Friday, November 22, 2013

Grit is the Quality Most Correlated with Success: TED Talk with Angela Lee Duckworth

I saw this video on Facebook this week and found it to be the most inspiring piece I've seen in a long time. I hope you watch and are inspired, too!

Psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth discussed in a TED talk the factor most significantly correlated with success in life. 

(This video is from the Huffington Post at or from YouTube at

That factor was not social intelligence, good looks, physical health, or IQ, but rather a factor she calls grit. Here is how she defines it:

"Grit is passion and perseverance for very long term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years. and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it's a marathon not a sprint."

And here's what she said about talent and grit (they aren't necessarily related): 

"Talent does not make you gritty. Many talented individuals don't follow through. Grit is unrelated or even inversely related to talent."

This is the greatest thing! To realize that as writers, we can learn our craft, that through dogged effort and determination, we can succeed. Talent, shmalent--it's all about rolling up our sleeves and investing our hard work and mind power.

Dr. Duckworth discussed how you How you build grit in kids but this is important for us every day as well. Kids did best on a task, (i.e., persevered), when they had growth mindset, i.e., the belief that the ability to learn is not fixed but can change with effort. These kids were more likely to persevere when they fail because they don't believe failure is a permanent condition. 

This is so inspiring to me as a writer, where goals take long to achieve and the road is often fraught with many ups and downs (I'll say ups and downs instead of words like despair and desperation). The downs can create such torment that they make you want to quit forever. But if you believe this video, that's just when you've got to believe that continuing to work hard will show results.

I used to play tennis in high school. I was basically a kid off the street, no lessons, nothing, when my coach discovered my best friend and I hitting balls against a brick wall. (This would never happen these days when kids basically have to be groomed from the womb to play sports. The coach simply told us, show up for practice tomorrow at 9 am and bring your racket.)

That one invitation opened up a whole world for me and I will be forever grateful for it. What I learned from tennis was that it's not only a physical game that requires skills and practice. When you're up against an opponent, the game becomes mental. Your own mind becomes the dragon on the court.

Writing to me is a lot like that. We slave for months over our work, mostly alone. Every day when turn on the power button we must slay doubts, face rejections, face fears that we aren't good enough, that we suck. Often there is no one over our shoulder telling us otherwise--we have to reach deep inside ourselves to come up with the dogged inner strength--the grit--to say--yes, we are.

I wish everyone who struggles with self doubt to watch this video and realize you are not alone. That achieving any kind of goal in life is never easy and with writers, what goes on inside our heads is just as important--no, far more important--as the events that occur outside it. 

So, today, hug your writer friends and let's all go forth and be gritty!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Getting Ready for the Golden Heart Part 2: The Writing

So are you polishing your Golden Heart entries? Great! Last week I talked about Story—making sure yours was big enough, had the right elements to be a romance, and how friends can help you to see those big-picture things.

Today I want to focus on the Writing.

At the end of this blog post are some resources I used that I’ve found to be very helpful. Three articles were written by Ruby Sisters, members the Golden Heart class of 2009, now published authors, who contribute to the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood blog which is always chock full of great writing and career advice. (see

Scene Level. First off, every scene in your story should have a structure. I had absolutely no clue what this was until two years ago despite taking many workshops, reading craft books, etc. But I can tell you that a huge amount of writers don’t get this and to write to get published, you have to! This is the reason I have four manuscripts under my bed which will stay there forever. I’m telling you, this is really important!

Every scene starts out with your character having a tangible goal. The scene must end with yes, she/he got that goal but life gets worse anyway, or no, she/he did not achieve the goal and furthermore, life gets worse anyway. This is a complicated topic but well worth learning about. If you’re interested, I did a whole blog post for Romance University on that topic here.

Cut the Backstory. Read through your first pages and highlight any explaining. Then, as Hope Ramsay suggests,  go back and cut all of it. Find ways to disseminate this information in dialogue or show it with action instead of telling it. It’s like Margie Lawson says:  backstory is like taking a piece of paper and ripping it up into tiny pieces and placing tiny pieces of it throughout the story. Ask youself—what are the ONLY things my reader needs to know RIGHT NOW and CUT the rest.

Start at the right place. Don’t describe the beauteous scenery. Don’t have your heroine walking and thinking. Find the point in your story where, as Hope Ramsay says, two people are fighting something or about something and cut everything before this point. Open with a situation, a problem, with action. People want a dilemma, a struggle—but they want it from your character’s deep point of view.

Make sure your character has a goal and make it clear from page one. (Hope Ramsay)

A point to remember about all this action:  no one will care about action if they don’t care about your character. Some say you only have one paragraph to get the reader to like your character. As Jeannie Lin says, readers want to recognize your heroine/hero as someone “unique, admirable, sympathetic, or likable.” The action has to be tied to this character’s deep point ov view, i.e.—we must experience the conflict through that characters eyes, ears, skin, taste, smell, etc.--oh--and most important of all, through their HEART. 

Your hero or heroine must be well motivated and likeable or at least redeemable. If they are arrogant, gruff and distasteful—no! No one is going to want to keep reading. Remember, in a romance, you want your reader to fall in love with your hero. (I am not an expert at this. But even if you have a character with real issues, there has got to be something in their makeup that makes people want to cheer for them.)

Characters have to be:  wounded, unpredictable, yearning, passionate, complex, resourceful, and gutsy when challenged (James Scott Bell workshop). They must confront their worst flaws, challenge their beliefs, and face their biggest fears (Lori Wilde workshop).

Characters must be unique—they have personality and this comes out when they speak. For your own benefit, give them traits (sassy, shy, fearful, argumentative when pushed, etc.) and make sure every time they open their mouths to speak, they are exhibiting one of those traits.

Start with a great first line. (Usually not a description of scenery). Really work on this line. It will draw your readers in. Don’t initially refer to your main character as “he” or “she,” leaving the reader to wonder for paragraphs who they are—give them a name.  Should we know where they are, what time of day, what season? Set the stage appropriately to orient your reader.

Are high stakes apparent from the get-go? Do your reveal a secret, ask an intriguing question, create high stakes (Alexandra Sokoloff workshop)?

Read your work out loud—you’ll catch all kinds of problems with flow, rhythm, etc. Check for white space—long paragraphs cause people to fall asleep. Watch for overwriting—too many adjectives or adverbs (Jeannie Lin) that may make it seem you are in love with your prose.

Golden Heart Checklist (not inclusive—I’m sure there’s more!)
  • Does your scene have a goal and structure and end on a “disaster”?
  • Have you begun with action/conflict/some tension between people, people and a monster, etc.
  • Great first line
  • Identify the characters, setting, time, season if important 
  • Emotion, conflict, likeability—make these things evident up front
  • Character with a great desire, passion, a yearning, gutsy, resourceful, likable?
  • Deep Point of View—the POV character experiencing life through her/his senses. Don’t forget smell and touch if appropriate.
  • Show not tell
  • Axe the backstory.
  • Don’t describe things unless relevant (slows pacing) (Katie Graykowski has a really funny line that will never let you forget this here)
  • Watch your dialogue tags. Replace some with body language, e.g., “”You bet,” he said, vs. “You bet. He took a long, slow pull of beer.
  • Watch for too much blow by blow body language:  “He grabbed the beer bottle and sat down, turning away from her. He picked up his book and walked to the kitchen She took a sip of beer then set her bottle down.”
  • End your entry on a significant hook. Again, action without emotion doesn't cut it but be sure to adjust your pages so that you've ended on a hook that will keep your readers wanting more!

Final WordDon’t Forget the Romance! Checklist
  • Chemistry, chemistry, chemistry. Important, important, important.
  • Romance permeates all aspects of the story in one way or another.
  • Be clear who the hero and heroine are from the beginning! This sounds ridiculous but don’t let the heroine’s best friend overshadow her or a platonic male friend of the heroine be mistaken for the hero!
  • In category romance, if the hero and heroine are not together, they are apart and thinking about each other.
  • The hero must have a heart of gold and act heroically even if he has issues.
  • Heroine must not be petulant, self indulgent, or merely be acted upon—she must act!
I hope these accumulated tips that have been so helpful to me are helpful for your work in progress even if you're not aiming for the GH this year. Now go forth and polish! 

If you have any more tips that can be added to the checklist, please comment and I'll add them and republish the complete list next week.


The First Five Pages…and the Red Line of Death by Jeannie Lin

Tips for Improving Your First Fifty Pages by Hope Ramsay

Five Things Every Contest Newbie Should Know by Katie Graykowski 

Make a Scene! Or, Why Scenes Should Be Seen and not Heard by Miranda Liasson 

Friday, November 8, 2013

Getting Ready for the Golden Heart, Part 1: Your Story: Make it a Good One

Today and next Friday, November 15, I'm going to post some pointers for those of you who are planning to enter the Romance Writers of America's Golden Heart Contest, which opens to entries on November 12. (For more information, go to and look under "Awards" and then "Golden Heart." Here's the link:

What does it take to final in the Golden Heart? This year, on my sixth try, I finaled in two categories and won the Contemporary Series category. (What follows is based on my own experience, so please take what helps and ignore what doesn't.)

First off, finaling takes getting through five preliminary round judges who judge your partial manuscript ("the partial"--approximately the first 50 pages) on a fifty point scale:  Plot/Story 10 Points, Romance 20 Points, Characters 10 Points, and Writing 10 Points. Entrants who final need to get 90% of the total possible score or above. (I did not find this on the RWA website, but on my score sheets, it said that final scores are calculated by dropping the high and low total scores and averaging the remaining three total scores. This helps to protect from very lenient or very harsh judging. )

Here are the three things I think you need to final:

--A Good Story that meets or exceeds the expectations of your genre and offers the reader an emotional experience that captures their hearts.

--Writing that shines and is free of amateurish mistakes.

--Luck! In a perfect universe, all judges would be impartial and fair. Well, welcome to real life, where some judges are tough, some are easy, and some will either really love or really hate your story. Luck of the draw which ones you get! Stories that are entered one year may not final while the next they do…so who knows? This is one aspect you have no control of.

So let's talk about the first point--The Good Story. It's not enough to write a story about nice people doing nice things. (Trust me, I know, my first four manuscripts were like this, unremarkable, low-tension stories.) It's a feat to come up with a story idea, let alone write and polish 50 pages and submit a synopsis. Yet you must write a story that keeps tension, conflict and angst high so your reader wants more--so she/he is really sad when those fifty pages end. Not being boring for that many pages requires a lot of skill.

Good stories start off with a bang (in the middle of action, something going on) and grab the reader with emotion. But even the biggest action sequence will fail to impress if no one cares about your characters. So the action does not have to be big, Hollywood action--but it does have to be some situation where the characters are doing something besides walking through lush scenery thinking of the hot guy they just met. (Starting with description--probably not the best idea.)

End your partial with a big hook. Again, leaving your heroine dangling off the old London Bridge (as I did in one ms) is great but don't throw in action for action's sake. The big hook at the end can be as simple as a long awaited/forbidden/unintended kiss. It should be emotionally big, not necessarily action-packed-big. One of my finaling entries ended with a kiss that someone had second thoughts about--pretty simple. The other ended with a revelation that the long-lost love the heroine thought was dead was alive. Again, go for emotional impact not big Hollywood set piece.

If your 50 pages as it currently stands does not end on a hook, what should you do? My answer: manipulate your pages so that for the GH it does.

Is Your Story Big Enough to Sustain 200-300 pages of conflict? If you're writing Category Romance, study Romance Tropes. These are plot devices like enemies to lovers, mistaken identity, fake engagement, revenge, redemption, boss-employee, reunited lovers, etc. Typically for category, you need three tropes per story. Reading extensively in the genre you are targeting will give you a feel for this.

If you're writing Single Title, you need a High Concept idea. This is the kind of idea that makes you exclaim Wow! Why didn't I think of that?! or I've got to read this! when you read a back-cover blurb. It's original, emotional, compelling, and clever. If you don't know what this is, check out Lori Wilde's Got High Concept? workbook available from her website. High Concept is the idea that makes your story stand out from the rest.

The point is, if you are writing romance, you must know the kind of book you are writing. You must target your market by doing research. It's not enough to simply write the book of your heart. If your book does not have the tension to sustain an entire book, no one is going to judge it well in contests no matter how great your writing is and no one is going to publish it. The idea and the characters must hook your reader from the beginning--from Paragraph 1.

Remember the Essence of a Romance.  Your main goal in writing a romance is to tell an emotionally powerful story about people whose flaws get in the way of their leading the fullest life they could and how love for another person gives them the impetus to overcome these flaws by making choices under pressure so they can become the people they were always meant to be. Characters must be pushed to grow and change so they are not the same people at the end as they were at the beginning.

Check your story:  does it have external conflict keeping the hero and heroine apart? Does it have internal conflict keeping them apart? Is there a romance? I've judged contest entries where the entry is all romance and no external situation at all. And others where the hero doesn't show up until page 40.

Force yourself to share your work. My recommendation is that at least three people besides yourself should read your pages before you submit. I think this is truly hard for some of us, especially when we are just starting out. It's scary to share something so close to your heart!

Why, you say, is finding reading friends/critique partners so important? Because we burn out. We become overfamiliar with our story and our words. We cannot be objective about our own work. If you have time, putting your entry away for a week or two and looking at it again helps a lot, but having somebody else's eyeballs besides your own is crucial. But remember the bottom line:  trust your own judgment. Your best friend may unintentionally crucify your voice. A good rule is, if more than one person points something out in your manuscript as not quite right, look hard at those things. It's tricky--knowing when to trust your gut and when to believe what a reader tells you.

So there you have it, my take on Story. Hope this helped. Next week, I'm going to talk about writing tips and a first page checklist to help polish your entry. Any questions…ask away! And keep polishing!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Writer Burnout as You Approach The End

Yeah, yeah, I know, writing a book is a marathon. Don't remind me, because I'm feeling the burn, baby! Here are Seven Signs you may be utterly toxic from struggling to the end of that elusive finish line:

--Coffee, ordinarily delicious and comforting and an aid to your muse, tastes bitter and disgusting and you never want another cup again.

--Your husband arrives home to find you in tears. Mumbling how you are in the last 50 pages and your book makes no sense and you think you have to delete the whole thing and start over.

--To take a break, you read a great, fabulous author because you only read the best when you are finishing your best draft, but instead of inspiring you, you start to cry. "I can never write like that! Why bother?" (This time it's Kristan Higgins, The Best Man. So wonderful!)

--Your ass hurts from BICHOK (Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard). And your hamstrings, and your calves, and all the tendons in your hands.

--You know that this, your "final" draft, is almost done. You pray for it to be done. All you want is relief. Your characters are suffering, heading right into that blackest of moments, and you are contemplating heading out the window. You are laughing, weeping, mumbling to yourself, and in total despair. And just to tip yourself over the edge, you know this will not be THE final draft. Beta readers, agent will say no no no and you will have to wash and repeat. Probably multiple more times.

--You appear in public in sweats. Your deepest darkest secret is sometimes you don't even dress until just before your kids come home from school.

--You keep saying, "I'll clean [insert something appropriate here]______ when I'm done," a task you despise. But right now it's looking pretty good as a diversion. Scary!

I don't know how this marathon will end. All I want is to muscle through and be done. I pound my head against the keyboard and drink my bitter coffee (better than eating through the fridge). I'm not a believer in waiting for inspiration to strike. Every day I sit here and slog it out, and every day I fix the slog from the day before. And most days I do this with a kind of joy I've never experienced before.

But burn out is burn out and when it reaches this level, sometimes you have to cave in to it and replete the muse by taking a damn day off. Maybe even two. Because you simply cannot write if you are insane. So today...I'm outa here!

Combating burnout...suggestions welcome!

South Carolina beach, a more tranquil place than my mind today!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Writers: So Maybe Hearing Voices Isn't That Crazy After All

One confused little violet who thinks it's May instead of October.

I had this crazy idea to ask everyone, well, my writer friends anyway, why they write. I don't know why, maybe (make that probably) to understand why I write. If you really stop and think about it, we spend months writing a story, living with the characters we create talking in our heads, waking us up at night and forcing us to write their words on sticky notes before we forget them.

Does this sound familiar?

More importantly, is this normal?

The mission of understanding why we (I) write with regard to our (my) mission in life is a really big topic that can't be tackled all at once, but I read something recently that helped me understand something really intrinsic about, maybe I'm not so crazy after all.

The great writer and activist George Orwell (1903-1950), whom we all know from his classic novels Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm, wrote an essay in 1946 called Why I Write. Here's one of many parts that caught my eye (It's a little long but I've bolded what I thought was fascinating):

"But side by side with all this [writing activities he describes], I was carrying out a literary exercise of a quite different kind:  this was the making up of a continuous 'story' about myself, a sort of diary existing only in the mind. I believe this is a common habit of children and adolescents. As a very small child I used to imagine that I was, say, Robin Hood and picture myself as the hero of thrilling adventures, but quite soon my 'story' ceased to be narcissistic in a crude way and became more and more a mere description of what I was doing and the things I saw. For minutes at a time this kind of thing would be running through my head:  'He pushed the door open and entered the room. A yellow beam of sunlight, filtering through the muslin curtains, slanted onto the table, where a match-box, half-open, lay beside the inkpot. With his right hand in his pocket he moved across tot he window. Down in the street a tortoiseshell cat was chasing a dead leaf', etc. This habit continued until I was about twenty-five, right through my non-literary years. Although I had to search, and did search, for the right words, I seemed to be making this descriptive effort almost against my will, under a kind of compulsion from outside. The 'story' must, I suppose, have reflected the styles of the various writers I admired at different ages, but so far as I remember it always had the same meticulous descriptive quality."

This just bowled me over. The description of an inner narrative that reads like a book...does anybody else's brain do this? Well, mind does and that is scary, but to have it described,'s very validating! Like, it might just be almost normal to hear voices in your head (if you're a writer, anyway).

So do you hear voices in your head? Have you for a long time? Do you know why you write? Do you see yourself in this passage? Feel free to share. (I'm going to share the thoughts I've been collecting next week.)

Everyone stopped to take pics of this fabulous rainbow yesterday.

No impatiens in Ohio this year--they all got killed by a fungus last year. But somehow found this one single flower in my garden!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Crawling Inside Your Characters' Heads: from Robert McKee's Story

Hi Everyone!

The kids are back in school and my house is SILENT...except for the soft snores of my pooch who is passed out on her back with her legs up in the air.

I'm reading the classic screenwriting book Story by Robert McKee and I wanted to share one little tidbit    that may help you to crawl into your characters' heads and extract the perfect essence of truth and honesty that we strive every day to find to make our characters come alive.

 As writers, we seek to put truth on the page. Meaning we want our characters to act honestly, in ways that only they can act. We don't want to create cliche. We don't want to moralize. We don't want to write over-the-top unbelievable characters.

So how do you write an honest, breathing character that makes your reader laugh, cry, and get moody and unhappy when they are unhappy?

The answer is partially--do they make YOU laugh, cry, and feel miserable (and I'm not talking about just when the writing's going badly!)

Have you done that--gotten nervous, laughed, cried, started sweating, gotten pains in your stomach when you are writing a scene? Or even long after you're done writing a scene?

Well, if you haven't, maybe Robert McKee can help you out.

McKee says that we must write from the inside out--meaning that in each scene, we must not be impartial observers of our characters but actually crawl into their heads and experience the scene from their point of view.

How to do this?

Flowers that finally recovered from the torrential rains this summer and are blooming like crazy now!

Well, here's how he says NOT to do this:

--Don't ask, "How should my character take this action?"--that leads to moralizing.

--Don't ask, "How might someone do this?"--that leads to writing cute and clever but dishonestly.

--Don't ask, "If my character were in these circumstances, what would she do?"--that puts you at a distance from the character's emotions, makes you guess at them, and leads to cliche

--Don't ask, "If I were there, what would I do?"--guess what, no one cares what you would do. They care about your character (or that's the point--you want them to!)

So what should you ask? McKee says "If I were this character in these circumstances what would I do?
(italics mine)

And here's his grand explanation:

“Writers are improvisationalists who perform sitting at their word processors, pacing their rooms, acting all their characters:  man, woman, child, monster. We act in our imaginations until honest, character-specific emotions flow in our blood. When a scene is emotionally meaningful to us, we can trust that it’ll be meaningful to the audience. By creating work that moves us, we move them."

From Story:  Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee, Regan Books, 1998, pages 153-154

Friday, August 16, 2013

Want to Make a Scene? Join me as I blog at Romance U Today!

Join me at Romance U. today as I virtual-lecture about jam-packing your scenes with good stuff to make them work as hard as they possibly can. Here's the link:

See you all over there! And hey--it's Friday! Stop by and say hey! Woo hoo!!!

The Lowcountry in late afternoon. That little speck between the trees is one of my kids on a paddle board!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

RWA Conference Highlights: A Tale Told in Pictures by Miranda Liasson

This is a story told best in pictures.

Our table at the RITA/GH ceremony included my friends and chapter mates GH Paranormal winner AE Jones and Barb Heintz.

My manuscript that won the Golden Heart in the Contemporary Series category.

AE Jones won the Golden Heart for Paranormal! We are amazed!

We got to pose for a pic with our table mates Sarah MacLean and Eloisa James, who won RITA's.  Unreal!

Gail Hart, my agent sister, who was a GH finalist in Contemporary Series. 

My chaptermates from Northeast Ohio RWA. Cleveland Rocks Romance!

Me after the ceremony with GH finalists Nan Dixon,  Paranormal GH winner AE Jones, and GH finalist Gail Hart.

Tired but happy friends Barb Heintz, me, Dyanne Conner, and Diane Rippin.

GH Winner AE Jones on the jumbotron.

Distinguished Chaptermate Donna MacMeans receiving her RWA Service Award.

Nora Roberts spoke at The Golden Network retreat. Totally awesome.

The Great Susan Elizabeth Phillips graciously took a pic with me. Clearly we both have extraordinary taste in color.

Still tired and still happy!

Fish at the Atlanta Aquarium.

Downtown Atlanta at dusk.

We may be back in reality but we made all these great memories. Thanks, Friends. The End.

Love, Miranda

Friday, June 7, 2013

Advice from Eloisa James: Throw Your Heart into It

I had the great (and a little bit scary) honor of introducing Eloisa James yesterday at a library in Cleveland. How did that come about?! You might say it was accidental networking. One of the many perks of being active in your own RWA chapter!

Anyway, Eloisa was on tour promoting her new book Once Upon a Tower, one of her reimagined fairy tale books that she described as a cross between Romeo and Juliet and Rapunzel. It sounds fabulous!

She said something in her chat last night that really stuck with me as a writer struggling to become an author. Here is is (below the pic of me and my NEORWA friends with Eloisa last night):

Northeast Ohio RWA (NEORWA) friends and me (second from left) with NYT Bestselling author
 Eloisa James.

Someone asked her how she does it all--she is a tenured Shakespeare professor, the NYT Bestselling author many times over of historical romances, as well as a wife and mom. Part of her answer was this:  I learned from watching how men did it. 

What does that mean exactly? She described how in graduate school, the women in her program would worry over their papers, constantly revising, perfecting, getting them just right. The men...just did the work and got it turned in. And they succeeded academically and promotion-wise by keeping the quantity of work in mind as well as the quality. Women seemed to strive for perfection, being afraid to turn it in until it was perfect.

She also said this very interesting quote about the many different tasks and chores that make up a woman's life:  "Whatever you're doing, throw your heart into it." She said she often knows she is writing crap but she just keeps going--she can fix it but she has the sense of moving ahead. The story gets told and the job gets done. Moral:  Quit striving for absolute perfection.

This resonates deeply with me. It showcases the differences between my husband and me. I don't know if it's a gender difference but it is true in my house. But it's great advice--Whatever you're doing, throw your heart into it, get your story told, get your work done. Only finished books get published!

Mountain in West Virginia (my photo).

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Reinventing Yourself as a Writer

This is a prequel blog.  (Sort of like how a novella comes out before a novel.)

I've been invited to be on the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood blog (
 on Thursday, May 23rd, as one of their series of Golden Heart finalists. I'll be talking Specifically, what I did when I hit a brick wall in my writing that helped me up to the next level. (The next level being two Golden Heart finals this year—but I’m not published yet.)

So on a related topic, today I'm going to talk about some advice on reinvention that I got from some seasoned writers this past weekend at my chapter conference.

I think everyone hits their own brick wall—more likely multiple ones at different times in our careers.

Every writer, from novice to seasoned professional, has to continually re-evaluate their writing on multiple fronts—before you publish, it’s what is my true voice? What are my strengths? What kind of story should I be telling? 

And during a career, it sounds like the same questions must be asked as well.

This weekend, I heard a panel of three longstanding authors who discussed keeping your career afloat in rough waters.

The panel was comprised of Duffy Brown, LuAnn McLane, and Donna MacMeans.

They all said—write a story you’re passionate about.

Find you strengths. If you don’t know, ask your friends. They will know.

Reinvention involves working with your strengths, finding an angle that is unique but fully yours.

Be brave.

Keep writing.

You have to love writing THAT MUCH—if you can think of one reason you shouldn’t do it, maybe you shouldn’t.

You have to write something you are enthusiastic about, that you believe in with all your heart. Fake enthusiasm shows. Real enthusiasm sells books. Your writing has to touch your own heart and your own emotions.

Learning discipline now gets you through the hard times later. Writers that survive keep producing.

LuAnn McLane ended the panel with this advice for us when we question our choices or when we have tough decisions to make about our careers:  Always remember how much you love reading. Reading brings joy to people through tough times by making them laugh, cry, and feel many different emotions.

We were readers before we were writers. Who among us doesn't love to read! And I think that's a good thing to remember when we face the brick wall., Image 12-64-7

Friday, April 19, 2013

Creativity and Productivity

I read something this week that has been churning in my mind ever since. It's a fabulous blog post on creativity done by Margarita Tartakovsky and you can view the entire post here:

The entire thing is fascinating, but the part that really stuck with me all week was the story about the pottery class. Basically, students who had to produce quantity of pottery produced more creative--i.e., higher quality--pieces than students who were permitted to take an entire semester to create a single piece (i.e., those who strove for quality, not quantity). 

Tartakovsky's advice is to stop striving for perfection in creative work, but instead to focus on a "magic threshold" where you're happy enough with it but you're able to let it go and, in the words of artist Jolie Guillebeau, who taught herself to paint faster, "hope that the quantity of my work will also improve the quality."

This is a fascinating concept, and one which skilled, bestselling writers surely must learn. Could it be that the more you produce, the more creative you become and the better you get at being creative?

It reminds me of something I read--I don't remember where--basically, this writer said that not everything you produce is going to be great. But the MORE you produce, the BETTER CHANCE you've got at putting forth something great. 

So are speed and perfectionism mutually exclusive? 

Well, I think they can co-exist, if the perfectionism is toned down. How to do this? (I don't know, but I am working on it. )

This article also addresses the fear the creative ideas are finite. I remember reading something from a bestselling author saying she felt she had more ideas than she could possibly write about in a lifetime. I am on the opposite spectrum. I fear not having ideas. But filling the creative well is a skill that can be cultivated, and it starts with showing up every day to work. And work hard.

More great advice:  Focus on process, not outcome. Focusing on outcome stifles the process, says creativity coach and writer Miranda Hersey. Worrying about if your work sucks, if you'll be able to get it all together and have it make sense, and what will happen in your career are creativity killers.

When this happens, I think about why I sit in front of the computer day after day. The answer is--because I wouldn't want to be anywhere else! I'm so grateful to be here! Things are a little different than when I was 12 and writing Star Trek fan fiction to my heart's content. The muse is a little older and more scarred, and the devil-may-care attitude has been pulled back and restrained. But the joy is still there.

I think this article reinforces the fact that the skills it takes to write fiction, including the creative skills, are trainable with lots of work and the determination to show up day after day to do your job. Like any other job, practice makes perfect--or at least better.

How do you teach yourself to write faster or tone down your inner perfectionist?

Beautiful brickwork on a Savannah sidewalk outside of Colonial Park Cemetery (my photo).

Sidewalk of seashells in Savannah--I think they call this tabby, a concrete made of lime, sand, and oyster shells (my photo).