Pen On Fire blog

Random meanderings on a Sunday

I walked to Starbucks while my son Travis and his friend Eric accompanied me on bikes. Bought a venti chai latte, nonfat. Last week when Brian and I walked to Starbucks and I ordered my chai and he ordered black coffee, he said, “Whatever happened to large or small?”

I bought the New York Times, which I love especially on Sundays, though today I went online and ordered it to be delivered seven days a week, took my chai latte and Travis, Eric and I headed for the cliff over the beach. Eric wanted to look across the harbor at the Wedge, see if anyone was surfing there.

I looked out over the water for a few minutes, then sat and glanced at the Book Review for a minute. Then Travis wanted to go. The boys biked, I walked and thought, yes, it’s a beautiful Southern California day, but I miss the snow. Maybe we’ll have to go to New Zealand this summer to get a bit more of winter. I’m an East Coast goil, what can I say?

Then to another park where the boys rode over hills and through dirt as I read the column “Modern Love,” which made me all teary eyed, about a women meeting her son 21 years after giving him up for adoption when she was 16.

The writing inspired me. Good writing always does. We came home, the boys went out back to the garage studio for their band rehearsal and I sat in front of my iBook, opened up my draft of Starletta’s Kitchen and started futzing with what I’d written yesterday. Knitted a few inches of a sweater I’m making, then futzed some more with my draft and wrote a couple of new lines.

And I thought: It has been way too long since I’ve made an entry in my blog.

So there you have it, a late Sunday afternoon, with the front door open, music–“Dream on” by Aerosmith, sounds like–coming from out back and my work pulling me to it.

How was your Sunday? Get any writing done?

More on men

It’s so interesting, responses by men to my book. I spoke a little about it in my last post. But it continues and as it continues, it continues to baffle.

I heard from another male reader who bought Pen on Fire and book one for a friend. He didn’t mention the subtitle at all.

And I’ve been hearing from women from all over–one email just came in from the UK–who say they love the book. Some of their husbands pick it up and end up reading and using it, too.

My husband thought it was a mistake to use that subtitle. I told him to call my publisher and discuss it with them.

Titles are so very important. It’s a given. I write about titles in the book. But when I wrote that chapter on titles, I didn’t talk about subtitles. Sequel! Sequel!

But men, my book is for you, too.

Thoughts on subtitles

In Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, Ben Yagoda published an essay called “The Subtitle That Changed America.” In the piece, he bemoans the fact that subtitles have become so important to the marketing of a nonfiction book—in publishers’ eyes, anyway.

He says, “Elongated voguish subtitles are harmless enough, but I miss the time, not so long ago, when it was possible for a book to go out into the world with only a strong title followed by a few hundred pages of outstanding writing.”

I thought of my book and its subtitle and how all of the complaints I’ve heard about my book so far have centered around the subtitle: A Busy Woman’s Guide to Igniting the Writer Within.

Pen on Fire was the book’s title long before it sold to Harcourt. But the subtitle has gone through changes. I forget what it was when it sold—something about getting writing done in 15 minutes portions. But the marketing department worked on the subtitle for quite a while, hoping that it would help to draw certain readers, namely women.

I agreed to a great extent with Yagoda who says, “Nobody really notices subtitles. They are a sort of lottery ticket in the economics of nonfiction book marketing.”

Yet, when I began to hear the complaints—mostly from women who felt they couldn’t recommend the book to men because of the subtitle, I started to fret. I don’t want men to avoid the book because they think it’s a book for women.

I talked about this with Chris Baty, author of No Plot? No Problem! He said he was recommending my book all over the place, to men and women because the subtitle to him meant I was the busy woman and it was my guide. I love his take on it.

And so I’m curious: Do you pay attention to subtitles? How important are they? Did my subtitle put off–or attract–anyone, male or female?

Paradox

In the introduction to a small but fat block-shaped book called, fittingly, The Writer’s Block by Jason Rakulak, the authors talks about all the contradictory advice he offers in the book, and I quite like that, and agree.

It’s so easy to get stuck in the rules or the way that it is. And it’s comforting to know that there’s pretty much not just one way to write or to be a writer.

He says, “Frederick Forsyth says, ‘Write about what you know,’ and Ken Kesey says, ‘Write about what you don’t know.’ Isak Dinesen let her characters run wild and ‘take over’ the story. Vladimir Nabokov refers to his characters as ‘galley slaves.’ Ernest Hemingway says talent is a necessity; Gordeon Lish says talent is irrelevant. The contradictions go on and on and on and on.”

Don’t they, though?

Some writers get up and write first thing, others grab minutes here and there during the day, and yet others write at night.

Some of us do first drafts on computers, others are addicted to–ahem–Moleskines and longhand.

And some need a room of their own while others can write amidst distraction and mayhem.

For all of you starting out, or straying along the way, feel comforted to know there are so many different routes to the same destination.

The main thing–and I must have said this already a zillion times in my lifetime–is to do it. Get the words down.

Visiting with your work

Last week when I wrote about blogging and does it make for less “real” writing, I mentioned visiting with your work. Someone commented on this and got me to thinking even more about it.

I do find visiting with my work vital to keeping the momentum of the story going.

Among my other writing, every day I try to work some on my novel. I never have blocks of hours for this. But no matter what amount of time I do have–even 15 minutes–I’ll pick up the pages or go to my new draft and futz, or simply read. It keeps me in the story, and keeps the story breathing.

Walter Mosley has a wonderful essay about this in the book Writers on Writing: Collected Essays from the New York Times (no connection to my show). In his essay, “For Authors, Fragile Ideas Need Loving,” he says:

“Nothing we create is art at first. It’s simply a collection of notions that may never be understood. Returning every day thickens the atmosphere. Images appear: Connections are made. But even these clearer notions will fade if you stay away more than a day. Reality fights against your dreams, it tries to deny creation and change. The world wants you to be someone known, someone with solid ideas, not blowing smoke. Given a day, reality will begin to scatter your notions; given two days, it will drive them off.”

The man’s a poet; I love this essay and would love to print the entire piece here, but copyright laws say no. The book has lots of wonderful pieces. I also love Roxana Robinson’s “If You Invent the Story, You’re the First to See How It Ends.” I can’t think of any other essay I’ve read that contains such a startling twist.

Back to the topic at hand: Visiting with your work. Do it daily. Don’t use the excuse, “I don’t have the time.” No one has the time. Take 15 minutes from somewhere else. Skip lunch if you need to–or do it while you eat lunch.

It’s very hard to take yourself seriously when you don’t have an exterior deadline. I find it difficult putting time into my novel when it’s such a long work in progress and there’s other work that needs doing right now.

But if we don’t take our work seriously, who will? And how will it ever get done if we don’t do it now?