“To whom it may inspire…”

This inspiring letter to young filmmakers is from Pixar animator Austin Madison. I think it speaks just as clearly to writers.

We’ve heard this time and again: it’s not just talent that makes a successful writer but true grit and staying power. Many writers think too much, write too little. They self-sabotage by talking too much about the half-formed stories, allowing the creative energy to dissipate before it even hits the page. Hemingway never  talked about his work in progress and Papa knew best. Bottling the creative genie may be a good thing.

Persist in telling your story. Persist in reaching your audience. Persist in staying true to your vision…

The writing process can be so frustrating at times that despair sets in. Stephen King says it best:”Writing fiction, especially a long work of fiction can be a difficult, lonely job; it’s like crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a bathtub.” There were times when I hit the  doldrums with such a thump, it took every bit of strength to pull myself out. My old foe, Procrastination, is always lurking. Suddenly everything, except the writing, becomes critically important. I need to do the laundry right now, I tell myself. Funny how the mind tries to trick you.

I thought this was inspiring. Somebody posted this on my Facebook page.

Discipline is a muscle I was not born with it. I’ve had to develop it, step by miserable step. Waving a carrot  or a stick does not work, because I have a cunning mind that can talk me out of things with arguments and persuasion. So I have had to resort to devious measures. Like I have to for exercise. Same principle. I trick myself. I tell myself, okay Shona we are going for a leeeetle walk – just down the road and back– When my body sets up a wail, I say, no, no, this is not exercise – goodness, whatever gave you that idea– this is just to clear your head a bit. When I reach the end of the road, I say, hey Shona let’s just see what around that corner, (then, we can go home and drink tea) When I round the corner, I say, ooooh look that nice flowering bush, wonder what plant that is? When I get to the bush, I say, let’s walk by that orange-colored house and see if that funny bulldog is still there. And so on and before I know it I have walked a mile or two.  Remember how Forest Gump ran down his road of his house, and ended up running though his town and out of the state of Alabama, and all over America? It began with a single step, didn’t it? That’s the idea. That’s how I write. Teeny goals, oodles of self-deception and lots of tea.

How do you keep on track with your writing? What do you do to stay motivated? Please share.

Cheers!

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Here’s a little bit about my upcoming book “Teatime for the Firefly” (to be published by MIRA/HARLEQUIN) You can read the synopsis and first chapter by CLICKING HERE. Please leave me a comment. Thank you!

A writer’s fear of being judged

Which writer has not felt this? That trepidation, that gnawing doubt, that awful, awful feeling: maybe I am not good enough? Good enough for who, is the question. Me? I will never be good enough for me. Friends and family? That’s the other extreme: for them I am not only good enough–I walk on water. My readers? Hmmm, now we’re talking.

At first it was just little ole me. Free-flying. Having fun with my draft. My story was taking shape, my characters beginning to breathe and once in a while I’d wake up in the middle of the night with flashes of illumination that made me want to hug myself. I kept my writing to myself– told not a soul. After all, didn’t Papa Hemingway warn writers not to share something too soon? Uncle Stephen (King) seconded that. My writing was still raw. If I cracked it open too soon, there would be no omelette.

I joined a writer’s group and allowed others to peek into my writing for the first time.  My first shock came when I realized I was not transmitting my story seamlessly into the head of my reader as I had so fondly imagined. The plot had holes, there were POV shifts, undigestable chunks and bit of fluff I had shamelessly tucked into places, simply because I loved the words so much I could not bear to throw them away. Sometimes the group gave me conflicting feedback. My tendency was to feel fuzzy towards people who liked me (really liked me) and mean-spirited towards the fluff-haters. But our group guidelines (borrowed from AA) states “take what you like and leave the rest.” So I was welcome to keep my fluff (and my arrogance). But when three or more people pointed out the same thing, it made me sit up and think. (More about my writers’ group in a separate post, because we are a terrific model of democracy.)

Eventually I was forced to step out into the world of my readers. Their opinion was the only one I cared about in the long run. I went scouting  for beta readers. I stayed away from the too-writerly type, rather I looked for real-world people, the kind who would gravitate towards my book in a book store. Who were they? I had a fairly good idea. They were the book club type. They leaned towards multi-cultural fiction. They were well travelled and had a high Calamari Index (in other words a taste for the exotic. Click link to read this NYT article). Most likely they were tea drinkers. I slyly interviewed them. What are your favorite books? I asked. I made a mental note when names like The Kite Runner, Jhumpa Lahiri, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, The Poisonwood Bible, Lisa See, Abraham Vergese and Amy Tan popped up. I tried to find  people with strong opinions, those who were not afraid to mince words: the kind of reader who would make a strong advocate for my book. Then I propositioned them to read my manuscript. I offered them  hard copy (spiral bound, fedexed) or electronic. I put my manuscript in their hands, swore them to confidentiality then took off like a bat outta hell for Europe because I was too nerve-racked to think about what they might be thinking about.

Three weeks later I returned home and was almost too afraid to open my email. I finally did and all seven responses were in my inbox. The subject lines made my heart sing. “Awesome!”, “Bravo!”, “OMG”, “Loved it”. Most said they could not put it down. One beta reader said she kept getting up in the middle of the night to read my manuscript and blamed me for ruining her sleep and another one forgot to make dinner for her kids. To hell with sleep and dinner for the kids, I thought heartlessly, they like– no wait, THEY LOVE Teatime for the Firefly. Wow.

Somewhere I must have done something right or maybe I just got lucky because I landed my agent in one fell sweep.  April Eberhardt told me Teatime was one of the strongest manuscripts she had read and I should be proud of myself. Did that make me feel super-happy, too-sexy-for-my-shirt? Temporarily yes, but the feeling lasted no longer than a stick of gum.

I am working on my second novel now and guess what? I’m back to my old worry. I am beginning to think I am genetically engineered for self-doubt and this is something I will have to live with for the rest of my life.

Cheers!:-)

Shona

Teatime for the Firefly is my debut novel. Here is  the SYNOPSIS and the FIRST CHAPTER.  I am represented by April Eberhardt Literary.

My Writing Bibles

STEPHEN KING On Writing I have never read Stephen King, but I love this book. Read it several times. It really helped ground me in the writing process. King does not bullshit. He comes from the school of hard knocks. He can be so damn funny – like side-splitting funny! Who would have thought! I expected him to be a morose and gloomy character. No way!

FRANCINE PROSE Reading like a Writer: This book helped me develop a discerning eye for reading. It does somewhat spoil the joy of just losing yourself in a story but eventually you get beyond that. It is great way to understand the stuff good writing is made of. It’s humbling and inspiring at the same time.

ANNE LAMOTT Bird by Bird: A joyous and hilarious read,  full of warm humanity. This book taught me not to take myself too seriously: not to get “too sexy for my shirt”. When writers become prima donnas, they are no longer any fun. Read the chapter on “Jealousy”. If you as a writer have not felt this way one time or another – you are a saint!

What books have helped you develop your craft  or shaped your philosophy as a writer? Please share!