Tuesday, July 29, 2008
These two books illustrated writing concepts I already knew in my head, but had not taken to heart. They may be common ideas – i.e. books need suspense, every scene has to do something – but I needed these books to bring the concepts out of the abstract world of ideas and into vivid reality.
Jane Eyre: I was not forced to read this in high school. I don’t know if I would have appreciated it as much as I did if I had picked it up before I was in my 20s. I listened to the book on cassette tapes in my “beater” car while driving back and forth to Charlotte for work. The story enthralled me. I didn’t read the back cover copy or look for a synopsis online, so I experienced all the twists and turns of Jane’s experiences in a fresh, unaffected way. The mystery of the in the attic was really a mystery, Jane’s love affair with Rochester really seemed hopeless when he told the truth of his past. The book’s level of suspense and growing conflict drove me through the chapters while I drove to Charlotte. I had to take the tapes out of my car and keep listening in my room when I got home at night. It gave me a taste of the pleasure of a good on-the-edge-of-your-seat mystery. I felt inspired to write, so I started playing with ideas for a first person novel that eventually became my NaNo novel and thereby my first complete manuscript draft.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: One of the most fantastic summers of my reading life was when I worked through the first six books of the Harry Potter series. I confess I started with book six. I had listened to the audio book in the car with a friend and got hooked. I read book six until right before the black moment, stopped, and read the whole series in order from book one. I have since read the series three times at least (mostly on audio book, I do love being able to hang out with Harry while I’m waiting in traffic). I can actually place my “aha” moment for this book in space and time. I can see in my mind the parking lot where I walked through the rain thinking about what I had just heard in the car. I was reading Prisoner of Azkaban, and I suddenly realized how everything in a book works together to complete the plot – how J.K. Rowling masterfully used each and every scene to do something for the story. I knew this conceptually, but suddenly I could see it in beautiful detail.
As an aside, yes, I listen to a lot of books on audio. The mental and emotional experience for me is the same, if not better in some cases, than reading a book off the page. It does depend on personal style though, because there are a lot of people (like my mom) who cannot follow a book if it is presented in an audio format. I must be a little kid at heart - I like being read to.
The question: What book gave you your biggest “AHA, I want to do that” moment?
Thursday, July 24, 2008
If you are a writer, you have probably heard someone say something to the extent of “Yeah, I plan to write a book one day, when I get time.” If you haven’t heard a line like that before, walk around and tell people you are writing a book, I almost guarantee you will eventually hear it. This line is one of my personal pet-peeves. After all, when is there really ample time just sitting around to write a book? Retirement? Who wants to wait their entire life before trying something they think they want to do?
When I first got serious about my writing, I knew one of the keys to improvement was to write a lot, and write constantly. I found advice (I forget where) which recommended establishing a ‘writing ritual’—a dedicated time I set aside every day to write.
Okay. I could do that. Right?
I made it maybe a week. Then life got in the way. Work swallowed me whole, a family event was scheduled during my time, or maybe I was just too tired when I got home. Writers always say “You wouldn’t let life get in the way of showing up to work. If you were serious, you wouldn’t let it get in the way of writing either.” Which, is true enough—but so not helpful.
I tried to be flexible about my dedicated time; it didn’t have to be the same time everyday, just an unbroken hour or two, alone, without distractions. Still I wasn’t consistently making it to the computer. I was frustrated. Some days I might get four miraculous hours, but then days would go by where I barely had a break all day. What was I supposed to do? Were people right about that waiting for retirement thing?
Of course not.
Here is what I finally figured out: sometimes time has to be stolen. There are lots of lost minutes during the day. Waiting after work to meet up with the husband or the kids? Hey, it might only be a couple minutes, but add those up with the twenty minutes dinner is in the oven, and the half hour before bed, and suddenly you have a full hour of writing. It’s not all together, and it’s not necessarily quiet, but carry a notebook, and you might be surprised how many words you have at the end of the day. Realizing my time didn’t have to be all together helped me immensely, and my word count grew on that first book.
Over the last two years, I think I’ve forgotten what I learned way back when with that first book. Oh I still steal time, in my own way. I now pack my lunch and devote my lunch hour to writing every workday. Most of the time, I can write at least 500 words during lunch, on good days I hit around 1k in that hour. After work, if I have the time and energy, I try to devote a little more time to my writing, but if life gets in the way, at least I know I had that hour. For deadlines (even if they are self-imposed), that isn’t always enough. I’ve been frustrated recently with my lack of time, so I think I need to start looking for those wasted minutes once again.
When do you write? (or practice any other hobby/prospective career?) Do you steal time? Where do you find it? Or do you have a dedicated time? How do you protect it? I’d love to hear from you, so chime in.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
I have a story that has been stalking me. I think about it often, and even when I don't think about it, it will surprise me from time to time by suddenly taking over my entire attention.
The characters don't speak to me much at all. They just wait, and stare; eerily and patiently.
It's not that I don't want to write the story. I do! It's an interesting plot, and I bet it could even sell.
However the time isn't right to write it. Finally I recognize this. As much as I want to push it and force through the writing of that all important first draft, this story's time hasn't come yet. As much as it bothers me and itches the creases in my brain, I am not ready to write this story; this story is not ready to be written.
But it tantalizes me. It teases me. It coyly lifts its skirts, showing me its sexy, delicate, bare ankles.
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
I know, I know; I talked about what inspires ideas in my last post. I promise, I’m not repeating the topic. No, this time I wanted to address what inspires a writer to write. Not what makes her drag her butt to the chair everyday—that’s a different topic—but what makes her need to write. What inspires her to get up early, stay up late, or miss returning to work on time because the words are pouring out of her? How does she go from scrapping the bottom of the creative well to being muse-touched?
Over the past couple years, I’ve had the pleasure of talking to many different writers. A question I always find interesting to ask (whether the writer is multi-published or still struggling to finish that first manuscript) is ‘What gets your creative juices flowing?’. I’ve received a lot of answers, so I thought I’d hit on a couple.
-Reading a Good Book This is something that works for me. There is nothing like reading a great book, and after the last page, thinking, “I want to write something that good.” If I’m in a slump, reading a book can often energize me and make me want to write even if I don’t know what to say. Possible Negative: once in a blue moon this backfires and I close the book thinking, “I’ll never be this good.”
-Reading a Bad Book This is one a fellow writer told me about. Not that she goes out looking for bad books, but anytime she reads one, she closes it thinking “I can do better than this” and it drives her to her computer. Possible Negative: thinking something along the line of “If this is published and it’s terrible, how bad must my stuff be?”
-A Writing Related Class/Lecture/Conversation This is a great one. I love learning something knew that pumps me up to go and write—and write better. Possible Negative: thinking everything you’ve already done is wrong and possibly unsalvageable.
-Pressure I know a couple of writers who absolutely thrive under pressure. Is a near impossible deadline looming? They are pumped and ready. Possible Negative: Stress.
-Reading Blogs This is one of mine. I lurk on several writers’ blogs. Not only because I want to know the current news on what they are releasing next, but because I want to silently celebrate with them when they accomplish things, and, I admit it, I want to read about their bad days. The days the characters stop talking or they have to cut entire scenes. The days nothing goes right. I want to read about how they overcome these things, but even more than that, the fact they struggle with the same things I do makes me think maybe I’m not doing everything wrong. It also reminds me that good writers are not demi-gods who magically churn out pages but real people. Possible Negative: time consumption. Reading blogs can quickly suck away writing time.
Well, those are just a couple I found interesting and/or use myself. I’ve also heard responses such as watching movies, going to concerts, and/or people watching. So what works for you? What inspires you? Recharges you? Locks you to your chair? Does it sometimes have the opposite effect?
Thursday, July 10, 2008
I love to write.
Really, I do, but sometimes, the words just aren't there.
Here are some things that I do when the words aren't coming all that freely.
Blogging. To the untrained ear, this actually sounds like writing. I mean blog is a shortened form of web log. Sort of an electronic equivalent of a sailor's log book. A place to record (i.e. write) the day's occurrences. Ummm….Not the way I do it. See when I blog, I like to play around with the design of my template or someone else's template. Unless, you consider writing code, writing, this is an excellent tool for avoidance.
Knitting. Knitting is the newest way for me to avoid writing. Yarn is becoming an addiction. I'm now a regular attendee of a "Sit and Knit" at the local yarn store. I'm now making knitting friends so I can have more people to help me avoid writing.
Reading. I would venture to say that most writers love to read. I've decided to call my reading, research. Do you think that will work?
Making a Living. Unfortunately, this is the main culprit behind my recent lack of productivity on the "novella." My work has fallen on me and I'm trying to dig my way out. That being said. I like my job best when I have a lot to do so my hope is that in a couple of weeks, I will figure out how to balance the need to pay my bills and the desire to write competent fiction.
What do you do to procrastinate?
Friday, July 4, 2008
Say it with a smile
You can get away with venting a lot spleen if you make a joke out of it. Emotional outbursts that might frighten the calmest cube dweller can be fully vented if accompanied by a grin. In fact, the more severe the outburst, the more willing your audience will be to allow it, because they will think you are exaggerating for their amusement. For example, you can tell your coworkers that the light from your monitor is burning a hole in your corneas. This may be true, but no one will notice if you laugh while you say it. Or, you can inform your boss that you will not live through the project she has assigned you (to make your complaint even more acceptable, describe the mode of your impending death in all it's gory detail), and if you season your woes with a pleasant lilt to your voice, she will not feel it necessary to fire you.
Embrace your gremlins
For the past three months, I have been working on three massive data entry projects for my boss. Two of the projects are copying books of data in order to save my boss's boss money by not buying the electronic copies from the people who compiled the books in the first place. I have learned through this process of time-altering boredom to enjoy the database gremlins who visit me every day. Don't get me wrong, I don't enjoy the databases themselves. That would be creative suicide. No, I enjoy the gremlins. They have such interesting personalities. There's Fred, Ned, Gred, Jed, and Alphonso. At first, I was kind of weirded out by the giant vacuum cleaners with which they suck my soul, but now I have come to appreciate the grems for their great senses of humor. Gred likes to stick the vacuum hose up his fat nostril and suck his head inside out. It makes a great party trick. Playing with the gremlins in your head makes the day just fly by.
Office workers are amusing creatures. They have intense emotional connections to the strangest objects. I have witnessed the extremes during my time haunting offices -- It varies from wild cursing over a paper jammed in the copier to wild elation over the arrival of purple highlighters. I understand that no one likes a paper jam and purple highlighters are admittedly very cool, but the often violent reactions they engender can be food for survival of the creative soul. You get that many people trying to work together on mostly mundane and meaningless tasks and exciting stuff is bound to happen. When it does, write it down. You'll be able to look back and laugh about it when you finally quit your day job.
Got any more ideas for day job survival?