Tag Archives: Writing

On Staying the Course

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Back in the 1980’s when I first met my future husband, he taught me to sail. I’d never set foot on a sailboat before then, but I loved it from the very start. The rocking of the waves against the hull, the pressure of the wind filling the sail, the flapping of telltales. Being on a sailboat is a delight for the senses. But it is also a universe with its own rules, language, and skills.

Navigation is a great example of this. There is something odd and counter-intuitive about navigating on a sailing vessel. For one thing, you can almost never go precisely in the direction you want. And you can never ever sail directly into the wind. Then, you have to understand that turning the wheel might mean little if the wind and current aren’t with you. Even if you do everything right, sometimes the wind dies and you end up drifting.

What I learned from sailing, I’ve been able to apply to my writing as well. There are elements of my writing career that are under my control. I can study my craft, practice, seek and apply feedback, but just as it’s impossible to force a boat to head directly into the wind, I cannot control the direction of the publishing industry.

Right now, it seems like every book on the young adult shelves is either a dystopian narrative or a paranormal love triangle (or sometimes a combination of the two). If I want to see my books in the marketplace, I have a number of choices to make. Assuming that my writing is good enough for publication, I can either write what I already see on the shelves or I can write the stories that have resonance for me. If I chose the former path, then I’m sailing using yesterday’s weather report or forcing my vessel to go against my personal tide. Either way, I’m not going to get where I wish.

If I choose the latter, then I pick a course that may not take me directly to my destination, but it may be the best course wind and weather will allow. It may take a zig zag path, but if I trust in my navigation abilities, staying the course may be the only way through the doldrums.

For all of my fellow travelers on this writing journey, may you find your smooth sailing, fair winds, and following seas.

–LJ Cohen

(Photo by pwcrockett, used with attribution, cc license)

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26 Random Things I Love About Writing

  • My characters.
  • Endless career possibilities.
  • Excuse to stare off into space under the guise of “plot construction.”
  • Whiteboards.
  • Coffee.
  • Dialogue that would never happen in real life.
  • Exercising sadistic tendencies without all the mess.
  • That moment when everything falls into place in a novel.
  • Heartbreak.
  • Unexpected events that make you laugh out loud.
  • Windows into fantastical worlds.
  • Anything that involves the rule “when in doubt, blow something up” has to be awesome, right?
  • The sound of fingers on keys.
  • Editing, as frustrating as it can be there’s nothing quite as satisfying as making a story better.

K.B.

The Call

I bought myself a fountain pen today. Haven’t owned one in years. As much of a tech-geek as I am, there is still something satisfying about the tactile sensation of pen in hand. Or book, for that matter.

I printed out my manuscript today also, in between helping my step-son clean his room. (He’s a sock hoarder and just came into my office wearing an exposed brain and his Captain America mask – he’s going as zombie Cap for Halloween.) Anyway, I printed out my manuscript because as much as I love computers, it’s damn difficult to do an extensive rewrite without being able to see the whole thing laid out before you.

The reason for the rewrite? Two and a half weeks ago I got “the call” … you know, that thing that most serious aspiring authors wait for.

As a friend pointed out, I handled that call – from Andrew Zack at The Zack Company – as I have handled other important phone calls from men in my life.

I hung up on him.

*laughs* To be fair, I didn’t know it was him when I hung up the phone and I hadn’t meant to answer it at all. I was at work, in the middle of a rather frantic day and trying to figure something out with a co-worker about a customer when my phone rang. I reached over and thought that I swiped to decline. I didn’t and half a second later realized I’d answered the call, so I hung up. I didn’t recognize the number after all.

Thankfully, Andy called me back and left a message. A message I retrieved once the excitement at work had been dealt with and I had a free moment. Of course, I sat in shock for a few minutes, flailed around, called one of my CPs (Lisa, of course, wanted to know what I was doing calling her instead of Andy. *laughs*) and then finally collected myself enough to go into the back of the office and call Andy back.

We chatted a bit, I mentioned I was at work and that I could talk more after I got home.

I’m not even going to play this cool, folks. After we got off the phone I punched the air and did a celebratory dance in my boss’s office. I have wanted this for years, have been working toward it for close to ten years. I have been through ten complete novels and just as many partials. I have written close to two million words in my lifetime. I have suffered through rejections on six novels, turned down an offer on one because as much as I loved the story I decided it wasn’t how I wanted to start my career. I have queried and subbed and WAITED. I have been this close *holds fingers apart* and had the devastating news pounce on me from my mailbox.

I took my hits. I shelved stories I loved because I knew they just weren’t going to work right now. I listened to the rejections to see what I could learn from them. I was patient. I was determined. I recognized the value of listening to what others had to say about my work and used that to be better. I killed my darlings – ripped my latest work to pieces after Andrew rejected my original version of  Behind The Throne and made it better.

And it worked. It took two years and a train ride, but it worked. I got the call from an agent I had decided I wanted to work with when I started this book. I still have a lot of work to do and yet another rewrite in the works, but I am optimistic and I think in the end it will make the story so much better. It will make it into the story I’ve wanted to tell along and share with you.

So what should you take from all of this? The road to publication is different for everyone. I have very dear friends who’ve made it look easy, but even I know that looks can be deceiving and they had struggles of their own and moments when they thought it would never happen.

It’s not always fast and it’s not always pretty. Sometimes it’s a slog through the mud, brutal and exhausting and you never think you’re going to see the light of day again. Lucky for me, I like playing in the mud. *smiles* But even I hit points where I wondered just why I was doing this and if I’d ever get the chance to move forward. Now I have that chance and I’m ridiculously excited and grateful to Andy for giving it to me.

K.B.

The Heart Path

Follow your bliss.

It sounds so easy

until you try it and you realize

the path is dark

littered with doubts and discouragement

so you pick your way carefully

ignoring the choir of crickets

chanting you cannot

or you should not

calling you a fool

for taking the risk

for throwing yourself into the river

and daring not to sink.

It isn’t easy

to take this road;

you know, the one less travelled.

But the farther you go

the smoother the path becomes

the surer your footing

and soon you’re running, sprinting

through patches of sunlight

singing yes to the sky.

I want to tell you it stays like this

but all roads have potholes

unexpected turns

moments of uncertainty;

there will still be shadows

you will stumble, trip, fall

skin knees, bruise ego

lose heart

lose faith

lose courage

…and find them again.

Because although it isn’t easy

this chasing of bliss

once you have captured it, tasted it

once you have danced

the path of the heart

once you have soared

there is no turning back.

© Lisa DiDio, do not reprint

The End – Part 3 of 3

You’ve done it, or rather you’ve almost done it. You’re almost done with your book. But here’s the most important part – the end.

This is the make or break, your readers have been engaged this far and you really don’t want to let them down. But what to do? How do you get through to the end? I’ve heard this referred to as the “writer’s event horizon”, the “long-slog”, that place where everything can either come together or completely fall apart on you.

Welcome to the beginning of the end.

K.B.

Oh the end, the glorious end! The rush! That headlong slide toward the final epic battle. Or the big reveal. Or the cliffhanger. Or-

*laughs sheepishly*

The end is where Lisa usually yanks on my chain, bringing me up short like an out-of-control puppy. *grins* I am notorious for rushing through the end of my novel, crazy and wild-eyed, desperate to finish. I tend to forget about the details, the important wrap-up of loose ends, and little things like grammar.

When I hit the “end” of the book, I tend toward extremes. I’ll either have to just write the hell out of it and hope I can fix things in edits because the story is screaming at me to write it down. Or I come to a screeching halt and stare warily at the end of my novel like a poisonous snake, unsure about how to take it down without getting killed in the process.

The rush option obviously doesn’t have much of a plan other than to throw myself in headfirst and hope for the best. *laughs*

When I do the other path though, I:

1)    Revisit the outline – I like to make sure that I’ve got things in order, that all my loose ends are wrapped up and the readers aren’t going to have a “what the hell?” moment after they read the last word.

2)    Revisit my character motivations – to make sure that everyone is behaving the way they would and not just doing what I want to make the ending fit.

3)    Explore my options – I’m not always locked into an ending for a novel. I learned early on that it’s a good idea to be fluid with your resolution because trying to write toward a specific ending can really mess you up. If I’m not sure how it should end I’ll sometimes sketch out two or three endings and see which one fits the best.

Kate:

Over the years, I’ve probably written somewhere around a two hundred stories, novellas, and novels. And it took maybe half of those before I figured out how The End worked for me.

You’ll know already from our earlier blogs on this topic that I’m a complete fogwalker. I don’t know what the next sentence or chapter is going to be, let alone The End. But there is a place in every single story—from the shortest to the longest—where a decision has to be made about what will happen at The End.

That spot happens despite the fact that I still don’t know the ending, but when I first started writing, I could get stuck at that spot for weeks. And it truly is a spot. It might be as small a spot as a single sentence or as big a spot as a paragraph.

But once that sentence or paragraph is written, The End is implicit in those few words. I don’t know what it is, I only know that I’m rushing toward it.

So this is what happens to me at The Damn Spot (which I what I call it), which, oddly enough, is what constitutes The End for me. Because once I get through The Damn Spot, The End is easy.

1.   First, and most importantly, I have to figure out that I’ve reached The Damn Spot. Occasionally, I figure that out very quickly. Mostly, I don’t. I’ll just keep writing, unhappy and uncomfortable with what’s happening and not knowing why.

2.   Eventually, I do figure it out because it’s not often I get stuck like that anywhere else. Once I figure it out, the next step is easy. I will rewrite the sentence (or paragraph) until it feels right. Occasionally, that takes me three or four tries. More often, it takes me ten or twenty or even fifty tries and I’ve learned to stop fretting about that because it works.

3.   When I get The Damn Spot right, I just keep writing until I reach The End. And how do I know it’s The End?

4.   The End comes to me and I’m there. Right there. No waiting. No worrying. No fretting. The End is The End. I don’t see it coming, I don’t plan for it, it just arrives. Full blown like the richest, most aromatic rose of summer. It’s a miracle.

Lisa:

As usual, I’m somewhere between Kate and Katy on the spectrum. I almost always know how I want the story to end when I first start writing, and I almost always realize – typically about two-thirds of the way through – that I’m not far enough along in the story to have the original ending I envisioned actually BE the ending. (It’s a good thing I write series, as the “original ending” generally works its way in somewhere else in the arc.)

Once the realization hits me – usually with a loud oh shit – I have two choices. A) Rework things so that I can use that original ending or B) Acknowledge that my subconscious knows what it’s doing, let that scene go and move along, trusting myself to find the way to the Real Ending.

I never take option A. 🙂

So how do I get from Oh Shit to The End?

1)  Like Katy, I sit with my characters for a bit and make sure their choices and motivations are in line with their authentic (albeit fictional) selves. Then I check for stray threads, messy plotlines and unresolved questions that need to be answered.

2)  I keep writing, keep moving forward in blind faith that at some point, the Last Line will manifest. It may materialize in the middle of the night or when I’m driving or taking a shower, but suddenly, it’s just there. I may not understand it completely (since I’m not tuned in to all that will precede it) but I recognize it for what it is. I write it down and set it aside, but I never forget it. It hovers around me like an aura, whispering its delicious secrets, urging me on – and making me a little nervous.

3)  Now there is a plan, something I must work toward, so  at that point, I do something I rarely do throughout the rest of the book: I start vaguely mapping out the remaining chapters in terms of What I Think Must Happen. This knowing is partly based on my notes from step one, but gut instincts play a big part in it, too. (Gut instincts always play a big part in my writing process; I’ve learned to trust them implicitly over the years.)

4)  Once I have my “skeleton” outline, I make like Kate and just keep writing until one day, my fingers are on the keys, typing away and the Last Line appears on the page. Then the cork popping ensues!

 Your turn, peeps. Tell us how you wrangle the monster named The End.

An Annoyance

As I grow my following on Twitter, I am beginning to understand the frustration and dismay so many agents express over many submitters who call themselves writers, but in reality are the farthest thing from it. Before I ever attempted sending my thoughts out for anyone else to read, I worked hard to master the basics—spelling, punctuation, syntax, grammar—long before I ever attempted to construct a story. Nowadays, I constantly run into so many who are completely oblivious to any of these elements, all the while professing, as one who calls herself a “foklorist” does, to be “Raging author(s).” Or, as one lady in her late twenties says, “the brain still thinks were 18 a bit reluctant to disapoint it!? Aspiring author.”

Now I make typos all the time. Making mistakes is part of the human condition. But I search them out and correct them, whenever possible. Further, for most individuals writing, as opposed to Writing, isn’t much more than a necessary annoyance, a way to communicate. I’ll easily forgive an individual’s less than ept skills when they make no pretense, but these others who profess to be Writers irritate me because they cheapen what those of us serious about our craft are endeavoring to do. Let me illustrate.

Who among us would sit down at a piano with no prior instruction, bang away on the keys, then announce, “I am an aspiring concert pianist”? None of us. That would be ludicrous because everyone knows you can’t even begin to think about becoming a concert pianist without years of practice, years perfecting your playing, years mastering what the greats have composed. The same goes for sports. You don’t spend weekends playing sandlot baseball, pick-up basketball or touch football, then tell your friends you want to be a pro. They would laugh you right off the park/court/field. Yet, all these tyros making the same claim about a writing career are why, when the serious ones among us call ourselves writers, people sometimes roll their eyes.

I suspect the ones I’m making bones about do so because it’s relatively easy to string words across a page. A casual glance won’t reveal much, if anything, is amiss. Looks like writing, doesn’t it? But banging discordantly on a keyboard announces at once to the world how incapable you are, as does fumbling a pass, missing the hoop or swinging wildly like a garden gate.

An old high school classmate contacted me recently asking me to buy the two books he had published. I was overjoyed for him until I realized the emails he was sending all lacked one basic element: the paragraph. Let me correct that. No matter how long his messages were, they all consisted of one long paragraph—a two hundred, three hundred, five hundred word paragraph. With some careful prodding, I eventually learned he had hired an editor to hammer his words into something readable. He may have had a story or two to tell, but buying his way into print did not make him an author.

Now, I’m not telling anyone not to sit down at the keyboard and try. Try all you want. I had been trying for years before things started to come together for me. In fact, they are still coming together and I know for a fact I’ll be saying the same thing years from now even after—the fates be willing—I am published. In those early days, when folks asked how I was spending my time, I did not say I was a writer. I told them I was learning to write.

Yes, this is a rant. Will it accomplish anything? Certainly not. Nor will I say anything unkind to anyone starting out on the long road to accomplishment. I’m just trying to get at the burr in my side.

Raymond

Losing Drama, Finding Stillness

This morning, my older son slept through his alarm, well on his way to be late for his 9 am class. It would have been so easy to lay into him about responsibility and better planning, or use guilt as its usual weapon, or snarky humor in an attempt to mask annoyance for wit. Instead, I offered to drive him.

Last week, my younger son forget to check the family calendar before buying the entry ticket for the PSAT at the high school. When he did look at the test date, he realized he had a commitment that he couldn’t change and would not be able to take the PSAT. Nor could he get the ticket refunded. My initial internal response was to launch into a lecture designed simply to make me right and him wrong.

All of those choices might have felt good, in an emotionally cathartic sense, at least for the moment. They might even have felt like some kind of victory. As if every moment of every day is a battle in a larger war.

Am I annoyed that I had to shift my schedule to drive one son to school? Sure. Am I annoyed that the other son didn’t take 30 seconds to check the calendar before buying a ticket he cannot use? Sure. But here’s my life lesson: being annoyed is my emotion. Displacing it as anger on my children accomplishes nothing useful.

I assure you, I’m no zen master, able to serenely glide through a universe of strife with a beatific smile on my face. I’m your typical harried, middle-aged woman, coping with responsibilities and obligations. (Easier to juggle chainsaws, some days.) Yet, something held me back from lashing out. Because that’s what those responses are: lashing out from anger and fear in a fruitless attempt to control what cannot be controlled.

I’ve spent too much of this year wallowing in negative emotions. My writing career isn’t where I want it to be. In over 4 years, my agent hasn’t been able to sell any of my work. The title I self-published sells  a handful of copies in any given month. It’s all too easy to look at what does sell and drown in either despair or envy.

 There’s an old joke about a man who complains to God about all the misfortunes in his life. The details of the joke don’t matter, it’s the punch line that gets me. The man turns to God and shouts, “Why me?” God’s answer? “Why not?” The past two years have been enormously difficult ones in my life. It started with a house fire in December of 2010, continued with family crises and illnesses, and just one month ago, my mother passed away. I don’t think it matters how old you are when you lose a parent. Losing your first and most emotionally charged bond in life is an enormous blow. One that I’ve been moving through with the support of friends and family.

 I’d like to think that my newfound sense of stillness is a result of that process. I do know that ridding myself of the false drama of that adrenaline-laden nearly automatic response has been extremely freeing. Not just for me, but for my family as well. The son I drove to school? He apologized and thanked me. The son with the scheduling snafu? He will be taking some practice tests on his own and has offered to repay me the ticket fee from his own money. As far as my writing goes, one word, one sentence, one chapter at a time.

LJ Cohen

The Right Tools for the Trade

Howdy everyone!

Once again I’m here writing about cooking. It is my favorite pastime right behind reading a really good book.

A few months ago I went in search of the perfect chef’s knife – that I can afford. This is a tough thing, because what I want to do is drop $80 on a professional knife, when I know I don’t need it – it’s for cooking at home, not cooking for an income. So, I bought one at Walmart that looked like the one I really wanted. It was cheap, and you get what you pay for, right? Well, so the search goes on. I also need a good cutting board. I’m picky about my cutting boards, and because I’m picky, I’m not ready to drop too much money until I find the right one. Therefore, I’m stuck using the poly-whatever one I’ve had for ages that’s cut and scarred and bugs me every time I use it. You know, while I’m at it, I would so love a new fry pan.

*sigh*

Well, along comes Gordon Ramsay on BBC with his Ultimate Cookery Course. 100 recipes to stake your life on. I’m hooked. First off, I find him really attractive. He’s my dream man. Cooks great and looks great, and well, gee, lovely accent on top of it!

He says, throughout the 100 tips he also gives, all you need is 3 good knives, one good cutting board and one good fry pan that can go from stovetop to oven. Yes, there are other tools, but he’s talking right to me!

*grin*

So, over the weekend I went to the mall (not my favorite place in the world) with my daughter. She dragged me into Hot Topic, and I dragged her into Kitchen Connection. I walked out a bit poorer, but I got my knife, my cutting board, and my fry pan. Tonight for the first time I got to put them all to use, and I can tell you it’s true, the right tool for the job makes things soooo much easier.

This made me think about the tools I need for writing. It’s not quite as complicated as cooking, but then sometimes it’s even more complicated.

My tools, if you asked me, I would say all I need is my laptop and a power source and I can write. My Thesaurus and Dictionary are helpful, and I always have my Manual of Style close by…but I don’t need them to write.

But then, I also need peace and quiet. Not as substantial a “thing” but necessary for me to create. Then there’s the need for some kind of inspiration, but there’s no telling when or how that will hit, but I need it at some point before I begin writing. I need the support of my writerly friends. Writing can be such a lonely career, having the support of a select few friends who understand the writer’s mind, who know when I need a nudge or need to be left alone, or if I need to be redirected is vital to my wellbeing. I need my family to understand when I don’t feel like cooking, cleaning or even talking. I need them to know that yes, I am ignoring them but I still love them, but Mommy’s working, her office just happens to be in the living room.

Every author needs to know and understand what their individual tools of the trade are, and they need to demand them. It makes the job more fun!

Anna Leigh

The Sagging Middle

And, no, we’re not talking about the change that arrives with middle age. Last week, Lisa, K.B., and I talked about the things each of us needed to begin a new book. Now we’re going to talk about how we get through—and what we need—for that sagging middle.

The part of the novel between the beginning (which might be as much as five or seven chapters) and the end (which might be as little as a single chapter and as much as four or five chapters) is called all kinds of names: the tricky middle, the sagging middle, the middle-of-the-novel mud, the great expanse. But for almost everyone, the middle (also the longest part of the book) is the hardest part.

Here’s a list of each of our techniques for dealing with the mud in the middle.

KATE:

The middle for me is a great expanse of mud. It’s where I get stuck in the dirty muck of routine—or at least that’s how it feels to me. The beginning is pure joy, making me feel as if I’m flying and everything is going right. The end, while sometimes complicated, is so satisfying that the complications don’t seem to matter. But the middle?

It’s hell.

I’m a fogwalker, so I don’t have anything to fall back on when I get stuck. I don’t have an outline, don’t have character sketches, don’t have a page count or the slightest idea of what’s going to happen next. So what do I do?

I fall back on faith. I’ve gotten through that mud dozens and dozens of times, finished dozens and dozens of stories and novels and novellas, so I believe I can do it. Mostly.

When faith in the process isn’t enough, I try:

1.         Going for a walk. That often jogs loose the thing—that all important thing—I need to carry on. Walking on the beach is best, but any long walk might work. I can’t be thinking about the thing, that just makes it harder. So I think about grocery shopping or what I have to do for the rest of the week or what movie I want to see or book I want to read.

2.         Talking to a friend, usually a writer, though not always. Sometimes talking is enough of a distraction that when I sit back down to write again, the next line, the line, is there.

3.         Reading the previous three or four chapters out loud. This gets me solidly into the voice and the rhythm and then I just keep on keeping on. Or at least I hope I do.

4.         The one thing that always works? I sit down with my yellow lined newsprint pad and my perfect pen and I start writing by hand. That physicality seems to funnel the words through a different part of my brain and out the end of my fingertips. I might have to do this once, or twice, or when it’s really muddy, a dozen times before I come out at the end of it.
LISA:

Like Kate, I’m a fogwalker, though I tend to have somewhat better visibility. I usually have a sense of what’s coming in the next chapter or two, and I generally have two or three scenes or events in mind when I start a book, though I don’t have a clue about when they’ll happen. I’ve tried reading through from the beginning of the book when I get stuck, but that tends to throw me into editing mode, never a good thing for me in the initial writing phase.

And, really, I don’t get stuck as often as I get lost; the trees get so thick I lose sight of the forest. It’s not unusual for me to hit the 45K mark (or thereabouts) and panic, thinking OMG, nothing’s happening, this isn’t even a book! What the hell is this mess?

So for me, that squishy middle ground is the place where I turn to my trusty companions, the cherished few who read along as I create. When they tell me “the pacing is great” or “yes, this is a book”, or “tons of stuff is happening”, I believe them. Because, chances are, they remember what I’ve written better than I do at that point, and they’ve always been able to talk me down off the ledge.

When I do feel stuck somewhere along the way, when I can’t make a scene work or figure out what comes next, I’ll try the following:

  1. Go for a walk or a drive, or take a trip to the grocery store. I’ll put my playlist on my iPod or the car stereo and turn it low, letting it feed the back of my brain where the story lives. I’ll endeavour not to think directly about the work, but I’ll let it play around the edges of my mind until something bubbles up – or shakes out – and triggers the great Ah hah!
  2. Brainstorm. Sometimes, I think my mouth uplinks directly to the Muse and talking things through with someone is often the best way for me to get unstuck.
  3. Take a creative break. Go to a museum, get out the paints, mess with some clay, read a bunch of poetry, watch a play or a good movie. When the story isn’t driving me to the computer at every free minute, it usually means I’ve derailed myself and need some perspective (which only comes with time away from the screen) or that I’m running on empty and need some kind of inspirational recharge.
  4. Talk to my characters. Yes, I talk to them, often aloud. And they talk back, usually in the middle of the night when the cat wakes me up to be let outside. Story, for me, arises from character, so it pays to trust them, to listen to them and let their choices, thoughts, actions and reactions drive the plot. If I’m stuck, it’s usually because I’m not listening, not trusting, not allowing their stories to unfold organically. And that never ends well.

 

K.B.

I’m apparently the oddball of the group. (I’m sure you’re all surprised by this.) I do not have a lot of issues with sagging middle. *shows off writerly six-pack*

Ha! I’m kidding, sort of. I really don’t have a huge issue with writing the middle of stories. Those are the points where I usually hit my stride and power my way through. My issues are more often found in the beginning or about three quarters of the way through the book.

However, I do hit the occasional stumbling block, and when I do here’s what works best for me.

  1. Outline! Normally I’m a fogwalker. I let the characters take the lead and run the show. But I do have a habit when I hit mid-book (stuck or not) of going back to reread everything I’ve written. I’ve found this doesn’t slow me up, but rather helps me solidify the plot and various sub-plots, clear out any messes, take note of loose threads that have to be woven back in, and to do some foreshadowing.
  2. Brainstorm! Talking to my CPs or other trusted friends about what’s going on in the story. Normally that will knock something loose in my brain, but if it doesn’t I turn to…
  3. Fight Club! *laughs* Or more accurately hitting the heavy bag, hitting the trail, or anything involving a lot of effort and sweat. I turn the music up loud and put my body on autopilot so my brain can work through the problem.

Of course, sometimes none of those things will help and I still can’t figure out a way out of the mudslog that can be the middle of a manuscript. That’s when I pull out my secret weapon.

  1. Explosions! That’s right, when in doubt blow something up. Shoot someone, kill off a trusted character, have your MC’s life/plans/brain fall completely apart. Cause a little conflict. Have a plan go horribly awry. Have the pit viper in your characters’ midst strike. Anything to further the plot of your story and to get your reader to say: “Augh! Crap! I was gonna go to bed but now I have to find out if they’re going to survive this volcano.”

*grins* Trust me, nothing helps like an explosion.

When Life Collides with Art

A couple of weeks ago, I participated in Guys’ Night Out. Once a month, four of us go out for drinks and dinner. I am the one writer in a group of photographers, although had life not sent me down an alternate path, I could have wound up a photographer myself. I may become one still.

Lee Manning is the professional in the bunch. Drop by his website to catch a glimpse of his work: http://www.leemanningphotography.com/ When he asked how my writing was coming, I told him I’d written nothing for several weeks. I’m opening a second business location in Portland, Oregon. It’s a huge financial risk, and if it isn’t to become a disaster, I have to give it all my attention. I know the caveat about writing daily, but I haven’t enough creative self to spread that thinly. Lee responded by assuring me most creative types find themselves in this predicament at least once, though the reasons are as diverse as the artists. He also said it is a place from which some choose to abandon their art. I’ve given it some thought and I’m sure that’s not yet me.

Once before, I set aside the thriller I’m working on—needed time to do research—and when I returned to the task, the writing had improved. The current hiatus, while more protracted, seems also beneficial. After so much time away, I need to reacquaint myself with the manuscript and I am discovering nuances, seeds for future twists, planted before but now forgotten, that I am eager to develop. At the same time, as I reread these chapters, familiarizing myself with the first 43K words, weak sentences and inconsistencies are jumping right off the page, products, I suspect, of extended proximity.

During all of this, I have continued to make time to “read” audio books. As always, the techniques of those authors—currently, Gillian Flynn and Elizabeth Kostova—tend to refine the way I regard various elements of writing, like scene construction and tension. That brings me to the belief one’s time writing a book doesn’t always have to be spent writing. It can be spent considering plot defects, character development and involving the reader. Perhaps writing for the sake of it—creative drudgery—can even subvert the creative process by extinguishing the spark of spontaneity. Now, however, as I study each chapter, I am growing increasingly impatient to return to the task.

Have any of you found yourselves in similar straits?

Raymond