Friday, April 29, 2011

Small Beginnings

Other than myself, there are a few people that can be held accountable for the fact that I became a writer.

1.) My fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Gardener.

2.)  My twin sister, Bee.

3.) My mother, who I still call Mommy. 

There has been a lot of people who have supported me and believed in me and my writing over the years, but these three people are the people that actually got me to sit down and write. Whether it was their words or their actions, it changed my life forever. And every time I think about where I began this journey, I come back to them and the small but important part they played in my creative life.

There's not enough space in the world to describe how they changed my life, but I'm going to try and contain it in a few posts throughout next week.

Until then...have a great weekend everyone.        

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Single Minded Writer Syndrome

Single Minded Writer Syndrome plagues thousands of writers in the world. Every ten minutes another writer is diagnosed with Single Minded Writer Syndrome...

I might have made that up, but it gets my point across. I'm not alone, and neither are you! There are other writers who forget life outside their books and walk around their houses with dark circles under their eyes, unbrushed hair, and a tea cup permanently attached to their hand. This isn't pretty, but I've never met a writer who looks cute in the throes of Single Minded Writer Syndrome.

SMWS can last anywhere from a day to a few weeks. I think how long it lasts is however long it takes the writer to realize they have it. The reason I'm writing this post is to talk about my own bout with SMWS. You may have noticed my absence for most of last week, that's because I spent that time catching up on homework that I'd either procrastinated on or forgotten about. I know what you're thinking: how does someone forget they have homework? And honestly, I don't know. I can only blame it on SMWS.

My brain usually says "After I do this assignment, I can go write," this is rational and normal. In the midst of SMWS all that rationality gets thrown out the window and my brain starts chanting me to the office: "WRITE WRITE WRITE!!!Whatthehellareyouwaitingfor?!!"  And me, seduced by all the pictures of future scenes in my head, I give in.

Without realizing it, I gave into this voice for most of April. Everyday was a race to the office. In the morning it was always "how fast can I shower, make coffee, and stuff that toast in my mouth?" and then when that took too long: "What about multitasking? Can I eat toast while I shower?" I was so caught up in my book that everything else fell away, nothing was more important than getting the next word, the next scene, the next chapter.

This mindset can be beneficial in small doses. In big heaping doses it becomes destructive (I'm using myself as an example).

So, how do you recognize the symptoms and what's the cure?

I'm not sure I could accurately write all the symptoms of SMWS without asking Bee and my mom what I'm like when "I crawl under my rock" (when I'm in my office 208994 hours of the day). So, I'll let you guys draw your own conclusions for that one. In fact, I would suggest you ask the people around you what you're like when you get "in that mood." They'll tell you the truth.

Anyway, once you realize you've contracted Single Minded Writer Syndrome, the only way to get over it is to type one last sentence, close the word document, and step out of the office. Immerse yourself in the real world again...and brush your hair, your computer might not judge you but other people will.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

First chapters and cheesecake

I have a twin sister, Bee. I have mentioned this before, but for those of you who are just tuning in, I felt the need to say this again, just so there isn't any confusion. She's not just my sister, she's my twin sister. But that's not the point.

The point is that she is amazing!! I do not tell her this enough because half of the time I just want to wrap my fingers around her neck and...well, you know. But something happened yesterday.

She made pumpkin cheesecake!


She gave me my first chapter!

I would have been happy with the cheesecake, but in typical Bee fashion, Bee knows what I'm thinking before I do. So, two cups of coffee, two slices of cheesecake, two cups of tea, and a melodramatic speech about how I don't know why I bother, she finally says "Tell me where you left off, I'll write it for you."

I know what you're thinking, you think she actually wrote my first chapter and handed it to me polished and shiny. She didn't. But she may as well have. She stretched her fingers, rolled her shoulders, did a few more stretches, and started typing with this determined expression on her face. Bee isn't a writer, she isn't a reader, she doesn't even like libraries. But she is amazing. Did I mention that? I think I did. Anyway, by the time she was done and I read what she wrote, I was smiling. No, I was laughing. I realize now that this is probably the reaction she was aiming for. But at the time, I was just so amused and slightly astonished at how she somehow managed to tell me without saying it out loud that I was overthinking everything.

And I was.

I think that is why I've always had trouble with my first chapters. I told Bee yesterday that I don't want my first chapter to be "good" or "great!" I want it to be "Excellent!!!!" So this is where I set the bar for myself and aim to touch every single time I sit down to write. Having this standard in mind, I write a sentence and dissect it. I write another and dissect it. The process repeats itself until I really just want to delete everything I've ever written and start chasing Life Long Dream #2 : become a ballerina. Then I realize it's too late for that and my knees crack when I stand and that, too, goes out the window. And it's back to Life Long Dream #1.

I'm starting to realize that I might just set the bar for myself a little too high. I mean, it's one thing to strive to do the best you can, but it's something else entirely to strive for perfection. If I'm being honest with myself I can admit that I have perfectionist tendencies. In my defense, though, I'm not always aware of them. That's what Bee did for me yesterday. She made me aware that I was so hooked on getting it perfect, that I was questioning everything I wrote, and by questioning everything I wrote, I was building up problems within my story that didn't exist.

So, I know better now. And hopefully this short little tale can be a precaution for some other writer sitting in a dark room, struggling with their first chapter...and eating cheesecake.

I will eventually share with you guys what she wrote and what I wrote. But we'll save that for later.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Writing habits--the Good, the Bad, the Ugly

I've been writing for a long time. Nine or ten years, to be exact. But what just hit me is that while I've learned a lot, there is still so much out there that my little writer brain hasn't even touched yet. It made me wonder if we writers ever really stop learning and just start knowing.

*Wait a beat of silence*

I just realized how stupid that was. To know everything would imply perfection, and no one is perfect. Not even if you're J. K. Rowling or Stephanie Meyer or Oprah. Though sometimes I wonder if Oprah might just be some alien from a different planet that's so much more awesome than ours, thus giving her super-awesome-alien powers that allow her to do a million things at once. But that's besides the point. The point is we never stop growing and learning and so I wanted to talk about writing habits; the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The Good
These are things that we should all be doing.

1.) Write Daily.
I don't care if you're tired, or if a new book came out that you just-cannot-put-down (City of Fallen Angels, cough cough). I don't care if your fingers fall off, then you should probably write with your toes. I don't even care if your dog ate your story. Writing daily is essential, see why here.

2.) Storyboarding.
Every writer writes differently, and I would never presume that just because something works for me means it works for you, too. But this works. Trust me. If you find yourself staring at a blinking cursor wondering what the heck happens next, you should probably make one of these. While it wont give you the answers to what happens next, it will keep every single thought you had about your story so organized that it'll make finding out what happens next easier. To make a story board all you need is a white board, sticky notes, and dry erase makers. I could go into all the details and steps but they say a picture is worth a thousand words, so...

and again, every writer is different, so your storyboard doesn't have to look like mine or anyone else. See all the jumbled writing on the right? That's how my mind works.

3.) Cookies, Doritos, and doughnuts. Not necessarily in that order.
Do I even have to elaborate on this one? Tell your body and your personal trainer that it's for "creative purposes" and if that doesn't work, tell them it's "Brittany's orders". And then do five jumping jacks to lessen the guilt.

4.) Family = free cheerleaders.
Give me an A, give me a B, give me a They-have-no-choice-but-to-love-anyway! So don't shut them out. Tell them how your story is going, tell them you love them when they buy you cookies for "creative purposes."

5.) Confidence.
When you get up in the morning, take some time to grab this and shove it in your pocket. Carry this with you everywhere; to the bathroom, to work, to the office. Never let anyone take it from you.

6.) Write Freely.
If you're passionate about it, write it. When it comes to writing, where your heart leads you is probably the right direction.

The Bad
These are things you should not ever.

1.) Compare and Contrast.
Unless you're in English class, you'll want to avoid this. It never turns out well, you will not get a gold star or an A. There will always be someone who writes better than you, and there will always be someone who doesn't. If you focus on either, you will start doubting yourself or your ego will expand to Godzilla proportions. The trick is to be fazed by neither.

2.) Call writer's block, Writer's Block.
If you don't call it by it's name, it does not exist. All the power is in the name, people. Let me tell you why. Once we say we have writer's block, it's like we accept its existence and the fact that we can't change it. So we wait, and wait...and wait for it to leave. But in doing this, we waste precious time and creative juices watching bad reality tv and feeling sorry for ourselves. If we refuse to call it by its name, that means we refuse to give up, we refuse to accept the fact that we're suck. I'm starting a movement to de-name writer's block. I have a feeling this needs its own blog post.

The Ugly
These are worse than the bad.

1.) Hi, my name is Suck.
These are days where your writing sucks and you suck and life and the universe and everything ever invented sucks (with the exception of cookies, Doritos, and doughnuts). There is no cure for these days, you must just Step Away From The Computer.

There's tons more Good, Bad, and Ugly. But I can't think of anything else. Feel free to share if you think of something.