Saturday, September 24, 2011

Cheerleaders Aren't Just For Football...

“We deceive ourselves when we fancy that only weakness needs support.  Strength needs it far more.” ~ Anne Sophie Swetchine

I’ll be the first person to admit I’m my own worst critic.  I’m self-deprecating, masochistic, and an all-around pessimist.  But I’m also stubborn, determined and a complete dreamer of dreams. 

How is that even possible?  Trust me, it is.

I try to believe in myself.  I push through the negativity to prove to my evil alter-ego that I can do it, even when she’s telling me I don’t stand a chance (she can be really snarky).  Sometimes, she wins and I go to bed deflated, defeated and ready to give up.  Sometimes I win, and she shuts up and scowls while I smile sweetly and pat myself on the back.  I don’t win enough, though. 

That’s where my support system comes in.

Don’t get me wrong, some people succeed on their own, with no support system, and I give them major kudos for being able to do so.  But only a few like that succeed.  Many others give up.  And come on, who doesn’t appreciate a pat on the back?  Whether you are on a sports team, part of a band, or a soloist like me, everyone should have somebody behind them.  To cheer you on and encourage you to push the limits of your potential, someone to slap you out of a funk or to pick you up when you’ve lost a round (because everyone loses sometimes) and tell you “Good job, go do it again”.  Everyone needs that validation that someone there believes in them, too, even the most egotistical and narcissistic. 

Why?  Without the support of others, the road to success could be much, much harder.  It’s easier to travel that road with company.  Whether it’s two people, two hundred, or two thousand, you’ll be amazed at how much better the journey is with them behind you.  It’s also more fun to celebrate successes with those people who were at the start line with you.  After all, it’s a little piece of success for them, too.

Support systems can be made up of all variations of the people in your life, such as: 

  • Spouse/partner
  • Parents
  • Siblings
  • Extended family members
  • Friends
  • Colleagues
  • Neighbors
  • Fellow writers, athletes, artists, etc.
  • A mentor

Even people you meet online can become your supporters and allies.  It doesn’t matter who they are in relevance to your life and/or goals, as long as they are people who you are comfortable sharing your goals with, who believe in and respect you, and can be there to say “You can do it” when you need it.  That’s one criteria needed.  

The other criteria would be the ability to ask for that support.  I know first hand that people can assume you don’t need them, so it’s important to remind them when you do.  I also know how hard it can be to say when you need someone, so I’m telling you right now, swallow that pride—it can be rather useless when you feel like quitting.

My support group is made up of many parts.  So that I don’t offend people, I’ll spare you the pie chart (even though I’d really love to put one up because I love pie charts) and provide you a list instead:

  • My husband, Bob:  I’d be lost without him most days.  He picks me up when I’m down, dusts me off and kicks me in the pants (sometimes a little too hard, haha) and tells me everyday that he believes in me.  He also knows when to give me a proper reality check.  Bob’s my beta reader, my sounding board, my shoulder to cry on, my ear to yell into when I’m frustrated and my #1 supporter. 
  • My parents: They’ve come over almost every weekday the past year to watch my little guy so that I could work, and who are there to say (along with my husband) that I need to pursue my dreams.  They haven’t read a word I’ve written (I’m actually quite shy about my work and refuse to share with them until it’s in print), but they think I’ve got the talent to succeed and promise to be first in line to buy my books. 
  • My extended family and friends:  This large and eclectic group of people in my life provides varying levels of support, and I couldn’t be more grateful for that. 
  • Fellow writers:  Along this journey, I’ve met an amazing group of multi-talented people from all walks of life, and through their opinions, advice and support, I’ve seen myself and my writing from a much different perspective.  Most I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting in person, but we have a mutual respect and belief in one another’s goals.  To be embraced by the writing community like that and to be able to offer that embrace back is a wonderful thing.
  • My followers:  The fact that you come here to this blog, follow my Twitter and/or Facebook and read my ramblings, comment on them, share them, and take the time to show interest in what I’m doing is not only flattering, but astounding (in the best way possible).  It helps me believe in myself.  It makes me feel worthy of someone else’s time, and for that I have so much gratitude and appreciation for each of you.  I love reading your emails, your tweets and comments, and I love hearing how my work has made you feel/think.  That validation for me as a writer is crucial to succeeding, and you’ve helped to give me that.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
  • Critique givers:  They’ve read my work, given me the good and the bad, and in the end, they still encourage me and tell me to go for it.  Enough said.

These people have gathered together along my road to success.  Without them, I would have thrown in the towel a LONG time ago.  I look forward to celebrating with them when the time finally comes.  *Prays that it will come quickly*

Family, friends, workout partners, critique groups, classmates, strangers, the mailman, or the guy who sits a cubicle away from you.  There are so many options for support out there.  All you have to do is get out your “road to success” map, decide who you want with you and tell them where you’re heading.   

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

How did I write a book?

“How did you write a book?”

It’s probably the question I’ve been asked as much as what my book is about.  To me, it’s like asking why the sky is blue.  The truth is I don’t have a straight answer.  Telling people about my book in 140 characters on Twitter is easier than telling them how I wrote it.  But because I can’t leave a question unanswered, I am going to tell you how I actually wrote it and what I do while I write.

I’ve told the story before, but I’ll tell give you the abridged version on how I came to write my first book.  For those who want to read the full story, here’s the link to my very first blog post in which I go into more detail:

Back in 2009, I broke my ankle, leading to me spending LOTS of time sitting around.  I started thinking up stories and one story idea just stuck with me.  6 weeks later, I’d completed work on my first draft on Unnatural, the first novel in a series I’ve created.  Fast forward to the present where I’m in the 5th and (hopefully) final draft of Unnatural and slowly sending out queries to agents after many, many rounds of edits and critiques, buffing and polishing my manuscript to a nice shine.

Now I’ll tell you what I needed in order to write Unnatural and what I still need to write to this day.

The Process:

As I’ve mentioned before, music is a muse and a must-have element in my writing process (not so much in the creative process, because that just happens on its own.  I’ll talk more about that later).  Some days I’ll know exactly what I need to listen to and others I have to scroll through the thousands of tracks I have until one sets the mood.  If I don’t have time to scroll (like when I’m trying to squeeze in some writing during my son’s very short naps), I have “go-to” artists I’ll put on, such as Paramore, Muse and The Bravery.  These in particular almost always help to set the mood for my writing time.

Once I’ve got my music going, I focus on clearing out the static around me; no twitter, facebook or email, no phone calls and no husband and baby (love them to pieces, but frankly, I can’t get anything done with them around).

So I’ve got my music going, I’m static-free, what next?  I need something pretty and inspiring to look at when I need a moment of reflection.  If I’m writing during daylight, I open my blinds.  I have a decent view of rooftops, trees, small mountains and endless sky to look at.  It’s not a fantastic, million-dollar view or anything, but it’s enough for me.  If it’s nighttime—which has become my temporary writing time until January—I google a picture of the area the current story takes place in.  Visual aids are very helpful during the wee hours.

To be as accurate as possible, a lot of writing requires research, so I pull together any reference guides I may need, any research that I’ve done that will help and keep them handy to avoid disturbing my flow.  Who wants to be in the middle of a scene and have to get up from their seat to search for a book or scour the web?  Not me.  Like a boy scout, I’m always prepared.

Then, if I’m being candid—which I always am—I stare.  I stare at my work-in-progress or a blank word document until my fingers start typing.  To avoid hours of just sitting and staring, I have notes written out on a pad of paper or in another word document on my second monitor and reference them for a mental kick.  (For those of you who’ve never used a dual-monitor set up, I HIGHLY recommend it if you’re like me and have several pages open at once on your PC and need to reference them often).  That usually gets the ball rolling, but if it doesn’t, I wait until my creative juices start flowing naturally. 

I don’t force my writing because when I do, it usually ends up being deleted.  It could take minutes or hours, but I always wait it out.  I think of my stories as real and my characters like real people; would I force a friend to tell me their story?  To relay a problem their having or a past event to me in specific, intimate details when they’re not ready to?  No.  So I don’t do that to my characters.  Otherwise, they go on strike and then I’m really stuck staring at a blank screen for days, possibly weeks until they feel I’ve been punished enough and decide to forgive me.  I don’t push them and they don’t push me (usually).

And that’s it.  That is my process.  To some it may seem simple, to others complicated.  But none of this matters without the creativity, which leads me to the second part of this blog post.

The Creativity:

I can’t say where my ideas come from.  I know, it sounds like a cop-out, so I’ll elaborate.  I take a topic I like, such as paranormal elements, and the characters introduce themselves to me.  Then I let it play out in my mind like a movie.  If the reel sputters then fails, I know the story is not worth my attention.  But if it plays smoothly and on repeat, new elements showing up with each playback, then I have a story to be told.  Or if I have a character that simply won’t leave my thoughts, I know I need to work with them to get their story out. 

I may get some eye rolls for this, but I’ve been doing this for so long that my mind is now on auto-pilot, and the ideas just come to me, unexpectedly, no prompting needed.  And out comes the laptop (or pen and paper, or eyeliner and napkin, whatever I can get my hands on when it needs to be written).

What I can say is where my creativity happens.  I get most of my ideas and do my best thinking in the shower and while driving my car; the two places a laptop can’t be of use.  I guess those are the places I relax my brain enough to let my mind open up to story/character invasions.  When I don’t have so much on my plate, I also get ideas while trying to fall asleep at night, another place my laptop is not welcome (though my husband now understands that it’s more effective for me to use a netbook I keep on my nightstand than having me run back and forth from my bedroom to my office).

And that’s my best answer to the question that kicked off this blog post.  I could have posted a more technical answer about how to write dialogue and structure a story, but I think I’ll save those topics for later posts. 

I’d love to hear what my fellow writers do when you write and how your creations are born, so if you’re willing to share, leave a comment below or send me a tweet or email at the right.  I’m interested to hear all about it, especially any strange rituals or practices that are a must to make it happen for you.

If you’re thinking about writing a book but don’t know where to start, start at the beginning; read reference books on writing and stories in the genre you want to write in.  Carry a notebook with you for when ideas strike.  Create an outline or a summary of the story you want to tell.  Or be like me and just dive right in, writing from beginning to end or write scenes as they come to you, piecing everything together and filling in the cracks later.  Figure out what works for you.  Get in your own zone and go for it, just let it happen.  My best piece of advice to offer is to stay dedicated.  It’s all on you.  After all, the story isn’t going to write itself.  ;-)  

I’ll be back next week with a post on a writing support system and its importance.  Stay classy, readers.  <3