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Monday, July 21, 2008

Being Open

One of the things I've learned along this great, grand journey of being an artist is to be open. Open to opportunities and possibilities, and especially to new ideas. So often an idea will pop into our brain and we'll dismiss it as stupid or impossible. This, I've learned, is a mistake. It could be that that idea is the thing that will get us off our over-beaten path and into new territory.
Now, sometimes that new path is a dead end. But I think it's better to take the detour than to continue down our familiar path, always looking over our shoulder and wondering what might have been if we'd gone a different way.
I'm dealing with this right now. I've been working on a YA novel set in 16th century Italy, with a supernatural twist. Although I love the premise and the characters and have the whole novel plotted out, something is just not hooking in for me. I've tried a number of things to break out of this rut but nothing seems to really work. It's very frustrating.
Over the weekend a sudden idea popped into my head. What if this story isn't meant to be set in the 16th century? What if this isn't an historical novel? What if this story is meant to be told in the here and now?
Needless to say, as a self-proclaimed writer of historical fiction who loves and relishes history, this was a pretty radical and scary thought. My first instinct was to sweep this thought under the rug and stomp on it, hard.
But instead I swept all of the "what a stupid idea" thoughts under the rug and stomped on them. Hard.
As a writer, my first responsibility is to tell the story. If there's a chance that this story needs to be told in contemporary times, then I need to explore that.
So this morning when I should have been settling in to write, I got up, futzed around, did the laundry, made some coffee, watched Gilmore Girls on ABC Family, and generally avoided going down this new path. But as I did these empty chores, sentences drifted in and out of my head until one hooked in. The first sentence. I sat down at the computer. And an hour and a half later, I had the first scene.
I don't know if this is the right path for this story yet. But I'm open to going down it for as long as it takes for me to find out. I'm here to serve the story, and sometimes that means putting on a good pair of hiking shoes, tucking a water bottle into your backpack, and following the trail all the way to the sea.
What wild ideas have you had and followed? Are there any ideas you've had that you didn't follow through on and wish you had? And if you're in the midst of following a wild idea right now, please share so I don't feel all alone!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Weekly Writing Prompt

This week, there are two options to choose from, both tied to the phrase "Blast from the Past".

Option one:

For those of you with manuscripts under your bed or hidden away in a drawer or in the back of your closet, "resurrect" two or three of the main characters from that old manuscript and have them attend a reunion (for a school, a club, a job, the choice is yours). Try and find a way to show the reader how much the characters have grown and changed during the intervening years.

Option two:

Write a scene in which characters from your work in progress or characters created for this exercise (or write a poem about the emotion evoked) come across an object from their past. Think: cleaning out the attic or garage. What do they find? How does it make them feel? Explore emotions; make the reader laugh or cry or both.

Easy, right? Good! Now get writing!

As always, feel free to share your experiences doing this exercise in the comments section.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Changes

It was a tough weekend. My childrens' dance teacher lost her father, and a friend lost her husband. One was unexpected, and one defied every medical opinion. Both changes, both part of life. Changes, yes, but unpleasant ones. Just call me Debbie Downer.

After I bawled my eyes out, I felt the need to put words on paper. Do something creative. Anything, really. And so I started another edit of my book. I had decided that one specific character needed to have a major change, which sent me off on adding, deleting and solving continuity issues.

In a totally self-centered way, making the changes in my manuscript made me feel better. I can't do anything to make my friends hurt less. Only time will do that. But changes, even uncomfortable ones, can lead to good things.

What changes have happened lately in your life ,or your pages, or both?

Friday, July 11, 2008

30 Pages, Baby

Check out Nathan Bransford's blog where he explains the importance of those first 30 pages in a requested partial.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Setting Attainable Goals

It's Monday. Though it's the start of the week at my day job, it's the end of the week for my writing goals. Why my week runs Tuesday to Monday... long story. And the most important part of that long story is: it works for me. For some folks, Sunday through Saturday is better. But I digress...

One of my goals for this week now ending was actually a "cheat" goal, because the text of the goal reads "outline goals for second half of the year". Setting goals should not be a goal in itself, you see. But for me, achieving goals is a lot about time management. So if I write a task on my goal list, I know I have to carve out time to sit and perform the task -- in this case, taking a piece of paper and listing what I want to achieve in the next sixth months.

The important concept here is the attention to what I want to achieve and how I can make that happen. I recently had a chat with someone who said "My goal is to be published within two years." Hey, no argument that's a worthy aspiration. But it's a dream, not a goal. As a goal, it's got a built-in flaw and no, it's not completely the two-year thing. The trouble with that goal is that it does not rely wholly on personal ability. Unless you've already decided you're going to self-publish through a vanity press, part of the goal is in someone else's hands. The decision to publish you or not publish you belongs to an editor and/or an editorial board and/or a publisher -- and marketing may have their say as well! So to say "My goal is to be published" is to put your goal in someone else's hands. You've given the power to achieve that goal to someone else.

This, of course, is a very long way of saying, when you set a goal, make certain it's a goal you personally can achieve. Absolutely don't give up the dream of publishing, of best-seller lists, of Oprah picks and Pulitzers. But make your goal to write the best book you can, to write every day, to take a class in writing craft, and so on. Set a goal you can accomplish...

...and you'll be surprised by how much you achieve.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Weekly Writing Prompt

Well, now. This one's going to seem like a bit of a cop-out given the calendar, and given that we did a one-word prompt last week. But this one's tried and true and quite honestly one of my favorites. And why mess with a winner, huh? So this week, again, we're working with a one-word prompt. Mull it over in your mind, think about your characters, old and new, let the ideas flow -- and then let your pen flow across the page. Ready? This week's word prompt is: fireworks.
Got it? Good. Now get writing!
As always, please feel free to share in the comments section how this exercise helped you -- or how it made you tear your hair out : )

Friday, July 04, 2008

Happy Independence Day

Have a happy and safe Fourth of July! My family is doing chores right now. Number One son goes to work in an hour, and Number Two son is flying back from Nashville as I type this. Number Three son is still in his jammies, avoiding his room like the plague it is - it's good to be the king.

If you're in the US, have a terrific holiday. If not, have a great Friday!