Thursday, April 12, 2012

Nora Roberts on Writing

Nora Roberts rocks my world.  When I pick up one of her books, I don't breathe until I'm finished.  I've blogged before about how I used to roll my eyes in scorn when I thought of romance books.  Two years ago, when I was on vacation, I decided to check one out, to see if I was wrong.  The book I picked up was Taming Natasha by Nora Roberts.  Yes, the title was dumb, and the cover looked ridiculous, but from the first page, it captured my attention.  I have no doubt that if I had picked up any of Nora's books, I would have had the same reaction.  She writes strong, independent women who demand equality in addition to love.

So it's no surprise that when she talks about writing, she inspires me.  In this video, she's addressing an audience at the Washington Post.  I've watched it several times, and when I'm gearing up to a new project, I find myself watching it yet again.  One of my favorite quotes is "Sister Mary Responsibility kicks the Muses ass every time."  Or "Determination, guilt, and guilt are a writer's best friends."  I keep trying to think of an appropriate place I could have these tattooed on my body, but in the meantime, they're my personal mantras.

Part of what I love about Nora Roberts is that she produces like none other.  She churns out titles not only under her name, but under the pen name J.D. Robb, writing several books a year for each brand.  How she does it, I'm not quite sure, but I think it probably has something to do with her consistent writing habit.  She compares it to working out--you better keep it up, or you'll lose it (and it will hurt like hell when you try to get back at it).

I also love her characters.  She writes people that I could imagine meeting--they have hopes, strengths, flaws, and snappy come-backs.  They're not idealized (like so many characters I meet in fantasy) or ridiculous (like several I've read in other romances).  Most importantly, I can't put the book down until I find out what happens to them.  Why do I care so much?  That's the magic, and that's what I want to make happen in my own writing.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Write As Though No One Is Reading

I fell in a writing rut for a while--ok, the last three months.  I tend to get really hard on myself when I don't make my goals--whether they're writing goals, fitness goals, academic goals, or personal goals.  I believe that setting goals is a powerful tool.

Sometimes it's a tool I overuse.  Because with this writing break, I believe several things were happening.
1)  I am transitioning mentally from this year-long sabbatical I was given into pursuing another big, challenging goal (going back to school for physical therapy).
2)  I was letting all of the things I have learned about writing novels and publishing them congeal and sort out in my mind.

I did so much research, through reading books and blogs and attending conferences, that my brain overloaded a bit.  Not in a bad way, but enough that when I sat down to write, it felt like my head would explode from all of the things that I was "supposed to do."  Three-act structure, motivation-reaction, characterization, show-don't tell, goals, conflict, raising the stakes--all of the things that make great novels.  When I sat down to write, it felt like all of those things needed to fit into my first draft or I would be a terrible writer.  More than that, I didn't really feel like I had a story to tell.

I'm beginning to realize that I will never really have an idea for "THE STORY"--you know, the one that's so fabulous it's sure to be published.  "THE STORY" is a myth, and it's a dangerous myth.  If a writer was indeed blessed with the perfect story idea, and executed it flawlessly, and it was published to great acclaim, they would be up sh** creek if they didn't have the skill to repeat their success.

I don't want to be that kind of writer.  I want to be the kind of writer who sits down consistently and writes stories.  The better I get at telling stories, the closer I will be to publishing.  But I don't want to make publishing my end-all.  If I want a writing career, the long, profitable kind, I need to be consistently good at what I do.  And I'm not there yet.  I'm accepting that it's going to be a long road, and a joyful road, if I can keep the process fun.

Which brings me to my point:  If I'm going to sit down most every day to write a book, there are going to be lots of days where the writing's no good.  On those days, I need to keep going, because I can't afford to only write when the writing's good.  If I keep that up, I'll end up with another three month dry spell.  I need to write like no one is reading.  And when I remind myself that, in fact, I'm not a published author and there really is no one reading, I feel a kind of weight lift off of my shoulders, and it feels good--I'm free to write as much c-r-a-p as I want, and it doesn't hurt a thing.  That makes me smile.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Breanne's A Doctor Now?!?!!!!

I keep up on the people I went to high school with, the people I went to college with, pretty much anyone I've met who interests me.  Maybe it has sometime to do with loving stories--we share a moment in time, and then we go separate ways, often to very different places.

There's one group in particular I track.  In high school, my biology teacher started a group called G squared.  It was a group for gifted girls to meet and bond and in some ways, unite.  Now, the group didn't always get behind everything this teacher envisioned--we were small-town girls growing up in a post-feminist world where we could someday vote and work.  I think most of us didn't really see the whole "being a girl" thing as much of an issue.

Now I see that it was.  All of us set off in different paths, envisioning the great things we were going to do to change the world.  Many of us wanted to be doctors, biomedical engineers, lawyers, architects--big-wigs.  Most of us got lost along the way.

Wendy married her high school sweetheart and had babies.  Her dream went from being a biomedical engineer to a school-teacher to a stay-at-home mom.  She was bright and capable and so driven to be the best--I'm sure she's thrilled with her kids and striving to be the best mom in her town.  I wonder a bit who she's competing with now.

Alice wanted to be an architect, then a doctor.  She went to Notre Dame to play volleyball and take on the world.  Rather than do either, she graduated and, like me, joined a teaching program where she taught for two years.  Now, she has her masters in Nutrition and is probably helping people be healthier. She'll do great things no matter where she is--but I can't help but think she would have been an incredible MD.

Lucy also wanted to be a doctor.  She's loud, brassy, and currently working as a nurse.  She's pregnant with her second child, and I'm sure running things on her floor.  But her story itches at me.  So many of us are falling short of the marks we aimed for.  Why?  Because husbands and babies got in the way?

Or were we just saying those things because we were supposed to?  I know that I was guilty of paying lip-service to a dream I didn't really yearn for deep-down in my gut.  I majored in Biology and took all of the obligatory pre-med/pre-grad school classes.  I worked my tail off, but at the end of the day I didn't have the passion to study for the MCAT or apply or spend ten years working through med school.  So I met a boy, let the dream slip away, and drifted from one thing to another, scraping up enough money to survive and trying not to think to hard about who I was becoming or what I was doing.

I've had a lot of time to think lately.  And I want more.  I want a piece of that dream back, the one where I'm somebody in this world.  The promise of Gsquared was if we reflected on things, if we asked for more of life than being mothers and wives, we could aim bigger.  Do more.

The dream that has been slowly building up inside of me is to be a physical therapist.  It's not a doctor--I'll go to school for less time, make less money, and probably have a whole lot more time for babies.  It's what I want, the compromise that will make the most of all of my dreams.  But it makes me ache a little for the girl who said she wanted to be a doctor and is, five years later, finally blowing the dust off of her dreams and seeing what's salvageable.

But this post isn't about me or Wendy or Lucy or Alice.

This post is about Breanne.  I facebook friended another Gsquared girl who's a physical therapist in Seattle--from what I can see she's living the life I'm setting my sights on one day.  I was flipping through pictures of her wedding, when I realized the pint-sized maid of honor looked familiar.  It looked like Breanne.  I hadn't thought of her in years.  Her name has changed, but when I googled the new name, I found Breanne's picture in a group photo for a hospital in Salt Lake City.  She's an MD--a radiologist at a big hospital.

I told my husband and my roommate, and they smiled politely, but they don't get it.

Breanne did it.  Out of all of us who sat in that biology classroom at lunch and tried to puzzle out the meaning of being a woman, of being an adult, of chasing down dreams, she's the one who did every last thing she set out to do.  She went to med school. She got married.  And ten years out, she's strong.  Powerful.  Important.

There's part of me that's jealous.  I kind of would have expected that.  But I didn't anticipate being proud.  She's representing all of us--the ones who tried, who had to compromise, who settled for less or realized that they didn't have the passion for their goals.  I'm not judging, and I think that whatever life path a person chooses, no one path is better or worse.  People change, priorities change, life goes on.

But Breanne did it.  That small-town girl went out and knocked down doors, took no prisoners.  I want to thank her for her success, for being the one to make good.  I want to ask her how she did it.  I'm sure that her life isn't perfect, that she has triumphs and heartbreaks and that life will at some point bring her to her knees.  Who knows?  Maybe she is just beginning to realize that her dream of being a doctor is hollow.  That's life.  But in the meantime, she's saving lives.

Her story is like a thorn in my side, poking at me.  I want to gather up the bits and pieces of my rambling path and begin making something out of them, too.  Maybe not the big, important life I'd once vaguely envisioned.  But something comfortable, something strong.  Something I, too, can be proud of.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Old Inuit Legend

"The Great Spirit must love stories, because the Great Spirit made a lot of people."

-Old Inuit Legend

Thursday, February 16, 2012

So I dove into four critique groups, and only one panned out.

I went through a period in the last year where I desperately wanted a writing buddy.  More than anything.  I thought that having a supportive person to walk the wily road of publishing would help--maybe even be the secret weapon in my arsenal.  So I signed up for anything that I could find.  This was what my searching came up with:

1., an online critique group that's super-organized.  You're supposed to critique a random post weekly.

Result?  I hung in there for about six weeks before I got tired of sending critiques into the ether.

2.  An online forum organized through an editor that matched people through their responses to a survey.

Result?  Ugh.  We each critiqued one piece of each other's writing before a new person joined and hijacked the group.  First the only guy in the group gave her a critique in which he equated her with God, and the rest has been a rash of icky, smushy messages between the two.  At one point she told us all that:  no offense to anyone else, but she really only wanted to read his book.  I haven't done a critique there since.

3.  A Skype group organized through an old writing contact.  We meet once weekly, sometimes critiquing something someone wrote, sometimes just catching up and chatting about books and life.

Result?  Surprisingly awesome.  For a while I wasn't sure--I had to suffer through a chick-lit novel (I thought it was awful until I read Bridget Jones Diary and realized that actually I mostly just hate chick-lit) and being the outsider (the rest had at least gone to school together and knew each other pretty well. I was just a cling-on).  But the ladies are awesome, and they give fantastic, insightful feedback.  I wouldn't trade it for the world.

4.  An in-person critique partner.  We met for exactly one in-person meeting.  I loved what the man wrote, and told him so (it had been critiqued by exactly one million people before me.  It was spotless.).

Result?  I haven't heard from him again.    Who knows--maybe I'd read all that he wanted to share.  Maybe my praise was too much and he thought I had nothing to offer.  Most likely my third head scared him away :-)

So there it is.  I entered the world of feedback wide-eyed and enthusiastic, and have emerged much wiser and jaded.  I've read so many blogs saying that the wrong critique group is toxic, and the right one is magic.  I think from my experience, I've learned that it's really hard in the beginning of any new group to know if it's a good fit.  I had a lot of doubts about my Skype group and the forum group, and time was really the only way to tell.  The forum group has petered out on its own, but the Skype group is still going strong.

If I had to go back and give myself a piece of advice, it would be this:  find people who make you a better writer and stick with them.  If their advice makes you say, "You're right, I totally need to fix that," then they're a keeper.  If they make you cringe and say, "Really?  You really think so?"--run.  Run far.  Because I know my writing.  I know it's not perfect and I know that there's a lot to improve.  I also know the direction I want it to go.  When someone in the forum spent paragraphs griping about the use of one word (while ignoring large plot holes), I knew there was a problem.

Even though I'm not writing as much as I'd like, having a weekly meeting to hold me accountable is awesome.  It helps me reach out to other strong writers, and I feel like I'm growing as a writer through our interactions.  I think at the end of the day, that's the most I can ask from any group of people.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day Wishes

Valentine's Day Gift for My Husband

Happy Valentine's Day!  

I know that I'm supposed to hate this holiday at least a little bit.  It's constructed by Hallmark to boil romance down to one day a year and make people feel obligated to show each other how much they may or may not care, while simultaneously making single people around the country feel left out and abandoned.

And when put that way, there's not much to like.  But it's also a bright spot in the middle of February, which has always been a boring month for me (the appeal of winter and snow has worn off by this point).  And unless you're living in Louisiana and have Mardi Gras to look forward to, there's not much else going on until Spring Break.  

But those are just excuses.  I really like Valentine's Day because sometimes I forget.  I forget how amazing my husband is, how much I care about him and how lucky I am to be with him.  I forget about how much I enjoy spending time with him.  I forget to look for ways to surprise him and make him happy.  And Valentine's Day is a reminder.

Sometimes all it takes is a little tap on the shoulder to make me wake up and appreciate the people who are in my life.  I hope that, in spite of all of the crap that Valentine's Day sometimes dredges up, that today can be that for you, too.  So if you have someone, take a moment and just appreciate them, flaws and all.  And if you don't have a lover, boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife or friends with benefits, maybe take a look at the other people in your life and appreciate them, too.  I doubt it will make a difference to St. Valentine.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Falling in Love by Lisa Loeb

When I was in college, I house-sat for a woman who had a copy of a Lilith Fair CD.  I listened to that CD the whole summer, about the time that I was going through a painful break-up.  At the end of the summer, I went back to campus housing and reluctantly left the CD behind.  In a random collision of fate, I came into possession of the music once again.  I'd like to post a link to the song that I missed the most, and the lyrics that somehow made that break-up easier.  This one's for all the girls who wanted to be cowboys, and have found themselves wonderfully in love in that space between meeting and leaving.  May you someday find love that lasts.  The link is here, in case the video doesn't work.

Falling in Love
by Lisa Loeb

She wanted to be a cowboy

She was shootin' 'em down

She was tramping around.

He walked in crooked with the clear blue eyes.

"There's a nice pool at my motel you want to go for a swim?"
That night he moved in.
The time between meeting and finally leaving is
Sometimes called falling in love.
The time between meeting and finally leaving is
Sometimes called falling in love.
At night she'd wait for the sound of his feet on the doormat,
The sound of his hand on the doorknob,
The sound of her heart beating in her head.
He'd go out playing nickel slots, cause he knew he'd lose -
She didn't know, so she couldn't choose.
One night while sleeping along in her bed,
The phone rang, she woke up, and sat up and said,
"What time is it? What time is it?"
"Well, it's 5:30 here and it's 2:30 there,
And I won't be home tonight," he said.
The time between meeting and finally leaving is
Sometimes called falling in love.
The time between meeting and finally leaving is
Sometimes called falling in love.
Now she sits in a booth in a diner,
Waiting for someone to take her order,
Waiting for someone to come and sit down.
She rubs the smudge off the photograph, puts it back into her purse.
The grey sky was romatic cause he was holding her hand,
He was her man.
The time between meeting and finally leaving is
Sometimes called falling in love.
The time between meeting and finally leaving is
Sometimes calling falling in love.
Sometimes called falling in love.
She wanted to be a cowboy,
She was shootin' 'em down,
She was tramping around