Category Archives: writer’s block

Don’t quit your day job

It’s one of the most common phrases a writer hears (possibly just after “have I read anything of yours” or “it must be fun to just get to write all the time): something about that day job of yours. Whether you flip burgers or are a neurosurgeon, everyone seems to think they have an opinion on how you earn a living, and that you need to hear it.

Of course, here I am with an opinion, and think you need to hear it. I’m cool with hypocrisy.

Don’t quit your day job. No, really, don’t.

I, like most other writers with middling to piddling success, require a day job. I’ve been lucky that my husband works in an industry that is ever-expanding, allowing me to stay home with our kids when they were young, and then work on my writing career as they’ve moved onto full-time school, and maintaining a Lord of the Flies-like rulings in their kingdom of two.

I also work, part-time. I understand that this might make my point a bit more moot, as I work mornings and have afternoons and evenings more or less free to write, or dick around as much as I want. However, I’ve also held a full-time job, a rather grueling one, requiring fourteen hour days and lunches eaten hunched over my computer in a closed-off office. It was when I was at this job that I started my first manuscript; it was after I was laid off that I finished it.

Writing is an extremely insular art form. Most writers work in solitude, and books are read far from the reach of the writer. While an artist may not be able to stand right next to you and explain their intention in color selection, a painting can be seen by more person than one, at the same time, can be shared by an entire group at once, and discussed in real time. Books require a dedication to read, to consider, and to reach out about. Being a writer is pretty lonely.

I write in the morning, when I first get up, before my brain is awake enough to let the inner critic carry on at me, telling me everything I do is pointless and stupid. I write in the afternoon when she’s in full-force, too, but, in between, I go to work. I do administrative stuff in health care, for a doctor’s practice, inside of a hospital (how’s that for vague?). This means that I interact with, on average, at least 50 people a day, in an important and direct manner.

Every writer has the ambition to be able to live off their writing. I know few who have expressed blockbuster dreams, or millionaire fantasies– most writers just want to be able to call writing their actual job, with a decent paycheck, just like their day job.

At this point in my life, I don’t know that I would want to quit to solely write. I’ve mentioned before that I hate the romanticizing of the artist life, like writers (and painters, weavers, photographers, actors, et al) are doing something deeply enlightened. It’s still a job, it’s still work. And it’s a lonely, drudging job at that. When a chapter is going poorly, and I’m tired and crabby and nothing seems to be going right, there are few people to turn to in my misery. Writer’s groups, in theory, are the outlet for this– but, I feel, everyone is suffering in their own bubble, and they’re just amassing the bubbles in one place.

At a workplace, there’s a shared feeling that is impossible to get solo. It’s that “we’re all in this together” feeling that makes any terrible day feel a bit more manageable.

I have no desire to quit my day job. Writing will always be my chosen career, but, in lieu of some kind of overwhelming (and, honestly, unwanted) celebrity, I can’t see myself wanting it to be the whole focus of my days. I love writing. I also like my sanity.


Questions No One Asked Me: Part One

Sometimes, you see, I do this thing. It’s usually in the shower but, from time to time, I do it in the car, or even while walking the dog. I don’t usually talk about it, but I don’t think I’m the only person who does it.

I interview myself.

What, you were expecting something else?

It comes from watching the early days of Oprah, maybe, or too many awards shows. I was an avid reader of Seventeen and YM in my youth, and my favorite parts of the magazines (besides the “horrible things happen to me too!” fake write-in columns) were always the interviews where the questions were bolded and the star replied. I like a good list, after all, and I even more like hearing people talk about themselves. Maybe it’s a character study, or I’m really into self-absorbed people, who knows? But I do love a good interview, even when I’m the one who has to interview myself.

Thus, today, I intro “Questions No One Asked Me.”

Today’s question: “Lorrie, we all already know your stance on writing, and writing schedules, and taking responsibility for your writing output. But, really, what if you force yourself to write, and it sucks?”

Thanks for asking!

It’s a very real fear, that you commit yourself to writing, want to be writing, even, and find out that the words you put on the page are, for a lack of a better descriptor, utter crap. It would come as quite a shock, wouldn’t it, to find that even though you’re willing to make the effort, it’s in vain because your skills are on par with a donkey who backed into a typewriter while drunk. After all, you make the effort, you put in the time, shouldn’t that account for something?

If only!

The truth of the matter is: you will write crap. You will write crap more often than you write anything good, or worthwhile, even. You will write pages and pages of crap, sometimes for an entire day, sometimes every time you sit down at the computer, sometimes for weeks. You’ll have your brighter days, of course, where everything you type is golden and beautiful, but these days don’t last long, and almost never come consecutively.

Sitting down and writing is quite obviously made that much more difficult when you introduce the threat of shit writing. Staring down a computer screen with that devil on your shoulder, telling you you’re going to fail can cause even the most determined, and even skilled, writer to balk at bothering at all. After all, if you don’t write, you can’t suck, right?

Every day, I write. I know many people with other methods, but the most popular way to get through the process of writing, even the bad days, is, simply, write. Write when you don’t feel like it, write when you’re tired, write when you’re stressed, write when you feel like you have nothing to say. The truth of the matter is: most of those times, that is when you will write your worst. It’s a ridiculous cliche that you must be having some intense emotion or life experience for your writing to read truthfully, or have any depth. The majority of writing comes from people who are, for the most part, pretty okay with themselves, and their lives. After all, if they weren’t, they probably wouldn’t get much out, if just because they might not make it that long.

How, then, do you survive writing all that crap? How can you still be happy when you have pages of prose you can never use, passages that couldn’t fit into your story if you took a blowtorch to them?

To begin with: bad writing does not make you a bad writer, just as one burned meal doesn’t make you a terrible cook. No one is “on” every last day of their lives. Even a genius wakes up with a case of the Mondays.

Second: writing, any writing, is good, even the bad stuff. Why? Well, of course, you’re writing, but, even more importantly– this can, and often does, lead to the good stuff! Sitting down and rambling out six pages of characters wandering aimlessly, conversations that go nowhere, action that falls flat, can not only clear out the muck that’s weighing you down, but can also jog your brain, and help you work your way through troublesome scenes, plot holes, and questions about motivations. Right now, you may be writing a too-long description about the horrible meal a character’s aunt has cooked, simply because you can’t think of anything else to write, but suddenly you know why he wants to go to Cambodia, or how to bring in that phone call that will tie Character X into Character A’s story.

The most important thing to remember, though, is: bad writing days will not last forever. The more you fear them, and let them control you, the longer and harder they stick. Making the effort to power through them, to refuse to let them control you, can only bring you out the other side, where you’ll be a better writer for them.

And then you’ll get to do that imaginary red carpet interview while you shave your armpits, too!

Stay tuned for more Questions No One Asked Me!


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.


Episode 22: Fanfiction and Inspiration vs. Plagiarism

lilt22

in which Laila and Lorrie discuss the morality of writing fanfiction, the joys of fandom and whether or not publishing stories that originated there is plagiarism.

(If the application doesn’t work for you, please click here for the audio-file!)

What about you?
Have you written fan fiction? Do you think authors have a right to forbid it?
And how do you feel about former fanfiction now sold as original work?
Credits:
Our intro music was taken from the Free Music Archive:
GeeNerve - Pink Fish Signs (Take Two).

Filed under: Episodes

Episode 21: Looking back on a Year of Writing

lilt21

in which Laila and Lorrie discuss their year of writing seriously, for publication and more than they could ever have imagined.

(If the application doesn’t work for you, please click here for the audio-file!)

What about you? What have you learned last year?

Credits:
Our intro music was taken from the Free Music Archive:
GeeNerve - Pink Fish Signs (Take Two).

Filed under: Episodes

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.


Episode 20: The Show vs. Tell Paradigm

Lilt20

in which Laila and Lorrie discuss the writing maxim of Show Don’t Tell and where we agree with it and where we feel it’s a little too generalizing.

(If the application doesn’t work for you, please click here for the audio-file!)

What about you? What do you feel about Show Don’t Tell?

Credits:
Our intro music was taken from the Free Music Archive:
GeeNerve - Pink Fish Signs (Take Two).

Filed under: Episodes

Episode 19: Nanowrimo 2013 – Getting Unstuck

lilt19

in which Laila and Lorrie discuss Nanowrimo again and talk about ways to help yourself when writing gets hard and you can’t see the way forward.

(If the application doesn’t work for you, please click here for the audio-file!)

What about you?
How do you get unstuck?
Credits:
Our intro music was taken from the Free Music Archive:
GeeNerve - Pink Fish Signs (Take Two).
The resources we mention in this podcast are:
Lilt on Writer's Block


Filed under: Episodes

Episode 18: Nanowrimo – the good and the bad

lilt18

in which Laila and Lorrie discuss Nanowrimo, both taking part in it and the broader implications on taking part as an author. How can you make the most of nano without falling prey to some of it’s less positive aspects?

(If the application doesn’t work for you, please click here for the audio-file!)

What about you?
Are you taking part in Nanowrimo? How is your experience with it?
Credits:
Our intro music was taken from the Free Music Archive:
GeeNerve - Pink Fish Signs (Take Two).
The resources we mention in this podcast are:
Lilt on Writer's Block
Row80 (A Round of Words in 80 Days)
List of Timed Challenges
MiniWriMo

Filed under: Episodes

Hiatus

Lilt is on a brief hiatus while we work on ten projects at once and Lorrie gets into the wine. In the meantime, we wanted to relink some of our pasts podcasts in anticipation of the start of NanoWriMo next week!

Episode 7: Planning vs. Pantsing

Episode 12: Writing “sensitive” male characters.

Episode 13: Writer’s Block

We’ll be back on the 28th with our monthly reading wrap-up. Join us then, and for the wild month of writing ahead!


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