Writing is hard, but worth it, says Sue Grafton

Manuscript update: Nothing new to report yet as I haven’t had a chance to work on my new book since yesterday.

Sue Grafton headshot

Sue Grafton

But I wanted to share a link to a great interview with prolific mystery writer Sue Grafton (the alphabet series). In the Writer’s Digest article, Grafton explains that she finds writing hard with each book.

I take writing terribly seriously, and sometimes that just gets in my way. … I keep thinking, Uh-oh, this is going to be the book that does me in. So that frightens me so desperately that I get into a panic when I should shut my mouth and get on with it.

About how much she knows about the journey her character is going to take, she says:

You have to understand, this is a form of mental illness. I fully own it. In my mind, I am only privileged to know what she chooses to share, and she assures me that some things are just not my business, thank you. I don’t tell her. She tells me. I discover things about her in the process of writing. I don’t have a great scheme afoot. I try to keep honest, I try not to repeat myself. I try to let her evolve as she will, not according to my dictates. It’s a very odd process.

And her advice for new writers:

Give yourself time to get better. Writing is really hard to master. You learn by failing over and over.

I love writing and find it very rewarding, but, like many of us, I often find it hard to keep the doubts away. It’s good know that it affects even the most successful of authors. We’re not alone, but like Grafton, we have to keep going, keep working, keep writing. It is worth it.

What ails you in your writing?

Write On!

Author interview: Bonnie Hearn Hill on YA and astrology

Bonnie Hearn Hill headshot

Bonnie Hearn Hill

Thanks for all the great questions you submitted to Bonnie Hearn Hill. Bonnie said she loved the questions and that they are her best yet! Today, I’ve got her answers.

A quick reminder, Bonnie is the author of the new young adult Star Crossed series, starting with Aries Rising, released earlier this month. The book tells the story of high school sophomore Logan McRae, whose life is changed after she stumbles on the book Fearless Astrology. She begins to put what she reads in this book to use in her life and finds new challenges.

Before I get to Bonnie’s answers, DayByDayWriter is featured in the Just Write Blog carnival today, and there are lots of other links to great writing blogs, so check it out.

Ok, now onto Bonnie. As I mentioned, Bonnie answered questions supplied by you, and she is giving away a copy of Aries Rising to the person who submitted her favorite question. The winner is Beth because, as Bonnie says, “she asked the most questions and made me think.” Congratulations, Beth! I’ll email you to get your address.

In honor of the winner, let’s begin with Beth’s questions, then move on to the others. Bonnie’s answers are in blue:

Aries Rising book coverAre any of your characters based on real people, or is there a plot element based on something that happened to you in real life? –Beth

Oooh, that’s a nice one. A good friend asked me at the first book signing for Aries Rising which character is the most like me. I said Charles, the troubled Cancer student, is more like me when I was young, and Chili, the talkative Gemini, is more like me now. My answer surprised me and the person who asked the question. She said, “I thought you’d say Chili for sure.” What I realized is that many of us start out like Charles, and if we’re lucky, we grow and change.

Do you believe in astrology yourself? Now I do. Could you tell us about a situation that you think is influenced by astrology –- or can you tell us about someone you know who does believe in astrology? –Beth

Well, Beth, since humorous astrology and Cosmopolitan magazine writer Hazel Dixon Cooper came into my life, I totally reconsidered what I believed about astrology. Hazel can make anyone a believer. She helped me with the astrological aspects of my book, and I learned right along with my character. Other than Mercury in Retrograde, I don’t use it for predictions. I do use it as a cheat sheet when I meet a new person, and it seldom fails me.

Were you involved in a star crossed lover relationship? –Doris Fisher

Love the question. And, yes, on more than one occasion. My first husband was my high school English teacher, and I met my current husband in a writing workshop I was leading in 1999. I’m a Gemini and no stranger to star-crossed love.

Which of your books tested your skills as a writer the most and why? –Ina

Another great question, Ina. Probably the second book, Taurus Eyes, because there is a ghost in it, and I had never written paranormal before. On the other hand, Aries Rising was the first teen book I ever wrote. It didn’t so much test my skills as a writer, because I’ve written many books. It did challenge me to revisit my youth and remember how it felt to be young and to long for so much I felt was out of my grasp.

How was writing a fantasy different from writing a thriller? –Beverley BevenFlores

Not much difference, Beverley. Writing fiction is about character. Genre doesn’t matter.

Did you ever have a problem identified and solved through astrology? –Grace

Grace, Not really, but I have walked away from bad situations. I am a Gemini, and I know that when they are young, they are in love with love. I saved myself heartbreak by avoiding Gemini men. I also avoided some Scorpio relationships. Not that either sign is bad — they just wouldn’t be good for me. I’m with a solid, loyal Earth sign who makes me feel safe and secure.

What are your best tips for reaching YA readers and teens who are “reluctant readers”? –Lynn

Hi, Lynn. I have to go back to character again. Find books with engaging characters. I just read an amazing teen book without a single vampire in it. It’s 47 by Walter Mosley. 47 is the name of a slave, and this book combines the paranormal with strong character and history. I love it.

I’m starting to get more regular freelance writing jobs, and they’re taking my time away from my own YA writing. How did you find the time and energy to write while working a full-time job? –Andrea Buginsky

Andrea, it’s difficult but not impossible. I wrote in my car during my lunch hours. I got up an hour early and went to bed many hours late and sometimes not at all. Gave up television, telephone and e-mail. You won’t find the time. You have to make the time. You can catch up with life once you have that book in your hand. Don’t give up on your YA, Andrea. This is the time.

Have you ever thought of doing a story with one character’s story using the Aries based astrology chart and the other character with an animal based upon the Chinese’s astrological chart: how their paths converge and diverge using one of the universal themes of literature. –Aileen Kirkham

No, Aileen, but it’s an intriguing idea. Maybe you should do it.

Did you do anything different to move from adult to young adult fiction? –Narda

Narda, As I said before, good fiction is character-driven. I knew I wanted to write this story — these stories — and I knew a teen format was the best way to do it. The process isn’t much different when the focus is the character.

Thanks again readers for all your wonderful questions, and thanks Bonnie for your great answers.

You can read movie about Bonnie on her website, BonnieHearnHill.com and on Facebook at Facebook.com/Bonnie.H.Hill and Facebook.com/StarCrossedSeries. Aries Rising is already in stores, but the next two books in the series are coming this year: Taurus Eyes in the summer and Gemini Night in the fall.

Write On!

Guest post: Memoir author Linda Joy Myers

Today on Day By Day Writer, I’m delighted to host a guest post from Linda Joy Myers, author of The Power of Memoir–How to Write Your Healing Story.

Before we get to Linda’s post, a quick reminder that today is the last day to enter the contest for a copy of Bonnie Hearns Hill’s young adult book Aries Rising. Just click through to the Win a Copy of Aries Rising post and leave a question for Bonnie. Whoever submits Bonnie’s favorite question will win a copy of the book.

And not to Linda’s guest post:

Writing Helps to Heal the Heart: Finding Light in the Darkness

Linda Joy Myers, Ph.D.

Author of The Power of Memoir—How to Write Your Healing Story

Linda Joy Myers headshot

Linda Joy Myers

From the beginning, we are stories. All of us enter the world in the middle of other people’s stories, and from that first breath, we weave our own tales, stitching them into the tapestries of others’ lives—family, friends, community.

Some of these stories have magic woven into them, special moments that are studded with beauty, hope, and joy, like a spring day when everything is fresh and shining.

But also woven through our lives are the darker colors of trouble, sorrow, loss, regret, jealousy, and pain. Things are fine if we are able to bounce back from the painful parts of our lives, but sometimes we get stuck in the darkness and need someone to bring us a light. Or sometimes, we have to figure out how to find the light in ourselves again to make our way back out. Writing can help to provide that light.

For the last 10 years there has been a lot of research done about the healing power of writing. Many of you may already have been writing in a journal, and this is good. The only caution is not to get stuck in the dark cave of writing obsessively about painful things. Another result of the studies shows that writing stories, putting ourselves into the body and mind of who we were in the past, helps us to integrate events in a new way, and helps us find that light again. Part of the process of finding the light is to remind ourselves of happier times.

Think happy

The Power of Memoir book coverMake a list of happier events, memories when you were carefree, or got a present you really like, or your best friend invited you over; when your parents, or caretakers made you feel special. When someone said they liked you or gave you a flower. When your pet snuggled up and purred or licked your face. When you stepped out into the day and it welcomed you with sun on your face and a sense that everything would be all right.

These positive lists are very important. We know that when the darkness comes, it can blot out our good memories sometimes, and writing is a way to remember the better times. If in the past we had moments of joy, now we need to hold onto hope and a vision that helps bring back those times. This is not magical thinking, it is creative thinking and visualization.

Now, take out your computer or journal and write one or more of these stories about happiness and pleasure using “sensual details.” This means color, texture, smell, sounds, and even dialogue that bring the scene to life. Remember how big or small you were, remember where you were—the setting of your story and what was around you. Bring the scene to life and as you write inhabit that moment fully.

A Window in the Cave

To help heal the bad stuff, make a list of the things that have happened that you are angry about or that still hurt you. Make the lists and put them aside for another time; or, if you’re ready,  choose one thing from the list and write about it for ten minutes—set a timer. Put it aside and write about something positive, or go out and do something you enjoy.

Piece by piece you can enter those darker places and witness them from the vantage point of who you are now, from the person you are now with a more advanced perspective on your life. Alice Miller, a well-known Swiss psychiatrist, talks about the concept of witnessing. When we’re witnessed, truly seen for who we are and were, we have a chance to heal and become more whole. Therapists, good friends, family, and teachers can do this witnessing. Another way to get witnessed is to witness ourselves, and this happens when we write. Essentially, we’re witnessing ourselves when we write, becoming both the “I” character in the story, and the narrator. The narrator witnesses us at a younger age, and writes from that perspective. This is part of an integrative and healing process that really works! Many writers I’ve worked with have been surprised at the power of this technique.

It has been proven that writing helps to heal the brain, it changes nerve patterns and rearranges our circuits. Creativity and imagination, if guided toward positive actions and expression, are also healing paths to help bring the light into your heart and soul.

Writing allows us a path into the places that need our attention, and offers us a way to become whole, to become all of who we really are!

Be brave—write your story!

Win a copy of Aries Rising

Revision update: Nothing done yesterday as I was at the Houston SCBWI conference (brilliant, more about that tomorrow), but this morning I had a revision idea and have started to work that up.

Thanks to all those who entered questions for ghostwriter Laura Cross’ interview. It went so well, I’m doing another one.

Bonnie Hearn Hill headshot

Bonnie Hearn Hill

On Friday, March 19, Bonnie Hearn Hill will be on DayByDayWriter answering your questions and giving away a copy of her new book, Aries Rising, a young adult romance/fantasy that’s the first book in her Star Crossed series. Aries Rising debuts in March, and books two and three (Taurus Eyes and Gemini Night) will come out later this year.

Bonnie has been passionate about writing since she won a Coca-Cola-sponsored contest in fourth grade. Since then, she has worked as a newspaper editor and written several non-fiction books and six thrillers. The Star Crossed series is her first for young adult readers.

Here’s the summary for Aries Rising:

Aries Rising book coverWhen Logan McRae discovers a magical book called Fearless Astrology, all she wants is to change her sucky life. In order to get into the summer writing camp of her dreams, she needs the recommendation of her stubborn and irritable English teacher Mr. Franklin. Logan also has her eye on Nathan, the hottest guy in class. Unfortunately, so does popular, beyond-gorgeous Geneva, editor of the high school paper.

Logan’s two best friends, Chili and Paige, are always there to give her the advice she needs. But now that she has Fearless Astrology, Logan discovers a whole new way to overcome her dilemmas-while helping the three of them land the guys they’re crushing on.

When the Gears, a group of boys, starts causing trouble in school and out, she decides to identify them using astrology. Her goal: to impress Mr. Franklin, Nathan, and the kids who believe she is faking her newfound knowledge. The answers are in the stars, all right, but can Logan decipher them before it is too late?

Bonnie will give away a copy of Aries Rising to the  person who submits Bonnie’s favorite question before end of Friday, March 12. So, think up some great ones and post them in the comments. Enter as many times as you’d like, but if another reader has already posted a question similar to yours, please try to think of another one.

You can ask Bonnie about moving from adult fiction to young adult, non-fiction and fiction, astrology, even a favorite on the DayByDayWriter blog, how she managed to write while working a full-time job. Feel free to use these topics for your questions, plus anything else you’d like to ask.

Write On!

Interview: Kirby Larson on research

Revision update: Halfway through chapter 10 of 29. Goal: To be finished by the end of the month.

Kirby Larson headshot

Kirby Larson

Today, I’m thrilled to have an interview with Newbury Honor winner Kirby Larson. I met Kirby at the Austin SCBWI conference, where she gave an awesome talk about her journey from unpublished writer to her current success and all the peaks and valleys in between. I asked her to answer a few questions on research, both the research she did for her fictional Hattie Big Sky (2007 Newbury Honor book) and the research she nows does for her non-fiction books. She also talked about writing with a partner and writing on your own.

But, before we get to Kirby’s wisdom, tomorrow I’m at the Houston SCBWI conference with another incredible lineup: author Cynthia Leitich Smith, Balzer & Bray/HarperCollins assistant editor Ruta Rimas, Henry Holt creative director Patrick Collins, Simon & Schuster senior editor Alexandra Cooper, Scholastic senior editor Lisa Ann Sandell, Harvey Klinger agent Sara Crowe and National Geographic Children’s Books editor-in-chief Nancy Feresten. So check in next week for reports from the conference.

And now, onto Kirby…

Hattie Big Sky book coverYou said at the Austin SCBWI conference that you did a lot of research for Hattie Big Sky. Can you tell us about the work you did and how the research helped you develop the idea for the book?

KL: I was an abysmal student of history so I knew nothing about homesteading in the early 20th century, nor even about WWI. I initially thought I might be doing something like a more grown-up version of the Little House books. But when I became aware of the tensions and prejudice of those particular war years, I knew there was a bigger story to tell. I worked on Hattie Big Sky between 2000 and 2004 and, while there was a goodly amount of information available on the Internet, it wasn’t like it is now. I relied heavily on inter-library loan to get books and journals not available in our library system, and I took three or four trips to Montana to read primary sources firsthand. One of the best resources was the local newspaper — the Wolf Point, Montana, Herald; I read every single issue put out in 1918. I found it so helpful not only to gather attitudes, but social mores, manners of speech and what things cost. All the more reason to mourn the demise of newspapers in our country.

After Hattie Big Sky, you started writing non-fiction books with your partner Mary Nethery. Why did you decide to write with a partner and why Mary Nethery?

Two Bobbies book coverKL: The truth is that Mary and I began Two Bobbies: A True Story of Hurricane Katrina, Friendship and Survival before Hattie Big Sky came out; maybe before it sold; I can’t remember. We’d both been going through a tough time in our writing lives and, when I heard a wonderful writer named Pamela Greenwood talk about the benefits of collaborative writing, I was intrigued. And there is no one else I could write with (or, shall we say, who would be able to put up with me!) than my friend of many years, Mary Nethery. We have always been each other’s best cheerleaders and critics; we got each other’s work. I knew we’d make a good team.

How do you and Mary find the stories for your non-fiction books?

KL: Complete serendipity! Mary actually found both of the story ideas that panned out — one, by channel surfing and coming across a segment on Anderson Cooper’s 360 (Two Bobbies) and the other, by reading an article in the paper (Nubs). People have since sent us ideas, but we kind of need to find them ourselves. To be more accurate, I should say, Mary needs to find them! 😉

How much research do you do for your non-fiction books? How does it compare to the research you did for your fictional Hattie Big Sky?

KL: The depth of the research is similar, certainly. Since the picture books are more focused — on a very specific time period/event — it doesn’t take as long. But we still make ourselves as crazy trying to corroborate a particular detail with the picture books as I did with Hattie.

How do you and Mary approach the research? Are there specific things you do, library, interviews, Internet?

Nubs book coverKL: Mary and I like to conduct the interviews together (generally, via phone). That way, there are two sets of ears to pick up on what we’re hearing. The picture books feature events and people in contemporary times, so much of the research was by phone interview or in-person interview. Hattie Big Sky was set in 1918, so most of the research happened by reading — journals, diaries, books, magazine articles. I would comb all of the bibliographies of everything I read to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. The Internet (then) was great for recipes, folk lore, home remedies, songs/music, etc. Now, with the Library of Congress more online, the Internet is even more helpful in doing research.

How do you and Mary approach the writing? Do you write together or work on different parts?

KL: Mary lives in Eureka, California, and I live in Kenmore, Washington, so we can’t really work together. We generally each take a section of the story and write it — let’s say I tackled the opening of Two Bobbies. I’d construct a draft and send it to Mary, who would comment on it/critique it. I’d tweak that, while she was working on the next section. The sections would be emailed back and forth each week. Every Friday afternoon, we’d have long phone conversations about that week’s work. Usually with an adult beverage at hand.

HA! Those adult beverages can help with the writing. 🙂 Having worked on fiction and non-fiction, alone and with a partner, what are the differences/difficulties of each?

KL: Writing with a partner is terrific, and Mary and I are hoping to do many more books together. By focusing on narrative non-fiction picture books, we selected a genre that neither of us had tackled individually. That left us each free to continue to explore our individual writing passions — Mary’s are fiction picture books and mystery/suspense novels; mine are historical novels. The only downsides, for us, to writing together are the geographical hurdles and the obligations we’ve got for our individual careers. The downside to writing by yourself is … writing by yourself!! I am so thankful to be able to do both.

What advice would you give to a writer who wants to get into non-fiction books?

KL: Have Mary find your stories for you.

Seriously, I think it’s not that different than any kind of writing. Find what moves you, what you really care about. Dive in! Get all the information you can and then some. Find the story arc in that non-fiction idea and let it shine. That will be what hooks your readers.

What advice would you give to writers considering working with a partner?

KL: Mary and I spent a lot of time talking about what our process would be before we even knew what in the heck we’d write about; because our friendship is so important to each of us, we didn’t want ANYTHING to harm it. The bottom line for us: nothing would go into a book if we didn’t both agree on it. That “rule” was our safety net. I also think it’s critical to select a partner whose writing you completely admire and who respects your work, too. Mary and I feel like complete equals in our process, and we work very hard to write in a voice that is a blend; I don’t think you can pick out what either of us may have written. Also, make sure the person you work with has a sense of humor. That is completely essential.

Great advice and info, Kirby. Thanks very much.

Got any questions about research or writing with a partner? Put them in the comments.

Write On!

More advice from published writers

Today is my last post from the Austin SCBWI conference. It’s my seventh post about the conference and I’ve just given you a sampler from the presentations, so it shows how great these conferences can be.

Before I get into the post for today, here’s a quick recap of the other posts from the conference in case you missed any: agent Mark McVeigh on publishing, agent Andrea Cascardi on getting and working with an agent, editor Cheryl Klein on writing a great book, agent Nathan Bransford on finding the right agent for you, author/former editor Lisa Graff on writing and revising and advice from ALA winners.

The conference had plenty of other published writers, and here’s advice from them:

Kirby Larson (2007 Newbery Honor Book Hattie Big Sky): The secret of success is keeping your bum in your chair and working. No matter how bad you think it is, you have to get the first draft done and keep going.

Liz Garton Scanlon (2010 Caldecott Honor Book All the World): Find a community to help you, whether a critique group or writing partner, because it helps you live in the solitary environment of writing.

Shana Berg (A Thousand Never Evers): You should have an emotional reaction to your story when you read it.

Jennifer Ziegler (How Not to be Popular): Outlining can be an invaluable tool, but use it as a map.

Jessica Lee Anderson (Border Crossing): In dealing with rejection, rethink, revise and resend, inspire yourself with stories, nurture your creativity.

P.J. Hoover (The Emerald Tablet): Think outside of the box. Don’t settle for cliches and stereotypes. Write unique characters in unique situations coming up with unique ways of solving them.

Patrice Barton (illustrator): Shake off a creative slump by looking for the emotion and deconstructing other books.

Got any tips of your own you’d like to share? Put them in the comments.

Write On!

Creating a book series

Day By Day Writer is thrilled to have debut author Fiona Ingram on the blog today. Fiona’s book The Secret of the Sacred Scarab tells the story of two boys who, during a trip to Egypt, stumble upon a 5,000-year-old mystery. The middle-grade novel was a finalist in the 2009 USA Next Generation Indie Book Awards and the USA National Best Books 2009 Awards. The book is the first in Ingram’s The Chronicles of Stone series.

Fiona has a competition on her website for fans to win a copy of the Sacred Scarab for their school or library. The first chapter of the book is available here, and there’s more about the Chronicles of Stone here.

Fiona’s here today to tell us about writing books for a series. Take it away, Fiona…

Fiona Ingram

Developing a children’s series is both rewarding and taxing for the author, and possibly gratefully welcomed by parents whose children suddenly discover a hero they can relate to and whose actions keep them riveted. Isn’t it wonderful when your child begs, nay, commands you to go out and buy the next in a favorite series because they ‘absolutely have to know’ what is going to happen next? There are many children’s series on the market currently and perhaps many adults are reading them as well as their children. Developing a children’s series is not an exact science and not a guaranteed road to writing success.

  • Sometimes an author will start out with an idea, and try to stretch the story over several books, but to no avail. They discover that when a story is done … it’s done! On the other hand, an author may find that the story takes off and grows into something that spills over the last two words (“The End”) and shapes itself into another and then another and then another book, before winding down to a great final climax. Yet another scenario is when the author creates a set of characters that have several adventures, each one clearly contained with a storyline. The characters have a particular history or set of circumstances to retain the familiarity for readers. Readers keep coming back for more action.
  • Can a writer tell if the story has the potential for a series? The plot will evolve naturally if the characters are appealing, and if their personal growth and development hold the readers’ attention. Again, appealing characters are not worth anything if the action and conflict are not compelling. There has to be a perfect marriage between plot and characters to sustain the strength of a series.
  • So why do children love an exciting series? A gifted author will be able to create characters that readers can relate to and either love or hate. The readers get to know the characters well as the action evolves and, as each book comes out, can explore something new about their heroes.
  • Characters become friends to the avid young reader, who shares in the hopes, dreams and choices the character makes. Readers are amazingly loyal to their favorite characters, even though they may often disagree with the character’s choices. A good writer can explore these further, enabling readers to begin to make their own choices, especially in a moral dilemma or emotional conflict. Parents who make the time to read with their children, or who are interested in their children’s book choices, will be able to discuss these issues further. It’s a great way of dealing with ‘sticky’ issues because the discussion is less focused on the child and more on a fictional character. It may be easier for a child to express an opinion if discussing a topic via a character’s choices.

Perhaps writers shouldn’t set out to ‘create’ a series but rather let an original good story develop, allowing the characters and plot potential to determine the end result.

How research can lead a writer

Revision update: Too many late nights, and I haven’t moved forward. I must get up earlier tomorrow!

Today, Day By Day Writer is thrilled to be participating in the blog of author Therese Walsh, who’s debut novel, The Last Will of Moira Leahy, was just released. Therese has written a fabulous guest post on research and how it can help in our writing.

Before we get to that, however, the book’s publisher, Random House, has provided the first three chapters of the book in an online reader. Check it out here.

And now I pass the floor, er, blog, to Therese … take it away!

Therese WalshWhen I first began writing my debut novel, The Last Will of Moira Leahy, it was not intended to become what it did—the story of twin sisters and their everlasting bond—but was rather a simple best-friends-fall-in-love story that would kick off at an auction house. The story changed because of research that led me to interesting facts. The item of interest at the auction was a Javanese dagger with a wavy blade called a keris. It wasn’t until later, after a friend’s innocent inquiry, that I researched the blade and discovered a storyteller’s goldmine.

Some pros hate the idea of a writer stalling in her tracks for research, because it’s simply too easy to become derailed. Just do the minimum, they suggest, then get back to writing. Truth is, The Last Will of Moira Leahy wouldn’t have become what it did without the keris, and I wouldn’t have known about the keris if not for my research-related diversion. I am both a pantser and a pauser. I write as the story leads me, and I pause to “listen” along the way. Some might listen to their muse, and I do that too, but I also listen to my research. Hard. I don’t pause to research minor details necessarily, but I pause to research anything plot related, and I allow that my research may turn the course of the story. Sometimes it does.

The Last Will of Moira LeahyAn even more potentially impactful kind of research is immersion research, when you visit the place of your story and put yourself in situations resembling those of your characters. I visited Castine, Maine, for example, while writing The Last Will. My perceptions as well as my interactions with the people there influenced the plot of my novel, turned several characters onto different paths, and generally helped me to visualize the novel better than I ever would have without that experience.

I’m a researcher at heart, so I am biased toward lots and lots of research, but I can attest to its power. It can help your stories become more powerful by:

  • helping you identify new ways to inject a situation with conflict
  • providing you with first-hand accounts that can lend authenticity to your work
  • allowing you to hone in on the best settings for your scenes

and of course

  • leading you to story ideas you never imagined, that can turn your story into something so much better than you would’ve created left to your own devices.

I know this to be true. My personal zigs and zags made a world of difference for The Last Will—a story that might otherwise have been as predictable and commonplace as a straight line.

What is your relationship with research? How do you incorporate research into your writing? Do you control it, let it run wild over your pages, or do you practice something in between?

Write on, all!

Overcoming challenges to write

Today we have an interview with author Paul Maurice Martin, whose non-fiction book Original Faith: What Your Life Is Trying to Tell You came out last year.

Paul has a wonderful story about writing while overcoming illness.

Thanks for being on DayByDayWriter today, Paul, and congratulations on your book. Please tell us a little about Original Faith and how it came into being.

Martin

Martin

Thanks for having me, Samantha. Original Faith is a nonsectarian guide to spiritual growth. It speaks in terms of direct experience instead of doctrine about topics that include love, faith, work and getting beyond our egoism. The book offers readers insight as well as practical suggestions – I see the two as very much related. Original Faith is meant to enrich the faith of believers while highlighting the most energizing and creative features of inner life for nonbelievers.

The book started itself. When I was twenty-three, I had a spontaneous experience of the kind that people often seek through meditation. At that time, I’d never meditated or studied religion. I only knew that the experience was profoundly positive and a direct challenge to the despairing world view that I’d developed beginning in my teens. 

I started to see things differently, to experience life differently. I started jotting down ideas that were occurring to me just to help my own thought-process along. Several months later, I noticed it looked like my notes might be shaping up into a book manuscript.

By then, my life had been truly transformed. I’d gone from a mental state that I’m sure was clinically depressed to depression free – and the depression would never return. I was headed in a new direction that would soon take me to the University of Chicago Divinity School for a master’s degree and later a second master’s in counseling from the University of New Hampshire.

You had a break in writing due to illness. Was it difficult to starting writing again after so many years, and if so, what helped you finish?

Original Faith book coverIt was a long break all right. I had to stop writing for ten years because I was working full-time, my health was declining, and I was dealing with ongoing medical travel, research into rare diseases, and major health insurance struggles. 

Starting to write again was difficult only in the sense that I had to re-familiarize myself with my notes and files. But in another way, it was easy. I was at a point where my illness was progressing so fast that it was clear that if I didn’t organize and transfer my handwritten notes to the computer soon, then I was going to run out of time. I was rapidly losing the mobility and range of motion needed to work with paper files.

Do you have a routine that you use for your writing, and if so, could you tell us about it? 

Most of the creative work on Original Faith and most of my creative writing in other areas as well was done when I was still healthy. I used to get up in the early hours of the morning to write before heading for work. Late in the afternoon or early in the evening at the end of my workday just didn’t work out – it wasn’t a creative time for me.

When I’ve heard other writers interviewed, I seem to notice that more often than not they write in the morning. Ideally, I’d have written between maybe 8 AM and 11 AM or noon. But since I had to go to work, getting up at around 3 AM and writing until between 6 and 7 AM was second best.

Of course, the hard thing about 3 AM is getting up that early and having to go to bed early. But in writing terms, it worked well. Once I’d gotten up and had a couple cups of coffee, I could write effectively at that hour. The key for me was to write not long after waking up so as to have a fresh, uncluttered mind.

I read that you started your day with meditation sessions. Could you tell us about what you do to meditate? Do you think it helps you be creative?

I learned to meditate from the late Fr. Basil Pennington at St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts. He taught a very simple form of meditation. It consists of repeating a word that you’ve chosen for this purpose – for example, “love,” “peace,” or “God” – and repeating it to yourself each time you exhale.

The purpose isn’t to think about the meaning of the word, but to make the word a continuing focus of attention to prevent your mind from engaging in its normally ceaseless background chatter. So even just a sound – like the famous “Om” – could work as well as a word. Every time your mind starts to wander, you return to the word or sound.

You might say that the purpose of meditation is to find out what your mind can do if you give it a break from not saying things to yourself. Giving your mind a break from mental chatter on a regular basis can do amazing things over time. These include gradually making you a calmer person in day to day life and deepening your personal relationship with God or life itself, according to how you think about these things – again, my focus is experience itself and not belief systems.

I’d be surprised if these effects didn’t indirectly enhance my creativity. For sure there were two key insights that I discuss in Original Faith that came to me as a direct outcome of reflecting on a particular kind of experience that I sometimes had while meditating.

Both of these insights concern love – a spiritual experience that crosses all sectarian divisions. Love is the subject of Original Faith’s first chapter and the foundation for everything that follows.

Thanks, Paul, and good luck with the book.

And for those reading this, reflecting on your story in the way we’ve talked about on this blog is a kind of meditation, I guess, but the deep kind of meditation that Paul talks about is something people study for years. If you want to try it, I suggest you study it carefully first.

If you have any questions for Paul, post them in comments. For more information about Original Faith: What Your Life Is Trying to Tell You, see Paul’s website and the book’s Amazon page.

Write On!

Writing with a partner

Current word count: 23,886

New words written: 811

Words til goal: 16,114 / 403 words a day til the end of September

Finished the chapter I was having some problems with this morning. Yay! Looking forward to getting a bunch more done this weekend.

But now, I have a treat: an interview with picture book author Doris Fisher who has a number of books on shelves, some she wrote by herself and some with a partner. I haven’t written with a partner, and I’ve wondered how it works. Does one write and another revise? Do both write during meetings together? Doris will fill us in.

First a little about Doris. She wrote her baby animal rhyming book Happy Birthday to Whooo? by herself, and she has a series of math picture books — One Odd Day, My Even Day and My Half Day — written with Dani Sneed.

Now, onto Doris:

Did you write your first book by yourself or with a partner?

I wrote my first published picture book, Happy Birthday to Whooo? by myself. It is baby animal birth announcements involving word play. Guess which animal has been born, then turn the page to see if the guess was correct. The words and illustrations provide hints.

How did you get together with your co-author, Dani Sneed, for the math books?

My co-author, Dani Sneed, and I had been going to conferences and children’s writing events together for three years. In that time, I discovered I could write rhyme and write it well. Dani had written a math book about odd numbers in paragraphs. One day, she asked me to try to write it in rhyme. Luckily, it rolled right out and became our first book together, One Odd Day, about odd numbers.

How did you and Dani work on the picture books? Did you write only when you were together, or did one write, the other revise?

Because I was writing the entire book in rhyme, by myself, Dani and I got together when the stanzas were basically complete in a first draft and discussed the meter, rhyme and the beginning, middle and end of the book. It was a lot of fun for both of us. She provided the idea and the text, while I put her words into verse. Of course, we went back and forth a lot, until it was what we both wanted.

Our first book, One Odd Day, led to the requests from our publisher, Sylvan Dell, for our following books, My Even Day and My Half Day. They introduce odd numbers, even numbers and fractions. They are not textbooks, but math with a laugh!

What are the differences between writing a picture book by yourself as opposed to writing as a team? Are there benefits/challenges to each?

 When you write with someone, you consider each other’s ideas and comments. The book is not totally your own. Patience and diplomacy are good qualities to have for this type of team work. Give and take and cooperate!

The benefit to writing alone is a complete feeling when finished. With a co-author, there may always be changes and suggestions made in the text, by one of the authors. Co-authorship is fun, but not for everyone.  

On the other hand, two creative minds are always better than one!

What advice do you have for writers who are writing, or considering writing, with a partner? 

Be sure to lay out the groundwork for partnership. How the income will be split, the expenses, the submitting, the author events (hopefully to come) and unexpected bumps in the road. 50/50 for everything is usually expected by a publisher, otherwise, the payments, etc., become too complicated.

Be aware of differences in writing habits, amount of time devoted to the project and the determination to succeed of your partner. Hopefully, both authors have similar goals for the book.

Thanks so much, Doris. Great books and great info.

Anyone else writing with a partner? How are your experiences? Got any other advice or comments?

Write On!