The Comfortable Silence



I’m back!!

After 169 weeks working on a major project (a new ERP implementation for our company), culminating with me being away from home 19 of the last 20 weeks, 14-15 hour days – including weekends – the grueling schedule has finally come to an end.  Thankfully things are slowly returning to a new-normal for me, and that includes my alter-ego. 

The writer part of me has been muted for the past six months, and it was absolute torture. Imagine being tied up and shoved into a sense-deprivation chamber for that long, except the opposite. The part of my brain responsible for fueling my creative juices and attempted to project those ideas outward through my writing – still as active as ever – had to be ignored. There was simply no time for it. Eight years ago, before I re-discovered my love of telling a tale, that wouldn’t have been a problem for me. But once you’ve swam in the pool of imaginative expression, there’s no going back. I sacrificed lots of things over the course of this project, missing my son’s soccer games and tennis matches, his birthday, getting his driver’s license, my wife’s birthday, not attending the DFW Writers Conference, WRiTE CLUB, and many many more, but having to turn my back on the characters and stories that pleaded for me to come out and play – that was probably the hardest.

I’ve had a lot of people comment about the toll it must have taken, being alone in a hotel room all that time.  Frankly, apart from missing my family terribly, the last year or so (when the travel was the heaviest) I rediscovered my affinity for comfortable silence.  Introverts don’t mind being alone…in fact they prefer it…so it should be no surprise that the stillness of an empty hotel room wasn’t a problem for me. What does surprise me is how many people find silence so uncomfortable, and go out of their way to drive it away. The worst is when they resort to banal conversation to eliminate our serenity. Maybe they’re afraid of what they discover if left alone with their own thoughts? Who knows, but for me, this turned out to be a surprising benefit of this project. I can’t remember a time in my life when things were that quiet. I’ve never lived alone (college roommates, shared living spaces, etc.) and once I got married…well…family life is the exact opposite of a quiet living.

You know another kind of silence I’ve adapted to? The non-existent rejection letter. One of the writerly duties I managed to continue during my self-imposed exile was sending out query letters for my already finished manuscripts. It seems that between the last time I queried (back when I landed my first agent) and now, more and more agents have adopted a don’t ask don’t tell philosophy. Meaning – they don’t bother to send rejection letters any more, they simply let the silence speak for itself.  While I don’t agree with the practice (to me, that’s just pure laziness), I have come to grips with what it says about my writing.

I don’t have what it takes to crack the crystal barrier.

That doesn’t mean I’m throwing in the towel. No sir! I might not have the skill to craft a query letter that will sway an agent my way. Or maybe my books aren’t mainstream enough to take a gamble on. Whatever the reason, I’m relying on feedback from countless CP’s and beta readers…and my own gut…all of which tell me that there IS an audience for what I’ve crafted. So…so long traditional path…and hello self-publishing.

Am I disappointed? Sure. You bang on a door long enough you begin to see your-self as part of the door…instead of just someone requesting entry. Many of the people I’ve become good friends with via the blogosphere have gone on to have their books published and realize their dreams, so it’s easy to feel left behind. But that’s something else silence provides…perspective. The circumstances of my life don’t fit the role of your typical writer, so my expectations need to change. And I’m okay with that.

More to the point…I’m comfortable with it.

Uncle

Growing up as kids I was known as the "stubborn one". That's the label you earn when you don't go along with the crowd or refuse to follow the path of least resistance. To illustrate just how uncompromising I could be, I once had an argument with my mother (which is constantly brought back up at family gatherings) over an exchange of money. She owed me $10 for my allowance...and I owed her $5 dollars for something she had purchased for me. She tried to just give me the net difference...$5...but I insisted that she give me the whole $10 and I would in turn pay her the money I owed her. Of course I knew that if I took the $5 I would end up with what I was owed, but it was the principle that mattered to me.  We argued for over an hour, until she finally relented.

On the playground I was the kid who wouldn't cry "uncle" with my arm twisted behind my back during ritualistic torture games us kids would somehow think amusing. Over time we stopped playing -- not because we grew bored -- but because everyone already knew who would win.

I told you...stubborn.

Today, I'm crying uncle.

NO -- I am not giving up my pursuit of publication. That is not what this is. What I am doing is recognizing that my current situation with my "real job" has made it impossible for me to temporarily keep doing certain things. Things like blogging, social media, participation in my critique group, and the hardest of all -- WRiTE CLUB.

The company I work for is installing a new ERP/EDI system this spring (one that I have been slaving over and continuously traveling for going on three + years), smack dab in the middle of when WRiTE CLUB would be going on. Through the end of May I'm anticipating long nights and single-day weekends, and I just won't have the bandwidth to give my beloved contest. So much of my writing-related activities, which includes WRiTE CLUB, will be on hiatus. I won't even be able to attend the DFW Conference this year. The only thing I will continue to do is send out query letters for my latest book. As slow as this industry moves, even if I land an agent it'll be after May before anything gets traction anyway.

This is not an easy decision for me - because I absolutely hate relinquishing the momentum my writing...and contest...has built, but it is the right decision.

Unless something dramatic happens in the interim, you won't here from me again until this summer.

Keep the fires burning for me!

Nuance



There are writers whose style is all about being in-your-face, bluntness, shock-and-awe, heavy on the action and sparse in the food-for-thought category. I’ve read them, I like them, I admire what they can do.

Then there are other writers who are more about subtle influences. Deft touch. Shifting pieces around on a chess board without explaining the motivation behind each move. A bit more cerebral if you may. I’ve read them, I like them, I admire what they can do.

I consider myself, as a writer, more in the second category. I love nuance. Setting a course by suggestion rather than pointing. For me, what isn’t said is almost as telling as what is.

But writing isn’t a black or white endeavor. Left or right. We can be ambidextrous. We can stomp on the accelerator to create as much chaos as possible, and still utilize understated symbolism to drive home a key plot point. Meaning is defined by much more than scale, and a light hand can sometimes resonate with a reader more readily than a banshee with a bullhorn.

At some point along the way we’ve all heard the phrase “trust your reader”. In a way it goes against common convention. Your readers are not equally intelligent, or insightful, or interpretive, so how can you shape your prose to universally reach as many as possible and therefore create that trust? The simple answer is you can’t.

All you can do is go broad and hope your nuance doesn’t get lost in the translation. 

That's my two-cents for the week. For those of you who celebrate it... 

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Deja Vu Blogfest Entry - Cognitive Estrangement

Welcome to those of you who are dropping by because of the Deja Vu Blogfest! This weekend I'm reposting a blog I ran in September that didn't receive many comments - which surprised me because I find it a fascinating subject. Let's see how it does this second time around.

It was entitled Cognitive Estrangement.



This mouthful is used to explain what happens when someone experiences a scene or idea that is different from his/her own reality, but similar enough that they can see it being plausible.

In other words…the suspension of disbelief.  

Now that is a phrase everyone recognizes. It explains a person’s willingness to interrupt his/her critical faculties and believe the unbelievable; sacrifice of realism and logic for the sake of pure enjoyment. The term was coined in 1817 by the poet and aesthetic philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who suggested that if a writer could infuse a "human interest and a semblance of truth" into a fantastic tale, the reader would suspend judgement concerning the implausibility of the narrative. The concept often applies to fictional works of the action, comedy, fantasy, sci-fi and horror genres. But in reality any genre could have issues with this because a characters motivations and actions often come under fire as being unrealistic, especially when his/her/it arc resembles the Gateway Arch in St. Louis.

What’s so interesting about this topic is the literature implies the burden is on the reader, rather than the writer, to achieve it.

Really?

I guess subjectivity does include how willing (or unwilling) we are to accept something we might normally reject. That a love for a character or characters could override the concern for a faulty plot-line. There have been a couple of very popular YA series published over the past decade that I have read the first novel to, but chosen not to continue on with the rest of the series. Why? Not because they were terrible reads, they weren’t. No, I was unable to suspend my disbelief regarding the basic premise of the story. (No – I’m not talking about Harry Potter)

But still, the author bears some responsibility, right?  We shouldn’t take the castle on a chessboard and move it diagonally, because that’s against the rules and therefore unbelievable. Or is it? We all flirt with that line in some way or another, which is funny because everybody has a different idea of where that line should be.

What are your thoughts? How much does your work depend upon cognitive estrangement? What books have you read that went to far in that regard?
 
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