The Character Who Wants you to Wait

By Patricia Friedrich

I don’t like to stare at the blank page. And typically I don’t.

When writing either fiction or non-fiction, I usually take a bit of time thinking in an unstructured manner about what I am going to write. Ideas come to me while I do the dishes, when I walk, or as I work on something else. I rarely take notes on them. When I feel ready, I sit down and start writing, usually quite linearly. Some days are more productive, others less so, but once I sit down to write, I usually write. I tend to reach that stage already having a good sense of who my character is, although she will usually turn out to be more multifaceted as we further our acquaintance. As a pantser, I let things happen and often find that a character, put in a given situation, will reveal themselves anyway.

Not this time. I have now met my first character who wants me to wait.

For whatever we lose (like a you or a me)It's always our selfwe find in the sea..png

I know the basic facts about her: where she was born, what she does for a living, who her parents are. But she is a quiet one, and she is taking her time before telling me more. So while  I wait, I am looking for clues in others who have some of her traits—in movies, in books, in life. What can these other characters share with me that will allow me to know my own character better?

Sometimes it is a gesture, something in their eyes. Other times it is a belief or a like. Of course none of them is her, but they offer me hints, or little pieces of this jigsaw puzzle. Building her has become a bit like waiting for wine to reach its perfect season, when complexity of aroma and subtlety in tastes are at their peak.

This is something we are getting increasingly unaccustomed to. Our culture is one of immediate action, immediate response, no delayed gratification, no patience, no waiting. Digital modes have trained our brains to want to know everything and to want to know it all now! In the 1960s and 1970s, psychologist Walter Mischel became well known for his Stanford Marshmallow Experiment in which children were given one marshmallow and told that if they waited, without eating it, until the researcher came back into the room (usually 15 minutes later), they could have another marshmallow (or sometimes a cookie or pretzel). The test correlated the ability to wait for a bigger reward later to various measures of success in future life.

Would we all fail the marshmallow test now?

Maybe this character is my own marshmallow experiment. She is asking me to give it time at the moment for a better outcome later. And like the good student I am, I’m going to wait.

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Patricia Friedrich is a Professor of English (Linguistics/Rhetoric and Composition) at Arizona State University. She is an expert in the spread of English throughout the world, a researcher of peace in relation to language, and the author/editor of six books, including The Sociolinguistics of Digital Englishes and award-winning The Literary and Linguistic Construction of Obsessive-compulsive Disorder. She has written many chapters in other books and articles in such periodicals as Harvard Business Review and World Englishes. Her short fiction has appeared in literary journals such as The Linnet’s Wings, Birkensnake, and Gray Sparrow. Her novel manuscript, The Art of Always, won first prize in the “Realizing the Dream” competition as a mainstream fiction work (RWA’s Desert Rose Chapter). She is represented by TZLA Literary and Film Agency and lives in the greater Phoenix area with her family.

Writer Beware: Speed Bumps Ahead

There are moments when a writer feels blocked. No words come. The story stalls. You’re staring at a brick wall. Every writer needs their own bag of tricks for overcoming Writer’s Block. (One of the best: a deadline.)

Speed Bumps

You might not have heard of another writer condition, one similar to Writer’s Block, but it differs in a significant way. I call it Writer’s Speed Bump, and knowing how to treat it is critical. Continue reading

Celebrate Your Accomplishments

Hey you! I see you! Toiling away! Biting your nails with worry! Not sure you’ll ever make it/do it again/finish that book/be successful. I totally get it! This writing thing is tough! It’s only for the strongest, most awesome people! Which is why you deserve a gold medal no matter where you are on the journey.

 

Celebrate YourAccomplishments

Here. I made you some! So stop moping and start celebrating every little thing!  (These are words I’m saying to myself as much as you.)

Got a great book idea!

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Started writing a book!

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Completed a first draft!

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Sent your writing to CPs or beta readers!

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Conquered the impossible revision!

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Polished your MS to a shine!

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Revised even after you thought you were done!

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Sent a query!

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Got a rejection!

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Got a request!

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Got a new CP or writing buddy!

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Attended a conference!

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Entered a contest!

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Pitched to an agent/editor!

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Got an agent!

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Revised with an agent!

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Almost emailed your agent seventeen times in one day, but restrained yourself to only two times!

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Went on sub!

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Got an editor rejection!

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Made it to second reads!

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Made it to acquisitions!

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R&R!

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YOU SOLD A BOOK!

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Revised with an editor!

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Survived copy edits!

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ARCs!

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Your book has a cover!

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Your book is on Amazon!

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First review from someone you don’t know on GR!

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First trade review!

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A starred review!

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Book launch!

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Survived people emailing you with the errors they found in your book!

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Started writing the next book!

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Amanda Rawson Hill grew up in southwest Wyoming with a library right out her back gate, which accounts a lot for how she turned out. Her debut novel, THE THREE RULES OF EVERYDAY MAGIC, will be published by Boyds Mills Press September 2018.

 

Silence—a Hostile Work Environment?

I find it nearly impossible to write in total silence.

I was still in high school when I discovered I was most productive in environments that weren’t absolutely quiet. Back then, I would take a portable typewriter to the university snack bar to pound out prose. Years later, when I was writing my master’s thesis, I would park in a booth at Taco Bell with my laptop. A friend of mine was the manager there, so I’d buy a drink and he’d bring me free food.

For a while I thought I was just quirky—or even defective. Then I read David Mamet’s book, Writing in Restaurants, in which the award-winning playwright and screenwriter equates public writing with performance art. A writer in a restaurant is, in many ways, similar to the sidewalk chalk artist who draws both pictures and crowds. The act of public writing includes an unspoken obligation to your “audience.” I know from my own experience that the pressure to “perform” helps keep me on task … even if the pressure is all in my head.

When writing in public, Mamet says, “Joy and sorrow can be displayed and observed ‘unwittingly,’ the writer scowling naively and the diners wondering, What the hell is he doing? Then, again, the writer may be truly unobserved, which affects not a jot the scourge of popular opinion on his overactive mind.”

I wrote most of my first NaNoWriMo novel at a McDonalds in Draper, Utah, where the dining room technically closed at midnight but the staff didn’t mind if I hung around longer. For 99¢ (plus tax) I got unlimited Diet Coke, free WiFi and just enough background noise to get my creative juices flowing. I also got words of encouragement from the cashiers who rooted for me from behind the counter. When I hit 50,000 words and “won” at about 11:45 p.m. on November 30, the restaurant’s employees joined me in my victory dance. It felt like a standing ovation.

Recently, I came across an article that refined my thinking somewhat. The Harvard Business Review piece, “Why You Can Focus in a Coffee Shop but Not in Your Open Office,” reviewed new research on “open office” environments, where office walls doors and even cubicle partitions are dumped with the intent of creating a more collaborative, collegial atmosphere. Anyone who’s ever worked in an open office knows that the model tends to stifle productivity rather than fostering it. The key question is why.

One of the studies mentioned in the article, this one conducted at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, found that “the right level of background noise—not too loud and not total silence—may actually boost one’s creative thinking ability.” Obviously, the “right level” for one person might not be right for the next. But there is some pretty good research to give us general numbers. According to an article in the Journal of Consumer Research, “… [A] moderate (70 dB) versus low (50 dB) level of ambient noise enhances performance on creative tasks…. A high level of noise (85 dB), on the other hand, hurts creativity.”

A separate study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology suggested it’s the lack of privacy as much as noise levels that can torpedo productivity in an open office setting.

Which makes perfect sense. While a moderately busy restaurant or coffee shop provides plenty of background chatter to drown out the silence, it also provides a level of relative anonymity you don’t get around your co-workers. Unless you live in a very small town, most people you encounter in public are strangers. When you write in a restaurant, you’re alone in a crowd.

Or as Mamet puts it, “In a restaurant one is both observed and unobserved.”

Obviously, sitting in a restaurant or coffee shop puts you in the crosshairs of the Chatty Cathys of the world. This can pose a real threat to productivity. “What are you writing?” “A novel! What’s it about?” “I’ve always wanted to write a novel. Let me spend the next 40 minutes telling you about it….” This happened to me a number of times until I learned the number one rule of writing in restaurants: don’t make eye contact.

This finding is borne out by a paper presented at the annual conference of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, which found “that face-to-face interaction, [and] conversation … may disrupt the the creative process.” Interestingly, the creativity factors these authors tested for include “originality, elaboration, flexibility and fluency”—exactly what you want when you sit down to a writing session. You just have to find a way to keep the kibitzers at bay.

All of this goes to say that where you work—and especially where you write—may have a profound impact on how much and how well you produce. I get it; there are people who require complete silence to get their creative juices flowing. Others need music. The key, of course, is experimenting with different environments to find out what works best for you. If you’re having trouble getting your creative on at home, try trading the silence for some anonymous chatter.

Incidentally, if you find that you’re one of those people who thrives on background chatter, but you can’t always head to the nearest Starbucks to write, there’s a solution for that. Download the Coffitivity app (available for Android and Apple devices) and take your coffee-shop noise with you wherever you go.

You’ll just have to provide your own caffeine.

Silence - a hostile work environment

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David-Profile-PicDavid Baker is an author, playwright, marketing professional, blogger and freelance editor. He has ghost-written several books and authored dozens of published articles on such topics as business technology, the insurance industry, marketing and data security. He writes both YA and “grown-up” fiction and is actively querying several projects. He also edits the monthly journal of a national trade organization. In his spare time, he runs marathons, shoots guns, cooks curries, paints shoes and builds things. He has an A.A. in theater, a B.A. in English and an M.A. in linguistics. Born in Arizona, raised in Hawaii, currently living in Utah, David is actively involved in theater. His stage play, Inside Al, won the Henry Fonda Young Playwright Award and premiered at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. The play is published by Samuel French and has been in near-continuous production for more than two decades, with hundreds of performances across the US and Canada. You can find his personal blog at blog.bakerdavid.com.

Inspiration 101

Any writer will tell you that when inspiration strikes, it feels miraculous. The planets align, all your neurons fire in tandem, and nature trills along with your giddiness. I dare say that any person who becomes a writer did so because they were struck by inspiration. A story idea. A character. A setting. A magic system. What led us all to the keyboard is the same—inspiration.

But inspiration can be fickle. Like any emotional high, it is special and rare. When we as writers have pages and pages to fill, how do we compel inspiration to come and stay a while?

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Here are some suggestions.

  • Sit at your computer and write. Don’t worry about punctuation, word choice, or sentence structure. Let the words flow out in a messy jumble and see where they lead.
  • Break up with your keyboard. Leave your house, and better yet, leave your cell phone behind. Unplug, go for a walk, run errands, visit a friend, grab a meal, experience nature. Do something you’ve never done before or that has nothing to do with storytelling. This can be tough because so much of our lives circles back to our art, but set aside “Me Time”. You deserve it.
  • Consume enriching stories. Read, read, read. Binge-watch an acclaimed TV series. Go to the movies and absorb yourself in the big screen. Take in and digest well-crafted stories as well as the not-so-great ones. Think on what you would improve. Let these ideas permeate and simmer.
  • Set a deadline. Require a certain number of words/hours from yourself a day, week, month, etc. This goal should be attainable. It should motivate you, not cripple your process. Adjust these expectations as you go. Forgive yourself for falling short. Reward even the smallest accomplishment. Be open to new ideas for how best to meet your deadlines.
  • Limit social media. Browse the internet, but don’t allow your Facebook feed to distract you for hours on end. You may find inspiration there, but is it more likely to come when you’re not irritated over someone’s political rant or snorting at sarcastic Disney memes. By all means, build your online platform. But don’t let that work infringe on more reliable forms of brainstorming activities.
  • Have a backup art. Tethering your creative self-esteem to one manuscript could backfire. Create or build something else. Bake, quilt, sew, woodwork, draw, sing, dance, paint. Do whatever fills your spirit and helps you feel accomplished.
  • Don’t play the comparison game. If so-and-so drafted a book in two weeks, great for them! Who cares if your first draft took two years? Respect your creative process by not forcing it to look like someone else’s. Write like you. Your stories are an extension of yourself. Why would you try to put that unique thing of beauty inside someone else’s box? Nothing kills inspiration quite like letting outside forces shame or discredit your hard-earned work.
  • Be resilient. The publishing industry will throw a lot of unexpected twists at you, both upbeat and negative. (Pro tip: the good news can drain your creativity too.) Be ready to combat highs and lows with perseverance and remain steadfast in your determination to achieve the goals that drive you. Protect your creative process vigilantly and without regret. Wield your positivity like a shield and don’t let anything harmful get through. As you do this, you will still take hits, but your recovery time will shorten. You’ll become better practiced at staying centered and won’t let the ebb and flow moments slow you down.
  • Your health is number one. Don’t sacrifice sufficient sleep, proper nutrition, or suitable recreation to satisfy the fictional perception that writers are moody, self-destructive caffeine addicts. The writing process is a mental marathon. Keep your physical faculties conditioned for optimum performance.

Inspiration does not strike once and recede like a tsunami. Inspiration comes little by little during routine events until it accumulates into a solid, recognizable idea. Inspiration comes by living.

This New Year, I hope you can keep your creative wells full and respect your personal writing process. I guarantee that inspiration will lure you back to the keyboard when you are primed for another story.

Which of these conduits to inspiration work best for you? Is there another method you’d like to share?

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Emily R. King is a reader of everything and a writer of fantasy. Born in Canada and raised in the U.S.A., she’s perfected the use of “eh” and “y’all” and uses both interchangeably. Shark advocate, consumer of gummy bears, and islander at heart, Emily’s greatest interests are her four children. She’s a member of SCBWI and an active participant in her local writers’ community. She lives in Northern Utah with her family and their cantankerous cat. You can find Emily at emilyrking.com

Writing (or not) After Loss

This post is going to be difficult for me to write. Difficult, because that’s what all writing has been for me lately–difficult. And for a very good reason. . . .

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For many people, writing comes as a solace during difficult times. When someone experiences the loss of a loved one, for instance—like I did this summer—writing can be a way to either escape or process emotions. I actually felt like something was wrong with me because I couldn’t do this. I couldn’t even journal. The thoughts and feelings running through me were stuck inside my body and refused to exit onto the page. Fortunately, I had friends who were there to tell me this was okay, and not at all abnormal. They told me to take a break, take all the time I needed, and when I was ready to write again, I’d know it. And now I’m here to tell this to you, along with some other things that surprised me about writing after loss.

When I did eventually get back to writing (sporadically) about a month ago, I found I had a completely new perspective on my story and my characters. Interestingly, my main character’s father has died a month or two before the story begins, and oddly, it’s in a similar(ish) way to how my own dad died. This was not something that I added to the story after my own loss. Nope, it’s been that way since I first started writing it almost a year ago. Complete coincidence. However, I’ve been in my character’s shoes now, and I’ve realized the way my main character felt and acted in that first draft no longer resonates with me. It isn’t realistic anymore. So in the rewrite, I’ve been fixing that. And it’s (I hope) making my character so much richer. I wouldn’t say I’m thrilled about having this new perspective. If I could have gained it any other way, I would have preferred that. But I am grateful that I’m able to take this horrible experience and use it in a positive way. Silver linings and all that, I guess.

You may also find you’ve gained a new perspective toward your characters. You may find yourself adjusting things in ways you never would have thought to before. You may even find the story you’re currently working on doesn’t fit you at all anymore. That’s okay. Run with it. Fix it. Set it aside, if that’s what you need to do. My last finished novel—one I’ve queried and debated going Indie with, no longer fits me. At least, not right now. I’ve outgrown it, I guess you could say. As I see things now, I’m not likely to ever publish it. Or maybe someday, if I’m up to it, I’ll go back over it and make some major changes. And either way, that’s perfectly fine.

One more thing that has surprised me is how much less I’m censoring myself as I write. And by that, I mean I worry less about how my writing will be received by agents and publishers, and just write what I want to write. I write more for me now than I ever have before, and though I’m not completely oblivious to my future plans for this story, I’m pushing those concerns aside for dealing with when I actually get there. And what’s funny is, I thought I’d been doing this all along, but now I can clearly see that I hadn’t been. I’d been far too occupied with the dream of being published when I wrote my previous stories, that I’d become an anxious drafter, which made writing less fun and less satisfying. Now, the anxiety is gone. I’m not going to get into the psychology behind this, because I don’t completely understand why this has changed. But it has, and I’m good with that.

I’m telling you all of these things, not to give you any kind of road map or template for “when you experience loss, this is exactly how your writing will change,” because everyone experiences loss differently, and everyone writes differently. I’m telling you these things because they surprised me, and you may have some surprising experiences too. But whatever your experiences are, they are normal for you. And you may need to adjust some things, and that is perfectly okay.

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File Jan 15, 5 15 03 PM.jpegWhen she’s not writing, revising, or banging her head on the keyboard (it’s all the same, right?), Megan Paasch can be found playing her ukulele (badly), knitting (rarely anymore, unfortunately), or herding two amazing, but rowdy little boys (pretty much constantly) with her husband. A native to the Pacific Northwest, Megan earned her B.A. in History from the University of Washington. (Go Huskies!) Her favorite history subjects were, and still are, Women in History, the Tudors, and the Celts. You can read more about her here.

Overcoming Procrastination

I just finished reading The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. It’s a book that I’d been meaning to get to for a while, but got a nudge from someone who is helping me chat through some goals and read it over the weekend. It’s one of those tricky books because it’s a quick read, and it’s a slow read, the latter because it has what I like to call staring at the wall parts, where something resonates and needs attention and time before we can really reach understanding.

One of the parts that stood out to me, that I didn’t expect to stand out to me, was about the Resistance and procrastination. The Resistance is what Pressfield calls that thing that works against us, especially when embarking on creative endeavors. I’ve felt the presence and pressure of the Resistance more times than I can count: I’m sure it’s part of the creative process for almost everyone.

But procrastination? I’ve never identified with the practice. Just two days ago, I was stressing about what I’m going to do with potentially conflicting events in May 2018. I plan things out, show up early, stress out if there’s a hint that I’ll be on time instead of early.

But, sometimes procrastination is something else. Pressfield explains:

“Procrastination is the most common manifestation of Resistance because it’s the easiest to rationalize. We don’t tell ourselves, “I’m never going to write my symphony.” Instead we say, “I am going to write my symphony; I’m just going to start tomorrow.”  

Oh. That part of procrastination that leads to laundry getting done and windows clean and jewelry boxes organized and social media refreshing? Yeah, that part of procrastination I know well.

For me, that procrastination shows up when I’m tired, when I’ve hit a hard part (read, the middle) of a book. It creeps into my house when I’ve finished reading a great book by someone else and feel less than. It shows up when I thought I would do the hard thing later and then my kids or husband or boss or whomever needs an emergency thing from me, and the time later that I thought I’d be able to use to create gets swallowed up by real life. And then I get angry and blame all sorts of things for my lack of pursuing my art.

And I have a feeling I’m not the only one.

So, what to do?

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Get intentional and quit making excuses.

My kids and I had a break from school yesterday, so I spent Saturday making sure that they had everything taken care of, that we had the right kind of cereal, that laundry was mostly done, that the house was pretty much clean, etc. And I told them all that Monday was my day. I spent it figuring out the hard parts of my story. And taking an honest look at my day and how I spend my time. And cleaning off my desk so that I can’t use the lack of workspace as an excuse anymore. Finally, I’ve made a date with someone I trust to go over the story outline, to get myself ready to proceed, and in the process added a little accountability with someone so that I can stop dinking around and get the story done.

Peer pressure is my preferred tool to fight this kind of procrastination – knowing I have allies engaged in the battle with me helps. But sometimes, I want more. Sometimes, I need more.

How do you fight the Resistance? Have you found a good tool for defeating procrastination?

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TashaTasha Seegmiller is a mom to three kids and coordinator of the project-based learning center (EDGE) at Southern Utah University. She writes contemporary women’s fiction with a hint of magic, and thrives on Diet Coke, chocolate and cinnamon bears. She is a co-founder and the managing editor for the Thinking Through Our Fingers blog as well as a board member for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. Tasha is represented by Annelise Robey of the Jane Rotrosen Agency.