Larry Kahaner

Why an Established Author is Going Indie

By Larry Kahaner

Sheri McInnis has enjoyed success with big publishing houses, but is now going indie with her new books.

sheri mcinnis

Sheri McInnis

Why not go with the big houses if they’ve published you before? Sheri explains it in the following blog entry in ways that make sense for many professional authors. She may be on the cutting edge of book publishing these days with phrases like “multi-published author” making the rounds. A multi-published author is someone who publishes both with traditional publishers as well as independently. (I know; some use the phrase to mean something different.) We’ve witnessed an increasing amount of crossover lately especially from authors who publish an e-book on their own, which is then bought by a legacy publisher. (Witness the self-published book The Martian, later bought by Crown and now a movie blockbuster.) Or, in some cases, traditionally-published authors who, for their own reasons, want to publish a particular work independently – like Sheri. The lines are blurring.

I often voice a low opinion of indie books. Just like anyone with a smartphone seems to think they’re a photographer, anyone with a computer and an internet connection reckons that they’re an author. Yeah, they’re an author, technically speaking, but their stuff often stinks because there is no filter, a role that agents, editors and legacy publishers filled. This sieve kept a lot of poor writing from reaching the bookshelves. Not always, but often. On the other hand, nothing gives me a greater surprise than to read an indie author who has penned a book to make a publisher wish they had paid closer attention to their slush pile. Here’s a recent find: Dream Brother: A Novel by Brian Marggraf. And another: Mintwood Place by Bob Gilbert. One more: The Test of Time by Allen Appel (Allen is a colleague who was also published by large houses).

Thanks to Gordon A. Wilson, on whose website this first appeared, and to Sheri for permission to publish her post.

 

 

The Top 5 Reasons I’m Self-Publishing – Instead of Going Back to the Big Guys

by Sheri McInnis @SLMcInnis

1) CONTROL

I’ve worked with some of the most successful editors in the business – and I was especially fond of my first one at Atria. But that didn’t make the revision process any easier.

Because as much as publishers hail creative freedom, unless you deliver an ‘approved manuscript’ your book won’t even be published. That means there’s subtle pressure on you to take your editor’s notes – whether you agree with them or not.

The editor isn’t the only one who requests changes either. Notes will come from your agent, the editorial assistant, even the publisher. And their input can range anywhere from the helpful to the heartbreaking.

Even the marketing department gets in on things. For instance, the marketing people didn’t like the original title of my first book, so the publisher changed it to Devil May Care. Bad luck for me because at around the same time another ‘devil’ book came out. But you probably heard of that one.devilmaycare

The Devil Wears Prada was so popular, people didn’t just confuse the titles – they actually thought I was Lauren Weisberger! One bookstore manager was so excited to meet because my book was “just flying off the shelves!”

You can’t imagine how disappointed we both were when I got to the store and he had a huge stack of Prada waiting for me to sign.

Remember, there are lots of people who get involved in publishing your book,  and as the author you aren’t the one with the most control.

 

2) TIMING

Even if I signed a contract tomorrow, the book wouldn’t hit the shelves for at least eighteen months – probably more. I simply don’t want to wait that long.

For one thing, I’m not getting any younger. But most importantly, the main part of the book takes place in 2021. There are technological advances and environmental disasters that only make sense with a believable padding of time.

I also have a specific release date in mind – November 11. The book – a supernatural thriller called The Hunter’s Moon – is about witches and this date is pivotal to the main character’s story arc.

But unless I’m Stephen King or Sophia Kinsella, it would be crazy to request a particular release date from a publisher. They have hundreds – if not thousands – of titles carefully staggered over many seasons.

Even then, a publisher has the right to change the release date – which happened on my second book, By Invitation Only. A more popular writer bumped the release by a month. That writer was Sophie Kinsella.

 

3) MONEY

Just a handful of years ago, even a mediocre book advance was in the fifty thousand dollar range (that’s what mine were; though I shared the second with my co-writer).

Unfortunately, publishers didn’t fare well after the 2008 recession. My (former) agent told me most advances were down to about 10% what they were – and the business is still recovering.

The downturn also resulted in less money for promotion. Book tours, launch parties and flashy displays are for only a lucky few writers. So whether you self-publish or not, you still have a huge job of promoting the book yourself – both in terms of time and money.

There are still great book advances out there. Romance writer Jasinda Wilder recently signed a 7-figure book deal with Berkley. Of course she had quite a bit of success already. She’d sold two million e-books as an indie author.

What I find most interesting is that even with a big contract, Jasinda is going to continue to self-publish some titles. According to the Guardian, the most financially successful –  and happy – writers are ones with a foot in both camps.

 

4) PRACTICALITY

In all honesty, it would probably take years – if ever – for me to get another book deal. Neither of my novels were disasters but they didn’t perform as well as expected. What’s worse, I turned into an emotional wreck after the books flopped and actually gave up writing fiction (twice), meaning I wasn’t able to quickly write another book to bounce back.

So why would a publisher take a chance on me when there are so many great first-timers out there? Or thousands of bestselling indie authors who already have a loyal following?

Over and above the performance of my books, I’m launching into a genre that I have no experience in. There’d have to be a lot of changes in the publishing world before someone signed me simply because ‘this idea came to me in a dream.’

If I want to continue writing, I really don’t have a choice but to go indie. Which brings me to  …

 

5) BECAUSE I CAN

Since the beginning of the printing press, books have been expensive and complicated to produce, which is why authors have always been dependent on publishers to print and distribute their work.

However, in just a few short years, indie writers have changed the game completely. Today every writer on the planet has the opportunity to reach millions of readers, and there isn’t the same stigma to self-publishing that there once was. That’s not just a change in the publishing world. It’s a revolution in the way stories are told.

Whether you decide to follow the holy grail, choose to self-publish – or try some combination of the two – it’s an exciting time to be a writer. Telling stories is what really counts, no matter how we get it done.

 

Don’t Hate Me Because I Write Fast

By Larry Kahaner

I write fast.

I write fast because that’s just how I learned to write, lo those many years ago, when I was a newspaper reporter. You wrote fast because the job demanded it. You had your notes in front of you, the clock was ticking, editors were waiting for copy, and you hit the keys and didn’t pick your head up until the story was done. You read it over quickly, made your changes, made sure you didn’t say something dumb or wrong, and handed it in. You didn’t use fancy words or clever turns if it meant that you slowed down the process. If you weren’t sure of something you either left it out or used some weasel words to make it accurate and beyond the reach of libel lawyers. The key was to do the best you could in the time you had.

I write fast. What of it?

I write fast. What of it?

It was the finest training for any writer, and I’m grateful to have had that experience.

Even now, when I don’t have to write fast, I still do.

There are benefits. For one thing, you get done with your work sooner. Who doesn’t want that?

Second, there’s no time for self-censorship which is the bane of many writers. Sure, you make mistakes, don’t use exactly the word you want but you can fix it later in the editing process, which is a slower and more thoughtful activity. I have a buddy who’s working on a thriller and he stopped in mid-sentence and asked me about which firearm his hero should be using in a specific situation. (I’m the author of a book about the AK-47 so I know some stuff about guns.) Anyway, I gave him the answer off the top of my head but then told him that it didn’t matter right now. I told him to just write the word “rifle” and fix it later. By stopping to think about the perfect rifle, he not only lost his train of narrative thought, but slowed his writing momentum. Writing is physical exercise, like walking or running, and when you stop, it’s sometimes difficult to get moving again.

Third, you don’t suffer writer’s block. How can you if you never stop moving?  As I’ve said many times before, there’s really no such thing as writer’s block even though some writers insist on believing that it exists.

Over the years, people have asked me how long it takes to write a particular story, article or book. When I answer, I often have to endure the usual comments about how can I write well if I do it so fast. If I’m even inclined to answer, which sometimes I’m not, I point to other writers who’ve written quickly. (Thanks to Kristen Lamb’s blog for this list.)

To wit:

  • William Faulkner wrote As I Lay Dying in six weeks.
  • Ernest Hemingway wrote The Sun Also Rises in six weeks.
  • After being mocked by a fellow writer that writing so fast created junk, John D. MacDonald wrote The Executioners in a month. Simon & Schuster published it in hardback. It was also serialized in a magazine, selected by a book club, and turned into the movie Cape Fear 
  • Ray Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 in nine days on a rented typewriter.
  • Isaac Asimov was the author/editor of over 700 books during the course of his career.
  • Stephen King writes 1,500 words a day every day of the year except his birthday. He’s published over fifty novels, and I don’t even know how many short stories and novellas. Let’s just say he’s written a LOT. Could he have done this writing a book every three years? Every five?

The truth is that just because you write quickly does not indicate that your writing is either good or bad, which brings me to National Novel Writing Month. It’s going on now. For those of you unfamiliar with it, every November participants aim to write 50,000 words during the month. NaNoWriMo, as it’s called, is voluntary and you can keep track on line. If you accomplish the goal, you receive bragging rights and some words that you can rewrite at a more measured pace.

One of the main objectives of this exercise is to keep would-be writers as well as experienced authors from slogging along in misery whilst trying to write their novels. By moving so quickly, you don’t have time for self-flagellation, malingering or complaining about how difficult writing can be (boo-hoo).

Does NaNoWriMo produce some solid books? Yes, it does. Some great books. It also produces some awful crap, because speed has nothing to do with quality.

I’m not ashamed of being a fast writer. Still, this is one of those times that I’m not going to tell you how long it took me to write this blog post. Just reread the author list above, okay?

What if the US were run like a corporation and a madman was in charge? Check out my latest thriller “USA, Inc.” now available in eBook and paperback. All my books have a money back guarantee.

Can I Write Novels Even if I Haven’t Had an Interesting Life?

Can I Write Novels Even if I Haven’t Had an Interesting Life?

By Larry Kahaner

I came across a blog from Guy Portman titled “10 Famous Authors’ Day Jobs” in which he lists… well… you get it.exciting life

What struck me most from reading Guy’s blog post is how many famous authors eventually gave up their day jobs (Natch. They’re famous.) and how many used what they knew from their day jobs and incorporated it into their writings.

Item: Joseph Conrad – (1857 – 1924) – Many of Joseph Conrad’s works have a nautical theme. This is not surprising considering that the author had a 19 year career in the merchant-marine, which began when he left his native Poland as a teenager in 1874.

Item: Arthur Conan Doyle – (1859 – 1930) – The creator of Sherlock Holmes was an important figure in the field of crime fiction. Doyle was also a practicing doctor, whose field of expertise was ophthalmology. He quit medicine to concentrate on writing full time.

Item: Agatha Christie – (1890 -1976) – It was during World War I that prolific author Agatha Christie began writing detective stories. At the time she was employed as an apothecary’s assistant. Her knowledge of poisons was to come in useful in her detective stories.

These authors used what they learned on the job and in life as a springboard for their stories.

But what if you don’t have an interesting job, career or life to draw upon?

There’s no such thing as a boring life.

There’s always something in your past and present that you can look to for ideas and stories. There’s always odd, interesting and compelling people in your life upon which to fashion your characters and stories. You just have to be open.

I have a writing buddy who is working on a memoir and some of the folks he talks about make for fascinating character fodder. At the time, they may not have seemed so interesting, especially to a kid, but when we get older we see their bizarreness and they become highly writeable.

But even if they don’t seem so interesting now. It’s okay.

Think of a person that you know and make him or her weirder, odder, funnier or sadder. Look for the peculiar detail that others have missed. Embellish the small but compelling parts. Expand their quirk. Exaggerate a tic.

One last thought. Here’s the entry for Bram Stoker: “Stoker is best remembered for his seminal work Dracula, but he also wrote 11 other novels and 3 collections of short stories. The author spent 27 years working as an acting manager and business manager for Irving’s Lyceum Theatre in London.”

I haven’t read his other 11 novels but I can bet his job figured into these works. As for Dracula, Stoker’s inspiration reportedly came from a visit to Slains Castle in Aberdeenshire and a visit to the crypts of St. Michan’s Church in Dublin. My guess is that these creepy places produced a strong emotional reaction in Stoker which then formed the basis for his vampire novel. Another person, though, maybe not so much.

That’s the crux of it. What produces a strong emotion in you – a person, place or thing – is what you should be writing about.

What Authors Know About “Go Set a Watchman” That You Don’t

By Larry Kahaner

I was hoping that I wouldn’t have to write this, but it appears that I have no choice but to set things right about Go Set a Watchman, the newly-published work by Harper Lee.watchman

The screams and cries are becoming louder as the book rockets to the number one place on the bestseller list and shows no signs of falling. People, people, people… Atticus Finch as you know him from Mockingbird, and supposedly depicted in Watchman has not changed. He didn’t become a racist. He didn’t forsake you. He’s a different person altogether.

Authors know what I’m talking about but for the rest of you, let me explain.

Lee wrote Watchman first. She turned it in to her editor who told her to rewrite it from a different point of view. This is not an uncommon, request, especially for a first time author. When I wrote my first book, On the Line, I turned in my first one-third of the manuscript so my editor could see how I wrote, whether we were on the same page (heh) and whether my approach was what they wanted when they paid me my advance. He came back with excellent advice. Change my point of view from several people, to just one person who, after all, was the true focal point of the story. I rewrote it in that manner, and the book was published and did extremely well, hitting the business bestseller list, going to paperback, audio, the whole deal.

What did I do with the original draft? I threw it away. It wasn’t the book that the publisher wanted and it was tossed. It deserved to be tossed.

See where I’m going?

Lee wrote a draft. The publisher didn’t like it, she put it aside, and she wrote To Kill a Mockingbird which did even better than my book. Clearly, with the editor’s guidance, and I’m sure some additional thinking on her part, Lee decided that Atticus Finch was indeed to be the virtuous man that he ended up being. That’s the Atticus Finch that we all love, admire and feel connected to because he was courageous for his time. The Atticus in Watchman was a first try, a wrong draft  to be relegated to the wastepaper basket once the real book was finished. Unfortunately, the manuscript survived and it’s making the publisher lots of money and many readers unhappy. Some folks are so distraught that I fear ritual suicides or the complete dismantling of their moral tenets.

If you’ve ever seen DaVinci’s sketches of the Mona Lisa, they look nothing like what the masterpiece ended up as. Would anyone think those sketches were the real Mona Lisa? Of course not. They were drafts, first tries, a clearing of the mind on canvas, whatever you want to call it. Look at them. Study them, but don’t say they’re the Mona Lisa.

The same applies to Watchman. It’s not a sequel, prequel or any other ‘quel.’ It’s a standalone book that, if Lee had not written it, might now be amongst the other discarded drafts that all writers produce before they turn in their best work, the work that reflects their final and true thinking.

Okay, are we good on this?

How to Screw Up Your Novel: The Series Cheat

How to Screw Up Your Novel: The Series Cheat

By Larry Kahaner

I just finished reading a terrific book except for one thing. The ending was a cheat.

Every book must have one.

Every book must have one.

The author composed a quirky, clever main character with an animal sidekick that acts as a contract killer upon command. Very cool idea. The book moved fast, had an absorbing plot and the writing itself was workmanlike (one of my highest compliments) and even contained some flashes of wordsmithing brilliance.

But here’s the problem.

When I reached the end, the protagonist was left hanging in the middle of a predicament. Why? Because the author has a second book which he/she (I’m not giving you any more clues as to the writer’s identity) which takes up where the first book lets off.

Unfair.

As a reader, I deserve a satisfying and closing end to each book I read. If you want to have a second in a series, that’s great. If I like the first, I will most likely read the second and probably beyond, but I don’t want to be coerced or compelled by not having a real, honest-to-goodness ending to the first one.

I have many pals who write series, and they do it the right way. Each book stands on its own. This way, a new reader can dip into any book in the series and receive a satisfying experience without having to read the others. Trust me; if they like the book, they will read another one. Maybe the whole series. In fact, most readers are introduced to a series by the author’s most recently-published book, because that’s the one that publishers have hyped the most. This makes a complete, standalone experience even more crucial to a series’ success.

To write a successful series, an author has to insert enough backstory into each book so the new reader gets up to speed without boring those who already know the main characters. It’s actually not that difficult, but it does require some finesse.

Respect your audience; don’t cheat them out of an ending.

What if the US were run like a corporation and a madman was in charge? Check out my latest thriller “USA, Inc.” now available in eBook and paperback. All my books have a money-back guarantee.

 

 

 

 

Drugs: The Author’s Other Drug of Choice – Part 2

Drugs: The Author’s Other Drug of Choice – Part 2

This guest blog from former workmate Gerry Karey, who blogs at Unhinged, grew out of a blog I wrote about alcohol and authors titled Don’t Drink and Write.

When I posted the blog on my Facebook page, Gerry commented:

“What about pot?”

To which I answered: “What about it?”

He took the challenge and looked at famous authors and their drug proclivities.

We had two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers… and also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of Budweiser, a pint of raw ether and two dozen amyls.  — Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

thomspons

“I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me. – Hunter S. Thompson

That’s quite a picnic hamper. Mescaline, acid, cocaine, uppers, downers, screamers and laughers, oh, my.  If you can remember the 60s, you weren’t there.

Thompson was one of several mid-twentieth century writers who celebrated the use of drugs, particularly hallucinogens, and inspired and influenced a cultural movement.

Thompson is credited as the father of Gonzo journalism, a blend of fact and fiction. He may have captured the gestalt of the era as well as any writer. You just couldn’t believe everything you read, but it was an exhilarating, crazy ride.

A 2005 biography is entitled, Hunter S. Thompson: An Insider’s View of Deranged, Depraved, Drugged Out Brilliance. Thomas somehow managed to live until he was 68 when he committed suicide.

“I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me,” Thompson once said. Until it didn’t.

Jack Kerouac was the key figure in the “Beat Movement.” A draft of his seminal, stream-of-consciousness novel, On The Road, was written in just three weeks and typed on a continuous, one hundred and twenty-foot scroll of tracing paper sheets that Kerouac cut to size and taped together.

It is a fascinating read. But great literature? Maybe not so much.

Kerouac continued to writes books and poetry, but nothing he wrote equaled the impact of On The Road.  How could it?

Drugs were very much part of the scene in On the Road, but Kerouac’s personal drug was alcohol. He died in 1969 at the age of 47, as a result of an internal hemorrhage caused by cirrhosis.

boroughs

“Whether you sniff it smoke it eat it or shove it up your ass the result is the same: addiction.” – William S. Burroughs

Major writers of the Beat era, all close friends of Kerouac, were Allen Ginsberg (LSD), Ken Kesey (psychedelics), William Boroughs, who was addicted to heroin, and Neal Cassady, who died of a drug overdose. “Whether you sniff it smoke it eat it or shove it up your ass the result is the same: addiction,” Burroughs said.

Other 20th Century writers who experimented with or used drugs: W.H. Auden, Jean Paul Sartre and Philip Dick (amphetamines). “Drug misuse is not a disease, it’s a decision…an error in judgment,” said Dick, who also used marijuana, mescaline, LSD, sodium pentothal. Hubert Selby, was addicted to pain killers and heroin that were first administered after surgery; Stephen King, who managed to kick his addiction to cocaine and other drugs; and Aldous Huxley, mescaline (see Huxley’s The Doors of Perception).

Would Dick have created his fantastic fictional worlds without drugs?  Would Hunter Thompson have been Hunter Thompson? Would any of those writers have achieved what they did?

Neurobiologist R. Douglas Fields asks: “Can the creative product—a song, painting, poem, or book—justify the sacrifice and harm that will accompany conducting the creative pursuit under the influence of drugs? If we accept the use of marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, LSD, and alcohol by rock musicians to achieve creative breakthroughs and delight us with their performance, what does that say about us in being willing to accept the destruction of another human being for our entertainment?”

“Drugs are a waste of time. They destroy your memory and your self- respect and everything that goes along with your self esteem,” songwriter/musician Kurt Cobain said.  Cobain struggled with heroin addiction and depression. He committed suicide in 1994, at age 27.

I do not know if this survey will persuade anyone not to use drugs (with the exception, perhaps of marijuana as a reward after a long day of writing). That’s not my intent. But I will reiterate Larry Kahaner’s advice to aspiring writers – all writers, for that matter:  “Write a lot and read a lot. Those are the only habits that work all the time and every time.”

There are no short cuts.

Drugs: The Author’s Other Drug of Choice – Part 1

Drugs: The Author’s Other Drug of Choice – Part 1

This guest blog from former workmate Gerald Karey, who blogs at Unhinged, grew out of a blog I wrote about alcohol and authors titled Don’t Drink and Write.

When I posted the blog on my Facebook page, Gerry commented:

“What about pot?”

To which I answered: “What about it?”

He took the challenge and looked at famous authors and their drug proclivities.

Here’s Part 1 of his report.

“Drugs are a bet with your mind.” –  Jim Morrison,  1943-1971, poet, songwriter.

baudelare

Charles Baudelaire: Proud member of the Club of Hashish Eaters

In the 19th Century the drugs of choice for writers and poets was opium and hashish, expanding to a cornucopia of substances in the 20th Century.

Why the link? R. Douglas Fields, a neurobiologist, writes on a Scientific American blog: “Statistics show that among all categories of creative artists, writers suffer by far  the highest incidence of bipolar disorder. . . Cured of their mental illness, such artists and writers would be gutted of their creativity and stripped of the means to realize it.”

And many artists who have “healthy minds choose to accept the Faustian bargain an induce madness with drugs to reach new summits in their art. . . some artists are willing to endure the self destruction of devastating mood disorders and psychosis of mental illness to fuel creative works of art by deliberately inducing these mental states with drugs to unbalance an otherwise health brain.”

OPIUM

Cultivation of opium poppies for food, anesthesia and ritual  purposes dates back to the Neolithic Age. It was a potent form of pain relief for thousands of years. Widespread use of opium continued through the American Civil War, before giving way to morphine, which is processed from opium.

In 19th Century Britain, opium was cheap, legal and widely available. Morphine was commercially available by the early 1820s.

English essayist Thomas De Quincey, 1785-1859,  tried opium in 1804 to relieve the pain of a toothache, taking it in the form of  laudanum – as many Victorians did – a tincture of opium dissolved in alcohol. The effect was immediate and transported De Quincey to another realm.

He wrote that the pain vanished and he was “swallowed up in the immensity of those positive effects which had opened before me — in the abyss of divine enjoyment thus suddenly revealed. Here was a panacea for all human woes: here was the secret of happiness. . .  happiness might now be bought for a penny, and carried in the waistcoat pocket: portable ecstasies might be had corked up in a pint bottle: and peace of mind could be sent down in gallons by the mail coach.

 De Quincey was addicted within a few years and tried kick the habit with little success.

 De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater  (1821) launched a fascination with drug use and abuse, writes Robert Morrison,  Queen’s National Scholar at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. De Quincey “invents recreational drug taking, but he also details both the lurid nightmares that beset him in the depths of his addiction as well as his humiliatingly futile attempts to renounce the drug.”

John_Keats_by_William_Hilton

John Keats: Opium Guy

De Quincey described the dark side of opium addition in Confessions, noting the states of gloom “amounting at last to utter darkness,” and lurid nightmares of persecution, violence, incarceration, and death,” Morrison writes.

However, De Quincey overbalanced “on the side of the pleasures of opium; and…the very horrors themselves, described as connected with the use of opium, do not pass the limit of pleasure.”

Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote that his poem, Kubla Khan, was composed one night after experiencing an opium-influenced dream, before which he read a work describing Xanadu, the summer palace of the Mongol ruler and  Emperor of China Kublai Kahn. Lord Byron, John Keats and Percy Shelly all used opium.

Did it help make them great poets?

M.H. Abrams for his senior honors thesis at Harvard in 1934 wrote how an opium-using poet, “utilized the imagery from [opium induced] dreams in his literary creations . . .”

The great gift of opium, Abrams wrote,  “was access to a new world; one which ordinary mortals, hindered by terrestrial conceptions, can never, from mere description, quite comprehend. It is a world of twisted, exquisite experience, sensuous and intellectual.”

Before your reach for the pipe or the laudanum, consider Althea Hayter’s 1968 book, Opium and the Romantic Imagination.  Hayter suggests that opium use reveals “some of the semi-conscious processes by which literature begins to be written.”

Opium-induced dreams may have inspired the Romantic poets, Hayter writes, but opium works “on what is already there in a man’s mind and memory.”  What separates the Romantic poets from the run-of-the-mill opium users – and less talented writers –  is being able to communicate these visions in a poem.

Opium might provide “that heightening of experience that every poet wants to feel and then to impart. . . But it can never be a substitute for innate imagination . . .”

Although opium may present the writer with unique material for his poetry, “it will probably take away the will and the power to make use of it.”

Opium won’t transform you into the next Byron or Shelly. Not even close. Opium’s better known cousin today is heroin, which is derived from morphine. Heroin will not put you on the road to literary brilliance, but it can kill you. You certainly don’t need me to tell you that.

HASHISH

Confession, and I can say this because I am not planning to run for office, I smoked pot and I inhaled. I never attempted to write while I was high. I never wanted to do much of anything, as I recall.

Napoleon’s troops discovered hashish in Egypt and brought cannabis back to France where it became a popular recreational drug.

The Club des Hachichins (Club of Hashish Eaters), active from 1844 to 1849,  numbered Charles Baudelaire and Alexandre Dumas among its members. Baudelaire reportedly didn’t personally use hashish much, but observed the effects of the drug.  In 1860 he published  Les Paradis Artificiels  (Artificial Paradises).

“It sometimes happens that people completely unsuited for word-play will improvise an endless string of puns and wholly improbable idea relationships . . . But after a few minutes, the relation between ideas becomes so vague, and the thread of your thoughts grows so tenuous, that only your cohorts… can understand you.”

Been there, done that.

“At first, a certain absurd, irresistible hilarity overcomes you,” he wrote.  “The most ordinary words, the simplest ideas assume a new and bizarre aspect. This mirth is intolerable to you; but it is useless to resist. The demon has invaded you…”

The senses become “extraordinarily keen and acute . . . In sounds there is colour; in colours there is a music…” Baudelaire wrote. All is “complete happiness. There is nothing whirling and tumultuous about it. It is a calm and placid beatitude.”

Every philosophical problem is resolved. Difficult questions become clear and transparent. “Man has surpassed the gods.”

Eventually you come down, of course, and Baudelaire concluded that while hashish enhances the imagination it is highly dangerous to subordinate all such processes to the drug. For the creative artist to believe that they can create only when “high” is a disaster.

Based on my limited personal experience, the last thing I wanted  to do when high was sit in front of a typewriter (did I mention that it was a long time ago), and write. Taking Baudelaire at his word, I think it unlikely the legalization of pot will lead to a literary renaissance in Colorado. However, it may become the most blissfully happy state in the country.

End of Part 1

Watch this blog for Part 2 of Drugs: The Author’s Other Drug of Choice

 

Don’t Drink and Write

Don’t Drink and Write

By Larry Kahaner

This blog is aimed at new writers. If you’re an experienced writer, or an alcoholic, or both, don’t bother reading any further. Well, okay, you can. But what follows probably won’t  resonate with you. You’ll most likely sniff in defiance and pronounce it nonsense. Or, you’ve already handled the situation.

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image from: Intelligent Life magazine

Many new writers try to emulate  their favorite authors. They somehow think that by using the same pen, the same notebook, following the same schedule and oddball habits (I only write in my pajamas with the cuddly bear on the front) that this will bring them the same success as those they admire. As I’ve said many times, the only habit that aspiring writers should copy from those before them is to sit down and write. Write a lot and read a lot. Those are the only habits that work all the time and every time.

One of my sins is bluntness but I can’t help it. Many times I’m asked during interviews about when I write, how I get my inspiration, where I get my ideas and I try to be polite… I really try… but sometimes I just can’t pull it off. I usually blurt out that these things don’t matter. As gently as I can I note that we all walk differently, we eat differently, we talk differently. It stands to reason that we all write differently so why copy anyone else? I’m usually marked as a nasty individual who offers no help to the nascent scribe. It’s not how I want be remembered.

Which brings us to alcohol.

So many brilliant authors drink too much. Many are functioning alcoholics and this penchant for drinking has led many newbies to believe that drinking is a prerequisite for perfect prose. How can you blame them when well respected authors boast of their alcoholic intake in quotes that we love to put up on our walls?

“Too much champagne is just right.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald

“I began to think vodka was my drink at last. It didn’t taste like anything, but it went straight down into my stomach like a sword swallowers’ sword and made me feel powerful and godlike.” – Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

“After the first glass, you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see things as they are not. Finally, you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world.” – Oscar Wilde

Goodreads has 442 quotes about drinking. There’s even a top ten list of 15 great alcoholic writers.

Why do writers drink? That same reason that anyone else drinks. “Boredom, loneliness, habit, hedonism, lack of self-confidence; as stress relief or a short-cut to euphoria; to bury the past, obliterate the present or escape the future,” notes Blake Morrison, writing in the Guardian.  Morrison also points out that in Olivia Laing’s book The Trip to Echo Spring, about six famous alcoholic writers, that there may not be a simple answer as to why many famous writers drink but I believe the above short list takes a strong cut at it.

I’ve been a writer, journalist and published author for many years and I know many writers. Some of them drink a bit more than most, but that may be because they’re my friends. Self-selection and all that. But to a man and woman, they report that alcohol doesn’t help their writing. In fact, it hinders it.

Here’s one comment from a dear friend and prolific book author:

“I feel free and creative when I write in the company of wine. But the next day, usually, my grammar, syntax and coherence of prose look like crap.”

From another, whose non-fiction books are terrific, well-written and well-received. I asked him whether drinking helps his writing and he responded:

“I hate to sound like a prude, but I feel most free and creative when I’ve done a thorough job of reporting and know what the fuck I’m talking about.”

Does alcohol have a place in an author’s arsenal? Certainly, as a relaxer, a way to unwind after a day of hard writing and as social lubrication. It also can offer a short-term creativity kick. Another author friend who writes a blog under the moniker Thriller Guy offers this:

“… say you’ve got a problem that you can’t figure out – your character has been captured by an evil CEO and Our Hero is imprisoned in a laboratory where the resident mad scientist and his minions are threatening to suck the very essence out of his body. (Think Neo in The Matrix) How is Our Hero going to escape? TG can tell you from long experience, if you don’t know how to get your man (or woman) out of this pickle when you head into this scene, the answer is probably not going to just jump into your head. Trying to hammer out a solution to a problem like this can drive you nuts. What you need to do is to stop trying to figure out the answer, and let your subconscious come up with a solution. To do this you need to stop your brain from working so hard, to let the well fill up, by itself. Send the kiddies off to bed (if there are any kiddies) kiss the wife goodnight, (if there is a wife) pour yourself a stiff drink and settle into your chair. Then have a couple of more drinks. You can noodle away at the problem while you’re sitting there, but only in a general way. Drink too much, stagger off to bed, and go to sleep. And if you’re lucky, the next morning, when you go back to work, the answer will pop into your head. Almost unbidden. Ditto if you’re trying to come up with a title, solve a plot problem, searching for a “voice” to tell your story, a structure on which to build your novel. You need to stop trying to solve the problem, and let your writer’s brain solve the conundrum on its own. This is actually one of the few thrilling moments when being a writer seems almost like magic.”

He’s right.

Believe me, I like a martini in the evening. Occasionally, a few more, but I must tell you that of all the professional writers I know, the ones who write drunk do so in spite of their drinking and not because of it. They are functioning alcoholics, or close to the edge of it, who, if they weren’t writers would trudge off to the office every day, slightly hungover and put in a day’s work despite their condition. Think Mad Men. They drink because their body requires it, not because it makes them more creative. In fact, I often wonder how much better the words from Hemingway, Cheever, Poe or London would have been without their booze. We’ll never know.

I’m sorry to burst your romantic bubble but drinking doesn’t help writing. It hurts, and not  just the writing but your life in general. I leave you with this, an excerpt from the Handbook of Medical Psychiatry, 2nd Edition, edited by David P. Moore and James W. Jefferson. Sadly, it describes many famous drinking writers to a ‘T.’

“When alcoholics do drink, most eventually become intoxicated, and it is this recurrent intoxication that eventually brings their lives down in ruins. Friends are lost, health deteriorates, marriages are broken, children are abused, and jobs terminated. Yet despite these consequences the alcoholic continues to drink. Many undergo a ‘change in personality.’ Previously upstanding individuals may find themselves lying, cheating, stealing, and engaging in all manner of deceit to protect or cover up their drinking. Shame and remorse the morning after may be intense; many alcoholics progressively isolate themselves to drink undisturbed. An alcoholic may hole up in a motel for days or a week, drinking continuously. Most alcoholics become more irritable; they have a heightened sensitivity to anything vaguely critical. Many alcoholics appear quite grandiose, yet on closer inspection one sees that their self-esteem has slipped away from them. Most alcoholics also display an alcohol withdrawal syndrome when they either reduce or temporarily cease consumption. Awakening with the ‘shakes’ and with the strong urge for relief drinking is a common occurrence; many alcoholics eventually succumb to the ‘morning drink’ to reduce their withdrawal symptoms.”

Sound like any writing heroes of yours? Yeah, I thought so.

The Secret to Writing That Nobody Tells You

I am reblogging Jane’s post because it’s something that I’ve been harping on for years. Writing is work. You put your ass in the seat and write. Only when you can do this day in and day out can you call yourself a writer. You write when you feel like it and you write when you don’t feel like it – just like everyone else and their job. There are good days and bad days but you still go to work, right?

WORD SAVANT

When I coach people, there is an ugly truth about writing that I often hold back from them. It’s something you can only learn through gut-wrenching, razor’s edge, shard of broken glass experience.

There is no magic to writing, none at all. It’s nothing but grueling

No magic, no easy formula, no genius algorithm. There is no “secret” that is going to make everybody love your work, buy all your books, tell their friends about you, and get stars in their eyes when they hear your name.

It is simply monotonous, repetitive work.

I recently finished the manuscript for my first novel. For eight years I struggled to finish it. And do you know what finally helped me finish it?

Monotonous, repetitive work.

I did it by sitting down (almost) every day and writing a minimum of 500 words.

Some of those days were pretty good days. I would say…

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5 Reasons Bullying Made Me A Better Writer #1000Speak – Building On Bullying

I am reblogging this post from Sacha Black because of the insight she has about how bullying made her a better writer. I was never bullied, but I understand how being bullied can make someone think and feel differently than others. That’s the part – the thinking and feeling differently than others part – to which I can relate, understand and appreciate, which I believe makes me a better writer. I applaud Sacha for speaking out.

Sacha Black

5 Reasons Bullying Made Me a Better Writer

I had to coax myself into posting this. Not because I didn’t want to do a post for #1000Speak, but because bullying is one of those things that everyone has been affected by, and I am no exception. It’s all a little close to the bone. Bullying is one of those universal topics that touches the lives of almost everyone. But I want to focus on the positive. On why being bullied made me a better writer. Without having been bullied I wouldn’t have focused on writing in my youth, and I probably wouldn’t have realised writing was my dream. So am I compassionate with the bullies? No, probably not, I know that’s the point of 1000speak, but, I am grateful for the experience of bullying.

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