It’s Time to Face the Music

Hi everyone.

Today I want to talk about how I use music in my writing process.

First, let me say that music is an absolutely essential part of my life. I listen to music every single day – when I’m cooking, or doing the dishes, or just generally chilling after dinner; in the car, on the el, or the bus. It’s there, like nitrogen, oxygen, argon and carbon dioxide. It’s the air I breathe.

So naturally, music finds its way into my writing, too.

Like a lot of people, I discovered that “regular” music – you know the kind with people singing words – is too distracting while I’m actually writing. Songs have a funny way of taking up space in your head, and before you know it, you’re writing down the lyrics instead of your story. (Sure, it’s funny until someone gets sued.)

Anyway, now I listen to either instrumental tracks – usually classical things online – or “white noise” things I find on YouTube. My current favorite is a writer’s cabin in the woods. There’s a manual typewriter, a crackling fire, and a wet, drippy thunderstorm going on. It’s a kind of music, and it works for me. The only negative is that it makes me have to go to the bathroom. A lot.

 

 

 

 

I also use music to inspire me when I’m getting to know my characters. Like a lot of writers I put together playlists, one for each major character. These playlists always consist of songs that I feel represent these people – like, if they were in a movie, this is what you’d hear whenever they appear on screen. The songs become inextricably linked with the characters in my mind, so whenever I listen to them I learn new things about my people. It’s like magic and when I’ve picked the right songs for them, I end up loving them even more.

 

 

 

How about you? Do you use music in some form when you write?

I’d love to hear about it in the Comments section.

Thanks for reading.

 

Interview with a Reluctant Celebrity

Hi everyone. Welcome back.

Today we’re going to have a little fun and interview the main character in my novel, The Terrible Strange.

This idea came from multiple “What do I write about in my blog when I write fiction, but I haven’t been published yet?” websites. At first I thought this was kind of dumb, but now I realize that it could be lots of fun. Plus, potential readers will get to know my characters better.

So here goes … Oh, and the interviewer is one of those “young and hip” entertainment journalists. Let’s call her Micki.

Micki: Today we’re talking with Jacob Grey, the protagonist of the bestselling novel, The Terrible Strange. Jake, how would you describe yourself? What do you look like?

Jake: What the fuck are you talking about? I’m standing right here, you tell me what I look like.

Micki: Uh, okay. Well, you’re good-looking, obviously, and wearing jeans, ripped jeans, and er, a nice, white tee shirt … and your hair is dark, and a little shaggy … and you’re carrying a green Jansport backpack.

 

 

 

 

 

Jake: Exactly.

Micki: So does the backpack mean you’re a student, Jake?

Jake: Why are you asking all these stupid, fucking questions? Of course I’m a student. I’m in grad school at UPenn. Is there a problem?

Micki:  Oh, no. No. Nothing like that. It’s just that … well, you don’t exactly strike me as the Ivy League type.

 

 

 

Jake: Wait, so, you ask me here to interview me for some stupid online magazine, but all you want to do is stereotype me? Are you trying to say I don’t look smart enough to go to Penn?

Micki: No! Of course not. I apologize. Really, Jake. I’m so sorry. Uh, can we please move on? I have to finish these questions. Please?

Jake: Fine. Go ahead. Ask your damn questions.

Micki: Can you name one thing you did as a kid that you’re most proud of today?

Jake: That’s easy. By the time I was five years old I knew how to pour a beer with the absolute minimum amount of foam on top. 

Micki: Er, okay. That’s wonderful. And how about the most embarrassing thing?

 

Jake: Are you kidding me? I’m not going to tell you that. I hardly fucking know you.

Micki: Uh, okay. How about this – Did you have a best friend when you were a child, and if so, what were they like?

Jake: My best friend is Maya Davenport. She’s fucking brilliant. She’s a grad student in physics, also at Penn. Her dad works for SEPTA, and her Nana is awesome. We’ve known each other, like, forever. 

Micki: That’s wonderful, Jake. It sounds like you two are still friends, is that correct?

Jake: Jesus. Yes, we’re still friends. I would have thought it was obvious from my use of the present tense when talking about her. How did you even get this fucking job? What are they paying you, because it’s obviously too much.

Micki: This is actually an internship, so I’m not getting paid.

Jake: Wow. It sucks to be you. How many more of these stupid questions are there?

Micki: There are 30 altogether.

Jake: Fuck.

 

Well, there you have it.

Jake is definitely one of those people who are fierce and prickly on the outside, but once you get to know him he’s all soft and squishy on the inside. 

 

 

 

Have you ever interviewed one of your characters? I’d love to hear about it!

Thanks for reading.

P.S. Let me know if you want Jake to answer any more questions.

So badass

Hi everyone.

While writing my novel, I’ve come to appreciate what badasses each of my characters is in their own way.

This got me to thinking about what exactly is a badass? How can you tell if someone has achieved the state of badassery? Or if they’re merely posers who wish they were badass?

Please note, these are my personal definitions. There are other definitions out there, but if you want to be a badass in my book, here’s the deal …

First off, let’s talk about who is NOT a badass:

  • Anyone who thinks being an asshole to other people is a sign of strength
  • People who are cruel to animals for ANY reason
  • Anyone who never stops talking about how badass they are
  • People who do cruel or questionable things simply to impress another cruel or questionable person
  • Anyone who breaks shit just for the hell of it, or who starts fights for no goddamn good reason

Now, how do we define a true badass? A badass is:

  • Not an asshole
  • Someone who doesn’t go out of their way to look tough. They ARE tough.
  • Kind to animals. Period.

 

 

 

 

  • True to themselves. They refuse to live inauthentic lives to try to impress others.

 

 

 

  • Someone who never preys on the weak
  • Never afraid to show kindness

 

How about you? Would you describe any of your characters as badasses? How so? Do you personally know any badasses? How does my definition measure up to yours?

I’d love to hear about it in the Comment section.

Cheating is such an ugly word

Hi everyone.

What do you do when you want to write a blog post, but you have a hard time tearing yourself away from your other writing?

This. This is what you do.

 

 

 

 

 

Some people may think a post built around memes is cheating.

I prefer to think of it as deferring to someone who had the same idea as you, only they said it better.

Coincidentally, both of these speak to me on a very personal level.

Every time I sit down to write, I talk to myself in order to shake off the normal world and hopefully make the transition to the world of make-believe. It’s like a little pep talk.

And this is what I say to remind myself that writing is a terrible, horrible, wonderful way to live:

 

 

 

 

 

 

And …

 

 

 

 

 

What are some of the things you tell yourself when you write?

I’d love to hear about them in the Comments section.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

Everybody’s Got Pain

As I’m writing this blog post, the anesthesia from my root canal is wearing off. Needless to say, I’m in pain. A lot of pain.

This made me think about how we deal with pain.

Sometimes, if it’s bad enough, we just curl up under the covers and will ourselves to sleep until it’s over. However, too many people never have the luxury of allowing their pain to crash over them and carry them out to sea. These people – and they are usually poor people – are told to just “push through it” and “you can’t stay home with every little ache and pain.”

The implication being that if you give into pain you are weak, you are unworthy, and you are definitely not getting paid for today if you do.

Consequently, that’s how I knew now was a perfect time to get this post written. And so here we are.

Is this a sign of dedication to my craft, my blog? Of strength of character? Or of brainwashing and stupidity?

Hard to say.

So instead of whining about my own pitiful problems today I thought I’d tell you a little bit about my main character, Jake’s, tattoos.

Jake has a large slamming door tattooed on his back. It’s there so he won’t forget the night his father left forever, his mother screaming “Good riddance” at the empty air.

There’s an old coffee pot covered with spider webs on his left shoulder. It’s to remind himself of all the times five year old Jake got up at 2:30 am just to make his dad a cup of coffee when he returned from the bar. 

 

 

The yellow license plate, dinged and bent at one corner, that sits below his rib cage belongs to the car that killed his mother as she was crossing Roosevelt Boulevard when he was six.

 

Yeah, everybody’s got pain.

How do you deal with your own pain? Do you dive in, or try to ride it out? Also, what kind of pain have you dished out to your characters? And how do they deal with it?

I’d love to hear about it in the Comments section.

Thanks for reading.

Timelines

Hi everyone.

I’m currently stuck on my novel’s timeline, so I thought I’d share a bit of that hellishness with anybody out there.

Obviously timelines are important in any story, but especially in long,  complicated stories such as in a novel. Not only do you need to know what is happening in your novel, you need to know when it’s happening.

And if you’re a visual person like me it is so much better to see the important events in your story laid out in front of you than to merely think about them.

That’s where timelines come in. You can:

  • make your own with pen and paper,
  • use a calendar, or
  • find a program online.

 

 

I have, in the past, tried making my own and found that my ideal timeline consists of one, long sheet of paper tacked to my living room walls — satisfying, but not very practical.

Calendars are probably a lot of fun to use, but all those little boxes feel confining to me. Don’t judge me.

I’ve recently come across an online option on writershelpingwriters.net. They have a resource called One Stop for Writers that includes a 2 week free trial of all these cool features like Character Builders, Story Maps, Scene Maps, and you guessed it — Timelines. So far I’m really liking it.

Just so you know — I’m not affiliated with this group at all. I just thought you all would like to check them out.

Anyway, back to playing with my timeline.

How about you guys? Do you find timelines useful, or just another excuse NOT to be writing?

Please let me know in the Comments.

Thanks for reading.

3 Things I Do Before I Write

Hi everyone.

Writing is such a personal, intimate act – when we’re not letting total strangers take a peek inside our innermost thoughts and dreams, we’re spilling our guts for them – so it makes sense that every writer has their own process for getting in the mood and/or making the writing habit happen. Some people can’t write without burning their favorite candle, or listening to their favorite music/white noise (hello, Coffitivity). It’s pretty much guaranteed to be different for every single writer out there.

Today I want to share some of the things I do to prepare my own brain for writing.

#1 – COFFEE. Duh.

 

 

 

 

#2 – BULLET JOURNAL – I write in mine every morning listing all the stuff I want/need to get done during the day. In addition, I also note the following items without fail — these are the date, the weather, time I got up, and what song was stuck in my head when I woke up. (Today’s earworm was “If Our Love is Wrong,” by Calum Scott.)

 

#3 – TAROT and ORACLE – No point in just charging into a big, uncaring world all willy-nilly. Absolutely anything could be out there waiting for you.

With that in mind I invite the universe to give me a “heads up” every morning by pulling one card each from both my tarot deck and my oracle deck.

Today I got THE DEVIL (be careful about chaining yourself to the things that pull you down) and the WOLF (practicing tolerance will help balance out some of that agitated wolf energy), respectively.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now I’m not sure if these are for me, or the characters in the book I’m working on.

Either way, by this point I’m usually ready to take my reheated coffee upstairs to my office and start writing.

How about you?

What are some of your writing habits or routines?

Let me know in the Comments section.

Thanks for reading.

Terrible Strange: Behind the Scenes

Hi everyone.

Today I’m going to take you behind the scenes of my first novel, tentatively titled Terrible Strange. I started this and completed a rough first draft when I was in grad school a couple of years ago. However, there was so much wrong with it that I decided to put it away for a while – it just wasn’t speaking to me, you know?

Anyway, it did start speaking to me a few months ago so I set about rewriting it. I’ve changed the POV, made the characters older, took them out of high school and put them in grad school, got rid of the clichéd “angry dad” character, and did a LOT more digging into my protagonist’s backstory.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have also left behind “pantsing” in favor of plotting.

I’m not gonna lie – it’s been a struggle to make such a big change to my writing process, but whenever you combine pantsing with ADD all you get is a hot mess that kinda looks like a story. At least, that’s been my experience.

 

 

 

 

So, I checked out a bunch of different plotting books – there are so many good ones – and loved two books in particular: Save the Cat Writes a Novel, by Jessica Brody and Story Genius, by Lisa Cron.

I was already familiar with Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat series from my screenwriting days, and Lisa Cron’s blueprint method of building a story that has both internal logic and a sense of urgency is brilliant. Plus, constantly asking yourself, and your characters, questions – as she recommends – really, really works. Who knew?

 

 

Anyway, despite my lack of productivity – God, how I wish I could regularly churn out 2,000 words a day like my OCD girl idols on YouTube – I have still managed to reach the midpoint in my novel. Yay!

How about you? Have you ever rewritten something from scratch because the story just wouldn’t let you go? No matter how hard you tried to leave it in the box of shame, or the folder of forgetfulness?

Please let me know in the Comment section.

Thanks for reading.

What the HELL is a Johari Window?

Hi everyone.

I recently discovered an amazing writing tool, courtesy of another writer. (Shout out to Kristen Lamb @authorkristenlamb.com).

It’s called the Johari Window.

It was created by two psychologists in 1955 – Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham. They thought it would help people to better understand their relationship to themselves and others. Self-help groups and corporate team-building exercise leaders loved it.

Ugh, I know. Snoozefest.

However, if you stop reading right now just remember this – these two guys named their creation after themselves – JO for Joseph and HARI for Harringtion – which is kinda cute.

Still here?

Great, because if you don’t think, Wow, this would be a great tool for character development the first time you see a Johari Window, then I don’t know what I can do for you.

That first box – OPEN (sometimes called ARENA) – this is all the information that your character knows about him/her/their self and that everyone else knows, too. Like – he used to be a lap dancer, but then he became an EMT, and now he’s a convicted felon out on parole.

That second box – BLIND SPOT – contains stuff about your character that other people know, but that your character is currently ignorant of, or blind to.

Like – she feels worthless and ashamed because she can’t afford name brand clothes, but other people see her as creative and stylish.

The third box – HIDDEN (sometimes called FAÇADE) – is full of all the crap your character knows about themselves, but that they keep hidden from everybody else.

Like – they have a shoe fetish, only no one can tell because they have 40 pairs of the same style shoe.

 

 

 

 

The fourth box – UNKNOWN – is where all the stuff that no one in your story knows about yet.

Like – aliens have been keeping an eye on your character ever since they were born, because your character’s bio-dad is the leader of a great civilization on Alpha Centauri.

Once you use the Johari Window to map out your protagonist, you can continue to use it to structure your story. The way you do that is to design a story problem that will eventually help your protagonist finally see their blind spot and how it’s negatively affecting their life and other people’s lives too. And in the process of doing that, you want to shrink that UNKNOWN box by the story’s end with the goal of ending up with a more balanced, whole person who knows who they are, likes who they are, and knows where they’re going.

Have you ever seen the Johari Window before? And have you used it in your writing?

Let me know in the Comments section.

Thanks for reading.