Monday, February 28, 2011

On finding the strength to continue

Lately, I've been having a hard time getting inspired to write.

This is partly because I just started a new job (hooray!) where I write about 4,000 - 6,000 words of online content for other companies (boo!). This does not help my motivations to get home from work and plop in front of the computer to write. Again.

The other part of it is that I've been lazy. I didn't trust when other writers said that writing was real work, meaning you write even when you don't feel like it. For a few days, I rebelled against this, and whenever inspiration left me, I minimized the document and watched an episode of Community. Or five.

When I finally came to myself to realize all that needed to be done (by me) to get my ideas on paper and in print would be terribly difficult and not always the funnest, I sort of lost my motivation all over again. 

Then I did something to come back: I picked up a good book and lost myself in it. 

The book was Fire by Kristin Cashore and it was wonderful. It was exactly what I needed. I can't believe I let it sit on my bookshelf so long, unread.

Reading Fire helped me realize things about myself as I writer that I desperately needed. Things that the advice posted on an author's blog about how to get inspired could not help me with. Things that I didn't even know I needed!

The major thing that I learned with Fire is that no matter how cool the concept of your story is, no matter how interesting the world it is set in, the thing that matters is the story. This goes along hand in hand with character. What happens to your characters and why does it matter? How does their life change, and how do they change to accommodate the difference? Why do people need to read this story?

While those are pretty tough questions, they helped me shift my focus. I was getting too caught up in what kind of world I wanted in my story, and what I wanted to happen when that I forgot why I was wanting to write this piece of crap anyway!

There is my two cents on how to get your mojo back. (PS: I highly recommend Fire to those that haven't read it! If you're a fan of Graceling, be prepared: I liked Fire better.)


Monday, February 21, 2011

On character: A lesson from author Kate Atkinson

As I briefly mentioned before, I have a weird obsession with author Kate Atkinson. I first read one of her novels (Case Histories, a book that Stephen King called "the best mystery of the decade"), in a Contemporary British Literature class.

I remember being instantly drawn into the novel, sucked in so deeply and so irrevocably that I could not function until I finished the story. After Case Histories, I devoured her other mysteries surrounding the damaged yet lovable Jackson Brodie, One Good Turn and When Will There Be Good News? There is a fourth Jackson Brodie novel out, Rose Early, Took My Dog, but I haven't read it yet. (Gasp!)

Having read three of Atkinson's novels, and a few of them twice, I have come to realize some things about what makes her novels great: character.

The characters in Case Histories and its sequels are rich and real. Their lives are portrayed with such startling intimacy that I am at once terrified and delighted. They are complex humans thrown into amazing circumstances.

As I continue my own creative writing endeavors, I'm trying to learn more about creating rich characters from Atkinson. Below is an excerpt from When Will There Be Good News?, which surrounds the sixteen-year-old Reggie.

What I love about this section of Atkinson's writing is how she manages to create character in such a short amount of time. I could read fifty pages of the average young adult novel and still not have as clear a picture as I get from this short excerpt:
"Have you had much experience with children, Reggie?" Dr. Hunter had asked at her so-called interview.
"Och, loads. Really. Loads and loads," Reggie replied, smiling and nodding encouragingly at Dr. Hunter, who didn't seem very good at the whole interviewing thing. "Loads, sweartogod."
The Hunters had a forty-inch HD television on which she watched Balamory DVDs with the baby, although he always fell asleep as soon as the theme tune began, snuggled into Reggie on the sofa like a little monkey. She was surprised Dr. Hunter let the baby watch television, but Dr. Hunter said, "Oh, heavens, why not? Now and again, what's the harm?" Reggie thought that there was nothing nicer than having a baby fall asleep on you, except perhaps a puppy or a kitten. She'd had a puppy once, but her brother threw it out the window. "I don't think he meant to," Mum said, but it wasn't exactly the kind of thing you did accidentally, and Mum knew that. And Reggie knew that Mum knew that. Mum used to say, "Billy may be trouble, but he's our trouble. Blood's thicker than water." It was a lot stickier too. The day the puppy went flying through the window was the second-worst day of Reggie's life so far. Hearing about Mum was the worst. Obviously.

From these paragraphs, we learn about the characters by dialogue and anecdote. For example, the way that Reggie says "Sweartogod" is unique, young and probably something she says when she's nervous. We learn from the things that Dr. Hunter and Reggie's Mum say that they are concerned with being good caregivers for their children, even when the situation is not cut-and-dry. We learn from the way that Reggie notices things about her family that she is observant and wise beyond her years.

What do you think about this section? Something I'm wondering about as I write this, is whether or not this particular skill can be adapted in my writing style, or if it is something that is entirely too literary or too character-based to be included in a young adult novel.


Sunday, February 20, 2011

On inspiration and dream desks

Sometimes, when I need that little extra push of inspiration, I imagine what my dream desk, office or library would look like. Basically, the amazing, unrealistic place that would turn my okay writing into something that would make Kate Atkinson beg me for advice. (Side note: I have an obsession with Kate Atkinson. More on that later.)

This is my dream desk:

I think the picture is taken in a tree house, which is another fantasy I have. Living in a tree house... maybe that's trying too hard to be an eccentric author. Like somehow developing an addiction and not showering and wearing a beret (in my tree house home) will magically turn me into J.K. Rowling.

Going along the tree house theme, this is my dream library:

I don't think this room is in a tree house, but the loft ceiling and exposed beams make it feel like one. I could imagine curling up on that comfy chair-thing for hours on end. Or just staring off in the distance to let my ideas percolate in my brain. I do that a lot.

Anyway, this is something that helps get my inspiration going! What motivational tricks do you have up your sleeve?


Saturday, February 19, 2011

On writing: Lessons from the king

     I'm trying to be a writer, but it's harder than I thought it would be.

     As I started putting my ideas to paper, (I currently have two major ideas for novels), I soon realized that I needed help honing my craft. Whatever that "craft" is. I started shopping for helpful writing advice on the internet and in books. The first writing book I picked up was On Writing by Stephen King, which has been hailed by many a successful author as the go-to guide to writing. The big kahuna.

    I've decided to share what I've learned so far from the King in the form of memorable quotes from the memoir. But believe me, there are far more nuggets in the rest of the book than I'm including here. This thing is chock-full of noteworthy guidance!

from On Writing:

Let's get one thing clear right now, shall we? There is no Idea Dump, no Story Central, no Island of the Buried Bestsellers; good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. You job isn't to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.
If you write (or paint or dance of sculpt or sing, I suppose), someone will try to make you feel lousy about it, that's all. I'm not editorializing, just trying to give you the facts as I see them.
The idea that creative endeavor and mind-altering substances are entwined is one of the great pop-intellectual myths of our time.
It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn't in the middle of the room. Life isn't a support-system for art. It's the other way around.
With the passive voice, the writer usually expresses fear of not being taken seriously... With adverbs, the writer usually tells us he or she is afraid because he/she isn't expressing himself/herself clearly, that he or she is not getting the point or the picture across.
You cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you.
Rudeness should be the second-to-least of your concerns. The least of all should be polite society and what it expects. If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway.
 Description begins with the writer's imagination, bu should finish in the reader's. When it comes to actually pulling this off, the writer is much more fortunate than the filmmaker, who is almost always doomed to show too much... including, in nine cases out of ten, the zipper running up the monster's back.
Some people don't want to hear the truth, of course, but that's not your problem. What would be is wanting to be a writer without wanting to shoot straight.

     This is what I've learned so far from the King. But that's not really the hard part, it is? Now I've got to figure out how to actually use this stuff in my writing, without coming off as a watered-down wannabe. Yikes.


On beginnings; Or, the start of something

I'm Alyssa and I want to be writer.

I have a day job, so I don't have much time to devote to the craft. Plus, it doesn't help that I write about 5,000 words a day at work. For other people's blogs. Zoiks.

I sometimes go by Lyss. Hence the title of this blog. Hopefully, my commitment to creative writing will become something. Some day.

These are rambles.