Archive for August, 2010

The other day, I read a great tongue-in-cheek blog by a writer discussing how writers hate writing.

I’m one of them.

Not every day, you understand.  Writing and I have a love/hate relationship.   On the days when it’s going well, when the words are flowing,  I wouldn’t trade this job for anything in the world. When one of my book covers first shows up on Amazon,  I’m so excited I could happy dance all over the house.  When my critique group meets, and we talk all night about our imaginary worlds, it’s bliss.  When I hear from a reader who was touched, who says one of my books eased her through a tough period, I’m humbled and send up thanks that I got a chance to do that.

But there are other days.

Days when the words won’t come, at least not good words. My images are cliché. My people are illogical. My plot has been done to death by a hundred better writers. Days when I stare at the screen with a sinking heart, sure that the well has run dry, and my career is going to die of thirst.

On those days, yes, I hate writing. I have been known to look longingly at  jobs in the paper and think, I wish I had a job like that. A job (or so I fantasize) where there was a right/wrong, a good/bad, a yes/no, and I didn’t have to live in this constant state of judging shades of gray. A job where a “mistake” didn’t mean anything about your soul, your heart, your inner worth. A job that didn’t require being in intimate touch with your emotions, so that you could still do it even if your mother had just died, or you’d had a fight with your husband, or the doctor said you need surgery.

And yet, I’m celebrating the release of my 35th title this November. My first book came out in 1987, twenty-three years ago, and I’m never giving it up. Never.  Does that make me schizophrenic? Maybe.  But it also makes me human.

And clearly I’m not alone in this craziness. Here are some quotes (mostly from Quote Garden), in which famous writers clearly show that both love and hate are pretty common:

There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein. –Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith

I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions. –James Michener

Writing is a sweet, wonderful reward. —Franz Kafka

Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead. –Gene Fowler

All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath. –F. Scott Fitzgerald

Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else. –Gloria Steinem

Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. –George Orwell

I don’t like to write, but I love to have written. –Michael Kanin

Real writers are those who want to write, need to write, have to write. —Robert Penn Warren

And my personal favorite:

There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.  —Somerset Maugham

What about you? Do you love writing, hate it, or both? Do you have a favorite writing quote to share?

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Why read fiction?

Finally, some solid “study” facts to back up what we’ve known all along! People who read fiction are just plain nicer than people who don’t! 🙂

Okay, the article I’m talking about didn’t go quite that far. But it was interesting. An article in Psychology Today’s online site (published in 2006, but found by me yesterday 🙂 ) discusses a couple of studies conducted by a doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto. The studies showed that people who frequently read narrative fiction score higher on tests of empathy and social acumen than people who read expository nonfiction.

Why? The article consults several experts, who offer the following fascinating suggestions.

–Reading is like a social brain game, in which we have to look between the lines and find hidden meanings in characters’ actions and words. That trains us for real life interactions.

–Reading stories forces us to empathize with people living very different lives from our own, letting us see at “a safe remove” what it really feels like to experience dramatic, dangerous or terrible situations.

–Reading makes sense of events in ways that real life doesn’t always provide. In the case of “Anna Karenina,” for instance, the book doesn’t just show the reader how wonderful Anna’s new lover makes her feel in the short term. It also shows how destructive her choices are in the long run. It offers perspective.

In my gut, in my own life, I already knew this was true. I bet you did, too. Here are some of the most important life lessons I learned from my favorite fiction:

From “The Secret Garden”: If you’re cranky, go outside for a while. Plant something, or clean something up, or just look at the birds.
From “Romeo and Juliet”: Even if you believe you’ve thought of everything, there’s still something that can go wrong. Think again.
From “To Kill A Mockingbird”: You’ve got to try to do the right thing, even if you are pretty sure you’re going to fail. Just trying is beautiful.

And there are so many others, of course–though some of them are harder to distill into a soundbite. One of the books that haunts me deeply is “The Great Gatsby.” But I can’t put its hypnotic life lesson into words. I think it’s something about the exquisite eggshell vulnerability of the innocent heart, but…maybe not.

I’d love to hear what you’ve learned from the books you’ve read.

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Hi, everyone! In an attempt to show you there’s absolutely no need to be intimidated by my new contest, I’ve created an entry myself! I decided to make a photo illustration of the basic theme of my recent Texas series…TEXAS BABY, TEXAS WEDDING and TEXAS TROUBLE. As you can see, in my psyche, they have one thing in common… 🙂

It’s not much to brag about, but I had a wonderful time doing it, and I learned a lot about this very cool free program called GIMP. Do you guys already know it? It’s available for free download online, and it’s an easy (well…sort of easy) photoshopping software.

People who really understand these things could probably bat out something ten times as complicated as this in half the time, but I am no computer whiz, and I worked for ages creating something this simple. But wow…it was so much fun! Learning new stuff and expanding the tiny computer section of my word-dominated brain…exhausting but awesome!

So…now it’s your turn! Please come play, and be entered for the $200 Am Ex gift certificate.

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Hi, everyone!  I’m here to clarify a little bit about my new contest.  No one has to be a great artist to enter!  Almost any creative visual you invent will qualify!  I’m looking forward to seeing what you come up with…and I have no preconceived ideas!  It can be a hand-drawn painting or pencil sketch.  It can be a computer-generated picture or montage.  It can be one of those fun collages we did in school, in which you cut out pictures from magazines and pasted them onto a poster board to capture the flavor of the Victorian Era.  (LOVE the Victorian era! LOL)  It can be paper dolls or a trailer-type video.  How about a floor-plan for a house, a rendering of a garden?  It can be anything visual inspired by anything in any of my books!

Plus, you can phone a friend!  If you have a daughter, writing buddy, co-worker, anyone who is good at this kind of thing, invite them to help!  For one thing, how would I know?  🙂  But mostly…the more the merrier, right?  And remember, no names attached unless you want the acclaim!

So don’t be intimidated.  Come play–and get the chance to win $200! When you’ve got something to submit, send it to my private email address, KOBrien@aol.com, and I’ll send an email back confirming its arrival.

In fact, perhaps I’ll make something myself, just to get things started–and to show how low I set the bar! 🙂  As I’ve pointed out over and over, I have no artistic talent.  None.  Zero.  My skills extend only to drawing holiday pictures on the kitchen whiteboard (see below)…a tradition I adore, but not because it showcases my skill! LOL But I love playing with colored pencils, and paints and scissors.  Watch here for my fabulous contribution to “Looking at Love,” coming as soon as I can possibly think of something!

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I’m the guest writer today over at Irene L. Pynn’s blog.
This blog is something a little different. Most of you know me as a romance writer, but I also have a couple of larger romantic suspense titles, HAPPILY NEVER AFTER and QUIET AS THE GRAVE. Both of them have wonderfully creepy houses.

I’m crazy about terrific, spooky, atmospheric houses. This is probably because I grew up in a house that was full of magic and deep personal symbolism.  Some fictional houses are so real to me it’s almost as if I could actually walk into them and prowl around.  Misselthwaite Manor, Manderley, Usher, Bag End, Green Gables…I love them all, good or bad.

Irene L. Pynn is, among other things, a fantasy writer, so when she invited me to blog for her, I decided to discuss the phenomenon of the Scary House. What is it about haunted houses, or houses that have been the scenes of terrible crimes? Why do they take on such mystical qualities?  Could you ever bring yourself to buy one?  In my research, I read that Nicholas Cage owns one but won’t ever sleep there.  What exactly are we afraid of?

Exploring this topic is a little silly, a little sincerely curious, and a lot of fun.  I hope you’ll stop by and offer your ideas, too!

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