This blog post is a simul-post on Henandinkbytes.com
Friday, May 24, 2013
My writer’s block has been going on awhile. When I visualize this “block”, I see myself in a 4-sided brick structure that I’ve resurrected myself, all alone, no assistance. And I always see a brick or two, unsteady at the stop, about to fall right on me. While I’ve never been literally struck in the head and fallen into a coma, my writer’s block feels like one of those precarious bricks at the very top has fallen on my head and struck me unconscious, rendering me silent.
Go ahead and head-shrink me. Clearly, I have some issues.
I had an “awakening” recently when Sharon Creech gave her keynote speech at the NESCBWI, 2013 conference I attended a few weeks ago. As Ms.Creech spoke to us, an audience that filled a giant ballroom of the Hilton, I jotted snippets of her speech into my notebook. Each nugget of wisdom jolted me, and by the end, I woke from my writer’s block induced comma.
“. . . frantic excitement. . . ”
The story she opened with contained the words “frantic excitement”. Those words were from a young reader who wrote to Ms.Creech about her own work being published and how she felt this “frantic excitement” about her work being out there for the world. Those words moved Ms.Creech but more importantly, they moved me. When Ms.Creech spoke them, this flicker inside me, a memory-flame of myself, age 11. Frantically writing in a yellow five-subject notebook, the spark of an idea so crackling, I wrote dozens of pages with “frantic excitement” in just a few days. . .
“. . . intense need . . . ”
I scribbled those words in my notebook but without any context. I don’t remember what the words are connected to in Ms.Creech s speech. But I heard them, and another flicker crackled inside me. Another, more recent memory. . .This past November during NaNoWriMo. Racing to my computer between all the duties of a working-from-home-mother, just to type the words to a new novel. Each day of that month I rode this internal, intense, aching need to GET THE STORY OUT. No judgment. No evaluation. No worry. The intense need so scorching, that I couldn’t hear the voices in my head of doubt and fear, I was so distracted by the burn of needing to write.
“It’s okay to be inspired by another, but we need to find out own voice.”
The only full sentence of all the notes I scribbled onto the lined pages of my composition pad. And these words filled my entire body with an energy that glowed warm and soft inside. The deadness of my creative mind plumping up with life. The energy pouring out of me and easily vaporizing the brick wall of writer’s block.
As Ms.Creech came to her final words, we all stood up and clapped, and that’s when the grip of fear inside released completely, manifesting in some salty tears dotting the corners of my eyes. When we took our seats after, I jotted in my notebook: “Thank you, Sharon Creech. Thank you.”
That afternoon and evening, I wrote. I went into the current three WIPS I’ve been working on and started to revise the opening pages. The energy from Sharon’s speech stayed with me, and I typed, feeling a surge of simpatico with myself with what was happening in my head and on the computer screen.
It was, in a word, lovely.
After I returned home, I watched myself put bricks up, one by one, with each passing day. Once again, I was walled in on all sides.
This time I called upon the words from Sharon Creech:
“. . . frantic excitement. . . ”
“. . . intense need . . . ”
“It’s okay to be inspired by another, but we need to find out own voice.”
Like a silent prayer, I say the words to myself as I remove each brick, one by one. Soon the only walls that surround me are walls of words, inspiring me.
Thank you, Sharon Creech. Thank you.
P.S. Thank you to my agent, Erzsi Deak, who asked me to write about why Sharon Creech made me cry.
Wednesday, May 08, 2013
Top 10 Things I heard in Differing Forms and Across Several Different Workshops and Conversations Over the Weekend
Disclaimer: These are my thoughts/reactions/responses/interpretations to what I heard and at the New England SCBWI conference last weekend. My intention is not to relay to you the exact events or words from the conference or to represent any of the participants or speakers or the organization.
1. ON REJECTION
- Vent your disappointment in private and be professional. Don’t put folks on blast in social media or talk smack at a conference. Translation: Be a lady first!
- Don’t be so quick to think getting an agent/book deal means This it it! I’m set! There were lots of stories from established authors who faced rejection, even after being published.
2. ON OVERCOMING REJECTION
- Onward! One foot in front of the other after wounds are licked or coddled. Name of this game is Persistence (intentional capitalization).
- Be encouraged by rejections that say something GOOD.
3. ON SELF-ESTEEM/EGO
- Envy KILLS the art and craft of your writing.
- Blaming yourself as to why you aren’t published isn’t always based on truth. Way too many aspects that are out of your control (market, personal taste of agents/editors).
- It’s not about YOU but the work. Get the hell out of the way.
4. ON DREAMING
- We writers all want a book deal, all dream the big dream, and yet the realities of this do not measure up to the expectations we have. Even with established writers. Well, maybe not Sharon Creech. (God, I love her!)
5. ON MARKET/BRAND/GENRE
- Don’t write for the trend (too changeable), yet you still need to be AWARE of the trends.
- You have to write the book that you hear inside your brain and your heart the one that you WANT to write, have to write.
- Know your brand.
6. ON CRAFT
- One thing you can “fix” is your craft, and many “practice” with 2 to 10 manuscripts. (Personally, I’ve heard this for YEARS! This reality typically SHOCKS the newbie conference go-er. Not I. I’m on book numero 4 :)
- Be loyal to your characters . . . as if character is a really close friend, a real person.
- Don’t be in such a hurry to finish the draft. Take the time you need. Be in the moment.
- The idea of writing a book is one that involves the art of engaging the reader, of asking the reader to come along on this little journey with you, to trust you.
7. ON YA
- YA is a wide age range and wide maturity range. This makes it difficult, at times, to know what kinds of books to recommend to parents and teachers for their kids and students.
- It is debatable whether or not it’s proper protocol to have parents and teachers flag material possibly not suited to age group. Should children make the decisions themselves?
- We can all agree that censorship is NOT okay.
8. ON INSPIRATION
- Someone else’s words (from a song, poem, book, speech) can hit you in particular ways that ignite ideas and stories.
- It’s okay to be inspired by other folks, but we need to write and express from with our own voice.
10. ON SELF-PUBLISHING
- Many writers are having a hard time and feeling like their publishers are not taking the best care of them or meeting their basic needs.
- Self-publishing is booming and a lot of it seems to reflect a more SELF versus PUBLISHING.
- It’s okay to self publish, and you can even do both self and traditional.
- Marketing is the single most difficult task whether you are self-publishing or traditionally published.
- Self-publishing is a business venture as well as an artistic venture and writers need to consider that as they make the decision to self-publish. Make the product (your book) the very best you can. Invest in editors and marketing consultants if you truly want to honor your readers.
- Researching and hiring the proper consultants is VITAL when you take on this task.
Workshops/Lectures I attended
Learning To Live Within Rejection with Christine Brodien-Jones.
Save My Cat: How to Rescue Your Manuscript in a Single Bound with Dawn Metcalf
The Art of The Outline with Elizabeth Papademetriou
Independent Editors and New Models for Publishing Our stories with Emma Dryden
Keynotes that made me cry
Panels that made me ponder
Edgy YA with Scott Blagden author of Dear Life, You Suck (who is a REALLY cool dude!)
Books I purchased for self and daughters
No Cream Puffs Karen Day
Sea Monsters First Day Kate Messner and Andy Rash
Crooked kind of Perfect Linda Urban
Dear Life You Suck Scott Blagden
Self-editing for Fiction Renni Browne and Dave King
Writing the Break Out Novel Donald Maas
Sunday, April 14, 2013
I’ve had writer’s block since November 22nd 2012. It began after I finished an exuberant first run in NaNoWriMo, whereby I completed a manuscript—start to finish—in less than 21 days. A record for me.
I spent some time trying to write after I finished NaNoWriMo, not the manuscript I had completed during the NaNoWriMo month, but a different one. By the New Year, I was really depressed so I did something I have never done since I made the commitment to be a writer decades ago:
I gave up writing fiction. . . completely. Since that time I have been journaling in that messy, self-pitying/angry/ranting way that is ultimately very healthy but not good for creating a world, a story nor is it good for public consumption.
The good news is that after these 4 months of journaling, I have identified what’s up with me.
It’s so f-king simple that you are going to probably stop reading this blog right after you hear it.
Drum roll, please:
I expected that after 16 years of writing, submitting, receiving awards, and even achieving agented status, I would, by now, be further along in my writing career.
This is almost funny. I mean what writer trying to “make it” hasn’t had that feeling? What writer doesn’t expect, want, pray, hope for more? So the thing that blocks me now, that makes writing bone-crushingly painful is the burden of expectation.
Since childhood I’ve dreamed of being a writer. I’ve always had the dream. Not only that, but in all parts of my life, I am a dreamer. I believe, in my bones, that dreaming actualizes reality. I have lived that Truth; that is how I have made everything in my life happen. My books, my business, the literary anthology I founded, even my marriage, my children. . . all began with delicious, lovely dreams.
The dream of writer once felt lovely, empowering, and it drove me. Lately, though, my dreams to write fiction feel more like extra weight, like I put on about thirty pounds. My cadence has slowed. I’m lumbering. I’m pulled to closer to the earth. Why? Because what was once a dream, became—somewhere along the way—an expectation. Expectations are heavy. Dreams are not.
I have tried to go back into my manuscripts, but I second-guess every stroke of the keyboard. I delete more than I write. The word-counts of each current WIP—healthy 60,000 plus—only burden rather than motivate me.
I just keep questioning the big picture. It’s not just the specific book I am working on; it’s this path of being a writer that I am on.
I used to like to work hard just for the adrenaline-high of it. The burn of it, like a fast run outside. I was very committed to that feeling of nose-to-the-grindstone with my writing, revising until I felt sweaty and tired. Whether it was writing books or getting an MFA in writing, the process of hard work was enough for me. I was in love with the process of creating fiction. I enjoyed every single moment, losing myself deeply in each project.
But now the process of the hard work has felt bone-crushingly painful. Because what was once an airy, ethereal dream is now a feet firmly planted expectation.
And I really just don’t know what to do except, well. . . write about it.
My dreams as a writer are probably similar to yours. (I assume mainly writers are reading this, but you can apply it to any dream).
I dreamt that I would have a book deal by 25. Then when 25 hit and it didn’t happen, I just worked harder and dreamt it would be 30. Then, you guessed it, when 30 hit, I worked even harder and aimed for 35.
I turn 38 this year. You know what the new dream is?
To be able to sit down and write a book with ease, with joy, with a sense of fun.
My oldest daughter is the same age I was when I decided that when I grow up, I was going to be an author, like Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary. My fourth grade teacher, although very surly and liked to knock down my over-confidence with remarks like “You are the second best reader in the class, not the first”, awarded me with a badge at the end of the year: “Ambition Is To Be An Author”. Not Best Writer. No, my “award” was for my ambition. Pretty telling.
My dreams and ambition fuel me and the burden of expectation kills the creative dream.
I need to go back to dreaming and let go of expectations.
Monday, February 04, 2013
In one of our classes in the recent Releasing The Writer Within series, I read a list of 75 words and asked my students to write down the ones that made them feel something, triggered an emotion. Then they had to chose one to write about. Keri N. wrote down the word "divorce". Here is her free write from it. Keep in mind, I ask my students NOT to edit or worry about grammar and punctuation, which is scary for them. So read for content not criticism...as always : )
Divorce is easy, the lawyers are strange they are aliens I walked into his office as something from another planet. We talked finances, another foreign language. I would GPS his location in Cranston because I never remembered it. After a while I realized I had to turn right at the taco bell. It was an old neighborhood I passed through to get there. Houses and families I imagined had been there for years. Unchanged only time wearing down the shingles. And his office was small at the end of the road. We had a house then, a yard. Part of me wanted to blow our family dynamic apart without remorse we had our list of problems. He cheated on me many times. He loved his Facebook way more than he could a family. But sometimes the houses on that old street created longing or sometimes they created a pressure in my body, a ghost hand pressing down. I couldn't go through with marriage or a divorce without thinking something of myself. I had thought our separation through for days and weeks, months. He had gone to work everyday and did his constant share of escaping our disintegration. In our bedroom he said, let's just try harder. And I knew then for sure he was disconnected, on a permanent lunch break. I had tried the hardest. I had overlooked things I maybe shouldn't have. He was incapable of trying. On the rare days he would help me with housework he insisted that I take our son and leave so he could focus on the kitchen grime at hand. "That's not real life," I reminded him. His paycheck was his ticket to not care too much. It was my job to do the housework. He never lifted a finger. Welcome to the new 1957. I couldn't stand it. My rage was more than hot pokers, it was something psychic that could bury itself in brain tissue and cause cancer, an immediate inoperable tumor. Like my mother, I could never be kept down. I claw too much, spit too much.
Sunday, February 03, 2013
Genius lines from Releasing The Writer Within
Genius lines are the ones that surprise us in a piece of writing that has no intent other than to release some of our thoughts, feelings, emotions, and observations. We hear these lines out loud, and they resonant with us all in class—so much so that you will hear gasps, maybe even an “amen” or a “wow!”
When students share their work in my class, I jot down lines that hit me in the heart. I ask my students to do the same when they listen to each other read. We do not critique each other’s writing in Releasing The Writer Within; We celebrate and affirm one another’s work by listening intently and writing in our notebooks the lines that move us. When the reader finishes and we share our responses, it never surprises me that we find our selves reading the same lines. There is a synchronicity in class that is the magic lightning that makes writing so effortless...and always connected.
Sometimes lines will hit me especially hard, and I will ask students to take the line(s) and “jump off” them for a free write for homework. I invite you to try just that with the following lines:
“Wow! 5 minutes of writing? I don’t think I have 5 minutes of thought in me!” –Brenda
“Who do I surrender to?” - Brenda
“Deafening silence. Why is that? Silence shouldn’t be so loud.” –Michelle
“I put up a wall (to block out the pain) so I can focus on the good but every brick blocks me from feeling.” –Michelle
“I try to sit and feel okay with the pain. Put that behind me and focus on the good.” –Michelle
“Sometimes I go fast, and I am only that.” – Keri
“I hate the wasteful creature comforts we think we need. I want to be brave enough to live simply and quietly until I feel I can’t do it any more, but then get past that feeling to keep doing it, nonetheless.” - Keri
“Each thing I take away gets me closer to what I can’t remove.”
“I have a lot of people where only I should be.” - Keri
“I’m a ticking time bomb just waiting anxiously to explode.” –A.J.
“Breathing, tripping, bleeding, living. Being in control requires all of these.” –A.J.
“I create my own pain and then I go down with it.” -A.J.
“Children are a fabulous excuse for missed careers.” - Kirsten