Sunday, May 30, 2010

Don't Be Lonely, Be Productive!

Well, my newest project as a writer has been to form a group of other writers to meet with a couple times a month to share my work with and talk about the highs and lows of writing.  We're only a few weeks into this whole ordeal (it hasn't been the easiest thing in the world to accomplish), but overall I'm pretty pleased with how it's gone so far.

The hardest part of being a writer is being alone with your thoughts and your work all the time.  You can only share a conversation with your characters for so long before you start to wonder if you're developing some kind of Multiple Personality Disorder, and I've discovered that the heroes in my stories have notoriously bad grammar.

I spent this week reading through the projects the other writers submitted for critique, and it is great to be able to look at someone else's project.  The humor, terror, sadness and beauty that the other writers have created on their pages is refreshing and inspiring.

As in any business, sometimes it takes a fresh perspective and method to help you to clean up the rough edges of your projects and bring new motivation to finish the hard stuff.  It is as true in marketing and filing as it is with writing, and I now appreciate more than ever the ability to put our heads together and think through the big stuff.

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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Oh, How I Wish For More Dry Feet

We have reached the last week of May solidly intact, and happily my 31 day sabbatical from writing, graphics design, marketing and concept art is coming to an end.  I don't really know where the month has gone, but it has been a great time of reflection as well as relaxation and I feel the flow of creativity building up within me.

As I get ready to put fingertips to the keyboard once more and get back to the business of making a living, I've started going through some of the things I've written over the last couple of years.  My hope being that I may be able to spark some inspiration for new articles and fiction to be written in the coming weeks.  It is interesting to read through the articles that I know I enjoyed writing versus the articles that have received the highest page views.  Sadly, there isn't always a correlation between what a writer feels is their most enjoyable work and what readers want to read.

Take for example, the article I wrote just over a year ago entitled Causes and Symptoms of Dry Feet.  I have not been discreet when I have mentioned to family and friends that I genuinely dislike this article.  Yes, I wrote it and it is a product borne of my own determination.  Yes, it got me through a bout of writer's block when no other idea would fall from the heavens and drop into my lap.  And yes, this blasted article continues to receive hundreds of reads each and every month, and is deemed as "popular" among my other works.  But the writing is bland, the topic is bland, the whole of it was forced out of me and onto paper by sheer act of will and not because I was enjoying what I was doing.

Then there are rare jewels like The Rochester Letter, a piece I wrote as an entry to a short-fiction writing contest that was required to begin with the sentence, "He had not been expecting a letter."  I love this piece.  I adore the way the picture painted itself before me while I typed away about an old man and his lost love.  I enjoy the few e-mails and comments I received from family and friends when it was published last fall, about how the story made them feel and what it reminded them of in their own lives.  And yet, pieces like this are quickly forgotten in the stack of submitted work and it hasn't had a recorded page view since Christmas.

This is a struggle that I have discovered many of us in the writing field, or any creative field, must face.  It is very infrequently that a piece that we love to its core becomes our legacy and cornerstone of our reputations as writers.  It is rare that we are able to open our hearts to readers and not receive critical feedback from the all-mighty "They" who get to determine what "They" say is good or "They" say is bad.  More often it is something that we slapped together without much thought or foresight and pushed aside as one more stepping-stone crossed that becomes our most widely known work, for better or for worse.

It is an odd feeling to be a writer and to not know whether or not what we write is going to make it.  It is even more strange when those "Dry Feet" pieces we push out just to make a quick $5 so we can buy a sandwich turn into golden eggs.  Wouldn't it be nice if we could know in advance which pieces would be read, and which would be forgotten?  Surely then, we would put more time and care into the words flowing out onto the page.

Perhaps this is just one of those life lessons.  Treat every article, no matter how brief or mundane, as if it will be your greatest accomplishment.  Because, it just might be.

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Stephen King and Allies in the War Against Blank Paper

It's been a beautiful few days here; sun bathed warm weather with just enough puffy clouds to make your imagination perk up.  Until yesterday afternoon anyway when the thunderstorm moved in, although even that was beautiful and made the house smell like summer rain.

I'm still technically in the midst of my month of "down-time" but writing is starting to creep steadily back into my life one small step at a time.  We all knew that it would be impossible to keep it waiting for long anyway, no matter how much the landscaping needs attention or how many dozens of cookies are waiting to be baked.

In my break from life, I've been reading a lot.  It's brought me back to when I was a kid, curled into as tight a ball as possible on the edge of the couch or tucked away in a dark corner of the bedroom where it's quiet and still, white-knuckling a book and oblivious to anything other than the words dancing in front of me.  Only now I'm not reading about tiny Indians locked away in magic cupboards or little girls with Telepathic abilities.  Now I'm reading about writing.

I have been fortunate that I've been able to find some very good books written not of the "how to" of writing, but on the "how it is being a writer; it's OK to be broke, alone and misunderstood".  Frankly, I find the form and function of writing to be incredibly boring.  Proper use of punctuation, pronouns and adverbs is more than I can bare to study, particularly since most readers don't have a Bachelors Degree in Literary Theory or whatever literary degrees there are.

As an aside, I'd like to insert here that college degrees are fantastic for those who are willing to sit through the classes to get them, or who aspire to be teachers in a conventional sense themselves.  I applaud all of you who have taken the time and expense to learn; I just don't have the ability to listen to a lecture that lasts more than 7.5 minutes - just ask my husband.

So, instead of reading about how to write properly with good form and perfect punctuation, I have been reading about what writing really is.  Stephen King is typically too horrifying and nightmare inducing for me to read, but his book On Writing, A Memoir of the Craft is fantastic.  In it, he likens writing to using telepathy that spans not only location, but also time.  I like this idea of writing.  When I write, and when I read, I really do "see" the images that the words are describing.  Even things which I have never seen before and will likely never visit can become ingrained in my field of vision when I'm writing, and then I get to share what I see with someone else.

I like the idea that Stephen King has had some of the same struggles I have had as a writer.  Writing is a very lonely business, and it can seem impossible if you don't have someone to fight the battle of exhaustion and distraction with.  I am pleased that this week I believe I've found more allies in my war against writers-block; two other writers who are also trying to finish their works of art and need a little feedback and pushing along themselves.  Two interesting women who have gotten past the saying, "I'd really like to write a book" and have actually written something.  It is amazing to me how many people I've met in the last few years who would "really like to write", and how few of them have actually written their opening sentences.

There are two major obstacles that you have to overcome when you want to write.  The first is finding someone who will support your decision and not tease you about your silly "hobby".  This is a daunting task, but if you advertise your intentions long enough you WILL find someone to support you.  The second obstacle is to start writing.  The first word, the first sentence and the first chapter are the hardest - but once you have them completed you are no longer just someone with an idea about a book.  You are a writer.
 
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Friday, May 14, 2010

A Pondering of the Written Word

It has been a long time since I have read a book in less than 48 hours.  It has been a longer time since I have read a book that has truly caused me to think of how I perceive myself as a writer.  And I can't remember a time when both have happened in tandem.

Yesterday morning I picked up How I Became A Famous Novelist by Steve Hely, and about 20 minutes ago I finally turned the last page.  While thoroughly entertaining and a fantastic spotlight on how fickle the publishing world can be, the book has also prompted me to think about where I would fit in the broad spectrum of authors characterized in this fictional memoir.  Without going into great detail (since I believe you should find a copy and read it for yourself), I will say that I fall somewhere in the middle of the "Honest" and the "Literary Con-Artist" of writers characterized in the book.  I'd like to say I'm closer to honest than con-artist, but I suppose that depends on the day and the writing assignment.

It is true that I love to write just for the sake of writing.  I was told by my high school English teacher that this was the mark of a true writer. But I also happen to love writing for the sake of being read, and have come to sinfully enjoy the ability to make a few dollars spouting my thoughts at random.

As I meet more and more writers (there are so many!), I have found an interesting thread.  The majority of those who love to write become deeply embroiled in the seriousness of it.  They take the time to get degrees in Literature, use proper sentence structure, properly use verbs and adverbs and make sure to not use too many commas.  This is where I have at times felt like I am not a "true" writer, even though technically I have been paid to write for some time now.  I don't take my writing very seriously.  There, I said it.  The secret is out.

I want to be read and liked now.  Dare I say - I even want to be "popular" now; while I am young and able to enjoy my success.  It is this part of me that makes me not take writing so seriously.  The sad truth is, it doesn't matter if I use perfect punctuation or completely capture the right feeling for the page, or even if I construct characters who are blessed with just the right amount of humanitarianism and charm... if no one reads it then it is all for naught.

And so I waver between wanting to become a famous (and wealthy) novelist with throngs of faithful readers hungry for the next installment of my "Greatest American Written Series of All Time", and wanting to write something true and profoundly intense that will touch a person when they are at their most needing moment.  When I begin day-dreaming of royalties and hobby-farms, a silver Aston Martin and gold-leaf ceilings... I am reminded that really I am supposed to just be writing for me.  But secretly, deep down, it isn't about the desire to weave a story from the mind's eye and put it to paper.  Deep, deep down it is about the possibility that I may have an idea that will be as enjoyable to write as it is to read; and that with each page that turns, coins will fall from the heavens.

And so with that thought, I am off to fold laundry and pull weeds in the back-yard.  All of this self-inspection is getting far too serious for me.

Currently Reading:

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Transition is a fickle mistress...

Well, it is official.  I am now a full time authoress.  No more day job to keep me down!  It is exciting, relaxing, relieving, and completely disorienting not having a regular 9 to 5 job like everyone else on the planet.  And already, 9 days into this whirlwind adventure I have discovered some things.

The first thing that I discovered was how "light" life is without the responsibilities I had burdened myself with.  Physically, I have already been able to push my purse down into the back of a closet because suddenly everything I own fits snugly in my pocket.  No heavy bundles of keys, swipe cards, company cards, receipts, worries and cares to haul all over creation with me.  

Sleep has returned to me in just the right amount and I am told repeatedly that I look more alive than I have in years.  Although I am living life without an alarm clock now (for the first time in a decade) I am still waking early, but without the urgent "the world is ending" feeling that I am so used to.  I have been able to ease into my day and have been amazingly more productive than I could have thought possible.

The other thing that has become apparent, rather abruptly, is that it is very difficult for anyone else to understand and support the decision of someone else "quitting normal life" as was so delicately put to me earlier this week.  I am suddenly an outsider without many supporters.  I knew that choosing to make my way in the world from the comfort of my own home and pajamas would be difficult for some to grasp, but I suppose I wasn't prepared for how much the feelings would sting.  

But, ill feelings aside, I know that the decision to focus on my writing and end my career chasing someone else's definition of "success" will be one of the best decisions I have made for myself and my family.  Sure, I probably won't be rich tomorrow; but I will be better prepared to take care of myself and my loved ones with the time and care that we each deserve.

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