Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Checking In

Hey all!

Just to let you know that this week's postings will be a little patchy, and indeed, there may be none at all. Some of us are off conferencing, others are hosting house guests and international visitors, others are busily edging towards the completion of manuscripts ... and unfortunately, there's a sick one or two of us, as well.

Never fear. Next week is a new one, and we'll be back.

In the meantime, I just had to share this link to an ingenious stationery site, Lost Crates. You take a personality quiz, and each month they put together and ship personalised crates of stationery to you, based on your results. Kinda neat! If only they'd ship to Australia ... sigh.

Catch you all next week!

Friday, June 24, 2011

You're Doing It Right

And now, for a boost to your fragile writer's ego. Happy weekend, everyone.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Murder On My Mind

(Isn't this gold and crimson skull creepy? But also kinda cool. I can see it atop the cane of a broodingly eccentric nineteenth century poet, or of a member of a darkly secret society devoted to the occult. Mwahahahah! Ahem.)

The other day, us ATWOP gals were discussing the reactions we get when people ask us, “So, what’s your book about?”

Sometimes those reactions are wonderfully encouraging. Other times – not so much. The stifled yawn, the surreptitious glance at the clock as you wax poetic about your manuscript. Or the not so subtle moue of distaste that says, “well, that doesn’t sound like MY cup of tea.” And in my case, when I explain that my book is about murder – and a serial killer – I often encounter the shocked “YOU write THAT?! Why on earth WOULD you?”

It’s made me wonder … why write about crime and death? Why not sci-fi? YA? Romance? Poetry?

Inextricably linked to this question are two more. Why is there an indisputably huge audience for books that deal with the violent deaths of others, an audience in which crime writers themselves sit front and centre? And why are people fascinated by death in all its myriad forms?

Some may say writing and reading about violent crime gives the satisfaction of seeing a bad guy caught, the comfort of seeing the scales of justice restored to balance after being knocked askew. This is how we’d like our world to operate, and it can be so, for a little while at least, in a story, where we create a world – and as a reader, become absorbed in that world - where bad guys don’t get away with their bad deeds, where good vanquishes evil, where you know that when the books ends, crime will (probably) not triumph.

But that is only part of the answer.

Humans are one of the few species on the planet that are aware of their own mortality. So we try to understand death, the ultimate unknown, in all it's shapes and forms. Which is partly why I write about it. Murder and violence have not touched my life. I sincerely hope they never do, and am mighty glad that I have been shielded from them. But the uncomfortable reality is that people – people just like you and me – DO encounter death and violence, every day. That protective shield we hide behind is actually very thin, riddled with cracks through which evil might just seep. So a force behind the drive to write and read of these dark things is, I think, the attempt to understand the lurking foe, to try to understand what it is that cuts certain people loose from morality, enabling them to kill without a twitch of a conscience. So we can know them for what they are when we see them. Or so we hope.

Writing and reading about murder and crime also allows us to explore humanity at large, not just the minds and worlds of the evildoers. Why is it that when faced with death and danger, some people run, while others act with heroism and honour to the very end? The doors to murky, secretive places are thrown wide open.

And this leads to another reason for the popularity of the genre. People are fascinated by murder on the page because they can experience it without getting hurt themselves. They can live through death and come out of the other side. It’s like riding a roller coaster – you’re safe, but you still get to experience the gut-dropping terror of the ride.

And there's no denying the guilty thrill of venturing where we're not supposed to go. Murder and death are largely taboo topics (much like sex and religion!) but writing and reading about them allows us a that voyeuristic peek we'd otherwise be denied.

Finally, I think writers and readers are drawn to crime fiction because of the challenge. Can I write a book that gives the reader a cracking good puzzle to solve? Can I, as a reader, work out “who dunnit” – or “why dunnit” or “how dunnit” - before the end of the book?

But really, writers of murder and mayhem are no different to those who write in many other genres. Don’t we all write in an attempt to understand some aspect of life? Don’t we all write for the thrill and the mystery of delving into things outside our own experience? Don’t we all strive to evoke strong emotional responses in our readers? Don’t we all want to create believable and authentic worlds and characters and situations, to give our readers experiences they’d never otherwise have?

So when I tell you I write about blood and knives and murder most foul, please don’t back away, all sweaty-palmed and searching for the nearest exit. I swear, apart from a Google search history that would raise the collective eyebrows of the FBI, I’m exactly like you. ;-)

Monday, June 20, 2011

Cheese on Toast or Running Gags

I love to see a joke or symbol running through a story. For instance, in Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum Series, you've got the inevitable exploding car. In the TV show, Roseanne (which I haven't seen in ages) there was a chicken t-shirt that all the main characters eventually wore.

For me, it adds a little extra something to a story, and when I stop to consider why, I think it's because it shows that the author is thinking about her world as an entity that lives apart from the story you see "on screen." And besides, it's just plain fun.

In Firelight, my small contribution is Cheese on Toast, also known as Welsh Rarebit -NOT to be confused with "rabbit" as I often did as a child.

What is Rarebit? Basically, it is a melted cheese sauce over toast. But this Wiki article explains it quite well, if you've a hankering to know all there is to know about the dish.

Now as to my purposes, it's also a well-known pub dish in the Victorian era in which my story revolves, and more importantly, it's melted. Why is that important? Because my main character Miranda can, if prompted, melt things quite well. And this is the only rule when inserting a running gag: it has to work within the world and the story. Too random, and it's obvious. You don't want obvious -at least at first.

Using the chicken shirt in Roseanne as an example, if they say, wore a diamond tiara instead, the joke would fall flat because it wouldn't be something to catch, but rather a bit of silliness that distracts the audience.

Here is the scene in which Cheese on Toast first makes an appearance in Firelight.

"Leave off," she said with iron in her small voice.

The street ruffs laughed, an ugly sneering sound. "Oh right, leave off, she says."

The taller one snorted. "Listen 'ere, toffer, behave an' we'll leave you intact."

Green eyes blazed beneath her auburn brows that arched like angel's wings.

They were green, weren't they? Archer squinted, his abnormal eyes using what little light there was to see. Yes, crystalline green ringed with emerald, like the cross section of a Chardonnay grape. Yet he swore he saw a glint of orange fire flash in them.

"Leave now," she demanded, unmoved, "or I'll turn you both to cheese on toast."

Archer could not help it, mirth bubbled up within, and he found himself laughing. The sound echoed off the cold stone houses and brick-lined alley. The young men whirled round. The fear in their faces was clear. They weren't up for an exchange with a grown man, most especially any man who'd be out on the streets at this hour. Archer knew their cut, cowards who preyed on the weak and fled at the first sign of true danger. He came close enough for them to see his shape and the toes of his Hessians, preferring to stay in shadow until necessary. END

Running gags are just as fun for the author to use as they are for the reader to find. Perhaps you might like to try? :)

And if all this talk of cheese on toast has put you in the mood to try some, here is a simple recipe brought to you by good old Alton Brown at the Food Network, as well as a bit of video entertainment by way of the Two Fat Ladies.

I don't know if you've ever seen the ladies, but they crack me up, and seem so quintessentially British baking mama to me. This is actually a two for one deal since they are also making chocolate creme brulee (yum!)

I don't know about you all, but I'm hungry!

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Motion of Words Against Words

One of the most unforgettably magic places I’ve ever visited was a glass beach. Sea glass covered the sand like multi-colored jewels of blue, amber, rose, turquoise, green and white. There were even polished bits of china pottery, their glazed designs still brilliant. It was pure magic to dig my toes into this treasure, to sit on the beach and run the glass through my hands and to select a few special prizes to take home.

Some of you might have found a piece of sea glass on a walk down the beach and know the child-like joy of finding that treasure. A glass beach is much more than that. It contains a depth and width and breadth of polished glass that boggles the mind as feet sink deep into the riches.

Sea glass is quite common. Wherever man and the majesty of the sea have met, you’ll find a record of it - the smoothly polished bits of glass tumbled from the depths and thrown upon the beach.

The process of making sea glass is one of constant movement. The sea is never still and the currents play ceaselessly with the glass on the ocean floor. A thing of beauty and of whimsy is created from friction, from resistance, and from endless motion.

So too, are writers made.

Writers, like beautifully polished sea glass, start out with jagged edges. No two writers are alike, no two start out in the same way with the same set of skills and life experience. But we all begin our writing journey by putting those first words on the page. Some begin better than others, but all of us must experience the polishing process.

The currents carry us along and we get swept up in the magic of writing. We encounter the ebb and flow of the tides that govern a writer’s life. (Who among us hasn’t experienced high tide or low tide?) We write, rewrite, and write some more just as waves roll to shore over and over again.

One day the jagged edges are not so sharp. The constant motion of words against words have refined us and given us polish. Where once we wrote happily, but unskillfully, we now write for the pleasure of having mastered our craft.

Write. Be glad for the polishing process - the friction, the resistance, the endless motion of words, for without these, you will remain a jagged shard.

The beauty of sea glass is possible because it endured the depths of the ocean before finding the brilliant sunlight on the beach.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


Hey All,

Rachel is under the weather, so I'm dropping in to do a post on my latest obsession, my new cover! As soon as my publisher sent me the cover art, I've been in a fog. All right, so this *is* a bit of a narcissistic post, I readily admit. But I can only claim mercy as there is nothing quite like seeing the cover for your book to really hammer home the fact that, yes, you HAVE a book about to be published. That, yes, it WILL happen. And then there is the fact that getting one's cover is a dodgy proposition. A lot can go wrong. A lot.

What if you hate your cover? What if the sight of it makes you cringe? It's been known to happen. As a romance writer, I knew I walked a particularly loaded minefield of scary cover-fail. We're talking Fabio hair blowing in nonexistent wind, heaving bosoms spilling out of artfully torn gowns, or...gulp...pink! Endless, shiny pink. Shudder. So, yeah, I was just a wee bit anxious to see what my publisher would come up with.

Early after I signed with my publisher, my editor sent me an email to discuss my cover. I was asked to provide character descriptions of my hero and heroine, a key scene within the book that I thought might work well for the cover, as well as a list of covers I both liked and hated. That was fun. And, again, a little daunting. I'm afraid my anxiety might have shown as I provided not the brief paragraph of description as asked, but a full character dossier complete with images I liked. Ah, well, I like to be prepared. So off I sent my *cough* package, and then nothing. I heard or saw nothing for months.

But finally, a hint. The cover would feature my heroine only. Okay, that's good. I had mentioned that I disliked romance covers that had the characters clutching -way too reminiscent of those Fabio covers for me.

A little later, there were rumors of a photo shoot. Here are pictures as provided by editorial assistant Lauren Plude who is working on FIRELIGHT with my editor.



Then finally. FINALLY. The cover, which I admit, when I received the file, I opened with one eye open, I was so nervous.

YAY! Not only did it avoid my personal romance cover pet peeves, but I think Miranda looks pretty kick ass.

And that is the story of the cover for FIRELIGHT. :)

Monday, June 13, 2011

I'm Hiding. Hiding, I say.

When I was a little girl, I had the funniest habit. When I was watching movies or television, I would get reaaaaaallly uncomfortable when characters would show affection for one another. Holding hands, kissing, hugging... SINGING to each other (especially the singing)--All of it would make me cover my eyes and blush with embarrassment. I just didn't understand why they would do all that icky stuff. I had to look away. Hide. Wait in agonizing discomfort for it to end.

It all made watching a program from start to finish very difficult. Am I the only one who did this? (g) I have a theory that it was a combination of my age, shyness, and a lack of understanding when it came to grown-up romantic notions, but more about that later.

Flash forward to a couple of weeks ago when I was reading a young adult novel by a newly discovered author. There I am, reading along...and BAM. I couldn't believe it. I got an actual urge to cover my eyes and look away from the page. The characters' behavior embarrassed me THAT much. It was a definite WTF? moment. I had regressed to when I was seven years old and squirming in my seat due to the general ick factor involved.

People kissing. Ewwwww. People hugging. Ewwww. People making eyes at one another. EWWWWW, DOUBLE ICK, and GRODY TO THE MAX, DUDES.

*Jen covers her eyes*

Naturally, this all took me by surprise (g), and afterward I sat and tried to break it all down. WHY would this happen to me? I've read a lot of stories in my lifetime, and this stuff was definitely PG. Why would I react this way?

Well, let's take a step back to my theory from above -- about why I used to cover my eyes as a child. As I said, I was shy...and young... which means I wasn't exactly capable of grasping grown-up (or even pre-teen) emotions. I didn't understand why someone would want to kiss another person...why they would bat their eyes at them in adoration...hug, hold hands... and don't forget the singing. The thought process behind that notion was WAY beyond my understanding.

So why did this happen to me now? After all, I think I have a pretty good grasp on why people would do these things. (g)

And therein lies the problem. The characters, in my opinion, didn't have legitimate reasons to be feeling the emotions the author was telling me they were feeling. The talk didn't match the walk. Therefore, when they started acting on those emotions, it felt false and made me embarrassed to "watch."

The believability factor was at a pretty all-time low in this book, I'm not going to lie. To have characters feel an immediate attraction and be head over heels the next week isn't something I normally buy. It CAN work... lord knows I bought Bella and Edward in TWILIGHT (g), but usually I like to see a slower progression that allows me to see their feelings develop.. the hesitation, the heady excitement they feel when the other character looks at them, the things they say and do to show how much they care--even when they're reluctant to admit it to themselves. I love all of that stuff, and when an author does it Just Right, there's nothing better than when two characters hit that climatic moment of their first kiss.

When they don't do it right, well...that's when I cover my eyes. Who knew?

Now obviously you can't show the entire progression of every relationship. Readers would grow bored. I have characters who are in love when a book begins, characters who love each other but don't LOVE each other, only to later realize their feelings have developed into something more. I have characters who don't get along but eventually feel an attraction that slowly creeps up on them. It isn't WHERE you begin a relationship... it's how you portray them with the words and actions of your characters. In order to make it believable and organic, you have to do more than just have your characters musing on how hot the other is... how they've never felt such strong feelings for someone.. how they can't lose this person they've known for three days.

It's the words they say, the words they leave unspoken. The glance across the room when they think the other person isn't looking. The little things they do to show they care... all of it adds up to something that feels real. Something that would never make your reader want to turn away or cover their eyes.

Unfortunately, this author failed to make me believe... It was a good lesson.

What about you? Ever had the urge to cover your eyes in discomfort or is it just me? Tell me I'm not the only one. :)

What A Difference a Year Makes

Today my husband and I went to my son’s graduation. My son is 4, so we’re talking pre-school here. :)

His school throws the same ceremony at the end of each year, regardless of whether the child is actually graduating onto Kindergarten. And each year, the ceremony includes a “play.” I’m using this word loosely as it mainly involves kids looking shyly into the audience while picking their noses, and/or adjusting their underwear. But we parents like it, and the paparazzi competition is fierce.

Last year, The Boy had a song and dance number –The Macarena. Yes, I groaned too upon hearing that –though I have to admit, twenty three-year-olds doing the Macarena was hella cute. Being a bit shy, my poor son trudged onto the stage like a good solider, even though his lower lip was quivering and his knees were visibly shaking. The music starts, he sees me in the audience, and he begins to cry. Sob, actually. But does he stop? Oh no. He dances on, even though he clearly wants to be anywhere but there. My heart broke for him, yet I couldn’t have been prouder of his courage.

So naturally this year, my husband and I didn’t have high hopes for the poor little guy’s performance abilities. We figured he’d run to us and we’d hug him and tell him it was okay. Fools us. Little did we know that this year our boy had the lead role in the school play, Sherlock Peep, Chick Detective. There was our little Sherlock, hamming it up on stage, saying lines! Working the audience! For twenty minutes! Wha? Little man took his standing ovation –mostly by me- and I remembered an important lesson: a lot can happen in a year.

How does this relate to writing? I often say that writing is our mirror into how we approach life. My son and I are quite similar in temperament. Last year, I went to the RWA National Convention. I didn’t know a soul going into that conference; and frankly, it felt like the first day of college. Not fun for an introvert. At the time, my novel was still on submission and had been for a few months. Being on submission is fun for the first week or so, then it becomes a rock in the pit of your stomach. With each week, the weight of that rock grows heavier. The conversations with my agent that year revolved around: “Don’t worry, you’ll get there. But just in case...”

It would have been so easy to pull the proverbial covers over my head and hide.Then again, the year before, I didn’t even have an agent. So I still had a lot to be thankful for.

And this year? This year, I am going as an author under contract. There are cocktail parties, dinner meetings, lunch meetings, drinks, meetings with agent, editor, and publicist. This year, I need to utilize my dusty old calendar.

Oh what a difference a year makes! Of course, it helps that after that conference, I busted my butt, did a massive manuscript rewrite, and got myself a contract because of it. Because change can happen if you let it.

It is easy to feel down, to feel like nothing will change, or to want to give up. I’ve been there. Boy have I been there. It’s important to remember that things can change. But the point of change begins with you. If you throw in the towel, don’t put yourself out there change never has the opportunity to occur.

In that light, I’ll leave you with two of my favorite Emerson quotes as they go hand in hand in this situation:

“If I have lost confidence in myself, I have the universe against me.”

“Be not the slave of your own past. Plunge into the sublime seas, dive deep and swim far, so you shall come back with self-respect, with new power, with an advanced experience that shall explain and overlook the old.”

Friday, June 10, 2011

Hit or Myth

As writers, we've all fallen for at least one of the following myths of writing. The writing profession is teeming with myth-understandings. The act of writing is often a mysterious endeavor, not just for the writer herself, but also for those around her who don't understand where the drive to write comes from.

Write what you know. At face value this seems logical. A writer can’t do a good job writing if she hasn’t got a clue about her topic. But the flip side of the coin is that most of us don’t live the kind of lives our characters do or have the kind of adventures they have.

So that bit of advice is really pure nonsense, isn’t it? A better mantra might be: Know what you need to know and research it. Research it until you can confidently write about it. (One caveat, however: don’t get sucked into the never-ending cycle of research to the point that your novel never gets written.)

Rely on inspiration. Writers must be fantastically gifted in the inspiration department, right? Every moment of writing is filled with moments of clear-headed, brilliant creativity. Hooo boy, if you’re waiting for inspiration to strike before you write page two, or three, or chapter 20, you may wait a long time.

Inspiration is a blessing, a gift that sends shivers down a writer’s spine. We live for those moments, but we can’t wait for them. We write when it’s hard, when the words come grudgingly. We write through the doubts and the doldrums and the dead-ends. To recycle an old saying: Writing is 10% inspiration, 90% perspiration.

Characters will step in and take over for you. Sometimes they do! But don’t believe for an instance that it’s really your characters. It’s you. It’s you when you’ve reached that incredible place in writing where it all flows and falls into place. It’s being so in tune with your story that your unconscious self is also engaged and participating. And within that sharing of conscious and unconscious comes some of the most surprising writing you’ll ever experience.

Writers are odd birds. Can I refute that? On the outside we may seem perfectly normal and indistinguishable from everyone else. But inside we have an entire fictional world populated by fictional people rattling around in our heads. And we encourage it. Most people who hear voices take medication. Writers leap for joy and rush to write it all down.

Good writers don’t need to do revisions. Who of us hasn’t fallen for that one? Intellectually we all know nothing is perfect the first go-round, but emotionally we knock ourselves over the head because we can’t get it right the first time. It’s a terrible trap to fall into. It’s okay to be less than perfect. That’s what editing and second drafts are for.

Writers must know what their story before they begin writing. Some of us do know. Some of us don’t and we’re called “seat of the pants” writers. We like the challenge of the unknown. Or maybe we’re just too lazy to plot it all out. If you think you must know the blow-by-blow, scene-by-scene account of your story before you can begin, reconsider that notion. Begin, and see where it leads you. You might be surprised. (At the very least, you’ll discover you’re one of those who needs to plot before you write.)

Writing is a lonely process. It can be, especially if a writer chooses to go it alone. But there are great writing forums on the internet, writer's groups in nearly every town, and other ways to find like-minding people to share your journey with you. Yes, the actually process of writing is a lonesome job. The story comes from you and you alone can sit down and write it. But the journey can be positive and encouraging and not the least bit lonely with the write (sic) kind of friends.

Writers have an easy job. Yeah, I hear y’all snickering. Anyone who’s actually tried to write a book knows better. It’s not easy and it takes real discipline to do it. ‘Nuf said.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Re-learning to drive

I've had my driver's license for about 13 years now, and I'm sure most of you will agree that after that initial nail-biting learning period when you first figure out how to drive, we tend to forget just how much is involved in operating a vehicle.

It's not actually as simple as getting in the car at home, driving to where you're going, then getting out. In between you undertake an absolute litany of tasks, many at the same time, and you do it by instinct.

You start the car. You work the pedals, check the mirrors, glance at your blind spots. You work the gears, you speed up and slow down according to conditions/ traffic/ speed limits (that you read from signs as you pass them by). You indicate, you change lanes, you turn corners when the right street comes up. You brake, you park, you reverse, you repeat all of these tasks over and over in any given trip. You even change the radio station, talk to your passengers, turn on the heater or the air-conditioner, think about your day, while you're doing all that other stuff. Not only that, but your brain is also dealing with a steady stream of carefully memorised information about the road rules. Indicate 30m before that corner, give way to your right, slow at the amber light and stop at the red.

You control a ton of car, at slow speeds and fast. You process huge quantities of information about what you need to do to get where you're going, all the while also performing a constant series of mechanical operations to make the thing drive safely.

Your car might not quite fit these parameters (my last one was not endowed with an air-conditioner, sadly, and my current one is an automatic, so no shifting gears), but I know anyone out there with a driver's license understands what I'm talking about.

We roll through life taking the complexity of this task completely for granted, until the game changes slightly, and suddenly all the hard work we're really doing is exposed. Two examples: a couple of weeks ago, I had to drive my mother's car, which is a manual (or stick-shift) versus my own automatic. I'm qualified and experienced in driving this kind of car, but I don't do it all that often these days. So, once I sit behind the wheel with my foot on the clutch, the game changes. Very slightly, but just enough to show me what's going on in my brain. Suddenly I have to coordinate using my indicator with changing gears and getting the friction points right. It doesn't help that my mother's European car has the indicator and the windscreen wiper on opposite sides of the steering wheel to my own car- I'm frequently going around corners with my indicator off and my wipers swishing.

The other was my visit interstate this week, where I hired a car. Road rules are fractionally different in different states of Australia, though not enough to be really significant- there are little differences in things like the way lanes merge, or the fact you're allowed to turn on a red light in some instances. The one that really got me, though, was the difference in indicating on roundabouts. I won't go into it, but suffice to say that at first, I was completely thrown by what other people were doing on the roundabouts, because I couldn't understand their indications. Once I was used to that, I was into a new level of struggletown- trying to *stop* myself from doing all my own usual indications, which were just going to confuse everyone else.

Anyway! This is a great analogy to writing, you know. When we start to learn how to write, we're a little clunky, a little shaky. We bump the kerb, we stall the car, we forget to take off at green lights, and occasionally we panic at all the stuff we're juggling and take the wrong turn. But the more we do it, the more natural it becomes, and the better we get. Before long, we're total professionals- or so we think, until that speeding ticket arrives in the mail, or that post in the parking lot sneaks up to dent the back door as we're reversing.

But take a good long break from driving, and all of a sudden it's not so easy. You're unsure of your previously unquestioned skills. There are things you can't quite remember. You're so busy concentrating on the upcoming change of lights that you clash the gears, and it only takes your confidence down another notch. Suddenly when you look at how much goes into making your driving look smooth and effortless, you're panic-stricken with fear that it will never be that easy again. Especially if the rules have changed in the meantime, and you realise you actually have more to learn than you thought.

The cure: exactly what you did when you were still a pimply teenager climbing behind the wheel. Push down the fear, trust all that ingrained knowledge, and keep on practicing. Forget about the destination and keep your focus only as far ahead as your headlights let you see. Sure, you might bump a couple of kerbs or ding your door on a pole now and again- but then it's easy to forget that we all do that occasionally.

Writing: it ain't as easy as it looks. Your brain is undertaking a thousand little tasks in the course of getting those words on the page in the shape of characters and a plot. Most of it is instinctive, and the closer you look at it, the scarier and less understandable it suddenly becomes. How is it even possible that you- you!- wrote those words? What if you get it wrong next time you try? What if you crash out altogether?

All you can do is get in the driver's seat and go for a spin. Just write. Take the equivalent of a Sunday drive- write something that has nothing to do with your WIP. Write about the colour of the leaves on that tree outside your window. Write a short story about that weird neighbour who always seems to be watering his wisteria plant when you're heading out for a jog. Write about your grandmother's cookies and how the smell takes you back.

Bit by bit, you'll realise that you're doing it again- writing without noticing just how much effort it takes.

I know I'm saying the opposite to the Mr. Sparks quote in Rachel's last post, but you know, I don't disagree with him. I also think that writing is about the up and the down- there are times it's horrible hard work, and there are times where you're flying free. It's never going to be all one of those things, and because of that, you can always keep your hope in the dark times, because you remember how it felt to hit your stride and let rip. One day soon, you'll be back on the open road, as long as you keep at it.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

When It All Seems Too Hard ...

... what keeps you going? With the writing, that is.

See, I’ve been looking at my calendar, calculating the days and weeks and months that have run like water through my fingers, and I’m feeling the panic rising.

There’s still so much work to be done on my WIP. There are still so many ways in which that work is interrupted each and every day. This week in particular, any progress I’ve made was achieved at a rate equivalent to that of continental drift (which is one to ten centimeters per YEAR, should you wish to know.)

At times like these I start to hear those depressing, moaning, voices in my head.

Why keep going? What’s the point? It’s all too bloody hard.

And I have to work hard at blocking them out, because there is a kernel of truth in what they say. Especially the part about writing being bloody hard.

Nicholas Sparks has spoken about writing and the grind it can be. Now, his books may not be to your taste, but this quote of his resonates with me:

"When asked if I love writing, my answer is always, 'No.' I don't love it. I make my living at it, and some might think I'm good at it, but I don't love it. Writing, for me, is far and away the most challenging work I've ever done. I've hauled bricks, rebuilt houses, worked in offices, sold pharmaceuticals and writing novel is far more difficult. Maybe that means I'm not a natural writer ... okay, I can accept that.

Still, if I don't love it, why do I do it? Because I love a challenge. It's the nature of my personality to want to do something difficult just to see if I can do it. And, at the end, I am always proud of the work I've produced, because I did my very best. I often say, "I don't love writing. But I do love having written!" It's a myth that a person has to love something to be good at it. But you do have to care about doing the best job possible."

In a way, this is exactly what keeps me going when the writing chips are down - the intellectual and emotional challenge of crafting a damn good story, the intoxicating afterglow of having written, the thrill at going back over my work and finding the little nuggets of gold that my subconscious pushed to the surface while my conscious mind was wrestling with the words.

The fact I am very, very, stubborn also helps me to push on through.

Added to this is the fact that every time I write, I am getting better at it. It’s not obvious on a daily, weekly, even monthly basis, but over time, I can see it. And what I really want to get better at is actually, properly, finishing a book. Even if it turns out to be a terrible book. Because if I don’t ever finish a book, how will I ever learn to do so?

Now, I am sure everyone has a different thought or hope or mantra they hold on to in those grim days when writing seems like an endless chore - the mental image of your name on the cover of your book, the joy of disappearing into another world, the certainty that the satisfaction of seeing something that started off as a single thought in your mind become one hundred thousand words will make all the pain worthwhile…

So, you tell me - what keeps you going when the writing feels all too hard?

And in the meantime I will turn to those moaning voices in my head, tell them to shut up already, I’m trying to write, and get on with the job.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Write Fright

One thing I've always had to deal with is stage fright. In college, I was a voice minor, and at the end of each semester we had to get up in front of all of the heads of the music college to perform... Something they call a jury performance. Let me tell you, it was excruciating for me. The thing about me, is that the more I love something, the more nervous I seem to get in the actual execution of said thing. And to do it in front of stern department heads? Egads. I was always terrified.

Miraculously, I made it through my music program. And I actually did pretty well. Since then, I've had numerous opportunities to perform--especially when I lived in Nashville. The crazy thing is that I LOVE singing -- love getting up there and performing, hearing comments by the audience that they loved this or that song... it's exciting, and the more I do it, the more I want to get out there and do it some more. I guess you could say I'm a bit addicted to the performance high and hearing the compliments I receive.

Funny thing... my stage fright has only gotten worse over time. It's actually gotten to the point where my knees go weak, my heart races, my stomach shoots off in all directions... I stand off stage and all I want to do is get the heck out of Dodge. Run, hide, do ANYTHING except get out on that stage and sing. It's not because of a lack of ability because I KNOW I can do it.. I even KNOW that if I get out there and start to sing I will get drawn into the moment and the fear will go away... Knowing these things doesn't help, though. I'm scared each and every time I so much as sing karaoke or happy birthday to someone. It's just how I'm built.

Well, I guess it's only natural that eventually this fear would bleed over into writing. I'll be honest, when I first started writing, I didn't know what the heck I was doing. And perhaps in my ignorance, it was easy to get swept away in the process. I didn't really think anything would become of it... I hoped, yes, but I knew I had a lot to learn and that it would take a long time to get there. In some ways, that was a really great place to be. I could JUST WRITE and not worry one bit about people judging it...whether I was doing it at the absolutely highest level possible, etc.

Eventually I did start sharing my work, and yeah, some compliments started rolling in. It was a bit intoxicating to hear people say they loved my characters, my storytelling... all of it. I wanted to hear MORE of that, and yeah, I got swept away in sharing my writing with anyone who would be willing to sit down and read it. Eventually I began to notice that I was putting a lot more pressure on myself to try to get everything perfect each and every time I sat down to write. After all, if it wasn't perfect, I wouldn't get the compliments I so wanted to hear.

Do you see where this is leading?

I haven't had a lot of time to work on writing for quite some time now. I've, at best, been a dabbler for the past year or two. It doesn't make me happy, but unfortunately real life does get in the way sometimes. And whether or not I've wanted to admit this to anyone or myself, the fear has really taken over. I've got one hell of a case of Write Fright and I really don't know what the hell to do about it. I took this entire week off to finish one of my manuscripts and as of yet I've put in about an hour of actual writing. And trust me, that hour was painful. I would write a sentence, stare at said sentence...erase said sentence. Try again. Eventually I would put something on the page and when I couldn't get it perfect, I would leave it anyway... then go back to it and change it a few minutes later. WHY -- WHY couldn't I get it right? And why was it that every time I would write a sentence, I would freeze up before getting another one onto the page?

Mind, this is the same girl who used to bust out several K of words a day... someone who knocked out her first book in two months.. her second book in three WEEKS. Today I'll be lucky if I complete 500 words that I don't feel the urge to throw directly into the trash.

I started to realize that my hands were almost shaking during each of these pauses. I had this sense of wanting to run away... do anything. Watch TV, read a book, hell, I was even willing to do the dishes. !!! The best way I can describe it is a deep down sense of unease that what I was doing was Not Good Enough. That I was failing and people would hate what I was writing.

Write Fright.

Do I think that I really suck? No. Do I think I can't do it? No. Do I think I've lost 'it'? No.

Regardless, I'm scared as all get out to sit down and write.

I'm writing this post because I think it's important to share these moments with other writers. I really don't have a solution to this problem and it's going to be something I will need to try to push through this week. I don't know what's going to happen. I KNOW what I need to do: sit down and write. It's not a matter of figuring out that part. It's really a matter of dealing with my nerves and saying to myself, "F*ck what other people will think. You LOVE this so DO it." And make no mistake, I do love to write and I'm desperate to get back to it.

So, I guess if you're out there and have experienced anything like this... you're not alone. Push through, peeps. Push through.