Invoking The Muse

 

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So, on Thursday night, I invoked the muse. It had been a while, admittedly. The holiday season combined with too much analysis and a good dash of sloth all combined to create a distinctly non-creative stew.

But last night, I got hungry, hungry for real food. I realized I truly may never amount to anything if I do not work harder at my goals. Some of those goals are not completely under my control, but being a published writer is. So, I sat in front of my laptop, opened the document, and edited until around 11PM.

And just like that, the muse returned. She came slowly at first, having been ignored for so long. But deep down, she knows that I am honest. Though my devotion to a schedule might not be steadfast, my longing to be a storyteller and my thirst for the waters of creation are genuine.

Now, she’s gifted me with a little flame to tend. A flame that is growing steadily brighter as I read the story I began writing nearly five years ago, remember the joy it brought me, listen to the playlist I made for it, and find all sorts of ways to improve it. I had stopped editing seriously somewhere around Thanksgiving, but there will be no more long hiatuses.

The muse has been loving and extraordinarily patient. She is standing by to help make this novel the best it can be, as well as tending other stories for me in the strange nether world where ideas reside. I am already hearing the siren’s song of those other tales, as a matter of fact.

But first, I must finish what I started. I must apply myself faithfully and deliver the story I promised, the story that has been such a delight to me, to the world. No more fooling around.

Write on.

 

Why Reading is Essential to Writing

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I have heard that some writers have a phobia of reading while they are writing. They believe that the words of another writer might sneak into their subconscious and influence them too much, dampening their own voice, even resulting in plagiarism.

I can sort of understand where this fear comes from. However, in my experience I have found it to be untrue. If I don’t read, my inspiration dries up. My words become blah and even my desire to keep producing dwindles.

I really believe that reading is to writing like sunlight is to flowers. It’s nourishment. If not for reading other books, would a desire to write your own ever have even been born in you? Probably not. Other stories fuel our passion and even sometimes help us when we are stuck by providing new ideas. One thing leads to another and before you know it, the story you just read is feeding the tiny one that’s already growing somewhere deep within.

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So if you are a writer who doesn’t read while you are working and you are finding yourself stuck, pick up a book, either a new one or your favorite one. Lose yourself in it for a while, a solid hour or more. You might just find that the struggle is gone or a lot easier to deal with when you look up.

Write on!

Why You Should Join A Writing Group

Five reasons every writer should belong to a critique group.

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*** Originally written for The Odyssey Online in 2017 . ***

The very title of this post probably has some of you cringing. Join a writing group? Where I actually have to let others read my writing, or worse yet, read my writing out loud to people who might not like it? Shiver. I could never!

Ah, but you can—and you should! I have belonged to a writing critique group for around nine years and have been moderating that group for at least four. During this time, I have learned a great deal from my fellow group members. Without further ado, here are some reasons you should seek out a critique group—and, you know, actually go to the meetings. 😀

1. It Will Hold You Accountable

We all know writers love to procrastinate. Attending a writing group will force you to produce consistently.

2. You Will Learn How to Take Criticism.

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As a writer, learning to take criticism is a must. We often don’t see the flaws in our own work, so other people need to point them out for us. Helpful group members will be respectful but honest about your work and you will grow accustomed to receiving real feedback.

3. It Will Help Keep You Inspired

Nothing fuels inspiration like reading or listening to other people’s work, which is what you will be doing in a writing group.

4. You Will Make Human Connections

Writing can be a lonely craft. Meeting other writers will get you out of your own head and you may even make new friends, or meet people who work in other fields related to writing, such as editors or publishers.

5. It Will Sharpen Your Editing Skills

Critiquing other people’s writing will help hone your own editing skills, which will make you a better writer. Win/win situation.

So where can you find a writing group? Your local library or college are usually good places to start. So get up and get going! You owe it to yourself!

 

Write On!

Cover Image Credit: Pixbay

How Poetry Made Me A Better Writer

Poetry is the gift that keeps on giving.

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***Originally written for The Odyssey Online in 2017***

Poetry is a curious beast, to say the least. (Hey look, it rhymes! LOL.) It can be beautiful and intriguing, but devilishly hard to understand, and even harder to write, or at least write well. I have loved poetry since I was a child, and filled up several notebooks over the years with my own poems, or, more accurately, my “efforts at poetry.” Though I have never considered poetry my “main writing gig,” I do admire the genre and feel I am beginning to get a grasp on writing it. A kinda, sorta, infant-like grasp.
***UPDATE: I have since had several poems published so I am officially out of pre-school. 😀 ***

But what I really want to share here, is the great influence poetry had and still has upon my fiction. Some of you might be wondering how that could be so. Poetry, especially modern poetry, is short, and often highly personal and not as clear-cut as straight prose or fiction writing. But poetry has taught me two valuable lessons that have helped me tell better stories:

1. Notice the small details

Poems focus to a great extent on small details and subtle nuances. The way light glimmers off of broken glass. The smell of autumn leaves. The way a person removes their gloves or holds their coffee cup. Yes, this is found in fiction too and plenty of books on how to write fiction, but I have to say that poetry has been my greatest teacher when it comes to observing tiny details and learning how to bring those details to life on the page, which is the essence of writing. That brings me to my second point.

2. Unique Descriptions

Poems are nothing if not unique. Reading them or listening to others read them, you will encounter similes and metaphors that you have never heard before, that capture the image or feeling of the subject so well that you remember them for days or years to come. Reading poetry or attending a poetry reading are kindling for my writing fire, and sometimes the whole ton of logs. I really credit my love of description to all of the poetry, both classical and modern, that I have enjoyed over the years.

My advice to all writers: explore some poetry. Even if you don’t particularly like it, you may learn some valuable lessons and others too. You might also find that you love it, and the things we love often become our creative inspiration.

 

Write on!

Cover Image Credit: pixabay

Why Do Writers Love Coffee Shops?

This writer chick can think of a few good reasons.

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*** An article I originally wrote for The Odyssey Online in 2017.***

Pop culture insinuates that writers and coffee shops go together like peanut butter and jelly. I have even seen memes on Facebook goofing on writers “feeling the need” to “be seen” in coffee shops. Apparently, some people view this as a vanity on the writer’s part, whom is assumed to be a hopeless and self-absorbed amateur, trying to prove they are a real writer.

 

1. It Fosters Creativity

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Sometimes a change of scenery really does “clear out the cobwebs,” so to speak. An influx of new energy can breathe life back into your piece or back into your writing brain if you find yourself struggling.

2. It’s Easier to Concentrate and Drift Off Into Story Land

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Some writers would surely argue on this point as they find themselves too easily distracted by the hustle and bustle around them. That is understandable. For me, it works the opposite way. At home, with the TV on, the phone ringing, adorable cats and dogs demanding attention, and conversations possibly relevant to me taking place, I frequently lose my focus. Removing myself from those distractions can be valuable particularly since I only bring notebooks with me.

Anyone who knows me well understands that my laptop does not leave the house. It is far too precious a tool to me and I have imagined too many “nightmare scenarios” (I drop it in a parking lot, it gets destroyed in an accident, curious black bear breaks into car and crushes it, and so forth and so forth) to take the risk. It also eliminates the possibility of jumping onto that delightful time-suck known as Facebook or adding more items to my wishlist on Etsy. (Yep, I also silence my phone and conceal it safely in my handbag when I am alone and getting serious about my work. No apps for me!)

3. It’s Inspiring

Writing in eating and drinking establishments can also be deeply inspiring. Any writer who reads “how-to” articles (and most of us are obsessed) will tell you that we are commonly advised to people-watch and even politely eavesdrop on conversations to learn how real humans speak and therefore how characters should speak. Yes, creepy creative people are watching you!

 

4. FOOD AND DRINK!

Lastly, coffee is found in these places. Coffee. And brownies. And cookies. And sometimes the cookies are even warm. Who could resist that?

Write on!

Cover Image Credit: pixabay

Hemingway Was Right: The First Draft Really Is Excrement

There is no such thing as a perfect first draft.

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*** Originally written as an article for The Odyssey Online in 2017. ***

Ernest Hemingway, prolific writer of the 20th century, had some truly great writing wisdom. One of my absolute favorite Hemingway quotes appears in the 1984 memoir by Arnold Samuelson titled, “With Hemingway. A year in Key West and Cuba.” Apparently, Ernest told Samuelson that “the first draft of everything is shit.” Why do I like this snippet of dialogue so much? Because it is a simple bit of brilliance that often goes overlooked by aspiring writers.

It is the first draft that trips up many amateur writers. To be sure, it starts off on a magnificent note. All at once, you are thunderstruck by an idea. You spend weeks, months, maybe even years writing your brimming heart out with an unshakable faith that this is it, the next great American novel, your ticket to a publishing contract and a loyal fan base. At long last, your dream is in sight. When you’re finished, you reward yourself with a Malibu Bay Breeze (or four), a ridiculous-sized sundae, or a shopping spree. You take a few weeks off to bask in well-earned glory, then begin the rewrite.

And that’s when your heart sinks like a stone cast into a murky lake. The more you read, the more panic-stricken you become. Your masterpiece, your beloved, your precious, is a mess. Not a chocolate-chip-pancake-that-fell-on-the-floor-as-you-were-flipping-it mess either. Actually, it’s more of a train wreck. It is off the track at best, and twisted into only a bizarre semblance of a story at worst.

All right, not all first drafts are that atrocious, but you understand what I am getting at. Feeling helpless and ashamed, you wonder how on earth you can repair this disaster of the written word. That feeling, that “sinking feeling,” builds and builds until you start to believe the worst, that your manuscript cannot be salvaged, and it would probably be in the world’s best interest if you ceased writing now, lest you burn an unsuspecting reader’s eyeballs with your God-awful rubbish and cause them to swear off books forever.

That’s when you need to take a deep breath and remember Hemingway’s quote. It’s why you should print it out and tape it to your laptop before you even type “Chapter One.” There is no such thing as a perfect first draft. No writer has ever written one and no writer ever will. The first draft is that first coat of nail polish that is streaky and uneven. The second draft is the second coat that evens it all out, takes it from “meh” to “glam,” earns compliments, and makes the time you set aside to do it worthwhile. No real writer escapes this part of the process. None of them.

So do not hit delete. Do not set fire to your pages in a display of drama and roast marshmallows over them while you sob over your incompetence. The prospect of turning coal into a diamond is a daunting one, and it may take a third or even a fourth draft to fashion your creation into a marketable product. But rest assured, it can be done. You have as much of a chance of becoming a bestseller as any other writer.

Write on!

 

Cover Image Credit: www.pixabay.com

What Writing Taught Me About Discipline and Perseverance

No one becomes a successful writer by giving up.

*** I originally wrote this article for The Odyssey Online in 2017. ***

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In mid-March of 2015, the random scenes I had kept in a notebook for two years finally came together, and I began to work on my third novel. This novel was much different than my first two though. Not only did it lack the paranormal element the others had contained, but I felt a seriousness about it, an absolute dedication to it, and a determination to work on it every day.

Though I had read plenty of articles extolling the benefits of daily writing, it was a practice I had never assumed. Keeping schedules and deadlines has never been my strong suit, but this time I set myself the task.

 

Armed with a pretty journal I could easily tuck into my purse and an abundance of pens, I began the journey. Seven days a week, I wrote anywhere, anytime I could. I wrote before work in the living room, after work at the nearest Panera, in my bed before turning out the light, and as the weather warmed, out on my sundeck. I made scene cards that I tacked to a fabric story board hanging in my bedroom, created a Pinterest where I posted pictures of period clothing and furniture, and made two different novel playlists to listen to as I typed the final product and even as I drove my car.

I was seized. I completed the first draft right around my March deadline. I had planned to give myself a week’s rest before embarking on the all-important rewrite. But there was an issue that I hesitated to confess even to myself; my passion had begun to wane.

I first noticed it around the end of January, but I was able to feed the fire long enough to type “The End” by my deadline. During my week off, I tinkered with words here and there, fearful that if I stopped entirely, I would not go back to it at all.

Over the next two months, I grappled with the frustration of the fire burning so low. It dimmed until it almost seemed hopeless. Nevertheless, I continued writing. On the days I could not muster the enthusiasm for my novel, I worked on poetry or just random “rants,” anything to keep my pen in hand.

After 14 months of faithful duty, the bubble burst at last. I had to give myself a break. My focus and motivation fizzled and I passed the next several months — much to my chagrin– writing in intermittent spurts when inspiration struck, something I had sought to get away from. Other distractions in my personal life sucked away my brain power on top of that.

Now, it is August, 17 months after the first draft was completed. I am about half-way through the rewrite and, to my delight, feeling the embers of my fascination reigniting. I have set myself a new deadline and am trying my best to work a little bit every day. Bottom line: I refuse to give up.

In the past, I was all too quick to concede defeat. I backed away from far too many challenges, sabotaging myself by flitting from unfinished project to unfinished project. The old cliché “jack of all trades, master of none” is true. No one becomes a successful writer without enforcing discipline, nor by giving up. Inspiration and skill, while essential to an accomplished writer’s repertoire, are only two pieces of a complex puzzle. It is discipline and perseverance that separate the apprentices from the masters, and that goes for everything in life, not just writing.

So if you stumbled upon this article and are considering giving up on your writing, I ask you, from one writer to another, to please have faith in yourself. I don’t care if you are 18 or 108, refuse to take no for an answer. Batten down the hatches, park your rump in a chair, and write. Ask your loved ones to cheer you on. Reward yourself with something awesome when you meet your goal. Even if you never make a dime off of what you write, do it because you love it, do it because you have to. The world needs stories and it needs people who don’t understand the meaning of quitting. It needs disciplined people who persevere.

Write on!

 

*** Update: I am nearing the end of the second draft at this time. Yes, it seems I was more turtle-like this last year and a half than I like to admit. 🙂 ***

 

Cover Image Credit: pixabay
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