The Sun Singer's Travels

Malcolm R. Campbell's World

Archive for the tag “writing”

Does writing bring catharsis?

I was influenced years ago by Richard M. Eastman’s Writing as a Discovery of Outlook. Eastman believed that writers don’t know precisely how they feel about a subject until they’ve written about it. This idea came to mind as I read “Maggie Nelson: ‘There is no catharsis… the stories we tell ourselves don’t heal us’” in The Observer.

Nelson (“The Argonauts” and “The Red Parts) wrote about the trial and conviction of Gary Earl Leiterman for the 1969 murder of her aunt, Jane Mixer. In The Observer article, she said of The Red Parts,  “I felt horrible after I finished it, and it was difficult to read from [publicly]. The book is really a long critique of catharsis. But the irony is that my catharsis was writing down that there is no catharsis. The stories we tell ourselves don’t heal us, but I also think that if I hadn’t written it, I wouldn’t have processed the experience: writers tend to be people who process things by writing. The problems of the book don’t weigh on me so heavily now.”

Writers and others are often encourage to create journals, essays, articles and even fiction as a way of “freeing themselves” from the angst of personal tragedy. I’ve never found these solutions to be successful. But as Eastman and Nelson suggest, I understand the situations much better after having written about them. No, there wasn’t a monumental epiphany or catharsis even though I felt after writing that I understood myself and the situations better.

Perhaps writing serves as a more complete therapy for others. I’ve heard that it does, though I’ve yet to meet another writer who was, so to speak, “going nuts,” wrote about the causes of his or her discord, and ended up cured. Perhaps that’s too flip. Maybe we simply get a little better–and that’s good enough.

What about you? Do you keep a diary and does it help you over the rough spots? Or, perhaps you found that fiction works better or, perhaps, becoming involved in a nonprofit dedicated to a problem you faced or encountered that includes your writing essays and grant applications.

As for me, the writing helps even though it hasn’t been a cure.


Buy It or Review It (Or Preferably Both)

If you are a writer, ask to be paid for your work. If you are asking a writer to appear, pay them. If you read a book, pay for it. If you accept a free book, post a review. Anything else is eroding the careers of writers everywhere.

via Buy It or Review It (Or Preferably Both) | FundsforWriters

This post, from several days ago, is in many ways about writers helping each other and notes that many people–including those on writers’ Facebook friends lists or who follow their blogs–sign on to accept a free copy of a book but then never read it, much less review it.

As Hope Clark mentions, it’s bad enough when a reader requests an ARC (advance readers copy) and then never posts a review; it’s worse when another author does it.  An Amazon-style review can be posted in a few minutes and it can make a big difference between the success or failure of a mid-list or an emerging author’s work.

We need to help each other and keep our promises.



Are writers outsiders?

“Writers are outsiders. Even when we seem like insiders, we’re outsiders. We have to be. Our noses pressed to the glass, we notice everything. We mull and interpret. We store away clues, details that may be useful to us later.” – Dani Shapiro

I’m not sure the answer is a simple yes or no.

In contrast to Dani Shapiro’s statement, Joe Bunting in Are the Best Writers Insiders or Outsiders? says, “Perhaps the insider/outsider question is a false dichotomy. If Cormac McCarthy can write masterpieces in his solitude and Salman Rushdie write them while dating supermodels and going to international parties, then maybe it’s not about being in or out. Perhaps the secret is to never stop being you, whether or not you’re inside or outside.”

Maybe Joe Bunting’s “you” can change personas and step into the mix and be a part of it when necessary or watch from the sidelines and observe when necessary. Or, maybe it comes down to whether a person is an introvert or an extrovert, facile or clumsy in social situations, or easily moves between a huge number of friends or feels more comfortable spending most of his or her time with a small group.

We’re always observing, I think. To some extent, that puts us somewhat outside. We do store away clues, as Shapiro says. In Bunting’s post, it’s not surprising to read that J. D. Salinger and Thomas Pynchon are among the outsiders–far outside, as it turns out. Or, that F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Mark Twain were considered insiders.

When I read an author’s novel, I don’t know if s/he’s an insider or an outsider in any social group, town or career. I might leap to conclusions if I thought about it and consider those who write literary fiction to be outsiders and those who write romances and thrillers to be insiders. But, I might be wrong.

Perhaps insider vs. outsider doesn’t matter. Maybe the true consideration is: who do you need to be to write what you want to write?

Personally, I need quiet. I don’t want every week to be filled with dinners, barbecues, parties, movies, and day trips. That’s what works for me. Maybe you need a lot of activity, friends trooping through the house 24/7 and a full dance card, so to speak. If it works, what more could one want?

The late William Trevor (“Love and Summer”), a prolific Irish writer believed that “writers were outsiders, that they had no place in society because society was what they were watching.” I can understand the feeling even though I’m not convinced all writers feel this way.

If you’re a writer, how do you feel about this? (Yes, I know, maybe the insider/outsider discussion is about as meaningful about the old debate about how many angels could dance on the head of a pin.) But I’m curious. Can you “make the scene” and still write about it or do you have to stand amongst the wallflowers and watch it before you can write about it?



Writing is not a calling

Working in the creative field is unusual in that we are driven to create, regardless of the outcome. But is it sacrilegious to want to earn a living from our artistic endeavours? The sooner we start treating writing as a profession rather than an unpaid calling, the better.

– Evie Gaughan in Fiction writers are real people too

Most people I meet day to day have no idea I’m a writer. Why not? As Evie Gaughan suggests in her wonderful essay about seeing writing for what it is, I don’t fit the mold.

I shop at regular stores. I’m not J. K. Rowling rich. I drive an old car. I don’t walk around quoting books. I don’t have a tattoo that says something elitist or precious like “take me to the library.” In fact, I dislike tattoos.

On the off chance somebody finds out I am a writer, they don’t say, “Wow” and run over to Barnes & Noble and buy my books. Why not? Because I’m a regular person and don’t seem like a writer. (So, how good could those books be?) Plus, they haven’t heard of me or any of my books. So, I’m not a real writer because if I were, they’d see my books on the grocery store shelves or find me listed on a bestseller list.

I have always wanted to say that these incorrect assumptions about writers and their books hurt the art and craft of our work because most writers will never be able to support themselves from their fiction. Being treated as “special” makes life harder.

We have regular jobs, and now that more and more people are expecting e-books to sell for 99₵, it’s more necessary than most readers suspect to be a teacher, civil servant, retail worker, or a laborer of some kind to make ends meet. But Gaughan has said what I might have said if I’d spent several hours working on this post. And, for those who don’t like the article, she takes the flak and I don’t. <g>

The few people who meet me who finally believe that I am a novelist start acting “funny.” Like I’m as unpredictable as a pit bull and might kill them. Like they have to clean up their act as though I’m the parson. Like they can’t speak because what do they know about language? Like I’ll put them in a book and turn them into hookers and con men and people who need to be in jail. Frankly, I want to shout, “For shit’s sake, just stop it.”

But, you know how people are when they’re acting “funny.” They pretend like they’re no acting “funny.” If they think you think they’re acting “funny,” they deny it and start acting totally insane. Sure, this provides good story material but it makes meaningful conversations more of a challenge.

So, thank you for your wisdom, Evie Gaughan. I hope some people will hear you and, you know, won’t start acting crazy–that’s the last thing any of us want.




A contest that wants work outside the box

The Unclassifiables Contest is officially open. This is our third year of reading manuscripts that don’t quite fit the rigid labels of prose or poetry. Send us work that blurs, bends, blends, erases, or obliterates genre and other labels.

via The Unclassifiables Contest is Now Open – Arts and Letters

Writers are often constrained by the rules of the genres they favor. When a genre is involved, it’s hard to think or write outside the box. So it’s nice to find contests, magazines, and publishers who want you to think outside the box.

So here’s an opportunity to bend the rules or forget the rules. The deadline in July 1.


Amazon UK Kindle Storyteller Award

The Amazon UK Kindle Storyteller Award is open for entries. The Kindle Storyteller Award is a new literary prize recognising newly published work in the English language across any genre and includes a £20,000 prize.

via Amazon UK Kindle Storyteller Award – Indies Unlimited

This looks like a great opportunity if you have a potential Kindle Direct Publishing manuscript ready or almost ready. The big plus, in addition to the award, is the publicity. That can be a nice boost for your writing career.

Thanks to Indies Unlimited for posting this.


Strategies for Revising Your Novel

“You’ve done it: typed The End. Those two wonderful words mark your graduation from always-wanted-to-write-a-novel to someone-who-did. Congratulations. Other ideas might be cooking away in the back of your brain, making you eager to start a new project. Often, this is where the spirit wanes as new writers lose momentum for the old manuscript. Because, you didn’t finish, did you? You only finished the draft. Now you have to focus on revising your novel.”  

7 Strategies for Revising Your Novel, Writer’s Digest

I generally take a dim view of checklists, laundry lists and other recipe-approaches to writing and rewriting. However, this Writer’s Digest article has decent ideas for what we should/might/sort of consider doing after we finish the first draft.

Here’s an interesting quote: “The rewrite is tougher than the draft. The draft is infatuation. The right rewrite strengthens your fiction into something that lasts to publication and gains a significant readership.” That seems to be the way it is. We roar through the first draft, having fun, slipping past the known flaws and lame sentences, because we’re blazing a trail into new territory.

Once that’s done, we need to see the story the way the reader might see it, or want to see it, and even though this article presents a checklist, it’s not half bad.




Why does the blank page or empty screen scare so many people?

When the page or screen is empty, anything can be written on it. Looked at in another way, that page/screen represents infinity before you touch it; it represents the universe and the world as science understands them, and it represents all the probable worlds and possible futures and imagined places and circumstance the writer is capable of writing down or dreaming up.

No wonder it’s frightening. It has no boundaries to it.

Fence out what you don’t need.

Psychologists say we need personal boundaries in order to define who we are and who we’re not, what we believe in and what we don’t, and what we’re willing to do or say or think–or not. Sometimes people who don’t have sound emotional boundaries feel worthless.

Perhaps we get a sense of that worthless feeling when we stare at a blank page/screen and can’t seem to get our story, novel, essay or report started. Writing, while usually presented as a creative, mind-expanding activity (as in, “how to you think up stuff like this?”) is also a limiting activity.

If an empty page equals infinity, then a page with several words on it equals infinity narrowed down to what you wrote. One word, or at least, one sentence, cancels out a lot of the things that could have been on that page or screen. Scientists say that the human mind cannot logically or emotionally conceive of infinity. So, we have to start chipping away at the possibilities and probabilities until we have something manageable.

Suppose the first sentence you write is “Bob walked into the sunlit gulf waters at Apalachicola, Florida.” The limits set by that one sentence are huge. Most of what could have been said, is now out of consideration because it doesn’t fit with a real-world story set in the gulf waters off the Florida Panhandle.

Some writing gurus suggest that when you can’t think of the precise way you want to begin your story or essay, it’s better to write something–anything–rather than stare at the page or the screen for hours. For one thing, if you stare for a long time, then maybe you’re trying to think of a first sentence as what it will be in the final draft of the material when you’re just now starting the first draft. Tip: it’s easier to edit a sloppy sentence into a great final draft sentence than to try to think it up from scratch.

In order to chip away at the scary infinity of that empty page or screen, you don’t even have to write a bad opening sentence. You can simply say, “this is going to be an essay about how love conquers all even in a state prison” or “this is the beginning of my short story about Bob going swimming in the Gulf of Mexico and coming eye to eye with a shark.”

See, you’ve suddenly counteracted the “everything is possible” immensity of the blank page or screen. You’ve set some boundaries within which you plan to tell your story or state your philosophy. Any statement about what you think you might do is almost as valuable as a shoddy, first draft sentence. Or, if you love key words, you can type LOVE, POWER, PRISON or BOB, GULF, FLORIDA, SHARK. If you’re a Twitter person, put a # symbol at the beginning of each word and you’re getting to the gist of your intentions with hashtags.

If you have an outline, it might help. If you have a list of key points, it might help. Anything that “ropes off” your intended subject from the rest of the known universe gives you something your mind and the reader’s mind can deal with. Your little acre of infinity might indeed be mind expanding and totally outside the box when you get done with it. All of that’s easier to get down on paper or on  your Microsoft Word screen once you set some limits to infinity.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of magical realism, fantasy, and paranormal stories and novels. However, the idea of getting something down on the page worked equally well when he wrote news stories, educational materials and computer documentation.

Writing: an essential task in a polarized world

Articles, essays, poetry and social media interactions suggest that a seemingly infinite number of people feel ground down by the recent Presidential campaign. The country appears more polarized about directions, methods and issues today than it did with the election of George Bush. A quick look at such digests of literary happenings as the news and links of Poets & Writers and Literary Hub, has–since the election–shown more politically oriented stories than usual.

George Saunders (“Lincoln in the Bardo”) said in an interview in the March/April edition of Poets & Writers Magazine that, “It’s a tremendous literary mission to ask, ‘Can we re-imagine our country?’ It’s going to take some legwork, and it’s going to take some curiosity, which is in short supply these days. But I think for writers, it’s actually an exciting time. I don’t think I’ve ever felt in my life that writing was a more essential task.”

What do we write? Facts and inspiration, I would say. That’s important whether one supported Clinton or Trump or Sanders. A lot of the legwork Saunders mentions is going to be digging up the facts. Some are calling this the post-truth era. For writers, like everyone else, weeding out the lies and slanted material is a large part of the legwork we need to do.

I’m appalled by the number of people on Facebook, for example, who read and listen only to the news they agree with and/or who presume without doing their own fact checking that their favorite essayist or commentator is always presenting objective information that fairly considers all sides of an issue. As writers, we not only need to fight this assumption, this outright laziness, but we need to prove to those who read our material that we’re as honest as we know how to be.

The inspiration  comes from not only addressing changes in the political focus and philosophy we consider negative, but in speaking well of those we like. The election and inauguration represent a fairly large change–or so it appears–in how we, as Americans, are being asked to view out country, what it stands for, and how it will operate within its borders and on the world stage.

Inspiration–like a good newspaper editorial or magazine essay–starts with facts. This concept was one of the hardest ideas for me to get across to students when I taught college journalism courses. Many students thought that stating an opinion meant that one could say anything they wanted. Maybe in a bar, but not in a reasonable newspaper, book or blog post. Inspiration that doesn’t begin with the truth isn’t worth anything. Passionate writers often need to rein in their zeal and ask “can my fervor be supported in the light of day?”

It’s easy to be reactive, to read an editorial or a news story and scream “that just totally sucks.” But what good is this outrage if that’s as far as it goes? As writers, it’s essential, I think, to do better than that. I think that if we can take care in creating balanced, realistically functioning worlds for our fiction, then we can take the same amount of care in looking at the real world we have here and just how it needs to be viewed or re-imagined.

It’s also easy to see our personal circumstances as universal. In my journalism class, a student wrote an editorial against a specific make of car, proclaiming that it was a real lemon. His proof: his grandmother had one that never worked right. That’s not proof. It might make for an interesting human interest story, but such an editorial is not the way to fight against the perceived abuses of an company or an industry. We can do better than basing our “facts” and inspiration on personal anecdotal “evidence.”

The hard things are doing the legwork and analyzing how are personal feelings about the issues of the day stack up against the facts, the apparent majority attitudes, and true win-win approaches to making things better. Neither rational democracy or rational writing are easy. Doing better might be more exciting than we think. Goodness knows, doing better is more effective than slinging insults and preaching to the choir.



Yes, life can knock the words out of you.

“Point of all being – I stopped writing. What I had written when I returned to the page to rewrite I didn’t like. I didn’t feel like I was at that place anymore because I wasn’t. My life, my experience, my hopes, my dreams had changed. It took me awhile to stop lamenting and look forward.”

– River Jordan in Life Knocked the Words out of Me

I was happy to see author River Jordan’s post. While it was hard reading that life’s troubles had taken away her words for a time, it was wonderful seeing that she had fought back and had new words flowing across the page.

stormyweatherShe shared something a lot of authors won’t talk about: the fact that bad things can stop a writer from writing.

If the author of The Miracle of Mercy Land and The Gin Girl could be stopped in her tracks, than any of us could. A recent article in a writer’s magazine said we should write through our troubles. Perhaps there are times when we can. Gurus say that writing is a business and that we should write every day just as those who work 9-5 jobs go to work every day even when they’re feeling blue.

Writing every day is a crock of an idea for a writer to follow when s/he is down and out and finds the words have been knocked out of him or her.

Today is the 31st anniversary of the Challenger disaster. I saw it happen on TV. I hope the other writers who saw if in person or on television didn’t slog back to their dens and continue writing as usual. I felt the same way on 9/11. I was already at work when the horror began. None of us got a lot of work done that day.

Personal slings and arrows impact us, too. Deaths in the family. Sick spouses and friends. Lost pets. The best writers are, I think, very intuitive, often empathic, and so it is that their strengths become stumbling blocks in stormy times because the vibes/impressions/intuition are simply off or off the scale.

When writers share the fact that there are days when they cannot write and that there are days when they finally dredge up wht wherewithal to begin writing again, the rest of us feel stronger for knowing it.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of The Sun Singer which is free on Kindle January 28 and 29.

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