Archive for October, 2010|Monthly archive page

3 Tips to Starve the Tantrum (or the Critic)

In Craft, Fiction Writing, Musings on October 11, 2010 at 1:52 pm

My toddler is having a tantrum on my lap as I type. To even write these sentences is an act of utmost focus–I must ignore his keening cries, his little arms flailing at me, trying to push my hands off the keyboard. My husband and I have invested in a new strategy for tantrums that I realize is very much a metaphor for how to deal with the variety of critics that live in all writers: take the attention away. Ignore it. Starve the tantrum.

There are hundreds of “toddlers” far more vicious in my own mind who pound their fists in fits of temper and destroy the furniture in their bid to convince me I am a terrible person, not to mention writer. They are just as powerful as the real thing, if not worse, because they are responsible for the vast number of times I give up on something, resist revision, let overwhelm take me under, and worse, decide that all my years of writing are for nothing and that I’ve been fooling myself.

These voices are infants, they haven’t been properly disciplined, in fact I’ve let them run rampant in my mind, so just as with an acting out child, ultimately I am to blame. And that means that I can start somewhere.

Will you join me in my new strategy for inner critics and demons, all those ways we stop ourselves from being productive?

Do. Not. Engage.

Walk it out. When you hear the voice shrieking at you, discouraging you, suggesting there is no point to what you do: walk away. Literally. Get up and walk away from whatever you’re trying to do. Refresh your coffee. Walk around the block. Do jumping jacks.

Stream it out. Then, come back to your desk or favorite chair, but rather than picking back up the project you were having the inner fit about, pick up a notebook or journal and just write it all out. Stream it out onto the page so that it isn’t stuck inside your head. Or email a good friend who knows how to help you laugh at these wailing creatures in your brain.

Laugh it out. My favorite strategy to quell the wailing beast is to read or watch something funny. An Onion book or article comes highly recommended. David Sedaris essays. SNL clips. Whatever does it for you.

In Fiction Writing, General, Musings on October 9, 2010 at 7:56 pm

It seems the perfect season to write about demons as skulls, ghosts and wicked pumpkins are slowly arising all over town. Even with another week of Indian Summer–temps in the 80s–there’s a crisp, whispery edge to the wind, and the light does not linger as long.

It’s the season of writing demons for me. The season in which I question the purpose and necessity of writing. The season in which I look at whatever I have produced in the year and wonder what it is all for. No matter how successful I have been, how much praise or validation I’ve received, come October, when many cultures believe the veil between the living and the dead is thinnest, death starts to crowd the edges of my certainty, and my writing rises up around me like paper ghosts, moaning their unknowable fates.

 Sometimes I can channel the darkness into the writing. Other times it means I need to percolate and wait for the post-holiday tsunami that almost inevitably follows around the New Year.  Mainly, I’m learning that there’s no point in fighting it. My psyche goes underground. My sense of purpose becomes buried as if in a mountain of fallen leaves. It’s a season of reading and taking in, a season of teaching and helping keep others afloat.

What does Fall mean to your writing?


If you want an autumnal writing jumpstart, Fiction’s Magic Ingredient begins October 18.

Having Your Way with the First Draft

In Craft, Fiction Writing on October 1, 2010 at 6:59 pm

I will admit there are many days I prefer the feeling of having written to actually writing…And those days tend to come most for me at the beginning of a new project when I’m trying to squeeze the Big Perfect Vision in my head down through the funnel of reality onto the blank, unforgiving page. Right now I’ve got 20 pages of Shiny New Thing. Not a lot of pages. Just enough to make me feel as though a real story is taking shape, but not enough to convince me that there will be any harm in walking away.

The reason for this cavalier attitude is that in a first draft you (and I) don’t know your characters yet. Oh sure, maybe you did sketches and used a workbook, an outline process, whatever, but the fact is that characters don’t become real until you take them for the lengthy test drive that is the first draft of your novel. And the more I think about this, as my still fairly one-dimensional characters stare back at me from those twenty pages, the more free it makes me feel.

How wonderful that I get to spend an entire draft just throwing down ideas on who these people will be. Putting my characters in and out of events and situations like dolls in a dollhouse. Trying out the feel of a setting, the tone of my language. Your first draft can be an exhilarating place of freedom because you don’t have to get it right yet.  It’s like parenthood in the extreme: I get to grow my characters up in a relatively short period of time. First, I find out who they are by writing them down in all their messiness, and then, after a break to come up for air, I get to go in and do the really interesting work of understanding and then transforming them.

I hope this might help free some of you up, too, to remember that a first draft is not supposed to be perfect. Nowhere near it. It is simply the moment when the Big Perfect Idea in your head gets mapped onto paper for you to finally have your way with it.