Writing Exercise: I Remember

Typewriter

Many years ago I was in a feminist theater group in which one of our exercises was to riff on the phrase “I remember...” The phrase is highly evocative, and is frequently used as a writing prompt these days. This morning I found myself using it.

 

laughingwoman

 

I remember conversations with a friend about how lucky we were that, unlike our mothers, we each had rich inner resources we’d fall back on in our old age.

I remember thinking I wouldn’t be like my older relatives when I was older, since I wasn’t like they’d been when they were younger.

I remember when my father died and I saw my mother’s utter devastation, telling my therapist, “That will never happen to me.” He replied, “How do you know? You might remarry.” In retrospect, what he should’ve said was “Are you hell-bent on avoiding that?” I did.

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As is evident, I’m reflecting on getting older, which I seem to do more and more with each passing day.

 

Try the exercise, no matter what age you are. It works.

 

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Writing Quotations

“The writer’s business is to make up convincing human beings and create for them basic situations and actions by means of which they come to know themselves and reveal themselves to the reader.” –John Gardner

“Writing is a little bit like prostitution. First you do it for love. Then you do it for a few friends. Then you do it for money.”–Moliere

Writing is like baseball: you fail two-thirds of the time.—Philip Rothphiliprothcartoon

It’s hell writing and it’s hell not writing. The only tolerable state is having just written.” 
­Robert Hass

The only reason for being a professional writer is that you can’t help it.–Leo Rosten

The man who writes about himself and his own time is the only man who writes about all people and all time.– George Bernard Shaw

We do not write because we want to; we write because we have to.–W. Somerset Maugham

The most clear-sided view of the darkest possible situation is itself an act of optimism.” –Jean Paul Sartre

“Avoid cliques, gangs, groups. The presence of a crowd won’t make your writing any better than it is.” –Zadie Smith

A person who has not done one-half his day’s work by ten o’clock, runs a chance of leaving the other half undone.—Emily Bronte

 If your career doesn’t work out—write a book about it! – Marcy Sheiner

Lady Gresham: What is she doing?
Mrs. Austen: Writing.
Lady G: Can anything be done about it?–from Becoming Jane

 Publishers today only want books that don’t need editing.”–Pat Teal, literary agent

“Mergers and consolidations in the publishing industry have meant staff cutbacks and a stronger orientation on marketing the books that are published, with the result that there are fewer editors and those few must devote more time to sales and promotional details. As a result, most editors no longer have time to edit.” –Publisher’s Weekly

“Novel writing is hacking away at the rockface.”–Penelope Lively.

It is a sad fact about our culture that a poet can earn more money writing or talking about his art than he can by practicing it.—WH Auden

“There is no royal path to good writing; and such paths as do exist do not lead through neat critical gardens, various as they are, but through the jungles of self, the world, and of craft.” ~Jessamyn West

My favorite character to write is one who’s been medicated. It cuts down on a lot of dialogue.”-Abigail Turnpike

“If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with The Elements Of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.—Dorothy Parker

” I don’t have a career, I have a typewriter.”–Don DeLillo

The writers who are the most popular are those who share the largest number of assumptions with their audience—Gore Vidal.

Literature is the intelligent person’s dope.”–Ernest Hemingway Jr.

Poetry is the transformative kiss by which history is released”—Joani Reinmuth

(There seem to be many versions of the following, by Flaubert):
Language is like a cracked pot on which we beat rhythms for bears to dance to when we are striving to make music that will wring tears from stars.—Flaubert

Write with the heart and edit with the head—Stuart Aken

“… The Da Vinci Code: A novel so bad that it gives bad novels a bad name.”–Salman Rushdie

I began to drink heavily after I realized that the things I’d wanted most in life for myself and my writing, and my wife and children, were simply not going to happen–Raymond Carver

Sufficient for the morning is the pleasure thereof, and one of the most unfailing pleasures is to sit down in the morning and write.—Leonard Woolf

If you’re for this racket—and not many really are—then you’ve got an eternity of sweat and tears ahead.—Red Smith

“There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”–Red Smith

“Writing is like making love. Don’t worry about the orgasm, just concentrate on the process.”—- Isabel Allende

“I write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I’m inspired at nine o’clock every morning.” — Peter De Vries

“The art of writing consists of the art of placing the seat of one’s pants to the seat of one’s chair”– Sinclair Lewis

In my own experience, nothing is harder for the developing writer than overcoming his anxiety that he is fooling himself and cheating or embarrassing his family and friends.—John Gardner

“To most people, even those who don’t read much, there is something special and vaguely magical about writing, and it is not easy for them to believe that someone they know—someone quite ordinary in many respects—can really do it.”–John Gardner

“You have to understand, having a good time is not my idea of having a good time.”–Anonymous writer

A woman was having tea with Mrs. (Thomas) Hardy, and inquired, “Did Mr. Hardy have a good day of writing?” Mrs. Hardy replied, “Oh, I’m sure of it. I could hear him sobbing all afternoon.”

Saul Bellow, when asked how he felt about winning the Nobel Prize, said, “I don’t know. I haven’t written about it yet.”

“The idea of talent is incredibly overrated. A need to survive is much more important. If you went up to someone on the street with a gun and said, ‘in twelve months’ time you’ll be shot unless you produce a great work of art,’ he would suddenly find the motivation to do so.”–David Byrne

All art is solitary and the studio is a torture area.–Alexander Liberman

It’s surprising how much one can produce in a year…if one works hard for three and a half hours every day for 330 days.–Leonard Woolf

“Be regular and orderly in your life so you may be wild and experimental in your work.”–Gustave Flaubert

“I shall go on writing. That is my heroism. I shall bear witness, precise witness.”–Victor Klemperer

Salmon Rushdie, on the fatwa and whether writers should be killed for what they write: “Even Dan Brown must live; preferably not write, but live.”

Life is hard–and then you write a book about it. — My son, Daryl Hochheiser

“Every reader, as he reads, is actually the reader of himself. The writer’s work is only a kind of optical instrument he provides the reader so he can discern what he might never have seen in himself without this book. The reader’s recognition of himself of what the book says is the proof of the book’s truth.”–Proust

I would write a book, or a story, three times—once to understand it, the second time to improve the prose, and a third to compel it to say what it still must say… First drafts are for learning what one’s fiction wants you to say. Revision works with that knowledge to enlarge or enhance an idea, to re-form it. Revision is one of the exquisite pleasures of writing. — Bernard Malamud

This is what happens when you write books…something begins putting everything in your path. There is suddenly no such thing as a back road that doesn’t lead headlong into your obsession.– Philip Roth

As for writing, most people secretly believe they themselves have a book in them, which they would write if they could only find the time. And there’s some truth to this notion. A lot of people do have a book in them – that is, they have had an experience that other people might want to read about. But this is not the same thing as “being a writer.” Margaret Atwood

“The true novelist is the one who doesn’t quit. Novel-writing is not so much a profession as a yoga, or “way,” an alternative to ordinary life-in-the-world. Its benefits are quasi-religious—a changed quality of mind and heart, satisfactions no non-novelist can understand—and its rigors generally bring no profit except to the spirit. For those who are authentically called to the profession, spiritual profits are enough.” –John Gardner

“It does no harm to repeat, as often as you can, ’Without me the literary industry would not exist: the publishers, the agents, the sub-agents, the sub-sub agents, the accountants, the libel lawyers, the departments of literature, the professors, the theses, the books of criticism, the reviewers, the book pages–all this vast and proliferating edifice is because of this small, patronized, put-down and underpaid person.”–Doris LessingDL Portrait

“Becoming a writer is not a ‘career decision’ like becoming a doctor or a policeman. You don’t choose it so much as get chosen, and once you accept the fact that you’re not fit for anything else, you have to be prepared to walk a long, hard road for the rest of your days.”–Paul Auster

“Writing is re-examining values, and nothing produces more anxiety for the human being than re-examining widely accepted values and searching for a way of justifying and articulating the re-examination. The secret of becoming productive and retaining your peace of mind lies in learning how to harness the anxiety and transform it into ‘productive elation.’”–Kenneth Atchity

I cannot and do not live in the world of discretion, not as a writer, anyway. I would prefer to, I assure you–it would make life easier. But discretion is, unfortunately, not for novelists.–Philip Roth

Writing is an attempt to find a way out, like Houdini escaping from a water torture chamber or a soul escaping a body.”—Milan Kundera

“For me, writing was the only way out.”—Anne Tyler

“The universe is made of stories, not atoms.”-Muriel Rukeyser

If I get up at five and can’t sleep and I want to work, I go to work. I’m on call. I’m like a doctor and it’s an emergency room. And I’m the emergency—Philip Roth

“Writin’ Is Fightin””–Ishmael Reed

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The Invisible Writer

Hey Writers! Do you feel invisible? Misunderstood? Do your friends and relatives know what you’re doing with your life? Do they think you’re some kind of dilettante? I know it’s not just me, because I’ve heard other writers complain about the same things. What am I talking about? Well, in the past two weeks, the following incidents occurred:

1. I told a friend, someone I’ve known over half my life, that a collection of my short stories is being published as an e-book. She asked, “Which stories? You wrote some stories?” (The 11 stories in the upcoming collection were written over the past 3 decades. Some were published in literary magazines.)

2. Another long-time friend read one of the posts on my blog because he wanted information on the particular topic it addressed. Afterwards he sent me an email saying, “Oh, now I get it! This is what you do with your time!” All these years he didn’t know I was writing? We lived together for 6 months when I first moved to San Francisco; what did he think I was doing in my room behind the closed door?

3. Yesterday I was waiting in my apartment lobby for someone who was coming to get me, doing a crossword puzzle and muttering aloud the clues and answers. One of my neighbors came out of her apartment and said she thought someone was talking on the phone. I confessed I talk to myself because I live alone. She suggested I join a senior group. She’d misinterpreted what I said–I didn’t say I was unhappy, just that I talk to myself. I have no desire to join any activity groups, so I told her I’m too busy writing. I

An example of a British-style crossword puzzle.

immediately regretted it, because of course she asked what I write. I get so sick of that question, and I have a hard time articulating why it bothers me so much. I mean, what do people think I write? I write stories, essays, blogs, letters, books, poems…and the next time someone asks me what I write I swear I’m going to say “Words. I write words.

I’m really curious to know if other writers get this stuff, and if they mind it like I do. Come on, writers—talk to me!

Excerpt from
“For the young who want to”
by Marge Piercy

Talent is what they say
you have after the novel
is published and favorablyAzaleas
reviewed. Beforehand what
you have is a tedious
delusion, a hobby like knitting…

…The real writer is one
who really writes. Talent
is an invention like phlogiston
after the fact of fire.
Work is its own cure. You have to
like it better than being loved.

 

 
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Book Marketing

These quotes are from a note Linked In deposited in my email box some time ago, titled, “182 Quotes About Book Marketing.” Quote freak that I am, I immediately clicked over. Here are some of the fruits of my labor–or rather, the authors’ labors. Some day when I have more time and motivation I’ll write about my terrible resistance to marketing and self-promotion.

 

“Do something every day to market each of your books for three years.” – John Kremer (Three years I can handle!)

“Not a wasted word. This has been a main point to my literary thinking all my life.” – Hunter S. Thompson

“Sometimes we are limited more by attitude than by opportunities.” – Origin Unknown

“Some succeed because they are destined to, but most succeed because they are determined to.” – Henry Van Dyke

“To defend what you’ve written is a sign that you are alive.” – William Zinsser, WD

“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” – Origin Unknown

“Don’t let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.” – John Wooden

“Strategy and timing are the Himalayas of marketing. Everything else is the Catskills.” –

View of Catskills looking over Hudson River fr...

View of Catskills looking over Hudson River near Rhinecliff, NY (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Al Ries

“Don’t be constantly selling and shilling. Figure out how you can help others, tell them stories, and share openly everything you know so that people will recognize you as someone that they can trust, who won’t turn them off by constantly trying to sell them something.” – C.C. Chapman

“Don’t reduce yourself to a cheesy book hawker.” – Rob Eagar

“In a way, the Web is like your Hollywood agent: It speaks for you whenever you’re not around to comment.” – Chris Brogan and Julien Smith

“Watch what other authors do, especially in your genre or area of expertise. Follow them via Facebook or Twitter, study their websites, and build a relationship with them.” – Barbara Techel

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The State of the (Publishing) Art (Again)

BkComitsSuicideOne of my favorite books in the groundswell of feminist writing that emerged from the 1970’s Women’s Movement was Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time. Residents in the Utopia of the story spent a good deal of their time and lives making art via paint, pottery, poetry, etc. I carried that vision with me into the future, and created my own literary art in between raising children and making a living with my typing fingers. I used to think it would be lovely if everyone was able to make a movie if they so desired; I myself wanted to turn one of Doris Lessing’s space fiction novels into a film. I didn’t want a career in The Industry, didn’t even want to make more than one movie; I just wanted to create this one little project for my own amusement. I raged against the injustice of a culture in which only an elite group of people had access to the means of art production.

Well, I have lived to see the day that this one aspect of Utopia has actually come true. If I took the time to learn the iMovie program on my Macintosh, I could go ahead now and make my movie. I could even share it with others, via YouTube. More significant to my life and well-being, however, is that this democratic accessibility also exists for the creation of literature, or more specifically, book publishing.

Books

Books (Photo credit: Moyan_Brenn 

I may have wanted to create one little movie, but I had far grander goals for my life’s work. I’ve always known what I wanted to do: to publish a novel that would be respected and well-critiqued by the literati, yet mainstream and popular, so the money earned would launch me into a writer’s life. I would live quietly somewhere—at various times I imagined myself in a Manhattan apartment, at other times in a modest oceanfront house—and I’d spend every day of my life in front of my IBM Selectric, on which my handwritten first draft would be typed and retyped through dozens of revisions—that’s how I used to do rewrites back in the Good Old Days.

I believed with all my heart what writers and teachers and books about writing told me: that if I kept at it, if I did it enough so I got better and better, one day IT would happen. I was coming from a literary tradition filled with anecdotes of rejection: writers like Ernest Hemingway and Henry Miller were said to keep a pile of dusty unpublished novels in their desk drawer. Marge Piercy’s first book, Small Change, was her sixth.

I plugged on.

I wrote in between babies and one child’s brain surgeries, through divorce and household moves, a munchkin holding each hand. I wrote in between secretarial jobs, poverty, and food stamps; past used-car breakdowns, furnace failures and snowstorms; I kept on writing in between one crisis after another. I was forced to stop occasionally, for two months, six, four. I lost a job, got another; at times I cleaned houses; I nursed my post-surgical son, sent him back to school, and pounded out another bunch of words. Altogether I wrote six novels. I sent each one out to agents and editors. The only one that’s been published is the last: an ebook on Smashwords that to date has sold eight copies. Hell, I don’t buy ebooks, so how can I expect anyone to buy mine? Still, I did kind of expect my friends to buy it. One of them did.

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When I found out about Smashwords I was elated. The revolution is here! Hello, hooray, I’m ready, I crowed. Finally! Writers had seized the means of production! No more were the gatekeepers of literature young girls fresh out of college holding titles like Assistant Editor for glorified sectetarial jobs. No longer would a few behemoth corporations dictate what the public read. By now, as everyone knows, Smashwords isn’t the only game in town; these days, if you want to publish a book, the options are numerous. Free at last, free at last, great godamighty, we’re free at last!!!

Uh huh. Be careful what you wish for.

books

books (Photo credit: brody4)

I find it difficult to pinpoint exactly what’s wrong, but I’m disheartened and depressed by the state of the art. I have gradually lost my once-burning desire to publish. The electronic format isn’t entirely to blame: I’ve learned to love my Kindle. And yet, being published electronically doesn’t feel quite real to me. It isn’t self-publication that bothers me: besides publishing a novel on Smashwords, I had an ebook collection of short stories published by Renaissance Books. I’ve never been good at self-promotion, and I find I’m even more reluctant to promote a series of bytes on a screen. There’s just something about it that doesn’t feel quite right. Future generations, should they read this, will be baffled. I’m fairly certain, though, that I am not the only member of my generation who’s less than enamored with the state of the art.

This sense of unreality, however, is nothing compared to the core issue: the glut of available ebooks.

glut [gluht] verb, glut·ted, glut·ting, noun
verb (used with object)

1. to feed or fill to satiety; sate: to glut the appetite.
2. to feed or fill to excess; cloy.
3. to flood (the market) with a particular item or service so that the supply greatly exceeds the demand.

A glut of books is (are?) being published. A glut of books is being promoted along with mine. A glut of books all clamor for attention.

Once upon a time when I told people I was a writer they sighed longingly and mentioned The Book buried in their hearts that they didn’t have time to write. These days, knowing their book will be read by someone, they’re somehow finding the time, not only to write but to post news of their book on zillions of websites. In the novel The Best Seller by Olivia Goldsmith (of First Wives Club fame), a character based on Jacqueline Susanne throws a tantrum every time another professional—doctor, lawyer, carpenter—hits the best-seller list with a book. She doesn’t suddenly decide to perform brain surgery; why must every professional horn in on her territory? Those people who used to sigh longingly have stopped sighing. They’ve gone to work, content—or dare I say arrogant?—in the certainty that their book will reach the reading public.

Inevitably with such a huge backlist, a lot of trash finds its way into the mix. Bad grammar, incorrect punctuation, and misspellings abound. Completing and publishing a novel used to be perceived as a major personal accomplishment. Imagine, after a multitude of rejections, what Marge Piercy must have felt like when Small Change appeared in bookstore windows. Yes, we had bookstores back then—in fact, it was in Borders that I got the first hint of the coming onslaught. When big box chain stores began popping up in every strip mall and big city, stores that actually placed chairs near the shelves for leisurely reading, I expected to feel like I was in the Garden of Eden, but the first time I went into Borders I had a panic attack. I felt like rushing home immediately to read, afraid I’d never catch up. On the heels of panic came a plunge into hopelessness: The world does not need anymore words, least of all mine. It was all too much for me; there were simply too many books.

Books

Books (Photo credit: henry…)

I suppose it’s the baby boomer boom—too many of us reached the age of creative invention at the same moment in time. I’ve lost all sense that being published is a great accomplishment. I no longer care very much if a book I write gets published. At this point it would hardly matter, practically speaking: It’s not like I have that many years left to live out my dream. I still love to write, and I’ve been fortunate to have published quite a bit other than novels—in newspapers, magazines, anthologies, poetry journals, and on my blog—so I’m not half-crazed with frustration and a burning need to share my work. The only area in which I haven’t filled that need just happens to be my deepest passion: I bought the Great American Myth that The Great American Novel is the brass ring you grab as the merry-go-round turns.But if everyone has a brass ring, it’s not as meaningful. If publishing a book is the latest hot trend, count me out.

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