Dave and me, hanging out @ The Experience Music Project in Seattle
This is the fourth post in an occasional series about finding inspiration in other artists’ creative processes. Read the first, about Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the second, featuring Trent Reznor, and the third, mourning the death of Scott Weiland, at the links.
Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a massive Dave Grohl fangirl. (Grohl was the drummer for Nirvana, and founded and fronts the Foo Fighters.) So when I heard Dave was keynoting the South By Southwest Conference a couple of years ago, in 2013, I blocked out an hour on my (then) day job’s Outlook calendar so I could watch the webcast uninterrupted.
Dave didn’t disappoint. In an f-bomb-laden, highly personal speech, and sporting ridiculously sexy reading glasses, Dave brought us along on his personal artistic journey, one inspired by wise parents and a love of punk rock. He reveled in his independence, developing and nurturing what he later recognized was his individual voice.
Voice. It’s an aspect of art, of craft, that musicians and writers share. It’s a tone, or a worldview, that makes a piece of work – or a body of work – belong uniquely to its creator.
Some key takeaways from Dave’s keynote that resonated for me:
“There is no right or wrong, there is only your voice. Cherish it. Respect it. Nurture it. Challenge it. Stretch it and scream until it’s (expletive) gone.”
“Am I the best drummer in the world? Certainly not. Am I the best singer/songwriter? Not even in this (expletive) room. But I have been left alone to find my voice.”
“I am the musician, and I come first.”
This statement about creative control of one’s art, spoken with such certainty during a time when my traditional publisher and I were parting ways and indie publishing loomed on my horizon, shrilled into my very bones.
Somewhere along the line, I’d forgotten that.
I am the writer, and I come first.
I won’t forget it again.
I could quote from this keynote for hours – and I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve listened to it since Dave made it 2013 – but I think I’ll just let the man speak for himself. Here’s Dave, being all hot ‘n wise ‘n awesome. The video is 49:32; it’s well worth the time regardless of how you write or publish, and the language is NSFW.
Listen. Learn. Enjoy. And remind yourself, if you need to: “I am the writer, and I come first.”
I realize fifty minutes is a significant time investment, and that comments might be few and far between at the blog today. But if you’re inclined to comment:
Do you think there are lessons writers can learn from musicians, and publishing can learn from the music industry, about the intersection of art and commerce?
Is there a writer whose voice you absolutely adore? Why do you like it, and which book do you recommend we read to get a taste?
I recently took a virtual workshop about writing multiple series from NYT and USA Today bestselling author Marie Force. Self-publishing trailblazer and author of not one but FOUR continuing series, Marie also owns the E-Book Formatting Fairies, hosts Reader Weekend events for her biggest fans, moderates one of the most useful self-publishing loops on Yahoo, and is a frequent conference speaker. In addition, the busiest woman in publishing generously shares her knowledge by teaching workshops. I suspect that, in her spare time, she’s either invented cloning, or discovered a way to circumvent the space/time continuum. 😉
All joking aside, it was an awesome class, and I highly recommend it for both published and unpublished series writers. Marie shared some great advice about anchor couples, mining connections between characters, world-building (particularly the factors she considers when creating vibrant fictional communities that stand the test of time), and of course, the biggie: how to write characters that readers care about. In the last class lesson, she advised creating a series bible early on—which made complete sense to me—but then she recommended doing something that, in hindsight, seems so completely obvious, but that never crossed my mind.
Re-read all the books in your series, at least once a year. According to Marie, re-reading your books on a regular basis reacquaints you with the details you committed to the page, and it also helps generate new story ideas.
Re-read my own books? Seriously? Study them, like I study the books on my keeper shelf? The very idea seemed…presumptuous. Intellectually, I know my books are decent, but for some reason the prospect of re-reading them with that level of scrutiny made me cringe as much as I do when my sisters haul out my seventh grade school photos.
Yes, really. Marie was serious. So I hemmed and I hawed, I bitched and moaned, but…I finally did it. I was gestating a new project, and…dang it, why take a class from one of the most successful series writers in our industry if I wasn’t willing to at least try something she recommended? Bottom line, I knew my series bible was woefully out of date, so even if re-reading my own books was excruciating, I knew I’d get something valuable out of the deal.
No pain, no gain.
So I sucked it up and started re-reading my first published book, TASTE ME, my 2009 Golden Heart finalist and the kickoff to the Underbelly Chronicles. And yes, there were a few winces along the way: Unnecessary dialogue tags. The occasional copy-editing error. The very rare head-hop that…worked, but that I’d never allow myself now that I’ve become a POV purist.
But…heh. Not bad, if I do say so myself. * buffs fingernails on shirt *
And the details I’d forgotten! The potential plot seeds I’d planted, but hadn’t yet cultivated. The nameless, sometimes faceless characters that walked onto the page for a sentence or two, served their purpose, then walked away again.
Story ideas flew at me hard and fast. OMG, she was right.
I re-read all the other books in my Underbelly Chronicles series over the Christmas holidays, and plot seeds are still sprouting left and right. A character who received two sentences’ worth of real estate in TASTE ME—such a minor character he wasn’t even in my series bible—has elbowed his way back onto the page of Book 5, where he’s a major catalyst for conflict. And an unnamed character in my TOUCH ME novella? Oh my, do I have plans for her. The garden of my imagination is over-run, and I’m still tilling. Still weeding, still cultivating. But I really like how things are setting up.
Another thing I realized? It’s what I didn’t commit to the page in those earlier books that allows me to re-purpose these characters, to expand their utility beyond their original walk-on roles. By not providing more information than was absolutely required, I didn’t box myself in.
I came out of Marie’s class with not only an updated series bible, but with new ideas and a fresh, new energy for my work—a gift beyond price. So, that’s the biggest lesson I learned from Marie Force: that no matter how excruciating it might initially feel, re-read your work, at least occasionally. You never know the bounty your imagination might be ready to provide.
Have you ever re-read your own published or completed work? If so, why did you do it, and what did you learn? Did you find it exhilarating, excruciating, or both?
As writers we often find ourselves sitting behind our computers, tucked away, safe and sound. We send our heroes and heroines into battle, down dark alleys, to distant planets or on blind dates. While we wear fuzzy socks, sweatpants, and sit at our desks with our hot tea or diet soda. Comfort – it’s a good thing. Personally, I have a pair of sweater-pants that I wear all the time. They hug my legs in the softest material I’ve ever felt. Right now I’m writing before a lovely fire with a cup of English Breakfast tea within arm’s reach. There is nothing wrong with this.
And yet…if we limit our lives to comfort, only exploring our world through pictures on the internet and descriptions in reference books, our writing can start to become…well, too comfortable. Comfortable can become bland, and blandness is death to fantastic writing.
“Crap. Blandness? Is my writing getting bland?”
Don’t fear! You can do something about it. When your ideas start to come from other peoples’ ideas it’s time to get some fresh experiences to feed your characterizations and plot twists. Okay, so it can be a little uncomfortable, maybe a bit pulse-kicking, perhaps requiring more than bunny slippers and fleece pants. It means leaving the computer behind and stepping outside into the big, color-filled world.
Time for a field trip!
Feel free to grab a buddy, load the GPS and pin your return address to your sweater (However you may get a stalker following you home. On the up side, the experience would fit right into a suspense plot line!). Yes, it would be wonderful to travel to exotic locales (I did visit Scotland and England, which was fabulous), but you don’t have to spend a lot of money or go far to find thousands of details and entice your muse out to play.
For example, my 9-year-old just brought home a permission slip for a field trip to our local planetarium. The teacher is asking for chaperones. Yes, it means a morning away from the computer, but going also means sitting under the stars, watching planets and learning a thing or two about our universe. Not only would this first-hand information aid me in writing a sci-fi romance, but it could fit into contemporary romances too. My heroine could find herself in the dark next to a hot-bodied astronomer or executive chaperoning his niece’s class to the planetarium.
Ooooo, so much fodder for stories! So I signed up to chaperone, knowing that I will come away from my daughter’s field trip with all sorts of first-hand, all-five-senses details for future stories.
By trying new things and risking discomfort, we become like our heroines: brave, intelligent, open to new possibilities, willing to get out of our sweatpants (even if some of our heroines fight it).
Characters and ideas are everywhere out in the world. Here are a few suggested field trips:
Ferries and trains
Your neighbor’s party
One of those crazy, full-of-mud obstacle courses
Me in the Rugged Maniac in 2014. Yes, that’s barbed wire over my head!
On a Segway tour of your city
Paddle board class
Chaperoning a high school dance
Animal adoption event
While you are trying these new experiences, remember to be observant. Pay attention to what people do with their hands, eyebrows, postures, etc. when they are frustrated or happy or sad. Not every guy runs his fingers through his hair when he’s upset. What else can we say about a person’s eyebrows when they are angry? Or their eyes when they are surprised? Twirling hair, tugging at a bra strap, snapping gum, scratching the space between their shoulder blades on the corner of a building…
There are thousands of opportunities for you as a writer, for you as a heroine, to experience life and discover the details that will color in your scenes with authentic, first-hand descriptions. Bland will give way to writing that transports your readers to your world, sucking them into your books and the lives of your characters.
So kick off those bunny slippers, throw on a coat and get out there in the world. Sniff, touch, see, listen, and taste. Be a heroine, and then write what you know.
Have you ever gone anywhere to soak in details for your writing?
In the sprints, many authors have announced that they’ve completed their work, first draft or edits. Others are following their footsteps. I thought we’d take this opportunity to talk about endings.
We all know that our endings MUST leave our readers satisfied. The ending can be happy or not. Or, it could leave the reader completely hanging out there with a hundred questions about what happens next, if that is what the reader has expected and will want-think saga. However, don’t leave the ending up to the reader to draw conclusions. They are the reader, not the author.
Endings need to answer or allude to the resolution of the main character’s conflict. If you allude to the hero’s trumpet but don’t actually show it, this opens the door for disaster to happen in the beginning of the next story, if that is your goal.
As you head toward your end, ask yourself what was the main conflict? Did you resolve it? Remember the hero can win the battle (his priority) but the war can still rage on.
Make the main character the catalyst for the outcome. It is their battle and they are the hero of their story. Make them work to make the things happen in their favor.
Have you read a story where things just came together at the end, tied up with a pretty pink bow? Did you feel cheated, let down? You’ve worked too hard building characters, emotion, and tension, just to tell your characters, to kiss and make-up like children. Don’t come up with contrived details to end your story. Don’t be lazy now.
Don’t end the story using new information that has come out of the blue. Your readers have invested time, getting to know your characters and have racked their brains formulating theories about the outcome, don’t cheat them.
If your ending is going to twist, make sure you sprinkle signs throughout your story. That way, the reader will say the author did warn me, but I let the clues go over my head. They’ll look at the story in a total different light. A light that includes five star reviews. A great example of a twist ending was the movie ‘THE SIXTH SENSE’. If you haven’t seen it, do it. It’s a great study.
And finally, know when the story ends. The reader does not need to know what happens with every character. Once your main characters’ reach their goal, whether they won the battle on a blue star in a galaxy far, far away or lover’s pledge their undying love and go to sleep only to die in each other’s arms, the story is over. It’s time for the reader to feel. Tie up loose ends (brief anti-climax) before the grand climax.
A great ending makes your reader feeling something, good or bad. It makes them think about the story a long time after closing it. It makes them talk about your book to their friends. And it makes them buy your next.
Does anyone have any other advice on writing a great end or examples of great endings?
Last week, I took a day off from security guards, sex demons and assassins (the WIP) and joined a group of undergraduate English majors, MFA students, and other writers on the University of Minnesota Mankato campus, where we had the pleasure of listening to the amazing Roxane Gay talk about writing difference.
Though Gay is both a fiction and non-fiction writer, my exposure to her work has primarily been through her eloquent, insightful essays (and her Twitter feed, @rgay), where she takes on race, gender, sexism, feminism, social class, sexual violence, homophobia, privilege, identity, corruption, and the intersectionality of these topics. While Gay’s non-fiction subject matter can feel fraught and political and scary and huge, the craft talk most emphatically was not—except for a comment about the need for publishers to be more inclusive about the writers they publish, and to expand the breadth of human experience published books present to the world.
Nope, this was a one-hour craft talk about writing difference in an authentic way. And unlike institutional racism, sexism, homophobia and the patriarchy, character development is a writerly choice, something I fully control in my own work.
Note the simplicity of Gay’s phrasing: “Writing difference.” It’s as inclusive as it gets. It doesn’t value any difference over another. It excludes no one, and meets every writer where they’re at. It’s about me, the writer, writing characters who are different than me. Hell, I’m a middle-aged, middle-class, straight Caucasian woman who writes about vampires, sirens, werewolves and sex demons—whose ancestors are aliens—and the phrase still works.
Here are some quick hits from my notes from Roxane’s session. Any errors or misinterpretations are, of course, my own:
Writing difference is about authenticity, about reaching beyond stereotypes and “lazy, half-assed assumptions.” Don’t merely write “the sassy gay friend, the fiery Latina, or the wise black maid. Dig deeper.”
People who are different than you are people first, and different second.
When writing difference, start with universal emotions. There’s natural common ground here.
“No one is any one thing, right?” No one is solely racist, or sexist, or disabled, or LGBT, or homophobic. We can’t assume that any person—any character—is part of any monolithic whole. People are multi-dimensional. Characters should be, too.
Research is important. READ difference. Read across genres. Expose yourself to others’ realities.
As a writer, it’s okay to not know. It’s okay to simply try. Even if you don’t quite hit the bulls-eye authenticity-wise, your attempt means you’re acknowledging that humanity isn’t a monolithic whole. Acknowledgment is a move in the right direction.
“Writers write what they’re called to write,” but authenticity is key. If your story needs a character of difference, write one—but it’s problematic, and inauthentic, and perhaps an issue of ethics, to write difference as a marketing ploy, or as a way to hop on a bandwagon, or to fetishize.
Though Gay writes both fiction and non-fiction, she says that fiction writing is her “happy place,” a way to “self-medicate.” Soft-spoken Gay clearly relishes the power she wields when writing fiction. “I control my characters. I create entire worlds.”
Yes. And by writing difference in an authentic way, we, as writers, help create the world we want to see—one character, one book, one difference at a time.
To get a taste of Roxane in action, here’s her “Confessions of a Bad Feminist” TED Talk from last year. Bad Feminist is an awesome book, and I very much look forward to Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, coming in June 2016.
What are your thoughts about writing (or reading, or watching) difference? Can you recommend any authors who write difference well?
I’ve been writing novels for a long time now. I can say that I’ve learned how to write a novel and I’ve learned how to meet a deadline.
But I get stuck. I lose my way even though I have an outline. I have to rewrite. I struggle sometimes with imagery and just plain bad writing. And I sometimes lose confidence. I have accepted that these things are just part of the job.
I’ve also discovered over the years that when I’m feeling doubtful about my writing it helps to go read a book on writing craft, or storytelling, or character development and try out new techniques or new processes. Going back to basics and/or learning something new frees me from self-doubt and the writing doldrums.
So, since we’re in the midst of the Winter Writing Festival, and I figure lots of you are struggling with self-doubt, have lost your way, or are stuck on a scene, it might be helpful to provide a list of great books on the craft of storytelling and writing.
Below you’ll find a list of my favorite books on the craft of writing. Some of these books changed my life. Others are used all the time as I plot or troubleshoot.
The book discusses mythic structure and the hero’s journey as first outlined by Joseph Campbell. My take: This was the first book I ever read on story structure and it was an enormous eye-opener. It probably should be on every novelists shelf. But, a word of caution, romance authors will be left scratching their heads. The hero’s journey explains a lot of stories out there, and a lot of popular movies, but it doesn’t work for romance novels.
This book discusses fairytale structure and can be viewed as a companion book to the Writer’s Journey. My take: I’ve been waiting for this book for years. It was published in 2010 and it discusses stories that don’t fit mythic hero’s journey structure (like romances!) If you’re writing stories about characters learning to live a fulfilled life, then this book will help you understand that structure. I truly think every romance author should own this book and study it.
This book discusses scene and sequel structure. My take: This is a book that will help you improve pacing, regardless of what kind of genre you may be writing. The book focuses on thrillers and suspense novels, but romance authors can get a lot out of it as well.
This is a seminal book that provides hands-on help in crafting three-dimensional characters and understanding what people mean when they talk about conflict in a story. My take: This book changed my life. Seriously. I had no idea what conflict was, and I kept writing stories that got rejected with the words “no conflict” written all over them. If you have been told that your manuscript is lacking in conflict, you should read this book.
Written by a well-known literary agent, Donald Mass’ workbook provides advice and exercises to make your novel stand out in a crowd. My take: The exercises in this workbook are so useful, whether you are trying to fix a scene you’ve already written, or plot a novel from start to finish. The exercises are also very useful during brainstorming sessions with other writers. A lot of the questions I ask during the WWF brainstorming sessions on Wednesday mornings come right out of this workbook.
Beloved author and poet Ursula K. Le Guin provides her take on the craft of writing. My Take: If you’ve ever read one of Le Guin’s books, you know that she writes beautifully. Her book on writing craft (including such issues as comma placement) was utterly liberating for me.
These are my go-to books when I’m looking for inspiration or when I’m stuck. What books on craft or storytelling are on your shelves?
It’s been said that, in a courtroom, the man who represents himself has a fool for a client. Something similar can be said for a writer who does his or her own editing.
In an earlier blog, I mentioned fine-tuning my SFR and that it became a cautionary tale in and of itself. Here’s what happened:
Some of you know family obligations made it impossible for Cuz to relocate when his employer chose to move. With him facing unemployment, we decided to polish a manuscript that, although begun as a writing exercise in the 90s, would not die. Unsurewhether thoseold ideas still had merit, we entered the first chapters into a contest and—Hallelujah!—they did. To ice our little happy cake, while the story sat, SFR emerged as a viable genre. Whoopee!
Reality soon changed whoopee to whoop ass—with mine in its sights. Half the chapters remained in WordPerfect®, the program we had grudgingly abandoned when Word® rose to industry dominance. Some existed only on legal pads. The last handful were doc. and docx. files.
Have you any idea the garbage a story can collect over nigh eighteen years? Upon seeing the merged files, I darn near had a coronary. Over 120,000 words, huge gaps, duplicate scenes, missing scenes, more inconsistencies than I care to enumerate, and despite comprehensive profiles, the characters had morphed. Oh, and no ending. That’s right. At 120+K. It. Was. Not. Finished.
But wait. There’s more. Since we were having so much fun, circumstances added a smidge more crazy.
My CP, who planned to help us navigate indie publishing’s vagaries, announced her impending out-of-state relocation. In a strange twist, although they didn’t know each other, Cuz and her hubby worked for the same outfit.
With the deadline approaching and beta-readers waiting, we escalated to panic mode. I settled in to work. I kid you not when I say I gained about fifteen pounds because I did little but sit and type until I sent the story to the readers.
Nobody liked the hero. Too alpha. No evidence of a softer side. The heroine, while likable, didn’t fare much better. The villain . . . Well, you get the idea.
I returned to my chair and, comments in hand, knuckled down.
Many sleepless nights, pots of coffee, and PB&J sandwiches later, we had something viable but, given its age, realized holes we stood too close to see might yet exist. Both Cuz and I have solid general science backgrounds and experience within specific disciplines. Neither of us can claim more than a basic grasp of physics, however, and we had, of course, ventured there.
Pooling our resources, we hired a developmental Sci-fi editor who, we were assured, had experience with romance.
While he found several oopsies on the physics/space-science front, making him well-worth his hire, his comments and handling of the love story declared ours wasn’t the story he wanted to read. Unfortunately, what he wanted to read, we didn’t want to write.
We thanked him and parted ways.
I’ve done plenty of editing during my life. These days, it’s mostly for my CP, but in years past, I edited publications, ads, form letters—Yeah. Fun stuff—and books that eventually found place in traditional publishing. I could handle this. No sweat.
Thus, without fanfare, I donned motley and joined the fools’ ranks.
More eighteen and twenty-hour days behind the desk followed. My feet swelled. My hips spread. Each tick of the clock, it seemed, claimed another strand of hair.
Somehow, between midnight phone debates, sometimes-grudging compromises, incessant typing, and gritty eyes, time ran out. Cuz and CP made the long trip, squishing into my dinky office to navigate the publishing process.
After an almost nineteen year gestation, the book went live 25 January 2015.
It wasn’t ready. We knew it. We priced it high to discourage buyers, but like proud parents who refuse to believe they created an ugly child, kept the pictures on display.
People bought it. Our family and friends led the way, but we sold too many for just that forgiving group.
Instant panic—for me.
Cuz moseyed on to Book Two. I couldn’t make him understand Book One of a series carries the weight of every book that follows (we have three gestating), and ours didn’t have the muscle yet. Our developmental editor had become so fixated on the alien pronoun usage several discrepancies and plot holes evaded his detection just as they’d escaped mine—until I read the book in print.
Nightmares had nothing on this mess. The book bled red ink. Depression, a specter most writers battle at times, found a foothold. I republished over and over while fighting the demon (I forget how many print copies I bought. I can’t seem to see this stuff on the computer), enduring Cuz and Hubble’s jokes about how anal I was and their advice to let it be. No argument made either male understand why I persisted. The months that followed proved hellish.
On 1 August 2015, I downloaded The Sword & the Starship for the final—I hope—time, and can, at long last, say I’m proud of it. It’s sixteen pages and several thousand words leaner than its January incarnation. The bits that went nowhere are gone. The timeline issue has been resolved. The hero and heroine boast complete character and emotional arcs. As for the villain? No complaints.
AND (cue Angel Choir) Cuz has finally seen the light.
Here’s what we learned:
1.) Hiring a content or copy editor would have been wise. Despite determined attempts at objectivity, my knowledge of the story and characters led to ill-advised assumptions, skimming, and more reworking than there had to be.
2.) Nothing catches errors quite like the ear. Read the book aloud. Hearing it read works, too—if you can avoid zoning out.
3.) Not all editors are created equal. While grateful for the solid science, we would have been better served by an editor who shared our vision for the story.
4.) Trust yourself. If your inner voice is screaming, listen; it’s probably right.
5.) Chair time is not always time well-spent. Get up. Move. You can’t think very well with your blood cushioning your tush. You’ll accomplish more with it energizing your brain.
6.) Sometimes, in the long run, it costs less to spend. If you work best with print, then print. While shredded paperbacks are excellent soil-enhancers, and pages spread over soil stop weeds, they’re expensive alternatives. Your flowerbeds will be just as happy with computer paper. Better a garden than a landfill.
7.) Publishing sites have draft modes. Unfortunately, I noticed the option too late. We could have learned what we needed without risking our—or our book’s—reputation. Instead, we went all in, releasing it during its almost-but-not-quite-ready-yet, chrysalis stage—a decision we might yet regret.
So there you have it, my cautionary tale. If you take nothing else from it, take this:
Some things never attain their potential if they’re rushed, so don’t cut the chrysalis.
I started writing when my son was eleven months old. He graduates from Junior High this coming May. I wrote my first book in under a year, at least I count it as my first book, because the other two before it weren’t fit to be coasters for the coffee table. So I wrote this book, met with a popular rock band for the research and secured an agent within three months of sending it out.
I got a call from her one day telling me that a publisher in England had heard about this book through the grapevine and called my agent asking for it. They called her. This was unheard of I was told. A month later a producer asked to see it. He wanted to make a it into a movie of the week.
Through this experience, I learned that there are two types of people in the writing industry.
I belong to an online writing loop where pubbed and unpubbed work side by side answering each others questions. There was one women who was indeed, just one of us. She had participated in our discussions and been there just like the rest of us.
And then she sold her first book. A few months later I wrote her and asked her a question just like I had done with her a dozen times before, and she with me. This time the curt reply came with an ending sentence telling me that there were other people on the loop I could have gone to without bothering her. I never bought her book. Neither did anyone else in our critique group.
So what happened to my career? I mailed off the revisions my agent had asked for in January. When I hadn’t heard back by June, I finally called.
I was told that my agent had died that previous February and nobody had thought to notify me. To this day, I still do not know the specifics. My book was returned with a no thank you. I was released from the contract. No one ever knew what happened to the English publisher and the movie producer disappeared without a trace.
In one phone call I went from the cutting edge, being told that my book was so damn unusual that it would create a new sub-genre, back to square one. That was seven years ago.
And that is where the lessons began.
Not how to put a sentence together or how to submit in proper format. All that was in books. What I learned came from people.
The kind of person who glances down at your names tag at a conference, sees that there is no marking designating your masterpiece and their eyes wonder the second before they excuse themselves to go sit at the agent/editor table. I attended a conference with an someone I knew. We weren’t best friends, but we had spent some time together. When I hadn’t seen her the whole three days and finally ran into her, I asked her about it. “I don’t come here to socialize,” I was told. “I’m here to meet the people that will get my book on the shelf and that’s it.” I wasn’t one of the important people, not worth the time. At least not to her.
I met a particular multi-published author who shall remain nameless who was so important to herself she dismissed me with the wave of her hand while I was standing at her signing table.
And then I met the real people. The true giants.
I met Sue Grafton at a book signing. When I mentioned I was a newbie writer, she stopped the line for two minutes, crossed her arms over her chest with the most sincere smile and asked me how it was going.
Dean Koontz. When I didn’t feel as if I could go on with all the rejection letters, he sent me a personal note telling me ”For fifteen years most of my friends and virtually all of my relatives thought I was a bum … hang in there.” He even spelt my name right.
And Clive Cussler? I had been reading him since I was fifteen years old. He was the reason I got into writing in the first place. It’s why I write action romance. So what did he tell me when I finally, after eighteen years, met him at a book signing? “Send me a copy of your manuscript. I would like to take a look at it.”
These are my teachers.
These are the people that are not so impressed with themselves or their work that they will turn their backs on the person with the plain badge. They care. They remember.
I had a drink with an editor from a publishing house recently and we were talking about how hard it is break in to the business. When I recounted my history, she smiled sadly and said she was sorry.
And that’s when it hit me.
I almost had the instant success. I was almost one of the rare that sold their first book.
And if that had happened, where would my ego had ended up? What table would I have been sitting at and with whom would I talk to at the conference?
My lack of success in the writing industry, at least by some standards, put in the right places at the right time and showed me the people I want to mimic. The real giants. Not because they have sold more books or make more money or put their books in the top ten of the New York Best Seller List. They are giants because they cared enough to look back and see where they used to be.
It appears that my big break is a hair breath away. I have people who want to read my work. People with the clout to make the difference. We’ll see. I’ve been close before and have learned not to get too excited.
What goes around comes around. Karma. Ying and Yang. Two sides to every coin. With every action there is an opposite action. It doesn’t matter how you say it, it all means the same thing.
What we put out in the world will be what we get back. In my writing, as well as in my life, I want my second side to reflect my first. And it’s not going to be determined by how many books I have on the shelf or who I sat next to at that luncheon. It’s going to come from how I treated the person who has just finished her first draft of her first book and the person who just opened his forty-seventh rejection.
So whether or not my book sells and the deals start pouring in, don’t look for me at that front table by the podium. Look for me in the back with the real people, the people with the plain badges who realize the struggle and the reward go hand in hand.
ABOUT JACQUI JACOBY:
Award-winning author, Jacqui Jacoby lives and writes in the beauty of Northern Arizona. Currently adjusting to being an empty nester with her first grandchild to draw her pictures, Jacqui is a self-defense hobbyist. Having studied martial arts for numerous years she retired in 2006 from the sport, yet still brings strength she learned from the discipline to her heroines. She is a working writer, whose career includes writing books, teaching online and live workshops and penning short nonfiction.
People always ask where I get my story ideas. It’s a complicated question…and yet it isn’t. Because they never come from any one place. Sometimes an article I read on the internet will get the wheels turning. Sometimes an overheard conversation sparks something. And sometimes it’s a picture.
A picture like this one.
My son went snow tubing with friends this past winter. When he came back, he had several pictures. This was one of them. I chuckled and told him his facial expression seemed a little sinister. But as I looked closer, I caught a little flash of red just behind him. A small marker that said Lane 10. And there it was. The idea and title for a new book. A thriller. One where something terrible happens on Lane 10.
Right now that’s all it is. The smallest kernel of an idea. But once I get a chance, I plan to explore it just a little more. And hopefully, one day, that photo will give birth to a brand new book–painting not just a thousand words, but tens of thousands of words.
And there you have it. Short and sweet. I would love to hear your thoughts!
If you’re an author, do you have an interesting story about where you got one of your ideas? If you’re a reader, have you ever read a book and wondered how on earth the writer came up with the plot?
Last week, for about the twelfth time, I found myself befuddled up to my eyeballs over a romantic suspense work in progress. Whether you’re a panster, like myself, or a plotter, at some point you could find fresh ideas hiding in the deepest, darkness recesses of your mind amongst a pile of crappy overused ideas. When this happened to me in the past, I’d walked around for days mulling over my problem, my plot’s direction, which is perfectly fine, if you don’t have a deadline and or have time to waste. This time I purchased a few books (Snap: Seizing Your AHA Moments by Katherine Ramsland and Your Creative Brain by Shelly Carson, PHD) and learned for one that mulling is an acceptable process to release your muse. What I also learned, so far, that the more tricks you use to open the gates the faster that will happen.
We’re like the grains of sand on a pearly white beach. Besides having the potential to be stuck in places we really don’t want to go, we’re totally awesome and unique and we all learn in different ways. And in combination of ways.
It’s alleged that we have seven mind-sets (seven ways of learning and using our minds): Absorb Brainset, Envision Brainset, Connect Brainset, Reason Brainset, Evaluate Brainset, Transform Brainset, and Stream Brainset. I’m not going to divulge every detail I’ve learned from these books so far. I suggest you check them out for yourself. However, I will share a concise description of each mindset and an exercise you can use that key to unlock your mind’s muse.
Absorb Mindset: Ability to absorb new information in a non-judgmental way to be stored for use later when you can use say information to see associations between objects and to remain open to your subconscious.
Exercise: Pick a space, indoor or outside. For five minutes, really absorb your surroundings. Notice the colors, textures, lines and shadows. Then touch, listen, smell and taste. Next pick an object and think of a new way use for it. We’ve all seen the Knorr Side Dish commercial where a cork screw is used as a coat nail and a fork is used a cabinet handle. That is the same idea.
Envision Mindset: In this mindset we deliberately imagine ways to solve problems, using absorb information. This mindset is well known to creative people. The exercise below will help you increase your mental imagery. It turns off the stream of unwanted thoughts.
Exercise: Close your eyes and take three deep cleansing breathes. Now image your happy place. Where you feel the most relax? Picture yourself there. Allow yourself to feel the surroundings. If your recliner, feel the texture of the material against your skin, the firmness of the cushion surrounding you, the angle of your body as you relax. Are there sounds around you? Soft music or maybe a ball game on the T.V., or your children playing at your feet. How about smells, tastes. Allow yourself to enjoy your happy place for a few minutes.
Connect Mindset: This mindset allows you to spawn many ideas without concerns to how they will play out. You’ll think out of the box. Successful use of this mindset could lead you to become overwhelmed with creative possible ideas. You’ll become energized and excited about your work.
Exercise: Set a timer for three minutes. On a piece of paper write down as many uses for a shoe you can think of. Then set the timer again and write down all the things you can do with a shoelace. Set the timer again and jot down the consequences of a torn shoelace.
Reason Brainset: This brainset solves problems logically, using all your storage memories and knowledge. It allows you to control what thoughts occupy your mind. It is deliberate and necessary as you complete your creative project. It is the perfect mindset to flesh out a whimsical idea and make it realistic. It helps you motivate action, manage time, increases chances for success, strengthens self-confidence and heightens sense of control over your life. It’s one mindset I’ve consciously worked on every single day, several times a day, over the last several months.
Exercise: You will stop particular unwanted thoughts or train of thoughts as soon as they enter you mind by simply saying, “Don’t go there.” Or “Thinking of this is not my on my hour’s agenda.”
Evaluate Mindset: Coming up with fresh ideas is vital is our line of work, but judging whether those ideas are indeed worth spending time one is also essential. This is where this mindset comes in. Three factors are necessary: active judgement, focused attention and impersonality. We need to judge our work against others of which it’s competing. Not us against them. This is about our work, not ourselves. In order to do that, we need to get some distance from our work, judge it with respect, don’t toss the work mid-project, look at each of its parts and evaluate their merits, and look at the work from the point of view of your audience. Be flexible. Consult others. Be hard on your work and not yourself!
Exercise: On a sheet of paper write the titles of your top ten books of all time. Imagine they’re no longer available anywhere or ever again. Now, ( I know you’re going to hate me) cross off five. Behind them, write why you crossed them off.
Transform Mindset: Is all about emotion. Our emotion. Our negative emotions and how they affect our memories and visions. It’s important we know this mindset and how it disturbs our creativity. It is a what-if state, just like the envision mindset, but unlike the purposeful imaginings of the later, this mindset’s themes are worry, anxiety, self-pity or regret. But this mindset can help with your creative project. Our characters are an extension of humanity. People have flaws, negative thoughts, regrets. We can use this mindset to write timeless characters if only we draw on the transform mindset.
Exercise: Pick three things in your home that you feel best represents you: personality, taste, qualities. Now write a paragraph about each and how they relate to you. Did you learn anything about yourself? Was there a negative or positive view of yourself?
The Stream Mindset: We refer to this mindset as being in ‘the zone.’ It is the unique melding of self and action. You lose your sense of self and focus on the world at hand. But how do we achieve this mindset.
First, you need the expertise to enter the stream mindset. Second, you need to be engaged in an activity that intrinsically motivating you. (Intrinsic motivation means that you’re involved in an activity because of an internal award and not an external one.) Do you write for the joy of writing?
Exercise: On a piece of paper jot down five activities that had your blood surging and your mind whirling. These activities are your passion.
As I said at the beginning of this blog, I’ve only touched on the information contained in these two books. In fact, I’m not finished with either of them, but what I’ve learned so far has helped me to be more productive, to think out of the box on my wip, and be more acceptable of the amount of work I can accomplish in a day.