#Nanowrimo Writing as the only art form that isn’t sensual

I’m still continuing posts for Nanowrimo, focused on craft, since it’s not over yet, is it?

Remember something about the art of writing: It is the only art form that is not sensual.  I’m not saying you can write sensual material, but rather the way the art impacts your senses.  You can see the colors and strokes that make a painting, feel a sculpture, and hear music.  The manner in which each individual piece in those fields impacts on the senses is different.  But every writer uses the same letters on a piece of paper.  You have twenty-six letters that combine to form words, which are the building blocks of your sentences and paragraphs.  Everyone has the same words, and when I write that word and you write it, that word goes into the senses of the reader in the same way.  It’s how we weave them together that impact the conscious and subconscious mind of the reader that makes all the difference in the world.

A book comes alive in the reader’s mind.  You use the sole medium of the printed word to get the story from your mind to the reader’s.  It is the wonder of writing to create something out of nothing.  Every book started with just an idea in someone’s head.  Isn’t that a fantastic concept?

Writers learn by writing.  And before that, by being voracious readers.

In essence, writing is no different from any other profession.  It’s a simple rule, but one that every one wants to ignore:  the more you write, the better you will become.  Practically every author I’ve ever talked to, or listened to, or read about in an interview, says the same thing.  I saw Stephen King on C-Span and he said the most important thing to do to become an author is to write a lot.  That is one of the reasons so many people are participating in this month’s Nanowrimo. One writing professor said you needed to write a million words before expecting to get published.  I’m currently around word five million and still learning so much.

Let’s look at the positive side:  The odds are strongly against getting published.  But simply by taking the time and the effort to learn from these words and participating in Nanowrimo, you are increasing your odds.  By continuing to write beyond your first manuscript, you vastly increase your odds.  Many writers gush over the amount of money John Grisham made for The Firm but they forget that A Time To Kill was published previously to lackluster sales and failed.  What is important to note about that was that Grisham realized he hadn’t done something right and worked hard to change.  Note that Grisham did not sit still and bemoan what his agent/editor/publisher etc. didn’t do to help the novel.  He didn’t complain that the reading public didn’t understand his brilliance.  He worked on the one person he knew he could change:  himself (a tenet of Write It Forward).

From talking with other published writers, I have found it is common that somewhere between manuscript numbers three and six, comes the breakthrough to publication.  How many people are willing to do that much work?  Not many, which is why not many succeed and how you can vastly increases your chances of beating the odds.  Publishers do not want to make a one-time investment in a writer.  When a publisher puts out a book, they are backing that writer’s name and normally want to have more than one book in the pipeline.  Multiple book contracts are very common; with their inherent advantages and disadvantages.  As soon as you type THE END on your first manuscript (and I mean THE END after numerous rewrites), the absolute first thing you must do is begin writing your second.  With self-publishing, I recommend having at least three books before putting much time and effort into marketing, as I describe in this earlier blog post.

Publishing has changed drastically and there are new opportunities for writers to get their novels into the hands of their readers. Traditional publishing isn’t the only viable option for the 21st century author. Self-publishing is quickly becoming the new medium for mid-list authors, and new authors. Amanda Hocking self-published her way into a two-million dollar contract with St. Martins Press. Myself, Connie Brockway, Barry Eisler, LJ Sellers and JA Konrath have all either written ourselves out of NY contracts or turned down a NY contract and ventured out on our own and have been successful.

As someone who wants to be in the entertainment business, you have to study those who have succeeded and failed in that business.  Read interviews with people in the arts and entertainment industries and you will find a common theme:  a lot of years of sweat equity put in before the big “break” came.  I’ve read of and heard actors and comedians talk about spending decades working in the trenches before they became famous.  Musicians who sang back-up for years before becoming lead.  Painters who toiled in squalor (and often died) before their work was recognized.

Study the lives of writers.  Read interviews with authors and see what they say.  Go to conferences and talk to them.  Listen to them talk about several things:  how they became authors, how they live, how they feel about writing, how they write.  Many worked very strange jobs before getting published.  Almost all struggled and spent many years of suffering before they succeeded.  I say suffering in terms of financial or career terms, not in terms of the writing itself.  Most writers enjoy writing.

People seem to think that writers are different and, while in some highly publicized cases they are, most published writers have spent many years slugging away before even their first novel was published.

Simple perseverance counts for a lot.  I think many people with talent lack the drive and fall out of the picture and people with maybe not as much talent but more drive take their place.  It’s the difference between having a growth mindset and a fixed mindset.  People with talent often believe they know all they ever need to know, so therefore their mind is fixed.  Those who believe there is always something more to learn, have a growth mindset.

Let’s get back to where I talked about people in other professions doing a work practicum.  Besides writing novels and reading, the other advice I would give would be to attend conferences and workshops.  It is a worthwhile investment of your time and money to go to workshops and conferences.  Not just to learn, but also to network.  Because of that, the first Write It Forward ‘short’ my publishing company released is How To Get The Most Out Of Your Time And Money At A Writer’s Conference.

A college student once interviewed me and she asked me what she could do to become a better writer.  I replied with my usual “Write a lot,” then thought for a second, looking at this nineteen year old woman.  Then I said:  “Live a lot.  Experience life, because that is what you are eventually going to be writing about.”

What things do you suggest writers do in order to help themselves become better writers?

About Bob Mayer

West Point Graduate, former Green Beret and NY Times bestselling author Bob Mayer has had over 50 books published. He has sold over five million books, and is in demand as a team-building, life-changing, and leadership speaker and consultant for his Who Dares Wins concept. He's been on bestseller lists in thriller, science fiction, suspense, action, war, historical fiction and is the only male author on the Romance Writers of America Honor Roll. Born in the Bronx, Bob attended West Point and earned a BA in psychology with honors and then served as an Infantry platoon leader, a battalion scout platoon leader, and a brigade recon platoon leader in the 1st Cavalry Division. He joined Special Forces and commanded a Green Beret A Team. He served as the operations officer for 2nd Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) and with Special Operations Command (Special Projects) in Hawaii. Later he taught at the Special Forces Qualification Course at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg, the course which trains new Green Berets. He lived in Korea where he earned a Black Belt in Martial Arts. He's earned a Masters Degree in Education.

Posted on December 6, 2011, in Write It forward and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. A corollary to yours: Pay attention. It’s the little details that count. Quirks of family lore, something funny you saw on a bus. They all can either be the story, or one of those little things that makes it feel more real than most.

  2. An oddball suggestion — discover what your learning style is and learn more about how you learn. That can have an utterly huge influence on how the book turns out, as I learned. The biggest leap I made in my writing was embracing my learning style because it identified why I had weaknesses in some areas like details (I’m horrendously bad at them) and helped me come up with solutions I could use instead of trying to solve them with more standard ones that weren’t working.

  3. It is interesting that you say that writing is the only art form that is not sensual. When I write, I change the fonts because I prefer some typefaces so much more than Times Roman or Arial. I have to change it back to the boring fonts when I have to submit something, but I love it when I discover a new typeface used in a beautiful book and try it out myself for my own work. I also like illustrated books and almost always have an illustration in front of me when I write about a real place or thing. Also, when I’m on a roll, my fingers know it and I make fewer mistakes. When I write with a pen, the arrows and circles, scratches and question marks make it very difficult for me to throw those thought processes away. I guess I do find writing to be a sensual experience.

  4. Joy Held's Writer Wellness Blog

    Bravo! My suggestion is to live a lot in very sensual ways. Really see things, everything in detail as much as possible. Savor the food you eat and appreciate what it does for you. Listen deeply as people talk around you, speak to you, and the world makes it noises. This is the best way to appreciate silence, which every writer craves. Learn to feel textures. Simply notice how things feel in your hands and against your skin. Stop taking your sense of smell for granted by practicing deep breathing exercises daily. Then journal about it all as fast and as often as you can.
    Thanks for a sensory stimulating post, Bob!

  5. Very interesting. And very true. I don’t always agree with you, you know, but I never fail to learn from you.

    What I often tell aspiring writers is this: Just as the best part of sex is what happens in the brain, so does the part if writing. Only words, the same ones everyone else uses, yet we put them together in ways that take on new meaning, and let us feel the senses as if we were actually touching, seeing, tasting. Even better, we give our words to our readers and they develop their own unique versions of the sensory pleasures in their minds.

    Today I told an aspiring writer, “A writer writes. A writer who doesn’t write, isn’t a writer.”

  6. Learn to listen. Really listen. Talk less and understand more. Don’t be afraid to feel the empathy. Your characters will have added dimension and depth. So will you.

  7. Listen to people’s stories. Reinvent them to make your story resonate with authenticity.

  8. Bob, my response might be a big off-centered, but then again, that is who I am. I learn a great deal from reading, research and the usual things we all eventually study. But what has been one of the greatest influences on my approach to writing is mixed-media. Not knowing at first, this love of mine has been fueled from the Saturday matinee at the local movie house, early radio and television, and my passion for movies. Hate commercials because they seem to me like a two ton beast banging me on the head every 11-15 minutes while I am trying to read a great book. Use DRV (bless whoever gave us that wonder) love public tv and love movies in whatever form I can bring them into my living room. No matter when I write, I am unaware of the actual action of typing on a keyboard, but am instead hearing and watching as things happen. I study movie plots, have a mad passion for British Mysteries, and spend hours watching and studying my favorite movies. For me the act of writing is a mixed-media experience and seeing and hearing other stories is as important as reading.

  9. Hi Bob; As an author and a psychiatrist, I enjoyed and agreed with your post. Getting knocked down over and over again doesn’t feel good. What would have happened if JD Salinger needed 6 books to finally get published? Holden may still be sitting inside his moldy desk (I assume the desk is now in storage somewhere). Anyway, thanks. Art

  10. ‘Simple perseverance counts for a lot. I think many people with talent lack the drive and fall out of the picture and people with maybe not as much talent but more drive take their place. It’s the difference between having a growth mindset and a fixed mindset. People with talent often believe they know all they ever need to know, so therefore their mind is fixed. Those who believe there is always something more to learn, have a growth mindset.’

    I loved this paragraph because it is so, so true. And also the bit where you said to the nineteen year old girl about experiencing as much of life as you possibly can. That is also very true. This brings me to your question: ‘What things do you suggest writers do in order to help themselves become better writers?’
    My suggestion is to experience as much of life as they possibly can, and then to look at every experience from every possible angle.

  1. Pingback: Setting 2012 Goals: Inspired by Writers | Kathy Holmes, Author

  2. Pingback: Tuesday Tickle: Guest Bob Mayer on the unsensual art of writing « Writer Wellness

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