Practice The Art Of Fearlessness

October 25, 2012

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Ernest Hemingway

I’ve learned from the best. I’ve had a top education in schools located around the world. I have various undergraduate degrees and even managed to snap up a Masters on scholarship from a prestigious university. So what is the most important lesson I’ve ever learned?

The message came to me in my late 30s through the television of all things. I’ve always been a creative sort, but stumbled because I tend to be a perfectionist. I squashed many of my interests simply because I didn’t think I could do it. Decorating and design shows were just starting and I consumed them. This was a passion of mine and I had a ton of ideas but I never allowed myself to jump in because I might not be any good at it.

In steps a funny fellow named Christopher Lowell.

He was a brilliant designer, played the piano, and dispensed wisdom through yards of material and buckets of paint. The moment came at the end of one of his shows when he read a viewer’s letter explaining how they were stuck because they were afraid to do anything. He set the letter down, looked into the camera and said these words. “There is nothing worse to fear than the fear itself.”

Those words shocked me. There’s nothing worse than embracing the fear. It is the fear that paralyzes you. It is the fear that keeps you from doing the things you love. I knew I had to fight that fear.

That was the year I started painting. It was the year I started writing a book. I pulled out my old sketch books and started drawing. It was the most fun year I’d had in a very long time. It didn’t matter whether I was any good or not (and I wasn’t- trust me!) I learned to tell the fear to shut up and let myself play.

Ralph Waldo Emerson states, “Do the thing you fear, and the death of fear is certain.”

We can get so caught up in the idea of writing a “really good book” that we forget to simply write for the pleasure. The fear of not creating a masterpiece or at least writing something that’s publishable can be overwhelming. Suffocating. Paralyzing. Often, I find that the fear itself keeps me from doing anything at all and I have to start fighting this age old enemy all over again.

James Scott Bell also has some words of wisdom found in his book The Art of War For Writers. He writes that while fear is a fact of existence, it need not lead to defeat. Dwell too much on these fears and you can become catatonic. He then tells a story of young Teddy Roosevelt. Teddy was a very sickly, weak child. So he stayed inside and read a lot of books. In his biography Teddy explains what he learned. “In this passage, the captain of some small British man-of-war is explaining to the hero how to acquire the quality of fearlessness. He says that at the outset almost every man is frightened when he goes into action, but that the course to follow is for the man to keep such a grip on himself that he can act just as if he was not frightened. After this is kept up long enough it changes from pretense to reality, and the man does in very fact become fearless by sheer dint of practicing fearlessness when he does not feel it.”

JSB goes on to say that from that day on, TR determined to live his life just that way. That chapter ends with three rules for writers: 1. Act as if you had no fear. Act as if you are a writer. 2. Don’t wait for your feelings to change. Turn fear into energy for writing. 3. Set goals that challenge you. Then take an immediate step toward that goal.

Fear. It’s a big topic and one that we constantly battle. Remember there’s nothing worse to fear than the fear itself. Don’t let it stop you. Practice the fearlessness found in all of us.

 


I Don’t Want To Listen!

October 4, 2012

Advice.

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.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ernest Hemingway– (Also known as Papa) He agreed to a very rare interview with George Plimpton, editor of “The Paris Review” in 1958.

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.

7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

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.

 

 

 

 

Anne Lamott– “For me and most of the other writers I know, writing is not rapturous. In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts.

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.”

 

James Patterson– “I’m always pretending that I’m sitting across from somebody. I’m telling them a story, and I don’t want them to get up until it’s finished.”

 

 

 

 

 

Elmore Leonard

 

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 perfect.


Can You Hear The Bell Of Clarity?

September 13, 2012

It took me fifteen years to discover I had no talent for writing, but I couldn’t give it up because by that time I was too famous.- Robert Benchley

 

A year ago I wrote an article for Muse Tracks called The First Five Minutes With James Scott Bell from my notes at the Story Masters’ Conference.

https://musetracks.wordpress.com/2011/11/17/the-first-five-minutes-with-james-scott-bell-story-masters-conference/

I was amazed at the amount of information and how I could directly apply his advice to my own writing. This year I will attend The Lone Star Conference where he will be the teacher once again. Since the date, October 13, is fast approaching, I’ve gone back over my notes to see where I’ve used some of his advice in my own writing.

Do you remember when Dorothy states that there’s no place like home? This is one of the main themes from The Wizard of Oz. Now, who remembers how she started the movie? If you will recall, she bursts into song about how great life is somewhere over the rainbow and she’s sure there’s a place behind the moon that’s beyond wonderful.

Who remembers that great classic film, Casablanca? Rick, played by Humphrey Bogart, is a bar owner who claims that he sticks his neck out for nobody! He only makes a move if it benefits him in some way. By the time the story is told, not only does he stick his neck out, he sticks it WAY out risking imprisonment and losing everything.

Theme. That’s a big scary topic when you’re trying to develop your story line. Sometimes it feels like the 800 pound gorilla sitting on top of your computer screen. How do you know what it is? Should you have it all tied up before you start? Mr. Bell says that answer lies within you and your style of writing, but at some point you should be able to answer this question for your hero or heroine. Twenty years after your novel is over, your lead character has had all that time to look back over their shoulder, someone asks, “Why did you have to go through that? What did you learn?”

I was blown away. That’s it? That’s how you finally figure out what the main theme is to your book? After the initial shock, I was relieved. I actually had a concrete way to figure out what my book was truly about! Rick and Dorothy were interviewed and we discovered that there’s no place like home and sometimes you have to live beyond your own needs. Once the author learned that, they made it a point to begin the story with the leads absolutely on the opposite side of the coin. They HAD to go through the journey to discover a truth.

This may be remedial writing for some of you, but for me, I discovered a new depth to my main character. I also found two key components to my story that were there, but now I knew how important they were to her development. My heroine thought she had lost all of her family to a natural disaster and was then adopted out. Piper discovers, as an adult, she has a blood brother. Not only that, she discovers that he’s known about her all along and has kept tabs on her. However, he doesn’t contact Piper until he desperately needs something from her. She also discovers that her adopted father, whom she adored, played a key role in keeping her and her brother apart. Feeling betrayed by both of her families, the journey leads her to the realisation that family is more than simply blood connections and true courage is more than fighting, sometimes it is a complete surrender.

All of this was discovered is less than one page of my notes with James Scott Bell. Can you imagine what I learned after listening for a whole day? My pen is ready, my conference ticket bought and I can’t wait to see what I discover about my characters this year with the story master.

 

For more information on The Lone Star Conference:  http://nwhrwa.com/


I’m Back! (You Lucky Dogs)

August 16, 2012

‘Why shouldn’t truth be stranger than fiction? Fiction, after all, has to make sense.’     Mark Twain

 

 

Good morning Muse Trackers!

I’ve been absent for a few months from the blog, but I’m back here with you today. Maybe it’s turning fifty or maybe it’s watching my kids slip away with each passing day- I simply decided to take the summer off to spend with them. My daughter has already left for her Junior year in college and is immersed in the world of sororities and my son just kissed me goodbye and drove off to school.

How odd that I’m not in the car with him.

So the lesson in all of this is to kiss your family, do nothing with them, do everything with them and enjoy all the precious moments that we’ve been given. The summer was far too short, but we did our best to pack a bunch in. We had a grand time taking a road trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico to visit my husband’s family. Normally the kids have their earphones jammed in their ears and the only conversation is between Peter and me. This trip was different. The first difference was the driver- my son did 90% of the drive. A 15 hr. trip was quite a chunk for a sixteen year old! Secondly, the only music playing was the satellite radio and instead of silence, we all talked the whole way there and the whole way back.

Sunrise somewhere between here and there. Something terrific about watching the world come awake in the car.

I’m not sure if we had more fun at our destination or the trip coming and going.

Now, before you think all I did was fun and games this summer, I’ll have you know I took an English Lit. class alongside my daughter. Well, I wasn’t actually signed up for the class, but it turned out to be such a massive amount of work, we both tackled the job! She had sixteen books, short stories, or movies to watch and analyze during the course. That part was alright. For each assignment, she had to write six essays- fully flushed out and structured like a mini paper. You do the math. (16 X 6=?)

The class was based on horror fiction and she chose it because she doesn’t watch or read a lot of horror and thought it would be interesting to see why it is so popular. Her first assignment was Stephen King’s, Carrie. This was a double- she had to read the book and watch the movie. Then came the essays…I knew we were in trouble when I didn’t even understand the questions, let alone be able to answer them! That’s when this course became a joint effort. Each essay took us anywhere from an hour to a couple of hours to research, write and create literary #$%#$#…uhmmm… baloney to suffice as an answer. The next assignment was about lesbian vampires followed by a story about dolls feeding on two old spinsters whom I’m still not sure were real. Wow, really?

Needless to say, she’s not very impressed with horror fiction after that.

Besides busting my writing chops on crazy essays, I also took time to re-decorate my bedroom. This is another creative outlet for me and I adore working with different colors and textures. After a crazy few years with life happening like a runaway train, I was so moved to completely change the room in my house that had always acted as a sanctuary for me.

Because of my love for color, I tend to gravitate to deep, saturated tones and it was time to lighten up. I used the colors of the beach as my inspiration and ran with it. For me, painting is as soul deep as writing,  so I was a happy camper! Pale blues called Sea Salt and Silver Mist crept into my pallet as did a warm cream called Lotus Pod. ( I want to have the job of naming these colors.)

 

I hope each and every one of you took time to do things that made you happy this summer. Love your family, feed your soul, and be kind to yourself.

 


Hump Day Kick Start – Airline Edition

July 11, 2012

Song of the Day: Going Under by Evanescence

Is this what it’s like to fly first class?

Tell me about this picture. Who are they? A couple? Strangers? They sure are dressed to the nines. Are they flying in a personal jet? If so, whose jet is it? Where are they going? Did they hit turbulence and she accidentally fell from her seat?Maybe he’s checking her baggage.

I’d love to hear from you!


Hump Day Kick Start

February 15, 2012

Song of the Day: The Good Life by One Republic

Something’s burning in the kitchen! Today’s prompt is smokin’ hot!

Tell me about this couple. Who are they? Cooking instructor and her student? Refrigerator repair man? Are they cops on a stakeout who became hungry. Is he a new neighbor borrowing a cup of sugar? (Sugar. *snicker* Get it? Damn, if I ain’t clever!)   Maybe he’s trying to woo a family secret recipe from her so he can win the county fair pie contest.

Love to hear your impressions.

Hey! Who ate the watermelon?


Hump Day Kick Start

January 18, 2012

Song of the Day: The Collapse by Adelita’s Way

Hot Damn! Today’s writing prompt is smokin‘!

Who are the couple? Musician and dancer? Actor and understudy? Shape shifter and demon slayer?

Where are they? Are they on a sound/theater stage, on a movie set, in a storage unit?

Look at their facial expressions, the way they are gazing at each other. What emotions are they experiencing-besides the obvious. Is she trying out for a lead role?  Does he control the situation or is she calling the shots?

Maybe she tripped on a coil of extension cords and he broke her fall.

Love to hear your comments!


Hump Day Kick Start

November 16, 2011

Song of the Day: Sound of Winter by Bush

They say bad cowboys wear black.

What do you think about today’s prompt. Who is he? What’s his story? Is he a good guy, or a bad guy, and WHY? Boy, that’s a lot of rope.  What do you think he’ll do with it? Oh, the possibilities.

Let me hear your take on this bronco-buster.


Hump Day Kick Start

November 2, 2011

Song of the Day:  Cold by Evans Blue

Photo by Billy Corgans Chic

Hoo boy! We can certainly have fun with today’s prompt.

I’m thinking Tomb Raider meets Crouching Tiger/Hidden Dragon something or other.

Look at the way they are looking at each other. Smokin’! Who are these two?  Is he an informant? Is she undercover in a drug/turf war? What kind of ink is she going to get? A butterfly? Lucky charm? Tweety Bird? Maybe she’s having some type of secret message tattooed on her. Do you suppose he’s telling her how to ‘wax on, wax off’?

Love to hear your take.


Dressing the Part – Corsets, Torture, & Voyeuristic Pirates

October 26, 2011

Song of the Day: Pain by Three Days Grace

The woman, a complete stranger, left me winded, dizzy. Like a thief, she stole my breath away and along with it, my good sense. Reining me into her designs armed with nothing more than a scrap of leather.

What’s this all about?

Since my passion is writing fun, steamy, adventuresome pirate romances, I’ve been toying with the idea of dressing the part – for appearances and book signings, of course. Last week, I visited a boutique, The Spotted Pony, in historic Old Town Spring. The shop specializes in Renaissance and pirate paraphernalia, including authentic clothing. Its proprietor is a saucy sort, old enough to be my grandmother and sharp of tongue. She was eager to help me once I explained why I was shopping in her unique store. In hindsight, she might have been too eager.

She produced a leather corset from behind the counter. An investment, she insisted. Now, I recently lost 40 pounds, but when she said the corset was a size 30 in the waist, I laughed. She suggested it was too big. I disagreed considering I couldn’t get the damned thing to latch around my ribcage. I wondered if I might have peeved the woman for chuckling as she slapped down on the counter a corset the next size smaller. She was either a witchy woman ready to deliver spite upon me or a tarot card short of a complete deck.

She had me unlace the corset while she rang out another customer. When I misunderstood and removed the laces instead, she chastised me with a wag of her finger and the shake of her head. Hey, in my defense, I write about taking these things off, not putting them on.

I followed her to the not-so-private dressing room. Ironically, I shared the space with a life-size cutout of Will Turner from the Pirates of the Caribbean. Not that I minded. After finally attaching the first button (I swear it took five whole minutes!), I was drenched in sweat. Oh, but we had only just begun.

The crazy proprietor tells me to turn around so she can lace me up. Tugging away, she tells me she has arthritis and may not be able to tighten the corset completely. Really? Imagine, if you will, the scene in Gone With The Wind with Mammy lacing Scarlett’s corset. All that yanking and cringing … I’m holding onto the door jam, giggling like a crazed fool, as the lunatic conducts torture with her arthritic hands. I half expected her to brace her foot against the wall for leverage as hard as she pulled. It’s all fun and games until someone cracks a rib.

All blood flow had been cut off to my brain, my vision blurred with the spinning of the room. Breathing had become a luxury and came only in short gasps. Good grief, by the time she was done, my boobs, which is one of my better assets, were eye level. I needed mirrors and a guide dog to walk across the room. No doubt the contraption was created by a man. Speaking of which, this is when I noticed the twenty-something man lingering by the same racks he’d been browsing before we started this cruel and unusual punishment. Hmm…

Perfect! the delightfully batty shopkeeper claimed. The lack of oxygen must have caused a momentary lapse in reasoning because I agreed. I bought the “investment”.

The things we do for our craft.

Have you ever dressed the part for your stories or bought something to help inspire you? Let me hear from you, but speak up. I can’t hear you over this heavy breathing.