Saturday, March 26, 2011

When you have nothing to say...write anyway.

What does a writer do when she has nothing to say? Easy, keep writing. All of us have both a creator and a judge inside our heads. Usually they work pretty closely together, like when you think of that snarky come-back line and then pull it before the words can escape your mouth and get you into trouble with your friend, husband, boss, etc. We've all been there, I'm sure. The fact is that you need both sides in life, and in writing. But, and this is the important thing, a writer cannot be both at the same time. When I allow my creative side and my get-into-the-details editor to share space in my head, I can't fill a blank page to save my life.

Before I started writing seriously (okay, it was only curiously back then) a friend lent me a book called "The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life", by Julia Cameron. I was so uplifted and encouraged by her book that I followed my inner voice and finished a novel in less than a year. It was wonderful. I felt like a god, creating an expansive science fiction universe full of alien races, strange technology, inter-galactic politics, long-buried secrets and, of course, romance.

The second book about writing that I picked up was called "Self-editing for Fiction Writers", by Renni Browne and Dave King, and I very nearly cried while reading it. I had made every beginning writer's mistake in the book - literally. Telling instead of showing, head-hopping, repetition and proportion problems, my poor novel had them all. From joy to crushing disappointment in an armchair afternoon.

Somehow I pulled myself together, took a hard look at all the work I had done and edited the opening scenes of my first novel into a short story. That piece ended up winning second place in a writing contest and I felt back on top of the world again. (The rest of the novel is still in my someday-to-be-rewritten folder.)

Then the real struggles began, the battle between what I wanted my writing to say and that little voice in the back of my head pointing out all the weaknesses and obvious mistakes in every single sentence I placed on the page. I wanted so badly to write well that I nearly destroyed my ability to write at all. The screen would never fill as I wrote and re-wrote until I gave up in frustration.

It took some discipline but I invested heavily in mental duct tape and learned to ignore the self-critical mumbles. Instead, I went back to listening to my characters, letting them talk, think, feel and act inside my head - typing up whatever I managed to capture and moving on. I re-discovered the joyous creative energy that had carried me through my first novel. I wrote a second novel, and a third. I kept writing and eventually even managed to publish some of it (my first published novel was In a Dark Embrace but I actually wrote both Healer's Price and Demon Master much earlier).

My point, and Julia Cameron's point, is that creativity needs to be free to flow, without judgment. The first part of writing is dashing down snippets of dialogue, unvarnished action sequences, emotional diatribes, even empty blathering about something you not-so-secretly know will be completely useless for your story or essay. Whatever comes, write it down and move on. Sometimes I'll write a line and then delete it without even really thinking about it because it was just so bad (my internal editor can be sneaky that way). What usually happens next is that I'll stare at the screen for a minute and then make myself type the exact same words over again. I do this because I can't immediately think of a better way of saying it, yet that something needs to be put down before I can move on to the next thing I really want to say. Moving on is important. When it's time to be creative you're always chasing the next idea, the next scene. Paying attention to what's already on the screen will just get you stuck.

Editing comes after that splurge of creativity. It might be days or even weeks later, or it might kick in every few hours. I'll often start my writing session with an edit of what I did before. It gets me back into the story and in sync with my characters. Then, when the story has come to an end, I'll edit the whole thing again, wait a month or two, and edit again. I've learned to accept that the editing stage will take at least as long as the initial writing stage. Good writing, at least for me, is not an efficient process. First it's messy and flawed then it's time-consuming and fussy, fiddling with the words until they at least approach what you want them to say and how you want them to say it. Funny thing is, I rather like both sides of writing. There are challenges and joys to be found in each.

Wonderful things happen when my creator and editor apply themselves, as long as I can manage to keep them separated.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The perfect erotic-romance hero...does he really have to be?

I was just going through reader comments on Smart Bitches about those perfect male physiques in erotic romance novels and some of the reader complaints totally struck a chord with me. Do we really need all our heroes to be over six feet tall with chiseled features and the musculature of a body builder?

I've tried to make my male leads attractive without classically perfect looks (Marcus, my hero in Cat's Game, sees himself as generally unattractive, "Sharp features that included the ultimate Roman nose, courtesy of his Italian grandfather, did not make him the most photogenic man and his character tended toward curt and demanding rather than charming. Dates had been far harder to get in his college days." Of course, my heroine still thinks he's the hottest thing since habanero peppers.) But I must admit I haven't dared stray too far from the typical alpha male romantic lead.

No longer! I'm finally going to be brave and step outside the safety zone. In my current project, my hero is (gasp!) short. I really LOVE short guys and have been itching to write about an undersized hero for ages. I'm only a little over five feet myself so have had the pleasure of dating men of all sizes, and I can tell you from personal experience that short guys are great. They often have a cocky arrogance and forceful charm that is very appealing. Call it a Napoleon Complex if you will, but I think short guys are more likely to use their wits and words to stand out of the crowd because they can't rely on sheer physical presence. And a man who can use wits and words to good effect makes me go all toasty and tingly—much more readily than the big, strong, silent type.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed (a real challenge while trying to produce a novel) and hoping against hope that my editor doesn't ask me to change my short-dark-and-handsome hero into the expected oversized hunk.

What do you say? Are you with me on this?