The Heart Wants What the Heart Wants


“He has no heart.” “She’s all heart.” “My heart just isn’t in this.” But the heart is a muscle that pumps our blood and oxygen through our bodies. That is all. When we make statements like the ones above, we are really talking about brain function.  Somewhere along the line,  probably long before humans knew about how the brain functioned, we began attributing emotions to the heart, even describing it as our seat of motivation. I guess the “gifted” side of me (pedantic?) is needing to clarify that when I am talking about a person’s heart in this post, I am speaking metaphorically. For some reason, I feel the need to point out that everything, is in fact, run by the brain.

Every time I look at the blank screen on my computer, a screen that is asking me to fill it with words, and words are not immediately forthcoming, my first thought is generally something like, how my heart must not be in this anymore. I just don’t know what to write. If I’m given something to write about, at first I’m fine. “Oh sure! I can write about this! Easy peasy!” Then the blank screen is before me and I have to check Facebook, then look at a movie trailer, then read an article about a different upcoming movie, then I notice that my body hair is thicker on one side of my body than the other,  and I must research this immediately or I won’t be able to concentrate on what I am supposed to be writing. This leads me to reading articles and looking up images of a variety of hairstyles with funny names. Now an hour has elapsed and I haven’t written a word. So I begin to wonder, is my heart really in this? And then, my BRAIN shoots back with, “Yes! You’re just being lazy! Stop it!”

smaller clipart heart 4Suddenly, my medulla oblongata sends a swift kick to jumpstart my heart and away I go! I am feeling motivated!

I am realizing a reason I am having a hard time with this topic is because, like many adults, I have learned to keep my heart protected. From the viewpoint of someone who grew up with the “gifted” label I felt the need to build walls around my heart. Much was expected of me from others. I also expected a lot from myself. When I lived up to those expectations, everything was great, of course. When I didn’t, no one was more disappointed than me. The tests said I could have done great things with my life. While I am content with my life as it is, I still haven’t fulfilled any of the dreams I had when I was younger. I was going to be an actor. An award winning actor. Or at least, be able to earn a comfortable living as an actor. You know, not necessarily hounded by paparazzi, but every once in a while, someone would come up to me and say, “Hey, aren’t you that woman who played that other woman’s friend in that show?” When I became pregnant with my twins, I pretty much gave up on that idea. You have to already be a successful actor to get away with having twins and still continue acting. Come to think of it, my twins are all grown up now. I still have an 11-year old at home, but I’m not a single parent anymore like I was for the first five years of my twins’ lives. Maybe I’ll see how much acting classes cost in my area. See what happens when my heart kicks in?

I wanted to be a writer –well, I am writing right now, aren’t I? I thought I’d start with magazine articles (this was way before blogs), then short stories, then finally, become a novelist. This one, I haven’t given up on quite yet. I need to find a way to discipline my highly distractable brain and keep myself focused.  Focused on writing. And fragmented sentences. I just need to keep writing. Except for right now because I am finished writing this post.

You will eventually be able to read more of my writing at: http://manicmeanderings.blogspot.com/ I haven’t updated since a couple of weeks before NaNoWriMo. I plan to update….soon.

GO BIG or GO HOME! (and a little contest)


Hey guys! Today’s post is inspired by a few posts I’ve been reading around the blogosphere about staying motivated, this week’s edition of the fabulous ezine The Prosperous Writer (and really, you should be reading the ezine), and So You Think You Can Dance (yeah, I know, I watch too much reality TV)

Christina Katz’s ezine highlighted the importance of commitment with regards to writing. In her words, commitment is more than perseverance through the tough times. It is a a conscious action you take with regards to writing. It can drive you to participate fully in the craft of writing, dedicating yourself to more than writing for yourself.

It relates to goals – but is more than that.

It relates to following your dreams – but is much more.

Christina Katz said it best:

…commitment reminds us of what is really important. It grants us space to screw up. To say the wrong thing. To have a fight that doesn’t end in divorce. To be ourselves. To express ourselves. To reveal ourselves. And perhaps most importantly, to trust ourselves.

So I ask you:

  • Are you committed to improving the craft of writing?
  • Are you committed to learning the business of writing?
  • Are you committed to growing your platform in whatever way is most productive for you?
  • Are you committed to continuing to grow no matter what happens – what failures occur, what fights with your muse you have – are you still committed?

If you can shout YES to the above, then you are seriously ready to

GO FOR IT!

So…

Since I totally believe in COMMITTING to the process LOUDLY, I have a little extra motivation for you…

Leave a comment stating your commitment to writing, tell me you are ready to GO BIG or GO HOME, and I will reward you with a contest.

Yep, that is right…you leave a comment, I enter you into a contest for a $20 Barnes and Nobel gift card AND a 10-page critique from me!!!

Are you in?

Extra entries (1 each) for blogging, tweeting or otherwise spreading the love (be sure to tell me you’ve done that in the comments) AND for “liking” my FB fanpage.

Contest closes Sunday, June 6. I’ll annonce the winner on Monday. Easy right?

HAPPY SUMMER!!!

***CONTEST CLOSED. CONGRATS TO HEATHER FAESY, THE WINNER CHOSEN VIA RANDOM NUMBER GENERATOR***

Blog Chain: Get Your GLEEK On!


***WARNING THIS POST IS DEDICATED TO ONE OF MY FAV GLEE EPISODES EV.ER***

Hey – it’s blog chain time again. The amazing Amanda started us off  (and yeah, she is a GLEEK too) with the following question:

What do you do to keep yourself motivated when you feel like you’re not making any progress in your writing career?

Holy Cow! What a perfect question for me. I’ve been wrestling a lot with staying motivated over the long run – you know, when things get hard or change; when the good news around you makes you feel somehow  … less.

Now, since I am a total GEEK and a GLEEK….I thought I would show you HOW  I find motivation when it all goes to heck! BE WARNED…You are venturing INTO my head now, and it is a scary scary place!

Okay – first I start off all excited, confident, and secure.

But, things change when my goals are taking too long – when I begin to doubt they will ever happen. And the dream dies a bit. Or maybe a lot…

Just like this… (just listen – it’s freakin’ awesome!)

Yeah, I know – a little dramatic. I warned you my head was a scary place.

My amazingly awesome super online BFFs save me from this place!

They send pictures that make me laugh ( like a mocked up “cover” to my book),

words that make me cry (all motivational, and caring, and stuff),

and loan me their confidence (I really could not have stayed in this game this long w/o them)

After a while, I begin to feel a little better. Suddenly, magically,  I think that maybe I CAN do this.

I write my feelings down. Let them lead me to a new story.

That good feeling grows, so I write MORE.

Before long, I’m excited – determined.

And then I start singing this… (man these two ROCK!)

(no really, I do)

“Dream on, dream on,  dream on, dream until the dream comes true”….oops, got carried away…

Okay – I think I’ve tortured you enough…Remember, I DID WARN YOU!!!

What do you do to find your motivation to keep going in this biz? Be sure to check out Michelle H’s very thoughtful answer yesterday and Margie’s answer tomorrow.

Have a great holiday weekend! I’ll be finding a little extra motivation while having dinner with the amazing Gretchen McNeil! If a little writerly time doesn’t help with my inspiration and motivation, nothing will!!!

Blog Chain: A Lesson in Fear!


BLOG CHAIN

 

It’s Blog Chain time again.  Kat started this round with a great question in honor of Halloween: 

 

What are the primary fears that drive your characters? Do they battle aliens or gangsters or monsters? Or do they battle unreconciled issues in their lives? Which do you prefer writing about? What do you fear?

I have to say I LOVE this question.  My whole life has really been about learning to cope with fear and making the conscious decision to move through fear as opposed to being paralyzed by it. 

As a result, my characters must face their fear as well. 

In the Chaos Within, the main character Julie literally faces an embodiment of every single thing she fears – and she does so in a world that automatically materializes everything she is thinking about.  So yeah – it is a fear-fest.  The challenge for her is learning to let go of that fear and recognize it for the illusion that it is.  Books 2 and 3 in the series are also about facing one’s fears, but in a less internalized way, as the main character battles paranormal beings that force her to repeatedly face her opinions of fear and decide whether or not fear is an illusion.

Lacrimosa is a good versus evil story.  Fear is not as central to the storyline as it is in the Chaos Trilogy, but the MCs certainly face their fear of loosing each other, loosing their love, and loosing everything that makes them better than the Evil in the story.  Ultimately they have to confront their own ideas of love, duty, redemption and forgiveness, as well deal with the choices they make – many of which are driven by fear.

I write Urban Fantasy and Paranormal stories.  And even in my short stories that are more of the Chick Lit variety, my characters always explore the fear that lives deep inside us all.  Sometimes that fear may take the form of a monster, the devil, or something external.  More often than not it is internal, as they face whatever it is the fear the most in order to survive whatever journey they find themselves on.

Now, the last part of the question – what do I fear?  I have done many posts on fear.  As I said earlier in this post, as well as in those, I have lived my life learning to walk through the things that scare me the most.  In that respect I am definitely the type to face things head on – regardless of how scary they are.  Some may call that brave.  And I guess it is.  But for me, I know no other way to do things.

That is not to say I am not afraid.  When my husband nearly died of a brain aneurysm I can guarantee you that I was afraid.  When I hospitalized my ten-month-old daughter for respiratory distress, I stayed up all night afraid.

And when I am by myself in the middle of the night, gripped with a fear so profound it coats my tongue, there is no doubt that I am afraid.  I just choose to not let that fear define me.  So I find my own strength – and I reach out to my friends and take a little of theirs – and I face the fear – whatever it is.

Perhaps this quote summarizes it best for me:

Death is not the biggest fear we have; our biggest fear is taking the risk to be alive — the risk to be alive and express what we really are. – Don Miguel Ruiz

Each day I strive to life an authentic life – to not, as Walden would have said, get to the end of my days and discover I had never really lived.  So I face my fears, and move through them in whatever way I can.

Now it’s your turn…what are you afraid of?  How does fear play into your storylines?

For more from us on this great topic, check out Kat’s post before me and Sarah’s post tomorrow.

Blog Chain Time: Can you FEEL it?


BLOG CHAINIt’s my turn to start the Blog Chain…WooHoo.  I picked a topic near and dear to my heart – emotions. 

How do you add emotional depth to your stories? How to do know when you have enough emotional content?  And how to you keep it authentic?

For me, emotional depth in a story is everything.  I want to feel everything the characters feel – if they cry, I want to cry, if they are angry, I want to be angry.   I want a visceral reaction.

But how do you create one?  I think emotional depth is one of the many layers added to the story – both during the original crafting of the story, and as part of the revision process.  

I have spent the better part of my adult life studying human emotion and behavior.  The same techniques I use in my professional life - observations of people, being very in tune with my own visceral reactions to things, a clear understanding of why people react the way they do – has enabled me to add an emotional backstory to my pieces.  I flesh out each character so I understand their motivations, their “story”.  That information helps me understand how my characters would react to things. 

Finally, the act of writing occurs.  The use of active verbs, sprinkled with describtive adjectives and the right mix of dialogue and narrative work together like the yarn in a tapestry, weaving emotions throughout the story.

The amount of emotions elicited by a scene is something a little harder to gage.  Every reader is different – so every reaction to emotional content is different.  In my critique groups I am an emotional nazi.  My crit buddies know that I am always looking at how characters react to things that occur – and likewise, how I am reacting to it.  Sometimes I find that while the details of the story are correct – good writing, good plot, good tension – I still am not “feeling” the way I want to in response to the events.  At that point, whether it is my piece or someone elses, I go back and read the section in question over and over, looking for the moment I lost a connection with the story.  This is often the place where the emotional context crumbles.  Once I can identify it, I can usually come up with a way to fix it.

Which leads me to authenticity.  Have you every read something and thought “no way, that person would NEVER do that”?  Maybe it happens because the character is flat in response to something big (like a friend dying, or finding out your love interest just left you – again).  And maybe it happens because a character is reacting strangely to an event (like giggling when something is profoundly serious, or angry without context).  I think emotions only work when they are authentic – something the character would DO based on what we, as the reader, know about them. 

I read a book once – something most people loved (and no, I am not spilling which book it was).  Suffice it to say that I hated it.  Really hated it. 

It wasn’t the writing, or the unphathomable plot.  It was the emotions.  They were off – too placid and disengenuous.  When I thought about the author, I realized that none of their books have intense dark emotions.  Not one.  The stories are excellent – the author just can’t go deep into the darker emotions of life.  I have experienced dificulties in this myself from time to time – not being able to really go as far as I needed to with a particular emotion because of my own hang ups.  Fortunately I have honest crit buddies who always tell me when my emotions are off.

Authenticity requires the authors to fully explore whatever emotion the character is experiencing – and fully commit to it.  This can be the hardest part of writing, because sometimes our characters go someplace too uncomfortable for us to follow.  We are left vulnerable, our insides splayed out for the world to see.  And yet, if we are going to add authentic emotions to the story, we have to be willing to “go there” 100%.

So there’s my take.  Go on over to Michelle’s blog tomorrow to see what she has to say on the subject. 

And what about you guys…how important is emotional context to you?  Are there times you can’t “go there”?  What do you do to work past it?

 

 

Writing at home…my summer joy!


A while back I confessed that I spend most of my writing time at my favorite Starbucks, with my favorite baristas.  Well, I am happy to report I have found ANOTHER favorite place to write.

I call it my “summer place”.  It’s by the pool, in a gazebo my hubby designed and my brother built.  It has electricity, a ceiling fan, a great view of the pool, and an open feeling that allows the afternoon breeze to waft on through….Hmmm….heaven.

Well, see for yourself:

THE GAZEBO:

100_3767  100_3769                100_3772

 

THE VIEW:

100_3771

100_3770

                    

My other fav place at home to write:

100_3768

What do you think?  Pretty nice spots, huh?

Do you guys have different places you like to write?  Where are they??

When is enough…enough?


dreamstime_5555091Most of my writerly friends are in the same position I am…carefully learning the trade, improving their skills and working on some WiP, hoping it’s the one that will result in an agent – and ultimately a publishing deal.

A few of my friends are already there…published and working on their next project.

Today’s post has to do with the journey towards publishing…and the question every writer I’ve met has wrestled with at some point along the path:

At what point is enough, enough?  At what point should I just stop this pursuit and do something else?  And at what point do I admit defeat?

They are reasonable enough questions, I think.  And ones I’ve heard answered with things ranging from “I’m quitting after this next batch of queries”, to “I’ll give it XXXX (fill in the blank) years”, to “I can’t imagine ever quitting.”

For me, I tend to fall in each category…ranging from being certain I am done, to knowing I will always write (even if I never get published).

So, I ask you – my wonderful readers – “When is enough, enough?” When “should” a writer decide to stop and move on to some other dream?

Motivation (or Why Did You Do That???)


“Motive: A need or desire that causes a person to act…implies an emotion operating on will and causing action” – - taken from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

 

dreamstime_6634032Sometimes characters have a way of running off with our story lines. Sometimes this is a really good thing. Other times, not so much. When this happens we, the author, often wind up in unexpected places in which we have to figure out new twists or endings to stories.

For this post, I wanted to focus on why people – and likewise, characters – do the things they do. What motivates various behaviors and what are the functions of the behavior?

As an educational psychologist, I spend A LOT of time looking at motivation and behavior. Most of the research in this area focuses in the part of psychology known as Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA). This school of thought believes that ALL behavior occurs as a result of one of many of these reasons (or functions):

  • Escape (what am I trying to avoid or get rid of)
  • Get (what do I want, or what am I seeking)
  • Protest (What do I need to object to)

As I analyze the behavior of some of my more difficult students, I can tell you that almost all behavior absolutely relates to the functions listed above. True, there internal things that trigger behavior as well – but, the majority of things can be framed in terms of these three functions.

Okay – let’s relate this back to writing. Why is any of this important?

I feel that as an author I need to know why my characters do the things they do? If I have them, say, enter into an unexpected intimate relationship, what motivated it – what “function” did the initiation of that relationship serve. When I block out story lines, I am always examining the motivation.

Let me give you another example – in my current story I kill off a central character within the first 50 pages. Why – motivation for what follows. This death provides the catalyst necessary for the main character to undergo major change – something vital for the entire story. When I originally blocked out the story, I did not have this death scene. I found the changes in the MC not as believable. I hadn’t given enough of a reason for the changes that took place and as a reader I did not believe anything that happened. I am sure you have read stories where this has happened. When I went back and thought about what would force her to change her behavior as significantly as I needed it to change and what function would the new behaviors serve, I realized that only an event of this magnitude would work – so I created something BIG to serve as a catalyst.

In another story I am hoping to start next month, I outlined the major plot point in terms of the driving forces, or functions, of the main characters’ actions. I specifically looked at the goal each character was trying to achieve with one another.

For me, this is a necessary part of the process.

Try this: read one of the stories that you are dissatisfied with in some way (be honest, we all have at least one story like this). Look at it in terms of the motivation behind your characters’ actions – or the function the characters’ behaviors serve. Often times when I do this, I am able to figure out what bugs me about my storyline – what isn’t believable. For me, the problems in the story almost always deal with the authenticity of character voice or character behavior. (Check this out for more on character voice).

Let me know how it goes…and happy writing.