Sunday, May 15, 2011

Faith, huh?

What is it about writers that makes us constant self doubters? Is it some deep psychological malfunction? Are self doubt and creativity mutually exclusive or are they somehow wrapped up in the very fibers of what makes us writers?

I don't think I've met a writer yet (and introduce yourself if you're one of them!) that manages to get through an entire MS, or subsequent edits without a little (or in some cases, a lot) of self doubt. I know I've experienced it. In fact I've experienced it more in these last two months than I have since I started writing seriously two years ago.

My current WIP has a lot of death in it. I started it before I started my new job. Which I love, but if I'm being honest, working in a world where life is such a precious commodity has altered my previous somewhat hardened perspective. Most of you, or at least those of you who have been reading my blog for a while, know I work in public health. And that means a lot of different things to a lot of people and, trust me, the field is expansive. But to lay it all out there, I work with cancer patients. More to the point, I work with cancer patients that are in the prime of their lives -- adolescents and young adults.

These people shouldn't have cancer, right? Cancer only happens to kids and the elderly. False. While I'll save you the PSA, I won't skirt around how working with these amazing survivors has softened and humbled me. It's a change I didn't expect (sneaky change!) and one that I would never give back.

This new me looked at my WIP with fresh eyes and had to wonder, should I keep going? Shouldn't I clip the death? My MC is, in a lot of ways, ruthless and I thought maybe I should abandon her and write something with more of a message, more heart, more... something. But regardless of what I needed more of, I felt I needed less death.

So I did what any logical writer might. I stalled. I stopped writing that story, somewhere around the 50,000 word mark. And there it sat. Staring at me from a little white .doc file on my desktop. I doubted my ability to continue with the story because I couldn't reconcile the new me with the old perspective.

And maybe in the end, I wasn't suppose to. I recently went back through and reread every page of my WIP. And somewhere along that journey with my MC, the new, softer me found a connection with the old. I began to have faith that I could take those newly found emotions for the people I serve and weave them into my MC, creating an even deeper and more developed character than before. It wasn't my perspective that needed changing, it was learning to have faith in myself. Faith that I could take what I've learned in the real world and inject life into my fictional one.

I can't say I'll never doubt myself again. And I can't say that some change down the road won't send me into another tailspin. But what I can say, is that no matter what, I will find a way to keep the faith.

How do you learn to push past the doubt and harness the faith?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Tending the Muse

It's been a while since I've done an actual blog post. I was driving in to work the other day and listening to NPR when I heard an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love. I'm not sure when the interview was from (and I appologize that I can't find the link so you too may hear the story), but she spent some time talking about, well, talking to her Muse. That's right. as if it was a person or a thing that she could have a reasonable discussion with. Like, hey Muse, I need to finish these edits right now but I promise I'll get the project you're pulling me to work on when I'm done. She spoke of the sense of empowerment and authority it brought her over her writing.

As I struggle to find time to write (new job, ya know) and crit and, well, do anything besides work, I think back to this interview and wonder if I could talk to my Muse. Sit her down and have a heart to heart. Like, why do you always want to give me an idea while I'm driving, or in the middle of trying to write for work?

Through this thought process of can I or can't I speak to my Muse, I've realized that what I really need to do is tend it. Like a Muse Garden!

How do you tend your Muse? Do you have rituals, or spaces of time sectioned out during your day for spending time with her? How do you fit it all in?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

YAFF Muse: Dance Class

YAFF Muse is a weekly blog series featuring some YA Fiction Fanatics members. In this series, we'll post original short stories created from an image meant to inspire our Muse. Hope you enjoy! And don't forget to check out the other YAFFers participating in this series (links below).  Curve ball for this post - has to be male POV. (gulp) Here I go...
Photo Credit: MirrorMirror by kakisky (

After shoving Ani’s pink bag under the plastic chair, I sit back and try not to be noticed. It’s not that I’m not social. But there’s nothing worse than being cooed at by less than hot cougars. Okay, there’s one thing that’s worse, and it’s not-hot cougar pity.
Ani’s squeal rises above the other girls at the dance class as she twirls around holding the princess hat. Mrs. Shelton, their teacher, gives out the hat every lesson. It’s a different girl each time, and that girl gets to be the lead dancer that day.
She stops spinning enough to look at me and point at the hat. I give her a thumbs-up and she spins around to face the class again. I shake my head. Sometimes she’s so much like her mom. A flash of Celia’s dark eyes assaults my memory sending a pang of sadness to my heart and I chase it away by concentrating on the magazine in front of me. Some things have to be forgotten, but Ani sure makes that hard.
A shadow crosses my pages, but I refuse to look up, afraid of Celia’s ghost.
I look up to see a redheaded girl, about my age, stands over me. My mouth curves into a smile. Jesus, she’s gorgeous. “Hi.”
“You’re in my seat.”
Not what I was expecting. Of course, staring at her is my response.
“Did you hear me?” She narrows her gaze.
“Oh, um. Sorry. I didn’t know it was assigned seating.”
“It’s not. But I have to sit ten seats from the door.” Her pale freckled arm motions along the line of chairs.
I swallow, then glance around her to see Ani bonking another girl on the head with a ribbon wand. “Hey. Ani.” She doesn’t pay attention. Getting up I take a few steps in her direction. “Ani Flowers, you stop that right now.” I say, bringing out my authoritative voice.
She stops mid smack, allowing the other girl to escape her. But her eyes tell me she’s angry I yelled at her, so I shake my head while Mrs. Shelton makes her way through the sea of little girls to her.
I return to my seat finding the redhead sitting in it, wide smile on her full lips. How long has it been since I kissed lips like that? Too long. Visions of her lips against mine, her freckled hands running down my torso, and the feel of her breasts under my palm cause a momentary and not to mention inappropriate bulge in my pants. I rush to take the chair next to her.
Why did I do that? There are at least five other vacancies. As I glance around willing the swell to go away, the other chairs become more undesirable when I notice the predatory grins from the cougars. That helps.
“Are you all right?” the redhead asks.
Not really. No. I just got a raging boner at a little girl’s dance class, all because you’re so hot and I haven’t been laid in-- God how long has it been? At least since Ani…
“Earth to strange boy,” she says.
“Sorry. Um, yeah. I’m fine.”
 She snorts. “You don’t look it.”
I turn to her. “Who are you?”
“Xena. Who are you?” Her eyebrows shoot up, a smirk plays against those damn lips.
I clear my throat. “Blake.”
“Well, Blake, your sister is a bit of a trouble maker, isn’t she?” Xena points at Ani, who is again thumping another little girl.
“Damn it.” I move to fetch her.
Xena’s hand wraps around my forearm. “Just wait. Mrs. Shelton will deal with it.” She motions to the girls. “See. Everything’s fine.”
“Yeah, guess so.” I settle back. “She wasn’t hitting yours was she?”
“Yeah, whoever you brought here?” I’m used to talking to the cougars who all refer to their children as ‘yours’ or ‘mine’.
Her laugh echoes through the dance hall. “None of them are ‘mine’. I’m a teacher here. Well, teacher in training. It’s my observation day.”
“Then what’s with the ‘my seat’ thing?”
She meets my gaze. “I have O.C.D.”
“Now it all makes sense.” My eyes do the elevator move on her, even though I’m silently willing them not to. She’s got a fine dancer’s body.
Xena shifts in her chair. “Your sister has good balance.”
I drag my attention back to the class. “Yeah, I know. She got that from her mom.”
Ani twirls in place faster than any of the other girls, then stops without even a wobble. I smile at her and can hear her giggle in the middle of all the other giggles.
“Anyway, she’s not my sister.”
“Oh.” She sighs.
What the hell. This girl seems a little crazy. “Ani is my daughter.”
“Cool. Do you want some Junior Mints?”
Cool? Junior Mints? What the?
She shakes the box at me, and I hold out my hand as she pours a few chocolate candies into it.
“Out with it. I know what you want to say." I change my voice to that of the Cougars. "But you look too young? Where’s her mommy?’”
Around a mouthful of mints she says, “Obviously you’re a good dad. You take your daughter to dance class. Who cares how old you are?” She glances around at the moms. "Well, maybe they do." Then says, "Jailbait." under her breath.
“Jesus. I’m eighteen. How old are you?"
We watch the class in silence.
“So you got a girl knocked up at what, fourteen?”
“Yeah.” I shift my gaze back to the class. Back to Ani.
“Heavy.” She pours more candy into my hand. “Listen. I’ve got to go, but do you want to hang out sometime?”
“After what I told you, you want to hang out?”
“I like your story, Blake. You seem like someone I might be able to get along with. Oh.” She frowns. “Unless the mom is still—”
“No. She died.”
“Boy you’ve had a bit of a rough patch.”
I catch Ani twirling with her princess hat on. “Not really.”

(c) 2011, MB
Don't forget to check out my fellow YAFFer's stories based on the same photo: