Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Questions About Writing

I belong to a writers group online, and since I am an author, I was asked by the group moderator if I would help out by answering questions from aspiring writers in the group.

After doing this for a couple of days, I thought there may be others who have a few of the same questions.

Dear CJ,
before you published your first book, did you ever come close to throwing in the towel and giving up? what kept you going?

No, I never even considered giving up. If anything, when I got discouraged, I doubled my efforts, because I wanted it so bad I could taste it! I think I mentioned, I gave up a full time job to try and get my book published. I decided if I didn't get a contract by the end of six months, I would go back to work and consider my writing a nice little hobby.

Well, it's a good thing it worked out, because I know now, after having four books published and with another five children's fiction books in the hands of a wonderful illustrator that I found online -- I never in a million years could have pushed the writing aside -- it isn't a hobby. Writing is as much a part of me as my eyes, or my hands are.

Remember, it only takes one "yes" to be published ... be persistent, be dedicated, and believe in yourself and your work.

Does it sometimes happen, when you write for children, to get 'carried away' into something that is too complicated and then you have to simplify? In other words, how do you know what a child aged x years old will understand?

Hi Marc,
As to how, and if, something works, and if it can be understood by children at certain ages, I guess I cheat ... well, actually, I prefer to call it "get a leg up".

When I write something for children, whether it's a poem or a story, I try it out first on one or more of my grandchildren in that age group -- I have nine grandchildren, boys and girls, and ranging in age from two up to fourteen. They're my best (and most painfully honest) critics. When it works, it works. When it doesn't, I get the audible "raspberries" and, after finding out why it was ditzed, I head back to the drawing board to lick my wounds and re-write.

If it passes the first test with my grandchildren, I often take it along on an author school visit. During each of my presentations, I ask the children and teachers if they would like to hear a new story (or poem).

Children know what's funny, what's scary, what will make them cry, or mom and dad angry. Ask your children, grandchildren, go to a library and find a group of little ones. Go to the source ...

Thank you!

hey cj,
congrats on being a published author. Just a couple of questions. How do you first plan a story? Develop your characters or plot? And how do you create that pefect 'voice' of the narrator?
thankyou for your time :)

Hi CJ!
I would like to write stories/books for the 12-17 age group. Currently I'm writing a fantasy (I've been writing it for about 7 years now).

My question to you is, I know generally what I want to happen in my story but I can't seem to fill in the blanks! Has this ever happened to you? If so, what did you do to get around it or fix it?

Great Questions, Ladies,
Milly, I first plan a story probably like you and everyone else does -- somehow, an idea just comes, and when it does, I run with it. I like to call it "being inspired". I have a strong belief in the universe and everything happening for a reason, and also exactly when it's supposed to happen.

I think we've all had an "inspiration" with our writing; you know, where a story or poem almost writes itself. When the inspiration comes to us, it's all we can think of and the words flow so easily from our hearts to our minds and fingers.

I can give you a couple of my own examples. A few years ago, I was driving to visit my youngest daughter in North Carolina from my home in New Hampshire. On the way, I couldn't stop thinking about some possible children's poems that were banging around in my head, wanting to come out and be written. When I stopped at a traffic light I scribbled ideas and lines in a notebook, or scribbling in a restaurant while I had lunch, even when I stopped to use a public restroom, I scribbled ideas and lines. When I arrived at my daughters sixteen hours later, I had written six poems. I was ... "being inspired". As writers, you probably all know what I'm talking about because you've experienced it.

I've also had it happen the other way, where I couldn't write anything, no matter how hard I tried. I've learned to just let it go, when that happens -- set it aside or put it in a drawer. When the inspiration isn't there, just let it go until you sense and feel the inspiration again. I have one poem about my first husband's military funeral, called "Taps for my Soldier", which took 31 years to write. It was there inside me and wanting to come out, but it was so close to my heart and soul that I couldn't see past the pain of my loss to write about it in more than a line at a time. When enough years had passed, it suddenly flowed when the universe was ready for it. The complete poem now lies in the Arlington National Cemetery as part of the "Taps Project" by invitation.

I guess my answer to you about "filling in the missing blanks" of a story would be, just wait it out. Put the story in a drawer and come back to it at another time. When it's time, the story will finish itself through inspiration. Even characters will write themselves -- they literally will come alive when you write a character and almost tell you what they will say or how they will act in the story.

As to the 'voice' of a story. Try it many ways, Milly. There will be one way that "speaks" to you in a louder voice -- again, that inspiring voice. When I'm writing a story, especially if it has some truth to it (from a personal memory or experience), writing it in first person sometimes feels better, more right, than writing it told from an imaginary character's POV.

I think what I'm saying throughout this whole diatribe is this ... trust in yourself. Trust in being inspired. All things happen exactly when they're supposed to. With the universe, nothing is ever wasted.

Thank you!

Hi, CJ,
I love all your short stories! What aspect do you think is the most difficult part of getting published?

Hi Melissa,
Thank you for your warm comments. There's nothing easy about getting published -- or self-publishing, either, but if I had to choose THE most difficult aspect from my point of view, it would have to be the infernal editing you have to do.
As writers, we have a tendency to think every word in a story or poem is necessary to the storyline. Wrong-wrong-wrong. Our readers are smarter than we think. When we can say something in twelve words, why take one hundred?

Edit, edit, edit. Read it again. Edit. Then have someone else read your story. Listen to their comments and edit some more. My partner, Robert, and I help to edit each other's work. I think the one word we overuse the most is "that" (laughing). I think in one short story of 1120 words, we cut 47 that's!

A Quick Example: I think that the most difficult thing that a writer has to think about is the fact that we have to tell a story in shorter words, using meaty sentences that allow our readers to use their imaginations to understand what is being said.

After Editing: I think the most difficult thing for a writer to do is write concisely, giving readers the freedom to feel and imagine.

So, I guess my answer to your question is -- "Editing".

Thank you, Melissa!

"A writer soon learns that easy to read is hard to write." ~CJ Heck

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