Where Do You Find Your Answers?

I find a challenge is best when looking to boost my creativity. Maybe I should say I’m finding that a challenge is best to really get the gears turning in my mind. This month’s challenge is prepping a novel, which may not seem like such a big deal when one considers that I’ve done this before. Often. But this one I’ve poured my heart into and it’s coming out my ears.

I have a protagonist that has an interesting voice. I have a couple antagonists, one obvious that is simply annoying and a potentially more difficult one who seems friendly mixed in with a lovely set of background events and characters who promise to make life difficult for the main character. I found a big question that my novel is probably answering.

The big challenge today was finding the question. The answer has not yet presented itself, but I’m still working. It’s silly because I wasn’t looking for that particular question. It just popped out of the free-writing exercise like it belonged right in the center of attention. So now, when I think my mind might be quiet, I hear that question whispering through my mind.

Like right before that yoga class I teach, I heard it. Luckily I didn’t repeat it out loud – I replaced it with ‘inhale’ and ‘exhale’ and some movements for my students to follow along. I’ve been thinking about it on and off all day, but it just isn’t clear what the best -or worst- thing to happen is.

I know some people don’t write with all this kind of preparation. A few people can dig right into the novel and write from Once Upon a Time and go until The End and have a story when they finish. Often it has to be dusted out of the wreckage of several drafts, but that’s the fun of writing, isn’t it?

I’m curious what you do to find your answers to those questions when you’re writing or when you’re planning a big project. Do you wait for inspiration to strike, or do you hunt down the answers to those questions with single-minded ferocity?

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Bird by Bird

Anne Lamott wrote Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. It’s a book I’ve seen on many lists for writers to read. I doubt anyone can read all the writing books out there and still manage to find time to write, but many find inspiration or small gems of wisdom between the covers.

Lamott made me think in several places. Her tone is very conversational and lends itself well to letting the reader think she’s confiding directly. She amused me when she talked about her successful writer friends and how she felt she couldn’t be friends with them after their success and dealing with her own jealousy.

Some things resonated deeper, though. How do you think your life will change after you’re published? Maybe it seems like the stars will shine down and everything will sparkle, but it’s not going to give you inner validation. She’s definitely right when she says it isn’t going to change who you are. If you’re not enough before, you still won’t be.

[This is not saying it isn’t awesome. It just isn’t everything.]

There’s always going to be someone better, too, or more successful, or even less deserving. But there’s also a reminder there about why we write. It wasn’t just to be rich and famous, was it? Because there seem to be a hundred easier ways to become rich and/or famous besides writing.

Like many others who advise writers, she advocates to write. She employs examples from writing classes and conferences she’s led that illustrate how she handles things like criticism and motivating others. How many of us know how to dish out or receive a critique? Have you thought about what you would say to someone who’s a much less accomplished writer (and likely new to it) that would help them improve and yet not discourage them? It’s one thing to not think you can simply send the story out to be published, but if you crush a beginning writer, what good is that?

After finishing the book, I read the reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. I think the people who commented either loved it or hated it. Someone gave it a bad review because he (or she, who knows?) received several copies of it. Is that a reason to give a book a bad review? I’m not exactly sure if the commenter even read the book. That seems unfair to me.

But I guess I’d be glad for a lot of reviews on a book of mine. That would mean it was getting read. Like having it in the bargain bin in front of the store – it might be like having the store be completely unconcerned if it got stolen, but it’s much better than being remaindered in the dumpster out back.

I’m glad I read the book. I understand why it’s recommended for writers to read. I definitely see why many believe it to be inspirational. Something about finding someone who understands our feelings can make us more dedicated to the work. Whatever makes us keep writing seems like a good thing to me.