Friday, October 6, 2017

Yesterday and Today

If you could talk to the person you were when you were writing your first-published novel, what insights and guidance would you give yourself about the writing life?

by Paul D. Marks


Younger Paul
Younger Paul: Hey, Paul, how ya doin’? You look different than I remember you.

Older Paul: Really, how so?

Well, less hair for one thing.

Yeah, tell me about it. Anything else? Anything good, like do I look smarter?

Hmm, not really, dude. Maybe a little more wrinkled. Do you think you’re any smarter?

I hope so. I hope I learned something in all these years.


Oh yeah, what’d you learn?
Older and Wiser Paul

I learned to get in less fights.

Oh yeah, less fights with who?

With everyone – from the producer who threatened to send his pals in the Mossad after me to burly construction workers.

You learn anything about writing? Or the writing life.

I learned that you have to be patient. I wanted to be an overnight success. And that happens, but it happens to very few people. Most overnight successes have been slogging around for years.

So what should I write about?

Don’t follow fads. The writing world changes quickly. Don’t write a vampire book when vampire books are all the rage. You might get in on it but more likely you’ll be late. Be ahead of the curve, not behind it. Make your own curve. Write what you want. Though I think I pretty much always did that, at least in terms of prose writing.

Think long-term: The first novel I completed was accepted for publication at a major publisher. It was a satire on a screenwriter trying to make it in Hollywood. Eventually, the whole editorial staff at that publisher was swept out and as a new broom sweeps clean my book was swept out with them. And since the humor was topical it was pretty dated even after only a couple of years so it couldn’t really go to another publisher. The lesson: don’t write things that are so topical that their shelf life is shorter than yogurt left on the counter on a steaming, hot day. Remember what George S. Kaufman said, satire is what closes Saturday night.

Any other pearls of wisdom?

And when I wrote that book the NY publishing scene was still more like the Old Club publishing business, where people actually read and relished books and good writing. Today it’s more like Hollywood. More commercial. More big name and blockbuster oriented. And, like Hollywood, they’re looking for High Concept stories. On the other hand, there’s a lot of smaller, indie publishers out there these days who aren’t quite so constrained in what they’re looking for—though they do have their constraints too. So my advice to my younger self on this would be to remember that, whatever you’re writing, the number one goal is to entertain. As Sam Goldwyn is reputed to have said, If you want to send a message call Western Union. That’s not to say you can’t have something to say in your stories, just say it an entertaining way.

I would tell myself not to go kicking and screaming onto social media, but to take it in stride. It’s actually worked out pretty well for me. And along those lines, be nice to people. Pay it forward. A lot of people have been nice to me and I’ve tried to do the same. No more screaming matches—or worse—as with the producer who threatened to send his pals in the Mossad after me.

Contemplating the Future
Don’t listen to everyone’s silly advice. New fads come along and some producers/editors/agents—what have you—fall for them. For example, they’ll insist you have eight beats to a scene or follow the Hero’s Journey or whatever the fad of the day is. Write a good, tight story, but write your story your way. That’s not to say it should be all over the place, but you don’t have to follow every new fad.

Don’t rewrite for everyone. Just because an editor or agent says you need to do X or Y doesn’t necessarily mean to do it. Of course, not doing might mean they’ll tell you to take a hike. But doing it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll buy the property either. So do what works for you. And don’t let anyone change your voice! Some will try to do that. Resist.

Be true to yourself. You can’t please everyone and there’s no guarantee that if you rewrite something they’ll be interested anyway. So don’t rewrite unless you’re getting paid or if you think it needs work.

So what’s your bottom line?

As RM said earlier in the week, “I guess it would be folly to try to change who I was, because who I was is who I am, and the road I travelled had to be travelled.”

The thing is, if we had done things differently we might not be the writers we are or even the people we are today, so we wouldn’t be writing the things we write. I've had a lot of adversity of one kind and another and haven't particularly enjoyed it, but without it I don't know if I'd be able to write what I write. So, I guess the bottom line is we are who we are because of the sum of our experiences.
So, be open to advice, but be true to yourself.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Yeah, it’s probably not a good idea to kill off the dog in a story.

Thank you for joining me, Older Paul.

Thank you, Younger Paul.

You’re welcome, Older and Wiser Paul.

***
And now for the usual BSP:

Please check out the interview Laura Brennan, writer, producer and consultant, did with me for her podcast, where we talk about everything from Raymond Chandler and John Fante to the time I pulled a gun on the LAPD and lived to tell about it. Find it here: http://destinationmystery.com/episode-52-paul-d-marks/


12 comments:

GBPool said...

Maybe our younger selves won't believe the wisdom our older selves impart, but in time even that youthful, exuberant self will realize that the wisdom was true. Be true to your ideals and you will never have to apologize to anyone for turning out the way you are. And anyway, it's the trip that makes life so interesting. Great advice you imparted, Oh Wise One.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Gayle. And it's kind of like if we knew then what we know now... But our younger selves might not listen because they have to go through it/life for themselves and make their/our own mistakes. But, as you say, be true to your ideals.

Nancy Silverman said...

Oh, if only I'd known! Wise words, Paul. Thanks for sharing. I suppose patience is a virtue we can attain with age, but getting there, particularly as it applies to the writing life, ain't easy.

RM Greenaway said...

Excellent wisdom here, Paul. I wish my younger self had met your older self, and had a good long conversation -- I'd probably have listened to your advice more than my own. Anyway, reading this has given me much confirmation of thoughts I'm still unclear about - so thank you.

Susan C Shea said...

Your younger self is a lot more open to getting advice from the old man than any of the younger selves I've come across as a parent! But it's good that he's listening - he's bound to become as successful as Paul Marks!

Mark W. Danielson said...

You said it all, Paul. I've got nothing to add.

Paul D. Marks said...

Nancy, I don’t know if we ever fully get patience. Amy still calls me “Mr. Patience,” for my lack of it. As you say, it ain’t easy.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, RM. It would be interesting if our younger selves could have met our older selves (there’s a story idea), but something tells me most of us wouldn’t listen. We’d still want to make our own mistakes. Anyway, glad I help you clarify some of your own thoughts.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Susan. But I don’t know if my real younger self would have listened any better to my older self than he did to most older people that he came across…

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Mark.

kold_kadavr_ flatliner said...

Nevertheless, dood...

Q: You gonna live forever?
A: Yes! depending on where;
Q: How long do our lifetimes last?
A: 1-outta-1 bites-the-dust, babe,
and if you dont yet know,
lemme show you how to wiseabove:

When our eternal soul leaves our body
and we riseabove to meet our Maker,
only four, last things remain:
death, judgement, Heaven or Hell
according to the deeds we mortals
have done in our finite existence.

Find-out what RCIA is and join.
Make Your Choice -SAW:
https://youtu.be/YnVuhY38V1A
Jesus sez...
I. love. you.

PS guess what, earthling? Im an NDE.
Google+: kold_kadavr_ flatliner

kold_kadavr_ flatliner said...

Nevertheless, dood...

Q: You gonna live forever?
A: Yes! depending on where;
Q: How long do our lifetimes last?
A: 1-outta-1 bites-the-dust, babe,
and if you dont yet know,
lemme show you how to wiseabove:

When our eternal soul leaves our body
and we riseabove to meet our Maker,
only four, last things remain:
death, judgement, Heaven or Hell
according to the deeds we mortals
have done in our finite existence.

Find-out what RCIA is and join.
Make Your Choice -SAW:
https://youtu.be/YnVuhY38V1A
Jesus sez...
I. love. you.

PS guess what, earthling? Im an NDE.
Google+: kold_kadavr_ flatliner