Play Through the Suck: Writing Edition
Last week I participated in another one of Martie McNabb’s wonderful Show & Tales events. I highly recommend them, whether you decide to participate or just observe. It’s storytelling for everyone.
One of the participants told a story about seeing a guitarist perform. He was surprised to find out that, at 65, the man had only been playing for five years. How did he get so good in only five years, when playing well had been a lifelong struggle for the man telling the story? The guitarist explained that when you start you’re bad, but the more you practice, the better you get. And he described it with this advice:Play through the suck.
Two Steps Forward, One Step Back (not a typo)
My last book - Fag Hags, Divas and Moms: The Legacy of Straight Women in the AIDS Community - took a lot longer to write than I expected. It wasn’t because I had writer’s block, or that my research was hard to compile. I had two major setbacks that I could not have predicted.
I started on the book in earnest in the fall of 2015. The first year of working on it was a whirlwind: interviewing women, doing deep dives into little-known corners of the HIV/AIDS community, revisiting those dark early days of the epidemic. I had so much help, from two small crowdfunding campaigns and incredible leads from friends and strangers alike. People were excited about the book and I hadn’t written a word.
What's the Best That Could Happen?
I was in New York City in February, on a bus headed down Broadway towards Columbus Circle. Up ahead, I could see a digital billboard on 59th Street; okay, a lot of them. But the words on one caught my eye:
What’s The Best That Could Happen?
I did a double-take, assuming I’d misread it. It must have read ‘Worst’ not ‘Best’.
I was wrong.
When we debate making an important decision, we often ask ourselves to imagine the worst-case scenario. But it got me wondering: do we ever ask ourselves to imagine the best-case scenario?
Before You Write Your Story, Make Sure You're Not Alone
Since at least 2013, when my first books were published, people have asked me how to go about writing their own book. They’ve asked about publishing, they’ve asked about writing groups, they’ve asked about how to get the courage to write. Many of them want to write a memoir based on their experiences in the early days of the AIDS epidemic.
For a long time, I would offer unabashed encouragement and suggestions for how to proceed. I let them know I would answer any questions they had along the way. Some of them took me up on that offer; not all of them followed my advice. That’s okay. The important thing was that they were telling their stories.
When the COVID pandemic began, I joined online writing groups of long-term survivors in the HIV/AIDS community. Some were already published authors; many had never been published. A few of them were considering going that route, but others were mainly interested in recording their feelings and experiences during what quickly became their second pandemic.
My Second Pandemic - Part 2
I was grateful that the response to that post was immediate and positive. I heard from other members of the HIV/AIDS community who were in a similar place. Our conversations, mostly on Facebook, were emotional and oddly uplifting: we’d discovered a new connection. I figured I said my piece and I was done.
In the past couple of weeks, articles have popped up on various websites. Most have been written by long-term survivors in the HIV/AIDS...
Still Connected, Even if Not Physically
Last week I was in New York, for what would turn out to be a five-day visit instead of a three-week trip to four cities. I’d been there less than 48 hours when the emails started popping up: cancellations and rescheduling. The one event that wasn’t cancelled was drastically downsized. My hotel was emptying quickly, crowds were disappearing. Everyone was scared. What would have been a busy and lucrative month was now a financial disaster. Fear of the unknown - and so much is unknown about COVID-19 - overwhelmed every other consideration.
Still, I remained oddly calm. All...
Why New Year's Resolutions Are Made to be Broken
I have never been a big fan of New Year’s resolutions. They’ve always felt to me like a setup for failure. But something popped into my head this morning that has changed my mind.
I thought about what others have said to me when I was trying to do something that seemed impossible. Their words of encouragement - “You can do it!” - sometimes rang hollow. But their encouragement wasn’t time-limited. They didn’t stop encouraging me if my first attempt fell short.
Whether it was trying to improve my grades, or applying for a grant, that ‘failure’ wasn’t permanent. Maybe my grades fell short that semester. There’s another semester starting soon. Maybe I didn’t get that grant. But...
What Kind of Author Are You?
We’re all familiar with authors who post strident, desperate “BUY MY BOOK!” notices on their social media pages. They lament infinitesimal drops in Amazon rankings and newsletter subscribers, and the unfairness of publishing in general. Their focus is always, relentlessly, on their sales.
But many people don’t know how to present themselves on social media without the constant use of a bullhorn. And if you’re a writer for the long-haul, you need to carve out a unique place for yourself. Getting noticed isn’t easy, unless you’re one of those annoying people. So how about making...
The Post-Book Launch Glow
This book - Fag Hags, Divas and Moms: The Legacy of Straight Women in the AIDS Community - is very different than the Friend Grief series I wrote. It’s longer and more complicated, being published almost five years to the day after I first got the idea for it. My production team - editor, cover designer, interior designer - was different. I hired a publicist, for the first time ever. Like I said, very different.
But the biggest difference is that so many people were invested in this...
The Soundtrack of My Writing
Well, not total silence. When I work at home, I’m usually sitting at the dining room table, which at the moment is covered with research, drafts and notes. Our house is on an alley, across from an auto body shop. As you can imagine, total silence is rare. I hear cars going too fast until they hit the speed bump, garbage trucks emptying bins, the ‘beep’ of trucks backing up. But when you live in a city, you...
Today I'm 8
Thanks to that sometimes annoying, sometimes entertaining feature, I was reminded that my first blog post was eight years ago today.
I’d just returned from my first writing conference in New York. I’d spent a little over a year starting the research for what would become the Friend Grief series. I was in a writing group that was helping me observe and listen and be a better writer. But I’d never been to a writing conference before.
My only social media experience was a couple years on Facebook, and that was pretty much 100% social. Pre-conference, we’d been asked to life-tweet during our sessions. Tweet? You mean on Twitter? Yikes. On the way there, I signed up for...
Writer's Block...or is it?
I didn’t write a blog post last week.
Writer’s block is something that most - if not all - writers experience at some time. Even non-writers recall the panic of sitting down to write a term paper and having no idea where to begin.
A writer friend of mine described her situation as scraping the bottom of the barrel. I’ve read her scrapings. We should all be so lucky to write scrapings like hers.
What if it’s not writer’s block? What if it’s something else?
It may be news to some, but writers are human beings. Their lives are filled with the usual things: relationships, bills, traffic, grocery shopping, doctor appointments. Sometimes those things run smoothly. Sometimes they...
The Joys of Binge-Reading
Several years ago I found myself in Brooklyn, at Armistead Maupin’s signing for the final book in the Tales of the City series, The Days of Anna Madrigal. I had fond memories of the mini-series on PBS, of the colorful characters who lived in Barbary Lane in pre-AIDS San Francisco, and had read most of the books. I was there to experience Maupin in person, and the unexpected thrill of seeing Laura Linney, who played Mary Ann Singleton, in the audience was a bonus. But I put the book aside. I knew I’d have to refresh my memory before digging into it. Sometime later I decided that my reward for writing my...
Focus, Distractions, and Pie
I have a friend who’s writing a memoir right now. Actually, I have several friends who are writing memoirs, but this one is doing something a bit extreme. Always involved on social media, he’s taking a four month break to finish the first draft of his memoir. No gradual withdrawal, no plans for regular check-ins with friends and followers. No social media until May 1st. None.
Well, I admire him for his commitment. He’s been working on the memoir most of...
What Do Writers Dream?
Let us make our future now, and let us make our dreams tomorrow’s reality. - Malala Yousafzai
A post popped up on Facebook a couple weeks ago that got my attention. It was an event involving the writer-in-residence at the Savoy Hotel in London.
I’ve had an unnatural obsession with the Savoy since at least high school; maybe earlier. I have no idea how it started, but I think it was sparked by this 1923 photo of Fred and Adele Astaire dancing on the Savoy’s roof. It’s a photo I still love: dancing on the roof, on a foggy day in London town. Maybe it’s the joy on their faces.
On my first trip to London in 1988 I spent as much...
Speak Your Mind, Even if Your Voice Shakes
That advice typically comes from traditional publishing: agents and publishers who are afraid of anything that might adversely affect sales and their personal bottom lines. It’s not necessarily bad advice.
If you know for a fact that your audience skews in a certain political direction and you are the polar opposite, you very well may lose readers by sharing your views. There’s always the chance that you will gain readers, but that’s not how the argument is framed....
The Right Writing Conference for Me
First, obviously, it was for indie authors. At other writing conferences, anyone who self-publishes is usually looked down on or ignored. The assumption is that you’re only doing ‘that’ (self-publishing) because you’re not good enough for a traditional deal or you’re hoping to attract a ‘real’ publisher. There’s a hierarchy, both implied and spoken.
So the atmosphere was very different at IndieLab. It was a much smaller conference than the mammoth WDC weekend. The size was a terrific advantage: no long...
My Hopes for My Book
That I know it’s the best book I could write.
Why Writers Can't Hit 'Send'
It took me a solid month, 100+ hours to work through it. Editing takes more time, at least for me. I couldn’t work more than 4 hours a day on it without my brain turning to mush. That’s okay. No complaints.
Writing in the Summer - Part 2
A few weeks ago I wrote about the beginning of my six-week trip to NYC. I had finally sent my manuscript to the editor and was surprised when he sent back the first chapter 48 hours later. Because Writer’s Digest Conference was starting in a few days, I was determined to power through that chapter before it started. I did, though not easily.
This was the 8th time I’ve attended the Writer’s Digest Conference here (9th if you count the one I went to in Los Angeles). The first year I knew less than nothing, but I fell in with a terrific group of writers who have remained trusted friends....