The Whys and Hows of it All

Angela MyronLast month’s meeting of OCCRWA, I met a young mother of twins. It was her first meeting, and seeing the flush of her cheeks, the sparkle in her eye as she listened to the speakers and networked with other writers, it made me smile. Because I remember, because I still do this. Because underneath the exterior of a busy, inspired, prolific writer is one giant WHY that compels us.

Why do you wake at 5 a.m. every day? Why do you take your free Saturday, exhausted from a week of work, to attend a lecture on craft, or business of writing?

And then there’s the stunned HOW that emerges when you meet another parent, and they learn that in the delicate, intimate first years of your children’s lives, you launched a career as an author…

There are as many reasons as there are people under the sun why a person would want to be an author. But it’s when the Whys and the Hows combine in a compelling narrative, that’s when you find the Way.

For each of us, the Whys and Hows and Ways are different. But it’s also the same, for all of us. It’s the touchstone we revisit when starting a new work: Why am I doing this? What matters so much that I must communicate it through story? It’s how we muscle through revising and editing the story until it’s good. It’s how we weather rejection from agents, editors, and readers.

Under the surface, there is always a driving WHY.

My Why stemmed from a need to share philosophy, varied and collected over my formative youth, a combination of Science, Buddhism, Christianity, world myth, and old world magic passed down through generations before me. At least, that’s my Why was when I started writing fiction. Today, still, I’m driven by philosophy, but it’s mixed with my interactions with my readers. The kids I meet at book fairs and school events for my Ennara series are a huge inspiration.

What’s your Why?

I’ll be signing books at the upcoming OC Book Fair. More info at: http://ocwriters.org/book-fair and  https://www.facebook.com/events/516548848506569/. See you there!

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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.

A Writer’s Palace

When I was assigned the topic Where for this post,  I considered sharing my physical writing space. A small bedroom in my house that my husband and I converted to a shared office space (I’ve done that before so, No can do). Or perhaps the dining room table, where I plant my laptop and escape to through out the day, whenever I can. Or maybe the cafe I sometimes go to when my twins are in preschool. Or the gym where I squeeze in a half hour after the treadmill while the kids are in kidwatch?

But the more I considered it, the more I realized that each of us, as writers, need not one place, but many. And yet we need a solidity within, a buckle-downed-ness assuring us regardless of where we are, we will meet our writing goals. Our deadlines will not slip. Not for guests, not for vacations, not for conferences or book signings, not for social media, or for laundry or cleaning or dinner.

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Sherlock’s sitting room from the Sherlock Holmes Museum

A fan of BBC’s Sherlock, I considered Sherlock’s famous Mind Palace. What if I had a Writing Palace? A fortress within myself, where I could memorize every piece of plotting advice, characterization profiles, a library of writerly classes, workshops, and information cataloged neatly. A quiet corner in an imaginary wood-paneled study, a fortress impenetrable by fickle muses or chatty tweeters. Or perhaps a majestic glass-paned room, overlooking snow-encrusted valleys, or wind-swept beaches. A writer’s bastion of a mind palace.

What else might we put in such a writerly fortress? Critique rooms peopled by Hemingway, Shakespeare, and Woolf, perhaps.

After all, we writers have incredible imaginations, filling in scenes with sound, touch, sight, smell. What if we turned that powerful imagination to building a writing room we can take wherever we go?

What would your mind palace look like?

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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

Hope for the Season of Miracles

The days are dark this time of year.

In our past, this was inarguably the most difficult season. Harvest ended months ago. The feasting ended, too. The animals huddled in the barn, their coats thick and fat waning. Depending on the year, the yuletide could be a time of cheer, but more often, it was a time of desperate prayer. Winter would not be done for another three months or more.

People died at this time of year—the elderly, the very young, the poor. If the weather grew harsh enough, even common farmers and merchants could perish. So this holiday, this festival of light, was an act of defiance for our ancestors. The wax might not last the remainder of the winter, but on the darkest days, we’d light as many candles as possible and hope.

Hope that the stores would last. Hope that the cold would break before it broke us, our neighbors, or our loved ones.

So it was, for thousands of years.

Today, we feel far removed from those harsh realities. The Season of Miracles, in which the lights lasted longer, saviors were born, candles were lit, songs were sung, and children were encouraged to play despite the cold, has been diminished to a holiday of materialism and consumerism.

But before giving into that rather depressing, hollow reality, I’d ask you to consider that the call for miracles still exists. That the stresses of winter—perhaps no longer as bleak—are still forces that require our steadfast hope, our defiant cheer, and our deepest practices of compassion and prayer.

The darkness surrounds us today. There are those who must work without holiday. The gifts we give at this time, whether they cost time or money, must be given, even when we feel so utterly bereft of either. The violence and greed that runs through the minds of so many, and the tragedies that follow, impact each of us, daily.

And so I call on this season of miracles, on its power through history and ancestry. I say we must refresh this old holiday anew. That we raise the game and bring the miracles. That when we feel there is no time, we give it anyway. When there is no patience, we stop, breathe, and quietly accept. When there is no money, we find a way to give, however small, to those in need. That when there is no hope, we dare to believe the light within us will last through our dark hours.

Let this still be the Season of Miracles. And may yours be filled with hope and joy.

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A Christmas Wish from Katie

It’s not about the presents.  It’s not about the cookies.  It’s not about the decorations and ornaments on the tree.  It’s not about what we receive.  It’s all about what we can give to others.

Christmas Wish

From Katie and all the authors of Writing Something Romantic, we would like to give a sincere wish to our readers that you have a wonderful holiday season and enjoy happiness, health and success in the coming new year.