Monday, January 23, 2012


A book is made from a tree. It is an assemblage of flat, flexible parts (still called “leaves”) imprinted with dark pigmented squiggles. One glance at it and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, the author is speaking, clearly and silently, inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people, citizens of distant epochs, who never knew one another. Books break the shackles of time, proof that humans can work magic. ~Carl Sagan

Friday, January 20, 2012

Great Quote!

“When I was five I learned to read. Books were a miracle to me - white pages, black ink, and new worlds and different friends in each one. To this day, I relish the feeling of cracking a binding for the first time, the anticipation of where I'll go and whom I'll meet inside.” ― Jennifer Weiner

Open the Flood Gates

Each semester, students ask me about writer's block and how to get past it. And I always tell them there's no "magic trick," no pill they can swallow that will release those creative juices. Instead, I've found a few things that open up the floodgates of creativity (most of the time):

1) Open yourself to the process. That sounds more "new age-y" than it really is, but I find that if I force myself to think about the novel (assuming the writer's block is happening in the middle of a work), my mind goes there. To the work. To the characters. To that world I've created. I'm "there" again, because I've made a conscious decision to place myself there. And suddenly, new ideas begin to form....

2) Read something you've written. When I'm having trouble jump-starting my writing, I like to open up a document--whether it's something I'm currently working on, or something I've written in the past--in order to reconnect with my own style, my own voice. It takes the pressure off of the "writing" aspect when I allow myself just to start reading. I'm always amazed how this act can spur me on to want to create something new (or add to something old).

3) Make yourself write. Sometimes, that old Nike adage, "Just Do It" is the best thing for writer's block. Tackle it. Jump on it. Pin it down. Conquer it. Just write. Even if it's not great. Even if it's not your personal best. At least it's something. And that counts for something.

4) When creativity hits, even in whispers, LISTEN to it. Tonight, I had a creative seed of an idea. But I was tired, after a long day of meetings and errands. I could've easily dismissed that seed, let it die out on its own, tried to pick it back up later. But I chose to listen. I chose to let it flourish. The seed was actually a big one, an ambitious one: taking an old work and changing the main character. Entirely. I'm talking, a total re-vamp -- new name, new physical appearance, new identity, new personality. Because I like the story well enough, but have always felt the main character wasn't identifiable, wasn't special. Wasn't as flawed or as insecure or as likable as I've wanted her to be. So tonight, when I paid attention to the seed, entertained that idea of creating such a major change, something happened. The flood gates opened, and idea after idea after idea tumbled through, so quickly that I had a difficult time typing them down fast enough.

And it was the best feeling in the world.

So, in the end, as excruciating as writer's block can be, it's worth it to hang in there, be patient with yourself, and push through it with all your might. Because the end result can be nothing short of exhilarating.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Great Quote!

Chase down your passion like it’s the last bus of the night. ~ Glade Byron Addams

A Little Gem

It's funny how even cheesy, melodramatic, poorly-written t.v. movies (I'm looking at you, Lifetime and Hallmark channel) can still contain a writing "gem" in them. A truth or a bit of unexpected poetry in the dialogue. I admit it--I do watch said cheesy films, and when I do, I always look for that gem.

I found one yesterday, while watching the latest in uber-predictable Hallmark movies. It's called "Recipe for Romance." In one scene, a little girl (exceptional actress!) was telling her father how much she misses her deceased mother. How she can no longer "hear her voice," telling her what to do, guiding her.

And that's so true in real life -- when we lose someone, either by break-up or by death, often, over time, we "forget" the details of their smile, the timber of their voice. Those details are lost to us, and it seems almost cruel. Like we're losing them a little bit each day.

But in that same scene, the father explains to his daughter why this happens. This isn't some enormous revelation, but I do think he's spot-on, and I liked the wording of it:

He tells her, "That's what happens when you lose someone you love--it's your mind's way of protecting you, making you forget a little bit, so that your heart doesn't keep on breaking."

A lovely way to think about it--the loss of those details isn't cruel. It's actually salvation. Protection, to ease our pain.

Yay, for some depth in a Hallmark movie! ;-)

Literary Magnifying Glass

I'm in the process of editing a novel and I'll be honest -- sometimes, it's easier to get a little lazy. I've edited this manuscript about three times already, so sometimes, it's easier just to "read" and call that editing. To tell myself that my only job is to catch the big inconsistencies, find the grammar mistakes, remove obvious cliches, etc. Rather than to EDIT. Rather than to dig in, examine each sentence with a literary magnifying glass, to make certain that every word "earns its right to live" on that page. Because that's what needs to happen, I think, in the final editing process. We're supposed to be picky. We're supposed to examine our own writing in excruciating detail. And most importantly, to hold ourselves up to the highest possible standard.

What inspires me to get "picky" with my own writing is to read someone better than me. To pick up a novel where the descriptions are rich and lush and poetic and purposeful. To pause after I read a paragraph and think, "Wow. I wish I could do that."

Watching someone else rise to their better writing self, reach their own potential, makes me want to reach mine.

And because I experienced that last night (reading a passage that made me think, "Wow!"), I'm going to up my game today, in my own writing. I'm going to edit carefully, slowly. To give my work the attention it deserves. And to give my (hopefully) future readers the best they deserve.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Too True!

LOL - saw this on a blog, thought it was adorable:

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Problem with Series TV

I tend to watch TV/movies through a writer's eyes (can't help it!), and I've noticed something, regarding series TV. If it has a "bigger picture" type mystery, it just doesn't work.

I was watching the new "The Firm" last night. Yep, based on the Grisham bestseller (in fact, Grisham is an exec producer). I loved the novel and wanted to give this show a chance. But as I watched--some of it intriguing, some of it dull with bland side stories--I figured out why I wasn't fully enjoying it.

Because with the novel, I had concrete evidence in my hand that it would end. And I knew exactly when it would end. On those last couple of pages, I knew I would finally discover the "big picture" mystery of what was going on in that mysterious firm. It's what kept me reading (quickly!) for those few hundred pages. To get to the end, the finish line. And I knew I would be rewarded.

But with a TV series, it's much different. Those "last couple of pages" don't happen until....the final episode. Which could be years away, not pages away! Sorry, but I don't have the patience for that.

Or worse, the series could be cancelled well before we ever find out those final answers, so all our viewing was in vain (isn't that just like the last few chapters of a novel being completely ripped out, with no way to retrieve them??). I made the mistake of watching the show "Reunion" years ago (about a high school reunion in which one friend was killed by another in the first episode, and the rest of the episodes were one great big who-done-it). The problem? I never DID find out who done it because the series was cancelled after a dozen episodes. I searched online, trying to find out any scrap of detail I could about the proposed ending. But all I found was an interview the writers did, in which they confessed, "We don't know who done it -- we hadn't written that far ahead yet."

(Which brings up yet another issue with series TV -- because of the long-term format, writers haven't yet mapped out their ending, so even they don't know how it'll end. I like to TRUST my writers, but how can I do that if they don't know where they're leading me??).

Even worse, still, is the build-up that occurs for years, the expectations on the part of viewers, only to be....*gulp*.....disappointed with the ending. (*I'm looking at you, LOST!!*).

So, what's the solution? I can only think of two. That mysteries in series TV should be one-season-long ONLY (yay, "24," for getting it right, for wrapping up the mysteries at the end of each season!), or that I just stop watching shows like "The Firm" altogether. Which I plan to do. ;-)

Monday, January 9, 2012

En Medias Res

I teach this concept (Latin, for "in the middle of things") at the beginning of my creative writing courses. Because many students (most, actually) don't yet have a grasp on when or how to start. They either start their short stories or novels with wayyyy too much needless back story (info dumps) or with a very confusing action sequence.

This blog entry by Kristen Lamb (click here) is a wonderful examination of "en medias res," loaded with big, rich, relevant examples.

I actually struggle with "en medias res" in my own writing sometimes. I tend to start my stories in the wrong place (usually too early). So, these examples Ms. Lamb gives really resonated with me...

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Enchanted Things, Higher Things

Elizabeth Berg (wonderful author of women's fiction) just posted something interesting on her Facebook page. Rather than try to sum it up, I'll post it below. What struck me about it (the quote she offers) is how much I agree with this notion -- that art/music/writing DOES lift the spirits, does take humans to a higher plain. It removes us, for a time, from the doldrums of this sometimes-heartbreaking life. And for a moment, we're transported out of it, thanks to ART.

That's why I read, and that's mostly why I write...

Here's Ms. Berg's posting:

Every year, I go to the Nutcracker Ballet. Every year, I cry when it snows on stage. This year, I went out into the lobby of the Auditorium Theater to get a grip on myself and came upon this wonderful quote up on the wall, said by Mayor Harrison on the dedication of the auditorium. I want to share it with you because it says so much of what I believe about art in general.

"I wish that this great building may continue to be to all your population that which it should be, opening its doors from night to night, calling your people away from cares of business to those enjoyments and entertainments which develop the souls of men and inspire those whose lives are heavy with daily toil--and in this magnificent and enchanted presence lift them for a time out of dull things into these higher things where men should live."

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year!

So, 2012 is officially underway, and people are talking about goals and resolutions...

I'm not a huge fan of resolutions. I think they place unnecessary guilt trips on us, for the things we'll never accomplish. Still, though, it's good to look at a new year as an opportunity -- to look at our lives and make changes, or to accept the things that won't change.

In terms of writing, it's also a good idea to set realistic goals for the new year. To have a plan, create a structure for these coming months. I'm the type who has to have a plan.

So, here it is -- my writing goals for 2012:

* Finish editing a novel I wrote a couple of years ago (which has been edited at least four other times, but this time through, it's a careful, tedious "polish until it shines" edit). I've already been working through the Christmas holidays on it, and plan to finish the edits by next week (my last week of vacation before faculty meetings start).

* Edit my most recent novel during the spring semester--in between grading and teaching and attending meetings...

* Finish a novel that I'd started last summer, during this coming summer. It's do-able - I have a good head start and have mapped out the plot, etc.

After that? Who knows. I've always toyed with the idea of creating a sort of "Anne of Green Gables" type series, which would be a departure for me (since I write adult women's fiction).

But at least I have a solid plan for most of this year. I always have plenty to do, it seems. And, if I don't meet those specific goals, it's fine. I'll just do the best I can.

So, what are your writing goals for 2012? I'd love to hear about them...