Category Archives: inspiration

On Inspiration

It’s one of the questions that writers hear most, and one of those that makes most writers shrug their shoulders, shake their heads, or just plain want to tear their hair out.

Where do you get inspiration to write?

It’s as ridiculous a question as asking how one gets inspired to drive to work, but I’m willing to give a little on it. For so long, we (both writers and the general public– I’ll let us all shoulder the blame for this) have mystified the whole process of writing. It’s something that requires a special set of skills, a special mindset, a way of thinking and relating, and, so, of course, one who does not write can’t really help but wonder how one who does gets to that writing.

What inspires you? they ask.

Let me tell you.

1) The shower. You think I’m kidding but I’m not. I remember hearing something once (and, admittedly, it might have been on 30 Rock) that when you’re distracted by something as base and simple as showering, your brain has access to more of your thoughts– or, rather, gets more space to do it’s thinking. You’re busy trying to keep shampoo out of your eyes, and so your brain can tool along its happy path, wondering what would happen if someone were to jump from the top of a three story building into a pool, and then, lo and behold, you’ve figured out the escape route for your character who is cornered on the roof of his apartment building.

2) The car. Similar to the shower, but not quite. I mean, at this point, you’re attempting not to kill other people, but what, pray tell, are you supposed to do while waiting in gridlock or idling at a light? The radio, after all, only plays the same five songs on repeat all day, so it’s not like you’re going to find yourself introduced to something new and startling in the music world. Sure, you could listen to NPR, but you also are a person who spends 90% of their day already fretting about the state of the world, so you don’t really need the help (I may be speaking from experience).

3) Observation. This should be a no-brainer. Who hasn’t come up with entire histories for strangers in a coffee shop, stories for lip-read conversations, what-if scenarios for if the guy had stepped off the curb a second later? It’s like scripting your own TV show without having to pay anyone.

4) Interaction. Sorry to say, the old adage is true: anything you say and do can, and probably will, end up in a writer’s work, in some form. Conversations spark ideas, that come to rest in a story. That lame chat you had about what season mangoes are harvested while you each poured a cup of coffee in the break room? That’s now in a manuscript about a dystopian future when fruit is a novelty. We find novelty in things that may happen, day to day, hour to hour, without thought, because they fit neatly in a space we’ve been trying to fill in a story. A story about your childhood dance class, or the way you adjusted your skirt are now part of the repertoire.

5) Reading. “Good writers borrow, great writers steal outright.” (attributed to either T.S. Eliot, or Aaron Sorkin, depending on what part of the internet you land on) I wouldn’t say that’s totally true, but, certainly, reading influences writing. I’ve always been baffled by so-called writers who don’t care for reading. It’s as suspicious as chefs who don’t look like they eat (I’m looking at you, Giada De Laurentiis). But, moreover, reading is, in a way, similar to sitting around, talking about ideas and art with people you enjoy and respect. You probably shouldn’t write a thinly-veiled imitation of something like, say, 1984, but certainly your dystopian future can (and probably should) be influenced by George Orwell.

6) Writing. You knew it was coming, right? If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know that I’m a drill sergeant for consistency in a writing regimen, and insistent that the only way to get better as a writer is to write. The truth is, though, you also are most likely to find your inspiration in the actual act of writing. Sitting down and writing, no matter what it is, stimulates the brain, and the imagination. Maybe you have no clue what you’re starting with, and maybe it sucks for a hundred, or a thousand, words, but the more you do it, the easier it is, and the more ideas come.

I cringe at the idea that one must have a grand inspiration in order to motivate their writing. The truth is: few of us have all that exciting lives. If we sit around and wait for inspiration to strike, we’re more likely to be hit by a bolt of lightening out of the sky (according to really cursory Googling, I’m finding you have a 1 in 1,200 chance of that which is, suffice to say, pretty unlikely, and a really good simile for my point).

Inspiration is made. The longer you sit around and wait for it, the longer you’ll sit around and write nothing.

And that’s just sad.


Are we still not doing “phrasing”?

Forgive the shameless Archer reference. What I want to talk about is word choice, but it was too good to pass up.

dontjudge

After she read After Life Lessons, my mother had a few things to say. She had some helpful criticisms, some thoughts, and then: “You know, I don’t like the word cock.”

This was immediately followed by a conversation about how there are no good words for male anatomy, so “cock,” as it stands, was about as good as we could get it. (Phrasing!) We went through several variations over wine, and ended the conversation cracking up over, I believe it was, “throbbing manhood.”

I love my mom.

Word choice is a funny thing. Given how much we all talk (and type, anymore), it’s not something any of us put a lot of thought into in our daily lives. I have a habit of reminding my kids to “find their words” before they speak but, when it comes down to it, few of us spend more than a split second of thought before words come out of our mouths.

It’s the magic of our brains, really, that ability to follow another person’s speech with our own. Imagine how very long conversations would take if we considered every last word to come out of our mouths. Deliberation over certain words aside, can you imagine deciding if you should insert “the” or buy a vowel or something?

In writing, of course, things are a bit different. We read differently than we listen, and where our brain picks up nuances in speech, it can gloss right over some writing while snagging on a misplaced, or poorly chosen, word. The wrong word can yank you right out of a fictional piece: way back, I had some beta readers call me out on a character referring to suburban homes as “McMansions.” It’s something I’ve said multiple times in my life, but, indeed, that specific character would never use such a description. It was removed, and the passage flowed cleaner, more like him, less like me.

When reading, word choice, as much as– or even more, in some cases– character development, setting, plot, even, defines how we feel about the writing itself. If a character moves and thinks and acts a certain way, and then a word the reader doesn’t associate with them– be it too academic, or slang, or simple– there is a disconnect, and the world the writer has created cracks a little bit. It can be difficult to impossible to reenter a world you don’t feel is entirely truthful.

While a single word isn’t likely to doom an entire story, repeated slips can. To use a tired metaphor, it’s like a plate, where one crack spiders into more and the whole thing falls apart. If your pompous doctoral candidate keeps using flat, simple descriptions, lacking in specificity, his intelligence, his entire characterization, can be damaged. He’s no longer impressive: he sounds like a dumbass.

Some words aren’t quite as problematic. Like our use of “cock”. It was the lesser of a whole host of evils, and fit more with the twenty-something character set. Certainly we could have used “penis,” but there is something weirdly jarring about that word when describing an act of sex. The others (including my mother’s snort-laugh suggestion of “throbbing manhood”) just sounded silly. So cock it is.

I really just wanted to end the post like that. But!

After Life Lessons was released on April 8th and we’ve been so humbled by how enthusiastic and positive the majority of the response has been. THANK YOU. We love sharing Emily and Aaron, and their zombie-filled world with everyone.

We just finished the first draft of Interludes, a series of first-person point of view stories from the same characters in the year following the first book. It will be released (for free!) this summer, as we work on the second part of After Life Lessons. We did a broad plotting session for that last night and I’m very excited about it! It will include some new characters and an expanded look at the world several years after the zombie infection wiped out most of humanity.

If you still haven’t gotten a copy of After Life Lessons, it’s available at Amazon (also at UK, Canada, and more), Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, and Kobo. If you have read it, I’d love to hear your feelings, either in the comments here, or in a review on your preferred site.

Thanks for supporting indie writers!


Ms. Writinglove or: How I learned to stop procrastinating and just write dammit

I write this with a sore wrist and a body rather severely lacking sleep. I am not sure where the former came from, but the latter seems to be my condition the older I get. It’s genetic, to a degree, but also the inability of my brain to just shut the F up and let me sleep already.

Being as it is the end of the year, sore wrist and sleepiness aside, I thought it appropriate to do a bit of a recap of the last year – or, at the very least, a bit of waxing on months past. I have a rather poor memory, so I may rely heavily on poetic license. I promise I’ll try to avoid claiming a close friendship with Beyonce.

I wrote a lot this year. Given the current status of my publication career (read: very small), I know it is difficult for people to see, let alone understand, the sheer amount of writing I’ve done this year. It’s a little frustrating to know the number (that’s right, I went and totaled it*) and have people still need to ask “Where have you been published?”

The truth is: this is my reality. I’m not going to claim that it hasn’t been a hard slog this year. I did not have the kind of success I would have liked (and maybe, in my wilder “interviewing myself while showering” fantasies) once I really buckled down and made an effort in my writing career. Submitting my work had mixed results, most negative. I have, for the first time in my life, earned some version of an income from my writing, as small as it is. I have seen my work in print, and had readers give me good reviews.

Still, it’s hard. This year alone, I’ve gotten around 50 rejections, most of them form, and completely unhelpful. The few times I (and often in conjunction with Laila) received a rejection that strayed even slightly from form, it was rarely anything concretely constructive – for the same manuscript, different reasons for rejection were given, and none of them were something necessarily fixable, like style, like setting. There is a sort of burning that comes with multiple rejections. You start to chafe a bit.

Still, I wrote. I had a spate, here and there, where I would double down, hide out, and refuse to write, like a child who thinks refusing to do homework will punish her teacher. I contemplated giving up, finding a career that involved leaving the house – or just moving to the mountains and becoming a goat herd. I pouted, I tantrumed, I berated myself.

I went back to writing. I say that it’s the only thing I’m good at, but it’s also the only thing I like doing. Writing is a joy, and writing is my job. It’s difficult to escape either, or give them up easily.

This year, I wrote collaboratively with Laila and, together, we wrote one novella, and three full-length manuscripts, including one that we are furiously editing as we speak, in order to release through independent press means next year. On my own, I wrote two full-length adult fiction novels, one young adult magical realism story, and nearly two dozen short stories, both mainstream and erotic: one, “Steps,” appeared in Anything She Wants; “Invincible” was included in The Dying Goose Fall edition. In the next year, I will be appearing in (among others not currently listed): Best Bondage Erotica 2014, Book Lovers: Sexy Stories from Under the Covers, and A Princess Bound: Naughty Fairy Tales for Women.

I suppose the biggest, most important lesson 2013 taught me was the thing I’ve been saying all along: write. You have to write. There is a success in writing despite all odds, and there is a success in believing in what you are doing, despite any concrete, sharable outcome.

And, really, when you do finally have that outcome, it is all the sweeter.

2014 is already setting up to present new challenges and opportunities alike. I’m excited, even as my more negative side already wants to hide under the desk. I’m setting myself some new goals, and looking forward to the many plans I’ve made.

I hope your last year was as bizarrely enriching as mine was. Or, at least, that you got to drink a lot during it. Peace out. I’ll see you next year.

*In totaling my word count for the year, I only included finished pieces. This excluded a half-finished novella, the start of two different sequels, an abandoned novel, and at least 6 unfinished short stories. Taking that hit into account, my finished work, this year, totaled 465,455 words. BOOYAH.