Seedlings

germinating_seedlingI had a blogger reach out to me yesterday to ask the age-old question, “where do you find inspiration?”  She went on to explain to me that she loves blogging and writing for her local paper, but feels that itch to do more.  She hopes to write a novel, but has no idea where to begin.  Sound familiar?

I preface what’s to follow with this:  There is no correct answer.  Everyone has a unique process, and it’s usually the thing that comes most natural.  It’s often from some medium that makes you feel alive and creative.  However, if you’re having trouble recognizing what that is in your life, I have a few things I hope will help.  I promise that if you truly desire to write, it’s in there already.  Sometimes we just have to go fishing for it.

Because I am a human being, that’s where I start first.  For me, the voice shows up before anything else.  I have no plot, no setting, no secondary characters.  I usually start with one small notion I find fascinating and start exploring it.  Accents, locations, smells, intentions….everything else is born in time from this tiny little seed.  It might start as small as picturing the first person that pops into my head, and just writing a list of adjectives about him or her.  I’ll often see a character’s face the first time while listening to a great song.  I’ll purposefully put on music that makes me emotional, and just start going stream-of-consciousness on the keyboard.  It doesn’t need a point….that grows later too.  The one thing I make sure of is that a being is speaking.  I might later realize that voice died years ago, or is inside a cat….but I start with something that had consciousness.  Life.

If you’re just more setting driven, and need a picture to get yourself going, there’s a simple fix there too.  You don’t have to buy season tickets to The Met, or hop a plane to Paris.  Just google “pretty landscapes,” and start scrolling through the pictures.  Write down which emotions the depictions evoke…then start writing about the person who’d be feeling that way, or the person who’d fit in a picture you like…or who wouldn’t fit.  One of these seedlings will eventually take root.  Once you hear a character’s voice, it’s going to keep talking.  It’s going to tell you where to take it.  Don’t be afraid to step into it’s shoes, give it the ol’ first-person try.  Be it.

Do you plan every word you’re going to say to every person all day long?  No.  You run into people, or circumstances, and you respond.  Your character is no different.  Make a live thing that interests you, and just write.  Eventually that character will stumble into some drama…but it has to actually get to it.  It has to move.  It cannot stay still, or it does nothing.  And the only way it moves is if you do.  Make your fingers dance….start scribbling.  For God sake’s don’t over think  it…first thing with a pulse that comes to mind.  There’s a reason it came first.  Write about it, even if it sucks.  You will stumble onto something that won’t.  In the beginning, there are only small sparks.  Nourish them for a fire.

Here’s a prompt for you today to help you get started:

Every night before you go to bed you see her standing there by the mailbox.  It never fails.  At 10pm, there she’ll be, barely visible through the dim moonlight.

And go! (Use all five senses)

Good luck!

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The Gremlins Speak

I never expected to like writing sequels.  I’ve never been a reader of series, and have been almost against them all together until this point.  I tended to like the finality of a book, and close the door.  However, when I finished my latest project, my characters wouldn’t shut up.  They’d habitually wake me up at 3 a.m. just to hear themselves talk.  The accents, the wit, the condescension…They.  Would.  Not.  Hush.

“Shut up.  I haven’t even published your first novel, yet.  Leave me alone,” I’d scoff, flipping my pillow to the cold side.

“We’re not interested in your excuses or business.  We’re here to talk, so write,” they’d reply.

A writer knows, you’re never in the driver’s seat.  If the gremlins that run the show in the creative side of your mind say go, you go.  You don’t sleep, you don’t silence them, you don’t put them off.  You open up the lap top and start dancing. And 5, 6,7, 8….

Here’s what I learned from my gremlins as of late…First, don’t declare things like ‘I don’t write sequels.’ Never say never to the creative process.  Second is, it turns out I like sequels afterall (as long as they’re organic).  I’ve written about and spoken about, on many occasions how nostalgia is one of my favorite emotions to prance about in.  There is nothing more eery, or more deliciously satisfying than a familiar fingertip from yesteryear reaching out to stroke your shoulder again.  That half happy, half sad, partly close, partly unreachable place is where romance and magic live year round.  When we visit on holidays, we consider staying to find that we simply cannot.  My sequel, a whopping 30 years into the future is giving me a chance to wallow a little.  Thanks, Gremlins.

The moral of this post is that we have to remember that we don’t create the stories.  They’re in there, and they just use us to get out.  If we hold them in, we may miss our moments to get the glory from their tales.  And, oh, don’t we want that.

Flowers and Sunshine

I used to wonder why I always want to write when I’m angry.  Why do those things that twist around like metal from a ravaged junkyard find a way of spilling out of the fingertips?  What is it about the angst, anxiety, worry, and fret that makes creative juices leave the safety of simmer and start to boil?

I used to think maybe it was romance…writer’s tend to be the worst kinds of romantics.  The chicken or the egg theory applies here.  Did our love of writing make us romantic, or did our romanticism make us write?  For the kind of writers that have to write…that need it to cure the ulcer that comes from too much pleasure or pain–they are the latter.  Romanticism came first.  Then, we found a way to express it.  We found a way to find the words that evade us when trying to strum our vocal chords at once.  These rare feelings come at times when it’s hard to walk and chew gum at the same time. As eloquent of speakers as we may be, willing the throat is one request too many.  We write.

The hardest emotions that roll around deep, enjoying the bowels of the mind, and relishing in the moments when the tedious tight rope shakes–those are the one that tickle the keyboard.

I’m pissed.  That sounds simple, but it’s the right word.  I’m pissed off to the uttermost.  It’s not so much important what it is about, than it is I have to say it. I have to convey it, unleash it.  I want the kinesthetic feeling, exercising those fine motor skills, that makes me feel every ounce of it.  Then maybe I can shower that feeling away–but for one splendid moment it robs from me all of my innovation, all of my passion, and all of my words.  Maybe it robs me of nothing.  Maybe that’s why anger makes for the best writing,  The verve it creates, the synergy with the written language lets something ugly become beautiful for a moment.  Maybe this isn’t my dark side, but the optimist in me, forcing shit into art.  Perhaps I’m giving some dead thing a pulse again…the part of me that departed while I was so pissed off.  I feel just a little more flowers and sunshine already.

Sweating the Scott out of Me

The picture above is the best thing I’ve ever seen.  When I first laid eyes on it, the little writer goose bumps on my arms woke up and stretched.  Whoever drew this was a freaking genius, and the tagline is second to none.  I’m slightly disappointed I hadn’t already come up with this myself.

I think F. Scott Fitzgerald might be the most charismatic novelist to have ever strutted the Earth.  The bookstores really should keep his works in a special location for fear they might catch the other books on fire. His shouldn’t even be available in paperback…that’s just asking for catastrophe. Something sizzles madly out of his books and I’ve been shocked a time or two by one of his masterpieces.

As I begin to even approach one of Fitzgerald’s writings, before a word has been read, I hear the Big Band music strike up from somewhere I can’t see.  I chase the music, never quite finding it, but smell the aroma of a fine cigar on the way.  Zelda’s perfume still lurks in the breeze, and something that can only be felt in Paris jolts my senses awake to something of another time.  Feeling his ghostly essence in the air, I open the dusty book cover, and let him have me.  I chase him about the pages the whole way, trying to reach out for the bottom of his coat, but knowing he is somewhere hanging out in 1927, somewhere I imagination will never fully conceive.

F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald were fabulous people, and they couldn’t even help it.  Like the pink sunglasses he wears in the picture, his allure sat on is face like a quirky accessory.  However, that draw pulling people to him while the words spewed out of him, was attached.  Whether he was troubled, tormented, brilliant, or busted, he was wonderful.  He wore Zelda on his arm as perhaps one of his only flaws, and it made him all the more beautiful.  That troubled woman bled out of his hands and onto pages.  That endless wit spoke for his generation.  Even Hemingway was drawn  to him like metal to lightning.  Really, aren’t we all?

I think I love Fitzgerald so much because he got it.  He got that idea that sometimes I think I get.  He looks at things in their natural states, agrees with all the flaws, points them out even, but then decides to enjoy them anyway.  Sometimes he basks in superficial delights for the sake of joy, but never denies the fact that joy is a thin veneer over what’s really there.  He doesn’t think life is all roses and wine; however he will buy those roses and drink the hell out of that wine.  I think I do it this way too.  It’s how I stay sane.  I stare ugly in the face while toasting to all that’s beautiful.  Thanks, Fitzgerald, for paving my road, but without forsaking the unruly weeds…

Because I am enthralled with the person, I am intrigued by his works.  It’s so obvious Fitzgerald wrote because he had to, and he had no choice but to charm the page with delicious ink.  It was F. Scott, and it can’t be taught.  I don’t want to learn it either, though a little of him is in me out of pure adoration;  I just want to be it, drip with it…and one day when my novel is in a bookstore I want it to sweat the others out, making a sauna of that place because I, by God, dropped it like F. Scott, sweated him and myself both out of my pores, and made scalding literature that will leave the test of time in flames.

And now, a few of my favorite lines from the master to finish us off…

“Often people display a curious respect for a man drunk,  rather like the respect of simple races for the insane… There is something  awe-inspiring in one who has lost all inhibitions.”

“After all, life hasn’t much to offer except youth, and I  suppose for older people, the love of youth in others.”

“In a real dark night of the soul, it is always three o’clock  in the morning, day after day.”

“Life is essentially a cheat and its conditions are those of  defeat; the redeeming things are not happiness and pleasure but the deeper  satisfactions that come out of struggle.”

“Riches have never fascinated me, unless combined with the  greatest charm or distinction.”

“To write it, it took three months; to conceive it three  minutes; to collect the data in it all my life.”  (On writing a book…so true)