Wednesday, January 8, 2014

My Writing Resolutions for 2014

Writing Resolution #1:  Start Pointing
I heard an interview with a poet on the radio.  I figured he was successful because he teaches poetry, had published several books of and about poetry, and he was being interviewed on that haloed airspace: NPR.  Sadly it was late, I was driving and I was tired and I don't remember his name.  But he said something that I deemed important enough to put #1 on my 2014 Writing Resolution list.  The interviewer asked the poet what he views as the biggest change in the publishing industry.  The poet replied that it isn't so much about the story anymore, it's about pointing.  As in acquiring the skills and taking the time to point to your work.  To use the myriad of tools out there to help your creation rise up and be seen.  I call it "me marketing" and until this interview, I was unwilling to accept how far the paradigm had shifted away from story.  So for 2014 I hereby resolve to do some serious pointing--assuming I write something worthy of the effort.

Writing Resolution #2:  Spotlight the Subtext
I used to see television as a soul sucking device.  Not so much anymore.  Some of the programming is stunningly good, and three of the standouts for me are:  HBO's Game of Thrones, FX's Justified, and Netflix's House of Cards.   I'm a dialogue man, and these shows, while very different in plot and style, are consistently transcendent.  And what is this magic quality that sets them apart?  In my view it's the subtext--the deeper truth that separates what the character just said vs what he really said.  When subtext is done well, it creates layers of tension that keep me engaged from one scene to the next.  It's like a symphony where all the instruments are playing the chorus to some vacuous pop-song, but if you listen carefully you can hear the oboe in the fifth row, fifth chair, playing Beethoven's 9th.  My #2 Writing Resolution is to take my writing to the next level by focusing on the words behind the words.

Writing Resolution #3:  Take Risks
Writing, by its very nature, is an exercise in risk.  We spend countless hours building worlds then inhabiting those worlds with characters which we animate with the precious blood and breath of our creative souls.  All this with no reasonable expectation that our efforts will be rewarded with the holy grail:  a six figure advance on a multi-book deal with "soon to be a major motion picture" stamped on the front cover and a blurb by Stephen King on the back.  What I think happens somewhere along the way is that creativity and that risk-taking spirit is overshadowed by conformity as we try to hop onto the current wave of success rather than generate the next new thing.  In 2014 my Writing Resolution #3 is to take risks, write the story I want to read and let my characters tell it in a voice I want to hear.

Writing Resolution #4:  Fill My Head
Some call it "in the zone".  Others their "Zen moment".  I call it "filling my head".  It's that time when the outside world stops spinning, time slows to a syrupy drip, and I hear nothing other than my characters acting out on the stage I set for them.  When this happens words spill out of me like juice from a ripe peach.  That doesn't happen very often, though.  Most of the time my head is a communal place where all the accessories of life rattle and burp and send my characters scurrying for the shadows.  My Writing Resolution #4 is to carve out the time I need to fill my head.  Go somewhere quiet and remote, find a place off the grid where I can devote the time necessary to lure my characters out of the shadows long enough to finish the damn book.

Writing Resolution #5:  Build a Platform
I have no idea what this is.  A trusted writing friend told me I need one.  So like Noah and his arc, my Writing Resolution #5 is to find out what a platform is and then build it.


Sechin Tower said...

Stephen, this is great stuff. I'm going to copy these resolutions as my own!

Jordan Dane said...

Good stuff, Stephen. Thanks for sharing your observations. I've been "studying" the shows I like to analyze why I love them. Usually good writing is key. Happy 2014!

Sechin Tower said...

I've been thinking about the "take risks" resolution. You've helped me to decide to simply forget about everything except what will make me happier with the novel. Not that I don't care about feedback and criticism, but I will only pursue that which makes me more happy with the work, not what I guess will make other people happy with it.

Thank you for getting me thinking!

Sechin Tower said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Maureen McQuerry said...

"write the story I want to read and let my characters tell it in a voice I want to hear. and ..focusing on the words behind the words." Those goals really resonate. I shall add them as goals as well. And here's one more I have to add to my personal list... Stop seeing myself as an imposter writer. It will help with marketing, with allowing me to find that time and make decisions that are good for my career.

Stephen Wallenfels said...

Sechin, I raise a digital glass and toast to our common goal. Happiness is the better part of valor. Here's to taking risks in 2014! S