The Writer's Mailbag: Installment One-Hundred and Eleven
Busy wouldn’t even begin to describe this past week, but busy and healthy, so all is well.
Thanks for returning to the Mail Room. If you are new then make yourself comfortable and learn from the veterans. If you are a veteran, thanks for always being here, and thanks to all who asked questions this week and in the past.
Let’s do it!
Two Tough Ones from Kailey
From Kailey: “As you know, my degree is in English, but I studied quite a bit of Sociology. Let's put it this way, I love both so much that if I was writing for an English class, I used Sociological theories and if I wrote for a Sociology class, I used literature analysis. Anyway, I am considering writing and publishing some work about Sociology on Amazon. Would it be wrong of me to do so, even if it was my minor?”
Kailey, this really is an easy one to answer. Of course it wouldn’t be wrong of you to do so. The question, and to me the only question that ever needs to be asked, is this: do you enjoy writing? If you enjoy writing about Sociology then for the love of the gods, do so. It may sell, it may not, but sales should never be the reason anyone writes. Writing is an Art and as such should be done for the love of Art. People who write simply to make money just don’t get it in my humble opinion, and I think it shows in their work.
So good luck!
“My next question is concerning citation and bibliography. Professors from both of my colleges had me use MLA, most of the time. Only on rare instances APA. Lately, I have seen Chicago style knowledge required under job listings. Do you think that if I were to publish educational material, I need to learn and use Chicago? Does it matter which one?”
If you are self-publishing, and I assume you are, then my recommendation is to write in the style you are comfortable with. It’s not going to make a damn bit of difference for self-publishing. However, if you are going to submit your work to a publisher, it will make a great deal of difference, so follow the recommendations after you research the matter….or email the publishers and ask them which they prefer/recommend. My own personal hunch is that MLA is fine for publishing of educational materials, but I’m willing to bet there is someone out there who will disagree with me and that’s fine.
Bottom line: whichever style you use, write well. Styles come and styles go with regards to popularity and requirements, but good writing will never fade away.
Back to the Masters
From Zulma: “So, in essence, what you're saying is people like Hemingway, Steinbeck, Lee, et al just wanted to write the best story their talent was capable of producing. The fact their creations became modern classics and must-reads was a fortunate happenstance.”
Zulma, I believe that’s exactly what happened, with heavy emphasis on “fortunate.” I can’t speak for all writers of novels, but for me, my goal is to always produce the best work I’m capable of producing at that time. I’m not delusional. I would love to have a best-seller, but as an artist, my sole motivation on any given day is to tell a humdinger of a story.
“Now, I'd like to ask if they were motivated to write their stories because they had something to say to the world? Did they feel there was an injustice that needed to be righted? A precious piece of wisdom that needed to be heard? Maybe spread some light-hearted tales to a weary population. All of these? None of these? Maybe this was their idea of fun.”
It’s an interesting question, Zulma. I have an answer, but it will be purely subjective and some may disagree.
Most good novels have an underlying message. I feel pretty safe in saying that. I always try to weave friendship, love, justice and sometimes the environment into my novels. Those things are important to me and I can’t imagine them not being in a book of mine. I am also fascinated in good vs evil, and whether people simply do evil things or is there really an entity of evil…..again, since that is important to me, it is only natural that it appears in many of my novels.
I’m pretty darned sure other writers do the same. Sure, writers are storytellers, but doesn’t it just make sense that what is important to them weave its way into the story? Or put it another way, doesn’t it make sense that they write a story around their social message?
And as an aside, I don’t think Steinbeck ever wrote something without a message in mind.
The Classics in School
Two From Mary: “When I was in school, we read Lord of The Flies, and my kids read To Kill a Mockingbird, Romeo and Juliet and others in English classes. Which if any, current books do you think will replace these in English lessons in the future? Or do you think these will still be tried and tested books, and schools will see no need to change?”
Mary, I’ve always wondered whose job it was to list the classics and determine which are classics and which aren’t. I swear, some of the “classics,” to me, are junk. LOL Maybe there is some ruling body out there that makes that designation, and maybe they have added recent books (in the last twenty years) to that list, but I’m not aware of that happening.
To me, the classics can withstand time, so the classics as we know them today will be classics in 100 years.
I wouldn’t even begin to list the great, newer books, which could make it to “classic” status. Again, what makes a classic? And who decides that? Obviously not me, because I can’t stand Shakespeare. LOL
“Also what are your thoughts about students watching the films in class in lieu of reading it? With an overload of homework, reading can often take a backseat, especially for slower readers.”
I’ve changed over the years on this one, Mary. In the old days, when I first started out teaching, I abhorred the idea of kids watching classics on film rather than reading them. Today I’ve shifted 180 degrees for exactly the reason you gave. I would hope kids never stop reading, but I also understand the lack of time and emphasis on so many pursuits.
My only exception is sports. If kids aren’t reading so they have more time to practice their forehand, then shame on the parents.
The old fart in me, however, would say there was an overload of homework when I was in school, too, but we managed to read the classics and survive.
Take that all with a grain of salt.
My writing tips
Experimenting with Voices
From Zulma again: “Hey, Bill. Got another question for you. At the moment, you’re experimenting with a new voice for 'When Angels Sing.' My question is do you think certain voices just naturally lend themselves well to certain genres. Also, with regard to 1st and 3rd person, do you think the same applies.”
I’m going to give a rather simple answer to this one, Zulma, and I’m sure someone is going to say I’m full of it. So be it.
I don’t think the genre makes any difference in determining first or third person. The determination whether to use first or third mainly has to do with how much personalization you want your main character to have, and how deeply you want to delve into his/her psyche. Anyway, that’s the decision-making factor for me.
But you also asked about voice which to me is slightly separated from person. Let’s take my experiment. I am writing, in “Angels,” a whimsical fantasy, so I changed my voice for that effort. The voice is much different than it was in the original novel, “The 12/59 Shuttle From Yesterday to Today.” My voice is also much different for my “Shadow” series and the “Billy the Kid” series.
So yes, I think genre should be a factor in determining voice.
From Ann: “I have a question for your mailbag. I was reading some of my former hubs, especially the challenge stories, and it seems to me I respond better to challenges than to my own ideas! Why do you think that is? Does that happen to you? I feel that my writing at the moment does not live up to some of my old work; in fact, I find it difficult to believe that I wrote it! Do you have any thoughts on such phenomena?”
Ann, I tend to agree with you. I know, when I see a challenge, my imagination kicks into overdrive. It’s something new to try and I want to do the very best job I can….plus, oftentimes, it is a topic I never would have thought of myself, so that gives it a bit of intrigue for me. I really don’t have a specific reason why I think that is.
You also mentioned your older work is better than your newer work. I’ve felt that way often. I think we begin to feel our writing is stale after a time. I recently finished my fifth “Billy the Kid” novella and I was ready to vomit. Not that I thought it was bad, but I was just ready for a break from it. So I switched to my other series, the “Shadow” novels, and I instantly found my excitement again.
My suggestion, even though you never asked for it: stretch out and try something completely different. Challenge yourself…..or I’ll have to issue a challenge to wake up your muse. LOL
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Helping writers to spread their wings and fly
Thanks to All
Nice Mailbag this week with some great questions. Hopefully I’ll see all of you next week.
There were several more questions that wouldn’t fit in this Mailbag. Rest assured I will lead off with those next week.
2016 William D. Holland (aka billybuc) #greatestunknownauthor
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”