Readers ask writing and life questions

As promised, today I am going to answer the questions that Sherry sent into my MySpace account. They are rather timely.

What keeps you motivated to write?
Writing keeps me healthy and sane. When I am working on a story, I channel the dark, sad, confused, angry bits of me into something constructive and healing. I always feel better after a day of writing. I also love the challenge of solving the puzzle of how to create a story.

I know writing is a long process but when i can’t get the right inspiration i need to finish part of the story it stresses me out.
I totally hear you. I feel the same way sometimes. When you run out of inspiration, it’s usually means you don’t understand your character and the conflicts she’s facing. Brainstorm ten things that could happen next that would complicate her life, and then brainstorm ten things that would make her life easier. Somewhere in there, you’ll find a key to the next scene you have to write.

As an author do you think its best to plan the stories plot and whats gonna happen in the whole book ahead of time or do you think its best to just go with the flow and go wherever the story leads you?
It depends on the book and it depends on how quickly you want to finish it. With my historical novels, I have to outline carefully because the character’s journey has to take place within real historical events. With my YA novels, like TWISTED and SPEAK, I am more flexible. In the early drafts, I write whatever weirdness pops in my head. In later drafts, I sort through the chaos and try to give it structure and a sense of flow. But what works for me might not work for you. Everyone has their own process, as my editor Sharyn always says.

Do you ever set goals for youself as to when you’re gonna finish writing certain parts of the book?
All the time. And I never, ever reach the goal on time because I am a hopeless optimist and I always forget to schedule in sleeping at night. But I keep doing it. Goals are helpful. Making time to write every day helps even more.

And any other advise you could give me for writing a book would be very helpful please!
Turn off the television. Read every night before you go to sleep. Write for fun. Never, ever criticize yourself during a first draft. Do not pressure yourself by saying “I have to get this published by the time I am 20 (or 30, or 40, etc.) Write the story in your heart.

Great questions, Sherry. Thanks!

This came in from a 15-year-old girl in the Philippines.

… I’m a high school sophomore at an all-girls school in the Philippines.

I just wanted to say that I find Twisted and Speak really amazing books. I can’t fully say how amazing they are. If it weren’t for a book sale, I probably would not have heard of you, or any of your books, for that matter. I mean, I live here in the Philippines, and the bookstores here have limited copies of your books, mostly the ones for younger children. It took me a long time to find Twisted, and I still haven’t seen Catalyst or your other novels. Anyway, I wanted to thank you, too, for writing the way you do. I get to empathize with the characters, even though I haven’t been in any situation they’re in. That’s really something. I get inspired. I write too, but usually in non-fiction, and I write for our school paper. Also, I checked out your website, and saw the playlist for Twisted. It was so weird that those songs are on my iPod. I’m sorry if I was rambling, but I just had to say it. That’s all.

All love for the Philippines!! ::glowing::

I also got an email from a guy, a junior, who read TWISTED. It was a very emotional note, with details about how his life paralleled Tyler Miller’s. I don’t feel comfortable sharing the whole thing, but there were a couple of lines that are universal:

“i picked your book up in the library yesterday and read the first couple of pages and for some reason i couldn’t put it down. i consistently got yelled at today and even got a detention for reading during class. so i get home and i finally finish it and I’m just like “wow”. this IS the best book i have ever read. hands down…. i just want to be myself, and be liked at the same time, but its like that’s impossible. its either be myself and be hated on, or be fake and get worshiped, life sucks and its taken me this long to realize, that shit just isn’t going to change, and your book made me realize this…. it feels like I’m supposed to do something epic to let everyone know that I’m done putting up with people’s “fakeness”. like i want to go outside and scream as loud as i can for as long as i can….

I think he’s right. Our culture, especially in high school, doesn’t give kids much room to express the real person they feel inside. They feel under so much pressure to conform and it’s hard to understand and it damages their souls. (The next time you see an angry teenager, please remember this and be kind.)

This is why we write, friends, and this is why we read. To connect with other people. To feel alive. To stumble towards the answers.

I love my job.

Photo-free post, filled with authors

Babies are loverly, nostalgic family photos are a blast, but neither has anything to do with my story. I worked yesterday and the day before, but without the focus that I might have wished for. Today, the laser-focus is back and I am about to crawl inside a couple of chapters.

Before I do, I’d like to salute some fellow authors:

Sherman Alexie had an awesome 2007 (I suspect 2008 will be just as fun) and talks about it in this interview.

I’m still stoked about the appointment of Ambassador Jon Scieszka and you should be, too. Read an older interview in which he describes his Guys Read program.

Many hearty congratulations to all of the Cybils YA finalists!!! If you are looking for a good list of books, start with their recommendations.

I will be answering some excellent writing questions submitted by Sherry tomorrow. I promise.

Now… I seem to have misplaced the motivation for chapter sixteen…. is it in the microwave, no…. under those books…. maybe the dog hid it…..

The more things change…..

BH went underground and came up with the right box of family photos. I’m not exactly sure why I’m doing this, but babies make people do strange things.

This photo was taken in 1933. The baby is my mother, held by her mother, with her mother to the left and the grande dame, Hundreds-Great-Grandma Ida to the right. (It’s OK, you can say it. I think Grandma Ida looks scary as hell, too.)

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Mom’s special birthday delivery

Yep, he made it on time; Kegan Alexander, 7 pounds, 12 ounces (much of that seems to be lung)!

Mom was able to end her 77th birthday visiting her new great-grandson, who was also celebrating a birthday.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic There was much cooing.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic Four generations, from the left: my sister, Lisa, her daughter, April, the new star, Kegan, and Joyce, the mom, grandmom & great-grandmom.

Buried somewhere deep in the forest in another 4-generation photo. In that one, my mom is the infant, accompanied by Peg, her mother, Ethel, her grandmother, and Ida, her great-grandmother. If I am counting on my fingers right, grandmom Ida is Kegan’s great-great-great-great-grandmother (born in 1866, died 1935).

I need to work on two chapters today. I’ll look for the picture during the break between them. My head is spinning from all this family stuff. I need to hang out with my characters to get my bearings back.

Week 1 – DONE! Bring on Week 2!

I have kept my New Year’s resolutions for seven days! Go me!

2008 Week 1>> Days When I Wrote for At Least an Hour: 7. YTD: 7.
2008 Week 1 >> Miles Run: 20. YTD: 20.

Finishing out the miles yesterday on the treadmill was ugly, ugly, ugly, but I did it.

Today I will try to write a million bazillion chapters while staring at the phone because my niece is in the hospital right now getting ready to have her first child. If he is born before midnight, he will share his birthday with his great-grandmother, (aka my mom) Joyce Mason Holcomb Halse, who is 77 years old today.

It has always amused me that Mom was born the same day as Elvis. Even funnier: it’s David Bowie’s birthday. I think the joke should start “So Elvis, David Bowie and Mom walk into a bar…” Definitely the birthday of cultural icons.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic Here is my gorgeous mother about to inhale a tray of frosted brownies at her party Sunday. One of the advantages to making it to 77 is that you get eat whatever you want. Happy Birthday, Mom.