April 17, 2018

The problem of sneering: are some people offended by others’ big dreams?

Posted in Fiction Writing, performance, publication, Success, writing for fun tagged , , , , at 8:00 am by Rebecca Hein

The problem of contempt toward unsuccessful writers is huge indeed if a musician feels free to sneer at a writer. Just to deepen the mystery—and the need for writers in particular to protect themselves—nobody ever derided me for wanting to be a professional cellist.

When I was at the most intensive hard-work and skill-building stage of my cello playing, my parents and teachers expressed concern for the effects of my impractical goal on my future, and encouraged me to add teacher certification in music to my college major of cello performance. But not one person criticized me or slighted my hopes.

By contrast, I learned early not to talk much about my hobby—writing—because I quickly discovered it was a waste of time and energy to deal with the invective that often seemed to result.

Were people jealous? Offended that I liked to do something fun and rewarding with my spare time? Affronted that I dared to nurture and follow my creative ideas?

Or did they sense my own big dreams, years before I was conscious of those dreams? But even if they did detect the presence of those possibly unrealistic dreams, why should they therefore resent and criticize?

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March 21, 2018

I’ve forgotten their words, but I’ll never forget their tone

Posted in Fiction Writing, publication, Success tagged , , at 8:12 am by Rebecca Hein

Contempt, undisguised and almost virulent: I observed this public behavior in two prominent people who should have known better. It was spring 2006, and the BBC and National Public Radio were covering the London trial in which Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code, was being sued for some of the content of his book. Because this was a lawsuit about a book, there were expert witnesses from the publishing industry, including high-profile editors and writers.

After describing the courtroom scene to the NPR reporter and the radio audience, the BBC reporter added something like this: “The court is also teeming with writers bearing their manuscripts. They’re so desperate to get a publisher that they are accosting all the editors and heads of publishing houses whose attention they can capture.”

Snickering, the two reporters exchanged a few words about how pathetic that was. I’ve forgotten their words, but I’ll never forget their tone: dripping with the acid of contempt. I’ve witnessed derision before, but this was the most scathing display I’d ever encountered. Ever since, I’ve been trying to make sense of this unashamed, public put-down of writers.

March 13, 2018

Why do so many people sneer at writers? We seem to be fair game.

Posted in Creativity, Fiction Writing, music and writing, publication, Stages, Success tagged , , , at 9:30 am by Rebecca Hein

Long ago I learned not to tell most people that I liked to write. I loved it so much that I would probably have majored in creative writing, had the cello not grabbed me first. I became a dedicated hobby writer, and gradually certain projects took shape in my head until I knew I had to reserve at least some spare time for them.

Two episodes of jeering stand out in my memory from the time when I began to realize I was a serious writer, ambitious to get published and connect with readers.

The first revealed an ingrained, culturally sanctioned contempt for “unsuccessful” writers—those who work at their craft, want to be published, have a book manuscript or other large project to sell, and haven’t yet found a publisher. The second incident, much more shocking, showed that even another creative artist—a fellow musician—felt free to snipe and poke fun at what he imagined to be my foolish dreams.

March 6, 2018

A successful story; a flaw in the plot

Posted in Creativity, Fiction Writing, Flow, flow in writing, Harmony, Momentum in writing, music and writing, performance tagged , , , , , , , at 6:05 pm by Rebecca Hein

As we have seen, creative momentum can sweep the reader along, sometimes with such power that he or she doesn’t notice small faults in our plot or narrative. Since nobody can craft a story perfect in every technical detail, we need to generate this excitement to help our mission—to communicate the message that won’t leave us alone until we’ve at least tried to express it.

Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment is a good example of a story with a powerful message, embedded in a plot with at least one rather large flaw. How can the story succeed when the author obviously painted himself into a corner and, to escape it, has stretched the actions of one minor character beyond what’s plausible?

This contradiction—a compelling story with a significant flaw that doesn’t diminish the power of the narrative—has sent me back to the book several times, trying to figure out how the author did it.

In my own writing, I want the state of mind that can fire a brilliant story. As with my cello playing, I know that if I achieve total absorption for myself and my audience, they will be more likely to forget my small errors.

March 1, 2018

The passion behind your writing can compensate for small errors

Posted in Creativity, Depth, Fiction Writing, Flow, flow in writing, Momentum in writing, music and writing, Tone tagged , , , , , , , at 5:17 pm by Rebecca Hein

Experienced musicians know that if they enthrall the audience, small imperfections can’t ruin their performance. An absorbed listener doesn’t notice an occasional out-of-tune note, or forgets it in the excitement of the music.

It’s the same in literature; while writing, if we build enough creative momentum, occasional omissions or small holes in our plot may not matter.

This is not an argument for sloppiness. We can only achieve excellence if we work at it with all our energy. However, we can’t let that high standard box us into scrutinizing every detail of our narrative at the same time we could be searching for the deep place within ourselves where we accomplish our best work.

I’m convinced that Dostoyevsky discovered that profound well of creativity while writing Crime and Punishment.

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