Monday, March 31, 2008

Beyond the Boundaries--Taking Risks

"Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away… Now it looks as though they're here to stay. Oh, I believe in yesterday…" (Lennon/McCartney)

With all due respect to Paul McCartney, I prefer to believe in Today. Even better, I want to believe in Tomorrow. Every word I type in the present is transported into a magical future, which is still yet a dream. The essay I'm composing will be read tomorrow or Monday or maybe next Friday. My WIP will take months to finish and weeks more to edit. We can forget in the tedium of the effort involved how miraculous tomorrow can and will be, especially if we lose sight of the magic in our words. There's something to be said for introducing Optimism to Risk-Taking and discovering how amazing this collaboration can be.

"Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore." –Andre Gide

Every writer goes through it. A manic-depressive swing depending on Where The Story Is At. When we're in the zone, the words fly, the ideas are so thick they infiltrate our dreams and we can't type fast enough. When we're stuck, we are admittedly unbearable. *grin* My favorite image (which I'm embarrassed to say is only slightly exaggerated) is of me dashing through my house, hands waving in the air, while I shriek, "I'm a hack!"

Ups and downs. Highs and lows. Welcome to the wonderful world of writing.

"You can do anything you think you can. This knowledge is literally the gift of the gods, for through it you can solve every human problem. It should make of you an incurable optimist. It is the open door." --Robert Collier

No matter how many times we go over it, the truth always bears repeating. Our thoughts shape our world. At the very least, they shape our perception of our world and perception really is everything.

"A man is but the product of his thoughts. What he thinks, he becomes." –Mahatma Gandhi

Studies are ongoing. Mapping the brain and proving repeatedly that Belief Works. Science has taken it a step further, revealing that thinking about doing a task lights up the same region of the brain as the actual activity. Even more exciting, visualizing that finish line (in whatever race we're facing) seems to carve a pathway in our brain that leads to success. Scientific proof for what has been a tenet of every successful person's philosophy for eons: Positive Thinking Leads to Success.

"Think like a queen. A queen is not afraid to fail. Failure is another steppingstone to greatness." –Oprah Winfrey

It's good to be the queen. *smile* There are no safe routes or any way to assure a life free of troubles and pain. Life is messy and filled with complications. Since we're going to get out hands dirty anyways, why not go for it?

"The only one who doesn't make mistakes is the one who doesn't do anything."
--V. I. Lenin

There's an endless variety of methods people utilize to move past writer's block or procrastination or (let's call it what it is, folks) Fear. Yet each and every method ends up at the same place. Sooner or later, you have to plop yourself down, whether in front of a computer or with pen in hand, and write. Why? Obviously, if you don't write it's all over BUT there's more. This is the horse you've fallen from. The longer you wait, the greater and more fearsome this beast will appear to be. Don't hesitate. Grab the reins and let the words take you for a ride. Don't concern yourself yet with deciding whether the prose is brilliant or prosaic. That's what editing is for.

And keep this in mind: The only writers who don't make mistakes are those who don't write. That's MY quote and I'm standing by it.

"If you're not failing every now and again, it's a sign you're not doing anything very innovative." --Woody Allen

Why play it safe? Safety is for wusses.

I read this brilliant post on the BookEnds blog by Angie Fox, author of "The Accidental Demon Slayer." Her words are so good I'm going to re-post them here along with the link (which hopefully will prevent me from any copyright infractions).

The post is called Angie Fox: Three Things I Had to Do in Order to Sell. Here, she speaks of the steps involved with taking her writing to the next level. To get from "almost there" to SOLD. Here's the first segment (may it whet your appetite for more):

The “No Way” Factor


My characters had to take bigger chances, have more to risk and lose. It’s easy to say, but a hard thing for a writer to do. It’s a vulnerable, risky place to be. I knew my story was big enough to sell when instead of ending my writing sessions thinking, “I hope that’s good enough to impress an editor,” I ended them thinking, “No. I did not just write that. I did not just make my character defend herself with a toilet brush and a can of Purple Prairie Clover air freshener.” --Angie Fox

Taking risks can lead you into unexpected places, and even better… it transforms your perspective of writing from an effort to an adventure. And on a practical note, when our writing excites us our enthusiasm will spark a flame within the hearts of our readers too.

"I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark burn out in a brilliant blaze than it be stifled by dry-rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet." --Jack London

So, this week's motivation is two-fold: Keep Believing and Take Risks. Those two qualities go together like books and readers.

And remember…

"If you wish to be a writer, write." --- Epictetus

April is just around the corner and summer a mere breath away. Let's keep the energy up and make this next week count.


Go-go-GO!!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Spring into Action!

"The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn." —Ralph Waldo Emerson

The power inherent within a single idea is breathtaking. Every life-changing invention, every rousing song, every exquisite work of art and every heartfelt book began with a single idea.

Yet the work involved to pushing that idea to fruition is daunting. We're starting with a barren field! The dirt must be overturned, then sifted through for weeds and rocks. Fertilizer must be applied. Seeds planted then watered. More weeding. Some judicious pruning. Yikes! How long until we bask in the glory of our blossoming tree?

The process can be so overwhelming, many a writer is tempted to give up. Even the best idea might not seem worth the struggle, the tedious hours staring at the screen striving to somehow bring this seed of a story to life. And that's just the first draft! As my good friend Tessy has pointed out, the inevitable process of revising also requires patience. And time. Then even MORE time. Why not just move on?

"Throwing away ideas too soon is like opening a package of flower seeds and then throwing them away because they're not pretty."
— Arthur VanGundy, Ph.D. (Idea Power, 1992)

Because You Are A Writer. If you're looking for an easy career, keep looking. *smile* Trust me, this isn't it. Being a writer requires patience, more effort than seems possible, an eye that is never discerning enough (*sigh*) and a determination that keeps you chug-chug-chugging along like a certain little train from one of the first books most children ever read.

"I don't know much about creative writing programs. But they're not telling the truth if they don't teach, one, that writing is hard work, and, two, that you have to give up a great deal of life, your personal life, to be a writer." --Doris Lessing

Being a writer means sacrifice. It means carving out fifteen minutes of your day when you only have ten. And more: tossing off the covers while the sun is still snoozing or crawling into bed when the rest of the family is already snoring away. Turning down an invitation to lunch because your current manuscript must be edited. Ignoring emails and avoiding computer solitaire! *grin* While there will be those moments when you absolutely need to step away from the computer or set down the legal pad and actually partake of life outside of your story, the key to success is to Spring Into Action. Take charge of your life AND your writing and do whatever it takes.

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

As one of the writers in our group called it: Butt-Glue. Adhere posterior to aforementioned office chair posthaste and get thee to writing! (And do forgive my complete lack of historical eloquence. *heh-heh*)

In past weeks, we've embraced our desire to spark the flame of inspiration and to embrace our playful nature. This week, let's remember the reality of being a successful writer: the absolute need to stay focused and get our stories written. To return to our manuscripts again and again, polishing until the prose gleams. Which is The Purpose of the Challenge Forum at RWAOnline. We set goals with the intention of keeping them. We establish our finish line and PUSH ourselves to reach it. We know that to establish a career in writing means doing the work.

"Writing is the hardest work in the world. I have been a bricklayer and a truck driver, and I tell you -- as if you haven't been told a million times already -- that writing is harder. Lonelier. And nobler and more enriching." - Harlan Ellison

This next quote is a heady reminder to me…

"The only difference between a writer and someone who wants to be a writer is discipline." --Ayelet Waldman

We need to apply that Butt-Glue, Do the Work, and Take Action to make our dreams (and our books) come alive.

Remember:

"The greatest masterpieces were once only pigments on a palette." --Henry S. Hoskins

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Art of Revision

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

Ah, yes. Deadlines. Whether self-imposed or connected to a contract, the time limit we've chosen is dependent on an often overlooked and deadly serious aspect of writing—the art of revision.

"It is perfectly okay to write garbage--as long as you edit brilliantly." - C. J. Cherryh

Like most writers here, I want my first draft to be brilliant. *smile* It isn't. Surprise, surprise. But writers aren't alone in that expectation, nor, apparently, in that assumption. How often have I received an email and been shocked at how poorly it's worded? Too often to count. Typos, run-on sentences, lack of punctuation. Honestly, I'm flabbergasted at times. To me, this equals stepping outside with a piece of toilet paper stuck to my shoe. Zipper agape, spinach in the teeth, hair mussed, lipstick smeared, shirt inside out, nothing to me is more embarrassing than careless writing. Careless because so much could be, and would be caught with a simple read-through. And lest you think this slipshod writing is situational, here's a sad fact. I've read dozens of emails from corporate execs that display such poor grammar that I wonder how such sloppiness can generate any respect.

The truth is simple. Writing is not a one-step process. To be a successful writer is to be a Re-Writer. Our ego must be gently pushed aside (or ruthlessly shoved out of the way—at least by the third manuscript!) as we hunker down and stare at our prose muttering, Could it be better? Is there more I could say? Is it enough? Is it clear?

"Put down everything that comes into your head and then you're a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff's worth, without pity, and destroy most of it." --- Colette

This is where our innocence must be lost, at least to some degree. Writing is such a magical process. Weaving rainbow tapestries in the sky, spinning tales out of gold and watching them shimmer before our eyes is a rare delight. Except what we see is often colored by what we know about the story, it's not necessarily what we've actually written. Which is why we experience that rude shock when outside readers who are wonderful and brave enough to be honest scribble in the margins, "Huh?"

D'oh!

"Books aren't written, they're rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn't quite done it... " - Michael Crichton

Write, edit, and revise. Along with Goal, Motivation and Conflict, this might be the most important three-step rule that exists. There's no avoiding it and no matter how brilliant your first draft seems, there's usually room for improvement. Thank Goddess for critique partners!

"At one time I thought the most important thing was talent. I think now that the young man or the young woman must possess or teach himself, training himself, in infinite patience, which is to try and to try until it comes right. He must train himself in ruthless intolerance--that is to throw away anything that is false no matter how much he might love that page or that paragraph. The most important thing is insight, that is to be--curiosity--to wonder, to mull, and to muse why it is that man does what he does, and if you have that, then I don't think the talent makes much difference, whether you've got it or not." - William Faulkner

When in doubt, create a special file for all those snippets you cut. Especially in the beginning. Nothing can be more traumatic to a beginning writer than to cut out large swatches of Truly Brilliant Writing. Easier to saw off a limb. If that's how it feels, don't beat yourself up or cause any undue anxiety. Instead, move it to your special "cuttings" folder. Later, you can peruse the material to see if it's needed. Some authors find that a passage that cluttered one story fits beautifully somewhere else. Others just file it away for peace of mind. Whichever suits your comfort zone is fine. It's YOUR book, Your writing. Do as you please.

"I have never thought of myself as a good writer. Anyone who wants reassurance of that should read one of my first drafts. But I'm one of the world's great rewriters.

I find that three or four readings are required to comb out the clich├ęs, line up pronouns with their antecedents, and insure agreement in number between subject and verbs...My connectives, my clauses, my subsidiary phrases don't come naturally to me and I'm very prone to repetition of words; so I never even write an important letter in the first draft. I can never recall anything of mine that's ever been printed in less than three drafts.

You write that first draft really to see how it's going to come out."
- James A. Michener

Another reason to celebrate and embrace the art of revision is simple. Knowing we're going to rewrite the damn thing anyway, why not push forward and get those pages down? This is why the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) http://www.nanowrimo.org/ is so popular. Get that idea down while the creative juices are flowing! Write, Edit, Revise.

In fact, I could come up with a whole phrase based solely on the word Write:

Write (the damn book), Revise (for the first time), Incubate (the plot and), Type (those extra scenes to plug up the plot-holes and), Edit (once more).

Then start the whole damn process all over again. *smile* Hah!

"I have written - often several times - every word I have ever published." - Vladimir Nabokov

"Only ambitious nonentities and hearty mediocrities exhibit their rough drafts. It's like passing around samples of sputum." - Vladimir Nabokov

Hmmm… I wonder how many revisions Vladimir's last quote required? *heh-heh*

As one ancient philosopher intoned while perched on a mountain top (with her trusty laptop): "It's a lovely day to revise."

Here's to another productive week!

--Chiron

Monday, March 10, 2008

Breaking Through the Wall…

"I have a love-hate relationship with the writing life. I wouldn't wish to have any other kind of life…and on the other hand, I wish it were easier. And it never is. The reward comes sentence by sentence. The reward comes in the unexpected inspiration. The reward comes from creating a character who lives and breathes and is perfectly real. But such effort it takes to attain the reward! I would never have believed it would take such effort."
---Journal of a Novel, December 15, 1997
Elizabeth George—Write Away


"I’m writing a book. I’ve got the page numbers done."
--Steven Wright


To be a writer would appear to be this glorious, magical journey, akin to traipsing through a field of daisies on a spring day. Blowing bubbles, twirling under the clouds and then… inspiration strikes and with a wave of our hands, the novel appears before us like a rainbow in the sky.

Or… we spend hours, days, months, years, pounding away at the keyboard, pounding away at the wall lodged in our thick skull as we struggle in vain to reach that novel tucked deep within our souls.

The writer's life ain't easy. Moving past the proverbial Writer's Block is as much fun as a root canal. And at least that has a time limit!

"We conquer, not in any brilliant fashion, we conquer by continuing." ---George Matheson

When writers hit a wall, the greatest idea in the world won't help. We need more, we need to break through and we're not sure how to do it. This is our personal Dark Night of the Soul. When we need to push onward down that rocky path despite the lack of light.

And how exactly do we do that? First thing we need to examine exactly what writer's block is. To my mind it's a two-parter. The outer symptom is that we're stuck, we're stumped because we've reached an impasse and don't *see* what comes next. The inner cause though is often simply fear. Fear that the next sentence will suck. Fear that as we type, the words will turn to gibberish. Fear that unless we are struck with a brilliant inspiration that is clear and obvious, we can't write.

Inspiration is lovely but it's perspiration that counts. Many writers will admit that their most inspired moments turn out after reflection to be just so-so. While the writing that seemed humdrum while slogging through a slow day actually turned out pretty darn good.

A friend came to visit James Joyce one day and found the great man sprawled across his writing desk in a posture of utter despair.

“James, what’s wrong?” the friend asked. “Is it the work?”

Joyce indicated assent without even raising his head to look at his friend. Of course it was the work; isn’t it always?

“How many words did you get today?” the friend pursued.

Joyce (still in despair, still sprawled facedown on his desk): “Seven.”

“Seven? But James… that’s good, at least for you.”

“Yes,” Joyce said, finally looking up. “I suppose it is… but I don’t know what order they go in!”

From On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King


There are two things one can do with writer's block. One is step away. Take a breather. Live life for a while and take the pressure off.

Many people hear voices when no-one is there. Some of them are called mad and are shut up in rooms where they stare at the walls all day. Others are called writers and they do pretty much the same thing. --Meg Chittenden

Sitting cooped up with nothing but our imagination and our writing tools can be crazy-making after all. We may just need something to jar us out of our slump, to give us fresh perspective, to help us reawaken the delight within our souls.

I have learned as much about writing about my people by listening to blues and jazz and spirituals as I have by reading novels. — Ernest Gaines

For me, it's music. When I pull away and listen to a favorite tune, I feel transported and rejuvenated. For my friend Cathy, a stroll through the fragrant redwoods gives her a lift and brings her a sense of joy and comfort. Maybe for you it's repotting a plant or hitting a garage sale, repainting the living room or getting a massage. Hmmm… sign me up for that last one!

That's step one. But it doesn't get us writing again. What can we do to actually GET back to the process of writing once more?

The answer is simple, frustrating, annoying and obvious.

Write.

The Pulitzer Prize winning poet Stephen Spender said, "The best thing is to write anything, anything at all that comes into your mind, until gradually there is a calm and creative day."

We're training our mind to respond to our hand movements. Whether it's typing or scribbling long-hand on legal pad, our brain is geared up to associate the mental process of writing with the physical process. Now, sometimes the block is resolved by the foray away from writing. We come back and just *know*. And sometimes money does magically appear on the front lawn (I joke but once I looked out my window and saw a twenty dollar bill flutter to the ground!).

The real test though is in the writing. Which is rather a pisser. *heh-heh* To think the problem and the solution might just be the same!

"People on the outside think there's something magical about writing, that you go up in the attic at midnight and cast the bones and come down in the morning with a story, but it isn't like that. You sit in back of the typewriter and you work, and that's all there is to it." ---Harlan Ellison

So you sit down and write. If you're stuck with a scene, you tell yourself that you will come up with six possible ways the scene could go. The choices can be totally wacky, unbelievable and implausible.

"Alice laughed: "There's no use trying," she said; "one can't believe impossible things."

"I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."
Lewis Carroll from Alice in Wonderland.

This is where we need to realize that writing is both a linear and creative process. When we're stuck and we keep trying to approach the scene with a linear perspective, we find our self pushing against the wall.

You can never solve a problem on the level on which it was created." --Albert Einstein

The above quote applies to writer's block as well. Which is why a change of scenery often unblocks the mind. By letting go of the linear, logical, rational perspective and just writing those six implausible scenes, you are freeing your mind from the constraints. You're giving your creative self permission to color outside the lines. You know what this can do?

How about… Free You As A Writer. Or… Awaken the spontaneous brilliance that leaves your jaw gaping and your skin tingling.

While Writer's Block is often simply fear dressed up as procrastination, it's also an amazing opportunity. It's almost as if our soul is whispering, "This particular path is okay but there's another close by that's so incredible you'll feel transported." You may be "stuck" but in truth there could be a touch of intuition that *knows* there's an alternate idea that's so freaking cool it'll blow your mind.

Dude.

*smile*

So… Go for it. Take those breaks and then get back to work. Listen to the music within your soul, take a deep breath and Play. Dream up impossible scenarios and tell yourself that anything goes. Give yourself permission to color outside the lines and you might just find yourself dancing in Wonderland.

"If you’re going to be a writer, the first essential is just to write. Do not wait for an idea. Start writing something and the ideas will come. You have to turn the faucet on before the water starts to flow." --- Louis L’Amour

Let's make this a spectacular week, everyone! We're approaching spring and all its glory. Let's give the stories that dance in our heart freedom to spill out on the pages. We can do it. Why? Because we're writers, that's why!

Monday, March 3, 2008

Perseverance

“A diamond is a lump of coal that stuck with it.” --Anonymous

Perseverance. An essential quality for a writer. Yet soooo boring. Yikes. I mean… really. Even saying the word takes forever! Come on… Four syllables? Give me a break. A decent writer could have said the same thing with three syllables, maybe even two. Right?

During last year's PRO boot camp at the RWA conference, we listened to Ellen Edwards share details of the long road from book acceptance to book publication. Endless steps on a seemingly endless journey. Her talk followed Colleen Gleason's tight presentation of the many steps a writer can take on the path to self-promotion. For all of us with stars in our eyes, imagining that the most work we’ll have to do (and the most waiting we’ll have to endure) is simply the process of completing our WIP, this came as a shock. Someone flipped on the lights and the stars became an endless series of pinpricks in a very, very high ceiling. Would we reach that ceiling? Did we want to?

"Nothing in life just happens. You have to have the stamina to meet the obstacles and overcome them." ~ Golda Meir

It’s true. Nothing in life just happens. The novel we yearn to pen doesn’t just happen. Neither does submitting it or promoting it. Thrilling this process may be but there’s a heck of a lot of work involved and the essential quality that most comes to mind when tackling that goal is perseverance. You have to knuckle down. Make it happen. Believe, pursue, push, and persevere.

"My motto was always to keep swinging. Whether I was in a slump or feeling badly or having trouble off the field, the only thing to do was keep swinging." -- Hank Aaron

Wow. He could have been describing the life of a writer! The only thing to do is keep swinging. You want to hit the ball out of the park? There’s only one way to make it happen. Keep swinging.

"All right Mister, let me tell you what winning means... you're willing to go longer, work harder, give more than anyone else." --Vincent Lombardi

Um… what he said. *grin* There’s something to be said for sheer grit. Pluck. Resolve. Stamina. I can almost hear the sneer of the imaginary boss as he gazes at our heroine with contempt.

“You think you GOT what it takes? Prove it. Write the damn novel. Write the stinking synopsis AND the query. You want it. You better be prepared to go out there and take it. Ain’t NOBODY gonna just sneak in here and give it to you.”

“Perseverance is failing 19 times and succeeding the 20th.” -- Julie Andrews

Sometimes the hardest truths are best taken with a spoonful of sugar but let’s get real… there’s nothing sweet about rejection. Yet it happens to all of us. There’s no such thing as universal acceptance. There will always be someone that doesn’t like us or what we do. You think Nora Roberts has it all? Well, I bet she still deals with literary snobs that look down their nose because she writes… Romance… *gasp*

“The difference between perseverance and obstinacy is that one often comes from a strong will, and the other from a strong won't.” -- Henry Ward Beecher

What do we want to embrace? Our strong will or our strong won’t? Any fool can come up with a dozen reasons why something won’t work. The successful one is the author who points out exactly how it CAN and WILL work. Let’s make sure we spend more time each day reminding ourselves of what we CAN do.

"Destiny is not a matter of chance but of choice. Not something to wish for but to attain." -- William Jennings Bryan

This is a big one. We can wish all we want but if being a published and successful writer is a goal we must Make the Choice to Attain That Goal. We can’t just be hanging out a mall, dangling our manuscript and waiting for someone to magically realize that clutched in our trembling hands is the next million-dollar bestseller. *chuckle* We have to focus, write, plan, promote, believe, query, plot, and persevere.

"Studies indicate that the one quality all successful people have is persistence." -- Joyce Brothers

There you have it. We make the choice. We decide. Do we want to be Successful, Published Writers with a Looooong Career? If so, no matter what stage of the process we’re at we must persist. We must persevere.

Plot the novel. Write the pages. Edit the draft. Revise the damn edits. Piece together the synopsis. Sweat out the query. Start all over again. Even Sherryl Woods has to produce a synopsis for her upcoming novels. After a hundred books! And she will. Because, let me tell you, THAT author knows the meaning of perseverance.

"One man has enthusiasm for 30 minutes, another for 30 days, but it is the man who has it for 30 years who makes a success of his life." -- Edward B. Butler

Therein lies the secret. Hold onto the flame within our hearts. Fan it with whispers of hope. Nurture the fire with chunks of solid effort. Let the possibility of Being All We Hope For keep us warm and our outlook bright. We can do it. Now and for every year beyond. Why?

Because we are WRITERS, that’s why!!

We’re starting another lovely week. The beginning of March. Spring is struggling to emerge. Birds are chirping a happy song and flowers are just beginning to blossom. If the urge to play (or plant) comes upon you, don’t worry. It’s all part of the process. Let yourself refresh and rejuvenate, have some fun when you can. Then Get Back To Work. Even a page a day. If you’re struggling, do some free-write about your character or plot. Whether you’re editing, querying, writing fresh pages, plotting, submitting, or critiquing, You Are A Writer.

Believe it. Make it so...