Thursday, September 27, 2012

Chasing dreams

A few weeks back, I caught an interview on NPR with former Olympians. I'd never really thought about it before, but for many athletes, adjusting to life after the Olympics is incredibly difficult. Many of them have finished their careers by their thirties, or even twenties. They've pursued their lives' passion, and reached the highest plateau possible. So what else is left for them?

I was reminded of those Olympians recently. I had been dreaming of announcing some good news on the blog, but last week learned that things hadn't worked out. It's not the first time I've come so close to success in the publishing industry that I could almost touch it. And in struggling with my disappointment, I wondered what you do with your life when the one thing you're passionate about is currently impossible.

Some writer friends commiserated with me, and reminded me not to give up. But I couldn't really imagine giving up. While I've started subbing in schools again, writing is my full time job. And I love it.

Of course, I could self publish, or submit to several small ebook publishers who have sprung up recently. I thought over those options, too, but realized they're not my dream. Others have found happiness on those routes (some few even success), but as someone who's fantasized about writing and publishing since childhood, and still sees the world of books as magical, warts and all, I believe in the industry and want to be part of it.

Obviously, the only option left to me is to keep writing. And maybe that makes me lucky... those former Olympians have lost their muscle and flexibility and endurance, and will never be successful in their sport again--though a gold metal might smooth over a lot of angst!

I make "keep writing" sound like an easy answer, when it isn't really. It means more years of not knowing how to tell people what I do for a living. It means more self-doubt, more frustration, many more hours of work with no pay or affirmation. But it also means I can keep telling stories. And, for now at least, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A word person or a story person?

Oia, on the island of Santorini, in Greece, is built on the side of a mountain.  While on vacation last spring, I decided to hike uphill into town after a large lunch. I bumped into some tourists coming the other way.

"How bad is the climb?" one asked.

Breathlessly I replied, "It's a bit more arduous than I expected."

The tourists laughed. "Arduous?! It must be really bad!"

I laughed with them. I can't help the vocabulary. I've always been a word person. 

A while back, my critique group was comparing writing methods, and I showed them my notebook, and explained how I write everything long-hand first

"But look at it!" one of them exclaimed. "All those words! You've hardly crossed anything out."

Now that's not entirely true. I do cross things out, add scribbles in the margins, and draw arrows when I want to move whole paragraphs of text. But the words are the easy part. I can always throw out some dialogue, describe a character, create some atmosphere... It's figuring out the story that takes me months, sometimes years of work. 

It occurs to me that most of my writing friends are the same way. We scavenge our minds for the perfect word, and in our reading highlight clever turns of phrase or beautiful descriptive passages. I find real joy in structuring text so it flows logically and rhythmically, and my paragraphs end with a powerful punch. And I'm sure that capacity for language makes me a better writer. But I wish story came more easily. I wish I knew people who understand story like I understand language.

Would you call yourself a word person or a story person? Is it a true dichotomy, never the twain shall meet? Or can some people be a bit of both?

And if you are a story person... will you be my friend?

*The picture is mine. And yes, Santorini really is that beautiful. If you're interested, there are tons more pictures here and here.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Making a place of my own

So I've finally moved into my "office" in the new house. And while I've had to forsake the lovely view and wind chimes tinkling in the breeze, the office gives me much more space. Plus, I've never had a proper office! I've always been a kitchen table writer, so to have a place to store my books, hang reminders and inspirations, and keep all my clutter in one place is really exciting.

This is still very much a work in progress, but I wanted to share a bit of it with you.

I bought my "desk" off Craigslist. Yes, I know it's a table. But like I said, I've always done well on kitchen tables. And I don't need drawers so much as space to spread.

Plus, I found this gorgeous little cabinet / printer stand at the Salvation Army and had to have it. I've installed a shelf inside, so it can hold a number of my books and art supplies (colored pencils, markers, crayons, highlighters--all essential to my writing process!). And once the bulletin board goes up, I'll be able to display inspirations for my writing and works in progress (no close ups, but those two postcards are vital to Project Fun).

Wondering about the art? Here's some close ups:


My grandmother was an artist. When she passed away and we sorted through her studio, I was so touched to find these sketches, which I recognized instantly. The top one is my dad as a boy, the bottom one is me as a little girl. Maybe it's a touch narcissistic, but I like having little me close by. Not only does it remind me of my grandmother, and how important art was to her, but also who I'm writing for. 

A few other important tidbits:

This is from my day care days. I don't know how I still have it, but I love it for some of the same reasons above.

My mom gave me the giraffe for Christmas last year, and I couldn't imagine leaving him behind in Bristol. Technically he's a screen cleaner, but he cuddles with me when the writing's going bad.

There's still a futon waiting to be delivered (perfect for guests! And writerly naps!), which is why I haven't hung the bulletin board yet. I need to make sure everything's properly centered so it doesn't drive me nuts when I try to work. Plus I have another piece of my grandmother's to hang, a stack of books, which will be perfect for the room. I'll show you more pictures in a few weeks, when it's all finished.

In the meantime, what is your writing space like? What treasures and talismans do you surround yourself with?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

"What is the coolest way this plot thing might happen?"

I've always considered myself a word person, a craft person. I don't read many commercial books, I don't tend to enjoy them. I don't chase trends. I love character-driven stories.

But lately I've been thinking about how to push my storytelling farther. Bestselling author Laini Taylor managed to articulate my goal on her blog, and I've been asking myself ever since:

"What's the coolest way this plot thing might happen?"

To steal a page from her book, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, could I set the book in Prague? At an art school? Could there be a shop that sells teeth? A character who designs puppets?

Between you and me, I have a lot of scenes set in school bathrooms and characters' bedrooms. Okay, so Project Demo doesn't really have room for a shop that sells teeth. But then I think about Sara Zarr's How to Save a Life, a contemporary, realistic novel, which has a climactic scene in Casa Bonita, that crazy tourist restaurant in Colorado with waterfalls and cave divers. And you know what? That's a little more interesting than the school bathroom.

And to be 100% honest, sometimes those character-driven, quiet books that I claim to love? They don't have much plot. So then I think about my larger premise, too. How can I make that more exciting? What if instead of a regular school, my characters went to a spy school (Ally Carter's Gallagher Girls)? Or what if my characters weren't just magicians, but crime lords (Holly Black's Curse Workers series)?

Because the truth is, cool premises and intriguing settings aren't just marketing gimmicks. They work. And not only do they make me want to read a story, they make me more likely to lose myself in a story.

So even though this type of storytelling doesn't come naturally to me, and it might mean some research, or getting out of my own head occasionally, I know it's worth it. And even better, it feeds my creativity, encourages my mind to push boundaries. It's exciting.

And that's really the heart of good storytelling.

Have you always thought about writing this way, or is pushing your storytelling a bit of a revelation to you, too?