Category Archives: The Writing Life

Are All Writers Introverts?

What do you think are the chances of ever coming across a Help Wanted ad that reads like this:

CREATIVE WRITER
La La Land, NJ

Fiction factory seeks imaginative daydreamer to brainstorm, draft, and revise/edit story ideas for potential publication. Applicant must have been born with a calling, and posses a quiet, low key personality, yet still be temperamental enough to be artistic. Salary + bonus and full health benefits included. Send resume and writing sample by June 30, 2013.

Zero? Damn. Ah, well. I’ll apply anyway. See what happens. Never know. Right?

I’m currently knee deep in Susan Cain’s innovative new book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts. One page in, I already knew it was the book I’d been waiting for my entire life. Through this impeccably researched chronicle of the introvert’s rich inner life, I’m learning to understand myself with a whole new kind of clarity.

Cain also gives a great speech on the topic on Ted Talks. See video here.

Contemplative “Window Cat” Clifford M. Kinsman → in Cats and dogs

Since the notion of introversion has been ruminating in my mind lately, I’d like to ponder a question out loud: Can a writer—a keen, devoted, fanatical writer—ever be anything but an introvert?

I can hear the shouts already. “Of course not! I’m a writer but I’m also a very sociable person!”

This may be true. And of course there are plenty of gregarious writers in the world. Take me for example. I’m a textbook introvert—but I’m also a teacher. I love being in front of a classroom. Like everything else in this world, there is spectrum. Take any given Are you Introvert or an Extrovert personality test and if zero equals pure introvert, and one-hundred equals pure extrovert, most people will fall somewhere in between.

However, through my reading of Quiet, I’m learning that introversion and extroversion go beyond personality styles and daily verbal word count. Cain suggests that it has more to do with responses to stimuli and levels of energy. Extroverts, according to studies, aren’t as distracted by outside noise or activity, while introverts are more likely to be bothered by disruptions. Extroverts get their energy from interactions with others or at social events; on the other hand, introverts get their energy from inside themselves. So, hence, extroverts=external energy going in vs. introverts=internal energy going out.

“Lonesome Fishing” Shi Yali → in Sea & water

The crazy part? The part I never allowed myself to realize is this: Neither one is better than the other. Cain says we  need both types (and all the kinds in between) of people to keep this world functioning the way it does. It’s evolutionary. So far, nature hasn’t weeded out the timid folks. Society, however, places higher demand on the extroverted way of being. (But hey, don’t you remember an old saying: the WHO shall inherit the earth? :))

So how does all this relate to writing? The title of this post poses the question of whether or not writers, by nature, are typically (key word there) introverts? We all know some classic examples.*

1. Emily Dickinson
2. Virginia Woolf
3. J.D. Salinger
4. T.S. Elliot
5. The entire Bronte family

But surely not every single writer who ever lived dreaded even the mere thought of a cocktail party? Am I right? I’d be willing to bet, however—and I say this on no other grounds than I’m both a writer and an introvert—that many of them did…dread the dinner parties and such.

Face it; writers are the kinds of people who need downtime—and not just to do their work. Writing is one of the few activities that is done primarily alone (not counting television series, for which there is often a team of writers), but your typical novelist, journalist, memoirist, short story writer, and poet works solo. And by nature, introverts are more comfortable being alone than extroverts.

“Waterfront Bench” for the introvert Brian Norcross → in Landscape

Ask yourself, who is the most outgoing, vivacious, liveliest person you know? Is he or she a writer? (It’s funny, actually I know a lot of extroverted readers, but when it comes to sitting down at a computer for hours at a time…not a chance) I’ll doubt it. Extroverts need a lot of action to feel stimulated and writing—even at its best—doesn’t provide a whole lot of action.

I’m not making any assumptions of course. Nothing is ever black or white. But I will venture to say that generally speaking, writers are people who posses rich, inner lives that reveal thoughts and ideas from the heightened states of consciousness that can only come from spending a lot of time in solitude.

Thoughts? Can you think of any extroverted writers? Or more examples of introverted writers?

By the way, this was recently posted on BuzzFeed:31 Unmistakable Signs That You’re an Introvert

*Did I say introverted? I meant reclusive 🙂

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Filed under Self Discovery, The Writing Life, Writing Details, Writing Process

Ten Days in the Life of a “Non-writer”

A few weeks back, in a post titled “Today I Resign from Writing (well, maybe),” I unabashedly vented my grievances with the written word, or more notably, my desires to be a writer. I knew at the time that my threats were likely empty, but I felt compelled to at least toy with notion of quitting, giving up, or in the formal sense, resigning.

I explained how my personal identity was suffering, and I couldn’t see myself as being worthy if I didn’t write. This is a dangerous game to play when one is virtually unknown, unpublished, and unfinished with a novel two and half years in the making.

Consequently I dared to wonder if my life would be better without the prospect of writing.

Many of my wonderful readers suggested taking a break, which believe it or not was something I hadn’t considered. Others advised me to figure out the kind of writer I wanted to be—another insightful piece of wisdom that hadn’t dawned on me. Some swore that if I wrote for myself and not for publication that I’d find what I was looking for.

So I devised an experiment. Ten days. No writing. More than that actually, for ten days I am no longer a writer. I don’t think about writing, I don’t talk about writing, I don’t know about writing. I will strip myself to the bare essentials and see what’s left.

Here’s what I discovered:

1. The urge to write is difficult to ignore. It didn’t matter if I was doing laundry, going grocery shopping, holding my friend’s new baby, or teaching one of my classes, the act of writing still called to me. It’s a subtle, sneaky kind of feeling that makes me glance over my shoulder, as if someone is watching me.

2. The void is vast. I learned that self-identity comes in many different forms from many different sources. I’m a daughter, a sister, a wife, a friend, a colleague, and a teacher. But I’m also a writer. And when I deliberately hack off that part of myself, it can feel like I’m walking around with a missing limb—or a hole in my chest.

“There’s a part of me missing!” Melissa Nicklen → in Food & Drink

3. Subconsciously, the writing doesn’t stop. Even though I boycotted my novel for more than a week, I still deliberately drove the past the house in my neighborhood that inspired the setting for my story. Even now, I’m silently categorizing its features, its blemishes, its overall vibe, and the role it plays in the story. In other words, if it’s in you, it’s in you.

4. This respite is likely an excuse to slack off. I’m tired. I work. I clean. I cook. I make and keep appointments. I run errands. Writing can sometimes feels like an added responsibility. I often find myself rushing through more menial tasks so I can attend to my writing. But on days when the writing just isn’t working and I start to lose faith in my talents and abilities, the craft itself turns to work. Worse than that. Extra work. But hey, sacrifices need to be made. I now understand that in truth, my desire to “resign” from writing was based in fear of failure, and hence, a loss of personal identity—which is really silly if you think about it.

5. The real reasons for writing start to emerge. To be the next Danielle Steel? To prove myself to former classmates, colleagues, etc.? To make money? Not really. It turns out my true purpose for writing comes from someplace deeper.

Janis Urtans → in Flowers

 

So, for each day I didn’t write, I came up with one GOOD reason to continue writing:

 1. Because stories are powerful

2. Because I’ve always been fascinated by time and place

3. Because I want to contribute to peoples’ reading

4. Because the human condition is expansive

5. Because we ARE our characters

6. Because our READERS are our characters

7. Because I’ve got something to say, and I don’t know how else to say it

8. Because we all need to escape when we aren’t otherwise able to

9. Because it’s all about perspective

10. Because one day, it’ll be all that’s left of me—of all of us

As it turns out, that whole resignation thing was a fluke. But I’m glad I considered quitting, because if I didn’t, I’d still be stuck in that whirlwind of false hope, delusional motivation, and indulgent yearnings of writing for all the wrong reasons. Real writing is about scratching an itch, answering a calling, and following an instinct.

There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”

-Red Smith

What are your GOOD reasons for writing?

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Filed under Breaking Through, Inspiration, Self Discovery, The Writing Life, Why We Write

Today I Resign from Writing (well, maybe)

I’ll start by sharing a recent “brick & mortar” journal entry, dated January 18, 2013:

Geoffrey Whiteway → in Paper & Books

“…this publication and that publication and ebooks and agents and I’ve had it! What if I were to just stop? Give up on the notion of ever becoming an author? Get my manuscript back from [freelance editor’s name here], pay her, thank her, and then put the damn thing in a drawer somewhere. Forever.

 I could focus on teaching, creating a nice house, and preparing to become a mother. That’s it. No more nonsense. Would I be happier?

Would this writing dream chase after me anyway?

How much more satisfied would I be if I STOPPED writing?

Maybe I should consider this.

I’m serious. What if I were to simply…give up???

What do I really want anyway?”

I have been toying with my resignation letter of late. What I find puzzling though, is who would I address it to? My muse? My readers? My future agent? No one?

Yesterday I received my tenth rejection letter for a short story I’ve been sending to various literary magazines. I didn’t even care. I shrugged. Tossed it in the trash and set about feeding the cats.

Ed Davad → in Toys

What’s wrong with me?

I don’t feel discouraged per se; I know the writing business left and right—rejection and uncertainty come with the territory. It has more to do with my personal happiness. My identity. How much of myself do I associate with writing? What percentage of my brain is solely focused on “making it”?

If I were to strip myself from all writing obligations, what would I be left with? Is this why I push myself to write? To be something? As if I’m nothing without the possibility of becoming the next Jodi Picoult?

How many hours of my day would clear up? Suddenly doing laundry would be nothing more than doing laundry. A day off would mean I could climb in bed with a book or watch the entire third season of Beverly Hills 90210 without feeling guilty because I’m “not writing.”

Intrinsic Writer?

The term “intrinsic” suggests something that is built-in, inherent, natural. As in, I was born to write, no one taught me how (not initially anyway) and no one suggested that I write—I just did. As a kid I wrote stories abound, filling countless spiral notebooks with tales of haunted houses, conniving best friends, and handsome boyfriends. In fourth grade, I won the “Best in Storytelling Award” for my fictional piece about a talking vacuum cleaner. Back then I wrote because I liked it. It was organic. I had an idea, so I wrote it down.

Then I got caught in the fog of adolescence and forgot all about my talent.

But in college I rediscovered my insatiable need to write, only this time my priorities were different from my childhood days of scribbling stories and poems. I started using writing to identify myself, to impress others, to become something I never was before. That’s the way it’s been ever since. I push and push and practically delude myself into thinking that I’m already a New York Times # 1 Bestseller. The pain of it all occurs when reality hits: I’m still plowing through a sixth, seventh, eighth draft of my novel, quietly—by myself—in my upstairs office.

Maybe I’ve been doing this for all the wrong reasons.

So I hereby resign from this practice on the grounds of reclaiming my sanity, my morality, and my overall well-being…

Wait.

Nicolas Raymond → in Objects

I’m suddenly reminded of an episode of Mad Men:

Ken Cosgrove, an account man at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, is a fantasy writer on the side. He keeps it on the down low. He’s supposed to be focusing all his energy on the firm, and a side practice—of any kind—is simply forbidden, and many of his superiors have told him just so. So Ken, not be discouraged, uses the pen name “Ben Hargrove” to continue his writing and manages to find some success.

One day, Peggy Olson, one of the ad agency’s copywriters, spots Ken in a diner with his editor. She promises to keep quiet.

Later in the same episode, Ken is at a dinner party with some colleagues—including Don Draper, main character and one of the four partners of the agency. Ken’s wife accidentally spills the details of his writing, along with his pen name. Don eerily questions him on the plotlines, themes, and characterization of his fantasy stories. Ken answers respectfully and calmly, but it’s clear that he’d rather not be having the conversation.

In a later scene Ken admits to Peggy that after having dinner with Draper, he’s decided to “resign” from writing. Ben Hargrove is no more. He shrugs it off, chalks it up to a silly hobby and goes on his way.

However…at the end of the episode, there’s a quick shot of Ken sitting in bed with a pad of paper, writing a story under a new pen name, Dave Algonquin.

I think the point comes across here. Can a writer ever truly stop writing? Is there a force that won’t let us resign—even if we want to? Maybe I’ll keep going for a while. See what happens (rips up resignation letter).

I think there is one line in my journal entry above that is louder than the rest: Would this writing dream chase after me anyway?

You too?  Tell me all about it.

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Filed under The Writing Life, Uncategorized, Why We Write

It’s the Time of the Season: How Weather Affects Our Stories

I can remember a lazy afternoon a few years back in my old apartment; I had just finished watching The Sex and the City movie (part I) when I did something I don’t normally do—clicked on the DVD’s bonus features. For whatever reason, I decided to watch the entire movie again while listening to the director’s, Michael Patrick King, commentary. What really struck me was his use of the changing seasons to move the plot along. I’ll paraphrase here, and you don’t have to be a regular SATC viewer to understand the point.

In the beginning, when Mr. Big leaves Carrie on the proverbial altar it is autumn. I remember the characters discussing a September wedding. Simultaneously, we discover that Steve committed adultery, and while it’s obvious that he is deeply sorry, Miranda stubbornly refuses to make amends and begins to plan her new life as a single woman.

Throughout the cold, blistery winter that follows it is clear that Carrie has fallen into a deep depression. The director even shows how she dyes her black—as if to reflect her emotional state. Miranda too, seems to be barely pulling by, and the tensions lead to a big blow out between the two women on Valentine’s Day.

Then spring comes. Carrie has pulled herself up from her own fiery depths and changes her hair back to its normal, lighter color. Miranda and Steve make plans to meet on the Brooklyn Bridge to attempt reconciliation. I can remember the scene where Carrie and Miranda are walking through Central Park—spring has exploded. The trees are full of plump blossoms, petals float through air, and the grass is green with the vitality. Carrie and Miranda have a new way about them—the fog has lifted. The hard times are over.

When I look back at my life, I see that my wildest, craziest memories were during summer. My darkest periods were during winter. My sense of hope was strongest during spring, and my most prevalent transitioning periods were during autumn.

So I got to thinking…how does the use of the four seasons enhance or reflect plot, setting, and characterization in fiction? As a literature major in college I learned that the seasons often stand as metaphors for the following concepts:

The Four Seasons. From questgarden.com

Spring: Conception

Summer: Life

Autumn: Old Age

Winter: Death

That being said, how can we utilize this in our writing?

Spring: This is classically a season of new beginnings, of hope. Perhaps, for one of your characters it is the end of a depressing period (like old Carrie Bradshaw’s). It is a good time for decision making—a good time to fall in love. The mood of spring is renewed energy. What kinds of situations might your characters go through in the springtime? Spring may also be the perfect season for a happy ending—sort of like a restored sense of faith that all is well.

Then again, it might be fun to try and contrast the growing beauty of a spring setting with a struggling character, or an overblown conflict.

Summer: The season of heated romances, vacations, and an overall sense of freedom. While we’re all adults now and often work through summers, but the notion of June through August being a carefree period will never completely fade—it’s morphed into our psyches and it will certainly come across in literature. This is a great season to use if your main characters are teenagers or college students. Summer is an archetypal time for experimenting, doing crazy things, falling in love, and finding ourselves.

On the other hand, summer can come with a good dose of dread. I always think of The Secret Life of Bees where Lily Owens fears what will come with summer’s end, as she may be forced to leave the home of the Boatwright sisters. The truth is, we all wonder how things will change when summer is over Hey, even Don Henley wonders. “Boys of Summer” anyone?

Autumn: This is a beautiful, but often melancholy season. It’s a time where we cling to the past, (again, shut up Don Henley!) or a more favorable time. Vacation is over; reality has returned. In that way, it is a very practical season. Perhaps in a work of a fiction autumn is where certain events unfold that will lead to a period of mourning. A character grows ill, and his deteriorating body juxtaposes the changing, falling leaves.

On brighter, happier note, autumn is a great time to “turn over a new leaf,” and in some cases, it takes on characteristics of spring in the sense that something new is beginning such as, school, college, etc. Plus, you could always milk that whole concept of the harvest.

Winter: For anyone suffering from SAD, this one is obvious. Winter is a phase of harder times. It’s more difficult for the weak, weary, hungry, and war torn. It is fitting to portray a character going through a depressive state in winter (after all, he can always rise up come spring). Perhaps a character who has been jilted, become unemployed, lost a family member, or finalized a divorce could suffer a tormenting winter. He could be on a post-holiday crisis, a period of uncertainly, stagnancy, and hopelessness. Having a winter season in the background for something like this will always be fitting.

Winter is also a hibernation period. Maybe  a mad-scientist type character works on his experiment like crazy during the winter, all holed up in his study only to reveal his masterpiece when the weather begins to turn. Which by the way I believe was the exact scenario in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I do remember a lot of vivid winter imagery in that novel.

This is not to say that a writer MUST make use of the seasons to accurately reflect plot, setting, and characterization. Sometimes it will happen naturally—I’ve noticed that a lot of what I described above indirectly occurs in my own novel. However, I do think seasonal consideration should be applied. As writers we can certainly mindful of this technique. What’s happening in the background at any given time is important. And hey, so is weather. Otherwise we wouldn’t talk about it so much!

Do the four seasons play a role in your writing?

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Filed under Books and Literature, Characters, Description, Plot & Structure, Prompts & Writing Ideas, The Setting, The Writing Life, Writing Process, Writing Tips

From the Psyche: How Archetypal Roles Shape Both Us and Our Characters

Something I find interesting (other than writing of course) is the notion of self-discovery.  Anyone who follows my blog knows that I analyze dreams in great detail. My iPhone is littered with apps for personality tests, color quizzes, handwriting analysis, and mood trackers (my husband once lovingly described my phone as a ‘cry for help’).  But the way I see it, if I want to make the most of my life then I need to know who I am, what I want, and what I was born to do (OK, maybe I have been reading too many Oprah.com articles).

I’m also very interested in the inner-worlds of my characters. Even those without their own narrative voices are important. I want to get to know them as much as I know myself—their creator.

During the week between Christmas and New Year’s I read a book—recommended by Oprah—entitled Archetypes. It was written by Caroline Myss, and let me say, this book greatly enhanced my perspective on inner-exploration. It also opened my eyes to new and exciting ways to better characterization in my fiction projects.

Great Question!

Great Question!

According to Dictionary.com an archetype is as follows:

*2. (in Jungian psychology) a collectively inherited unconscious idea, pattern of though, image, etc., universally present in individual psyches.

*I used this definition (there was another) because it strongly relates to Myss’s theory on archetypes.

In one of my dream anthologies, there is a section on archetypes (i.e. The Hero, The Evil Mother, The Loving Mother, The Warrior, etc.) appearing in an individual’s dream; analysis can then be based on the qualities each archetype displays.

In her book, Myss surveys ten different archetypal roles that she believes (and I agree) all human beings (and fictional characters) portray. Of course we’re  all mixtures of particular types, but clearly some take precedence over others.

I will list Myss’s archetypes and paraphrase an explanation of each. To get the full effect, you have to read the book!

There it is amidst all my other "self-searching" titles!

There it is amidst all my other “self-searching” titles!

The Advocate: Those who devote their lives to fighting a cause; Myss gives many examples such as human rights activists, animal rights activists, environmentalists, etc. And you don’t have to be Cesar Chavez to fit into this role. You can simply be the neighborhood watch looking to improve safety after a home on your block was robbed.

Myss’s Examples: Rosa Parks, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Mothers Against Drunk Driving

My Examples:Blogger & Writing Group Companion, Sylver Blaque

The Artist/Creative: Anyone who is compelled to create art falls into this archetypal role. It may be in the form of visual art, written art, or performance art. But Myss says we aren’t complete unless we can create.

Myss’s Examples: Vincent Van Gogh, Mozart, Edgar Allan Poe

My Examples: Thomas Kinkade, The Intrinsic Writer, aka me; all of you reading this!

The Athlete: This could be the marathon runner or the avid sports fan. It’s those who need to be in constant motion. The fitness hounds, the yogis, the skydiver, and the water-skier; the athlete’s focus is on health and nutrition. He or she uses the body as a form of expression.

Myss’s Examples: Michael Jordan, Maria Sharpanova, The Ancient Greeks

My Examples: My Aunt Eileen, star of the YMCA.

The Caregiver: Those who give their lives to serving and protecting others. Myss mentions that often these are the types that need to be told to stop and relax! Do something for yourself! Parents, teachers, doctors, nurses, healers, coaches, and more—these are the ones, according to Myss, who can tolerate to see pain in another human being. They are self-sacrificing, and at time, martyrs.

Myss’s Examples: The Mother, The Teacher, The Sister

My Examples: My mother, father, & grandparents; my Uncle Bob, who cares for my elderly grandfather; myself, as a teacher; many, many of my friends, colleagues, etc.

The Fashionista: If the athlete expresses herself through movement, then the fashionista expresses herself through…you got it…fashion! But this is more than just a professional shopper. This is someone who exudes confidence, prioritizes looking good, and perhaps most importantly, is exploring a sense of identity.

Myss’s Examples: Carrie Bradshaw, Coco Chanel

My Examples: My sister, Victoria.

The Intellectual: These folks tend to go by that old notion of using their heads over their hearts. Intellectuals love learning. They are well-read, researching types. As Myss explains it, the requirement of knowledge is their main life purpose. I imagine they can be rather argumentative as well. Intellectuals take a deep interest in unlocking all the mysteries of the world.

Myss’s Examples: The Sage, The Wise Elders, The Buddha

My Example: Just about every professor I had in college

The Queen/Executive: For all you Oprah fans out there, this one’s for you! The Queen is on top of her game (by the way, for each archetype, Myss has a whole section on the “male counterpart”), and doesn’t take any you-know-what from anyone. She is often in a high-powered position, but a Queen could also simply rule her own household—it has more to do with identity personal ruling style. I think you know the type—Myss says Queens create their own “empires,” and that often comes with a band of followers.

Myss’s Examples: Oprah Winfrey, Queen Elizabeth I, Barbara Walters, and Meryl Streep’s character in The Devil Wears Prada.

My Examples: Laura, a former employer

The Rebel: I can’t help but think of a Punk Rocker (Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols), but anyway, the Rebel is a reactor, a revolutionary—different from the advocate in the sense that he or she responds (often drastically) to all that is wrong with the world. The truth is, the rebel doesn’t have to be someone who elicits political upsurge—it could just be that kid in high school that skipped the last-day-before-vacation holiday concert—brought to you by the school’s jazz band and choral choir—to go smoke pot. OK, maybe I just went to Starbucks. But it was badass.

Myss’s Examples: Henry David Thoreau, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., The Feminist

My Examples: Elvis Presley. My friend Sara, who back in high school, managed to cut study for entire three-quarters of a year before getting caught.

The Spiritual Seeker: Oh, I love this one. Here we have people who want to know things by the end of their lives. They strive to find that sense of Nirvana inside and out. Myss explains that the true spiritual seeker isn’t someone who vows to buy a ten million dollar home; instead, he or she looks inward to find that true sense of knowing. He is a master of forgiveness, and is willing to turn his life into an odyssey of gratitude in the pursuit of helping others.

Myss’s Examples: The Mystic, The Buddha

My Examples: Deepak Chopra

The Visionary:  Myss says the visionary is the person who can stand back, look at the world, and see clearly, what it needs. Then, he or she sets about putting those changes in motion. Visionaries are idea-makers. They are creators. They have a deep understanding of the human race.

Myss’s Examples: Rachel Carson, Gloria Steinem, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs

My Examples: John Lennon

By the way, you can find out your archetype by taking the quiz @ www.ArchetypeMe.com

Such a great book!

Such a great book!

My results were a mixed percentage of the following four archetypes: 1) Artist/Creative 2) Caregiver 3) Intellectual 4) Spiritual Seeker.

Also, while Myss goes into A LOT of detail about the types mentioned above, she also includes a glossary with other common archetypes such as: The Victim, The Warrior, The Storyteller, The Slave, and more.

By reading this book, I have a better sense of my life’s purpose; furthermore, through the process, I was able to discover my characters’ archetypes as well. It has turned into a great characterization tool. I even went in and took the above mentioned quiz as some of characters. Trust me, it will give both you and the tiny people who live inside your head much needed clarity.

What Archetype are you? What Archetypes are your characters?

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Filed under Books and Literature, Characters, Inspiration, Self Discovery, The Writing Life

They Call Me The Wanderer: A Letter to My Readers

To My Readers:

There’s been a common theme running through my dreams the past several nights: Losing My Way.

In one dream, I was going the wrong direction on a busy highway. People blasted their horns, yelled curses. For the life of me I couldn’t figure out how to turn around. Readjust myself. Find my way.

Last night I dreamt of being at a cousin’s house down the shore. I went for a walk and couldn’t find my way back. I stood on a hill and could see the house. I saw where I wanted to go, but I just couldn’t get there. I walked in circles, losing my breath, my feet aching, only to find myself back in the same place that I started.

Finally I came across a stranger—a short woman with a cropped hair cut—and asked her for directions. I followed her instructions and it led me to a shallow swimming pool with clear blue water. Apparently, it seemed, it was necessary that I walk through this water in order to arrive home. I dreaded getting my shoes wet, but saw no other alternative. When I eventually made it, a black dog the size of a pony was there to greet me. He leapt onto his hind legs and hugged me the way a human would. I laughed and laughed.

"Beyond the horizon"Sunset Beach, Cape May Point, July 2010

“Beyond the horizon”
Sunset Beach, Cape May Point, July 2010

So what does it all mean?

Well, for one thing I am directionally impaired. My inner-navigation system is shot. In fact, I’ve been known to get lost even with the GPS. My husband likes to joke that the Dion song “The Wanderer” was written about me: They call me the wanderer, yeah the wanderer, I roam around and round and round and round…

But dreams often carry more metaphorical interpretations. Perhaps I’m mentally lost? Emotionally lost? Spiritually lost? Psychologically lost? Answer? All of the above.

It’s a rare person who knows exactly what she was born to do. I was born to write. Does that mean I’m destined to be the next Danielle Steel? Of course not. But during these past two months I’ve done a lot of self-reflection, and realized, with more certainty than I’ve ever had in my whole life, that if I don’t write in some shape or form during my time here on earth, I may never feel complete.

You may have noticed that I’ve all but disappeared since the holidays. I truly have lost my way. Things happened. Life got busy. I went through a very weepy, “blue” period. I lost track of my writing life. Maybe it was burnout. Lack of confidence. Mixed up priorities. There’s no real good explanation for it—though I imagine any writer out there reading this knows exactly what I’m talking about. It’s a compulsion that has the ability to make us miserable, yet we can’t resist. We aren’t physically able to.

We lose our way sometimes. We ride the wrong direction. We know exactly where we want to be, but can’t seem to get there (Hmm…sounds just like my dream).

That being said…I’m back! And I’d like to share with you my plans for The Intrinsic Writer 2013:

Saturdays: I will be beginning a new feature called “Serene Saturdays” where I’ll share new and different ways to “relax.” A life goal of mine is to achieve that oh-so-elusive peace of mind. I’m no Deepak Chopra—which is partly why I’m doing this, to teach myself to relax—but I’d love to reveal the small, everyday things that help me cope with stress.

Sundays: Old School Sundays will continue!

Tuesdays: My featured posts on the life and craft of writing fiction and more!

It’s a new year for all of us. What I’ve learned during my brief reflection period is that it’s OK to hide out for a while, to lose your way, so to speak; so long as you come back regenerated and stronger than before. I’m grateful for my life, this blog, all of you followers, and of course, that special knowledge that tells me to do what I absolutely need to do to survive.

-Katie

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Filed under Breaking Through, Inspiration, The Writing Life, Why We Write

Forever Young: How Age Influences Character Development

I turned thirty this past October, and realized, with some degree of pride, how differently I view the world now than I did ten years ago. It’s a fact of life: as we age, our view of the world shifts, broadens, and at times, flat out changes—hopefully for the better.

In life—and in writing—age does matter. Not in terms of intelligence, metabolism, or crow’s feet, but in our perceptions and natural cycles of the human lifespan.

Old woman sitting on bench
Merelize → in People

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure how this notion applies to fiction and characterization; in fact, all it actually takes is a conscientious writer. A fifteen year-old protagonist will have different priorities than forty year-old protagonist, and vice-versa.

And it goes beyond levels of maturity. It’s about experience and life stages. What would be a realistic goal for a twenty-five year old woman? A sixty year old man? I believe the human experience is more collective than we realize, but age does play a major factor.

A character’s mindset, desires, concerns, and agendas should be “age-appropriate.”

Maybe this will help…

I came across a psychology book entitled Introduction to the Lifespan by Spencer A. Rathus. It is a Cengage Learning textbook that is used in the school where I teach.

In one section of the text, it lists the results of a survey taken that asked participants to match certain attributes or personality traits to particular age groups. The results were as follows (I have left out the percentages):

Ages 0+ innocent, unruly, adorable, naïve, endearing, cute

Ages 10+ impolite, manner less, disruptive, insolent, complex, young, aggressive

Ages 20+ in love, ambitious, sexy, young, romantic, daring, attractive

Ages 30+ competitive, hard-working, enterprising, impressive, capable, efficient, strong

Ages 40+ hard-working, slogger, organized, capable, efficient, punctual, tempered

Ages 50+ respectful, cultured, hard-working, organized, provident, methodical, rational

Ages 60+ respectful, cultured, beneficent, humane, benevolent, conciliatory, honorable

Ages 70+ nostalgic, tired, cultured, humane, peace-loving, nice, honorable

Ages 80+ isolated, nostalgic, tired, mourning, sick, unwell, solitary

Ages 90+ dying, isolated, old, alone, sick, solitary

*Source: Gruhn, D., Gilet, A-L., Studer, J., & Labouvie-Vief, G. (2010, December 13). Age-Relevance of Person Characteristics: Persons’ Beliefs About Developmental Change Across the Lifespan. Developmental Psychology, doi: 10.1037/a00213151-12

Obviously there is room for argument here, but much of it makes sense. I’ve found that my characters do fit the characteristics of their age groups. It doesn’t have to be an exact science, but it may help to structure your characters’ conflicts around the stages of their lifespans.

Another interesting note: I’ve found that most major characters in literature tend to fall between the ages of ten and sixty. It’s rare to come across protagonists who are mere children (middle grade excluded) or elderly persons.

Two exceptions:

Room by Emma Donoghue. The story is told from the perspective of a five-year old boy.

The Senator’s Wife by Sue Miller. This is a two-protagonist story, where one of which is a woman in her seventies.

Both stories are magnificently portrayed.

How about you? How old are your characters? Do they fit the descriptions from up above?

How important is age in fiction? Does it aid the characterization process?

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Filed under Characters, Inspiration, The Writing Life, Writing Process, Writing Tips

Four Current TV Shows that Influence My Writing Life

Despite the mudslide that is reality television, rest assured that there are some high quality programs for your viewing pleasure.

But before you tell me to turn off the TV and start writing, hear me out.

These four shows are magnificently written, superbly portrayed, wonderfully directed, finely detailed, and case in point, remarkably thematic.Like literature, these four ongoing series leaves room for debate, discussion, and analysis. They reveal a small piece of the world. They are allegories for a larger purpose, representing a larger idea. Plus, they’re wildly entertaining.

Here are four of my favorite shows on television today, and why they’ve made me a more insightful person, and as a result, a more insightful writer.

Mad Men (AMC)

Set in Manhattan and surrounding suburbs during the 1960s, this show exemplifies America’s (so-called) “Golden Era.” Sleek fashion and  flowing  libations are common motifs. At the center of the show is Don Draper, the greatest “Ad Man” on Madison Avenue (hence, “Mad Man”) there ever was. Don plays other roles of course: Husband.Father. Philander. All the other characters seem to filter in and around Mr. Draper (if that’s really his name!)

Why I love it: As a country we sacrificed—hard—for prosperity. After the war we had the world at our fingertips. Our homes were manicured, our cars were enormous, and our families were flourishing. Yet we still wanted more. Mad Men reflects this notion. The life we  fought for became stifling, stagnant. Spiritless housewives. Cheating husbands. Alcoholic bosses. Despite the wealth and power there’s an undercurrent of desperation that exudes from each character.  They’re  enmeshed in their own making. Stuck in their own traps. Perfection is desired, but it’s a long way off. And none of them will be the first to admit it.

Breaking Bad (AMC)

Set in current day New Mexico, this is a dark world; the powerfully efficient, yet overwhelmingly private underbelly of meth ‘cooking.’ Protagonist Walter White (aka “Heisenberg”) is a brilliant chemist, and former high school teacher. After being diagnosed with lung cancer, he fears leaving his family  in financial crisis. So he teams up with a former student and spawns one of the biggest, most coveted, ‘blue meth’ operations in the area. The fact that his brother-in-law is a high-level DEA agent is just part of the fun.

Why I love it: To go from a mild-mannered high school teacher to an elusive, murderous drug dealer may not seem plausible. Or does it? The show captures the notion of the stranger (Billy Joel song here) that lives inside us all. It begs the question: what we are truly capable of? How deep is our ability to surprise ourselves? In some ways it turns into a question of nature vs. nurture. What lies beneath us verses what the world has led us to believe.

The Walking Dead (AMC)

Based on the comic book and set in Georgia during a post-apocalyptic world full of “walkers” or “biters” or for the non-viewer, “zombies,” the show portrays Rick Grimes and his band of followers. Rick, who was in a coma during the onslaught, woke to find his world in disarray. Finding his way back to his wife, son, friend, and a group of surviving strangers, Rick leads the gang in an odyssey of terror, fighting off walkers and other violent types along the way.

Why I love it: You don’t have to be a comic book fanatic to appreciate the human will to survive. In times of turmoil, people ban together. We become both afraid of and tender towards the existing human race. The Walking Dead represents a world in horrific conditions. Death is an everyday occurrence. Modern luxuries have all but disappeared. People betray one another. No one—except those you’ve invested in—are to be trusted. And yet, amazingly, it’s simply fear of the unknown that keeps us anxious to stay alive, despite the circumstances or situations.

Speaking of comic books…

The Big Bang Theory (CBS)

Set in modern day California, super nerds Leonard, Sheldon, Howard, Rajesh, and their sprightly neighbor, Penny, keep the canned sitcom laughter rolling. All four guys are scientists employed at a local university. They struggle with girls, friendship, and family. They favor Star Trek, Star Wars, Stephen Hawking, Steve Jobs, and various video games. But in the end, their hearts are as big as their brains (except for Sheldon, perhaps).

Why I love it: It is 2012, going on 2013. Face it. Nerd culture has exploded. There’s no longer a stigma. We all love the internet, we all love cell phones, iPads, etc.  The more special effects, the better the movie.  The nerds are the new heroes. What’s sexier than a guy who can fix your computer? In truth, if the future continues to unfold the way it has (who am I kidding, of course it will) the nerdy guy will forever perpetuate the scape of land.

Related video & article:

Amber Case on TED Talks: We Are All Cyborgs Now

Lev Grossman’s Time Magazine article:  The Geek Shall Inherit the Earth

How about you? Any television shows make you think a bit harder once the credits have rolled?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Inspiration, Prompts & Writing Ideas, The Writing Life

Birds of a Feather: Your Characters & Their Friends

It’s worth noting who your characters “hang out” with. One of my favorite sayings, and I’ll paraphrase, goes something like this: You are who you attract.

Your protagonist’s choice of buddies can—surprise!—aid in the characterization process.

Friends
Merelize → in People

Some questions to consider when creating your character’s “Bestie”:

  1. Is the friend a secondary character? If so, how should he or she be developed throughout the story?
  2. Does the story have more than one main character, and are the characters friends? In other words, is the friendship the focus of the story?
  3. Is the friendship already established at the beginning, or do the characters meet sometime during the course of the story?
  4. What purpose does the friend serve? A helpful hand? Comic relief? Is he/she a drinking buddy? Partner in crime?
  5. Here’s the big one: What’s the dynamic like? Do the two (or more) personalities mesh well? Is a realistic pairing? Do they connect on some level? A hardened biker and a self-involved metrosexual can be friends…so long as there is some common ground. It’s the writer’s job to make it work.

Here are some common story friendship dynamics that you can bend, blend, and harmonize:

1. The Colorful Sidekick:  The goof off. The king’s fool. Think Kimmy Gibbler from Full House. This is a friend who adds some ‘flavor.’ He is audacious, brazen, comical, and flamboyant.

Important: Never underestimate the colorful sidekick. I’ve found in my own writing as well as the writing of others, that despite the personal flaws, these types often prove to be extraordinary friends in the end.

Favorite literary example: Dominick Birdsey’s cheeky, foolhardy friend Leo Blood from Wally Lamb’s I know this Much is True.

 2. The Charismatic Crony: Your character both loves and hates her. Best friends, yes, but in most cases, the charismatic crony comes out on top. This is the prettier friend, the skinnier friend, the smarter friend, the more popular friend, etc. We all know the type. And we’re all jealous.

Important: It is possible for this friend to be innocent—she may not be fully aware of her prowess. In other cases, however, she is simply one backbiting buddy.

Favorite literary example: I have two. Gene Forrester’s larger-than-life friend Phineas from John Knowles’s A Separate Peace; Rachel’s alluring childhood chum Darcy from Emily Giffin’s Something Borrowed.

3. The Caring Cohort: Quite simply, this is the friend who picks up your character when he or she falls. In fact, in some cases, this is the friend who sacrifices. Donates a kidney. Kills another. Gives up his own pleasure…all in the name of his friend.

Important: Any “friend” type that I’ve described here can lend a helping hand. The caring cohort goes a bit further.

Favorite literary example: George, who cares for mentally-handicapped Lennie Small during the Great Depression in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. (See my most recent “Old School Sunday” post). Also, although this isn’t literature, in West Side Story Tony kills the love of his life’s brother for stabbing his friend, Riff, to death. Now that’s the kind of friend I’m talking about here. Not to mention good old Romeo, who slain Juliet’s cousin, Tybalt for slaughtering his own friend, Mercutio.

4. The Best Friend: They say if you fall down, a good friend will help you up; your best friend will laugh at you. It’s true in life and it’s true in fiction. These are two characters who are practically one. Often, they will go through various life changes, and may struggle with their relationship; but in the end, they usually find their way back to each other.

Important: Generally speaking, this kind of friendship will require two main characters. They will have separate lives, but be forever tied to one another. Often the foundation of the story is the friendship itself.

Favorite literary example: Kate and Tully, whose lives (both separately and together) go through many transitions, and face many obstacles in Kristin Hannah’s Firefly Lane. Actually, the book reminded me a lot of the movie Beaches, starring Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey.

I’d like to leave you with some links from Writer’s Digest, particularly if your protagonist’s friend falls within the ‘minor character’ category:

What is a Minor Character: Understanding the Minor Characters’ Role

Questions to Ask (& Strengthen) Your Minor Characters

What are you favorite friendship dynamics in literature? Film?Television? How do your characters relate to each other? Can’t wait for the comments!

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Characters, Plot & Structure, Prompts & Writing Ideas, The Writing Life, Writing Process, Writing Tips

Into the Depths: Characters and Their Dreams

“Sleeping Cat”
2happy → in Cats and dogs

Each night before I fall asleep I will myself to dream. If I’m lucky the next morning, I’ll remember them and record the details in a journal. Then, I’ll dissect what I wrote and analyze each symbol separately. Dreammoods.com is my savior. It’s more complex than that of course; dream interpretation remains a mystery, even today.  Nonetheless, I love dreaming. I love talking about my dreams. And I’m probably alone in this, but I love hearing about other people’s dreams.

That being said, in literature, when characters dream, it’s a sublime reading experience.

Not surprisingly my main character dreams throughout my novel-in-progress.  I don’t overdo it; he only has maybe two or three noteworthy dreams in the story. These nightly visions aren’t longwinded three page descriptions of unconscious rigmarole. A good dream sequence should probably last five to seven sentences at the most. And, let me say, the weirder the better.

After examining both my own writing and that of others, I can relate three simple rules-of-thumb when it comes to a character’s REM cycle:

1. Like I mentioned before, keep it short. The general public tends to get bored while listening to a friend, relative, or co-worker’s nighttime adventures (I’m the exception), so assume that they’ll get “sleepy” while reading about a protagonist’s overactive subconscious.

2. It should reflect what real dreams are like: ethereal, nonsensical, and at times, jarring. Taking this a step further, it works best when the underlying meaning of the dream is more obvious to the reader than the character him or herself.

3. It can’t be random. It must, in some ways, reflect the bigger picture of the story.

Expanding on number three, I’ve broken the concept down into the three categories:

1. Distorted Foreshadowing:A character dreams of walking through an unfamiliar rose garden. All flowers are flourishing, except for one brownish, wilting bush at the perimeter’s edge. Two weeks later a phone call comes: the character’s estranged mother has passed. At the wake, the funeral home is decked out in roses—the once vibrant mother’s favorite flower.

2. Jumbled Reflection of a Character’s True Feelings: A female protagonist has a recurring dream where she is stuck inside an old haunted hotel. There are ghosts in each room, and she fears they will come out and get her. There seems to be no exit to the terrifying building, each door she tries is jammed, the phones don’t work, and even if they did, it wouldn’t matter because when she tries to speak, no words come out.

In this character’s real life situation, she is invested in an abusive marriage, and despite the warnings she receives from her friends and family members, she feels too weak to break free. There are many, many truths she has not acknowledged about her life and situation. However, at least in the early parts of the story, she is utterly confused as to the meaning of the ominous dream.

3. Mish-mashed Symbolism:A wronged male character dreams he is on the beach when a giant wave crashed over him. Later, when he finds shelter in an abandoned house, he can barely step inside because the entire place is flooded. In dreams, water is reflective of emotions, particularly emotions which have gotten out of control; hence, the man’s anger over his past is actually “leaking out” and “overwhelming” him. The water symbolizes his torrid emotional state.

Each story will lend itself to a different kind of dreamer.  As the sole creators of our stories, we understand our characters better than they understand themselves. Their dreams are simply attempting to clue them in.

Some tips? Check out dreammoods.com here. It has a comprehensive dream dictionary, as well as simplified theories from renowned theorists like Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. Understanding the basic nature of dreams will aid you in your writing.

How about you? Do your characters dream? Excited to hear your comments!

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Filed under Characters, Inspiration, Prompts & Writing Ideas, The Writing Life, Writing Tips