Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Mistakes or Poor Advice - Engineering and the Abstract

Dear Dead Beat,

If writing courses and groups are dangerous and family and friends are unreliable, how can a writer tell when they are getting sound, constructive advice? Not being allowed to repeat mistakes makes good sense, but how is one to know if the mistakes are truly mistakes and not just poor advice?

Uncle Dead Beat can be a little harsh, he knows this. The point is, he's trying to make a point. Of course, not all writing courses are dangeous, but most are (see Writer’s Workshops or How Do We Cope With Gerry?) So find a good workshop with an instructor that knows how to teach critical analysis. Or find a friend that is a good critic. What you are looking for as a writer is a method of knowing what part of the process your writing is within.

Beginning, middle, end? Pre-writing, draft, re-writing? Most writers simply have no idea. Generally they confuse the pre-wriitng stage with the finished product.

A few simple guidelines: When you set out to write, you have no idea what it is you are going to write about. If you think you do, you are wrong and will write something wholly inadquate.

So set out on an adventure to find out what it is you want to write about.

See what transpires and try to make something of it. In other words what is the most interesting thing about this piece of writing? Follow that lead. Rewrite.

Continue with this until a story or poem or whatever has emerged, then ask what is it I have written?

Say it is a story, ask what is the story? Whose story is it?

In other words understand what has emerged and work with this. Create of it what it ought to be.

Does this sound vague? Sure?

You need a method. You need a process.

Writing takes something abstract (emotional) and conveys it to the reader through something concrete (words) producing an abstract response (emotional).

A story or poem or whatever is a vehicle. Just like your old Volkswagon, a vechicle is constructed, and there is a design.

Dead Beat, old engineer that he is likes designs, so learn your engineering.

Ask of me more. Dead Beat has Engineering degrees to hand out by the bucketful.

Why Academia?

Dear Dead Beat,

Why university? And why E.W.U.?

Dear Anonymous,

Dead Beat reached a point where he could not see the woods for the trees (Literary Agony and the Business of Rejection) He deduced that a more academic and crical analysis of his writing was necessary.

Why Eastern Washington University?

Well Dead Beat got a scholarship to the EWU Dublin Summer School and met the inimitable James McAuley (fellow Irish man who helped set up the program) who took a shine to Dead Beat and his work and vice versa. Dead Beat mentioned his interest in a university degree in Creative Writing and Jim promised to put in his two bits for him. Dead Beat was flexible and made the two year journey.

Writing needs this - journies, committment.

Old D. B. is the first to admit, he got lucky. Not just Jim McAuley, a fountain of knowledge, friendship, and educator, but John Keeble. Both have the big picture in mind, the connection between writing and life, life and writing (see
Inventing Constellations in the Black Emptiness and its links)

MFA programs are not for everyone. You need to be strong in voice and style for they will try to change you to a generic writer. But if you have the know how, you can avoid this and make it through and be all the better for it.

Go ahead, in the comment section ask me why?

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Knowledge Of Writing

Dear Dead Beat,

Where did you study writing?

Dead Beat is not sure where this question is coming from. If it is purely inquisitory, then the answer is Eastern Washington University. But that tells you nothing. If there is more involved in this question, please come back to me. Everything should add to our knowledge of writing.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Literary Agony and the Business of Rejection

Dear Dead Beat,

I'm in literary agony. I've submitted my manuscript (partial) to several publishers in January and the rejection letters are trickling in. Two pubs requested a full and one sent it back this spring. The other still has it. I rocket between obsessing about the book, to feeling utterly bereft, to imagining a positive outcome that fuels me for a while. I've started writing a new book and I write for a paper so my obsessing hasn't stopped me writing--but what to do? Now I know why so many writers drink. --

Dear Agonised,

You've come to the right place. Uncle Dead Beat has much empathy. This submission business is just one of the many chores of being a writer. The trick is to become detached about it all. Make it the business it is. Do your research well and identify suitable publishers for your work. Much work gets rejected since it is being sent somewhere unsuitable. This can be slow work but do it well. Send out a sample and query letter as you did to a sizeable number of publishers. When the rejections come back, and as you know they surely will, (this is mainly due to the huge quantity of work they are receiving and the few books they can actually publish) simply tick them off your list and find replacement publishers to send your samples to. One in/one out. And keep at it. Don't think about it. It's not personal. It's the reality of the publishing business.

Besides you have done well. Two publishers requested your full manuscript, meaning you have a good sample work and most probably a good query letter. Even if the full manuscript gets rejected, you are further along the line than most. Well done.

If you do all of this and the work is good enough, sooner or later it will find a home.

Rejection is part of the business, and really it is the wrong word. It is far to negative. Your work may be unsutiable for many reasons which have nothing to do with the quality of it.

But on the subject of quality Dead Beat warns all writers out there to be sure their work is really at the stage to be submitted. Again a big proportion of work gets sent back because it is not really at a publishable state. This does not mean that it is not good. It just means it is being sent out too early - when the work is still an early draft. Sometimes as writers we find it hard to notice this, since we are so close to our work we can't see the wood for the trees. So seek advice on your manuscript from someone you can trust who is skilled to give this advice. Rule of thumb if you haven't rewritten your work substantially from the first draft you are most probably nowhere near ready.

So my agonised friend try to see the submissions part of writing as a business with little emotional investment, other than boxes to tick off. Dead Beat has been through his share of this and is still going through the process. The publishing world is vicarious. Even the best of writers can not depend that each book they write will easily find a publisher.

As for writers and drinking I think we need to discuss that over a pint some time, preferably of the black and white sort.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Out to Lunch

Dead Beat will be back in a jiffy. In the meantime you could check out Dead Beat or (another fine writer Dead Beat aspires to grow up to be) - Links to the side

Don't forget to leave your questions in Comments

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Learning the Craft with Bobby Jones

Dear Dead Beat,

Where is the best place to learn one`s craft?

As Captain Jack Sparrow might say, "On the Highe Seas, me Ladee."

Yes indeed, on the high seas of literary learning (see Bricklayers and Surgeons Need Not Apply).

Okay, here's the raw deal. You learn your craft by sitting on your netherparts and writing. But there's a catch. This is a catch most instructors of writing ignore, old Willie F. included.

Now Bobby Jones did not ignore this.

Bobby who? What novel did he write?

Dead Beat says, "Back off Buster, Bobby Jones is a golfer."

From 1923 to 1930 he won thirteen major championships and remains the only player ever to win all four majors in the same year-all before retiring from competitive golf when he was just 28 years old.

Now. Dead Beat says, Get this, he was an amateur.

He was professional in his manner. But not in it for the spondulicks.

So, one day Bobby Jones is on the practice ground watching someone 'practicing'. He drops his head, frowns. "What's the matter?" someone asks.

"He could be practicing for forty years, but it won't make a difference," Jone s says, " he's practicing the same mistakes."

So, my friend, learn your craft by writing, alone at your desk, by your computer screen, whatever, but check that you are not simply repeating your mistakes.

For that, find a friend who truly understands your writing and can critique it adequately(most friends can not do this). Find someone who will not allow you to repeat your mistakes.

Writing Courses can sometimes do this, but they are dangerous.

Writing Groups can sometimes do this but they are dangerous.

Find someone like Dead Beat. He holds you in no high regard like family. He does not ask you to practice, he tells you how.

In other words, write, learn from your mistakes, write, learn from your mistakes, write...

I'm on your side.

Write by yourself, ask someone wise for advice, learn from it and write again....

I won't desert you. This is only the beginning...

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Simultaneous Submissions and Dangling Shoestrings

Hi. I'd like to know when it is ok to submit poetry that has been published in book form. In other words, after my book is published by a publishing company, may I submit poems from that book to journals? My other question concerns editors and their strict policies. I have sent my work to journals and have never heard back one way or the other. Yet they don't want simultaneous submissions. Then when I query as to the status they don't answer that either. What right do editors have to say they don't want simultaneous submissions when they treat writers like this? And why can't a poem or story be published in more than one journal anyway?

Frustrated Writer --

Dear Frustrated Writer,

Dead Beat hears you. With regards to submitting poetry already published in book form, the simple but unhelpful answer is that it all depends on your contract. Generally speaking once the poem is published in book form other periodicals would not be interested in it anyway. If an anthology was, then once again, generally, they would seek permission from the publisher.

Here’s Dead Beat’s take. If the poem is already in book form why would you wish to publish it in a magazine? Send them something fresh, another publishing credit to your name.

As for simultaneous submissions - that old bug bear - Dead Beat respects the right of a publisher/editor to insist against this, but that doesn’t mean he has any high regard for any such insistence. In fact in Ireland where Dead Beat originates we have in our Irish language a specific Irish word for ’no simultaneous submissions’ going back to the days of the Bardic tradition - ‘Codswallop’.

Let’s start with publishers of books who insist they don’t want simultaneous submissions - while there may be a practical publishing reason for this (that they may give time in considering a submission that ultimately will go elsewhere) all Dead Beat can say is, ‘so be it.’ Some years back I sent a collection of stories to a publishing house who insisted this way. They took over twelve months to respond. You may have to send to twenty publishers with a fine book of stories to have any success. Do the math. Dead Beat doddering down the road with his age old manuscript under his arthritic arm! From the writer’s point of view this is simply not possible. The practicalities of publishing mean that it can take a long time for publishers to respond to the writer, we can give them this, but then to add the ‘no simultaneous submission’ clause is to give nothing in return.

I feel the same about magazines etc. Now not all publishers or magazine editors are so slow in responding but even the fastest take a substantial quantity of time.

So here’s the choice. Send only to publishers without this stipulation or ignore the ‘codswallop’ and say nothing.

What’s the likelihood of being accepted by two magazines or publishers anyway? What’s the odds of being accepted by one? And even if you were, how difficult is to say you no longer wish to be published there ( but say it politely of course, and don’t mention Dead Beat’s name)?

What about agents? Do they only bring your book to the attention of one publisher? Hmm!

One thing though, Dead Beat has huge respect for most publishers and editors, especially the independent presses. As writers we sometimes do not appreciate the difficulties of operating on a shoestring, so we must give them some leeway. But as publishers they must respect that writers are operating on a shoestring also, sometimes without a shoe to go along.

Dead Beat urges us to unite and dangle our shoestrings together.

Contact Dead beat through the comments box with any questions

Lyres and Truths

Shelley writes:

Dear Dead Beat,What is meant by a lyric poem? I write poetry and someone described one of my poems as lyric.

Dear Shelley,

I like to keep this one real simple in an attempt to keep me out of trouble. Actually it will probably just get me in more trouble from all sorts of cranky customers.

Here goes: Let us divide poetry into two types of poems - lyric and narrative.
Well narrative speaks for itself - it tells a story. Thus a time element is involved. In lyric poetry time is suspended. In other words we reflect or meditate on something e.g ode to a palm top, that sort of thing. We build the poem around the object without a passage of time.

The term ‘lyric’ comes from the musical instrument the lyre. This is where poetry grew from - songs accompanied by the lyre. Thus lyric poems are songlike. They do not try to tell a story but reflect in a more personal manner the feelings and thoughts of the ‘speaker’.

So there you have it Shelley, and let no one tell you otherwise.

Differences Between Point of View

Tom K, writes:

Dear Dead Beat, I mainly write short stories. Sometimes I use first person point and view and sometimes third person but I am unsure about the differences between them. I have looked it up on the web but found it all quite confusing.

Dear Tom K.

The web is surely a confusing place, but that all depends on your point of view (Dead Beat goes deadpan).

As mention in Cranky Meets the Mad Trapper (Dead Beat) point of view may be the most important component of fiction. So your question is more than relevant. And you are right that the answer can be confusing since it is such a complex subject. So let old Uncle Dead Beat bring it back to its basics which is always a good place to start.

First person means we are in the mind of the main character. We are going through what her or she is experiencing.

In third person point of view - we are in the mind of the narrator. To keep it simple we will say we are in the mind of an omniscient narrator (hey, Dead Beat, I thought you said you were going to keep it simple!) An omniscient narrator being an all seeing, all knowing narrator i.e. the narrator can be in the mind of every character in the story.

Thus in first person we are limited to a single point of view. The disadvantage of this is that we only get on side of the story. We have to trust the main character completely that everything he or she says or thinks is accurate. Well when a person is emotionally involved they are very often not as rational as they ought to be. In third person we get other ‘opinions’ on the situation. We see it from a number of sides and get a more complete picture. We may see the situation more ‘truthfully’.

However we are less attached to the story - more detached. We are not as emotionally involved any more. If we are in first person, we go through what the main character is going through. This is why ‘coming of age’ stories are invariably told through first person point of view.

Advantage: This first person, ‘eye witness’ account gives immediacy.
Disadvantage: The narrator has limited knowledge and is biased. Thus the narrator cannot interpret the events as well.

Third person omniscient gives a greater dimension to the story, making it more flexible for the writer and potentially richer for the reader. The disadvantage is the distance created by the omniscient narrator which can come between the reader and the story. Moving from character to character can also affect the unity of the story.

So it comes back to the intention of the story. Is it more important to be in the mind of the main character so that the reader can experience what he or she is going through, or do we want to get a fuller picture of the story with a little distance from the main character?

How do we know? This can be tricky. The main thing is to write a draft of the story taking a shot at point of view. Then look at it and ask the two main questions: 1) What is the story about?; 2) Whose story is it?

Answering these questions can provide the answer to point of view. But that is most probably another question.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Time To Write - A Story of Poets, Dishwashers, and Uneaten Sandwiches

Dear Dead Beat (well okay, so I had to add the Dear Dead Beat myself. Anonymous you obviously don’t understand the protocol here. It’s a psychological thing. It helps me think better. I’ll forgive you this time, but others be warned.)

I am a keen writer, but live a very busy life style and find it hard to get the time to write. Any thoughts or suggestions?

Dear Anonymous (see don’t you feel better already),

I remember taking a poetry workshop many moons ago with one of Ireland’s leading poets Paul Durcan and a similar question arose. One of the participants, a mother of three children, asked Paul about this. She told him how she had to get up early to make breakfasts, school lunches etc. and get her children out to school. Then she headed off to her work. She got home that evening and had more meals to make, all the other household chores. By the time she finished she was exhausted. “I just don’t seem to have the time I need,” she told him.

I remember Paul nodding his head, and then he quietly asked her, “What time do you get up at?”
“Seven o’clock,” she replied.
Paul nodded again. “Well then,” he said, “get up at six.”

The point is well made. If writing means enough for you, you will find the time even if it means getting up an hour earlier in the morning.

Dead Beat remembers another lifetime when he used to design domestic appliances for a living. Dishwashers would you believe it were his speciality. Especially a little one you could fit under the draining board which would transform the life of… Oh well never mind. The fact is I would come home in the evening after a day of designing turbines and soap dispensers and set into my writing late into the night. Weekends were likewise spent at my Olivetti (that will tell you how long ago it was. Dead Beat is showing his age. In fact if the truth be told, it was probably washboards I was designing…) Anyway it seemed to me that I was doing things all wrong - that I should be writing all day and working part-time. And so I bid adieu to my design engineering career and took a risk on writing. Now, Dead Beat is not naive, and understands that a decision like this is not possible for everyone. But I was serious about writing, very serious, and I made the decision to pursue writing as seriously as I wanted.

So how serious are you about writing? If you are serious enough, the time is out there. Mornings, nights, lunch breaks. If it is not so serious, enjoy your sleep and your sandwiches.

Contact Dear Dead Beat Through the Comments to Respond to this Query or to Ask a Question of Your Own

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Dear Dead Beat

Here I am, Uncle Dead Beat. Willing to answer any questions you may have about the writing process. Uncle is not shy so be as forward as you like. My guarantee is that I will answer as honestly as I can in a manner that will lead to the truth, and what more could anyone ask for.

Use the comments section to send in your query.
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