Write not Wrong

September 19, 2012

I read a bit of advice that got me thinking today. In a blog post full of writing advice as part of Harlequin’s yearly writing workshop/contest, So You Think You Can Write, Author Ann Lethbridge writes: One of the things I love about writing fiction is that I can never be wrong. Yes, there is always room for improvement of craft, but the final decisions are mine.

I’d forgotten that. I’ve been hung up on the right way to write a story, second guessing every word, every plot point. Is it okay to do this? Is it okay to do that? All that questioning slows my writing down and sucks the joy from the process.

Today, when I ask myself if it’s okay to do this or that, the answer is going to be a resounding absolutely. That doesn’t mean it won’t change later, that I won’t find a different way to advance the plot or convey a message. Rather, like my illustrious CP recently pointed out: There are a million ways to tell a story, and one or the other isn’t necessarily better or worse (maybe more saleable, but not better or worse).

I’m thankful for writers who share their advice. Those words of wisdom often pull me from the edge of writer’s block and rescue me from the land of “oh my God, you’re doing it wrong!”

My new mantra:

There’s no right in write. 🙂

Elley

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September Dose of Inspiration

September 7, 2012

(August’s Dose)

Though I’m no longer a teacher or a student and don’t yet have school-age children, there is still something about September that feels like a beginning. Summer activities stop, the chance that it might cool off is close (at least, here in Mo). Things just slow down, which means it’s time to put that writing nose to the grindstone.

So, here’s some inspiration to get back to it. Find your swing of things.

First up, from agent Janet Reid’s blog:

“You have taken a tiny smidgen of info (140 characters no less!) and interpreted in the one way that will make you feel bad.

Knock that shit off.

The world is a hard enough place for writers without being the instrument of your own torment.”

Even though she’s answering a particular person’s specific question, any time you follow an agent or editor you have submitted to, hang these words somewhere you can see them a lot.

Second, and there are a lot of different ways to say this one. “Feed the good. Starve the bad.” This is hard to do. Really hard. Especially for a reformed pessimist like me, but as I was growing up into an adult, I learned that dwelling on the bad didn’t make it any less so. However, focusing on the good, giving it power and strength, often made me happier even in bad situations.

Third, a quote from Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, “You need to trust yourself, especially on a first draft, where amid the anxiety and self-doubt, there should be a real sense of your imagination and your memories walking and woolgathering, tramping the hills, romping all over the place. Trust them. Don’t look at your feet to see if you’re doing it right. Just dance… Stop the chattering of the rational mind.”

Last, from my second favorite writing book, Eudora Welty’s memoir, One Writer’s Beginnings. “A sheltered life can be a daring life as well. For all serious daring starts from within.”

Dare to write. Dare to set and accomplish goals. Dare to believe in yourself.

Feel free to share some inspirations of your own in the comments section!

Nicole

My daughter wants to quit dance. (Was that random? Typing it felt very random.) Quitting dance isn’t an easy decision. She’s 10, and she’s been enrolled in dance training for seven years. It’s a big part of who she is, and apparently, she thinks that part has become too big, too cumbersome, too unyielding when she wants to do other things. I get that. I do. But still, I hate to see her quit.

Last night as I cuddled her on the couch, I tried to give words of wisdom, stories from my life and her father’s life, her brothers’ lives too, that would help her see that sometimes we give up on something because the work gets hard or the fear of failing grows, and those are not valid reasons to quit. Her response: But I just don’t have fun anymore.

Ah, fun. That three-letter word gets people into a lot of trouble. The pursuit of… The sustaining of… The end of… We make a lot of decisions based on what is and isn’t fun, especially when we’re young. Don’t get me wrong. I want her to have fun. But I also want her to be balanced enough to know that sometimes you have to work hard, face fears and yes, even be miserable in order to really appreciate the next round of fun.

The more we talked, the more I realized this wasn’t about quitting dance so much as it was about her wanting to break free of the schedule, the physical strain, the pressure to perform. (Heck, that’s a lot for a 10-year-old!) It wasn’t about the dance at all. It was the bull sh*t. The hour on the barre each Thursday. The two hours in studio Friday nights when her other friends were having sleepovers. The struggle to achieve equal flexibility between right and left legs. The fines for forgetting hair ties to fasten her hair into a bun. None of it’s terroristic. 🙂 None of it’s shocking. (Like I said, we’ve been at it for a while now.) But year after year of it begins to drag a person down, especially a 10-year-old person.

Now, what the heck does this have to do with writing? A lot actually. At least for me. And lately. For some time now, writing hasn’t been…fun. I’m struggling with my direction, my commitment, my motivation, my confidence. After much procrastination, I ran out of excuses and finally wrote 1200+ words yesterday. And you know what? During that time of actual writing, nothing else mattered. Not once did I stop and think: Why are you doing this? No little voice nagged: You’re wasting your time. While writing, all was right with my world.

So what’s the problem? Like I told my daughter: It’s the bull sh*t. (No, I did not use those exact words.) As she struggles with all the things that go along with dancing as a skill, I struggle with all the things that go along with writing for publication. When we focus on the extras, we lose the love—and fun—of the main event. The action. The dancing. The writing. The thing that makes us whole.

Last night, before bed, I told my daughter that I think she needs to take a few months off from “training”—not from dancing. She needs a break from the voices telling her how to move, how to bend. She needs the freedom to choreograph her own motion, to hear the music that plays in her heart.

Wide, fearful eyes met my gaze. “But what if I forget what I learned?” she asked.

“Then you’ll learn new things, even better things. Just remember, you know everything you need to know to dance right here in this room.”

They are words that haunt me…along with “practice what you preach.”

I know everything I need to know to write—right here in this room. The rest will come. As long as I don’t quit.

Keep dancing.

Keep writing.

Ignore the bull sh*t.

Elley

 

Every writer deals with bad days and good days, bad weeks and good weeks, months. Sometimes short, sometimes long, these stretches make you question yourself. Your writing, your ability, probably sometimes even your sanity.

It doesn’t matter where you are in the process of writing for publication. Whether you’ve had zero rejections or hundreds (I’m sadly closer to the latter). Whether you’ve had no success or many, many published novels, I’m pretty sure we all have really bad writing days. Days of doubt, questioning, despair. Even days you (no matter how fleetingly) think you should just quit.

One of the things I try to do when I’m in one of these depressing spots is find words that give me comfort or inspiration. I have a spot in the notebook where I keep my goals and business plans to write inspiring quotes and my bookmarks bar is filled with posts that have made me remember myself.

So, today (and probably once a month or so in the future) I’ll be sharing with you some places that have offered me inspiration in those dark times.

Number One: This post (http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2012/01/03/25-things-writers-should-stop-doing/). More than anything, I go back to number seven. I have to remind myself this writing thing is SUPPOSED to be hard. If it was easy, anybody could and would do it. So when it’s hard, I remind myself it’s supposed to be this way and at some point I’ll look back and thank God it was because something good came out of all that hard work.

Number Two: This Youtube video (Jack White – Inspiration) of Jack White talking about inspiration. He’s talking about music but it can one hundred percent pertain to writing. Mainly that inspiration is hard work, and if you wait around for it to strike you’re never going to accomplish anything. You’ve got to force yourself to create sometimes.

Number Three: This quote comes from my absolute favorite book on writing Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. My copy of this book is wrinkled and falling apart, underlined to death, notes all over the margins, old post-its crinkled from wear sticking out everywhere. This is the book that told me I could do this, and I didn’t have to be perfect doing it.

“Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend. What people somehow (inadvertently, I’m sure) forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here–and by extension, what we’re supposed to be writing.”

Happy Friday, everyone! Hope you go into the weekend feeling a little inspired.

Nicole

Give Me Some History

June 18, 2012

Although I wanted to do nothing but write, I did very little writing last week. No, that’s wrong. I did NO writing last week. My little job at the sewing store, where I usually work seven to twelve hours, suddenly became full time, when my boss broke her hand and her number one girl was gone for the week. The hours were all over the place. Some days I opened, some I closed, and I actually worked seven days in a row, Sunday through Saturday. It was a week that made me appreciate how hard my hunky hubby always works, and I think it was a week that made him appreciate how hard I usually work at home.

Susanne came into the store to look at sewing machines, and as I always do, I asked her what kind of sewing she would be doing…it makes a difference in the machines I show the customer. Susanne begins to tell me about the Victorian costumes she makes, primarily for herself, but also for a few customers. Susanne and her husband have been involved in Civil War reenactments for about thirty years, and over the years she’s learned a lot about Victorian fashion and other details of Victorian life. We talked for nearly an hour, then they were off to finish their errands and I had some other work to do in the store. Just before time for me to leave, Susanne returned with a turn of the century ladies jacket she had made, and a thick book that she uses for presentations on the Victorian lifestyle.
 
She talked about the layers of garments ladies had to wear during the Victorian time period, the difference in fashion from hoop skirts to bustles. She talked about the etiquette of fashion, yes, there was an etiquette that we no longer deal with, and even some very tragic fashion stories. And, did you know that women had a whole language they used to talk to men with their fans?
Now if I wasn’t a writer I’d have been fascinated, but as a writer…and someone who sews, Susanne was an exciting person to have walk into the store.
 
My current work in progress has a 1920’s element to it and a strong fashion element as well. The heroine is a fashion designer. But, Susanne’s visit has me considering a Victorian romance for my next manuscript. What a valuable resource she could be.
I’ve always been fascinated with history, and love to read historical romance. How many of you read historical? How many of you write historical? Where do you find your research? I hope you’ll share…
Tari

I have a Pinterest account. If you haven’t been to Pinterest yet, you should at least check it out. It’s a system of ‘bulletin boards’ where you can pin things you want to save on the internet, great recipes, fashion, home decorating, craft projects… Once you have an account, you can have a separate bulletin board for each of these things or whatever you want to pin. Your favorite books, books you want to read, blogs you love (hint hint), really, nearly anything you find on the internet can be pinned, and if it’s on a website, when you click on the pin, you will be taken to the website the item was pinned from. It’s really a very clever system and a great way to find inspiration.

So, Saturday was my OCC RWA meeting, and steampunk author Jillian Stone was the morning speaker. Her topic was world building, and although it was geared pretty strongly toward fantasy—and I don’t write fantasy—I took a lot of notes and learned some interesting things. Not necessarily the most interesting, but one I will be implementing today, is the way she uses her Pinterest account. She uses her boards as inspiration for her books. There is a board for her book, The Moonstone and Miss Jones, individual boards for some of her characters, and a board for steampunk character inspiration. Maybe you’ve already started a Pinterest account and are using it this way, but I thought it was brilliant.

I have occasionally kept a spiral notebook with pictures cut from magazines and pasted on the pages, little notes about character or location scribbled around the pictures in blue ink…from a ten-cent pen. The pictures are inspiration and a way of making the fantasy in my head more real. As if Hunky Hubby needed physical proof of my insanity.

But, virtual bulletin boards as a way to collect inspiration? This is an idea I love!

Now, I do use some of my Pinterest boards this way, sort of…tentative steps into using Pinterest for my writing, and Nicole has as well. But if you go to my account you will see boards with sewing projects I’d like to try (I’ve actually tried a couple too!), boards with recipes I’m saving for the holidays, boards with home decorating ideas I hope to get Hunky Hubby to implement (thanks Elley for sharing the cute appliance decals! Maybe my laundry room won’t be so dull now!)…and boards with gift ideas for future gift giving events. These are the primary ways that I use my pinboards, and often a way that I sit at the computer and procrastinate on writing tasks.

Jillian Stone has inspired me to use my pinboards as a more serious writing tool, not necessarily a way to procrastinate on writing. I will admit this could be a dangerous tactic to take, but one worth trying!

So do you Pinterest? If so how do you use your boards? Are any of them geared (no steampunk pun intended) toward writing inspiration? Do you think this is just another time waster or do you see some real value? I’d love to know!

Tari

Sew I was working at the sewing store the other day…yes, I know that’s corny, but it makes me happy, and by now you should all know that I’m a little corny, so I’m going to continue. Anyway, this customer, I’ll call her Mary, not because I’m trying to protect her privacy, but because I just can’t remember her name. So Mary came in and asked if we did sewing for other people. The answer is no, we don’t. We sell sewing machines, embroidery software and sewing tools. Mary asked if I sewed. “Yes.” She asked if I like sewing. “Yes, I love it.” Would you be interested in doing some sewing for me? “No, I don’t sew for money. “ (I promise you this isn’t a sewing column. Really, I promise!)

So it turns out Mary has created a fashion design, but she doesn’t sew and wants to find someone to sew for her. I find this interesting, and the store is slow so we continue talking. She also has to figure out how to market her product, and the conversation turns to craft fairs, online stores, social media and blogs…and finally—here it is—writing.

Not only does Mary not sew, she’s not a writer…oh, hey I remember her name now, but we’ll just stay with Mary. It’s not that far off anyway…so Mary isn’t a writer, but I am. We start talking about writing and the advertising and marketing work I’ve done, then the magazine articles and newspaper articles I’ve written, and Mary wants to know if I’d consider writing some press releases and promotional blurbs for her. “Yes, yes I will. I write for money.”

So she asks what I’ve been working on lately. “Why fiction. Thank you for asking.” She is impressed and wants to know more about my story, so I give her a little description of my characters and the plot of my WIP (okay, WASS, or Work at a StandStill). Now she is fascinated. She loves to read and wants to know where my ideas come from. “Well, just from living. There are ideas all around. Every day and every person you meet is inspiration for a story.” (Little did she know she would end up in this blog…as Mary.) She is satisfied and tells me knowingly that she was pretty sure that the characters in the novels she read were actually real people.

“Well,” I tell her. “It’s not really like that.”

Okay, now she wants to know how I know what to write. I debate. Do I tell her? I rarely tell non-writers how I work. Most writers understand, most non-writers, well, they think I’m crazy. I suppose they could be write…yes, I know, but it makes me happy.

Mary pressures a little more, intrigued by how fiction makes it to the printed page…So am I. I’d like to know how to get it to the printed page…and she asks, “but how do you create all of those stories and characters.”

I don’t really want to tell her, and I consider saying, “I took a class,” but that would be a lie. Then the words just spill out of my mouth. “The characters tell me the story. I just write it down.”

Now she is satisfied, sure that she was write and states that obviously, I interview real people, and that’s where the story comes from.

Instead of smiling and saying, “Sure that’s it,” my mouth keeps moving and I say, “No, the characters are fictional. They’re in my head, and I just let them tell the story.”

Suddenly her face shuts down, and I realize the error of my ways. She now believes me to be a schizophrenic, hearing voices in my head. (Who knows? Wven I’m not sure that isn’t true, but it’s working for me, so I’ll go with it.)

Mary quickly thanks me for my help, tells me she’ll get back to me about the promotional writing, and says she better not keep me from my work any longer.

Sew…she was write. I really did need to get back to work. (See isn’t that fun? Okay, corny but fun.)

Really, I know better than to explain to non-writers how I write, but I’m never sure exactly what I should tell them. What do you say? How do you explain your writing process to non-writers? Do I really need medication? All you writers out there, tell me where your stories come from…come on, you can tell me. I’ll understand.

Tari

***As part of our birthday week celebration, we’re picking our favorite posts of the last year. This is Elley’s favorite. It originally appeared on the blog on July 8, 2011.

The other day, my CP sent along a chapter attached to a familiar-sounding email.  She wrote how she hated the chapter, and she added that she’d hit a dead end, was staring at blank pages and generally felt disillusioned with her writing. I knew before I even read the chapter that it wasn’t going to be as bad as she thought. I knew because I do this sort of thing too.

If not once a month, at least once a manuscript, I send off an email declaring, “I suck. The WIP sucks. I’m prepared for you to dump my unworthy ass—or at least shower me with disgust.” That has yet to happen. Instead, she calls me crazy…and I’m not offended, because she’s right.

Aren’t we all crazy? I mean we admit to having people wandering around in our heads telling us what to write. They argue with us. They pout. And then they do or say something so marvelous that they have us plowing through family members and leaping furniture in order to get to pen and paper or laptop to jot down the moment of brilliance. Considering all that, I’m okay with crazy. What I’m not okay with is a perfectly good writer getting depressed enough to stop writing.

So without further ado, here are the top 10 (sort-of-serious, hopefully humorous) tips for overcoming the I Suck Funk.

10. Read a really sucky book. (Use Amazon or Goodreads to find a horrifically low-ranking title.) As you read, loudly declare, “I can do better than this.”

9. Read a completed manuscript that you enjoyed writing. As you read, jot down your favorite lines on Post-it notes (aka Sean Kowalski-style—Shannon Stacey’s Yours to Keep) and stick them around your writing area…no, your entire house…to remind yourself of your writing prowess.

8. Let your CP know you’re in a bad way. (Don’t have a CP? Enlist the help of a trusted friend or your mother—if she can handle what you write – or your spouse—if he wouldn’t rather poke his eyes out than read about people falling in love.) Be bold. Ask for her (or him) to read something you’ve written and comment on what’s good—at least five things they liked. Tell her (or him) to keep her (or his) mouth shut about the negatives. This isn’t a critique. It’s a lie-if-you-have-to, build-the-bitch-back-up read through. There’s already enough negativity rolling around in your head.

7. Spend inordinate amounts of time working on your blog, website, Twitter and Facebook. Soon your eyes will burn, your ass will hurt and your head will feel so stuffy you’ll have to walk away from the laptop and engage in real life for a few days. There’s nothing like real life to push you back into the imaginary world in your head.

6. Quit writing. Seriously. Throw your hands up in the air, and declare, “I’m done. I’ve wasted how many years of my life? I suck. Nobody will ever pay money to read what I write.” And turn the laptop off. Better yet, put it away…on the top of a closet shelf. Close the door. Spit on it. Now—and this is the important part—sit down at the dining table and make a list of all the things you can do since you’re no longer wasting your time writing, things like: laundry, cleaning house, lawn care, planning a family reunion, dental appointments, pap smears. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Nah. Go get the laptop. Kiss it. Hug it. Because even sucky writing is better than washing dishes.

5.  Read or watch something seriously depressing about dreams unrealized, lives cut short. Want a bigger impact? Take a quiet walk through a nearby graveyard and imagine all the people who were laid to rest before they were able to see their dreams come true. You may send yourself spiraling into the pit of despair, or you may run home—tears and all—to throw open your laptop and write like there’s no tomorrow, because maybe there’s not. There are no guarantees. Spend the time you have doing what you love.

4. Look at your kids if you have them. (If you don’t, look at someone else’s kids and pretend. Just don’t touch them, or you might get hauled off by the police.) Children learn to live life through observation. What do you want them to observe from you? The posture of a dejected quitter or a determined, (fairly) unshakable writer, who faces down the dark spots and pushes into the light?

3. Drink. Wine. Lots. Then write…just for fun. And email the results to me.

2. Eat. Sweets. Lots. Then when you’ve gained too much weight to sit comfortably in your desk chair and your blood pressure goes so high you must spend hours a day lying on your left side, you can quit writing, knowing it was an external conflict that drove you away from writing rather than an internal conflict that pretty much made you a heroine who’s too stupid to live (TSTL).

1. For crying out loud, just write.  Give yourself permission to write suckish stuff sometimes. Before every suck-filled writing session repeat after me: “I will write for thirty minutes as fast as I can. I will not let doubt slow me down. If it sucks, then it sucks. But like a clogged drain, I’m going to flush the crap that blocks the flow, and I’m going to write, because sucky or not, I…AM…A…WRITER.”

Pep Talk Anyone?

February 23, 2012

So this is one of those days that I could use a pep talk. Do you have days like this? My life is changing all around me and I’m wondering can I do this? Can I write my book while everything goes crazy? Can I focus? Can I make this happen?

Over the years, I’ve always found a way to write. When I held a real job, I would finagle a way to write a company newsletter or put together the company handbook. As receptionist at an advertising agency, I managed to infiltrate the copy writer room. Kind of like George in the Seinfeld sitcom series, I just took over a desk in an office and started writing ad copy. I know it sounds insane, but I did…and they let me keep writing. Eventually, they even let me write television commercials….I did dream a little about writing screenplays for a while, screenplays from the novel I would write.

When the boys were born and I had three little ones at home, I kept writing primarily short pieces, magazine articles, newspaper columns, press releases…resumes for friends and family…lots and lots of resumes…but rarely my own. Occasionally, just because I wanted to remind myself that I really wanted to write fiction, I would write a short story here and there and tuck it in a drawer, my novel waiting. Waiting for when the three little boys were out of diapers, bottles and off to school, did I say off to school? Waiting for when I quit homeschooling and they were all in college…not that I was wishing those years away. I loved every minute that the boys were home with me…okay, there were minutes I could have done without. I mean really I raised three boys, but whatever happened I loved being a mom, however imperfect a mom I am. It was my first career choice, and writing has been a passion that I’ve put on hold.

So now, here I am boys growing up, doing their own things, building their lives, and I’m watching them in awe while I finally start to do what I’ve always known I would do when I grew up… I mean when they grew up…write.

But life has a way of throwing you a curve ball every now and then. Things can change quickly, and what do you do? The responsible thing of course, whatever that may be. So can I write? Or will my writing get put in a drawer again?

What do you do when life throws you curve balls? How many times have you put your fiction writing career on hold…or have you? Oh, don’t worry. (You are worried about my writing aren’t you?) I’ll keep writing, but things are changing around here once again…anyone have a pep talk for me? I could use one.

 

I Wrote Anyway

November 4, 2011

If you follow me on Twitter, then you know yesterday went from bad to worse. Bad was the sewer backing up all over my newly remodeled basement. Worse was my husband hurting his back while he tried to drag a 5-feet tall refrigerator up the basement steps.

I wrote anyway.

I’m not gloating or even patting myself on the back. I’m a little irked at the fact. Seriously, for weeks now nothing major has interfered with my writing, and yet I have written very little. On a day when all hell broke loose, I wrote 3000+ words…which proves I can write—should write—even when the freaking sky is falling.

I owe some of the credit to FiMyFuMo for the little nudge in the right direction. (If I haven’t met my word count, I start to get twitchy.) But most of the credit goes to me being sick and tired of whining about not writing when I don’t have a good excuse not to be. I have food. I have shelter. I have healthy kids, a husband who loves me, and friends who make me laugh. Wallowing in the Why Am I Not Writing Swamp is like staring at sewer sludge on a basement floor wishing it would disappear. It’s not going to happen…unless I clean it up. And the book isn’t going to get written…unless I write.

Around 8:00 last night, the drain was unplugged. As I cleaned the sludge off the floor with gallon after gallon of bleach, my “broken” husband tried to get comfortable on the couch upstairs. I dreamed of things returning to normal, so I could write—and breathe without my lungs burning from corrosive chemicals. That’s when I realized, despite it all, I wrote anyway.

With Hubby at work and the drain flowing freely, today should be a piece of cake, huh?

(You can check on my writing progress and the progress of other FiMyFuNo-ers here. You can also join us! We’d love the company.)