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Writerly Roundup – October 2018

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Our Writerly Roundup blog series features a curated collection of articles on the craft of writing and the creative life that we don't want you to miss.


Advice from Tayari Jones to Writers in Difficult Times, (@Tayari), Electric Literature

When asked to speak to emerging writers, Tayari Jones tells us that she often chooses to speak about the things she wished she knew as an emerging writer. Her advice: trust your voice and be yourself.

In the fifteen years since I published my first novel, I have on several occasions been asked to speak to emerging writers. I usually take the position of telling them the things that I wished I had known when I was finding my way as a writer. I tell them how I wish I had not worried so much about being liked. I wish I had known how well things would work out. I wish that I had trusted my voice — clear, but often too loud, serious, but sometimes silly. I wish I had known that my ideas were complicated, not confusing. I wish that I had known that being accessible was a good thing. In other words, I wish I had found out earlier that myself was the best person for me to be on the page and in life.

And I still believe these things.

Today, Tayari Jones looks at a world in crisis and her usual advice seems unsuitable. She searches for an appropriate metaphor for what we are witnessing today. As she watches footage of the California wildfires and the flames destroying the National Brazilian Museum in Rio, Jones continually comes back to the metaphor of fire.

When we come to experience fire not just as an idea, but as a literal phenomenon, it is clear that fire is not an apt metaphor for our moment in history — for burning is an irreversible devastation. Firefighters with their hoses and chemical remedies can halt the damage, but they cannot restore.

Jones implores us all to be the impetus for change and to use our “resources to create the world that we want to call our own”.

My message to you today is not just advice for writers and artists. This is a call to action for all of us, each according to her ability. This is a plea for truth-telling in all of its complexity. I am asking you to be brave enough to forsake likes and shares in favor of revealing potentially unsettling realities. Alice Walker famously urged us to “be no one’s darling.” I would like to expand on this and push you to be no one’s darling, not even your own. In these perilous times, we must interrogate ourselves on the page and in life. We have to ask ourselves how what can we do to make the world better and make ourselves better. We have to sacrifice our comfort as individuals and as artists. There is the other famous quote that says that “art should comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” It’s a catchy saying and true as water, but we must understand that we ourselves are both comfortable and afflicted.

She reminds writers and creatives that responsibility does not have to steal the joy from the creative process.

I push you to responsibility, but I don’t want to deprive you of the delight of creation and the pleasure of your imagination. Rather, I urge you to find and claim your voice, mission, and joy all at once. Rejoice in resistance. Seek out the satisfaction of hard work. Learn to revel in forward motion.

An inspirational piece from Tayari Jones that serves as a call to action for all of us. We cannot sit idly by and just watch the world burn.


3 Principles for Finding Time to Write, (@JaneFriedman),

Jane Friedman offers a few thoughts on finding a balance and making time to write. She notes that balance looks different for everyone: It is personal and dynamic.

Few things are more personal than making time or finding balance. Today, my idea of balance is keeping email off my phone and only working about four hours on the weekends. Ten years ago, while I held a corporate job, my idea of balance was not looking at email after 10 p.m. daily. Each of us must deal with shifting personal circumstances (e.g., our family needs us, we need a day job for healthcare) and psychological demons (e.g., that awful teacher who told us we’d never make it as a writer).

Unless you’re a trained Zen monk, or you experience perfect days, harnessing your energy consistently and productively takes years of trial and error—of learning how to establish and improve habits that support your creative goals. And that requires some modicum of self-awareness.

She goes on to examine a few things she finds universal to writers.

There’s no such thing as perfect timing.

Ideal conditions never arrive.

This is the biggest trap of all: I’ll start writing when…

When I have the time, when my kids are grown, when I quit this job, when I have more job security…I’ve heard it all.

While such thinking can be rooted in self-sabotage and fear of failure, most of us do face a tangible barrier to getting writing done. It’s just that the better conditions we think will arrive never do. A new barrier inevitably takes its place.

Freedom can be more of a detriment than an advantage.

Too much freedom can hurt your art.

I’ve heard all the excuses for not writing, and I’ve also observed the people who have absolute freedom to write when, how, and where they wish. This rarely confers them any advantage. In fact, writers who are least in need of their writing to pay off tend to be the most concerned with monetary gain or recognition. Because that’s the most common way we determine if what we’re doing has any value, especially in the US. If we can’t show a pay off, how do we justify the activity? We become uncomfortable and guilt sets in. We blame ourselves for being frivolous or self-indulgent.

A devotion to one’s art comes at a price.

The writing life is not without compromise.

Or, more starkly, it’s not without sacrifice. Some writers are known to be lousy family members. (Here’s a piece on whether great novelists make bad parents.) That’s not to say being a writer gives anyone permission to be cruel or neglectful—but that a devotion to writing means less time and energy for everything else. Most writers thank their family and friends profusely in acknowledgments (or in award acceptance speeches) because they understand that we express our love through attention, and attention for our work means less attention for everything else.

Everything in life is about balance and writing is certainly no different. With many writers, however, achieving that balance may require more of a concerted effort.


How the Writing Life has Evolved with Technology,

Technology and social media have most certainly changed the way we live, communicate, and socialize. Their effects are profound and they are even being felt in the world of writing.

Like it or not, we live in the age of social media. Interacting in 280-character bursts has changed the way we live, work—and write. And rather than sitting in quiet solitude waiting for inspiration to strike, writers are now expected to be contributing members of our digital society.

Technology has dramatically changed the marketing industry and publishing is no exception. In years past, writers were expected to write and publishers were responsible for marketing. Today the authors presence on social media is almost a prerequisite. Writing now comes with the expectation that the author participates in the marketing of his/her work.

Now The Marketing Team—Is You

It used to be that the division of labor in the publishing industry was quite clear: writers did the writing, publishers did the marketing. Today, however, the line between these roles has become blurred. The Internet has put effective promotional tools at every writer’s fingertips, and the expectation is that they should make use of them. Whether self-published or traditionally published, today every writer should have an author website, a social media presence, and a marketing plan to help build book sales.

Technology has no doubt revolutionized a writer’s ability to conduct research. What once required endless hours in libraries is now at your fingertips...literally.

The modern publishing landscape doesn’t always mean more work for writers. In quite a few ways, the digital revolution has made writing easier than ever—especially when it comes to research. In the olden days of manual typewriters and index cards, writers had to spend a great deal of time researching subjects and topics they weren’t familiar with. Writers would have to regularly trudge down to the library and track down sources to interview.

While face-to-face interviews and the local library are still valuable resources, the Internet has greatly reduced the amount of footwork necessary for writers. In just a few clicks, a veritable mountain of information on any subject is available to anyone who knows how to use a search engine.

More often than not technology can feel more like a hindrance than anything else. The constant lure of checking social media can test a writer's resolve to be productive.  

If you’re reading this article instead of writing, you’re all too familiar with how easy it is to be distracted by information (and cat photos!) on the Internet. The fact is that there have never—in human history—been more distractions and ways to procrastinate than in the modern era. Between social media, streaming platforms, and online games, it can be very difficult to pry yourself away from your smartphone long enough to get any actual writing done.

While technology can hinder productivity it also gives writers the ability to socialize in what was once seen as a solitary occupation. Moreover, technology has given writers a hand in marketing their work. 

One of the greatest things about social media is its power to bring people together in ways our ancestors never imagined. For writers, and especially writers who work in somewhat obscure genres, the ability to find a following for your work is a game changer. Along with in-person book reading and signing events, now you can reach your audience via podcasts, real-time social media events, blogging, guest blogging, and much more.

And whether you live in a bustling downtown or in the rural, sparsely inhabited foothills, it’s easier than ever to find and join a writing community! You can search for the nearest writing group, or become a member of an online critique group.

Last but not least, technology has also paved the way for internet trolls who have no qualms about speaking their mind. As a writer, you’ll hear it whether you like it or not.

Unfortunately, the wide-open door of the Internet means a few trolls can also get in and make things unpleasant for everyone. It’s important to be prepared for individuals who choose to be rude, overly critical, or downright abusive.

Technology has earned its place in the world of writing. For some writers it may be lifeline, however, it continues to push many out of their comfort zones.


Have you read a compelling article about craft or the creative life that you think should appear in the next Writerly Roundup? Please send links to lmblogcontact (at) literarymama (dot) com—we'd love to hear your input!

Sharon Brandwein is a writer living in California, and a former blog editor for Literary Mama. Her work has appeared on ABC News, Motherly, Scary Mommy, 40 Plus Style, and ParentMap. You can find her writing about motherhood and documenting her life as a writer at her website.

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