The More I Know…

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… the less I know! Anyone else feel that way? I’ve been revisiting writing queries and am beginning to feel like I know the format… and then, I realize that what I really need to know is something else- something completely different!

The same thing happens when I’m researching a topic for one of my novels. I spent nearly a year learning about the Native Americans living in New Jersey before it was New Jersey and then realized that I really needed to study the War of 1812 (and all it’s causes and results)… and then realized I needed to know about the New Jersey Quakers (before and after the War of 1812). Needless to say, that book was late! Very late! (And I have a ton of information I didn’t use stuck in my brain.)

Knowledge is a funny thing. If you meet an expert on something, the first thing they’ll start telling you is all the things they don’t know– yet (if they’re honest). It’s easy to become narrower and narrower in your research and not see the external connections you need to comprehend in order to completely understand the first topic.

So, I keep on learning and keep on thinking and keep on gathering up useless facts and tidbits in hopes that they’ll lead me where I need to go and don’t yet know I need to go there! Oh for a knowledge GPS!

Fueling the Creativity Fire

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I unofficially type “THE END” in my mind as I finish the last page of my newest tale… and then I mope and grieve and say goodbye to the characters that have lived in my mind forever and are now gone.

They aren’t really gone. In front of me I face revisions, editing, more revisions, more editing, and then it’s off to the publisher for more editing and then… the magical cover reveal and release date. But the creative part for me ends with “the end” as I finish the story I meant to tell and I free the spirits I’ve held captive during this process.

In the days following, I don’t sit back down at my keyboard and start Chapter One. It’s refueling time. I read… tons and tons of things- all kinds of things. I visit the mall and sit in the food court. I make up stories about people I see outside my car window as I drive to the store. I watch foreign TV and I catch up on all the famous people gossip (who has a new show coming, who is singing with whom, and who was caught in NY last month and why). I watch those stupid Youtube videos with silly babies, cats, and dogs, and I search for new artists. And I read some more. I study a genre- not one I’m going to write in, but a new one so that I can figure out what makes that kind of story work and doesn’t. I carry around a notebook and make new character sketches and story plots. I answer email (and compose mental emails to those pesky spam emails). I fingerpaint with the two year old and make paper dolls with the six year old. I shop and shop and shop… and I’m in the kitchen, cooking and baking and making crafty type things.

I’m filling up- getting ready to write. To the outsider, it looks like procrastination. It may be procrastination, but it works for me. When I sit down to write again, it will pour out like an unstopped dam until the story is done and the vessel is empty. If I try to write before I’m full, I bang around on the keys, distracted and vexed.

Creativity needs to be fed something besides candy hearts and Hershey bars. It needs to feel, taste, and roll around in life. It needs to listen to new sounds, see new places, and touch new substances. It needs words and music and art until the brain is brimming and sloshing out from the overflow. So don’t be afraid to fill it up before you let it! It’s all part of the same process to me!

 

 

Writer’s Group Doesn’t Hate You

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I see you sitting there, shoulders clenched tightly under your bulky coat, papers in front of you untouched, mouth tightened. I know you’re a hot mess underneath that fake calm you’re projecting to the group. Your thoughts are racing, the anger’s rising, and it’s taking all your self-control to stay in the hard metal chair while the urge to fly grows.

Here’s the thing you don’t understand. We’ve all been there- right there in that hard seat- feeling those same emotions- but we’ve returned and done it all over again. The real test is if there is a next time.

Can you hear me yet? We don’t hate you. We don’t even think that you’re a terrible writer. We think you’re brave for sharing it and braver still for sitting there as we take it apart and put it back together again. Some of your mistakes are classic newbie ones that you’ll learn quickly to avoid while others are complex and more of a teaching tool for the rest of the group.

It’s not about you at all in fact. The focus is on the work and how to make it the best work you can write- and in the end, when it’s over, it’ll be up to you to decide which changes to make or reject. Not all our suggestions are on target or meet the needs of your story.

I suspect that you’re used to people reading your work and telling you how great it is, but that’s not our role. We focus on the things that don’t work because we only have a limited time before it’s the next writer’s turn. You’ll know you’re good when silence falls over the group after your work is read. It will happen to you- if you’re still at the table.

Writing is a craft. Every writer who takes it seriously is on a journey. When we critique your writing at writer’s group, it’s to help teach you the craft, not to say your writing is terrible. Everyone’s writing is terrible- all the time- that’s why we rewrite, edit, polish, and beta read it. We are not there to be your cheerleader or friend. We are there to help your journey end in mastery. What we’re trying to teach you are the same mistakes we made until someone taught us. Sometimes, we still make those same mistakes until someone points them out to us. That’s why we go to writer’s group. Check your ego at the door and bring on the work. Your other choice is to listen to the primal need for flight and not return. Please return!