More trouble

A few weeks ago my mother, queen of the email forwards, sent me a picture/text diatribe of funny sayings. I kept this one:

Because when you’re writing, it’s this ability of your characters to get into more trouble, that makes the story more interesting.

Painless character-development

Let me just tell you right now that the Gloria Kempton book Dialogue is worth the money. No, I haven’t finished it yet. But this weekend I learned about enneagrams. Heard of those? Me either. A brief quote from The Enneagram Made Easy: “The Enneagram is a study of the nine basic types of people. It explains why we behave the way we do, and it points to specific directions for individual growth.”

Many writers spend a lot of time developing their characters with lengthy sketches and questionnaires, but this is a nice shortcut without the I-didn’t-do-my-homework feel. It has been developed for decades with centuries-old roots, so when you use an enneagram, you can be sure that it hits the character right on the head.

#1 The Reformer has high morals, likes to live right, and tries to improve themselves and the world around them, often by pointing out what everyone else is doing wrong.

#2 The Giver is motivated by the need to feel loved and valued and often expresses positive feelings toward others, even when they may not be feeling the love.

#3 The Achiever needs to be productive, successful and avoid failure.

#4 The Artist always has their feelings at the forefront, and bring a lot of drama to the table.

#5 The Obsever needs to understand everything that is happening around them, they also need to appear to know everything that is going on and hate to look foolish.

#6 The Questioner is fearful and seeks approval from everywhere. Some questioners seek to confront their fears directly.

#7 The Adventurer will never have a dull day. They need to be happy and plan exciting events for themselves, do things in their environment, and avoid unpleasantness.

#8 The Leader is motivated by the need to be self-sufficient, strong, and not feel weak.

#9 The Peacemaker needs for everything to go smoothly and tries to avoid conflict, often by taking the hit themselves. They take on the personalities of all other 8 types, and can be mild-mannered to forceful.

You can pick up books about Enneagrams or do a search for more details, but this will help you to develop better characters, and even understand yourself. (I’m a #9!)

2010 Writing Goal #4: Have Fun

Over the weekend my 7 year old wrote down a dream she had that involved an invading race of aliens, time shifts between planets, dinosaurs and making friends. She encouraged her 3 year old brother to write down his dream as well and when he said he couldn’t she told him, “Just have fun. What’s really important about writing is to just have fun.”

Sage advice from a 7 year old.

Writing is a business, and there are lots of things that demand a young writer’s attention like: the market, submission requirements, best ways to amp up manuscripts, social media marketing, billing, the number of authors getting far more readers and awards than us. And sure it can be really frustrating in a razorblade-to-wrist kind of way, but the reason  we all came to writing is that we really enjoy it and that enjoyment has to ring through our writing otherwise those 3, 7, and 17 year olds who are reading it will drop our books faster than a stalk of broccoli in a candy factory, if it even makes it past the scrutiny of agents and editors.

So remember that while you’re writing, the reader must feel the fun poring out of you… even if you weren’t actually having fun while you were writing it.

Tricky, huh?

2010 Writing Goal #3: Drop the ‘Net

It’s the second decade of the millenium. Blogging, twittering and connecting on sites like Facebook has become part of every business plan. If you don’t have an online presence, you basically don’t exist, but when you’re a beginning writer, does having an online presence really have that much of an impact?

It’s a great way to connect with readers and potential readers, but at the start of a career, those numbers are fairly minimal, so expending a huge amount of time on it, isn’t the wisest use of time, when producing a first, second or third novel will do far more to further your career.

For me, time spent twittering, blogging, reading other people’s blogs and various articles, I could be writing. I even subscribe to a blog that feeds me lists of information about writing opportunities but after a year, I haven’t gotten any new work from it, so I can’t justify the expense, plus its preachy cheerleader-like tone has grated on my last nerve.

I’m not saying it’s wise to sign off everything entirely, but sometimes you need to re-evaluate your time. A second novel will do far more for my career than any amount of blogs and tweets.

To that end, my blog posts will be shorter this year and I’ll use Twitter to pass on any really good informaion I come across, and less random stuff like, “My son just made me a bead necklace in my favorite color.” Because you probably don’t care about that.

2010 Writing Goal #2: Find the Zen

Many years ago a couple gave my husband and I a puzzle from the Museum Store. It’s two bent nails hooked together, and there’s a way to get them apart and put them back together. It resurfaced during a New Year’s cleaning frenzy and I’ve been fiddling with it ever since. It’s frustrating to know there’s an answer to something and not be able to figure it out. This happens a lot in writing. You know there’s an answer to your plot problem. You know that your character has something else in them that would make a scene better. You know there’s a better line in you, buried somewhere deep. But you can’t figure it out.

The nail puzzle is one of those that’s effortless when you finally find the solution, as is the right plot point, the right emotion from your chracter, the right line. But getting there requires a lot of fiddling, and you have to be willing to do the wrong thing about a hundred times and still approach the problem with the same entusiasm. Retaining that enthusiasm could prove tricky for even the most zen writer among us.

I’m patient as Job with my kids. My fuse is only seconds-long with technology. My frustration quotient for writing is somewhere in-between. What I’ve learned is that being frustrated is ok. As long as you don’t give up until you find the perfect solution, you’re still good. There is an answer out there. Wait for it. Work toward it. Know that it will come eventually.


’09 Writing Lesson: Just Keep Moving

I’m looking forward to 2010 if only because I have a lot to do and I’m anxious to get to it. The biographies of Sharon Creech and Al Gore, finishing my 3rd novel, editing my 4th, and hopefully a lot more freelance work. 2009 was a packed year and I like it that way. But before 2010, I’m taking a moment to look back.

I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions, but reflecting on the past year is the only way to see patterns and make improvements.

In ’09 I had a bit of heartache with my 2nd novel but I also edited a 3rd and drafted a 4th. The theme of ’09 seemed to be “just keep moving” based on my continued output. It was good because it kept me from wallowing in the bad spots, which I tend to do a lot. I will keep this new theme in my writing repertoire.

It also became clear in ’09 that I have problems with Voice. It’s right up there with Plot and Conflict, but Voice is where I fall short. After an interesting Christmas vacation during which I kept my trap shut over some family issues, I began to wonder if someone who keeps her thoughts to herself can write a character with a strong voice. So I will be making personal changes and see if it translates into my professional life. Should be interesting! I’ll let you know if my family disowns me. And if my characters become more compelling.

I know this is brief, but who says that reflecting on the year has to be long and drawn out? I encourage you to look at your writing each year and see what your writing needs were. That way you’re sure to keep moving forward.

Happy New Year everyone!