Monday, February 23, 2009

Chasing Your Own Tale

"Writing is just having a sheet of paper, a pen and not a shadow of an idea of what you are going to say."--Francoise Sagan

In the whimsical land of writing, there are fabled authors who know exactly what they’re going to write. The story shines crystal clear in their minds. They confidently type up a meticulous outline and go boldly ahead. I’m torn between falling to my knees in admiration and secretly searching for a way to strangle them and get away with it. *heh-heh*

I’ll admit it. I’m choked up with envy over such a gift. My ideas are vague at best. If this was a recipe I was preparing to cook, there’d be a warning label for every potential diner.

“If I'm trying to sleep, the ideas won't stop. If I'm trying to write, there appears a barren nothingness.” --Carrie Latet

Like most writers, my gut reaction is to believe other people can blithely put together a story and I alone must struggle through each word. Truth is, most writers strain to complete a book. Either the story itself comes out haltingly sentence by sentence or if they’re able to fly through the initial draft, the rewrite seems a torturous and never-ending process.

"Contrary to what many of you may imagine, a career in letters is not without its drawbacks - chief among them the unpleasant fact that one is frequently called upon to sit down and write." --Charles Kingsley

I dot my essays with quotes with the same passion I butter my bread. Not only do they add a welcome richness to my focus, they help remind me that struggle is a universal condition. Writing is hard work. There’s no getting around it. However it’s a popular misconception to believe it’s a snap. Sure, we have Guitar Hero and American Idol computerized games to feed the fantasy of being a rock star without any effort. Notice there is no equivalent entertainment for those fantasizing about being a novelist. No “write by numbers” hobby kits. *laughs* Trying to come up with a fun, easy and quick way to write is not really feasible.

“The expression "to write something down" suggests a descent of thought to the fingers whose movements immediately falsify it." ~William Gass, "Habitations of the Word," Kenyon Review, October 1984

To work is inevitable-to finish, divine. *grin* So what to do when we want to write but the story isn’t quite there? When we know what we want to say but we’re clueless on how to express it? How about when the story is there, you’re on the zillionth rewrite and there’s something still missing?

Ironically, the only real solution is the same action that got us into this mess in the first place. *smile* We write.

"Write as often as possible, not with the idea at once of getting into print, but as if you were learning an instrument."-- J B Priestley

Workshops, books and advisors can widen our knowledge of our craft but the writing itself is the only way to learn. Dang it! Here’s the good news: You will learn. Writing is like music in very special way. Just as you can’t possibly know what a note sounds like until you hear it, neither can you quite grasp the craft of writing until you do it yourself. Trust me on this, there will be epiphanies along the way, those ‘ah-hah!’ moments when you suddenly see in brilliant clarity How To accomplish the various aspects of writing. Just keep writing.

For some, the only way to know a story is by writing it. I’m one of those people. I’m not a pantser, per se. If I was, I’d gleefully pound those keys without worrying what’s going to happen next. A weird hybrid between pantser and plotter, I struggle to piece together the outline while I’m writing my book. It’s what works for me. By the end of the book the theme becomes more apparent and it’s then I can go back and rewrite, revise and shape my book to suit the vision that I just now fully grasp.

“The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction. By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is you really want to say.” ~Mark Twain

Advice is abundant in the writing world yet one thing will always be true. You must discover your own path. If you let yourself believe that the way another author pens a story is The Way, you could end up banging your head against the keyboard. Writing essays is something that flows easily for me. Yet with books I take more time. Until the story is there, my progress is slow. Writing a book in a month wouldn’t work for me. When I try I just draw a blank because the story isn’t yet there. I could beat myself up (always a tempting option) or I could let myself develop as a writer. Which process do you think has borne more fruit?

"Write quickly and you will never write well. Write well, and you will soon write quickly." -Marcus Fabius Quintilianus

Forge your own path. Discover what works for you. Be inspired by others but let go the need to fit into another’s box. Not only is it confining but the time you spend trying to conform could have been spent writing. *grin*

"I admire anybody who has the guts to write anything at all." -E.B. White

If you’re feeling stuck, take a break. Walk around the block or do a load of laundry. Step into the sunshine or dance around the kitchen to a favorite tune. Put a definite time limit on your “inspiration break” and then return to your writing. Creating stories takes effort and the temptation to avoid it can be overwhelming. If the story or scene isn’t there, write in your journal or pull up a “free-write” document and type out the dilemma. The key here is to Keep Writing. Don’t let yourself believe in an “out” or trust me, you’ll take it. *laughs* Procrastination is like chocolate. Delicious but best enjoyed in small doses.

Why do authors write? Because they have stories to tell. Maybe your story is complete or maybe it will come together sentence by sentence. Yet one thing remains clear, all authors write their books one word at a time. The best advice in the world boils down to this, if you want to be a successful author, Write. Only by writing can your story be heard.

“Writing is a struggle against silence.” ~Carlos Fuentes

Here’s to another productive week! I’m up to page 230 on my edits. 86 pages this week! My editor’s comments are illuminating (in a painful yet liberating way) and as a result, I’m learning more than ever before. I love being a writer!

My goals:

At least fifty pages of edits (I’m shooting for more).
My weekly essay.
Expanding short story idea.
How about you? Any goals to share?
Let’s get busy! Write-write-WRITE. Go-go-GO!!

Chiron O’Keefe

Monday, February 16, 2009

All You Need Is Love

Nothing you can do that can’t be done.
Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung.
Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you in time.
It’s easy…
All You Need Is Love.
–John Lennon

Being a writer requires us to incorporate many character traits. Persistence, patience, enthusiasm, and dedication are just a few. Rarely though, do we consider one of the most vital of all qualities.


As I’m writing this in the light of the most romantic of holidays, Valentine’s Day, what better time to explore this most elusive and yet vulnerable quality of being?

For many a romance writer, love is the stuff dreams are made of. Deep down most people yearn for a happily-ever-after, and heartfelt stories satisfy that craving. So how does this apply to writers and even people in general?

Love is the most essential quality of life. Whether it’s applied to our tastes (I love grapes) or yearnings (I love to travel), love is part of our everyday world. Yet often we push ourselves so much we’re barely getting by. Commitments, responsibilities, obligations, and worries, all suck up our precious moments and challenge our ability to maintain a semblance of balance. For writers, there’s deadlines and queries, edits and of course, the dreaded synopsis, all necessary aspects of our career which can leave us wrung out and feeling more despair than hope.

The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread. --Mother Teresa

For couples, it’s natural to utilize counseling and for parents, endless advice exists on how to maintain a loving bond. However each of us needs a solid relationship with the person we must live with every day of our lives—Our Self.

"You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection." –Buddha

It’s so easy to encourage others, to offer up words of cheer and support, yet when we look in the mirror, we avert our eyes. We may grumble about our bodies or compare ourselves unfavorably to others. We bemoan every miniscule error and seize each mistake as proof of our general unworthiness. The real question here is, would we do this to a friend? For most of us the answer is a resounding No! Of course, we wouldn’t. Which leads to this question, when we did stop being our own best friend?

It's me who is my enemy
Me who beats me up
Me who makes the monsters
Me who strips my confidence.
~Paula Cole, "Me," This Fire

“Love yourself first and everything else falls into line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world.” –Lucille Ball

Here’s an exercise I encourage everyone to try. Go to a mirror and say the three magic words. I Love You. Say it and mean it! Gaze into your eyes and connect with your soul. Some may feel an initial resistance. The self-criticisms that have for years fallen automatically from our lips might crowd in. Be patient with your heart. For many of us, the lonely vessel has taken a beating over the years. Focus on YOU and say it again.

I Love You.

There’s a special rush of exhilaration as the words sink in. Sometimes even tears well up. Let them. This is your precious moment with your true self. The first step. Take a moment to thank your wonderful legs for walking and those incredible arms for lifting and carrying. *smile* Now, one uncomfortable moment arises when those self-criticisms intrude, spitefully pointing out all the mistakes we inevitably make. Here’s the next step. Focus on your reflection and say:

I Love You No Matter What. I Forgive All Your Mistakes. I Love You.

“I must learn to love the fool in me the one who feels too much, talks too much, takes too many chances, wins sometimes and loses often, lacks self-control, loves and hates, hurts and gets hurt, promises and breaks promises, laughs and cries.” –Theodore Rubin from Love me, Love My Fool, 1976

Love, love, LOVE. It makes the world go ‘round, after all. *grin* Let’s direct our affection to all the positive things we wish to embrace and wish to be.

I Love ME. I Love Being A Successful Writer. I Love Being Productive. I Love Achieving My Goals. I Love My Book!

A funny thing happens when we frame our thoughts in a network of love. A sparkly, glowing light infuses our brain. This isn’t just speculation. Research has proved that love triggers different regions in our cerebral cortex. Scans actually do “light up” and chemicals triggering euphoria are released. Love is a potent tool and by Jove, let’s utilize it.

“Birds do it, Bees do it, even Educated Fleas do it. Let’s do it, Let’s fall in love!” –Cole Porter

This week, our focus is to enrich not only our writing but our lives with the power of love. For the next seven days, let’s do our mirror exercise. We’ll reinforce our self-love activity with positive Love statements. No matter what the task, we can approach it with the spirit of love. Maybe it’s silly, *laughs* so let’s embrace silly! Let’s be giddy and goofy and exuberant. I Love to Write! I Love Me!

“What can we gain by sailing to the moon if we are not able to cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves?” –Thomas Merton, The Wisdom of the Desert, 1960

The power of love is miraculous. Inscribed on the Temple of Apollo at Delphi are these words: Know Thyself. I’m going to add: Love Thyself.

With self-love, we can accomplish anything. We can climb any mountain, overcome any obstacle. Of course, we still need persistence, patience, enthusiasm and dedication. *wink* However, when we infuse our lives with love, an amazing energy bubbles up. Where before we felt grim, now our hearts are light. The weight of despair dissipates and a new hope buoys us up.

The smile you offer to your Self in the mirror is reflected back. It becomes easier to smile at others and to feel everlasting confidence. We all need to be our own best friend.

"I was always looking outside myself for strength and confidence but it comes from within. It is there all the time." --Anna Freud

My goals for the week:

I love doing edits for Sidekicks.
I love fleshing out the story and characters of my WIP.
I love doing my physical therapy exercises.
I love writing my weekly essay.
I Love Me!!

How’s about you?

Two more quotes, just because... *smile*
Happy Valentine’s Day!

“Love is an act of endless forgiveness, a tender look which becomes a habit.” ~Peter Ustinov

“Love must be as much a light, as it is a flame.” ~Henry David Thoreau

Smiles to you all,

Monday, February 9, 2009

Act As If...

"Act as if everything you desire is already here…treat yourself as if you already are what you’d like to become.” –Wayne Dyer.

What does it mean to be a success? How is such a phenomenon measured?

Here is my definition:

To push just a little bit harder, to strive just a little bit longer, and to reach just a little bit farther than you first thought possible.

That's it. Every accomplishment seems daunting at first. Tying your shoes seemed impossible when your itsy-bitsy brain first contemplated the tangle of strings in your chubby little fingers. *grin*

Yet for the most part, we forget the secret of success and become overwhelmed by what we THINK we can't do. We're forgetting two very simple facts. We learn through visualization. We are motivated by our desires.

"If you want a quality, act as if you had it." –William James

Returning now to our toddler self with the daunting task of tying a shoe. How did this get accomplished? Someone showed us the magic method and we Pictured Our Success. Yup. We visualized the process. We put a picture in our head and mimicked the action. Even more, we had a burning desire to succeed. Nothing would deter us. We never even considered the idea of failure. Right?

Now (theoretically) we're all grown-up. We're struggling with queries and deadlines and synopsis and rewrites and plot points and Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh, My!

Sometimes the process is overwhelming and we're all tempted to give up. How DO people manage to tie their shoes without even thinking about it? The secret of success in our youth is the same secret today. Whether struggling to stand upright, wobble our way across the room, and tie our shoes, or write a chapter, send out queries, and meet our deadlines, we begin with desire.

"Desire is the starting point of all achievement, not a hope, not a wish, but a keen pulsating desire which transcends everything." –Napoleon Hill

Not a wimpy-ass desire either. Your heart has to beat with the same kind of fervent passion that motivated you to get off your butt and toddle in the first place. Want it, feel it, breathe it!

I Am A Successful WRITER!

Desire and Visualization.

Visualization is more than mumbling a few affirmations. We're not tossing salt to ward off bad luck here. We're using the power of our minds to create reality.

"Formulate and stamp indelibly on your mind a mental picture of yourself as succeeding. Hold this picture tenaciously. Never permit it to fade. Your mind will seek to develop the picture... Do not build up obstacles in your imagination." –Norman Vincent Peale

This may seem like mumbo-jumbo but here's a fact. The most successful people in history have known and utilized this fact: What you Believe is What you Create.

And more… If you want to Be A Success, Act Like A Success.

Don't play the "if only" game. If only I had a contract (or an agent or a guaranteed path) THEN I would…

Nuh-uh. Don't go there. Act As If You Are A Success. That's the secret successful people have utilized for eons.

"Create a definite plan for carrying out your desire and begin at once, whether you are ready or not, to put this plan into action." –Napoleon Hill

Put your plan into action NOW. Why? Because You Are A Success. The sooner you act like a success, the sooner your reality will reflect this FACT.

So… this week, let's experiment. Let's spend the week approaching each of our goals with a new perspective. We write not because we hope to be or want to be but because We Are Successful.

We Are Successful Writers.

Say it with me: I Am A Successful Writer. My Life Reflects My Success. My Actions Reflect My Success. I Take Action BECAUSE I Am A Success.

"Action is a great restorer and builder of confidence. Inaction is not only the result, but the cause, of fear. Perhaps the action you take will be successful; perhaps different action or adjustments will have to follow. But any action is better than no action at all." –Norman Vincent Peale

And one more:

"Cherish your visions and your dreams as they are the children of your soul, the blueprints of your ultimate achievements." –Napoleon Hill

Let's set some goals!

Continue first round of SIDEKICKS edits. 65 pages last week!
Continue to flesh out WIP. Three chapters last week!
Weekly essay to post.

Now it's your turn. Any goals to share? How about personal experiences acting "as if"?

"Act as if. Moment to moment to moment. And, sooner than you think you won't be acting anymore." –Wayne Dyer

Have a fabulous and productive week! Go-go-GO!

Smiles to you,

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Learning the Breaststroke… Over the Internet

“It is better to write a bad first draft than to write no first draft at all.” --Will Shetterly

Being a writer is all about taking risks. Every book about the craft will tell you and every experienced author will agree, you have to push beyond your limits. While this is sound advice, it can also be rather daunting. We may wonder, “Does this mean I should write historical when I’m drawn to science-fiction? Must I write hot when I prefer sweet?”

The answer is not so simple. Yes, we should challenge ourselves by stepping outside our comfort zone if for no other reason to explore the other aspects of our writing selves. No, we don’t need to twist up our creative self into a pretzel shape based on market or the advice of others.

In reality, every page we type is a risk. Every idea we explore is a challenge. Who hasn’t experienced a tremor of unease which we translate quickly into Writer’s Block? Often the truth is simply that we’re nudging up against our unspoken fear. The Fear That Dare Not Be Named is this: What if my writing sucks?

“You never learn how to write a novel. You just learn how to write the novel that you're writing.” --Gene Wolfe

The more we write, the more we learn how to write. As we write our first novel we grow. Eventually we master POV and catchy hooks and dramatic cliff-hangers, a fabulous progression of events which often leads to the unfortunate notion that the fear will disappear completely. The good news is for some writers that will be the case. *smile* However, the percentage is small. Most of us struggle and whine and sigh and finally beat that damn fear into submission.

How? By writing. By writing a page even when our inspiration dwindles. By pushing to finish a chapter even if we’re certain our prose is stale. By finishing our first draft despite our inner critic who whispers that a REAL writer’s work is perfect from the get-go!

Let’s collectively roll our eyes and snort. *grin*

“You sit down and you do it, and you do it, and you do it, until you have learned to do it.” --Ursula K. LeGuin

Writers learn by writing. The mental acuity required to pen a story and polish it until it gleams is not something you learn by reading craft books. Some of the insights contained in craft books or in workshops conducted by bestselling authors will open your eyes. They may give you a new perspective which will enhance your story a thousand-fold. Those books and classes can educate you to the point where you’ll be capable of opening your own school.

But they can’t teach you how to write. Only you can do that by writing. All writers are self-taught.

“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” --Alice Walker

I’m a huge fan of The Big Bang Theory on CBS. In one episode, Sheldon (a nerdy genius with off-the-charts IQ) decides he wants to befriend a fellow scientist in order to gain access to the Open Science Grid Computer. His roommate Leonard tries to explain that he can’t approach making new friends the same way he learned how to swim… over the internet. Hilarious! The idea of someone learning how to swim without jumping into water is insane!

Uh-oh. *grin* This strikes a chord. How many of us have attempted the same thing?

The way we learn to write is by writing. By occasionally composing delightful, engaging, brilliant passages along with a whole lot of crap. *heh-heh*

“If you don't allow yourself the possibility of writing something very, very bad, it would be hard to write something very good.” --Steven Galloway

So, here’s the low-down. Boot up the computer or grab your pad of paper. Write. Get your story down. If you’re bogged down because you’ve written yourself in a corner, pull up a new document and vent. Spew out any and all ideas until one grabs you and doesn’t let go. Your intellect may encourage you to be cautious. Kick that caution to the curb. Write.

"If we listened to our intellect, we'd never have a love affair. We'd never have a friendship. We'd never go into business, because we'd be too cynical. Well, that's nonsense. You've got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down." --Annie Dillard

If you love your idea, let go of the absurd notion of a perfect first draft. Or second. Or third. You have to marry your plot and see it through… for better or for worse. Cozy up close because you’ll be sleeping with and dreaming of your tale until the breath-taking moment of completion. Stick to it. Write. Rewrite. Make the story your own.

“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

Here’s the best news of all. As you progress to your second, third, fourth, fifth book, a marvelous insight will blaze.

You’re getting better all the time.

Each book will reflect your progress. Here’s a secret that authors can only discover after they’ve written a few books. You learn more after three books than you do after three rewrites. Which is why one piece of advice pops up more than most. Write Your Next Book. If your book isn’t being snatched up, set it aside and write your next one. And your next one.

My last women’s fiction didn’t garner the attention I was absolutely certain it deserved. *smile* I shelved it while I pursued my fourth book. 65,000 words into my WIP, my last book got picked up. After keeling over in shock, I applied myself to the diligent task of giving it a read-through and doing any necessary clean-up. Here’s what I found.

TONS of mistakes. The book I’d pored over and pronounced perfect after endless revisions now revealed glaring holes and leaky prose. The simple truth is, I learned so much by writing my next book, my perspective had changed. The term, “Looking at it with new eyes” took on greater meaning. Trust me, this is not opinion, this is fact. You Will Grow As A Writer.

“You should never be ashamed to admit you have been wrong. It only proves you are wiser today than yesterday.” --Jonathan Swift

It’s all good. *smile* If you feel frustrated, relax, you’re a writer. If you feel fear, relax, you’re a writer. If you worry that your book isn’t perfect, Relax, You’re A Writer. You’re not alone. You will get through the endless drafts. You will finish one book and begin another. You will find an audience. You will succeed. Just keep writing.

“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.” --James A. Michener

Jump on in… The water’s fine. *smile*

Ready to start a new week? Let’s go! Write-write-WRITE! Go-go-GO!!

Chiron O'Keefe