October 24, 2010

WRITING ADVICE: Nathan Bransford 9 – Ten Commandments for a Happy Writer

Nathan Bransford is a West Coast agent with the New York literary agency, Curtis Brown, Ltd. For the past nine years, he has been writing a popular blog reflecting on and illuminating the publishing world. Humorous, serious and ultimately enlightening, I’ll be looking at how THE ESSENTIALS (PLEASE READ BEFORE YOU QUERY) continue to influence my writing. I am using them with his permission and if you’d like to read his blog (which I highly recommend) go to http://blog.nathanbransford.com/.

Before I launch into this, I should point out that one of the reasons I’ve stopped reading THE WRITER and WRITER’S DIGEST is that they’ve devolved into magazines that publish lists.

The current Table of Contents of those magazines included the following (incomplete) titles: “6 Key Steps to Writing...”, “The 007 Way to Write…”, “10 Tips for Querying…”, “…4 Simple Exercises”, “5 Tips to Polish…”, “25 Tips to Sharpen…”

Long ago, one of the magazines had articles that seriously explored different aspects of writing. I understand that times change, but today, the two magazines are virtually indistinguishable and I think that’s a great loss. In my opinion, they have started to cater to the “Just Tell Me What I’m Supposed To Do To Get Famous!” mob that looks to start writing careers in the wake of recession by skipping all of that study, sacrifice, practice and trial-and-error garbage that writers had to go through in the olden days. All they want is the REAL stuff -- you know, that stuff Steven King did AFTER the study, sacrifice, practice and trial-and-error and just before signing the $1.3 million contract.

*rant over*

Nathan Bransford offers a different kind of list. His is called 10 Commandments For A Happy Writer

  1. Enjoy the present.
  2. Maintain your integrity.
  3. Recognize the forces that are outside your control.
  4. Don’t neglect your friends and family.
  5. Don’t quit your day job.
  6. Keep up with publishing industry news.
  7. Reach out to fellow writers.
  8. Park your jealousy at the door.
  9. Be thankful for what you have.
  10. Keep writing.

I’m going to focus on the one I found most surprising. It wasn’t because the concept was surprising I was stunned because he was honest about it.

In the 9th Commandment, Bransford exhorts us to “Be thankful for what you have” and then points out an obvious but little acknowledged circumstance: “There are millions of starving people around the world and they’re not writing because they’re starving. If you’re writing, you’re doing just fine. Appreciate it.”

At first, I was inclined to think he was using hyperbole to make a point, and perhaps he is. It certainly worked with me. But as I paused to think about it, I began to doubt that he did it just to make a point. He said something I rarely, if ever consider: my wealth gives me the opportunity to engage my brain in the pursuit of writing. This dovetailed unexpectedly with a random thought I had the other night.

I’m busy reading shorts right now to update myself in speculative fiction. I glanced at the cover of the August 2010 issue of ASIMOV’S and heard a voice inside my head whisper, “What is the purpose of short fiction?”

Last night, I read a section of Robert A. Heinlein’s semi-autobiography, GRUMBLES FROM THE GRAVE. In it, he said, “…if a writer does not entertain his readers, all he is producing is paper dirty on one side…STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND…’s entertainment values were sufficient to carry the parable, even if it was read strictly for entertainment.” (page 244-245)

Heinlein wrote at times for the same reason Jesus came to Earth – to tell parables, a parable being “a short fiction that illustrates an explicit moral lesson” (http://www.wwnorton.com/litweb/glossary/).

I’m feeling suddenly inspired to write short stories (if Heinlein implied that STRANGER was a “short fiction”, I wonder what a “long fiction” would have looked like?)

It’s sometimes strange how disparate thoughts come together into a coherent lesson.

For me this happened because of Nathan Bransford’s 9th Commandment for a Happy Writer and I am definitely happier now – but more importantly, I’m wiser.

(I’ve poked around at parables before:



image: http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1229984020l/403305.jpg

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