Stoking the Scintillation of Inspiration

forest steps“Many of us wish we were more creative,” Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, shares. “Many of us sense we are more creative, but unable to effectively tap that creativity. Our dreams elude us. Our lives feel somehow flat. Often, we have great ideas, wonderful dreams, but are unable to actualize them for ourselves. Sometimes we have specific creative longings we would love to be able to fulfill … we hunger for what might be called creative living.”

Many of us are, in fact, creatively blocked. How would you know if you were? Jealousy is an excellent clue. Are there creative people you resent? Do you tell yourself, ‘I could do that, if only…’ An old friend of mine used to constantly share that he would “start living and settle down” once he had enough money. It never happened; and he never did—twenty years later. That was sad; because he was waiting for life to begin, when it was already happening—and he was missing it.

forest boardwalkCreative recovery (or discovery) is something you can learn. It is something you can enhance and direct. “As you learn to recognize, nurture, and protect your inner artist,” says Cameron, “you will be able to move beyond pain and creative constriction. You will learn ways to recognize and resolve fear, remove emotional scar tissue, and strengthen your confidence.”

Stoking the creative artist inside you may be as simple as giving your mind the chance to wander—and taking the time to pay attention. Rhythm and regular, repetitive actions play a role in priming the artistic well. Cameron lightheartedly describes how the “s” activities work so well for this: showering, swimming, scrubbing, shaving, steering a car. I can testify to the latter—how many great plot ideas have I cooked up while driving to work! Filmmaker Steven Spielberg claimed that his best ideas came to him while he was driving the freeway. Negotiating through the flow of traffic triggered the artist-brain with images that translated into ideas. “Why do I get my best ideas in the shower?” Einstein was known to have remarked. Scientists tell us that this is because showering is an artist-brain activity.

wood bridge forest-congaree national parkThe magical part in this is to pay attention. Pay attention to your life experiences; don’t ignore them. Sit up in the bus and watch people, play with the images, sounds and smells. Get sensual and let your eyes, ears, nose and limbs delight in the world. It’s amazing how interesting the world becomes once you start paying attention.

Henry Miller tells us to develop interest in your daily life; in people, things, literature, and music: “the world is … simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls and interesting people. Forget yourself,” he says.

Looking outward as well as inward allows us to explore different angles and facets of the same thing. When we see the same thing through different perspectives we rediscover something new in ourselves. We create interest and connect the world to ourselves.

Julia Cameron shares that “art may seem to spring from pain, but perhaps that is because pain serves to focus our attention onto details (for instance, the excruciatingly beautiful curve of a lost lover’s neck). Art may seem to involve broad strokes, grand schemes, great plans. But it is the attention to detail that stays with us; the singular image is what haunts us and becomes art. Even in the midst of pain, this singular image brings delight. The artist who tells you different is lying.”

Curious child

Brenda Ueland tells us why we should all use our creative power: “Because there is nothing that makes people so generous, joyful, lively, bold and compassionate, so indifferent to fighting and the accumulation of objects and money.”

forest path copyReferences:

Julia Cameron. 2002. “The Artist’s Way”. Tarcher. 272pp.
Nina Munteanu. In Press. “The Journal Writer:  Finding Your Voice”. Pixl Press. 132pp.

 

nina-2014aaaNina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s recent book is the bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” (Mincione Edizioni, Rome). Her latest “Water Is…” is currently an Amazon Bestseller and NY Times ‘year in reading’ choice of Margaret Atwood.

Our Deepest Fear

nature's canopyIt’s not what you think it is…

There’s a poignant scene near the end of the 2005 movie “Coach Carter” where a student finally responds to Carter’s insistent question of “what is your deepest fear?”. It is a quote often mistakenly attributed to Nelson Mandela but originally written by Marianne Williamson (“A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles”). And it speaks to the artist in all of us:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Let me tell you a story… I’ve been writing stories since I was ten years old. I used to stay up until late at night with my sister, when our parents were snoring in their bed. We told stories: fantastical stories with a cast of thousands and spanning the entire universe. When I was in my teens, I began to write a book, inspired by several dystopian movies and my own passion for saving the planet. It was called “Caged in World”. By the time I was married and had my son, I had written three entire books, none of which I’d published. I had by then sold several short stories and essays and articles to mainstream, travel and science fiction magazines. I started to become known as a reviewer and critic of movies and books. And my short stories were gaining good reputation with stellar reviews and invitations to appear in anthologies.

I began to market my first book—a medical ecological thriller—to agents and publishers. Although I got many bites for partials and even full manuscripts, none came to fruition.

Then something strange happened.

Driven by something inside me, I wrote over the space of a few months a book entitled “Collision with Paradise” based on some research I’d done on Atlantis, the bible and the Great Flood. The book was important to me on a number of fronts: in its ecological message of cooperation and its exploration of new paradigms of existence. I wrote it fast and well and it hardly needed editing. Without thinking and without hesitation, I submitted it for publication. As quickly as I’d written it, I had an offer from a publisher. My first published book! My first reaction was elation. My second reaction was: What have I done? I was proud of my book and its story, but it also contained erotica. My first thought was: how are my family and friends going to react? What about my parents? OMG! Fear, not of failure but of success came crashing down on me and I felt so exposed. If I could have retracted it, I might have several times. Thankfully, I didn’t. While some friends and family did in fact shake their heads and look askance at my work (and labeled it variously), the book was very well received by mainstream critics and readers alike. It was, in fact, a hit. Faced with success, I bowed to its consequences and embraced what it brought: the good, the bad and the ugly. I was, in fact, relieved. I have many times since contemplated my actions in submitting this subversive novel that exposed me incredibly. Was it brave intuition or bold recklessness that propelled me? The point is, I’d stepped out into the light, crossed the line into another paradigm. There was no way back into the shadows. And that’s good.nature's canop-2

Ralph Keyes, author of The Courage to Write, tells us “any writing lays the writer open to judgment about the quality of his work and thought. The closer he gets to painful personal truths, the more fear mounts—not just about what he might reveal, but about what he might discover [about himself] should he venture too deeply inside. But to write well, that’s exactly where we must venture.” If you’re emotionally or psychologically not ready for the consequences of getting published, then you will falter, procrastinate, forever fuss over your creation and convince yourself that it isn’t ready. In truth it’s you who aren’t ready. It’s you who aren’t ready to shine.

Just remember that while we are born artists, it is still our choice to live as artists. Until we embrace that which is within us, we will not find our voice to give to the world. That is our gift to the world. Laurance Gartel says “to be an artist is to take responsibility for the world’s destiny. You shape it by your vision.”

The true artist is not interested in having a nice life, being comfy or fitting in, but rather sees himself as a benefactor. His goal is to make a contribution to life, and to this end there are no barriers, doors or blocks, but only wide open spaces.”—Brian Simons

 

nina-2014aaNina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books.

The Hidden Costs of Self-Publishing, Part 1: The Solution to “Author Solutions”

author-solutions-friendsWhat do Simon & Schuster, Hay House, Barnes and Noble and Reader’s Digest have in common? Each of these reputable and famous names in publishing has forged a partnership with Author Solutions. What is significant about that? Well…In a detailed article written in April of 2015, author David Gaughran tells us why this is distressing news to authors and I discuss this further below.

Many beginning authors wishing to “self-publish” are looking for a service that will easily and painlessly “publish” their cherished creative as well as help them get it out into the reading world. Naive about what it takes to “get out into the reading world”, many authors are signing up with service-publishers who will “publish” anything so long as the author is willing to pay. You know who they are; I mention some of them below. Although the Internet is populated with excellent book-publishing services by freelance editors, cover artists, layout specialists and various accompanying software and apps, many authors are unwilling to go the a la carte route of experts. Instead, they look for an easy and convenient solution: a one-stop shop to sell their book. The “expertise” and “services” are usually anonymous and nameless, hidden behind the company name. I’ve seen some horrid examples of extremely poor editing in books that had presumably been professionally edited by a service-publisher for which a writer had paid good money. The writer was himself/herself clueless of the poor quality (for some of them, English is not their first language), and couldn’t tell me who had edited their work. When I did some digging into two of these service-publishers, I finally found, in the fine print, that the service-publisher used students. Another client of mine complained bitterly about how he had not received the services promised in the package that he’d paid dearly for. This sort of thing is rampant in the “self-publishing” industry right now.

As with all short cuts, there are hidden costs. Let’s take Author Solutions as a good example.

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The “Anti-Solution”

Author Solutions provides a “publishing” service to any writer willing to pay.  Typical of virtually all the vanity publishers, Author Solutions and its many affiliates (likely the company you are using) offers several packages for the author, from basic printing services to the deluxe package with promised media coverage and excellent PR. Unfortunately, what they promise and what they deliver can be two different things. Far from providing solutions to an author, Author Solutions operates “more like a telemarketing company whose customer base is the authors themselves,” write plaintiffs Wheeler and Heightsman as part of their 2015 class action law suit against the firm. Some of Author Solutions’ long-standing issues faced by customers include:

  • improperly reporting royalty information
  • non-payment of royalties
  • breach of contract
  • predatory and harassing sales calls
  • excessive markups on review and advertising services
  • failure to deliver marketing services as promised
  • telling customers their add-ons will only cost hundreds of dollars and then charging their credit cards thousands of dollars
  • ignoring customer complaints
  • shaming and banning customers who go public with their stories.

“Despite Author Solutions’ mounting legal troubles and an unending stream of complaints against the company from both its own customers and a whole host of writers’ organizers and campaigners, companies are still queuing up to partner with Author solutions,” writes Gaughran. Is it because its corporate parent is Penguin Random House? Some “Partner Imprints” (in brackets) run by Author Solutions as a self-publishing service for the partner publishing house include:

  • Simon & Schuster (Archway Publishing)
  • Lulu
  • Harlequin (DelleArte Press) – partnership terminated 2015
  • Hay House (Balboa US, Balboa Australia)
  • Barnes & Noble (Nook Press Author Services)
  • Crossbooks (LifeWay) – partnership terminated 2014
  • Penguin (Partridge India, Partridge Singapore, Partridge Africa)
  • HarperCollins/Thomas Nelson/Zondervan (Westbow Press)
  • Random House (MeGustaEscribir)
  • Writer’s Digest (Abbott Press) – partnership terminated 2014

Many authors aren’t aware that these “Partner Imprints” are all run by the same company; or that Author Solutions’ own in-house imprints include iUniverse, Trafford, Palibrio, AuthorHouse, BookTango, and Xlibris. According to Gaughran, this came about as a “solution” for traditional publishing houses to monetize their slush pile. That’s the pile of unsolicited works most beginning writers send to publishing houses that end up in a huge heap in some room that in the past was relegated to new underling editors to cut their teeth on. Now the manuscripts simply go to a company only interested in making money from writers willing to pay for their largely unedited works. Books that would never have been accepted by these traditional publishing houses are now finding a “home”. But what kind of “home” is it and what does the writer really achieve for her many dollars spent? According to Gaughran’s sources at Penguin, the primary directive of Author Solutions is to sell (to the author) the most expensive publishing package they can and encourage authors to buy their own books. When depositions were made public, they revealed that two thirds of Author Solutions revenue comes from selling publishing and marketing packages and one third from selling books—with a vast majority of those book sales coming from authors buying their own books. What about the cool opportunities for book signings at literary events, book displays, advertising space, TV and reviews that they promised? Gaughran provides a staggering list that includes Publishers Weekly, New York Times, Kirkus and the New York Review of Books, and my personal favorite Word on the Street Festival Toronto. “These partnerships don’t provide any real value to Author Solutions customers,” says Gaughran. In an earlier class action lawsuit against Author Solutions by law firm Giskan Solotaroff Anderson & Stewart representing three authors, Publishers Weekly wrote:

The suit, which seeks class action status, alleges that Author Solutions misrepresents itself, luring authors in with claims that its books can compete with “traditional publishers,” offering “greater speed, higher royalties, and more control for its authors.” The company then profits from “fraudulent” practices, the complaint alleges, including “delaying publication, publishing manuscripts with errors to generate fees, and selling worthless services, or services that fail to accomplish what they promise.” The suit also alleges that Author Solutions fails to pay its authors the royalties they are due.

According to the law firm representing the authors:

Author Solutions preys upon the dreams of authors by selling them expensive services that sound exciting but do not actually sell any books. Their defense: They aren’t being deceptive because they aren’t trying to sell books. Of course, for nearly 200,000 authors who have paid thousands (if not tens of thousands) of dollars to buy expensive services that promised to promote their books, Author Solutions’s indifference to book sales comes as more than a bit of a surprise.”

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The Solution—But You May Not Like It…

So, what’s the solution? For those of you starting out, it’s important to know that firstly there are a lot of genuinely good publishing houses out there potentially interested in your book and willing to work with you in partnership toward a successful book that will sell. And they don’t want your money; they want quality. The book publishing industry is booming in many different ways. And while the predatory arm of the mercenary would like to seduce you with glamour and unrealistic dreams—so long as you pay—a whole cadre of small presses are growing who are producing high quality works by emerging writers. These local Indie publishing houses are worth seeking out and submitting to. But they don’t want to see your book until it is ready. Reader ready. This puts the responsibility back on you, the writer, to produce the very best you can. I tell my writing students at the University of Toronto and George Brown College that if you want to publish, you need to:

  1. write the very best story you can
  2. get it edited, preferably by a professional editor or a writing coach of good repute
  3. research the book publishing market and submit to a traditional publisher (not a service-publisher who wants your money)
  4. rewrite (if you feel the need to) and resubmit to another publisher
  5. resubmit to another publisher

If you decide to self-publish, find a reputable printing house and learn what it takes to create a book. Find someone who does sunset-dock-birdslayout and covers professionally. There are good ones out there; I know—I use them myself. Learn some marketing skills or find a marketing specialist or PR specialist who has a sound track record and you can trust. The book industry was and still is based on sound relationships. Writers with editors; publishers with marketers and distributors; writers with readers; and so on.

In the end, it’s up to you. Take charge of your career and bring the “self” back into self-publishing.

In Part 2, I discuss the significance of first impressions and “branding” in self-publishing. Of course with examples.

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nina-2014aa

Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books.  

Walking the Tightrope Between Innocent and Cynical

The writer’s journey from the passion and vulnerability of innocence to the wisdom of experience can be a dark and twisted road. In fact, if you are a writer of any merit, I guarantee you that yours will be too. Think Dante in the forest…

Let me tell you a story … It starts in the early 1990s. I was an eager young sprite entering the novel publishing world with my newly finished science fiction novel: “Escape from Utopia”. I’d published a few short stories and many articles by then. In addition, I’d published many scientific papers and reports. Confident and cocky, I was proud of my novel and eager to share it with the world. And I thought I knew my way through that dark forest…

I zealously sent the manuscript to a bazillion agents and editors. I was rewarded for my zealous efforts with a tidal wave of rejection letters. Mostly form letters (see my amusing account of the evolution of rejection letters in my fiction writing guidebook, The Fiction Writer) and an excerpt in a previous post here: “Rejection, Part 2: the Evolution of Rejection

Then it came: an enthusiastic letter from an agent (I can’t remember the name: Literary Bridge or something); they said my work had great promise and that with some help from an editing firm they would consider representing me if I had it edited and resubmitted.

They recommended Edit Ink.

Those of you in the know and with some history in the industry may recall the Edit Ink scandal of the 90s. In short, it was a bait-and-switch scam that Bill Appel and Denise Sterrs (of Edit Ink) and their associated literary agents ran for close to a decade. Edit Ink was a “book doctor” firm near Buffalo, New York. The State of New York eventually convicted Appel and Sterrs and associates for defrauding prospective writers of several million dollars.

I remember my heart swelling with gratitude and optimism. Finally, someone liked my book! I naively considered their recommendation. Soon after—within days—I got an invitational letter from the pro-active Edit Ink. I can’t remember the exact content, except that they assured me that only the most promising writers were recommended to them by this particular agent. I remember seriously considering their offer. Then I got two more letters, one from another agent who recommended Edit Ink and another invitational letter from Edit Ink. Alarm bells went off. I went from naively hopeful to cynically suspicious. I did some investigating (something I should have done initially); by then the buzz was already on the Internet on their questionable practices. The lawsuit by New York State had yet to happen.

The Science Fiction Writers Association (SFWA) runs a “writer Beware” page, where memorable cases are reviewed. It’s worthwhile perusing just for your general knowledge and edification.

Here’s what they said about Edit Ink:

Founded by the husband and wife team of Bill Appel and Denise Sterrs, Edit Ink was a New York State-based editing service that engaged in a kickback referral scheme with a wide network of literary agents. Here’s how the scheme worked.

  • Participating agents sent letters to writers who’d submitted manuscripts the agents didn’t want to represent, saying that the writer’s work showed “promise” but “wasn’t quite ready for publication.” A useful service was recommended: Edit Ink, which for a fee would polish the ms. to make it more salable. Once the ms. had been edited, the agent would then be glad to reconsider it.
  • The agent forwarded the writer’s name to Edit Ink, which sent off a solicitation letter claiming, among other things, that Edit Ink received referrals for only a “select few” manuscripts (false), and that most publishing houses insisted on receiving “professionally edited” work (falser).
  • If the writer took the bait and paid for an edit, the referring agent received a kickback of 15%.
  • Writers who resubmitted their edited manuscripts to referring agents, per the referring agents’ suggestions, were given the brushoff. Either the market had “changed in the interim”, or the agency was “no longer representing that genre.”

Edit Ink charged $5 per page–exorbitant at the time even for a qualified editorial service, which Edit Ink very definitely was not. Its staff mostly consisted of recent college graduates with no publishing experience, working long hours for minimum wage. The typical Edit Ink edit was slipshod and superficial, consisting mainly of basic copy editing suggestions, and omitting the kind of in-depth analysis of plot, theme, character, and structure that might make a professional edit worthwhile.

At its height, dozens of literary agencies participated in the scheme. Edit Ink even set up its own bogus agencies and publishers to funnel more manuscripts its way. It’s estimated that the company made in excess of $5 million.

Mounting complaints from writers, and efforts by writers’ advocacy groups, at last spurred New York State to take action. In January 1998 the NYS Attorney General announced a lawsuit against Edit Ink for deceptive business practices, false advertising, and fraud.

Throughout the appeals process, Edit Ink continued to operate. Many questionable agents continued to refer manuscripts, and Aardvark Literary Agents (one of Edit Ink’s original bogus agencies) was taken over by co-defendant Kelley Culmer so it could go on functioning as a conduit for Edit Ink referrals. Business was dwindling, however–in part as a result of media attention, but largely because of spreading word in the then relatively new environment of the Internet. Once the appeal was denied, the thrill was gone. In August 1999, Appel and Sterrs closed Edit Ink’s doors for good.

Shades of Edit Ink

Edit Ink is by no means unique in the publishing industry. “Book doctors”, associated kick-back agents and subsidy publishers are, in fact, on the rise. This is not surprising, in view of the current rise in self-publishing and associated models. The industry is currently inundated with a range of publishing models from straight printing-only firms to full service publishing houses and anything in-between.

Author Victoria Strauss on her blog “Writer Beware” shares this story:

Over the past couple of days, I’ve heard from several writers who queried agents at Objective Entertainment, a relatively new literary agency with a strong track record and experienced staff, and received the following response:

Dear [name retracted], 

Thank you so much for contacting us at Objective Entertainment. We have reviewed your material and we would like to refer you to one of our Publishers who we trust and believe will be able to serve you best. In order to do this I need your permission and the following information so they can either contact you via Phone or Email. The following information we need is if you would like to receive their newsletter and special offers. I think this is an amazing opportunity for you. 

Please reply with the information we asked so that we can get you that one step closer to getting your work published! 

Best 

Tracey Ravenelle
Objective Entertainment

When the writers, eager to know the name of the publisher, requested more information, they received this response from Ms. Ravenelle:

We work with Iuniverse and AuthorHouse. Iuniverse has the number 5 book this week on the NY Times Best Seller List!

The writers then asked why Objective was recommending a self-publishing service. As of this writing, only one has received a response, which Ms. Strauss reproduced below exactly as it was sent to her:

Because we believe they would be the most beneficial for you at this point in time. Then you would come back to us after the sales starting racking up and we go major! This is the best way for an author to get their work out their. One of their books is number 5 on this weeks upcoming NY Times Best Seller list. So we believe they can help our potential future clients immensely.

EEK… aside from their atrocious grammar, Objective made some questionable recommendations. The major one being that of referring rejected clients to a self-publishing service (of course, they got a fee for referring clients to the house).

Vanity and Subsidy Publishers

SFWA shares another story:

Thousands of writers worldwide entered into contracts with Commonwealth Publications of Canada, a vanity publisher founded in 1995 by fee-charging literary agent Donald Phelan. Phelan worked with a number of other fee-charging agents who, in exchange for a kickback, recommended Commonwealth’s vanity contracts to their clients. Phelan also advertised for manuscripts in magazines such as Writer’s Digest and Writer’s Journal. (Writers take note: this is just one example of why you shouldn’t trust the classified ads in writers’ magazines.)

Commonwealth, which identified itself as a “subsidy” publisher (the implication being that the writer was contributing only a portion of the cost) typically charged $4,500 for publication, with a promised print run of 10,000. Its glossy promotional material promised all kinds of support to its authors: editing, proofreading, marketing, international distribution. But few of these services were actually delivered–and there were many other problems. Publication dates were delayed. Authors didn’t receive the number of books they were promised. The quality of finished books was poor. Books never showed up in bookstores. Royalties from books supposedly sold were never paid.

Fee-Charging Agents

SWFA shares this recent story:

On January 7, 2010, UK literary agent/film producer Robin Price appeared in court, accused of stealing more than half a million pounds from clients.

Price is alleged to have encouraged authors to pay exaggerated literary fees and invest in non-existent film deals, and has been charged with six counts of theft, most committed over the course of several years.

Even successful established writers were taken in by this one.

Writer Brian Knight, who suffered a book doctor agent scam, shares this advice: “New writers need to know that these people are still out there, spewing false promises … patting us on the back with one hand and picking our pockets with the other.” He advises new writers to research every individual and business with which they intend to do business.

Reign in your excitement and enthusiasm. Breathe. Then do the research. “Google.com is your friend,” says Knight. “There are other online resources available to writers. In this era of the information super-highway, it has never been easier to arm yourself against the scumbags and swindlers who make their living off the trusting and naive.” Knight also suggests, www.duotrope.com.

A great site to check out anyone in the writing and publishing industry is “Preditors and Editors” (intentionally misspelled). A site I have come to rely on for excellent market advice is www.ralan.com.

The writer’s journey is a hero’s journey, fraught with obstacles, dangerous distractions, and great disappointments (see Christopher Vogel’s excellent book The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers for more). But it is a path illuminated by a beacon of passionate expression, great sharing and exquisite victory. Choose your hero archetype carefully: choose magician.

We are the shamans, the myth-makers of our community and society. The artist / writer carries her archetypal message through story to her tribe, her community, her society and her world. It is both fulfilling and a great responsibility.

After the Edit Ink debacle, I picked myself up—a little wiser and a little moreswimming on pavement careful—and went on to find a traditional publishing house who published my first and second novels. Escape from Utopia became Angel of Chaos published by Dragon Moon Press (Part 1 of the Darwin’s Paradox duology), and I went on to publish seven more novels through traditional, indie, and self-publishing models: a historical fantasy, an SF adventure trilogy, two romantic SF novels, a short story collection (Natural Selection) and two text books on writing.

I haven’t looked back since… except to write this article, that is.

 

nina-2014aaNina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books.

Who’s Your Audience and Why Should You Care?

sea urchinsThe artistic process, whether painting or prose, is admittedly the child of self-expression. The long-standing image of the cloistered artist in her studio — hunched over her writing desk or standing before her canvas to create from the depths of her soul — is surely a truism. Artists create from the heart; we dive deep inside our often tortured souls and closeted past to draw out the universal metaphors that speak to humanity and share—

Ay, there’s the rub. For to share is to have a dialogue and to have a meaningful dialogue is to demonstrate consideration of the other. Somewhere in that journey that began with self, others entered. It is, in fact, something of a paradox and a conundrum for many artists. One that has challenged the artistic community for centuries. It is also why many artists have relied on agents, benefactors, and advocates to effectively communicate, target — and even interpret — their often abstruse “message” to their appropriate audiences.

Purists will tell you that a true artist need not consider her audience; because her self-expression naturally finds relevance with the culture and zeitgeist from which she writes through universally understood metaphor: her story is their story.

But is that enough?

I suppose it finally comes back to whether you are interested in sharing. I don’t know any published authors who don’t wish their books to sell. Every storyteller needs an audience to connect with and engage. That is ultimately what good storytelling does: engage, connect, rouse emotions and evoke empathic feelings. Make an impact.

Does identifying and targeting a specific audience result in more satisfied readers and ultimately better sales? Of course it does. The more you—and whoever is helping you market your work—know about your audience, the more likely you are going to attract them to your book, convince them to buy it and ultimately connect with them. That’s the irony of art: it is a treasure that is created out of the depths of solitude but ultimately brought into the light and shared with the world. For your art to have impact, you must know and understand your world.

Knowing your audience will affect every aspect of your book project. It will help determine:

  • What your story is about and how you write it (from language, voice or personality, narrative style, tone or mood/attitude, characters, setting and theme)
  • What genre it lies under
  • the look and tone of the cover and blurb
  • all aspects of promotion

For instance, who are your intended readers? To what age group to they belong? What culture and sub-culture? What gender(s)? What education and intellectual capacity? Economic status? What regions? What political leanings? Prejudices and beliefs? What knowledge-base?sea urchins

To know your audience is to know your story better.

 

nina-2014aaNina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books.

 

 

The Writer’s Way

Any time you identify a wasteland element in your life—illness, boredom, lethargy, alienation, emptiness, loss, addiction, failure, anger, or outrage—it is time to take a journey—Carol S. Pearson

 

Compelling stories resonate with the universal truths of metaphor within the consciousness of humanity. Good fiction—and non-fiction—reveals both personal and universal truths through metaphor. It is revealing, given that it reflects you.

All stories consist of common structural elements found universally in myths, fairy tales, dreams, and movies and known collectively as “The Hero’s Journey”. According to Joseph Campbell, good storytelling involves an open mind and a certain amount of humility; and giving oneself to the story. “Anyone writing a creative work knows that you yield yourself, and the book talks to you and builds itself….you become the carrier of something that is given to you from … the Muses or God…Since the inspiration comes from the unconscious, and since the unconscious minds of the people of any single small society have much in common, what the shaman or seer [or artist] brings forth is something that is waiting to be brought forth in everyone.” I call this tapping into the universal truth where metaphor lives. A story comes alive when these two resonate.

Carol Pearson tells us that, “if we do not risk, if we play prescribed social roles instead of taking our journeys, we may feel numb and experience a sense of alienation, a void, an emptiness inside. People who are discouraged from slaying dragons internalize the urge and ‘slay themselves’… they suppress their feelings in order to become successful performance machines… become chameleons, killing off their uniqueness to serve an image they think buys success or just will keep them safe. When we declare war on our true selves, we can end up feeling as though we have lost our souls…in shying away from the quest, we experience nonlife and… experience the wasteland.”

Writing is power. Writing is motion. Writing is story. From the moment you start scrawling words on paper, sketch, move paintbrush over canvas, or touch the computer keyboard, you are telling a story. Writing expressively such as a journal, memoir, letter or fiction is telling your story.

When we share our stories, when we write testimony, we are no longer allowing ourselves to be silenced or allowing others to speak for our experience. Writing to heal and making it public “is the most important emotional, psychological, artistic, and political project of our time,” says Louise DeSalvo, author of Writing As a Way of Healing and The Art of Slow Writing.

Happy New Year!

This article contains excerpted material from The Journal Writer: Finding Your Voice golden misty forest light(Pixl Press, 2013) by Nina Munteanu

 

References:

  • Louise DeSalvo: “Writing As a Way of Healing”, Beacon Press, Boston. 226pp; “The Art of Slow Writing”, St. Martin’s Griffin, 2014, 336pp
  • Nina Munteanu: “The Journal Writer: Finding Your Voice“, Pixl Press, 2013, 129pp
  • Carol Pearson: 1998. “The Hero Within: Six Archetypes We Live By”. Harper. San Francisco. 338pp.

 

nina-2014aaNina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books.

Walking Helps Me Think and Imagine

winter walkI’ve written many articles and over a dozen books and readers often remark on my imagination with something akin to awe and incredulity. I often get asked where I get my ideas. Let me tell you a story first…

A Toronto friend—himself a prolific letter writer—shares that his ideas come to him during his daily walks (you’ll find his witty, humorous and somewhat pithy letters in the National Post, Globe and Mail or Toronto Star … almost weekly). David Honigsberg doesn’t use his car (that’s reserved for when his son is in town) and he walks every opportunity he gets, whether it’s a short jaunt to the coffee shop several blocks from his work place or a long trek to his home in Mount Pleasant after a lunch engagement near Bloor and Yonge. He tells me that he uses his phone to capture his “eureka” moments in what may now be considered unorthodox—he doesn’t make digital notes (it’s not that kind of phone!) but instead leaves a series of voice mails on his home phone. When he gets home, David replays his messages and writes out his letter to the editor.

What Dave does is not new to creative thinkers all over the world and throughout time. He shares great company with people who used walking as a venue toward creative thinking (and writing); people like Aristotle, Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens, Ludwig van Beethoven, Friedrich Nietzsche, William Wordsworth, Henry David Thoreau, Steve Jobs, and Soren Kierkegaard—just to name a few. All great walkers.

Aristotle conducted his lectures while walking the grounds of his school in Athens. His followers, who chased him as he walked, were known as the peripatelics (e.g., Greek for meandering). Darwin refined his ideas on natural selection and other topics during his frequent walks along his “thinking path”, a gravel road called Sandwalk Wood near his home in southeast England. Dickens walked for miles each day and once said, “If I could not walk far and fast, I think I should just explode and perish.” Beethoven often took solitary walks. He strolled the Viennese woods for hours, finding inspiration for his works and jotting them down on a notepad that he carried with him. Nietzsche loved his walks in the mountains. He wrote, “it is only ideas gained from walking that have any worth.” For Wordsworth, the act of walking was one in the same with the act of writing poetry. Both involved rhythm and meter. Henry David Thoreau was known for his great walkabouts. Walking through nature for Thoreau was a pilgrimage without a destination—more discovery and rapture. “Taking a long walk was [Steve Job’s] preferred way to have a serious conversation,” wrote Job’s biographer Walter Isaacson. Writer and avid walker, Soren Kierkegaard writes:

“Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. Everyday, I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it.”

In the April 2014 issue of the Journal of Experimental Pshychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, Stanford researchers Marily Oppezzo and Daniel L. Schwartz demonstrated that walking boosts creative inspiration. Using the Guildford’s Alternative Uses Test they showed that the act of walking, whether inside or outside, significantly increased creativity for 81% of the participants. Oppezzo and Schwartz were able to demonstrate that the creative ideas generated while walking were not irrelevant or far-fetched, but innovative and practical.

In the September 3 2014 issue of The New Yorker, journalist Ferris Jabr describes why this is the case:

“The answer begins with changes to our chemistry. When we go for a walk, the heart pumps faster, circulating more blood and oxygen not just to the muscles but to all the organs—including the brain. Many experiments have shown that after or during exercise, even very mild exertion, people perform better on tests of memory and attention. Walking on a regular basis also promotes new connections between brain cells, staves off the usual withering of brain tissue that comes with age, increases the volume of the hippocampus (a brain region crucial for memory), and elevates levels of molecules that both stimulate the growth of new neurons and transmit messages between them.”

It isn’t just strolling or sauntering that stimulates the creative mind to new heights.

Stoking the creative artist inside you may be as simple as giving your mind the chance to wander—and taking the time to pay attention. In her book The Artist’s Way Julia Cameron talks about how “rhythm” and regular, repetitive actions play a role in priming the artistic well. She lightheartedly describes how the “s” activities work so well for this: showering, swimming, scrubbing, shaving, strolling, steering a car. I can testify to the latter—how many great plot ideas have I cooked up while driving to work! Filmmaker Steven Spielberg claimed that his best ideas came to him while he was driving the freeway. Negotiating through the flow of traffic triggered the artist-brain with images, translated into ideas. “Why do I get my best ideas in the shower?” Einstein was known to have remarked. Scientists tell us that this is because showering is an artist-brain activity.

The magic part in this is to pay attention. Pay attention to your life experiences; don’t ignore them. Sit up in the bus and watch people, play with the images, sounds and smells. Get sensual and let your eyes, ears, nose and limbs delight in the world. It’s amazing how interesting the world becomes once you start paying attention.

So, to answer the question above about where I get my ideas: in one word, everywhere.

Of course, I find those “s” activities mentioned above very helpful in quieting my mind to “listen” to my creative spirit and see; they calm and focus me. I would add another “s” word–scrawling–to the list. While Dave sends a voice message home on his phone when he gets an idea, I carry a notebook with me to jot down my eureka moments. I find writing by hand additionally helps in the creative process.  What works best for me is a walk in Nature. Nothing beats that…having a dialogue with the wind, or the chiming birds and rustling trees, the gurgling brook or surging sea or tiny insect, the soothing sun…rough bark of a fir tree… The texture of the world…

“The texture of the world, its filigree and scrollwork, means that there is the possibility for beauty here, a beauty inexhaustible in its complexity, which opens to my knock, which answers in me a call I do not remember calling, and which trains me to the wild and extravagant nature of the spirit I seek.”—Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

 

References:

Cameron, Julia. 1992. “The Artist’s Way”. Penguin Putnam Inc., New York, NY. 222pp.

Dillard, Annie. 1974. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Harper Perennial. 304pp.

Downden, Craig. 2014. “Steve Jobs was Right About Walking” In: The National Post, December 23, 2014.

Munteanu, Nina. 2013. The Journal Writer: Finding Your Voice. Pixl Press, Vancouver, BC. 170pp.

Oppezzo, Marily and Daniel L. Schwartz. 2014. “Give Your Ideas Some Legs: The Positive Effect of Walking on Creative Thinking”, Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, Vol. 40, No. 4: 1142-1152.

 

Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books.