From the beginning of May until the beginning of July, I completely lost my ability to write. And not just write, but read. Anything printed, be it a book, a gardening magazine, a blog, a Word doc., sent me reeling for the bathroom. Why? Because of all-day-all-night morning sickness.
Maybe it's because I'm a bit older, or maybe it's because this the fourth time my body has hosted a tiny person all the way through the first trimester, but this time was even harder than the others. The most I could accomplish writing-wise during those months were snippets to myself about an impending revision.
But now I'm on the other side of yuck (YAY!), and for the past 3 weeks, I've been retraining myself. Discipline, discipline, discipline. As in getting up by at least 5 AM six days a week to write. Feeling like I'm wasting my time, but telling myself to do it anyway. Because it's only when I actually write, as in create, instead of just writing about writing, that I remember that I can do it. But man, it is HARD to get back into shape.
This week at least, WriteOnCon is helping me, in a public way, to feel committed to my writing life again. (Thank you to the wonderful organizers, industry professionals, and fellow attendees for the great opportunity!!!) And it's free! Hop on over and check out all the great posts and forums. Especially this one by editor Molly O'Neill--a fantastic mix of inspiration and plain old fashioned truth. I hope to see you there.
So how about you? Have you ever been waylaid from your writing by something outside your control? What did you do to get back on track? What was your inspiration? Where are you now?
(Oh, yeah, since I know some of you will ask...baby #4 is due Dec. 30! Whoo hoo!)
Take a second to think about writers you know, like the critique partner who works with you to improve your manuscript. The writing friend who listens, supports and keeps you strong when times are tough. The author who generously offers council, advice and inspiration when asked.
So many people take the time to make us feel special, don't they? They comment on our blogs, re-tweet our posts, chat with us on forums and wish us Happy Birthday on Facebook.
To commemorate the release of their book The Emotion Thesaurus, Becca and Angela at The Bookshelf Muse are hosting a TITANIC Random Act Of Kindness BLITZ. And because I think KINDNESS is contagious, I'm participating too!
Tracy E. Banghart thought nothing of volunteering to read my 95K manuscript last September at a SCBWI schmooze. And boy, what a treat for me! I've haven't had such clear and elegant feedback in years. She's awesome, y'all!
In the spirit of celebrating one of Tracy's favorite things, I'm giving her a gift card to Crumbs.com so she can eat cupcakes all week! Email me your address, Tracy, and the card will be on it's way! bethanydellinger at gmail dot com.
Do you know someone special that you'd like to randomly acknowledge? Don't be shy--come join us and celebrate! Send them an email, give them a shout out, or show your appreciation in another way. Kindness makes the world go round. :)
Becca and Angela have a special RAOK gift waiting for you as well, so hop on over to The Bookshelf Muse to pick it up.
I realize I’m probably the only YA writer out here who hasn’t, and I really have no excuse since one of my husband’s students was in the film as a tribute (a minor one of course…he gets killed like everyone else….but I can’t describe the scene for you since I haven’t…ahem…seen the movie).
The thing is, I’m a big fan of the books, and of Katniss in particular (although her name bothers me….but then again, most of the names in the trilogy didn’t sit quite right with me). In every way, Katniss Everdeen is the ultimate heroine, and one day I hope to explain what I mean by that. Still…I’m reluctant, as in deeply reluctant, to see the film version.
2.) Legolas is Orlando Bloom.
I simply can't convince my brain otherwise.
Won’t the visuals of THE HUNGER GAMES movie hijack, with equal efficiency, the images the book conjured up for me when I read it? Won’t it kill the magic?
"But what about the picture book?" one of my friends recently said.
Okay, I got his point...static pictures are just as concrete as the moving images of a film. In both forms, the artist’s or artistic director’s personal interpretation of a text becomes everyone’s. The flights of a single individual’s imagination become universally recognized and unconsciously adopted. That is the chief pleasure of the picture book form. I mean, one look at FROG AND TOAD, and you’d know Lobel’s creatures anywhere.
(By the way, have you seen some of the newer editions of PETER RABBIT for the very young? Not only have the words been altered and watered down, but the art isn’t even hers! Perhaps if we didn’t have Potter’s original drawings so grafted into the defintition of "Peter Rabbit," I might accept the new illustrations just as fondly. But that isn’t the case. We do have them. And they’ve been excluded on purpose!)
So….I won’t lie. On the one hand, movie versions of books are my absolute favorite kind of film to see. Every Sunday night you'll find me watching the latest Masterpiece Classic on PBS. I remember being tucked into bed as a child and falling asleep to Mouret’s Rondeau from Symphonies and Fanfares for the King's Supper, the opener for Masterpiece Theater, because my parents were indulging in their weekly dose of literary works brought to life on TV. I'm just carrying on the tradition! Masterpiece’s recent showcase of Charles Dickens works, specifically LITTLE DORRIT and GREAT EXPECTATIONS, has been excellent.
But here’s the thing, I’ve never read LITTLE DORRIT, so I had no preconceived images or expectations (ha!) to bring to the series when I watched it. GREAT EXPECTATIONS, on the other hand, I did read in a college survey English class. Of course, it was so long ago I didn’t remember a quarter of the storyline when I watched the movie. But. If I were to re-read the book now, I’m certain I’ll have the same problem as I do with HARRY POTTER.
Maybe I’m just not savvy enough. Maybe I’m just too impressionable.
It does make me wonder though, about the old days, when the ear was the primary sense used to absorb stories. When oral storytelling, not visual or textual, reigned supreme. Did the people around those campfires or in those great halls have it better? In hearing the storyteller—the nuance of voice, the timbre of suspense—were they more actively entertained than we moderns who sit passively in front of a big screen, being spoon-fed the same images as everyone else in the theater? Were their imaginations more acute, as a result? More unique person to person, compared to people of the twenty-first century who find their heads filled with images that are not their own, but instead collective and shared?
In other words, are film adaptations of beloved books worth it? To you? Do you possess some secret power for blocking out movie details when you read the original again? Can I hang out with you so some of that power might, you know, rub off on me?
I still want to see THE HUNGER GAMES.
But the question is, should I?
Win a Kindle Touch from literary agent Kate Testerman!
Just comment, retweet, or like on Facebook--or do all three for a total of three entries, and celebrate the success of MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN by Ransom Riggs.
“There is a widespread refusal to let children know the source of much that goes wrong in life is due to our very own natures—the propensity of all men for acting aggressively, asocially, selfishly, out of anger and anxiety. Instead, we want our children to believe that, inherently, all men are good. But children know that they are not always good; and often, even when they are, they would prefer not to be. This contradicts what they are told by their parents, and therefore makes the child a monster in his own eyes.” (p. 7)
“The wolf’s badness is something the young child recognizes within himself: his wish to devour, and its consequence—the anxiety about possibly suffering such a fate himself. So the wolf is an externalization, a projection of the child’s badness—and the story tells how this can be dealt with constructively.” (p.44)So if the wolf represents the desire to be bad, I can’t help but ask why it is that we humans want to be bad, even when we are choosing good. You know what I mean, right? The longing to be beholden to no one, to make one’s own rules, to give free reign to every want regardless of the effect on others. Perhaps it all boils down to an issue of control. The universal attempt to find all the answers to life’s questions—justice, peace, love—within one’s self. Except that when taken to its furthest end and acted upon, we turn into megalomaniacs.
Take, for example, Sgt. Robert Bales, the solider accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians. An op-ed in the NY Times recently, "When the Good Do Bad," generated an interesting array of comments from readers. In summary, the author, David Brooks asserts that Sgt. Bales is “like all of us, a mixture of virtue and depravity.” Some of people who commented on the piece seemed offended that Brooks should attempt something close to empathy for a man who appears to have killed women and children in cold-blood. Others preferred instead to think Sgt. Bales mentally ill and/or a victim of too many tours of duty. Some were willing to accept Brooks’ point that good and evil resides in all of us, but emphasized that Sgt. Bale made a choice, a choice that was fundamentally wrong. Few were willing to say, as one commenter pointed out via Pogo’s quote, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Or “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” *
Personally, I don’t like books with one dimensional villains, or bad guys who are all huff and no puff. I want books where the main character is truly in danger, and where the threat is really present. Bunce’s villain, Lord Daul, in STARCROSSED is slippery and almost continually on the scene, while Kristine Cashore’s Leck, in GRACELING or Susan Cooper’s “The Dark” and its minions in THE DARK IS RISING is mostly an off-stage, rumored or suspected threat.
Arvin Slone from ALIAS is much more my cup of tea—a protagonist and villain all in one. At the shows beginning, he seemed to be such a nice guy, almost a father-figure, and at times even sacrificial in his concern for Sydney’s well-being and safety, when in fact he was manipulating her and her circumstances for his own obsessive ends. And then there was the charmingly unflappable and coolly attractive Julian Sark, a villain of a different stripe.
Evil that looks evil is far easier to categorize than evil that looks good. The wicked step-mother is easy to hate because she seethes so much hatred and greed that her physical appearance is one of ugliness. The sexy bad boy across the street however, is harder to pin down. Subversion mixed with a bit of mischief seems to bring out a darker side we are more willing to embrace. A not-good but not-that-bad mentality.
So what’s your opinion? Why do some fictional villains ring true for you? Why do the ones that don’t, fall flat?
If you are anything like me, the actual slog of a first draft eventually kills the sharp triumph of that first glimpse. At first I can hold on to the memory of the fully-formed, glorious book-to-be, but the time it takes to translate the vision into actual words buries my initial drive.
So what's a writer to do?
The purpose of the site is simple. Write a letter to yourself in the text box, schedule it to be sent on such-and-such future date, and FutureMe.org will deliver it to your email inbox as specified.
It sounds a little bit like the premise of a YA novel, doesn't it? GIMME A CALL, by Sarah Mlynowski and THE FUTURE OF US, by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler use similar hypotheses, the first involving a cell phone and the second, an AOL disc and Facebook pages. In both books, the main characters are contacted by their future selves in order to change (or attempt to change) what has happened.... or what will happen or....both.
You and I can't perform any switch-a-roo, change-a-roos in regards to the future, but I do think FutureMe.org may offers writers its own bit of creative magic.
For instance, you could use it to:
1. Be your own muse. As soon as you get an idea for a new book or character or situation, write yourself a letter and schedule it to arrive in six months or twelve month. It will be fun to see if the idea sticks, or if by the time you read the email, you find it laughably bad:
I dreamed this early morning of a girl who lived in the middle of the ocean! I don't know how she got there, or what she is doing, or even if she lives on a boat or a piece of land, only that she doesn't want to be found. The colors were spectacular! and most of the time she didn't have to wear a stitch of clothing....
Let's just see what's next....*
2. Be your own writing coach. Write down the reasons why you write. Encourage yourself to remember your daily goals. Tell yourself the things that have been most helpful to you in the journey so far. Remind yourself to hold on to the "most important things." Record advice other writers have shared. You never know, getting an email like that every now and then might be just the lift you need in the midst of real discouragement. (And the act of writing each one will nuture in the present too!)
Keep your chin up, drop your shoulders, and take in as much air as you can in one long, breath. What you are doing today matters. If you are feeling lost, go back and read your Writing Guidelines. Don't forget that those little people at your knees don't care what you put on the page today. They only want your smile and your love. So do as much work as you can in the time you've allotted yourself, (because not doing it makes you a cranky mama) and then leave it for the ones who can't wait to have you to themselves. The work will be there for the next session. What filters down through the rocks and sediment as you go about your life is the real source of your creative well. Draw from it, yes, but don't forget to do the things that, over time, will fill it back up again.
3. Be your own administrative assistant.
1. Send yourself a quick note about that new MG novel your critique group was talking about. You know you want to read it, but your stack is already up to the top of your bedside table...maybe in six months...?
2. When you meet a fellow writer at a conference or workshop and you seem to hit it off (but there isn't enough time to really get to know each other), write yourself an email containing the writer's contact information and your initial impressions before you turn off your overloaded brain for the night. Then schedule it to arrive about three weeks after you've returned home and had some time to decompress. You'll have something more to go on when you do contact your potential new buddy, and she will be flattered that you remember that she is from Arizona and owns five poodles and writes about trapeze artists. ***And while you're at it, tack on a reminder to look at all those frenzied notes you took during the conference break-out sessions!
3. Do the same thing (#2) when meeting/researching an agent or editor you know you want to query some time in the future. Flesh out what your gut is telling you so that time can't steal your first impressions and turn them into self-doubt.
4. Remind yourself to get business cards/bookmarks/postcards made before you run out again.
5. Send yourself a copy of your 2012 professional goals and schedule it to arrive in Jan. 2013. See which ones you were able to meet, and which one need to be at the top of the 2013 list.
So far I've used FutureMe to send myself one pep-talk and two adminstrative notes. There are probably more technologically savvy ways of balancing a professional to-do-list and nuturing a creative drive, but I still like email best. It is a simple and efficent gateway for maintaining my writing sanity in the midst of a very busy personal life. And I like surprises. Even though I must pick a certain date for FutureMe.org to release an email, I can't know at at the time of writing it what sort of mental place my future self will be. It just seems like a whole lot more fun than Google or Outlook Calendar.
So what sort of letter would you like to receive from your future self?
And how do you use technology to keep track of your writing life?
Today let's switch gears just a bit and look at Anne Lamott’s thoughts about the posture of the writer towards the world as found in the well-loved guide BIRD BY BIRD.
The posture of the writer towards the world
Meaning in misery, goodness in anguish... this is a big deal, right? We all suffer hardships and loss, and so do those we love--our friends, our families, our children. But what about those we never see
face to face, half-way across the world or shut away in homes for the mentally ill or living in fear of a tyrannical regime. And then there are the very extreme cases, the Holocaust, famine, religious persecution and martyrdom.
How do we, as writers, find our way through the muck? How do we create hope?
To be a good writer, you not only have to write a great deal but you have to care. You do not have to have a complicated moral philosophy. But a writer always tries, I think, to be part of the solution, to understand a little about life and pass this on (107).
So if Lamott is right, and we are first and foremost to care, then we can't be self-protective. We must live in the trenches. We must face reality. We can't escape to our towers and look at the world as through a mirror (see reference to Lady of Shalott from Part I here).
But perhaps our work can be a mirror. Perhaps it can be that object which reflects, not just the shape and color of reality, but the truths underlying it.
And perhaps the writer's posture towards the world is really, at its best, not a posture at all, but instead an action, a striding forth, a choice and a hope that we, and the things we create, just might be part of the solution.
So I've got two questions for you this week:
Please share. And if you'd like to keep tabs on the responses from others, don't forget to click on the mail icon next to your comment. They will go straight to your mailbox.
Okay, before you laugh and go way, let me just say that by "posture" I am not talking about the way a writer sits at her desk, hands poised ergonomically over the keyboard. This is not about yoga or zen meditation, however cool both those things may be. In using the word "posture" I'm thinking about the writer's view, the way she sees, the attitude she possesses. I'm thinking about something that exists within the writer herself.
I think most of us will agree that good books--enduring books--stand on more than the author's mastery of skills. But would you also agree that the author's inner life effects the execution of his or her work?
The late great Madeleine L’Engle meditates on the writer's inner life in WALKING ON WATER, particularly in regards to the posture of the writer towards art, or writing. And Anne Lamott talks about the idea in BIRD BY BIRD, by concentrating on the posture of the writer towards the world.
For today, let's consider the posture of the writer towards her art:
L’Engle says that for her, writing involves “being.”
“When I am constantly running, there is no time for being. When there is no time for being, there is no time for listening” (13).
“We must work every day, whether we feel like it or not, otherwise when it comes time to get out of the way and listen to the work, we will not be able to heed it” (24).
(check back next week for Anne Lamott's wisdom on the writer's posture to the world, okay?)
If you are looking for a vivid and compelling use of Setting:
Have you read anything recently that you want to tear apart and study and put back together again? Feel free to share your recommended reads from 2011!