Explode, Writer, Then Pick Up the Pieces

Kristen Lamb offers five really good ways for a writer to stretch and grow. 

1. Increase word count—If you aren’t writing every day, start. I write 6 days a week. Start with 100 words. Once that feels comfortable, go to 200 and pretty soon you will be typing with the big kids. Most of us can’t start with a professional pace. We have to train for it.

2. Start a blog—Blogging has all kinds of benefits, but one of the largest benefits is it helps new writers train for a professional pace. Kill multiple birds with one stone. Sure a blog helps your author brand and platform. But a blog also will train you to make deadlines and up your daily word count. A blog will also help you write cleaner, tighter, faster and leaner.

3. Read a genre you don’t normally read—I can always tell writers who read only in their genre. Get out of the comfort zone and read another genre. It will help you fold new elements to your fiction that will help your work stand apart from the competition.

4. Enter a contest—Contests give us deadlines and also put our work out there for peer review.

5. Write in a genre you don’t normally write—Sometimes getting out of our own genre will help develop new muscles. We might even find out that the genre we originally chose isn’t the best fit. I originally wanted to be a thriller author. Blogging helped me discover that actually I excelled at humor writing. If I hadn’t dared to write non-fiction, I might have never discovered I could make people laugh.

Be sure to read the whole blog post here


To that list I would add a Ray Bradbury suggestion: read some poetry every day. He did that to expand the colors on his word palette. 

And don’t be afraid to write for writing’s sake. Do a free writing the moment you wake up (or at least after you pour the coffee) and just go for ten minutes.

Ray Bradbury used to say he’d explode in the morning and spend the rest of the day picking up the pieces. 

Who is a Real Writer?

A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people. ––Thomas Mann

A writer who is a real writer is a rebel who never stops. –– William Saroyan

So who is a “real” writer? Is it someone who has decided this morning to become one? And then goes to Starbucks and writes Chapter One and a couple of lines?

Or do you have to pay some dues? Speaking of pay, do you have to get some to be a real writer? There was a guy who used to hang out at my local Starbucks, typing poems on an honest to goodness typewriter. He said that was the best way for him. He was about 30, and had the hipster look down. He’d type a poem for someone in exchange for whatever they wanted to pay. He was, I guess, a professional. But was he a real writer?

Should we simply distinguish between those who make a living, or a substantial amount of their living, writing, from those who want to be able to do that? Or does any of this matter?

Personally, I found it difficult to tell people I was a writer before I was published. After my first book came out, it was still hard to say. When I got a multiple book contract, it got a little easier. I’d worked really hard and finally it was paying off. But only when this became my actual living was I able to say without qualm that I was a writer.

Now, with self-publishing via e-books getting to be so easy, people can be “multi-published” with a click of an upload. Writers all? A novelist friend of mine told me this:

"To call yourself a writer, you have to engage in it daily with some exchange of money between you and a publisher. Or a client. Or a film or TV company. It has to in some ways be your vocation. As to whether or not you’re making a living wage isn’t so much the catalyst, but that you are pursuing jobs and publishing your work FOR MONEY. Otherwise, it’s a hobby, a fascination, a desire, a work in progress. Another friend, who has made a living as a freelance writer for many years, told me: To me, to truly be a writer, you have to pass a gantlet of editors, critics, peers, and the marketplace. Not everyone who types up manuscripts and submits them to publishers is a writer. In my mind, until you have earned the right to call yourself a writer, don’t call yourself a writer. So, while I don’t blame anyone for saying, "Anyone can be a writer" or "All you have to do is write," these statements really sadden me. I realize that what for me is a holy calling and an ennobled profession has in many ways lost that distinction forever. If anyone with a keyboard and enough money to upload a file to Xulon Press or iUniverse can call himself a "writer," then everything I set my sights on from the time I was nine years old has become relatively meaningless."

Maybe my view is best summed up by the two quotes at the top of this post. If you’re a real writer, it’s going to be difficult, because you can’t just throw anything out there. You have to sweat and bleed to learn to write. And if you want to be a real writer, you can’t give up. You have to have a little bit of rebel in you, because people will probably think you’re nuts (while secretly envying your passion.

Lines I Wish I’d Written

I love writing that contains what John D. MacDonald described as “unobtrusive poetry.” I go for that in my own writing. I wish I’d written these:


I’ve been in front of X-ray machines that didn’t get as close to the bone as that woman’s eyes. (Dan J. Marlowe, The Name of the Game is Death)


The sun that brief December day shone weakly through the west-facing window of Garrett Kingsley’s office.  It made a thin yellow oblong splash on his Persian carpet and gave up. (Robert B. Parker, Pale Kings and Princes)


        She sat up slowly, looked in turn at each of us, and her dark eyes were like twin entrances to two deep caves.  Nothing lived in those caves.  Maybe something had, once upon a time.  There were piles of picked bones back in there, some scribbling on the walls, and some gray ash where the fires had been. (John D. MacDonald, Darker Than Amber)

Are All Novelists Moral Philosophers?

I’ve been reading Ayn Rand’s writing reflections, The Art of Fiction. You may not know this, but she started as a screenwriter and playwright. This gave her an appreciation of structure, without which I don’t know that her success as a novelist would have been possible.

Anyway, in talking about theme, which she emphasizes, she makes the point (rightly) that any story is going to have a worldview (she doesn’t call it that), even one that seems to have no point…because that is a worldview, too. You can’t escape leaving something for readers to ponder. The only question is how well you do it.

According to Rand, all novelists are, therefore, “moral philosophers.”  Some are just not very good philosophers (in that they haven’t thought through their themes enough to know how to integrate them to the writing).

I like what she says about proving the theme through action. It’s what the characters do, how they respond to or activate the plot, that proves the theme (or premise, as it is sometimes called).

Atlas Shrugged, BTW, is 640,000 words long. And every word is there to support her premise, because she absolutely knew what it was.

Her editor, Bennett Cerf, made the mistake of suggesting a bit of editing to her.

"You vould not cut zee Bible, vould you?" she said.

The book was not cut.

It still sells tens of thousands of copies a year, some 55 years after publication.

So does On the Road, BTW, which was published that same year, 1957. In part, I believe, because every word of THAT novel supports Kerouac’s premise that the point of life is the pursuit of “beatitude through experience.” Kerouac knew the premise without articulating it as such, in a Randian way. But he was feeling it all the way through the writing.

You don’t have to agree with the philosophy of a novel, Rand says, to appreciate the success or failure of the writer. She deems Sinclair Lewis a failure and Mickey Spillane a success.


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