Monday, October 31, 2011

Dreams and what makes them happen

A few days ago, blogger Hannah C. Howard wrote a lovely, encouraging post about believing in your dreams. Because it really resonated with me, I wanted to write a post of my own in response.
While ruminating on what my dreams are, I was reminded of my acting class in college, where my wonderful professor had us, during one of the earliest classes, sit in a circle and go around saying, “Where we would be in ten years.” He emphasized that we were not to say, “Where we'd like to be,” because that would be admitting impossibility or impracticality.
Here's what I said:
“In ten years, I will:
be married (sort of cheating because I was already engaged),
be living in an old house with beautiful property,
have three or four children by then who I will be homeschooling,
have written at least two books,
and have at least one book published.”
That was five and a half years ago. Now I am married, live in a beautiful old house, have three children who I've begun to homeschool (well, you know, the baby is learning, um, how to roll over, so...), and have written four manuscripts. Looking at it that way, that last point on the list doesn't seem too crazy.
Hannah remarked in her post on how difficult it can be when unbelievers, the pessimists (or realists, as they like to call themselves) of the world, put down your dreams. We've all been through those awkward moments, where you decide to be honest in response to the question, “So what have you been up to?” and are met with a blank, frigid stare.
On the other hand, hopefully we all know someone who has always believed in us enough to encourage and help us along every step of the way. I know without a doubt that one of the reasons so many of my dreams have come to fruition is that I have many, many people who believe in me:
My parents, who told me, “The word 'can't' is not in your vocabulary.”
My siblings, siblings-in-law, parents-in-law, and good friends, who have helped babysit children, move furniture, cook meals; have listened to me rant; have prayed for me; have been fulfilling dreams of their own.
My critique group partners, who have been honest, insightful and constantly inspiring.
The many writers who I have met in person or through blogging, who remind me, in the words of one of them, that "no one is born published."
My daughters, whose beautiful smiles can get me through the darkest days.
And most of all, my husband Mark, who is loving and persistent and generous, who believes in me when I don't, and who has been known to calm a crying baby while carving a violin scroll, so that I can finish a sentence/page/chapter.

Thank you, all of you. I hope I can help to make your dreams a reality, too.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

"I solemnly swear I am up to no good."

This past weekend I attended a brilliant lecture by Patricia Lee Gauch, entitled, "The Picture Book; an Act of Mischief." Patti explored the way that some of the best picture books are created by artists and writers willing to break rules, step outside the box, refuse to acknowledge that a box even exists. It was a wonderful lecture; if you ever have the chance to hear Patricia Lee Gauch speak, TAKE THE OPPORTUNITY. You will not regret it.
Picture books aren't exactly my forte in writing, but I do feel as if I now have the tools to write one if I ever wanted to. I also got to thinking how writing a great novel demands for rules to be broken. I admit that the "rules of writing" that "everyone" agrees about are there for a reason. I acknowledge that if you follow them all throughout the writing of your manuscript, you will have a decent book at the end of it. I wonder, though, if it is possible to ever write a great book without making a little mischief....
Take the title of this post, purloined from one of the greatest, and most rule-breaking, children's books of all time. That lovely sentence wouldn't exist if J. K. Rowling hadn't waved off the "don't use adverbs" rule. If she had followed the "Show don't tell" rule completely, she never would have achieved the level of wit and confidence her first chapter is brimming with. (Even Cheryl Klein extolls Rowling's use of the "Tell-then-show" technique.)
It's something to think about....
So, what writing rules do you break? And which do you follow religiously?

Friday, October 21, 2011


I've mentioned a few times that I find taking a walk one of the best ways to conquer writers' block. Here's why:
A couple weeks ago, we decided to take a walk by the beach to watch the sun set--ideas seem to come very readily while strolling along with my family, talking about books or plans or nothing with my husband, enjoying the stunning gorgeousness of a golden sun over the water.
Mark has lived by this beach his entire life--some of our first dates were spent walking there--so we thought we knew it pretty well.
Then we heard some strange hooting, chattering sounds, unlike any shore bird we were familiar with. We looked up, and saw these guys:

Yes, parrots. Green parrots in our Connecticut pine trees by the northern shore of the Long Island Sound. If you look closely in the next picture, you can see a whole family of them huddled in their crazy-cool nest of sticks--quite the architectural wonder in itself.

I'm not sure when, or if, these brave pioneer parrots will ever make it into a story--but they did remind me that anything's possible, that perseverance is more powerful than common sense.
Plus, they just made me smile. I hope they do the same for you! :)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Sometimes you have to listen to that little voice

You know the one. The one that, as you're writing something you're not totally satisfied with says, " know that's gonna come back to haunt you, right?"
My response is usually to say, "Shut up, Voice. It'll be good enough."
At which the Voice comes back with my husband's sometimes-annoying but always good advice: "Good enough isn't good enough."
I don't even want to count the number of times ignoring that voice has ended up in my being terribly blocked in my writing. I resist the need to go back and fix the problem, trying to plow ahead and make things work, by gum. (I don't usually say "by gum," but it's kind of fun, isn't it? Must make note to bring it back into vogue...) But it never does work. I always have to go back, find the problem, fix it.
I'm lucky when this is a little problem. This past week, I had a dreadful experience where the problem was skimping on research before I began plotting my story.
The Voice said, "You should probably make sure you have all the important facts before you plot this too much."
And I said, "Oh, what can happen. It's going to take a week or so for that book I requested to be available at the library, so I'll just move forward."
Bad idea.
Turns out my idea will not work. At all. Maybe someday I'll evolve my lovely, meaningful plot into a dystopian or fantasy novel. Because history has slapped me in the face and mocked me for daring to think I knew how things were. And the worst part is not that I had the facts wrong, but that the true facts were so terrible that I cried for hours, was sick to my stomach and had a hard time smiling for a bit.
It's been a rough week and my face is still stinging.
(Note: do not read the complete history of Louis-Charles (a.k.a. Louis XVII of France) if you don't have a strong stomach and somewhere you can hide and cry for a while. If you do, however, you might find The Lost King of France, by Deborah Cadbury an interesting read. Despite the horrific details, I do wish more people knew the truth behind the terrors of the French Revolution.)
I'm hardly in the state to give much advice this week. Do you have any for me?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Writers' Eyes

Another source of writers' block that hits me from time to time is what I like to call "You've been staring at the blasted computer for way too darn long," or "Writers' Eyes."

You know this is the problem when the letters start blending into one another and their negative images appear on your blank walls. Your thoughts start blending into each other as well, and you can't remember what you just wrote, let alone what you're going to write next.
Solution: Take a break. (Bet you didn't see that coming...:) Any break will help, but I have three favorites:
  1. Dance Party! Pull out the CD player, invite children into living room, and put on some show tunes. Laugh at their crazy dancing...until you realize that they are not so much dancing as laughing so hard at your dancing that no sound is even coming out.
  2. Play the piano. Research has shown that engaging in activities which require you to cross your arms from one side of the body to the other helps re-connect your left and right brains. (It sounded a lot more technical in the study I read.) So playing piano, or dancing, now that I think of it, are ideal cures for brain freeze.

  3. After that, have a go at writing in a notebook or on a pad instead of on the computer. This wakes up the other side of your brain, too, and it's easy to copy onto the computer later.

    What's your favorite cure for Writers' Eyes?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Battling the barricade of Fear

In the comments on the last post, Michelle Teacress wrote: "Fear is my ever present writers block, my constant battle. Nasty thing, fear." And Debbie Maxwell Allen commented: “One of my biggest [contributors to writers' block] is fear of failure--and success. Weird, but there are many times that's the culprit.”

I understand this completely. I have a feeling that fear plays a role in our writing—or rather, our NOT writing, far too frequently. Here are a few ways it manifests its ugly little face in my life:

I become afraid that, despite how well I wrote yesterday, today I won't find the words and will end up wasting my time staring at a blank screen—so I don't turn on the computer at all, rather than be defeated. I need to remember at these times that one page is better than no page at all. Even if I have a week of such slow writing, I will also have seven pages at the end of that week. And often, forcing myself to write through that fear will result in renewing my energy and inspiration—sometimes I sit down and force myself to write one page...and end up with ten. The days I don't force myself, however, I end up with nothing—except the miserable feeling of failure.

“If you dare nothing, then when the day is over, nothing is all you will have gained.”
-Neil Gaiman

Or, I begin to worry that my writing, even if flowing perfectly well, will be poor. What's the point of writing, if I can't write Harry Potter or Pride and Prejudice? The very simple answer is that I will never write anything like Pride and Prejudice if I don't WRITE. Even Sense and Sensibility, as wonderful as it is, is not Pride and Prejudice. Jane Austen had to get there, too. J. K. Rowling took years to write the first Harry Potter book, and threw away (at least figuratively) a whole lot of pages. I shouldn't be afraid of doing that either.

“The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short, but in setting our aim too low and achieving our mark.”

Or, like Debbie mentioned, there can be a fear of success. For me, it becomes a fear that if I have success in some things, I'll always be held to that standard and be unable to meet it. Won't success in writing throw a wrench in my life? If I do find an editor, will I be able to handle the deadlines and pressure without losing the comfortable way writing fits into my life right now? Well, probably not completely. But that isn't something to be afraid of.

The truth is, there is never anything worth being afraid of. Life happens. Change happens. Writing should happen, too.

“Be not afraid.”
-Isaiah 43:1 (among hundreds of other verses, but that may be my favorite context)

Monday, October 10, 2011

The (not so) Great and (not so) Powerful Writers' Block

Do you remember the scene from The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy, expecting miraculous help from the Wonderful Whiz of a Wizard of Oz finds instead a little man with bad hair hiding behind a curtain? She wanted someone else who could help her—while all along she and her friends had the power they needed.
I think Writers' Block is a little bit like that wizard. We tend to portray it as some powerful evil, making it easy to blame every writing malady on this outside force. In reality, Writers' Block is almost always something else, something little, in disguise. And in ourselves—or sometimes in our friends—we already have the power to overcome it.
This is how I feel when my writing gets stuck...
After thinking about this for a while, I realized that Writers' Block is a nice little term used to describe a great number of problems... To throw in another simile, it's like the common cold. Convenient to have one term for, but actually a million different viruses, each with different symptoms and each with different cures. I know I've had days when fear is my stumbling block...on others it's confusion...on others it's laundry! During the month of October, I'd like to discuss some of those symptoms and cures (hopefully of the writer's block variety and not the cold variety—I just got over one of the latter and would rather not repeat it...), and I'd love to know what you think about it as well. What are your sources of Writers' Block? And what are your best remedies?