Monday, November 23, 2009

BICFOK--Look familiar?

BICFOK—Ever seen this acronym before? In case you haven’t, it means Butt in Chair, Fingers on Keyboard.

What does that mean to you this week? Maybe you practice this faithfully and don’t know why other writers have such a hard time with the concept. Or perhaps you really needed this reminder at the beginning of a short work week.

Another Monday is upon us. Another Monday to complete the items on your to-do list before the end of the month. Another week of almost accomplishing half of what you wish you could do if you had the time to do a third of everything you want to finish before the craziness of the season hits you full force.

Since you are reading this blog, I will assume your passion is writing a novel. Suffice it to say you probably won’t do so before the family descends on Thursday. You may not even get a solid grip on your goal by New Year’s Day. Instead of worrying about what you won’t get done during this incredibly busy season, let’s focus on putting your goals into a few manageable chunks.

Don’t think small. Think realistically. I am hosting Thanksgiving dinner at my house this year for both my husband’s family and mine. Yikes. Four days ago my husband had knee surgery so the brunt on the work will fall squarely on my shoulders. This week I want to give the house a good scrubbing. Then there are lists, shopping, early preparations, phone calls, and of course, the actual cooking to finish.

It isn’t likely I will get far on my current WIP. Worrying over my lack of productivity won’t do anything but stress me out. Instead I will focus on working during the small chunks of time I carve out of my schedule. I am writing this post while waiting for a writers’ meeting to begin. I can daydream about character quirks and interactions while mopping the floor and hanging Christmas lights. During drives to and from the grocery I can think of topics for future blog posts. Those precious moments when my rear is actually in the chair and fingers on keyboard, I will be able to focus completely on my manuscript.

I still won’t be as productive as I’d like, but I’ll do what I can and not let the stress of this week thwart my bursts of creativity. How about you? Where can you start? Any fabulous ideas that work for you that you would be willing to share?

The writing world is waiting...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Eliminate Your Fears

Remember when you were a little kid, and whenever you were afraid of anything you had a superhero to bail you out? Who can forget “There’s no need to fear, Underdog is here!” What about if you had a bad dream? All you had to do was run into your parents’ room, and they would make everything scary go away.

Remember how long the days used to be when you were a kid? Remember how long summer vacation lasted? Do you remember how slowly the school year went? First grade took forever. High school felt like an eternity. It seemed like every year was as long as a dog year. Things are so easy in grammar school. You go to school. You come home. Then you do crazy things with your friends.

Did you ever take a box you got from the supermarket, draw some headlights and a license plate on it, and then go for the ride of your life in it down the stairs? Sometimes you’d make it all the way down, while other times you would land on your head.

I remember as a kid I’d go sledding (or sleigh riding as we called it) on those plastic blue sleds down this huge hill. So one day I went sleigh riding with my brother and sister behind my house on Winged Foot Golf Course in Scarsdale. At the time, my brother was probably six years old, my sister was eight and I was thirteen. We got to the top of the hill, got on our plastic sleds, and then we all started down the hill.

Due to the icy conditions, we were all headed in different directions. I headed in the direction I was supposed to go because I weighed the most. My sister did continuous 360’s down the hill, while my brother headed directly for the brook. My sister ended up about 25 yards from me, dizzy and confused. My brother, meanwhile, was nowhere in sight. So I headed to the brook, where I found my brother about 12 feet from his sled laying face down on the ice.

I thought I had killed my brother . . . and boy was my Mother going to be mad at me for that!

Forgetting to take out the garbage was one thing, but killing your brother on a February day can’t be good. I kept screaming his name “Little guy! Little guy!!” Finally he lifted one side of his cheek off the ice. It was quite red. As I pulled him up, he looked at me with tears running down his cheeks and he said to me “Can we do that again?”

What happened to that fearless little kid in all of us?

I learned a long, long time ago, though, that the number one excuse behind which people hide is fear. What this is about is the excuses you make to stay hidden behind your fears. Time is ticking by. The days are shorter. The months are shorter. You don’t have long summer vacations anymore. We’re full of obligations. It seems like years go by in months and all we’re doing is getting older . . . but sometimes not getting wiser.

As kids, we are fearless. As adults, we live behind our fears. The difference is that as adults, we have the means to work with people to help us eliminate our fears. It’s funny. Have you seen the movie Defending Your life, where the lead character played by Albert Brooks finally realizes his life lesson was that he was cheap with himself? What’s the point of making money unless you can invest it in the most important thing – yourself? We spend money on clothes, expensive vacation and cars – all external things. So you can afford to go to the Bahamas for a week, but when you get there and see a woman (or man) to whom you’re attracted you are still the same fearful person you are at home.

Nothing will change unless you start changing things about yourself. Fear is the number one reason and the number one excuse why people don’t try something new.

Think back in your life. What was your sleigh riding moment as a kid? How did you feel being totally fearless?

Now think about your current life; your weight loss journey and your desire to wirte and become published and what you’re not accomplishing. Think about your fears and excuses. How would you rather be?

Would you rather be an adult having fun like a fearless kid, or would you rather hide behind your fears and not connect with the people you most desire. When was the last time you did something fearless without expecting a result?

The only thing preventing men and women from getting together are the fears that each of them have. It’s time you eliminate those fears and self-doubts, and live like the fearless five year-old who has gusto for life and embraces life as a new journey.

That’s how I live my life every day. If you want to go sleigh riding with me, I’m here.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

How to take your writing from bad to worse

If there is one single principle that is central to making any story more powerful, it is simply this: Raise the stakes. — Donald Maass, Writing the Breakout Novel

Sounds easy enough but how exactly do you go about doing it? Your story is most certainly about something—at least we hope so. The key is to take that “something” to the next level. Your character can’t only be looking for love…or a job…or a retirement home for her grandfather. There must be other things going on, other insurmountable obstacles, other interests, distractions, and frustrations.

Perhaps your protagonist witnessed a murder and was seen running from the scene by the police…and the killer. The police are now looking for him as a person of interest in the crime. The villain is also looking to silence him before he can find proof to implicate the real killer.

Sounds riveting enough. But how could you punch it up? How can you raise the stakes by giving the protagonist even more obstacles to overcome throughout the course of the story?

What if he also has personal issues? Consider that the day of the murder he lost his job. Not only is he running for his life and his freedom, his financial concerns are paramount in his mind. The police believe this gives him motive for the crime. His landlord has locked him out of his apartment so he can’t retrieve the one item that would provide an alibi. Neighbors see him breaking into his own apartment and call the police. An off-duty officer gives chase when the protagonist runs through an alley. The killer who has been following our hero shoots the officer. Now the police believe the protag is a cop killer and are more determined than ever to shoot him on sight.

Or possibly the ex-wife of our protag announced she is remarrying and moving with his teenage daughter to the other side of the country. The daughter doesn’t want to go. She wants to move in with him. He doesn’t tell her about witnessing the murder, only that she should stay with her mother and make the best of it. The daughter thinks he doesn’t want her interrupting his life. Nothing can be farther from the truth, but he can’t tell her this. The ex-wife thinks he’s a selfish pig. The daughter won’t speak to him. Or perhaps she runs away from home. Not only does he need to keep out of sight from the killers and the authorities, he needs to find his daughter and bring her home.

Now we have created some real tension. The main plot is keeping the protag out of jail and safe from a killer while trying to solve a murder. But interesting subplots will make the book more marketable to agents and publishers, probe deeper into the character of your hero, and more importantly, keep readers turning pages.

It is quite possible that murders and eluding the police don’t fit into your book. Even if your story is of a tamer genre, there are plenty of ways to raise the stakes and insert thrills for the reader. First ask yourself what main conflict does the protagonist face. Then broaden your scope and see what those problems lead to. One problem generally leads to another, in real life as in fiction.

It isn’t likely that you face only one issue at any given time in your own life. Perhaps you have to pay for your daughter’s wedding. That may be the most important thing on your mind this very instant. But you may also be concerned about your mother’s failing health, rumors of downsizing at work, finding time to spend with your younger children, and your ever increasing waistline. On top of everything, your dog is having puppies.

It’s how life happens. Give these same issues to your heroine. Multiply them until the reader believes the protag cannot take one more crisis.

Pull out all the stops. Make his life wretched and miserable. At least for now. Then you can show the reader his true character by the way he overcomes it all.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Inspiration at the Polls

A few years ago someone in my polling district got sick or moved or retired or whatever. As a registered voter of the minority party in my county, I received a phone call from the election boards asking if I would be willing to work at my local election poll. Little did I know this would become a fulltime gig.

For a writer always on the lookout for material, manning the polls is pretty good fodder for the old idea mill. Since I seldom leave my house, I don’t hear much local gossip that could inspire a fiction work. Once a year this changes radically. Discussing the election or candidates and issues is off limits so we talk about the way things used to be, former residents and those we only wish would move away, unresolved scandals, and the bleak condition of the economy. Or rather, they talk and I absorb like a sponge.

The one thing all writers have in common is an insatiable curiosity. We’re not satisfied knowing something happened. We need to know why and how. If no one can tell us, we fill in the blanks. It’s how fiction writers are born.

Filling in the blanks is a habit I picked up as a child. When adults discuss the really good stuff around children, they speak in code they think the child will not be able to follow and leave key sentences hanging. Covertly listening in on these conversations is what encouraged the writer in me so many years ago.

Born and raised in a small town I heard stories, new and old, about unrequited love, jealous quarrels that ended in gunfire, robberies, back stabbings, cheating, lying, and coveting thy neighbor’s wife. It wasn’t long before I began writing stories that satiated my curiosity and allowed me to end them however I chose. The power over the lives of adults was intoxicating. Before I even knew how to write the stories down, I was addicted. I suppose writers never outgrow that love for the unknown, the unsolved. It’s what keeps us tapping away on our keyboards even when publishers are stingy with contracts and our agents consider another line of work.

It is my hope that my job tomorrow at the polls will deliver some interesting, intriguing tidbits that start me tapping away on some new material. I’m taking my Dana with me for when inspiration strikes. Who knows, I might even start my next bestseller. So get out and vote tomorrow. If you see old neighbors and friends with their heads together discussing the latest local scandal and a lone woman nearby tapping away on her keyboard, come over and say hi. I always like meeting readers.