Monday, October 27, 2008

Finding Your Note

"You don't get harmony when everybody sings the same note." --Doug Floyd

A few weekends ago, hubby and I yanked out the guitars, plugged in the vintage amps and took the digital recording equipment out for a spin. One of the classic songs we worked on is a long-time favorite: "Wild Horses" by the Rolling Stones. I memorized this tune back at the tender age of nineteen *gasp!* and to this day relish the intricate chord changes and plaintive lyrics. Love it, love it, love it… Except for one pesky little detail. Singing in the dreaded key of G.

Now I could transpose the chords or slap on a capo but for the accompanying lead guitarist, that’s a pain in the arse. There are those too who would argue that the richness and depth of the original chords are compromised.

Flash back to a few days earlier. Sipping a fine glass of cabernet, we’d been listening to the "Rolling Stones Rarities" album. The version on this disc has a blues feel, more vibrant and intense. Something about the husky tone in Mick's wail reverberated inside my soul. I just *knew*. The urge to redo the song thundered in my veins. So after hubby patiently arranged the microphones just so, and we dashed through the chord changes a couple of times, we gave it a go.

"Faith is believing in things when common sense tells you not to." ~George Seaton

The first verse came out in a wobbly squeak rather like an adolescent boy pushing maturity. A sure sign of the frustrating inability to Find My Note. Yet when the haunting chorus came around, I somehow magically tapped in. Faltering at first, but I could *feel* the correct pitch somewhere deep within my bones. By the second verse, I miraculously clung to the note for a few more seconds, astonished to hear myself singing in this impossible key. What a wild, incredible, brilliant rush. Yet… Could I hold it?

"Trust your own instinct. Your mistakes might as well be your own, instead of someone else's." ~Billy Wilder

Each time I'd begin anew… The exhilaration would snatch me up, toss my soul into the wind and I’d thrill in a wave of ecstasy hearing the clear chime of My Note. Up until that fateful moment when I realized (with a rush of stark fear) what I was doing… *snort* At which point, my voice would once again wobble and squeak and my spirits would plunge down to the ground. *rueful chuckle*

The process fascinated me. As soon as I let my thoughts wander over to an observation of my actions I’d lose focus. An image popped in my mind. The classic Warner Bros. cartoons where, in his eternal quest to snare the clever Roadrunner, Wile E. Coyote would race off the cliff, legs windmilling wildly. His nimble feet would carry him several feet into the air until a tiny pinprick of awareness would nip his consciousness and, with eyes widening in realization, he’d sneak a glance down.



Life requires a certain amount of faith. Perhaps it’s most obvious in performance mode (or while chasing an elusive Road Runner), yet it’s clear that this axiom serves throughout every aspect of our existence. I know that when I’m typing, if I stop to think about the process my speed will slow. I’ll become self-conscious, wondering if I really know what I’m doing. I'll make mistakes and often begin an endless cycle of correction, which then leads to even more mistakes. Grrrr… And that last sentence is really the crux of the matter. While most of us (whether deliberately or not) work towards a measure of self-awareness, we also must step away from being self-conscious. Meaning, we must learn to not second-guess each decision or micromanage every step of our life. Which isn’t always easy.

"Faith is reason grown courageous." ~Sherwood Eddy

What I realized during the course of the night is that even the most impossible task can be accomplished if you tune in just right. Not to say that one can bypass the effort required to move past the blocks, whether it be learning the chords, striving to understand the process of plotting, delving into the particulars of mixing hues on a palette, or even distinguishing between an intrusive weed and potential bud in your soon-to-be-blossoming creation.

"Faith is a passionate intuition." ~William Wordsworth

Yet one thing remains clear. It is that initial “tuning in” process that carries us through. Whatever you dream, whatever you yearn for, can be accomplished. For writers, we must close our critical "mind's eye" and open our hearts to trust in the process of creation. Trust that the characters will spring to life and the light of inspiration will reveal an amazing story just waiting to be shared. We all have to have to trust that we can and will Find Our Note. Let the fingers fly and your soul sing!

This week I'm working on a scene that's been sticking a bit. Hope to nail it down and move on.


15 new pages.
Weekly essay.

How about you?


PS.. I also want to let you know that if you like my weekly essays and want the motivational boost every week, you can sign up to be a follower of my blog. Just click on the notice at the top of the page. You'll get a notice every week when the new essay appears. Thanks so much!

Monday, October 20, 2008

For Want of a Little Courage...

"There is probably no hell for authors in the next world -- they suffer so much from critics and publishers in this." --- C. N. Bovee

I got a late start on my essay this week due to the dreaded onslaught of cramps. Luckily, the day before they hit I got a call from my mentor. Nothing like a pep talk to keep your spirits up while stuck underneath a heating pad! *Grin*

On the phone, I let my worries spill out, and one by one each concern was addressed. Made me realize too, just how challenging it is for writers to keep that confidence high. Even one who writes motivational essays! *chuckle*

Concern #1:
I'm reading a novel by Author Who ROCKS and it's soooo awesome. I can't imagine how I could be that good. Wah!

"A great deal of talent is lost to the world for want of a little courage." --- Sidney Smith

Don't try to be like anyone but yourself. YES, you can be "that good" but only if you give up the notion you're like anyone else. Find your passion and let it consume you. Don't worry about markets or submissions or critics. Focus on creating an obsession with your story. You'll need it because no matter what impression you get while listening to others, writing is work. Hard work. Endless work. You Need Passion. And you'll never find it trying to be like someone else. Be Yourself. And take a chance.

"Originality does not consist in saying what no one has ever said before, but in saying exactly what you think yourself." --- James F. Stephan

Concern #2:
My book is taking too long. What's the point of even finishing it?

"I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by." --- Douglas Adams

Here's a tidbit to keep you going. Last night I dug out an old Time magazine from my ToBeRead pile and scored this little fact. Mark Twain took ten years to write Huckleberry Finn. TEN YEARS. Writing takes time. No getting around it. We must invest time, patience and energy in order to complete those manuscripts. Each stage requires patience. Writing, submitting, editing, promoting… So let's get busy. Stop staring at the clock and redirect your focus on the flame of imagination ablaze within your soul.

"The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair." --- Mary Heaton Vorse

Concern #3:
How can I get past the cycle of procrastination?

"Perhaps it would be better not to be a writer, but if you must, then write. If all feels hopeless, if that famous 'inspiration' will not come, write. If you are a genius, you'll make your own rules, but if not - and the odds are against it - go to your desk no matter what your mood, face the icy challenge of the paper - write." --- J. B. Priestly

Honestly, there's only one answer.


Unless you push yourself it just won't happen. There will always be an opportunity to avoid work. And writing is work. No matter how fun, no matter how rewarding, no matter how inspiring. It's work. Don't feel guilty for avoiding it! Just because it's a blast doesn't mean the effort isn't exhausting! Accept that because the act of creation requires tremendous energy a part of you will yearn to pull up that computer game or flip through magazines or surf websites or read blogs. *cough* Of course, the last can be forgiven if the blog happens to be mine! *heh-heh*

Yup, you can feel guilty. You can expend all kinds of energy beating yourself up. Or… you can write. In the end, which will be more fun? *smile*

"The only way to learn to write is to write." --- Peggy Teeters

Autumn leaves are falling. Ghoulish faces peer out from the Jack-O-Lanterns plopped on neighbor's porches. Breathe in some crisp fall air and then WRITE! *grin*

One sentence, one page, one book at a time. We Are Writers! Now, let's get to work.

Ready to set goals?

This week:

15 pages.
Crit of friend's book.

How about you?

Go-go-GO! Write-write-WRITE!


Monday, October 13, 2008

The Soul of The Story--Integrity...

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” --Joan Didion

I love this quote. While it certainly qualifies as a quote about writing, it speaks to much more. Everyone everywhere needs stories. We spin them in our minds, we daydream our way through monotonous activities, we conjure them up to provide a happy ending when life seems bleak.

We need stories just as we need heroes. Even more, we need to be the Hero of our own Story.

This urge drives us on. Sometimes with positive results. Sometimes not. If the need to be the “good guy”, the good daughter, the good wife, the good friend, means compromising your integrity or living an untruth, not so much.

What’s fabulous about stories, both writing and reading (or watching) is how the character’s words and actions are not limited to our own personal inhibitions. In fact, our favorites can speak volumes about the qualities we wish to embrace. Characters who reflect those qualities are especially close to our heart.

Here’s something I noticed… We thrive on integrity. Now, what I mean by that is not Honesty, Honor, or Ethics. Obviously, in our daily existence, those three are pretty darn important. *smile* But let’s look at integrity. Integrity means being true to yourself.

In our stories, we want our heroes and our villains to be True To Themselves. If that integrity is compromised, we pull out of the story. Not deliberately, but suddenly something doesn’t click. Whatever the character does has to make sense because we as the reader or viewer demand that the character have integrity.

The challenge, in both stories and real life, is to weave in the need for evolution and transformation. That, too, is an integral part of life. Another way to look at is to see it as consistency. A few weeks back, hubby and I watched a movie that made us want to scream. Not only was it riddled with clich├ęs, there was no consistency. The “heroine” (and I use that term derisively) was supposed to be a top-notch reporter who had the brains of cottage cheese. The “villain” who apparently was harboring a secret obsession had a shrine behind a closet door, yet left his computer running with a voice-over (her voice, naturally) so when she used the key (Tucked Over the Doorjamb! In New York City!!) to enter his apartment, she followed the sound to discover his Secret!


*tears out hair*

We watched the whole thing, not believing our own stupidity because, let’s face it, the movie WAS consistently ludicrous from start to finish. D’oh!

What draws us to a story?

The hero’s quest for integrity. Usually our heroine/hero is not being true to her/his self. Because of this, there is an emptiness inside or a knot that needs to be untangled, although they rarely realize or acknowledge this. Throw in some unexpectedly challenging circumstances or an encounter with a person who pushes those buttons and you have the beginnings of a plot.

Why is this basic structure eternally appealing? Because it reflects life. We all are on a quest to discover our Self. To KNOW our selves. And we DO encounter circumstances and people who challenge us to face the inconsistencies in our life.

We all want to be a hero of our own story. Within a story, we learn how other heroines discover their own True Self.

Have stories helped you to discover your own true self?

For me, the quest is about courage and embracing truth over illusion. As I've said before, in childhood I devoured the Oz stories. Dorothy stood up for what she believed, she challenged others to be true their own selves. I don’t need the heroine to be a “kick-ass heroine” (very popular these days) right from the beginning. I do need to see an awakening of her spirit though. I love how Bridget Jones went from lusting after Incorrigible Rogue to falling in love with the Flawed But Sincere Suitor. She eventually chooses the guy who likes her “just the way she is.” Awwww!!

Stories help me too because the escape allows me to breathe. I learn, I laugh, I cry, I breathe…

A dear, dear friend sent me an email asking, “Have you hugged your story today?”

Truth is, this life we lead IS our story. Have you hugged Your story today?

So you tell me, how have stories helped you to discover your true self?


Monday, October 6, 2008

Finding Your Voice

People often say that this or that person has not yet found himself. But the self is not something one finds, it is something one creates. ~Thomas Szasz, "Personal Conduct," The Second Sin, 1973

When novelists began that dangerous and lonely trek up the Mountain Of Publishing Dreams, there’s one cry that echoes above the rest.

Find Your Voice.

Editors say it. Agents too. “I just fell in love with the author’s voice.”

Not to minimize the necessity of an original plot and decent writing, yet it’s the distinctive tone that sets the story above the rest. And some authors are so unique that you can literally hear the words as you read them.

Awhile back, I read a Spenser novel by Robert B. Parker. Now, for those who don’t know it, a few years ago, the Television Powers That Be produced a few Spenser movies starring Joe Mantegna. Perfect. The casting was so ideal that now, when I read one of Parker’s novels, I *hear* Joe speaking the lines.


The writing style is so unique to Parker that there can be no mistaking it. Casting such a role would be a joy, no doubt, simply because the Character is so finely drawn. Not by description. But by… voice.

When I was nineteen, and an eager and enthused musician-wannabe, a kind and talented performer took me under wing. He was quite the character. Wearing a bowler derby and puffy white shirt, the songs he performed were almost exclusively written before 1940. That was his “thing.” I still love (and play) the song he taught me—Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out. This was my first introduction to the plaintive blues of Bessie Smith.

One thing I’ve never forgotten is the advice he gave me as a budding singer. He told me that it mattered not how WELL I sang. Only how distinctive my voice was. Now, obviously, he wasn’t encouraging me to sing out of tune! It’s a given that no matter what your profession, you strive to be the best you can be. Yet that’s not the key to success in the entertainment biz, he reminded me.

“When you listen to the radio, and Mick Jagger comes on, you recognize his voice instantly. It doesn’t matter what the song is, you know it’s him.”

And when an author finds her voice, you know it. Janet Evanovich is a bestselling author. USA Today, Publisher’s Weekly AND NY Times. People love her books and buy them in droves. Why? There’s no mistaking her voice. It rings throughout every page. The plots, the characters, they all spring out in vivid Technicolor in Her Voice.

What strikes me too as I mull this over, is how pertinent this value is in all of life. Not just in singing. Not just in writing. It’s a universal thing. We all strive to find our voice. Friends read your letters or laugh over your jokes or listen to your stories because that’s So You. Voice is how we express ourselves and it’s not limited to the words we choose or the tone we use. Our every gesture, our favorite expressions, the way we laugh or roll our eyes, the tilt of our head or the teasing grin, it’s all part of our unique expression.

And now I realize just how vital this quest is and how it’s not limited to writers at all. This may be our most important focus, this personal quest to discover our unique flavor.

So just for today, no matter how long your To Do list is, no matter how many neglected To Do items nag at your weary soul, take a moment and acknowledge this incredible phenomenon. You’ve invested years without ever realizing it. Your loved ones cherish those special things only YOU can do. Your unique sense of humor, your exceptional contribution to life, your beautiful, wonderful, truly amazing WAY.

No matter what you THINK you SHOULD do (and trust me, I know that’s a never-ending list). The One Thing that every soul must do is accomplished on a daily basis with rarely a speck of self-acknowledgement. So, let me say it for you… For us all…

Congratulations! You Found Your Voice.


For us writers, let’s keep the faith and remember that no matter how many books it takes, that voice will take hold. It’s inevitable. We ARE the voice, and the Voice Rules.

And speaking of voice, if you have a moment, check out this review of Misty Evan's amazing book, Operation Sheba: