Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Grand Motivator

Rebecca Nazar had an interesting post at her blog on Sunday. It related to having a novel idea, yet not having the drive or motivation to start writing it. In fact, likening it to a huge homework assignment. She felt that enrolling in a writing degree program at university was a good way to go, for her, as it would be a good way to finish the novel and, at the very least get mentored and earn her degree. I applaud that. She has thought it through and determined what her motivator is. That's something that I am yet to do. It's obviously something that a lot of people think about at some point as there were quite a few comments made regarding her post.

A small piece of background on me. Since moving to St. John's nearly 3 years ago, I have been tormented with an idea for a novel that just won't let me alone (does anyone else have this problem?). I set the idea aside as it is set locally, in the future, and I figured that it would require a great deal of research to pull in off convincingly (ie. I'm not up to the job at this juncture). I have worked on short stories for a while, now a second idea has hit me, gnawing at my thoughts on a daily basis. This one is a comedy, by the way. Now, all I have to do is acquire some zaniness (ala Cate Gardner or perhaps Carrie Harris)...

I took a night school class at the university to try to build on the scant creative writing knowledge in my possession. I took a second class the next spring, now there is nothing available. There's a couple of cool workshops to take taught by a local writer, but I'm feeling wary of investing more money in my education if I'm not going to "take the plunge." I am a member of the local Writer's Alliance, which offers a mentoring program, but I would need to fork over $2000 to the Alliance, some of which would go to the professional writer that would work with me. I can see that I would gain a lot of knowledge with that, but something doesn't feel right about paying a large sum like that in the hopes that something good will be produced. Note: this sort of ties in with Aaron Polson's blog today about paying others for advice.

The one carrot that I can think of dangling in front of myself is something called the "Fresh Fish Award", also offered by the Alliance. It's a yearly prize offered to a local, emerging writer. I will now be eligible (resident of Newfoundland for 3 years) to send in a manuscript for this when it happens next in June, 2010. The winner gets a $4000 cash prize and $1000 worth of professional editing services. The prize money would sure pay for a lot of mentoring, workshops, editing, etc...sounds like a lot of motivation.

It all seems like a big, scary thing. Yet the tormenting voices continue to nag me to pursue this (or perhaps that's the other voices in my head). My night school instructor, Ed Kavanagh, said that when he wrote he wrote his adult novel (as opposed to children's stories) it took over 3 years to complete, the final year was writing full-time (ie. no job). I'm not sure if I'm ready for that sort of flat-out, nose to the grindstone, giving up family life, sort of commitment...

Anyway, the post is getting longish so I'll stop here. Apologises for ranting about stuff that I may have touched on in previous posts. This flotsam has been distracting me for the past couple of days and I thought that I'd just throw it out there (ie. get it off my chest).


Aaron Polson said...

Will the mentoring program help publish your novel? Probably not. Will it help you write the novel? Maybe. I'm busy on novel #4. The first three are unpublished (although I'm still trying with 2 and 3). It was really hard to give up that first novel, but without writing it, I wouldn't be where I am today. (Which is still in my basement, typing away.) Tough decision, either way. I can see how the money could motivate some (i.e., I paid a ton for this; I have to do it). I don't think your writers' alliance is anything like a scam, though. I say write the novel. Go for it. Challenge yourself.

Anonymous said...

Aaron - they say you have to write a million words of cr*p before you get good. Then there's Scalzi on how long it takes to get published.


Alan - NaNoWriMo is only 4 months away. It's a good way to get started on that million words of cr*p.

I wouldn't pay for a writing workshop, but mainly because I think I would react badly to face to face criticism. At 40-something I couldn't see myself taking to mentoring either.

I've no idea the quality of your local writers workshop, but for two grand they'd need to be top-notch, because it would be a shame to pay that much to someone who was only incrementally better than you are, and so "successful" that they had no choice but to eke out their writing earnings by teaching. Yes, that's an obnoxious observation - see why mentoring might not suit me? I know a lot of writers teach as a sideline, but being a good writer doesn't necessarily make you a good tutor.

Of course, my views on education are coloured by the fact I never had to pay a penny for mine right up to degree level but as I understand it the North American situation is very different.

Rebecca Nazar said...

I'm with Aaron on the two thousand mentoring price tag--yikes. The price tag for a Stonecoast MFA is roughly seven grand a semester, which isn't unreasonable since I'd earn a degree and the whole self-edification thing.

The contest sounds like a good idea as long as there isn't an obnoxious entry fee. Go for it and good luck to you!

katey said...

When I pay for something, I know it motivates me to get out there and do it. I paid for a conference I went to a few months back as SOON as I could because I knew if I laid out $200 I'd be there and take full advantage and not chicken out. I feel that 100%. 2k is substantially more, obviously, but if it's what you need and it's what's important to you, hell. Go with your gut.

But from what I understand, the first book always hurts (so good!) no matter how you get it out. I was thinking of that link Anton posted while reading this, and, like Aaron, I've stopped querying my own first book. (Haven't stopped rewriting it, but I like to think it's something I go back and do as a stress reliever for myself more than anything else. Some day, it'll be right!)

I've had an idea plague me for years at a time-- been researching the one I'm doing now for two-- so I know how it feels. Your head probably feels about to burst right now. Whatever you choose, good luck, and we're here to commiserate!

Catherine J Gardner said...

You can't ignore the voices. You think you can, but in the end you'll find yourself in a dark corner scribbling away.

I'm not going to say how many novels I've retired to the attic, but will say that I don't regret a single unpublished word of any of them. It's all about the journey. Do it.

Alan W. Davidson said...

Thank you all for your insights and encouraging words. I don't think that I could go for the $2000 mentoring program. The minister of finance would veto the request...and my Scottish says "Don't be daft, lad."

I will plug on and eventually succomb to the voices and put notes together for a beginning to a novel. I know that I have the support of family and my on-line friends...I will also continue with the short stories and perhaps luck will smile on me and I'll win one of those local contests (but I'm still keepin' my day job!)