Monday, August 29, 2016

From Seedling to Story

It’s the job of a writer to create images in the minds of our readers. To illuminate moving pixels in their brains. Pixels that spark questions. Questions that cause the reader to crave more.

I don’t know what happens to most people when they see an image like this. 

I instantly feel a story move around inside me, testing the waters, seeing if it’s ready to be born. Often the embryonic seedling is comfortable in its womb, unwilling to blossom into anything more than a pondering, a fleeting curiosity. Multiple scenarios—what ifsflit around my head, like a halo of fireflies. But then there are times when an image like the above will conjure something from deep inside me, striking the center of a ripe idea, coaxing it to fruition. Or, at the very least, to climb out from where it’s been hiding and become a rough draft on the page. Messy ideas, dripping. Sluiced with amniotic remnants.

Until the day it stretches its limbs and becomes fully alive. Braver. Sturdier. Daring independence.

I know then that it is my job to raise the idea well. To listen. To invest time in understanding. To groom and do the hard work. I also know it would be cruel to ignore what has so beautifully and mysteriously found a way to the surface. In the process of bringing a story idea to life I’m at all times partaking in a nuanced and complicated dance of both nurturing and letting go.

It’s the best way I know how to honor both the story and myself.

So, what do you think about when you see an image like the one above?

Monday, August 22, 2016

What Not to Write

I bet you’ve seen the show that aired on TLC for ten years, the one where Stacy and Clinton raid closets and turn even the dowdiest dresser into a fashionista. Today I thought I’d put my own spin on that show by doling out insight I’ve gleaned throughout my years as a novelist—What Not to Write.

If I’ve learned anything, it’s that there are no hard and fast rules, so I’m not presenting any kind of mandates today. The following are simply suggestions based on knowledge I’ve acquired in the industry. Take them. Or leave them. But if I were you, I wouldn’t try to publish them.

While crafting your novel here are six things not to write…

A Flowery Bouquet
You want your voice to sparkle and shine so you force all kinds of flowery language into your sentences. Survey says, “Eh.” Stephen King makes some great points about this in his book, On Writing. The goal is for your story to flow. You don’t want readers to get tripped up by your purple prose. And you might think it would be cool for readers to oh and ah at your vocabulary, but the ultimate result is of peonies in prose is that the reader becomes entirely distracted. Story fail.

A Book without a Skeleton
Please don’t get so attached to your pants that you refuse to do any plotting whatsoever. I know, I get it. I’ve always been more of a pantser than a plotter, but if you jump in without any sense of where the story is headed, no idea of tension to introduce, ways to stretch your character, then you’re bound to lead the reader down multiple rabbit holes. This = more complicated edits. I’m trying to save you here. Books without bones to hold them in place bring me to…

The Loco-Emotive Journey
I’m guilty of this one. The first book I ever wrote (13 books ago) belonged in a journal. Why? Because it ended up being a long emotional journey. While I instantly gravitated to writing women’s fiction, which is character-driven, I’ve learned how essential it is to have a strong plot to carry a novel forward, to give it a backbone. Don’t make the same mistake I did with your first book and write an emotional geyser.

Copycat Craze
You’re going to write the next Gone Girl. Harry Potter. Hunger Games. Newsflash. You’re not the only one with this plan. Thousands of other people have clued in and think it would be awesome to make a killing by publishing a book similar to something else that has accrued great success. So they basically craft a copycat story. Multiple problems with this folks. #1. Readers are fickle. What’s hot this year likely won’t be next year or by the time you polish up your echo title. #2. It’s a bit like cheating because we’re being gypped of your voice—of the all the uniqueness you could bring to a book. #3. You’re better than this. The world doesn’t need another of anything. We need more firsts. Originals. Don’t fall prey to the copycat temptation.

The True-to-Life Enemy Tell-all
Know that person in the cubicle next to you who drives you crazy, the one with the widow’s peak, massive dimples and annoying habit of interrupting…yeah her. Don’t describe her to a T. Don’t do it for laughs. Don’t do it for cathartic release. Don’t do it for revenge. Get creative. Not only because you don’t want Cubicle Cathy to sue you, but because there’s a lot of material out there. It’s a blast to turn characters into Mr.  & Mrs. Potato Head creations. Widow’s peak here. Loud gum chewing there. Utterly unrecognizable in the end.

Teaching Preaching Jack Reacher-style
Readers are quickly turned off if they feel like you’re preaching at them, trying to pass on an overt moral belief. I get it. It makes me feel uneasy when I sense an author is trying to teach me a lesson Jack Reacher-style. The in-your-face approach to novel writing is better left unexplored. With that said, I’ve learned something with every novel I’ve written. In the process of crafting a work and developing characters, I’m always amused at how much I grow. This should be your goal as an author. See what your characters might possibly want to teach you. It’s adds a certain humility and delight of discovery to the process.

Can you think of anything else not to write?

*Picture is of me as a kid. My three older sisters stuffed me in this old lady dress and wig. I was miserable. It’s my perfect example of what not to wear because even then I didn’t want to wear it. ;-)

Monday, August 15, 2016

Speak Latin to Me

I have so much more to learn in this life. So, I’m starting with Latin. Why not, right? At some point
while watching Matt Damon in the latest Bourne movie this weekend I decided I’m going to teach myself Latin. I took this beautiful language for a year in high school (excellent for SAT prep…highly recommend). I’d already taken French and German in middle school and high school, and in college I went on to study Spanish.

I’m going to be upfront with you.

I’m not the best at foreign language retention. It’s quite common, while my kids are practicing French or Spanish phrases, for me to respond by tossing a little German out at them or bits of Latin or mashing up a nice medley of French and Spanish in one sentence. Don’t even get me started on how I botch numbers.

I’m expecting this to be a challenge.

But that doesn’t scare me. It excites me. I’m not taking this on with lofty expectations or a school mindset. No matter how quickly I learn Latin, I figure I’m setting myself up to be more prepared when my husband spontaneously sweeps me away to Italy on a romantic vacation. A woman can fantasize. It just takes a little yoga breathing and a Men in Black wand for me to erase the reality of our upcoming soccer + dance schedule + budget. Italy, here I come!

Part of my Twitter handle indicates that I’m an eternal student. Here I am backing that up. I always want to be learning something. A language. How to treat people better. How to write a more compelling sentence.

I’m a sucker for all things creative. On Twitter I follow #creativity and was amused when I came across this article called 6 Ways to Increase Creativity after I committed to learn Latin. Bet you can guess what #6 includes.


Monday, August 8, 2016

Embrace the. . . Limitations?

I’ve watched this TED Talk at least three times in recent days. I’ve showed it to each of my girls, curious to gauge and discuss their reactions. Carve ten minutes out of your day. It’s worth checking out. Few things have inspired me the way uber talented artist Phil Hansen does in this talk.

For starters, Hansen challenged me to think about how life circumstances—even and especially limitations—can be used to enhance our craft. He rejuvenated my belief that perspective helps to shape experience. Candidly he shared that at times he became creatively stumped. It was through these times of reflection and contemplation that Hansen grasped an appreciation for the process—for the love of creating itself.

By inventing twenty-three projects within a Goodbye Art series, Hansen grew to understand the liberation of letting go . . . of outcomes, failures, and imperfections. Can I get an Amen?!
I won’t spoil the rest because it’s just that good. Trust me.

But I will leave you with a quote that struck me as deeply profound.

“Learning to be creative within the confines of our limitations is the best hope we have to transform ourselves and collectively transform our world.” –Phil Hansen

Monday, August 1, 2016

Between the Bright Moments

I’m reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s inspirational book, BIG MAGIC. In a section about persistence Gilbert refers to the fun part of the writing life, when everything is going great. Words are flowing. You are affirmed in every writing relationship. Accolades are pouring in.

But then Gilbert brings up the all too familiar moments between. She writes, “You don’t leap from bright moment to bright moment. How you manage yourself between those bright moments, when things aren’t going so great, is a measure of how devoted you are to your vocation, and how equipped you are for the weird demands of creative living. Holding yourself together through all the phases of creation is where the real work lies.”

Man, is she ever talking my language in this section. This is the true heart of discipline. We are all well-acquainted with these in-between and not-so-glimmering seasons of life. Whether you’re a parent, an artist, or you’ve dedicated yourself to a craft for a duration . . . you know the bridge moments. The day-to-day monotony of marching across the bridge. When you’re scared. When you’re exhausted and dripping with sweat. When the only view that snags your attention is the petrifying distance below. When you feel entirely alone on your journey—the moments between.

Today I’m offering five things to consider, as well as motivation to march on when you’re amidst a bridge season of life.

Use the time to pay attention
The world has a tendency to look different when you’re trudging across a bridge. You could choose to perceive everything at an impossible distance or you could admire the rare bird’s eye view of the trees. Marvel at the knotted rope holding you up. Or the ever-shifting cloud patterns in the sky. Take note of those who’ve walked before you and made it across. Find encouragement in the path—seek it.

Tap into an internal well of gratitude
No better time to give thanks for all the blessings in your life than while you’re on the bridge. Often we get distracted in the valleys and peaks. Bridge moments provide excellent time for reflection.

Reflect upon the distance you’ve traveled and all that you’ve learned
Mimic Lot’s wife. Look back. But briefly, and for the right reasons. You’ve come a long way. There’s dignity in this. And a pattern. You’ve invested much already. In your children. Your vocation. Your craft. Giving up now would be foolish. Years of hard work wasted. You have learned through every hardship, every failure, every misstep. Reflect, then onward.

Challenge your previously held perspective
Maybe you believed you’d be at the other side already. Or you thought someone would have come along to walk the rest of the way with you. Maybe you can’t stand how crazy and stupid long this one bridge is and are desperately eager to quit moving along. Maybe someone broke a promise or a deal went through or all your wishes weren’t granted. So? What now? The bridge is the perfect place to ask yourself what you expected to get out of this thing are you in this and what keeps you committed? The bridge has questions like these scrawled all over it.
you’re devoted to—and why you’re devoted to it. Are you in it solely for the praise? For returned affection? Or is there something deeper calling you to carry on? Despite the dizzying height. The rickety upward slope ahead. The wrestle with disillusionment. Why

Reassess the shoes you’re wearing
Have you equipped yourself with the best tools to make it across? A positive, tenacious spirit. Long-term vision. Giving attitude. Willingness to strip away jealousy. Dedication to put in the time it takes to push forward. Anyone would grow discouraged with gaping holes in the soles of their shoes. With puffy blisters reminding them how painful the walk is. It takes more than just talent and skill to traverse certain bridges. Choose wisely when you put your shoes on. You want them to carry you far. Through any and all terrains you encounter.

The bridge is ready. Are you?

Taking Time

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