Getting in the Mood — to write

It’s Saturday morning. The kids are asleep. Dad is working in his garden (hooray for spring) and the dog’s gone out. It’s time to write! And yet….

It has occurred to me that writing is like sex.  Sometimes we’re more ‘turned on’ than other times. Sometimes we’re in the mood, and sometimes…our creative side gets a headache. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was a Viagra for writing! Okay, I know this sounds ridiculous, but we all know that writing takes focus and energy (the mental kind of energy that’s much harder to come by). So just like most people have their turn-ons for sex, maybe we writers have turn-ons for writing.

Let’s see. For me there’s….

Music:  Trying to find a song that would go with the scene I’m working on. Youtube is great for this. Last week I was working on a scene where a character is playing the violin. I found a wonderful video of an artist playing a heart-wrenching Bach piece — perfect.

Ambition: Okay, this is a big word that can mean many things, from just wanting to be able to pay bills to going to that next high school reunion and telling the girl who made head cheerleader and razzed you about not making the squad at all that you have a book deal. Ambition can be wanting your kids to go to college, wanting a bigger house or one with a basement that doesn’t flood when it rains. Or for someone like me with a child who will be battling health issues his whole life, the ability to know he’ll be able to go to good doctors and have a good life. Ambition isn’t a four letter word. There’s nothing wrong with ambition, and reminding ourselves of ‘why’ we want it so badly can be just what we need to get us to work when it’s hard to get in the mood.

Dreams and stories: I think this is the most important one. Writing isn’t easy. I think that horse has been beaten to death and the only people who believe writing is easy are those people who don’t write. We hack away at writer’s block, at the insecurities and rejections because we have a dream and we have stories. In a world of destruction, we dream of being creators, of giving birth to characters and scenarios and tragedies and moments when something magical happens on the page and we cry and we know that someday someone on the other side of the globe might hold our book, read our words, and cry too. That’s the dream. Stories move in us, beseeching us to tell them, to exorcise them from our souls and release them into the world, to set them free.

Right now, the sink is full of dishes. The couch is covered with laundry and very soon, too soon, the dryer will buzz like some sci-fi beast to let me know I have responsibilities! And yes, I do have responsibilities — to my craft, to myself, to my characters and their stories.

There is no viagra for writers, but we can turn ourselves on to writing. It’s not easy, but it’s what we do.

Waiting

There’s no way around it. If you’re a writer, you’re a waiter, and I don’t mean someone who works in restaurants taking food orders. Whether it’s waiting to hear on the latest round of queries you’ve sent out, waiting to hear about a partial or full an agent requested, or waiting to see if your agent is able to find a home for your manuscript, we wait. We wait. We wait some more.

I’m a terrible waiter. I try to explain, especially to my family, why for the next so many days or weeks, I might not be the most pleasant person to be around, and I know they don’t get it — they aren’t writers.

We wait for a response and that response is everything. It’s the answer to questions that burn continuously in our souls.

Am I wasting my time?

Do I have any talent?

Will I ever be able to quit my day job or at least, pay a bill just once with money I’ve made writing?

These are huge questions, and sadly, an email rejection on a query doesn’t answer any of them, and too often I’ve heard agents say that they had a great writer with a great book that they just couldn’t find a home for.

So what do we do?

Some writers drink whiskey or vodka or vermouth. Some take second jobs in order to afford their twice daily trips to Starbucks because not only do we need caffeine, we might well develop relationships with the staff at Starbucks and seeing their kind, smiling faces may be the only thing that keeps us from falling off the edge of ‘waiting’ insanity.

It would be nice if we could wait like expectant mothers. That we’d be guaranteed that by such and such a date, our manuscript will have developed a beating heart, a brain, and by such and such a date, we will be able to hold our precious creation. But no.

We can’t just gestate our characters and plots into existence. We have to work constantly to create  and recreate them. Maybe our protagonist is a male one day, a female the next. Maybe she has a brain the first fourth of the book but by page eighty-seven, her brain’s been sucked out by alien insects.

We create and wait. Create and wait. And while I may not be the best person to hangout with during those periods of waiting, I know the best advice I can give myself and others to help us through the endless ticks of the clock.

Create. Start the second book in a series, even if you don’t know if the first will sell. Start a totally new project or go back to an old one. Work. Create. It won’t silence the ticking, but it will muffle it a bit, and while we wait, we become better writers because that is who we are destined to be.

Two Great Writers

Just a quick post today to say how very fortunate I’m feeling. Last November I got the opportunity to see Stephen King in Wichita. This week I traveled to Tulsa to hear Neil Gaiman talk about the craft of writing, and other various impromptu things, at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center.

Living in Kansas, the opportunities to see such well-known authors are rare, and while the theater was mostly filled for Stephen King, I was awed by the massive numbers of people who showed up in Tulsa to hear Mr. Gaiman.

I think what I took away from the evening that I treasure the most is Neil Gaiman’s passion for the arts and how, while we are a society that is increasingly turning to the practical, the arts are what make life worth living.

What would our lives be without music, dance, visual arts, and literature? What is the purpose of life if not to feel the swell in our chests when we witness the beautiful, amazing things that humans are capable of?

The world and history is filled with reminders of the other side of humanity — the destructive side instead of the creative side. Thank God for the artists who create and inspire and feed our souls. Who illuminate the dark halves of ourselves so that there is hope and purpose and a glimpse of something more than just work and bills and all things mundane.

Six hours in a car was well worth it to be reminded that there are individuals out there who are brilliant, talented, humble and above all, creative.

Dear Teens,

Up until now, most of my posts have centered around writing. I am a member of a very important species called “writers” and we need to stick together, to support each other through the moments of doubt, joy, elation, depression, and temporary (hopefully temporary) madness.

But as a young adult writer, I feel the pull, the need, to communicate not only with other writers, but with those most likely to read what I write. So here goes.

Dear teens,

I’m not of your generation. I grew in a world where the word terrorism was never spoken and 9-11 was just another date. And all too often today, I hear people saying that ‘kids today’ have no work ethic, they take everything for granted.

And I wonder what it would be like to grow up in a world where you’re told to be yourself, but then people look down on you because you’re not conforming enough. To be told to get good grades so you’ll get into a good college and by the way, terrorists are plotting to kill people in shopping malls so YOLO!

Life today is a kaleidoscope of paradoxes. Pursue your goals, your dreams, your ambitions, but beware of Ebola and North Korea and student loan debt.

I think my niece put it best when she was two years old and she went around saying, “Life a bitch.”

Sometimes it can be, but sometimes it can be pretty amazing.

The truth is, I don’t know you. I don’t know what struggles you go through every day. I don’t know what crap have you to put up with or how many people care about you and do a good enough job showing it.

But I don’t think you’re a generation of “kids today”. I think, no, I know, that you are as full of possibilities as any human being who has ever lived before you.

I want to listen to you. I want to cheer for you. I want to understand and I want you do know that when I write, I’m writing because a) I have to or I’ll explode! b) it’s my way of reaching out across the miles and the houses and the apartments and fields and the oceans — to tap you on the shoulder and say hey, this is for you. I hope you like it.