Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Back From Neverwhere (What A Great Trip!)

A funny thing happened to me this week. I picked up an ordinary-looking book and took a peek inside, thinking that I would have no trouble setting it aside to go work on other things if I needed to. And in the beginning, I did just that. I read for an hour, maybe two, and went to cook dinner.

The next day, I came back and read a little more. I could feel the book calling me, like an itch I couldn't quite reach, but it wasn't impossible to resist. I could still stop whenever I wanted. Or so I thought.

On the third day, something mysterious and wonderful happened. I read for a couple of hours before coming to the startling realization that I couldn't stop reading. The plot had gripped me, the setting mesmerized me, and more than anything, I was irrevocably in love with the characters. Even the slimy, detestable ones. Those were my favorites.

I read until I was forced to stop, until something urgent like the sound of my son crying or the smell of burnt chili demanded it. But even then, I was reluctant to put the book down, and I found myself searching for every available opportunity to pick it up again. I read into the wee hours of the morning every night this week until I finished it yesterday evening. By then, the characters felt very much like living, breathing people, people who had come into my living room and told me their adventures over a cup of chai tea. They left when I closed the book, but their presence lingered, haunting me. They haunt me still.

The book was Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere. If you haven't read it, the only way I can think to describe it is to call it a grown-up version of Alice in Wonderland, part mystery, part fantasy and part suspense. For me, what made it so delightful was Gaiman's ability to partner darkness with whimsy and the logical with the bizarre. Croup and Vandemar are some of the most engaging villains I've seen in a long time, while Door and Hunter made some pretty exceptional heroines. Finishing the last page was bittersweet; a fitting end to the story, yet part of me also wanted to have more adventures in London Below. After reading Neverwhere, I doubt I will ever look at a doorway the same way again.

Every reader has their Neverwhere, a tale that absorbed you into it and surprised the stuffing out of you in the process. And we writers should want to create a Neverwhere, to make our readers feel that same sense of bittersweet satisfaction I felt when I put that book down for the last time. What is your Neverwhere? Which author brought his or her characters into your living room, and how do you plan to do the same thing for someone else?

Friday, January 23, 2009

5 Things To Do When The Magic's Gone

I'm not sure if it's the miserable weather, the sluggish economy, random, widespread peevishness or all of the above, but lately I've been seeing a lot of posts from writers who have the blues. And in most cases, it's on both a personal and a professional level. If you're not going through it now, chances are you've experienced it at some point in your writing career. You know the feeling; you can't really put your finger on it, but you just have a general "meh" attitude about everything. Like Grumpy Bear from the Care Bears with the raincloud picture on his chest. Not a happy camper.

Well, you can add my name to the list. I've been in that boat all year, and I'm just as clueless about my "meh"-ness as you are. It's as if the power has short-circuited in the creative part of my brain, and since I don't know which fuse has blown out, I can't fix it. Know what I mean? I just keep thinking, What gives, man?! I'm a writer. Words are supposed to just--ya know, appear--in my head, right? Right?

So. What to do? I've been thinking about it all week, and recently I came to an interesting conclusion. In my humble opinion, the act of writing is similar in many ways to a long-term relationship. The longer you do it, the easier it is to get into a routine, and although it's good to have some structure, too much can kill your Muse the same way it can kill a marriage. When that happens, some of the same suggestions relationship experts give to couples can help you regain your passion for writing. Bear with me; this analogy is a good one.
  1. Remember why you fell in love (with writing) in the first place. I'm reminded of the movie Brown Sugar, a romantic comedy starring Taye Diggs and Sanaa Lathan. The two of them play best friends who realize they're also soulmates, mainly due to their mutual love of Hip-hop music. Music plays an integral role during the ups and downs of their relationship, and in the end, it is what brings them back together after a falling-out. It should be that way for writers as well. Remember what it was like to fall in love with words--the power of that moment--and write about that feeling.
  2. Listen (to your inner writing voice). This idea applies primarily to your characters. You know that moment in the writing process when your characters seem to jump off the page? That's not you going crazy--it's the magic coming out. Listen to it, even when it doesn't make sense. More importantly, learn what your unique writing voice sounds like. We each have one, and even if it tells you to write something silly or impractical, do it anyway. Drowning it out with logic it is the first step toward permanent writer's block, and besides, you never know where that weird little voice might lead you.
  3. Try something new. Are you a stickler for composing at the computer? Try writing longhand for a few weeks. Work exclusively in your home office? Take a field trip to your nearest library or park. Sometimes a simple change of scenery or writing medium is all it takes to get the creative juices flowing again.
  4. Enjoy the little things. Like most careers, writing is a job that emphasizes the big accomplishments--publication, bestseller status, a three-book deal with a six-figure advance. We all want those things, but let's not forget about all of the wonderful little milestones we encounter along the way. Finishing a novel, for instance, is a remarkable achievement, and it's something millions of people will never do. Celebrating the little victories will keep you energized on your way to the big ones.
  5. It's about the journey, not the destination. It's easy for us writers to get so caught up in the goal of publication that we forget to enjoy the process of writing itself. We rush through everything, cranking out stories the way Kraft cranks out mediocre slices of cheese. Then, we wake up one day and find we've lost touch with our characters, themes and the voice that brings our stories to life. We may want to publish our work, but first and foremost, we are storytellers. As long as we remember that, our Muse--whatever form it takes--will never be far away.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Are You Better Than The Average Writer?

I'm not ashamed to say I'm a pretty faithful follower of literary agent Nathan Bransford's blog, and today's post is a perfect example of why that is. Take a look.

Is that not the most awesome conversation starter ever?! Needless to say, the discussion got very exciting very quickly. I love debates, so of course, I had to jump in and argue my case. There were quite a lot of comments, so for the sake of simplicity, I've reposted my thoughts on the issue below:

I'm surprised at how many people either "played it safe" with their answers or didn't answer at all. I answered "yes" right away, no hesitation. I don't consider that arrogant at all.

This is an industry that will eat your confidence for breakfast if you let it. In order to even get in the door, I have to convince you (the agent) to believe in my ability to tell a story. I have to sell my point-of-view to you. So, if I'm not confident that my work is better than average, why should I expect you to think it is?

I agree that it's difficult to tell the quality of someone's writing just from blog comments; personal blogs are a better indicator of that. However, I disagree that you can't know whether you're a good writer or not. I've seen enough "average" writing to know I'm better than average.

Do I still have a lot to learn? Absolutely. But I know my skill level. There's a difference between arrogance and confidence. Arrogant writers think they're perfect. Confident writers know where they need improvement, but they also know how they stand out from the crowd.

Hard work and "luck" aside, this business is all about standing out from the crowd.

Great question, Nathan! I had fun thinking about it!

Time for you guys and gals to share now. And let's tweak the question just a tad: Do you think you're better than the average writer...not just on this blog or any blog in particular, but better than the average writer in general? If yes, why? If no, why not?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

So, What Did YOU Do Today?

Today, this man made (and is still making) history. And you think your job is hard:

I say we do our part to help make his job a little easier.

Monday, January 19, 2009

A Dream Realized

Eighty years ago, a man was born who would alter the course of history, both in this country and around the world. He was a man who dreamed of a world vastly different than his own, and sadly, as is the fate of most visionaries, he would not live to see it.

How fitting that this year, the eightieth anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday, is also the year that a huge part of his dream will become reality. Tomorrow, after we have finished celebrating one leader's legacy, we will crown a new leader for this generation, as Barack Obama becomes the 44th President--and the first African-American President--of the United States.

I wonder how Dr. King would react if he had lived to see this day. Would he weep openly, overcome with emotion the way Rev. Jesse Jackson was on the night of the Presidential Election? Would he sit in quiet reflection, considering how far we as a nation have come from the time of slavery until now? Or, would he roll up his sleeves, knowing there are still battles to be fought because the work is not yet done?

I believe he would have reacted in all of these ways and more, because a historic moment like this is far too complicated to be limited to just one emotion. And for me, that is the most important takeaway from this experience.

We may rejoice, cheer, cry and holler at what Barack Obama's victory represents, a breakthrough for a race of people who have been systematically denied the rights they deserved for the past four centuries. But let us not be so consumed by that emotion that we forget the struggles that lie ahead. We may sit in reverent silence as we consider the sacrifices of all who came before us to make this day possible. But let us not be so reverent that we refuse to take joy in the victory. We may grow even more restless now, knowing that at this moment, there are those in this country whose rights are still being denied and who are still suffering under oppression. But let us not be so restless that we cannot appreciate how long it took to get here, how much we have accomplished, and the fact that we are closer to our goals now than we have ever been before.

Has the dream been realized? Certainly not. We still have much further to go than most people care to admit. But a part of the dream, a critical part indeed, will come to pass tomorrow. I believe Dr. King saw this day coming, and I believe that is the reason why he got up every day, in spite of the odds, and lived his life the way he did. Oh, if only the rest of us could have this kind of foresight:

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Book Trailers... Yea or Nay?

Lisa McMann, author of the New York Times bestselling novel WAKE, gave a nice shout-out on her blog today to A.S. King, author of the much-anticipated book, THE DUST OF 100 DOGS. McMann encouraged her readers to buy King's new book--most likely due to the fact that she wrote a blurb for it--and included the trailer for it on the blog. Naturally, I checked it out, and I found it quite intriguing. I'm sure I'll add it to my ever-growing list of books to be read this year.

This brings up some interesting questions: How successful are book trailers in promoting new and established authors? Do you think they're more helpful for the newbies who are trying to launch a book for the first time, or the veterans who have already built a name for themselves? As a reader, how does the quality of the trailer affect your decision to buy a book?

I feel shallow for saying this, but I'm influenced by the quality of a book trailer even above its content. This trailer I saw for WAKE is what peaked my interest in Lisa McMann in the first place:

If the trailer isn't edited well or looks like a cheap knockoff of The Blair Witch Project, I stop watching, regardless of whether or not the story seems good. At the same time, if I've already heard good things about a particular book, seeing a lousy trailer won't keep me from buying it. It doesn't have the same power with me that a movie trailer does. It just gives me that extra push to buy a book that I'm already leaning toward anyway.

For anyone interested in reading more about the process of creating a book trailer, award-winning romance author Brenda Coulter has a wonderful post on her blog that outlines it in great detail. It's an old post since the blog hasn't been updated in a while, but much of the advice still applies. I'm fascinated by this stuff myself, especially since Coulter makes it all sound very doable. If you've bought a computer in the past five years, you probably have all the software you need to make a basic book trailer yourself.

I'd love to hear some opinions about this topic. As writers, we're expected to market ourselves now more than ever. The good news is that we have a mountain of resources at our disposal to do just that, if only we'll take advantage of them.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Playing in the Big Leagues

Wow. I must admit, I'm a bit overwhelmed right now in the best possible way. Something must be in the water, because virtually every post I read by my fellow writers today was stellar. Even more so than usual. Whether it offered a juicy editing tidbit or sparked a lively discussion between friends, all of them were spot-on when it comes to what I'm looking for in a blog post: a bit of humor, a bit of useful info, and most importantly, something to make me say, "Hmm..."

First up is Amy Sue Nathan with a useful list of words to cut during the editing process (inspired by Erica Orloff, but we'll get to her later). Sadly, I'm quite addicted to using just about every word on this list. I'm also addicted to procrastination, but as I mentioned in an earlier post, I'm also on the road to recovery.

Next is Michelle Hickman at The Surly Writer with a fantabulous post about how to release your imaginative powers...and the wondrous stories that can take shape if you do. What makes it so interesting is that she walks you through the entire creative process of building a sample scene within a story, complete with all the important elements: character, dialogue, setting and point-of-view. It's a long post, but if you have the time to sit and partake of Hickman's knowledge, it's worth every minute.

Now we come to Erica Orloff, whose post about training the editing eye to see became the inspiration for Amy Nathan's post today. Well, Erica has done it again today with another great post about shortcuts in character development. Let me tell you, it knocked my socks off. In my mind, the best type of writing is the type that shows me something about myself I didn't already know, and that's exactly what this post did for me. After reading Erica's words, I thought of all the times in my writing I had taken the easy way out when developing my characters; the child who is bitter from her parents' nasty divorce, the mother who is overprotective of her child after having a miscarriage, the emotionally vacant father who works long hours. My mistakes stood out to me like signs with neon lights.

And last, but certainly not least, Spy Scribbler wrote some intriguing and challenging words about being different that started an interesting, yet always respectful, religious debate. I don't know about you, but it's rare indeed for me to find people who can discuss controversial topics like race, religion and politics without going for blood. It was truly refreshing to see.

The one thing I learned from all of these posts was that me and my writing have a lot more work to do than I thought. I've been doing this thing since I was a kid--almost twenty years now--and though I've never been published (aside from articles in magazines and newspapers), I always believed I understood the craft fairly well. I knew what not to do, at the very least. And I knew I was good. Better than average. Maybe even a lot better. Colleen Lindsay just wrapped up a contest over at The Swivet today (The Swivet: Contest! Query in 140 Characters or Less!) Yes, you read correctly, that's characters, not words. I entered it, and at the time, I thought I had a great shot of winning.

I know differently now. Oh, I'm still confident--I believe in my abilities one hundred percent--but now I see how much I still have to learn. I see how much talent is really out there, and it's a humbling experience. Last time I checked, there were over 300 entries in that little contest I entered, and many of them were as good, if not better, than mine. Whoa (deep breath).

Eh, I'm not discouraged; I'm inspired. British statesman and literary figure Benjamin Disareli once said, "To be conscious that you are ignorant is a great step to knowledge." So I guess that means I'm doing okay. I may be a rookie in the big leagues, but I've found a lot of veterans who are helping me find my way.

Now it's your turn. What have you learned lately about the writing craft? What surprised you about this new knowledge?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Writing in the Rain

My 18-month-old is sound asleep, and it's raining outside. I love when it rains. I live in Florida, and even though they call it the Sunshine State (and with good reason), we get our fair share of rain here (not counting hurricane season, of course!). But it's been a while, and I've missed it. It always puts me in the mood to write.

By rain, I mean real rain, by the way, not a weak little drizzle or the kind you listen to on one of those relaxation CDs. Nope, I like to hear the strong pitter-patter of water droplets on rooftops, the splash of cars rushing through puddles on the road, a steady, rhythmic sound that can put even the most fussy baby to sleep. It's the kind of thing that makes me feel as if all is right with the world.

Everyone has their ideal writing environment, complete with its own unique little rituals and idiosyncracies. Some people insist on having absolute silence, while others want their favorite rock music blaring at the highest possible decibel. Some must have a cup of black coffee to get their Muse going, while others crave a bar (or two, or ten) of chocolate. And some change their routine like the rest of us change our socks.

The mind is a mysterious and wonderful thing, and I'm rather intrigued by the various ways that all artists, particularly writers, find to access its treasures.

For me, this is as close to ideal as I can get: sitting in bed with my laptop, listening to the rain and sipping on a cup of chai tea (with honey and a splash of milk, if you please). I could write all day like this. And maybe I will.

What about you? What's your ideal writing environment? What rituals, if any, do you perform to get you "in the mood"?

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Embrace Your Inner Window Washer

Editor Morgan Mandel over at the Blood-Red Pencil wrote a fabulous post today comparing writers to window washers. My first thought when I saw the title was, "Huh?" But once I read the whole thing, I recognized the brilliance in the metaphor.

I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I'm definitely a "Category 1" window washer, although I'm trying to become a "Category 2." There are some days when my Inner Editor is so loud in my head that it's almost impossible for me to write, and there are other days when I lean more toward the Category 2 side, relaxed and in-the-moment and writing at a furious pace. Those are the moments I love, when the writing flows like clockwork, no holds barred. I'm working toward having more of those moments.

As I was writing this post, it occurred to me that the window washer metaphor doesn't just apply to writers. In fact, I'm convinced that just about anyone's approach to life itself can be defined by what type of window washer they are. I've broken down the list as follows:

Category 1 - People who diligently wash their windows. These are your "Type A" personalities-- they are often engineers, attorneys, brain surgeons, etc.; people for whom intensity, ambition and laser-sharp focus are practically job requirements. They spend their days finding flaws and correcting them (arguably, most agents, editors and publishers could fall into this category). Many of them are perfectionists.

(My father is a Category 1; so is my sister. It runs in the family. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.)

Category 2 - People who "plough ahead" and get the job done. These are the "Type B" personalities, people who tend to be more laid-back and easygoing. They don't get hung up on every little detail; they can handle it if the end result isn't perfect. They get things done, even if it's less than stellar, and they move on to the next project.

(My husband is this way, and thank God for it! He's probably the reason I don't have OCD.)

Category 3 - People who hire others to wash their windows. These, I believe, are the natural leaders of the world, the people who go on to become CEO's of Fortune 500 companies. They make sure the work gets done, but they don't do it themselves. Instead, they keep everyone organized and motivated so it gets done as efficiently as possible.

I'd like to add to this list a fourth category--the people who expect their windows to wash themselves. There are a lot of these, and if you're like me, you know more of them than you care to admit. Not to be confused with people who try and fail but keep trying anyway; no, they're the dreamers who never get off their butts in the first place. They're the ones who always say, "I'd like to write a novel one day," but they never write one word.

They don't go out and make life happen; they just expect it to fall from the sky.

So, what about you? What type of window washer are YOU? What kind do you WANT to be?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

I Have Been Officially Been "Twitterfied"

It's finally happened; at last, I've succumbed to the latest social networking phenomenon, at least as far as I know. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it's true: I've been "Twitterfied," and no one is more astounded by the event than yours truly. For months I ridiculed the entire concept of Twitter as being "the most pointless activity ever," and yet here I am, jumping my happy behind on the bandwagon with my own cutesy pink profile.

Let the madness commence.

Peg Corwin, a SCORE Chicago volunteer, put together a comprehensive list of posts that can help people get the best out of Twitter (which I found courtesy of Personal Branding Pro Meg Guiseppi). Also, SEO Marketing Consultant Jennifer Slegg wrote an excellent post back in March of last year about how to market your blog without spamming your followers. Interesting stuff, that. Me and my newbie self didn't even realize something like that would be a problem, but the implication there is that it's pretty widespread. I'm guessing it's just as widespread now, if not more so, since Twitter's popularity has grown so much since the post was written.

Most of you have probably heard about this already, but in case you haven't and you're also new to the Twittering scene, be sure to read this article about a nasty phishing scam going around on the site. Can't say I'm surprised; the "Koobface" virus has been floating through Facebook space since at least December.

Well, I suppose at the end of the day, what's most important is that we have more ways to communicate/stalk one another today than ever before. And if you're a budding author trying to make a name for yourself, it's probably best to take advantage of as many of them as possible. Does twittering really translate into book sales later on down the line? Let's hope so!

Oh, one more thing: Does anyone know how to add a Twitter feed to your blog page? Just curious...

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Welcome to Procrastinators Anonymous

ME: "Hi, my name is L.C. Gant, and I'm a procrastinator."

YOU: "Hi, L.C."

Welcome to the first meeting of Procrastinators Anonymous, a multi-step program that uses group therapy to give less-than-motivated individuals (particularly writers) a good kick in the pants to get them back to work. Take a seat. Relax. Have some chips and dip. We're gonna be here awhile.

So, why are you here? What mindless task stole your writing time today? Did you spend countless hours friending people on your favorite social networking site? How about updating web content that's already been updated five dozen times today? Or, are you more like me, tempted to read everyone and their grandmother's blogs at the expense of your own?

Hmmm... I hear crickets. Did I hit a nerve? (*wince*) Sorry about that. Perhaps I came on a little strong.

Very well. I'll start. I'm here because recently my characters sat me down for an intervention. "We can't go on living this way," they cried. "You brought us to life, carefully crafting our hopes, dreams and fears. You were the one who gave each of us a problem to solve, a world to save, a nemesis to defeat. And then, when we needed you most, you always found something more important to do. You've left our stories unfinished for months, even years at a time, and all because you were too afraid to dig deep enough into your psyche to write the hard stuff. The big, messy, confrontational, climatic scenes. For one reason or another, you just didn't want to go there.

"That, dear writer, is unacceptable," they told me. "Our stories need to end, or come to some sort of resolution at the very least. You can't leave us hanging in the cosmos forever."

They threatened to walk out on me, to kidnap my Muse and ride off into the sunset, leaving me weeping and gnashing my teeth. I promised them I would call a meeting and find others like me. I know you're out there. I can't be the only one who has half a dozen unfinished novels lying around.

And that's why I'm here. I have a problem and I need help. I can't seem to give my novels (and the characters they contain) the attention they deserve. I have commitment issues, and now my characters have abandonment issues. I want to change. I want to start the healing.

Now, who else wants to share?

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Why Do You Write?

Janet Reid, literary agent extraordinaire, had the most amazing quote on her blog today from writer Arne Garborg. Truer words were never spoken:

"For money you can have everything it is said. No, that is not true. You can buy food, but not appetite; medicine, but not health; soft beds, but not sleep; knowledge but not intelligence; glitter, but not comfort; fun, but not pleasure; acquaintances, but not friendship; servants, but not faithfulness; grey hair, but not honor; quiet days, but not peace. The shell of all things you can get for money. But not the kernel. That cannot be had for money."

-Arne Garborg, writer (1851-1924)

The last three sentences are what really got me. They capture with perfect eloquence the reason why so many of our beloved celebrities have such bizarre, destructive lives. Brittany Spears, Michael Vick, Lindsay Lohan, Michael Jackson... Heck, I could go on for days. They all have the shell of a wonderful life. They appear to have everything: fame, power and beauty, most of which is gained by having a certain amount of money. But they don't have the kernel. So the best things in life still elude them.

Now let's add a new dimension to this idea. In an ideal world, what would writing give you? Bestseller status? A phone call from Oprah? Multiple homes in NYC, L.A. and Miami with great ocean views? It's perfectly okay to want all of these things (I know I certainly do), just as long as you don't expect them. Editorial Ass, a.k.a. "Moonrat," says it far better than I...be aware, fellow writer, that the odds are very much against us.

Alright, before the more melodramatic among you reach for your drink of choice, remember that there is hope. One need only browse through your local Barnes & Noble or Borders to see that indeed, books still being bought and sold. Millions, probably billions, all over the world. Shocking, I know, but true. And out of all of those millions upon millions of books, a handful will become bestsellers and earn their authors a call from Oprah. A handful.

But you know that already. That's not the point. That's not why you get up before the sun or stay up long after it goes down, is it? Didn't think so. If you're like me, you do this thing we call writing because you love it, because deep down inside, you feel compelled to tell stories. You do it because there is something beautiful inside of you that needs to get out, and that something comes out whenever you put words on paper. You do it because it's what you were born to do.

So the money doesn't matter, or at least it shouldn't. If it comes to you, it's a wonderful bonus and you'll celebrate like you've lost your mind. But if it doesn't... Well, you'll survive, won't you? Because all of that extra stuff, it's just the shell anyway. It's not the kernel. The kernel is what you're doing right now. Writing. That is what "cannot be had for money."

Sunday, January 4, 2009

ANOTHER Bush for Prez? Don't Count on It...

Okay, before I start my rant, let me insert the following disclaimer: This is NOT a political blog. It is a personal blog about the various highs and lows of my writing life, and I intend to keep it that way. I don't mind discussing politics as it relates to the writing process (can't emphasize this enough), but that's as far as it goes. I've found that for the most part, politics brings out the ugliness in people, so unless I know for sure that my audience shares my viewpoint, I just don't go there. End of story.

That said, I came across this video clip from Bush Sr.'s interview with Fox News that made me laugh out loud. Really, H.W.? Really? Check it out:

Regardless of your political views, you have to admit that this is some funny stuff. Especially when you consider the context. Think about it: we're just over 2 weeks away from the inauguration of the nation's first African-American president. Even international newspapers are expressing a sense of optimism about the event. On the flip side, Bush Jr. is currently considered one of the most unpopular presidents in our nation's history, with an approval rating that reached a dismal 25 percent last October.

C'mon now, Papa Bush, did you really think this was the best time to suggest a potential heir to your family's tainted legacy? Ya know, with millions of people still somewhat bitter about the past 8 years? What's even more entertaining is that the former president appeared to reconsider his endorsement seconds after he'd spoken it aloud. He said, and I quote: "I mean, right now is probably a bad time, because we've had enough Bushes in [the white house]."

Yes. Yes we have, Mr. Bush. And perhaps you should take a moment to acknowledge President-elect Obama's accomplishment before looking for your next relative to replace him. Just sayin'.

Whew. Glad I got that out of my system. Tomorrow we'll be back to our regularly scheduled program, I promise. That is all.

Friday, January 2, 2009

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream...

Here's an easy question: When's the last time you suffered from writer's block? Perhaps a better question would be, what writer hasn't buckled under the weight of this inexplicable, often maddening condition? Call it what you will--an affliction of the mind, a symptom of stress, or what happens when your Muse takes a vacation without your permission--the fact is that whenever it occurs, it's pretty darn aggravating. And if it persists long enough, it can become toxic to even the most successful writing career.

I guess all of that was a roundabout way of saying WB sucks. I should know. I'm dealing with a rather nasty case of it right now myself, which I blame mostly on the fantastic insanity of the holidays. Between my letdown from the end of NaNoWriMo (the highlight of my year, people!) and the hubbub of continuous social gatherings, my writing gear always winds up on pause from December 1 all the way until the second week in January. Over the years, I've learned to anticipate the event and plan accordingly, but that doesn't make it any less frustrating. So, if any of you guys are in the same boat right now, trust me, I feel your pain.

However, it's a new year now, time to reboot the ol' creative hard drive. And I'm happy to say that I've found the perfect way for us writers to get our mojo back. Take a wild guess. Are you ready for this? C'mon, admit it...You're on the edge of your seat... No? Well, you should be. Give up? Alright, here it is...

Go. To. Sleep.

That's it. Seriously. If you haven't discovered it by now, dreams are a writer's best friend, an absolute gold mine of ideas just waiting to be dug up and written down. If you don't believe me, take a look at this article I found on scribblepad.co.uk about how to
effectively harness your dreams. I particularly like "Idea #4: Pay attention to how your dreams affect your writing."

"Do you find yourself eschewing writing after you experience certain types of dreams, such as nightmares? Do other dreams seem to invigorate you? If so, you may want to seriously consider working on overcoming the inability to work. Look for these types of psychological patterns after dreams and learn how to work with (or, if necessary, against) them. You may have underlying issues that need to be addressed before you can write at your personal zenith."

Aside from the use of peculiar words such as "eschewing" and "zenith," I found this idea fascinating. I would also add that the reverse is true, too: pay attention to how your writing affects your dreams. For example, I find that I tend to have a lot of dreams about children and pregnancy whenever I've spent too much time away from a work-in-progress that I enjoy, and some dream analysts suggest that in dreams, such images represent hidden creativity. Many times, your subconscious will remind you of stories your conscious mind has buried...and sometimes it will give you ideas you would never consider while awake...

Try writing down your dreams for a week and let me know how it turns out. You just might be surprised at the results...

Update: Two nights ago, I had a dream that gave me a phenomenal idea for a novel, a retelling of a well-known Greek myth. I find that the more I write down my dreams, the easier it becomes for me to remember them. So try it out for awhile, even if you have a hard time remembering your dreams at first. You never know what might happen... It worked for Stephenie Meyer!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Start the New Year Off Right... Watch The Twilight Zone.

So, lemme guess... You had a pretty wild time last night, didn't you? I mean, let's be honest here: everyone says Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/whatever holiday you celebrate in December is supposed to be fun for people of all ages, but the truth is you most likely spent all your time buying and wrapping gifts for the kiddies. New Year's Eve is for adults. It's our time to get a babysitter, round up a bunch of friends and go crazy as we watch the ball drop, at least for a couple of hours. And if you're single, you just skip the kids and babysitter part and go out. Fun times.

Now here's the not-so-fun part. You stayed out waaaaay too late for your age (which, if you're older than, let's say, 22, is probably anytime past midnight), you spent too much money, and you definitely drank too much. And to top it all off, you've got the world's worst hangover. Yay. Fabulousness.

Or maybe you didn't go out. Maybe you're like the millions of other grown folk in this country who can't even afford a whats-it-chino at Starbucks anymore, much less an all-night club-hopping adventure. Either way, you're off today and you're tired from staying up past your bedtime. You don't feel like leaving the house. So what do you do?

You turn on the Sci-Fi Channel and watch The Twilight Zone New Year's Day marathon, of course!

Okay, I know, that was the worst lead-in ever, but bear with me here. The Twilight Zone is considered one of television's most revered shows, and with good reason. The writing is excellent; the acting, superb. They simply don't make shows like this anymore. If you're a writer or just a person who enjoys a good story, this series is a must-see. It aired in the late 50's and early 60's, so yes, that means it's a "classic" (read "old" and "black-and-white" for those of you born after 1990). But it's also really, really good.

Even if you're not a sci-fi fan, the storylines explore themes and issues that we all can relate to, truths that highlight both the good and evil aspects of human nature. And don't even get me started on irony. Check out the last few minutes of "Eye of the Beholder" or "Time Enough at Last" and you'll see what I mean. The Sci-Fi Channel has a nice webpage devoted to the series, complete with an episode guide and a biography about its creator, the ingenious Rod Serling. They even have a schedule listing which episodes are on at which times, so you can tune in for your favorites. Plus, if you still need more of the Zone after the marathon ends, CBS has a webpage where you can watch full-length episodes as well. Go ahead and watch. You ain't got nothin' better to do...

Happy New Year! Time to Start A Blog!

Hello, world! I have no problem admitting that when it comes to blogging, I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing. I made a halfhearted attempt to start one last year and wound up quitting after, like, three posts. Sad, I know. What can I say? I'm allergic to forming new habits.

So, let's see if things turn out better this time around, shall we? It's a brand-spanking new year, and even though the economy's still pretty crappy, I feel good. I feel excited, adventurous, ready to boldly go where no man has...well, you know the rest. And my first resolution of the New Year is to start this blog and actually keep it up for longer than a week this time around! Hey, stop laughing. We can't all go skydiving or backpacking across Europe right out of the gate. Some of us have to take baby steps. So there.

Okay, so maybe my life is only slightly more interesting than a game of Uno in Grandma's nursing home. It's a start. What about you? What's the best New Year's resolution YOU'VE made? And better yet, which ones have you actually KEPT? Oh, and for heaven's sake, no "weight loss" resolutions, please...unless they're of "The Biggest Loser" caliber, of course!

Happy New Year! Here's hoping that 2009 is loads better than 2008 was! I'm keeping my fingers crossed...