There’s more to the story….

magic-book

By  Cynthia Coate Ray

Last week Liz Cratty gave us the recipe for a story: an interesting setting, an interesting conflict, and an interesting protagonist. Of course, being in possession of an excellent recipe doesn’t necessarily make us excellent cooks.

Sure, there are techniques, rules and form. We can talk about grammar, diagramming sentences and character arcs, but those are not the story. Even when we add them all together with setting, conflict and protagonists and antagonists, those are no more the story than a woman is only muscles, bones and hair.

So what is the special something that goes beyond the parts and pieces to make beautiful and compelling stories? What makes it whole? What is it that breathes life into the story? It can only be the writer. Each of us has a powerful magic that resides deep inside of us, alive and waiting to be released in words. The magic is your own way of looking at the world.

The particular story can only come through you-you and no one else. Sometimes we are afraid of that power, of owning our truth. It can’t be validated by anyone else. No one can tell you what it feels like, what it looks like or how it should be.

We are told to embrace what makes us unique, strange, weird, and special. Our very brokenness-that is where the power is. That is where the magic is. That is where the story comes from. Light reflects through the facet of a jewel. Your story reflects through the facet of your soul.

So to be a good writer, learn the recipe, and then forget it. Dig deep into your magic core and let it flow through your fingers onto the page.

Rejected!

By Cynthia Ray

Like the man in the video, a recent form letter rejection rocketed me into a worm-hole of dejection, depression, and lethargy. This gray soup of self-pity, anger and bitterness lasted for five very long minutes before I talked myself down,  but it made me consider better ways to handle the inevitable rejection.

First of all, even reading the definition of REJECT makes one feel bad:

Reject: verb \ri-ˈjekt\

  1. To refuse to believe, accept, or consider (something)
  2. To decide not to publish (something) or make (something) available to the public because it is not good enough
  3. To refuse to hear, receive, or admit : rebuf
  4. To cast off

Hmmpf!  Let us reject the definition of rejection. It turns out that rejection is part of the publishing cycle, and has nothing to do with whether the manuscript is good enough. It is part of the natural and inevitable consequence of the act of submitting manuscripts. As spring follows winter, publication will follow rejection as long as you don’t give up.   We are in excellent company when rejected. A post from Writers Relief give some illuminating stats:

  • John Grisham’s first novel was rejected 25 times.
  • Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen (Chicken Soup for the Soul) received 134 rejections.
  • Robert Pirsig (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance) received 121 rejections before it was published and went on to become a best seller.
  • Gertrude Stein spent 22 years submitting before getting a single poem accepted.
  • Madeline L’Engle received 26 rejections before getting A Wrinkle in Time published—which went on to win the Newberry Medal and become one of the best-selling children’s books of all time.
  • Frank Herbert’s Dune was rejected 20 times before being published and becoming a cult classic.
  • Stephen King received dozens of rejections for Carrie before it was published (and made into a movie!).*
  • James Lee Burke’s novel The Lost Get-Back Boogie was rejected 111 times over a period of nine years and, upon its publication by Louisiana State University Press in 1986, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

How can we stay motivated to keep sending out stories in spite of the ugly spectre of rejection?  

Celebrate!  You only have a rejection because you sent a story out. One critique group I know hands out candy to any member who announces a rejection. They believe that rejections are a wonderful sign that you are writing, submitting and going about the business of being a writer. Why not have your reward planned in advance so that when the rejection comes you can pull out that hidden bar of exotic chocolate. And, of course, keep a bottle of champagne on hand to celebrate eventual acceptance.

Don’t take it personally. It’s not about you. It’s often not even about your story. It’s about editors preferences, who else might be submitting, the time of day your story rose to the top of the pile or whether the editor had a fight with her partner that morning.

Don’t change the story. Writers are sometimes tempted to mess with their story every time it is rejected to see if they can make it better. Don’t do it. You thought the story was good enough to submit. It still is. Send it out again.

Plan to be persistent. Liz Cratty advises writers to make a list of ten possible markets for their story. Then send it out. If it is rejected, send it out THE SAME DAY to the next market on the list.  When you get to the bottom of the list make ten more and keep going until the story is published.

Always have several stories out at one time. You will always have something to look forward to if one is rejected.  And statiscally, writers who publish are writers who submit. A lot!

Talk to other writers. Their personal stories of rejection will make you laugh cry, and feel like you are part of a tribe. No one is alone on the planet of “Rejected”.   I know that my fellow bloggers have all experienced REJECTION and used it to become better, stronger and more committed.  That is, once they had picked themselves up from the fetal position they were lying in.

Persephone Emerging

by Christina Lay

Like Persephone, five days out of every week, I descend into darkness, into a cold, lifeless world where the bright shining flowers of my creative life seem but a distant dream.

The darkness has a name and it is called “the day job”.

The thought came to me as I was toiling (I rarely get thoughts while on the dark side of my journey) that when I go to work, I leave my authentic self behind. Immersed in a world of numbers, inventory, and hushed retail panic, hidden away in the dim corner that I’ve come to know as “the bunker”, the playful, bizarre rantings of my writer’s mind vanish, repressed by the thoroughly uncreative reality of bookkeeping.

For one blessed month this summer, I roamed a twilight in-between realm called “unemployment”.   Despite being required to appease the grim guardians of the weekly dole, I found this place to be heavenly, for in it I discovered the magical element of Time. Sweet, wondrous, delectable Time.

In that month I completed and submitted a novella, which I sold last month.

In a suspicious twist I found that I could sit and write for ten hours without blinking an eye, relaxed, happy, hell bent on productivity. This is in contrast to my self in the underworld, where I develop an expression much like a mole sucking on a lemon, with my shoulders raised to my ears, my back rounded, my vision blurred, succumbing more completely to pain and severe annoyance with every passing minute.

None of my co-workers have any idea that I am anything other than a mole sucking on a lemon. For in their world I move as a shadow, completely separate from the true self lest the authentic me becomes trapped in the mire along with the poor soul who owes part of her life to the day job, the other who partook of the persimmon seeds named Buying a House and Running Up Credit Card Debt.

There are some benefits to this separation of self from wage slave. When I’m not frolicking in the realm of unlimited fiction, Bloggish Thoughts return. I think about process. I think about how addicted I am to writing. I feel compelled to bitch about things publicly.

Also, when I am able to revel in the hard won reward of Time, I take to the page like someone crawling out of the desert takes to water. There’s no hemming and hawing about what to do with Time. Unfortunately this has made me somewhat unbalanced, somewhat desperate. There is a lack of balance in this type of existence, because I’m loath to let a moment go by without attending to the story. Play falls away as well as chores. The hundred year briar thorns devour my house while I spin at the keyboard.

There are certain dubious allies in my life who laugh at me when I whine about working in the “real” world. What they don’t understand is this loss of self, this shutting down and turning off of the spigot required in order for the writer to function in the bookkeeper’s world, or the dread that without constant tending the dream will die. I leave my treasure, my story, behind, unguarded, like a babe in the woods, ready to be devoured by indifference, exhaustion and the compelling urge to zone out in front of the TV.

Weighed down by darkness, I play a game with myself where I wonder what it would be like not to be obsessed with a dream and then I laugh, sometimes cry, because that would mean living underground full time, away from the sunlight of imagination. The trick, the answer to the riddle, is to never forget where to find the light. To never think that the filthy lucre for which I toil is the end goal or the ultimate reward. The elixir is the dream and the ability to keep walking toward it without ever looking back.

To The Exit by Soe Than Htike

To The Exit by Soe Than Htike

 

Fasten Your Seatbelt, It’s Gonna Be a Bumpy Ride

By Stacy Allen

This week heralds the launch of my debut novel, Expedition Indigo. Those in the stands cheering me see my public persona: the happy, gregarious and friendly author who wants nothing more than to love everyone and everything. The reality is that anyone who has traveled the road to publishing understands how long, curvy, bumpy and dangerous it is. If you want to be a published novelist, put on your seatbelt and settle in for a very long journey. It has taken me over ten years to get this book published. Ten years.

Once we get to this published stage, it is generally frowned upon to speak of the negative aspects of authorship. We writers all laugh and joke about it, but in the dark recesses of bars and pubs, soothed by liquid courage, we commiserate with one another about the murky underbelly of publishing. We share our personal journeys with our writing brothers and sisters because we all speak the same language. And our personal journeys are not all that dissimilar.

Writers constantly hear “Write something you know. Write something that’s different. Write something that hasn’t been done.”

And so I did. I wrote an adventure novel about a female archaeology professor, and someone who is given a mission to go beyond the life she knows into a life she wants. Riley is absolutely confident when she is wearing the hat of a professor or an archaeologist. She wants more, she craves more. She is just afraid of more. She is afraid of failure. She is afraid of change. But she is courageous. Despite her fear, she forges ahead and hopes for the best.

Perfect, right? This hadn’t been done before, right? A thriller about SCUBA diving and treasure hunting? With a woman as the protagonist? I thought it was a sure fit and the publishing world would be scrambling to snatch up my series and pay me a zillion dollars at the same time.

Here’s what happened. They didn’t like Riley. They loved the story. They loved the action. They didn’t like Riley. They thought my dialogue crisp and realistic. They didn’t like Riley. They loved the international setting. They didn’t like Riley. They wanted more Abruzzi brothers and less Riley. Why? Because they didn’t like Riley!

Wow. When editors, agents, and even some early readers don’t like your main character, you’re dead in the water. Feedback came in. I made changes. I made tweaks. But I really wanted Riley to be female. And I wanted her to be vulnerable, but I didn’t want to her to be so vulnerable that she was the one that had to be rescued in the end. I wanted a heroine that could defy the odds. I changed Riley, over time, to someone less rigid and more likeable.

And still they didn’t get her. They didn’t understand why I couldn’t just change the plot and make her a man. Because, then, you see, the book would be an overnight bestseller. Just change Riley to a man and the Golden Gates of Superstardom would open.

I pitched to editors and agents. Yes, it sounds fascinating. Yes, it sounds intriguing. Yes, please send me a chapter. On second thought, send me three. Maybe you could send the entire thing?

And still I believed in Riley. I believe that women can be vulnerable and at the same time be courageous in the face of danger. I made big changes to the manuscript, slashed chapters, changed scenes, added and deleted, loved all the feedback, really appreciated the critiques I was getting along the way, but still insisted that Riley was a woman and would stay that way.

And then, at a conference I had begun attending annually, Killer Nashville, something magical happened. I met an agent who loved my premise. An agent who listened to me describe my first book in the series, and my character. This agent was interested. She wanted to see the entire manuscript.

So I sent it. I sent it and wished and hoped and dreamed that this agent would give me a chance. I knew the manuscript would need work, would need changing, and I was completely open to that. When I pitched Expedition Indigo to Jill Marr at Killer Nashville, one of the most important points I wanted to get across to her was “I want to write books that people want to read. I am willing to listen to feedback. I am willing to edit.”

Her feedback was awesome. The magic words I received from her were “You have a good book, but we can make it a great book.”

I did a double-take. A good book? And even possibly a great book?

I was stunned. Someone believed in my story, in my character. A powerhouse agent, working at one of the most reputable, star-studded literary agencies, Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency, loved my concept, my character, my story and my writing!

That was, I am not joking, four years ago. It took edits, and more edits. Jill is a brilliant agent, and when we thought it was ready, she sent it out. And it came back. And we went through it again. And we sent it out. And it came back. And every time it came back, I worked at sharpening the story. Fixing logic errors. Changing things, deleting things. And I kept changing Riley’s personality, subtle changes here and there, making her nicer, less hard around the edges. I listened to my agent, and I trusted her.

So here I am, a published novelist, with a Romantic Suspense series. I have five more books planned. The second in the series is completely story-boarded and about 1/3 finished. I learned so much with this first book, that the second is going to be, from a procedural standpoint, considerably easier to write than the first.

I am grateful I stuck it out. I am grateful I happened to catch the attention and support of an amazing literary agent. I am happy we found a Publisher who loved my story, my series concept, and my female protagonist.

Connect with Stacy:

Expedition Indigo on Goodreads

Author page

Website

Twitter

Facebook

Riley’s twitter

stacy@stacyallenauthor.com

Fiery Seas Publishing

Making Waves with Particles, by Eric M. Witchey

Image

Making Waves with Particles,
by Eric M. Witchey

(Image source: Damkier Media Group via iStockPhoto)

Story meaning is both a wave and a particle.

The classic double slit physics experiment works quite well when applied to stories. In fact, slits aren’t even necessary for the experiment. All a writer needs is a pair of eyes, or even just one eye, or even braille. For this little thought experiment, think of the eyes, eye, or fingertips as one slit. When a story passes through that slit, the particle scatter patterns emerge.

Take a look at this text. Here is an ‘A.’ Here is a ‘B.’ Notice that the text you are reading is really just a long string of little black squiggles on a white background. One squiggle after another, the little squiggles appear. Readers scan the squiggles. Every now and then, a little extra white separates one group of squiggles from another group of squiggles, and the reader recognizes that a word has ended and a new one has begun. The squiggles make word patterns, and the word patterns appear in rows, lines.

Lines group together. Paragraphs appear. Scenes appear. Chapters appear. All the little particles line up in rows one after another until they have marched one particle at a time from the first letter of the first page to the last period of the last line on the last page.

Letters, words, lines, paragraphs, etc. are the scattering of the particles on a backdrop. The reader’s eye, eyes, or fingertips pick up each little squiggle and combines it with the next to create words. The reader picks up each word and pulls the meaning from it and combines that meaning with the next. One after another, the reader picks up individual meanings and combines them with other meanings. Patterns emerge.

Notice that in the last paragraph, the description of the reader’s experience included an interesting shift from recognition of the little squiggles to the pulling of meaning from the emerging patterns.

The second slit is the mind’s eye, the eye behind the eye, which is a calm pond into which the particulate words fall like pebbles. Each pebble creates a ripple. The ripples expand and interact. A ripple peak meets a trough, and they cancel into a moment of calm water. Two peaks meet, and they create a new peak that is higher and stronger than either one alone. These rippling interactions of meanings add to or subtract from the power of the reader’s experience. Each ripple has amplitude and frequency. The driving power of the ripple is emotion, and the power of the emotions cancels and amplifies.

A yellow dog playing with a boy is a happy thing to read. A yellow dog dying is a sad thing to read. Alone, each has power in and of itself. Combined with a story’s many other ripples, all of which combine to amplify or cancel, the second image becomes the tear-jerking end to Old Yeller.

Perfect, particulate words and events are not enough. Emotion captured in an individual line, a conflict set, or a single page is not enough. Awareness, intuitively or consciously, of how the particle patterns and wave patterns are related and how the wave patterns interact allows a writer to create the contrasts and amplifications that keep the reader’s mind and emotions focused on the story that emerges from the page. The emotional power of an ending depends on how the ripples created by the first word of the story are amplified or cancelled when combined with subsequent ripples.

For your consideration, examine the following short story for the patterns of particles and for the complimentary and contrasting wave interactions. Please, if you see the particle/waves duality and the power of the interactions between waves, leave a comment and let me know. I hope you enjoy the experience.

The following story was a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Prose Award and was first published in The Best New Fiction of 2012. All typos and variations from the published version are my fault and not the fault of the editors. Also, Dr. Hansey is a real doctor. He was my doctor. Use of his name is my bow in his direction. Without him, I would still be sealed in my own metaphorical car in the sun. Namaste, Dr. Hansey.

 

Reunion

Eric M. Witchey

 

The sealed car is heating up under August sun. Gordon lets the sweat roll down from his stubble hairline, along his neck, and under the collar of his linen cabana shirt. It reminds him that he’s on an outing like a normal person.

A family reunion. Lots of people go to them. Now, he does, too.

He tells himself family reunions are happy things. When he was a kid, he remembers them being happy things. He especially remembers galvanized steel tubs filled with water and ice nests cradling huge, sweet watermelons.

For some reason, the memory of one family reunion includes a fixation on a nearby swimming pool he and the other kids weren’t allowed to go to. The chlorine smell of the water, sounds of splashing kids, and squeals of joy and laughter tortured them in heavy August heat.

He supposes the pool, like many memories in his life, is burned into his mind because he couldn’t have it.

Like Sussette.

She still dominates his thoughts, but his meds helped disconnect his actions from those thoughts. He’d finally gotten to the point where he could leave her alone. He’d even deleted her old number from his cell phone. With Dr. Hansey’s help, he’d almost deleted her new one twice. That day would come pretty soon, he was sure.

But the meds hadn’t made it so he could get out of the car, so he watches his family reunion from inside the protective, purifying oven of glass and steel.

Kids run back and forth across the park lawns. Some play soccer. Some play chasing games. There are so many kids. Chaos on the hoof, and he can’t imagine any good will come of it. They’ll crash into things, spill things, break things. If he gets out, they’ll bump him. One might even touch his skin.

The sweat on his neck chills and makes him shudder. That’s what he tells himself.

He’d been a kid. He remembers it whether he wants to or not.

It’s just crazy to sit in the car because he can’t stand the thought of them bouncing around like agitated molecules. They touch everything. They scream and squeal.

He must have been like that. Must have been.

What if he had gotten together with Sussette? They would’ve had kids. She wanted them. She desperately wanted them. He wanted her. He would have agreed to anything to have her.

The restraining order was pointless, really. She had no idea how much power she had over him and how little power he had over her. If she’d asked, he’d have followed her from two feet or fifty yards. He’d have done anything for her, but she hadn’t seen that.

A Frisbee hits the side of the car. The plastic on metal thud startles him. He ducks and sucks in a lung full of hot, vinyl-tainted air. When he realizes he’s okay, he lifts his head enough to peer across the seat and out the passenger side window.

A laughing eightish-year-old boy runs to the car, sees him through the window, and mouths the word, “Sorry.” Then he snags the disk, spins, and lets it fly back toward the field of loose molecules.

Gordon checks the door locks. None of the kids are near him now. He’s safe, and he does a breathing exercise to relax a little, then he thinks back to what it was like when he was a kid.

The first thing he remembers is that he could fly. It’s always the first thing he remembers. He had to be naked, and the day had to be sunny, too. He remembers the warm sun on his skin felt good, like ripe watermelon on the vine tastes — a sweet, spreading liquid rightness flowing into every shadowy nook and cranny of his body and mind. He used to lie down in a field of clover and close his eyes. While his eyes were closed, when the rightness filled him full and replaced every heaviness in him, he would stand up and fly. It wasn’t a super power sort of flying––that fast, driving flying that tore at the air and pushed it aside. It was more of a leaning into the breeze, hands slightly out from his sides and palms forward. He leaned and let the cool air touch his chest, belly, and arms––let it gently lift him from the earth like a kite with no string.

By turning his hands and leaning, he could slide along the waves of wind and rise and fall and move forward or let the wind push him back.

In the heat of the car, he closes his eyes and tries to find that feeling of freedom, of rising above all the ugly stuff that had become his life.

All he finds is orange heat behind closed lids.

All he feels is the drip of sweat on his neck and off the tip of his nose. He can’t even find the smell of the clover or make the heat of the car into the delicious warmth of sun on his bare skin.

“Gordon!” The voice is his mother.

She found him flying in the clover field. Her anger, fear, and shame made her scream, grab, and drag him to the house. She sprayed him with cold water from the hose they used to water the dogs.

“Is that you? Come on out here. Let me look at you!”

It’s not his mother. It’s a man’s voice.

Someone pulls on the car door handle. They tap on the glass. “Gordon!”

He keeps his eyes closed, willing them to believe he’s sleeping, trying to push them away from the car with his thoughts.

He has learned to visualize what he wanted to happen in his life, and he wants that voice to take its body back to the pavilion where barbeque is cooking and adults chat and trade lies and laughter.

The knocking on the window gets harder. “Gordon! Are you all right? Gordon! It’s Andy! Gordon!”

Andy. Of course, it’s Andy’s voice. His cousin. They had played together at these things.

Ball?

Yes––until Andy hit him in the head with a bat.

And running and jumping games.

He remembered Andy pushing him down a flight of three concrete steps.

Now, adult Andy yells at him to leave the protection of his metal shell. If he did, he’d have to walk across the grass. The bouncing, laughing molecules might touch him.

Grown up Andy probably has kids. Maybe the Frisbee boy is Andy’s kid.

Gordon keeps his eyes shut. Andy calls for him a couple more times, then the visualization works and Andy goes away.

Gordon is about to open his eyes when he hears people coming. Many voices. Excited voices. Talking, almost yelling voices. Andy’s is mixed in with them.

“. . . locked in, and I couldn’t get him . . .”

“. . . a hundred and fifty in there. We have to . . .”

“. . . get Zach. Quick, get Doctor Zach . . .”

Too many voices. Too much noise. Even the adults have become loose molecules. The sun has heated them all into agitated Brownian chaos and craziness. He should drive away. He wasn’t ever going to get out of the car. He knows that now. It was pointless to drive the two hundred miles to this stupid park thinking he’d gotten well enough to somehow join his family and act normal.

He opens his eyes just in time to see an arm swinging toward the passenger window. In a slow motion of terror, he sees that the hand on that arm holds a tool of some kind––a red plastic handle with a metal point sticking out of it. The metal hits the window. A spider web of fractures appears, radiating outward to all the edges of the window. The whole thing bows inward, and every tiny fragment of glass frees itself from all the others and explodes inward toward him, showering him in the fragments of his own sheltering window. Cool wind chases the glass with the smell of chlorine and mowed grass.

Then the door is open. Hands reach in. Too many hands. Andy’s hands. Other people’s hands. A pair of child’s hands.

He pushes himself away from them, kicking and pressing his back to the driver’s side door.

Grasping hands find the master lock switch on the key fob dangling from the ignition. The lock on the door behind him pops.

His door opens. He’s out, dragged onto the hot asphalt, surrounded, and held down. It’s a nightmare, the opposite of flying.

He screams and struggles to get up.

“Heat stroke,” a voice says.

“Hysterical,” another says.

They all say things, make noises, talk at him. He can’t hear them all, not all of them, not all at once.

He fights, but they hold him.

“Get back!” Someone yells. “Everybody, get back! Give him air. Give him room.” The someone makes them pull away.

One man, a man with curly red hair and a trimmed beard, kneels next to him. Blue sky surrounds the man’s face. He is a bearded balloon floating in the blue sky. “Gordon?”

Gordon manages a nod.

“I’m Zach, your second cousin. Do you know me?”

He shakes his head.

“It’s been a long time.”

He nods.

“Do you know where you are?”

He manages one word. “Reunion.”

“That’s right. You’re at your family reunion. Do you think you can you drink some water?”

Gordon looks around at the loose circle of towering, momentarily frozen, molecules. Andy’s there. It’s Andy, for sure, taller and fatter, but still Andy with his dark eyes and narrow lips. Five children of various ages stand around his legs. Gordon closes his eyes so he doesn’t have to see them.

“Stay with me,” Zach says.

Gordon opens his eyes. “Hebephobia,” he says, “and OCD.”

“Shit,” Zach says. “Get back! You kids, get back! Go play! Now!”

“Is it contagious?” Andy steps back a few paces.

Gordon closes his eyes against the horrors of his family reunion and tells himself he’s home in his basement lying in the dark on the hard concrete floor. Mowed lawn and sweat smells combined with the hot asphalt against his back makes it hard to believe himself.

“Just keep the kids away, Andy. Get them to the pavilion. You go with them.”

“Is it contagious?” Andy sounds scared.

Somewhere inside, the Gordon lying crying and bleeding at the bottom of three concrete steps catches his breath and smiles.

“Go!” Zach says. A few seconds later, he says, “You can open your eyes if you want to.”

Gordon does. He and Zach are alone.

“Can you sit up?” The second cousin doctor helps him sit. “So, is this some sort of therapy for you?”

“I thought I could do it.”

“You’re here.”

“But I couldn’t get out of the car.”

“You’re out, now.” Doctor Zach tries to be a normal person and chuckle. It sounds flat and wrong. Zach pats him on the back.

“I have to leave,” Gordon says.

“I’ll explain it to them.”

Gordon looks at the pavilion full of people, at Andy standing there with a kid under each arm, talking excitedly with a gray-haired woman and a couple of younger men. The younger men keep looking Gordon’s way.

“Do you think,” Gordon says, “you could wait to tell them?”

“It’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

“No. That’s not it.”

“Why?”

“Just wait. Let Andy’s germs worry him.”

“I’m not sure––”

“Just for one day.”

Zach turns and looks at the pavilion, too. When he turns back, he’s smiling, and the smile looks real. “I’ve known Andy a long time. I think I can do that.”

Gordon nods and lets Zach help him to his car.

When he gets home, Gordon strips, goes out into his privacy-fenced back yard, and lies down in a patch of clover. He closes his eyes and lets the summer sun make his skin delicious. After a while, the delicious starts to sink in deeper and deeper until he’s sure it feels just right, just like he remembers. He stands. Eyes closed and arms at his sides, he leans into the breeze and rises into the embrace of summer winds.

 

 

When Should I Write?

When Should I Write?

by Eric M. Witchey

At a recent conference, I mentioned a number of brain-based techniques I use for production. Several people asked me the perennial question, “When should I write?” I wish I had the answer to that question. I wish it were an easy answer. What I know is that there are two kinds of people… Since there are two kinds of people, there are also two kinds of writers. I know careful, thoughtful writers and intuitive, insightful writers. Of course, I also know that any time I talk about two kinds of anything, I’m getting it wrong and tossing out an entire world of insights that might be useful.

Nobody, and I mean NOBODY, works from an exclusively cognitive or intuitive position. The most hard-core researching, obsessive, analytic writer still has moments where “it came to me that….” The most touchy-feely, woo-woo, let the muse flow through them, channeling characters writer also has moments when they look at their own prose and make conscious decisions about how to revise based on experience or principle. Most of us are somewhere in the middle.

The cold, hard facts are that no two people are exactly alike and no two stories require exactly the same mix of cognitive and intuitive attention. This morning, I wrote a short story in less than an hour. Last week, I wrote a short story of the same length (only 1500 words). It took me twelve hours, including a lot of research, analysis, and revision. Writing fiction always requires a mix of analytic and intuitive skills.

Have you ever notice that doctors tend to miss the fact that all bodies are built differently? Each of us has different thresholds for pain, sensitivity to light, fears, and anxieties. Did you ever wonder how anybody gets good healthcare since all treatments are designed to provide relief and improvement to the average patient as determined in clinical trials?

Doctors are lucky. Rightly or wrongly, people tend to trust them to know what they’re doing. Readers will not tolerate a story based on statistical averages. Each of us is different, and each of us must modify our writing processes and practices to fit our own body, mind, and lifestyle. If we don’t, our work will not be tolerated by our readers.

Certainly, we can modify our lifestyles to support our writing habits, but that’s a life management class. In this blog entry, I want to make sure of two things. First, I want to make sure that writers empower the person who knows their psychology and physiology best. I want them to put that person is in charge of how and when they write. So, you, and only you, must evaluate your performance and make adjustments as needed.

While we can engage in cognitive and intuitive workouts to build both sets of skills and improve the communication between the parts of the brain that engage during the different modes of work, we each still have to bow to our own, personal work styles, experience, and developmental quirks. Since no two of us are the same, nobody can really tell us exactly how the mix should work for any one of us. The only person that can make that determination for a writer is that writer.

Is analytic work easier for you in the morning, the evening, or the afternoon? Whatever your answer, that’s when you should do it. Is intuitive work easier for you in the morning, evening, or afternoon? Whatever your answer, that’s when you should do it.

We can take some guidance from study statistics that report physiological averages.

The averages say that intuitive work is easiest in the first 90 minutes after we wake up. If you need that time to write but fill 90 minutes with a shower, making breakfast, making coffee and reading the paper, you’ve lost that optimum time forever that day. If that’s your creative time, you need to ask yourself what you can do to take advantage of your best creative brain state right after sleeping. You may even ask yourself when (and if) you can take naps during the day in order to restart that brain state.

The averages say that our cognitive skills are strongest in early and late afternoon. Mine simply are not. I’m stupid as hell in the afternoon (except when I’m teaching because then I’m hyped on adrenaline and caffeine). Should you be doing your plot analysis at 2pm? Should you be doing your editing after 1pm? I can’t answer for other writers. I can only say that experimentation will help them decide what will work best for them.

The averages say that our repetitive task skills are least interfered with by other influences in the evening. Uh, that might be a great time for spell checking, eh?

I can’t answer the question, “When should I write?” I can tell people when I write and why. My personal physiology and schedule work something like this on a perfect fiction writing day:

  • AM 6:00 to 9:30: Protein (one egg), vitamins, speed writing warm-up (imagination exercise and technique practice). I then engage in composition for current projects.
  • 9:30: meditation. Email check and respond. Shower
  • 10:00: small snack. Often, it’s a handful of nuts.
  • 10:10-12:00: Some composition. Some revision.
  • PM 12:00-12:30: Lunch (protein). I eat light and avoid carbs at lunch unless I plan to stop working. If I snack, I snack on jerky or nuts because protein allows me to stay alert. Carbohydrates put me to sleep. Different people respond differently.
  • 12:30-2:30: Email check and respond. Revisions.
  • 2:30: Nap or Exercise if I can. The time for this varies throughout the year based on my needs.
  • 3:00-5 or 6: Revisions and/or technical writing/course development/article writing.
  • 5 or 6: Relax, prep dinner, eat.
  • 6:00 to bedtime: Household activities, reading, movies.
  • 10:30 or 11:00: sleep.

I manage my writing to match the fact that my brain is at its most creative early in the day. Even after a nap, I don’t get a full reset of my creative powers. The later in the day it gets, the more I move toward revision and analysis type tasks. Good food and a good night’s sleep are a critical part of my time management. Naps and meditation are part of my productivity process. Loading my brain with writerly thoughts and happy thoughts before bed is important to me. I often skim through silly web sites like I Can Has Cheezburger just before sleep. Exercise is important, even if it’s only a walk to the post office, and only injury keeps me from it. I know these things about myself, so I plan my day based on my experiences with my own mind and body. Only you can know yourself well enough to plan your writing day.

Remember that I said I wanted to make sure of two thing? The second thing is that I want to make sure that you, my dear writer friend, take time to seriously answer the question, “When should I write?”

Those Golden Moments

By Elizabeth Engstrom

I have spoken and written about the golden moments of an author before. These are the twinkling little tiny gems that happen amidst the angst and insecurity that creates fiction and comprises most of the life of a writer.

Most of the time, I’m a writer. Sometimes, I get to be an author.

I was privileged to enjoy an extended golden moment two weeks ago, when I was invited to be on the set of the film production as they shot the movie of my book, Candyland.Candyland book cover art

Rusty Nixon, the screenwriter/director and I have talked about this for almost ten years, and it is finally a reality. He wrote an excellent screenplay.  Much of this story takes place within the characters’ heads, so he had to craft original scenes that dramatized that internal action. He did a stellar job.Rusty and Liz

I arrived in Vancouver (and was a guest of the gracious Judy and Ken Nixon) and went to the set that had been constructed inside a vast warehouse space. A complete apartment had been built inside the warehouse, complete with “wild” walls—walls that could be moved to accommodate the camera.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The crew of about thirty went about their business as complete professionals, from Jan Wolff, the Director of Photography, to Malin Ottosson, the Assistant Director, to the hair and makeup people, to the wardrobe people, grips, gaffers, set decoration, sound, lighting, and craft services (caterers). And, of course, Marena Dix, Blaine Anderson, and Marc Petey the producers, busy all the time making it happen, fixing glitches, and putting out fires. The stars, James Clayton and Chelah Horsdal, total professionals, rehearsed tirelessly in that cold warehouse, and then got out of their down coats, undressed, and made movie magic.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

For the most part, I watched the actual filming from a tent outside the set on a monitor with the others who were not required to crowd those doing the filming, and was amazed, take after take, as actors spoke the lines that I wrote, and I believed them.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There were nesting owls in the warehouse, and every day I got a glimpse of one or the other. Pueo. My ’aumakua. Magic.

Nobody on the set initially knew that I was the author of the original material, and slowly, as word got around, those tiny golden moments happened over and over again for the three days I was on the set.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It has been said that the most exciting day in the life of a writer is the first day on the movie set when a book is being filmed, and the most boring day in the life of a writer is the second day on the set. I did not find that to be the case. In fact, the second unit shoots in April, and I hope to be there, at least for part of it, because it is amazing beyond belief. Yes, there’s a lot of down time, but there is always something interesting to do, someone interesting to talk to. While the actors are working, the makeup, wardrobe and other people are not, and when the actors are relaxing between takes, the other people zoom into action. There is always something going on.

It was my job to keep my mouth shut and stay out of the way (I promised to be an adult and behave myself—this is not my book after all, it is Rusty’s movie), but I certainly took it all in.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Those golden moments. I tell ya, they make all the angst and the insecurity (financial, social, mental and all the rest) worthwhile.