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Entries in Writing Inspiration (8)

Monday
Dec082008

'Tis the Season

Is anyone else finding is nearly impossible to get things done during this time of year? I have a major celeb profile due this week, and it is all I can do to crack open the document and eke out a few lousy sentences. It didn't used to be this way: in fact, I remember in years past, that December and early January were some of my busiest times (surprisingly), and maybe I just didn't have time to procrastinate, but wow, am I struggling to get off the bench these days.

I was thinking about this - my lack of motivation on this particular piece, which, incidentally, I should be loving, so it's not anything about this specific piece that has my ass dragging - and how I can jumpstart myself, when it occurred to me that this was an excellent topic for this blog. Because, it dawned on me, there is a very big difference between feeling unmotivated and thus not writing, and really and truly being blocked and thus not writing. I guess the end result is the same: a blank page, but the root of the problem can be very different.

I've found that in the past, when I've lacked motivation to tackle an article, it's often because I don't have enough information to really dive into. I need to fully and completely saturate myself with every possible angle on the subject before I am 100% confident in my writing. Which doesn't mean that I always DO this, it just means that I can definitely tell the difference in the ease with which the words flow if I am overprepared in my knowledge of my subject matter. The same holds true for this celeb piece. I was really stuck as to how to start it. I'd mentally drafted several intros, but I knew I could do better. Finally, after pouring over some past interviews of this celeb and rereading my own transcripts a few times, it came to me last night in the middle of the night. Aha! Yes! Now I'm psyched to sit down and write this baby because I know it will ring true. My preparation made that happen.

Now, alternatively, I think a lot of us get stuck with fiction, and get stuck in a way that little can be done to get us out of it. In these instances, sometimes I try to write anyway, but that's often just really depressing because the words and pages just suck. In these instances, sometimes, I step away from the work for a bit...I never stop thinking about it, but yeah, I give myself a chance to breath, to consider new angles and new obstacles for my characters, and almost inevitably, I work through my block. Of course, there's certainly something to be said for just keeping at it: fiction is a muscle that needs to be flexed, and often times, the more you flex it, the stronger it becomes...but not always. Sometimes, you just end up straining something.

So...this season, if you're finding yourself wholly unmotivated, maybe consider the cause. Are you inadequately prepared to write knowledgeably on the subject or are you just plain stuck? And if you've found yourself in my position, please do share your tips on breaking out of it? (Online shopping is certainly a good one!) :)

Thursday
Feb282008

Motivation, Where Are You???

So there's been some discussion on a writers' board I frequent about motivation and how to stay interested and energized day in and day out with your writing. I thought this was a fantastic discussion for the blog because I feel like I'm smacked with ennui several times a year, and I know that I'm not alone in this.

For me, the best way to deal with the blahs is to branch out into something new. In this sense, writing is no different than any other job - everyone needs to change things up every now and then. That's honestly why I started writing fiction: I just got tired of the constant deadlines of the magazine work and writing piece after piece on subjects that I already knew about. What I loved most about magazine writing when I first started out was that I was learning so damn much. I mean, if you write about a variety of subjects and interview enough experts, you're bound to soak up reams of info yourself...but after a while, especially to maximize your time to money ratio, you tend to cover similar subjects over and over...and well, that's just not the best way to feed your brain, though it does help feed your bank account.

So, I started writing fiction in my off-hours. Turned out that initially, I wasn't so great at it. But it didn't matter! It energized me, made me fall back in love with writing, and that energy carried over to my magazine assignments, which I returned to with a renewed vigor.

But now, having just been given the official sign off on Time of My Life (my editor deemed it, "perfect!"), I'm faced with diving back into the grind, and lemme tell you, it's not coming easily. I have enough time to now tackle more work but I'm dragging my feet because I'm waiting for something to jump out and inspire me. Maybe it's my next book? I dunno: I'm brainstorming ideas, but I've found that brainstorming doesn't work best for me - I just need to be struck like lightening with an idea and characters, so...eh...that's not filling too much of my time. I'm staying busy with celebrity stuff and various mag work here and there...but still, I'm weighted down with that weird feeling of being both antsy and bored.

Normally, I'd take a day or two off and kick around to renew my enthusiasm - and in many cases, I think this is exactly what works - play hooky, do something you love, take a walk - and you'll return to your computer raring to go. But in my case, I'm not sure. Honestly, I think that maybe on solution is to return to work full-blast: I find that when I'm working on a ton of stuff, I have less time to think about being bored, and thus, voila, I am less bored and more stimulated by what I'm doing.

But...eh....I don't know. I'm guessing that I haven't fully laid my characters from Time of My Life to rest, and once I've fully gestated that book, I'll be fired up to move on to something bigger and better. (Which, in the meantime, means I have a lot of time for twiddling my thumbs.)

So what do you guys do when either daily or more long-term blahs hit?

Tuesday
Feb192008

On Improvement, Part Two

So last week's post on Writer Unboxed generated some interesting comments and good food for thought. Not least because I spent the holiday weekend pouring through a new book, the kind of book that you can't believe you've been reading for hours because it seems like time stood still while you were flipping each page and the kind of book that you stay up waaaaaay past your bedtime to "just read one more chapter." The book was Barefoot by Elin Hilderbrandt, and man, I just loved it. (FYI: I don't know Elin, nor do I know her agent, editor, publicist or anyone even remotely connected to her, so I'm not just saying this to pimp her book! I really and truly loved it.)

Anyway, for those of you who didn't read my post last week, the general summary is this: first stabs at novels often suck, even if you don't see this at the time, and as a writer, even a published one, you should always strive to boost your writing each and every time you step up to the plate. I sincerely feel like Time of My Life makes leaps and bounds over The Department, and well, I don't even want to think of how crappy my (unpublished) book was before that. And Suzanne, a blog reader, posted an interesting comment - or interesting to me at least - was how she rarely heard published authors saying that they could improve their work. I guess the assumption is that getting published is enough.

Maybe for some authors it is. I think we could all name a few authors who churn out books year in year out in which the names are changed and maybe the plot is slightly varied, but more or less, the author hasn't cracked his or her success code. Hey, it works for him or her, and I don't have any problem with this.

But for me, I mean, what's the point of writing - whether you're working on your still-unpublished novel or your follow-up to your bestseller - if you're not trying to one-up your skill set each time? I think that this is where we, as writers, ideally all stand on the same ground, regardless of where you are in your writing aspirations and success. Look, it sucks when your first (or second) novel doesn't land an agent or doesn't nab a publisher, but I have enormous respect for people who can dust themselves off and say, "The experience was part of this ride; this career isn't a horizontal line; next time at the plate, I might swing and actually get a hit."

All of which leads me back to Barefoot. I read it on the recommendation of someone (I can't remember who now, because I sent a friend a note thanking her for the suggestion and it turned out she hadn't suggested it...so...if whomever recommended it is out there, thank you!), and I'm now interested in going back and reading Hilderbrand's other books (she's written six). And I'm curious to see if I can tell the difference between the first one and the sixth...because I hope that if I'm ever able to eke out six novels, that readers will be able to note the difference in quality in mine. That, to me, is what marks a successful writing career, and that, to me, is a big part of what this is all about. (That said, if all of her books are as good as Barefoot, I seriously might show up on her doorstep, kneel at her feet and ask her for her secrets!)

So tell me, have you read debut novels and been blown away by future books by the same writer? Or is this whole learning curve that I subscribe to overblown? Maybe you're just born with the ability to be a good writer and if so, each and every time you knock it out of the park? (As you can tell, I have a lot of thoughts and questions on this subject!)

Wednesday
Nov212007

Getting My Groove On

I was cruising through some blogs the other day, when I came across this post on Tammie's site, which is all about how music influences her characters and her writing. And I asked her if I could raise that subject here because I think it's such a cool and relevant point.

I'm a big music-phile. (Is that a word? Probably not.) I'm completely and hopelessly addicted to my Napster to Go subscription and always devote at least a bit of time each day seeking out new bands and singers who strike literal chords within me. So after reading Tammie's post, I took some time to think about how music influenced my own writing and scene setting, as well as how much it's influenced my own life. I'm sort of someone who - at the risk of sounding like Ally McBeal (yipes!), has always had various soundtracks for my life, contingent on my mood or what phase I was currently in. More so than melody, I've always related to lyrics, and if the lyrics impact me in some way, you can bet that the song will be on rotation in my house for months or years to come. Right now, I'm sort of in this self-evaluation phase, and I'm digging melodic mid-tempo singers like Chantal Kreviazuk, Sara Bareilles, Mandy Moore, Mat Kearney, Brandi Carlile and the like. I listen to their songs and get lost in them, as if they're personally speaking to me.

And in some ways, I very much do the same with my characters. My heroine, Jillian, in Time of My Life is helplessly lost between two lives and two loves, and desperately trying to find her way back to what feels right, and so, when I hear Vanessa Carlton's "Home," it resonates and helps me dig into Jillian's mindset - it really transports me to the scenes in which Jill's trying to figure out what feels like "home." Ditto Ben Fold's "The Luckiest", which is all about how someone comes to appreciate how fortunate he is for the love he has in his life. And Five for Fighting's "The Riddle" speaks to Jillian's love for her child, even when she doesn't quite know her place in the world. I could go on like this for days: Dashboard Confessional's Stolen, Mandy Moore's "Most of Me," Snow Patrol's "Open Your Eyes," The Weepies' "The World Spins Madly On," even "Skid Row," from Little Shop of Horrors, which sounds random I know, but every time they launch into the last verse:

Someone show me a way to get out of here,
'Cause I constantly pray I'll get out of here.
Please won't somebody say I'll get out of here,
Someone gimme my shot or I'll rot here.

Show me how and I will I'll get out of here,
I'll start climbing up hill and get out of here,
Someone tell me I still can get out of here,
Someone tell Lady Luck that I'm stuck here.

Gee it sure would be swell to get out of here,
Bid the gutter farewell to get out of here,
I'd move heaven and hell to get out of Skid,
I'd give I don't know what to get out of Skid,
But a hell of a lot to get out of Skid,
People tell me there's not a way out of Skid,
But believe me I've got to get out of Skid row.

I'm always moved by the tenacity behind the lyrics and the fight in the voices behind them, and damn if it doesn't give both me and my characters a kick in the butt. (Yes, I love show tunes, so what?) :)

So, I'm always looking for music suggestions. Who or what inspires both you and your writing? Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving!!

Thursday
Nov082007

Why Can't We All Just Get Along

Today, I'm over at Writer Unboxed talking about writerly karma and wondering why we all just can't be happy for each other's success...

Check it out!

Tuesday
Sep042007

So Here's Something Interesting

(Quick note: the Girlfriends' Cyber Circuit (GCC) was mentioned in Sunday's New York Times! Check out the article on author tours.)

So, as I noted last week, I'm back in the swing of writing my manuscript. I took a few months off as we shopped it around - I was able to sell it on the first 100 pages and a synopsis - and I dove back in about two weeks ago. And here's something I've discovered: I'm not so sure how much I actually like writing. Hmmm, interesting isn't it? :)

Let me clarify. I LOVE spending time with the characters in my head. I LOVE crafting obstacles and dialogue and all of that. But for some reason, even as my brain spins in the story - which these days, is almost a constant - I DREAD sitting down and writing. Weird, right??? I mean, I will do just about anything to procrastinate. I get into my office, so full of enthusiasm and ideas and bursting to put them on to the page, and then I open up the document, and I'm just sort of like, "ugh." So I surf every last gossip blog, and I check in on all of my writing forums, and if there's even a teeny-tiny thing that I need to buy, I'll cruise from website to website browsing.

The only way that I get anything done is that I set time deadlines for myself. I nervously eye the clock on the lower-right hand corner, and know that say, as soon as it flips to 10:30, I have to focus, come hell or high water. Once I start writing, I accelerate and all of the ideas snowball, and I'm always glad to have done it (and enjoy doing it too), but for me, I think it's the anticipation of the work ahead that I dread. Sort of like how some people can't stand to think of going to the gym, but once they're there, they dig it.

I actually recently interviewed Peter Hedges, the author of What's Eating Gilbert Grape and the director of the soon-to-be released movie, Dan in Real Life (so good, go see it when it comes out in Oct), and he said something similar. He was trying to wrap up his new novel and had taken a lot of time away from the book to work on the movie. And he said something like, (I'm paraphrasing here), "I always kick myself when I take time off from a manuscript because it's so hard to get back into it. I stare and it and wish that I could get back those months when I did nothing."

So hey, if an incredible writer like Hedges feels the way I do, I can't be that off my rocker, but tell me, do any of you guys feel the way I do? That sometimes, writing is a battle, albeit a necessary and even enjoyable one, but a battle all the same. Am I making sense? Or am I just weird and alone in this? :)

Wednesday
Aug222007

When Lightening Strikes

Before I get into today's post, I HAD to link to this incredible review of The Department of Lost and Found. I was truly so touched and humbled by it, so I hope you take the time to click over. (Haven't bought the book? What are you waiting for?)

So, the other day, I was hungry for a new book. So hungry that I couldn't wait for Amazon to deliver. (I'm a Prime member, so normally, I press "order," and the books are here within two days.) After dropping my son off at camp, I mosey to Barnes and Noble, and grab Jonathan Tropper's How to Talk to a Widower.

Well, I start it that afternoon on the subway to a meeting, and by the time I turned off the light for some shut-eye, I was 200 pages deep. (It was so good that I let my son watch an extra episode of Dragon Tales, just so I could keep reading. The very model of good parenting, I know!)

I woke up the next morning, desperate to read more, toted it to the dog run, (bonus for the pooch: he also got extra play time because I was so absorbed), and then skipped out on some work to finish it, sadly turning the last few pages because I didn't want it to end. God, I miss that book.

Anyway, after I lovingly placed it on our bookshelf, I started thinking about what, for me, makes a book click. It's almost intangible, you know? I mean, every book I buy, I hope that this magic will happen, but it doesn't always, in fact, it doesn't often. Every last thing about this book worked for me. Mostly, I suppose, it was the voice: if I'm not digging the voice of the narrator, the rest of book is shot. But there are other things too - what I really appreciated about HTTTAW was how I could be cracking up in one moment, then welling up in the next. (Yes, I actually started crying in the dog run! How mortifying!) Its emotional resonance really impacted me. And the character's story arc was also totally believable. By the end, even though I suspected it was coming, I really felt like, "Yup, that could happen. Those changes not only work, they're gratifying to the reader."

It was everything I hope for as a reader, and what I aspire to as an author. Will it win the Pulitzer? Hell, no. But it was all that I ask for and more out of a book. I'm now off to order Tropper's back list and hope that he pulls out the same stops for his previous works. (And no, I don't know the guy, so I'm certainly not shilling for him out of obligation or anything like that!)

So...have you read any books recently that captured this magic?

Thursday
Jul122007

Why Do I Write?

Yes, I'm in a philosophical mood these days.

I've been mulling over this question of late. I've been fortunate enough to receive a bevy of emails from people who have read TDLF and with whom it resonated enough that they actually took the time to track me down online and send me a few kind words. Some of these people have been touched by cancer, others are cancer survivors themselves. And their notes mean EVERYTHING to me. I mean, seriously. Here I am, just someone who had the misfortune of losing a loved one to cancer, but not anyone who battled it herself, so for these survivors to reach out to me and say, "Hey, thank you for writing my story," or "Thank you for portraying a kick-ass woman who is strong enough to wreak fury on the disease," or "Thank you for helping me to heal when cancer took my mother," well, seriously, it's truly hard to express the emotions that these notes drum up for me.

All of which has gotten me thinking. I wrote TDLF as a way to cope with my own grief. The truth of the matter is, that I'm not sure why else I wrote it. I guess, now that it's out there in the world, part of me must have written it as a way to connect with others, to share my story and hope that it resonated with them. Is this why we write? Is this why we pick up books? I guess so.

It would be easy for me to say that I write because I'm good at it. But I'm good at a lot of things - I don't expect to be paid for them. I'm an excellent Precor-er, that doesn't mean that I think I should be a professional aerobics instructor! (I'm stretching my point, but I think you get it.) I mean, I do write partially because I'm good at it, but there has to be something more than that. I suspect that some people write because they want the world to see how brilliant they are...they should only wait until they get their first scathing review or discover that the world doesn't think they are as brilliant as they anticipated. Others write because "it's their calling." But what does that really mean? (And I'm being serious in asking this.) Is it your calling to share your stories or to entertain people or to be able to make money while working in your pajamas? Which is it?

I think that I've finally realized that for me, as I said above, it's about being able to connect with people. I don't kid myself that my work will win huge prizes or land on the top of the NY Times list...but I guess that via the emails I've gotten, I now understand that I write because my story is also someone else's, and in reading the book, it helps/entertains/amuses/soothes that other person.

But what of all those unpublished writers whose work might never see the light of day? (Though hopefully it will!) Why do they write? Or even for other published authors...why do you write? I think it's an interesting question that a lot of us don't focus on...because we're too busy writing. :)