I’m going to let you in on a secret, mine even. It’s not often that people get the deep scoop you know. There are those that blab their secrets to everyone and I do have a blog so I may qualify as one. Just to set the record straight, though, I usually don’t tell a lot of my personal life. Facebook and Twitter aren’t filled with my personal details. I rarely post pictures of my meals. I don’t date a lot so I guess you won’t see many pictures of the guys I’ve dated. My cat, well she’s fairly photogenic, but she’s not much of a secret.
I have this thing that I do. It’s a switch inside my head that once it’s turned on I have a difficult time turning off. Maybe you have it too. It’s like a bulldog’s grip. You know what it’s like when you’re trying to remember the name of your third-grade teacher, and it’s on the edge of your memory. Yeah, that feeling. Now if you can do something to get to it, as in the case of remembering the actor that played in Vikings, not the main star, but the one who was in the first season and you can’t remember which episode. Do you bother searching? I would. That’s my secret. I would search. Through episodes, Imdb, Google or wherever I needed to search. You don’t call this a secret? Maybe you say I’m sick or I need drugs. Well, you may be right. I say that this skill could come in handy. It did when I was in school. I’d stay up and finish my homework late into the night. I think they call it cramming now.
Can’t let go, don’t hold back
I also learned something new because of this sickness-secret. It’s freed me from my hesitation in my writing. I’ve been doing the NaNoWriMoand I’m a bit behind so I’m cramming aggressively. While cramming, I searched and listened to some helpful pointers and realized I had been restraining myself as I wrote. It isn’t enough to tell yourself to write freely. It’s like saying Be Happy to a sad person. I had to find a way past it. So I did. I wrote a worthless scene as suggested, purely for word count, a monolog. You know what? It was awesome. It worked. The difference in my word count was incredible. The ease that I’m now writing my story has improved. And the important part of the whole thing is that I can feel the bulldog grip. I want to finish this thing!
The first magazine article I ever sold I wrote about an event I saw at the end of the year 2000, and it caused me to do a double-take. An older man was walking his dog. It was a little black dog on a leash. I was driving to the library in the small town that I lived in and there on Main street, suddenly the dog ran up a tree. The man was still holding the handle of the leash and my mouth dropped open. I slowed down. Not a dog at all. It was a black cat. The man was walking his cat. Please remember, this is small town America, 15 years ago. I had to tell someone. I was so flabbergasted when I went into the library. I hurried in to speak with the librarian who told me a story, which led me to write my article about her and her cat when she was in Kuwait.
I hadn’t written or even published anything professionally yet, but I had dreamed about it. I had even subscribed to the Writer’s Digest magazine and drooled over all the how-to articles. Everything was low-tech, paper submissions at that time. I had my thick paper-bound book of places to submit your articles and a lot of ideas in my newbie’s head. Just no experience. I can’t say that I’m so proficient today even. The market changes quicker than any of us can keep up, which only means that it’s always a new game. Make up the rules and keep playing.
When I got home from the library, I pulled out my handy-dandy spiral notebook and started jotting down the story. I had the subject, cats on a leash and cat training with operant conditioning, and I had my expert the local librarian who had trained her two cats with this method out of necessity while in another country. Now who could best use this article?
I was limiting my field by writing my article first, but it’s the way life happens sometimes. I grabbed my dog-eared books with all the listings of magazine publishers and started sorting through. I shot off a query letter and put in my hook line about the dog running up the tree and a bit about keeping your cat safe when you’re on vacation and such, the sort of things that I thought they might be interested in for their audience. It worked. My heart stopped almost when I actually got the “we’re interest” phone call. I was getting paid. ASPCA published my first article in the summer of 2001.
Everyone has their first story, their first photo, their first client or first whatever. It happens so quick sometimes you don’t have time to think about it. I listened to a Ted talk today by Mel Robbins called How to Stop Screwing Yourself Over, that said you have 5 seconds to act on an impulse before you lose the energy to move forward. You can use that in your favor the next time an opportunity leaps in front of you, remember you have 5 seconds to take an action forward. Write it down, take a step, make a call, or say yes. I was too young and naive at the time of my first to even think anyone would say no to my crazy story. I’m older, wiser now, which only means I second guess myself. I pause. I pull my punches. The urge has left and the opportunity is gone. I have missed a story. I have lost the chance to connect with another person. And that’s a sad thing to miss.
Our mind does a funny thing to us. It slips. It edits. If there’s an association you’re missing it will fill it in for you. It has its own filing system. You would think that we would file things in an ordinary way, maybe alphanumeric or some easy way to retrieve this information that seems important, like the name of street you drive down hundreds of times. I was trying to remember the a street name recently. It actually wasn’t one I drive, but it was one block over from my usual street. I could picture it because I was wanting to tell someone the story about the gorgeous girl I saw being photographed downtown in front of the blue door. She was tall, the girl, not the door.
Street names Sheridan vs Cincinnati
The only named street that kept coming to mind was Sheridan and I knew the name was wrong and I’m banging my head trying to think of the right name, doing word associations, knowing my memory has played a trick on me. It’s the one block over trick. Sheridan is one block over from the street where I live. My mind thought it was a good substitute I guess. I wasn’t getting anywhere so I gave up and waited until I could get home and look it up because Google would not fail me!
By now most of us realize our memories aren’t card cataloged and ordered by color coding. My memory reminds me more of a game of charades with hand gestures than any type of organizational system. I got home and looked up the name of the street, Cincinnati. Well Duh. One street over from Detroit. Now I wonder if the door was really blue.
If you feel like geeking out, Steven Kotler sent this out in his email list this week, The Real Neuroscience of Creativity. It’s not about memory storage, but it has some interesting info regarding creativity and how we use our brain.
The problem with critiquing is in the measuring. When is it good? When has it passed good and into great? How do you know you’re improving? Enough? If I apply more effort will it help or hurt? With physical exertion, you know almost immediately when you’ve gone too far. Pain. Sharp. Sudden. Stop. That’s your feedback.
The only true measure of whether a piece of writing is any good is the impact it has on its intended audience.
Did it engage them? Did it move them? Did it change them?
All other questions are irrelevant.
Of course, this creates a problem for serious writers like you who want to hone their skills. Because by the time you publish your work and learn your audience’s reaction, it’s too late to make any changes.
And if your writing isn’t connecting with your audience, the most common reaction is no reaction at all:
No comments on your latest blog post.
No emails praising (or damning) your bold manifesto.
The problem I have with the above excerpt, is the assumption that if you are really good, you’ll get noticed. And tons of accolades. But I have read poems and novels that are pieces of crap and there are plenty of comments. Has anyone out there read 50 Shades of Gray? It’s becoming a movie. The story line is cheesy and it was originally intended as a Twilight fan fiction. The media attention this book received was unreal, but it remains a poorly written book (not good, not great)
Which brings me to my point, I’ve read a lot of great, exceptional, and life changing blogs that I never comment on. Some have no obvious place for comments, see Seth’s blog. And even some that do see receive only a few comments at best. Mostly (not always) the blogs I see with comments are encouraging a new writer to continue writing or comments shooting down what the blogger stated. You can’t write for comments and prizes. You write because it feels good, just as in running. I write because I must write. I must express myself. I need my voice heard. I feel like this lady: You Don’t Have to be Napoleon to Change the World.
It’s possible I took this article in the wrong light. I admit I can be a bit touchy sometimes, but if you don’t meet the criteria in his bullet list does that make you a wannabe? Or maybe it’s just my definition of Wannabe. You tell me, am I being touchy, or is it insulting?
One of the first things you learn in the craft of writing fiction is how to develop your characters. You place your characters in a setting as a child would place his toys. They are ready for their lives. Each one with his or her own agenda, wants, and desires. Let them glimpse their future. <insert evil laugh here>
Their winning is there for the taking. You can see the lust for the finish line twinkle in their eyes. When they are almost there, thwart their efforts. Weather, family, or disease. the evil novelist rules the world.
Sometimes it seems our lives are like that, like some malicious author is blocking our moves just to develop our character.
This is character development by chaos 101.
Welcome to class. In front of you are your notebooks and pens. grab the funky pen or the bright-colored one, I don’t care. Begin.
What’s your dream goal? Happiness? Hmm, I can’t work with that. A job? Simple enough. A spouse? That’s possible. But we all know that just any ol’ job won’t do. We want a powerful or high dollar job, right? Or a glamorous job, with flashing camera lights maybe. High dollar shoes and high dollar cars. And the paparazzi following your every move. Am I right? Well at least until you get those things. What do you really want? Write it down.
Truly we all want something different. You might want the bright lights and the paparazzi. Some want the money so they can afford more fuzzy slippers. And pajamas. Who doesn’t want to live in their pajamas.
Me? I want to feel I’ve helped someone. That I will always be brightening other’s lives all through my existence. How about you? fame? money? health? children? Whatever it is, what is in your way? Time? Are there not enough hours? Maybe it’s just a clear idea of how to get there.
This is my latest project. Short story or Novel…hmmm. I’m not sure yet. Tell me what you think.
The saloon was dark. The shadow Kate cast on the floor as she stood in the open doorway was swallowed when she entered the room and walked to the bar. Her hand reached to touch the mahogany wood. Dust accumulated around her fingertips as she caressed the bar’s smooth surface. Once pleasure was drunk here. Now it seemed as if time stood still. Like a time before there was time. The moment before creation began. Before the spark of life, before the first breath. But she was just being melancholy. She whispered his name. The name of the one that brought her here. Jake. He wasn’t here, nor would he ever be again. He had lay dead here. In a pool of his own blood, from a fight of his own making. This was his place and she meant to have it. Kate blew, scattering the dust from her fingers. Life would come. His life would flow back into this building even if she had to bring him back from the dead. She clenched her fist, her knuckles raked against the bar’s dusty surface. This place would stand. Not in memory of his name. No. His name held no honor. But in memory of his promise and the faith she had held in a man who once was to be her husband. With one sweep of her hand she removed the dust of a lifetime to begin another. Her own.
They say that nothing worth doing comes easily. And if something doesn’t scare the heck out of you, it probably didn’t mean much to you anyway.
Blogging and airing your thoughts when you know that people are reading is an incredible high. The reason most writer’s bare all is because of that high. To put your imaginations on paper and have someone critique them gives a feeling of vulnerableness to some, but for some of us, that’s exactly what makes it fun.
The greatest high is to expose the nerve of the masses. When you write aloud what others are afraid to say, it validates your life. The worst times leave you face down in the pigpen. Standing up, you spit and wipe the mud from your eyes. Ah! The pure joy of stench. Not all days are acclamation and pats on the back.
One of my favorite quotes is “Writer’s write.” What would you write? What would you expose? So, join me. Feel the high.