Don’t tell the SPCA, but writers have the oddest relationships with their pet cats (even pet cats they don’t have.)
When a writer is struggling with a piece of work, she’ll tell you she was vacuuming the cat, or he’ll say he was bathing the cat or… I prefer to say I’m rotating the cat, because it’s an activity no sane person would find necessary. It doesn’t accomplish anything and it annoys the cat. A perfect image for writerly procrastination
I once read an article by Terry Pratchett lamenting the demise of the typewriter as a tool of the trade, because it took away one of his favorite ways of wasting time before getting down to writing proper. He apparently used to take a q-tip and alcohol, and clean the little metal raised letters, to make sure the impression was really sharp.
Being of a different generation I could tell him that we young whipper snappers can find just as many ways to waste our time.
For instance, I’d been known to remove all the keys from my keyboard and wipe both keys and base with bleach wipes, an activity good for consuming an hour or two, and give you an impression you accomplished something.
What drives this is a fear of the blank screen. Facing that screen is hard, even for — particularly for — a novel you have outlined, researched, but not started yet.
There is an undefinable sense that once you save that first paragraph the fate of the novel will be sealed for good or ill. Before that you don’t know if the voice will be tender, poetic, funny or brisk, but once that first paragraph or page is saved, some of those options will have vanished. You can no longer think of this novel as the best comic-romantic-tender-brisk-fantasy-mystery-romance-science-fiction ever to grace the world. Choices will have been made, and you are stuck with them.
This is not exactly true. I usually revise my beginnings after finishing the book. But it does limit some possibilities anyway. If you write your beginning as a comedy then in the next scene have your character stumble on a serial killer’s lair and describe it seriously and graphically, you’re going to have people run screaming. (And not just because it’s a serial killer.)
So writers will try to find “legitimate activities” to put off the fell moment of typing in words.
The thing is, most pro writers don’t have to look around for silly activities. When pros – particularly these days – say they’ve been rotating the cat, what they actually mean is that they’ve spent their day in a dozen “little” activities and failed to write.
This is because the writing life is much like herding cats.
The Walt Disney Company has provided quality entertainment to generations of fans for almost nine decades now. No other company has done what Disney did with such excellence — from animation to live-action films to television to totally immersive theme park experiences.
Disney fandom requires a certain level of passion, but there are some whose devotion to all things Disney rises to another level. I call them “Disney Nerds,” lovingly so, because I consider myself one. Actually, I debated whether to use the term. I prefer “Disney Aficionados,” but worried it sounded too pompous.
Whatever you call us, I’ve compiled a list of ten essential books for Disney Nerds. Think of this list as summer reading for the die-hard Disney fan. The books you’ll see in this post run the gamut from theme park guides to historical chronicles to the ultimate biography of the man himself, Walt Disney. Each book will expand your knowledge (and hopefully love) of Disney culture in its own unique way.
Get ready to dig in and feast your eyes on some great Disney reading. For the list, I’ve tried to choose books that are readily available, and have provided links to order or download them for Kindle apps where applicable. So here we go.
I usually struggle with the “voice” of the novel at the beginning of it. I write and discard several beginnings before I finally find the way it wants to be told.
It’s not always true. The beginning of A Few Good Men came to me loud and clear while I was doing something totally different. The sentences were there, words and all:
The world celebrates great prison breaks. The French territories still commemorate the day in which the dreaded Bastille burst open before the righteous fury of the peasantry and disgorged into the light of day the innocent, the aggrieved, the tortured and the oppressed.
They forget that every time a prison is opened, it also disgorges, amid the righteous and innocent, the con artists, the rapists, the murderers and the monsters.
Monsters like me.
I knew who the character was at that moment, and what he meant, and the whole novel was right there in my mind.
I wish it were always that easy. My beginnings are usually so difficult that once I’ve got three chapters down I have done half the work needed for the novel.
And not only do I have a particular voice, composed of word choice, setting, and character, but each novel has a particular voice, a tone that brings it the most to life. Again, it is word choice, setting, character, and mood plus – in the beginning – setting the right hook to draw the reader in.
Imagine Tom Sawyer told in the tone of Wuthering Heights and you’ll see what the wrong voice can do to a novel.
Most books aren’t told in the wrong voice – not exactly.
My son is a singer. Not professional, but he sings around the house all the time.
If he knows we’re going to get upset at his singing – say I’ve already told him I have a splitting headache – he sings in a muted half-tone.
Most writing on the market is written in that muted half-tone.
The difference is hard to explain. Oh, the half-tone is obvious when my son is singing, but let’s step it up. Let’s say he’s singing while doing something else, not giving it his full attention. It still sounds pretty good. You might think that’s his best, until you hear him singing and putting his whole soul into it. And then you stand there in awe and go “oh, the other was a pale shadow.”
Writing is like that too, and until you see the real thing you might not realize the other is a ghost.
You get better at finding a book’s proper “voice” as you practice more. This is often observable in the writing of popular authors. (For this, it’s best to choose someone first published more than twenty years ago, when you were still allowed to serve your apprenticeship in print.) They were good enough – perhaps better than most people – when they first were published. But when you read early works, it’s like they’re singing through cloth. The voice you know and love is there, but somehow muted. It’s not till you get to their middle work, when they’re at their peak, that you get their full, glorious voice with no muting.
image courtesy shutterstock / Mary_L
- Version 1.0 of my 2013 Self-Improvement Program: 7 New Year’s Resolutions I Invite Others to Steal
- Version 1.5, published a month later after my 29th birthday: The Plan So I Don’t Waste the Last Year of My 20s
Today I am joining Charlie Martin and Sarah Hoyt in attempting a 13 Weeks Blogging Self-Improvement Program. I invite others to join me and assist in the continued development of what we should call The Charlie Martin 13 Weeks Method. (Has a nice alliterative ring to it, methinks.) Back in February Charlie laid out his approach:
By accident, however, I’d noticed a process, or pattern.
- Decide there’s something you want to change.
- Find ways to measure your progress.
- Decide on some small unthreatening things you can do that should affect those measures.
- Track the results for 13 weeks and see what happens. It helps to pick appropriate tools and techniques for that tracking, but something as simple as a Seinfeld calendar, where you just draw an X on a calendar for every day you do something can be very powerful.
So here’s my 1-2-3-4 for The 13 Weeks Radical Reading Regimen:
1. The problem that I’d like to change is the one that Sarah identified in her PJ Lifestyle article yesterday: being buried in books for research. Over the past year I’ve tried to figure out how to organize the various subjects that I want to study in order to best make sense of them and find the connections across the disciplines. I want to read more books and do a better job of staying organized with the ideas and research that I find in them for my future writing and editing projects. I want to continue to explore connections across disciplines, reading both novels and a wide variety of nonfiction, both very serious philosophy and absurd satire.
2. I will continue to share the most interesting nuggets of my research in one daily PJ Lifestyle Bookshelf post that features an excerpt. Additional snapshots from my research will appear at my Instagram and Twitter accounts which can be followed here and here.
3. I will only create seven piles of books, one for each day, and then base each day’s reading on the titles from that pile. I won’t have to think about which books I’ll read each day. I’ll just draw from each pile. Each day will be based on 1-3 authors and 1-4 related subjects that I want to juxtapose together. This will not be a hard rule that I can only read from that day’s pile. If a book on another subject has caught my enthusiasm then I can still read it after dong the day’s necessary reading.
But I need to find at least two excerpts worth Instagramming and at least one of them should appear as a PJ Lifestyle Bookshelf selection to inspire debate and discussion. (That’s the purpose of those posts — for the regular readers who have complained, asking why I don’t take a few paragraphs to spell out my opinion of each excerpt offered. They appear because I am more interested in hearing reader feedback on them than pontificating my own ideas.) These seven piles will then flow into the six categories that I created in my original Counterculture Conservative book list from back in October. The seventh (and last) category I plan to add will be based on my list of the The 15 Best Books for Understanding Barack Obama’s Mysterious Political Theology. (This will be the basis for Friday’s systematic exploration of evil ideas.)
4. I will create a calendar on a page of my journal broken up into 13 weeks and at the beginning of each day I will notate which page I am on in the books that I am reading associated with that day. I will photograph this calendar and blog about it each week, noting and analyzing my results on Tuesdays (the PJ Lifestyle day focused on writing, media, and technology). At the end of the 13 weeks I will see the progress I made on each author and subject. Then I will decide how to adjust each day’s reading focus, maybe taking a break from an author for a bit or adding another writer whose ideas are worth juxtaposing with the other thinkers of the day.
So what will the reading subjects be for the seven days of this “first season,” as Charlie calls it, of the The 13 Weeks Radical Reading Regimen? I’m doubling down on the authors and subjects of previous self-improvement plans, but focusing some plans and expanding others. As always, your recommendations for additional books and authors that I need to read are sincerely appreciated. Please leave suggestions in the comments or email me.
And publishers, authors and publicists: any and all paperback/hardback books received by mail will be photographed and blogged about. (And e-books that are especially interesting may also be featured. But actual books are of course more photogenic.)
I sold my first novel, Ill Met by Moonlight, fifteen years ago at a workshop on the Oregon Coast run by Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith.
The proposal was created at the workshop as an exercise. This being the dark ages, and the workshop house lacking internet connection, I wrote about something I knew really well: Ill Met by Moonlight (and the three books that followed, now available as an Omnibus) attempts a magical reinterpretation of Shakespeare’s biography.
The problem: my confidence in my knowledge lasted until I sold the proposal. Then I panicked and bought thirty more books on Shakespeare, to keep company with the forty I already owned.
This is because a writer’s need for research isn’t exactly sane or logical.
Part of it is, of course, a search for information. My books always need research, and often more research than is immediately obvious.
Of course when writing science fiction, I buy the latest books on whatever will be in the novel — terraforming, or space flight, or genetic engineering. However, plotting details also often require research. Say there is a battle in the novel – I will read accounts of historical battles for the strategy and the feel. Or say that my character survived some horrible personal event – it helps to ground the novel if I read the biographies of people with similar experiences, or even clinical articles about similar cases.
For the book currently in the works (“Through Fire,” book two of the Earth Revolution), I find myself reading a lot of books about or set in the French Revolution.
The problem when you start doing that kind of research is that there is a nearly infinite number of resources, and you can get lost in them. By definition you research things you’re interested in, so of course you want to keep reading about it. Also, as long as you’re researching, you can claim to be working really hard, and you can delay having to face the blank page (or screen).
Twenty years ago, I knew people who had spent fifteen years researching a foreign country, had traveled to that country, and owned enough books on it to stock a large municipal library. All without writing so much as a word of their proposed opus.
Periodically I run into these same people at writers’ events or local libraries. They will accost me with the enthusiasm of new converts wishing to share religious revelation: they just discovered a fascinating fact about the country where their novel will eventually be set; the history of this or that region works wonderfully with their plot; did I know that such and such a ruler had a horse exactly like the main character’s horse?
For years now, Disney has taken great care of its classic films. The company pulls beloved videos in and out of the “Disney Vault,” both as a clever marketing strategy and as a way to share the best of the best (along with the occasional Eisner-era cheapquel) with new generations of enthusiasts. The advent of new technology — from DVD to Blu-Ray to whatever a Platinum Edition is — means that the classics will remain in fans’ collections for years to come.
That is, except for one film. Believe it or not, one Disney classic has not seen the light of day since 1986. The company has kept it under wraps for over a quarter century in spite of two Oscars and a revolutionary blend of live action and animation — not to mention the fact that the film inspired a popular attraction that appears in three Disney theme parks. To this day, collectors scramble for bootleg copies — my brother owns two DVDs along with a VHS copy with Japanese subtitles — and at the shareholders’ meeting every year, someone inevitably asks CEO Bob Iger when the movie will finally make its way out of the Disney Vault.
The film? Song of the South. For years critics have derided the picture as an example of the racism of the first half of the 20th century, while fans of the Uncle Remus tales have long pleaded for Disney to rerelease this beloved classic.
The great Leonard Maltin has gone on record advocating Song of the South‘s release as recently as December 2012, in an article which:
…discusses the Walt Disney Treasures series. On these DVDs, Maltin himself introduces the cartoons which might now be considered “politically incorrect,” explaining how times have since changed. The article mentions possibly using this same approach for Song of the South:
“I very much hope that the folks at Disney will release ‘Song of the South’ sometime soon,” Maltin said, “and use this same approach — to be responsible in explaining the times it depicts and the attitudes of the period in which it was made.”
Time And Writing Wait For No Man (Or Woman)
Believe it or not, when you’re a freelance writer, even if you’re working for someone else, you’re still expected to manage your time.
So let’s start by admitting we’re not going to have a novel ready in 13 weeks, since most of you – I presume – haven’t started.
The reason for this is that I was going along and doing preliminaries to the “13 weeks” posts when my editor – wisely – thought perhaps you guys needed to know when to expect the posts. Ahem. Being a writer, this had never occurred to me. One sometimes forgets that not everyone lives in one’s head.
So… we are still in the preliminary posts. I think I have two more, unless questions arise. And then we’ll start the countdown of 13 actual weeks, from beginning page of novel to end.
By then you should have a notion of whether you want to plot or fly by the seat of your pants, what your projected novel length is, and how to plan how much you need to write each week.
See, when we talk about planning your timing, in writing, it means two things: the timing of events in the novel, and the timing of your writing so you can deliver on deadline.
And yes, I’m aware that just like a lot of you will have different preferences when it comes to how a novel is timed – slow and languorous, or a mad cavalcade from beginning to finish – a lot of you will have this idea that you don’t time when you write, it just sort of happens when the muse descends from heaven and sits on your shoulder to whisper sweet nothings in your ear.
For the record, I’ve never met a professional, working writer who works on the muse-installment plan. There are some who will tell you they do in public. This is part of what we call keeping up the mystique, also known as “baffling the mundanes.”
Image courtesy shutterstock / Nomad_Soul
“Man is a mystery: if you spend your entire life trying to puzzle it out, then do not say that you have wasted your time. I occupy myself with this mystery, because I want to be a man.” – Fyodor Dostoevsky
Perhaps the best explanation for the Nostradamus-like talents of Fyodor Dostoevsky can be found in this telling quote from a personal letter he sent a friend upon embarking on a career as a writer. Old Fyodor was an astute student of the human condition, but his motivation did not stem simply from academic purposes or from the fact that he wanted something, like political power.
Dostoevsky, believe it or not, actually valued life and wanted to live it more fully. He sought to realize his own purpose and function, and then to share his findings. He believed that just because we can’t know everything about our existence and the ongoing tale of humanity does not mean we cannot know anything. Nearly all of us say we want to find answers; most prematurely resign from the hunt.
Fyodor never did. And as a result, his novels remain as relevant today as they were 150 years ago.
In the first half of this essay on the 20th century sociopolitical nightmares that Dostoevsky predicted in his novels, we identified three specific areas of the culture that the great Russian writer correctly foresaw would suffer under the rise of secularism and socialism: the institution of the family, the private religion of the people, and the value such a nation puts on human life.
Today we will take a peek under the hood of three more important areas of society that would ultimately sit under judgment of the prophetic pronouncements Dostoevsky made in his impressive body of work:
- Economics of Envy: The War on Private Property
- Idolizing the Intellectual: The War on Higher Education
- and Social Engineering: The War on the Individual
After reading about a newly published scientific book titled The Mystery of the Shroud, which attempts to prove that the Shroud of Turin actually dates back to the time of Jesus, I planned on writing what you are about to read.
Then, an hour before my scheduled writing time, I “just happened” to notice a Facebook post that read:
Christmas was the promise — Easter is the proof.
That phrase truly resonated with me because of the word “proof.”
But do believers really have proof that Jesus was resurrected from the dead?
After twenty years of reading about and studying the Shroud of Turin (and even viewing it in 2010), I have all the “proof” I need. Although let me state emphatically that my faith — and the faith of most people who are celebrating “Resurrection Sunday” today — does not depend on any physical proof whatsoever.
For we know that Jesus is alive and His Spirit lives in us; that is all the proof we need.
Still, physical proof of Christ’s resurrection would be useful, especially when one tries to convince loved ones to believe in what more than a billion people around the world believe today.
So what if this new Shroud of Turin scientific study really does prove conclusively that the Shroud cloth dates back to the time of Jesus? Does that mean mankind finally has the proof it needs to believe that Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead after dying on the cross?
We are certainly getting close to “proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” and here are some reasons why this is happening now.
The cult of Ayn Rand has never been stronger on the American Right. Rand’s influence on groups such as the Tea Party and politicians like Rand Paul — who is, after all, named after her — is intense, and clearly growing in popularity. Indeed, the Tea Party began with a pundit who called himself “basically an Ayn Rander.” For many on the Right, Rand has become something approaching a messiah, or at least a patron saint. American conservatives, looking for a way up from the defeats of the Obama era, appear ready to embrace this trend. This is, needless to say, an extremely bad idea.
First, it is politically suicidal. The U.S. is mired in an economic crisis that has been brewing for some time, and shows few signs of disappearing. And this crisis was caused, to a great extent, by Randian economics. Eschewing traditional fiscal conservatism, the American Right embraced for the better part of three decades a messianic form of capitalism that demonized the state and society, while fostering an idolatry of the individual entrepreneur, the corporate CEO, and the unabashed pursuit of money as the highest moral good.
That this has had horrendous consequences cannot be denied. If money is the highest moral good, then making money — by whatever means — overrides all other concerns, even legality, prudence, and common sense. The result has been massive economic inequality, recklessness on the part of the private sector that brought it close to self-destruction, the gutting of public assets, and the negation of even the idea of a collective good.
This is much in contrast to traditional conservatism, which acknowledged the self-evident fact that society is a collective endeavor, and the interests of the individual must be balanced against those of the collective. It also acknowledged — indeed, insisted — that a society can reach a consensus on what constitutes the good, and pursue it on a collective level to the benefit of all. Indeed, Edmund Burke based his entire critique of the French Revolution on the idea that the good can only be achieved by particular communities with specific values, and not through universalist individualism. Rand, in contrast, regarded society as fundamentally evil and the mortal enemy of the individual; a point of view that can, in fact must, lead to a state of anarchy and social collapse that benefits no one and destroys precisely what traditional conservatism seeks to preserve.