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Posted originally on March 24, 2010.

In times like these men should utter nothing for which they would not be willingly responsible through time and in eternity.

                                                                       –  Abraham Lincoln

I have at least a hundred and ten places in the world, big and small, I’d love to visit one day. They are anywhere from Egypt to Ireland to Turkey to Japan to Greece — the list goes on and on. And most of those places have sneaked into my list because of the books I’ve read over the years.

Isn’t it amazing how the image you have of the world is shaped, among other things, by the books (or any printed material) you read? That realization makes the act of writing that much more daunting – forget about how hard the craft itself is.

When it comes to writing books, non-fiction has more rules. Authors of non-fiction are expected to be cognizant of the subject at hand, and they are relied upon to include only proven facts in their books.

Not so fiction.

When writing fiction for adults there’s more leeway, because they are capable of discerning right from wrong. That’s the general belief, at least.

Writing for children? That’s an entirely different beast. Books are one of the cheapest and most commonly used tools to help shape young minds. And children  are more impressionable, and hence susceptible to persuasion.

It is well and good to keep books real. I’m all for it. Up to a point.

My problem is when books get gimmicky, all for the sake of sales or some other self-serving need of the creators of the book, and make the depraved characters in it look really cool. Is this really necessary?

Let’s say someone writes a book that has a strong subliminal message that it is okay to make a cheap buck by cheating someone else. And for whatever reason, that book goes out of print after only some hundred copies are sold.

Where do those hundred-odd copies end up? On bookshelves, where they will continue to live for a number of decades. Even if each one of them gets read by one child in each generation, that’s a lot of children brainwashed over the years. And they grow up into adults who affect more children by their beliefs, opinions, and actions. And hence the sphere of influence of that one book keeps growing.

Every book has a message in it, whether it’s an obvious one or not.

As a writer, the bottom line for me is: Would my conscience remain clear even if only one reader embraces the message in my book?

How do you keep your writing responsible?

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I participated in a webinar led by agent Mark McVeigh a few weeks ago. He had invited a group of writers, who follow his blog, to this webinar; I happened to be one of the lucky participants!

Mark worked as an editor for eleven years, most recently as editorial director at Simon & Schuster’s Children’s Publishing Division, before he opened his own literary agency, The McVeigh Agency.

He spent 90+ minutes explaining the nuts and bolts of the publishing industry: how to get a literary agent, how to present your work in the best possible light to people in the business, and how to make connections with editors and others in the industry. He left plenty of time at the end to answer the questions that we had.

His presentation was clear and concise. (He was a sixth grade teacher before he entered the publishing industry and his experience in that field and his love for teaching came shining through during the session!)

And the added bonus? None of us had to rush to the airport on time, take a two/three hour trip to get to the destination, or check into a hotel in order to attend the seminar.

We used a web tool to connect, so we could not only hear each other, but also see each other. All we had to do was log in from wherever we happened to be at the time for which the session was scheduled!

Do you want to grow as a writer? Then you have to hear Mark’s advice in that area:

  • Write every single day.
  • Get into a routine to write.
  • Be part of a critique group – online or face-to-face or both.
  • Become involved and immersed in the writing community.
  • Work on different genres for different age groups: get out of your comfort zone.

At Mark’s suggestion, a number of the participants, including myself, immediately formed an online critique group.

I found out soon, much to my delight, that this group is pretty eclectic in the genres and age groups for which it writes. I belong to a wonderful face-to-face critique group already, and now I’m very excited about being a part of this new one also.

Overall, it was a pretty cool session — one which gave me a chance to not only learn from one of the pros of the publishing industry, but also connect with a bunch of like-minded writers who are willing to learn and grow alongside me.

I hear Mark is planning on conducting more of these webinars, which don’t require anything special besides a webcam on your computer. Keep your ears to the ground!

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In times like these men should utter nothing for which they would not be willingly responsible through time and in eternity.

                                                                       –  Abraham Lincoln

I have at least a hundred and ten places in the world, big and small, I’d love to visit one day. They are anywhere from Egypt to Ireland to Turkey to Japan to Greece — the list goes on and on. And most of those places have sneaked into my list because of the books I’ve read over the years.

Isn’t it amazing how the image you have of the world is shaped, among other things, by the books (or any printed material) you read? That realization makes the act of writing that much more daunting – forget about how hard the craft itself is.

When it comes to writing books, non-fiction has more rules. Authors of non-fiction are expected to be cognizant of the subject at hand, and they are relied upon to include only proven facts in their books.

Not so fiction.

When writing fiction for adults there’s more leeway, because they are capable of discerning right from wrong (that’s the general belief, at least).

Writing for children? That’s an entirely different beast. Books are one of the cheapest and most commonly used tools to help shape young minds. And children (I’m lumping everyone from babies to teens here) are more impressionable, and hence susceptible to persuasion.

It is well and good to keep books real. I’m all for it. Up to a point.

My problem is when books get gimmicky, all for the sake of sales or some other self-serving need of the creators of the book, and make the depraved characters in it look really cool. Is this really necessary?

Let’s say someone writes a book that has a strong subliminal message that it is okay to make a cheap buck by cheating someone else. And for whatever reason, that book goes out of print after only some hundred copies are sold.

Where do those hundred-odd copies end up? On bookshelves, where they will continue to live for a number of decades. Even if each one of them gets read by one child in each generation, that’s a lot of children brainwashed over the years. And they grow up into adults who affect more children by their beliefs, opinions, and actions. And hence the sphere of influence of that one book keeps growing.

Every book has a message in it, whether it’s an obvious one or not.

As a writer, the bottom line for me is: Would my conscience remain clear even if only one reader embraces the message in my book?

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If you resist reading what you disagree with, how will you ever acquire deeper insights into what you believe?  The things most worth reading are precisely those that challenge our convictions. 
                                                      
~Author Unknown

What’s with us adults and political correctness?

When I read as a child, I was rarely bothered by the opinions that some of the authors seemed to hold that were in direct contrast with what I was taught or what I saw around me. I calmly chalked it up to one of two things:

a) The author didn’t know what s/he was talking about (yes, I was a confident – well ok, maybe just a tad cocky – kid).

b) The time period during which the author lived (I was reading a lot of English classics at one point) must lead her/him to bear such an opinion.

If I liked the book, I just kept reading it. The opinions expressed by some of the characters never lessened my enjoyment of the story itself, and I never sat down to analyze the intentions of those characters.

(I had much better and more fun things to think about: What new and weird-sounding-named snack is mom going to have ready when I go back home from school today; Is Steffi Graf going to beat Gabriela Sabatini in the U.S Open match tomorrow?; What fun things can we do this summer when all of us cousins get together again? to mention but a few.)

When I read the same books now, as an adult, some of the theories expounded in them raise my hackles. Why? Is that because, as adults:

  • Somewhere along the line, we have begun to take ourselves too seriously?
  • We have become intolerant?
  • We tend to attribute the author’s opinions to ourselves and that touches a nerve?
  • We have become so jaded that we cannot take anything at face value without analyzing it to death?
  • We have become vulnerable to hurt?
  • To take it a step further: is it because some feel responsible for all those masses who, according to them, don’t know what is best for them? So, they take it upon themselves to educate the others by telling them which books to read and which ones not to.

Or is it a combination of all of the above? What do you all think?

I never fully grasped the meaning of the adage ‘Every coin has two sides’ more than when I sat down to write this post. Please come back on Wednesday when I try to examine the flip side to today’s topic: responsibility of a writer.

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