Writing

Friday Writing Inspiration from Neil Gaiman

neil-gaiman-writing-quote I'm finally back to doing my regular Friday afternoon writing inspiration. And boy, do I need inspiration, because between The Romantics coming out and getting married, I am way behind on all my deadlines.

Anyway, this one comes from fellow children's book author and storyteller extraordinaire, Neil Gaiman: “Stories may well be lies, but they are good lies that say true things, and which can sometimes pay the rent.” ― Neil Gaiman

Key word, sometimes! And we're really lucky when it does.

I really like this quote because it reminds me of what I was going for in The Romantics. It might not be my own love story, but there's elements of my own experiences on every page. And I'm hoping that even though it's all technically a "lie," that it will feel true to readers out there.

Happy Friday and happy reading!

 

Friday Writing Inspiration: Stephen King

IMG_8239.PNG It's Friday, and I'm hard at work on kicking off new ideas and getting ready to promote the hell out of old ones :D

It's a good problem to have: Over the next 2-3 years, I'll have 4 books coming out. It's an absolute dream, and I am so thankful every day to get to do this writing thing.

But dream or no dream, when you're working on this many projects, it means as soon as you let something go you're off to concepting and drafting once again. The good news is, I can't exactly get lazy--I have deadlines to account for, after all (even if I do tend to always get them pushed just a little bit). But the bad news is, with all the writing going on, I've been a bit remiss in holding up Stephen King's second (and just as important) piece of advice: reading.

I've long believed that reading--and reading voraciously--is the best thing a writer can do to educate themselves. Better than an MFA, better than craft workshops, better than obsessively reading advice on the internet from their author heros. I'm not saying that all of these don't have an important place in improving one's writing, but no amount of instruction is going to even come close to the sheer amount of learning a writer does by simply soaking up other writers' words.

It's why I am not a snob about reading. I read in most genres, literally and super-commercial, high-brow and low-brow (though I hate those designations).

But over the past few months, as the deadlines have loomed and the emails from editors have repeatedly showed up in my inbox reminding me of another deadline once one has passed, I haven't taken the time to make much of a dent in my TBR pile.

So here's to reading! Over the last week, I've gone back to my first love and have tried to choose reading over TV/Internet/insert-timesuck-here. Because I love TV, and I like the Internet, at least, but nothing is so amazing as a damn good book.

So here's to writing--and reading--and taking King's advice to heart!

Happy Friday, y'all.

Back to the Drawing Board ...

IMG_8186And by drawing board, I mean bulletin board. Because the only thing truly constant about writing is that you have to keep doing it. I'm working on a couple of different ideas right now for future projects, and here is my empty bulletin board, inspired by Blake Snyder's Save the Cat beat sheet.

The good news? This is the fun part. Where worlds and characters come to life. Where the writing is super raw as you try to chip away at the heart of your story.

The bad news? This part NEVER gets any easier ...

Wish me luck!

Office Space: A Peek Into Where I Write

11188291_10102733005536818_6462092429022030358_n Living in New York City for most of my adult life, I always dreamed of having a home office. Well, first, I dreamed of trading the fluorescent lights of a corporate America for my couch, but once I'd done that for awhile, I wanted the real-deal. The much sought-after dedicated writing space.

This year, I was able to finally make that happen. My fiance and I found a great apartment with just enough space for me to really spread out. My friends reminded me that I used to say that my main goal in life was to settle down in Greenpoint (a residential neighborhood in North Brooklyn), write full-time, and get a dog. Well, it happened. And the home office was the icing on the cake.

Anyway, I'm obsessed with learning where writers do their work, so I thought it fit to share mine!

Writers-desk

Here's my desk on a clean day (it doesn't look like that while I'm on deadline, err, right now). It looks out on a sweet little garden that I may not have access to but is frequently filled with cardinals, which makes me happy. I even went for an Aeron chair. It was part of my goal to take my writing more seriously. But more truthfully, I'm a design nerd, and I salivated over Herman Miller while working for years at Elle Decor, and I'd rather splurge on chairs than shoes ANY DAY.

For art, I looked to things that reminded me of the people I love and my travels. Left to right: A Georgia O'Keefe print of New York City, purchased in Santa Fe on a cross-country trip with my fiance; two paintings from Bali; and a painting by my sister over a collage of snaps from college.

11127866_10102733005636618_6398489754565178809_o Of course, no space would be complete without a color-coordinated bookshelf. (Yes, I realize this is so common it's annoying now, but I still love it.)

Or a white board and bulletin board for serious plotting work only (not illustrating my dog and snapping photos of friends in an attempt to procrastinate).
Which brings me to my favorite part about my office ... my wonderful coworker, Farley!

Seriously, you can't beat that!

Happy writing, everyone! I'm going to stop procrastinating now and actually use my office for deadline-meeting purposes.

Friday Writing Inspiration: Blake Snyder's Save the Cat

recite-2ivjg2 Save the Cat has quite a reputation in the writing community, both for screenwriters and novelists, and now that I've finally read it, it's not hard to see why. It lays out structure in such a clear, easy-to-understand way, and even if you've written lots of stuff before, it makes all the rules you know and rely on all the sharper.

Screenwriters live and breathe structure, but novelists and short story writers, not so much. At least we're not told to. Creative writing classes, from high school through college and beyond, often focus on the prose, itself. They tell you to show instead of tell, to make the dialogue natural and conversational, to avoid cliches and trite phrasing, to not be so heavy-handed, etc., etc. This is all well and good, but this is all part of polishing. Making the words themselves beautiful, engaging, honest. This all assumes that you know how to craft a story in the first place.

Which so many of us struggle with. In fact, many of us get the advice that we should just write the story as it naturally comes to us and not get bogged down in structure and rules. It's literature, after all! Art!

That's why I love this quote of Blake Snyder's. You can break the rules. You can turn them upside down and defy cliche. But it's a lot easier to do once you know and can articulate exactly what those rules are.

Friday Writing Inspiration: Joyce Carol Oates

recite-1152fz0 On this fine Friday, I'm honing in on an idea for my next novel. I'm talking, beat-sheet, spur-of-the-moment trips to Barnes & Noble to finally read Save the Cat, kind of honing. I've posted about this before, and I know there are two pretty divisive schools of thought on whether outlining does or does not stifle creativity, but I consider myself pretty solidly in the outlining camp these days. And books like Save the Cat only help me sharpen those skills. So I'm wondering if you guys agree with this quote from the awesome Joyce Carol Oates. I saw her speak at a reading in New York a couple of years ago, and she said something very similar. It struck me at the time, because I was a non-outliner then. Now, however, while I wouldn't go so far as to say that you have to have the ending fully planned out, I definitely recognize the benefit of having a solid game plan.

What do you guys think? Is this kind of advice stifling or simply practical?

Happy writing, and happy Friday!

Well, I guess it's safe to say I've started something new.

plotting-photo-blurred This is what I did this afternoon. The fact that I now have a home office has completely upped my plotting game. What I used to do on a tiny Word doc is now spread out on a huge, color-coated bulletin board in all it's insane glory (don't worry, I blurred the content of the actual notes so as not give away any plot points).

Now I guess I just have to write it?

Symbolism in writing: What a few famous authors had to say

Screen Shot 2013-11-25 at 3.10.54 PMI've always been more of the, "the apple really is just an apple" camp, when it comes to symbolism. I think that's why I connected much more with my creative writing classes than with my lit classes in college--I always felt like in the lit classes, we were playing a game called, "what was the author really trying to say?" And I always enjoyed  focusing on the actual text than when I thought was secretly inserted into it. Today, my good friend passed on this story on Mental Floss, on a student who surveyed several famous authors on whether they intentionally use symbolism. Many of them say no, and many have a lot of funny things to say. Definitely check it out. This is perhaps my favorite piece of insight and advice, from Ray Bradbury:

"Not much to say except to warn you not to get too serious about all this, if you want to become a writer of fiction in the future. If you intend to become a critic, that is a Whale of another color…Playing around with symbols, even as a critic, can be a kind of kiddish parlor game. A little of it goes a long way. There are other things of greater value in any novel or story…humanity, character analysis, truth on other levels…Good symbolism should be as natural as breathing…and as unobtrusive.”

Then there's this, from Norman Mailer:

"I’m not sure it’s a good idea for a working novelist to concern himself too much with the technical aspects of the matter. Generally, the best symbols in a novel are those you become aware of only after you finish the work.”

So I guess I shouldn't feel so bad that I do a whole lot of writing and very little thinking about what I'm writing, at least in the early stages. Fellow writers, do you ever consciously use symbolism? Do you find that some symbols have appeared during or after you finished a work?

 

How long does it take to write a novel?

How long does it take to write a novel?

I'm coming up on the finish line for the first draft of my new work, and, given that it's National Novel Writing Month, I've been thinking a lot about time and writing. How much time is enough? Too much? Does a good novel take more time than a subpar one? Is ten years better than ten months--or even--ten days?

THE AFTER GIRLS took me, all in all, probably three years. I'll leave it to you to decide if it's quote-unquote good or not. How much was on a first draft or a second or a third or revisions, I cannot tell you. That novel was such a discovery all the way through, that I doubt I could pin down any real start or finish. But I'd ballpark three years.

My first manuscript, which was fairly autobiographical and is better suited to my eyes than the general public's, took me four months for a first draft. Let's just say I was a rather prolific twenty-three year old. But that novel wasn't near as ambitious as THE AFTER GIRLS, and I think that's one of the reasons why it went so fast.

Now, my current project looks to be finished (first draft-wise) soon, which would put the total first draft time at around ten months. I chalk up the speed to an extremely detailed outline, a fully formed idea (the whole plot came to me around Christmas last year, in a 2 a.m. burst of inspiration), and the joys of Scrivener. That said, it is in need of a deep revision, and I'm not sure how long that will take.

So the answer, for me at least, is twelve months, if I average four months, ten months and twenty-four months (I'm guessing two years for the first draft of THE AFTER GIRLS). But what about others?

The Sun Also Rises Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway wrote a draft of THE SUN ALSO RISES in just two months, while Donna Tartt took about ten years for THE SECRET HISTORY (I once read an interview where she said she enjoyed every moment of those ten years, and didn't want it to go any faster, and I have a hard time believing that).

On the Road Jack Kerouac

On the Road Jack Kerouac

ON THE ROAD apparently took Jack Kerouac less than a month (and one taped-together strip of 120 sheets of paper), while NO GREAT MISCHIEF, by Alistair MacLeod, took thirteen years to write. That's a middle school child.

So the answer, I guess, is ... however long it takes you ... and for many of us, it will take longer than a month. Though I admire NaNoWriMo for giving many writers a much-needed jolt, and perhaps some people do find success through it, I've never been able to make it work for me. The daily word counts were simply too stressful. There are many days when I exceed the suggested NaNoWriMo count on my own, but there are days that I don't. I average about 1,000 words a day, but I don't necessarily write every day (yeah yeah, I know EVERY piece of writing advice says that you should).

Furthermore, I think it would be great if we all could let go of the speed goal and just focus on the writing, itself. There are countless Google searches for "how to write a novel in a month" and "how to write a novel in 30 days," but, I gotta ask, what's the rush. If it's really the story you're meant to tell, why the need to pack all the fun into just 30 short days?

Fellow writers, how long does it take you to complete a draft? Have you ever had any luck with NaNoWriMo?

Friday Writing Inspiration: Margaret Atwood and Questions and Answers in Fiction

Margaret Atwood writing quoteHappy Friday. After a bit of a hiatus (including sunning on Miami Beach and a lot of writing), I'm back to the blog. This Friday, I'm finding particular inspiration in the amazing Margaret Atwood. I'll admit, I'm rather late to the Atwood game. Though I've heard myriad good things about her over the years, I only recently read her work, beginning with THE HANDMAID'S TALE and ORYX AND CRAKE, and I'm just now finishing THE ROBBER BRIDE. I can't say enough about her style, the way she weaves words together, the way she explores metaphors to the Nth degree, the way in which language is important even to her characters. In her works, Atwood asks a lot of questions about science, society, sex, women's role in the home and the world, and so much more. She asks "what if" a lot, and what she gets back is often terrifying. It is in this asking, however, that she shows us just how important our own humanity is. Without it, these what-ifs could come true. In the case of THE HANDMAID'S TALE, many of them already have.

In the midst of these larger questions, Atwood tucks in smaller ones, and maybe those are even the most enchanting. Why is their no comparable word for "fraternize" is one of my favorites. In THE HANDMAID'S TALE, Offred says: "Fraternize means to behave like a brother. Luke told me that. He said there was no corresponding word that meant to behave like a sister. Sororize, it would have to be, he said. From the Latin. He liked knowing about such details."

It is the role of all of us to ask questions, writers and otherwise, and while we may not yet be adept in asking the types of questions that Atwood does, we may also not be meant to ask these same questions. This is why I love her quote so much. It's not so much that there are right and wrong answers, but rather that we all have our different questions. And by posing those, we hopefully share some glimmer of truth with our readers and ourselves.

Writers, what questions do you ask? Do you find answers as you write?

Friday Writing Inspiration: Sylvia Plath and Overcoming Self-Doubt

Sylvia Plath writing quoteLike all writers (and all humans), I have a tendency to get down on myself sometimes. And with a published book, sometimes it can be pretty easy. Is it selling as much as X, X or X? Why did so-and-so get a positive review from such-and-such and I didn't? Why is review #23 on Goodreads so mean? What did I ever do to them? Do they know that I still read every single review? Do they know how much their words can sting? Why is a 24-year-old a bestseller? By that logic, at 28, I should be a bestseller a few times over! During times like this, it's easy to forget about the good things. That Booklist loved The After Girls, that, for awhile, at least, the book was rocking the Top 50 on Amazon, that a reviewer, who, for all intents and purposes, appears not to be delusional or crazy, compared my writing to that of John Green

And beyond all that commercial stuff, the fact that I receive emails like this:

Hi! I just finished reading your book After Girls and wanted to tell you it was really good! I felt like I was in the book and experiencing what Sydney and Ella were. It felt like Astrid was my friend. 

Or that this adorable teen thought it fit to record a hilarious review for her YouTube channel.

There's also this: The After Girls is not the only story I have in me. That I have a new idea that I love and my agent loves, and I feel like readers will love, too.

There are so many things to be thankful for as a writer, and more than anything else, the fact that you get the joy of writing and sharing your work with the world, whether that world is your partner, a friend, your doting mom or a million loyal readers.

For those of you struggling (like me) with the inevitable writer self-doubt, for those looking for an agent, an editor, a second publishing lottery ticket, or simply for the strength and dedication to complete your story, I encourage you to meditate on the fact that we all feel this way sometimes. And to remember that, if you've suffered any of the setbacks that come with writing and publishing and you still want to write, you must have something to say, because there are a lot of easier ways to make money (and a ton of easier ways to have fun).

Happy Friday.

Leah

Friday Writing Inspiration: Anthony Trollope Writing Quote

Anthony Trollope Writing Quote

One of my favorite authors, and now, one of my favorite quotes. I'm not sure why Anthony Trollope never gets taught in school. He's a British serial novelist who is, in my opinion, absolutely brilliant. His stories are so captivating and enjoyable, yet still very well-written, like a high-class old-time soap opera. But of course, Dickens get all the praise and attention when it comes to serial novelists. I actually only found out about Trollope through a bookseller in Williamsburg's recommendation. I owe to him a better lit education than I ever received from a college professor.

Anyway, anyone who's read Trollope (and please, read Trollope! Start with He Knew He Was Right. Plus, than you can watch the BBC miniseries.) knows that his writing appears effortless. His books are thousands of pages, and I've yet to come across so much as a turn of phrase that's awkward.  It's refreshing to know that what appear so easy for him, was actually quite labored.

So here's to lots of work--and lots of beautiful writing!

Happy Friday!

Leah