Thursday, November 29, 2007

From Purgatory to Bridge Building

The most extraordinary thing about this year's (or probably any year's for that matter) NYT list of "notable books" is the extraordinary breadth of kinds of books that are out there written by some seasoned authors (Philip Roth, Doris Lessing, Joyce Carol Oates, and of course Dante -- a new translation of his "Purgatorio") to new authors breaking into the world of publishing (Raj Kamal Jha).
Quite honestly of the 100 books, I've read two. TWO! And my list of "to read" just got 98 books longer.
What I love about this list, though, is how it shows how many risks publishing houses make, bringing edgy, fantastic literature to hungry readers. We often hear (as writers) complaints about how safe the world of publishing is, but I disagree. Look at A NIGHT LISTENER by Armistead Maupin. What a fantastic, innovative, RISKY concept. A young boy with AIDS talks to a nighttime DJ on his radio show. That's the first on my "to buy" list.
So I tip my hat to the vision and risks publishers take bringing these books to print. The variety of voices, themes, and styles of literature is exploding and it just means that we, as writers, had better work our tails off to add to the richness of literature available out there. It's pretty damned intimidating, but it inspires me to sit, sit, sit and write. And revise. And revise again.

Happy Reading!
Heidi Ayarbe

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

98 Books I Haven't Read

So the New York Times has posted their 100 Notable Books for 2007? And I've only read one (if you don't count Harry Potter) Naturally, I read the shortest one, On Chesil Beach by Ian was excellent! Truthfully, I rarely rush out to buy the newest crop because there are so many old ones waiting in line for my scattered attention.
There are some temptations on the list --- a new book by Richard Russo who wrote Empire Falls, a new one by Philip Roth and one by Annie Dillard. Tom Perotta who wrote Little Children has written one that sounds good, The Abstinence Teacher. (Being made into a movie by the Little Miss Sunshine people).I'll get to them one of these days.
Scanning the list, I see the effects of globalization. Americans have written books set all over the place. There are quite a few translations and books set in every corner of our shrinking globe. Stick a pin in the map where eachbook takes place....what country gets the most pins?
But only one notable children's book? Couldn't they find another one to go with Harry Potter? Or weren't they looking?
You can also see the great divide between "notable" and "popular" literature, at least in the eyes of the New York Times. None of the books book clubs are reading made it into the elite group. Water for Elephants and The Glass Castle are two titles that spring to mind...or were they last year's picks? The most frivolous book sounds like Tina Brown's The Diana Chronicles. How did fun loving Diana sneak into such a high-minded party?
The overall effect is discouraging --- all those worthy books and so little time. Guess I'll order The Diana Chronicles and pour a glass of wine and forget the rest for now.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Danke, Gracias, Merci, Thanks

So many ways to say thanks, and so many things to be thankful for!

First and foremost this year, I am grateful to have a healthy, happy and wonderful son. I'm so lucky and grateful to be his mommy!

In the writing world, I am so thankful to my husband for supporting my crazy writing habit, to the muse for not (often) abandoning me, to my awesome agent for pitching my book all over creation, and most of all, I'm thankful to THE WORDSLINGERS!

Showing a first draft of one's writing to anyone else is like modeling an unflattering bathing suit in bad lighting and then asking how you look. It's nerve-wracking. But these amazing women have taken me by the hand and shown me how to be a better writer without making me feel embarrassed by my untoned thighs or my tendency to over-describe the decor. And I am eternally grateful to them for doing it.

That's not to mention all the non-writing support they've given me. It doesn't matter if things are going unbelievably well or hand-wringingly wrong - these same women are there, listening, helping, joking, celebrating, commiserating. I don't know where I'd be without any of you.

So, on Thursday, high up among the many wonderful blessings I'll be giving thanks for are Heidi, Jean, Lisa, Mandy and Trish. To the 'slingers!


Thursday, November 15, 2007

Beating a dead horse?

I really don't mean to be cliche or repeat from my fellow posters but my biggest stumbling blocks are *ta da* Time and Doubt.

Time, where does it go? I don't have kids yet, but I am blessed with a demanding job and hubby. I start my day with my drive to work, with my ipod playing all of my favorite songs, thinking about scenes I want to work on that day. I promise myself that I WILL write when I get home. I really will. But then I get home and finish up all my stuff and I'm pooped. Those brillant ideas that floated through my head just 8 maybe 10 hours ago, up and floated away. When I'm having a particuarly good day, I write those ideas down when I get to work. But again, sometimes, I hit the door running and that good intention gets lost.

Doubt, sheesh, that's a big one. I often feel like I'm in no league with my crit buddies. They are all brilliant and I'm drivel *smile* That freezes me. Every idea or scene I'm working on, I drop. Fortunately, my characters and my love of the written word drives me out of my pity party. Who cares if I stink? As long as I have fun and can be happy with the work I produce.

So my horse wears a life preserver! I am lucky. I have great friends who push me to be better and encourage me during the low times. They act as my floatie. Coupled with my own need to accomplish my dreams and finish a project, I manage to keep swimming.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Forest for the Trees....

One of my biggest problems is I get caught up in the life and get out of a writing routine. One thing after another comes up, and before I know it I haven't written in weeks. It is so hard to make yourself write when you've put in a full day of work, bathed children, made dinner, did laundry, fed dogs and helped with homework. Then to actually sit down at the computer and let your characters play...yeah right. But at the same time when I don't honor the muse I get REALLY grouchy.
My solution is (drum roll) I write during my lunch hour at work almost every day. Then when I'm wiped out at the end of then day I can relax instead of obsessing over plots and arcs. It works for me. And on those days that I have extra energy I write again after the kids go to bed.
My other issue is too many ideas. I get bombarded with several characters knocking around in my brain begging for me to let them out. But which one first??? I keep a recipe box full with index cards alphabetically filed. I carry index cards around in my purse, and I even have them beside the bed. Then when an idea strikes I write it down, file it and pull it out later when I'm ready to start on a new project. Some may never get used, but they're there if I want them.
Spiders represent creativity and they never give up on their webs, as we should never give up on our webs of words. So whatever neurosis you have find a way to make it work for you to make you a better writer.

Time and Doubt

Those are my two main stumbling blocks as a writer. It's usually one or the other that keeps getting in my way. I must confess, it can be difficult to find the confidence to keep writing when peers achieve success before you have. That's when Doubt settles on my shoulder and whispers in a sneaky voice, " See, I TOLD you you're no good. Why are you wasting your time writing when you can be doing something more useful?" Doubt can be very insistent, sapping you of your creativity, your will. That's usually when I step back and admit I am powerless over Doubt. It just has to run its course until my sheer love of writing resurfaces. It's a cycle with me. Doubt—back off—refuel...dive back in. Oddly, when I back off, ideas start to flow into my head and I have a good laugh at myself. So what if I stink? So what if I'm unpublishable. I'm loving this! It's a passion, an obsession, a high I can't live with out.

This is just about the time I run into my greater foe. TIME. I want to write and I can't. Life gets in the way, Parenting, work, you name it. I try to make time to write every day if I can, but my output is greatly curtailed when the semester is in session. It's that old hamster tread for me; a never ending battle to keep things in perspective and in balance. My writing is a work in progress and so am I.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Writer Neurosis 101

To write, I have to have an enormous ego to think that somebody ought to read my work, ideas, and the worlds I create. (Especially 300+ pages!) At the same time, I'm pretty doggoned needy, always wanting that reassuring pat on the shoulder and good review. It's like being back in 7th grade at a school dance and wanting John to ask me to dance but he won't so instead of acting like a normal girl, I go and push him into the bleachers. This, of course, is an example. It's not necessarily what actually happened no matter what John and the restraining order says.
Regardless of my clumsy past with school dances, this odd combo of ego+insecurity has made me neurotic -- to a degree.
But, no, I don't have any funky writer superstitions like Charles Dickens setting his bed to face north/south and touching objects three times for good luck. Or John Cheever working in his underwear, wearing his only suit just to get to work and back home. The only thing I DON'T do is tell somebody about a story brewing in my head. I think I'm afraid that once I speak it, it'll disappear -- like Tarzan's great pickup line. So I wait. I let it brew. Then I write, write, write. And when I have something down, I'll only share it with a very select group of people that I know will lock this story away until I say it's okay to let it open.
So .. maybe that IS a little superstitious. But it's not OCD superstitious ... yet. Perhaps in a few years I'll have accrued a few more neurotic writer things. Perhaps.

Heidi Ayarbe

Thursday, November 8, 2007

My Latest Cure

I can't prescribe a cure-all for Writer's Block (love your friendly analogy to a neighborhood, C) even for myself. But this time I can share what worked for my recent struggle with the blank screen. I had reached a point in my WIP that I simply could not get past. So out of fear and frustration, I continued to rewrite the darned thing over and over from the beginning, hoping to find the answers. Finally, I began to outline the entire ms, from the beginning with suggested changes in place. I highlighted all the new additions and questions folks had had about certain plotting issues. Being a visual person, I found it was easier for me to track the arcs of certain events if I could see them. At last I got the outline to the "stuck point"..and I found I stepped over the barrier with ease. The new chapters flowed from my fingers and it was a snap to synchronize new events with highlighted additions in the previous chapters. Now, I'm just following the yellow highlight road as I revise, confident I can carry on to the finish. Next problem: adding two more hours to the day to find more time to write!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Chronic Writer's Block Cures ... Maybe

Writer's Block: the infernal disease that afflicts all writers. (If you happen to be the exception to the rule, I don't want to hear about it because then I probably won't like you. And I don't like not liking people. If that makes sense.)
I'm always amazed by writers that have words and ideas pouring out of them -- effortlessly. I'll be honest with you, I work my tail off to get words on a page. And I practice the age-old writer's un-blocker technique of "butt-in-chair." And if things get really dreadful I fall back on my FORREST GUMP philosophy:
I run, run, run, run, run ... then go work at the library because it's something that comes easy to me and makes me feel competent. Then back to the chair. The hardest part of writing for me is the first draft -- getting the structure of the book down. Because I LOVE revisions. I never feel stuck when I revise. The block comes when I'm working on getting that first draft out there. You can always tell when I'm working on a first draft. I'm in really good shape. Ha!!

Best of luck and stick to it. (Your muse will come .)
Heidi Ayarbe

Hi, neighbor!

I hate writer’s block, though I actually love the term. It makes me think of a street – Writer’s Block – populated by frustrated authors who wave to each other as they walk the dogs. You can see them standing at the kitchen window, staring at nothing and chewing on their lower lips. None of them can write a word, or they wouldn’t live there. If they come up with something to put down on paper, they get to move.

Anyway, when I’m living on that block, there are two things I do to get unstuck. The first is easy, and a not-uncommon trick. When I can’t write, I read. A lot. I read and read and read everything I can get my hands on. Biographies and novels and YA and history – it’s all fair game. That helps a bunch, because some idea in some book will strike me and I’ll get off and running again with all that new material percolating around in my subconscious as fuel.

The other thing I do when I’m stuck is skip ahead to the next exciting thing in my story and write that. Sometimes it’s easier to write point A and point B and then figure out the road that connects them. At least, sometimes it’s easier for me that way. I think that’s the biggest thing about writer’s block – it seems to be a very individualized affliction. What unsticks me won’t work for Lisa or Heidi, what works for them may leave me completely flat. But I like hearing what other writers do, ‘cause sometimes it’s the only way to find a great new trick. I’ll always try something. If it works, great! If not, I’ll just keep waving at the other writers in residence on the Writer’s Block until I can find a way to relocate.