Jake: Rugged, soulful, handsome, heartfelt but stubborn, very talented musically.
Sorry for taking such a long absence from this blog but I have been spending my time and energy on other things, like my newest book (and the growing baby inside my belly). After taking a brief hiatus from writing for a few months, I am now back and writing more than ever. So, please stay with me these next few weeks while I hopefully finish the first draft of my new novel (fingers crossed) and welcome my baby girl into the world (5 more weeks and counting).
And until then, I hope you are working on whatever makes your heart flutter. I thought I lost my passion for writing but turns out, it was just buried underneath a pile of self doubt and worry. But, I’ve since dug it out and am so excited to share my latest project with you all.
A confession: I have never done meditation, yoga, hypnosis, walking on hot coals or any other practices aimed at unleashing mental powers. I get my best ideas for writing while walking the dog. One of my Buddhist friends refers to this as my “walking meditation,” but it’s really more of a “stop, sniff, and pee” thing.
Yesterday, however, I stumbled onto something that made me realize I’ve been using creative visualization techniques all along.
What was that special “something?” Not a book of Buddhist philosophy or a Hindu guide to enlightenment. Nope, it was a New York Times magazine profile of Candace Bushnell, author of Sex and the City and six other novels that focus on beautiful women making gobs of money and having a lot of sex. (Truthfully, I’ve never read any of these novels, but I did indulge in watching the show with my daughters, if only to chortle over phrases like “I was emotionally slutty.”)
In her profile, Energizer Bunny Bushnell says:
…I always wanted to write novels. I think when I was 12, I started reading Evelyn Waugh, and I loved Evelyn Waugh so much, and I thought: This is how the world really is. If I could be Evelyn Waugh, then I would be happy.
Since then, Bushnell has been writing, usually six hours a day. And there’s the key: Every successfully published writer I know started out as an inspired reader and visualized the rest.
At some point in our lives, writers realize that books are written by real people, and we began putting our pens to paper or our fingers on the keyboard. To keep ourselves going, we visualize our books on shelves, our bylines in magazines, and yes, movie adaptations of our books. I even had one friend who cut out a photograph of herself and pasted it onto a rave book review in a newspaper, then pinned that review above her desk to help herself imagine writing a book that would end up being published and widely applauded.
My true visualizations of the writing life began when I was house sitting for a professor in graduate school. It was a boring summer, so I spent a lot of time sitting on the deck and pretending to read. Really what I was doing — and yes, I admit this is creepy — was spying on the neighbor across the street. She was a fairly well-known writer and I admired her books. Every morning, her husband would go to work, her children went off to camps or wherever, and that woman brought her laptop out to the deck with a mug of coffee. She sat there for hours, frowning and chewing on pens and typing.
And I do mean hours. Sometimes, that woman sat there all day long, until her husband came home again, kissed her, went into the house to change his clothes, and came back out with a couple of glasses of wine. Then they’d sit on the porch and talk, drinks in hand, and I could tell the woman was happy because she’d spent the day thinking and writing, and now her family was home.
I wanted that life. I just didn’t know how badly at the time.
Fast forward to the present. I had various jobs, traveled, got married, had children and got divorced. I got married again, had one more child, and here I am now, writing for a living. And, every day, as soon as my husband leaves for work and the house is empty of children, I’m at my laptop, writing stories, essays, articles and, now, finally, novels. At the end of the day, my husband and I have wine and talk with each other and the children.
I have reached my goal. I am that woman on the deck with books of my own on the shelves and a loving family. But did I do this deliberately, using visualization techniques? Is it really possible to imagine what you want and get it?
I have come to believe that it is. People use creative visualization techniques to accomplish everything from small goals, like losing weight, to larger life aims, like advancing their careers. Those who do so successfully seem to agree on these three key points, which I think are germane for those of us who aspire to be published writers:
1. Creative visualizations are like mental rehearsals. You must visualize things consistently and often to perfect the visualization. People who want to succeed in landing a job, for instance, might imagine the details of walking into the office, offering a confident handshake, and summing up the highlights of their prior work experience over and over again before they perfect those actions and actually do those things on job interviews. Likewise, my mental rehearsals as a writer have often included imagining that I reach the end of an essay or a novel, writing query letters to agents, and, eventually, am called for radio interviews and book signings.
2. The best visualizations include lots of details. For instance, if you want to use this technique to lose weight, you have to picture what number you want to see on the scale tomorrow, the day after that, and next week. You also must imagine what you’ll eat at each meal, right down to how many carrots will be on your plate. As a writer, my visualization techniques have also been specific: I picture myself sitting down at the computer with a thermos of tea, wearing my comfy slippers, and that helps me do it every single day. During a busy period of freelance ghost writing with tense deadlines, for instance, I imagine that one hour after dinner where I’ll work on my novel by visualizing myself in pajamas and deep into Chapter Three, a cup of mint tea at my elbow, with maybe a square of dark chocolate as a treat. I can smell the mint when I imagine this.
3. Your visualization must include positive thinking. By this, I mean that you must believe in yourself. This is tough to do as a writer, because our lives are rich with rejections. But it really will work. Again, let’s look at the example of dieting, since that’s the one so many of us are familiar with: On the days we tell ourselves we’ll always be fat, we feel bad about ourselves and are more likely to break our diets or skip the gym. We have to convince ourselves that we are worthy of the time and energy it takes to care for our bodies if we’re going to maintain those resolutions to be fit and eat better. Similarly, if we believe we’ll never finish a novel, guess what? We never will. To be a published writer, you must tell yourself each day, over and over again, that novels are written one page at a time, or even one sentence at a time. If you’re writing even a few sentences a day, you are a writer, and you will reach your goal.
What about you? Any visualization techniques you’d like to share?
I’d better go and plug in the heater. It’s time to shut myself in my room to write. Wish me luck! And I hope you enjoy my book . .
Stay tuned because I will be posting my review of Lucy’s latest book, A PASSIONATE LOVE AFFAIR WITH A TOTAL STRANGER on Wednesday.
I would like to welcome the fabulous Laura Chapman to the site today, where she will discuss her path to writing and how exactly she got to where she is today.
When I was 23, I packed up my car and moved to Houston. At the time, it was the hardest, bravest thing I’d ever done. One year later, I packed up a U-Haul and drove it – with my car chained to the back and my cats in their carriers on the passenger seat – back to Nebraska. That was even harder.
[Blogger’s Note: The former safety publication writer feels compelled to mention that I was not actually operating the vehicle when this picture was taken. Carry on.]
This time, instead of feeling brave, I felt like a failure. I’d made gamble after gamble, but none panned out. So I was headed home to regroup while I figured out my next move. After driving through the night, I pulled up in front of my new apartment in Lincoln. Despite my disappointment at having to come home sooner than planned, I had a brief spurt of pride. I’d driven a U-Haul 1,000 miles by myself. And I’d arrived in one piece, without even a dent in my car or a broken glass.
It was small consolation, but at that moment – when I needed to prove I wasn’t a complete loser – I instead felt like a total badass. It gave me hope. Maybe I would be okay.
My adventure in writing and publishing Hard Hats and Doormats began a few months later. And the experience was a lot like my move to and from Houston. Sometimes it was hard. Sometimes I had to be brave. And often, I felt like a failure.
Still reeling from the disappointment that was my life, in Fall 2010 I signed up for National Novel Writing Month at 9 p.m. on Nov. 1. For years I’d talked about writing a novel, and I’d even started a couple back in college. This time was going to be different. Hard Hats and Doormats was a story that had been weighing heavily on my mind since before my move to Houston, and it seemed like the best novel to tackle that month.
Making that decision saved my life. Maybe not literally, but it saved me from giving up on my dreams or hope. It gave me a purpose and a mission at a time when I was at my all-time low and heading even lower. That November, I stopped drinking as a coping mechanism, because I found that unlike Hemingway and Fitzgerald, I couldn’t write drunk. Eventually, it was something I stopped doing for myself.
Instead of sitting and dwelling about what I didn’t have and where I wasn’t, I kept my mind focused on where my story was going and what needed to come next. Even on days when the words wouldn’t come, I didn’t give up. I’d set a goal, and I was going to reach it.
The first time I cried that month – and crying had become a regular pastime for me – was when I surpassed 50,000 words on Nov. 30. I’d done it. The novel wasn’t finished and had a long ways to go, but I’d reached my word goal. I’d met my goal. I’d proved I could do something.
A couple of months later when I typed “The End” on my first draft, I cried again. Like I had when I drove the U-Haul back into town, I felt like I was a big deal. I’d written a written. That meant something. Reaching this milestone now seemed like the greatest feat I’d accomplished – even more impressive than driving a huge truck halfway across the country.
My writing and publishing journey had barely begun at that point. The journey was more arduous than I ever imagined it would be. I kind of figured you finished writing a book, and then you found an agent who sold it to someone who would publish it. But it’s not that simple.
I still had a few more drafts of the novel to write. I still had dozens of queries for agents and publishers to send out. I still had lots of rejection and disappointment. But through it all, I could remember where I’d started. Then I remembered how far I’d come. Hearing a “no” or “we’re not interested” didn’t seem so bad. Having to rewrite a scene was tough, but it wasn’t any harder than writing it in the first place. Constantly putting my story and my heart out on the line for rejection or approval was now the bravest thing I’d done.
Now that I’ve reached the destination for this novel – finding a home with Marching Ink – I can look back at the journey, the good and bad, and appreciate it for bring me here. I might never have had the courage to write my full novel if I hadn’t needed to prove something to myself and the world. Those highs and the lows of our past are necessary to make us appreciate our present and keep us moving toward the future.
What is your writing process like, and how do you create your characters?
Well, I usually start with a series of “what if…?” questions, and I look back on the work that I’ve done, and I try to find an area that I haven’t covered before. It could be an age group, because every age group faces different dilemmas. And once I have a good idea of what I want, every character needs a character arc whether it’s redemption or hope or loss or death. Then you just start filling in the details.
The one thing I’ve learned about writing is there is no correct way to do it. Stephen King swears he doesn’t know the end to his novels before he starts writing them. I can’t imagine writing that way. John Grisham does a 50-page outline. I don’t outline -– not one page. It can take anywhere from two weeks to two or five months to come up with not only the characters, but every element in the story, and to know every arc of every story and every character and how these things will play off each other. And all of that’s done in my head.
The entire Q&A can be found here.
I am so excited to introduce you to the amazingly talented, Joanne DeMaio today. She is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of contemporary fiction. She enjoys writing about friendship, family, love and choices, while setting her stories in New England towns or by the sea. Her novels include the New York Times bestseller Blue Jeans and Coffee Beans, Whole Latte Life, which was named a Kirkus Reviews Critics’ Pick, and most recently Snowflakes and Coffee Cakes, now a USA Today bestseller.
And, I am so excited to have her here today! Please read the Q&A below to find out more about this great author:
Your books have done so well and are consistently on the NYTimes Bestsellers List and ranked highly on Amazon. How do you define success? And where do you see yourself heading as a writer?
Thank you, Sara, that’s so kind of you to say. In terms of writing, I define success in one word: longevity. To have a body of work that is well-received by an audience that consistently grows is my gauge. As for what’s on my writing menu? Contemporary fiction is just my cup of “coffee” … although I don’t mind changing up the flavor with a spoonful of suspense or a dash of the beach, it is the go-to that I return to.
Marketing happens in stages. It starts with interacting with my existing reader-base on my Facebook Page and Author Newsletter. Pre-marketing begins there with exclusive cover reveals and glimpses behind-the-scenes. My daughter Mary actually handles my PR, and then sets up media coverage and an extensive blog tour to coincide with the book’s publication. This is a favorite part of the marketing, as I get to interact with readers across the country and share my new release. At this point word-of-mouth kicks in, which brings marketing to the ultimate goal of the book speaking for itself.
Have you always wanted to be an author?
Becoming an author was an organic process. I was a writer for many years, published in literary journals, local publications and newspapers. My writing evolved and grew over time, as I explored different mediums. Novel-writing was a natural progression.
Where do the ideas for your books come from? Do the characters/stories stem from real life at all?
We could have several cups of coffee talking about inspiration for my stories, but one of my strongest inspirations comes from favorite New England settings and treasures. My own Connecticut hometown inspires my fictional town of Addison which appears often in my work. Also, in a neighboring town, there once was an actual Christmas Barn, housed in a big red barn near a cove. It’s long been closed down, but in my latest novel Snowflakes and Coffee Cakes, I explore the fun possibilities of bringing it back.
It’s always the one I’m currently writing. At that early stage, a book brings a unique energy, and mystery, to the craft. I just have to know how the characters’ lives will unfold.
Which genres do you enjoy reading?
With my current writing schedule, what reading time I can squeeze in is usually with a non-fiction book. I love researching topics to bring to my work: snowflakes, denim design, beach life.
What is your favorite book of all time? Who is your favorite literary character of all time?
I have a small collection of illustrated classics that I enjoy, and Jane Eyre is right up there at the top. I reread it from time to time, finding it falls into many genres: mystery, suspense, saga, historical and romance. At the heart of it, it’s a love story that withstands the test of time.
Thank you so much, Joanne!
Please check back here on Wednesday for a review of her latest, Snowflakes and Coffee Cakes!