Far and Wide and Every Lost Minute.

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I was doing an exercise in a seminar I was taking. I was given an article; a long, seemingly rambling, however, well executed nonfiction piece on the downfall of certain companies. Just writing that sentence feels painful. Why did I waste my time?

But, see, it turned out not to be a waste of time. In a lecture, recently, a similar topic came up and I was able to give a reasonable discussion about how this downfall relates to the business of writing.

Wow – I did not see that coming.

That is something I’ve always done, however. I’ve actively added to my body of knowledge by reading far and wide, not limiting myself just to my genre or even just to fiction.

What I’ve found is that this adds depth to my characters, validity to my narrative, realism to my stories. I’m don’t limit myself, therefore, my characters seem more authentic.

In 51WOVy2yYkL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_$I.00 Stories, I developed the homeless man from articles I’d read about mental illness and the homeless. In West End, I was able to add more depth to my character having read psychological texts on motherless daughters.

My advice is always – read far and wide and don’t limit yourself. Read when you’re waiting in line at starbucks, read before bed, read when you wake up, or you’re waiting to pick up your kids, or meet your friends. Get off of facebook and twitter or stay on those sites and subscribe to the digital magazines.

I hear people say – I don’t have time to read. Yes. You. Do. Find where you’re losing time and capture it.

 

 

 

 

The Writer’s Support System

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Maybe it’s me, but I doubt I’m alone in this: A writer’s support system sometimes seems a shaky and insecure. Some people do not understand, others say ridiculous things, and some are even jealous of our steps forward.

Finding a support system is an active and ongoing endeavor. People move on, they step back, and we need to keep moving forward, be unwilling to let negative people and comments to hold us back.

Don’t be afraid to move on. It doesn’t mean you have to cut contact with everyone or even anyone, but you certainly want to keep those who are positive supporters of your in the forefront of your mind and heart.

Sometimes, we feel very alone. Writing is a solitary act, but we don’t have to live in a bubble. Make contact through writer’s groups, online and in person. Meet other writers at conferences or critique groups and stay in contact with them. Join a book group, we need friends.

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Photo Credit: Noreen Lace / Here in the Silence

 

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.

 

Help! I’m blocked!

writers-block1-1Writer’s block is the writer’s arch enemy.

And though it can be solved, one of the problems is that it takes faith to believe it can be overcome and it does take work.

Someone, recently, asked me how to get over a block and I gave him the following advice. He responded, “that’s too hard!”

Too hard???

If you want to get through a block – you have to push. If you are not willing to do the work, then why are you here?

One way – and it is just one idea – to get through writer’s block is to write your way out of it.

Use a separate document, handwrite it, get out of the story you’re working on and write somewhere else – but write, and keep writing – it might take you ten pages to get to where you need to be, and you might get two or three good pages out of that – but guess what, you will have written yourself out of the block.692757fb38878f2d80969e191c54a4cc

Ten pages not enough? Still feeling blocked? Keep writing!

Think of it this way –  something is in your way. If you were driving somewhere and the road was blocked, would you turn around and go home, go back to bed, and give up? Or would you use mapquest to find a different way to get there.

Something is in your writing way, get off that street (document), look at mapquest (other ideas, roads, methods, ways), and get moving.

 

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…..

 

 

 

 

 

Write Lightening

How did the three blind mice meet?

Why were they chasing the farmer’s wife?

Go – Write it!

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Neil Gaiman

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Don’t you agree?