Beware the Muse Killer!

I don’t think writers need to be reminded of our frail egos. The validation of a personal response on a rejection letter, getting an honorable mention in a contest, having our writing group say more positive than negative things are like life support to the tiny muse who so often goes Code Blue on our shoulders.

We know writing is hard. We know that rejection is part of the process. We know that if we think we just wrote the most brilliant scene since Katniss handed Peeta the berries, that tomorrow we might read the same scene and think it could fertilize Iowa. The thing is, no matter how many down moments we have, no many how much self-doubt and how many times we have to perform CPR on that poor little muse, we don’t stop writing. We keep believing in ourselves. And thank goodness we do!

When struggling with an earlier draft of Deadly Design, I sought guidance from a bestselling author I’d met at a few conferences. I asked if, for a fee, he’d be willing to edit the book and tell me what exactly it was missing.

Commas, evidently. I was missing commas, but the remark, one of the few, that really got me, was the scribbled note on page eight. “Your character is unlikable. Who cares what happens to him?”

If my ego had been any thinner, I might have looked down at my poor, pale muse and pulled the plug. I’d have let him die with what little dignity I had left. But I stopped myself. I knew my character. I knew my story and my abilities to write and why exactly should I listen to this man who took my check but didn’t even write in my genre?

I didn’t listen. I got another person, a wonderful, helpful person to give me guidance that led to doing what I wanted to do, what we all want to do  — to make the book better. This led to finding my agent, getting a deal, and the rest, as they say, is history.

We writers may have fragile egos, but we know how hard we work. We know our passions and how much we want to create the best work we can. Don’t ever let anyone tell you to pull the plug. Even if your manuscript isn’t quite there yet, that doesn’t mean it’s terminal! You know your abilities. You know your strengths, your weaknesses.

You know how badly you want it. Take the good advice you receive and use it. Ignore what you can’t use and, just like the old cliche says, have faith in yourself. Don’t let anyone kill your dreams or your muse.

Write with Passion!

Today I read the article by Oliver Sacks regarding his diagnosis of terminal cancer. I confess that I have not been a prolific reader of his work, but this article touched me greatly. I won’t begin to try to discuss the article but rather it’s impact.

My grandfather was 99 when he died. My husband’s grandmother was 105. I know a little boy who died at the age of ten, have a close friend who’s twenty-five with four malignant brain tumors, and currently follow the story of a six-year-old girl fighting leukemia. But this post isn’t about death, it’s about life and the fact that no matter how many years we get on this earth, it will never be enough.

When my youngest was a baby, I remember holding her and just breaking down one day. I knew why I was crying. It was because I was going back to work, and she was going to daycare. I was once again going to miss out on spending day after day watching my child grow. I’d worked hard to become a therapist, and I had clients, mostly abused children, waiting for me to come back and help them. I don’t regret my relationships with them or the way they touched my life, but I wanted to be with my baby — with my last baby.

When she was two, I got a phone call during a therapy session.  My toddler had decided to take the dog for a walk and the babysitter found her two blocks away. I realize now that perhaps it was an angel who’d opened the door and ushered her outside, because I gave my notice that day, and took a part time job as a college professor.

I can’t get back the time I lost with my older children, and I don’t regret the hours spent in college or doing my internship or working in the field of psychology, but none of us is getting younger. Each day that passes is gone, and we will never get those days back.

What I took away most for Mr. Sacks’ words is that I want to really live the rest of my life, however many years that may be. That doesn’t mean I can quit my job and travel the world. But it does mean that I can laugh louder. I can keep singing in my car even when a passing driver looks at me like I’m nuts. I can hug tighter, kiss longer, breathe deeper, and I can write.

I can write and if there is one lessen for us all to learn, it’s that whatever we do in life, we must do it with passion.

Live with passion. Consume words and food and music with passion and write with passion!

Savor every word, every character, every conflict and resolution and every tear and smile the words bring to us.

Write with passion!

Zombies and other Antagonists!

The other day I was meeting with some fellow teachers and writers and the topic of zombies came up, particularly why people seem to love them so much. I started thinking about the flesh-eating, walking dead who make squishy sounds when they’re killed and why we do seem to love them. And yes, in case you’re wondering, I am one of the many Walking Dead fans currently going through squishy, gory, skull-stomping withdrawal!

I think we love zombies because in a world with many shades of gray, zombies are easy. They’re bad. They want to eat us. They don’t feel any emotion or seem to feel any pain. As a matter of fact, killing them seems more like an act of mercy than cruelty. So often in society we’re not quite sure who’s good and who’s bad. Do we trust the person who pulled over to help us with our flat tire, or the person claiming to have a flat and needing to use our phone? Do we trust the ice cream truck driver who has the eerie sign tacked to the side of the truck that reads Beware Children or our neighbor who spends countless hours in the garage each night, with the door shut.

We like zombies because they’re scary and clear cut. But what about in our writing? Do readers like villains who are just plain bad?

There may be something comforting in the serial killing psychopath hiding behind the shower curtain, but as writers, we have to beware the Disney-ish bad guys who are all bad.

For one, readers can see them coming a mile away. And two, they can be boring and cartoonish. Three, complex characters tend to be more interesting.

My favorite “bad guy” from any movie is Russell Crowe’s portrayal of the murderous cowboy in 310 to Yuma.  He was SO bad, but there was something likable about the guy. You never doubted that he was a ruthless killer, but you started to doubt whether or not he was a heartless killer. It caused a complexity that was intriguing because you’re cheering on the protagonist but…you kind of want the bad guy to get away too.

I suppose in writing, there is room for the 100% evil bad guys — the Cruella Deville’s of the world. But if we’re going for a realistic feel to our writing, the reality is that most people aren’t all good or all bad. There truly are a hundred shades of gray, maybe a thousand. So beware what kind of villains to write about, and don’t take the garbage out after dark. You never know what’s going on behind the neighbor’s garage door.

Confession

Okay, yesterday I posted about why writers write. And the truth is I had intended to go somewhere a little different with it, but as you may have noticed, I try to be very positive and upbeat in these posts.

The truth is the reasons we write sometimes change. At first, we may write to prove to ourselves that we can. Then to prove to others that our work means something and that it’s good enough to be read. Good enough to be published.

Validation of what we love is often what drives us, but things can change.

Writing has always been something I love. Even when I was little and could barely put words together, I was dreaming up stories and scribbling them in notebooks. But now there’s something that I love more than writing: my children. And one of them has been diagnosed with a pretty sucky disease.  He’s an awesome, strong, young man, and I know his life will be fulfilling and wonderful. I know he’ll reach his goals, but I know they’ll be hard fought for. And more than anything, I know that I want to be there for him if and when he needs me.

Does this mean I love writing less? Absolutely not. If anything, I love it more. I need it more. I need it to keep me brave and strong. I need it to exorcise the demons that come to roost inside of me. And I need it to feel like I can have power over what happens in the worlds that I create, if not in this world.

Sorry this isn’t as upbeat and positive as usual, but as writers, we have to keep it real.

Why We Write?

Right now, I’m supposed to working on rewrites of a novel I promised I would have to my agent before January 1st. Well, it’s New Year’s Eve and I’m not quite done, but I wanted to take a moment to talk about why we write.

Some say writers write because they have to. Because we’re wired with so many thoughts and emotions that if we don’t release them, we’ll explode, but instead of our bloody guts oozing down walls and clinging to the ceiling fans, it will be emotions — happy faces, sad faces, anguish like even Van Gogh couldn’t capture — painted on the walls and the ceilings.

I don’t know if I totally agree with that theory, although I love the romanticism of it. The idea that no matter what, we writers will find the strength and the courage to write.

Knowing why we do something is important. Life is short. We are sadly reminded of that fact each day. Another plane goes down, a friend dies unexpectedly, a relative gets a tough diagnosis. Or maybe we do.

So why do we spend what precious time we have on this earth, writing the stories of people who live only in the realm of our imaginations?

Is it because of our mortality? Is it because if our dreams come true, someday when we’re long in the ground, someone will be scanning the books on a library shelf and pick up the bound pages we created? They will read our words and somehow our thin, decomposing lips will curve into a smile.

Is it because, and God help us if it is, we believe we’ll make a lot of money. That our books will sell and we’ll have enough money to buy our freedom from the mundane lives we feel trapped in, lives spent behind desks or in front of classrooms or chained to factory or fast food counters?

I remember thinking that I’ll get published and I’ll be able to stay home with my babies and write. Hmmmm. My babies aren’t babies anymore. By the time I got my book deal for Deadly Design, my youngest was already proficient in “that’s what she said” jokes.

Why do we write?

Maybe it’s all the above. Maybe it’s none of the above.

Maybe it falls in the same category as why humankind felt compelled to learn how to fly or why people risk their lives to climb Mt. Everest. Maybe there’s just something in us.

Maybe it doesn’t matter.

All I know is that the world, even for all it’s beauty, would be a dull place if it weren’t for the stories. Awww. The stories. Maybe we don’t write because we have to write or because we dream of fame and fortune. Maybe we write because the stories have to be told.

Well, speaking of stories, I should get back to work. There are so many stories forming like new galaxies out in the universe. So let’s all get to work.

May 2015 give birth to many, many stories.

2 years….

So tragic. We owe it to them to DO something! Honor the victims by changing society.

It has been almost two years since you were killed.  It still hurts.  It is still hard.  I feel that moment I learned that you were dead still so fresh in my mind.  It just didn’t seem real.  I will never heal completely, because YOU complete me.  I love you Emilie.  You redefined my life and I will fight hard to be worthy to see you again.

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That terrifying moment when you have time to write!

The deadline is looming. You drive to work yearning to turn around, go home, and get to work on the job you really want to do, which is writing. But you have responsibilities. You need that pay check. So you drive down raining streets, dry streets, snowy streets, seeing your characters in your mind. Engaging them in conversations and coming up with new plot twists.

The ache is real and intense. You NEED to work. And you will. Just a few more weeks in the semester or before that next brief break and you’ll hit it like a sailor on leave hitting a …….well, you get the picture.

The time comes. For me, that means finals are finished and semester grades are turned in. Finally, I can focus on what I really want and need to. SO WHY IS IT SO DIFFICULT!

I recently tried to find the original writer who compared writing to slicing open a vein. To my surprise, there have been many such analogies by many writers throughout history. Is that why it’s so hard? Because writing is like tearing open an artery to your soul and letting it pour out on to the page?

Maybe it’s fear. If I were trying to create a masterpiece out of marble, I might work hundreds of hours only to leave it unfinished for fear that carving just a little bit more might leave my Venus de Milo without a nose or my David without his big toe. In other words, fear of screwing up!

What if what I write next isn’t as good as what I’ve already written? Or worse yet, what if I finish it, send it out into the world and no one likes it? Yikes!

The truth is writers are human. We screw up and that’s why we have a delete button and why the great Stephen King told us to “kill our darlings.” We’re going to make mistakes, and not everyone is going to love everything that we write. But that yearning is there. That desire to create. So we suck up our insecurities and we get to work

Besides all of the sayings comparing writing to self mutilation (of the highest form I might add!), there is the saying that if writing was easy, everyone would do it. It’s not easy, but if we silence our fears and jump off the proverbial cliff, well…the view is pretty damned amazing. So time to stop procrastinating and get to work.

Happy writing everyone!

To Write or To Cry. That’s the question.

Yesterday, I was digging through a pile of papers looking for a misplaced psychology exam when I came across a piece of paper that literally made my blood halt in my veins. It was a page from the first round of rewrites my editor sent me of Deadly Design. In reality, I think she had more ink on the page than I did.

It reminded me of the roller coaster that comes with getting published. For many writers, I think the magic moment comes when a publisher says, “Yes, we want your book.” We’re elated that someone has faith in us. We made it! Yes! That fragile author’s esteem has finally been validated. We’re finally feeling good about the hours (and years) we’ve spent developing our craft. Then after weeks or maybe even months, your editor, this mysterious Gandalf of the publishing world, contacts you with your first round of rewrites.

Little do we realize that this first round is kind of like a ’round’ in the ring with the heavy weight campion of the world. It’s rough. That validation that I mentioned earlier, is sucker punched right out of you. And there’s that voice that can’t help but say, “If there’s this much wrong with it, why did they want it?”

But then you have to make a decision. Do you buckle down and get to work, or do you cry? I imagine that many writers end up doing both.

But this is it! This is the dream! And for the first time, someone is helping you achieve your goal of not just getting published, but of publishing something that can be better than you ever imagined.

It seems like a long time since I got that first package on my doorstep. Little did I know how many more would be over-nighted to me because when it comes to rewrites, there’s always a deadline. But then one day, there were two boxes on the front porch that I had not been expecting: two boxes of ARC copies.

I’d made the choice to write. That’s what we do. Writers write. It doesn’t matter if someone is praising us or giving us painful but needed criticism — we write. So take heart.

The only thing more fragile than a house of cards or the petals of an orchid is a writer’s ego. But there is nothing more beautiful or valuable. After all, we are the painters of the imagination. We are the creators of worlds, of heroes and villains. All we have to do is decide to write. (And maybe occasionally, to cry.) But mostly, write!