Following Inspiration

I’ve been writing professionally now for eleven years, with no day job backup.  Some years are boom, some are bust, and I must admit the financial roller coaster gets a little stressful at times. You can build a reputation, a readership, and that helps, but when so many families are struggling, they don’t buy as many books for their children. It’s a sad fact. And then when you’re jumping into new genres, as I’m doing, there is no existing readership. Thus, even less security.

This is how I’ve learned to deal with it, and incidentally, how I’ve learned to deal with writing 3 – 4 books or screenplays a year without burning out.

I follow the inspiration. I work on projects when it feels right, not when I “should”. For example, this week, I was happily working away on a juvenile series proposal, the rewrite of Undertow, and Angel’s Flight, my current novel, when along comes a movie idea! Yesterday was spent in taking notes, discovering characters, realizing the science of the new story. I was excited, exhilarated, over the moon (or actually, over Azul, the name of my new planet)!

And then it was time to stop. Just stop. So I did. Now that idea is sitting there, happily started on paper, waiting for me to have time to return to it. It may even be my next movie.

That’s not to say that following inspiration is always a heady experience. You notice there was a time to stop, to go back to my novel? It was hard going when I got back, really hard, but I was where the inspiration called me. From highest creative heights to slogging through a difficult scene…

Both were necessary. Both were following inspiration. Both were creating something incredible (or incredible to me, at least). One was just a little more fun than the other.

Okay, a lot more fun! 🙂 And that’s okay.

Expectation of Characters – and Self

I am wandering in my novel; the right things are not being written. I’m not touching the core, and some even seems obvious artifice, at least to me. I like my characters, and I believe they are worthy of carrying a story, but I keep losing their true personalities in my expectations of who they should be.

Expectation: as damaging in the world of the novel as it is in real life.

From the Tao te Ching:

“The Master’s power is like this. He lets all things come and go effortlessly, without desire. He never expects results; thus he is never disappointed. He is never disappointed; thus his spirit never grows old.”

I am disappointed tonight, for not only am I not writing the right things, but I have expectations of myself in writing their story. My main expectation as creator: to get the story at least close to right. And I’m not, because I am not allowing the story to naturally unfold from who my characters are.

Time to get real. No more shoulds. No more expectations. No more fear that I’m going to write the wrong thing, because that fear itself will cause the wrong thing to be written.

First Draft Rush, and then…

Last week, I completed the first draft of UNDERTOW, my first solo screenplay! I love the feeling of accomplishment that comes when a major project is finished, and I hope, finished well. Of course, there are still the rewrites, but that’s another major project.

However, I’ve found something strange when the draft was completed – an emptiness that is not entirely pleasant. UNDERTOW has been living inside me for 7 or 8 years, and now it’s become more than the ephemeral flow of creativity. It is solid. It is striving and horror and sadness and faith – on paper. And though the protagonist, Megan, still lives in my thoughts, it’s not the same as when she whisped around my head, tugging at me to tell her story.

Thank goodness, the emptiness is abating. I am getting into my next project: ANGEL’S FLIGHT, a novel I set aside last September to complete a juvenile novel. I’m catching the spirit of that new old story again. I’m seeing from behind Vashti’s eyes instead of Megan’s.

But I miss Megan. I know it’s pathetic, but I miss her.

Elizabeth Gilbert on Genius

So I’m back after too long away. On the up side, I have lots of stuff to share.

To start, a friend sent me this link: Elizabeth Gilbert giving a TED talk on genius. Much food for thought. Here’s the info:

Elizabeth Gilbert muses on the impossible things we expect from artists and geniuses — and shares the radical idea that, instead of the rare person “being” a genius, all of us “have” a genius. It’s a funny, personal and surprisingly moving talk.

Enjoy!

 

An Awesome Ten Minute Exercise

Set your timer for ten minutes. Write down FIVE novel or movie concepts  in logline form (one sentence describing each idea). You must get down five ideas within the time allotted. Polishing the loglines afterward is optional.

I did this recently and came up with the following:

  1. Comedy/Coming of Age: A teenager drops out of high school and heads out to find the Dalai Lama and ask him the meaning of life.
  2. Action/Adventure: An amnesiac woman in a bathrobe and fuzzy bunny slippers shows up on Dave’s doorstep – but she isn’t what she appears to be, as the gunmen who soon follow confirm.
  3. Action/Comedy/Fantasy: The Sonoran Desert trickster, Coyote, takes on a man’s form to halt the urban sprawl invading his environment, but only endangers his home further as spiritual seekers gather to ask him existential questions.
  4. Comedy/Action: Ellie’s father died years ago, or that’s what she thought until he shows up at the reading of her mother’s will – as a zombie.
  5. Action/Adventure: Deep in the forest, a lost hiker comes across a strange civilization, a group of alien “grays” running from persecution.

I’m not sure if I’ll use these, though I’m very intrigued by a couple of them, especially #3 (it may even be my next movie project), but this exercise shows how when pressed, the mind can come up with all sorts of crazy ideas, ideas that might turn out to be unique and promising.

Also, each idea could go a number of different ways. For example, I put Action/Adventure on #5, but what if I changed that to Comedy? It would be a completely different movie.

If you have time to give this exercise a try, I’d love to hear how it worked for you!

Poetry as Inspiration

When I was a kid, I loved to read, and one of my favourite books was an old leather bound copy of Sir Walter Scott’s poems that I found in the attic. Being a kid, I had little idea of what I was reading, but that didn’t matter. What I liked best was the sound and rhythm of the words, and the feelings they created within me.

This morning, in need of inspiration, I turned to a tiny, very old book that I found in London a few years ago, A Book of Narrative Verse.

My inspiration to write comes from Horatius, by Lord Macaulay. 

And, like a horse unbroken
When first he feels the rein,
The furious river struggled hard,
And tossed his tawny mane,
And burst the curb, and bounded,
Rejoicing to be free,
And whirling down, in fierce career,
Battlement, and plank, and pier,
Rushed headlong to the sea.

How I love these old poems! And this one captures the feeling I get when out on a boat in rough water. It exhilarates me in the same way as riding a racing horse.

And now, bolstered by the magic of words, I go to write–and hopefully to create a little magic of my own.

You know you’re meant to be a novelist when…

You know you’re meant to be a novelist when:

  1. You haven’t written anything for two days, and you fall into the pit of despair.
  2. Your spouse says they’re leaving you, and all you can think is “I can use this.”
  3. Listening to the bickering couple seated behind you on the bus is completely fascinating.
  4. You get entire story ideas, complete with characters, theme, setting, as you sit in the dentist’s waiting room…
  5. … and said story never makes it onto the page because you didn’t have any paper with you and you got an even better idea while your teeth were being cleaned.
  6. You finally get time to write in the afternoon, and minutes later, when you stop, it’s dark outside.

Do you have some more? I’d love to hear them.

A Great Review!

The writing life is full of ups and downs. Earlier this week, I received this email regarding one of my unpublished short stories:

Dear Angela, Thanks for giving us the opportunity to consider this one. After reading and discussing it, and then holding it for further consideration, we’ve decided to pass on it. We like it, but in the final analysis we receive far more stories that we find likable than we have the space to publish. Good luck placing it elsewhere, and by all means, send us another story.

An awesome rejection, but still a rejection. Sigh…

And then this morning, a lovely email was waiting for me in my inbox informing me of a review done on the first three novels in my Whinnies on the Wind series. Thank you Books, Mud, and Compost. And Horses for the awesome review! I’m feeling much better now. 🙂

Quick Quote on Protagonists

Know what your protagonist wants, know why she wants it, and know why the thing she wants isn’t the same as the thing she needs. If you know those three things, the rest of your protag’s characterization will fall into place. ~ Xander Bennett

Symbols in Fiction

Why symbols are important in fiction, from the book Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway:

People constantly function symbolically. We must do so because we rarely know exactly what we mean, and if we do we are not willing to express it, and if we are willing we are not able, and if we are able we are not heard, and if we are heard we are not understood. Words are unwieldy and unyielding, and we leap past them with intuition, body language, tone, and symbol.

“Is the oven supposed to be on?” he asks. He is only peripherally curious about whether the oven is supposed to be on. He is really complaining: You’re scatterbrained and extravagant with the money I go out and earn.

“If I don’t preheat it, the muffins won’t crest,” she says, meaning: You didn’t catch me this time! You’re always complaining about the food, and God knows I wear myself out trying to please you.

“We used to have salade nocoise in the summertime,” he recalls, meaning: Don’t be so damn triumphant. You’re still extravagant, and you haven’t got the class you used to have when we were young.

“We used to keep a garden,” she says, meaning: You’re always away on weekends and never have time to do anything with me because you don’t love me anymore; I think you have a mistress.

“What do you expect of me!” he explodes, and neither of them is surprised that ovens, muffins, salads, and gardens have erupted. When people say “we quarreled over nothing,” this is what they mean – they quarreled over symbols.

Pg 275, Writing Fiction, 4th Edition