My Job As A Writer

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately.  What’s expected of me?  As a reader what do I expect of an author?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been reading and telling tales.  One day I began to look at the words in the books I read.  Studying them, seeing how they worked or didn’t.  Playing the ‘what if’ game.  What if the author had done this instead of that?  What if a simple thought or character trait was expanded?  With books like Gone With The Wind I wondered what happens after I close the cover.  All those things, all those words inspired me to keep reading.  Inspired me to continue telling my own tales.  Inspired me to think in a different way, to reach beyond my tiny world.

Toss that one in the job description box.

We know nonfiction books are meant to educate, but what about fiction?  Without Bertrice Small I would have never passed history.  My English teacher saw I was struggling and knew how to reach me.  She handed me Skye O’Malley, little did I know I’d been tricked.  The book was full of historical people, places and events.  How the author used them captured my attention and made me want to know more.  Gee, who’d a thunk a romance could teach history?

We can add educate to the box.

Everyone wants to be heard.  I’m no exception.  In the course of events, my personal opinion will leak through.  It’s nearly impossible to sever all your thoughts and opinions.  I try to rein them in, stay in the context of the story and characters.   I hate books masquerading as fiction that are vehicles to push an author’s views down my throat.  The last thing I want is to be enjoying a book and have it suddenly veer off into a diatribe about something that reeks of an author vent.

How many of you out there give a tiny rat’s patootie about what I think of something like politics or religion?  Yes, we want to be heard but let’s not be selfish or bully people into seeing things our way.  I believe being truly ‘heard’ is a perk.

This brings us to what I feel is the most important part of the job of writing.  I don’t know about you, but entertainment is the main reason I read fiction.  I want to laugh and cry with the characters.  I want to fear for their lives and sanity during the journey.  I want to feel their pain and celebrate with them when they reach their goal.  I want a grand adventure all from the safety of my world.

I guess that sums it up in a nice little package.  Inspire, educate and to a larger degree, entertain.

Disagree with me?  Think I missed something important?  Don’t be afraid to let me know.

Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day!

“Without goals and plans to reach them, you are like a ship that has set sail with no destination.”

                                                                                Fitzhugh Dodson

I have been gradually whittling away at writing a novel now since Nano in November.  I can’t say that Nano gave me anything close to a novel.  It did give me a boost of self esteem that – yes I can write that number of words.  It did give me a lot of scenes for a novel but no where near a complete novel.  During December, I was able to assimilate all that writing and see what I really had and I discovered that I have been trying to write the same novel for quite some time. Each time that I tried something new, I found myself headed in the same direction.  It felt like an epiphany.  I hadn’t really been starting over, I had been writing the same story from different starts.  Each attempt gave me a little more of the story that I wanted to tell and Nano gave me a hugh chunck.  So during December, in between the holidays and gathering with friends and family, I came up with a more cohesive story idea.  I was able to take a story that I played with earlier in the year last year and by using scenes from my Nano project, I feel like I can moosh it all together into something that looks like a book.  That has been my journey since my last post.  I have been working on the plot and characters and I have written the first two chapters.  This weekend, I’m meeting with my writer’s group and will be sharing chapter one.  I plan to keep notes on their critique but do not plan to make any changes until I complete the novel.  I know deep down within my writer’s soul that I have to complete the project before I can revise otherwise I may miss writing the story that I am meant to write. 

My goal for the year, is to complete a novel.  I do not expect perfection.  I do expect to revise and edit a lot.  I will know when the project is complete and then I will set my next goal of sending it out for publication.  It is a lofty goal and I know it will not be easy but I will continue to take small steps until I am done.  I will stay focused and not be drawn off track.  I will report in each month and hope you will be cheering me on. 

If you have completed a novel and have any advice, please feel free to comment and share.  I know that I am very interested in learning more about the process. 


Seven Good Habits of a Writer

“Good habits are worth being fanatical about.” -John Irving

I came across this quote and instantly it triggered an idea for a blog. I have developed some good habits since I began writing. I am normally fanatical about them but unfortunately there are times when I slack.  With the holidays I have been slacking on those developed habits.  I thought it would be a good time to refresh my memory.  So I am writing down what I feel are the habits of a good writer.

  1. The first thing a writer must do is write.  Whether you feel like it or not writing is the most important thing you can do. If you write on a schedule or if you write when you are inspired you must write.
  2. Write in an environment you control.  If you write better with music blaring by all means turn up the radio, plug in your favorite CD, stream music over a radio station on your PC.  Just be considerate if you write early in the morning and use earphones.  Plug in a movie that inspires you.  Turn on the romantic music or watch a scene from Dirty Dancing with Patrick Swayze to help you write love scenes. “Nobody puts Baby in the corner.”  Some might consider this torture (no way) so think of it as research.  Use whatever makes you creative to your advantage.
  3. Find out what time of the day is the best for you to write.  If you are a morning person, grab a cup of coffee or your choice of morning beverage and write.  If you are a night time person, let the dogs outside, put the kids, husband, or significant other to bed and write.  Use your lunch hour and write while you eat.  Run a bathtub of bubbles and lock the door.  Find time for yourself and use it to be creative.
  4. Use whatever tool you have at your disposal to write.  Whether you use a laptop, a Neo, a typewriter or paper and pen.  Find your favorite tool and write.  Most the women in my writing group drag along laptops to writing meetings except for one.  One of our group writes with a pencil and paper until she received an ‘almost fatal’ wound from her arm rubbing against the edge of the table.  You will be happy to know she has since healed, purchased a laptop and is still writing.
  5. How much you write is up to you.  Some writers only find 5 or 10 minutes at a time to write.  Some writers write until they complete the thought or idea they began with.  Other writers stop mid thought leaving their ideas flowing until they can return and pick up where they left off.  For me if the ideas and words are flowing I keep writing.
  6. Be observant.  Take note of your surrounding.  Stop and smell the roses.  Pay attention to strangers.  Listen when they speak.  Learn other people’s life experiences.  Everyone has a story.  Find out what it is.  Eavesdrop on the conversation of the people at the table next to you.  Read the paper and watch the news.  This is where you are going to get ideas.  Writers find inspiration in a lot of different places.  Don’t leave anything out.
  7. Last and most important habit for me is find a group of people who share the same passion for writing you have.  Create a network, share ideas, help each other plot or just get together and laugh.  Writing is a lonely profession which can be a hindrance to creative ability for some writers but other writers thrive in isolation.  Find what works for you.  Ask yourself what makes the ideas start flowing in your head?  What do you need to put those ideas down in written form?  When is the best time for you do accomplish this task?  Create good writer habits and be fanatical about them.

Showing Your Private Parts

There’s glitter on my laptop keys. Hmm. Wonder how that happened.

I’m knee-deep in the fleshing out of my latest humorous women’s fiction piece, tentatively entitled “Gemma.” I’m really digging where the story is going. The book idea came from a great opening scene that I’ve had forever, it just took a couple of years for the scene to tell me what it wanted to be when it grew into a novel. I know what Gemma’s arc needs to be, and I have other characters talking in my head telling me how they plan to contribute to her growth in both supportive and not-so-supportive ways. (*Note to self: Next month’s blog post to be about the challenges of starting with characters rather than story.)

Interestingly (to me), the more I work on this idea, the more I find that parts of my actual, real, often boring and sometimes comical life are making their way into the story. Of course there are autobiographical elements in nearly any work of fiction, even if they’re minor, like a character’s tendency to use a certain expression. But this time I’m taking big bits of Sara and assigning them to Gemma.

Starting right in the title, in fact. Gemma = Gretchen Elizabeth Mary Mueller Arnold (although her name was actually Mary Miller Arnold Mueller). That’s my mother and my grandmother’s initials, conveniently arranged. There’s a reason for that: my mother hid from life, and my grandmother chased life, and Gemma is the story of a woman’s progress from meekness to boldness.

There are more tangible connections. My grandmother makes an appearance in the story, setting into motion the external conflict. There are “Sara” details: during the two years my mother and I were on our own, we pretty much lived on breakfast. Since that was one of the happier times of my life, breakfast is something I hold dear and turn to during times of stress, and I pay homage to my love of all things breakfast by collecting waffle irons. Gemma, I’ve decided, also collects waffle irons, and there will be a scene with her having breakfast with her mother as a small child. I also have an unfortunate tendency to have funny but somewhat ego-bruising public calamities – ask me how I broke my leg in 9 places, or just last week ended up sandwiched between the treads of my staircase and a 300 pound sofa – and I’m assigning that talent to Gemma, as well.

In many ways, Gemma may be my James Frey novel, although I think there’ll actually be more truth in mine than there was in his. (My root canals have involved lots and lots of pain meds.)

As all this became more concrete in my mind, I began to wonder: how comfortable are you as writers really putting yourself in your stories? Could you put an emotionally raw personal experience on paper for the world to see, if you knew they might discover it was based on fact? What are you personal boundaries?

Getting over Writer’s Block

I’ve had writers block for a couple months. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get anywhere. Everything I wrote I trashed. Finally, a couple days ago, I realized what my problem was. If I am going to write more, I need to know more. I’m writing a cozy murder mystery. I wrote the first part and now I need to go back and add more background for each person so the reader will understand why they do what they do. I’ll do that editing later. Now I need to continue on with the story, but I haven’t been able to. How frustrating. Like all writers, I was wondering if I could write this book.

As I was going over everything in my mind, I thought about how the victim was killed. Then it dawned on me. I needed to know more about the actual murder. I can’t write anything until I know more about the actual murder. I haven’t decided who the killer is. I’ve decided it is one of two people, but I don’t know which. How the murder is done will depend on whether the killer is large, midsized, or small. The victim is bludgeoned to death. Was a baseball bat used? What about a tire iron? Was the victim given sleeping pills so she wouldn’t fight? Was she given something to make her sick so the killer could pretend to take her to the doctor to get her out of the house? The victim was dumped in a bushy area, but where was the murder committed?

When I have the answers to these questions, I’ll probably be able to decide who the killer is. I know why the two people would have killed her, if they are the killer. Knowing how is the key. That’s when I’ll be able to finish the book. I’ll be able to write again. Now that’s exciting.