I originally wrote this post while participating in a group blog, The Great Noveling Adventure, that is no longer active. It was first published on March 9, 2014.
I still find it very relevant to me. Maybe you will, too.
In a very nebulous, non-scientific, late-at-night-inside-my-head-before-I-fall-asleep way, I have wondered about the connection between artistic talent and depressive temperament.
Many writers and artists I know, including myself, struggle with depression in one form or another.
Is it because we are more emotionally sensitive to the world at large? Is it because as the saying goes, writing is easy, all you have to do is open a vein and bleed?
I came across two pieces on the web this week that added some food for thought to this question.
This first piece I heard on Fresh Air while driving in my car. It’s a fascinating interview on NPR of Alexander Payne, the director of “Nebraska”. At one point he discussed how all great actors have ready access to their emotions at any time. What he said next was such an, “Ah ha!” moment for me, I sat in my driveway for ten minutes in my car mulling it over after the interview ended.
And that’s why life is often so difficult for them because they can’t keep their emotions tamped down, as like…as you and I can. So then if you can put an oil pump on that spurting oil well of emotion, then you can be a professional actor…
It’s beautiful to see how fully they wish to give of themselves. And I’ve always been confused by people saying of a certain actor’s performance, oh, it’s so brave. What a brave performance. What I think, that’s what they’re there to do, they’re there to do anything. It’s not brave. I think it’s the job. And it also should be coming from an attitude of fun and playfulness, and isn’t it delightful to be doing this and to be expressing these emotions and going deeply, deeply into who we are. And showing those of us who have less ready access to our emotions, and often have to pay people to help us get in touch with our emotions, to show us what’s available, what’s beneath the surface. It’s beautiful what they do.
I loved this so much. It made absolute sense to me. How similar is that to a writer connecting to the emotional truth of a scene? Of a character?
This second piece was written by one of my favorite YA authors, Libba Bray. She recently posted this deeply personal look at her own struggle with depression on her blog, entitled Miles and Miles of No-Man’s Land. I would strongly encourage you to take a moment to hop on over and bookmark this page. You will want to read this over and over again.
She describes depression as I’ve experienced so well. You can have a good moment and still be depressed. You can laugh at a joke, make it through a day okay and still be on the verge of losing it.
As she describes it:
There is an undertow to depression. It doesn’t take you all at once. It leaves you with some false sense that you are coping. That you are in control. That you have the shore still well in sight, until, at some point, you raise your head to find yourself all alone, battered by rough seas with absolutely no idea which way you should swim.
I was moved by Bray’s words. She mentions a shame that comes with depression that makes it hard to talk about sometimes because it’s an invisible disease; you can’t see the wound it leaves like a broken limb. The gaping hole we may feel inside isn’t obvious to others around us. This is why it’s even more important to know that you are not alone.
So what are your thoughts on the creative soul and depression? Do these thoughts resonate with you?
Yes, I’m back! I took some much needed time off from the blog to recharge my creative battery, which was getting frightfully low.
Part of that recharge included attending the 45th Annual SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles with my tribe. I never feel more at home anywhere in the world than when I’m surrounded by these people. I always come away feeling fulfilled and motivated.
We started out in a new venue this year, the (extremely haunted) Millennium Biltmore Hotel, which boasts many specters, one of the most famous being Elizabeth Short, known as the Black Dahlia, who was last seen in the bar before her death back in 1947.
Throughout the conference there were reports of doors and cabinets that refused to stay closed and bathtubs that filled up all on their own. Still, the spookiest thing that happened was when one of our own group from Oklahoma snapped a selfie all alone in the hallway of the infamous eighth floor. But it wasn’t quite a selfie – something was in the background behind her. It freaked everyone out who looked at it, I’m telling you. (If you’re really curious, just ask Ginny to show you sometime…at your own peril.)
Day One began with a marvelous welcome by the incomparable Lin Oliver and the always entertaining faculty parade. Then it was on to the first keynote.
Drew Daywalt Embraces His Inner Voice
Drew Daywalt launched the conference with his keynote entitled “Does This Keynote Make My Butt Look Big?” And yes, it was just as funny as you would imagine. But it was also touching and inspiring as well. His first two picture books, THE DAY THE CRAYONS QUIT and the sequel, THE DAY THE CRAYONS CAME HOME have both been very successful. This is not something he was expecting. “I come from a long line of failed picture book writers.”
After growing up one of six kids in a house that was most likely haunted (sensing a theme for the weekend?) he started his adulthood writing screenplays in Hollywood, but found that world very unsatisfying and a little too cutthroat. He kept coming back to something author Jack Gantos once told him, that he had a voice for kids’ books. Yet, he kept put off writing for kids.
Then one day, he saw a box of crayons and thought about how they always had crayons but he never remembered buying them. He gave it a shot and wrote his first children’s book. Ten long years later – it took his agent four years to sell the book – it was published.
After his first school visit, a kid “broke through security” to give him a hug and kissed his cheek. He talked about how that experience changed him.
“Hollywood knocked me down, and a million tiny little hands caught me.”
(Yes, there was a collective “Awww” heard round the conference room at that.)
His picture books express a unique voice, a unique vision. When addressing the concept of voice, he said, “it is absolutely your fingerprint.”
Every story has been told, so it’s been said, but none in YOUR voice. You have to be willing to be vulnerable, too.
Writing a story and asking someone what they think about it is like standing there butt naked and saying, “Hey, do you like it?”
It’s about honesty.
You have to be honest to your own voice, and then you’ll be fine.
Fantastic way to open the conference!
Arthur Levine Gets Personal
Moving into the workshop portion of the morning, the fabulous Arthur Levine, (Scholastic’s imprint Arthur A. Levine – Harry Potter’s American publisher, that Arthur Levine) gave a talk entitled, “When It’s Personal: Translating Life into Fiction”. He’s also an author and has written several stories that have been inspired from his own life.
“Arguably, all good fiction is drawn from the personal.”
How do we do this well? We take a story we care about that already has setting, emotions, and characters.
Blindspots are the problem.
When we’re telling personal stories to friends, we don’t have to be as careful about timelines, backgrounds, and setting. There’s a history built in with the audience.
When we try to translate these stories, we forget what’s visible. Interpersonal dynamics aren’t always clear. We don’t know how well this is showing up on the page. We still have all the work of creating characters that live on the page. It’s not visible unless we make it visible.
Sometimes memories aren’t complete. You may only have snippets of memories from one event that don’t give you a cohesive story. Diligent research can fill in for memory lapses.
Readers don’t know that you’re mixing and matching as long as it works and there’s fidelity.
Your stories and anecdotes are tools.
What are you trying to say? Does this plot support that? If not, you need to change it. The more changes you make, the more distance and objectivity it gives you.
“Feelings are clothing that other characters can wear – have to tailor to fit.”
Many great ideas for future stories came out of this session!
The great thing about our new location is that we were smack in the middle of downtown LA and there was so much going on around us and so much waiting to be explored. After dreading the long line at the hotel café, I saw a tweet mentioning food trucks across the street. Not only food trucks, but live music, and a beyond fascinating moving art sculpture canopy. Lunch time was saved!
Sara’s talk was entitled, “Cutting Edge YA Fiction”. She started at HarperCollins about a year ago to develop books that teens really want to read. She studied these teens in-depth. She thought we should get to know these readers, understand them, “and dare say, even love them”.
What a radical concept!
Here’s some marketing data on this Gen Z:
They are the 1st generation to be majority non-white
Have an average attention span of 8 seconds
Use an average of 5 devices – smart phone, laptop, desktop, tablet, TV
More tolerant of gender diversity than previous generations
Their experience at school is totally different than what your was.
**One of the main reasons Sara rejects a manuscript is because it seems like the author is writing to the teen they were instead of to who teens are today.
Who are you telling the story for? Do you know today’s teen audience?
Sara then gave many ideas on how an author could immerse themselves in teen culture to see what teens today are interested in.
So what does ‘cutting edge’ mean? It plays with expectation and form. To Sara, it’s pushing boundaries and trying new things – “Making me think in new ways.”
Here are some brainstorming ideas to get you started:
Using Adult Novels for Brainstorming – What exciting things are your favorite adult authors doing that you’re not seeing in YA? Same goes for TV shows, movies, webisodes, and Youtube.
Backward/Parallel Universe – Think BEFORE I FALL by Lauren Oliver or Sliding Doors movie
Using Video Game as a Framework – Like Ready Player One.
Complete Opposite – Instead of something to escape FROM, give characters something to escape INTO.
Think about a world that has one element our world doesn’t have – one element. Take it away or add it. Think Pleasantville and color.
At the Plot -level – Think about character dynamics. Does the football player always need to be popular?
Period of time – Play with the limit of time your story takes place – 24 hours, a couple of hours. How would this change/affect a story?
There were so many great ideas. You can rethink storylines and come up with something innovative. The one point she made at the end was that you can be cutting edge while staying true to your own story.
Only way to top the first day of great speakers was with dessert…
And more relaxing time with my writer friends at the Golden Kite Awards Dinner.
My artistic soul on the mend at the end of Day One.
I always enjoy listening to illustrators when they give keynotes. (Maybe because they have great visuals in their presentations.) Even though I’m not an artist, per se, I love learning about their stories and their creative process. There is always something to learn and you can always find inspiration in another’s journey. Jon Klassen’s keynote was a great way to start day two.
Jon Klassen Thinks Outside of Himself
Jon Klassen opened Day Two with his keynote entitled “Finding Yourself in the Work”, which was all about how we go about the process of creating or rather how we don’t. “Your job is to take care of what creates your style, not to try to define it or try to think about it.” When it’s time to do the work, think outside of yourself.
Pretty heady stuff for a children’s book illustrator, yes?
Klassen gave the example of David Bowie creating music as Ziggy Stardust. He had to create this character to begin to create the music for the album. He had to get outside of himself before he could start the project.
Joseph Albert, known for solid color square paintings, would give his art students an assignment to paint a blue square. They would all be different. “All of you have your own style, even with the most basic instruction.”
Start with what you can do. “I was a horrible animator.” He did like drawing big animals who didn’t look like they wanted to be there. Bears, especially. “Bears have a lot of potential for violence.” A bear in your studio with a hat could go very badly. He didn’t know how to start with dialogue. Then he started thinking in terms of plays and his characters acting out and using their own lines, not his; it started to work.The idea for the book I WANT MY HAT BACK came about through this process.
He said at one point your process may even drift away from its starting point. You have to be okay that your process will wander in unexpected ways. At one point, it’s not yours anymore, it belongs to itself.
Marie Lu Gets Creative
I loved racing through Marie Lu‘s LEGEND series. More than anything, I loved the characters. So I didn’t hesitate when choosing my next breakout session to hear her speak on the subject, “Character is King: Bringing Imaginary People to Life”. This was immediately following her keynote, which was also fantastic.
Although she considers herself a panster versus a plotter, she does take a lot of time developing her characters before she starts writing.
“I always plan out my characters. They are very real people to me.”
She then decides how to build a world to suit them.
One idea she expressed that I loved was that when building characters, there should be some opposition to each other. Create tension before you even put them into a room together.
And that was another great suggestion, she plays around with her characters before getting down to writing her story. She will put two of her characters into a room together and write some dialogue just to see what happens.
She discussed many character building tricks she uses. My favorite one was flip it, where you write a scene where a character is forced to act opposite to their strengths and core beliefs until you discover the point that they become weak, selfish, etc. Or the opposite for a villain.
It helps to know what you want from the story and who you want to tell it before you begin.
Truly an enlightening talk.
Later I had the pleasure of getting one of her books signed. She was such a delight! (And I can’t wait to start reading this next series!)
As Saturday was my daughter’s birthday, I treated her to lunch at a fancy schmancy place of her choosing within walking distance of the hotel. Delicious.
Neal Shusterman Struggles with Chaos
I feel like I live at the corner of chaos and procrastination, so the title of Neal Shusterman’s keynote, “Making Meaning: The Writer’s Struggle to Find Order in the Chaos, and Stories Worth Telling”, was just what I needed to hear. He discussed the ever-so-slow journey to publishing success with its many failures and missteps and with surprising discoveries along the way.
He even shared some fallacies he discovered about the writing profession, like “never ask for feedback from someone you feed”. Friends may just want to make you happy and parents always have an agenda, he says, but kids will be honest. (Even the ones you feed.) He says the best feedback you can get is from other writers.
At the end, he asked, so why do we write?
How do we find the stories worth telling?
It’s about the reader.
Deep down we have a belief that we have something to say. We need to dig in to our own passions, wrestle with our own demons. If we’re doing it right, we always struggle with whether or not we’re doing it wrong.
I had the privilege of meeting him later to have him sign a copy if his outstanding book CHALLENGER DEEP. He was so nice.
BIRTHDAY TREAT AT LOUIE!!!
I couldn’t exactly bake my youngling a cake, but stopping in for a treat at this divine bakery was a fine substitute.
OFF TO THE BALL!!!
Saturday night means party time!
(And even though the youngling commented on the goofiness of the old people music and dance moves, she had a great time.)
I had such a wonderful time at the conference this year!
After a most tumultuous year, I’m ready to get back to work on my writing in earnest. I have two manuscripts that need one good revision each, and then some beta reading and feedback, and one final polish before I’m ready to shove them out of the nest to watch them soar to the sky or crash and burn. I also have one other manuscript with some exciting interest that I need to finish. Pronto. This means making some changes to my daily routine to ensure I’m focused and productive.
Every. Single. Day.
Another thing I’ve done is reviewed my outside commitments. As I’ve taken on a much larger role with my local SCBWI group, (I’m now the Social Media Coordinator for SCBWI Oklahoma and co-host for the monthly #okscbwichat we hold on Twitter) I’ve decided to pull back from participating in the group blog The Great Noveling Adventure. I will miss TGNA tremendously, but this will allow me to spend more time completing my manuscripts, and prepping them for submission – my major goal for the year!
I’ve also revamped my vision for this blog and have planned out some exciting ideas for the coming year.
Here are some of the changes coming soon:
I will continue to read, read, read, and to encourage you all to do the same.
I’m participating in a few reading challenges, and I will share my progress along the way – as well as any fantastic books I discover. As always, I hope you share any books you fall in love with, too.
I will also introduce a read-along book club to share some of my favorite reads this year. Nothing too stressful or demanding, but a bit more interactive. And an excuse to re-read some of my faves of all time. (And get others to read them!)
Speaking of interactive, I have a strong desire to practice writing short stories. I know it’s an area that can help me expand my writing skills. (We should never stop learning or expanding or skills, right?)
To encourage others to write, write, write, along with me I’ll be introducing a monthly flash fiction writing prompt that might even involve some prizes to add some excitement.
I’ll still include the popular book reviews and craft posts and the odd personal story or interview from time to time to keep things lively.
One more new addition will be a monthly #TBT (ThrowBack Thursday) post where I will share some of my favorites that I originally posted over on the TGNA blog.
I hope you enjoy the changes, and join in the some of the more interactive activities.
My marriage of 24 years ended painfully, as such things often do. The side effects caused by this, especially for my kids, have compounded and multiplied, and I don’t see an end to the trauma anytime soon.
I’ve had to dig deep to find more and more strength to keep going through some very dark days. Many times, it was my friends that helped me through.
I am terrible at asking for help or unloading my crap on others, so forcing myself to share what was going on with me was tremendously uncomfortable – almost painful.
I also have a tendency to go radio silent when things are at their worst.
I know I made the conscious (and again, extremely painful) effort to stay busy, to be social and to not stay home on my couch in the dark. I made the effort to answer the phone when friends called to check up on me, because they knew I was going through a tough time , and needed to talk (even though I really, really, REALLY didn’t want to talk to anyone), but I also know I wouldn’t have made it through without the support of my friends.
Even though things still suck monumentally right now, things won’t suck forever. I will get through this.
Because of them.
It’s the season of giving thanks, and to all of you who helped me make it this far, I love you and I am forever thankful.
If you need help sticking to your goals or need some encouragement when all seems bleak, this is a fantastic group of people to help cheer you on and help you reach those goals.
The rules are simple:
1. Make a list of realistic goals for the month – and achieve them.
2. Make a Blog Post every week (preferably Wednesdays, but if you don’t post on Wednesdays just add it to the next day you would normally post ). This is to help us keep tabs on our own progress, and for others to cheer us on if it’s a difficult week. Please link to the post in the #writemotivation hashtag
3. Visit your #writemotivation team mates blogs, and participate in the #writemotivation hashtag to cheer people on.
I have a major project to complete by the end of this month, so this is perfect timing for me. This one is going to take so much focus for me to stay the course. I need my #writemotivation gang to help me through this!
Here are my June goals:
1. Make word count goal of 2000 words five days each week. That’s the minimum. It wouldn’t hurt to go a bit higher.
2. Completed requested project by the end of the month. Very excited about this project!
3. Plan blog posts for the month and post weekly. I have been less than consistent over the past couple of months, what with the youngling graduating high school and other major life changes coming into play. Time to regroup and refocus.
4. Read & review at least two books. Have one books already finished and ready to review. This may be the easiest goal to complete. 🙂
So how about you? What are your goals for the summer? For June? Want to join in #WriteMotivation?
We all have to face fears in our lives at one time or another.
My daughter drops whatever she’s doing and runs inside at the sight of any flying insect with a stinger (mostly bees, but on occasion she has run from butterflies by mistake). My husband has to put on his iPod and listen to Pink Floyd whenever he goes to the dentist. What can I say? He had a bad experience with a dentist overseas once who didn’t use anesthetic. I don’t really blame him for that one.
I recently faced one of my fears around Halloween. This one had to do with my son, Trevor.
I had been dreading Halloween for weeks. I remembered the year before how Trevor had been so much bigger than most of the kids going around the neighborhood and even though he went out with a family friend who was in grade school – something of a holiday tradition – we still got some puzzled looks. No one said anything mean, but I felt uncomfortable all evening. And I knew this year, with Trevor being even bigger and older, things would only feel more tense. I couldn’t get Trevor to understand that he was too big for Halloween and I’d tried the year before to have him stay home and help me pass out candy, but that didn’t work out.
My fear was that he would be turned away. Shunned. That he would receive hurtful stares or ugly comments – not that he was likely to notice (unless he didn’t get any candy), but I would. And it would hurt. No one wants to see their child be rejected.
So, I thought of a different strategy. I’ve been doing some part-time work for our local autism group and that inspired me to do some outreach of my own. I’d open up and let our neighbors in. THIS WAS WAY OUTSIDE OF MY COMFORT ZONE. I am not good at asking for help or reaching out to people, so this step was huge. But then, it wasn’t for me. It was so my neighbors would understand who my son was and welcome him.
Here’s the message I posted on our Neighborhood Association Facebook page:
There was such a huge positive response to this post that I was overwhelmed. And even one other family in the neighborhood told about their young child with autism, too. They hoped to have their child be able to leave the comfort of his stroller and go door-to-door this year. (Stretching the boundaries of social difficulties that accompany autism.) How nice was that? Finding another family who shares our same issues?
When we went out trick or treating, Trevor was recognized several times by neighbors who went out of their way to introduce themselves. Later people posted how nice it was to meet Trevor and how sweet and polite he was. Now, when we take our dogs for a walk, more of our neighbors say “hello” than before, and more greet Trevor by name. We even met an actual firefighter who invited us to bring Trevor down to his station for a tour. That made Trevor’s night.
One fear conquered.
Fear & Art
When it comes to dealing with fear in our writing or any medium of art, it can have a crippling effect. Even keep us from making art altogether.
Being a writer can be so thrilling when everything is coming out just right. The words are flowing, the characters are bending to my will, I am the master of my imaginary universe!
YES! YES! YES!
And then that tiny little voice of doubt creeps in. This isn’t working. I suck, my writing sucks, my characters suck, nobody will ever want to read this drivel. EVER!
During our SCBWI OK Fall Retreat in September, Romney Nesbitt did a workshop on Conquering Procrastination & Self-Sabotage. One of the first things she had us do was name off all the different ways we procrastinate.
Some of the examples tossed out were fairly typical:
The Serial Projects excuse (“Just as soon as…then…”)
The “I don’t have time excuse” (too many responsibilities)
Perfectionism (waiting for the right conditions/right moment)
Social Media (worse than television)
So I voiced my own reason. The one thing that holds me back from moving forward on projects more than anything?
Fear of Failure.
Romney responded that this is actually a “problem with expectancy”.
That answer surprised me.
Expectancy meant it was coming from me. It made me realize I was in control of that fear. And that meant I could change it.
I also knew I wasn’t the only one who grappled with creating art and fear. Not just of failure. But of what others would think of what we created. Even of success.
I wanted to explore this further.
So, this month, I’m doing just that. I’m forcing myself to do some things to push past this fear.
One thing I’m doing is taking the NaNoWriMo plunge and vowing to actually complete the 50,000 words in one month challenge. I’ve participated for a few years now, but I’ve never made it to the finish line.
I’ve also started reading ART & FEAR OBSERVATIONS ON THE PERILS (AND REWARDS) OF ARTMAKING by David Bayles & Ted Orland. I’ll be sharing some of my insights from that book later in the month. So far it’s quite enlightening.
How about you? What are you afraid of as far as your art is concerned? What do you do to combat that fear?
While on vacation in Santa Fe and Los Alamos, New Mexico, I took an unintentional, but much needed and extended vacation from my blog. The company was too engaging, the scenery too inspiring, the WIFI too sporadic.
I took it as a sign.
I needed a break.
Then when I came home last week, I found the desire to write had not yet been rekindled. My muse was still lounging in her pjs, dreaming of southwestern skies. To add to my procrastination vacation, my modem died…or so I thought. It was actually playing possum until the repairman showed up to debunk its fakery. (I guess my modem also needed an extended vacation.) With just a few tweaks of some knobs or some such magic, the mighty repairman had my modem working, again.
Now, after a wonderful visit with some writer friends last weekend, all is back normal; writing fire rekindled and modem functioning properly. (My muse is still wearing her pjs, but frankly, most of the time so am I.)
Before we return to our regularly scheduled programming, I thought I’d share some of the beautiful sights from my vacation that inspired me.
Art was everywhere in Santa Fe. It was beautiful to see and inspiring to the mind.
Another great thing about the long drive there and back, I had plenty of leisure time to read. I tore through four books in a little over one week, which was such a pleasure.
So tell me about your vacation plans. Have you been anywhere exciting? Read any great books this summer?
My summer traveling isn’t quite over. I leave for the SCBWI LA conference in one week. So much to do before then! And when I get back there will be loads to share. (Maybe even some signed books!)