Jaye Wells

Tag Archives: Writing Advice

Strong Female Characters? Let Me Show You How

I had a great conversation recently with Smart Bitches, Trashy Books about “strong female characters.” We had so much to talk about that she had to break  up the podcast into two episodes.

Here’s Part One:

Strong Female Characters: An Interview with Jaye Wells, Part 1

For any hearing impaired readers, or anyone who prefers to read instead of listen, the transcript should be up soon!

Craft Thursday: Time Ain’t On Your Side

So there’s this thing that happens when you’re a writer. Say you’re sitting in the dentist’s chair and they see you’re dressed in yoga pants and a t-shirt (your uniform).

“You off work today?” they ask.

“Nope, I work from home.”

“Oh, that must be nice,” they say with an acid tongue. “What do you do?”

You sigh because you’ve had this conversation a million times. Still, you’re not a liar and they’re nice, so you tell the truth. “I’m a writer.”

“LIke magazines or something?”

“No. I write books.”

3 … 2 … 1

“Really? I’ve always said I’d write a book if I had the time.”

You guys, this conversation plays out like this every damned time. When it happened this week, the hygienist had me captive while she scraped my gums and told me about the book she wanted to write. It was that day I decided I’m going to start telling people I am a mortician or an accountant or something.

Anyway, my point is, everyone who says they want to write a book uses lack of time as the excuse for not having written one.

But I bet they …

Watch TV every night.

Sleep in on the weekends.

Drift off on the train and on airplanes.

Spend their lunch hours gossiping about Frank in receivables.

Take 15 minute smoke breaks three times a day.

Play Angry Birds on their phone while they’re sitting on the john.

You dig?

Each of us–well, most of us–have time during the day that we can reclaim. Yeah, RECLAIM.

No one is going to give you time. You family isn’t going to spontaneously say, “Hey, mom, you look like you’d love to write right now. How about we be exceptionally well-behaved for an hour so you can write?”

If you want to write, really want to, you have to make it a priority. Like eating, sleeping, and sex. I’m not going to blow sunshine up your ass like some writing teachers and say shit like, “Fifteen minutes is all you need!” That’s bullshit. If you want to write good fiction, you have to good chunks of time so you can focus and go deep into the world you’re creating. That’s not ALL you need, though. If all you have is fifteen minutes, use them. But you also need to give yourself a good block of time every now and then–maybe Saturday morning from 6-8 or Sunday evening from 9-11. Or maybe you wake up every morning, an hour before you family rises. Or maybe you sit your family down and say, “Look, guys, this is important to me. I need your help so I can make this happen.”

If they balk or tell you you can’t do it, find a new family.

Just kidding.

Kind of.

Even if they don’t support you, you have a major ally. Yourself. Reclaim your time. Write something. Finish something. Read books. Go to conferences and classes. Making learning to write your part-time job. Or most-of-the-time hobby. Whatever. Just do it.

 If you want writing to be your life, you have to make room for it. You have to work for it. That means, you don’t sit around in your PJs on Saturday morning watching reruns of Saved By the Bell. It means, you grab you paper and pen or your laptop and go write some words. It means, maybe, instead of that girls’ weekend to Vegas, you spend that time and money on a writing retreat or convention.

How much more time are you going to waste before you put your pen where your mouth is? Stop talking about wanting to be a writer. Stop wishing and hoping and praying. Put ink to page, fingers to keys, and mind to story.

All those moments you take back are gifts you give yourself. You deserve a gift, don’t you? Of course you do.

So tell your kids to read a book for thirty minutes. Tell your husband you’re not watching So You Think You Can Dance tonight. Skip the fast food lunch today. Bring a sandwich and go write in a park.

No, friends, time isn’t on your side. But if you want to write, you have to be your own ally and take responsibility for the efforts you’re making to turn your dream of someday into today’s reality.

Go. Write. Do.

Craft Thursday: Revisions

Welcome back to Craft Thursday. This week, we’ll be tackling revisions. Mostly because I’m … in the middle of revisions and it’s all I’m thinking about right now.

Some people’s think revision begins and ends at spellcheck. Those are ridiculous people. But you are not a ridiculous person because you read my blog, which makes you awesome.

Because you are awesome, I’ll assume you know that revision is a very polite word for a very messy process. Think about gutting a house and rebuilding it. Think about dismantling a human body and using some of its parts to build a kick-ass monster a la Dr. Frankenstein. The application of lightning may or may not be necessary.

Are you getting the picture?

A full post on revision would take me forever because there’s so much involved, but I will share some of my tricks with you today.

TEN THINGS ABOUT REVISION

1. Ice, Ice, Baby.  After you finish the first draft, walk away. A couple days is okay. A couple weeks is better. You need distance so you can read it with cold, critical eyes. Sit down, read your story like a reader might. Don’t worry about typos or commas. Make notes that occur to you about things that need fixing, but don’t get too anal about it. This read is about seeing the big picture of your story as it stands.

2. Arm yourself for battle. For me, this means redoing my story board to reflect scenes that need rewriting, shifting around or deleting altogether. I go chapter by chapter and figure out what needs to be done, so once I’m in the thick of the swamp, I won’t lose my way. I can hear the pantsers out there bitching, but revision is about taming that wild beast of a draft into a readable story. A plan will go a long way to making your vision come through for the reader.

3. RED PEN OF DOOM. Revision is not a time for the muse. It’s not that liminal spot where you’re  floating through fluffy creative cloud of drafting. Send the muse to the basement with some Yoohoo and reruns of Buffy. Then rip the duct tape off your internal editor’s mouth. Chuckle when she bitches about the pain. She’ll be torturing you soon enough. Pick up your red pen and let that bitch go. Encourage her to be merciless. By the time she’s done with the pages, it needs to look like a murder scene–the blood of your pen everywhere.

4. Get Naked. There are few experiences for writers–especially new ones–more terrifying than asking for critique. It feels a little like stripping down in front of a group of catty sorority girls and asking them to circle all your fat in Sharpie. Obviously, being an awesome person, you’re too smart to ask for critique from malicious people. No, you’ve got someone you know is tough but fair. When you asked them for help, you told them exactly what sort of feedback you need. Even with my published author CPs, I still tell them exactly what I need. “Don’t worry about sentence level stuff. I just need a bird’s eye.” “Hey, can you read this and tell me if the subplot is working?” If you do it right, they’ll pay you back for your nudity not with sweaty ones, but with brilliant suggestions that will improve your story.

5. Every chapter, every scene, every sentence. Nothing goes unanalyzed. A book is a complex system with lots of moving parts. You need to make sure they’re all working together or face a massive malfunction. While we’re at it, every character must have a purpose, every plot twist must build upon the last, and every subplot must braid into the main plot to highlight your themes and conflicts. Sounds like a lot, right? Welcome to the big leagues, son.

6. Sing it, sister. At a minimum, you need to read your dialogue out loud. Yes, all of it. Does it sound natural? Is the rhythm authentic? If not, fix it. If you’re really ambitious–and you should be–you should read the entire book out loud, too. Not in the middle of revisions, mind you, but at the end. Once you’re sure you’ve dotted and crossed everything, pace around your house, reading your story to the dust bunnies. You will be amazed how many mistakes you missed and poor turns of phrase you discover. You’ll feel like an idiot, but do it anyway.

7. Seven Layer Dip. In addition to fixing plot holes, revisions also allow you to add complexity to your characters and world. You’ll be amazed how much of a difference a well-placed sentence or line of dialogue can deepen characterization. Finding opportunities to add these little gems should be on your Must Do list.

8. Get Thematic. By the time you’re ready to do your cold read, your themes should start coalescing. Maybe you set out with certain ones in mind, but ones your didn’t consider have a way of sneaking in when you’re not paying attention. If you’re writing genre fiction, you need to use a deft hand when it comes to theme. No one wants to be conked over the head with meaning. One way to subtly buttress them, though, is to instill your sentences with theme words. Come up with a list of words that help infuse your story with the right mood and thematic symbols. For a great overview of this, read Alexandra Sokoloff’s SCREENWRITING TRICKS FOR AUTHORS.

9. Don’t Panic. Bi-polar Writer’s Syndrome is a real thing. One minute, you’re all, I’M A GENIUS! THIS IS THE BEST BOOK EVER! Then it hits you that there is a distinct possibility you could die before you’re able to share this work of amazement with the world. Luckily, you listened to me and left a detailed revision plan. You email it to your baffled spouse, “No matter what happens, don’t let my literary nemesis finish this novel. It’s my LEGACY!” Five minutes later, you’re slumped over your keyboard, howling, MY EDITOR’S GOING TO TAKE A CONTRACT OUT ON MY LIFE. REVIEWERS ARE GOING TO CHASE ME WITH PITCHFORKS AND FIRE! You might daydream about quitting writing altogether or getting into an accident so you don’t have to finish the book. My advice? Learn to be patient with yourself. Try to enjoy the ride. Also, have a friend on speed dial who will bring you chocolate/bourbon/chocolatey bourbon.

10. The Fat Lady. There is such a thing as too much revision. Someone once said that novels are never done, just abandoned. I think this is true. At some point, you’re going to realize you’ve just spent four hours deleting and reinserting the same comma. This is a signal, friend. It’s time to let go. If you’re not under deadline, you have the luxury of revising as long as you want. But the wise writer won’t waste years of his or her life trying to turn a dog into a show pony. Set it in a drawer, send it out for critique, or submit it. Then move on to something new. A lot of wannabes have wasted good years using revisions as an excuse to not start something new. Don’t let that be you. Listen to the fat lady. She’s telling you it’s over. Move on. You’ve got new worlds to create.

Questions?

Craft Thursday: You Inc.

OMG YOU GOT THE CALL!! AN AGENT WANTS TO REP YOU. Your heart won’t stop galloping. After all your hard work you’re a REAL WRITER!!

Woah there, Nelly. Pull back on those reigns a minute.

You researched this agent before you sent your query, right? You stalked them on the internet and know everything everyone has ever said about them in a blog post or discussion board topic, right? You know what genres they rep and which houses they’ve sold to in the last year? You know who their clients are, right?

If you answered no to any of these questions, you’re putting your teeny, tiny party cart before you’re extremely premature celebration horse.

Here’s the truth: The instant you start sending your work out for representation by an agent or purchase by an editor, you go from being a dreamer to an entrepreneur. Dreamers dance and sing and pray and hope that the publishing gods will bless them with their favor. Entrepreneurs educate themselves, they ask questions and seek out resources that arm them with the knowledge and skills necessary to make good decisions. They surround themselves with experts to fill in their knowledge gaps, but they’re also smart enough to know where these gaps exist. In short, they know when to push the dreamer aside and switch into You Inc. mode.

You Inc. is the time when you remember that business isn’t personal. Sometimes you have to make decisions that people aren’t going to like. You’re going to have to tell people you respect and like that you can’t work with them anymore. You’re going to have to put your foot down and demand that promises are kept. You’re going to have to stand up for yourself, and it’s so much easier if you can separate your dreamer from your business side. That’s why when I have a tough business phone call to make or I need to do something out of my comfort zone to benefit my career, I put a huge yellow Post-it in front of me that says “Jaye Inc.” It’s goofy, but it helps me remember that this isn’t time for the dreamer. It’s business time.

Not to be confused with this kind of business time.

 

For those of you ready to query, that means before you send out one letter, you need to come up with a list of potential agents that you believe will be a good fit for your business goals. You know their genres, their reputations, their sales record, their methodology for working with clients, and the materials they require for query. All of this information is available online for almost every reputable agent on the planet.

But before you even come up with this list, you need to read every blog post (Google Miss Snark and Nathan Brandsford), article and books you can find about how to work with agents. You need to know what the standard commission rate is (15% usually, unless it’s a foreign or subsidiary deal in which case it’s 20%). You need to understand the list of functions agents provide. You need to understand why agents are necessary in the first place (hint: it’s not for bail money until you’ve sold a LOT of books).

My point is you need to ask yourself whether you write because it’s a fun hobby (totally legitimate reason to write BTW) or whether you’re not going to rest until you’ve made writing your career. If your answer is the latter, you need to treat it like you would any profession. Get educated, network, pay your dues, work your ass off, and maybe you’ll carve out a nice little career for yourself.

But one thing is for certain: If you stumble into being published without a clue how this business works, you are handicapping yourself. Notice I didn’t say you are ruining your career before you start. Many career mistakes can be fixed or recovered from, but things will be a lot easier if you at least have a working knowledge before you even send out that first query. Your agent will become your career advisor, writing coach, contracts ninja and maybe even your friend, but you have to go into that relationship armed with enough knowledge to know what questions to ask, where to put your foot down and what behavior is or is not acceptable.

So by all means, be excited that your career is progressing. This industry is stingy with praise and acknowledgements so revel in the excitement for a moment. But then put on your entrepreneur hat and let You Inc. do the work to make sure that the dreamer’s dream doesn’t turn into a nightmare.

 

 

Craft Thursday: Restriction and Creativity

Hey, kids. I’m working on revisions of the secret project (I hope to announce it soon!) today, so we’re going to watch a movie instead of me doing  along post berating you for doubting yourself.

A while back I saw a documentary that followed The White Stripes on Tour, called UNDER GREAT WHITE NORTHERN LIGHTS. The entire thing is worth a watch, especially if your’e a fan of the band (which I am). But this segment below stuck with me because it speaks directly to the creative process and applies to almost any art form. Enjoy!

Craft Thursday: Trust the Ghost

Writers are a superstitious lot. A lot of us won’t admit that in public, of course. We want you to believe that we are masters of our destiny and that all of our talent was honed through hard work and inherent understanding of our creative drives. That’s bullshit, mostly.

When people ask us where our ideas come from it makes us feel awkward and uncomfortable. We don’t know. Not really. A lot of it, I think, simply goes back to how our brains are wired. Your brain might be wired for accounting or music or serial killing. Mine is wired to take disparate ideas, shake them up and spit out something newish. It’s also wired to love the dip, dive and swirl of language. That’s why I have some talent for telling stories, instead of, say, painting.

So, yeah, wiring is a big part of it. So is experience. I was raised by avid readers and book sellers. Intensely curious people who loved to sit around and spin yarns around the dinner table. I was exposed to art and myth and symbol and history and the fine art of gallows humor from a young age.

But beyond wiring and experience, there’s another element that many of us don’t like to talk about: The magic.

There are lots of quotes hanging over my computer monitor right now. Two of them pertain to what I’m trying to talk about.

“Trust the ghost.” and  “Stay available to revelation.” *

The keys words here are “ghost” and “revelation.” They both imply that there are forces beyond our physical beings that inform our creative processes.

Of course, another word for these mystical, seemingly separate forces is “Subconscious.” That shadowy blue space. The cave with the deep pool. The liminal spot between reality and imagination. Whatever you think it is, subconscious isn’t something we control. Yet as creative types we rely on it to give us all our best material.

The tension between needing to control our worlds (remember that God Complex) and the knowledge we don’t control them at all is at the root of a lot of writerly angst. How can I promise to meet a deadline when I’m not sure if my subconscious will be in a giving mood?

Trust the ghost.

Our subconscious acts as a sort of checks and balance for our ego. The more we try to force it to offer up ideas that will make us a bestseller, the more stubborn it becomes. She’ll dig her heels in and, if you’re a real jerk about it, she might close down her little idea factory altogether.

Some of you are rolling your eyes. All this talk of magic and ghosts and mysterious subconscious processes sounds like a lot of bunk to you. That’s fine. Maybe you’ve never experienced the sensation of being totally in the flow and feeling like you’re merely a conduit for words that are being channeled through your fingers. Maybe you’ve never experienced the adrenaline high of an idea exploding behind your eyes. Maybe you have and just don’t buy into mumbo jumbo. You’re a realist, thank you very much.

That’s fine with me. I’m just telling you that it’s not uncommon for writers to exercise this form of magical thinking, as psychologists call it. I don’t think there’s a damned thing wrong with it, as long as it keeps you writing. Because it doesn’t matter where the words originate, as long as they end up on the page.

But you should probably trust the ghost anyway.

For more on this idea, check out this TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert.

 

*”Trust the Ghost” came form a book I read, but I don’t recall which one. If you know the origin please share it in comments. As for the “Stay available to revelation,” I first heard it in an interview with David Milch, creator of Deadwood.

Craft Thursday: Get Gritty

A lot of people think that talent and potential are the two most important traits a writer can possess. While I agree they’re important, I think a third trait is often overlooked by all the craft books and creative blogging outlet: Grit.

Have you ever seen Amadeus? Yeah, the one with Tom Hulce playing Mozart and the scandalous scene about Venus nipples. That one. Remember how it made such a big deal about how Mozart was seemingly born with the ability to play music like an angel? Do you also remember how the king told him that one of his operas had too many notes? And how he struggled with his demons and had money problems? And how his work drove him insane?

If a virtuoso like Mozart had to deal with some problems, what do you think are the chances you’ll have to face some, too? Try 100 %.

Will your problems be worse than having a nemesis who hires you to write a requiem, which ends up killing you and then is played hauntingly over scenes of your death? I hope not. But I’m pretty sure you’ll deal with a lot of shit Mozart didn’t. Like people telling you your writing sucks and it’s the truth because you’re new and it’s supposed to suck. Or later, when you’re better, they still tell you they just didn’t fall in love. And then you’ll want to scream, “I didn’t ask you to love it, I just wanted you to give it a little slap and tickle in its naughty bits.”

Some day you’re going to wonder why you’re doing this to yourself. You’re going to question whether all those hours spent locked up in that guest room while your family goes on with their lives is worth it. You’re going to wonder how long it will be before your spouse loses patience altogether and not really be sure what you’ll choose when the ultimatum comes.

One night at 3am, you’re going to reread the pages your just wrote and your stomach is going to plummet. You turn a wrong turn back in Act One and this is the middle of Act Three and it’s ALL WRONG! You’ll bang your head against a desk. You’ll cry to the heavens and shake your fists at the unfairness. Then you’ll pull out the arts and crafts basket and start fashion yourself a satin sash declaring you the “Monarch of Sucktown.”

My exaggerated point here is that each of these moments–any many, many more–are tests for a writer. If you lose your nerve and take the exit ramp, you will have an easier life. Yeah, I just said that. Your life will be easier if you stop writing. You won’t have to deal with that doubtful voice in the back of your head anymore. You won’t have to see the pitying looks of people who already believe you’ll never amount to anything. And you certainly will have alot more money once you can cut down on the alcohol and cigarettes you swear you need to get into the zone. Your spouse and kids will stop tip-toeing around. They’ll enjoy your company for a while and tell you they’re proud you tried.

It might take a month or six. Maybe a couple of years. But eventually, that whispering voice? The one who spoke in soft tones while Doubt shouted? That’s Story, and she’ll start murmuring again eventually. Then you’ll have another choice to make.

But let’s go back to that night with the sash. What if instead of tempting yourself to quit, you gnashed your teeth, girding everything you could possibly gird and pressed on. Do you think when you’re on your deathbed, you would ever say, “I should have stopped writing that night. Creating destroyed me.”

I mean, I know it kind of destroyed Mozart if the movie is to be believed, and I suppose it’s possible for you, too. But …

Pop quiz:

In your life, have you seen more people who are  sad and bitter because they pursued their dreams despite the odds? Or more people who are sad and bitter because they settled for a easy life?

Look, all I’m saying is that to live the life you want, it’s not easy. If it was everyone would be happy and fulfilled. Everyone who said they wanted to write a novel would and they’d be brilliant works of heart-touching prose and we’d all be millionaires and have lots of satisfying sex and never gain a pound from wine or chocolate.

Wake up, buttercup. Life doesn’t owe you your dreams.

You want to be a published author? You’ve got to chew sandpaper for breakfast. You’ve got to look at the odds and that stack of rejections and toss your head back and laugh a hearty laugh. You got a be a mutha-fucken bull and see criticism as a taunting red flag. You’re a minotaur and the query process is your labyrinth. You, my friend, will not be bowed. You’re a god damned writer and you’re going to find a way to tell your stories if it means scratching words into the dirt with your battered and bloody fingertips.

Or you could, you know, go watch TV and take up a hobby that’s safer for your ego.

I read something once that suggested if you’re having confidence problems, you should imagine yourself wearing a cape, like a super hero. That’s nice and all, but that ain’t gritty, friends. Remember that old meme about the Technoviking? Watch this shit and tell me that man would ever let a rejection stop him.

Now, that’s grit.

Do you think he was born knowing how to dance like that? Or how to intimidate an entire generation of internet users with just a look and a pointed finger?

Okay, maybe. Frankly, I’m not even convince he was born, so much as arrived fully formed from the planet Skaarsgaard to spread a message of peace, dance and ketamine. But i digress…

I’m not saying you have to dance shirtless through the streets of Berlin to prove your mettle. Just keep a writing. KEEP WRITING. No words written are ever a waste of your time. Even if you never get published, you will be a stronger, more interesting person for the experience. Trust me on this.

Or next time you think about giving up, I’ll send Technoviking over to stand above you and point at the screen until you fill it with words.

Craft Thursday: Synesthesia

Today I thought I’d tackle one of my favorite little tricks for writing vibrant prose. Synesthesia is a neurological trait where a person processes sensory stimulus through a non-traditional sense. For example, they might taste sound or see numbers in color or hear colors as music. Cool, huh?

Here’s a basic overview of what it is.

Believe it or not, you probably already use lots of synesthesia in your everyday life. Yes, friends, I’m talking about our friend the metaphor. We use them all the time without even realizing we’re doing it. But what I am going to propose to you today is consciously using synesthetic metaphors to enhance your writing.

Compare these two sentences.

“He was afraid.”

or

“Fear choked him with its metallic fist.”

Okay, I cheated a little. The first sentence it not only passive, but it also is a classic example of “telling.” The second sentence suffers from neither of those issues. But it also packed a one, two punch of synesthesia (there’s also some personification in there for good measure). Does fear have a flavor (metal)? Does it have a tangible form (the fist)? Or a touch (choking)? Of course not. Yet the sentence works because it’s got the figurative ring of truth.

I use synesthesia all the time to keep my metaphors fresh. Because cliched metaphors are both lazy and so overused that they lack impact. It’s especially important to be fresh with your figurative language if you’re trying to highlight a scene or beat of high tension. Otherwise, if you rely on cliche, the reader will just skim the line and move on.

But you can used synesthesia for more than just moments of tension. If you want to highlight an object or a setting, employing the technique will help plant the image in the readers’ minds. So when my character walks into a magical laboratory, she doesn’t just smell “the astringent scent of rosemary” she also detects “the calming, purple fragrance of lavender.”

Purple is a descriptor normally used for describing how something looks, but I’m using it here to describe a scent. Get it?

Some other examples:

“His sandalwood scent made me think of swelling romantic music and silky sheets.” (Scent associated with sound and touch)

“Her screams tore at the air and left bloody, red wounds.”  (Sound described with color and touch)

Now, before you run off to add synesthesia to your work in progress, a warning: Do not go through and use synesthesia in every metaphor and description in your book. Like most figurative language techniques, it’s more effective when employed with discretion. If you use it for everything, you’ll lose impact in sentences where you really need that extra oomph.

Have you used synesthesia in your writing?

 

Craft Thursday: KIT-Keep It Together

I love the movie BOWFINGER. It came out in 1999 and stars Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy and a host of other really hilarious people. The plot is that Martin is a down-and-out movie director. He’s desperate. So he concocts a plan to put one of the world’s biggest action stars, KIt Ramsey (played by Eddie Murphy)into his movie–without said action star’s knowledge. So he embarks on a plan to do some guerilla filmaking for his masterpiece, a movie he calls, “Chubby Rain.”

In a bizarre twist, Bowfinger finds Kit’s brother, Jiff (also played by Eddie Murphy), and recruits him to join the cast. Jiff’s life goal is to be an errand boy, a dream that Bowfinger exploits with glee. Here’s one of the best scenes from the movie. It also perfectly illustrates what it sometimes feels like to share your writing with the world.

I love this movie with a passion that requires me to unfriend anyone who does not love it also. It’s smart, hilarious and has some really interesting messages about the desire to create and how the machine warps people.

It also contains one of my life mottos: “K-I-T–Keep It Together.”

Kit Ramsey repeats this mantra in increasingly neurotic intensity as the movie progresses. See, he keeps seeing weird things, like aliens and dogs in high heels and strange women with knives following him around. “Keep It Together” is his reminder not to lose it when life gets weird.

I’ve been repeating this mantra myself a lot lately. Lots of awesome stuff is happening. Some I’ve talked about here, some I can’t talk about yet, some I won’t. But mostly life is pretty awesome. And it’s terrifying. There’s a lot of fear that arrives when your dreams start coming true. We dont’ talk about it a lot because we don’t want to appear ungrateful, but it exists nonetheless. At its root is the realization that even though we want to control things, we don’t. Success is fleeting and fickle. Scary.

Earlier today I tweeted the following:

Writers are control freaks in an industry where almost nothing is in our control. This is why we drink.

We don’t control anything but the words we put on the page, and even that sometimes feels out of our control. Sometimes we respond to this by soothing our ragged egos with drink or nicotine or worse. And sometimes we respond by trying to hold on tighter–to force control. This is where we really get into trouble. This is why we see so many “authors behaving badly” posts online. This is why we hear stories about authors freaking out or acting the fool. We convince ourselves we can control everything if we try hard enough or are clever enough or shout loud enough.

When these moments come–and they will come–you must always remember to K-I-T. Keep It Together for a writer means never venting your spleen online. It means never acknowledging trolls or validating reviewers whose goal is to gain site hits by being controversial. It means having friends and family you can go to when you’re frustrated and feeling extra sabotage-y.

Keep it Together means gaining perspective, or if you can not get perspective, to stay the hell away from the internet, including and especially email. It means accepting that you are neurotic and imaginative and maybe some of your fears are self-created and perpetuated. It means finding coping mechanisms that help you maintain your equilibrium–meditation, long walks, kick boxing, clown punching, whatever.

Keep it together, friends.

 

 

 

Craft Thursday: Be More Bendy

Writers aren’t known as the most flexible souls in any sense of the word. First of all, we spend way too much time on our ass, which is horrible for the bendiness. Second, we tend to create these arcane and mysterious rituals that we swear help us stay in touch with the muse or the flow or whatever magical force we credit for our creativity. Here agin, not so flexible. The slightest thing that knock us off our stride.

An example. for years I refused to quit smoking because I swore it made me a better writer. Ridiculous, right? Try telling me that a year ago when I was mainlining nicotine under deadline. I am happy to report that today, I am more than capable of writing lots and lots of great words without the aid of carcinogens. Of course, I’ve replaced them with wine and Oreos, but that’s neither here nor there.

My point is, lack of flexibility can be a good thing when we’re putting our foot down something we believe in. It is not a good thing if it stands in the way of production.

On Monday, I had to go drop my beloved Macbook, Precious, off at the Genius Bar for some triage. Her logic board was on the fritz, which was leading to some terrifying crashes. I can’t imagine the look of loss on my face when the guy told me I’d have to leave her. It was not unlike asking me to leave my child behind. This computer is not just my portal to all of you, it’s also the epicenter of my career.

Luckily, as the wife of a computer dude, I was not without access to another computing device. But it didn’t have all my files and programs loaded on it the way I like them. It didn’t have Twitter or iTunes installed. It didn’t have Scrivener, which is my preferred drafting program. I couldn’t hook it up to the external monitor I prefer to use because it fills my vision with the document I’m working on.

You guys, I was so productive. I had to work at stopping working to go check email and twitter. Instead of getting distracted by trolling iTunes for the perfect song for the scene I was working on, I flipped on a Pandora station and forgot about it. I focused on working for longer stretches than I’ve work in probably months. Holy shit, y’all, I didn’t multitask and it was awesome.

Few things. First, the lesson here is that comfort zones are wonderful, but also safe. If you want to see a change in your work, you’ve got to run far away from safe. Second, if what you’re doing is working for you, then feel free to ignore me. Just be honest with yourself. Third, inflexibility can prevent you from making wonderful discoveries about yourself and your writing.

Of course, the example I gave was pretty mundane. I mean, yes, the means with which we get words on the page is important, but it doesn’t get to the heart of this issue, does it?

How about you try a story that scares the hell out of you? The one you’re worried your family will disown you over. The one that makes your stomach clench but also makes your inner rebel perk up.

What if you stopped insisting that you are a diehard plotter/panster/outliner/scene writer and test out the waters of the complete opposite approach?

What if you took the advice of that critique partner? You know the one. She glares at you over her horn rimmed glasses and corrects your grammar and thinks she knows everything about the craft. Maybe she does. Maybe you should listen to her instead of getting defensive and silently imagine strangling her with her beaded glasses strap. Or maybe you’ve been listening to your critique group and they’re a bunch of idiots. It happens all the time. We take advice because we lack confidence in ourselves. In that case, you’d need to get out of your comfort zone by being less flexible.

Or hell, maybe you need to be flexible about what you write, period. I started out thinking I would write historical fiction. I had aspirations for being a very serious writer of poetic prose. Clearly I was smoking some literary crack. I had to be honest with myself about who I really am and in what key my voice really sings. So be flexible about your chosen genre. Finding your authentic voice is more important than some marketing term, anyway.

Terrifying, right? Being flexible means leaving the comfort zone behind. But ask yourself this: Does the prospect of falling on your face scare you more than dying without ever really trying?

Go make yourself uncomfortable today.