Who are your characters in real life?

silhouette

Well, I got my rejection email from the James Jones First Novel Competition yesterday –

“Thank you for sending us “Biomalware.”  We appreciated the chance to read it. Unfortunately, your manuscript has not been selected for the final round.”

A little disappointed but not devastated.  Onward.

I still have plans to research and do a complete re-write of Biomalware, at a more leisurely pace, this summer.  I want to do some serious in depth research into the issue of GMO’s.  I know how I feel about them based on the information I have seen but I want to make sure that the feeling is supported by all the information available.  More research might prove me wrong, bolster my opinion, or just make me more confused.

First comes the short story collection though.  In that vein, I’ve got some that I’ve written that I want to edit and some that I’ve been working on for a while.  I also wanted to write something completely new.  I felt there was a gap in my collection.  I’ve got re-writes of fairy tales, ghost stories and vampire stories.  Basically, it’s a paranormal collection.  What I do not have, is a superhero story.

Then I met the perfect person to base my main character for the missing story on.

Now, we all take aspects of people we know and have known and work them into our characters.  I long ago realized that my perception of who a person is doesn’t necessarily conform to who they think they are or who they really are, which can also be two different things.  I figure I’m creating a character of most people based on my own perceptions and imaginings.  Why not use that in my fiction?

I like to take an actual person that I’ve met but don’t really know and imagine everything else about them.  I’m making up a character based on just a few traits and perhaps a physical description then fleshing that character out in my mind.

Does anybody else do that?

It’s a lot of fun.  Give it a try.  It might just liven up your weekend.

Stalled Writing Mind Needs a Jump Start

carabandoned

Writer’s write.  Right?

Except, sometimes we don’t.

My mind has stalled.  That doesn’t mean it’s ready for the junkyard.

I had the bright idea to take a vacation day today.  I was going to go hide somewhere and finish editing those next fifty pages of Biomalware and write one of the short stories I have started.

Then I remembered that I have an appointment with a budding author today to talk about how to publish an ebook and the desk shifts at work got rearranged so I am scheduled on the desk today after all.

*sigh*

The truth is that I just can’t clear my schedule of life to write.  Writing is going to have to happen around my schedule.

And I’m not like those authors who are capable of staying up late writing into the wee hours of the morning and going to work on coffee and a couple hours sleep, or getting up a couple hours early to write before work after going to bed at midnight, once the munchkin is taken care of.  I need more sleep than I get now.

I’m going to have to grab my time to write and edit when I can, whenever I see a few minutes to do so, on a daily basis.

There may be times when I have a chunk of time to devote to it, but that isn’t my daily life.

Sometimes exhaustion or sadness over events of the world keeps me from feeling creative, my body gets overwhelmed or, like last night, I worry about the coming weather and find myself restlessly flipping back and forth between weather.com and Facebook.

These things serve to distract me.  Sometimes, I feel like I’m trying to turn a car that’s lost its power steering back on course.  You can do it but it takes some real muscle.

So, I’m curious, my question is – how do you fit writing into your life?  Is it daily, weekly or just whenever you can?  And what do you do when you feel like you’ve gotten off track to get yourself back on?

(Please join me on my Facebook page, where I will be posting a daily note on something interesting or inspiring about writing or life in general. Just click here -> Melora Johnson’s Facebook page.)

The Power of “Could” Over “Should” For a Writer

Monkey-typing

This past week I’ve been on vacation, at home, but I’ve got diddley squat to show for it in terms of writing and editing. 

My plan was to edit the first fifty pages of Biomalware then go back and start a total re-write.

Then I got an idea for a new short story. 

Then the short story turned into a novel idea.

Then I made a list of all the short stories that I’ve started on my computer and never finished.

Then I made peanut butter chocolate chip muffins with my daughter.  (She did the stirring.  Well, some of it.  She’s only 2 1/2.)

And did a few Soduko puzzles.

There were other things in there but you get the idea.  Not much writing or editing.  Part of the problem is that I think about what I “should” do and my brain balks like a mule.

So, I’m going back to an old idea I learned years ago, turning “should” into “could.”  Instead of telling myself I should be editing Biomalware or working on a short story, I tell myself I could edit or pick a story to work on.  For some reason my brain just hears it differently and I don’t get the malaise that I get when I tell myself I “should” do something.  Hopefully that will help me getting some writing or editing done over the next three days, before I go back to work.

I did manage to post a new short story to Yahoo!, Memories and Choices.  I originally submitted it to the Writer’s Digest short short story contest but it didn’t win so I’ve put it out there for the reading.  It’s a bit of science fiction, magical realism and fan fic.

I understand there’s a Camp NaNoWriMo running this month.  They can be great for motivation but I won’t be participating this month.  I’m trying to focus on quality over quantity right now.

Happy Writing!

Writing Under Fire

Firing

Have you ever had so many thoughts firing off in your brain that you thought it might explode if you didn’t put some of them down on paper?  Then, when you finally get them all out, all you want is a good nap?  Yeah, that’s how I feel today.

There is much going on in the writerly world here this week.  The ARTS Council of the Southern Finger Lakes put out a call for applicants to take part in a Business of Art workshop to be held in March.  I think this is a great idea for any writer and something we talk about frequently in my writer’s group.

They will be covering –

  • Portfolio Basics and Presentation Packages
  • Branding, Marketing and Promotion
  • Legal, Insurance and Financial issues
  • Money and Time: Grants, Fellowships, Apprenticeships and Residencies

There will also be time for performances, readings and exhibition.  Application to attend is competitive in the sense that they are only taking ten people in each of three tracks – performing, visual and literary.  I, of course, would like to attend the literary one.

I would really like to be writing for a living in a couple years but I need to grow my audience in order for that to happen.  I’ve already started making a little money from my writing and I need to know how to handle the financial side of things when that grows, both tax wise and other.  I intend to finish Biomalware this year and whether I go the traditional publishing route or e-publish, I will need to work on marketing.

Of course, this all threw me into application mode with re-working my artist’s statement, my writing resume and my statement of intention to attend the workshops.  There’s also choosing which pieces to include in my writing sample.

Then, last night, a few members of my writer’s group got together to work at the local coffee house.  A couple people read some pieces for critique and the poem got me thinking about whether I could write something to read on Saturday.   Of course, just putting that intention out there got my brain going on the idea of writing a poem and, before I knew it, the ideas were hitting me on the head.  I’ve been going all day on a poem that kind of rants about partisan politics.  (It’s something I’m a little fed up with.)  So I think I’ll have something to read on Saturday.

However, there are half a dozen things for work that are really demanding my attention as the deadline is fast approaching.  It’s all a little overwhelming and the idea of a nap is sounding better and better.

I had thought of writing about voice today but that seems like a little more than I can handle so I’ll leave you with this thought.  I just finished an excellent YA novel called Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein.  The voice was very strong and immediate, told in the first person and spot on.  It’s told from the perspective of a young woman who has been imprisoned by the Nazis and is writing her confession in exchange for less torture.  (I highly recommend it.)

You can either just write and write and let your voice develop, or you can find out what elements affect voice and then deliberately pick the ones you want to create a particular voice.  The first sounds easier but the latter is probably a sign of learning about your craft so that’s something I’ll be working on in the near future.

Sometimes I think the real problem is that I don’t know what I don’t know.

Sometimes I feel like a pretender.  Am I a writer or am I just playing at it?  I know Maya Angelou once wrote much the same.  I feel like putting myself in a class with other writers is somehow being vain.

At the same time, I know what I want.  I want to write for a living.  I want to be a writer.  I am a writer.  I never feel so alive as when I am.

Okay, off to work on my book presentation for Wednesday so I can write late tonight.

May the muse grant you thoughts that fire your neurons in new patterns.

Why Do We Write?

Power_of_Words_by_Antonion_Litterio

I haven’t felt much like writing lately. I mean, I want to, but my mind seems to resist the idea.

Is it fear? Of what? Of failure? Well, we’re all afraid of that. The truth is that no matter what I write some people are going to like it and some aren’t. I think what I’m really afraid of is disappointing myself. Not feeling that what I’ve written is good enough, in my own mind.

As I was driving home the other day, the thought occurred to me… I don’t have to do this. I have a good job that pays my bills and is, in itself, satisfying. I’m not writing to make a livelihood or meet a deadline.

So why am I doing it? Why do I write?

Someone, not long ago, asked me that and then told me that a professor had told him what the “right” answer was. Really? There’s a “correct” answer to that? I don’t think so. I think there’s a personal answer.

I write, in part, because I like to write. It’s fun. I like to play with words, like some kids like to build castles with sand. I’d say that’s reason enough.

I write because I have something to say, a story to tell, either that I think will interest someone out there or help them in some way.

I write because it’s how I make sense of the world and how I express my outrage or joy. I think much better on paper than out loud.

Okay, yes, and partially because I like the rush of getting positive feedback from people who read it. Last night I read a short story in writers group and everyone thought it was okay but one person really liked it. That was enough.

This year I’ve taken the mantra “write the story you want to read” to heart. I don’t know where I first found it, but I have it written down on a scrap of paper. I don’t think I have the skills yet to really do that. Sometimes I get a glimmer. Other times I read books others have written and despair of ever reaching those dizzying heights.

I think – perhaps I need to read more, learn more, write more. Or perhaps I’ll just never be that good.

Still, I know that I can’t try to write like someone else. That simply doesn’t work in the long run. But how do I create a distinctive voice all my own? Is it already there and I can’t hear it because it’s the voice that’s inside my head all the time?

I know, occasionally, I write something and think – oh, that’s nice. I like that.  And that’s just plain fun.

So, why do you write?

Exploring and Reflecting Through Writing

OrteliusWorldMap

Last week I met with my writer’s group and they gave me some food for thought about my writing.

Because there were so few of us and we didn’t have much new to share, I read a few things I’d written in the past year and put on my Yahoo! Voices page.  One member told me that she thought, “people like your writing because you’re so honest.”  Another member mentioned that he felt I hold back in reading to the group.  He’s right, it’s much harder to read things for people face to face than what I post under the slight anonymity of a pen name.  Both comments drew me to think about the honesty in my writing.

Honest is something I certainly try to be in life.  In my writing it has to do with seeking the truth of the situation, whether it’s fiction or memoir.  I think that the more honest I am about events and my feelings, the more someone else can connect with it and use the experience.  I’ve always wanted to help people with my writing, if only to feel less alone.  I think the connection that writing and reading can bring, dispelling the illusion of our distance and loneliness, could be one of my most important contributions.  It’s all about the ripples.

I write for others, but even more so, I write for myself.  I explore ideas and situations, exorcise demons.  I particularly love end of the year writing – getting some last licks in before the year changes over.  There’s something reflective and magical about it.  It’s full of anticipation and potential energy.  We may reflect on the past year, think about where we want to go and chart a course.

I’ve definitely been thinking about the novel I want to finish.  I see it going through a lot of changes, giving it layers and depth.  I’m anticipating the day when I feel it’s ready to strike out on it’s own, to present it to people for the reading.

I’m excited about writing in the coming year.  Are you?

The End of NaNoWriMo 2012

Winner-180x180

Here we are, the final day of NaNoWriMo 2012. I’ve got a cup of amaretto hot chocolate and about 1,200 words to write yet. Unless the 2 year old has other ideas, it shouldn’t be a problem to finish. I don’t have big plans to celebrate. This cup of hot chocolate and maybe a nap is about the size of it. I’m simply enjoying the sense of accomplishment of being able to say I wrote at least 50,000 words this month and didn’t lose my mind. In fact, I really enjoyed it.

There’s been a lot of emotion spilled out on the page, both mine and my character’s. It’s been an interesting month of writing. Except for a few zigs to the left and zags to the right, I’ve pretty much kept up with my daily word count for a change. Perhaps that because I chose to be a NaNo Rebel this time around.

I started out thinking I would pick a different prompt every day and write a collection of short stories, essays, blog posts, poetry, etc. – one thing complete every day. There were short stories, some of them finished, but I was surprised to find a couple that I think could actually turn into novels in the future. There were some short stories that went nowhere and some that took multiple days. No poetry but lots of blog posts and several essays.

So, it didn’t quite work out the way I planned. When does NaNoWriMo ever? Heck, when does a piece of writing ever start at point A and simply arrive at point B like you planned? It’s pretty unusual for me, but that’s part of the journey. We start out and find the horizon moves as we walk towards it.

I’d like to get one more really short story in. I’ve always enjoyed the flash fiction genre. I’ve been shooting for anywhere from 50 words to 1,500. It’s a challenge and small work of word art to make a complete story arc in that amount of words. I’ll go find a prompt and see what I can do then post this when I’ve completed my NaNoWriMo word count.

Post script – It’s done. 50,228 words and the start of some kind of space opera.  Not a complete story yet but the start of something is certainly a good thing too. Right, time to make a tomato and bacon bit sandwich. Cheers!

Give Yourself Some Writing Credit

Taken by Bohringer Friedrich

So often, we think about all that we have yet to do or that we should be doing, but I’d like to take a moment to focus on all we do get done as writers, usually with schedules that are already full of living.

 Last week a coworker sent me a link to Pen Parentis (http://www.penparentis.org) an organization set up specifically for writers who are also parents.  There are dues to pay but you receive certain benefits by being a member, like being part of a community of writers who understand your challenges as a writing parent, savings on application fees for certain contest and fellowship application fees from Pen Parentis partners, an author profile, marketing space, promotion of your literary events on the events calendar and a Pen Parentis logo that you can use on your web site or e-stationary.

 Anyway, it got me thinking that, you know, I’m doing pretty darn good at this writing thing. I am a parent of a small child, I commute an hour each way and work a full-time job. I still write, even participating in National Novel Writing Month where I wrote over 50,000 words in August during Camp NaNoWriMo and hope to do so again this month. I’ve published things on Yahoo! Voices and earned actual money from it, as well as entering various contests.

 Of course, all this writing doesn’t happen in a vacuum. My job is a tremendous help. Not only am I librarian, surrounded by books in a moderately large library, but I run an adult writing group there, sanctioned and originally requested by the library. My director is tremendously supportive of my writing endeavors too. When I had two pieces featured on Yahoo! Voices, she celebrated by giving me a ticket to a local charity fashion event.

 Then there is my family, friends and past school teachers. I’ve never been laughed at or scoffed at but rather supported in my writing. I remember each of my English teachers in high school being supportive in some way.  I remember going to a reading with some students from one of my English classes in high school. I thoroughly enjoyed it and when we left I said that I really liked one particular story and wished I could write like that. My English teacher looked at me and said, “You write better than that.” I never forgot that.

 Last, and perhaps most importantly, my husband is very supportive of my writing – verbally, actively and financially. He listens to me talk about stories that I’m writing with interest and when he knows I’m working hard on a piece he will do extra chores around the house, like emptying the dishwasher when it’s not his turn. The laptop that I’m writing on right now, plus the voice activated digital recorder and the Dragon NaturallySpeaking software that I use were all bought for me by him.

 No, all the roadblocks in my way have been of my own creating which creates a little bit of guilt. I love to write and hope to one day write for a living. Now I have to prove that is what I want by writing and submitting finished pieces. I could kick myself for not moving toward my goals faster, but as the song by Jason Mraz says, “I’m letting myself off the hook for the things I’ve done/ I let my past go past/ and now I’m having more fun.”  We need to start giving ourselves credit for all we do accomplish and enjoy writing. Who’s with me?

Outsider = Writer or Writer = Outsider?

I think being an outsider is a common feeling for writers, whether being an outsider makes us turn to writing or being a writer makes us feel like an outsider because we’re too busy observing and writing to interact the way some people do.  Which came first, being an outsider or being a writer?  I don’t know.

I don’t think it’s necessarily the same thing as being an introvert.    I’ve read that an introvert is a person who feels drained by being with other people.  They need time alone to recharge.  I don’t think I fall into that category.  I enjoy alone time but I generally find my writer’s group energizing.

Now, communicating, particularly with people who don’t communicate the same way or have the same frames of reference, can be tiring.  Small groups are easier in that respect, so maybe I’m wrong and I am a bit of an introvert.

I tried to take a Briggs Myers Personality test but I think I overthought it.  No big surprise there.  In the list of careers that were good fits for me, it suggested Librarian.  A-yup.  On the list of careers that don’t fit me, it said Writer.  Well, not an option.  It’s who I am.

I’ve often thought that if I managed to get a career writing off the ground, so that I didn’t have to work at a regular nine-to-five job, I’d need to either get a part-time job or start volunteering somewhere, just to maintain some social interaction.  I think it would be entirely too easy to get caught up living inside my head full time but I’ve experienced that in the past and found it not to really feel good.  I also crave the social interaction.

It all boils down to the fact that a good writer’s group can help keep you mentally healthy as well as improving your writing.  Go find one.

My new source for writing inspiration… Pinterest!

I’ve been busily collecting prompts for inspiration during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) which will be starting November 1st.  Perhaps this won’t be a new idea for most out there, but I’ve recently discovered Pinterest as a source for those prompts.  Perhaps that’s because they reorganized it fairly recently and added the Quotes board, or perhaps I just didn’t notice that board before.  Either way, I’ve probably garnered enough prompts from it to keep me going for half the month.

For those who don’t know, Pinterest is an online bulletin board where the “Pins” are images, with a user written description below, that actually links to what the image is about.  People “pin” things to add to Pinterest and categorize them in their own boards so they are easy to find.  You can re-pin something someone else has pinned, or add your own.

The pinning process is very simple.  I added the pin link to my favorites and now when I see something on a web site that I want to pin, I simply click on favorites then click on the pin link and a box pops open which offers me a variety of images to use, from the page I’m on, and creates the link.  It works a little differently in other browsers, but equally simple.

My favorite categories are Animals, DIY & Crafts, Food & Drink, Gardening, Film Music & Books, Geek and Quotes.  The last three are the most useful to me for writing inspiration.  I’ve pinned quotes that made me think of characters, that illuminated character motivation or that inspired whole stories.

For example, I see a whole story in the quote, “The most painful goodbyes are the ones that are never said and never explained.”  Another pin showed a Christmas tree and written over it were the words, “when the tree is the only light in the room.”  Seeing and reading that created so strong a memory feeling in me that I thought it would be a great image to start a story with.  Where would it lead?

You can join Pinterest using your Facebook or Twitter accounts but you can also simply join using your email address now.  I highly recommend it for a variety of uses but be careful, it is just a bit addictive.  Enjoy!

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