Posts Tagged ‘Writing’

I play electric guitar, a lefty Sheraton II.  Picking it up has made me a better writer.

I swear. Seriously, there’s a correlation here. I might as well go ahead and thank Steve Vai, the legendary guitar virtuoso who opened my eyes. I recently read Guitar World’s interview with Steve and guitarist Tosin Abasi, and it’s changed the way I think about stringing words together. Abasi and Vai spoke a lot about musicianship, but I think their words speak volumes about growing and evolving as any kind of artist.

…When I got hold of the guitar, the thing that really lit me up about the instrument is you try to do something and you can’t, but then you work on it and all of a sudden you can…That’s how it works. You become fascinated…It was an escape from other things in my life. And when you can’t do something but you work at it and then you can do it, you get this sense of achievement, which is something we all really thrive on, and also a sense of dignity that might have been destroyed by something else. So that in itself creates this feedback effect, this addiction. It was a beautiful thing for me.” –Steve Vai

Are writers so different? We stretch for the words just outside our reach, scribbling and typing and revising until we can grasp them. And when we find the right words to build a connection between the page and the reader, we’re euphoric, self-affirmed, if only for a moment . Yes, it’s hard to keep working to improve, writing book after book, but we crave that rush, the satisfaction of knowing these pages are better than the last ones. The struggle is its own addiction.

Vai elaborates on doing to hard work:

“…And when the Zappa gig came along and he was like, ‘Can you play this?,’ I was like, ‘Of course I can play it.’ ‘Cause all you gotta do is work on it. Slowly, slowly, note by note. It was unfathomable to me than any guitar player couldn’t do it. And I realized why. They just didn’t have the chutzpah to sit there and work on it…Greatness is an inspiration that a person has. So we can tell people how to be a virtuoso guitar player: just sit and practice really slow and perfectly and make sure you have vibrato and your intonation is perfect and then get faster and faster and just don’t do anything that you can’t play. Every week, click the notch up a bit. And then you’ll be able to play anything.

Writer, your keyboard/palette/lens isn’t so different than six strings. Play.

Abasi echoes Vai:

What happens is there’s this revelation that if you put in work on something you can’t do at first, eventually you can do it. And the first time that happens it is kind of like an addiction. You want it to happen again. And the more it happens, the more you’re confident that it can happen. So you start chasing your potential. You realize, Yeah, eventually I might get as good as I try to get. It feeds itself. So it’s not like you’re locked in a room practicing under obligation. You’re concerned with your own potential. You’re like, I’m full of potential and I’ve already started to unlock it. and I could spend the rest of my life doing it.”

Spend your life chasing down that next song or the next story or the next image or whatever it is you long to create. The process will nourish you as much as the end result.

Getting better on guitar is really just a reflection of your ability to chisel out your own doubt. Criticism can be devastating. When push comes to shove, we are all very sensitive. I know I can be. Artists have this burning desire to create something that will gratify other people–when you find the right audience. No matter what anybody tells you, we want to be appreciated; we want to feel like what we’re doing has value and that we’re making a contribution. But what we have to get through our heads is it’s not for everybody, but is is for a select group. And when you follow your muse and your creative impulse sincerely, you find that audience comes. They come.” –Steve Vai

Don’t give in to the monster of self-doubt. Find your voice. Build connections, word by word. Keep writing until you can.

(Also, get yourself a subscription to Guitar World. It will feed your inner artist.)

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Guys.

GUYS. I AM HAVING AN UGLY CRY ABOUT POSTING THIS AND I AM STILL IN SHOCK AND I CAN’T STOP SHOUTING IN RANDOM CAPS-LOCKY WAY BECAUSE…

My agent sold my debut. Our first book deal. 

(C’mon. I know you want to sing along with me.)

I can’t believe this is happening. And if you are my twitter friend, or my IRL friend, or my I-haven’t-met-you-yet friend, you may or may not know how daunting and scary and wonderful my writing journey has been so far. Whatever the case, thank you for sharing this moment with me. I love you for it. I would hug you very tightly right now, if you were here. I would ugly cry on your shoulder, and you would get impatient and tell me to stop being so maudlin and so silly, and I would listen to you. But just for a minute. Then I would start acting like a sentimental nincompoop again because…

One of my childhood dreams is coming true. I WRITE BOOKS AND SOMEONE BELIEVES IN THEM AND SOMEONE WANTS TO PUT THEM OUT INTO THE WORLD. I AM A PENGUIN.

I am so incredibly happy and lucky to be able to write that. I have so many people to thank (My family! My fabulous agent, Sara! My dream editor, Heather!). I have presents to give. I have (not very) gory details to share. But that is another post, one I’ll be writing soon. For now, thank you for reading this and being my any kind of friend. It means a lot to me.

TODAY

TOMORROW

Writing friends, I just gave up. Completely surrendered.

Again.

And you know what? It felt great. I’ll probably do it again tomorrow. And the next day, too.

I see the confusion on your face. Surrender?? Gave up on what???

Stuff I have no control over. Factors outside my influence. The immoveable metric ton of tricksy particulars I keep trying to shoulder. Pesky things like:

–the economy

–market and genre trends

–shifting state of the publishing industry

–today’s seven figure deal for the latest self-published/YA/fanfic/erotica/BDSM/OCD/PTSD/STFU phenom

–three day auctions

–past failures

–past revisions

–past mistakes
–present learning curve

–rejection

–silence

–editorial taste

–editorial lists

–acquisitions meetings

–editorial boards

–the submission process

–submission response times

–NYC weather

–THE SPEED OF LIGHT

Maybe your list is different. Maybe you’re querying agents or staring at your debut’s book cover or sobbing over your last royalty statement. But I bet you have a list. Take a good hard look at it, and ask yourself if you’re like me, a writer who needs to put her hands up and say…

I am not psychic. I am not a special snowflake. I am not superman, yet I am not immune to kryptonite. I am just a girl, sitting in a red chair, typing some words. I am just trying to tell a story, the best way that I can. I can control the words. I can’t control the rest. The rest will not cripple or paralyze or smother the joy I find in words. Yesterday and today and tomorrow.  Amen.

Surrender is sweet. I highly recommend it. 🙂

If you’re a writer, you’ve probably heard “Show, Don’t Tell’ a million times. It’s one of those maxims you can’t escape. But I’m going to stick my neck out and declare…

I think that advice has led to a lot of really terrible writing.

Before you come at me with your sharpest pitchfork, let me explain my madness. I do believe, in many ways, it is good and useful and wise to ‘show’ things. There is a time and place for the camera pan, the action shot, the external focus. But a novel is not a screenplay. A movie is a string of external cues–visuals and sound–that tells a story. The viewer relies on these cues to make sense of the plot and all its underpinnings–the internal, intangibles such as emotion and theme.

The novel is an entirely different medium. A novel conjures a singular experience, not just through external description (what a camera can capture), but also by internal perception (the heart and soul an ordinary telephoto zoom can’t record). In a novel, there’s a lens that trumps all.

The human lens.

The fictive stream of consciousness. The thingamathink that pulls us under the skin of a character. The internal processor that that recalls events and interprets every moment of action in the context of a character’s deepest hopes, dreams, memories and fears.

Yet...motivated by well-intentioned advice, so many writers neglect this lens and start out writing novels like screenplays. They try to live by ‘show’ alone–moving characters here and there on a stage, describing everything in objective, surface-level terms the way a wide-angle camera shot would. This cheats the reader and sentences them to a parade of colorless, cliched gestures and descriptions.

John’s eyes widened in anxiety. Mary’s heart hammered. Glen’s jaw clenched. Raul’s brow quirked. Anna’s lips curled in a smirk. Neville clenched his fists at his sides. Snakes slithered in Jonah’s stomach.

Ugh. These gestures and reactions are all generic. They illuminate nothing about character, personality, conflict or plot. As Francine Prose so aptly writes in Reading Like a Writer, “they are not descriptions of an individual’s very particular response to a particular event, but rather a shorthand for common psychic states.”

Meaningless shorthand. Yes. But darn it, they show and don’t tell. And that’s the rule, right?

WRONG. WRONG. WRONG.

I am nothing more than an puny, unpublished, unknown Writer/Librarian/Beatle-Maniac, but I will not recant. I will not! Because writing fiction is a form of storyTELLING. I agree with Joshua Henkin when he calls ‘Show, Don’t Tell’ the ‘great lie of writing workshops.‘ I say go ahead and slip under that murderer’s/ballerina’s/magician’s/vampire’s skin, tap into that stream of consciousness and TELL that story, infusing every moment that matters with personality and voice.

And if you still aren’t ready to drop your pitchfork, please look at these ‘show vs. tell’ examples before you skewer me:

Showing only (Excerpt altered. All telling parts omitted/edited):

“We just stand there silently. The grimy little station comes into view. The platform’s thick with cameras.
Peeta extends his hand. I look at him. ‘One more time? For the audience?’ he says. I take his hand, holding on tightly.

Showing with Physical Gestures: (Excerpt altered. Telling parts omitted/edited and replaced with physical gestures/reaction):

My stomach twists into knots. We just stand there silently. The grimy little station comes into view. The platform’s thick with cameras. When Peeta extends his hand, my eyes widen. ‘One more time? For the audience?’ he says, his jaw relaxing. I take his hand, holding on tightly. A shiver of dread runs down my spine.”

Showing and Telling (Excerpt as published, unaltered):

I also want to tell him how much I already miss him. But that wouldn’t be fair on my part.

So we just stand there silently, watching our grimy little station rise up around us. Through the window, I can see the platform’s thick with cameras. Everyone will be watching our homecoming.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see Peeta extend his hand. I look at him, unsure. ‘One more time? For the audience?’ he says. His voice isn’t angry. It’s hollow, which is worse. Already the boy with the bread is slipping away from me. I take his hand, holding on tightly, preparing for cameras, and dreading the moment when I will finally have to let go.”

Suzanne Collins, THE HUNGER GAMES

I think writers need to so show and tell. Still disagree? Did I miss something? Have I forgotten an important point? I’ve braced for impact, so fire away!

I have news! The University of Texas at Arlington contacted me about developing/teaching a few courses for writers. This spring, I’m teaching Writing Young Adult Books. You do NOT have to be a UTA student. Anyone can enroll.

The class will run for five sessions, Monday Evenings from 7-9 p.m. CST.

Session one: April 30th
Session two: May 7th
Session three: May 14th
Session four: May 21st
Session five: June 4th (No class on May 28th for Memorial Day).

Basically, during the class, I’m sharing every secret I’ve ever learned about writing, querying, revising, landing an agent. And here’s the thing…You won’t just be learning from me and from the other students in the class…You’ll be learning from some amazing industry pros!

Check out these STELLAR SPECIAL GUESTS!
GWEN HAYES lives in the Pacific Northwest with her real life hero, their children, and the pets that own them. She writes stories for teen and adult readers about love, angst, and saving the world. Gwen’s first novel, Falling Under, was released in March of 2011 by NAL/Penguin and followed up by the sequel, Dreaming Awake, in January of 2012. She is represented by Jessica Sinsheimer of the Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency. You can find her at http://www.gwenhayes.com/

Gwen will be sharing her expertise in creating chemistry between characters!

Jeff Hirsch is originally from the suburbs just south of Richmond, VA. Growing up, he always knew he wanted to do something artistic but it wasn’t until he started writing poetry and short stories in Junior High that something really stuck. Jeff  graduated from the University of California, San Diego, with an MFA in Dramatic Writing and is the author of The Eleventh Plague and Magisterium (Scholastic).  He lives in Beacon, New York, with his wife. Visit him online at www.jeff-hirsch.com.

Jeff will wow us with his expert skills in writing taut action with emotional intensity!

Kiera Cass is a graduate of Radford University and currently lives in Blacksburg, Virginia with her family. Her fantasy novel The Siren was self-published in 2009, and The Selection is her young adult debut. Kiera has kissed approximately fourteen boys in her life. None of them were princes. You can keep up with her at http://www.kieracass.com/

Kiera will be Skyping into class to answer all your burning questions about the writers’ journey! (Did you know CW snapped up The Selection, and a pilot is in the works?! You might want to ask her about it.)

Rosemary Clement-Moore is the author of award-winning supernatural mystery novels for young (and not so young) adults, including Texas GothicThe Splendor Falls, and the Maggie Quinn: Girl versus Evil series. Her books have been included on the YALSA list of best books for teens, the New York Public Library’s Books For the Teen Age and Kirkus Reviews best teen books of 2011 and received starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews and School Library Journal. A recovering thespian with a master’s degree in communication, she now puts her drama queen skills to use writing novels and posting on Twitter. She loves coffee, dogs, history, Jane Austen, archeology, fantasy novels, comic books, Gilbert and Sullivan, BBC America, Star Wars, books with kissing and movies with lots of explosions. You can visit her webpage at www.rosemaryclementmoore.com.
Rosemary will appear (in person!) to teach us all about making magic on the page–creating rich narratives that sing with romance and  crackle with adventure.

Sara Crowe  is an agent at Harvey Klinger, Inc. where she represents adult fiction and nonfiction and children’s fiction. Her clients include NYT Bestselling author Jonathan Maberry, Nina LaCour, Michael Northrop, Lisa Schroeder, Kristen Tracy, and Dan Wells. Her authors have been nominated for Edgars and the Morris Award and have been on the ALA Best Fiction for Young Adults list and in the Top Ten. She is consistently ranked among the top three YA agents in Publishers Marketplace. You can check out her submission guidelines at http://saracrowe.com

Lucky for me, Sara is my own (WONDERFUL!) agent.  She’ll be chiming in to offer advice and answer all your burning questions about agents and the industry in general.

In case I hadn’t mentioned it yet, I CAN’T WAIT FOR THIS CLASS!  https://www.uta.edu/wconnect/CourseStatus.awp?~~12CO1722001

So…exciting things are happening. Amazing, wonderful things! I blogged about 2012 being The Year of Impossible Things, and suddenly, some things are starting to look…well, pretty darn possible.

But. Here’s the deal.

Here be dragons.

Okay, maybe there’s just one dragon. Here be one big, scaly, seemingly invincible, fire-breathing dragon who wants to dine on roast girl with a side of scorched dreams. I stare down this ugly beast almost every day. It taunts me, warns me to turn back, demands my immediate and unconditional surrender.

I’ve learned it’s no use bargaining with this particular dragon. Without mercy, it devours peace offerings, always eating up more of my time and resolve. I can’t kill it, either. I’ve slayed it a thousand times, only to see it slink back, alive and whole again. The only thing I can do is face the mirror and confront the monster hiding in my reflection. Often, I can intimidate the treacherous brute, temporarily banishing it out of sight. There’s a magic chant that usually works:  Go away, dragon. I’m writing and I don’t have time for you today.

Hungry for more? Try this recipe for Kitchen Sink Brownies, which appease all but the fiercest creatures.

Binge!

A couple of weekends ago, I hosted a session at the 2011 DFW Writers’ Convention called Bringing Pages to Life.  

The class was loads of fun–I met a lot of terrific writers, and since then I’ve been immersed in reading and critiquing sample pages from attendees. Of course, I’ve also been reading published books, beta reading for crit partners, and working on my own WIP.  

In looking at my own writing and that of others, one question plagues me:  

Is this book read-able, or is it un-put-down-able?  

Really, doesn’t everything–finding an agent, selling a book, finding an audience–***partially hinge on this one, crucial question?  

I think so.  

I think readable books… 

have a decent premise.  

have coherent plots.  

have believable dialogue.  

have sympathetic characters. 

have a narrative voice.  

garner nice, personal rejections from agents and editors.  

are damned with faint praise. 

languish in the slush pile. 

are destined for dark drawers.  

I think un-put-down-able books… 

have killer premises that hook readers and don’t let them go.  

have such compelling plots that readers can’t stop turning pages. 

have wholly convincing, honest, distinct dialogue.   

have living breathing characters with vivid dreams, recollections, memories, desires, and fears.  

have narrative voices so strong and so rich, they make readers laugh out loud, reach for kleenex, grumble in anger, gasp in surprise, and linger over passages,  

garner urgent requests from agents and editors.  

are ardently championed with with praise and recommendation.  

are pitched, sold, and slated for release.  

are destined to be bought, borrowed, and beloved.  

 Sigh. 

I know. It’s soul-sucking to think of our own work as ‘readable.’ But we can’t settle. We have to keep reading, keep listening, and keep learning. We can’t rest  or be satisfied until we write books that are totally UN-PUT-DOWN-ABLE. 

Hungry for more? Then try this recipe for Sweet and Salty Party Mix. One handful is never enough.

Binge!

***Yeah, yeah. I know there are plenty of other variables (timing, luck, notoriety, etc.) that factor into a writer’s sucess, but this post isn’t about those. So sue me.