I introduced myself to LJ Cohen when I realized we share the same agent and are both writing YA. I’ve since discovered we have a number of things in common, including our first name and decade of birth. (Lisa was quite popular in the sixties. Of course, we could just as easily have been named Moonbeam or Rainbow.)
Her debut novel, THE BETWEEN, released last week, and it’s as delightful as she is. Please join me in welcoming her to Black Ink, White Paper.
Thank you for inviting me to pen a guest post for Black Ink, White Paper. One of the absolute blessings of the rise of social media over the past few years has been the chance to meet fellow travelers on the writing road. The life of a writer can be so utterly solitary. We spend a lot of time living in our heads while story ideas, characters, and intriguing turns of phrase chase one another around and around. Even if we have supportive significant others in our lives (and I am quite fortunate, indeed, to have an utterly devoted spouse), they don’t really understand how the writer’s brain works.
My husband will often tease me and ask what my characters have whispered in my ear lately. That’s not exactly how it works and when I try to explain it to him, his eyes glaze over in the same way mine do when he’s showing me video of himself on the race track and he tries to explain the physics of the apex of a turn. (His midlife crisis was to start high-performance driving and he is now an instructor. Mine was to write novels.) In reality, my characters don’t so much as talk to me as talk to one another while I get to eavesdrop. On good days, they’ll give me much needed clues. On bad days, I have to blunder my way through scenes with the liberal application of the backspace button.
Conventional wisdom talks about two kinds of writers: plotters and pantsers. I’m not sure I’m either. Or maybe I’m a weird hybrid of both. It’s a balancing act for me: too much pre-planning and the story feels stale once I sit down to write. Either that, or the narrative line veers away from my orderly outline and I’m off the map again. Yet, sitting down to write without any pre-planning feels too much like dancing on the high-wire without a net. It’s too easy for me to write myself into dead ends and lose whatever control I have over the process.
Maybe this messy method of mine has its roots in my truly awful sense of direction. I may be one of the few people on this lovely planet who can still get lost using a GPS device. (Or as I call it, ‘the nice lady who tells me where to go.’) Before GPS became an essential three-letter-acronym in my life, I would often sit in my car and try to visualize where I wanted to go, only to completely draw a blank. I knew where I was and I knew the destination, but I couldn’t connect the dots between the two. So I would call my husband and ask him for help. At first, he would be incredulous that I couldn’t find my way somewhere I had been hundreds of times. His brain, I am certain, has a GPS implant. Either that, or he has homing pigeon genes spliced into his DNA. It did take some time, but he finally came to understand that I needed him to help me lay a breadcrumb trail. Sometimes all it took was for him to give me a single landmark between points A and B. Then the proverbial lightbulb would go off and I could see the whole trip.
I think my writing is very much like that. I have a starting point. I have a finish line. Sometimes I can draw a line between the two and have a story unfolding in front of me like the waypoints on my GPS. Other times, the breadcrumb trail is missing too many crumbs and I need help finding a crucial landmark.
Having other writer friends with whom I can brainstorm and who respect my process has made the difference between my head exploding and finished novels.
I used to worry that the way I wrote wasn’t right. I have a shelf full of craft books that tell me so. They tell me that I shouldn’t edit while I write. (I do.) Or I need to create a complete outline. (I don’t.) Or I need to get the first draft down in a red hot fury of writing. (I don’t.) That I should never go back to revise earlier chapters until the story is finished. (I do.) All that advice is likely well-intentioned, but perhaps a bit limiting. After completing 6 novels, a dozen short stories, and hundreds of poems in 7 years, I think I have made peace with my writing process. Just don’t take away my GPS.
LJ Cohen is the writing persona of Lisa Janice Cohen, poet, novelist, blogger, local food enthusiast, Doctor Who fan, and relentless optimist. Lisa lives just outside of Boston with her family, two dogs (only one of which actually ever listens to her) and the occasional international student. In love with words since early childhood, Lisa filled dozens of notebooks with her scribbles long before there were such a thing as word processors.
After a 25 year hiatus writing professional articles, text book chapters, assessments and progress notes for her physical therapy practice, Lisa returned to fiction seven years ago. Her first novel was written to answer her husband’s challenge to write something better than the book he had thrown across the room in disgust. Six novels later, she is still writing. She also writes the occasional op/ed piece for her local paper and has maintained the Once in a Blue Muse blog for many years.
Lisa is represented by Nephele Tempest of The Knight Agency. When not doing battle with a stubborn Jack Russell Terrier mix, Lisa is hard at work on her seventh novel, a ghost story. THE BETWEEN is her publishing debut.
Mailing List: http://www.ljcohen.net/mailinglist/mail.cgi/list/bluemusings
email LJ: email@example.com