Archive for the ‘My Thoughts on Writing’ Category

Writer reality

Read Full Post »

Writing Hurts

Tomorrow may be hell, but today was a good writing day, and on the good writing days nothing else matters.

– Neil Gaiman

Today was a good writing day. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. I’m having a difficult time finding a balance between my regular life and my artistic life. I often feel like there just aren’t enough hours in the day.

The gathering storm clouds of my artist’s mind. (© 2012 Renee M. Liss)

Mrs. Thor and I held our “meetings” once a week for two or three weeks and I managed to fit in an hour of writing every day of that time, like I promised I would. But then we had company and went out of town and I stopped writing and I stopped journaling and when it was all over, we didn’t start back up. And until today, I didn’t do much writing at all.

But today, tonight, I sat down and wrote for more than two hours and I wrote two thousand words. And I fear that it won’t matter in the end. I fear that I will write and write and write and then I will decide it isn’t good enough and start all over from word one and in the end, I’ll die without ever having completed a novel.

I don’t want to do that. 50 Shades of Grey got published. It’s a best-seller. And it’s horrible. I can write circles around that woman. I’ve only read the Kindle preview of the first two books, which is the first two chapters of each. I wanted to at least have some idea of what it was like. Her writing is full of clichés and repetitive words and horrible dialogue. And she got published. And it’s a best-seller. And I’m better than that.

I don’t know what to do, though. I mean, I set this hour a day goal, which gets me sitting in front of the computer and writing words. But are they quality words just because I’m writing them? Tonight, I actually enjoyed the world I was creating and the characters who came from my head. I got lost in it. I stopped because I’m starting to fall asleep and can’t think clearly anymore (apologies if that’s obvious in this post!). I want to go back and create more. I like it. Right now. I don’t know if I’ll like it tomorrow. I don’t know if I’ll write myself into a corner and have to stop. I don’t know if I’m good enough.

Based on what’s “out there,” I’m more than good enough for publishers. But am I good enough for me? That’s what really matters. I want to write a quality novel. I don’t want Stephen King running around saying what an awful writer I am. Even if I’m bringing in millions, I don’t want to be known as a bad writer.

So what do I do now?

Read Full Post »

Last month, a friend on Facebook told me about Roku. This is a little device — not too pricey, either — that one hooks up to one’s television and it uses the house wireless connection to stream Netflix, HuluPlus and several other entertainment services for which one might otherwise use a computer.

The recommendation was in response to my complaining that my little netbook takes forever to buffer Netflix movies and I had to constantly restart until they played smoothly.

The Book Group

So I’ve been watching all sorts of things on my little Rokus. I adore British anything, particularly British television shows, so Netflix gave me a list of shows I might like. One of them is called The Book Group. It’s about a woman (Claire) from Cincinnati who moves to Glasgow, Scotland, and starts a book club (or “group” — she insists there’s a difference) in order to make friends.

The people who show up include a man in a wheelchair to Claire’s third-floor walk-up apartment with his brothers in two to carry him and his chair up all the stairs and three women married to professional soccer players, two of whom are from the Netherlands, among a few others. It has the makings of a very sarcastic, funny series. But instead, it’s a black comedy and very subtle. One of the group members dies of a drug overdose and his cat nibbles a bit on his body before his brother finds him. Contrast that with the line from the first episode that On the Road by Jack Kerouac would have been a much shorter book if it was set in Scotland.

I admit, I giggled. It worked.

Inspiration from Pinterest.com.

As a writer, though, I’m enjoying the show. Wheelchair man writes a novel and it’s published. But it’s, apparently, not a good book. The publisher tells him so. The publisher goes on and on about how terrible the book is right before saying there’s a market for it and he’s going to publish it. He says all one must do is look at the best-sellers list to realize that the majority of the ready public is “very stupid.” He’s disgusted by what sells, but his business is making money selling the public what it wants. This was particularly apropos after a Facebook conversation a few days ago about 50 Shades of Grey. I have to wonder how many editors and publishers feel that way about some of the books they put out there. Because, let’s face it, there are a lot of terrible books selling like hotcakes. I’m glad someone finally had the nerve to say it.

But what really stuck with me, what really is making a difference in my life, the thing I need to remind myself of every single say is this: One of the characters goes to see a published author speak about his latest novel. They end up having a brief affair and she suggests one of his books for the group and he attends to meeting. In the course of speaking about his process, he tells the group that he used to putter around the house all day waiting for inspiration and it never came. So now he sits down at his desk at nine every morning and just starts. And the words come and he writes twenty pages a day.

So I’m trying something similar to that. Since I have a full-time job that is not writing a novel, I can’t sit down at nine every morning and just write all day. But I have decided to dedicate a minimum of one hour per day to it. I’ve done that for three days now and plan to continue today.

My friend Amy over at Mrs. Thor is in a similar situation — trying to get inspired and trying to make significant changes in her personal and creative life. So we’ve started our own private little writing group, though I don’t know that’s the appropriate term. We’re going to speak on the phone once a week and set goals for ourselves (like my writing an hour a day) and then check in by e-mail each day on whether we met the goals. It’s no pressure, but it’s still being accountable to someone else and hopefully inspired by the other person’s progress.

So far, I’ve added 3,100 words to my novel and rewritten a short story from a few months ago. It feels good.

Read Full Post »

Although a work of historical fiction, my understanding of The Paris Wife is that it’s pretty historically accurate. It’s supposed to be about Hadley Richardson, but to be honest, I’m not finding her to be all that interesting and I haven’t really been loving the book.

Still, I keep reading.

I keep reading not because the story of Hadley and Ernest Hemingway is compelling or interesting or exciting — it’s not. I keep reading not because author Paula McLain paints a beautiful, compelling picture of the places and people she writes about — she doesn’t. I keep reading because of the details about Hemingway’s writing process.

I’m learning from this book that I’m normal. I’m learning that maybe my inability to produce a great work of literature is not a lack of talent but a lack of the proper life circumstances.

Ernest Hemingway could not produce fiction while holding a job. He could not concentrate and write in his own home. He needed to be free of obligations and free of reminders of responsibility in order to produce the work for which he is famous. I see myself so much in the portrait McLain paints of Hemingway and while it could be disheartening (since there’s no way that any time soon I will be able to quit my job and move to Europe to do nothing but write) it makes me feel better. It makes me feel as though I’m maybe not alone in this solitary endeavor. It makes me feel like it will happen someday.

I can’t do what he did. But knowing the problem is half the battle. Now I need to devise a plan and fix it.

Read Full Post »

Hadley and Ernest

He just keeps coming up, over and over. I’ve given in.

I edited a children’s story a friend wrote and as a thank you she sent me a gift card to Barnes and Noble. Then another friend gave me the same thing as a birthday gift. I finally made my trip there on Sunday because I knew exactly what I wanted.

Renee over at Motherhood, Music and Beer recommended I read The Paris Wife — she loved it and, well, it’s an historical novel about Ernest Hemingway’s first marriage from his wife’s, Hadley Richardson Hemingway’s, point of view. So I got that and two Hemingway books: The Old Man and the Sea because it’s really short and The Sun Also Rises because it’s about his marriage to Hadley* and thought it would be a good follow-up to The Paris Wife.

Also on Renee’s advice, I rented Woody Allen’s latest film, Midnight in Paris. In that movie, Owen Wilson’s character, Gil, is a screenplay writer on vacation in Paris with his fiancée and her parents. A lot of the movie is classic Woody. But the main plot is what made the movie for me: Gil goes for a walk through the city and sits down on some steps just as the clock strikes midnight. An old-fashioned car pulls up and several men beckon Gil to get in and ride with them. He does and the vehicle transports him to the 1920s where he meets, well, everyone who was anyone in the literary world in Paris in the 1920s, including of course Ernest Hemingway.

And so it goes and so it goes. I’m about sixty pages into The Paris Wife. So far, I’m not loving it. But reading Hemingway’s words about writing — about his writing — is eye-opening for me. I think I’m starting to understand why this man, this writer, this legend is haunting me.

*The book jacket for Paris made me think this, but turns out this is not the case. The book is about something that happened while Ernest and Hadley were married, but he left her character out altogether.

Read Full Post »

In December 2008, I was at a very low point in my life. I went for a walk at a local park and pinned on the bulletin board was a flyer for a one-day New Year’s Day retreat for women. Included were a guided meditation and “vision-boarding.” I’d never heard of it, but decided it sounded like something that would do me some good.

That board still hangs above my desk at work, though I think it’s time to take it down. I attended the same retreat the next year, though a different person led and it wasn’t the same. I never hung that board. The following year, my friend Leslee hosted one of her own since the price had gone up and the quality of that original retreat (where I met Leslee) had gone down. I was out of town and didn’t attend either event.

This year, Leslee hosted again — as I wrote about on Wednesday. It was a renewal. I felt as energized as I did the first time, four years ago. I actually cut out so many images that I ended up with two boards and I’ve spent the last several days analyzing them.

I’ve already discussed the Ernest Hemingway phenomenon, so I won’t get into that again. But there were other interesting things about this year’s board.

The very first board I did contains, in the lower left not quite corner the question, “Where do YOU want to be?” If I remember correctly, it came from an article about travel. This year, I found exactly that question in an advertisement. I didn’t remember right away that I’d included it on my first board, but this time it went in the upper left corner, kind of a title and lead-in to everything else.

I found a lot of references to England, which is, really, exactly where I want to be. I’m very strongly drawn to that country, though I’ve never set foot in it. British accents to me just sound like the way people are supposed to talk. I adore British television shows, British books, every photograph I’ve ever seen of the British Isles causes my stomach to do flip-flops. I can’t explain it. I don’t feel that way about any other part of the world, whether I’ve been there or not. And it found its way to my board this year.

My first board has Tuscany and a lot of outer space imagery. Tuscany is beautiful (from what I can tell), but there are no stomach flip-flops.

I’ve been thinking a lot of New York City, as well. My second novel (assuming I ever write the first) is set there and I would like to live there while writing it. I found the name of that city in a magazine. It’s interesting because I like New York City, but have always said I could never live there.

I tried very hard this year to let my spirit lead me rather than just choosing images and words I liked or felt should be there. That’s difficult to do while conscious. I tried my best, though. And it seems like it worked well. I found a lot of images and words about really living life. I feel like both my boards are talking to me in a way the previous two didn’t. Still, some of the repeating themes are difficult to ignore.

Nature is a trend I see from year to year and of course books and writing and even dance appears on more than one of my vision boards. Those things are pretty obvious. Then there are the waterfalls, which are on all three of my boards and a major theme on my Pinterest page.

I find it funny, though, that I wrote a blog post last week about saying no more often in order to concentrate on achieving goals that have eluded me for too long and in one of the magazines, I found the admonishment to “just say no.”

“Whirling through the centuries” popped out at me, as the plot of my first novel (if it ever gets finished) ties strongly to that idea.

But of all the empowering and inspiring words and images I found, the most profound thing that jumped off the page and onto my board was something else, something that expressed perfectly my biggest fear, the thing that holds me back, the thought that’s always mulling around the back of my mind:

Somewhere deep inside, you think it’s a matter of time before you stumble and ‘they’ discover the truth: ‘You’re not supposed to be here.’

I write. I’m pretty good at it, I think. Sometimes I stumble across something I wrote years or months or weeks ago and it takes my breath away that it’s so good, because I know that at the time I wrote it, I didn’t think so. But deep down, I think that my first impulse was correct.

I write. But I am not a writer.

I have to fight against that.

This second collage is a little more vague and I’m not sure what I think of it, except I like how it looks. I cut out that blue couch in the lower right because the color blue seemed to be hovering around me for a few days. It wasn’t a sad blue. It was just blue.

The rest mostly symbolizes my wanderlust and love of books and cooking and general creativity. The photo in the upper left is the now famous “Hemingway Collection.”

I suppose only time will reveal if this collage is more than just a pretty picture.

Read Full Post »

I’ve written a few posts on this blog about disappointing movies based on books. A few people have admonished me, saying that I “can’t” compare movies and books because they are simply two very different styles of storytelling.

I agree they are different styles. I disagree that I “can’t” compare them. Because, when it comes right down to it, storytelling is storytelling. A movie may be more limited than a book and therefore, certain details must be changed or left out. And nine times out of ten, the book will be better than the movie for that simple reason. But that doesn’t mean the movie is always bad. The movie is bad when it not only changes the story of the book but does not change it well.

When I was about twelve years old, I discovered a book called The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper and fell instantly in love. In some aspects Cooper was an early J.K. Rowling. Many consider her books, Dark is the second in a series of five, classics, but they don’t seem to have enjoyed the kind of popularity and fame the Harry Potter books have. But then again, they came out in the 1970s — a very different time in entertainment — and are only about two-hundred pages long, each. The entire series is shorter than The Order of the Phoenix.

I haven’t read that book in at least twenty years. Probably more. I only had a vague recollection of the story, though a clear memory of how I felt when I read it. So when I turned on the television the morning of my birthday, I was super excited to see the 2007 movie version (which I’d never seen) on FX and decided to watch it.

I knew from the get-go, though, that something was wrong. Cooper is British and her main character, Will Stanton, was British. The movie made Will an American living in England and aged him three years. Even after all these years, the movie was so different from the book that I could tell which details were wrong without remembering exactly how they occurred in the book.

The people who made the movie also took a very well-written, well-developed, amazing story and ruined it. It was simply bad story-telling. It did prompt me to pick the book up again (it’s only slightly more than two-hundred pages, so there was really no need to make such drastic changes). I had to know if my memory was rose-coloring the book or if it was as good as I remembered. It is.

And this isn’t the only example I’ve come across recently. When Sherlock Holmes came out in theaters (with Jude Law and Robert Downey Jr.) I hadn’t read enough Holmes to compare the stories to the movie. Still, I hated the movie. It was dreadful. Beyond dreadful. Still, I punished myself by going to see the sequel — Sherlock Holmes – A Game of Shadows — last weekend. By then, I’d read all the stories and novels that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote.

What I’ve noticed about the movies that I hate in comparison to the books is that whoever makes these movies decides that he or she likes the concept of the books, but thinks he or she can tell the story better than the author. In the examples above (and also The Help), the screenwriters stripped the books down to the skeleton of a story and then put their own spin on the stories. And their spin was not better than the book. Their spin, in a word, sucked.

I waited to read the Harry Potter books because I almost always hate the movies if I’ve read the books. So, I watched all the movies and then read the books. And then watched the movies again. Now, the movies are slightly different. The books are very long, very detailed and there’s much about the books that just can’t be re-created in a movie studio. So there had to be subtle changes and details (and sometimes entire subplots) left out. But still, the movies are very good. They still tell the story Rowling intended. In some cases, I prefer the movie version of events to the books, although in the end, the books are better. The movies are still good.

Other examples: The Notebook was much better in its movie form than the book and I thoroughly enjoyed the movie version of Angels and Demons. Both movies told a great story and didn’t cheese it up or dumb it down.

So, you see, I can tell the difference between a movie and a book and even look at the two objectively. But just because it’s different doesn’t mean it can’t be as good. It’s a copout to say otherwise. And it does a disservice to authors and readers alike to ruin a good book by making a subpar movie.

Read Full Post »

A place I'd like to visit.

You all may have heard (or at least some of you) of the new phenomenon sweeping the Interwebs. It’s called Pinterest and “everyone” seems to be doing it. My friends have been posting on Facebook quite a bit about this new obsession/addiction. I didn’t understand what the big deal was.

Basically, you find photos of things around the Interwebs that look interesting to you and “pin” them to virtual bulletin boards, separated into categories. Examples are movies, books, home decor, fashion and pretty much anything else in the world that can be photographed.

People use it to plan weddings, decorate their houses, keep track of crafts they want to do.

Last week, I had an epiphany about Pinterest. I was working on The Novel (now in its one millionth iteration, pared down from 32,000 words to about 2,000 and starting over) and was describing an outfit my main character was wearing. I did some googling (not as dirty as it sounds!) and found some clothing and jewelry photos to use as my base for description. I then saved those photos to my jump drive so I could refer back to them if needed.

Then I realized there’s a better tool for that. I finagled (well, just simply asked) my friend — The Other Renee — for an invitation (you need to be invited to the site, something that kind of annoys me about it, but I’ll still use it, anyway) and started pinning.

The idea is to have a place to keep photos of the inspirations behind things — houses, clothing, hairstyles — I describe, but also to create an online space that inspires me to write. I try to surround myself with decorations, at home and at work, that make me feel creative and cozy (they go together in my mind), so why not have an online place for the same?

A comfortable spot.

So, I’ve been Pinteresting and I’m enjoying it. I even have a couple ideas I can use in the real world. It’s also a neat little window into my friends’ and family members’ (if any of them are on there. I haven’t seen any yet) creative minds.

I’m hoping this will be a wonderful tool that sparks my creative mind and makes me less likely to trash myself so much.

Read Full Post »

Is this the face of a novelist?

Many of you may know that Snooki of Jersey Shore fame published a book. A novel.

Snooki wrote and published a novel.

OK. Have you all wrapped your minds around that little tidbit?

My theory is she probably didn’t actually write it. There are people — real writers — who make a good living with this little business called ghost writing where they write a book for someone famous who then puts his or her name on said book and then it sells a lot of copies and makes money for everyone involved and said famous person gets all the credit.

I don’t know Snooki, and maybe her public persona hides an educated, creative, intelligent person who really can write and get published on merit alone.


At any rate, it has been chapping my hide since I found out that someone like Snooki (public Snooki, anyway) got published and here I sit struggling just to write something, even though it’s been my life, oh, since I learned to read way back in the preschool days.

And then I read this post from A Peek at Karen’s World. She asked a blogging friend of hers who recently had a book published by the same Simon and Schuster imprint that published Snooki to “interview” herself. Any aspiring writers here I’m sure will be interested in the entire “interview,” but what caught my attention as I read was the following statement:

I love that someone like Snooki can put her name on a book and make money for herself and her publisher. Because when that happens, that means small-fries like me can get bankrolled. You don’t have to like Snooki, or buy her books, and I’m not telling you to. But the Snookis of the world open the door for new, unknown authors like me to break in. And that’s never a bad thing. I will always be grateful for that.

So there it is. Snooki makes money for publishers who can then use that money to take a chance on someone like me who’s a complete nobody and may or may not make money for them. But at least they can afford to let me try.

Apparently it is ...

On that note, an update. I’ve been writing my little fingers off. Since October 4, I’ve written around 28,500 words (give or take). I took about four days off last week. I needed a break. But I got right back on the horse yesterday and things are progressing well. It’s very rough right now and will definitely need some serious editing before I query agents, but editing has always been the easy part for me so I’m not worried about that.

I’m excited.

I’m excited because I’m finally writing this book I’ve had in my head for a decade. And I’m excited because of some things I’m not going to go into right now, but I’ll just say that things are happening to and for people around me that could have a large impact on me once I finally have a product to sell. Things are lining up in the Universe in a way that tells me that it’s going to happen. My time is coming. I just need to be ready for it.

Read Full Post »

On a Roll

Ten years ago, I got an idea in my head for the plot of a novel and wrote the first scene. I wrote more and more, but as always happens, I got to the point where I felt the story was not going in the right direction and the only thing I could do was scrap it and start over.

Since then, I’ve written some short stories, started other novels with entirely different plots and continued revisiting that scene and trying to build a novel around it. As those of you who read my blog know, I haven’t had much success. It’s been incredibly infuriatingly frustrating.

It’s a great scene. It’s well-written. It’s full of tension and mystery and action. I even read it for a literary agent who gave a seminar at the Camden County Library when I lived there. She had very high praise. It sets the stage for a great story. If only I could get that story out in a way that works. I know how it starts. I know the plot. I have two ideas of how to end it, but I’ll decide when I get there how I want to go with it. But I haven’t been able to write it. Not for ten years.

Last week, I had an epiphany. I realized that some images running through my head for a while now needed to be in that story and one in particular needed to be the opening of it. “The scene” needed to move out of first place and appear a little further into the story. I thought that certainly had to work.

So, I sat down on October 4 and started writing. My goal was 1,000 words a day and to finish the book in about 70,000 to 80,000 words, a good number for a first novel. As of the end of yesterday, I had written 12,257 words, an average per day of 1,532 — 50 percent more than my goal. And so far, I’m extremely happy with it. I know it will need editing when I finish and before I start looking for an agent, but I’m getting the story out. I think maybe it needed to find me and I wasn’t ready for it until now.

I don’t know where this will lead. I have my hopes, dreams and goals. I don’t even know if I’m going to feel this way still tomorrow, or if I’ll somehow have once again written myself into a corner. I certainly hope not. What I hope is that by this time next year, you all will walk into a Barnes & Noble and see my name featured on that table situated in front of the door showing the latest releases. And I hope you’ll all buy it.

I debated writing this post. It seems that every time I start talking about my writing is when I get frustrated with it and give up. I was going to keep this to myself, but I feel just that good about it that I’m going to take this chance.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »