Bad News, Good News

April 12, 2007 | Written by admin

Bad news: I woke up this morning and discovered that Kurt Vonnegut had died. One of a handful of great American novelists who appeared in the 60′s and 70′s (along with the likes of Tom Pynchon, John Barth, and Saul Bellow), he was probably the most influential novelist of young writers in that era. Funny, acerbic, at times wildly inappropriate — well, I loved the man’s writings. Slaughterhouse Five and Cat’s Cradle and Breakfast of Champions were wonderful novels that entertained, educated, and offered a new perspective on the world. Sure, I didn’t always agree with his politics. But the world of writing is a worse place without him.

Good news: A friend of mine sent me an amazing article from the Washington Post. Imagine this: a newspaper takes Joshua Bell, one of the world’s foremost violinists, and plops him into a transit mall to play for passers-by. Nobody recognizes him (well, almost nobody), and only a couple of people have enough of an educated music ear to stop and listen…and be amazed at what they’re hearing. It’s a great story, especially for writers who pour their life into their work, only to discover that word doesn’t get out, maybe the publisher doesn’t work that hard, and sales are slow. That’s life as an artist. Read the article and see what happens to a guy who normally makes $60,000 an hour playing for top echelon audiences. Here’s the link:

More good news: There are a bunch of really good bloggers for writers out there in cyberspace, offering wisdom to writers. One of them is Sandra Glahn at She was just tagged as one of the best "thinking bloggers," and I encourage you to take a look at her work. Other blogs I like are Gina Holmes’ Novel Journey, Lisa Samson’s Author Intrusion, Claudia Burney’s Ragamuffin Diva, J. Mark Bertrand’s blog, and…dang…I’ve probably just left someone off the list, and they’re going to be mad at me. Dave Long’s Faith in Fiction is good, and I like Mick Silva’s blog, even though I don’t always agree with their perspectives. Randy Ingermanson’s site is great. About twice a month I post on a site called The Master’s Artist, and I happen to love it — one of the few sites I check daily (along with the Atlanta Braves, CNN, and Ameritrade). The good news is that there are a bunch of great places to go and learn about writing, to interact with ideas, and to talk books. Check out some of them.

Even more good news: Sherry wrote to ask me if there are any online writing groups I like. There is one: The Writers View, which is a yahoo discussion group. They have a panel of experts (I got on due to a clerical error) who toss out a question twice a week, and you’ve got more than a thousand writers who participate. They’ll talk about everything from editing to book proposals to magazine contracts, and I’ve learned a ton from the participants. The panelists know their stuff (don’t miss the wisdom of Lynn Vincent and Don Otis), not everybody agrees with each other (Cec Murphey is the resident curmudgeon), and  you’ll find it’s a great place to bat around ideas. With that many people, some of the advice is awful, of course, and I get tired of the people who want to over-spiritualize everything ("I write because God told me to!"), but overall this is a wonderful group — the best daily writer’s gathering I’ve ever known. Check it out.

And a last bit of good news: Things are happening in the book world. Some of it is bad (Vonnegut’s death) and some of it good (the last Harry Potter novel is about to release), but this isn’t a static business. Distribution patterns are changing, there is writing content everywhere, and this is truly the Golden Age of publishing. AND every publisher is looking for great writing. So if your desire is to move forward in publishing, focus on becoming a great writer and there could be a future for you.

Mair sent me a quote that I just have to share. It’s from Thomas Merton’s Thoughts in  Solitude, and she tells me it has become known as "Merton’s Prayer." Have a listen:

MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.



Posted in Resources for Writing

  • Jess

    Enjoyed the post, Chip. I loved Vonnegut. My daughter was born in May ’83 and though I never believed in using babysitters, when Vonnegut came to the LSU campus in Baton Rouge several months later, you can bet I found a trusted friend to stay with our daughter so dh and I could go to the lecture. What a treat. Thanks for recognizing him in a positive way. He’s always had a special place in my heart.
    Oh yeah, and I’ve learned more on Writer’s View than any other loop I’m on. :) It’s the best!

  • Elaina Avalos

    Wow, thanks for the Merton prayer.

  • Keri Wyatt Kent

    Loved the Washington Post article and video. I can relate, as an artist, to offering up what you think is pretty good stuff and having it met with indifference (or worse).
    But classical music and quoting mystics, all in one day, Chip? Next thing you know, good grief, you’ll be posting poetry. I’m looking forward to that!
    Great stuff!

  • Sandra Glahn

    I loved the prayer and read it aloud to my husband. Thanks for the kind words.

  • Christina Berry

    Loved the article! A little convicting as a parent to wonder what beauty I might have steered my kids away from because of leading a busy life.

  • Rachel Hauck

    I loved the Bell article and experiment. I think it’s a classic case of marketing to the wrong audience, wrong place, wrong time.
    You put, say, P Diddy or J Lo in that station and you’d get a whole different reaction. While I would recognize good music, I wouldn’t recognize Bell music.
    What the article makes me think is in publishing, how often do we just put our book “out there” hoping to garner some attention and passers by have no clue who we are?
    Musicians build an audience by traveling and performing as much as being great at what they do.
    There is no forum for an author to show up and “perform” for a thousand fans. We have to rely almost completely on word-of-mouth.
    Start talking people…. :)

  • Crystal Miller

    Of course, you know that Kurt Vonnegut was a native Hoosier…we, along with the world, will miss him.Nice tribute.
    Ok, I already read several of these blogs, when I can (that you listed.) You need to put in their links, and not just expect us to do all that work in finding them! I just got Claudia’s latest book.
    And I loved the quote from Merton that Mair sent to you. Spoke right on the same page with my mood today.
    Is Keri right? Will you be posting poetry next? If so, my favorite poetry is by Shel Silverstein…
    Informative stuff here. Thanks.

  • Pam Halter

    I read that article yesterday. Amazing. But when you think about it, there are SO many people doing that sort of thing in our big cities, most people are used to just walking by. Still, it was interesting.
    I also enjoy The Writer’s View, and your readers should know there are 2 groups ~ The View 1 for intermediate to advanced and The View 2 for beginning to intermediate writers. They are both great groups.
    What a great prayer! It’s been said the road to hell is paved with good intentions, but I also believe if our hearts are sincere, God knows and God blesses.
    Thanks for all your time, Chip. You are an encouragement to me to keep working at being a better writer.

  • Laura Domino

    What an article! It wowed me.
    I imagined myself a passerby time-crunched into leaving the music behind. My heart would’ve cried and whined like a child who wasn’t getting its way. But my feet, the more adult part of me, would’ve kept walking.
    I think we miss out on a lot of surprises because we do the adult thing. We’re responsible. The passionate few who come to work late with a child-like grin and dreamy eyes tell the story of what others missed, but are looked down on for not keeping to proper priorities.
    Even though I didn’t hear the music, the article still wowed me.

  • Sally Bradley

    What a wonderful prayer. So encouraging to this unpubbed writer. Thanks, Chip!

  • Danica/Dream

    Bad news… I’ve been having a crummy few days.
    Good news… Your blog brought a smile to my face as usual.

  • Brandilyn Collins

    Good News: I loved the WP article. Well written and thought-provoking. Thanks for posting it.
    Bad News: You left out my blog, Forensics and Faith. And to think we were almost linked in-laws.
    You owe me some chocolate.

  • relevantgirl

    I echo Brandilyn. Chocolate. Dark. In mass quantities required.

  • chrisd

    That Washington Post article was just, oh, it was amazing.
    And that Merton prayer was lovely.
    Thank you.

  • Jamie Carie

    Loved the article on Joshua Bell. I think I’m the kind of person who would stop and listen. Stop even, for my eight year old’s tugging hand. I burn dinner regularly for a moment of inspirational prose, written on the back of a scrap of paper or running upstairs to type out. But mostly, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude, because I haven’t had to be that harried person making a living. I have a husband who has paid that price for me. He uncomplainingly eats my burned dinners and puts up with my distracted moods while getting up early each morning for the long commute to the professional world – out of love. While I’m out soaking up the beauty of the world, he is providing sustenance for me and our boys. I ask myself, what if I was that single parent? That harried woman who has only in mind the getting of my son to school, the meeting that I have to attend, that career that has to provide? What person would I be then? So, there’s no judgment from me for the people who couldn’t pause and appreciate, there’s only this profound thankfulness . . . that I have the time, the chance, to stop and hear the music of life.