Sunday, May 24, 2009

Why Do Writers Write?

"Why do writers write? Because it isn't there."Thomas Berger

I'm reminded of an old joke: Why did the author write her book? To get to the other side. *grin*

Of all the reasons we could have to write, the best and perhaps most authentic motivation must be an obsession with seeing 'what happens next.'

"The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing."Albert Einstein

Fellow author, Sandra Marshall, recently shared her dismay about how a former boss had chided her for writing fiction. After all, fiction isn't real (so he said) and therefore, apparently, not as worthy as non-fiction. Excuse me while I snort in derision and roll my eyes.

"To know is nothing at all; to imagine is everything."Anatole France

Imagination is what fuels progress. The greatest inventions, the most daring quests, and all of humanity's progress started within a tiny spark of imagination. Obviously, the world's panoramic vista of art began within the fervent dream of a artist yearning to create. However the practical aspects of our daily lives—from the light bulb to the lap top—exist due to someone's fertile imagination.

All artists face two equally daunting roadblocks at one point or another. First, there is pressure from the outside world. People may turn a cold shoulder or worse yet sneer at our dream. When I first decided to write a book, I penned a lovely romance between a hometown girl and the city boy who was her first love. This being my first venture, I naturally had qualms about my prose. At the time my journey had yet to sweep me into the world I now occupy—one that is chock-full of writers who share my dream and support my quest. So, naturally I turned to a good friend held in deep regard to read my fledging attempt and offer a critical eye. She seemed flattered and agreed. I then added that it would be most helpful if she read a couple of books in a similar vein so as to have a clear view of what I was aiming for. Her response shocked the hell out of me.

She shuddered.

Honest to Goddess, I couldn't believe it. Truth be told, I never quite looked at her the same way again.

Judgment by others is inevitable in every path you take. An author must stay strong and embrace her dream, whether she writes inspirational or erotica, suspense or satire, mysteries or thrillers. Trust in Your Dream and brook no objection.

"Nothing is as real as a dream. The world can change around you, but your dream will not. Responsibilities need not erase it. Duties need not obscure it. Because the dream is within you, no one can take it away."Tom Clancy

The other obstacle we must surpass comes from the pressure we put on ourselves. Fear, self-judgment, lack of motivation all may strike at one time or another. That is when we must rekindle our curiosity. Stir those embers and spark a yearning to 'get to the other side'. We mustn't wait for the lightning strike of inspiration to carve those letters for us nor hope others will encourage us along. There will be days when the fever of inspiration does lift our spirits and definitely times when our fellow authors will boost our spirits and lighten our hearts. However, we can't wait for the weather to be perfect or all conditions to be met. We must be determined to carry on. We must be self-motivated.

"Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek."Barack Obama

Now as I'm writing this the thought pops in my head, "Well, that's all well and good for you to say, but what if I don't know what comes next? What then, Ms. Smarty Pants?"

In my novel, Sidekicks, my 'wanna be leading lady' faced her own moment of freezing panic by thinking, Come on, are you a leading lady or what? *grin* So the question becomes a gauntlet tossed down by the very characters we create. This conflict, this fear, this obstacle that must be faced stirs up emotion, right? Excellent (she says, rubbing her hands together), WRITE IT DOWN. Keep writing through your funk, keep writing through your fear, because your heroes and heroines are tackling their own conflicts and Each And Every Conflict You Confront Will Be Reflected In Your Characters.

"My heroes are the ones who survived doing it wrong, who made mistakes, but recovered from them."Bono

This is where imagination wrestles with knowledge and wins hands down. You have no idea how the character will surmount her difficulties any more than you know how YOU will overcome your own dang obstacles.

The author stared at the page, wondering if she had it in her to write even one more sentence. The buzz of the lawnmower outside was a tangible reminder of the gorgeous Spring day and the errands waiting to be done. Which was greater, her fear the essay would really and truly suck this time or the burning desire to avoid continuing no matter what the cost?

*grin* Lack of motivation or fear? Tough call. Hmmm… Guess there's only one solution—Keep WRITING!

"Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it's the only way you can do anything really good."William Faulkner

The friend I mentioned earlier also dismissed the very notion of this blog. Apparently in her lofty view, blogs were right up there with romances. At least over the phone I didn't have to see her shudder this time. Now, here I am coming up on two years—and yes, wondering if I have it in me to pen yet another essay. Hoping to inspire and motivate others and myself to keep pushing forward, to keep writing, to keep reaching for that dream.

"Staying on your own path means that you are on the right track. Don't let anyone deter you from that."Eartha Kitt

"Your regrets aren't what you did, but what you didn't do. So I take every opportunity."Cameron Diaz

Here's the wisdom I've garnered in my years of writing.

• You need a dream, to have a Dream Come True.

• Dreams Come True through persistence, patience and passion.

• Persist by choosing to write whenever you can, no matter what others say or the outside world demands.

• Be patient as every dream needs continual effort and a certain amount of time. No one knows when or how success will come to you, but if you keep moving forward, you will succeed.

• Passion is The Flame Within and the flame needs fuel! Seek motivation from other writers, classes or motivational essays. *smile* But remember this—True Passion Springs From The Desire To Know WHAT HAPPENS NEXT.

Why did the author write her book? To get to the other side.

"When writing a novel, that's pretty much entirely what life turns into: 'House burned down. Car stolen. Cat exploded. Did 1500 easy words, so all in all it was a pretty good day.' " –Neil Gaiman

Now, I'm curious. What wisdom have you garnered over the years? If you met an aspiring author today, what would you advise?

Ready to get writing? Let's hit the keys!

Chiron O'Keefe

Also featured at Pop Culture Divas!

Monday, May 18, 2009

You've Gotta Have Heart

How best to describe a career in writing?

"Going after Moby Dick with nothing but a loaf of bread and a jar of tartar sauce." --contributed by James Fletcher


"I'm not afraid of storms, for I'm learning how to sail my ship." –Louisa May Alcott

We are a daring bunch. Venturing out into the chilly depths to seek our prey: The Elusive Contract. We dodge the painful spears of rejection and bait our hook again and again. Even after we manage to snare the wily agent and fearsome editor, our rickety boat must still cut a path through the stormy seas, hoping to discover the ultimate port—Lasting Success As A Published Author.

"If you're going through hell, keep going." ~Winston Churchill

Like many kids, I loved to devour stories. Whether nestled between the covers of a favorite book or played out on the tiny tube of my television set, feed me a story and I'm mesmerized. One classic musical that fascinated me featured a song I still love today. The lyrics capture what every writer needs to remember:

You've gotta have heart…
All you really need is heart…
When the odds are sayin' you'll never win,
That's when the grin should start!

From Damn Yankees, lyrics and music by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross.

Now I'm just mixing metaphors all over the place but with good purpose. Whether you equate your dream with a great white whale or the coveted victory of a championship series, the focus is always the same.

You've Gotta Have Heart.

Yet now as I type these words the realization strikes me that we need to dig deeper. Sure we're "hunting" for the right agent and editor. Yes, we want to "win" a shot at the big league. But each writer who yearns for success has a greater goal. One we may forget in our eager quest for the trophy win.

All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know. --Ernest Hemingway (1899 - 1961)

While we may struggle and sweat, going after our goals with fervor and heart-pounding determination, we lose sight of the greatest quest of all.

To Be A Damn Good Storyteller.

All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was. If you can get so that you can give that to people, then you are a writer. - Ernest Hemingway

To write a story that makes even one reader's heart sing is an amazing accomplishment. Sure the savvy agent hoping for a best-selling author right off the bat may not give your query a second glance. The editor pressured to only select books guaranteed to net a larger profit share may pass on the sale. Does that make you a… *gasp* failure?

Let me tell you right now… HELL No. If you pound those keys and nurture your story until it bursts into illumination, You Are A Success. If your beta readers and critique partners tell you how much they LOVE your story, YOU Are A Success. Truth is, this is a tough economy. There's a plethora of books flooding the marketplace. Breaking in is not necessarily easy. We all need to be determined to be in this for the long haul. Others may get contracts quicker or land an agent while we're still sweating over revisions. Be envious but joyful. Every success that others achieve is great news, my friend. This proves your dreams are achievable. You Can And Will Be A Successful and Published Author.

You Gotta Have Heart… Miles and Miles and Miles of Heart. *wink*

"Keep your dreams alive. Understand that to achieve anything requires faith and belief in yourself, vision, hardwork, determination, and dedication. Remember, all things are possible for those who believe." -- Gail Devers

Here's to a Week Filled With Heart…

Now you tell me, any classic movies or stories that filled you with heart? Tales that gave you hope or renewed your faith and courage?

Chiron O'Keefe
Also featured at Pop Culture Divas!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Do You Believe in Magic?

"Somewhere over the rainbow, skies are blue… And the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true…" --Harold Arlen & E.Y. Harburg

Do you believe in magic? Since my wild and exuberant youth, my curiosity has always been tinged with an underlying and fervent belief in magic. As a child, I stared in mirrors, scooting as close to the glass as possible, hoping for a glimpse into the 'other world' I was certain existed somewhere, somehow.

Perhaps this is what drove me and countless others to write. The awareness that there is more to reality than what we perceive. There are inner worlds we must explore through our creation. Call me crazy but I believe the land of Pern—constructed within the delightful mind of Anne McCaffrey—exists as surely as any so-called 'real' memory I've ever cherished. What is the past but a memory? What is the future but a dream? The only true reality is this exact moment. From that perspective, you and I hold the power within our imagination to create any world as real as this one.

Hmmm. Food for thought.

We are the music makers.
We are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams;--
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world forever, it seems.--
Arthur O'Shaughnessy (Ode)

Still… writing takes effort. Not only the sheer physical stamina required to pound those keys for hours at a time, but the perseverance and courage to push past our blocks, our fears, our insecurity and past the expectations from others. It's an intriguing quandary every artist faces.
The joyful exuberance springing from the idea of creation coupled with the internal struggle resulting from the act of creating.

I think there are two keys to being creatively productive. One is not being daunted by one's fear of failure. The second is sheer perseverance.--Mary-Claire King

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

Trouble is the effort sometimes casts a shadow over the exhilaration. Even worse, our apprehension can make our fingers freeze in their tracks. Here's two thoughts to help move past the fear.

First, reawaken the magic within.

When we are writing, or painting, or composing, we are, during the time of creativity, freed from normal restrictions, and are opened to a wider world, where colors are brighter, sounds clearer, and people more wondrously complex than we normally realize.--Madeleine L'Engle (Walking on Water)

Instead of worrying about the length of your book or whether the chapters are snappy enough, focus on the heart of your story. Invest some of those writing hours in dreaming about your story. Whether you're penning a sensual romance or dark paranormal, you are crafting your own world. In order to make it real, you must live in it at least part of the time. The more you focus on your story, the more concrete your world becomes. This is why a great way to get unstuck is to 'free-write' about your idea. Write about unexpected encounters and fanciful scenes outside of the story but within your novel's world. Or just let loose with a stream-of-consciousness flow where you explore a variety of 'what ifs'. Since the actual process of writing can sometimes require us to shift into a mechanical mode, we need to consciously and purposefully ignite the flame within our souls. Say it with me: I'm Creating A World!

Your world. Your characters. This your creation and you can do exactly what you want.

Which leads to our second thought.

This Is Your World.

When you take charge of your life, there is no longer need to ask permission of other people or society at large. When you ask permission, you give someone veto power over your life.--Geoffrey F. Abert

It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.--Herman Melville

It's one of life's greatest ironies that people continue to believe they know how to write your book. Whether it's friends or loved ones, crit partners or publishers, every author has encountered someone who 'knows better.'

They don't. Not to say we shouldn't take in all suggestions and weigh them carefully. Feedback is vital when learning how to craft a book. However the ideas are yours alone. The hardest books to write are those based on the thought, "I could write a book like That Author did!" Many first time authors start off that way (I certainly did). Not until book two, three, or four, do they begin to write their own books. Yet even long-time authors feel the pinch of expectation. As the market ebbs and wanes, professionals chime in with their own ideas of what works and what doesn't. If the expectations spark excitement, that's good. However, if you find your enthusiasm flagging and frustration growing it could be because you've stepped away from your book and began to write someone else's.


This Is Your World.

Every author wants to compose a story that elicits giggles or tears and sweeps a reader away. I've said it before and I'll say it again—write first, edit later.

Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.--Scott Adams

Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun.--Mary Lou Cook

You need three qualities most of all:

Passion, patience, and perseverance.

Passion—the tingle of wonderment at the magic you are creating—is essential. Unless you're excited about the story, no matter how brilliantly crafted, your story will leave others cold. Remember, delve into your tale even when you're not writing. Pump up that excitement!

Patience. Yes, we'll get frustrated, bored and restless. Keep writing anyway. *wink*

Perseverance. Writing is a marathon, not a sprint. The triumph comes when we cross that finish line.

Most of all, have fun! After all, if it's not fun, why do it? Sometimes coloring outside the lines is just the thing. Not only can it spark fabulous and unique ideas, when we stretch our imagination we experience a sense of liberation. This is Your World. Explore the outer edges even if your story will be centered in the middle. You need to know what lies in the shadows, whether you include that in your story or not.

When in doubt, make a fool of yourself. There is a microscopically thin line between being brilliantly creative and acting like the most gigantic idiot on Earth. So what the hell, leap!--Peter McWilliams

So… ready to begin a new week?

All glory comes from daring to begin.--Eugene F. Ware

Speaking of Worlds, any fictional worlds you are particularly fond of? As a child, I probably spent more time in Oz than the real world. As mentioned, I'm also an inhabitant of the Land of Pern and invested many hours in the Piers Anthony's Land of Xanth. How about you?

Chiron O'Keefe

Also Featured at Pop Culture Divas!

Check out Jenny Crusie's great post on Reality & Publishing (thanks Kathy!): Rats With Islands: How to Survive Your Publishing Career.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Writing On Your Feet

"The greatest explorer on this earth never takes voyages as long as those of the man who descends to the depth of his heart." –Julien Green

Art springs from the soul. A painter splashes colors on the canvas while a dancer twirls to an inner beat. A writer must somehow rearrange letters into art without losing the spark igniting the flame within. What's the secret of writing?

You start. You continue. You finish.

"I don't wait for moods. You accomplish nothing if you do that. Your mind must know it has got to get down to work." –Pearl S. Buck

Today, I'm living my words. After a week of finishing up edits, writing a dedication, and dreaming up my Pop Culture Divas' post, I sat down to compose my essay with my mind utterly blank. *Knock-Knock* "Hello! Inspiration, where are you?"

Start. Continue. Finish. *wink*

Now, wait a minute, my soul whispers, that hardly seems like a magic formula. I crave inspiration! Where's that brilliant electric spark? A bolt of lightning would be mighty fine right about now. Truth is, an author who only writes when the fever of inspiration is upon her is a rare breed. For the most part, that scenario is backwards. We write to find our inspiration.


"To do anything truly worth doing, I must not stand back shivering and thinking of the cold and danger, but jump in with gusto and scramble through as well as I can." — Og Mandino

Write. If you have a glimmer of an idea, explore it while your fingers are dancing on the keyboard. The process of pounding those keys is just like strolling down a lane. Whether your destination is planned is irrelevant; your writing is taking you somewhere and soon you will know.

"A man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting." —Carlos Castaneda

It may seem counterintuitive to write without knowing what you're going to say but it's not. Ever observe a comedian at work? Just watching Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert is a revelation. Sure, much of what they say on the air is scripted. However, those precious quips of sidesplitting hilarity often result from a response In the Moment. How do they do it? They talk the way we should write. They've trained themselves to think on their feet. They're not planning the adlib, it just happens. Writers need to train themselves to 'write on their feet'. Let our souls do the talking. *grin*


"It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything." –Virginia Woolf

Fabulous, I've started my essay. Yahoo! Except… Whoops. Now what? The dreaded middle has come upon me. What to do? For me, the steps are simple. If I'm feeling stumped, I pause and reread what I wrote. Hey! There's actually an idea there. Where did that come from? Who the heck knows or cares. I'm 'writing on my feet' now and my fingers are tapping away. Uh-huh, I get it now. Keep writing. I've found the spark of my idea. Somehow it slipped in when all I thought I was doing was typing. Yes!

"Dreams pass into the reality of action. From the actions stems the dream again; and this interdependence produces the highest form of living." –Anais Nin

"Action is the antidote to despair." –Joan Baez

Just seeing what I've already written has perked my spirits up. I'm riding high on the momentum my fingertips have managed to produce. Remember, my friends, We Are Writers. Writers write and it's the process of putting those words on paper—no matter what the content—that helps us build a bridge between wishing for inspiration and finding the magic within our souls.


Uh-oh. The pages have flown by, along with a couple of hours. No matter how quickly I think the writing will flow, time has a way of disappearing. For some authors, starting is as scary as leaping off a cliff. For others, the dreaded middle leaves them stumped. Yet there are those of us that feel the greatest pinch when faced with the realization that the book needs to be wrapped up. How to find my way out of the maze to the enchanted land called The End?

Hmm. The answer is whispering already in my heart.


"Creativity comes from trust. Trust your instincts. And never hope more than you work." –Rita Mae Brown

Once again, I must trust and 'write on my feet'. After a lifetime of spontaneous communication, the answer is finding its way into my heart. Illumination occurs within a heartbeat. Painters discover their art as their brushes caress the canvas. A musician turns off conscious control and lets the music pour from a hidden place deep within their souls. Writers must do the same. Everyone feels blocked now and again. Everyone trembles with fear, worrying that the brilliance they crave will never appear.

There's a myriad of methods for moving past the fear and getting back into the groove. However, it always comes down to one truth. If you want to have written, you must write. Later, you can revise. Afterwards, you can rearrange those words until they sparkle and shine. For now, You Must Write.

"Getting ahead in a difficult profession requires avid faith in yourself. That is why some people with mediocre talent, but with great inner drive, go much further than people with vastly superior talent." –Sophia Loren

"All of us have bad luck and good luck. The man who persists through the bad luck - who keeps right on going - is the man who is there when the good luck comes - and is ready to receive it." –Robert Collier

May arrives along with my favorite season of all—Spring! Time to plant those seeds, literal and figurative, so that our gardens may grow. Summer will soon be here and even with longer days, we'll find the time disappears like snowflakes in the sun. Now's the time to set our inner alarm clocks to remind us to Wake Up And Get Writing! Are you with me?

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

What are some of your favorite tips for self-motivation?

Chiron O'Keefe

Also featured at Pop Culture Divas!

Friday, May 1, 2009

The Total Package

Check out my light-hearted tribute to The Total Package at Pop Culture Divas!

Chiron O'Keefe