Sunday, March 25, 2012

test picture

So this is my test picture, because I have to learn to add photos sometime! You didn't really expect a picture of something else, did you?

Saturday, March 24, 2012

To the actors portraying characters from my not-published-yet book

What would you say to actors portraying your characters? This is a question posed by Art Edwards in one of his recent blogs. Art was the instructor for the Rock'n'Roll Writing course I took. His first book Stuck Outside of Phoenix is being made into a movie.

The question got me thinking. It's the far-flung dream of many writers to have one (or all, heck, why hold back) of their books turned into movies. Art's in a good position because he's friends with the director, which means he'll have more input than if Universal came to him and said "So we've got everything in place to redo your book on the big screen--er, turn your book into a movie--and we just need your signoff. Then you can leave."

Issues of book-ruining aside, what would you say to actors portraying your characters?

Have you guys read the book? C'mon, be honest. A couple? Oh you guys too? Thanks. Did anybody like it? C'mon, I can take it. You did? Thanks!

So I don't want to tell you how I think you should portray the characters, because you're the actors. I put my spin on the characters when I wrote the book. What I'm looking forward to is seeing how you guys all bring these characters to life, the visual things that've only been in my head till now.

You guys all look pretty close to the people in my head, too, which is nice. It's a little daunting with everybody in costume--is jeans and a t-shirt considered a costume?--because it's so much more real now. I've heard Sandy singing in my head so I know what his voice sounds like, but having him physically right in front of me is a bit weird. I keep wanting to tell Neal not to slug me for putting him through so much shit!

What are you guys most looking forward to with each of these characters? Have you thought about what sort of quirks you'd like to bring out?

You guys portraying the band, I love that you can really play. I heard you had to learn how to do that drumstick twirl, is that right? It wasn't hard? I can't even twirl a pencil.

I can't wait to see how everybody brings the characters to life. This is one of the best things ever to happen to me. Thanks for taking this on. I've got to watch filming, I hope you're all okay with that. It gives me this sense of powerful creativity, and yet it's weird because the final results are still out of my hands. People are going to associate your faces with my characters, and that's just weird! It's good though, because I get the feeling you guys all want to do this. You seem interested in the project.

So, wow. This is unbelievable. Let's see where this goes. I'm sure watching you will make me think about all the characters in new ways.

--If I'm ever so fortunate to find myself in the position of talking to actors who'll be portraying my characters, I'm sure I'll say geeky, dopey stuff, but the above is what I'd like to say. How about you?

Friday, March 16, 2012

Review of Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson

Maybe I'm too exacting about writing now that I do it with an eye toward publication. For me, Ten Thousand Saints was a good book that could have been great. Its genre has been described as rock lit and while music does make appearances from early in the story, the main character doesn't get involved in it until 58% of the way through the book (Kindle doesn't use page numbers, it uses percentages).

There seemed to be a little too much reliance on adverbs. Sometimes, I really felt certain scenes would've had more impact if Henderson had *showed* me the characters' reactions. Once she threw Jude headlong into the "straight edge" music scene, I did get a strong sense of just how wrapped up in it he got and why it meant so much to him. I thought she hit it just right when she showed what kind of nutty things teenage boys can get into. Some of the minor characters, Jude's friends, weren't all that different from each other but they were minor so that didn't bother me much.

Henderson uses a narrator throughout and that has its advantages. I wonder though if this story would have grabbed readers more if she'd alternated viewpoints among Jude, Johnny and maybe Eliza. She almost does that many times, to the point of making me wonder "is this a slip from narrator to close third? We're following this or that character's thought process pretty closely."

I think my biggest disappointment was the end of the book. Like JK Rowling does at the end of the Potter series, Henderson jumps ahead in time and reunites us with the main character after he's married. I was more uncomfortable with the way Henderson did it though, because she indicates the wife is not a character we've met. I don't think the poor woman even got a name. To me, the wife felt more like a shadow rather than a new, integral part of the guy's life.

It was a kick to read about the problems with early cordless phones. You guys under 25 have no idea what it was like to have conversations constantly interrupted by staticky noise and drift in and out the whole time. That added some important realism.

I really liked that Henderson didn't toss music industry terms around. She kept the whole music part well within the grasp of people like me who've never talked with anybody in the biz. Granted, the characters themselves wouldn't have gone for "formula" or "commercialized" music, though I don't know if that occurred by happy accident or on purpose. Sometimes authors who learn about something they're really interested can't resist getting some of it into a story whether it confuses readers or not, so I was glad Henderson avoided that.

Not a bad book at all, just one I feel would've benefitted from more editing attention. Critique Circle members push excellence in writing and I guess I hold published people up to that standard too.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Breaking out of the prison of writer's block, pt 2

So, continuing with “Issues Associated with Writing Blocks & Decreased Productivity”, compiled by David Rausch Ph.D., Stanford U Faculty & Staff Help Center. Following are more tips for getting writing to happen. I’ve paraphrased because the language is hardcore stuffy!

Behavioral approaches
- Make a chart of daily productivity and put it on the fridge
- Break writing projects into bite-sized chunks
- Have specific daily goals that are reachable (my edit: this is not cheating)
- Make a list of the usual things you do to avoid writing, and take steps to avoid procrastination (no TV in writing area, no phone, rule that you are not to be interrupted during writing time except for true emergencies, etc)
- Notice when you reinforce the pattern of avoidance by doing something you like instead of writing
- Use activities you like as rewards for getting writing done

Cognitive approaches
- Notice that little devil on your shoulder who says you’re no good as a writer, and when he tends to show up. Interrupt his negative tirade by taking a short break then jumping right back into writing
- Remind yourself of things you wrote that others liked, or even things you liked yourself. This one really helps me. I go back to individual scenes I wrote and inevitably find myself smiling over how well something came out. Even a few lines that are spot on are good for your self-esteem
-Recognize that unrealistic criticisms of your writing process or content are not helpful. Beating yourself up over only hitting 50 words today will only make the next 50 harder

People issues
- Develop relationships with other writers and keep active. My local writers’ group meets weekly. I attend most weeks. Writers’ groups that critique are a venerable tradition and I love being part of that. Over winter, I’d sit at home reading and marking up somebody’s piece, while thinking about JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis and their friends sitting around the fire on a cold English night, passing around the latest chapters, discussing, making literary history. I don’t expect to have as big an impact as any of those guys, but I love feeling the connection to writers of the past and those of the future.
- Try a collaboration on a new project
- Avoid isolation by keeping in touch with people you like—but not as procrastination!
- Consider if there are big problems with other people in your life, that may be contributing to writer’s block, and try to deal with the problems
- Make a public commitment to keep writing. Using a personal blog can be good for this, or your online or local writers’ groups
- Usually all of the above at various times are enough to shake us out of our occasional doldrums, but sometimes there are deeper things going on that need to be addressed by a professional. Don’t scoff. I was on an anti-depressant for a couple years and it did help

This is just an overview of tips. I’m sure you guys have various tricks that you use, maybe without even realizing it. If you’re so inclined to share any here, please do!

PS—I have a whole page of references from this article, so let me know if you’d like more info on the subject.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Breaking out of the prison of writer's block, pt 1

Last week I discussed ways that a lot of writers run into trouble getting words on the screen or page. There are so many common reasons why we get stuck, and there are some common ways that can help us be productive again.

I'm going to spend a couple or three posts on this. Getting unstuck is rough. Different things work for different writers, and even the same writer needs different solutions at various times, like having to find a new medicine that works every time you get a cold.

The list I have from the Stanford University Faculty and Staff Help Center, "Issues Associated with Writing Blocks and Decresed Productivity", was compiled by David Rasch Ph.D. It includes a whole page (front-n-back) of ideas to get writing again. Of course you can tweak these ideas to fit your own situation. I paraphrase to fit the blog better.

* Time
- Schedule time for writing; daily is best.
- Short, regular sessions are recommended after a writing drought.
- Protect your writing time against interruptions.
- Be realistic with expectations. Start with goals you know you can reach.
- Balance writing and other responsibilities/ activities (easier said than done, I know, but how serious are you about writing?)
- When you have deadlines, schedules and routines become necessary, so it helps to get comfortable with them right away.

I have to credit Art Edwards with telling me something that echoes in my head strongly more than a year later. "Write every day. That's what I do, and what my writer friends do." For first drafts, I date each section as I start it. A week later, I can see that 2 paragraphs a day has added up to maybe a whole page. I smile. I feel like I'm making progress.

Also - I give myself permission to miss a day here and there. If I feel guilty, I'll start to resent writing, and it's very easy from there to toss it all out the window. I fall off the writing wagon once in a while then get right back on.

* Space
- Have a place to write that's comfortable, easy to get to and functional.
- Arrange your place to minimize distractions. Really, you don't need a TV in your writing room.
- Don't start a session by cleaning and organizing your space. Do it after writing, or on scheduled "off time".

This isn't on the list, but I'll add Leave your cell phone in another room. Let your friends know that there are times when you do not answer the phone and tell them to leave a message. That's what the message option is for. Make sure you cannot hear the phone from your writing place. Put the phone somewhere else, then put it out of your mind.

Also, if you live with anybody, explain to them that stuff in your writing place cannot be borrowed without asking permission first. You're allowed to have one spot that's truly yours.

* Getting started
- Stock your writing place with necessaries and keep it ready to go (the aim of necessaries is to keep the flow moving, like in hockey!)
- Recall times when you got a lot of writing done. What can you apply from then to today?
- If you're just staring at blankness, try stream-of-consciousness.

I used to be unable to write stream-of-consciousness as a way of warming up. It seemed to be totally unrelated to what I wanted to write and nothing would come out. Then I realized that since I had clear ideas on the exercise, I'd might as well write those. Writing that way has been easier ever since. It really doesn't matter what comes out, as long as it's something.

To be continued next week. If you have any suggestions, do feel free to share!