Monday, October 24, 2011

Lifelong Homework

I read something the other day and I just had to share it. I picked this up from a Desert Sleuths’ newsletter and that writer picked it up from Ira Glass. He’s the interesting and wildly successful guy who does “This American Life” on NPR. If you’ve ever listened to his show, you can hear him speak these words:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative

work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you

make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has

potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you

into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work

disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they

quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work

went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have

this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through

this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this

phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing

you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so

that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going

through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and

your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone

I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way



Did I mention he’s wildly successful? And yet, he admits that he, like the rest of us, was riddled with doubts. He didn’t start off being great. He worked at it. Worked really hard.

I find this encouraging and inspirational and disappointing all at the same time. It means I can’t quit. I’m not as good as my hero-writers and suspect I’ll never rise to their level. I’d like to settle for “good enough.”

I really liked school and was a pretty good student. I knew exactly what was expected to get the A and when I’d accomplished that, I couldn’t go any higher. (This was in ancient times before weighted grades and advance placement.) I knew when I could quit working.

Mr. Glass’s quote tells me I can never stop trying to be a better writer. That’s daunting. But he also tells me that hard work will pay off. I will improve over time. And so, thank you, Mr. Glass for giving me the proverbial homework for the rest of my life.


How about you? Does Ira Glass’s quote inspire or exhaust you?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Multi-Author Bookfair! November 12, 2011 at Barnes & Noble in Boulder, Colorado.

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Please join us at a bookfair to benefit Pikes Peak Writers!

Saturday, November 12, 2011
4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Barnes & Noble "Crossroads Commons"
2999 Pearl Street, Boulder CO

Richard and Janet Fogg will sign Fogg in the Cockpit

Laura E. Reeve will sign The Major Ariane Kedros Novels

Esri Allbritten will sign Chihuahua of the Baskervilles

Pikes Peak Writers is a national nonprofit that helps writers learn, connect and grow through workshops, resources, contests, scholarships, and one of the best writer's conferences in the country. To help PPW continue in their support of writers, Barnes & Noble is hosting this and other benefit bookfairs and signings.

If you shop at B&N during the benefit period, a portion of what you spend goes to PPW. It costs you nothing extra, and you can use your B&N member discount. So we hope you'll join us at the signing, but if you can't make it please consider shopping at between November 12th and 17th, and reference bookfair number #10553048.

For more info about this bookfair and the list of authors signing at five Colorado Barnes & Noble locations, visit:

Hope to see you at the bookfair!

Friday, October 7, 2011

And how does that make you feel?

Ever have the feeling the universe is trying to stuff something into your big, fat, ugly head? Maybe it’s not so much a “woo-woo” experience as it is your inner mind focusing on something before it tells your everyday mind about it. Sort of like I kept seeing pregnant women right before I decided I wanted to have a baby. (And what was I thinking then?) I don’t like subliminal messages from myself. I rely on my normal shallow nature to protect me from deep emotion.

This week, Cricket McRea, author of the Home Crafting Mystery series, posted a blog about Splat. This is a technique for discovering the inner workings of your own mind so you can plumb the depths of your fear and anxiety to create more complex and interesting characters.

Now doesn’t that sound like fun?

Less than a month ago, at Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s Colorado Gold Conference, I attended a three-hour workshop given by romantic suspense writer and amazing writing coach, Laura Baker, of Story Magic fame. The workshop was entitled The Fearless Writer: Discovering Your Story. Among the eye-opening and light bulb-illuminating tidbits in this workshop, Laura walked us through a bit of psychoanalysis all in the name of finding a good story. Talk about stepping out of my six inch deep comfort zone.

At the most basic, The Fearless Writer course is about discovering what made you begin writing. Before you learned you couldn’t write because you didn’t know about stimulus and response and point of view and voice and character arcs and turning points, what gave you the passion to tell the story inside of you?

Before we can answer this question, we have to go through a series of exercises, dredging up all the good, bad and ugly we’ve squirreled away throughout our lives and find out what our purpose is in storytelling. Like cats, some of us are particularly good and burying our, ahem, “unpleasantness.” And like Methuselah, some of us have enough years on our bones to have accumulated a lot of said “unpleasantness.”

Laura had us look at stories and characters we found easiest to write and those we couldn’t complete. Using our own life experiences, we drew links to our stories and can then discover what our strengths are as writers. The exercises took the pain and joy in our past and associated that emotional gunk (that’s my technical term) with our stories to find themes we return to.

I’m not about to tell you all the personal dysfunction I discovered in just three hours of this workshop. It’s embarrassing how much of my therapy has been worked out in the pages of my books. But it makes for some particularly flawed characters with lots of growth potential. Obviously, Laura’s workshop is way more involved than what I’ve plastered here and I urge you to check it out.

When I fearlessly and foolishly decided I wanted to be a writer, no one told me I was going to have to pull out all the nasty little bugs hiding in the dark recesses of my brain. Like spiders in my house, I’m way happier if I don’t see them. I’m not all that into self awareness, we shallow people shy away from that. I have honed the art of denial until I’m a true master. And now the dagnabbed universe is banging me on the head with a sledgehammer and telling me to dig deeper. Fine, okay, I’m not stupid, I get the message. But if I have to cry to write this next book, somebody is going to be in trouble.

What about you? Do you enjoy the process of baring your soul, even in disguise, in your work?