Found this gem of a writing quote in Blockbuster Plots by Martha Alderson. I’ve not read any stories by Barbara Taylor Bradford but I’ve experienced the truth of this writing advice. If your character’s development isn’t driving the plot, there’s something missing in your story.
It’s Towel Day, friends: the day hoopy froods carry their towel in remembrance of the greatest sci-fi parody writer ever, Douglas Adams. Since I hotlinked this image from Lemon.ly, I’m sending you there for the details.
It is perhaps odd for me to write a eulogy for Kathi Kamen Goldmark because in truth I barely knew her. I can say this: she always volunteered to speak or answer questions for the NCBPMA, and because of her friendliness and approachability she was one of the first local producers I knew by name. She was one of those vivacious people that seems to be everywhere, and always smiling to boot. Being a producer is a tough job, and yet she never hesitated to answer a question or offer an explanation about why a certain guest would or wouldn’t be a fit for her show. She somehow managed to do this job while writing books and performing in the literary group the Rock Bottom Remainders.
As I’ve embarked on this journey in the Bay Area publishing world, I always imagined the day when Kathi and I would be friends. Not because she was some milestone of important authors (though she was!) but because she had that kind of warmth that made me think I could do this, that the writing and publishing scene isn’t a clique, but a community.
In the coming weeks there will be numerous posts from people who knew her well, that will explain better than I ever can why the loss of this luminary light will affect the Bay Area forever. I only wish to contribute this to make it known how many lives she touched, even among her acquaintances. It breaks my heart to know that I will never be able to tell her what a role model she was for me, and for so many others. But perhaps if you are reading this now, it will remind you of all the lives you may touch, and the special place you may find if you keep following your dreams. A space that is all your own—like Kathi, whose presence in the literary world is irreplaceable. Kathi Kamen Goldmark, you are missed.
$&ADFYF@!#$% Stop everything! You know Protagonize, that nifty site where writers go to share their stories online? (You don’t eh? Check it out.)
THEY PICKED ME AS THEIR FEATURED AUTHOR THIS WEEK. I’m so psyched. Look, here’s proof.
This must be what it feels like to get picked as Student of the Week in school.
What better time for you to have a look at the novel I’ve been posting there since February? Best to get reading it before there’s spoilers everywhere. 😉
Two Chapter Ones
Novelling never seems to go as planned. When I started this novel, I told myself I would spend as much time on the later chapters as on the opening ones. Everyone spends forever writing their first chapter, of course because it is the first thing people read. I’ve also discovered that writing the first chapter is one of the hardest things to write. Why? Because what the reader wants is exactly the opposite of what the author wants. The writer wants to introduce you to their world: who these characters are, where they live, what they’re in search of. The reader hasn’t decided yet whether she cares about any of those things. The reader wants to know what happened: what’s the story? What’s the conflict? Where is this going? Complicating things further, the reader really does need some of that background information. Well into the novel, they know what the characters look like, where they live, what kind of world the story inhabits. So the author has this challenge: they must get the reader involved in the story right away while sneaking in little details that give the reader something to picture. When my reading group first looked over my story, I realized they didn’t know diving in whether the world was going to be suburban or fantasy, if it takes place today or fifty years ago. Thus every detail in chapter one matters, because the readers is starting from nothing. Not only do you have to sneak them in, you have to give just the right details in just the right order.
I wrote an article for Opportunities Planeet on why artists, authors, or anyone who needs to market a product should be on Twitter.
For Anyone Looking to Market a Product, Twitter Can Be Even More Important Than Facebook
Twitter is the second-most popular social network in the world, and the ninth most-most popular website worldwide. But I believe for marketing, Twitter is the most important social media account to have. First let me say I’m comparing Twitter to Facebook not because they are the most similar, or because I think you should neglect to promote yourself on Facebook. I compare Twitter to Facebook because most people see Facebook as an important part of their marketing strategy, while neglecting the little blue bird. Sure, Facebook is the second-most popular website in the world. But most of the people who use it expect it to be a personal space. Facebook is where people share photos of their vacation and videos of kittens. You are expected to have one profile for all the different “hats” you wear, encompassing what you do at work, how you spend your free time, what music enjoy and what stories you’ve been reading…the whole kit and caboodle. Twitter allows you to brand yourself. You can have a multitude of Twitter profiles and no one frowns upon it as they would if you had a variety of Facebook personae. This means if you’ve written the book Zombies With Guns you can have a Twitter feed that focuses exclusively on weapons, ammo, and surviving the zombie apocalypse. On Facebook, your friends and family would be irritated by your constant stream of zombie and gun info, because they are not your target audience. On Twitter, your account is specifically for that purpose, so all of your followers would be people interested in that kind of content. Sure, you can get fifty of your friends to like your company on Facebook, but on Twitter those followers are not your pals but potential customers. Facebook has created a number of ways to compete with this advantage. They created groups, then changed, them, and are now getting rid of them. They created company pages. But in my experience, it is harder to gain followers of a Facebook company page than a Twitter page, even though many more people are on Facebook! That’s because people go to Facebook to talk to people they already know in real life. People go to Twitter to find out what’s going on in the world and to receive updates on their favorite subjects.
Festivals like the Noise Pop Culture Fest are ineffective for becoming a better artist. The time with each presenter is too short, the instruction too thrown together. It is a great place to find inspiration, however.
Take Jason Jaworski. He’s not the first poet I’ve seen typing snippets of poetry on old typewriters and giving them away to the sources of their inspiration. But surely he has the most compelling delivery. While other street poets set themselves apart with dapper hats and gloves, Jason wears a prom dress and a wrap of silver crinkly fabric. His head is crowned with an unknown substance and a wreath of false (chicken?) feet. Moreover he sits not in a desk or a chair, but barefoot and cross-legged in a tiny house filled with countless baubles and trinkets and swathes of fabric. The traveling improvisational poet is a rare creature but Jason Jaworski sets himself apart from the rest of the herd.
In truth, I wish there were herds of these poets, legions armed with typewriters and cases full of correctional fluid. I wish there were one on every street corner in every city, waiting with fingers poised on the keys, looking into the eyes of those in line, waiting for a simple unedited poem. These poetry buskers provide an important service. Poetry is the twin sister to music, first formed among cavemen beating their drums around breezy campfires as people huddled together, searching for warmth and meaning. Now it is thought to be a dusty relic, a secret language only understood by MFAs and and smirking grammar dominatrices.
Whereas poetry is thought to be abstract, poetry buskers use the person standing in front of them to create their art.
Whereas poetry is thought to be disconnected from its audience, poetry buskers create a one-on-one relationship.
Whereas poetry is thought to be collections of overly dwelled upon minutia, these intrepid fellows will type out a poem in under two minutes.
Whereas poetry has certainly become narcisstic and static, these poets create hundreds of poems and give them away.
In last year’s TED Talk speech the author of Eat, Pray, Love explains how she is able to handle the terrible pressure to make something genius after having a huge breakout bestseller. Her solution is to do as folks did before the Age of Reason, and think of your genius as something outside of yourself (the bonus is a great Tom Waits story).
This has been unbelievably helpful for me lately. If you are a creative person who has been haunted any kind of creative block, I highly recommend you watch it.
Don’t worry, the rest of my post will still be waiting below…
Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED Talk on Finding Your Genius
Finding Your Genius
In short, she suggests that artists need a way to “create a safe distance” between ourselves and the anxiety we feel about our work. Thinking of genius as some kind of separate entity frees us from our fears that our brilliance won’t match our expectations.
It also means I get to have a new imaginary friend, a Puckish deity that hops like an invisible monkey around my computer desk, taunting me with unfinished sentences and half-baked ideas.
After I began to think of my own creativity as this impish being it assumed a greater importance in my life. My art and my creative space was no longer a task to be mastered or even a puzzle to be solved. It was demigod as revered as Dionysus (I suspect they’re cousins). It was also my oldest and dearest friend. In both cases, the measure of time and respect I had to give to the creative process increased dramatically, as it would if the Macy’s window mannequin came to life and offered to be your sweetheart.
So I would like to take a moment to speak to you about your demiurge, the fiery creative beast who lives in your belly, showers you with presents, abandons you for another woman, only to wake you from a dream as if she’d never left.
You know you, your muse. Let’s talk about her.
Have you been treating her right? Or have you been resentful? Avoiding her calls? Talking trash about her to your friends? Putting off quality time so you can watch telly, play Spades, or other trivial nonsense where she’s clearly not invited? Do you really think a Goddess, no matter how lonely, wants to hang out while you update your Facebook page? And if she did, you’d likely be annoyed that she showed up at such an inopportune moment.
Remember, time devoted to your genius need not be a two-way street: she is a demigod, and under no obligation to hang out with the likes of you in the first place. Know that there are many whose shrines to her greatness far surpass yours, that there are those who have devoted whole temples to her—and so many of these devotees with their trinkets and their affirmations have only seen the brightest glimpse of her visage. She owes you nothing, wretch.
Is your shrine tidy and free of cobwebs? Do you offer her gifts? Do you meditate daily on her awesomeness? If you hesitate (as I do!) to offer anything but a resounding “Yes!” to these queries, consider yourself lucky, chump. Lucky that she comes to you at all. Considering your petulance, she probably has a thing for you.
Don’t make that face, I’m sure you’ve had your suspicions. You wouldn’t have gotten into this whole creation thing in the first place if you hadn’t suspected the Muse pays more attention to you. Admit it, she makes you feel special. All those nights facing off with the keyboard to create something that will likely never put a penny in your pocket or a lover between your sheets were only fun when she was there. And when she didn’t show up you resented her. Who the hell was she, besides a Goddess, besides the very thing that makes humans beautiful and inspirational, who the hell was she besides the reason we have libraries and museums and video games and Cathedrals—so what to all that, you could have gone drinking with your friends, both of them.
No matter that when you’re swilling Cosmos at cocktail parties you slur that her creative spark is your goddamned reason for living.
Here’s what I believe: you like her; she likes you. When you are ready to settle down and put her first in your life, she will be there for you. When you are a monk in your devotion and a lover in your ardor, when each day begins with an act of devotion to your creative urge, she will reward you with all the brilliance of your ego’s fantasies. You know, and I know, she will be waiting.
On Tickling the Muse
I enjoy writing. Sometimes I write a blog comment on some random blog because I am looking forward to stringing the words together. Connecting ideas like a Lego castle. I have to remind myself of this when my novel is broken down into chunks that look a great deal like homework assignments.
When you have writers block, it’s about not being able to find the words to match your ego. Unfortunately, you need a hefty ego to write a novel. It’s a huge fucking task and you need the possibility of greatness as a carrot on the end of the stick. The problem becomes that we let the ego frame the questions we’re asking. Instead of just telling a story or writing a sentence, we ask the pen to produce the most brilliant and witty thing ever written. No wonder we spend so much time staring at blank paper.
I have to remind myself that this is all just a game and I write the rules. The game is not “write the most amazing thing ever” because that would be a sucky boring game full of disappointment and everyone knows it. Instead I must see what little dance I can get the words to do. A much more fun game would be “Let’s see if we can make the rhythm and cadence of the paragraph match the intensity of the characters’ current emotional state” or “Let’s see if we can make a really off the wall pop culture metaphor.” How’s about: “Let’s see if we can find a way to make an allusion to Jorge Luis Borges.” It’s a puzzle with a practically infinite number of solutions. You can always solve it one way and come up with a more elegant solution later.
Of course this is easier said than done.
I have a lot of “talking head” scenes, where I’ve come up with the dialogue but the descriptions are *weak. I would edit such a scene and it felt like playing “fill in the blanks” with description. This stifled my creativity as I had a preconceived notion about the length of each passage. I was asking myself the least creative questions (“What does the furniture look like?”), thinking inside the box.
And when I am producing this kind of blanks and boxes drivel, it helps to remind myself of the game. I do this—I write—for fun. Despite any bitching about “writer’s block” in some ways I can’t help but play this game. If I’m going to write a sentence, I’m usually going to take the extra time to think of the best possible way to say it. I will not hesitate to ask myself if there’s some way I can throw in a joke, a bold visual,a fresh metaphor—yay, even a pun. It may even be second nature, but I’d hate to say so because I know I lose points for allowing a cliché. Every tweet, every grocery list, every note in the margins will be scrutinized and scored, as fast and sure as any Yatzee roll.
From here on out, I’m not allowing myself to think of writing as a chore. Sodoku is a chore. Farmville is a chore. Word search? A chore. Character, story, dialogue: Not chores—challenges. Some things to wrap my mind around. If some beauty happens, so much the better.
*which is weird because when I was young I always prided myself on writing descriptions but felt very insecure about my dialogue.