Sunday, May 31, 2009

Letting Go of My Inner Editor

Gigi Pandian

I'm the kind of writer who throws myself into a story. I don't mean getting caught up in my characters' lives, although I'm told I do that, too. I mean diving head first into a project and not coming up for air until the whole draft of a novel is complete.

The first time I was able to finish a novel--typing "the end" in good conscience--was the year I discovered National Novel Writing Month, that crazy experiment where you sign up to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days.

Sure, I'd had ideas for mystery novels before that. I even got most of the way through a terrible novel during college. (Seriously. All copies have now been burned.) But something was holding me back. Me.

Without a deadline, I was waiting for the perfect words to come to me, or the most brilliant plot point to present itself. The problem with that idea is that perfection isn't going to appear out of nowhere. Without the crucial step of pouring a messy story onto the page, a writer may never get to the stage where she can look back and dig out the nuggets of gold.

Unfortunately, I don't need just any old deadline. It turns out I need a pretty insane deadline to force myself to let go of my inner editor and type freely. A deadline like writing a whole novel in a month. (If you're thinking about trying it, I recommend lots of caffeine.)

The upside? Those frantic writing sessions are when I get my best ideas. A few turn out to be nonsense, but most turn out to be exactly what I was after. And I never would have found those incredibly satisfying pieces of the puzzle had I not let my characters run around getting messy. Editing the mess comes later, but that's fun once the solid foundation is there.

Learning to let go of my inner editor has been the best thing that has happened to me as a writer. Without learning that lesson, I never would have gotten to "the end."

Martha's Some Kind Of Writer

I’m the kind of writer who would quit.

Writers are inevitably asked: if a crystal ball predicted your book would never be read, would you still write it?

This is the point where authors rally under the cry: Of course! Writing isn't just something we do, it's what we are.

Yeah. Screw that. Not me.

Writing bites. It infects the healthiest of egos with self loathing and doubt. It requires untold hours of dedication after working a full time job, caring for your family and home, and dealing with life's other surprises. I need a payoff and that payoff is readership.

Like other writers, I'm compelled to tell stories. I'm driven by a strange and almost narcissistic idea that I have something different and interesting to offer.

A certainty that my books would never see the light of day would propel me to other venues. Perhaps I'd ruthlessly pursue youtube fame. But thankfully that's not necessary.

Because even though I'm the kind of writer who wants to be read, I'm the kind of person who doesn't believe in crystal balls.

The Listmaker

I am the kind of writer who...makes lists. I make to-do lists; I make timeline lists (especially when cooking or when going out of town so my husband gets the kids where they need to be); I make plot lists, and research lists, and character when we decided to introduce ourselves with this prompt, I immediately started a list, thinking I would formulate the list into actual paragraphs--but then I changed my mind. :)

Lisa’s ‘Kind of Writer Who’ List:

1. Unflagging...determination. I refuse to give up.

2. Unfailing...optimist. If things aren’t looking up right now, they will be.

3. Unintentional...romantic. I tried to write a book without a romance and I failed. While it was definitely a thriller, the romance was integral to the plot.

4. acknowledge the need to keep learning. I am dedicated to constantly improving my craft and willing to get guidance from those who want to impart their wisdom.

5. Unquenchable...thirst for knowledge. I love research. I am fascinated by so many subjects and I get a little thrill when I find that one small detail that completes the story.

6. Unfettered...enthusiasm for the entire process of writing, from research, to plotting, to drafting, to revising. I freaking love it all, even when I hate it.

7. Unconditional...cheerleader. I support my fellow writers without jealousy (or at least not too much). Actually I’m not jealous, envious, because everyone’s path is different and I never begrudge anyone their success. I just want my own too. :)

8. Unquantifiable...appreciation for my sister groggers. Here’s the thing with women. There are groups where you will mesh nicely with common bonds but no spark of connection. Other groups where despite a common bond discord reigns. And then there are those unions that blend seamlessly and almost effortlessly, and all you can imagine coalesces into an amazing, vibrant, fascinating collaboration...Because the stars align? Because you are all at the precipice of a new chapter in your career? I don’t know and I don’t care because it works.

9. Unequivocally...blessed to meet these women at this time!


ps. Unrepentant about the Un thing. It’s a little cutesy, I know. But it just sort of happened and when I find a pattern I like, I go with it.

Good Morrow To Our Waking Souls

L.G.C. Smith

I’m the kind of writer who…

.. experiences every story I write as a pilgrimage. I write to learn about other times, places, cultures, and ideas. I write to know myself and other people, other ways of being in the world, and perhaps, ultimately, to learn what, if anything, might lie beyond the confines of our mortal lives.

Each book, each story is a journey into the unknown. I have a goal in mind – a completed tale—that can seem as far distant as Jerusalem was to an Anglo-Saxon monk at the turn of the last millennium, as impossible to imagine as traveling to the Andromeda Galaxy is today.

The journey starts with a place and time: The Plains of Hatti in 1150 BC. A ring fort near Crenver in Cornwall, 397 AD. A battlefield near Chester in 616. The Black Hills in 1881. A defunct rocket base in Cumbria in 2012. My early steps are rooted in a particular landscape. I seek the history, geology, flora and fauna, the people who’ve lived there, their languages and cultures, the names of their farms or buildings, photos, local newspapers, anything and everything I can lay my hands because this information will sustain my characters and plot as I move forward.

Even though most of this information will never make into my books, I couldn’t write without it. Research makes the path I follow on my journey. I lay it down before me block by block, from first to last. It becomes a sacred text, leading me forward, challenging me, comforting me, teaching me.

As I inch my way along the road, I listen for names. Through them I will call my characters and learn their hearts. The tales and songs they sing tell me of their passions and cares, their strengths and secrets. When I know what they most dread, and what they most desire, I have my plot.

I write slowly now, though I used to zip through pages. Both are good. I hold to whatever works. I write every day. Sometimes with joy, sometimes in despair. I read and study every day. Essential, these center me, and keep me moving when I don’t know what to write. Throughout my day, I see and hear my characters in my mind. They become companions on the road.

I am the kind of writer who writes with my whole being. All I am I bring to my stories. Every day I try to build my resources. Writing skill. Compassion. Strength. Courage. Discipline. I try to face my fears and be honest with myself and in what I write. I learn to live with my failures, of which there are many, and to notice my successes without discounting them.

Finally, I try not to take myself, or my writing too seriously. Chaucer knew well the value of wit and insouciance in pilgrims. For me, burdened as I am with far more earnest sincerity than seems strictly necessary, this can be a challenge. That’s all part of the pilgrimage.

I am the kind of writer who can’t imagine a more satisfying journey.

Fan Girl

Adrienne Miller

I am the kind of writer who is a fan first.

When I was a little girl, I pretended to be Sherlock Holmes. As a teenager I hid Johanna Lindsey novels under my bed. To this day I have real, actual crushes on fictional men.

Wherever there are books I feel at home.

I skip lunch to go to the bookstore. I’ve called out sick to work to finish reading a book. I don’t have a to-be-read pile; I have a bookcase.

Books have always been my escape.

I made up stories in my head during math class to relieve the boredom. I keep a book in my purse to read if the line at the grocery store gets too long. My Mother’s Day present one year was to have a day alone in the house to read a book cover to cover.

My heroes have always been writers.

I was so shocked at coming face to face with Clive Barker, I almost fell through a bookstore window. I thought I might have to take a sedative before I met Connie Brockway. I (not-so) secretly want to be the fourth Bronte sister.

So, I am the kind of writer who never could have been anything else.

I’m the kind of writer who feels like she’s getting away with something

Juliet Blackwell...

I’m the kind of writer who feels like she’s getting away with something.

Seriously. Most people I know are condemned to spending a goodly portion of every day doing things they would prefer not to. And I’m not even talking about the folks who unclog city sewers or pour asphalt on hot summer days or peel endless sacks of potatoes.

As a friend of mine used to say: “Work is work; if it were fun they would have called it fun.”

But I thoroughly enjoy my work. There’s something…downright un-American about that, isn’t there?

Even when I’m not taking actual pleasure in my work-–because yes, it can be bone-crunchingly, soul-numbingly hard-- I’m still compulsively driven to do it. I wake up before dawn and start to write; by the time others are coming on home in the evening, kicking off their shoes, and mixing a pitcher of mojitos, I still would rather keep writing than join them. Makes me a bit of a freak in my tight-knit neighborhood.

When I was working full-time as an artist, painting custom murals and portraits of children in the guise of Raphaelite angels, architects and bookkeepers and computer programmers would stop by my Berkeley studio, look around at the easels and paints and ask me: “How come you get to do this?”

Good question. A lot of luck, certainly. And plenty of hard work, and the fortitude to forgo a whole lot of consumer items. But mostly, the enticing idea that I might get away with doing what I want to do.

I managed to stay in school for years, studying anthropology. When the whole anthropology doctorate thing didn’t quite work out, I became a professional artist. And now, a fiction writer.

Clearly I’m not cut out for a real job.

But I’ve never regretted my choices. For me, being a writer means getting to live in my head, to look around at the world and imagine an altered reality full of characters both real and imagined; and to enjoy myself, and my work, just about every single day. It’s a lot like being an artist, or an anthropologist for that matter: The pay sucks, but the working conditions are awesome.

The Kind of Writer Who Pinches

I’m the kind of writer who still can’t believe she has a contract. I’m writing a series of novels and I’m getting paid to do it? Seriously? How did this happen? It feels like it’s all rushing by me so fast, but then I realize that I’ve been working for this since I was five. I guess that thirty-one years isn’t what you’d call overnight success. But I still have that heady feeling that keeps my cheeks pink and a stupid grin stuck to my face.

I’m the kind of writer who slacked off for years. I’d putter around the house in the morning, a pen tucked behind my ear. Before I quit smoking ten years ago, I’d take a spiral bound notebook onto the front porch in the sun. Just me and the coffee, the smoke in wreaths around my head. A perfect time to write a perfect story. Brilliant diamonds of words were almost ready to drip from my pen. I could feel it. Then I’d scribble a journal entry instead about my emotions and what my cat just did and call it a day.

I’m the kind of writer who’s finally figured out she has to write first, before anything else, or it won’t get done. If it means getting up at three-thiry in the morning to get the writing done before my twelve-hour shift, that’s the way it has to be (although there really isn’t enough coffee in the world). On days off, I go to the computer first, and work until I can’t bear not to look at email or Twitter for one more second.

I’m the kind of writer who has to pinch herself when she wakes up. When I meet people and they ask what I do, I get to say, “I’m a writer,” and it’s not wishful thinking anymore. I am a writer, and it has nothing to do with my contract. It has to do with the fact that I’m writing.

I’m the kind of writer who is finally writing. Every day. That’s the best part of all.

Shiny Objects Everywhere

I’m the kind of writer who works in a state of eternal distraction, which can be good for the books but not so good for everything else.

There’s just so much going on in my head, and no one stepping up to take charge. Sure, I give myself stern lectures all the time – “Absolutely not one more Sweet-Tart until you pay that Visa bill” – but my willfulness is powerful, my resolve is weak, and my to-do list is a travesty.

If I had to find an analogy for my inner landscape, it might be a train yard early in the last century. The sensory details are all intense – iron and oil and coal and blood and shouting and cursing and danger and mysterious freight and the air practically crackling with the energy of potential, of unexplored possibilities. The tracks lead to hundreds of destinations, every freight container holds a story, and every railman means to wrest his piece of the dream from the crushing advance of Progress. Underneath it all festers the remains of last night’s boozing and whoring and nurtured resentments and shadowy longing and traitorous doubts.

Just try to remember to fill out a middle-school band permission slip when your head’s full of that.

You’re the mom who never knows what the score is after a couple of innings, the one whose children beg you to stop cussing and quit answering the door in your pajamas in the afternoon, the one who couldn’t tell you what the sermon was about but who’s pretty sure which parishioners are having affairs with which others because you’ve been inventing stories for them all through Mass.

I don’t recommend these mental working conditions. But when it works – bliss. Story bliss, at any rate. When your mind lacks the sort of filters that allow other people to stay on-topic and on-task, the most marvelous and unexpected things slip in the cracks. Everything’s possible, and nothing seems out of reach.

Publishing wisdom tells us that it’s important to maintain focus, to nurture and satisfy our readers’ expectations. And that’s great advice for those who can follow it. But for some of us, the most random discovery can lead to infatuation with a form or direction and nothing in the world will satisfy us until we drop everything and take it out for a spin.

That’s how I came to write in so many genres. Mystery and young adult…crime and horror and women’s fiction and romance. Short stories and leaden sagas. There are poems and journals and drawings and unsent letters littering the road behind me, and up ahead every new thing glitters and beckons so that half the time I’m convinced I should be writing a multimedia digi-novel.

That would be a terrible idea, of course. At some point even the most ungovernable among us need to buckle down and finish a task or two. Get the kids to school on time, the trash to the curb, the revisions turned in by deadline.

I just have to hope there aren’t too many shiny objects between point A and point B.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Topics Coming Soon

05.31.09 Writer

06.01.09 First Lines

06.15.09 Characters

06.29.09 Summer

07.13.09 Creativity

07.27.09 Movies

08.10.09 Food

08.24.09 Deleted Scenes