Tuesday, August 7, 2012

On Being Inspired Once Again by the Late Charles Grant: Work Ethic and Reading Habits

As always, I've been thinking a lot about why I do what I do, every day.  Getting up every morning at 2:30 AM to read and write before everyone else gets up. I'm bound to think about it a lot, because I ask myself the same sleepy question every day, those first ten minutes sitting on the edge of my bed, trying to draw myself together: "Remind me again...why do I do this?"

And the answer, more and more, comes back as thus: to write, for writing's sake.  Because I love reading and writing, and (outside of being with immediate family) don't really want to do anything else.  And, I'm daily thankful I CAN pull myself together so early in the morning and write every day, because I suspect (well, no, lots of people tell me) that others might not be able to do that. So managing to write every day - even with a full time job, two children and a family to build - has become a blessing itself.

I've shed a lot of "things" by the wayside.  Baggage.  Allusions. Though I still have career aspirations, I no longer write with a career in mind. I'm finishing a novel on-spec because I NEED to finish it. Same thing with a novella. And for the last year, I've jotted down ideas for short stories, SAVING those ideas, not rushing and slamming them down in time to submit to this or that anthology published by this or that publisher, but giving them time to marinate and grow in my brain.Waiting until the time is RIGHT to...er...write.

I've scaled down greatly on Cons. Mostly, because of money, but that's made me realize something very important: while Cons are crucial in networking and it's wildly fun to hang with like-minded scribes and friends...they're not what's most important in a writing career. There are two things most important in a writing career: reading and writing, and I'm committed to doing those two things, above all the other "stuff" I used to think important in a writing "career".

Also, I'm doing my best - and getting better - at ignoring social media. While a reality that can't be ignored by today's writer, a tool that must be used, it poses one definite drawback: the constant, daily, "in your face" from other writers pimping their wares. Some of them make me jealous and depressed. Because they're moving (or appear to be) much quicker along than I am.  Some of them annoy me, because they're posting reviews comparing their work to Stephen King, pimping crappy self-published fare and their fifty-fifth free novel download from Amazon.

And, quiet frankly, some of them make me jealous and depressed AND annoy me. Because, despite my best efforts, I wonder what I'm doing wrong. Or, if I just know the wrong people, and for some reason, because I'm not on certain people's "radar" and never will be, my career will only go so far.

I have no idea what it was like in the "old days", but I suspect it was a lot simpler without social media. You kept your head down.  You read and you wrote and you submitted.  You collected your rejections and kept writing.  Even when you sold a work, you didn't run off and post about it on numerous social media outlets, blogging about your story, "breaking it down" for folks who couldn't care a less, you put your head down and wrote some more. You attended Cons and workshops, but at home you surrounded yourself with your thoughts and ideas and inspirations, cut yourself off from the world, and just WROTE.  

(And of course, I waffle on this.  One day, I hate Facebook and everything it stands for in authors pimping themselves, and the next, I pimp my most recent story)

But I've been thinking more and more of several things written about one of my favorite writers, the late Charlie Grant, in his best-of collection, Scream Quietly. The first by Stephen King, in his introduction:

Charles Grant works at it.  Not all these stories (in said collection) came easy; he probably had physical headaches over plenty.  His stomach was probably upset as he wrote some of them, he probably smoked too much over some of them, lay awake over some of them.  He probably wrote some of them thinking in the back of his mind it would be a hell of a nice day to go to the beach and wrote others thinking it would be a hell of a nice day to find some long field bordered by blazing autumn trees and ramble it to its far end.  If he's like most writers, I imagined his back ached and his kidneys felt crunched during more than one stint at the typewriter, and I imagine that more than once his brain itself felt crunched, dismal, and as devoid of inspiration as a sleety afternoon late December.

I keep coming back to this little bit.  Work ethic. How important it is. How maybe, in the end, it's the only important thing.  There's so much we can't control in LIFE, period, much less in pursuing a writing career. The one thing I can control is my work ethic. I don't know if I'll ever earn the tag "writing professional." But I can certainly write with a professional attitude. 

Also,  I've broadened my scope of inspiration even wider. In Scream Quietly, an essay by Nancy Holder says this about Charlie Grant: 
He kept a notebook by his elbow while he watched TV and his plethora of horror movies, looking for new words...
And in an interview in the same collection, when asked about "How he writes", Charlie said:
I keep a log...its titles, last lines from songs, something there I could use. And I have images...images is what starts me with books.
In the same interview, when asked for his advice to young writers, he said this:
Read...read anything and everything. Read the old stuff, too. Get a little foundation for what's gone before so you don't repeat. I see that a lot in the new writers. That's all they read - the genre they write in. They have no idea what makes a good novel, because most novels are awful. Read good mysteries, good thrillers. Read Dickens. Read Mark Twain. Read. Just read. That's the only real honest way to learn how to write is to read what the best writers have done. 
So another thing I've tried to do, more and more, is stuff myself full of works for inspiration (if you've been following my Goodreads updates, you've seen this). And it's been a dizzying summer, intellectually speaking, so far.  Reading and reviewing current horror. Reading classic gothic horror, suspense/thrillers. Reading hundreds of short stories, both horror and literary. My "Bradbury a Day" short story challenge, which is still going strong.  A poem by William Blake before bed every night, a Robert Frost poem when I get up, every morning.

And I've got more stuff I want to consume. More poets. More literary writers like Faulkner and O'Connor. More classic horror, pulp horror, newer horror.  Like Charlie said: I want to read anything and everything.

I still have no idea where this is all going. But I think I'm starting to really enjoy it, more than I ever have. Because I enjoy it for what it IS, not for its status. And that can't be a bad thing.