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Posts tagged with: writing

Taming the Mental Chatter

Hello! So…what’s on your mind? Considering that the brain generates 50,000 – 70,000 thoughts per day (or 35-48 thoughts per minute), I’m betting there’s quite a bit crossing through your mind right now. Whew, that’s a lot of mental traffic!

And yet, we are constantly trying to focus. Whether it is creating a strategy to manage evening kid activities, the presentation for the company VP, or the witty dialogue in our book’s pinnacle scene, we need to wade through the chatter clogging our brains to get things done.master-your-mind

As an author, part of my writing process includes daily walks where I think through character motivations and dialogue, but sometimes it is nearly impossible to stay focused. Even small things interrupt my train of thought. Like this morning, I had a pebble in my shoe. I spent half of my walk trying to ignore the pebble and thinking that I need to buy shoes without holes in them until I finally stopped and shook it out. Other days, my monkey brain (what Buddhists call this deluge of thoughts) monkeys swingingswings from to-do lists to what-ifs to vacation plans. If I can’t rope it in and focus my mind on my work, my mental chatter hampers my productivity.

 

So…what are some ways to tame the monkey brain?

1. Morning Papers. Many authors start the day off by journaling or writing in a notebook. Rather like a mind purge, they throw down thoughts and worries, ideas and tangents. Sometimes this works to get rid of extraneous thoughts before diving into work. I’ve just started doing this, and it helps, but I still think about things. I try to remind myself that I don’t have to since I’ve already written those things down (yes, my psyche and I have arguments about this continually).journal

2. To-Do List. I can’t live without my to-do list. Sometimes it is in my morning papers, but I like to carry it around with me, so it’s usually on another paper. I like to make the to-dos small, steps in a project. This way I can mark off the steps and see that I’m moving forward. Then I actually take time to do some of the to-dos. I know! Crazy!

Even if they are not writing related, I take the time to do them, especially those tasks that don’t take up much time. Because if I don’t do these little things, they take up mental space that I can’t afford. I end up thinking about them much longer than the time it would take to just do them.

For example, I volunteer to keep up my neighborhood bulletin board. I change it out and decorate it about once a month (No, I’m not completely community altruistic. I can put up my book release info easily since I have the key : ). I walk by that board with my dog every day, and if I haven’t kept it updated, it snags my brain for the second half of my walk. Ugh! Too much mental space wasted.

If you have a few things on your list that hijack your mind, just do them so you can move on to more important thoughts.

3. Be aware. If you know you want to focus on something, like a scene or character, then specifically try to put it in your mind at the beginning of the session (session could be walking, doing dishes, driving, showering, etc.). Adding other sensory cues can help. I listen to a specific soundtrack when I’m determined to think about my book. I might light a candle and hold my felt writing gnome. I drink a cinnamon, hot chai latte. All of these things signal to my brain that I should be thinking about 16th century Scotland and not the laundry that needs folding. I also have a few locations that help me think about writing, like on my back porch or at my writing desk (her name is Eleri).

Writing Gnome

Writing Gnome

Chai Latte

Chai Latte

Eleri organized

Eleri

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. Be Nice to Your Muse. Why didn’t I use a stronger verb than move? That bad review was spot on. I suck. Why do I think I’ll ever get published? My editor hates me.

My muse looks like Xena

My muse looks like Xena

Psychology Today reports that up to 70% of mental chatter is negative, and a lot of that negativity is about ourselves. Often times we are meaner to ourselves than to our worst enemy. And nothing scares away your muse faster than slamming her with insults (You must always respect the muse!). If you find yourself continuously berating yourself, there are techniques to rev up your internal positivity (which I’ve written about in another blog post).

5. Set a Timer. If you must think about something, whether it’s planning a vacation or strategizing about how to talk to your hubby about the ballroom dancing lessons you just signed the two of you up for, set a specific time and duration to plan. Take notes so you know you’ve captured all your thoughts on the subject. When the time is up, put it aside and refocus on your book.

6. Take a Season. If your world has just shattered, your mind will be consumed with shock and picking up the pieces. When I was diagnosed with cancer and had to undergo 15-months of chemo, no amount of lists and daily pages could get me to stop thinking about not dying and my kids and my poor hubby who’d lost his own mom when he was 9 to cancer, etc. The mental chatter filled my head to overflowing. Like plopping bricks in a glass of water. There was no room left for creative thought. So I had to take a step back from my fiction writing. Instead I wrote about my journey and how I was going to survive. A wonderful writer friend told me that I just needed to “take a season” where I cared for myself and didn’t worry about my fictional worlds. For some authors, they prefer to lose themselves in their fictional worlds when theirs has broken down, but not me. I just couldn’t and “taking a season” gave me permission not to stress about it.

Do you have any techniques for taming the mental chatter and focusing on your writing?

creative-person

 

Brainstorming Unusual Character

 

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Oops. The Ruby calendar had a few holes, so I thought we’d talk weather today. Not what it’s like in your area (however, you certainly can share), but how weather is used in our novels to trigger change in our characters’ lives. We know the well-worn cliché of the hero and heroine trapped in a cabin during a snow storm, but we don’t want to do cliché. We want to write fresh ideas

Did you see THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE? How about THE GRAPES OF WRATH? Those are two off the top of my head movies/books where weather was the catalyst for change in many lives.

I’m about to begin a new story for my PERFECT LOVE line and I’ve been brainstorming, thinking about my characters and how I can use weather to change their lives, and/or to up the conflict and anxiety. I’m thinking a flash flood wipes away the wedding set-up, thus putting everything on hold. Enter in a contractor who steals the maid of honor’s heart from the groom’s brother.

Here are a few others examples:

A high heat index causes a blackout situation, sending the tenants of an apartment building to the cool basement.

Lightening brings down a tree limb causing a car accident.

A hail storm causes a delay in a flight.

A sunny day on the beach causes a severe sunburn and sends the victim to the ER—step onto the page Doctor do-me- good.

Hot day melts all the icing on the cupcakes, or the wedding cake, the heroine has made.

While camping, a calm night has the heroine hearing every twig snapping, causing her to build big a really big fire which gets out of control.

A sand storm causes a woman to lose her way on the back roads of Arizona.

Okay, this is an interactive blog, so come on, think out of the box, and share your ideas for ways weather can affect your story, or share an example of something you’ve read.Golden Sun

 

 

Become Your Heroine: Adding Real-Life Details to Your Stories

sweater pants

These are them! My exact sweater pants. So soft!

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.

tea before fire

 

 

 

 

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!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.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:

  • Museums
  • Concerts
  • Outdoor movies
  • Picnics
  • Zoo
  • Airports
  • Ferries and trains
  • Your neighbor’s party
  • One of those crazy, full-of-mud obstacle courses
    P4200217 (640x480)

    Me in the Rugged Maniac in 2014. Yes, that’s barbed wire over my head!

  • Roller rink
  • On a Segway tour of your city
  • Dog park
  • Paddle board class
  • Color run/5K
  • Pottery class
  • Charity fundraiser
  • Chaperoning a high school dance
  • Animal adoption event
  • Guitar lesson
  • Language classes

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…nonverbal

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.explore

Have you ever gone anywhere to soak in details for your writing?

Death & Then There Was Rebirth

I’ve come to the conclusion that death mirrors birth. From the moment we’re conceived, we fight to grow into a whole person.  Then we take enter into a new world where again we strive to develop into a unique person. At some point, we struggle again, leaving behind love ones, and again take passage into another realm.  Based on the trend, one thing we can count on in the next kingdom  there will a promise of hope.

I lost my husband, my love, my best friend. Then I lost the first man to hold my heart, my father. Then my beloved dog whose coat held many tears, and finally my pretty kitty of nineteen years. All of them in a short span of a year and a few months. A few other family members and friends have followed since.

When you lose someone that held your heart, it’s like you’re the only one in the history of the world that has ever felt the pangs of the deepest, darkest, totally empty, endless freefall of grief. All desires except one leave your soul. Then, like the moment of conception, there is the tiniest spark of self-preservation that makes you look up and take a step forward to fulfilling your purpose in the world. Taking those steps and allowing yourself to fall and get back up takes strength and courage.

We all are unique. We all have strengths, weakness and gifts. For some reason, this community has been given the talent of putting words to page, words that will affect others and perhaps change the course of their lives.

Over the years, I’ve heard many of you state that “not to be able to write would be like taking away your ability to breathe.” Fitting words. It doesn’t matter how you write or what you write or whether anyone ever will see your words. What matters is that you’re striving to be the accomplished, awesome unique person that you’re meant to be.

If you or someone you know is going through the stages of mourning, I offer one thing that helped me. I wrote letters to my love ones. I journaled my thoughts. I wrote poems. They are my private works filled with hate, pain and love, and the world will not ever see them.

I’m not the over-achiever that I had been several years ago, wanting to write several books a year. I’ve become the writer who wants to write for me first and the world second. And that is okay.  I hope the books I release will be enjoyed by fans, and blogs like this one will help others. I’m feeling accomplished, and that is good.

 

Writing Fearless: A Christmas Tale

I admit it. I am guilty of studying tropes and trends, because I know that readers like them and my publisher expects them. And also, being familiar with tropes and trends is helpful.

But early this year, when my publisher asked me to write yet another Christmas novella for the 2015 holiday season, I was less than enthused. Honestly, if I had to write another:

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/5/5f/The_Gift_of_the_Magi.jpg

 

 

a) Retelling of the Gift of the Magi (I did that in my novella I’ll be Home for Christmas),

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.sheeplaughs.com/scrooge/scrooge_stewartDVD.jpg

 

 

b) Take on Scrooge (I did that in my book Last Chance Christmas), or

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://thegirlbehindthereddoor.com/assets_c/2014/12/nativity-thumb-500x321-3681.jpg

 

c) Baby in a barn story (I did that in my novella Silent Night)

 

 

 

I. Would. Scream.

(Did I mention that the publisher made this suggestion in January, right after I was thoroughly Christmass-ed-out?)

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I expressed these negative feelings to my husband on our daily commute. I railed against Dickens for having written the quintessential Christmas Novella of all times. I ranted about Scrooge — about how he is such a powerful icon of the season that he’s everywhere, in every story you read.  I mean, even It’s a Wonderful Life and How the Grinch Stole Christmas have Scrooge archetypes messing up Christmas for everyone.

“Not gonna do it,” I said.

Then my husband said, “What if you wrote a story where Tiny Tim was all grown up?”

And I said, “Okay, if Tiny Tim is a grown up, who’s Scrooge? A little kid?”

And he said nothing.

Did I mention that he’s a whiz at knowing when to shut up?

The next morning, this idea of turning Cindy Lou Who into a tiny-sized Grinch was still rattling around in my head. So I Googled the words, “Kids who hate Christmas.”

I got the usual listing of posts about greedy kids, even greedier grownups, and people ungraciously mouthing off about Christmas gifts they hated. But once I got past all that crap I stumbled across several heartbreaking and utterly inspiring articles and blog posts about and by parents whose children either have autism or who are on the Asperger’s spectrum.

For many of those special kids, Christmas is a nightmare. For their parents, Christmas can be a difficult obstacle course that requires love and patience and even more love.

A story began to form in my mind, but I didn’t think I was courageous enough to write it. The courageous ones are the parents of these special kids, and I didn’t feel as if I had any authority to write about them.

I put the story idea aside. I worked on a dozen other ideas all of which had some well-worn Christmas trope that failed to inspire. I dithered. I procrastinated. I complained.

And then I sent an email to my BFF and critique buddy, Caroline Bradley, who just happens to be the mom of a child on the Asperger’s spectrum. I didn’t contact Caroline to seek information about Asperger’s– not at first. At first it was just to have a conversation about whether I was brave enough to take on this topic.

Bless her, Caroline was more than enthusiastic. She told me that if the story had captured my heart, then it shouldn’t matter whether I was qualified to write it (that’s what research is for) or whether it was the usual trope (sometimes you have to stop listening to the marketing people). In short, she told me to be brave, write fearless, and tell a good story – words I hope to continue to live by.

I started by asking a lot of questions of a lot of parents and siblings of autistic kids.  I did my research. And then something magical happened, when I had finally stopped telling myself that this story was beyond me, I discovered that it was actually inside me.

The story arrived fully formed in a matter of days and needed almost no revision.

This experience has convinced me that when I dig deep, stretch my boundaries, and tell a story from deep inside my heart, the writing is never a problem. It’s when I back away from the hard stuff – that’s when the writing becomes impossible.

midnight clear coverA Midnight Clear, a Christmas story of a single mom with a special needs child goes on sale today. Here’s an excerpt.

So, tell me, have you ever had a story present itself that you thought you weren’t brave enough to write? Did you write it? What happened? Was it hard or did it turn out to be easy?

What Makes A Reader Close Your Book?

late-night-reading_opt“I loved your book. I couldn’t put it down. I stayed up all night reading it.” As writers, these comments are music to our ears.  If creating a book that readers can’t put down is the blue ribbon, we need to understand what makes a reader close a book, so we can avoid it. So I asked – What makes you close a book that you’re reading? I polled as many people as I could this past week, my book club, family members, twitter peeps, FB folks, moms at my daughter’s pre-dawn drama club festival… And here is what I heard:

 

 

There seems to be two broad categories that spur readers to close a book: if the book is too difficult or annoying to read or if the book doesn’t engage. Looking a bit closer:

Difficult to Read

1 – “When the author uses bizarre, “big” words when simpler words could be used. As if they are trying to impress the reader with how much they know.”

2 – “A strong dialect that is hard to read, like a southern drawl spelled out phonetically or too many Scottish accent words. If I have to read it aloud slowly to understand the sentence, it’s too hard.”

3 – “Foreign words if they aren’t defined or easily inferenced based on the story.”

4 – “Who is talking? If I can’t tell who is speaking, I get frustrated, having to re-read passages to try to figure it out.”

5 – As a writer, grammar, misspellings and flip flopping POV in a scene yanks me out of a story. Yet interestingly, none of the “pure” (those who don’t also write) readers I asked mentioned these things as reasons to close the book. But at some point, if there are too many little problems pulling a reader out of the flow, they could decide that the story doesn’t hold their attention.grammar check

 

 

 

Doesn’t Engage

1 – “I’ll stop reading if I feel like the story isn’t going anywhere. There’s either no real plot or it’s taking too long to see it.” So direction and pacing are important to today’s reader.

2 – “When I read outside work, I want to escape and be entertained. So if the book isn’t providing that, I’ll close it to find another.” Hooks, pacing, and something that pulls a reader out of their ordinary world keeps them reading.

TBR pile

3 – Several readers polled mentioned that it was just personal preference, if the book dives into a subject matter that they don’t like, they will close the book. This problem revolves around reader expectations. Perhaps the cover or blurb lead a reader to believe the book will be darker or lighter than they were thinking. Maybe the author brand is different for this particular book. I worry about this factor since I write in different sub genres but haven’t used a pseudonym (yet).

If you write children’s books, my eight-year-old wants me to mention that she closes a book when something really sad happens. “Please don’t kill off moms or dads, or really anyone or anything, dogs, grandmas…”

We need to consider our audience and what type of book we are writing for them. Children don’t want to read about losing someone permanently, at least not when they are reading for fun. Adults can handle death and scary life events better. As a cancer survivor, I’ve closed numerous “inspiring” cancer books when they lack humor. Laughter is great medicine, so I look for covers and blurbs that seemed funny instead of sappy (my favorite one is I’d Rather Do Chemo Than Clean Out the Garage by Fran Di Giacomo).   

4 – A reader/writer told me they will close a book if there are “shallow characters, built on clichés but not given a twist or depth.”

Characters must illicit emotion for the reader to care about what happens to them. Make a reader identify with a character or root for them or hate them, but make them feel something.fictional groom

For example, when I drive in traffic…On the surface I can get very frustrated with the drivers around me. Someone behind a glass window who cuts me off irritates me. I don’t care about the jerk, just want him out of my way. I close the book on him. But if I knew more…if I knew that the driver was frantic, trying to get to the hospital where his child has been rushed after being in a car accident, suddenly I feel different. I want to get out of his way, root for him, help him, and follow his story. Even after the incident, the story pops up into my mind throughout the day or week. The book remains open.

5 – Trust. Even if a reader buys the first book, or even reads an entire series, but the ending leaves them feeling horrible, we lose their trust. Either the main characters die or the happily ever after a reader was expecting doesn’t happen, they may “close the book” on the author (which is much worse than closing the physical book). Readers trust that we will lead them through the conflicts, the difficulties to somewhere safe or at least satisfying. This speaks to author brand or reader expectations based on genre. Keep that in mind when writing something outside the norm. I’m all for writer prerogative and branching out, trying new genres. Just make sure it is clear to your readers if a particular book, or series, is vastly different from your usual writing. You don’t want them to close the book on you.

closing the book

So what have I missed? What makes you close a book, either for the night or for good?

This or that – dream or goal?

Earlier this year, I went on a writing retreat with 5 Rubies. (Well, 4 Ruby sisters and 1 honorary Ruby!) One evening, I was listening to 2 of the authors discuss their goals for their careers–and it struck me that their goals had never even entered my thinking. Hitting a bestseller list? Earning enough money to replace the income from my day job? These felt more like impossible dreams than achievable goals.

So, for July’s This or That, let’s talk about our aspirations. What are your dreams or goals?

Hello Death – I See You!

As authors, we birth new characters all the time. Often our offspring (like our flesh-and-blood kids) take on our own traits. Maybe your heroine has a dream to be a movie star like you did as a kid. Maybe your hero tenses every time he hears car tires screech just like you do after your accident. Or maybe your villain fears spiders and dark corners where spiders like to hide, just like you do.

Last week I released my newest book, BROKEN (Woot!), a YA paranormal romance (second in The Guardians Series). There’s a contest to win a $25 gift card going on right now! Contest link In BROKEN, my heroine, Taylin, has lived ten lives and has died painfully ten times. The curse that tortured her, with living loveless lives and then dying violently over and over, is finally broken. But now that she has only one more life to live, fear of death takes ahold of her, creating a new form of torture. Broken

As I wrote this book, I wanted Taylin to learn how to live without fearing death. I decided early on that the theme of the book was “you can’t fear death or you can’t really live.” It sounded like a truth and a great lesson to learn, a lesson I needed to learn myself.

I’m an ovarian cancer survivor. In fact, as I write this on April 5th, four years ago today I was just waking up from surgery to hear “you have cancer” – words that change your life forever. I fought against this quiet, yet vicious disease with major surgery, 15 months of chemo and another 6 months of recovery. It was the hardest battle of my life, but I was determined NOT to leave my three kids and my wonderful husband without fighting with every ounce of scrappy, tenacious, mental and physical muscle I possessed. Some days were harder than others. Some days I felt like I was dying an achy, stomach-twisting, slow death. Luckily though I responded to the life-saving poison and have been in remission since.

McCollumClan - Copy

Remission is bitter-sweet. Yes, it is fantastic that the cancer is gone. However, the fear that it will return (something ovarian cancer is known for) haunts me. Nerve pain, nausea, bloating from steroids, torturous insomnia, bleeding and sores in my mouth – all from the chemo. And then the biggest fear of all – not surviving it and leaving my kids. Getting poked

Sometimes that fear grows so large, it blocks the beauty before me. And that, my friends, ruins living.

 

 

Half way through writing BROKEN my creative words and tapping fingers slowed and then stopped. I couldn’t figure out what would make Taylin learn her lesson. The theme, you can’t fear death or you can’t really live, seemed impossible to achieve. After dying ten times, Taylin was afraid of dying again, this time for good, no more reincarnations. For days I dwelled on her problem and dredged my creative well for a way to make her stop fearing death so she could enjoy life.

When I went to see my therapist (I highly recommend therapy for pretty much everyone), I told her how I was stuck in my book. She is also a writer and has great insight.

“How can I make my heroine not fear death?” I asked.

She tilted her head. “Why should she not fear death? Fearing death is a very human thing. If she didn’t fear death at all, she wouldn’t be human.”

I blinked. I stared. I inhaled. “If you fear death you can’t really live.”

“I don’t know anyone who doesn’t fear death, and a lot of people live wonderful, happy lives. They just don’t dwell on death.”

Holy moly! I had the wrong theme. Holy moly! Taylin and I both had it wrong.

Fearing death is natural. It is the dwelling on death and always feeling fear that puts a dark shadow over living.

Not only did I suddenly get how to fix my book, I learned that it was totally okay for me to fear the return of my cancer. It is normal for the thought of my demise and what it would do to my children to sadden me. But Taylin and I must stop giving fear of death power over us. We can’t let it stand in front of us or we will miss the whole beautiful parade.

As a writer, I am very fortunate to have an avenue to explore my inner craziness. By creating Taylin and helping her deal with her fear, I’ve been able to deal successfully with my own. Oh, some days I falter, like when I’m waiting for test results (while you’re reading this, I’m having yet another CT scan, so I’ll have to beat fear off of me with a mental bat). But both Taylin and I now redirect our thoughts away from the grave, outward to the beautiful world around us. It’s not a permanent fix, but it is a healthy, soul-filling step in the right direction.

Have you learned anything from your characters or the characters in books you’ve read?

For more information about Ovarian Cancer, you can check out the OC Page on Heather’s site or go to http://www.ovariancancer.org/. Heather blogged throughout her cancer journey. Those blog posts can be found on the OC Page on her web site.

For info about BROKEN and The Guardian’s Series, you can click here: Amazon Buy Page

Also find Heather here: Heather on Facebook, Heather on Twitter, Heather on Pinterest

 

Chicken or the Egg???

Chicken or the Egg?

It’s an age old dispute that we’ve talked about only…forever. Personally, I don’t really care which came first. I just want to eat both of them, preferably fried. Hey, I’m a Southerner.

But that old debate leads me to something writers often debate – is success achieved by talent or perseverance?

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking both, right? I knew it because that’s the easy answer. To “make it” in the publishing world we always say you have to have 10% talent, 10% perseverance and 80% luck. I mean, that’s what everyone told me. And I’ve believed them. Sounds good and I’m just waiting on luck…or if you read some of my reviews, talent.

But I want to argue a bit today. Why not, right? Nothing else going on (except deadlines, laundry and actually work).

I’ve been writing seriously since 2007. The first two years I wrote two historical manuscripts. They were pretty bad as most first efforts are. The second one was good enough (or rather I polished that first three chapters enough) to net me a final in the Golden Heart and land me in the company of these pretty ladies here. So I didn’t totally suck. In fact, my first critique partner is fond of saying she could see the spark beneath the drudge. My first manuscript hid an ugly duckling. I can’t say I’m the most talented of writers, but I don’t suck. So we’re going to count that as a point for talent.

But Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Outliers has been on my mind lately. Namely the chapter he wrote on the 10,000 hour rule. In the book (which is fascinating, by the way) he ascribes success to a person doing what he and she does for doing it for at least 10,000 hours. In other words, in Malcolm Gladwell’s research, he ascribes to “practice makes professional or expert”. In a Business Insider article they state “In “Outliers,” Gladwell reported on the 10,000 Hour Rule, a construct for understanding expertise that became such a part of the culture that Macklemore wrote a self-affirming song about it. The rule states that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become an expert in any field. It comes from the research of Florida State University psychologist K. Anders Ericsson, who studied chess masters and tennis players.” *

Applying that theory, I’ve been thinking about my writing. Since I started writing seriously in 2007, I’ve written seventeen books, four novellas and like a thousand different first chapters (LOL). How many hours has it taken me? How many craft books have I read, workshops attended, critiques poured over? I don’t know. But it’s up there. So I’ve put in time. Does that make me an expert? I don’t know that either. But I will offer one thing I do FIRMLY believe – it’s hard as hell to write a first book and have it stand as GOOD. So I do believe there is something to be said for practicing, honing, and sharpening your craft. I’m pretty sure that a glut of self-published books by someone who got an itch to write a story is a good example of why paying your dues is part of building a career. You have to learn the ropes. You have to use the wrong words so you know how to apply the right ones. You have to suck before you can shine.

Or do you?

So I have to ask you – chicken or egg? Um, I meant talent or paying dues? Which do you think attributes most to the success of an author? Let the debate begin!

Oh, if you’re interested in The Outliers, you can find more info below in the links:

Disputing the 10,000 rule with genetics:

http://www.thewire.com/entertainment/2013/08/malcolm-gladwell-defends-disputed-10000-hours-rule/68624/

*Gladwell’s other mind blowing ideas (source for 10,000 rule quote):

http://www.businessinsider.com/malcolm-gladwells-mind-blowing-ideas-2015-3?op=1

Catch Your Muse & Win a Pot of Gold

big-shamrockHappy St. Patrick’s Day everyone! Do you have your green on? This fun holiday has a number of myths associated with it, one being the elusive Leprechaun. Considered a fairy who likes to cause mischief, yet also brings luck and riches, this little fellow has the makings of a great literary muse.9muses

Originally a Muse was any of the nine sister goddesses in Greek mythology presiding over song and poetry and the arts and sciences. The term has come to mean “a source of inspiration, especially: a guiding genius.” (Merriam-Webster)

 Well, I don’t know about you, but I could ALWAYS use a guiding genius! And so I employ ways to lure my elusive muse to help me write. Everyone’s muse is personal and unique (like your writer’s voice). I envision my muse as female, a strong Amazon-type warrior like Xena Warrior Princess.

Xena

 

When I fought (and beat the crap out of) ovarian cancer, my muse wore teal-colored leather and battled with grit and precision every day with her razor-sharp spear (okay, I was on some pretty nifty drugs during that time). Today she is still tough and wears way more leather than me, but she seems to be a bit more elusive now that my days of obsessing about survival are (hopefully) a thing of the past.

Now I call upon my muse to help me write historical paranormal and YA paranormal romances. And despite my love of writing and a desire to create tantalizing hooks, amazing worlds, and emotion-provoking characters, my muse sometimes fails to show up. I’m left alone, staring at the last sentence I wrote with hundreds of blank pages left to fill. Oh Muse, Muse, wherefore art thou Muse?!

I try to coax her out of hiding. I beg her for just a pinch of inspiration, a quirky description, a perfect line, something to get me going again. And then one of my kids yells “Mom, where’s the…?” and my muse vanishes like a dandelion puff in a tornado.

Over the years I have developed a few techniques to create the muse-alluring rainbow. And on lucky days, I can find her and her inspiration (aka, her pot of gold).

1. Clear my desk. I can’t think about my WIP when there are bills piled next to my computer or kid permission slips or my list of a million little things that need to happen. The clutter pulls my attention away from the book and my muse refuses to waste her time coming near me.Eleri

2. Make a cup of chai latte. I’ve addicted my muse to hot chai lattes. I make them at home to save on cost and limit them for the calories. But if I’m stuck and am desperately seeking the end of the rainbow, the spicy taste of cinnamon mixed with hot milk, black tea and cardamom really entices her out of hiding. I now save them for the time when I know I will be writing.

3. Find my playlist. At the beginning of a new book I create a musical playlist with songs that represent the time period and songs that help me understand the characters (which is why my iPhone has both Gregorian monks chanting and Eminem). I don’t listen to music every day, but when my muse is playing hard to get, the music lures her in like the Pied Piper.

Gregorian-Voices Eminem

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. Cut and paste. I’m very visually oriented, so I like to see what I’m writing about. Consequently I collage my stories, or at least the characters and settings. At the beginning of a new project, I take a day or two to look up pictures of places and people, print them off and glue them to poster board, manila folders or blank books. I actually brainstorm this way, discovering backstory and plot details in fun or creative images. My muse loves my collages so I prop them up in my line of sight (on my clean desk) when I write.CrH collage

 

 5. I walk. There is something about fresh air and rushing blood that gets my creative energy sparking. If I dwell on a scene while walking, dialogue pops into my head. It is almost like my muse is skipping along, flicking ideas at me until I grasp one and we run with it. By the time I get home I’m usually itching to start typing.

walking 

 We all have a muse, our inspiration for creating art, expressing our ideas, and molding something beautiful out of lifeless material. She or he is a one-of-a-kind personal guide to finding our pot of gold. You just need to lure her in and grab on.

What are some ways you find inspiration to create your art? What lures your muse out of hiding?

 

 

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