On Inspiration

Over the past few years I’ve gone through something of a “dry-spell” with my writing, especially when it comes to being inspired with new projects.  In my younger days, while simply walking down the street, words would come to me, but that seemed to have all stopped in recent years.  Some said it was because I’m busier now, learning how to take care of a new baby (now a toddler) and getting the hang of living in a new place.

But I’ve always been busy.  So I couldn’t make sense of it.

However, over the past few weeks, as I walked the paths of my childhood through the Carolina lowcountry, I felt a whispering within me that I haven’t felt in a long time, an eagerness to put words to paper (we’ve officially got a new work-in-progress, by the way!).  As I walked through the shelter of shady oaks, I felt a level of serenity I still have trouble finding the words to describe.  There, in that place, the words just come to me, into my mind, and I think seriously about becoming one of those people who always have a little notebook with them, crazy hair and ink-stained fingertips. But what does it all mean? Continue reading

Going Indie?

I’ve been doing some serious thinking lately about looking into the self-publishing route.  I always imagined that once I finished my current manuscript that I’d query, as I’ve done with some past manuscripts, but this time around I’m not so sure.  I have come into contact with some lovely people of late who have chosen different publication routes, from traditional, to small presses, to self-publishing, and most have been very happy with their decisions.  In particular, the woman I met who self-published her novels was in love with her work.  She was realistic when she spoke to me, and wasn’t shy about enumerating the drawbacks, but as she spoke of the various creative projects she was a big part of when it came to the production of her novel, I was just about sold.  Self-publishing is a lot of work if you go about it the right way, yes, but it grants a lot of freedom.

 

And I’m liking the sound of that more and more.  I want to stay in love with my work, the way she is still in love with hers.  

 

I haven’t decided a hundred percent yet, but I thought I’d put the idea out there, and would love any feedback anyone can offer regarding this issue.  Did anyone self-publish and regret it?  Regret the whole agent/big-publisher scene?  Would anyone think twice about going with their small press again?  Or does anyone just LOVE what they’ve got, and think it’s worth the time/risk/work?

 

Is my smartphone hindering my creativity?

I will begin by saying this is not a manifesto enumerating the evils of smartphones.  Though I came late to the game (I got my first smartphone only one year ago), I’m quite pleased with the technology and the many conveniences that come along with it.  But this morning I found myself questioning the way I use my phone, and how it is affecting my personal creativity.

Since moving to Arizona, I’ve come to develop an attachment to hummingbirds.  Sure, we have them back home in South Carolina, but not nearly in as high numbers as there are here.  They’re small, and beautiful, and so incredibly quick, that it’s hard to have a moment to actually look at them in detail, so I mostly just appreciate them from afar as they whiz by.

This morning, however, as my daughter and I were out for a walk (gotta get out early before the heat starts to rise too much), a beautiful, dainty hummingbird crossed our path, not more than three feet in front of us.  It hovered there, for a solid minute, inspecting a shiny puddle of water that lay in the center of the sidewalk.  The moment I saw it, my hand went straight to my pocket to grab my phone and snap a picture–I mean, what are the chances of getting such an awesome picture?!  But I quickly remembered that I’d left my phone at home, charging, and so instead of zooming and snapping several pictures in the tiny window of time that I had, I simply had to stand and watch, and think about what I was seeing.  And wonder about what my daughter might be thinking of it.  And wonder if hummingbirds drink from puddles, or if maybe the little bird thought that perhaps he had stumbled upon a miraculous lake of nectar.  And notice the way the light glinting off the sidewalk reflected against the bird’s beating wings, and how he seemed to move without a care in the world, as though he, too, was enjoying the cool peacefulness of the morning.  And marvel at the grace of something so small.

I’d have missed all that if I’d been taking the pictures, and I wouldn’t even be writing right now.  Instead, I’d be posting a picture to Instagram, maybe, showing off the awesome shot I got of an elusive hummingbird.  Or maybe I’d be scrolling through the 235 pictures I snapped, trying to determine which one was best, only thinking of “how cool” it had been to get such a picture on a very superficial level.  (I know this is what I’d do, because I actually did it two days ago when I snapped a few pictures of a hummingbird that happened to be sitting on a tree branch unaware of me).

How often, when I try to sit down and write, do I pull out my phone and look at pictures, or play a game?  How often do my fingers itch to check Facebook for just a second, or to send a text message ‘real quick’? Am I allowing my smartphone to inhibit my creative process?  I think that I am.  

Don’t get me wrong–I’m not going to pull out an antique typewriter or, heaven forbid, a scroll and parchment–but I am going to have to make a change.  I am resolving right now to make the choice to leave my phone in my pocket more often, and to give all my attention to whatever task I’m doing.  To really be where I am, and to really do what I’m doing.  When I sit down to write, I’ll write–without constantly clicking away from the screen, or pulling out my phone.  And then we’ll see what happens. 🙂

On discouragement

It’s easy to feel discouraged as a writer.  To begin with, we have trouble convincing ourselves that our writing is any good.  It’s just a hobby, we tell ourselves, It’s not like I’m ever going to be published.  Sure, we imagine walking through Barnes & Noble and seeing our books right there, on the shelf, made of actual paper, but it’s a dream, really.  We think about how our characters will be able to brighten someone’s day, or ignite a reader’s imagination.  But it’s not something we actually plan on doing.  And then, somehow, as the years go by, and we’ve finished several ‘starter’ novels, we finally come up with something that we think we might be ready to share with the world.

And so we take the leap.  We query.  We get rejected.  Again and again.  It’s all a part of the process, and we know it.  But sometimes, it starts to get to us.  Or maybe I’m alone in this.  Some may have more resilience…but I doubt it.  I think all of us feel the discouragement that I’m feeling today.

You guessed it, another “pass” on my query.  Very kind, very polite, and exactly as it should be.  It’s not my first rejection; rather, it is the one that feels very much like the straw that came right before the straw that broke the camel’s back.  The one that makes me think that maybe this should be just another starter novel, even though I’m in love with my characters and would never tell them to their faces that they might end up just being more ‘practice.’  

So, I suppose my question is this: where should the line be drawn concerning rejection and discouragement, on one side, and acknowledging a product that is not ready for the world, on the other?  Moreover, where is the line that stands between writing as a hobby and writing as a profession (in other words, giving up ‘the dream’)?  I’ve thought about this a lot today, as I walked around the neighborhood with my six-month-old daughter strapped to my chest, watching her face positively light up and revel in the joy of rattling an iron gate repeatedly against its own locking mechanism (sorry for the racket, neighbors).  And I think in her perfect, uninhibited smile I found the answer.

Writing is something I’ve found joy in from the beginning; something that made me smile and feel fulfilled since the first time I allowed my creativity to flow.  Now, it might not seem like as rowdy and carefree a time as banging an old iron gate, but I assure you, my smile is just as genuine when I finish a story as my daughter’s was today.  And that, my friends, is why I will not give up on the dream.

Because although it is easy to take rejection personally, and to be discouraged by “pass” after “pass” after “pass,” none of it can take away the sincerity of my story.  None of it can take away the accomplished feeling I get from finding the perfect words to end each chapter, and finally each book.  That is how I know that the things I write matter, and that I am in the right business, even if the ‘business’ end has not necessarily taken off yet.

So, I guess I’m saying, in so many words, don’t give up.  Keep living the dream (because you are–you’re living it every time you write), and don’t let the rejections get you down.  At the end of the day, if publication doesn’t happen (and don’t give up on trying!), at least you’ve contributed to the world by creating something meaningful.

And in the meantime, if you’re feeling frustrated, I’ve discovered that rattling iron gates is actually a very cathartic coping mechanism.  🙂

First Love

As a writer, fiction is my first love.  I remember clearly sitting at my father’s old, gargantuan computer monitor, watching as the black screen filled with those golden letters in one of the early versions of MS DOS.  I was a puzzling child; I excelled at running around outside, climbing tress and slithering through marsh mud, climbing to the top of the elementary school’s fire escape, or sometimes plunging into the ocean.  And yet I was equally as content sitting at the computer monitor, writing about adventures in faraway places I had completely imagined in my head.  There were shipwrecks and haunted houses, complexes of underground caves and mysterious spells.  But here’s the puzzling part: I didn’t particularly like to read.  It was painfully boring to me, but I did it because some of my friends did (see, peer pressure can be positive!).  I would much rather have been off having real adventures of my own, or dreaming exciting ones up in my head,than reading about other people’s adventures.  Boooring.

Obviously, that changed.  I think around the fourth or fifth grade I read a book about ancient Egypt, and I was intrigued.  Then, of course, came Sweet Valley Twins and R. L. Stine.  Maybe I had grown up enough to shed a level of juvenile selfishness, and was able to empathize with others.  Or maybe I had just found the right words.

Now, as an adult, however, I feel myself drawn ever more to non-fiction.  I love the power of prose when a person is writing about their own feelings, openly and bravely.  Currently, I’m reading a treasure called Bend, Not Break by Ping Fu, and I am completely absorbed.  There is so much to be gained from taking a moment to engage in someone else’s life.  Even more so, much is to be gained from taking a moment to reflect on instances in your own life.  And that is why the personal essay is my new love; it actually is easier for me than fiction.  Does that mean I simply have a reflective mind?  Or does it simply reveal the challenge it truly is to write a quality fictional novel?  I think maybe a little bit of both.  So, as tempting as it is to dwell on the skill that is both enjoyable and easy for me, I’ll press on with my fiction writing.

Because I haven’t forgotten my first love; no one ever can.

PS: If you do happen to write personal essay pieces and are looking for an outlet, check out this helpful link that I’ve found on Meghan Ward’s blog–20 places to publish essays.  Happy Friday!

Getting Down to Business

As I prepare to attend my first ever writer’s conference, I have found myself swimming in a deluge of options for, you guessed it, business cards.

What exactly should a writer put on a business card?  Basic contact info, obviously, but how detailed should I get? Should I list what genres I write?  Do they really need my physical mailing address?  Is it okay to make cutesy business cards, or she I keep things strictly business?

Luckily, I have stumbled across this blog post by Lauren Ruth on Slushpile Tales, which gives at least one publisher’s opinion on the matter; it’s got the answers to a lot of the questions I had.  I thought I’d share the wealth!