Marjorie M. Liu on Writing
I try to post helpful information on writing at my blog, so check there for updates on markets, publishing, and other tips.
The thing about writing is this: everyone has a different way that works for them. There is no rule, no set-in-stone path for becoming a published author—or even just a good storyteller. Having said that, however, I should also point out that without practice, perseverance, and pluck, you won’t get very far at all.
I always knew I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to write books for a living. Big dream, hard to grasp. I did write poetry, short stories, and non-fiction pieces—and some of those were quite successful, but I had trouble writing fiction. Until…
I graduated from law school, and I knew my time had run out. It was now or never. Do or die. So I did. The rest is history.
Now, a lot happened between the dream and the reality. Throughout high school and college and law school I practiced my storytelling with poetry, and non-fiction. And in undergrad I had an excellent English teacher who set me on the right track. That, and I had already read and written enough to have a feel for what I was doing.
The lesson behind all this babble? Follow your own path! Don’t give up! Work hard! Believe!
On the writing of Tiger Eye
...Afterwards, other tigers will appear:
the blazing tiger of Blake, burning bright;
and after that will come the other golds—
the amorous gold shower disguising Zeus,
the gold ring which, on every ninth night,
gives light to nine rings more, and these, nine more,
and there is never an end…
This was the poem that inspired Tiger Eye. It was one of those inexplicable events, where you read something, and the story just comes to you—or at least, the big events do. Some of the characters just sort of invited themselves in—and who am I to tell them what they can and can’t do?
So in August of 2003 I decided to write a book. I had just graduated from law school, the specter of practicing law loomed, and like a wimp, I realized I just wasn’t ready to spend the rest of my life doing something I did not absolutely love. So I said, “Okay, I’m 25 years old. Let me do this first. I’ve got plenty of time for everything else afterwards.”
I don’t mean for this to sound cocky—and I certainly wasn’t feeling cocky when I decided to give writing a chance. It’s just that I was finally giving myself over, completely and utterly, to a lifelong dream, and when you do that kind of thing, it has to be with everything you’ve got.
So I wrote. I read a poem by Borges that just…got my mental juices flowing, and I sat down one morning and began. I wrote. And I wrote. And I didn’t stop writing until one month later, when Tiger Eye was finally completed. To say I was obsessed would be an understatement. I felt like my brain was on fire, and all the words coming out were the water.
Don’t get me wrong—the first draft of Tiger Eye was crap. But it was my crap, and the first novel-length work I had ever finished, and I was determined to at least try and make something of it. Crazy, insane—I cannot even begin to describe my agony and self-doubt. But for some reason, I just kept pushing. I revised Tiger Eye, and it took about two months before I was comfortable sending it out.
Rejections returned. And I was like, “Okay, that’s natural.” And then I got more rejections. And I was still like, “No problem.” I mean, I was really crazy. I was a walking basket of D-E-N-I-A-L. And yet, there was this little voice that just kept telling me to keep sending this thing out. I force-fed myself a cheerful attitude, and mailed and mailed and mailed. Mind you, I was sending stuff to the slush piles. Query letters, first three chapters, the kind of thing that usually offers a rat’s chance in hell of success.
My parents were living in China at the time. I went to visit them. One day I checked my voice mail in Madison, and there was this message from Dorchester Publishing. The message said (as best as I can remember): “Chris Keeslar liked your first three chapters and wants to see the rest of your book.”
I flipped out, but for a short time, only. I’m an optimist, but I like to temper my inner Pollyanna with a good dose of practicality. When I got back to America, I sent the rest of the book. And then I tried to forget about it and I went to Clarion East, which I had been accepted to about a month or two before. In case you don’t know about Clarion, it’s considered one of the best writer’s workshops in the nation for scifi/fantasy. Loved my experience, and I learned a lot.
But here’s the good part: second week in, on the day before my birthday, I get an email from Chris. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Which doesn’t mean everthing is now easy—absolutely not! This is hard work. Don’t let anyone ever tell you different. When I’m in the groove, I work at least as hard as I would if I was practicing law. But this is a lot more fun. And my commute?
Just ten steps. In my pyjamas.
Some helpful books and resources:
THE WRITING LIFE by Annie Dillard ~ This book is sheer poetry, and should be read by all.
THE ART OF FICTION by John Gardner ~ Jeff Ford (who, I believe, was actually taught by John Gardner) recommended this book to me, and it was well worth the price. Also called ‘Notes on Craft for Young Writers.’ Look for the exercises, one of which is to write a story in just one sentence.
YOUR NOVEL PROPOSAL: FROM CREATION TO CONTRACT by Marshall J. Cook ~ Okay, this is the book I used after I finished writing Tiger Eye and needed to start sending out the manuscript. This is an excellent book! It tells you everything you need to know about writing a synopsis, query letters, and so on. A must read when you’re ready to start submitting.
Common Errors in English
This website points out the most common errors in the standard usage of English, along with details about how to correct those errors.
General Information Resources:
The 101 Best Websites for Writers
Listed by Writer’s Digest, these sites offer an array of resources that cover publishing, research, creative jump-starts, and more. Worth your time.
Links to multiple news sources, databases, directories…
How Stuff Works
Just what it sounds like…learn how things work, from turbochargers to recording contracts.
Scour fiction, nonfiction, poetry and reference books at this online search engine.
Frequently Asked Questions: The Archive
An archive of FAQs about topics that range from autopsies to the Civil War. Very nifty.
Words! Words! Words!
One Look Reverse Dictionary
Do you ever have an idea or concept but don’t remember what the word is to describe it? A helpful source is the reverse dictionary. OneLook’s reverse dictionary lets you describe a concept and get back a list of words and phrases related to that concept. Your description can be a few words, a sentence, a question, or even just a single word.
You can search last names, nationality, and definitions.
get into it
A great site on how to handle WRITER’S BLOCK. Buwahahaha….
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