Archive for the 'Day In the Life' Category

Thursday, October 21st, 2010 by Charlene Teglia
Don’t be Second-Guessed

Things are changing so fast right now I’d be surprised if any heads aren’t spinning. And inside, the mental hamster wheel spins with second thoughts, second guesses, what ifs, maybes, and should haves as we try to make sense of the changes.

Change is a constant and so are second thoughts. It’s so easy to kick ourselves from the vantage of hindsight. “Why didn’t I…I should have…” Or desperately try to predict the future in an attempt to avoid making a mistake. It’s only natural that we want to make good choices, avoid bad ones, be smart. The trouble is, you don’t know if it’s a mistake when you make the decision, and you won’t know until after you’ve followed through. Sometimes you won’t know until long after. But wavering over a decision until the opportunity is past or only half-committing for fear that it’s the wrong choice are great ways to self-sabotage, and that’s never smart.

Second guessing in novel writing leads to endless rewriting of the opening or the middle or the end or the whole fiddly thing until it’s been ten different books, none of them strong because none of them were fully committed to and fully realized, however bad or wrong the idea might have been.

I once had a fantastic music teacher, who said, “If you’re going to be wrong, be loud.” It’s better to commit to a mistake than to do something halfway. This is true in music and in books and in life.

Second guessing in career planning leads to pointless angst over paths not taken, or over the path taken that turned into a dead end and why didn’t I see that wall coming, or fear of taking any path because it means NOT taking any of the others and it might turn out to be the wrong one. It’s exhausting and unproductive, not to mention demoralizing.

The way out of second guessing isn’t easy but it is simple. It involves stepping back and getting some perspective. Most decisions aren’t life or death. Most career moves aren’t, either. And definitely no book is. We’re not brain surgeons; nobody is going to die if we make a mistake.

There is no way to judge how good or worthwhile a book is until after it’s written. There’s only judging whether or not you want to do it and can commit fully to it. There’s no judging whether accepting offer X or Z will turn out better in the future, there’s only knowing what matters to you now and which offer best accommodates that, and which direction your gut is pulling you.

Our gut instincts, our first reactions, are often much more trustworthy than our circular thinking where we confuse ourselves with fears and doubts and hesitations. Fears and doubts are not great tools for producing mental clarity, although being honest about fears can help clarify decision making. Mostly by getting better at contingency planning and thinking through the potential risks if things go wrong, mitigating the known risks, and asking if the potential benefits outweigh the risks.

It’d be wonderful to be sure of everything all the time. It would also be inhuman. We’re emotional and fearful and prone to second thoughts and regrets. But we’re also capable of committing whole-heartedly to an endeavor we judge worthwhile and accepting the consequences if we’re wrong. What’s the worst that can happen? An entire career is probably not really riding on the next decision. A mistake that lead to growth still got you somewhere, just maybe not the place you planned on. Unexpected changes can throw the most carefully considered plans into chaos. At the end of the day, the only thing we can know for sure is whether or not we spent our time and energy on the things we care about.

Monday, October 11th, 2010 by Carrie Vaughn
Story Everywhere

This is going to be a quick and dirty post because  a)  I am having a way too full week, with my mind going in too many directions, and now I have to write about writing, the hell? and  b) I discovered a video blast from the past that had me chortling all day Sunday.  So I’m going to write about that.

Back in my senior year in college, when I was president of the Science Fiction Club, we occasionally hied ourselves to a location in Pasadena called Virtual World.  On one level, it was an arcade.  But it was an arcade specifically for a couple of 3-D networked games in which you actually got to sit in actual sealed cockpits and shoot at/race/play with all your friends who were also in sealed cockpits.  It sounds hokey, and it was, but it was also 1995 and this was OMG high tech for the time.

The games weren’t why I loved the place, though.  I loved it because it also had a story.  You walked in and the lobby was decorated like a Victorian gentleman’s club, with carpets, paneling, ferns in planters and mahogany-looking countertops.  You could watch people’s gaming sessions on TVs scattered about the lounge, and you were encouraged to hang out and talk about your virtual adventures.  You weren’t just part of a game, you were part of an epic.  Let me quote from the brochure, which I still have, because it’s awesome:

“Virtual World is the offspring of the Virtual Geographic League (VGL), which was founded in 1895 by Alexander Graham Bell and Nikola Tesla with the goal of discovering and exploring other dimensions, or Virtual Worlds.  Judging mankind too immature, VGL scientists and pilots went about the work of inventing and perfecting this revolutionary new technology in strict secrecy.  While the VGL has traditionally relied on discreet philanthropy, in 1990 a special session of the board voted to open Virtual World sties to the public in order to fund ongoing research.  Thanks to their landmark decision we can all now enjoy the excitement and camaraderie of interdimensional travel.”

Holy cow, is that cool or what?  Steampunk alternate history before it was cool.

So, yesterday on YouTube I discovered the training video you’d watch before the “Red Planet” mission. It’s a total hoot.  But what I really love is the story — they could have just given you a printout that said, “Here’s your joystick, this button makes you go faster, blah blah blah.”  But they didn’t.  They told you a story that incorporated the theme of the entire place (with a slew of familiar faces to boot).  And I love that.

So, Virtual World as a company still exists with gaming hardware in various locations throughout the country, but they seem to have abandoned the proto-steampunk alternate history story surrounding the game, which makes me a little sad.

Monday, October 4th, 2010 by Carrie Vaughn
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Last week, at the prompting of a friend, I reread Anne Lamott’s bestselling writing memoir, Bird by Bird.  The last time I read it was before I had published anything, and I got to thinking — how much would my perception of the book change, now that I’m making a living writing?  When I first read Bird by Bird, I remember loving the heck out of it, feeling thrilled and validated by such concepts as “shitty first drafts,” and seeing in its pages a reflection of the emotions I was going through, confirmation that writing is difficult and neurotic and thrilling and totally worth it.

Does it read differently now?  Different things certainly jumped out at me.  I often think of all that I’ve discovered about writing along the way with a nagging suspicion that someone really did tell me all these things in the early days, but I either wasn’t listening, didn’t think it applied to me, or didn’t realize it was important.  Sure enough, there on page 54:  “Plot grows out of character.”  After my first couple of professional critiquing gigs, this realization — that plot and character are the same things, and that fixing a manuscript’s plot usually meant defining its characters better and staying true to them — blazed forth, and I took it up as a kind of battle cry.  I thought I was being so clever!  But the idea’s been there all along.

One chapter — the chapter my friend specifically wanted me to look at, “Radio Station KFKD” — stood out.  KFKD, or K-Fucked, as Lamott describes it (p. 116):

Out of the right speaker in your inner ear will come the endless stream of self-aggrandizement, the recitation of one’s specialness, of how much more open and gifted and brilliant and knowing and misunderstood and humble one is.  Out of the left speaker will be the rap songs of self-loathing, the lists of all the things one doesn’t do well, of all the mistakes one has made today and over an entire lifetime, the doubt, the assertion that everything that one touches turns to shit, that one doesn’t do relationships well, that one is in every way a fraud, incapable of selfless love, that one has no talent or insight, and on and on and on.

It’s that thing that every writer aspiring for publication has, the dual personality where you simultaneously believe your work is brilliant and that everyone should read it, and that you are a complete hack.  To do the work, you just have to get over it.

The difference between reading this before I got published and reading it now:  after publication, Radio KFKD doesn’t just exist inside my head; it’s externalized in the form of reviews, forum chatter, e-mails, and the opinions of friends.  It’s not just my inner ear telling me that I’m great and that I suck.  It’s other people.  When other people, most of whom I don’t know, have these opinions, they begin to sound true.  If I listen to them, I’m screwed.

I still have to just get over it.  This is hard.

Another thing Lamott says that I skipped over on the first reading, or didn’t internalize, or didn’t believe, is her description of what really happens to writers after they’ve been published (intro. xxx):

It will not make them well.  It will not give them the feeling that the world has finally validated their parking tickets, that they have in fact finally arrived.  My writer friends, and they are legion, do not go around beaming with quiet feelings of contentment.  Most of them go around with haunted, abused, surprised looks on their faces, like lab dogs on whom very personal deodorant sprays have been tested.

Funny — that describes my writer friends, too.  All of them.  I don’t think I understood what this paragraph really meant, the first time I read Bird by Bird.

This is a very nonspecific writing book.  Nothing about grammar, nothing about three-act plot structures.  At least, not specifically.  Reading between lines, you discover that Lamott does use notecards, does outline, writes a little every day, and revises a lot.  All important tools.  But probably the most important thing this book will tell you:  it’s perfectly normal to be a writer and be completely neurotic.

Thursday, September 30th, 2010 by Charlene Teglia
Write Here, Write Now

“I was alive and I waited, waited, I was alive and I waited for this

Right here, right now there is no other place I’d rather be”

Jesus Jones

October is just around the corner, and you know what that means; soon NaNoWriMo will be in full swing and writers everywhere will be trying to juggle plots without forgetting to defrost the turkey or burning the pies.

Which is why October is a good time to get ready. Bake and freeze ahead for November so you don’t have to worry about it. Plot and research and figure out histories and technologies and economies that shape your story.

Or you could just start getting used to the idea that the secret to getting a whole book written is sneaking off to write a paragraph or a page whenever you get a chance. Writing doesn’t have to wait for the right time or the right opportunity or for all the research ducks to get lined up in a row.

Here’s a trick I use: open up your document. Read over it. Think about what comes next. When you have five free minutes, write. When you have another five minutes, write some more. And so on. It’s really amazing how many words pile up when you use snippets of time that otherwise might get spent looking at LOLcats. Not that LOLcats aren’t worth looking at. But it’s very easy to dismiss a small amount of time as worthless instead of capturing it for something worthwhile.

If writing is worthwhile to you, write. Write here. Write now. Write for ten minutes during lunch. Write while you’re waiting for an oil change. Write in sentences and paragraphs and scenes and fragments. Write notes and ideas for later scenes or for additions to earlier scenes that will have to be made to make later events logical. Write a great line of dialog. Write the line of description you came up with while waiting in line at the grocery store.

The writing accumulates, and whole books get written this way. Writing professionals do not have more time than anybody else. They just use what they have to write.

Write here. Write now.

Monday, September 27th, 2010 by Carrie Vaughn
Take out the earbuds once in a while

. . .and I’m back, after my longish hiatus!  Thanks so much to Charlene for filling in for me.

So, I got to thinking about something on my trip.  The iPod and other mp3 players have made music and other audio recordings just about as portable as they’re possible to be.  (Especially compared to the days of the first Walkman — as big as a box of crackers, plus the pack of cassette tapes that went with it.  Remember that?)  Everywhere I go, I see people with earbuds hanging off their heads — on the train, in the mall, in the airport, on the jogging trail, and so on.  And I always think — how much are you missing, by shutting out the world?

I understand this is exactly why many people plug in — to shut out the rest of the world.  Especially on airplanes, there’s no clearer signal to your seatmate that you don’t want to talk than sticking in the earbuds.  But I have to say, if you’re a writer, you really need to shut off the music — or yes, even the audiobook — for a while.  I know music can be a big inspiration.  It is for me — while I’m writing.  But when I’m out in the world, I want to hear the world.  When I’m on the hiking trail, I want to hear the birds, the wind in the trees, the sound of distant airplanes, or the running water in the creek.  I want to hear the bustle of the airport.  I want to rudely listen in on the phone conversation happening two seats behind me on the train.  It’s my feeling that you can’t write good dialog without actually listening to people talk, even — or especially — when the conversation is annoying or disruptive.

Story ideas are everywhere.  I think it’s just as important to listen for them as well as look for them.  (On my Australia trip for example, if I had plugged into my iPod during the flight from Alice Springs, I would have missed the conversation with my seatmate — an Aussie gold miner flying home to the coast for his two weeks off. . . . Talk about story material!)

In related news, here’s an NPR story, “Digital Overload: Your Brain on Gadgets,” that suggests that too much information — and the constant access to information that modern gadgets provide — can actually damage your ability to be creative.

Thursday, September 16th, 2010 by Candace Havens
A Little Inspiration

Let’s face it, I’m a homebody. I love my house, bed, pillow, pets, and oh, the people there. But every once in a while it’s a good idea to shake things up. I did something a little crazy for me the last few weeks. I took off for the East coast to find some inspiration and to do a little business. The business is a lot of secret spy stuff I can’t talk about, BUT I can tell you about the inspiration.

The first stop on my journey was Greensboro, NC. There I stayed with friends of a friend. A lovely couple who take that Carolina hospitality to the nth degree. He’s a lawyer and a wonderful cook, she’s a former operations manager for a top designer, and she is preparing to become a mom. There home was incredibly lovely and the surrounding area to die-for. Some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen.

But that isn’t where I found my inspiration for a new story. No, that was at a pub in downtown Greensboro where I hung out during a friend’s business lunch. I was inspired by a couple I saw dining there. It looked as though they might be having a first lunch. They were both smiling a lot and trying each the other one’s food. He almost spilled is his water glass and she caught it. He turned 10 shades of red. She smiled and patted his hand. I was too far way to hear what they were saying so, of course, I had to create my own story for them. And that’s where the idea began for this couple who meet under unusual circumstances, determined to hate one another, but are surprised by their attraction.

Then we were off to Williamsburg. What a great place to connect with our American history. (I can’t tell you how much I learned during this trip.) There I met a young woman, one of the actors who ran a dress shop, pattern and ribbon store. She has a great love of history and clothing from colonial times, and yet another story was born in my head.

The idea that began at Jamestown was a bit more sinister and it involves tiny crabs and artifacts. We drove over the entire island, and it was pretty friggin’ amazing and sort of creepy at the same time.  Then we were off to visit some plantations on our way to Charlottesville VA. Well, those wonderful old plantations were filled with stories from the crazy pet graveyard at Sherwood to the cannon ball in the side of the building at Berkley.

Our adventure continued, all the way up to Brimfield, Mass., and I can tell you I mined every stop for story ideas. There was the one at the diner in Philly where I met Angel, a waitress, who was from New Orleans and had a strong creole accent. Another where this crazy old woman was selling cool stuff from an old shoe warehouse and she was offended that my friend wanted a receipt.

All in all, I came away with about 10 story ideas, and three for series. I encourage you to get out of the house and do something a little different. You don’t have to go on a spur-of-the-moment two-week road trip. Take a trip to the museum or the zoo, and listen in to the conversations.

I say eavesdropping is the right of every writer to mine stories. I said it, so it’s a law.

The point is to get out of your head and normal space, and look outside your box. You never know what you might find.

Monday, September 13th, 2010 by Charlene Teglia
To write or not to write

To write or not to write, that is the question;
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
the slings and arrows of outrageous rejections,
or to take arms against a sea of critics,
and by opposing end them?

I’d apologize to Shakespeare, except that he was a writer and I’m sure he understood the parallel. Like Hamlet’s dilemma in his famous soliloquy, the writer’s dilemma can lead to paralysis by analysis.

Should we create? It’s a risk. We don’t know what the outcome will be. Maybe failure, maybe rejection, maybe success but at too high a cost. It’s safer to do nothing, isn’t it? Except that isn’t safe, either. Who wants to end up regretting the chances not taken, the work left undone, the finished manuscript never sent off?

“Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.”

And there’s the real danger. Too much thought leads to doing nothing at all. But inaction is a choice, even if it’s making a choice by default.

The good news is, we’re always free to make a new choice. If not doing something isn’t working out for us, what do we have to lose by doing it?

Creativity is activity. What creative action can you take today? Will you be better off if you take it? Chances are, the answer is yes. If nothing else, you will have the satisfaction of having done something, which is infinitely more satisfying than sitting around talking to yourself about all the what ifs and maybes. That didn’t make Hamlet happy, and it probably won’t make you happy, either.