Tuesday, December 29, 2009

I Resolve to Call Her Up...

I'm not the biggest Police fan in the world, but I always liked the lyrics to "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic." And the line "I resolved to call her up a thousand times a day" fit me pretty well when I was a teen resolved to not being stuck only with unrequited lust — though I was certainly familiar with it.

But as I grew older and wiser, bolder and wider, I recognized that I not only was capable of experiencing happiness, but also writing about it. So now that I'm a family man with responsibilities beyond the occasional blog post, I have gotten into the habit of writing down my resolutions.

Not everyone is a fan of resolutions and that's fine. I used to resolve to not make resolutions, and you might say I still do that: I write down my goals for the year, with target dates for achievement. I split them into work-related goals, personal and family goals, and writing goals.

I thought I'd share a couple here with you, and I'd love to hear what writing goals you have and are willing to share.

o Finish the first draft of my current novel in progress by 12/31/10. Right now, I'm at more than 25,000 words, which is probably about a quarter of the way to the goal. Not the ultimate goal for that particular novel, mind you, which I expect to clock in around 80,000 to 85,000 words. But I'm shooting for 100,000 in the first draft. From there, I'll need to revise. During my first edit of a manuscript, I try to trim about 10 percent of the words, which will hopefully account for the mess and repitition and all out crapola that's inevitable in first drafts. As Anne Lamott writes in Bird by Bird: All first drafts are shitty.

o Send at least one query out for my "completed" first novel by 6/30/10. This should be an easily attainable goal, but I'm a bit of a perfectionist (or maybe just a coward). In all seriousness, I made a conscious decision several months ago to not send any queries out in 2009. With my newborn daughters, I knew I'd have precious little time to spend on editing or revising the manuscript, and if I were lucky enough to get a healthy nibble on my hook, I'd be hard-pressed to reel it in with revisions while still feeding my girls and remaining married.

Ok, that's way too much about me. Please, let me know what you're shooting for in your writing in 2010. It doesn't have to be overly detailed. Maybe "Write every day," for example. Indeed, that's an excellent goal for any writer. I might just try that myself.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.

Every once in a while, a nonfiction book crosses my path that amazes me. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy nonfiction. Heck, I write a lot of it myself — probably a lot more than I write fiction. But when I read nonfiction, it often seems to drag through example after example, factoid after factoid, until I can't wait to sink my body into the soothing waters of imagination and cover my head so that every possible dream and idea can be absorbed into my brain.

But Malcolm Gladwell had me from the first page of Outliers and he hasn't let go. This is a book that addresses the key questions of what makes one person more successful than another, and the answers can be amazingly simple. To be sure, luck and innate talent have a lot to do with success, and he would completely agree. But while two different baseball players at the same position may have similar skills and talents to succeed enough to make the major leagues, what sets them apart from each other — what makes Derek Jeter a superstar and Orlando Cabrera merely a former Gold Glove winner — might surprise you.

Actually, my example, isn't fair: Gladwell doesn't examine those two. But chapter one is about the differences between the top Canadian junior hockey league players and the kids who played in high school but don't get much closer than enjoying the game on television. It's not simply about talent.

This book also makes me think about myself: what is it that has allowed me to succeed where others might have fallen short; why have I fallen short when others I believe I'm better than have advanced?

Gladwell has had his articles published in the New Yorker for years, and I think several of these essays appeared there first. He's also the author of the now famous Tipping Point and Blink. I've not read those others, but I definitely will now, having enjoyed Outliers so much. The book is thought-provoking while remaining a real page turner. It's like no other nonfiction work I've read all year. Check it out.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Five Questions for ... Matt Sinclair

Victoria Dixon, a fellow member of the online community of writers at AgentQuery who blogs at Ron Empress, asked who among us was willing to subject ourselves to a short interview. Nothing too dangerous, just five questions based on her reading of our online Blogger profile.

Here's what we came up with. Feel free to ask me any additional questions in the comment section. I may just answer them!

1) What is your metaphysical reason to blog? What do you get from it beyond contacts, marketing tools, etc. (This is akin to asking why do you read.)

The short answer to your question is that blogs help me think. I read to know; I write to express. When it comes to blogging, it’s somewhat more complicated. I’m a chronic thinker, and blogs allow me to vent or ramble on a variety of topics as I try to think them through.

To me, blogs can be less formalized, less complete, than any novel or magazine article I write. But to layer on the metaphysical aspect of your question, I do like the element of permanence — or at least endurance — that an electronic compendium of my thoughts offers.

In my personal writing life, I write fiction because I love to imagine. We all have our own lives, our own realities; a great number of readers would prefer to learn about realities they’re not already aware of (i.e., they prefer nonfiction). I love to enter a world created by another writer. I love getting lost in my imagination, exploring ideas that wouldn’t come up in my every day life otherwise.

On another point, I won’t discount the marketing and contact aspects you cited, but those are not my chief reasons to blog at this time. If and when I have published novels to hawk, I’ll be far more targeted in the marketing of my blogs. One of my projects for 2010 is to create a Web site for myself as a writer of fiction and nonfiction. My wife and I decided to work on a book project together related to the work she’s done for the past twenty years. It’ll be nonfiction, but I think I’ll be able to get that published before I get a fiction agent and sell any of my manuscripts.

2) Speaking of your amazing number of blogs, what's the purpose behind each? This is where you get to remind your readership of some of the things you have to offer. :)

I’ve started several blogs, but I only have two that matter in my writing life. The first was Matt Sinclair’s Coffee Cup, which I created in 2004. I expected it to be basically a place where I could write some early morning thoughts on the day ahead or the day behind while drinking a cup of coffee. The posts were supposed to be no longer than it took me to write while sipping my morning caffeine. As such, the topics could go anywhere, and usually did.

One of the beauties of blogs is you can learn something about a writer’s personality through them — at least as far as the writers allow — even as they discuss the most mundane things in their lives. After my daughters were born in December 2008, I knew my blogging time would be vastly cut back. I was surprised at how much time I had to write during their first couple of months of life. I started a new section of posts, called “Matt Recommends,” about things that were really helpful to my wife and me as new parents. This was my attempt at recognizing the importance of advertising. I’ve worked for many years in magazines and I’ve never felt very comfortable with the (necessary) role of advertisers. “Matt Recommends” was my way to acknowledge that if I had any future in getting money out of my blogs, I’d have to push products that I believed in.

But once the girls were about two or three months old, the sleep deprivation hit full bore and my work schedule got tougher. Blogging regularly over coffee just wasn’t possible.

My second blog, The Elephant’s Bookshelf, arose not long after the first, but I wanted it to be focused on writing and reading. I had hoped it would evolve into a writing community — this was before I knew about AgentQuery — and I could get people to write book reviews, which I’d edit and post. I’m still open to that possibility, but I’ve not really pursued it. Elephant’s Bookshelf has also expanded a little beyond its original intent to include my thoughts on lots of things at least tangentially related to writing and reading — awards, contests (including National Novel Writing Month) films, the death of newspapers...

The others, including one you probably didn’t see in WordPress, were half-hearted attempts to discuss things like traffic in New Jersey, book stores, reviews of book fairs and readings, and other things that I’ve since forgotten. At least one was established so I could help teach a sibling how to create a blog.

3) In your favorite book list, you mention authors for the most part. What is your all-time-favorite, cannot-do-without book?

For me, that’s very hard to answer. I don’t think there is just one. But if I were forced to live in the world of Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451 and "become" a banned book until society allowed books to exist again, I might choose Michael Chabon’s Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay or John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany. I also loved John Connolly’s The Book of Lost Things, which now that I think of it might be the book I’d memorize. It has so much of what I love in a novel: intelligence, humor, a story that is both engaging and meaningful. That’s what I hope my works will offer readers. I like to share things I’ve learned without being too didactic.

4) If an editor/publisher came to you and said, "We'll pay you to write this book," what would be the worst possible topic they could think of?

One that I not only knew nothing about but which I had no interest in learning anything about. A history of defecation comes to mind. I’d call it “I Don’t Give a ...”

5) What would be the best?

The universe is my oyster! There are so many things I’d love to write about. If I could get interviews with all the surviving Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo astronauts, for example, I’d love to do something with that. But Andrew Chaiken’s already written A Man on the Moon and I don’t think that’ll ever be topped; it was the basis for the HBO series “From the Earth to the Moon.” Other topics could include something related to my first love: baseball. And if a publisher has a hankering for an interesting tale that takes place in Antarctica, well, I’m about 25,000 words into it.

But that barely scrapes the surface of the types of books I want to write. I have a list of a couple dozen novels, screenplays, short story collections, and other works that I hope one day to write. In all honesty, I doubt I'll live anywhere near long enough to write all I hope to write. But I'll do what I can.

Thanks, Victoria, for the opportunity.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Not Quite, but It Was Worth the Attempt

Well, I didn't quite get to where I wanted to go with my 2009 attempt at National Novel Writing Month. I had less than a thousand words to go with five days in which to write them, but between babies and other family demands, I wasn't able to spare any time. That happens.

Much thanks to all those who joined me in this and encouraged me to keep at it. I know several of my NaNo buddies topped 50,000, including a co-worker who I suspect is quite proud of herself — and justifiably so. She knows that 50,000 words is just the beginning; there's more to be written, revised, shaped, and decided. A novel doesn't happen in a month, but the writing can.

Congratulations to all you NaNoers who put in the time. Whether you completed the 50,000 goal or not, you should be applauded for making the attempt. While that's all well and good, if you truly believe you want to write a novel, keep going, regardless of your "winning" status. On the NaNo site, they often mention that "December is for revising." (Or do they say 'editing'? I may need to revise that.)

For me, I have 9100 words that I didn't have on October 31. That's on top of the 15,000+ words I'd written for this manuscript last November. Who knows what the next tweleve months have in store for me. I'd like to believe that by next November I'll have finished this particular manuscript, or at least written too much more to use Nano to complete it.

What have you written lately? Please share a story about your latest story.