in order to discover himself.”
And so it is. For example, this evening I’ve written 1700 word short story about an old, world-famous playwright. He’s terribly and morosely addicted to coffee and he obsesses over his work to the point of fatality. When I took a step back from the story, I realized I was writing about myself, and my addiction to caffeine, and my obssession with words and the work I put into my writing.
And so, although we are not always conscious of doing it, we are writing about what we know all the time. We must.
THEM REJECTIONS BLUES
(My Personal Favorite Segment of The Writing Life!)
Oh, boy, folks! We’ve got some exciting news in rejection emails today! Believe me — I’m not being factitious, I’m being thrilled. Here’s the low-down, for the record:
Metaphorosis (magazine) rejects my science-fiction story, Crash Landing, and my strange-pulp tale, Fish Out of Water. A nice thing about Metaphorosis is this: the editor has a quick response time, and will leave feedback, if you so select that option in your submission.
Möbius Books rejects my debut horror novel, They Dwell Beneath. This is only my second rejection of this novel, and am waiting on plenty more. I look forward to each rejection like a bite of delicious pie. The right attitude is the only way to survive in this game.
Writers Resist rejects my story, The Hating Game, a flash-fiction piece which comments on the contemporary phenomena of “online trolling”.
Asimov’s Science Fiction & Fantasy rejects Crash Landing. The editor politely advised that I submit using the standard manuscript format. I thought I’d been doing that, but, as it turns out — I haven’t! I am learning things every day, and this, ladies and gents and fellow pronouns, is a biggie. In the immortal word of Homer Simpson, “Doh!”
Not One of Us rejects my story, Johnny Bad Apple, a story I’d written in 2018, about the vicissitudes of fame and fortune in the life of a rock star.
In submission news, I’ve sent out at least ten to fifteen submissions to various magazines as of this week. Wish me luck, fellow readers and writers, as I wish all of you luck.
Yet, a quick addendum to that — as writers, we make our own luck, don’t we? With much practice and endurance — yes, that will be our luck!
To conclude this week’s fine edition of The Writing Life, I shall disperse the usual allotment of unsolicited advice. It is this:
Write what you know AND, if you can manage it, attempt to write what you don’t know. By this I mean, quite simply, write about your loves and hates and passions (what you know), but try not to “stay safe” by not taking chances with your writing.
When you take chances, you may end up with thousands of words that fail to capture a compelling story. But, those thousands of failed words will teach you things. And the things you learn, as long as you keep reaching for the ungraspable, will lead you to bigger and better stories. And it will lead you, not least of all, to a bigger and better future.
“Man’s reach must exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” — Robert Browning, English poet and playwright (1812-1889).
Until next week,
your constant writer,