Monday, January 26, 2015

Take Your Inner Artist Out On A Date

In a recent post I talked about the events that brought me to writing in the first place. I suppose this has been on my mind recently because I am struggling to finish what I hope will be the last draft of my novel before I begin sending it to agents. (Cross your fingers for me, people.)

My personal writing practice has, of late, been a bit disappointing. At first I was dealing with the exhaustion that comes after completing my MFA, but at this point I have to admit that laziness and a lack of motivation are also contributing factors.

Do I still have students I am responsible for and lesson plans to prepare? Yes. Do I still have family to spend time with? Yes. Do I still have a calling at church? Yes. Do I still have a desire for a social life? Absolutely.

But, I also have a desire to be a writer and that means making and acting on my choice to BE a writer. I have to get up and do the work.

Part of that "work" requries that I devote time to nurture my inner artist. I know it sounds silly, but it's true. If you don't take care of yourself you will have nothing to pull from when you sit down to create, or, in my case, write.

In order to help myself with this I have turned back to Julia Cameron's book The Artist Way. I spoke about her journaling practice, Morning Pages, in my last post. Today I want to speak about something else.

My favorite practice from her book is something she calls Artists Dates. These "dates" are with youself. No one else is invited to come. They should take at least an hour and they are the opportunity for you to explore something that catches your attention.

One time I drove to the beach by myself and watched the sunset. Another time I walked around an art supply store. I suppose all the hours I've spent wondering around a book store by myself would also count as an artist date.

But my favorite type of artist date requires me to really get my hands dirty. I'll go to Color Me Mine, or some place like it, and paint. I have to admit that I'm usually not alone for these dates. A family member or friend usually wants to go with me because painting is awesome. I am more than happy to include them but they have to put up with sporatic conversation and a lenghty visit. I am always there for at least three hours.

You just can't rush an artist date. The only exceptions to that rule where when I was painting with my young niece. On those occasions I did not have a project of my own to complete because there was no way I would have the time.

So, that is the artist date. Fantastic, right?

If you're not convinced, check out this video interview with Julia Cameron.

Check out this video where Julia Cameron explains the "Artist Date."

Journaling: A Practice for Self Reflection

There's something about journaling that speaks to my inner artist. Whenever I have the time, or I make the time inorder to save my sanity, I sit myself down in a quite corner and write a few private words about myself and ... everything else.

* The off hand comment someone made that I can't seem to forget
* My finances
* The guy I wish would call me back
* Health issues, mine and others
* The writing projects that I should be working on instead of journaling
* The amazing song I heard on the radio that made me cry
* All of the many, many, many questions I have about where I want to be in 1 year, 5 years, 10 years

Frantic speed writing does not help with this process. You have to move slow, to let the words slip out of your muddled brain and onto the page. You also have to give yourself enough time to really ponder all the issues that will come up.

If you do, you'll be surprised at what you figure out: about yourself, and about what really matters.

When I first started taking creative writing classes one of my professors had us read The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron.

It's a great book and Cameron presents lots of wonderful suggestions for nuturing your inner artist, one of which is her own specific version of jounaling.

My life being the way it is, I haven't been able to consistently follow through on Cameron's challenge, but whenever I feel particularly stuck, or blocked, or distracted, I find myself returning to her advice.

A video of her explaining this practice, which she calls "Morning Pages" is below. I highly recommend you watch it and try out the practice.

Enjoy. And happy writing.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Will You Choose To Be A Writer?

Being a writer is a choice.

A choice to turn off the television and fill the blank page. A choice to wake up early and spend time with your characters. A choice to put in the work required to finish your project. A choice to share it with the world.

Will you choose to be a writer?

I have to warn you. You can't make this decision once and then forget about it. Family, friends, work, and distractions will pop up and demand your attention. They deserve your attention, but you deserve to be a writer. Never forget that.

You will have to continue to make the decision to be a writer every day of your life, or at least every week or so. (We can all take a day off every now and again.)

Every writer I've met has faced "The Moment." The moment when they had to officially choose to be a writer. Like I said before, this is not a one time occurance. But there seems to be something special about the first time a writer makes that decision. It's unforgettable.

This is what happened to me.

A few years ago my life was a mess.

To be honest, it probably always will be at least a little messy. I'm ok with that. I've resigned myself to the disorder. My inner control freak is learning to relax, to breathe a little deeper, to walk a little slower, and to let things go. When she can, she lets the chaos move into the background, present but muted.

The year I'm thinking about was particularly trying. My dad was in the midst of regular health scares and I was questioning my choosen career as a teacher because ... well, there were a lot of reasons.

Then, in a three month period, I lost both my uncle and my grandfather. I was officially grandfatherless and I missing two of the sweetest men I've even known.

It's hard to express what I felt at the time. It was too overwhelming. What I remember more than anything was going numb.

But I also remember one particular moment in the middle of ... all of it... that changed my life. It happened during my uncle's funeral. I was sitting at the back of the chapel, fighting tears and watching my four month old niece, when a question popped into my head.

"What are you waiting for?"

I've rarely felt an internal question, or answer, so powerfully. It wouldn't, couldn't, be ignored. I needed to make a change and I needed to make it right then.

For me that change meant taking creative writing classes. It meant finally being brave enough to follow my dreams.

Writing was something I'd wanted to do for years. It was something I thought I would do "someday." Losing my uncle, and later my grandfather, made me realize that I couldn't wait for "someday" to arrive. I had to act.

I found refuge in the classes and the people at the UCR Extension Center. I learned about writing short stories and picture books, about techniques for crafting creative non-fiction and novels. I even started a writing group with a few new friends. Slowly, I felt myself wake up. The numbness began to fade and excitment tingled through my veins. I felt alive again because I had finally choosen to be a writer.

Four and a half years later I am still making that choice. Somedays are easier than others, but I am better able to handle the trials life brings to me because I am nururing my dreams. Whenever I struggle, whenever I am filled with doubts, I think back to the pew at my uncle's funeral and I ask myself one question.

What are you waiting for? 

I would love to here from you. Leave me a comment below. Tell me about your passion and about the moment you decided to pursue it. 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

I Am A Writer. Hear Me Roar.

Can you believe it? I'm blogging again. I may have taken a two month break (thank you holiday season) but I am coming back strong. At least that is the plan.

I am a writer. Hear me roar.

In order to help myself follow the plan, I am going to share it with all of you. For some reason I think that will help me follow through. I don't know what I'm thinking. I suppose it's that darned accountability thing people keep talking about. Ok, here they are. The dreaded resolutions.

2015 Writing Resolutions

(1) Finish editing my young adult novel Proficiency by spring break.

I can do it. I can do it. I can do it. Keep nagging me people. I need to get this novel finished. I may have a thesis draft, but now I need a publishable draft.

(2) Research Agents and Publishers and send out query letters.

They will love it. Of course. (Just nod your head yes. You are now a part of my supportive writing comunity. Citizenship is not given to doubters.)

(3) Outline the next two books in the Proficiency series.

I know what you're thinking. Not another trilogy, Fingerson. They're everywhere. But they're everywhere for a reason. People like triologies. I'm not positive the Proficiency universe will need three books. It might only need two. It might need four. Who knows. You'll just have to wait and see. To be perfectly honest, I'm looking forward to figuring out the answer to that question too.

(4) Write a significant amount of the second book in the series by the end of the year.

Because the amazing agent and publisher who buy my book will, of course, want more. Right? (Nod your head, people.) And the millions of readers who buy Proficiency (of which you will be one) will be desperate to know what happens next to Zander and Anna.

(5) Establish a writing routine.

I suppose this is my most important writing resolution. None of the other ones will happen if I don't solidify my writing schedule. I may not have been successful at NaNoWriMo, but I did write a book and I can do it again.

Remember people, you only have to write one word at a time. You can figure out what order to put them in later.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Fiction King

I recently read Scott Westerfeld's novel Afterworlds, which is actually two novels in one. Go Scott Westerfeld!

It is about a young girl, Darcy Patel, who at the age of 18 wrote a novel during NaNoWriMo, sent it out to an agent/publisher, and had it immediately picked for a huge advance. An advance so huge that she is able to move to New York and live in an expensive appartment all by herself. She then enters a world that Westerfeld calls YA heaven.

Oh, my goodness. I sooo want to go there. You have to help me get there people. I am thinking positive thoughts. One day I will live in YA heaven.

Ok, moving on. The other novel, as you might have guessed, is the edited version of the story that young Darcy wrote. It starts with a terrorist attack and a heroine that can enter the world of the dead. There are some creepy parts thanks to a couple of truly disturbing antagonists, but the story is great.

There is one part, it takes place in the narrative about Darcy's life as a new writer, that I wanted to share with you. It appears about half way through the book when Darcy is at a school visit with two other authors, published authors. She is still editing her novel and is considered a debutante in the world of YA heaven.

At this author panel a student asks a question that I suspect every author is asked as some point during their career. "Which of the five elements of a story do you think is the most important? Plot, setting, character, conflict, or theme?"

What follows is a wonderful competition between the authors as they try to one up each other with the best answer. I won't quote the section here, it is several pages, but you can find it at the end of chapter 27 if you want to read it. And you should.

I'm not sure what my own answer would be to that question.

The project I am currently editing is a young adult dystopic novel. It is set in a world that is similiar to ours but that has some very specific differences without which the entire novel wouldn't make sense. Setting, therefore, has a significant influence on the story.

But so does plot. The very first event of the novel forces my main character, Zander, to question the world in which he lives. One of the next plot points clarifies the conflict that drives the rest of the story. But which is more important, plot or conflict?

Then there is the fact that all of it hinges on who Zander is, on his character, and on what he is willing to learn, the theme.

As a former English teacher, I spent years showing students how to analyze the fiction elements, how to break apart a text and identify concrete evidence for a five paragraph literary response essay.

As an author I look at things differently. When I am asked such questions, or I read about them in a book like Afterworlds, I can't help feeling like I'm falling into a debate that will never be won.

Can one element of fiction rule over the others? Is there a Fiction King?

What do you think?

It's NaNoWriMo Time: Part 2

Ok, I don't know about the rest of you people, but NaNoWriMo does NOT work for me.

It just doesn't. I mean come on, who can write 50,000 words in a month. The whole concept is crazy.

Wait a second.

Didn't I do that once.

Didn't I do that just last year.

I can vaguely remember three months of marrathon writing when I had to finish the first draft of my thesis during the winter quarter. I may not have written 50 thousand words in a month, but I came pretty darn close. I was exhausted and incapable of movement, let alone creative thought, for the entiretly of my spring break. But that's ok. I got it done and I meet my deadline.

The point is that I was, that I am, capable of devoting significant time and evergy to my writing. So why can I never seem to follow through on NaNoWriMo?

I actually think I've figured it out.

Novemember, the start of the holiday season, is a stupid time of year to commit yourself to countless hours of writing. Especially if you have a teaching job to report to five days a week and family to visit out of state.

Needless to say, I did not complete the NaNoWriMo challenge. But that's ok. I did get some writing done that month and I did spend a lot of quality time with my family.

Those are good things too. Right? (Just kidding. I love you guys and holidays are great.)

In all seriousness, I applaud all the writers out there who met the NaNoWriMo challenge. It isn't an easy thing to do, and you did it. I'm a little jealous, but I'll get over it.

I don't know about the rest of you, but I am ready for my next challenge. Now that the holiday season is over and the New Year has begun, I am in a better place to recommit to my writing. I hope you feel the same way.

We can do it, people.

I'll post a few of my Writing Resolutions later in the week.  For now, happy writing.