Worderella Wonders Does Bad Mood = Bad Writing?

Dear Reader,

Well. I’ve been in something of a mood lately, which probably isn’t the best time to release a YouTube video inviting people to join me on this journey of self-publishing. Ah me. Oh well. It’s out there now, for people to judge, and so I say, “Have at thee!”

Without really knowing what that means.

I’ve been pondering my bad mood lately, trying to decipher my frowns and snarls as I stomp around the house, and the following comment by Libba Bray, author of A Great and Terrible Beauty, came to mind…

I’m one of those people who has to write. If I don’t write, I feel itchy and depressed and cranky. So everybody’s glad when I write and stop complaining already.

And so I must admit something that rather embarrasses me: I haven’t written a word for Haunting Miss Trentwood in over a week.

I know not to do this. I know my pattern. The longer I don’t write, the moodier and… well… bitchier I tend to become. I don’t know why I do this. I know I ought to be writing, but I wanted to get my micropress set up, and really ramp up my involvement in the writing community. In the meantime, I’ve let my writing slip, and therefore my optimism and overall good mood.

But now I’m afraid that I’ve lost my steam. I’ve felt guilty about neglecting 750words.com because I know the system will say it hasn’t seen me in a while, and it would be right. I’m most afraid that because I haven’t been writing (creatively), and my mood has suffered for it, that said bad mood will seep into my writing and make it worse for the wear.

I don’t want to be a bad writer.

I gotta get through this. Cue David Beddingfield, if you please.

I need to stop whining, get my hands a-writing, and blast out this shitty first draft.

In the Midst of Living

“My ideas usually come not at my desk writing but in the midst of living.”
– Anaïs Nin, French Writer

First, I need to say that last week the lovely Evangeline at Edwardian Promenade awarded the I Love This Blog to me, and I have to spread the love around. See the end of this post for the award, and my nominations. ❤

This week’s exercise is to take a look around you. So often do we writers get lost in the act of writing, that we forget we are supposed to be writing about life. Who are these characters that we spend our every waking moments with? How can we possibly know who they are, and how to make them distinct, if all we do is sit around our houses dreaming about them?

NaNoWriMo is a difficult time for any writer, whether you have a plan/outline or not. I found that during the second week, I began to lag a little. Things weren’t coming as quickly, and I was losing some of my pep.

I knew I had to leave the computer. There was something about sitting in the same spot day in, day out, writing to fulfill the daily goal, that exhausted me. I took a digital camera and small writing journal, and went for a walk.

I took pictures of whatever I saw that inspired me, with the plan to print them out and tape them to the walls around my desktop. I sat by the little lake at the center of my campus, and absorbed. I never wrote anything.

Three years later (i.e. a couple of weeks ago), that moment crystallized into the following:

At Ohio State, my favorite place on campus was Mirror Lake. There are beautiful flowering trees there in the spring, and ducklings that swim in time with The Truman Show soundtrack on my mp3 player. In the winter, the lake freezes over and everyone tests their courage by walking across it. In the fall, the most zealous Buckeyes jump into the lake to show their loyalty against M*ch*gan. There are benches, and sometimes people play their guitars. I would walk around the lake, usually listening to classical music, and breathe it in. I’d stare at the fountain in the center, and how it sometimes made a rainbow on very bright days.

Simple, reminiscent, evocative. Do you have such a moment, and can you use it for your writing?

Awards to Blogs I Love

Dreaming on the Job

Graham Carter

Tales of a Fantasy Scribbler

Word Nerd

(Listed alphabetically)

A Six Word Story

This month, I’m doing a series of short exercises, one a week, to help those of you who are stuck with your WIP. Maybe you’re doing NaNoWriMo, maybe not. In any case, it helps to have an exercise to spark your imagination.

This week’s exercise is a challenge in brevity. The goal of NaNoWriMo, for instance, is to write 50k words in a month. A 50k word work is about the length of a short novel, similar to an Avon or Harlequin romance. This can be a challenge in and of itself… how do you write a novel with developed characters and an interesting plot in 50k words? Some writers, who are cheating themselves, will litter their WIP with adverbs, adjectives, and unnecessary description just to make that word count goal.

Here is a popular and well-known writing exercise… Hemingway was once given a challenge to write an entire story in only six words. His answer:

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

Apparently, he thought it was his greatest literary work ever. It speaks to the audience, and pulls them in. We know the ending to the story, and can surmise how it began. Most importantly, we care.

Here are some of my six word stories:

He smiled, and her world ended.

She always hated writing the beginning.

Her lips were chapped. Damn frogs.

Required: knight in armor (shining optional).

There are many writers who practice this sort of flash fiction through their Twitter accounts, where each update can only be 140 characters long. Can you tell a story in a sentence? What is your six word story? Do you even count these micro-narratives as stories?

Set Yourself on Fire

Success isn’t a result of spontaneous combustion. You must set yourself on fire.
– Arnold H. Glasow

A somewhat creepy quote just in time for Halloween, I think. Can you imagine what it must feel like, to set yourself on fire? Let’s think of it in the literal sense, first.

There are the branches and twigs, all dried to a satisfying crisp so they will catch flame. There are the ropes, to keep you in place as the flames grow higher and start to lick at your feet. There is the stake to which you bind yourself, and the gasoline in which you douse yourself. There is the doubtful assistant, who ties you up, and lights the flame for you. There are your shrieks, though of triumph or horror for completing the task, we’ll never know.

Gruesome. Happy Halloween.

Now let’s look at this as a giant metaphor, because who doesn’t like a good metaphor?

As a writer, you must set yourself on fire.

There are your ideas (branches and twigs), happily fermenting in the back of your mind and ready to explode on the page. There are your goals and aspirations (ropes), to keep you going as the going gets tough and the rejections evermore painful. There is the blog to which you commit yourself (the stake), and the people who comment (gasoline), holding you accountable. There is your critique partner (doubtful assistant), who asks you questions, and encourages you when you’re ready to give up. There are your shrieks, though of triumph or horror for completing the first draft and having to start the second, we’ll never know.

I encourage all of you to set yourself on fire. Be the passion that brings your work to life, and others will feel it in your writing. As sung in The Sound of Music, “Nothing comes from nothing; nothing ever should.” What does that mean? It means that, like in the quote at the beginning of this entry, success won’t spontaneously combust for you. Success will be a result of an arduous process into which you pour your heart, soul, patience, and resources.

Set yourself on fire. Join NaNoWriMo, and feel the flames burn ever higher as you blaze toward the finish line. Good luck, and may the muse be with you.

Leave a comment about something you do to get fired up about writing. Do you listen to music? Do you watch a favorite movie or read a favorite book? Do you talk to people about your writing?

Inspiration from Clever Television

I choose my television and movie choices carefully (most of the time). If I listed my favorite tv series, a pattern of character-driven plots will emerge (Pushing Daisies, The Office, Gilmore Girls, 30 Rock, Arrested Development, Dead Like Me…). This makes sense because my fiction is character-driven. Maybe I should watch shows that are more about the plot, so I don’t have blindspots? In any case, today I’m writing about one show and one movie that inspire me, and I hope you’ll share yours!

Pushing Daisies, on ABC

Pushing Daisies is a delightful, narrated mystery show about a man named Ned who can bring the dead to life with the touch of his finger. There is a catch, however: a second touch will kill the person forever. And it turns out that if Ned lets the person stay alive for more than a minute after his special touch, someone else must die in their place. Things get juicy when he brings his childhood sweetheart back to life. If he lets her live, someone else must die in her place. If he touches her once, ever, she will be dead forever.

Would you believe me if I said this was a comedy? I love this show because of how clever the writers are with Ned and Chuck’s situation (Chuck is short for Charlotte). Thanks to the narrator, the mood is reminiscent of the most recent movie rendition of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Really, it’s like sitting down to story time every week. Look for it this fall, I bet you’ll like it.

Penelope, starring Christina Ricci

Now in terms of movies, am I the only one who saw Penelope, that movie starring Christina Ricci? And loved it? This is a fairy tale about a girl cursed with a pig’s nose until she is loved and accepted by one of her own. This movie is straight-forward, and some claim it failed at teh fairy-tale attempt, but this is a movie of characters, each with a motive, each with something to learn. Everyone learns something in this movie (all the main and secondary characters, anyway).  I found it charming and refreshing for the simple reason that the heroine is her own hero.

So here’s something I’ve always wondered about my fellow writers/readers. They always say writers should read a lot, a statement I heartily agree with. But what about other media outlets? Do you feel television and movies can inspire you, or does it blunt your creativity? Are there certain shows you watch precisely because it sparks your imagination? Tell all!

Guest Post: Stay the Course

A guest post from my friend, Graham Carter, a reporter and editor from across the pond. He writes to answer the cries of us writers who have let our doubts get the better of us, and not a moment too soon. So read on, and feel inspired! Next week, a Worderella review of another Gaiman work.

Let’s talk drumming.

Yes, I know this is supposed to be all about writing, but there is an analogy here that I think all writers should be aware of, so stick with it (pun intended).

I am not a great drummer. I only took it up about six years ago, when I was 40, because I ran out of excuses for my lack of musical know-how. There I was, with my sticks in hand, eager to learn – and not a little excited. But the first thing that has to be said about drumming is it’s harder than it looks. Much harder. Much, much harder. Give it a try and you’ll find that trying to co-ordinate two arms, two feet and your brain, all in perfect harmony, often feels like some kind of witchcraft.

So I got myself a good teacher, watched recordings of Buddy Rich and other superhuman drummers in action, always kept my eyes fixed on the drummer whenever I went to a concert, and even went along to several drum ‘clinics’ where seriously good players would play, talk about drumming and show other
drummers some tricks of the trade. And I wasn’t afraid to work hard and practise.

Well, it didn’t work. Rather than be inspired to better things by all that excellence, I always ended up with the same thought at the back of my mind: “I’ll never be able to do that.” The better those other drummers got, the more I realised that – regardless of how keen I was and no matter how hard I tried – I simply did not have a talent for it in anything like the measure that those guys do. I was keen, but I was no natural.

So what has this to do with writing? Well, unlike drumming, writing does come easily to me. It comes so easily, in fact, that I hardly have to think about it to be able to produce something that has more cohesion, more fluency and more interest than the vast majority of the rest of the population of the planet will ever be capable of. It’s what I do, and as a professional journalist and editor of 20 years’ standing, I’ve also become
accustomed to working quickly and efficiently. Words are my friends, and I still love the fact that people will actually pay me to put them in the right order for them.

Fiction isn’t my thing, but I know how to string sentences together to get information across and make a point. And the point I need to make here is that most people – at least 99 per cent of the people you will ever meet, in fact – cannot write.

Never underestimate that fact.

Sure, they’re literate, but task them with writing anything remotely creative or vaguely complex, and they’ll flounder like a fish out of water. Words worry them. Sentences scare them. Paragraphs petrify them. Think about that for a moment while we go back to the drumming…

It was some time before I finally realised what I was doing wrong, and the solution was so simple that I am tempted to call it a revelation. It suddenly stuck me that my whole drumming education was built on how much better some drummers were than me, and it hadn’t really dawned on me that those staggeringly talented drummers I had been watching were only a tiny minority of all the drummers in the world. As far as my actual capabilities were concerned, I was reaching for pie in the sky, and I was so focused on how far there was to go, that I didn’t notice how far I’d come. It was time to switch to watching average drummers instead.

And it worked. Rather than telling myself: “I’ll never be able to do that,” now I come away from watching other, less esteemed, drummers with exactly the opposite viewpoint. “I can do that,” I tell myself – and I can. I will never be a great drummer, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be a good one. I’ve found my level, and I found it by looking downwards. In hindsight, it was always a mistake to look upwards all the time, and it’s perfectly clear to me now that I was never going to emulate my betters when they had truckloads of talent and I was a mere mortal.

So, should you start comparing yourself with lesser writers instead of the literary giants you’re trying to emulate? Is it time for you to aim lower?

Don¹t you dare!

Why not? Because you’re not just an average writer, like I’m an average drummer. You’re a natural.

I am certain of this, dear reader, even though I’ve never met you and may not have read a single word you’ve ever written. I don’t need to. I know it simply because you¹re reading this. You’ve come to this website, looking to hone your craft through contact and interaction with other writers. Like I did with my drumming, you’re hanging out with, and seeking inspiration from, people who find this kind of thing easy. But with you there’s one important difference: you stayed.

If you’re comfortable around here, with all this talk of great writing and great writers, then that means you’re still looking upwards. And if you’re looking upwards, it follows that you must be a natural. Only when somebody is a natural do they continue looking upwards for inspiration, rather than downwards, and only when they are a true natural are they able to do this without feeling intimidated.

What’s more, they do it involuntarily. Most of the time, you don’t even know you’re doing it.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but you weren’t one of those hordes of kids who loathed Shakespeare at school, were you? You sensed the greatness of it, didn’t you, long before you could understand what was great about it or even what greatness was? Somehow, you knew.

And now, when you read Shakespeare or Tolkien or Austen or whoever your hero is, you’re not thinking: “I’ll never be able to do that.” You¹re thinking: “I can do that.” And there will be times – there probably already have been – when you will.

So never doubt it. When you’re having a bad day, just remind yourself of the fact that when it comes to writing, you’re not like all the rest. You’re different because you are stretching for things that most people have given up trying to reach – and they may already be within your grasp.

Graham Carter is a freelance journalist and editor who lives in Swindon, England, with his wife, Julie, and their two teenage children. He currently writes a weekly column for the Swindon Advertiser about the trials and tribulations of being over 40, and his blog (www.grahamcarter.net) is a more random collection of thoughts arising from everyday life.

WIP: Dragging my Feet

Belinda is dragging her feet... drawn by WorderellaI have had two chapters left to write for First Draft B since the beginning of April, and I can’t seem to do it. Not because I don’t know what’s going to happen, but because these are the last two chapters. I’m terrified of a deus ex machina ending, I guess, even though that’s not going to happen as long as I follow my storyboard.

Am I the only one whose writing slows to a sluggish halt as the “finish line” approaches? I feel like I’m afraid of finishing. Which is silly, because we all know how I love editing. That, and I’ve already started plotting the sequel.

Tell me, how is your WIP going? Are you nearing the finish line? Have you hit a snag? I need some writing news to distract/urge me to continue.

Writing for the Love of it

The real secret is to do it because you love writing
rather than because you love the idea of being a Writer.
– Iain Banks

I once got into an odd conversation with someone about writing… let’s call this person Frank the Writer. So Frank saw my pile of writing magazines, and I could tell by his expression upon opening one of the issues that he was surprised I highlighted certain sentences which I found insightful or helpful to me as a writer. Watching him read my notes in my old Writer’s Digest, Poets & Writers, and The Writer issues was, for some reason, like watching a child realize there is no Santa.

Frank asked why I think I’m a writer, and I responded, “Because I have to write, or face the possibility of insanity.” I added something about how I’m drawn to writing, that I get personal satisfaction from it. I asked him if he didn’t feel the same.

“No,” he said. I’ve never heard anyone sound so mournful. “I don’t. I read these books that tell me I should feel something that tells me I’m a writer, just like how you just told me, but I don’t. I never feel anything when I write.”

This was puzzling to me. How can you write something and not feel anything while writing it? I asked Frank a series of questions which led me nowhere until, frustrated, I asked, “Do you want to write, or be considered a writer?”

“I want to be a writer.” No wonder he never felt anything when writing. His motivation was all wrong. He wanted the fame without the work. He wasn’t writing because he felt any special need to, or because he wanted to send a message of sorts out into the world, or even because he thought he had a story to tell, but because he wanted the recognition for being brilliant. No wonder his writing felt cold, empty.

Writing takes guts, patience, and stamina to do what it takes to be “considered a writer.” It takes years to be “discovered,” and by that point you will have numerous drafts hidden beneath your bed, stuffed in a back cupboard, shoved between cracks in the wall. Even if you go the self-publishing route, you have to be a savvy business-minded writer to make the publishing process worth it.

What do you think? I know some of you have multiple drafts lurking in the dark corners, and others of you with agents. What do you have to say to Frank and his misplaced motivation? Can I help him learn to love the process that is writing rather than love the idea of being a Writer?

Refresh Your Writing

“I think that writers need to be out there, be in contact with people, struggle with other things and then come back and bring it to her writing.”
– Chitra Divakaruni
Belinda writing and re-writing, drawn by WorderellaWhenever I feel like my writing is losing focus, or that I’m losing the edge or spark, I begin to panic. Mainly because these symptoms preclude a wicked case of Writer’s Block. If you’re lucky enough to have never suffered from this horrible disease, let me be the first to congratulate you and explain what I mean. Writer’s Block is a common disease and hard to recover from; even if you do recover, there are always those pesky flare ups. Its symptoms include staring at a wall or out the window, willing something creative to flow from your mind to the paper, with nothing doing. You will be given to bouts of depression as you walk past your neglected computer/journal/legal pad on your way to your day job. Your characters shun you. Your plot turns trite and your dialogue cliché.

What is a writer to do??

I like to follow Chitra Divakaruni’s advice, as in the quote posted above. If you have Writer’s Block, you have sapped all of your creative juices. We writers tend to think we should write all the time without replenishing our imagination, which is as unhealthy as exercising all the time without stopping to replenish fluids. How do you replenish your imagination? Get in contact with people! We attempt the impossible by trying to transcribe the unorganized chaos of life into an organized plot that (dare I say it?) makes sense, is engaging, and means something.

So if your characters are flat or your dialogue stilted, have a dinner party or meet some friends for lunch. While you’re with them, watch how they speak. What are they doing with their hands? Do they maintain eye contact, or look away while speaking? Or better yet, go to your local park, sit on a bench, and pretend like you’re reading. Or have headphones on, without the music playing, and eavesdrop. You’d be amazed how detailed and intimate conversations get when people think no one is listening.

Little girl journaling by JOD Old-Fashioned GraphicsIs your plot lagging? Read the newspaper, or tune into your evening news station. Truth is stranger than fiction, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use a bit of that strange truth to inspire you. I once read about a woman who dug up her boyfriend because his family didn’t invite her to the funeral or visit him at the hospital while he was sick. Now that’s a short story in the making. Edgar Allan Poe would have loved that, I’m sure. Or better yet, use your own life as inspiration, with some tact and restructuring, of course, so no one gets insulted.

What about your setting? Have you even thought about it? Are your descriptions tired? Go out and enjoy a bit of nature. Pretend you’re new in town, or you’re doing a study on local names/descriptions for the flora and fauna of the area, and ask people what they think that flower is named, or how they would describe that park. Don’t take their idea as your own, of course, we don’t want another Cassie Edwards case on our hands, but allow their ideas, if imaginative enough, to spark a few of your own.

…Still distracted? Unable to focus? Clear your desk so you’re not fiddling with the items there. Move your pens out of the way, file your bills, hide your mail. More importantly, if you do your writing on the computer and you use a program like MS Word, use the “full screen” option under the View menu. This will make your writing the only thing visible on your monitor/screen, thus preventing you from wanting to check your e-mail again, or answer that quick IM, or (if you’re like me) re-organize your files. Simple as that sounds, I get so much more writing done with Word in full screen mode. It prevents my usual multi-tasking, which is refreshing and a little nerve-wracking at the same time. 😛

Do you have other suggestions or little tricks that work for you? Let me know, I like to be prepared… You never know when another case of Writer’s Block will knock you unconscious.

The Need to Write

If you’re feeling a little burnt out from trying to write when it isn’t coming to you, read this inspirational essay by Beth Conny. She explains that being a writer isn’t a choice, which I’m sure many of you know. Writing is hard work! All that thinking and pondering and daydreaming…and then actually taking the time to write? And the editing! Who would pick this as their hobby or livelihood? Many crazy people, apparently, if we go off the number of books we see floating around. Anyway, I thought I’d post this because it made me smile and feel a little inspired. I hope it helps you as well.

Becoming a Writer Is Not a Choice
By Beth Mende Conny
Enough of the handwringing. No more of the moans. It’s time to do what you must do—write. Here’s why:

The urge to write is physical and demands a physical response
You can feel your ideas swell like the tide. The words are fast behind. They long to find land, the page. You alone can bring them to shore and hold them like a shell to your ear. And when you they whisper, “Let me become,” your fingers can’t help but respond. With steady hands, you reach for a pen.

Only you can write what only you know
We share the same air yet breathe our own. Inhale, exhale. We are alive. Within each breath are our stories. We inhale all that is around us—people, places, things, experiences—and exhale our interpretations of each. Our take on life is what makes us unique and it is this we must share.

Writing adds color to your life
You no longer will settle for a black and white life. Your writing has revealed a rich palette of colors, vibrant and full of surprises, for you never know what will happen when you dip your brush into a world of possibilities. Just when you think red and yellow make orange, they suddenly make blue, like none you’ve seen before. No longer will you settle for shades of gray.

You must give your all to all
Your life has meaning; you interpret its meaning. Yes, meaning changes but always there is a constant—the people within it. You may not know all of them, for there are millions in the world. But you know something of what makes them tick and tock, cry and laugh. They, like you, need a point of connection, and that is where your words come in. They are the bridge that links hearts together. Your insights give expression to that which goes beyond your life. To write is to love others, and to help them love themselves.

Article found at http://www.writedirections.com/art_writerchoice.html.