On my bookshelf

I’ve finished my Tana French detective series and didn’t want to go to bed without another book in hand. (Nevermind there are three on my bedside table).

bookshelf.pngI began browsing my bookshelf, which is semi-organized: books I’ve read and loved. Books I want to read. School books. Writing books. and, of course, Poe books

I also have something mixed in that would seem, at first glance, not to belong. Books on psychology, the law, philosophy. I assume many writer’s bookshelves are this way.

A writer needs a wide variety of knowledge.

I know we have google at our disposal; however, I find reading books about, for example, the Psychology of Marketing allows me to get an in depth look that a wikipage or a few short articles are not going to give me. This allows me to create a more realistic character or more thorough background to make the story more believable.

For West End, I needed to understand two things, the idea of an absent or unloving mother, and the different forms depression can take. Anxiety runs throughout my work from Of Strays and Exes to Life of Clouds – which features children affected in different ways by the disappearance of their father.

I’ve heard handymen say they are the jack of all trades. I think writers are akin to that. We need to learn many things in order to live many lives.

 

 

 

 

Protect the Process…

processDan Brown believes strongly in protecting the process.

By process, he means, the writing schedule and habits that create the difference between a writer who produces and the writer who does not.

This has become personally important to me; and lately it has come to my attention that there’s more to protecting the process than just showing up.

It’s about protecting yourself from the negative forces that affect the writing.

We are often disturbed and distracted by people and events around us. I’m not talking about the road raging driver or ineffective salesperson- we should never allow such an insignificant person or event to affect us at all.

I believe we have to prioritize who and what is important – they come first in our lives either before, after, or within our process. The rest of the world must fall away.

I don’t make appointments during my writing time. That has become a habit for the last some years. However, I have allowed other things to interrupt my life, things I thought were vital. This is mostly due to what is expected of me as a social, agreeable person. Lately, though, I’ve realized do have a choice.

I don’t care if I come across as a little anti-social or less agreeable. I’m protecting myself from people and events who will affect my time, writing, and state of mind.

I used to see a writer regularly arguing with others on social media. I asked him why he didn’t just ignore these people. He said it didn’t bother him, they needed to be taught a lesson.

Recently, he deleted many of his social media accounts and limiting his time on others, telling his followers that all the interactions were causing him distress and he hadn’t been able to write.

I’m not only talking about social media, but the regular, sometimes expected, social interactions we have. If they are draining, why do we take part in them? Expectations? Do we get anything out of it?

If not, then rethink it.

 

Use it or Lose it – for writers?

muscle-armWhen we think of “use it or lose it”, many of us think of the physical body. And, I have to admit that I was reading something about the physical aspect of our beings when I thought of applying this to writing.

When I don’t write for a day, a week, or a month, then I start again, it’s difficult and frustrating; the writing comes out scratchy, not making much sense. But, then, as I sit there forcing out the words, pushing the bad stuff out of the way, it might take me another week or month to get it moving again, but it does move and the flow is active once again.

Think of writing as a muscle – it needs regular exercise in order to flow smoothly. keepwir

If muscles aren’t exercised regularly, they lose mass. However, once they begin to work and move again, they regain the mass rather quickly. But the movement must be continual to see progress.

The same goes for writing. We need to write regularly in order to keep the flow of ideas as well as the flow of the story moving and our skills steady. Any disruption over a period of time will make the first times back difficult and challenging.

As always, the advice is – Keep Writing. Your skills will improve with practice and time. Your flow of ideas will improve and grow as long as you keep exercising those creative muscles.

 

Think of it like this:

Actually what the brain is doing is changing its local wiring, changing the details of how the machinery controlling your behavior is connected. It’s also changing itself in other physical, chemical, and functional ways. Collectively, those changes account for the improvement or acquisition of any human ability.

An Author’s Test

testIf someone says they read your work, it does not matter whether you believe them or not or whether they did or not – Don’t test them!

I work with an American Pen Award winner – he is the epitome of modest and professional.  I ran into him and said, “loved the book.” He said thank you. And that is all we should say!

I had one writer begin asking me questions about their work. I felt they didn’t believe I’d read their work, so they wanted to test me.

Maybe it was they just wanted to ask my opinion or probe my analysis of certain aspects of their work. But, see, I read for pleasure.I’m unprepared to answer questions other than what I enjoyed about the novel.

There are times I’ve read  to analyze someone’s work because I wanted to learn something from or when they’ve asked me too because they want my opinion on one or more aspects of their work.

So – when a writer asks some in depth question about some random detail on page 145 – I’m test1really sort of stopped short.

I read nightly. If I read their book or story last week, I’ve probably read another book and 50 student essays since.  If I read it last month, we’re talking at least two books, possibly three, and over 124 student essays and 300 short literature responses from students.

Last, but not least, it’s just plain rude. When someone has told me they’ve read my story, I say thank you. If they want to ask me questions or say more, I’m willing to listen. But I leave it to the reader.

 

Descending into Madness…

logo1-the-descent-into-madnessSometimes, that’s what writing feels like.

I recently finished a particularly difficult story. I’d written it over the summer. Then life happened, and while I wrote here and there and started new things, finished other things, submitted, and even came back to this story repeatedly, it refused to be finished.

This story became the terrible twos who kept throwing a spoon down on the floor and crying for me to pick it up only to throw it down again.

When my real children did this – I left the spoon on the floor and shrugged, “guess you’re using your fingers now,” but you can’t do that with a story, huh?

But what you can do with the story – as with all writing – is keep showing up. That’s what I did. I kept putting that story in front of me and trying to work out of the kinks. We can’t give up the story when it gets hard.

One of my favorite stories is one Stephen King tells about Carrie. I’m paraphrasing here: His wife found Carrie in the trash and brought it back to him, saying something to the effect, you can’t stop just because it got hard.

(of course these are the days when we used typewriters or notebooks and were able to physically put those in the trash and not just click delete, which, by the way, don’t ever do!  Ignore the story, put it elsewhere, but don’t delete it!)

And I’ve read/heard the above King/Carrie story a few different ways, so it may not be exact; however, the point is – You can’t give up a story because it’s hard.

Even if the story never gets published – I learned something by writing it, by sticking it out.

The new term in student success is “Grit.”  (I know, it’s also an old John Wayne movie). It alludes to the idea that the students who struggle and push through who will become a successful student and graduate. It applies across the board – school, life, and definitely writing! (Not surprisingly, to that movie as well).

I recall another story I’d had a particularly challenging time with. And just when I thought it was finished – the dreaded blue screen!  It was gone. Memory wiped. I gave it a few weeks (and a long weekend in New Orleans) and came back at it.  “Psychic Surprise Party” was published six months later in The Oleander Review. (It will be republished in May online).

Even if this one is never published, I learned something by doing it. I’ve learned something in all of these not-yet-published stories and poems. We are writers. We are driven to write. It is our little corner of the puzzle-solving-world in which we exist.

The next one might be easier. And maybe it’s smilethis challenging one that will push something out of the way for the next one. Maybe the next one will be difficult too, but we’re going somewhere, learning something – keep pushing through.

That’s what makes us writers.

And we’re all a little mad here…..