Wednesday, September 2, 2015
Sunday, August 30, 2015
I used to be a process junkie. Every conference I attended, every workshop or class, I wanted to know, "What is your process?"
Because mine may as well have looked like this:
Of course, what I really wanted to know was, "How do you write a book?" Because who wants to try and fail and try and fail and try and fail if you can just ask someone else, some other successful person, how they did it and then copy the crap out of them?
"Write an outline," they said.
"Find out what is in your character's pocket," they said. "Nothing," I said. "But if they did have something, what would it be?" they said.
"Try this sixty-seven point, fold-a-paper, pretend you're a snowflake method. Works for me every time," they said.
So I tried (and still try) all of those things. And failed (and still fail).
BUT I have figured out that I can't work with an outline. And that even if my characters had something in their pockets, I wouldn't care, and that I am wonderfully horrible at anything with more than three steps. I also figured out we all have some process related things in common and that pop up with every book:
YOU HAVE TO DO ALL THE THINGS. There aren't any magic beans and for every fifty-seven things you try, you may end up with one or two that stick and become your process.
WRITING IS HARD AND YOU ARE NOT A GENIUS. Beethoven and Hawking are geniuses. Just know that if the sneaky part of your mind is telling you, "you don't have to listen to that critique/change that plotline/kill off that character," then you probably do. Because you are not a genius.
DON'T WAIT UNTIL YOU ARE "FEELING IT." I would literally never get out of bed if I waited for my feelings to show up.
TAKE BREAKS. Just because you decided to be a writer does not mean your children should have to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the rest of their lives.
YOU MUST BE COMFORTABLE WITH YOUR FLAWS. Or, at least, know what they are. Or at the very least, know that you have them. Writing a book has this amazing ability to call forth every one of your flaws in bright screaming Technicolor and possibly stereo and then challenge them to a duel.
Please know that my capital letters are for the stubborn, know-it-all, perfectionist crazy-head that is writing this post. If you know a stubborn, know-it-all, perfectionist crazy-head writer/human, feel free to share.
Friday, August 28, 2015
Wednesday, August 26, 2015
It's a very first try at English Paper Piecing (EPP), with scrap fabric and no plan, generally thought of as a hand quilting technique. I'm not planning to make a quilt, though I love to do all kinds of needlework and stitchery. But it seemed like the perfect little fiddly thing for my mini writing breaks. You know, the times when you're trying to figure out a story problem? Or know you have a problem but aren't sure what exactly that problem might be? Or you just need to stop for 15 minutes and regroup. Or my favourite -- when I know that there's something right there, just brewing underneath, but it needs to be teased out, developed gently with love and patience. Often, those are the times that I take a walk. Getting up and moving are almost always the best ways for me to shake off any hints of block, to generate ideas, to think a story through. But sometimes, a few minutes of stitching, of working with my hands, does the trick. I learned the EPP basics on Monday night; it came in very handy yesterday as I thought "Big Picture" thoughts about a novel revision. On three different occasions throughout the day, I picked it up, stitched for 5 or 6 minutes, then put it down. Over the past couple of weeks I've been working on this embroidery sampler:
In those few minutes of doing a stitch, I give my mind the freedom to decide on whether or not to revive long-dormant projects, to ponder brand-new ones that I'll note and work on later. It's just a few minutes each time. But it helps me allow myself to let my mind journey...to move forward, backward, or even in circles; and then to grab onto those delicate threads of new ideas, wonderings, stories, and weave them into my work.
I hate to waste. I wondered for a moment what I'd do with that first attempt at EPP. It's not pretty, but still...
...Then I remembered: I've already used it. And it's served me well.
Also, maybe one day I'll make a little quilt.
Tuesday, August 25, 2015
Sunday, August 23, 2015
- Imagine the most wonderful book you can (not a real book).A book with just the kind of hero, problem, and setting that you like best. Write a book report about that book.
- Have you ever read a book that seemed perfect until you got to the end? Then snapped it shut in outrage because it has the wrong ending? Rewrite the ending to your liking AND explain why you prefer it.
- Take the hero or heroine of a book you love and add yourself to the story. Write one chapter.
- If you were moving to Mars and could only take one book, which one would you take and why?
Saturday, August 22, 2015
Writers spend so much time alone in front computers that it’s important for use to come together and mark the big and little things. But I don’t do much more than that. I remember when I first started working in book publishing, right out of college. There was a bestselling romance author who bought herself a new piece of gemstone or diamond-studded jewelry every time she sold a book. There was another who treated herself to a new pair Manolo Blahniks. I remember thinking at the time that when I became the writer I wanted to be that I would do something similar. I never quite settled on the thing—jewelry, art, shoes, vacations—but I was sure I’d find a way to do something fabulous for myself.
Of course my advances don’t reach the level of Manola Blahniks let alone diamonds, but there’s also the question of WHEN do you celebrate? When the editor makes an offer? When the check arrives weeks or even months after the official offer and usually spent long before it arrives? On publication day when the check is long gone?
In addition to the WHEN there’s a WHAT and HOW. The idea of throwing myself a publication party makes me cringe (although I love to go to other writer's parties). I did take my group to Fraunces Tavern when DANIEL AT THE SIEGE OF BOSTON was published, but I haven't done anything like that since. And do I celebrate all my books, including the freelance jobs? What about the ghostwritten ones that don’t have my name on them? I’ve never been sure, so I’ve let all those days slip away.
But now I’m thinking about celebrations, and I’m wondering why I believe they have to cost a lot of money. I live in New York City where I’m surrounded by some of the best museums in the world. Off-Broadway theater is vibrant and interesting and a ticket doesn’t rival my monthly mortgage payment. And Central Park is free.
So in writing this post I decided to give myself a celebratory experience for each book on publication day, whether my name’s on it or not. First up is MILITARY ANIMALS three days from now. I think it’s time I checked out Whitney Museum of American Art in its new digs. And because the book comes with a paw print dog tag, I already have the bling.
Tuesday, August 18, 2015
I stumbled upon this way of structuring my writing life when I read an article in the Readers' Digest when I was a child: "What You Can Do with an Hour a Day." It told of artists completing work for juried shows on the hour-a-day system, of self-taught men achieving levels of intellectual brilliance by reading for an hour a day at the Library of Congress, of greatness and glory accumulated sixty minutes at a time.
As an adult I read Anthony Trollope's fabulous autobiography and learned that he wrote and published his huge, sprawling Victorian novels by writing for a short, fixed stint each morning, while working full-time at a high level position for the British postal service. He penned these words which I committed to memory: "A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labors of a spasmodic Hercules."
To measure my hour, I use this hourglass: