This week's blog prompt is "giving or taking advice--how it can help." Of course, that assumes one wants the advice. Unwanted advice most often comes unsolicited and then becomes ignored.
My own reaction to advice is mixed.
When I participated in a large (over 50,000 members) Facebook group geared to writers helping other writers, I dispensed advice to those who asked for it. It's the way of the internet: post a question, receive answers. Unfortunately, writers posted the same questions over and over again. Many of those questions concerned the very basics of writing and publishing, up to and including requests for other writers to develop ideas, plots, and content. People pay me to do that for them.
If you haven't learned the basics of writing and storytelling, then take a class or three and educate yourself before attempting to write a book. Or hire a ghostwriter.
Then came the inevitable questions that anyone with two brain cells to rub together could answer for him/herself if only he/she bothered to engage in a few minutes of research. Google is your friend. Their utter lack of resourcefulness appalled me.
When I started writing for publication, I didn't have the internet. I had to go to the library and check out guides such as Writers Market and The Literary Marketplace. Or I bought the guides from the local bookstore. If a writer's too damned lazy to do his/her own research, then I'm not going to do it for him/her.
After several months of fielding repeated questions from lazy wannabes, I canceled my subscription to the forum. I enjoy helping people who appreciate that help, but I dislike being taken advantage of. The entitlement attitude that I owed people the benefit of my hard-earned expertise offended me.
Of course, I myself have received some good advice through online forums. One such forum lit the proverbial light bulb with regard to strong writing. Aha! Now I really get it! And into practice that pearl of wisdom went. For the most part, I don't ask questions on these forums, even if I do read questions posted by others and the responses received. Sometimes I can and do add to the learning process; other times I have nothing particularly valuable to add. I get some good information that way and some not-so-good information. I've learned to determine who knows what he/she talks about and who's just faking it.
Book reviews deliver some of the most effective lessons learned. As I've told others, I don't learn from praise. Sure, I like praise. I love positive reviews. But I learn from the critical reviews: detailed reviews help me become a stronger, better writer. I take them as advice. Sometimes, like most unsolicited and unwanted advice, I disregard it. Sometimes I acknowledge that the reviewer has a good point and internalize it for later implementation. It all depends.
The caution about advice is that you just might get what you wish for, but that doesn't mean you'll like it.
So, ask me for advice if you dare.
Every book, fiction and nonfiction, is written from a point of view (POV). Most nonfiction books take a first person or second person POV. Fiction books tend to be split, with trends cycling between first person and third person.
I notice most amateur writers use first person POV because they think it's easiest. In some ways, it is because they need only focus on the perceptions of the protagonist, the character narrating the story. That gets a little more complicated with alternating first person POV, popular in romance, especially in the "New Adult" sub-genre. In alternating first person POV, each chapter comes from the "voice" of one of the protagonists. I recently read The Pilot and the Puck-up by Pippa Grant that made excellent use of alternating first person POV. I also can't remember the last time a book had me laughing so hard. The benefit for the reader is a deeply intimate immersion into the character's personality and thoughts.
Books written in the second person POV tend to be conversational, the protagonist "speaking" to the reader. This becomes difficult in novel length work, but authors of self-help books find it useful in addressing their audience directly. It lends a sense of intimacy between author and reader.
I actually prefer using third person POV. This viewpoint can be broken down into two basic categories: omniscient and limited omniscient. I use the latter, giving readers insights into select characters thoughts, motivations, and personalities. Not every character needs that level of development. The peril of using third person POV is jumping from one character's head into the next and the next and so on without adequate transition. Readers today decry what they label "head hopping," although venerated authors like Georgette Heyer did it and no one complained. I figure that as long as the reader understands whose head we're in, then it's not necessary to split chapters among characters. After all, characters don't hold their thoughts and opinions to themselves until a particular chapter has concluded.
Regardless of whether the author uses first person or third person POV, the upshot is that the author must speak from that character's viewpoint and immerse himself within that character's personality. If there was ever a formula for mastering split personalities, then fiction authors use it. When writing, we speak with voices not our own, we see through eyes not our own, we experience emotions and internalize motivations not our own. In short we share the imaginary bodies and minds of the characters we create. Those characters become real, oftentimes more real to us than actual people because they manifest in our minds and take up residence. They're always with us.
It's my guess that ventriloquists suffer ... er ... enjoy the same multitude of personalities living within them, too.
The vocabulary we know frames our thoughts and our thoughts frame and inspire everything else we do. That ties in with this week's blog prompt: "How books can influence daily life."
Where would the world be without the philosophical inquiries of Plato and the nihilist philosophies of Freidrich Nietzche? Without the mind-breaking insight of Charles Darwin or W. Edwards Demming? Without Mein Kampf and the Magna Carta? In some instances, the world might be a much better place; in others, not so much. These types of books affect daily life, from the subjects taught in schools to how we treat others to the practices that keep business humming.
Because words frame what we think and, therefore, what we do, literature truly occupies a place of critical importance in human life. Even if one cannot read, one hears stories. The ancient oral traditions lasted centuries, perhaps millennia, before someone had the bright idea, the skill, and the supply of parchment and ink to write them down for lasting posterity. In the greater scheme of things, yes, books really do influence our daily lives in profound ways.
However, we don't always recognize that effect, because it's so ingrained into what we believe, what we think, and how we act. The devout may refer daily to their religious scriptures, a conscious effort that they use to maintain a desired level of spirituality. Newspapers, especially for those who live in regions prone to harsh winter weather, affect daily lives in a more direct way--or they did before everyone started checking their cell phones for weather information. I remember checking the paper each morning to see what adjustments I'd have to make according to the predicted weather.
Perhaps we're looking for something a little more intimate than deciding whether the weather forecast means we ought to bring an umbrella to work or throw snow chains in the car. The prompt specifically refers to books. The words "daily life" bring to mind the little things we do, the mundane. Books influence major life decisions. I knew a woman who read a book that convinced her to divorce her husband. Cookbooks influence what you might make for dinner, perhaps coq a vin instead of chicken cacciatore. Their mundane influence goes deep into our lives.
I wouldn't have latched onto the admittedly arbitrary preference for Morgan horses if it weren't for Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder. (My second favorite breed is Arabian, influenced--of course--by Marguerite Henry's King of the Wind.)
Fairy tales and Greek and Nordic mythology can be held responsible for my enduring fascination with otherworldly creatures, magic, and high adventure.
Books, especially those in the fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and romance genres, feed my imagination and inspire me to make writing a viable career option.
My mother introduced me to literature, from Sydney Taylor's stories about a working class Jewish family in the early 20th century to, yes, the frontier stories of Laura Ingalls Wilder and John D. Fitzgerald to the improbably perfect heroines of Barbara Cartland's historical romances to the cut-glass mysteries of Dick Francis. Her influence led me to a lifetime of reading that framed my oftentimes subversive thinking and, yes, led to some occasionally weird and inexplicable decisions and actions.
Did the devil make me do it? Or was it Mom all along?
Perhaps Freud was right: everything can be blamed upon one's mother. Boy, have I got a lot to answer for.
I love when I can bring a favorite poet into a conversation. This week's blog challenge prompt centers upon playing the "what if" game, specifically "what if time and money were no obstacle?" That, of course, brings to my mind the first two lines from Andrew Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress:"
Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, Lady, were no crime
The poem travels at a leisurely, heading sensuously downward from his mistress' eyes to his much-anticipated destination.
Had I world enough and time, I would ... oh, heck, I wasn't prepared to answer that. I could mention all the usual things, like travel to exotic places and taking those classes or learn those skills (like glass blowing) that fascinate me, building the house of my dreams. Had I unlimited funds and time, though, I would still write. I'd also hire a high-powered marketing team to do everything humanly possible to put my books into the hands of readers and on the big screen. The label of "bestselling" isn't the goal, getting people to read my books or watch movies based on my books is.
Of course, that smacks into the reality that a lot of people don't like reading what I like writing. How dare they? Break out the vinaigrette--and I don't mean salad dressing. Hah. I'm neither so blind nor so self-absorbed as to think that everyone has to pander to my whims. Only almost everyone. There's still a drop of humility left inside. A small one. Somewhere. Hidden deep, deep down where no one will ever find it.
Back to Mr. Marvell, because he's ... well ... something along the lines of marvellous (pun intended in that misspelling). I actually prefer him to Shakespeare. Sacrilege, I know. Strangely--or maybe not--his contemporary John Milton's poetry bores me to tears. Yes, I read Paradise Lost. No, I didn't like it. Born before Marvell, John Carew's another favorite poet. Scholars don't consider him as "good" a poet, but his lighthearted, sappy poetry makes me smile with guilty pleasure. For sheer, good-natured humor, I enjoy Robert Browning, especially "How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix." I like Lord Tennyson's sappy and sentimental poetry, too.
One of these days, I'll read Lord Byron's poetry. It was scandalous in its time.
I'm sure my literature professors would be pleased to know that I remember those and even like them. So, had I world enough and time to devote to writing (and reading), "My vegetable love should grow / Vaster than empires, and more slow."
There's an old saying that goes "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach." That ties into this week's blog prompt of "Reading, Writing, or Living?"
Unlike intrepid authors like Ernest Hemingway, I'm not much of an adventurer. Heck, taking a well-used bridle path when I'm not entirely sure where it goes screams "ADVENTURE!" to me. I'm not about to hie off on a wilderness safari and go big game hunting. I sure as hell won't run with the bulls in Pamplona.
Real adventure involves far too much physical risk and discomfort for my taste.
So, I read and write of daring people taking on grand adventure. I'm perfectly content to let them endure the injuries and inconvenience.
Another author with whom I'm acquainted, Mary McFarland, loves the adventure of her life which entails raising her own food. I admire her tireless effort, her garden, her flock of chickens. Then there's Teri Conroy, who's not an author, but a small farmer in New York raising a lovely herd of llamas and running a 4-H club she started. They both come across as happy, content in their endeavors even as they strive to improve on what they have. Perhaps "content" is the wrong word, as that implied complacency. Perhaps what they have that I lack is peace of mind.
Like many authors, I suspect, I live inside my head. But still, I must earn a living, so I write and edit for others. (Let's endure a moment of brutal honesty: my royalties don't come close to funding my modest lifestyle.) In editing, I tell my clients that I'm not their friend. If they want to pay someone to give them compliments and flatter them, then they ought to go elsewhere, because they won't get that from me. My candid editing and comments will sting like proverbial dope slaps to the back of the head: "Hey! Pay attention!"
You don't learn from flattery.
The goal of candid comments is always--always--to help the author improve the quality of the content. Several authors note that my guidance teaches them to become better writers.
However, being an editor who incidentally teaches doesn't mean I can't do. I do write. Some folks even think I'm pretty damned good at it, good enough to pay me money to do it for them.
Perhaps that means the old saying that came to mind initially doesn't really fit with the topic.
So, I spend a lot of time reading and a lot of time writing. But do I spend a lot of time living?
I think I live more than those folks with smartphones in their hands who record everything. When I do go somewhere, whether it's a restaurant or an adventure (tame as that might be), I experience it. So, yes, I live. It's a tame and often boring life, but I do live it. I don't look at it through a screen.
My book, Bear of the Midnight Sun, has been nominated by TCK Publishing for a
2019 Reader's Choice Award.
Please vote for it here: https://www.tckpublishing.com/2019-readers-choice-voting-page/.
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Hard boiled, scrambled, over easy, and sunny side up: eggs are the musings of Holly Bargo, the pseudonym for the author.
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