Archive for the ‘The Writing Life’ Category

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When Writing Leaves You Feeling Vulnerable

June 4, 2015

pub1Sometimes I shout inwardly:

WHY DID YOU TELL EVERYONE ABOUT YOUR WRITING?

YOU SHOULD’VE KEPT IT SECRET!

YOU NEED TO GET A PSEUDONYM, ASAP!

I have a pen name all picked out. Many years ago, when I volunteered at the GLBT bookstore in Vancouver, one of my co-volunteers misunderstood my name Julie as Jubilee when we were introduced.

I was very excited by this miscommunication. JUBILEE! I excitedly responded. That’s awesome!

Isn’t that a great name? Jubilee sounds fun loving and sassy and bright. Jubilee is happy go lucky and doesn’t care what anyone thinks, so there.

But I have not been able to embrace this cool pen name. I have decided to be boringly ‘authentic’ and ‘claim my writing life’ as who I am naturally: Julie Johnson.

Also, I have been so keen to claim my writing identity, I have not been able to shut up about it. Everyone knows. Every one, near and far, in the Twitter-verse and down the road.

This leads to moments of horrible paralysis.

Moments of a very particular writing brain-freeze that is akin to stage fright.

Watch, as I enter the twilight realm of ‘what if’…

What if someone I know reads my finished work. What if, while publicly congratulating me on email, FB and Twitter, they secretly feel it’s terrible, scandalous, badly written and probably half of it is autobiographical…they are trying to work out what parts reveal my dirty secrets…is that Mr. Rutherford character based on a high-school boyfriend, for instance?

The worst will be people I interact with face to face. There we’ll stand, chatting about the weather, both of us keenly aware of page 119. Yes, I wrote that scene. Yes, I know you know I wrote that scene and I know you know I know, you know?

Awkward.

So very awkward.

This can be such a stomach churning sensation in my imagination that all further writing dries up.

What if my parents read this? What if my friends read this? What if my co workers read this? What if my neighbours read this? What if my kids, when they are all grown up, read this? What about my in laws? My extended family? The students I’ve worked with over the years?

The bus driver? The contractor who put in our front door? My chiropractor? The dentist?

What will they think?

PANIC! PANIC! PANIC

In moments like these, I have to talk myself back into a better head space. 

I have to tell myself:

  • most people you know will not read your book, Regency mysteries not being their cup of tea
  • most people you know will just be happy for you that you got published and reached your goal
  • most people you know are polite, they won’t openly admit if they disliked it
  • and if they disliked it, then they did, so what?

It’s easier to think of strangers reading my books. So sometimes I try take the personal element out of it.

Sometimes I channel my feelings into the book. Guess what, main character, you are about to experience a cringe inducing moment of vulnerability in front of your worst enemy…

Because, it’s true, fiction can be autobiographical, though not in the way most people think…

Like most things in life, here’s how you handle it: you take a deep breath, and keep on going as you were, right towards your goal, right on through.

Write even though you feel vulnerable. Write until you feel strong in your voice again. And if you feel vulnerable again, here’s the plan:

Keep writing.

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7 Reasons Why Writers Should Blog

May 31, 2015

blogging addictI’m a novelist at heart.

Sometimes I wish I wasn’t. It’s time consuming and complex. But it is the writing form that calls to me.

It isn’t the only writing form I’ve tried, mind you. I’ve written essays, short stories, poems. Except for the essays (school related, primarily) the others will likely NEVER see the light of day.

First, because they are from a younger age, when I was experimenting with writing forms, and thus they have that cringe-inducing youthful earnestness to them that is still embarrassing.

Second, because they are not my strong suit and I know it.

I chose novels, or novels chose me. Whatever. My point is, this is where I spend the vast majority of my writing time. In Novel-Land. Working on novels.

When I’m not blogging, that is.

Somehow, I became this blogger–with short comics to go along. So I became this blogger/comic person in addition to a novelist.

I just launched a SECOND blog with comics, even. One about environmental activism.

WHY AM I DOING THIS?

WHY do I share my precious writing time with blogs and (short) comics?

Thinking on this led me to realize the awesomeness of blogging.

I think no matter what kind of writing you do, blogging is an excellent accompaniment.

Here’s 7 reasons why:

1. Reflection & Refinement

My blogs tend to be auto biographical, acting as a mirror that reflects back where I’m at, what I’m thinking. Not a journal, not a diary. It’s more polished than that (Get it? Okay, I’ll drop the mirror analogy).

It’s not stream of consciousness. It’s applied consciousness.

I focus on a concern, worry at it, explore it. Refine my communication of it. Isn’t that the essence of the writing life? Well, there it is in micro, when you blog.

2. Short and Sweet

Blogs are not meant to go on for pages. There is NO pressure to write FOREVER. It’s liberating, especially for a novelist who is typically aiming for a 90 000 word count.

3. Daily Flexing

I write on a consistent basis, either novel(s) or blogs/comics. If the novel is stuck or moving slowly, I can tap into the jazz of blogging and get the writing flowing again. I can access my creativity sideways.

4. Uncomplicated

Blogs do not demand intense historical research, complicated character emotions, a clear thematic statement, subplots, etc. Pick a topic. Write about it for a few paragraphs. DONE.

5. Let it Go

When I finally click the ‘publish’ button, I’m trusting that feeling inside that says ‘it’s done’. I’m letting it go. I’m not getting stuck in a self-recriminating editing rut. I’m trusting my writer’s voice. I’m trusting my writing intuition. It’s done. Let it go.

6. Writerly Pride

There is something supremely satisfying about finishing a piece of work and sending it out into the world…to be stumbled upon by unsuspecting Twitter followers or Google searchers.

I am writer, hear me roar.

7. Connection

I was once asked in a Facebook thread to sum up ‘what writing meant to me in one word’. I wrote: connection.

Thanks to the internet, I can be part of a writing community! I can contribute to the inter-connectivity of writers supporting and sharing! Maybe someone will not only find my blog but actually READ IT!  In the same way I sometimes stumble across other people’s blogs, and read it!

Sometimes what I read resonates! Maybe what I wrote will resonate with someone else! Just the possibility of that happening is VERY COOL.

So what are you waiting for? Start blogging!

Unless you are a writer/blogger all ready, in which case, you get what I’m saying, right?

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Figuring Out Your Subplot

May 20, 2015

plot threadsIn my first Regency mystery, my subplot was an obvious extension of my main character’s romantic interests and just sorta ‘showed up’.

TA-DAA! Heeeere’s your subplot!

In that first mystery, I had a Plot A, Plot B…and a Plot C. Too much plot? Perhaps. But I liked the trinity feel of it, my variation of the rule of three.

It developed organically and it all felt fine. I was diligent about balancing them out properly, so that Plot A was the shining star and Plot B and C the back up singers. (No plot coups on my watch!)

In the next book, the second of the series, I’ve had to put more thought and intention into developing my subplots.

Plot A has a very clear direction (though not necessarily a clear path).

But Plot B and C? Not so much.

In fact, I’ve been in such a hurry to lay down the beginning of Plot A that I completely forgot about the others. It wasn’t until I re-read what I had from the start that I realized how heavy and off balanced and one focused it felt.

Wait! I gasped, smacking my forehead. I don’t have a subplot! What the heck is my subplot?

First, a reminder. Here’s the definition of a subplot: “it is the secondary or subordinate plot in a literary work”.

Subplots are great. I love how they break tension and yet crank it up.

They interject the main plot, giving that plot a chance to breathe. By doing so, they also create suspense…you now have to wait to get back to the main plot! But they also mirror the tension of that main plot, acting like an extra music note played a half a second later…and they all get faster and louder and faster.

So in reality, there is no break in tension. That’s an illusion! Really all you’ve done is shifted in your seat to look out a different window. But you’re still in the same vehicle, one that is still hurtling forward, and the speed is steadily increasing–

Subplots add complexity and nuance.

They really are fabulous.

Great. So where do I get one?

I ended up looking in these places:

Relationships

Family and friends of your main character are a great source of subplot material. This is, in part, what I ended up doing. I’m mining my main character’s relationship troubles.

Themes & ‘Big Issues’

Search out a secondary area that mirrors your ‘big ideas’. Does your story deal with issues of abandonment? Well, then, find an abandonment plot that connects or mirrors or is similar to the main one.  (In my book, reconciliation is something my main character struggles with. So finding other ways and means for my main character to obtain goal is part of my subplots.)

Genre

I’m writing mysteries and so it makes sense to have my main mystery be Plot A and then have some mini mysteries in my subplots.

These are some areas where you can find subplots. I’m sure there are more.

For me, this is what worked.

I think it’s good to sort out your plot threads every now and again. I tend to write organically–I am an organic plotter, not of the ‘outliner’ persuasion–but sometimes an analytical approach is needed and I’ve got to pause to take stock…or else I’ll just have a knotted mess! Grrrr.

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Fighting Off Writer’s Fatigue

May 15, 2015

novelist powers
I’ve hit that moment in novel writing, the moment when I’m worn out by the demands of such long prose.

I call it WRITER’S FATIGUE. 

A novel is a long-distance race. I don’t run long distance in real life, but I imagine there comes a point when the mind/body rebels and says: to heck with this, let’s go get pizza.

The impulse is to STOP RUNNING.

Just as, in my case, the impulse is to STOP WRITING.

A novel is a daunting project. It can’t be done in a day. Perhaps, a month? But, usually, much, much longer.

It is a long term project, requiring repeated declarations of commitment.

And, sometimes, the end point seems such a long way away….

Once again, I wish I were a poet. 

I think of William Carlos Williams, slapping em down on prescription pads in the middle of being a doctor.

Feeling the satisfaction of completion!

Of course, the creative process is never ending. Write one poem, up comes another. It’s never really DONE.

But, on a small scale, when one creative idea moves from being just a silly concept into the bold reality of fruition……well, that moment is indeed sublime.

Poets must feel it with more frequency than novelists.

Isn’t there’s a spectrum of creative gratification? With the most instant being on the one end (with oh, say, twitter poets and haiku artists) and novelists on the other? Perhaps mega-novelists should be at that end. Those whose single creative idea takes many volumes. (J.K. Rowling, perhaps? How did she write 7 volumes without ripping her hair out with impatience?)

My fatigue is based on my impatience. I want to get to the end without all the work.

Of course, the one thing I can do is narrow my focus. Forget the end point. Just look at putting one foot/word in front of the other.

How else do I get rid of my obsession with THE END?

Maybe I should just skip to the end and write backwards? That might diffuse the ‘ending’ of its power.

Take that, Ending! You have no power over me anymore!

PS. This comic was first seen in the post Why I Want To Publish but given that I reference William Carlos William and his poems-on-prescription-pads (which goes to show you can write ANYWHERE, no excuses!), I thought I would post it here as well.

williamnote

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Dealing with Writer’s Block

May 1, 2015

blankjpgAs legend has it, Mark Twain (may have) set aside Huck Finn for seven years because he didn’t know what was going to happen to his characters next. That’s some serious writer’s block, wouldn’t you say?

So whenever I hit a bit of writing turbulence, I’ll wonder: Uh oh. Is this my Huck Finn moment?

Am I going to have writer’s block for seven years?

This might be why I cultivate a variety of creative projects…because then I’ll have something else to fall back on in case my main project completely jams up…though I really don’t want it to come to that!

I’d rather get myself past the bumpy bits and keep moving onward.

offering1jpgWhen I wrote Regency Mystery #1, it took a long time for me to finish (ie: years) because I built in the editing process. If I hit a wall or knew a section was shaky, plot wise, I paused and figured out a solution. Or researched the heck out of it.

Like I was some kind of NASA engineer.

One time, I went back and re-wrote the entire first third. I wasn’t moving forward unless the structure was sound.

Solid, like a brick outhouse.

No way was I going to finish it only to find the floor was crooked and the door fell off as soon as you sat down…

So when writer’s block happened, it was a big ordeal. I had to find a solution or the project couldn’t go. No lift off.

That involved a lot of strain and struggle. 

It took time, but I always found a solution. Luckily, I never had to wait seven years…

With Regency mystery #2, I’m trying a different approach. Sort of the #nanowrimo approach.

Word count matters. I just want to reach the finish line, FAST.

(80,000 words of gibberish? I’ll take it!)

And I figure if the structure’s a little wobbly, I can shore up the roof and fix the door when I’m finished…

This requires a different approach to writers block because, basically…

there is no writers block!

If something doesn’t feel right, no matter, ignore it, just keep MAKING IT UP!

blockedSo far, I have refrained from using alien abductions or time travel as plot explanations. (And no, I haven’t used: ‘it was all a dream’).

But the temptation is certainly there to free-fall into nonsense just so I can have a first draft finished.

This is a new approach for me, and not one I am totally comfortable with.

But I am making an effort, hoping maybe it’ll take less time to fix a first draft after the fact rather than doing a million drafts and edits as I crawl my way along.

We shall see.

In the meantime, I still use these strategies when ever I’m up against those wiggly, panic-inducing ‘I don’t know’s’:

  • use parentheses to mark the small bits I need to add to later (see the posting ‘Frame It To Keep The Writing Flowing’ for more info on how this works)
  • go for a walk or go for a ride or do yoga or clean house or go kayaking….clear your mind; take a break; stop thinking about it
  • approach it as play, just goof around, make it an improv scene, see what happens…you don’t have to keep it if it doesn’t work out…but, then again, you might surprise yourself and stumble upon awesomeness…
  • stay open! stay receptive! You never know what might show up!
  • maintain a consistent writing practice, even if it’s only 10-15 minutes, set the timer if need be
  • work on something else for a little while, but do come back and try again…

I think the key is to…not panic!

Remember, Mark Twain finished Huck Finn… eventually.

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What to Do When You’ve Got Too Many Writing Projects

April 30, 2015

toomanyprojectsThe other day I was struck by a really great idea for a novel…

And part of me did a happy dance. I love it when inspiration strikes!

And the other part went: WHAT? ANOTHER ONE?!

Another creative project to add to my pile?

Right now, this is what I’m working on, creatively, in my ‘spare time’:

And now I want to add:

  • a ‘comedic dystopian’ novel (does that genre even exist? No matter.)

I was so enamoured of this new writing idea that I wrote 600 words on it in a flash. I promised myself I would ‘make time’ to work on my main writing project, which is Regency mystery novel #2.

But I didn’t.

I ran out of writing time.

Because that’s how it works in our current universe. I can’t bend time or double time up. There is only so much time available.

That means I must prioritize.

Which is difficult to do.

Especially if my main writing project feels like it has hit a ‘plot hole’ and is at that point where the going is a little bit rough and…wow, look at that shiny, new idea! I’m going to chase after it! Woof! Woof!

It can be hard to keep focused.

On the other hand, I really like my new idea and the characters within are clamouring to be heard…the writing is more or less writing itself, ready to pour onto the page…it would be criminal to stuff that particular genie back in the bottle…wouldn’t it?

So this is the compromise I came up with:

  • non negotiable: I work on my main project, Regency mystery novel #2, daily
  • if there is time left over, I can play in my creative sandbox
  • go back to carrying around my writer’s notebook. (When the clamouring starts, pour it in there, as soon as there is a moment to be had).

In years past, I used to lock myself in the washroom. (Always a good strategy. No matter where you are, one is surely available. And no one bugs you in there.)

I’ve also written in my car.

I’ve also written on my phone and emailed myself.

I realize now that I have to go back to redefining ‘writing time’, which has come to mean ‘scheduled quiet time at the computer’ but really needs to become more flexible and intermittent. Perhaps I should call them: writing flashes. 

It’s not ideal. But it’s the only way I can think of right now to balance things out, and water my entire, creative garden so that all my projects get a little bit of love.

Also, I must remember: I’d rather have too many ideas than too little. (Because creative droughts suck!)

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Sound Familiar? A Moment In The Life Of A Writer

April 26, 2015

writing mindSo here’s a moment in the life of this writer:

-in the morning, clumsily write on my iPhone while kids are at swimming (I forgot to bring a notebook and pen)

-while driving back from the pool, re-write a scene in my head for my second Regency mystery novel (it’s not working out right! why isn’t it working out right!) *problem remains unsolved*

-meanwhile, intermittently through the day, worry that my writing skill is mediocre at best, that I must be fooling myself to think anyone would willingly want to read my drivel, and thus I should stop wasting my time, maybe I should take a pottery class and express myself creatively that way…

-in reaction to the negatives, affirm the positive: ‘its the journey not the destination’ and who cares about success? *remember what Andy Warhol said* JUST MAKE ART!

-ignore inner critic (‘YOU’RE MEDIOCRE!’) and JUST MAKE ART by continuing to research social reform movements as it pertains to early nineteenth century England, because it relates to my current novel…

-then read over the best bits of my work because, hey, it may not be the greatest novel ever written (the one they adapt into a movie and then Jennifer Lawrence wins an Oscar because she starred in it)…but it’s my novel and it’s not bad, even good in spots, and as an experienced reader/writer, I feel I have some credibility to judge…

But does judging matter? Or does it get in the way of the creative process? Look at how it distracted me today from my essential purpose! The inner fretting: is it good? is it bad? is it worthy? will they make it into a movie?

Never mind all that: JUST MAKE ART!