Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Delight is in the Details

For some time, I’ve wanted to find out why there’s so much hub-bub about the British television series, Downton Abbey. Its fans are downright obsessive about it.

So, the flu and I decided to spend Saturday watching … 11 STRAIGHT EPISODES. Yeah, obsessive is the right word. The multiple story lines and interesting characters were engrossing. As a writer, I was most fascinated by the way the smallest details told the most powerful story.

For example, the staff ironed the newspapers each morning before his Lordship and family read them. A subtle detail like this said so much about the expectations of the upper class in 1910s and 1920s Britain. The show’s writer didn’t have to hit the audience over the head with an explanation of the class distinctions of the time. The day-to-day workings of a household said it all: female servants couldn’t serve in the dining room and never answered the front door; bad news was often kept from the ladies of the house because of their delicate natures; a hierarchy existed among the staff as well; some servants felt genuine loyalty and sometimes love for their employers, as if they were family.
I recently finished a novel called The Language of Flowers. In it, a very minor character often dyed her hair wild colors like hot pink. But the reader found this out by the stains on her pillowcase.
Other viewers and readers may not notice precise details as I do. After all, it's often the sum of the details that sets the mood of a television show, movie or book.
Still, I delight in writers who say so much with so few words.
Perhaps the smallest details of our own lives tell the biggest story as well.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Forget the Timetable: We're Not a Swiss Train

I’m pissed off. DO YOU HEAR ME, BLOGOSPHERE? PISSED OFF! Here’s why. I was on Twitter (yes, when I should’ve been writing) and ran across this tweet by the online editor at Writer’s Digest.

If you can’t carve out at least a short portion of your day to dedicate to writing,
then you aren’t serious about finishing a manuscript.

My first thought was “Where do you get off?”
My second thought was that he was trying to pick a fight.

Finally, I decided he was channeling my subconscious, which knocks, knocks, knocks daily with the same message. “You’re not a REAL writer if you can’t get up at 5 a.m. and write for an hour, or come home after work and write instead of watching Wheel of Fortune. You should’ve finished the damn manuscript weeks ago. Remember your plan to write throughout Thanksgiving break and instead, you baked!”

So, maybe I’m mostly pissed at myself. More like disappointed. But enough finger-wagging.

Here’s the rub: a lot of writers feel this same way. And we make it worse by reading about other writers and their craft and their writing schedules and their successes. We refuse to believe that it’s okay to write a book in six months by only writing on Fridays and sometimes a Sunday or two. We find any reason to belittle our “process” because it makes the sting of rejection feel justified.

So, let’s rewrite that editor’s post using a different shaming example.

If you can’t carve out at least a short portion of your day to dedicate to exercise,
then you aren’t serious about being healthy.

Can we agree that’s a load of hooey? Then let’s agree that we all have our processes, our timetables, our high-energy days and our low-energy days. And the sweetest freedom is choosing when we create.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Was Grandma This Excited When TV Was Invented?

I’ve joked to co-workers that I’m a social media dinosaur. With as much time as I spend on Facebook and Twitter, that’s not exactly true. I follow multiple blogs. I have Pinterest boards. I get most of my news online. I designed and update my own website.

But I’m 47. Which means I didn’t have email or a cell phone or the Internet in my first couple of jobs. I faxed news releases when I was a media relations coordinator and followed up by phone. My word processor required coding for bold, italics and centering.  (Anyone remember WordStar?)

Communications channels have changed dramatically over the last three decades. And I am thankful for it EVERY DAY.
Because of a writer’s blog I follow, I found two new critique partners this past week and we’ve already exchanged and reviewed chapters via email.  Because of Twitter, I learned of a blog contest where literary agents bid on writers’ work – and my last book will be featured starting tomorrow. Because of a friend’s Facebook post, I found a six-week online course on making my personal and professional dreams come true. Because of e-readers like Kindle, I sent my sister the first chapters of my latest novel for her review.  Because of Google, I can fact-check manuscripts instead of going to the library to look up the same information.
My life as a fiction writer – and a citizen of this world -- is tremendously richer because of technology.  What mind-boggling advances await us?

Monday, January 7, 2013

Rekindling Creative Abandon

My regular coffee dates with my friend Tracy always inspire me, or at the very least, give me some new insight to chew on. At the end of today’s coffee date, she said, “So…what’s up with your blog?”

I had my excuses ready: no time, too much pressure, nothing interesting to say.

We ended up staying at the coffee shop another half hour during which time I had an epiphany. Tracy and I are both PR professionals who have had to write and edit as part of our jobs for more than two decades.  We write for media and public consumption. Our words have to educate or influence. Thus, they are evaluated by our employers and our colleagues and our audiences. We adhere to fairly strict protocols and formats.  It matters what others think of our work.

Writing outside the work environment – be it fiction or creative nonfiction – is more complicated. I believe the rules we apply to our work writing negatively influence our creativity. In my case, I set up unrealistic expectations related to how much I write, how often I write, who reads my writing, etc. I don’t allow myself the abandon that should come with creative work. I don’t allow myself to color the grass pink and the sky purple, or to color outside the lines.

Instead, I label the phenomena as writer’s block or limited time or lack of energy.

So, there’s the epiphany. I have some ideas on how to rekindle creative abandon and will share as I put them into practice. What's limiting your creativity?