Category Archive: The Basics

Mar 26

4 Tips To Get Traditionally Published… It’s Possible!

Photographer: Rob Friesel

Being an online publisher, I wanted to reach out to writers, because I am aware that trying to get a book published can be a stressful time for a fiction writer. You have to struggle with feelings of self doubt, worry about rejection, and agonize over changing your beloved work to please others. With all these emotions swirling around, the last thing you want to worry about is if you are taking the right steps in your quest to get published. This is why I have written this article: to demystify the process and guide writers through the steps of what they need to do and in what order. This way, instead of hopping up and down haphazardly on the stairs of  publication, possibly slipping and breaking some bones in the process, writers will be able to swiftly reach their goal without too many scars (and, most importantly, a lighter load of rejection letters!)

1. Write your book!
It may not be surprising that the first step to getting published is to have something to publish. Ah, you say,  you know that already? Good! But, too often, writers delude themselves into thinking that a query letter and the first couple chapters of a novel are all you need – they can always write the rest while they wait for responses, right? Ehm.. only if you want to be ultimately rejected by the rare publishing companies who will even bother to ask for the rest!

In the world of fiction writing, the unbreakable rule is to have your book finished (and thoroughly edited) before you even begin thinking about publishing it. With other types of writing, you may be able to get away with a few chapters or pitching an idea but, while you may only be submitting a few chapters at first, publishers will expect the entire book to be already completed. The last thing you want to do is grab the attention of a publisher only to leave them dry later. So get writing and make sure you have a sizable manuscript before you put all the extra work that publishing entails. A good range to shoot for is between 75,000 and 120,000 words. This is just a general range so do not be afraid to stray outside of it should that fit your purposes better. At the same time, be aware that longer books are harder to publish. This is why even Proust had to self-publish, after the first volume of Remembrance of Things Past – a “mere” 500  pages long – was rejected with this statement: My dear fellow, I may be dead from the neck up, but rack my brains as I may I can’t see why a chap should need thirty pages to describe how he turns over in bed before going to sleep.” In general, shorter is better. However, if you can come up with a compelling plot that holds together even after hundreds of pages, write to us and let you know how you did it!

2. Get feedback
This is a nice way of saying: make sure that what you wrote will bring some enjoyment to the editors who read it…not just make them want to quit their job and become Scuba Divers!* If you are one of those who think that your NaNoWriMo sketch of a novel, or the first draft that your boyfriend likes so much, are ready for publication…well, you are not ready, I promise. You are, however, past step 1, and encouraged to keep reading!

After you have written your initial manuscript, make sure you let some other people read it and get feedback. While this step can be excruciating for many writers, it is necessary to get multiple opinions on your work. As much as you hate having others tear your work apart, your writing will ultimately be better for it. You will be surprised: people might find confusing details or plot-points   that you, as the writer, thought were clear as day.  “Wait, I don’t get it: why would Luke go save that squirrel? Isn’t he allergic to fur?” a friend might ask. And you would embark in a lengthy explanation of why squirrel fur is not like cat fur … then reread the scene with the squirrel, only to realize that the scene doesn’t make any sense, anyway, and that you have no idea of how or why that squirrel made it into your story.

Alternatively, a fresh eye may catch inconsistencies within the story that your eyes, red from sleepless nights spent writing and inured to the abominable grammatical errors they have basically committed to memory, might miss. Writing workshops are great for this step. Ideally, you want feedback from other writers and the target audience of the book as well. Once you have a good amount of feedback, rework your manuscript to take the best advice into account. This process should also help you with proofreading your manuscript. A manuskript filed with speelling and grammatical  horrors will be hard t read, an wil reflekt pourly on u (see, I can feel you looking down on me right now!) So please, please, have you manuscript be edited thoroughly, before you shop it around!

* Or any profession that doesn’t require writing or reading!!

3. Decide if you want an agent
Once you have a tight manuscript in your hands (Yay!), you have to choose between contacting an agent  to help you sell your work, or reaching out to publishers directly. This is an important decision to make, as it leads to two drastically different paths. (Of course, you can always self-publish… But, today, we are explaining how to do this the traditional way.)

Many writers loathe the idea of an agent, and see them as the layabout middlemen of the publishing world. However, there are good reasons to work with an agent – if you can build a good relationship with one. The benefit to getting an agent is that they already have relationships with people in publishing houses. They know what the publishers want and how to best position your book so that it will be published. They will also be able to make suggestions to strengthen your work and edit it to ensure publication (even though these changes can be hard to stomach). Basically, they will do all the work to get your book published and will take a cut from the profits, usually around 15%. However, their experience and negotiating skills may get you a better deal than what you would be able to get on your own, (hopefully) offsetting the cost of their fees.

Your other option is to contact publishers yourself. This option involves much more work on your part. You must conduct research first, and determine which publishers to target your manuscript to. Then, you can start sending off queries, (and pray that someone is reading them.) If you decide to go riding solo, don’t worry too much about being successful: the experience you will gather during this process could always be useful to you later (as in when you self-publish your book or, disappointed by all the rejections, decide to play a prank of those “damned” editors). Regardless of what happens, learning more about the process will serve you well: you may even be able to help other writers in the future (for a 15% cut!).

4. Follow your agent’s advice
If you decide to get an agent, follow the submission guidelines on their websites carefully. It might seem obvious to you, but one of the main obstacles to getting published is the writer’s inability to follow directions. If you get a rejection letter, move on, (or nail it to the wall, a la Stephen King). Unless… the agent specifies a condition on which you can contact them again. However, beware of delicate breakups: agents may be so graceful in their rejection letter that they may give you false hope. But we all know that the “it’s not you, it’s me” approach to things isn’t one we should believe in. Hence, if you do try to get the editor to give you another shot, do it without getting your hopes too high – similarly to the other kind of relationships, having low expectations can sometimes help to be hurt a little less when we get rejected.

If you are now so nauseated that you want to skip to the next step directly, I understand. If you do get an agent, though, it may be wise to take to their advice, as they have experience in the field and you do not. This is not to say that an agent always gives good advice, but it is often best to at least hear them out, because, after all, this is why you hired them, right? Agents are not as scary as I depicted them in this piece (at least, not all of them!) Try to find an agent that you like and admire, maybe someone who has worked on pieces of literature that you have read and liked. This way, it will be easier to follow their advice when they tell you something like: “the ending sucks. Don’t you know that even Tom Clancy couldn’t get away with what he did in Teeth Tiger?”

OR

Find a publisher
For the fend-for-yourself types, you will probably decide to contact publishers yourself. If this is the case, you should research extensively to find out who is publishing content that is similar to yours. For example, if you have written a book geared towards young adults, go to a bookstore or library and look around the Young Adult section to find out who is publishing the newest and most popular books. Submit your manuscript to the publishers you have targeted and be sure to follow all instructions in their submission process (just because you decided to lone wolf it does not mean you do not have to play by the rules!). They may suggest changes, and you won’t have much say in it… But, then again, remember that finding and improving good books is their job…they might know a little bit more about it than you or I do..give them a chance! Ultimately, just take it as a learning experience and don’t get too caught up in it: self-publishing is always an option, but it’s useful to at least try going through the traditional route: your book might improve because of it!

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Feb 20

Getting Back Your Creative Mojo

Photographer: Stephan Mantler

Even among the most creative of writers, there are many times when we look at our blank piece of proverbial paper, and have no idea what to do with it. Perhaps it’s just exhaustion — maybe you’ve been cooped up for too long, and need to get out more to draw some fresh inspiration. Regardless of the reason, there are times where we all lose our creative touch, and especially for those that make a career (or obsession!) out of writing, getting back that mojo is our top priority. So here are some ways you can get it back:

RANDOM CONVERSATIONS

Talk with random people, about crazy topics, in the most spontaneous of conversations — you’d be surprised how much interesting writing you can generate in this way. In fact, psychology today points out that sparking conversations with random strangers can inspire big ideas, and also improve memory retention. The reason for this is that your brain responds more enthusiastically to new information.

LET IT ALL GO

There’s a reason why many people feel most creative when they are high on marijuana, or more rhythmically confident when they’re drinking, and it’s not something you need drugs to experience: just let it all go, and (as Morpheus elegantly puts it) “free your mind”. Studies confirm this can, in fact, positively impact your creative potential.

ROLE-PLAY

The phenomenon of role-playing, popular among fans of anime, video games, and dice-and-paper games like D&D, isn’t just useful as a form of entertainment — it’s also a highly effective means of brainstorming! So much, in fact, that people write volumes of creative material every day, without even realizing it. One popular role-playing portal has a longest roleplay (titled “Multiverse”) of a whopping 50.3 million words of story-telling! Role-playing is a good way to inspire yourself, brainstorm for fresh ideas, and learn the value of social collaboration. “Multiverse” is a fairly well-written story with the cohesiveness of a work written by a single person, and yet it was crafted by thousands of people around the world and spans hundreds of thousands of pages. The creative potential of role-playing is simply astounding and, if you can tap it, you’ll get your mojo back.

USE THE SYSTEM

There are plenty of tools and writing systems that will help you to get rid of writer’s block and regain your creative edge. One tool that I found to be immensely useful was Automattic’s Plinky prompts. They ask you thought-provoking questions that you can use as a launchpad for your creative shenanigans. It’s a surprisingly effective way to tap into your creative mind and, as they never run out of questions, you’ll never run out of answers, or inspiration. Plinky also has the added bonus of allowing you to automatically forward all of your posts to Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, Tumblr, and many other online blogging services.

HALLUCINATE

I know this might sound crazy (well actually, it kind of is!), but summoning visual, auditory, and tactile hallucinations is a good way to get your mojo back. In the movie “Stranger than Fiction”, the author enters into a trance-state to find out how the main character of her story would feel when he dies, vividly envisioning herself dying in various ways.

Evidence of this method’s effectiveness is mostly anecdotal, but I challenge you, if you’re feeling creatively stagnant, to go outside and start experimenting with your imagination. Slice through the street light with your mind, watch it spontaneously combust into a million pieces. Then, force the reversion of time, channeling those pieces back into their original form and order. You will witness a full cycle of destruction and recreation, perpetuated  by your mind. There’s a link between creativity and mental illnesses like schizophrenia for a reason, and you don’t have to be crazy to make use of it!

MENTAL EXPLORATION

The mind is a powerful tool, and its creative potential is nearly infinite. While some are more predisposed to creativity than others, and even they can sometimes encounter roadblocks to their creativity. If that happens, and none of the other strategies outlined in this post work,  the best route to getting back and keeping your creative mojo might be to explore the potential of your mind, so you know how best to make use of it. Know yourself creatively: know what drives you, what moves you, and what keeps you going. This kind of knowledge is what empowers you as a writer, as a thinker, and as an artist. Go exploring, get to know all the things that make you tick, and you’ll find the key to unlocking your creative potential… Perhaps you’ll even find a part of yourself you never knew in the process.

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Oct 28

The Madness That Is Editing

Many writers go through a number of drafts before they get to a finished piece. They start with a full write-up of their book, complete with errors of every kind, and they systemically refine this work through subsequent drafts.

My system is an illogical mess. I don’t complete one full draft and then go back to the beginning – I edit as I go, de-bloating turgid sentences where I find them. I cannot begin a new day of writing without looking at yesterday’s work, which often makes me analyse what I’ve already written instead of get on with what I have to write.

I get into a horrific obsessing state, reading aloud, tapping a pen on the desk even though I don’t have paper in the apartment because, nine times out of ten, I’d rather screw up the crap written on it than hammer out the mistakes. Yet editing is a delicious torture. It’s chipping away at that slab of marble until I see shape, and later precision.

 

Photographer: Dan Patterson

Take the opening page of Torrodil, for example. This is my first attempt:

On the streets of Leitrim, the hustle and bustle of the morning filled the air, joined by the smell of muck from citizens emptying their chamber pots onto the cobbled streets below. As luck would have it, the muck was not satisfied to spend its days wasting away in the summer sun, and chose, as it were, an altogether stickier fate clinging on to the shoes of workers wrapped up in the Monday morning frenzy.

Anna Gray did not say anything when she heard the splodge, nor when she felt the mush start to trickle. There was, perhaps, a slight narrowing of the eyes, a slight snarl undetectable at any range as she went from foot to sky, foot to sky, realising then that it was impossible to be both bare foot and fancy free. On her left the town crier was carping on:

Katharine will fight ‘em in the streets, she’ll fight ‘em in her breeches…Dallina bandits draw near and troops are nowhere to be seen. Is Leitrim safe?…How does your garden grow?: Miracle grow company Soylent Green raking it in as wonder-manure sells like dirt cakes, despite unpleasant odour…’”

I like to start with description rather than talking heads and that’s what I’ve done here. The reader knows the book is set in the past, yet I’m throwing information at them when I don’t have to be, starting with two dependent clauses (highlighted) that make my opening paragraph harder to read. There are also repetitions and references that are overly transparent. You get a hint of style, but it’s a clunker.

Second try:

The hustle and bustle of the morning filled Leitrim’s air, joined by the smell of muck from villagers emptying their chamber pots onto the cobbles. As luck would have it, the muck was not content to spend its days wasting away in the summer sun, and chose an altogether stickier fate clinging to the shoes of workers wrapped up in the Monday morning frenzy.

Anna Gray did not say anything when she heard the splodge, nor when she felt the mush start to trickle. There was a slight snarl as she looked down, realising then that it was impossible to be both barefoot and fancy free.

Katharine will fight ‘em in the streets, she’ll fight ‘em in her breeches,’ said the town crier. ‘Dallina in cinders and bandits on the loose. Where is the cavalry?’

The first paragraph is easier to read since I’ve sacrificed that opening dependent clause. I’ve chipped away at the second paragraph, taking away repetitions. It’s made it feel a bit dry. Who is this girl Anna Gray? What sets me as a writer apart from everyone else? By this point I know it’s going to be a do-over.

Third try:

Anna Gray plunged into Monday headfirst, knees bent, and with two less shoes than the night before. The morning rush would finish her one day. A passer-by, finding her trampled and in hand-me-down underwear, might say she had it coming.

Katharine will fight ‘em in the streets, she’ll fight em in her breeches,’ said the town crier as Anna sped past, breathing in the muck that villagers had emptied onto the cobbles. ‘Hey Anna, another town in cinders. What do you think: war before the year’s out?’

Anna strafed past rabid mutts and Friar McDougall, owner of the county’s clammiest hands. ‘I think Queen Katharine really needs a new shtick. And try peddling something upbeat for a change. “Healer cures man’s pox.” I’m telling you, people would be stuck to you like flies on—’

The girl did not say anything when she heard the splodge, nor when she felt the mush start to trickle. There was a slight twitch as she looked down, realising then that it was impossible to be both barefoot and fancy free.

On second thought,’ she shouted back, ‘work with the crap you got.’”

The opening paragraph is action-oriented, yet displays character without being showy. We understand a lot better what type of girl Anna is in this one – quick-witted, as well as quick on her toes. Whereas the girl in the first draft may have given you a glassy stare if you tried to talk to her, this girl would probably just suggest going some place to get drunk and rage about the world. Yet it’s a bit explicit. The reference to war is in your face, and I’d prefer if the PC brigade read a few more pages before they burned Torrodil for mild profanities.

Final version:

Anna Gray plunged into Monday headfirst, knees bent, and with two less shoes than the night before. The morning rush would finish her one day. A passer-by, finding her trampled and wearing hand-me-down underwear, might say she had it coming.

Katharine will fight ‘em in the streets, she’ll fight ‘em in her breeches,’ said the town crier as Anna sped past, breathing in the muck that villagers had emptied onto the cobbles. Queen Katharine really needed a new shtick. Something upbeat. Man cures Kelgard of pig plague, thought Anna. Bacon sandwiches for all! Yeah, people would cling to that like flies to—

Anna heard the splodge first, then felt the mush start to trickle. There was a slight twitch as she looked down, realising that it was impossible to be both barefoot and fancy free. By the time Anna arrived in the shop, breathless and sweating bullets, the clock tower had rung in ten o’clock, with all signs pointing to an emotional breakdown before noon.”

The excess fat has been cut away, and a parity between dialogue and description achieved.

This isn’t the 1984 of openings. It is a glimpse at character, style and plot delivered in a way that hopefully makes a reader want to continue. Go back and compare it with my first try. Which book would you buy?

 

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Oct 24

Writing for the Right Reasons

There are many reasons why we choose to write: creative expression, catharsis, therapy, communication, social networking, money, fame, individuality– the reasons for writing are limitless. But regardless of what your reasons are, so as to ensure that you reach your potential as writer, it’s essential that you are writing for the right reasons.

What determines the validity of one’s motivations for writing? Well, the answer to that question really depends on you: do you believe with all your heart that by writing you can achieve the goals for which you write for? If not, your writing will be at best half-baked, and at worst misguided and, ultimately, futile. If you cannot follow through with the goals for which you write, you would be better off either changing the reasons for which you write, or not writing at all.

If you are writing for creative expression, why limit yourself to writing? There is a myriad of forms of creative expression, including music, painting, photography, film-making, and all kinds of innovation, some forms of which remain undiscovered. Writing is one of the oldest and most primitive forms of creative expression, and relatively limited in its ability to convey emotional meaning, or meaning of any kind. Perhaps you should explore all the other ways to express yourself, so as to ensure that you will find one most optimized for your individual skills and personal character.

If catharsis is your goal, writing is an exemplary means of venting all that excess negative energy, but by no means should it be used as a sole means of therapy, nor as a primary. Millions of people write to cope with emotional stress, but that doesn’t necessarily keep them from wanting to harm themselves or others, nor can it guarantee relief from depression. As a means of catharsis, writing should be supplementary to other forms of treatment. Writing is a proven tool in therapy, particularly for engaging patients socially, or to target personal issues via role-play, but it shouldn’t be relied on much more than just that– a tool. Just as with catharsis, writing is better optimized as a form of therapy when combined with other means of treatment.

In this day and age of technology and the world wide web, social networking is proving to be an increasingly important part of staying connected with, and influencing the world in a meaningful way. Writing is an important part of bringung about such influence in the world, but you would be short-changing yourself socially if you limited your ability to social network to the written word. The greatest of social titans in today’s world are not just writers, but film-makers, musicians, comedians, artists, and photographers– all bundled into a single person. Today’s social media celebrities have learned to merge every major form of creative expression into a single image, thus earning the name “Personality”. If your true motivation for writing is to network with people, and especially to network on the social of Internet personalities, don’t limit yourself to writing, when there are so many other media of self-expression at your disposal, just waiting to be used!

Money and fame go hand and hand as a motivation for writing, but there are few motivations for writing more misled than these! As Ron L. Hubbard, founder of the pseudoscientific religion Scientology noted, “Writing for a penny a word is ridiculous. If a man really wanted to make a million dollars, the best way to do it would be start his own religion.” Ron L. Hubbard did just that, and made several millions as a result, as well as achieving worldwide fame and notoriety. So, if I may be so bold, I recommend that  those of you seeking to get money or fame through writing take a leaf out of Hubbard’s book. At the very least, you are more likely to acquire money and fame through Hollywood than through writing.

Writing to assert one’s individuality is a tricky one, as the validity of such a motivation is in itself individualistic (and thus subjective) in nature. But, if I might draw upon my own personal experience, writing for individuality is imbalanced and overly existentialistic, and might lead to nihilism, depression, and self-loathing if left unchecked. Writing is intended as a form of communication through expression, and anyone who writes for the sole purpose of self-assertion might eventually realize this is not enough, as it is the literary equivalent of talking to yourself.

Communication is probably one of the purest motivations for writing, and probably one of the only reasons which, in my opinion, can be considered an inherently sufficient impetus for writing. After all, writing was designed from the very beginning to facilitate communication. If this is your primary reason for writing, you might as well have been a born writer!

When it comes down to it, the best of writers don’t write for any one reason, and often choose one primary impetus which is complimented by several supplementary motivations. By writing for multiple reasons, you can help ensure that your writing is balanced and your motivations strong, and each additional reason for writing will only further enhance your ability to write creatively, powerfully, and effectively.

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Jul 08

The Importance of Sinning

Photographer: Valentina Nesci

When it comes to enjoying the guilty pleasures of life, creative expressionists are more often than not chief among sinners. In fact, if history were to be our witness, it would be evident that creativity has always had an undeniable link with overindulgence. Drugs, sex, and rock n’ roll are invariably cited as the creative impetus for the psychedelic music and culture of the 60’s and 70’s. Furthermore, some of the richest creative culture and philosophical ingenuity of the Eurasian heritage is a product of Ancient Greece, a federation of city-states well known for their debauchery, homosexuality, and humanism. Much in the same way that creative genius has been linked to mental illness, creativity thrives on sin.

“Why is sinning necessary for creativity?”, you might wonder. This is because the progressive nature of creativity often requires you to “strike against the flow, that the river [of life] might be known.” To sin means to violate the established rules of morality, religion or whatever society has decided to recognize as “wrong.” Creativity, similarly, means going against conventional thought and breaking free of the status quo to creatie something new, revolutionary, sometimes even shocking but, nonetheless, beautiful.

Creativity, like everything else, has a price. To create a new tomorrow, one must bury the past. To live a life of altruism and dedicate yourself to the well-being of others, you must sacrifice your own ego.  Simiarly, to create art, you must have the courage to explore all of the facets of human nature, even those  that we are ashamed of, even those that we would like to hide. A truly inspiring creative masterpiece often entails the expression of greed, suffering, desperation, and a host of negative emotions normally reserved for what might otherwise be considered “evil.” William Shakespeare knew this all too well, and his works demonstrate the ironic and unwittingly paradoxical union of love, hatred, greed, enmity, joy, passion, and desperation, all enveloped in the fantastical romanticism that has made Shakespeare one of the greatest creative writers of all time.

Both “sinning” and creativity are essential to change and, as such, to progress. This was particularly evident in the Dark Ages, when the creative energies of the world were suppressed or purged by the Catholic church under the rule of the “Holy Roman Empire” — which , as the 17th century philosopher Voltaire famously and ironically noted, was “neither Holy,  nor Roman, nor an Empire.” With the stringent and suppressive religious standards of 10th century Catholicism given equal authority to the law, all the guilty pleasures went out the window, and creative expression was all but annihilated. The paintings became dull and flat, music formulaic, and writing– well, writing got hit the worst by far! The written word became nearly non-existent during the Dark Ages (because all writing except authorized propaganda and canon were forbidden), this being the principal reason why most writing about the Dark Ages is written in retrospect, and based mostly on paleontological evidence, and even then, written only after the Renaissance.

The Renaissance was the greatest intellectual and creative revival in the history of Western Europe, and was marked by an extreme excess of sin. All of the things that the theocracy of the Holy Roman Empire forbade– drinking, gambling, sexual promiscuity, music, dancing– creative pleasures of all kinds ran rampant in the Renaissance. This momentous “backsliding” provided the necessary creative leverage to transform Europe from the dark, desolate, and intellectually impoverished culture it was, to one of the world’s greatest centers of cultural enrichment and academic research.
Eventually, the notoriously hard-headed Catholic church recognized the error of its ways, even going so far as to hypocritically offer “indulgences” (the Catholic equivalent of “get-out-of-Hell-free cards”), to save face (and to make more money!) This kind of irony really serves to demonstrate the importance of “sin” not only for personal creativity, but also for the creative and intellectual health of the world!

This post is part of the Sublimating Sin series.

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Jun 24

Sublimating Sin

Photographer: Filippo A. Nesci

The relationship between bad habits and creative genius is well established, with Freud’s cocaine addictions paving the way to psychoanalysis, Francis Crick’s acid trip inspiring the double-helix shape of DNA, and Oscar Wilde’s notoriously pan-sexual promiscuity going hand-in-hand with his literary prowess. But having done with and without the many vices those prodigious in the creative arts are predisposed to, it’s very important to note that the preponderance of immoral behavior is not necessarily correlated to being a successful artist.

You could argue that the French poet Charles Baudelaire, who thrived on opium, hashish  and the reputation of a poet maudit, a cursed poet, would not have had the insight of writing La Fleur du Mal if he hadn’t lived as wildly and irresponsibly as he had.

Would Baudelaire have been extolled by Flaubert as “unlike anybody else” if he hadn’t squandered half of his inheritance by attending to his bohemian urges? Perhaps not, but not every artist needs drugs to be great. M.C. Escher, one of the world’s most famous graphic artists, is credited of saying” I don’t use drugs; my dreams are frightening enough.”

Similarly, Isabel Allende, the acclaimed Chilean writer of several bestselling books, only took an hallucinogen once, and, although it did help her to crawl out of the writer’s block, she told The Telegraph that she would “never do it again.”

Additionally, most of the benefits of bad habits associated with creativity are harmful, which makes you wonder whether or not they are even worth it. Thus, finding a way to creatively express oneself just as effectively without resulting to shortcuts (and the karmic backlash they tend to come with!), could be very important to your well being, and also to your work. This is the art of sublimating sin.

SIN IN MODERATION

There can always be too much of a good thing, and it’s especially easy to get too much of a bad thing. For this reason, we should indulge in the vices of life in the same way a person might eat the frosting of a cake: never eat the frosting by itself (doing so will not only prove unsatisfying, but will make you sick to your stomach!), always eat more cake (virtue) than frosting. But try not to eat too much of either! Tthis brings to mind the jab “would you like coffee with your sugar?” You might be surprised to find that, if the cake is really good,  it will taste much better without any frosting.

In conclusion:  if you must commit to vice in order to be creative drink, but become inebriated socially and with nourishment, don’t do drugs, but if you must, take soft drugs, and do so only in small doses. Similarly when being promiscuous, be creative and exploratory about it, instead of just trying to “get off”. A cigarette will only get you high if you haven’t had one in a while, and sex is most gratifying to those who have it less. Delaying your gratification of such indulgences will not temper your creativity stimulus, but might actually help you to appreciate every moment more. I would like to leave you with a quote from the writer Rudyard Kipling:

“Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.”

You don’t need any other drugs: you are already holding the most potent one within you.

Photographer: Filippo A. Nesci

USE PROTECTION

While the negative side-effects can be eliminated, such a feat requires a lot of self-regulation and responsibility on your part. Thus, in order to not fall pray of the throes of your vices, “use protection!” Surround yourself with people who care about you, and would help you if you strayed into the wrong path. Similarly, seek professional help if you find yourself sinking int a vicious cycle of negativity and lack of structure. Art is born out of chaos, but too much chaos results in death, both of the artist and of his work.  

TURN VICE INTO VIRTUE

Sigmund Freud found that, out of all the defense mechanisms used to deal with internalized desires, sublimation – modifying the natural expression of an impulse or instinct [especially a sexual one] into one that is socially acceptable – proved to be one of the most mature and effective of strategies.

The reason? Sublimation allows a person to take a vice – a sin that is expressed at the expense of the well-being of oneself and/or others –  and turn it into a virtue. When sublimated, the “sin” is expressed freely, but in a safe environment, such as the empty page that you can fill with all sorts of words and visions.  Manifesting your creative impulses while expressing yourself in a productive, liberating, and constructive way will result into a happier life and an even greater quantity of writing you can choose from. Rather than wasting all that creativity on the feel-good freedom and empowerment of drugs, alcohol, and sex, do the smart thing, and channel it into your writing.

KNOWLEDGE OF GOOD AND EVIL

To best benefit from your vices when you must have them, and to know the better alternatives when they exist (which they inevitably will!), knowledge really is power. By knowing the effects of your vices and what causes them, you’ll be able to effectively and consistently replicate those effects any way you choose. You don’t need alcohol to loosen up, nor do you need drugs to be high on life.

There are a myriad of mental tricks, self-affirmation, and living habits that can successfully give you the good feeling of just about every vice you can imagine, all through the fundamental basics of psychology and mental control. Learn to manipulate your brain functions at will, and you’ll never have to resort to any vice to think creatively again!

Even if you have no desire to quit your vices, knowing their effects, as well as the effects of the alternatives (socialization, self-improvement, physical activity, and a million more), allows you to fully benefit from both your vices and virtues.

This post is part of the Sublimating Sin series, which was written as a response to D.A. Blyler’s “The 7 Vices of Highly Creative People”

Valentina Nesci contributed to this article

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Jun 18

Enchantment

Last Sunday, Stanford’s graduating students listened to a speech given by Felipe Calderon, the President of Mexico. He told us of how, when he was a little kid, he would help his father distribute fliers advocating for democracy. He would knock at people’s doors, tag alongside his father, and shout slogans into a megaphone tied to one of those large, clumsy trucks you see in old movies. In other words, he would try his best. Yet nothing seemed to change.

Frustrated, little Felipe went to his father and, with the bluntness of a child, asked him: Why are we doing this?

His father could have probably lied, but he treated Felipe as an adult and said: we are doing this because it’s the right thing to do. We might never see anyone from our party become President, or even Governor. But we will keep trying, because it’s the right thing to do.

Felipe took his father’s words to heart, and worked hard at doing the right thing. And he achieved his father’s dreams – he became President of Mexico.

Seated in the stadium, my own father close to my side and Felipe’s words on my skin, I felt a surge of hope for the untold dreams I foster somewhere deep inside, hidden under the fingernails, in a corner of my pupils, on my lips.

I was enchanted.

Yesterday, I resigned from a summer internship with a proper newspaper, and decided to go for something more risky, but which felt right: this website. We don’t make any real money, but Write-A-Holic is a project in which I believe deeply. It’s what I need to be doing. It enchants me.

Whenever we step outside of our safety zone and into the scary territory of The Calling – that esoteric, mysterious inner instinct that tells us, this is what I was born to do – we desperately need to enchant and be enchanted.

This is why every writer should read Guy Kawasaki’s book, and why I want to outline some of his suggestions in this post today.

How To Enchant Your Reader:

1. What are they thinking/feeling?

In his post about perfectionism, Timothy confessed that he often told himself he didn’t care if other people appreciated his work, or even understood it. He wasn’t writing for them. He was writing for himself. It took him a considerable amount of courage to admit that this was really just an excuse. He wanted to communicate through his writing; he was simply scared of not being good enough, so much so that he didn’t even try.

I might be too much of an idealist, but I like to believe that writers are generous creatures, that we feel the need to write because we want to share a precious discovery with the rest of the world, even when that world might just be one person. If this is the case, then you will want to read your work and stop to think about how it would be perceived by others. Proofread it, make it as understandable and inviting as you can. Try to say what you really want to say, ask a trusted friend or mentor to read it, and be open to their feedback. You want your writing to stay true to itself, but you want it to be accessible, too. I receive pounds of criticism all the time, Marc, our assistant editor, being one of the most vocal in this respect. As long as it’s constructive criticism, at least listen to it. Then you can go your own way, but you may be surprised to find the suggestions materialize on a later page, the following day.

2. Accept Others, Accept Yourself

If you want to enchant people, you have to accept them first, writes Kawasaki.

If you want to be a good writer, you have to accept yourself first, writes Vale.

As I mentioned in Nobody tells This To Beginners, sometimes we just have to accept that our writing will initially not be very good, and still keep going. Write-A-Holic has been a valuable learning ground in this respect, since every day I am confronted with the work of other people who hold themselves to truly high standards. Sometimes, this causes me to question my own ability and to keep asking myself – am I really any good?

But the truth, like Marc so wisely told me, is that I should just keep writing, and not let my perfectionism get in the way of my work.

3. Learn from other writers

If you want to learn from writers, you have to learn how to accept them first. Kawasaki says you should always remember that “everyone is better than you at something.” By the same token, I keep realizing that every writer, even those whose work doesn’t necessarily float my boat, can teach me something. However, to learn, I have to suspend judgment – become uncritical enough that I don’t feel a need to put the writing in boxes labeled “art” and “crap.”

Because the truth of the matter is that writing often falls into the principle of Ying and Yang: a masterpiece may contain a typo, and even the worst, crummiest book might be redeemed by one beautiful image. By keeping an open mind, you become more receptive towards beauty, even when it is hidden in the most unlikely of places.

4. Help Someone Who Can Be Of Absolutely No Use To You

Kawasaki makes the case that, in the business world, helping people always ends up benefiting you in some way, even when you don’t expect it to. For a writer, this means that you should offer to edit other people’s work, even when it’s just a boring essay, someone’s personal statement or a cover letter. The more disastrously hopeless the original text is – the more effort you have to put into turning it into something decent – the better. You will have performed a good deed, and you will have gotten precious exercise in the art of word-saving (similar to saving a person’s life, and not always that much easier).

5. Be Close

Like Timothy explained in 8 Ways To Untap your Literary Genius, a large part of being a writer is experiencing life as it unfolds. Too often, we get so caught up with the day-to-day practical problems of paying the bills, getting the car fixed, studying for a test, looking for a job, that we don’t notice the man sitting on the corner of the street, handing out newspapers. His name is Abhik, which means fearless, and he used to be a well-known writer and politician in his home country. He could tell you stories that would make your eyes dilate with wonder. And then there’s your grandma. She barely talks, and you rarely have time to visit her. Sadly, you don’t know that she could entertain you with the tale of how she once cut your great uncle’s hair with the kitchen scissors, and it was so uneven that he got a sonorous beating. But he didn’t care because your grandma and he had used the money they would have spent on a real hairstylist to buy three pounds of candy, which they had eaten all in one sitting. (Happiness was such an easily attainable thing then, when people had nothing, and something meant everything.)

But you aren’t there. You don’t see. You don’t experience. And, consequently, you miss out.

6. Embrace The Nobodies

Perhaps my favorite takeaway from Kawasaki’s book is the idea that “the nobodies are the new somebodies.” There was a time when writing was an elitarian endeavor, a privilege for the rich, the nobles and the clergy. Even today, it’s easier to choose to be an artist when you have a source of disposable income to support you in case what you earn as a writer won’t suffice. However, you don’t need to be backed up by a powerful agent or a notable publishing company to write. Not anymore.

All this is possible because of the internet, the great equalizer that enables each and every one of us to self-publish our own work with no money and little effort. Today, more than ever, it doesn’t matter who you know. What matters is who you are, and what you can offer to your fellow nobodies, the readers who choose you, follow you, support you. They become the advertisers, publishing companies, agents and mentors of today.

Some writers see the internet as a threat to quality, and it most certainly is. Every time you give power to someone, that person can abuse it. Because we now have the power to publish our work, we can “pollute” the internet with pieces that have never been proofread, are filled with typos, and would probably have better been left unwritten. But if we embrace the concept that, with more power, we also have a greater responsibility to deliver high-quality content, we will be able to delight the new somebodies (like the readers and writers of Write-A-Holic,) thereby turning a potential threat into an invaluable opportunity.


Further Reading:

Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and ActionsMarketing Books)

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Jun 08

Merits of a Pseudonym

Countless authors choose to use a pseudonym, or “pen name” when writing. For some, such as Mark Twain or Lewis Carroll, their fictitious names become an indispensable part of their literary identity, and remain vivid and alive in the collective memory while their real names are forgotten.

Why would anyone want to use a pseudonym? The reasons are numerous, and the authors who choose to go through this route are more than you might think. For instance, consider this: Timothy Matias is not my real name. If you were to scour the Internet for me, and even if you went so far as to google my SEO-optimized screen name “nspyraishn”, you would find a lot of online activity from this man called Timothy Matias. However, none of the results would point you to my real identity– in fact, I checked all 1880+ google results to be sure of this. So why go through all the trouble of inventing and maintaining a pseudonym? What’s in it for us? There are several reasons, in fact, for choosing to write under a name that is not one’s own. Most of them work as a layer of protection for the author, while others, in my opinion, just help him to be more free to explore the world he sees without having to suffer from any constraint- not even from himself.

Some advantages of using a pseudonym:

1. LEGAL PROTECTION:

While I live in America, a country renown for the freedom of speech it grants its citizens, it would be foolish of me to rely on the U.S.’s continued support of such rights, as laws change all the time, and I need a pseudonym to prepare for those changes.

2. PROFESSIONAL IMMUNITY:

Even if my country doesn’t mind what I have to say, there is a high possibility that my job might. The place I work for can terminate employees for saying something deemed to be “offensive” on the internet, and I can’t take the risk of losing my job because of something I write– after all, without income, how would I get the “brain food” to write with?

3. SOCIAL SAFEGUARDING:

My creative personality can also interfere with my business relations and other professional endeavors, as (depending on what type of content I’m writing) I can quite literally become a different person, and that personality could be disturbing to my colleagues, offend my friends, or even hurt them. This leads to a conundrum: should I limit myself as a writer to ensure that I don’t end up hurting the people I care for? I don’t want my creativity to cause misunderstandings but, at the same time, I can’t constrict my writing into the strict parameters of what is always “safe” and “kosher: to write. If I can’t take the risk of stepping over the lines, I will not be able to really let myself go as a writer. To prevent that, Timothy Matias is my creative persona, and he is free to do whatever he likes.

4. MORAL FREEDOM:

There are many characters that I have written about, or wish to write about, that go against my own moral stances and ethical code. For this reason, to avoid becoming morally confused or contradicting myself, Timothy Matias becomes my moral Agnostic, and is given free license in my place to violate, revile, sacrilege, blaspheme, and contradict any belief, perspective, axiom, or premise he wishes. And, the best part of it all is that, unlike us, he can get away with it. Paradoxically, because Timothy Matias is a hypocrite by nature, I don’t have to be.  I can be honest, and peaceful, and even boring if I like, while Tim challenges the world, not caring about what people will think about him. I have to admit, out of all the reasons to have a pseudonym, this one is the most fun!
P.S. If you are excited to create your own pseudonym, check out this article.

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Jun 06

Finding Your Niche

When you really get into writing, you might find that simply thinking about all of the different topics you could tackle makes your head spin. There’s journalism, poetry, play-writing, songwriting, novels, short stories, biographies, blurbs, blogging, and a myriad of other mediums through which you can express yourself. Beyond that, the possibilities are endless: you can write about cooking, eating, shopping, playing video games, your bug collection, or delve into detailed descriptions of the way your cat’s wiskers seem to curl upwards when he sees you.

If you have as much creative potential as the editing team of Write-A-Holic and its contributors, it’s likely you’re having difficulty finding the niche, or even niches through which you can let your creative energy shine.

To prevent yourself from becoming a literary jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none, it’s critical that you be specialized in your writing, and that your writing remains as focused as possible.

Finding your writing niche is a lot like finding love, especially as defined by Robert Sternberg in his Triangular Theory of Love:

1. INTIMACY:

Write about topics that you are intimate (familiar) with. This is a good foundation for quality writing, in that the more you know about a topic, the more accurately you can convey ideas about it, and the more thorough and elegant you are able to be.

Having a great deal of knowledge on the topics you write about also provides you with a strong repertoire so that you can keep the momentum, writing follow-up posts linked to your previous ones and elaborating on that topic, to providing readers with a more complete understanding of your cat’s whiskers, if that’s what you like to write about.

2. PASSION:

Write about topic you are passionate about! If you lack a strong enthusiasm for writing, and particularly for what you are writing about, the readers are bound ot notice, and your writing will be monotone, bland, and lacking of emotional substance. To ensure that readers react positively and enthusiastically to your writing, being passionate about what you write is an absolute must!

3. COMMITMENT:

While being intimate and passionate about you write are the most important elements of finding your niche, ensuring that your writing continues building momentum in the long-term requires  follow-through, and for that you need commitment. Finding a niche that satisfies this aspect of your love for writing might prove to be the most challenging aspect of writing, as our interests tend to change and evolve throughout life. However, once you are able to find that one topic (or topics) that you could write about forever, it will be sure to show!

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Jun 05

Writing Elegantly

A while back, I realized that while I knew how generate amazing ideas, I lacked the ability to communicate them effectively. This was made painfully obvious to me when I took the introductory essay writing course at my college, and ended up getting B’s and C’s (and even a “D”!). That course was a wake up call for me, and helped me to understand that my writing had a major flaw: it lacked elegance.

After realizing this, I immediately started working to improve my abilities to communicate my ideas more powerfully and effectively, and to write in such a way that my readers would actually enjoy what I wrote. Over the following semester, I shaped, cut and trimmed my work with the diligence of a sculptor.

when I took the intermediate writing course, I not only got straight A’s– I got 100% on every single essay and assignment. The difference in results was staggering– so much so that the students were all asking me for help with their essays, and the teacher invited me to join the honor’s program; she said my essays were the best writing that she had seen in years! I’m not saying any of this to brag, but to emphasize the fact that anyone, even a “D” student like I was, can improve the quality of their writing dramatically by focusing on that one simple factor that I like to call elegance. Writing elegantly might require some practice, but it’s not an impossible aim to reach. Below are the three key factors I focused on. I hope you will find them as useful as I did, and that you will be satisfied by the results!

1. Be concise. If the same information or message can be conveyed with fewer words, try not to mince them. While it might seem that you can get a point across by supporting a statement with a lot of opinions and facts, it’s actually the opposite: torrents of information will overload the reader, confuse them, and will invariably bore them. Don’t force the reader to constantly ask themselves “are we there yet?”– get to the point, lest you exhaust their minds so much that they will dread reading you even more than doing chores or cleaning up their rooms!

2. Focus your writing: As with all art, writing without a focus is little more than mindless rambling. For your writing to be appreciated, it needs to have a unifying focus, and any given piece should support, rather than divert, from that focus. Even if a particular literary side-trip might seem interesting to you while you write it, it’s might not be the same for the rest of the passengers who are eagerly awaiting to reach their primary destination. Embellishment can be a good thing for writing, but impulsive detours are not.

3. Try to find novel ways to explain things: There’s always a more effective way of expressing a given idea, and it’s an ongoing challenge for us writers to think-outside-the-box enough to find these ways, and to summon the ingenuity to express ideas as powerfully as possible. This aspect of elegance takes time and effort, and is probably one of the most creativity-dependent elements of writing, but it will make all the difference if you can master it!

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