This week’s link is to an interview by Open Culture, a “cultural and educational” site, with the great Stephen King. is for all writers of any genre. Whether just starting out or a seasoned pro, you’ll want the twenty gems from Stephen King. When he speaks, I listen. Mostly because he is so relatable, like a mentor, like a friend. Be inspired!
On my Kindle: Blood Brothers: The Sign of Seven by Nora Roberts
Talk Back – Tell us how you write!
We had this meme from Chuck Wendig (and the associated blog post) circulating around the internet last week and it did get me thinking.
I can’t seem to find moments when I am truly happy with writing anymore. I remember the excitement I had when I finally told myself it was ok to try to write, and when I had, oh I don’t know 3 chapters written or so, I felt soooo happy.
I had spent most of my life dreaming of being a writer and believing that, because I never went to school to study writing, I could never get a book published, see a real book with my name on it in a big bookstore.
And I wish I could say that I was completely happy when it happened (and yes I was happy) but by that time I was so wrapped up in the crazies of the business side of it, that I was not as happy as when I sat down to write those words the very first time.
It took me quite a while to find my happy writing place again. It meant a lot of pulling out from writing groups, a lot of time thinking about what writing means to me and a total different mind-set where happiness comes from accomplishing my allocated daily writing time and spending time in a woken dream with my characters and none thinking about selling, reviews and money.
How about you? When was the last time writing made you truly happy? What do you need from your writing to find that bliss?
To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the inner music the words make. ~Truman Capote, McCall’s, November 1967
For all of our American friends, we wish you a Happy Thanksgiving! For all of our friends around the world, especially in Gaza and Israel, we wish you much peace, joy, and contentment on this day. Our hearts are with all of our loyal Muse Trackers!
Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be critical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be careful. Strive to be happy.
It’s given to us whether we want it or not. We often ignore it even if we know it’s for our own good. It typically distills concepts that are floating around in our brain into a few easy sentences. We are grateful for it, we resent it. However you may feel about this topic, advice is always all around us.
I’m going to take some advice of my own.
We are now two weeks away from the Lone Star Writing Conference (www.nwhrwa.com) and I have a lot on my plate. This conference is my baby. I’m responsible for the thousands of small details that go into the making of an event like this. It will be an awesome conference, but I’m also trying to continue being a writer. This led me to looking up advice by writers to other writers.
Here’s what I found:
Stephen King– “Mostly when I think of pacing, I go back to Elmore Leonard, who explained it so perfectly by saying he just left out the boring parts. This suggests cutting to speed the pace, and that’s what most of us end up having to do (kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings)…I got a scribbled comment that changed the way I rewrote my fiction once and forever. Jotted below the machine-generated signature of the editor was this mot: “Not bad, but PUFFY. You need to revise for length. Formula: 2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%. Good luck.”
Interviewer: How much rewriting do you do?
Hemingway: It depends, I re-wrote the ending to “Farewell to Arms”, the last page of it, thirty-nine times before I was satisfied.
Interviewer: Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?
Hemingway: Getting the words right.
Kurt Vonnegut– 8 Rules For Writing A Short Story
1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
4. Every sentence must do one of two things-reveal character or advance the action.
5. Start as close to the end as possible.
6. Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them-in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.
The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later. You just let this childlike part of you channel whatever voices and visions come through and onto the page. If one of the characters wants to say, “Well, so what, Mr. Poopy Pants?,” you let her. No one is going to see it. If the kid wants to get into really sentimental, weepy, emotional territory, you let him. Just get it all down on paper, because there may be something great in those six crazy pages that you would never have gotten to by more rational, grown-up means. There may be something in the very last line of the very last paragraph on page six that you just love, that is so beautiful or wild that you now know what you’re supposed to be writing about, more or less, or in what direction you might go – but there was no way to get to this without first getting through the first five and a half pages.”
So which bit of advice am I going to take? Personally, I like Anne Lamott’s bit of wisdom. I think my character needs to say, “Well, so what, Mr. Poopy Pants.”
It’s good to have mysteries. It reminds us that there’s more to the world than just making do and having a bit of fun.- Charles De Lint
Good morning Muse Trackers!
I’ve thought quite a bit about The Artists Way especially since our Link Of The Week brought you to a wonderful tool based on one of the exercises found in that book. The premise is that you are to write three pages (preferably handwritten) every morning. The tool that I found creates a platform for you to do it electronically and store your pages to be retrieved when you need them. I was excited that many of you chose to comment and share your own spin on Morning Pages. Based on that, I thought you might like a spark. Give it a try, who knows what might happen
Today I would like to share a story with you. It’s so intriguing and has the bones of a fantastic novel, but it’s real life. Someone once told me that you just can’t make this s*** up- and I believe they’re right. This proves the old saying that truth is stranger than fiction.
Two women made a shocking discovery when they began to clean out their apartment building’s basement. It was full of items left from tenants long gone and forgotten. As they made their way through the piles of stuff, they came across three suitcases obviously left there for decades. The women brushed away years of dust and mildew and flipped the latch on the top two cases. They were empty. Disappointed, they went for the last case on the bottom. No one could have prepared them for what they would find hiding inside the leather luggage.
Stacks of books were neatly set on the left side and on the right side were two doctor’s satchels tightly wedged into the small space. You can imagine their excitement when the books proved to be copies from the 1920s and 30s. Surely, they had found a time capsule from a long ago era. The ladies carefully pulled out both satchels and opened them up. They seemed to be stuffed with newspaper also from that time period. They each took a bundle from the bags and unrolled the ball of paper. One discovered a mummified infant and the other unrolled a fetus about 20 weeks along.
Investigators determined the luggage belonged to Janet M. Barrie who had emigrated to the U.S. from Scotland in the 1920s. She was the home nurse for a Los Angeles dentist and died in 1992. Her belongings had been packed up and stored in the basement- apparently forgotten until these two decided they wanted to clean things up. The cause of death for the babies has not been determined. (I don’t know if the cause of death has ever been determined or not.)
The rest of her belongings did give a slight picture of the women who harbored this grisly secret for so many years. Janet Barrie appeared to have an interest in J.M. Barrie who wrote Peter Pan. There was a copy of the book as well as a membership certificate for the Peter Pan Woodland Club, an upscale resort. They surmise it’s because he was also from Scotland and carried the same initials. They also found postcards from exotic places like Korea and South America sent to Janet bundled together in the case. The mystery deepened when they pulled up a ticket stub from the closing ceremonies of the 1932 Olympics at the L.A. Coliseum
At the time when this article was written, the authorities had tracked down some of Janet Barrie’s relatives living in Canada and were DNA testing the remains of the babies.
If this doesn’t get the writer juices going, I don’t know what would! Why did she keep those bodies all those years? Who are those post cards from? Did she meet someone at the Olympics? Is there more of a connection to the author Barrie? Was she a killer? Did she hide them for the dentist? Are they her babies? Why didn’t any of her relatives claim her belongings? Why? Why? Why?
What is your take on this story? Who is Janet Barrie?
Keep on writing!
Every blade of grass has its Angel that bends over it and whispers, “Grow, grow.” The Talmud
How many of you sit at your computer and stare at a blank screen? Perhaps you have words on said blank screen, but you know it’s total crap.
I would suggest you go on a date with yourself.
Julia Cameron, who is a noted Hollywood screenwriter and director, wrote The Artists Way. It is a gem of a book. I’ve pulled it back off my shelves because I desperately need to do something different if I ever want to get back on track to being creative.
Before I begin with the meat of this article, I’d like you to get to know me a tiny bit so you can see that the writers here at Muse Tracks are the same as all of you struggling to find the road (and stay on it) to being an author.
Well, here goes…
I am a dabbler. I have a closet full of pencil sketches from copies of Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings to pen and ink creations of my own imagination. I have watercolor paintings stacked at my mother’s house I dabble in textile arts and have woven, crosstitched, needlepointed, and even threaded fabrics through my paintings. I love to paint walls and decorate- my house is an ever changing canvas. Photographs clog the memory banks of my computer. Cooking is a total creative outlet for me and travel feeds my soul. Through all of this dabbling, I have learned quite a bit about the arts and am a lover of museums and artists from all walks.
While I’m a dabbler at all those things and have had varying successes at them, I consider them fun endeavors. It really doesn’t matter if I’m any good at them or not. I simply create.
Did you notice something missing?
I never once mentioned writing. I realized this while I was talking to a friend of mine the other day. We were talking about things we enjoyed and writing wasn’t on the list. He questioned me about its absence. I couldn’t answer him during that conversation, but it’s been waddling around in my head like a drunk duck ever since.
The Artists Way is a wonderful book that first and foremost gives us permission to be creative. It empowers us to delve into the fanciful, explore the beauty and remember that we are not whole if we deny this side of our being. (OK- I now officially feel like Earth Mother holding up a peace sign.) However artsy and spiritual this book may sound, the message is one that I believe everyone should hear. Is it fear, guilt, jealousy, or some other force that limits your beliefs in yourself? What causes you to self-sabotage? (My specialty) We have our own unique answers built on our own unique lives. Julia Cameron provides exercises that offer ways to inhibit the roadblocks we throw up for ourselves.
One of my favorites is dating myself. Basically, the advice is to spend time with ourselves nurturing and refilling the well of creativity. Tomorrow I will attempt to have a date with myself all day. There will be no TV, no computer, no radio, no electronics of any type, no books- just me. The day will be spent in my garden, sitting on my back porch with a pad and paper, and visiting with my friends. I might go to an artist’s shop to wander the aisles or I might drive up to my brother’s lake house and sit on the dock. I will not think about the rest of my life. I want to remember the joy I had when writing was also simply about creating. Somehow it became about editing, publishing, marketing etc. Those issues are important, but are meaningless if it dive bombs the writing. Writing was fun, wasn’t it? It was a wonderful place to get lost in another world with characters who told us a fabulous tale. I want to get back to that.
There are many things that I enjoy about writing, but staring at the empty computer screen isn’t one of them. That white page surrounded by a sea of blue is intimidating and the “page 1 of 1 with the word count at the bottom left bellows my lack of words.
All that being said, I am in good company. Some of the best loved writers throughout history have been plagued by this affliction. What makes Leo Tolstoy, Ernest Hemingway and Virginia Woolf different from other writers? They didn’t let the Block paralyze them for any length of time. They figured a way around whatever it was keeping them from producing pages of writing. If they can do it, so can you. So can I.
What is this mysterious thing called Writer’s Block? I found a working definition on Wikipedia:
“Writer’s block is a condition, primarily associated with writing as a profession, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work. The condition varies widely in intensity. It can be trivial, a temporary difficulty in dealing with the task at hand. At the other extreme, some “blocked” writers have been unable to work for years on end, and some have even abandoned their careers. It can manifest as the affected writer viewing their work as inferior or unsuitable, when in fact it could be the opposite. The condition was first described in 1947 by psychoanalyst Edmund Bergler.”
Here’s a definition, but that still doesn’t help me with what to do while I’m lost. Why does this happen?
A grammar website named it the “Censor” that resides in our brain. Little voices inside our head tell us that we have absolutely nothing worthwhile to say, nothing that we’ve experienced would be interesting enough for others to read. The Censor skillfully takes these voices and tears them down only to build them back up brick by brick until we have a wall so tall and so wide that we couldn’t possible find a way around it. Maybe the Censor was created because an English teacher told you that your poem was drivel in 7th grade, maybe an agent told you that what you were working on wasn’t politically correct or maybe you just had a traumatic potty training episode- it doesn’t matter why it’s in existence- it just is.
An American poet, William Stafford, states, “There is no such thing as writer’s block for writers whose standards are low enough.” WHAT?!? Are we supposed to create crap? Are we to be satisfied with the mediocre?
What the man is trying to tell us is that we need to lighten up. Stop taking ourselves so seriously. If you sit down with the sole intention of writing the best thriller, the most profound poem, the scariest horror novel, then you’re screwed. (Pardon my vulgarity-but it sums it up so succinctly.) Give yourself permission to write whatever flies from your fingertips. The point is to not write another great novel right off the bat, the point is to simply write. I highly doubt William Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet in a single take.
Joanna Penn (The Creative Penn) has a wonderful list of suggestions to push back the Censor creating Writer’s Block in your head.
- Rid yourself of the genius curse– everything that comes from our brain does not have to be brilliant!
- Don’t be married to results– most folks have to write pages and pages of “stuff” before something good bubbles to the top.
- Don’t compare yourself to other writers– your talents are unique. We don’t need another Stephen King, we need you!
- Remember rejection letters are made of paper– they can be disposed of quite easily.
- Write ahead of yourself– we’re all walled in by our own habits- break out!
- Cannibalize your older writing– don’t be afraid to chop your words, but keep them in a separate folder. There might be glimmers of brilliance.
- Break old habits of voice and style– if it’s stale to you, it will be stale to your readers.
- Break your assumptions– If you are writing a light hearted comedy and get stuck, bring in a killer and see what happens. You can always change tone in a revision.
- Write every single day– we all know this rule.
- Join or start a writing group– I get by with a little help from my friends.
- Combine all of these approaches– nuff said!
How many of you have wanted to write a great book? How about simply finish your first one? Have you ever wanted to do something bigger than yourself? Learn to speak a language? Lose a bunch of weight? Run a marathon or join a humanitarian aid organization? If the answer to any of these is yes- then you have met the enemy.
Not the wanting. The desire to rise above yourself embodies all that is noble and good in humankind. The enemy is Resistance.
“Resistance is the most toxic force on the planet. It is the root of more unhappiness than poverty, disease, and erectile dysfunction. To yield to Resistance deforms our spirit. It stunts us and makes us less than we are and were born to be. If you believe in God (and I do) you must declare Resistance evil, for it prevents us from achieving the life God intended when He endowed each of us with our unique genius. Genius is a Latin word; the Romans used it to denote an inner spirit, holy and inviolable, which watches over us, guiding us to our calling. A writer writes with his genius; an artist paints with hers; everyone who creates operates from this sacramental center. It is our soul’s seat, the vessel that holds being-in-potential, our star’s beacon and Polaris.
Every sun casts a shadow, and genius’s shadow is Resistance. As powerful as is our soul’s call to realization, so potent are the forces of Resistance arrayed against it. Resistance is faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, harder to kick than crack cocaine. We’re not alone if we’ve been mowed down by Resistance; millions of good men and women have bitten the dust before us. And here’s the biggest bitch: We don’t even know what hit us. I never did. From age twenty-four to thirty-two, Resistance kicked my ass from the East Coast to West and back again thirteen times and I never even knew it existed. I looked everywhere for the enemy and failed to see it right in front of my face.”
I found the book The War of Art by Steven Pressfield with other craft books at The Lone Star Conference this past weekend. I’m late to the table of knowledge, but better late than never.
He breaks this book into three separate books. Book 1 is about identifying Resistance- the insidious evil that sucks us from our potential selves. There are many things he labels as Resistance. I’m guilty of a lot of them, but my main enemy is PROCRASTINATION! I found myself procrastinating about writing this article pointing out how procrastination will turn my potential into an unrealized dream. Now, if that’s not pathetic, I don’t know what is…
Book 2 is about “Turning Pro”. Words like professional, order, endurance etc. pop up and you know this writer is a pro. All you have to do is look at his career to know he practices what he preaches. His history books are used at West Point and by the Marines, some are even assigned by professors at Oxford. One of his fiction novels, The Legend of Bagger Vance, was made into a movie and The War of Art is used by artists and entrepreneurs worldwide.
Book 3 is called “The Higher Realm” which lies beyond Resistance. This is where we find the pay off for persevering through our own nonsense. After you’ve done a day’s work, your mind is free to receive other ideas that seem to multiply rapidly. The most important thing in art, of any form, is work. When you show up day after day trying to create, something special begins to happen. We set a process in motion where power is concentrated and muses are allowed to flourish. Ideas come. Words are written. We are artists.
Have you read this book? If not, I recommend it to anyone who wants to try something out of their comfort zone. To quote Esquire, “It truly is a vital gem…a kick in the ass.”