From Neverwhere, American Gods, Stardust and more, Neil Gaiman’s humour, characters, and imagination never fail to amaze me. In the midst of a week of major life changes and the whispers of insidious self-doubt, his inspirational commencement speech at the University of the Arts was just what I needed. Every artist, writer, singer, dancer, painter, should take a minute to watch and be inspired to make good art. It’s that simple. Never forget that’s what we do. Make good art.I hope you all enjoy.
Monthly Archives: May 2012
There have been a lot of these images going around Facebook lately. This one about writers is one of my favorites (along with the one about moms with Victoria Beckham, soccer ball on hip). How does society view you? How does your mom view you? But, of course, the real question is, how you do view yourself? What is your writer’s image?
Whenever I read a book, I always like to image the author as she typed the words I’m currently reading. Of course, even though I am a writer, I never imagine all the mistakes and rewrites and edits. I always seem to imagine the author holed up in a dark room, madly typing the words exactly as they are on the page in my hand. I’m sure the author would laugh hysterically if I ever told her this. Maybe she’d be flattered (I sure would).
When it comes to my own writer’s image, it’s not quite so inspiring. I try to imagine myself outside or near a window with my laptop on a cute little wooden desk, sitting in the perfect typing position, characters dancing in my head, writing away. In reality, I’m usually half passed out in bed with one eye watching the latest episode of Supernatural and a half a click away from Facebook (where I come across funny pictures that make me ponder life’s questions).
As I type this (on my phone) I’m in the car driving from Arizona to Colorado, where I will be living in a couple of days. That’s what got me thinking about it. Where I lived up until today, there wasn’t much for writers, but when moving to a bigger city, my first thought was, “How many writer’s groups are there?” I was thrilled to find out a large group and yearly conference was just outside my new doorstep.
Local writing groups are my guilty pleasure. Being a part of a professional, focused bunch of peers makes me feel more professional and focused myself. Attending meetings and mingling with other hardworking writers somehow begins to change my image of my writerly self. Suddenly I see myself more like the writer I dream of being, which subconsciously leads me into being more like that writer in real life. Motivated. Awaited. Confident. Inspired.
We all know there’s no such thing as the writer who leads the uninterrupted, perfect writing life we like to image, but doing what it takes to create a healthier writer’s image of yourself gets us just a little bit closer.
How do you view yourself as a writer? What inspires you to be more like the writer you want to be?
This blog post is going to be a little…unconventional. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve taken some really great trainings (at my day job), and the tools and information I’ve learned has been so valuable that I thought I’d post a mini recap here.
One of the trainings I took was called Crucial Confrontations taught by Vital Smarts. How do you know if a confrontation is crucial? Well, if the emotions are high and the stakes are high, you probably have yourself a crucial confrontation. But, it’s up to you to decide if you want to have a confrontation or not. If something is really bothering you, then I highly encourage it. The results may really surprise you.
The biggest takeaway for me was whenever someone does something like violates your trust, your friendship, or disrespects you, as humans, we immediately come up with a story in our mind about why they did what they did. What was their motivation? Well, as writers, we can come up with some elaborate stories. And they are just that. Stories.
Lets use an example. Say you ask someone to critique your work. You specifically ask for feedback. The person comes back with some comments that aren’t exactly off the mark, but they are written in a way that kind of hurts your feelings. You start to think this person doesn’t know what they’re talking about. They don’t “get” your story. In some instances this may be right, but what we’re doing is telling ourselves a story. This story creates an emotion, and we become defensive. We no longer care about the true meaning behind the words, we come up with all kinds of assumptions as to why this person said what they said. As an editor, critiquer, and writer, I try to always be respectful and mindful of what I write in a critique. I’m sure we all do. But after you’ve read a story a lot, and you get familiar with it and the characters, it’s easy to just jot comments here and there that may be blunt. We don’t mean for them to be hurtful, but it’s text. There’s no way to decipher the person’s tone or body language.
I’m not saying we all do this, and I know we all try hard not to, but it’s something that can happen regardless of our intentions. The best thing to do is be aware of the stories we tell ourselves–they’re NOT fact. You don’t know what the person meant because you haven’t asked them yet. You haven’t had a chance to get over your own assumptions.
Here’s another example. Say someone says something that hurts your feelings, but instead of going to them and talking about it, you turn to silence. You choose not to say anything to them. Instead, you come up with a story as to why they said what they said, and you go ahead and come up with how they meant it, too. “They don’t like me. They’re just trying to get me down. They’re mean. Come to think of it, I bet they’re happy they made me feel bad.” That’s a story–assumptions. Take a second to come up with a scenario in your mind. When’s the last time someone said something to you that upset you? What did you do about it? Did you think of the facts? Or come up with your own? It’s so so so easy to do. I didn’t realize how often I did it unit this training.
Talk to the person who upset you. Don’t attack them. Instead, create a safe environment for them to open up to you. Say things like, “I don’t want this to create a problem for us, and I do want us to be able to talk about this so we can move on. Is that okay with you?” This creates a safe environment for the person to want to open up. It can lead to a peaceful confrontation, and hopefully you’ll both leave the conversation feeling better. That’s the goal.
So next time someone says something to you that hurts your feelings, instead of coming up with a story, stop. Try to think about it objectively and with a clean slate.
This is my post about how one person can make a difference in a writer’s mindset. I have different people in my life that I know I can count on for certain things, and who play specific roles in the things I do. You guys will remember I talked about Megan, today I’m sharing somebody else with you. This time I use her real name.
I have a new friend. Her name is Cait and she lives somewhere in the US. Sometimes I think life sends us certain people when we really need them(I think I’ve mentioned this before), and two weeks ago I needed somebody to help me move forward with an aspect of my writing I honestly wasn’t looking forward to.
I had to start rewrites on a novel, and it was a prospect I dread more than going to the dentist(if you know one thing about me, know that going to the dentist scares me to death. I usually start crying two days before the actual appointment).
A bit of background: A month or two ago I sent my novel to a beta reader I’ve never met before. In less than a week she sent it back with a whole lot of hard truths, all of which made the possibility of a rewrite jump to the forefront of my mind. This was something I did not welcome. A few weeks after I received her feedback, somebody else offered to read for me and although her notes were encouraging, she answered the most important question I’d sent to her with my manuscript. Do you think I need to rewrite? Her answer as a straight up, ‘Yes, I think you do’. I needed somebody to say ‘you have to rewrite’, for it to really sink in. I can be hard headed sometimes and encourage people to tell me what to do. Only in some aspects of course. Having somebody say that I need to do something as big as that was kind of like dropping the mountain that had been weighing me down for a while now. It was that weight of knowing I had to do it even though I didn’t want to.
Never let your tears and sensitivity hurt you. I found this partial quote somewhere while I wasted time digging for photos in Google images. It struck home because, yes, I am sensitive about the rewrite, this novel specifically. The week I started rewrites was also when I realized I’ve been working on this particular novel for a year. That’s ridiculously long for me. Although I know, I KNOW, that it takes months, sometimes years, to get a novel as good as it can be, I’m one of those people who want it to be finished and awesome as soon as I type THE END on the last page of the first draft. But it’s not, and I’ll spend the next few months fixing it, having it critiqued and beta read, polishing it. After all that, realizing I have to rewrite the entire things is daunting and a little heartbreaking. But it’s part of the process and now, one week later, I’ve accepted it for what it is.
Getting back to Cait. I met her on twitter a few weeks before the rewrite, she was a friend of a friend and is now my friend. But right at this moment she’s my rewrite partner as well. We’ve been at it for a week now. Each day I ask her how rewrites are going, she’ll do the same. If she’s ahead, I’ll work that bit harder to catch up and I’m sure she does the same. The moment we agreed to do this together was when I lost my dread for doing this. It’s a massive task, an emotional one as well, but knowing I didn’t have to do it on my own made such a difference. Knowing somebody is suffering through it with me makes it that much more bearable, and after a week of doing this, I actually look forward to opening the word document and doing what needs to be done.
It’s amazing the kind of difference one person can make to your mindset. I’m a proud introvert but when it comes to my writer friends, I’m blessed beyond belief. One of the best parts of my journey as a writer is the people I’ve met along the way, and that includes the ladies from Hugs and Chocolate and everybody that takes a minute or two to comment on our posts. We aren’t alone in this thing anymore, but sometimes we forget. Meeting people who go through the same things we do, they are just one of the many reminders that all we have to do is say something about what we’re experiencing with regard to our writing. Somebody will step forward to say ‘I know what it’s like, how can I help’. If that’s not your thing, there are hundreds of blog posts scattered across the internet that will inspire confidence and a willingness to work harder for what you love.
We all have ways of dealing with feeling down, mine just happen to be knowing that I’m not alone in feeling like this. This ties back to the rewrites that I don’t dread so much anymore. Of course I have a lot of other people who motivate and keep me going, but Cait seemed appropriate for this post.
So thank you, Cait, for not letting me suffer alone. And thank you to everybody who’s been so supportive here. We love you all.
Once upon a time in a far away land…
Cliche as it is, don’t you just love stories that start with that line? I do. Fairy tales are pure magic. I grew up on the censored fairy tales, where Cinderella was rescued by a prince, Ariel found her happily ever after and Little Red Riding Hood escaped the big, bad wolf. But then I discovered the true fairy tales – the ones by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Charles Perrault and Hans Christian Anderson. Imagine my surprise when I read Aschenputtel (later known as Cinderella) by The Brothers Grimm. It certainly wasn’t the warm fuzzy tale Disney had portrayed. Can you imagine the lovely children’s movie showing the wicked step sisters cutting off parts of their feet to fit into the glass slipper only to have their eyes pecked out by pigeons so the prince will see the truth? It wouldn’t send girls to sleep with dreams of fairy godmothers and handsome princes dancing in their heads. In the original version of Little Red Riding Hood by Charles Perrault, the wolf eats her in the end. And Ariel. Poor Ariel. Hans Christian Anderson must have had it in for her because he made her watch as the prince married another princess. She’s offered a knife with which to kill him, but she can’t do it. She jumps into the water and turns to froth. That was Anderson’s original story. He later reworded it and didn’t kill her by froth, just that she was waiting to go to heaven as a “daughter of the air.” Dead is dead though.
These were the fairy tales I loved. They were dark and twisted and unpleasant at times, but they made me think. Not all the stories had a happily ever after, in fact, most didn’t. To me, it made more sense that way. Life is full of ups and down and stories should be too. I recently reread Bluebeard by Perrault. It does have a happy, though warped ending. The main character doesn’t die, so it’s happy. Some days life is like that, if you make it through a certain trial and come out intact – it’s a happy ending (at least for that day).
No matter how dark and terrible the fairy tale was, there was usually a moral attached, though sometimes they were a little hard to find. In Aschenputtel, it was to treat others how you want to be treated and good will always prevail. The Little Mermaid tells us to sacrifice everything for love, even our lives and in Little Red Riding Hood it’s basic message was not to talk to strangers (in the original, she asked the wolf for directions and he gave her the wrong ones, causing her doom). Perrault often included a rhyming poem at the end of his story to help explain his idea of the moral. Here’s the one he wrote at the end of Bluebeard:
“Curiosity, in spite of its charm,
Too often causes a great deal of harm.
A thousand new cases arise each day.
With due respect, ladies, the thrill is slight,
For as soon as you’re satisfied, it goes away,
And the price one pays is never right.”
Confusing, isn’t it? If the wife hadn’t been curious she would’ve met the same fate as the other wives, yet Perrault seems to be telling us not to be curious. Given a choice, I’d rather be curious.
For a lot of people, fairy tales are introduced to us when we’re children. They’re our first experience with good and evil, fantasy and hope that good will win. What are your feelings on fairy tales? Which ones are your favorites? Have you ever written one? I’d love to try and write about a far off land, a princess and rogue prince, complete with sword fights, dragons and talking animals. Hmmmm…
From pale to neon
it splits, guts, and strains
the fragile fruit that is my brain.
The light inside my head is poetry. I don’t remember when I fell in love with the feel of words rolling around in my brain and the taste they made when they fell off my lips. I’ve written reams of bad poetry and I don’t foresee a day that I’ll stop trying to achieve something higher and more beautiful.
In short, poetry is my therapy. There comes a time in everyone’s life, especially a writer’s, when someone or something tries to mute the passions and the independent spirit. Poetry fights the silence. It doesn’t crave understanding; it only wants a response, often from the gut.
After I survived an abusive relationship, I was left with not only two beautiful girls to raise, but a shattered psyche to put back together. I found my old notebooks and started writing free verse again. I read aloud the works of poets like Maya Angelou, Edgar Allen Poe, and Sylvia Plath. It rekindled my love for language and as I wrote about my circumstance and emotion, I became less of a victim and more of a warrior. And it made room in my crowded heart to love and dream again.
“Poetry…for me it’s about deciphering the points of light and dark, rising to my best through words and attempting to capture some fleeting image or fullness.”
“The unexamined life is not worth living.”
For the wordsmiths, poetry can remove the blockage when we are struggling to distill an emotion or theme in a scene. It tears the blinders-frustrations and blank pages- from our third eye and reminds us why we started the thing in the first place- the love for language and its capacity to make us dance, rage, and continue forward when it appears the costs are too high.
“Always be a poet, even in prose.”
Each writer’s journey is as unique as the lines on our hands and the stories we have to share. Poetry continues to be not the vehicle, but the road I dare not stray too far from. It is my hiding place when fears about talent and commitment frolic during restless nights. I know I’ll never stop distilling life into verse and there is no quieting my voice or imagination.
Does poetry, in any form, impact your writer’s journey?
I confess. I’m a loner, a rebel, an oddball, a rarity. That’s right world, I write Young Adult novels in third person point of view and I wouldn’t have it any other way. There. I’ve said it. You can stamp non-conformist on my forehead.
These days YA first person POV novels fly off the shelves. Teen readers can’t seem to get enough of them, agents are snapping them up, and 99% of YA writers are on the flag flying first person point of view bandwagon. In the YA world I sometimes feel like I’m seated at a table for one on Valentine’s Day. I used to sit and wonder…‘ Why are they getting all the love?’
For you third person lovers out there, it might seem like we’re a minority, but I’m here to tell you not to worry. There are still readers, agents, and editors who love third person. If I can get published writing third person, so can you.
So why have I gone all rebel? I’m not a hater. I admire those who write read and love their first person POV. At the end of the day, it’s all about the story. If the story is great, I don’t care what POV it’s written in, but I confess it’s not my favourite and it’s certainly not my voice. And that’s the crux of it. Writers should never pick a POV for trends sake. Writers should write in the POV that best serves the story.
So why do I love third? (And by third, I’m talking about third limited. I’m not going to go into omniscient here. I’m not a fan of pure omniscient nor do I write it. If any of you do, I would love to hear your thoughts on it.)
For me, third person brings a story to life in a way that firstperson doesn’t, it’s about the richness of language, the depth of the world, the exploration of emotion and conflict on a broader spectrum. It’s about diversity. It’s about seeing the world as a whole and not just through the MC’s tinted glasses. Why would I want to see one colour when I could see the whole rainbow? It’s about the butterfly effect and seeing the ripples turn into a tsunami and how that effects everyone involved.
Before you get your first person POV loving knickers in a twist, I’m not saying you can’t have rich language or depth in first person POV, but it is harder. Not unlike writing third person in the same intimate, jump into the characters head, kind of way.
A First Look:
I’ll be honest and say that to me, first person POV feels too constricting, both in writing and in reading. I feel suffocated by the single voice. Restricted in what I can know and who I can relate to. I feel as if I’m missing part of the story. Because of this, the MC’s voice has to be pretty fresh and amazing to keep me from feeling trapped and if I’m honest, sometimes bored and annoyed. The writer has to employee great dialogue and unique perspective from the MC to make me continue reading. Sometimes I feel first person can focus too much on the internal and as a consequence the MC seems more like a paper doll than a living being. Of course, this can be said of third person as well, but with third person you have other characters views and perceptions of the MC to help build her character. In first you rely solely on one personality.
First Person Done Right:
An example of single MC first person done to perfection is Libba Bray’s Great and Terrible Beauty. Gemma Doyle is by far one of my favourite YA MC’s. Libba Bray’s first person narrative is one of the only ones that made me forget I wasn’t reading in my beloved third person POV. It’s intimate and yet Gemma truly observes the world around her. The MC brings depth and richness to the world with the way she describes and interacts with it. And she’s truly three dimensional. If you’re writing in first, I highly recommend studying Libba Bray.
Another fabulous example is Maggie Stiefvater’s Wolves of Mercy Falls series. Throughout the series, Maggie uses first person POV for multiple characters. Each voice is fresh and easily distinguishable. This approach alleviates the sometimes myopic view of a singular MC first person POV and allows the reader to experience a greater breath of the story. I think she’s pure genius.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind:
Where first person explores the inside out, third tends to explore the external. In the same way that first person can be myopic, third can be too detached, too broad. It can lead to too much telling and not enough showing. It can be slow to get into the action and the character, especially when using omniscient third. But with third person limited, I think you get the best of both worlds. It gives you enough distance to not feel like you’re looking through the story through a single prism and yet intimate enough to help the reader jump into the head of the characters.
Third Person done Right:
Hands down the best writer for third person POV is George RR Martin. Pure genius. His use of third person limited puts you right in the action and in the head of his characters. I know the Lannisters, the Starks, Karstarks, Crows, Greyjoy’s, Tyrell’s, Umbers, Frey’s, ect…as well as I know my own family. They are real, you change your mind about them chapter by chapter. One minute loving Tyrion, the next despising him. You see the world working as a symbiotic being, each part being revealed through the characters reacting to one another. Third person limited allows the reader to see motives others can’t. The reader sees the whole chessboard while the characters don’t. He makes the reader hold their breath each time a piece is moved in the game of thrones as the reader anticipates what’s going to happen knowing others characters have no idea how it will affect them. I get to watch the butterfly effect take wing. To me, this builds tension in a way first person doesn’t. It allows the reader to dive in, become a part of the story, loose themselves in the world around them, and feel the grit and the blood.
Of course you could even opt to use both first and third in your novel. LA Weatherly uses both in her Angel series. Her MC, Willow, speaks to the reader in first person while Alex and the evil Angels are written in third. LA Weatherly’s seamless use of both POV’s serves to bring the reader in to relate with Willow but also allows the reader a broader view. You would think this technique would be jarring, but I didn’t find it that way at all.
In the end, there is no right or wrong. What’s right for you won’t be right for another. Why does it have to be either or? Both POV’s have their strength and their weaknesses. Being aware of the weakness is the first step to getting it right. All writers must work to find the balance. Seek your voice; don’t write in a POV because you think that’s what readers/agents/editors want. Make sure you’re serving the story and the characters and let your voice shine through.