Friday, September 30, 2011

It Only Takes Two Notes...

So, I'm watching the t.v. show, "X-Factor" (when there's time away from grading, of course ;-). And this week's auditions had a frumpy, non-descript, average-looking 30-year-old trying out. He slings burritos for a living and brought his mom to the audition. By all appearances, it seemed his audition would probably not go well.

But then, he opened his mouth to sing. And it literally only took two notes to convince the audience (and a doubtful Simon!) that he had the talent. He had the X-Factor. Out of this frumpy, unassuming frame came the most soulful, raw, earnest voice. Absolutely amazing.

And it made me think: isn't it the same with writing? Can't we, as readers, often tell whether we'll like a novel within the first two pages -- maybe even the first two paragraphs?

So, as writers, we must see the importance of beginnings. First impressions are vital. That's why you'll hear, over and over, advice about making that first chapter, that first page, POP. You want it to be memorable. Irresistible. You want to hook the reader. Of course, the rest of the book should have that high standard of quality, as well.

But the first few pages could either gain you a loyal audience, or help you lose them altogether.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Excellent Advice!

Here's a great blog entry on the pitfalls of social media, specifically geared toward writers. It's wonderful advice to keep in mind:

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Keep Practicing

I always love hearing writers, musicians, artists, talk about their craft.

Well, Tavis Smiley interviewed jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins last night. Mr. Rollins is now 81 years old, and he blew Tavis away when he said, "I still practice. Every single day. At least 2 hours, sometimes more." Tavis said, "Even now? After decades of success, you still feel like you need the practice?" Mr. Rollins said, "Oh, yes. I've always got to improve."

That's exactly what I tell my Creative Writers. I'll never reach a point where I'm 100% satisfied with my craft (and neither should they). But that's the beauty of writing, the excitement of it. For the rest of my life, I'll know that there's always something new I can learn - about the craft, about myself, about the process. How boring would it be, if we didn't need to practice? If we'd already reached our full potential?

I'm glad I'm an imperfect writer. And that there's still so much more for me to learn...

Thursday, September 22, 2011

How Can a Writer NOT Be a Reader??

I just read this wonderful GalleyCat entry - link here - and couldn't agree more with this part:

Buzz Poole points out that reading is often more enjoyable than writing: “While the moments of magic happen, writing, for me, is hard work and at times incredibly frustrating. Reading, on the other hand, is not a struggle. It is an utter pleasure. And it is in this pleasure where I first took up the challenge of writing, in trying to emulate the wordsmiths whose stories possessed me so completely that the rest of the world would fade away so long as I kept turning the pages and allowed their words to fuel my imagination.”

I feel the same way. I was an insatiable reader from the youngest possible age (thank you, Teacher Mom, for teaching me to LOVE reading). I was the goofy nerd who got incredibly excited, seeing the Book Club books that I'd ordered from the school catalog 6 weeks before, stacked up on my English teacher's desk. Then at age 12, during a little "Creative Writing" session, I started to realize that somebody -- some actual human being, some writer -- had created all those lovely books that I so cherished. I also realized I could become a writer and possibly give that same gift to a reader, that same rush I felt whenever I read a book.

Truly, READING is the reason I became a writer.

So, it always confuses me when writers claim they "don't like to read" or "never read." Huh?!? Really? Isn't a LOVE of language, of writing, the reason they write? How can they not enjoy reading? Color me confused...

I always tell my Creative Writing students about the importance of reading -- that we're "studying" the craft when we read other writers (especially ones from our genre). Faulkner says it so much better than I could:

Read, read, read. Read everything-- trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You'll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you'll find out. If it's not, throw it out the window.

*NOTE - this post is not a judgment against those rare writers who don't read -- but I just, for myself, couldn't imagine reading and writing NOT going hand-in-hand...

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Art and Writing

I've always considered creative writing to BE art, so I loved this thought-provoking quote when I saw it today. From the master, himself:

"Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen." ~Leonardo da Vinci

Monday, September 12, 2011

Have You Been Bitten?

A Creative Writing student made my day this morning. She stopped by my office to tell me how much she was loving the class, especially the first-chapter-of-a-novel assignment. She's never written a novel before, and said she was recently flooded with ideas, and was "obsessed" with the characters. She even stayed up until 4AM working on it (the paper isn't due for another two weeks!).

Who else but a WRITER can have this much enthusiasm about writing? I saw myself in her at that age -- the sparkle in her eye, the awareness that she'd just discovered something greater than herself (the appeal of writing). She's caught the writing bug, no doubt.

And it made me think -- any writer who loves writing, who sees it as a passion, has at one time or another been bitten by this bug.

Symptoms may include:

* excited lilt in the voice and brightness of eye when talking about writing
* forgoing sleep in lieu of writing "just one more page...."
* dreaming about your characters
* eternal hope that yes, one day, you might be published
* being utterly baffled that NOT EVERYONE IN THE WORLD shares your passion about writing (how can that be???)
* no longer reading for pleasure, but reading with a "writer's eye" - studying/observing the craft, the dialogue, the technique of another writer
* experiencing something and immediately thinking, "That would make a great storyline!"
* eavesdropping on people -- making mental (or literal) notes about the way people converse, dress, interact, react -- all so you can put it into a story later...

There are many more symptoms, but these were the ones I've experienced the most.

So -- have you caught the bug??

Warning: There's no cure. And those who have the bug don't want a cure. ;-)

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Power of Lyrics on 9/11

I've always considered song lyrics to be actual poetry. Someone wrote those words (which often contain rhyme), just as they might a poem. The only difference is, they've set them to music.

Since this weekend marks 10 years since 9/11, I thought I'd share an example of the power that song lyrics can hold. Sting wrote a song years ago called "Fragile," about (supposedly) the death of John Lennon. But when Sting was about to perform it in Italy on 9/11/01, he'd heard about the tragic events in the U.S. that very morning, and decided to sing "Fragile" as a tribute to those who'd just lost their lives.

It's shocking and poignant, how the lyrics meant for else actually fit this American tragedy so perfectly.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Find Your Inner Awesome

A friend sent me this blog entry today. It's insightful, well-written, and it struck a chord with me, way deep down. The premise is basically that we, as children, were at one time NOT so deeply and so painfully self-aware. That we went about our days with joy, with confidence and excitement. And that, somewhere along the way (through someone's harsh words or the realization that we didn't "match up" to society's expectations), we lost much of that confidence. And that it takes effort and diligence to get it back.

Of course, I think this could be related to the writer's journey easily (especially a writer who's trying to get published). In the beginning, we're full of hope. We write our rough drafts of our very first novels and pat ourselves on the back for the ENORMOUS accomplishment of finishing it. Then, we polish it and....send it out. And get rejected. And rejected. We revise, polish again, send it out again.....and get rejected. Again. And soon, as the rejections pile up, we lose our confidence. We let the nagging doubts come: Is this good enough? Am I good enough? Those thoughts are, sadly, completely normal. But -- the danger is in letting them cripple us. Stop us from trying altogether.

So, today, I urge you to regain it -- that initial confidence. To find that hope, that excitement and giddiness that comes to a writer, pre-rejection. Because we should be proud of ourselves. We should feel enormous pride from just putting ourselves out there, for finishing that novel, for TRYING.

That's enough, by itself, to feel awesome!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Creative Encouragement

A good friend named Mary Lou wrote this for me, as an encouragement. She knew I needed it today. What a great (and clever, and creative) friend!!

Dream. Receive inspiration. Write. Doubt. Self-edit. Rewrite. Doubt some more. Rewrite again. Submit. Really doubt. Wait. Play "What If?" Nail bite. Wait. Doubt. Hope. Deep despair. Hope. Repair manicure. Doubt. Get an Agent/Publisher "nod." Rewrite per dangling carrot suggestion. Resubmit. More nail biting. Doubt. Hope. Doubt. Hope. Repair manicure. Add pedicure with massage chair. Doubt. Rewrite per second dangling carrot request. Resubmit. Wait. Doubt. "What if?" Doubt. Hope. Doubt.

Forever and a day later, receive publishing contract! Elation!!! Do "Happy Dance." Call and email Family and Friends. Repeat "Happy Dance." Squeal in delight. Over-consume favorite celebratory food. Throw up again. Grin. Remind self you're going to be published. Pinch self. Wait. Wait. Wait. Repeat approximately 18 months.

Book hits stores. Readers love it. Reprints ensue. Book soars to top of Best Sellers List. More celebration ensues. Whirl-wind book signing tour. Friends see you giving interviews on national TV. Friends and Family brag. Long lost friends and estranged Family members request free books and loans. More printings. More interviews. Media marvels at "overnight success." Literary works knows better.

Repeat process for every subsequent project. :-)