Dreaming in Character

G.L. Jackson


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I love writing.

I was sitting here reading over today’s words and was happily struck by how much I love writing. I love the world I created, the characters who inhabit that world, their circumstances and quirks and imperfections. I’m having such a blast with this book that I smile when I read it, and that’s not something that always happens.

It isn’t that I sit around patting myself on the back, being too self-congratulatory. I did have a moment, though, and I figured that was worth sharing. It’s times like this that remind me why I do what I do, and remind me that the act of creating something new can be so much fun.


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Smashing Writer’s Block

Generally, I don’t believe in writer’s block. Because I’m self-critical, I look at it as just being lazy. By now, though, I ought to know myself well enough to understand that when the words aren’t flowing–when they feel like pulling teeth–it’s because I’m forcing the writing. I know how it feels to write with sheer joy. I know how it feels to love every nuance and every new plot twist.

Today, I had a terrible day on a personal level. It wasn’t what I wanted at all. I didn’t get a chance to do any writing, I’m exhausted, I’ve been attending to unexpected but necessary things, and all I wanted to do was come home to write. When I finally got home, did I write? No, not unless email counts.

BUT.

As I was sitting here feeling exhausted, it was EPIPHANY TIME. Not only did I finally acknowledge that I was forcing the issue, I unlocked the key to making the book so much better than it already is.

Now I’m excited. Now I can set my alarm and get up in the morning eager to write. All it will take is a little bit of plotting and planning, and I’ll be good to go.


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It Only Takes 100 Words

I used to run a prompt-based community called 100 Word Stories on LiveJournal. Every other week I’d leave a prompt — usually a word or a short phrase — and open things up for members. The only caveat was that the finished piece had to be exactly 100 words in length. It could be original fiction, fanfiction, or even poetry, as long as it told a story in 100 words.

Often, I think about that community. There’s a definite art form to telling tales in limited word count. Maybe I’ll open it up again, or start a new one here on WordPress. Would anybody be interested in participating if I do? Participation would never be mandatory, and stories can be left (and commented on) in comments.

What do you think?


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When Querying is like Cooking

Ask any writer how fun it is to send out query letters. You’ll probably get a blank stare that means the words “query letter” and “fun” don’t belong in the same sentence. We agonize over those letters, trying to perfect them and make them intriguing while keeping them professional. It’s like juggling double-ended knives.

It’s like giving someone an open invitation to stomp on your dreams.

BUT.

(Oh no, I just broke all the rules of grammar at once! A sentence beginning with a conjunction. A fragment. A single-word sentence. A single-sentence paragraph! Improper capitalization!)

Learning to craft a query letter has been such a great experience! I participated in several Twitter pitch contests earlier this year. While I’ve decided to step back from those for the time being, they were invaluable for several reasons. First, I made a lot of great connections with other writers as a result. Second, I learned to distill my story to its core.

Producing a good query letter is just a different kind of story-cooking magic. It’s the equivalent of inviting someone in while you’re baking chocolate chip cookies: the place smells great and the idea of the treat to come is so enticing your guest can’t wait for more.

A synopsis, on the other hand, is like getting a taste of the cookie… but only one bite of that hot gooey delicious melted chocolate chip. If your guest wants more they need to ask for the whole cookie, not just one taste.

Since I enjoy cooking and following recipes while making them my own, I’m taking a similar approach to sending out query letters. Not every recipe will be a hit, but one of them surely will. There’s a perfect literary meal in there somewhere, and I’ll dish it up one of these days.


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Why I Write

There are so many explanations for why people write. The most common one is I write because I have to. For some people it’s a compulsion, a point of pride, a craving, a habit. I take no issue with that, or with my usual answer: I write because I have stories to tell.

That’s only part of the reason. If we didn’t have stories to tell, we wouldn’t be writing. As so often happens, though, we only see the outside of the shell, not the meaty inside portion. Here’s my story.

My sister is an author. We’re great friends; she’s two years older than I am. We went to the same high school and because we were both pretty darn good in English, had a lot of the same teachers. Our AP English teacher was one of those guys who you really wanted to study with. His reputation was excellent. He was warm and personable, supportive and more nontraditional than many of the other members of the department. He let us choose some of our own curriculum, always smiled, cracked a few jokes. He was the kind of teacher most students just loved.

I was one of his fans…until he pulled me aside one day, a creative writing assignment I’d turned in covered with red ink, and asked me the most painful question ever: “Why can’t you write like your sister?”

That’s not a question anyone should have to hear. I don’t care if my sister was the best writer the school had ever seen (she probably was, she’s wonderful): you never compare family members like that. He went on and on about how great she was with a turn of phrase, how lyrical her writing was, and so on. The upshot of it was that I would never be half the writer she was: just look at the mess I’d made of things. I don’t remember what I wrote or what it was about. What I do remember is that his comments made me feel about an inch tall. I don’t think I opened my mouth to answer a question or make a comment in his class the rest of the school year. I read my books, wrote my papers, finished the school year… and vowed never to try my hand at creative writing again.

My teacher’s one comment went a long way toward cementing my decision to major in elementary education at a college far from home. I wanted nothing to do with him or with anyone else from my high school. I wanted nothing to do with studying English or with writing. His comment was so devastating that it took me until halfway through my junior year at college to switch majors to English Lit (not writing! never writing) and it took me about three years after graduation before I dared to write stories again.

As a child, I escaped into stories. I wrote them all the time. I wrote with my sisters; I wrote alone. I wrote with friends. I wrote plays and poems and novels and short stories. With one disgusted sigh, my AP English teacher invalidated the one thing I’d loved best.

These days, I write because I want to. I write because all the stories that were erased that one day have crowded back in with a vengeance. I write because I see the world in stories and in opportunities for stories. I write because I’m still furious at the person who squashed my creativity. While it’s true that I can’t write like my sister and never wanted to write like my sister, I can sure as hell write like myself. That may be different, but it’s every bit as good.

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