Friday, May 21, 2010

Challenging mediocrity

Change is in the air...and in my pen. I can feel it - and it makes me anxious. You know the phrase, "growing pains"? When you're a child, it refers to physical pain in your muscles, not from the actual growth of bones, which doesn't really hurt, but from the increased stress of running and jumping on a growing body. It ends when your body has reached maturity.

The key word is maturity. A child is growing into an adult, becoming a realized human being - brain and body growing together. The same is true of a career, especially as a writer. It's easy - and smart - to write what you know when you first start out. The words flow easily and you have no trouble moving from scene to scene, beginning to end. That's wise. You want to keep things easygoing when you start because too much research or stylistic choices can bog you down and keeping you from finishing and you need to finish.

However, once you know how to write a book - and you know you can finish a book and edit it and rewrite it over and over again - then you can mature. Only then can you really stretch your wings and reach for the stars or whatever naturalistic metaphor you choose to use.

But it can be painful. I know I can mature - I believe I have the ideas and the skills to fulfill them to their potential - but I also know it will be difficult. It scares me to let go of the writing I know without having the new writing completely under my control. But what is my alternative? Continue to write the same sort of thing over and over again? Lots of writers do that. I'm sure you can think of many bestselling novelists who do this. You know what you're getting when you get their books.

But without growth, without change, without maturity, why bother? I would rather read something that someone has taken a chance on, something that is outside their comfort zone, outside my comfort zone, and has failed miserably, than read the same thing again. Because even if that author crapped out the first time he stretched, the next time will be better. And the next better, and so on.

That's what I want for myself. I want to grow and mature and be a writer like the ones I have admired for all of my life. Being mediocre is the most egregious sin any writer can commit. Rise above it and take a risk.

Friday, May 14, 2010

May - the month I just have to get through

Ever have one of those days when you have so much to do, so many things on your list and crowding your mind, that the message you keep hearing is, "Just gotta get through the day..."?

Well, that's my month. With two shows for the studio - a recital this weekend and then the company's first dance concert (ack!!) in two weeks - my to-do list overflows. Add to that the new classes I am teaching 4 mornings a week and I have dance combination overload! That's what happens when you have so many dance steps in your head that you get confused which ones you are doing. It's especially awkward when you're taking someone else's class! A big LOL there!!

Pretty much all my free brain time is spent designing dance classes: barre and center combinations that somehow coordinate, plus making some easier or harder depending on the level of the class. And oh yeah, trying to figure when to take classes for myself! I have to refresh my body somehow, too.

So where is writing during all of this? It's there but sporadically and incrementally. Usually I have a book outlined and can plow through 2K-2.5K per day, for an average of 10K per week. I love to rush out a wordy first draft and then shave it all away. But during this month, I feel like I am eking out a word at a time, not even a scene but just a description or two. And the book itself is a tough one, in a genre I love but have never spent much time writing.

Complex subject + minimal time = infinitesimal daily word count

In fact, I shouldn't even do word count. Maybe idea count. Because I still think about the story. I still plan it and imagine it and care about my characters. I just need time to sink myself into it. And honestly, that won't happen until May is over. I just have to live with that, even if I don't like it.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

In which I promote another person's blog...

Namely, In Bed With Books whose fab writer/reviewer/reader extraordinaire is Liviania. Recently, she has begun a feature that I think is a terrific idea. She calls it "Best Authors You Aren't Reading." Her post today is about Patrice Kindl whose books and whose name I have never heard before.

From a reader's perspective, I love getting recommendations for books and authors whose names are not widely known. I often get disappointed with the big books that everyone is reading. Inevitably, they become so huge that you have to read them but they can't possibly live up to your expectations. The unknowns can pleasantly surprise you and then you have a new favorite author and their backlist!

From an author's standpoint, I love hearing about unsung writers. I want to know the gems that got swept under the publishing rug for various reasons. Maybe it was a small press without a lot of marketing push, maybe it was similar to another book that was more popular, maybe it preceded a trend but didn't start it. Who knows? Sometimes in reading the author's work, you get a sense of what might have gone wrong for him or her.

Great idea, Liviania! Can't wait to read Patrice's work and to hear about the next author you'll discover for us!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Leigh linkage!

Oddly enough, a couple of interviews I did a while back have come out at the same time. Just when you thought it was safe to peruse the internet without seeing my name...I bring you:

1 - An interview with me at BBW Reviews, a blog dedicated to books that celebrate women with curves! If you comment, you can win one of the books they have available. So, go ahead and comment!!

2 - An article about digital publishing for the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) publication for its members written by the amazing author Mark London Williams! A few months ago, I had the pleasure of being a guest at Mark's creative writing class at Disney where we had an intense and lively discussion about the future of publishing. Mark wrote about our discussion and why I decided to put THE RISE OF GINNY COOPER, my sequel to ALL ABOUT VEE, online through The Story Siren. I'd love to link here but it's a members-only document so I am waiting to hear from Mark about linking just his article.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Renaissance woman or specialist?

St. Hildegard, a 12th C Renaissance woman

I have never wanted to be limited in what I do or write. I have always prided myself on having pursued a number of careers, living in a bunch of cool cities, basically being what one of my students called a "Renaissance woman." I like setting goals for myself and then accomplishing them and moving on. Whether it was attending graduate film school, getting jobs in the film and television industries, or publishing two novels with a major publishing house, I have worked hard and seen results (for the most part, they've been positive!).

"Setting goals and meeting them" - great, right? But what about the "moving on" part of the equation?

The flip side of being a Renaissance woman or man is the perception that you are a "jack of all trades, master of none." In other words, by continually moving on and not specializing in a career or a job, you are assumed to lack stability or focus. Would an employer want to hire someone whose resume makes them look like they have career ADD?

The assumption is that the person who keeps trying different things is one who gives up before mastering each of them. Perhaps the person is lazy or unwilling to put in the time and effort necessary to achieve success.

But what about the person who does succeed at the task and who moves on because he's bored or because he has a lot of things he wants to accomplish in this lifetime? That's the category I put myself in. There are so many things to do in this world - work, travel, write, dance - that I can't possibly stop with just one or two or five. I want to keep changing, keep moving, keep experiencing new things and meeting new people. How else do you have subjects to write about? If I stayed in my small town in Connecticut or even in Boston or New York, if I had stayed in the small engineering firms and teaching at the small studios, if I'd never gone back to graduate school, where would I be now? A master of marketing? Maybe the owner of a small studio myself?

I have most definitely given up the opportunity for a steadily increasing paycheck, a pension for retirement, a more profitable and stable job, perhaps the chance to own a home...and sometimes, like this week for instance, I wonder if I made the right choice to embrace continuous change. Today, yeah, I do feel some regret but tomorrow, I might not. Hopefully, the good will outweigh the bad in the long run.

That's the chance you take in being a Renaissance woman.