WRITING A BOOK

by Ottilia Scherschel

“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”

I don’t know when George Orwell wrote that, but I know I agree with him. I often ask myself why I go through the “exhausting struggle” of putting words on the page. Am I “driven by some demon” as Orwell suggests?

I like to think I’m driven by curiosity, a desire to explore the “what if-s” of life. I’m currently working on a short story about smuggling antiquities. In my real world, I wouldn’t dream of doing such a thing, but on the page figuring out what a smuggler might do is fascinating. Let’s face it. The idea is to escape my everyday world into a place where anything and everything is possible.

Isn’t this why you read? So far so good. I’ve told you the fun part of what I do as a writer. Now, let’s get to the “exhausting struggle” part.

Writing is a time consuming task. Ideas don’t always come quickly, and sometimes my brain can be as dry as bones bleached by the desert sun. My first draft is never my last draft since what I wrote yesterday may not make sense today. Progress can be slow and at times even negative when I have to start something over. Yet, I refuse to give up. Are you starting to feel “some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand?”

When I finish a writing project, I have a sense of accomplishment and relief—the first because I’m finished and can celebrate completing a task and the second because I can start a new story or book. I begin the “exhausting struggle once more.” I work and keep working because I’m a writer.

Is there something you enjoy doing that would fit Orwell’s description of writing a book?

 

Where do I get my ideas? by Jill Jaynes

Jill Jaynes

“Where do you get your ideas?”

People ask me this all the time. They ask it with a look in their eye that tells me they are a little afraid of my answer. It is the same worry I see in someone’s eye when I tell them my degree is in Psychology.

They worry that the jig may be up. They worry that if writers really write what they know, then I am writing what I know.

And I know them.

There just may be that chance that their lives – warts and all – could show up on my pages for all the world to see.

Everybody can just relax. I am not plagiarizing your life (as tempting as it might be. After all, truth is often stranger than fiction). I couldn’t get all the details right if I wanted to; my memory is not that good.

However, as I mentioned in a previous post about “Where” my stories take shape for the first time (in my head, or as they are spilled onto the page), I rely on a deep pool of past experiences, especially those that are emotionally charged, to bring to life whatever story I am currently telling.

Which still doesn’t answer the question- where do I get my ideas?

I have to say that I have never thought of myself as a creative person. Ideas, especially original ideas, have always seemed hard to come by. But I am beginning to think that the only thing that has ever limited my creativity has been my own lack of faith in it. Because not too long ago, I decided I would come up with an idea for a book. Do something different than I’d ever done. Go in a new direction. And you know what I did?

I thought about it. I thought about what kinds of books I enjoy reading so much that I can’t wait for the next one to come out? What books do I come back to again and again?

Guess what? I had an idea. I had such a good idea, that it brought a whole bunch of other ideas with it. And they aren’t bad. I don’t know exactly what happened, but somewhere I found my confidence, and now every time I reach for an idea, I find one. Or two, or three. It is so much fun.

You’ll see. But you’ll have to buy the book.

INSPIRATION…where does it come from?

I’m often asked where my ideas and inspirations come from by family members, friends and new acquaintances when they find out I’m a writer. My answer—everywhere: when I travel, just out and about, or reading travel and cooking magazines. I take pictures galore to remember settings and save articles that have piqued my interest.

Here’s an example. My professional background is in the field of real estate. Whenever I’m in a new town or city, I pick up the local real estate magazine showing homes for sale. I flip through the pages, look at the pictures and read the listings. I usually fall in love with at least one or two of the homes. One time I read the intro for a property that went something like this:

Nestled in the stately ponderosas, this 5,000 square foot cedar and redwood home weaves modern comforts with endearing rusticity. A huge stone fireplace graces the living room area, while high ceilings and glassed dining area show off breathtaking views. Five bedroom suites provide warmth and elegance, with most rooms overlooking either the lake or the forest. In addition, the 30 plus acre parcel provides a wealth of outdoor activities. This is one of the finest homes ever to come on the market. Priced to sell quickly. It won’t last long.

I can tell you my imagination went wild. I started to think about a heroine who needs a fresh start. She reads an advertisement (like the one above) on a real estate website and decides then and there to put in an offer to buy the property (sight unseen of course). When she arrives she finds that yes, it is nestled in the stately ponderosas, but the modern comforts are not endearing at all. In fact, they look to be from the 1940’s. And so the story begins.

My niece took a picture when she was in Oregon and sent it to me of train IMG_2593tracks leading into the woods. And I was off on an adventure. Might hero or heroine be returning home after running away years before??

One day I was out walking at Downtown Disney by the Disneyland Hotel and I saw a man talking on his cell phone by the gated swimming pool area. I started to think, was his wife sitting by the pool watching their children and wondering if her husband was again talking to the office or worse, his mistress? Was this the last straw?

I’m working on a new project I was inspired to write when a friend sent me a picture of a lighthouse on a charming little island. This one will have a bit of suspense and I will be blogging about it occasionally as I go through the process.photo(2)

I wish you and yours a glorious 2016! I hope it’s filled with relaxing days reading your favorite author and a few new ones.

Jann Ryan

LOCATION!

by Ottilia Scherschel

Location! A realtor will tell you to search for the worst house in the best location. A producer sends out a location scout before starting a film. A writer looks for two locations. One is a place to write and the other is a setting for her story.

For me, a location to write can be any place no one bothers me. Most days, this spot is my computer room that has big windows facing a view of green or brown, depending on the time year, hills. I’m a bit claustrophobic so being able to look outside is important. If writing at my computer is not productive, I escape to a shady corner of my yard, or if chaos reigns in my house, I run away to write at a local coffee joint. For the most part, finding a writing location is not a big challenge, but finding the setting for a story is a horse of a different color.

Douglas Dresser, location manager of the movie The Revenant, says, “Location is everything! A great location hopefully adds to the audience experience in that it takes you into the character’s life. It makes you feel like you are there with them.”

mountains-1089863_640

When I’m planning a novel, I take virtual tours of locations and imagine what I would smell, hear and feel being there. I then ferret out unusual pieces of information that I can use to create my characters and drive my story. The world is full of stunning places populated by interesting people.

Whether you’re looking for a place to live, a setting or a comfy spot to write, remember location is everything!

 

 

 

Barb’s Nest

Jill Jaynes, in her excellent blog here entitled “Where do Writers Write?” talked about where her story is created, whether in her head or on the page. I’m going to talk about where I write – physically. I’m sure you’ve noticed folks in Starbucks sitting at small tables studiously tapping away on their laptops. They could have been writers. One of them could have been me. I also frequent local Corner Bakery cafes (I’m writing this blog right now in just such a place), with their free Wi-Fi, convenient electrical outlets, writer-friendly staff, not to mention yummy food. Since I’m retired why do I feel the need to get out of the house to write? Two words.

Retired husband.

But when I do write at home, I write in what we pretentiously call The Library. It was my son’s bedroom and I was measuring for desks and bookshelves long before he married and moved out. I think he was five at the time when I stood on his rumpled bed taking measurements. The room contains generous shelves brimming with books, two matching desks that cover one wall, and a round glass-topped table with three chairs for visiting writers.

Now, as a reader, I’m sure you prepare, even in some small way, a spot where you sit down with a good book. You choose a comfy chair with a squishy pillow, perhaps a lap robe iIMG_2148f it’s chilly. Others may take it a few steps further—comfy chair, plump pillows, lap robe, cozy fire, a soothing cup of tea, ottoman for tired feet, a small furry, purry friend for company. Hmmm. Sounds wonderful. As a writer, I need to create a space that is not only comfortable, but one that enhances my creativity. I build a nest.
IMG_2138Barb’s nest (pictured here) consists of a regulation office chair (soon to be replaced by a comfier one in a new house), soft pillow, my new MacBook Air, a soothing cup of tea, some of my favorite craft books at my fingertips, my Charlotte Award for encouragement, and Thor for, well, it’s Thor. The nameplate is when I’m lost in my characters and don’t remember my name. Oh, the cat with the heart-shaped mark on her forehead? She’s my furry, purry friend. My nest wouldn’t be complete without her.

What does your nest look like?

Where do writers “write?”

Jill Jaynes

I’d like to talk about this in terms of writing process, as in “Where is the story created- in my head, or on the page?”

Do I think up sentences and clever things for my characters to say, and save them up to dump onto the page later? I know some people who do. Does the writing take place in my head long before I set words to page? How much of the writing is planned and how much is spontaneous? Where does the story take shape- in my head or on paper, and how much of a shape must it have before I set it to words?

Not as simple as you thought, is it?

My husband, (a recent addition in my life- for which I am daily grateful) is not an avid fiction reader, nor a reader of Romance (at least he wasn’t before meeting me -more on that in future blogs I’m sure), but he has confessed to being somewhat disillusioned, or rather dispossessed of certain assumptions he’d held about how writers actually produced books. “I thought they just sat down and wrote it, beginning to end, the same way that I read it,” he confessed. “I never knew there was so much uncertainty in the process.”

I have to insert the disclaimer here that THERE IS NO ONE RIGHT WAY TO WRITE. Every writer has their own process and all of them are right. “Right” is what works for you, whoever you are.

That being said, it is a fact widely acknowledged that writers come in two stripes- Plotters and Pantsters.
Plotters are considered to live almost exclusively in the left side of their brains, compelled to spend hours deciding and detailing the plot of their story and characters, usually using outlines and other “pre-writing” tools long before they ever set story-word “one” to the page. They cannot begin until they know how the story begins, middles and ends.
Pantsters, or those who write “By the Seat of Their Pants,” live in the right sides of their brains, and prefer to just begin writing their story, much as my husband’s imaginary writer works, beginning to end, without knowing much about it at all except for the beginning that begs to be put to paper. They have no idea what is going to happen next when they start, let alone what will happen at the end. (An astonishing number of mystery authors have confessed to working this way). Some of them claim to even lose interest in the story once they figure out what the ending is.

I like to think I live on a continuum between the two, closer to the Plotter end of things. Here is what I need to start a story:
1) I need a spark- usually the serendipitous convergence of two or more previously unrelated ideas.
2) I like to have a clear idea of my total story, at least a starting framework of beginning, middle and end that may change as I get further down the road. I will usually write a simple outline.
3) I like to know basically who my characters are- what they want, why they want it and what is standing in their way (why don’t they have it now?) and what is the conflict between them?(This is Romance, after all). I will usually write this down. I will play with some names for my characters- they usually jump out at me, clear and obvious, for this character in this story.

Now, those parts actually involve a lot of creativity. I’m creating a world and people in it. Takes a little imagination, I’d say.

Once I have that, I can pretty much start putting words to the page.

I’ll start writing a scene. I know where the scene starts and what must happen by the end of it.

And this is the part that is a little bit magical.

I usually have no idea how this is going to go. I don’t know what my characters are going to say or how they are going to respond to each other. There is no rehearsal, I don’t give them their lines. They walk onto the page and off they go- hopefully headed off in the direction I intended.

I don’t save up clever things for them to say that I think of while I’m driving in the car. I don’t make lists of really cool words I want to make sure and use. I don’t write practice conversations between my characters that don’t have anything to do with my story. I don’t “pre-write” in that way.

What I do, is rely on a surprisingly deep well of past experiences, people, emotions, smells, tastes and sounds that inhabits the border of my consciousness. Stephen King calls it “the boys in the basement.” It’s really the subconscious, storing up all that seemingly useless clutter you’ll never forget, especially the emotionally charged stuff. Whatever I need, it’s somehow right there when I reach for it. Kind of amazing, really.

Writing, when it’s really good, is like watching a movie play in my head, but more intense because I am submerged not only in the scene but in the character and their emotions. When I’m writing, it’s hard to say exactly where I am. I think my body is sitting where I left it, but I’m long gone, the vacancy sign hung around my neck. If it goes well, I will have written something that reproduces that experience for the reader.

I recently spent an afternoon writing a scene in which my characters are caught in a violent island storm. When I finished, I emerged, blinking, from my writing coma to find myself in the middle of a beautiful Tuscon afternoon with cactus waving at me from the other side of my hotel window.

Mission accomplished.

Jill Jaynes

Living in the Moment

Kathy's SnowmanAs the holidays grow closer, I find myself so busy getting ready that I forget to enjoy the simple acts of preparing for the celebrations. I always work off a to-do list that seems to become never-ending. I cross off things accomplished in the evening and add things to be done in the morning. A trip to the post office for stamps. And a second trip the next week to mail packages. Then Target on Monday, Costco on Tuesday – well, you get the idea!

But yesterday my shopping errand brought me back into the moment. A moment of delight and anticipation and pleasure.

I went to Barnes and Noble.

Just walking into a real brick-and-mortar store devoted to the sale of books, books, books sent a thrill right through me. I hurried straight to the back where the children’s books are displayed, fighting the urge to check out the romance section first. (That would have to wait for another time.) I was on a mission to choose age-appropriate books for my grand-nephews. And as I picked up the familiar storybooks, happy memories flooded through me.

For many years, I taught First Grade and the highlight of each school day was story-time. How the children loved the tale of the witch who wanted to pick her pumpkin to make pie, but the giant pumpkin wouldn’t budge from the vine. Although the mummy, the vampire, and the monster all tried their best to help her, it was the little bat who solved the problem. And, of course, they all celebrated with the witch’s delicious pumpkin pie.

Once when I was sharing The Night Before Christmas and read the phrase the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath, the children stared at me wide-eyed and aghast. Santa smoked a pipe? ( The class had learned about the evils of drugs and tobacco in October.) I quickly assured them that, although he’d once smoked, Santa had given it up a long time ago.

Since none of my grandnephews are older than Kindergarten age, I had no difficulty knowing which book would be right for each child. But there were so many wonderful choices, familiar and new, that it took a long, long time to settle on two books for each boy. I found a brand-new one which was perfect for the two-year-olds: llama, llama, red pajama. (The title has no caps.) If you know a youngster who doesn’t want to go to bed alone at night, check this one out.

As I left Barnes and Noble, I had a satisfied smile on my face. Not simply because I could cross this errand off my to-do list.

For the duration of my visit there, reading children’s storybooks, I was truly living in the moment.

Memento vivere.

That’s Latin for Remember to Live!