10 Reasons Why Anyone Can Be a Writer

1–Because writing is just a craft like carpentry and if you can build a bookcase, you can write Infinite Jest, or at least Pride and Prejudice.

2–Because even your mother did NaNoWriMo. Twice.

3–Because there are apps for everything.

4–Because spell check does half the work and best sellers can’t be all that hard anyway.

5–Because all you need is passion, patience, and a fondness for rejection–just like stalkers.

6–Because agents are a dying breed, traditional publishers are thieves, and Amazon is wide open.

7–Because there are more people willing to take your money in creative writing programs than there are people phishing for your social security number.

8–Because anyone can be a dancer, a musician, a painter, an actor, or a neurosurgeon–you just have to want it badly enough. Talent doesn’t matter.

9–Because every other writing blog filled with writing tips tells you so.

10–Because there are a million inspiring fake Mark Twain quotes on the Internet  that will give you the courage to try.

Lev Raphael is the author of Writer’s Block is Bunk and 24 other books in a wide range of genres, from memoir to mystery.

(originally appeared on The Huffington Post)

Commencement Speeches Have Nothing To Do With Free Speech

It’s that special time of year when protests erupt over commencement speakers at various colleges and universities around the country.  Then editorial writers and talking heads blather endlessly about the subject, and comment sections on web sites erupt in abuse and foolishness.

2014-09-30-talkingheadsI’ve watched the yearly uproar about commencement speakers being invited (or uninvited) with disappointment.  Why?  Because the discussion is consistently off base.

One thread that comes up over and over is that students protesting a speaker’s invitation interfere with free speech. That’s just idiotic, and completely misunderstands the Bill of Rights.  Someone like Dick Cheney, for instance, is free to speak about his beliefs, his past, his hopes and dreams, his view of foreign affairs, whatever he likes anywhere he wants to.  And he does. He’s a public figure and can appear on TV talk shows, can publish Op Ed pieces, blogs, essays and books.

But the First Amendment says nothing about people who are invited to speak somewhere and are paid to do so.  It specifically refers to government intervention in individual expression.  That’s just not the case where a speaker proves controversial and campus protests arise.

Just as foolish as invoking “free speech”: the noxious moralizing about how students should be open to a free expression of ideas.  The Washington Post editorial board hasn’t been alone in taking that tack, but are they for real? After four years of college, you don’t want a lecture in the middle of a grueling, dull, long ceremony in the heat–and you shouldn’t get one.  Some schools even have two speakers from opposite political sides of a question to “promote open discussion.”  What a joke!

graduates_1Commencement speeches aren’t seminars or workshops with Q&A.  They’re supposed to be inspiring and entertaining.  Funny, if possible.  They’re throwaway, forgettable, a moment’s ornament as Edith Wharton put it in another context.  And that’s okay, because graduation is about transitions, about moving on, about celebration.  The ceremony isn’t an intellectual milestone for anyone involved. It’s not meant to go down in history, and the speaker sure isn’t Moses coming down from the mountain top.

Academic freedom doesn’t suffer and nobody’s rights are interfered with if someone gets invited at a very hefty fee to speak to a graduating class of students, and is suddenly uninvited.  Free exchange of ideas?  What a laugh. The only exchange is the speech the speaker gives and the check that speaker leaves with or gets in the mail.

colbertLev Raphael is the author of the suspense novel Assault With a Deadly Lie and 24 other books in many genres which you can find on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

The Secret to Get People Reading Your Blog

So you’ve started your blog and there’s minimal traffic?

A sure-fire way to generate an audience is to write smack about somebody famous, especially if that celebrity just died.

Just see what would happen if you blogged that Prince’s music was over-rated, that he hadn’t really written any hits lately, that he was derivative, that he always looked like he got dressed in the dark–or whatever nastiness came to mind.  The comments would explode.

prince orangeIf you dissed Prince so soon after his death and all the memorials praising his genius, you’d be endlessly re-tweeted on Twitter. Now, people do respond to the 5 Ways to De-Clutter Your Sock Drawer blogs, but when a blogger targets somebody popular, it’s like swatting a bee hive with a bat.

You can do better than that, though: don’t just attack a person, attack a whole genre.  Look at Curtis Sittenfeld.  Never heard of her?  That’s true for lots of readers.  But she recently generated a ton of publicity by saying that most romance novels are badly written.

Bingo!  She got tons of press and widespread attacks by romance writers and readers.

Of course, she was after bigger game than blog readers because she was publishing an updated version of Pride and Prejudice which she thinks is a romance.  But the strategy could work just as well for you: diss a popular genre with a provocative blog title, and watch the comments mount.  Try writing a blog “Crime Fiction is Crap.”

The comments won’t be pretty. You’ll get dissed as a hack or moron or worse.  Ignore all that.  Ignore all the negatives, because what’s the point of getting into a conversation with someone who wants to insult you?  Just watch for the people who agree–because those people will show up, too.  And who knows, they might stick around….

BlogLev Raphael is author of The Edith Wharton Murders and 24 other books in genres from mystery to memoir.

Into the Woods, Without Delay!

As a writer and story-teller, I’ve been in love with Into the Woods for years. Ever time I see or hear it, I’m awed by Sondheim’s trademark wit, his long elegant vocal lines, his surprising rhymes, his dark humor, his complex music.  So I was worried that the Disney musical would be too cute, but I was wrong; it’s fairly true to the spirit of his work. Disney’s found ways through cinematography and specials effects to capture the heart and soul of an American masterpiece.

The movie is full of surprises. Emily Blunt and Meryl Streep have rich expressive voices and break your heart. Johnny Depp is appropriately creepy as the Wolf and Chris Pine isn’t just a wonderful singer, he’s even funnier and sexier than he was in Star Trek. He almost steals the show in the beautifully staged “Agony.”

There’s more: “On the Steps of the Palace” is absolutely brilliant and it’s not the only show-stopper in a movie which looks and sounds beautiful all the way through.

635531969902481362-ITWAnnaKendrickCinderellaWell, almost. Perhaps to appeal to kids, Disney picked the young actor who played Gavroche in Les Misérables to play Jack. He’s a dud.  His diction and thick accent turn the soaring “Giants in the Sky” into mush.  There are other things you’ll miss if you know the musical. The “Mysterious Man”/Narrator isn’t here in person. Lyrics are trimmed throughout and the two Princes only sing together once.

More seriously, “No More” is cut, and it’s the pivotal song that makes the Baker turn and face his responsibilities. Perhaps most sadly, almost all of the ensembles are axed and so you lose most of Sondheim’s glorious harmonies. You also lose the amazing group finale on screen which is all about journeying into darkness towards self-discovery, a journey that never ends: “Into the woods, each time you go/There’s more to learn of what you know.”

But none of that should stop you from seeing Into the Woods, because it’s deeply moving and often powerful. And there’s always the DVD of the original Broadway production to fill in all the gaps. I mean, moments.

Lev Raphael’s 25th book Assault with a Deadly Lie is a novel of suspense about a journey into the dark woods of stalking, gun violence and police militarization.

Thinking about Writing

For the last few weeks, I’ve been writing.

But I haven’t gone near my PC or Tablet, and haven’t put a word to paper. It’s all been in my head.

Here’s what I started with: a problem.  To move my 25th book forward, I needed my protagonist to have a confrontation with a minor character.  I knew what this woman’s role was in the book and how she drove the plot forward.

Yet she herself was blank.  I had no idea what she looked like, what she sounded like, what kind of house she had.  None of that was real.  And so I mused about it.  Walking, showering, and especially working out at the gym.  Freeing my mind and focusing on repetitive physical activity (treadmill, weights) has always helped me write.  Even if I’m not consciously writing, my subconscious is beavering away at the problem, or answering the questions I’ve posed myself.

And after a few weeks, the answers came to me when I did something a bit different, worked out three days in a row.  Suddenly I could see this woman limping up her driveway lined with impatiens.  I knew why she had planted them, and why she limped.  Better still, I heard her speaking her first line to my protagonist, and once he answered, the scene took off.

But it’s still in my head.  Building.  Blossoming.  Adding layers and complications.  Making connections with other parts of the book.  Many words, many realities.

I still haven’t written much of anything down, because after so many years of writing, I know my own process well enough to know I’m not ready.  I want to feel full of the scene that will anchor a whole chapter and push the book to its dark climax.

Writing isn’t just the physical act of clicking keys or wielding pen or pencil or even dictating.  It takes place invisibly to everyone else but us.  That’s why sometimes it feels so magical.  And that’s why it’s often hard to answer the well-meant question “What are you working on?”  I often don’t want to say, and sometimes I’m not even sure.

It’s a lot easier when someone asks me “Are you writing a new book?” My reply is “Always.”

Ionesco said that “A writer never has a vacation. For a writer life consists of either writing or thinking about writing.”  To me, thinking about writing is writing.