Friday, December 21, 2012

My Letter to Santa: one writer's wish

Tis the season, and seeing as the world did not end as the Mayans might have predicted, we need to look ahead to the new year.  With Santa's help, perhaps this year will shine a little brighter. 


Dear Santa,

Its been awhile, I know. I have found it difficult to write ever since the Easy Bake Oven incident of 1979, however, I have finally let that go. From what I have gathered through the years, you saved me and my family from many a cake with the consistency of a hockey puck. However, I have to say at times I do feel a little unfulfilled, having never had the "cooking by lightbulb" childhood experience. But despite all of that, I am quite a good baker, as you know because of the milk and cookies I have left you over the years. And we will come back to that later.

I write today with a very specific want...desire...need! Santa, I WANT AN AGENT! I want a literary agent real bad.

There I said it.

To think that I could have that one person who believes in my work as much as I do and who has the professional clout and know-how to launch my career is wonderful!

To be able to say to other social invitations, "No sorry. I am not available Tuesday. I have a lunch meeting with my agent," would be grand!

To be "represented" to the Publishing BIG HOUSES in NYC...priceless. Well, not "priceless"'ll cost me 15% of any earnings...but STILL! To even imagine having earnings from my writing is unfathomable!

I know what you are going to say. I know you are not in the business of giving people as Christmas gifts. I remember that letter I wrote when I was 10, requesting Rick Springfield to be my boyfriend. You answered that you had found that people did not take kindly to being shoved in your sack and flown around the world only to be delivered under a tree on Christmas, so you gave up the practice. Therefore, I had to be content with a Rick Springfield poster...hardly a substitute.

I know as much as I promise to take good care of my agent and treat my agent well, you are NOT going to shove one down my chimney. That's why I came up with Plan B.

When you arrive at my home on Christmas Eve, instead of the customary milk and cookies, you are going to notice three things: my computer with a window already open to a blank document in Microsoft Word, my printer all ready to go with plenty of paper, and a dictionary (agents do not like to see misspellings or misused words).

I am asking you, dear Santa Claus, to write a Query Letter for me! Who better than someone who supposedly spies on me all year round? You know all about me. You know what I've been writing. So pitch it!

They say to think of it as an elevator speech...or maybe in your case, a chimney speech. For example, if you suddenly ran into Steven Spielberg on someone's roof and had a script you wanted to sell to him, what would you say to Mr. Spielberg on the trip down the chimney? Get it?

Anyway, I will also include a list of guidelines. And Santa, please make sure you follow the appropriate guidelines so that your letter can be seriously considered. If I am interested in using your letter, I will certainly follow up by sending the appropriate milk and cookies. However, if you haven't heard from me within 6 to 8 weeks, please assume that I am passing on your letter and will be seeking help elsewhere.

Thank you in advance for your help. Oh...and Merry Christmas! Let's hope this is the beautiful beginning of the renewal of our friendship.

Marcie Colleen

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Wednesday Writers Weigh In: Beginnings

With every ending there is a beginning....that's what I keep telling myself as my job ends this Friday.
After the holidays I intend to spend the month of January living the "life of a writer" and putting all of my focus on this endeavor...while looking for the next job, of course.

I am calling it "30 Days of Living the Dream".  Not bad, eh?  :)

So I have been spending a lot of time deciding how to organize both my days and my work once 2013 arrives.  In this way, Twyla has been very helpful.

Chapter 5 is all about finding an organizational style that works for you.  It might not be Twyla's box idea...maybe you work better on the computer, in file folders, on Pinterest.  Its personal...but probably pretty important.

But as I look to January my biggest fear is sitting down to work and not knowing how to start.  This happens all of the time.  I stare forever at the blank screen and the blinking cursor and my brilliant idea in my head just won't come out.

However, Twyla brilliantly says, "there's a difference between a work's beginning and starting to work."

Remember, you don't have to start at the beginning.  Once Chekov was asked by a nephew how he knew where to start and he replied, "That your book and tear it in half.  Begin there."

Your exercise from Chapter 5 is just that "Begin!".  Do you have a brilliant character and you just don't know what his full story is?  Do you know a bit of it?  Do you know how it will end?   You have a great climax?  Do you just want to know more about the character? 

How do you "begin"?  Share your ideas here...I could use them!  :)

Monday, December 17, 2012

"Creative Habit": #5 Start with a Box

As the new year approaches, I feel the need to get organized.  Often I spend the early days of January cleaning out my closets, cabinets and cupboards.  But now that I live in a loft space (meaning one big room, with only one big closet) the need is not as great.  I do find that I stay more organized throughout the year now that there are less nooks and crannies to stuff things.

But, I do wonder if I need a different organizational strategy for my writing projects.

Right now my various projects live in WIPs (Works in Progress) folders on my laptop.  And although these folders are on visible on the desktop, I still feel a tad disconnected from its contents. 

I wonder if a more tactile approach would work better for me.  Twyla Tharp discusses her approach to organization in Chapter 5 of "The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life".

"Mine (organizational system) is a box, the kind you can buy at Office Depot.  I start every dance with a box, and as the piece progresses I fill it up with every item that went into the making of the dance.  This means notebooks, news clippings, CDs, videotapes of me working alone in my studio, videos of the dancers rehearsing, books and photographs and pieces of art that may have inspired me.  The box documents the active research on every project.  There are separate boxes for everything I have ever done."

This idea of a box of inspiration for each project really appeals to me.  If working on a particular project meant opening a box, instead of choosing another "folder" on the computer, it seems to me to be a very tactile way of determining the days work to be done.  Its a very visual indication of the various projects I have going on at one time.  Its a bolder depiction of each project that begs attention.

Now I know that most of my work...being creative writing...would not fill a box.  In fact, I can't tell you exactly what would go into the box.  And many of my fellow writers might say that they use Pinterest for this vary reason.  But this box idea is so intriguing to me.  I wonder what my equivalent would be. 

Twyla says that she starts each box with an idex card which states the project's goal.  "Sometimes the goal is nothing more than a personal mantra such as 'keep it simple' or 'something perfect' or 'economy' to remind me of what I was thinking at the beginning if and when I lose my way.  I write it down on a skip of paper and it's the first thing that goes into the box."  How awesome is that?  I can't count how many times I have set out to write a certain story and then I lose my way.  Its important to remind myself WHY I am writing, to state the beginning goal.  After that, anything that inspires or informs the work goes in.

Twyla warns, however, that "sadly, some people never get beyond the box stage of a creative life.  Weeks, months, years pass and they produce nothing.  They have tons of research but it's never enough to nudge them toward the actual process of writing.  My solution for them:  This isn't working.  Free yourself.  Get out of this box.  Put it away for another day and start a new box.  But do so with the faith that nothing is lost, that you haven't put in all this effort for naught.  Everything you've done is in the box.  You can always come back to it."

I am inspired to spend some time this week looking at some different, more tactile and concrete, ways of organizing my various writing projects for the new year.  What do you use?  All suggestions are welcome.

Friday, December 14, 2012

"Creative Habit": Looking Back at 12x12in12 & Weekend Homework

Hopefully, you are looking with anticipation to 2013 with plenty of new memories from 2012 in your pocket.  I can definitely say that this year has been a journey. 

January 2012.  It seems like ages ago. However, I vividly remember sitting down and bringing to life my first manuscript for the 12x12 Challenge.  Since then that manuscript has evolved through critiques at Gotham Writers Workshop, revisions suggested by my Critique Group, suggestions made at WriteOnCon and it has been submitted to an agent.  It to this date is one of my favorites. 

Fast forward almost a year and I have 11 total (I haven't gotten around to my 12th) manuscripts!  Now some of them were first drafts that will probably never see life outside of a file folder on my laptop.  Others are great concepts that need some more TLC before they are considered anything.  One is better suited for a wordless picture book (don't ask!  I don't illustrate!).  But each manuscript represents a step on my creative journey.

In addition to the manuscripts, I have gathered such a wonderful circle of friends on this journey...some of whom I was able to meet in person (all I can say is next time I see Julie we TOTALLY need to go to a karaoke bar!)  I have seen my blog grow from a hand-full of Followers to 128!  And I have even launched my new business creating Teacher's Guides for Picture Books!

So, as I look to 2013 I might not have 12 totally polished masterpieces.  I might not have an agent.  I might not be in Publisher's Marketplace.  But I have grown and I owe a lot of that growth to 12x12 and its amazing community. 

Thank you for the memories, but thank you also for the encouragement, confidence and support that will surely help me take even more steps in the year to come!

Speaking of memories, Twyla's Chapter 4: Harness Your Memory, has some wonderful exercises to help you do just that.  Enjoy!
  • Name that muse. Associate a series of objects with something you are familiar and with similar meaning,e.g. Urania sounds like Uranus, hence associated with astronomy. I often use this method to remember a list of facts.
  • Trust your muscle memory. Learn to train your muscle memory, your ability to retain and repeat motion.  Does "butt in chair" count here?
  • Mining your memory in a photograph. Take a family picture, any picture, and study it. What do you see in it that is indisputably similar to your life today, to the person you’ve become? What is vaguely similar? What bears no resemblance or suggests nothing memorable? The goal is to connect with something old so it becomes new. Look and imagine.

Monday, December 10, 2012

"Creative Habit": #4 Harness Your Memory

This past weekend I helped my parents decorate their Christmas tree.  As I lifted the lid off of the dusty box of ornaments I was flooded with memories of Christmases past, of my childhood.  I was instantly transported back to days of macaroni ornaments and construction paper chains.  Jumbled stories and visions filled my heart.  I was suddenly 6 years old.

Memory is powerful and perhaps one of the most useful tools for an artist.  "It's the skill that lets us story away the vital and seemingly trivial data and images and experiences of our lives."  However, Twyla states that creativity is more about taking our memories and finding new ways to connect them.  This is "metaphor".  It "transforms the strange into the familiar."  If all art is metaphor, then all art begins with memory".

In Chapter 4 of "The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life" Twyla discusses types of memory:

  • Muscle Memory ~ After diligent practice and repetition of certain physical movements, your body will remember those moves years, even decades after you cease doing them. 
  • Virtual Memory ~ The ability to project yourself into feelings and emotions from your past and let them manifest themselves physically.
  • Sensual Memory ~ When the suddent appearance of a smell or taste or sound or color instantly floods the imagination with images from the past.
  • Ancient Memory ~ A connection to our ancestors, which feeds into our own lives and personalities.
Twyla states that "Once you realize the power of memory, you begin to see how much is at your disposal in previously underappreciated places.  The trick is figuring out how to tap into it.  Somestimes you ahve to be proactive about mining the veins of memory within you."

Later in the week I will share some exercises that Twyla shares to help us learn to access and use memory.  But how do you utilize memory in your work?

Friday, December 7, 2012

"Creative Habit": #3 Weekly Homework

The focus of Chapter 3: Your Creative DNA is learning more about yourself and who you are in regards to your art.  Twyla therefore gives us two exercises we can engage in to move us in this direction of self-discovery.

Go on.  Give one or both of them a try this weekend.  I look forward to hearing your experiences.

1)  Go outside and observe.  Pick out a few people to watch and write down everything they do until you get to twenty items.  I am sure it wouldn't be hard to them apply your imagination and come up with a story.  You can do this for an optional exercise.  However, writing a story is not the goal.

Now do it again.  Pick out another few people and this time only note the things that happen that you find interesting ~ things that please you aesthetically or emotionally.  It will take longer, but compile a list of twenty items again.

Now study the two lists.  What appealed to you in the second?  What you included in the second list or left out speaks volumes about how you see the world.  If you do this exercise enough times, patterns will emerge.  The world will not be revealed to you.  YOU will be revealed.

2)  Pick a new name.  Imagine you could change your name.  What would you choose?  Would it be a name that sounded good or belonged to someone you admire?  Would it make a statement about what you believe or how you want the world to approach you?  What would you want it to say about you? This is not just an exercise in "what if."  It's about identity--who you are and aim to be.

Join us next week for exploration of Chapter 4: Harness Your Memory.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Wednesday Writers Weigh In: A Blessing or a Curse?

In Chapter 3: Your Creative DNA, Twyla Tharp states that it is important to know your strengths and your weaknesses and commit to ONE.  She is a firm believer that being "good at" several artistic endeavors is actually a curse, rather than a blessing.  For an example, she uses a high school athlete.  If a kid is good at basketball and baseball and football and has desires to play sports professionally, he must CHOOSE and COMMIT to ONE sport to become all he can be.  In this case she states, to achieve the highest possible competency in a particular area requires one to wear only one hat and have a singular focus.

This has been a problem for me.

Basically Twyla is against any kind of dabbling.  She requires total and utter committment.

I, personally, LOVE to dabble.  In my former life I was a teacher, an actress, a director.  I love to noodle around on the guitar and ukulele.  I adore cooking.  I like arts and crafts.  I don't pretend to be an amazing marathon runner, but I do enjoy long distance running.  I am a nanny.  A girlfriend.  A sister.  A daughter.  An aunt.  And a writer.

I feel that dabbling keeps me versatile and allows me to enjoy many aspects of life.  It might even make me a better writer.

Sometimes scheduling can be difficult.  I need to get in a run, go to work, spend time with my boyfriend, make dinner and get some writing in all in 24 hours.  But I do not have the ability to focus ONLY on writing...nor do I really want to.  I kinda like my many hats.

What do you think? 

Writers Weigh In!  Do you dabble in other endeavors?  Do you help or hinder you?  Or both?

Monday, December 3, 2012

"Creative Habit": #3 Your Creative DNA

In Chapter 3 of “Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life”, Twyla, through many examples of creative past (Mozart, Jerome Robbins) hits home the idea that “each of us is hard-wired a certain way.  And that hard-wiring insinuates itself into our work.”  Basically, she is saying that each of us have natural inclinations that become a part of whatever we create.  Perhaps from a writer’s perspective this is your “author voice”. Twyla calls it her Creative DNA.    It’s what comes easy for us. 

She suggests that knowing your own personal DNA through some careful analysis for your work and what your impulses are will help you “see the story you’re trying to tell.”  This knowledge helps you determine 1) why you do the things you do--both productive and self-destructive, 2) where you are strong and where you are weak--which prevents a lot of false starts, and 3) how you see the world and function in it.
To help you get one step closer to understanding your creative DNA, Twyla has provided a questionnaire.  It forces us to "go back to our origins, our earliest memories, our first causes.  We change through life, bue we cannot deny our sources, and this test is one way to recall those roots." 
Knowing who you are, also tells you what you should not be doing, which can save you a lot of heartache and false starts if you catch it early on.
"Take the following questionnaire.  If even one answer tells you something new about yourself, you're one step closer to understanding your creative DNA.  There are no right or wrong answers here.  The exercise is intended for your eyes only, which means no cheating, no answers to impress other people.  It's supposed to be an honest self-appraisal of what matters to you.  Anything less is a distortion. Be instinctive.  Don't dawdle."

Your Creative Autobiography

1)       What is the first creative moment your remember?

2)      Was anyone there to witness or appreciate it?

3)      What is the best idea you’ve ever had?

4)      What make it great in your mind?

5)      What is the dumbest idea?

6)      What made it stupid?

7)      Can you connect the dots that lead you to this idea?

8)      What is your creative ambition?

9)      What are the obstacles to this ambition?

10)   What are the vital steps to achieving this ambition?

11)   How do you begin your day?

12)   What are your habits?  What patterns do you repeat?

13)   Describe your first successful creative act.

14)   Describe your second creative act.

15)   Compare them.

16)   What are your attitudes toward:  money, power, praise, rivals, work, play?

17)   Which artists do you admire most?

18)   Why are they your role models?

19)   What do you and your role models have in common?

20)   Does anyone in your life regularly inspire you?

21)   Who is your muse?

22)   Define muse.

23)   When confronted with superior intelligence or talent, how do you respond?

24)   When faced with stupidity, hostility, intransigence, laziness, or indifference in others, how do you respond?

25)   When faced with impending success or the threat of failure, how do you respond?

26)   When you work, do you love the process or the result?

27)   At what moments do you feel your reach exceeds your grasp?

28)   What is your idea creative activity?

29)   What is your greatest fear?

30)   What is the likelihood of either of the answers to the previous two questions happening?

31)   Which of your answers would you most like to change?

32)   What is your idea of mastery?

33)   What is your greatest dream?
Join us on Wednesday and Friday of this week as we continue the discussion of Creative DNA.