In Sunday's NY Times Opinions, guest writer Timothy Egan comments on the new book by Joe the Plumber. The opinion is aptly titled: Typing Without a Clue.
Read it here:
In his opinion, he laments: "Most writers I know work every day, in obscurity and close to poverty, trying to say one thing well and true." Later, he adds: If Joe really wants to write, he should keep his day job and spend his evenings reading Rick Reilly's sports columns, Peggy Noonan's speeches, or Jess Walter's fiction. He should open Dostoevsky or Norman Maclean--for osmosis, if nothing else."
Well, this week, we are going to honor the writer who is doing just that. Reading and studying and crafting story--pre publication. We are going to meet writers who you don't know yet--but you will. Because they are going through this process every day. They are people who are working (hopefully, not in poverty), and because they do care about craft, are getting closer every day to publication.
The first is GENE BRENEK!!!
This is Gene:
(with a close friend!)
So first, tell us a little about yourself and your writing life. How long have you been writing?
Writing came late to me. I always considered myself a visual guy, telling my stories as an illustrator. I can’t pin point the exact day that I identified with being a writer but at a certain point when I hadn’t written something in almost a week, I started to feel empty inside, akin to being homesick I guess. That’s when I felt comfortable calling myself a writer.
I realized that my own definition of what a writer meant had changed. I had this notion that once I had my first book under contract then I could call myself a writer. Now I realize that it has nothing to do with being published or pre-published–it’s a state of mind. I’ll save the “author” title for when I’m published.
It IS a state of mind. And a way of life—a way at looking at yourself and engaging story telling. There are a lot of us who started late. I often think that we were just not ready to write...or face our stories head on.
Can you let us in on some things you have done that have helped your writing? Any bumps along the way you care to relive?
Visualize. Visualize. Visualize. The cover. The characters. The setting. For me, I poke around, fumbling in the dark until I have the movie projecting in my head. I need to see each scene with clarity.
Oh yeah. I totally think of myself as a director. And I agree--visualizing our characters really helps us bring them to life.
I don’t think it was so much a series of bumps as it was one gianormous collective one. I was investing all my energy into getting published and not into crafting my writing. Rejection letters can be good. It means you’re putting yourself out there, but it’s important to really be honest with yourself and make sure your work is ready. Otherwise you’re just wasting your time and many industry people’s time as well.
Is there a book that has changed the way you look at writing?
Shaun Tan’s The Arrival.
(Read the review here)
Tan told of a very intriguing and emotional journey without using any words. It changed my preconceptions of how to tell a story.
I loved The Arrival, too. I think, like all great books, it opens us up to a new way of looking at story
What advice can you offer to other aspiring writers?
Don’t worry about being perfect. Allow yourself to fail. Actually don’t think of those early drafts as failures; it’s a discovery process. Your characters have a story to tell and until you really get to know who your characters are, you won’t be able to hear their story with any clarity.
All the writers I know have two voices in their head–the creative and the critic. They’re both important to the process, but you’ve got to let the creative go out and play and get the story down first. In the revision phase let the critic, who’s been chomping at the bit, have his say. But most importantly don’t let him rain on your parade. Don’t let your inner critic tell you you’re a fraud. If he does, you need to remind him that he’s wrong and that he should focus on crafting the story.
If you find yourself listening to too many voices in your head, it’s time to get out! Get a life. I find the best thing to help me get unstuck is to step away from the computer. Take a walk, take a shower, or take a trip. Your brain will still be working out your story.
Oh and an oldie but goodie–read, read, read. Read in your genre and also outside of it. It will bring a new perspective to your writing.
I could not agree more. So, tell us about your current project. Please feel free to include a first page.
In terms of current projects, I’m at completely opposite ends of the spectrum–I'm working on a picture book and a young adult novel. There are some similarities in tone. My seven-year old brain likes dark edgy humor. My sixteen-year old brain just like things dark and edgy.
I’ve got a picture book concept that’s a skewed version of aviation history told by a completely unreliable narrator. Very cheeky.
I’ve also just completed my first YA– a thriller. The action plot centers around Kyle, a sixteen-year old who is trying to stop his mom’s wedding. Her fiancé is either a bit off kilter or is masking truly malevolent intentions. Is it typical new step-parent garbage? Or is Kyle really on to something?
The emotional plot of my YA is about a guy who is trying to overcome the recent death of his father and is gauging whether or not to allow his stepfather to be a part of his life. It was also an opportunity for me to explore the concept of being stuck in the past. Could a memory be so clear in its detail, be so cherished, that you’d chuck your present day life and stay there forever?
I love that. It feels real
Oh, I’ve also just completed new Café Press T-shirt designs for Cynthia Leitich Smith’s new book Eternal. We had so much fun working on designs for Tantalize, we decided to collaborate again. (I may be a bit biased, but I’m a big fan of her work.)
My other project, which I hope to complete soon, is the addition of a bio to my website: genebrenek.com. Writing about myself is much harder than writing about my characters for some reason.
Isn't that the truth!!!
Thanks, Gene!!! This has been a lot of fun. Good luck on as you continue your process of discovery. Your work sounds fascinating! I KNOW we'll be reading about you in the future!