Last year I would have sworn writer’s block was just a crutch. Not a real thing. Something writers use to explain extended non-writing periods. I’d never had much trouble coming up with new ideas or following the highways that will lead to the ending I've planned. That’s not the problem, and not my version of writer’s block.
I've recently discovered that writer's block is real, and it's a pain in the butt. I’m great at denial, so I consistently told myself I did NOT have writer’s block, I just did not have the time needed to write. I am such a liar.
I think, if I believed it at all, writer’s block always sounded like a condition in which the writer can’t figure out what the character should do next, or what should happen next in the story. I always know what will happen next. Thing is, I’ve never had so much trouble making it happen. Today I figured out why.
Our characters are our babies. They’re our children, our creations, and we want the best for them. We want to see them happy, even if they have to go through some trials to get there. Here’s what I forgot: like our children, we can’t protect them. Not always. We can’t shield them from everything, keep them safe, make all the right decisions for them so that nothing bad ever happens. Not only is it impossible, but in a fictional world, it’s also super boring.
I got stuck. I knew what had to happen next in my current manuscript, I knew the choices my main character had to make, but by the time I reached that point, none of it fit. Her next move no longer fit with the previous series of events. Could I have forced it? Could I make her do the things I know are plotted out on her road to continue the story, even knowing it wouldn’t have the right flow? Knowing the reader would think, ‘What? Why would she do that?’ Sure! Absolutely. But when I’m reading, that’s where the author loses me: when a character makes a decision that isn’t based on her past experience or necessity, when that character seems to be acting simply out of the need to further the plot. Readers see through that and it ruins suspension of disbelief, pulls us right out of the story.
So instead of pushing the story along, building my word count, I threw the whole thing in reverse. I went back and looked at what I’d done to screw things up. How I originally knew what Tommie would do but now, in chapter twelve, it just didn’t seem like she would. It’s so clear to me now why, I’m surprised I didn’t catch it earlier.
I’d done everything I could to protect her. After all, she is my baby, my creation. I don’t want her to suffer, do I? So I sheltered her. I let her boyfriend go above and beyond to help make sure she’d come to no harm, even when there was no reason for him to do so. I allowed her to be sweet when she should have been angry, I let her be weak and worried when she should have been strong and stubborn. I kept her in such a bubble that the Tommie in chapter twelve had no reason to make any detrimental decisions at all. By the time Tommie and I got to chapter twelve together, I was a little bored by her myself.
Now this is the fun part. I went back through the manuscript and painted white-out all over that son of a bitch. Okay, not really. The great thing about 2015 is we don’t need white out. But I reworked and revised the heck out of some crucial parts, and then some other parts, way before chapter twelve. I allowed Tommie’s boyfriend to act like a boyfriend instead of some perfect flawless drone. I let Tommie’s stubborn nature dictate some rather stupid choices (sorry, Tommie, it is what it is) that help shape her path much better toward the Tommie she must be by chapter twelve. Man, I missed this Tommie, the one I began the story with and then somehow lost under too much goodwill!
And just like that, my writer’s block is cured. Now I have real people, characters I feel like I know, can relate to, and can’t protect. Now there’s no forcing anything. Tommie will make the choices I always knew she’d make, for better or worse, and I can’t stop her. Now the words pour from my fingertips onto the screen effortlessly, the story already written and just waiting to be excavated (one more thing Stephen King is right about). Next time I say “Oh, I just haven’t had time to write lately,” somebody please smack me out of denial and tell me to quit sheltering my characters. Love these lightbulb moments, wish I had more of them!
Music is my happy place.
Music is a place for me. Much more than a harmonic collection of notes, music is an escape. It’s an oasis of sound with invisible, impenetrable walls made of melody.
In everyday life, music is a perk, a reward, an additive, an enhancement. In my writing life, music serves as my silencer. One of the toughest things to do when writing is to step into the story, become part of the landscape, absorb and release the emotions of the characters. Music allows me to do that.
I was asked once about process and if I have certain routines that I use when writing. I need music to write. I have different playlists with varying songs based on what’s going on in the manuscript, different genres for certain types of scenes, from hip hop to hardcore and everything in between. Writing in actual silence is nearly impossible. I started thinking about why.
The answer is easy. We all have so much noise in our heads every moment of every day. Grocery lists, laundry waiting, drop off and pick up times for children, bills to be paid, leaky faucets to be fixed, doctor appointments we keep forgetting to schedule, calls to return … infinite to-do lists even in our quietest moments, even as we try to drift off to sleep. It could just be me, but I doubt it.
All of that is so LOUD in my head that, when I sit down to write, I’m paralyzed by the weight of it. It’s distracting and if I do manage to squeak out a few paragraphs, the noise worms its way into my story. And that’s not good for anyone.
So I turn to my music. I’m not a purist, I don’t stay within the confines of a specific genre, I just know what works. What hits me where it counts, what will work as my silencer and help me bring out the best in my characters and story.
Back to everyday life, I know I’m not the only one who’s realized that music makes everything easier; it makes chores go faster, makes paying bills a little more pleasant, cements memories by adding another layer to our senses, adds an undercurrent of soothing sound to nearly any task. I think if we each added a little music to our hours here, we’d all find that happy place. Even if only for 3 ½ minutes. Nothing wrong with feeding our souls 3 ½ minutes at a time.
From the new manuscript, WITH AND WITHOUT YOU.
So you've met Cole (previous excerpt).
This is where things get messy. Meet Jase.
Danni caught herself staring at Jase. She thought she’d already met all of Cole’s friends - until Ray showed up with the new guy. The hot new guy.
“Aren’t they great?” he asked Danni, gesturing at the band onstage.
She nodded, meeting his eyes for just a moment. She tried to ignore the black, shiny hair that fell to just above his shoulders. She completely ignored how his dark skin nearly glowed against his white Nirvana tee. Heat crept up her spine; she should not be checking out this random guy. She was with Cole. “I love them. I saw them two years ago with The Black Keys at Joe Louis Arena.”
Jase shook his head, “No way, you were there? I was at that show. The Keys blew that place up.”
She nodded, “Yeah.” Brilliant, she thought.
“Danni is pre-med,” Ray told Jase over the music.
Ray was just adding to the awkwardness she felt.
“Wow, that’s awesome,” Jase moved in toward her to be heard. “Smart girl.” He smiled at her.
Danni shrugged, “I guess.” For the second time that night she wished she’d dressed differently, worn something other than her standard jeans and hoodie. Smart Danni, she thought. With her too curly hair and too tied up tongue. Jase was still watching her, in her space. This was so wrong.
“Smart, and great taste in music too, huh?”
Danni smiled. She found she was having a hell of a time meeting his eyes.
Thought it might be fun to share a few passages from the manuscript I recently finished. No, it's not a sequel to THE FALL OF OUR SECRETS, sorry about that. That doesn't exist, at least not yet.
The working title for this is WITH AND WITHOUT YOU (more info here). Meet Cole:
Danni was invisible to Cole until the night she wasn’t anymore. She was sitting on somebody’s couch at a New Year’s Eve party when he appeared in her space, standing in front of her so that her immediate field of vision was filled with his crotch. He handed her a red plastic cup of beer and sat down.
“You’re Derek’s sister, right?”
She nodded and brought the cup to her lips, acutely aware of his body flush against hers on the little couch, his football player’s build tilting her toward him.
“You look hot tonight.”
Danni blushed a furious red, laughing. “Thanks?” This was weird. Cole had never said more than a short ‘hey’ or ‘what’s up’ to her before.
“We should go out sometime. How come I never see you around?” His gaze dropped for just a moment to her chest before meeting her eyes again.
“Um.” Really? She didn’t even know how to answer that. She wondered if he would remember her name tomorrow. She resisted the urge to check her top and make sure she wasn’t popping out of it.
Cole leaned in so that his face was inches from hers. His hand was on her knee. “You wanna get high?”
Cole was only the hottest guy at their school. And he was talking to her. Asking her out. Wait, was he asking her out? Either way. Tall and fair, his eyes bluer than hers, Cole was beautiful.
I am the perfect example of why we should read to our kids. Yesterday, on the way to the book store, something hit me that I’ve known now for years. Decades even. I really love books. I look forward to a trip to the book store the same way I look forward to sitting down with a much loved, much missed old friend. (See? I promised I’d return to usual form soon!)
As a kid, one of the best things my mom or dad could tell me was: “Let’s go to the library today.” That meant an hour or two spent amidst the stacks, breathing in the scents of thoughts and dreams committed to paper, choosing a few or ten to stumble to the checkout desk with, anticipation mingled with impatience to begin.
As a new mom, I could be found Tuesday and Thursday mornings at story-time, sitting on the carpet with the other parents, snuggly baby on my lap, watching with rapt attention as the librarian narrated The Pokey Little Puppy with zest and props. Both my kids learned, starting at six months or so and continuing on up to double digits, about the fantastic worlds that live inside of books.
As a parent of teens, I’ve returned to discovering new worlds of my own while helping my kids find that perfect book, that great adventure or the best pick from a suggested reading list. Yesterday at the book store, my daughter vacillated between One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and A Separate Peace. I pushed for The Picture of Dorian Gray or Anna Karenina, but my daughter knows what she likes. In this case, she chose the excitement and drama of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
The title doesn't matter. Our tastes and preferences in genre and writing style aren't what counts. The love of reading is the greatest gift my parents gave me. Sitting on that library carpet with my squirmy son, gratified and relieved when a facet of the story would catch his attention or his sister would don a raccoon puppet to illustrate for him A Kissing Hand for Chester Raccoon, my motive was pretty basic. I wasn't thinking of higher literature, or AP English courses, or even of whether my kids would grow up to love reading. I was carrying on a tradition from my own childhood, something I loved, both as a child and as a parent. Who doesn't love a good story?
That phrase, “on the way to the bookstore,” what feelings that evokes in me. I like to think it’s the same for others. On a day to day basis, there are a handful of things that make us smile, things that we look forward to with anticipation and happiness, knowing once we’re immersed, we’ll sink into the experience contentedly, at home. The best parallel I can draw is to that feeling I get when I know I've got a lunch date, or better yet, maybe a concert date, with a close friend. Much needed, much awaited, nourishment for my soul. Also found between the pages of a good book.
This is not a post about writing. It’s not written by a writer. It’s written by a nurse. It’s written so I can lay this down and move on.
I promise a return to my typical upbeat musings in the next blog entry, rest assured. This is something I feel needs saying, for anyone who works in healthcare, and yes, I am using my author platform to say it.
There’s a painful, brutal truth about working in the medical field. It’s something we know but just don’t talk about. It’s something I’d rather not know, if I had that luxury. If I wasn't a nurse, if I’d never lost someone I loved to illness, I wouldn't know this truth, and I’d be happy not to know it.
Hospice is a bad word. I used to believe that. In 20 years as a Registered Nurse, I've never been able to overcome this idea. Now I know that Hospice is a bad word until it’s not. Then it’s the most beautiful word.
I've tried my hand as a Hospice nurse. I suck at it. At my core, in my most basic default settings, I am a hopeful person. When interacting with my patients, I tend to offer hope whenever I see the opportunity. Frequently, it's small consolations, like:
“The pain medicine will kick in soon.” Or, “Maybe your Neurologist will have a good solution to this problem.” Or, “Your lab values look a little better this week.”
The hope is never false, even when it's a small consolation. It's something I can't seem to help, offering a grain of hope. Even when it might be better not to.
Before this week, my own experience with Hospice only reinforced my negative perceptions. Listen up, healthcare professionals. You cannot say that word to a patient or family member immediately after telling them there is no more hope. It’s gone. There is nothing else to try, nothing else to be done, and this life will soon be over.
Think about that for a moment, the impact. Then imagine (or better, don’t, just take my word for it) the word Hospice being spoken. While you’re still digesting that worst of all possible news.
It’s inconceivable to think this one person, this person with the title Doctor, is right, and to accept it at face value. To let go of hope, and in the next breath agree to Hospice care. Even in a very long, painful, chronic illness and decline, I believe we need a minute. Or a few hours or even a couple days, if we can afford that. To try to wrap our minds around the truth of this, assuming it’s true.
Only then does the word Hospice become the word we want to hear. It’s that point in time when the only thing left to hope for is peace. Calm, releasing, pain-free peace. Hospice makes that possible.
That point in time came for a patient I took care of for over two years. After several conversations with the doctor, I'm grateful I had the strength to speak the truth, to be honest and confirm what the family already feared was true: all hope was lost. And now my job was finished; I could be of no more help. When the patient was ready, Hospice would carry him comfortably through.
There is no dignity in dying. There is only the hope for a peaceful end, surrounded by those we love. Hospice is no longer a bad word for me, not when it’s used the right way. And a good Hospice nurse is an angel in disguise.
I can count on one hand the patients I’ll remember for the rest of my life. In 20 years as a nurse, I've given very few the power to actually affect me, hurt me, and sometimes heal me. The one I lost this week, and his loving family, did all three.
One perk of being a writer: I have some really great imaginary friends. Today I’m hanging out with Tommie. Tommie is Danni’s BFF. Danni is the main character in my recently finished manuscript With and Without You. Every girl needs a good wing-woman, someone who’s got her back, is always there to give her props, call her out on her bullshit, or tell her if her new top is hideous. (The Urban Dictionary definition I like best: A lady who is your closest friend and confidant, whom you can depend on to help you through the hardest times but who is also there to celebrate for the happy times.) As I was writing With and Without You, Danni was of course my favorite character; every main character I've written has a fair share of me in her. But something happened that I know most writers -- and readers -- will understand.
I kind of fell in love with Tommie, and with her budding relationship with bad boy Sean. Tommie has a peripheral story line in With and Without You. Danni is the star. With and Without You explores Danni’s journey after losing her twin brother and searching for a true connection, her first real love affair, though it may be with a man she’s never supposed to have. But by the time that manuscript was completed, I knew I had to find out what happens next with Tommie.
Though Tommie and Danni are best friends, they are in many ways opposites. Danni is sweet, a little naïve, introspective. Danni’s story is an awakening, a coming of age that is both healing and transformative for her. Tommie compliments Danni’s uncertainty, pushing her to test her limits. Tommie is worldly, confident, with boundless energy. Tommie is very sure of herself and her place in the world. Her place in the world at the moment is as an up and coming Sous Chef in Detroit.
When Tommie meets Sean, she at first sees an arrogant, edgy cool artist with a flavor of the week reputation with girls. Sean’s relentless flirting finally sparks her curiosity and she thinks, “Okay, why not?” Tommie assures Danni she knows exactly what she’s getting into, and that if anyone’s going to get hurt, it will not be her.
In order to write Tommie, and the evolving relationship between her and Sean, I have to understand her. I have to know things about her. Things like:
I need to know these things about Tommie so that when her boyfriend Sean starts getting texts from an old girlfriend, I know what she’ll do, how she’ll behave. I need to know that Tommie holds her self-worth higher than anything a guy can make her feel … or at least, that was the case before the night she and Sean were attacked, and everything Tommie thought she knew about herself and her beloved city is turned on its head.
I need to know what has made Tommie into a fighter, a survivor, but I also know that each of us has a breaking point. And I need to know exactly how much Tommie can give to the man she loves without losing herself.
Gotta love character development. Now, back to the story.
December. Holidays. No matter what you celebrate this time of year, there’s a universal thread that connects us all. Is it planning? Cooking? Shopping? Fatigue? Searching high and low for that perfect gift? Sprucing up our living space to prepare for guests? Working our asses off to make enough cash to buy enough stuff?
I give you a big, fat nope. It’s not.
The universal thread is love.
Okay. Anyone who knows me knows I’m not a sappy person. My sister inherited the sentimental gene from our dad. My husband and I both feel compelled to cap off lovey text messages to each other with “*gag*” just to be clear that yes, I love your guts, but let’s not get all mushy about it.
But I’m just gonna say it. The point of all this holiday hustle and bustle isn’t all the crap that we fill our houses with in preparation. It’s reconnecting with family and friends (thank you, Captain Obvious).
We are all busy. Life is hectic. Sometimes we lose sight of what really matters. So I’m here to remind you -- and myself and all my loved ones -- what really matters. The people in our lives we are connected to, that’s what matters. Family. Friends we count as family. The people who know you and have to love you even when you have a bad day, are mean or rude or snotty, are too tired to be a good friend/sister/aunt. The people you love just the same even when you haven’t seen them in forever.
What’s that you say? It’s just too hard to pull it all together this year, there’s a mile long list of reasons to just let the holidays pass unnoticed? Get over yourself.
On that note, I’m going to play the kid card. Our kids LOVE this time of year. They can’t wait to see aunts, uncles, friends, cousins little and big. They can’t wait for the food and goodies and presents, but, as my own kids have told me, they’re mostly excited to spend time with everyone.
Don’t we want to provide our children with the sweet, silly, aggravating, nostalgic kind of memories we have of our own childhood holidays spent with loved ones? As many loved ones as our moms and dads could manage to bring together? And if our childhood was less than perfect, then jeez, don’t we want to give our own kids the kind of holiday experience we always wished we had growing up? I know I do.
What a fun night.
Imagine making up a bunch of characters in your head. Then imagine bringing them to life, giving them faces and personalities and hopes and fears and quirks.
Then imagine sitting with a group of friends who all know these made-up characters, have met each of them, and know their deep dark secrets and who they really are. Imagine getting to spend two hours talking about them like they are real people. I'm SO grateful to my little book club for reading THE FALL OF OUR SECRETS, and so appreciative for the insightful, thoughtful questions and comments.
Some favorite moments and questions of the evening for me:
So interesting to learn how each person perceives each of the characters differently. Had lots of fun pulling up photos of actresses and actors on our smart phones, looking for the right fit.
Overall, tonight was something I went into with some trepidation, but had a great time. I'm so pleased at everything readers are taking from the book, it is definitely a dream come true. Thank you ladies!
FIVE DAYS until the blog tour starts!
I'm so fortunate to have such great book bloggers and websites signed up to host me and THE FALL OF OUR SECRETS the next couple weeks.
Listed below are the dates that something -- an interview, guest post, excerpt, or review -- will appear online.
And if you click the picture to the left, you can enter to win a $20 Amazon gift card!
October 20 – Relatively Yours – Guest Post
October 22 – Fiction Zeal – Guest Post & Excerpt
October 23 – Brenda Corey Dunne – Review & Guest Post
October 24 – Chick Lit Plus – Review
October 27 – Keep Calm and Blog On – Review & Excerpt
October 28 – Ski-Wee’s Book Corner – Excerpt
October 30 – Storm Goddess Book Reviews – Review & Guest Post
October 31 – The Little Reading Cabin – Review
November 3 – Jersey Girl Book Reviews – Review, Guest Post & Excerpt
November 3 – Mrs. Mommy Booknerd’s Book Reviews – Guest Post & Q&A
**Comment on the tour page to win a $20 Amazon gift card! The winner will be drawn November 4. Get 10 extras bonus entries if you purchase your copy of the book and send the receipt to Samantha @ ChickLitPlus (Dot) com!