Today, I wrote about how to get yourself out of a creative hole. Check it out.
(Remember these?? Me too!)
Or, 5 Things I Learned from my First Interview.
From time to time, my memory drifts to when I was writing for my college’s student newspaper. These few years were my first in experiencing editing, finding stories, crafting reviews and seeing my name printed. My background was in English, not Journalism, and I got a lot of “firsts” from my work on the paper. First paid position. First late-nighters. First time working layouts.
And first interview.
The first person I ever interviewed was an Internet personality who had just brought out a book. Now you’re probably thinking, “Okay, so what? Anybody can be famous on the Internet.” But this person was famous for being a jerk. Not my words, here; it’s all over anything this person writes. Did I let this deter me? No. Do I wish I had gone about it a different way? At the point where this person scoffed at my questions and said, “You know, all of this is on my website,” yeah. I kind of wish I had this list.
Do your homework, folks. And you’ll find that these points don’t just apply to interviews, either.
1. If you’re going to write about someone - or talk to them - know everything that anyone could know about them. Read their site. Read their wiki. Watch other interviews.
2. Ask questions no one else has. Make it interesting.
3. Don’t waste your time (or theirs). Ask the questions, get to the point (note: have a point) and be done.
4. Always be polite. Smile through it.
5. Remain flexible at all times. Sometimes people will say things you weren’t expecting. Adapt and move on.
You have time.
No, no. Hush. You do. Believe me.
A while back, my husband and I had a puppy stay with us for a few days. A delightful (read: destructive) bundle (read: beagle) of joy (read: of havoc). “I’m ready,” I had said. I had poured over hours of information on dogs. I had had dogs, years before. We had discussed the breed at length. It was the perfect, serendipitous situation to see how things would go - we had wanted a dog, maybe it would work - and we prepared our home as much as we were able and welcomed the puppy with open, eager arms.
It was not at all what I expected.
Every second belonged to the puppy. The few minutes we had here and there were on loan from the puppy. We had time to do other things because the puppy said it was so. We grabbed at the quiet moments that he was finally asleep because it was what we could steal to do human things, like shower or eat or talk.
Wait, no, there was no talking because you would wake the puppy.
Listen. Listen to me. You have time. If another life isn’t reliant on you, you do have time. And if you are taking care of something, those moments should seem all the more precious, and if you don’t take those sand grains of seconds and make something with them you’re going to regret it.
I took a day off to work on my novel while we had the puppy, and I got 500 words written. I hoarded them like motherfucking gold.
Still don’t believe me? Still talking about, oh, I have a life and work and friends and school and no. Just no. No. Go over to someone’s house and borrow a puppy - if you’re feeling really ungrateful, grab a baby - and try to work on anything.
1. Write anyway. What have you got to lose?
2. Bake bread. Not from a box or a mix. From scratch. Have you seen what goes into baking bread? Kneading, waiting, watching, wondering. Then you apply heat and hope it doesn’t suck.
3. Sing a song. One of two things will happen: you’ll either feel better or you’ll be so aghast at the sound of your own voice that even writing crap will seem more appealing.
4. Look at pictures of puppies. Smile.
5. Go to a bookstore. Get some coffee. Enjoy the ambiance. Then, pick up a few of the worst books you know of and read the first chapter. Two things can be gleaned from this: the recognition that you are a good writer (I’m sure you are) and the realization that terrible writers get published every day. Just plow through that block with whatever comes to mind. You can always change it later anyway.
Read your stuff out loud.
I’d even go so far as to say that if you can stand the sound of your own voice (I can’t — not yours, dear, but mine) read your work into a recorder. Play it back.
I recommend this because writers don’t change much between 5th grade and 30, I find. When told to read something aloud, a writer starts happily and everything is good until suddenly:
"And he walked down the street with a…fish…in his pocket. A fish in his pocket? That’s not right! What the hell does that even mean? What was I thinking?!"
Or (better yet):
"I can’t even read what I wrote here. Sorry."
Hide under your desk and do it. Close your door. Catch those little things before your editor does (or worse, your mom). Actually forcing the words out of your mouth gives you an idea what they are going to sound like to others. The practice slows you down, gives you real focus on the ebb and flow of your nouns, verbs, consonants and vowels. You’ll realize that what you thought was a great scene of dialogue sounds like two people trying to have a fight in another language.
Like a symphony, it can look fantastic on paper, but if it isn’t beautiful to hear, you’ve lost.
We live in a world where notebooks are an endangered species. Pens are antiques. In this day and age of technology, it’s so much easier to get an idea, type it out and save it “forever.”
"Forever." Ha. Ha…ha…ha…ha…oh. No. No.
Know your files.
On a basic note, figure out a naming scheme for your files so you can find stuff. I can’t even tell you how many things I can’t find because I just called it something like, “doodymcthunderpants.doc.” Preface the file with what it is, the working title and then a date. So, for example, “shortstory-doodymcthunderpants031812.doc” Long, yes. Will I find it, though? Yes.
Print out your drafts. There are two reasons for this: first of all, it allows you a physical copy to comment on, proofread, show off to your friends, use as TP when you’ve been abandoned in the Rockies. The other is because you’ll really want a hard copy to work off when your computer explodes.
And your computer will explode. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but your computer can decide at any point that it is no longer one for this world, generate a little extra heat to that CPU and bzzt. The End.
Late last year, my computer passed away. My husband and I built a new one from scratch. Bought all new parts, a new case. I highly recommend this “exercise” (it didn’t feel like one at the time). Know everything in your computer. Know how to recognize when things aren’t going well. And clean it. God. Once every 1-3 months. Every little bit of dust is another million degrees of heat.
And be ready. Because even if your computer is a really stable guy with two-and-a-half kids, a wife, a nice job and a great body…your computer can always have a pulmonary embolism.
Back. Up. Your. Shit. There are places online to do this. Now and then, I use Google Docs. I also have a MyBook external harddrive. I’ve also been printing. I email stuff to myself.
I urge you to be excessive.
Get a hobby.
Do something - anything - other than write. It doesn’t really matter what it is. If all you ever do is write, you will lose your mind. Writing is like being on fire. It will consume you in such a way that your words will explode in a sudden, flaring passion and then burn out. Ash.
When I was at a flash fiction group last night, an older gentleman who has become a new member of our crew asked me what I do in my free time.
In a horrified whisper, I gasped, “What free time?”
I tried to explain that between writing (60 hours a month, roughly 15 hours a week ideally) and working (40 hours a week at a major Medicare company — no, no, I assure you, it’s notthatinteresting) I don’t have much free time. It was one of the most terrifying conversations I’ve had in a long time.
I think that’s why I took another look at my bucket list. That’s why I decided next week to start running. The weather up here in Pennsylvania is unseasonably warm and pleasant. I want to get out a bit.
Having something else to do gives you a break. It allows you to get your butt away from your desk, to have something else to work on. It puts out the fire, hides the matches, makes you go outside. Be around people, if you can stand them.
It’s okay. You and your writing are in an open relationship. It doesn’t mind that you sneak out with that cupcake mix or that shady sketchpad. It wants some time away from you too.
urbfangirl said: How do you name your characters? I'm afraid of using too personal of names for my characters that could make what I write more personal than intended. Like maybe I didn't mean to do it, it just happened and then there I am either ruining something that was good or reliving something that was bad (say, if it's a villain) - all because of a name.
This is a great question. Naming a character isn’t easy — it’s even less easy if you’re writing something that’s based off something that really happened or if you want to use a name that’s the same as somebody you know. It gets worse the more well-known that person is.
I try to use unfamiliar names myself. Even people who are supposed to be your-neighbor-next-door kind of people have names I don’t hear on a normal basis. For more extraordinary characters, I really go all out and give them a lot of thought.
Here are some tricks I use:
If you absolutely have to use a name that you have some association with, here’s another idea I recommend: find a picture that resembles the character (not a picture you’ve taken of a friend — Google Image search. Random stranger.) and print it out. Put it with your notes. If you feel personal associations with the name getting in the way of your writing, take out the picture and just give yourself a second to say, “This is not the person I know. This has nothing to do with me.”
I hope this helps!
Keep an organized desk.
"No! My creative clutter! If I confine my million pieces of paper to notebooks or folders, or if I force my books onto shelves, or if I know where everything is…why, what kind of writer will I be?!"
A saner one.
Recently, I went to Staples and I bought this giant cube. That’s not really what it is, but it’s what I call it. It’s a square shelf with 3x3 square compartments. I forced my husband to put it together because I was sure I’d end up throwing it off the hill we live on. It is one of the best investments I’ve made in months.
You don’t have to go all out, but figure out places for things. It makes such an awesome difference when it feels like you can breathe again, when there isn’t a mound of receipts or to-do lists or low-carb cookbooks taking up your writing space.
My recommendation: make it a goal of picking up at least one thing every night. One single paperclip. One single sticky note pad. Find a place for it. Then get back to work.
If your desk is a real disaster area, there is another last-ditch idea. Grab a shoe box. Throw it all in. Stick it under the bed. I recommend against continuing this habit, though — if your bed is anything like mine, those boxes are going to disappear. They may even make friends with vagrant pests.
Don’t have time? Make some time.
I also recommend toys. I love having things to pick up and reminisce over when I’m stuck on a piece. Currently, my monitor is bordered by a set of Lord of the Rings figurines. They are both on horseback: the Nazgul and its steed, Gandalf and Shadowfax. They make me think of my father, and that makes me smile.
And don’t call my a hypocrite; I always know where my toys are.