(Free) Summer Reading

By Midge Raymond,

Yesterday, in conjunction with New York City’s Shakespeare in the Park, Google launched its Shakespeare site, where you can view Shakespeare’s complete works online. Reading Shakespeare while sitting in front of a computer on a summer’s day may not be everyone’s idea of “beach reading” — but it’s good to see these works so accessible. While I think it’s probably more fun to browse through a hard copy of a book, one big plus about this site is that if you’re looking for a famous quote or passage in a certain play, a search will bring it to you within seconds.

Another site, www.gutenberg.org, also offers free books — again, these books are free because their copyrights have expired in the United States. (The site does post some books, with permission, that are still under copyright and gives instructions for their legal use.) But you can download the works of such authors as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Mark Twain, James Fenimore Cooper, and Virgil. The only problem with this is that you’ll have to print them out to take them to the beach, or wait until after beach season to buy a Sony Reader that you can carry around with you.

Curling up with Virgil’s Aeneid on a Sony Reader may not appeal to everyone. For those who prefer something a little lighter, or prefer their pages in the paper version, we’ve still got bookstores and libraries. But it is fun to see books appearing in newer formats — and especially to see books in the public domain becoming ever more accessible. Of course, publishers will still be able to sell their own copies of the classics (for most of us there’s still no replacement for a physical book) and performances of Shakespeare will always be an experience that goes beyond the page. Yet it’s good to see options out there — the Sony Reader, for example, offers a larger type size than most books (especially reprints of the classics) — and there’s no downside to (legally) making it easier for people to search for and find the books they want.

What’s Your Platform?

By Midge Raymond,

There’s an interesting piece by Sheelah Kolhatkar in today’s New York Observer about “platforms” (“If You Build It, They Will Come — Hot in Publishing: Platforms!”). The article is all about how it’s not just the writing anymore that endears authors to publishers — it’s the author’s “platform,” i.e., the place from which the author can sell a great many copies of his or her book.

What, exactly, is a platform? The article offers an example most of us can understand: Oprah. She is not only a platform for herself and for anything she wishes to promote, but she provides a platform for any writer fortunate enough to get her attention.

But what about those writers who don’t get Oprah’s attention — and especially those “old school” writers who are more interested in their writing than in their own publicity? As the article makes (painfully) clear, this is no longer a luxury writers have. In today’s competitive market, publishers are looking for even more.

The article offers a couple of ideas — blogs, MySpace — as ways for authors to develop their platforms. It also notes that having a well-written book is a platform in and of itself. But even the best books out there don’t sell magically by themselves, and while I don’t think authors need to worry about platforms until their books are finished and are the best they can be, it can’t hurt to give a little thought to marketing, whether at the agent, publisher, or publicity stage of the process.

Word of mouth remains among the best ways to sell anything — so much so that a company called BzzAgent uses this as its business model: it hires “bzz agents” to spread the word about new products from chicken sausage to jeans (and, of course, books). The good news is that you don’t need to hire anyone to do this for you; we all know enough people to start enlisting our own groups of “agents” — and the “buzz” our friends and family create is bound to be more authentic. So think of who you know, where they live, what resources they have, and how they might be able to help.

Of course, you can’t depend solely on your connections; you’ll also need to put yourself out there. Even if your publisher doesn’t offer you a ten-city book tour, create your own. These days, most writers do just that: pack up the car, map out cheap hotels, and offer readings and signings wherever they can. And many of them have had wonderful success because they go beyond bookstores to libraries, schools, businesses, and any other place they might find an audience. You never know where your readers may be.

A great many writers today have their own web sites (you might want to register your name, and/or the title of your book, sooner than later), and this too can be a good platform. And whether you’ve written a novel or a memoir, a cookbook or a computer book, there are people and organizations out there that will be thrilled to hear from you. You just need to find them.

This may sound like a lot of work, but, as the Observer article also points out, poor sales of one book can harm your chances of ever publishing another one. So isn’t it worthwhile to go the extra mile from the very beginning? Then you’ll no longer have to worry about finding a platform — you’ll already have one.

Story v. Style

By Midge Raymond,

Last week, I gave a presentation to the San Diego Writers/Editors Guild on how to be your own editor. I offered tips on how to think like an editor when revising, polishing, and submitting your work, and in doing so, I had to point out some of the bleaker realities of publishing: that journal editors often read only the first page or two of a submission, that you often only have one chance to make an impression on an editor or agent — and of course, I emphasized the importance of editing, language, and making your work the best it can be.

Thursday’s New York Times challenged all that with a few comments about the quality of the writing in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. (Disclosure: I have not yet read The Da Vinci Code. I’m actually waiting to borrow it from a slow-reading family member. You know who you are.) But another reason I’ve not yet picked it up is the informal reviews from friends and colleagues, whose collective opinion is that the story is so good and the writing so poor that while most have enjoyed the book very much, others have not even finished it.

In the Times‘s review of the film, A.O. Scott referred to the novel as a “best-selling primer on how not to write an English sentence.” Scott also quoted a sentence from the book — “Almost inconceivably, the gun into which she was now staring was clutched in the pale hand of an enormous albino with long white hair” — and this example was not presented as a compliment.

I would agree that the above is an unfortunate sentence. But to the millions of Da Vinci Code readers and moviegoers, does it matter? As a writer (who is also married to a writer, hangs out with lots of writers, and teaches writing), I find that language and style is as important as a good story — but that’s just me, and perhaps writers in general. When most readers talk about books, it’s usually about the stories they tell, not the style in which they’re written.

As writers, we want to tell a great story and tell it beautifully. But what do readers want? (And, most important to writers, what do editors want?) During my presentation at the Guild, I made a point of saying that if a great story has a few typos in the manuscript, a missing word or two, or even a few really bad sentences, editors will overlook these things. And that’s true. But perhaps editors are overlooking even more than that when they see a bestseller in the making.

In an ideal world, a good book is good all around, and as writers we should hold ourselves to these strict standards — even if we can’t fully achieve them, we should strive for them. But despite the myriad views of Brown’s prose, as well as the controversy over the book’s subject matter, he has certainly achieved what most writers dream of: Millions of people are reading and talking about his work.

The Mystery of Plagiarism

By Midge Raymond,

It is probably impossible that you haven’t read about the alleged plagiarism by teenage author Kaavya Viswanathan (How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life), who has been accused of copying sizeable portions of two novels by Megan McCafferty (Sloppy Firsts, Second Helpings).

The topic of plagiarism actually came up recently in our memoir class — how easy it is to unintentionally echo the style of a writer you read and admire, simply because his or her language has stuck with you. But that is clearly not the case here. To compare just one or two of the passages in question is to realize that Viswanathan copied extensively from McCafferty’s books. If you’d like to see for yourself, The Boston Globe and the Harvard Crimson have laid out some of these passages side by side, and Publishers Marketplace has listed the 45 similar passages that Crown, McCafferty’s publisher, has found so far.

There are a couple of rather innocuous similiarities such as “Nike-clad” (let’s face it; no author can claim exclusive rights to that) — yet even these don’t seem entirely innocent when you look at the other, very obvious similarities. Here’s one example, from the list posted on Publishers Marketplace:

From McCafferty’s Sloppy Firsts, page 183:

“Omigod! Let’s make sure junior year rocks,” she says. “Let’s make more time for each other. Friends are forever!”

I don’t want anything to do with Bridget, Manda, Sara, and the S.O.S. So I say even less at lunch than usual, totally aware of how alone I am.

From Viswanathan’s book, page 183:

“Omigod!” Stacie had finished reapplying her face. “We have to make more time for each other. Friends are forever!”

I said even less than usual, aware of how totally alone I am.

Most of the passages listed are as alike as this one, and evidently the plots and characters of Viswanathan’s book are also too similar for comfort. The New York Times reported yesterday that Viswanathan has apologized while maintaining that any similarities were “unintentional and unconscious,” a stance that is disputed by Crown, whose publisher said in a statement that it is “inconceivable that this was a display of youthful innocence or an unconscious or unintentional act.” The Times reported today that Viswanathan claims the similarities are due to her photographic memory.

But if you study these passages, it’s hard to believe any of these nearly identical passages ended up in her book by mistake. This brings me to the central question about plagiarism: Why?

I would guess that for most writers, the joys and challenges in writing come from discovering new ways of expressing what we want to say. I can’t imagine an author stealing another’s work on purpose because it defies the whole point of writing: letting your own voice evolve, saying something that has never been said before in quite the same way.

But during my years of teaching in a university writing program, I did learn a lot more about plagiarism, particularly the myriad reasons behind it. We devoted countless faculty meetings to discussions of plagiarism: how to avoid it, how to hold students accountable for it, what to do when you knew something was plagiarized but couldn’t prove it. In my six years of teaching there, I came across probably dozens of plagiarized papers — evident from a student’s voice suddenly becoming unrecognizable, from a student’s writing C papers all semester and suddenly turning in a nearly perfect assignment, from a student’s lack of knowledge about his or her own paper when questioned. But how many cases could I actually prove? Just one. This was the difficulty: we could probe and question as much as we liked, but unless we had solid proof to take to the academic affairs committee, or unless the student confessed, there was nothing we could do.

It was troubling, of course, to see students plagiarize — and worse, to see them learn how easily they could get away with it — but even more troubling to me were their reasons for doing so. In some cases, it was laziness; in others, anger — but most often I sensed that it was desperation: students stole the work of others because they were afraid they couldn’t deliver on their own. This, I think, is the most regrettable cause of cheating: the pressure to earn good grades, to please one’s parents, to stay on the lacrosse team, to keep a scholarship.

Imagine being a high-school student whose parents have hired a private counselor (to the tune of $10,000 to $20,000) to help you get into an Ivy League school. Imagine this counselor seeing great promise in your writing and putting you in touch with an agent, who then puts you in touch with a book packager. Imagine being offered half a million dollars to write two novels, before your freshman year in college is over. This is, according to articles in the New York Times, what happened to Viswanathan. Some would think of this young woman as extremely lucky (she is certainly extremely talented), yet I can’t help but think about the tremendous pressure she must’ve been under. Imagine trying to finish your first novel while carrying a full course load during your freshman year at Harvard. In theory, it sounds like a dream come true; in reality, it may have been anything but.

There is no excuse for plagiarism, of course. But perhaps we need to make it easier and more acceptable for young people to fail. Then, at least, they can handle failure on their own terms and honestly, without the more serious ramifications of plagiarism haunting them for years to come.

It’s All About the Research

By Midge Raymond,

Allegra Goodman has been garnering high praise from scientists for her new novel, Intuition, a tale about morality and ethics in a science lab that, the experts say, has been so meticulously researched that scientists are shocked to find it was written by a Ph.D. in English rather than one of their own.

“[I]t completely nails this world,” Dr. Jerome Groopman, an oncologist and professor of medicine at Harvard, told the New York Times in yesterday’s article about Goodman, whom the Times describes as “a 38-year-old car-pooling mother of three grade school boys and a 3-year-old girl.” How did she do it?

For starters, the Times notes, her husband, sister, mother, and a few friends are all scientists. But she didn’t simply rely on the overflow from their work to feed her own — she sought out other scientists who let her step into their world, and, once there, she spent a good deal of time, took copious notes, and let it all sink in.

Research like this is what closes the gap between a great idea and a great finished novel.

This certainly doesn’t invalidate the phrase “write what you know” for fiction writers — certainly we all have our own areas of expertise in life. But, perhaps because we live it, we may not always want to write about it. One of the joys of being a fiction writer, I think, is stepping out of one’s own world — taking an idea, as Goodman did, and finding a wonderful metaphor for exploring it. And this means, of course, that you will need to do research.

As both a fiction and nonfiction writer, I love research, especially the hands-on kind, and I’ve been fortunate to have had many opportunities to walk into others’ worlds. I’ve gone behind the scenes at science labs and hospitals; I’ve spent time in a medium-security men’s prison. I’ve interviewed an endless variety of people, from psychic mediums to leaders of the 1989 student uprisings in Tiananmen Square. In order to write knowingly about a character whose world is entirely different from your own, you must spend time with people in their natural habitats, becoming intimately aware of what they do and what’s at stake.

You may be wondering, “How do I get access to these people and places?” But before you despair, realize that you have more at your fingertips than you know. Think about your family and friends, your writers’ group, your colleagues, your neighbors: among their talents and professions, you will most likely find that one of them has the information you need, or knows someone who does. Whether you want firsthand information on how to prepare a witness for trial or want to know what it’s like to work the night shift in a psychiatric hospital, if you ask around, chances are you’ll find someone who can point you in the right direction. And even if you can’t find a connection that breaks the ice, don’t hesitate to reach out to total strangers: pick up the phone or send out an e-mail. Explain your project and see what happens. You will never know unless you ask.

And if you think people might be reluctant to have you hanging around, you will be pleasantly surprised by how welcoming people can be. I’ve found that most people love to have a little company, love to talk about what they do, and love the idea that someone finds it interesting enough to write about. Again, you can’t know until you ask. At worst, you’ll get no for an answer (and then you just ask someone else) — but at best, you could have the foundation for your next book or story.

Keep on Keeping On

By Midge Raymond,

Monday’s New York Times story on the Dan Brown trial, “‘Da Vinci Code’ Author Testifies in London,” covered the author’s testimony, which happened to focus mainly on his background and his writing process. The bestselling author also revealed his earlier struggles as a newly published writer. Brown said “he felt that Simon & Schuster, which published his earlier books, did a terrible job of promoting them.” He also wrote in a statement that his wife had to handle the marketing, that they had to pay for his book tour out of their own pockets, and that they literally sold his books out of their car — all of which, he contends, was enough to make him consider giving up writing.

I’m sure he is very glad he didn’t.

This reminded me of all the stories I’ve read and heard about the myriad struggles of now-successful writers — which I am so glad they share with us. If we didn’t know better, we might think that it’s easy to write a bestseller or a work of literary genius. But fortunately, we do know better. We know, for example, thanks to his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, that Stephen King was living in a trailer and working in a laundry when he tossed his novel-in-progress, Carrie, into the garbage. His wife discovered it there, encouraged him to keep working on it, and he later sold it for a modest advance, with the paperback rights selling for $400,000.

Rumor also has it that an editor once told Vladimir Nabokov that the manuscript for Lolita should be “buried under a large stone,” and that F. Scott Fitzgerald was told, “You’d have a decent book if you’d get rid of that Gatsby character.”

These writers were wise to stick with their ideas and to stand by their works, and they have proven that while it’s not easy for anyone, success is only possible if you keep trying. So when you get that next short-story rejection slip, remember that Jack London was rejected more than 600 times before he published his first story. When your agent sends you another stack of publishers’ rejects, remember that Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind was rejected by 20 publishers before finding a home, and that Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 was rejected 21 times. And don’t forget that John Grisham was turned down by more than 30 publishers before selling The Firm — and that J.K. Rowling, once unemployed and on welfare, is now a bestselling author and a billionnaire.

All of these writers have one thing in common: not giving up. Remember that next time you think of giving up your story or poem or novel or memoir — and keep going instead.

Happiness in Writing

By Midge Raymond,

The Fall 2005 issue of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review focuses on happiness (I’m not actually a Buddhist, but I do enjoy the review; and yes, I am still reading magazines from 2005). The issue offers many articles and ruminations on the nature of happiness, but what caught my attention was a piece by Thanissaro Bhikkhu in which he wrote of “skillful” and “unskillful” desires. He writes that we all desire happiness and that “whatever the desire, if the solution actually leads to happiness, the desire is skillful. If it doesn’t, it is not. However, what seems to be a skillful desire may lead only to a false or transitory happiness not worth the effort entailed.”

Naturally, I found myself thinking of the desires of writers — not only as a writer myself but also as a teacher of writing. As a university professor, I found that many, if not most, of my students desired a good grade more than they desired becoming a good writer. And among my adult students and fellow writers, I find that we are often attracted to being published almost more than we are drawn to writing stories that we are genuinely proud of.

Anne Lamott writes in her book Bird by Bird that her students “believe that if they themselves were to get something published, their lives would change instantly, dramatically, and for the better. Their self-esteem would flourish; all self-doubt would be erased like a typo…But this is not exactly what happens.” Having read Bird by Bird before publishing my first short story, I didn’t believe her, just as none of my students believe me when I tell them the same thing. But if and when we do become published authors, we realize that Lamott is right. Nothing really changes after you publish your work. (And, as she points out, it’s actually very discouraging when you tell people you’re a published writer, and they’ve still never heard of you.) It’s wonderful to know that your work is being read and enjoyed, of course — but in the end, if you continue to write, it’s still only you and the blank page, and it always will be.

So I encourage students to focus on the work itself, on what they have to say. I advise them not to worry about publication until their writing is the best it can be, and remind them that rushing a piece to agents or editors before it’s ready is a lesson in futility. They will most likely not believe me — and that’s okay. Part of the process of becoming a writer is discovering, through the predictable highs and inevitable lows of publication, that the joy is in the work itself.

I ended up envisioning my own writerly definitition of “skillful desire,” which is to desire what is within our reach as writers. This, of course, means the work, not who publishes it (or when or where or for how much). While the term “happy writer” may be an oxymoron, I think we’d all be happier if we focused more on our growth as writers rather than our publication credits.

Long Live the Short Story

By Midge Raymond,

As tonight’s 78th Annual Academy Awards ceremony celebrates “Brokeback Mountain” for its many accomplishments — most of which have an Oscar nomination attached — I’ll be continuing to celebrate the fact that this beautiful film originated as a beautiful short story. While turning novels into films is nothing new, there’s been a wonderful new trend over the past several years in which short stories are making their way to the big screen — with great success.

In her 1999 interview with The Missouri Review, Annie Proulx called Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana’s adaptation of her 1997 story “Brokeback Mountain” an “exceptionally fine screenplay.” Those familiar with Proulx’s story will note the script’s faithfulness to Proulx’s original; whereas adapting a novel to film requires a certain degree of reductionism, adapting a short story, on the other hand, usually requires fleshing out, if anything — and remaining faithful to the original work is far easier for screenwriters to achieve. (This is good news for both writers and readers.)

In addition to Oscar nominations for actors Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal and for director Ang Lee, “Brokeback Mountain” was, of course, nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay (not to mention Best Music (Score), Best Cinematography, and Best Picture). But this isn’t the first time in recent years that short stories have been successfully adapted. Previously nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay was Rob Festinger and Todd Field’s 2001 script “In the Bedroom,” based on Andre Dubus’ short story “Killings” (the film also scored nominations in the Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Supporting Actress categories). (More of Dubus’ short stories — “We Don’t Live Here Anymore” and “Adultery” — were adapted to the screen in the 2004 film “We Don’t Live Here Anymore,” starring Mark Ruffalo, Laura Dern, Naomi Watts, and Peter Krause.) And let’s not forget “The Shawshank Redemption” and “Stand By Me,” just two of many films based on the short works of Stephen King.

And the short story is being celebrated in myriad other ways — The Los Angeles Times recently named Amy Tan as literary editor for its weekly magazine, West, which last month replaced the Los Angeles Times magazine and now publishes short fiction. Small presses such as Hourglass Books are devoted to publishing collections of short stories; anthologies such as the O. Henry Awards and Best American Short Stories publish selections from literary magazines; and perhaps best of all is The Story Prize, an annual book award honoring a collection of short fiction with a $20,000 cash award. The prize was created in 2004 by Julie Lindsey and Larry Dark to support short story collections and help abate the difficulties authors face in trying to publish them.

A lot of writers believe that they must write a novel in order to have a career as a writer. Being a short-story writer can indeed be frustrating — with a few exceptions, story collections don’t sell as well as novels and aren’t nearly as high profile. Yet a short story remains the perfect medium for today’s busy readers: it can offer all the elements of a novel in a trim, accessible format. And seeing both the film and publishing industries embrace it means the short story will be around for a long while.

Truth and Memory

By Midge Raymond,

“Lying, the telling of beautiful untrue things, is the proper aim of art.” — Oscar Wilde

“Most writers regard truth as their most valuable possession, and therefore are most economical in its use.” — Mark Twain

One of the big questions when it comes to memoir writing has always been how much of a story is actually true — and it’s now an even bigger question since author James Frey has admitted to embellishing and fabricating much of his memoir, A Million Little Pieces, and its sequel, My Friend Leonard. Yet when it comes to personal writing, truth has never been particularly easy to define, and this is confusing (and perhaps appealing) for writers who may be tempted to sacrifice truth for what they think makes a better story.

Merriam-Webster defines truth as “the state of being the case: fact”; yet its listing also includes an archaic definition — “fidelity, constancy; sincerity in action, character, and utterance” — which is much more in line with the way memoirs are written. The psychotherapist Alice Miller, in the preface to her newest book, The Body Never Lies: The Lingering Effects of Hurtful Parenting, writes, “I never use the word ‘truth’ in a metaphysical sense. The meaning I give it is invariably that of a subjective entity, related to the actual life of the individual concerned.” In other words, when it comes to remembering your past, especially if it was a dramatic or traumatic one, the only truth that exists is the truth that you experienced, the truth that you remember.

Yet this does not — and should not — give writers license to embellish or fabricate events; it’s one thing to remember an incident differently than your sister remembers it, and it’s another to recreate it for dramatic effect, thus misleading your readers.

I found myself applauding Riverhead’s decision last week to cancel its contract with Frey (not that it’s any of my business). But I was pleased to know that despite the controversy and the questions, the accusations and confessions, in the end, the truth does matter — at least to this publisher. The desicion shows respect for its readers, an acknowledgment that they deserve to be treated honestly, something that I think should be on every writer’s mind, every time he or she sits down to write.

A Few Words on Revision

By Midge Raymond,

My friend Sean, who’s working on a novel, recently asked me how I go about rewriting (and he knows how painstakingly I rewrite everything). I’ve found that revision is probably the most important stage of the writing process, and yet it’s often the most overlooked. Why? Because it can be really horrible to read over something you’ve written and realize it’s not that great. Also, revision is hard — it takes a lot of time, a great deal of focus, and a willingness to sacrifice a few things you might love about your story (usually things you’ve spent hours and hours working on).

So why must we do it? Because it makes the difference between poor work and good work, good work and great work, or great work and brilliant work. Revision always helps.

Here are few revision rules to live by:

Take one step at a time. Look at the big picture first — character, story, theme — before tackling your work scene-by-scene, or before worrying about comma splices. Once the overall story is flowing, then you can sweat the small stuff.
Don’t be afraid to trim. It may be hard to cut sentences or paragraphs you love, but be ruthless and see what happens. You might discover wonderful results — and if you don’t, you can always revert to your original. But you won’t know unless you try.
Revise when you’re ready. If you’ve got good momentum on a piece, don’t stop to reread it; just keep writing. Then give it a little space. Then go back and have a look with fresh eyes. This is the best time to start a rewrite, when you’ve got enough distance to ask yourself, What am I trying to say? and Am I actually saying it?
Engage a friend, writer, editor — someone who will be honest with you and offer you constructive feedback. These people can be hard to find but are well worth having in your writing life.

Finding Quality Writing Time (Prison Time Excluded)

By Midge Raymond,

“I’ll never have it as good as prison again,” said author Dewitt Gilmore in yesterday’s New York Times. “For writing, anyway.”

This New York Times article, “Street Lit With Publishing Cred: From Prison to a Four-Book Deal,” is proof that writers do need rooms of their own: Gilmore (whose pen name is Relentless Aaron) began writing his street-lit novels in 1996 during a stint in a federal prison in New Jersey; now, the Times reports, he has a six-figure book deal with publisher St. Martin’s Press. He’s written thirty manuscripts, has printed ten of them himself, and will publish his next four with St. Martin’s.

As Gilmore told the Times, referring to the time he spent in the solitary confinment of an eight-by-four cell, “Nothing could match solitary for writing.” As a writer and writing instructor, I couldn’t agree more. What I recommend for my students, however, is not a trip to prison but finding ways to create their own solitary confinement — on the outside.

Full-time writers — those who are fortunate enough to live and write without holding another day job — don’t have quite the same challenges in carving out time for writing. For them, it’s their work day. For the rest of us — those who work, teach, parent — finding even an hour or two of writing time can be next to impossible.

Here are a couple of the tips I find useful in making time to write:

Think of yourself as a writer. As Miles told Joel in the film Risky Business, “If you can’t say it, you can’t do it.” If you don’t see yourself as a writer, how will you allow yourself the time to write? First, tell yourself that your work is important. Remind yourself that you have things to say. Be adamant about setting aside time to say them.

Remind your friends and family that you are a writer. When you create time in your schedule to write — especially when it takes time away from them — make it known that you are working. Because you are working — no matter what pleasure writing brings you, it’s also hard work.

Create your own writing space. Even if it’s just a tiny desk in the smallest corner of your home, make it your own. Get rid of anything that might distract you, and keep near you the things that inspire you: books, candles, artwork.

What’s probably most inspiring about Gilmore’s story is that of all the excuses I’ve heard (and come up with myself) for procrastinating a writing project, “going to prison” has got to be one of the best. But for Gilmore, it’s not an excuse but an invitation.

Consider yourself invited — to your own writing space, starting today.