Recently, Wendy, a new blog friend, tagged me for a meme called "Self-Contract for Writers." Though I haven't done many memes lately, I think this one had obvious appeal. Whether we state it or not, every writer has such a contract--not only with herself, but with her readers. The contract is unspoken, but essential: You buy my book or read my story or article or blog post, and this is what I promise in return.
I always cringe when writers say they write for themselves. To me, that's a bit like saying you make love for yourself. Undoubtedly, that happens, too, but you don't hear anyone touting it in the personal ads: SM looking to please no one but myself seeks attractive SFs. (Okay, it might be a subtext in some of them, but no one is going to come out and say it.)
Writers, on the other hand, often proclaim it as a badge of honor. I don't care what critics or readers say because you see, I write for myself. How noble!
The worst part? I completely understand the impulse! Get battered with enough rejections, the dismissive review of a critic who just doesn't "get" your book, and anyone's likely to put up a wall. The problem is that the wall not only separates the writer from the pain of being misunderstood or rejected; it separates her from her own best writing: the work that is created to entertain, inspire and provoke thought.
My view, if you want to write for yourself, that's terrific. Get yourself a diary like the little locked notebooks I carried around for years. I learned a lot through the mountains of journals I filled, most of which have been blessedly trashed. I learned about myself and what's more, I learned about the craft of stringing words together. That's what writing for yourself is all about, and there's no question of its value.
However, once you ask real readers to invest their money--or even more significantly, their time in the product of your imagination, you've entered into an unspoken deal with your potential readers, and you ought to do your best to fulfill it.
Does this mean that my book or anyone else's will satisfy everyone? Absolutely not, and if I made that my aim, I'd be even crazier than I already am. What it does mean is that when I ask you to read my work, I'm making a certain commitment to you as a reader. Here it is:
1. I think a good novel should be both entertaining and illuminating. I will do my best to write one.
2. Real life is often the tedious, boring stuff which Thoreau identified when he spoke of the "lives of quiet desperation." It is also startling, dramatic, and "over the top". I will do my best to eliminate the former from my prose, and emphasize the heightened experience that changes a character or a flesh and blood human being forever.
3. I believe that when people read fiction they want to FEEL and THINK and EXPERIENCE. I will do my best to create characters who fully engage the mind and heart.
4. The ultimate drama--both in life and in fiction whether classic or pulp--is the clash of good and evil. In my work, those forces will tangle powerfully. Evil will win many significant battles--just as it does in life, but it will not take the victory. Why? Because in my deepest beliefs and visions and hopes hopes, it doesn't. And what does a writer really have to share, if not her hope?
Now for the THIRD DAY BOOK CLUB pick for March 3rd: The Dead Fathers Club by Matt Haig
Why? Because it's a Booksense Pick, and it sounds truly intriguing. And what's more, it sounds as if it has the thing that has made me most love my favorite books: a strong voice. It also sounds as if it hits the magic combination: an entertaining story and characters that resonate.
*Starred Review* "What happens when you die? Well, if you're murdered, you become a ghost, as 11-year-old Philip learns when he sees his dead father for the first time at the man's wake. Things start to get sticky when Dad then asks Philip to kill his killer, the boy's oily uncle, Alan, who has designs on both Mum and the family pub, the Castle and Falcon. Uncle Alan, it seems, wants to become king of the Castle in his late brother's stead. Poor bewildered, indecisive Philip. To kill or not to kill--that is the question that comes to haunt him. British author Haig's darkly witty and delightfully clever American debut (his first novel, The Last Family in England, was published in the UK in 2004) is clearly inspired by Shakespeare's Hamlet, and part of the fun for the reader is discovering the many droll and unforced parallels. But the real draw is the extraordinary voice that Haig has created for his first-person narrator. Given to panic attacks, Philip is a breathless storyteller who seldom stops for punctuation but whose honesty and innocence, which shine from every sentence, are utterly captivating and heartbreakingly poignant. The result is an absolutely irresistible read."
Meanwhile, I will be reading at an incredible bookstore" tomorrow night at 7 p.m. (and I'm not a bit scared--at least,not yet.) If anyone is near Porter Square Books in Cambridge, please stop by!
Now for my humble request: If anyone has read The Liar's Diary, and would like to put up a short review on Amazon or B & N, I would much appreciate it.
That's an awfully pretty photo.
Love your topic today. I don't write for myself at all. I write to communicate something - for me, writing is a relationship. If someone told me tomorrow I'd never be published again, I would find zero satisfaction in writing down stories.
Wow, what a spam from anon.
I write to a friend, and now more friends. I write because the story wants me to tell it. All indicating I will likely never be publishable for a living, but I can have a warm wallow in the time readers have spent on even the drivel I have produced.
You'll do great!! Just do what you did last Thurs!! You rocked!!
susan: That's why the blog was such a revelation to me--even before the novel was accepted. I could write for real people and get real feedback. Through the blog, I learned what worked for others, and what was truly "just for me." I eliminated the latter!
zhoen: I don't think it's the size of the audience that matters; it's that there is one who eagerly receives your gift.
r: Thanks! I'm hoping that whatever magic got me through the first time will be there with me again tomorrow.
I posted my review on Amazon today, Patry! Have fun at the reading; is there a book tour schedule in the works? K.
Patry how incredibly exciting!
I hate to miss the book party a rdl's who I see, was with you at the reading. Bravo!
k: Thanks so much. The review was marvelous.
mary: Sooner or later we'll catch up! Aren't r's photos great?
Funny to read your post here after my last post where I wrote a little bit on the flip side of this...I think there has to be both, for me. Yes, obviously when I'm writing my reviews or articles--I am thinking of an audience and want to either expose a wonderful book to people who may not have seen it otherwise, or to share a fragment of my experience/perspective. And yet, if I didn't do a helluva lot of writing just for me, I wouldn't write. This could be b/c I studied with a teacher who views writing as a practice/spiritual discipline...the tapping into that flow, even if it is "just" for the writer keeps it open somehow. I see your view as well, though--b/c I have read poetry and novels that are so insular and self-referential that they fail to cross the divide and, yes, let the reader down. Having read your book now, I can say that you ABSOLUTELY delivered on your promise (and my review will say much the same!). Thank you for getting me thinking! I hope your reading went beautifullly.
I hope it doesn't make you cringe when I say it, but it's true: I do write for myself, at least when it's purely creative writing. Obviously most people write to communicate something specific most of the time, and that necessarily means it's for other people, but when I write fiction or poetry or oddball little essays, it's my way of working something out for myself.
I would never in a million years consider this noble. I have often compared it to scratching an itch.
I write compulsively, because I can't help it. I also paint and bake compulsively. Yes, it is exactly like masturbation, except arguably less messy -- except for the baking, which is messier, of course, and I hope you will forgive me if I don't go into the mechanics.
Lots of what I write, paint, and bake is experimental and never, or only very briefly and embarrassingly, sees the light of day. Bad baking goes straight into the trash. Bad art either gets recycled or, if it has the slightest redeeming factor, goes into The Box in the Closet. But what am I supposed to do when I have compulsively created a delectable plate of muffins? Eat them all myself? It's simply not tenable.
So, no, it's not noble, but the act of creating is purely for me, purely because it feels good, purely because I have to do it, I've always had to do it, I have no choice, it's who/what I am. When I think it's good, though, I'm going to share it, or at least put it out like birdseed, so that it can have the opportunity to be good for someone else, too. I don't expect everyone to like whatever it is, and having people like it isn't why I made it. Having people like it, learn from it, heal with it, grow through it -- all that is a bonus gift, and sometimes a surprise one at that. It's not the goal, but it is a reward.
Just one, though. There are others, and possibly the most significant one for me, because it's the one that actually drives the process to start, is still the simple satisfaction of scratching that itch, even though the itch never goes away.
I love the idea of a contract with your readers.
Yes yes to your words about the Contract between writer and reader!
How I wish I could go with you to Porter Square!
You know I will be away, but when I get back we will catch up and make some plans!
Somewhere in there while reading, I remembered this quote: When writing, try to leave out the parts that most readers skip. ~ Elmore Leonard.
For me, if I don't share my writing, it's like receiving a compliment for someone but not telling them. I think that means that it comes through me. I have said before that I feel like a stenographer hired by the muse to take down the moon's business.
I dress at home for myself like I write scribbled notes in my journal. But I wouldn't go out like that!
The new 3rd day book sounds intriguing. Good luck tonight!
I don't "write" in the serious sense of the word. An endeavor to say something completely from start to finish. I dabble with words, mostly on the blog, sometimes on anything I can get my hands. I don't know why writers write. I'm just glad that they find inspiration and breathe life into their dreams.
I am two-thirds of my way through The Liar's Diary and enjoying it immensely. I will definitely head over to Amazon and write a review. It would be a pleasure!
I write for the characters and story ideas that visit and inspire me. And lately so may say I'm channeling them. Recently, the incarnated version of the main character in my first novel materialized. I'm not kidding. It's like the Twilight Zone. I announced the soon to be seriliazed novel in a press release and he showed up with a photo collection like the character in Jen-Zen & The One Shoe Diaries. You can read all about it on the press release at oneshoediaries.com.
Your contract is focused, full of clarity, and completely keeping the reader in mind. I think you blog-write with this contract in mind, too.
That's why your stories and posts are so enjoyable and have such impact.
Wise words, Patry. I think we have to write with an audience in mind, not "for ourselves." Personally, if I'm just writing for me, I don't try as hard as for an audience. And I'm still waiting for Amazon.co.uk to deliver your book - it was supposed to be here by Feb. 2. Maybe it would have been faster to order it from the US!
My aunt, "Sky", led me here to your blog...
First, congrats to you! What an incredible accomplishment! How I wish I could be in Cambridge to hear you read or in Portland to celebrate with you.
After lovely recommendations from Sky and my own visit here to your blog, I am excited to order your book and immerse myself within the pages. I have no doubt you fulfill your commitments as a writer:)
In eager anticipation...
I hope your reading was fantastic, Patry!
I think ultimately the pleasure in writing is for myself and my characters. Sure, I want to communicate and have my stories read. But if I'm in solitude for a year or more on a novel it's because I love the characters so much that I need to take the journey with them.
I guess for me above all else it's for the characters and their journey. Without them there is no story. If the gift of their presence has shown up in my life I need to honor that gift by getting the story written and ideally read.
I'm so happy you chose Matt Haig's book! He gave me the sweetest blurb. Can I join in this time, even if I failed miserably following through before?
delia: I LOVED and totally agreed with your last post. I have written and still write as a spiritual practice, as a way to work through things that are troubling me, and as a tool to develop my craft. I consider all three not only worthy, but NECESSARY--at least, to people like me. But when published authors who are asking readers to pay for their work--not only with money, but with their TIME, still say they're writing to please themselves, THAT'S when I think the writing changes. It needs to become an act of giving and sharing; and if it doesn't, it descends into solipsism.
More on all these marvelous comments later...
This reminded me. I found 3 copies of your book in my local Border's. Now there are two because I bought one. i haven't had time to read it yet, so review will have to wait.
Hope your reading goes well and I'll be getting the book club book.
Patry, just a quick note to tell you how much I'm enjoying Liar's Diary. I started it this morning, and I'm already way behind in my day because I couldn't put it down! I was pulled in from the first page, and each one of your characters speaks to me in a totally believable and identifiable way. It's one of those books that you can't stop reading, but, at the same time want to hang on to as long as possible because you don't want it to end!
(I'll definitely post a review when I finish, which will probably be quite soon:)
I'm totally not making any commitments for the book club, although this sounds like a good one. I wanted to tell you CONGRATULATIONS!
I've been looking forward to the release of Liar's Diary. I'm putting it on my order list. Good on you. May your first 90 days be gangbusters.
Patry, I'll check into doing the review thingy as soon as I'm done with the book - meanwhile, I did just put up a post, entitled "Shh! I'm Reading..." on my blog about trying to get everyone around me to just LET ME FINISH THE BOOK - Please!!! Because I'm at that point where I don't want to put it down now for Anything. Except a little light blogging, lol. I'm enjoying it so much. Gotta go back to reading now!
I'm not sure I can compete with the lovely sentiments of the last "anonymous" and "anonymous" comments, so let me first just say CONGRATULATIONS on your first novel publication!!! You made it!
As to this post, I could not agree more. When I write for ME, I do it in my journal. My NOVEL is written for the people who read it.
Like you, I believe that as a professional author I have an obligation to create with that audience of readers in mind. They are paying me, and deserve their money's worth.
HOW I write, though--my writing style--is all about ME and my art.
The two intents get integrated in what I trust is a satisfying way.
Just FYI, I saw that the Raleigh B.J.'s store has THE LIAR'S DIARY in stock. You're EVERYWHERE!
sara: As I said to delia, I believe art is essential to every life. (You saw my clunky, joyous efforts at drawing and collage in November) But once you publish, or sell your work, you should be consumed with GIVING something that someone else might need. Maybe they won't need or want it, but the intention should be there.
(And please don't stop making your wonderful muffins ever.)
swirly: Or a contract with those who buy your art! I'm sure it's there, whether spoken or not.
sarala: Thank you! I love the idea of Liars being in Borders in Chicago, traveling to places I have never been...
becca: Can you see me smiling all the way from Cape Cod? Thank you so much. I'll look forward to reading your review.
mindy: Thank you! Yes the first critical ninety days will tell the story...
tinker: I think I've got to drop everything and go read your "shh" post now.
anon: I always like a one-word contract.
Therese: Yes, you nailed it. You write what you have inside YOU, and that is for you and from you, and then you shape it into the gift. Thanks for letting me know the book is in Raleigh!
Just realized I missed a whole section of comments. Sorry!
melba: Looking forward to seeing you when you get home!
colleen: I love that Leonard quote, and I'm trying to learn to live by it--not just in writing either.
robin andrea: Ah, but I have to disagree. You DO write, and powerfully.
julie: I love the title of your serialized novel.
kg: Thanks. I most enjoy blogs where there seems to be an unspoken contract in effect.
tara dawn: I love your aunt, Sky! So happy to see you here. I hope you enjoy the book!
tish: Yes! I would love to have you join in with the book club this month. It really does look terrific.
Reminds me of the argument I had all through my 2nd semester of Master's work....and I DO write first for myself, to understand. I just always feel that if I'm writing someone else is looking for that information too (just like when I sculpt I know that energy is coming through for someone). My poetry definitely is first for me. So, I guess I'd have to argue with you on this one. Strenuously since it rings a lot of old bells. =]
tammy, I don't think I was nearly clear enough in this post. I, too, believe people should write, paint, sing, strum, dance, leap, sculpt and chant for the sheer joy of it--in other words, for themselves. But when you're asking to be paid for your work, and you're asking someone else to invest a serious chunk of time in it, then you're no longer writing just for yourself. Cheers and love to you!
I love your "contract" ... it really heightens my understanding of writing a novel ... of the purpose (beyond writing for oneself or for the joy of writing) ... and perhaps, for an unpublished writer, writing for an audience is a challenging concept.
Oh, man, I almost could have made it to meet you. Except I didn't read down far enough, and had to work late that evening anyway. Sorry to have missed you.
You really are getting a spam infestation, poor dear.
I'm on chapter 4 so far. Just got it yesterday....
The history of perfume oils dates back to ancient Egypt when these fine scented oils were presented to royalty as gifts. In modern times, however, when the word "perfume" is said, most people think of department store fragrances, which consist mainly of the concentrated oil and alcohol solution. Nevertheless, as more and more people are finding out about them, perfume oils are experiencing great popularity. Here are some interesting facts about perfume oils:
donna: Looking forward to your reaction!
I've been reading so many good things about that book, I'm glad you put it up - I'll get to it as soon as I finish Liar's Diary (and post a review).
What a great post - thanks for the gentle reminder about why we write, and blog, in the first place. If we were just going to write for ourselves, why bother pursuing publication? Publication helps serve the greater good - getting a diverse selection of good books into reader's hands. Thanks, Patry!
Just wanted to let you know your book arrived over the weekend! Can't wait to start reading it - waiting for the right moment in my day to start ... sometimes I like to let the anticipation build. Delayed gratification .... :)
mia: Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I think that being published is such a great GIFT; I want to give 100% in return. From reading your work, I know you feel the same!
chiefbiscuit: How incredibly amazing it is for me to think of my book and my characters traveling to places I've never seen! Thanks for bring it to N.Z.
I haven't been much of a commentor lately. Still perusing your blog. I'll try to pick up the 3d Day book, been ignoring that club lately.
Gerry, I haven't had a lot of time to comment lately either, so I completely understand. These days I mostly just read and look and appreciate my friends' blogs. Or peruse as you say--a better word.
Wow. That was an awesome post, Patry. I like to write for myself in that I love the story I'm telling - but I write for others because I want to SHARE that story, share how much I love my characters and their conflict, etc, and hopefully, my readers will love it just as much as I do.
Thanks for visiting my blog! :-)
Post a Comment