Zen Talk: A Quote by Buddha about the Wise

“As a solid boulder does not shake in the wind, the wise are not moved by censure or praise.”

This saying by Buddha lets us meditate on our inner conviction and resolve, as well as our understanding of ourselves, lives and accomplishments.

Now, do I think that we should never feel pride when complemented or never let criticism help us rethink our actions or work? No, not necessarily. Censure and praise can act as important buffers in guiding us towards better things or higher qualities of work, wishing to achieve more praise the next time or improving ourselves for fear of chastisement.

Personally, when it comes to constructive criticism I listen with open ears because only through editing, for example, does a piece of writing improve. As the Buddha expresses, though, that criticism shouldn’t be taken personally or to heart or let it move us as people, but only affect the quality of our work.

Buddha makes us realize that accolades and criticism should not ultimately make us feel bad (or too good) about ourselves or be dwelled upon excessively. They are there to be taken or left as appropriate and not to turn our worlds upside down as many people allow both praise and censorious remarks to do.

What does this Buddha quote make you think about? What are your thoughts about letting praise and censure affect you? Have you ever had an experience where such remarks affected you in a particularly noteworthy way?

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Enjoy more Zen Talk.

Topical Tuesday: Anger Strikes an Unpublished Writer, Prompting the Rest of Us to Say, Who Hasn’t Been There?

The following are my thoughts on the post that can be found on Absolute Write’s forum, “Rejection and Dejection,” and that I’ve posted at the end of this entry.
It’s Cold Out Here
The accusation he makes this whiner makes is that the publishing industry is a waste of time, that its agents are morons who don’t understand his genius (though you’ll notice a dozen typos in his few paragraphs) and that no one is concerned with anything but money and pandering to the hot genre’s crowds.
Now, do I understand the sentiments behind his bitching? Sure – who hasn’t had a tough day in the world of writing. It’s a rough industry to break into, has tight and finicky rules, and a lot of weird, accepted behaviors. Agents can ignore their signed clients; personally addressed letters often go unanswered; and numerous publishers can’t even be contacted without an agent. What’s more, most people don’t want to represent you if you haven’t already been published, making breaking into the industry incredibly difficult. But, hey, people do it all the time.
Money, money, money, money – MONEY!
The publishing industry is a business – everything about it. This guy is pissed that people care about money, but publishers and agents spend all their time doing doing their jobs. If they’re not in it for the money, what are they in it for? Should their children starve so that this guy and every other shmoe can have representation?
Look, it may be frustrating that he can’t get published but to think that it’s only about money – or that all the agents are stupid – is a pretty ridiculous accusation. Yes, agents and publishers may like to represent works that are part of hot genres but every agent’s site says his/her interests and they’re definitely out there for every genre. Quite, frankly, if enough agents (say, 50-100) want nothing to do with you and give you no real feedback, it’s probably not a sign that the industry sucks but rather, that you do. Either you’re querying the wrong people or you should take the hint and write something else, write a different way or just don’t write….at least not to be published.
What He Can Do
If you think your work is so great and you want other people to read it so bad and you think that the industry is corrupt, guess what! You have options! That’s right, get some copies of your book printed yourself. No, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re published, but at least you’re not part of a mechanism you hate. Pass them out or sell them on the internet. I’m sure you’ll sell a few. Maybe it will go so well that you can requery agents and get it picked up. Perhaps they needed proof of its potential success. Though they may know their industry (presumably, despite this guy’s accusation), everybody makes mistakes.
And, hey, if you try your hardest with dozens and dozens of letters and every other means at your disposal and still can’t get published or represented by an agent, does that necessarily mean your book sucks and you don’t deserve to be a published author? No, not really, but it does mean that you might want to rethink what you’re doing or writing. Maybe it’s not as good as you think, because if you were the next J.K. Rowling, don’t you think somebody, around rejection 19, would pick you up?
So to this guy: I feel you buddy, but you know what – it’s not the publishing industry. It’s life. You’ve got to learn to keep your head up and push through the good times and the bad. Sometimes a lot of people won’t like the product you’re offering. Welcome to a free market. Life can be filled with rejection and unfairness and be a place where people like money. Go figure. So suck it up, take a breather and try again later. And if that’s the way you really feel then I’m glad you finally think you’re free.
What do you think about these complaints? Do you think I’m being too harsh? To read other Topical Tuesday posts, click HERE. To check out Chandler’s thoughts on this post, click HERE.
This guy’s letter
I’ve had it with this B.S.

This is a stupid industry and I’m tired of wasting my time with it. I’m not going to send any more carefully crafted queries to mind-numbed morons totally incapable of understanding my thoughts. The same brainless poli-sci, english, and lit majors that looked at me blankly in my university days when they’d discover I was studying physics. A vacuous gaze followed by an imbecilic chuckle and a comment along the lines of, “I can’t talk to you.” If only I’d have known those idiots who wouldn’t talk to me then, would be running the industry that somehow sucked me in I could have avoided wasting the last decade.

I guess that jokes on me, and maybe I’d feel different if someone had actually had the balls to read something besides a f-ing query letter. But from the comfort of my home I can just feel their eyes glazing over as soon as they see a word with more than three syllables or an idea that doesn’t involve a cop, a lawyer, or a disgruntled housewife. Those who moan glowingly about their deep understanding of the written word yet don’t seem interested in anything that doesn’t involve vampires, the paranormal, or women’s lib. The world is a big place full of wonder and fantastical ideas and they’ve reduced it to a single cart-full of dung. Aristotle knew what that meant 2500 years ago.

Finito, over and out, tired of trying to bring something beautiful into a world run only by money and people who’s sole expertise begins and ends with counting it. There are better ways to waste my life than a shelf of miscarriages and a head full of impotent ideas.

Free at last!

The Zen of South Park Progress Report

I am glad to say that I’m finally back to work on The Zen of South Park. After packing in Atlanta, moving to San Fran, finding an apartment, setting it up with furniture and crap and then a few nights of sickness, I have, at last, begun to sit at my desk daily and plug away.

And it feels great.

We all have projects that we love, and they become such a part of us that to neglect them is like leaving your child in the rain while you go to the local bar. And then beating him when you get home. It’s just not cool – you know?

I am in the very serious editing stages of the book, which is to say that I have quite solid drafts of every chapter and am now perfecting them by tweaking jokes, analyzing word choice and examing the overall structure of each chapter for consistency, flow, and logic. I actually really enjoy this stage of editing because you can see your book go from a piece of writing to a manuscript. While doing this I am also taking notes on the single point of each section in each chapter so that I can properly write an introduction and conclusion.

As I always reiterate, There are no great writers – only great editors.

How is your project going right now? Did you catch the South Park marathon last night? Which episode did you enjoy most. Personally, I love the “Cartoon Wars” episodes. If you’d like to read an essay I wrote on them, called “A Defense of South Park,” click HERE.

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Read about other South Park episodes.

Author and Computer Scientist, Hank Simon, Talks about Publishing and Writing

Hank Simon has been a wonderful asset to me as I began the writing, querying, proposal and publishing processes with The Zen of South Park. I wanted to bring him on as a guest blogger this Monday so that you could get to know him a little better and reap the benefits of some of his advice just as I have. Please don’t hesitate to leave questions and comments at the end of the post and he will return to answer them accordingly.

What do you do for a living?

I’m currently a computer scientist/engineer at a major corporation. I’m responsible for the long-term, strategic design of how information flows across the enterprise using Service Oriented Architecture approaches.

What book(s) have you written? What are they about? How do they relate to your day job, if at all?

I’ve written and contributed to 7 non-fiction books about technology. They relate to highly technical topics, such as XML, wireless, expert systems, and spectroscopy. I wrote them because, as a thought leader in advanced technology and R&D, I found a gap in information about these topics. So, as I gathered this information for a forward looking applications, it was natural to organize my findings as chapters in my books.

When were they published and with whom?

McGraw-Hill was my most successful publication in 2001, as well as a few smaller companies, ranging from 1999 – 2005.

Did you have an agent when you were trying to get them published or did you go straight to publishers?

I was very lucky in this aspect, because I was publishing many articles – more than 100 – in various trade journals, as well as making presentations at international conferences. This experience gave me lots of exposure to editors in various publishing houses, and they approached me with ideas for the books.

When you wrote query letters and proposals, what was the most difficult part?

The proposal is the most difficult part, because I had to get a feeling for the marketplace and clearly define my audience. I also had to defend my book idea compared to existing books already published. This was both a blessing and a curse. I found that the easiest way to slip into the market was to discover a gap or niche that I could fill. That niche is unique in all cases, and sometimes it is not a niche that I could fill. It was difficult to admit that.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors trying to get published?

Read a lot by authors that you like and topics that interest you. But if you don’t like authors, don’t choke on them. For example, I read voraciously, but I don’t like many authors who write more than 600 pages. That means I have never waded through War and Peace. In contrast, I do like some of the older authors, Thurber, Benchley, Twain, Shalom Aleichem, Hemmingway, Herriot, Asimov. And I also like Grogan, and Rowland for their straightforward style. When I write, I try to blend aspects of these authors in order to improve my own style. And, I try to write at least 1 hour everyday, saving the edit process until I have a completed piece.

Are you working on any projects right now? Can you tell me about it (the writing process/publishing process/etc.).

I’m working on a Dog book that uses my dog as the central character, to highlight his personality and intelligence, to show interactions with other dogs, and to use this as a canvas to paint the relationships of people and the dogs that they meet along the way.

What advice do you have when it comes to writing?

Write everyday in a style that you like to read. Don’t try to win the Noble Prize.
Write and create first, edit later. It is tremendously easier to create and then edit.
And it is more productive to write a complete work and then edit. If you keep editing, you will stop creating and will get discouraged.
Plan to take 2x or 3x as much time to cut & edit, as you do creating.
Plan for your first book to take about a year from start to publication.

Who is your favorite author? What’s your favorite book?

I like the Harry Potter books.

If you could write one kind of book that you haven’t yet written what would it be?

I’d like to write a book on “Managing Ignorance” to complement Peter Drucker’s classic on Managing Knowledge. I could see many Dilbert opportunities.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Writing is very hard and time consuming. And, it is a job that requires discipline to remain in isolation while you create. Non-writers don’t appreciate the long hours, and the hard work needed to turn a phrase and to chip away everything until only the finely crafted piece remains.

Topical Tuesdays: Volume and Pitch – The Noise a Writer Needs to Do the Deed

And just to clarify for those of you with less than savory minds (or particularly savory minds, as the case may be), that deed is writing.

Yes, this Topical Tuesday is all about the volume: TURN IT UP! Or maybe for me, turn it down. We’re all a little different with our noise preferences when we sit down at the computer to write (or just work), but in order to do what needs doing, we all need it to be the pitch and volume we like it.

Noise In Israel

When I was getting my Masters in Jerusalem, I happened to live on the corner of a particularly busy street (Hapalmach and Koveshei Katamon, for those of you who may be familiar), and it was a noisy street. The #13 bus ran down Hapalmach and began very early in the morning and ended very late. Cars honked incessantly (everywhere in Israel) and motorbikes roared. It was also heavily trafficked by pedestrians and people had no consideration for the volume of their voices as they reprimanded their children, called out to a friend or simply discussed the days events. Honestly, all that noise never made it too hard for me to work. I wrote and I read and I did just fine.

But then the Sabbath would come. Though Israel itself stays relatively lively on Saturday (that’s the Jewish Shabbat), Jerusalem truly becomes very quiet and Sabbath-like. All the buses stop, very few people continue driving, and though the foot-traffic increases so more people are talking on the streets, there really is something less noisy about it all. Shabbat was quiet and on Shabbat you better believe I could concentrate and got some work done (though you’re not supposed to work or use computers and electricity or write, but if that’s the only time Israelis shut-up what can God expect).

Quiet in the U.S.

Upon returning to America I lived in the suburbs in a quiet neighborhood where the only noise was the kids across the street playing for an hour outside as they got home from school. It was blissfully quiet. This is where I wrote most of my book, but this level of silence actually has its ups and downs.

It was so quiet that I’d get sleepy around 1 p.m. (after 5-6 hours of writing) and want to take a nap. With no noise or external distractions, I would succumb to this unnecessary sleeping sensation and waste the rest of my day napping, then being groggy, then saying it was too late to keep writing. So in this way, noise can be good for me and my work.

Volume Up

Now I live on a busy street in downtown San Francisco. Buses go by. People are loud checking into the hotel across the street and walking around, and the noises of the city (and my loud cat) keep me up. Though I haven’t begun writing again I think that this environment, similar to my life in Jerusalem, will keep me alert and active and able to write – and if I need to turn down the volume there are always earplugs, my recommendation to everyone who needs that whether awake or trying to sleep.

Oh, and as for music: only when I do mindless work. I can’t write to music at all because the rhythm doesn’t allow my brain to think entirely in its own way. Do you listen to music when you work?

Do you like noise or quiet when you work? Is your situation conducive to those needs? What tricks do you use to keep things at the proper volume for you?

For more on this Topical Tuesday discussion check out Chandler’s blog.

Exercising Mind and Body: Avoiding the Potentially Stagnant Life of the Household Writer

Like many authors, I write from home. I feel comfortable at home. It’s my comfort zone. Home has my stuff and my books, my computer and my desk: my collective work station where my mind is most free to do its thing and my fingers are most free to follow it through the keyboard. But this love affair with life at home – that is, working life at home – can be detrimental in other ways.

I fear – and I think it’s a grounded fear – that I don’t get enough exercise. Of course, in the last few weeks, I’ve managed to walk up and down the hills of San Francisco in search of apartments, accoutrements and everything else we need to set up, but now that this process has wound down and I am about to re-begin my sedentary lifestyle, it’s important to consider physical exercise.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to exercise. It sucks and I don’t feel like using my time that way. However, I know it will make me feel better and I know that it’s good for me. Plus, I always get tired unnecessarily at about 1 o’clock and if I went to exercise instead of my usual two hour nap, it would be a better use of my time.

Those things considered, I decided that I need to join a gym. I like to swim and so it needs to be a place that has a lap pool (also, my knees suck and I can’t run long distances – especially not in this hilly town). This gym also needs to be close to my house because despite going to exercise, I’m pretty lazy when it comes to gym distance and won’t travel far (more than a ten minute walk) to exercise.

So, do you think I should join a gym? Do you work at home and need regular exercise? What do you do to stay fit and healthy? Any good suggestions for delicious snackfood?

San Francisco and The Zen of South Park

Writing while moving is a particularly difficult feat and one that I have neither mastered nor even really attempted. There is a nagging sensation in my brain all the time telling me to get back to work – to sit down and do anything productive – to please please please write this book and at least try not to let the blog fall apart. But alas, I have just moved in to my new apartment and the chaos of finding and putting an apartment together, getting internet from Comcast and waiting for the arrival of my shipped belongings and the acquisition of furniture, I have hardly found the time or proper motivation to sit down at the computer and begin working in even a disjointed fashion. Thus, my work suffers. Oh, me miserable, can I have some cheese with my whine.

But fear not! The apartment we found is great (high ceilings, hardwood floors, sunny big windows, new kitchen, roomy, huge closets, etc.), and our setup is going well. We’ve been excellent shoppers and gotten most of what we need for less than the price of our new television (32″ LCD Samsung HDTV 720 – also Circuit City sucks ass).

Some tips on bargain shopping:

– always bring someone from former a former communist country

– always look at all of the items on sale and see if they can work for your needs (this on top of a holiday weekend sale shopping extravaganza like July 4th or Memorial Day makes a huge difference)

– always ask about what’s negotiable – you’ll be surprised what is

– for furniture, go to nice local hotels and ask if they are getting rid of anything or remodeling soon; generally they won’t even charge you for hauling away what they consider trash (don’t forget to bring the manager a small gift [wine, perhaps] to thank him for remembering you the day of the remodeling and calling you about furniture pickup)

So by combining these elements we’ve gotten ourselves quite near setting up and are just awaiting Fedex and some furniture before our place is complete and I can continue working on The Zen of South Park.