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This post goes out to all my fellow struggling writers out there…

Sometimes it happens. Authors find their creativity, sense of purpose, and vision has stalled out. (Believe me, I’ve been there.) And so I’ll devote this installment of the Jessie Mae Hodsdon Writing Guidebook to that very thing. How to win back excitement when writing has taken on a monotonous or overwhelming quality.

Blog Bonus Feature: I consider creativity a gift. A treasure of immeasurable price. And so, when it threatens to disappear–being swallowed up by the busyness of life or the pressure of deadlines–I fight back. Because I refuse to let imagination slip out of my life. Don’t give up, struggling, starving, drained artists. Please. Don’t give up.

#63: Recognize that the Halfway Point is Hard.

Anticipate that inspiration will dry up around the 1/3 or 1/2 mark of your novel. The initial excitement over the characters has run its course; you have established your setting; and the basic plot is well in hand. Now what? Whether or not you outline, there comes a point of uncertainty. The best way to deal with it is to expect it. Then you won’t be discouraged when it arrives.

#47: There is Value in a Break.

I want to start this entry by offering a warning. Just as breaks have the potential to bless, they also have the potential to curse. If you make them purposeless (ie not writing, reading, or daydreaming anything), they could destroy your rhythm. Instead, take a purposeful break from your story by reading multiple novels, watching movies, and doing something unrelated but creative. (Your probably already know what that creative thing is. Maybe you like to cook or play guitar or draw. You get my drift…) This will stimulate new creativity inside of you and, before long, you will find the old passion for your story returning

#81: Minor Characters have the Potential to be Awesome.

I’ll assume you are familiar with Frozen. Anna, Elsa, and Kristoff are incredible main characters, but really… where would the movie have been without the trolls? Not far. Kristoff would have been a little less loveable. Anna wouldn’t have gotten the push to accept her feelings. And the essential clue/moral of the movie would have been lost. Not to mention the trolls (especially Grand Pabbie) added flair and spice to the story. The minor characters gave background to a major character (Kristoff), direction to the writer, plot clues to the movie watcher, and color to the story.

I’m a big fan of secondary characters. (And I’ll admit, sometimes I carry them a little too far.) But minor characters, being able to sustain eccentric personalities you could never get away with for main characters, have limitless potential. When your writing has stalled, turn your focus from the main characters you know so well and let your mind tool on the minor characters. Perhaps you will discover background, direction, plot clues, and color too.

If you have other ways to deal with the stall-out point of a novel, let me know in the comments! Best wishes in your writing endeavors,

Jessie Mae

(See my previous posts about the Guidebook here and here.)

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I’ve got a song about a zebra stuck in my head. (Thanks, Francesca.) Unusual, like the other songs on her album, is just that catchy. And believe it or not, I am actually making progress on my novel this rainy day. Despite the distractions. Of which there are plenty. Francesca Battistelli’s new album included.

I would like to be as profound as I was yesterday or as informative as I was about hipsters last year or even as funny as I was last month when I discussed bloopers, but, alas, all my creativity is being funneled into my novel today. You will have to take me as I am, rugged and raw and overtired from seasonal allergies that suffocate me nightly. I feel a little like Dug (from Up), my brain constantly shouting “Squirrel!” (or, in this case, “Zebra!”). Then again, creativity is often born out of insanity. For proof of that concept, just check out this video, featuring one man, twenty-one Disney/Pixar voices, and the deserved hit: Let It Go (from Frozen).

To return to the subject of the novel… My new character–Otis–is shaping up, finally filling in giant gaps that would make Maine’s frost heaves jealous. And if you’re not from Maine, those frost heaves are really, really, really, really big. Thank you, Otis. Your love of cheeseburgers, your beret-wearing head, and your healthy fear of Russian-spouting computer hacker Tasya are just what I needed to get back into my writing rhythm.

Until tomorrow, friends, I remain your overly-creative and slightly-zany author,

Jessie Mae

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I’d like to tell you that I spent my evening doing something a little more edifying than playing Windup Knight on my cell phone, but, alas, I cannot lie. I really did pass several hours multitasking with the television on and the fingers tapping away trying to beat level after level of the addicting game. It’s not my fault, really. I blame Younger Nephew, who talks about the game so incessantly that I just had to try it. Yes, it feels much better to blame the four-year-old.

Speaking of the nephews, they came over today by special invite from my dad to watch Frozen. And as we finished our movie what did we see out the window this fine spring day? Snow, of course. Because this is the winter that never, ever ends.

As my mom and I logged mile after mile on our way to and from New York for what will go down as a truly frustrating doctor’s appointment, I watched the roads transition from snowy to bland nothingness. No color; no vibrancy; no sparkling snow; no green; no leaves; nothing. I was lamenting the lack of nature’s charm when my mother reminded me that this nothingness is needed for snow to pass and color to rise once more. The land must be barren for a little while. It has to pass through an awkward, ugly-duckling season for summer to finally arrive.

And liking metaphors as I do, maybe I’m going through my own barren season. A season that feels like nothingness. A season all about thawing. A season that is not so beautiful, but leads to beauty.

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Wednesday I had the snuffles. Thursday I was super forgetful. Friday I canceled my most cherished writing lesson as my sickness intensified. Saturday I was practically dead. We Hodsdons have this nasty quirk of feeling super guilty when we are sick. We feel guilty for not acting at optimal level; we feel distant from the world so we feel guilty for that too. It’s a character trait I am working hard to fix.

Knowing that, picture this: for the first time in forever (yes, I did just quote Frozen. It’s a good movie.), my two beloved nephews were spending a full Saturday at my house. I longed to reconnect, to prove to them that I was 100% there for them no matter the distance of time or space. But my sickness had me alternating hour awake, hour asleep. And what does my perceptive, compassionate five-year-old nephew say to my foggy, guilt-prone head?

“Jessie Mae, don’t you remember the day everybody was sick except you? You took care of everybody by yourself.” This paraphrased reminder told me that to him I was still super-woman. He knew if he had been sick I would take care of him. Since I was sick, he wanted to take care of me. Then he and his little brother spent the whole day telling me in action and deed how thoroughly loved I was. From snuggles I thought the elder one had far outgrown to playful games, yesterday was a true treasure.

And here’s the lesson in it all: No matter what it feels like, sickness (from colds to Lyme disease) does not have to define our time, our treasures, or our relationships. There is grace enough.

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Did you know that family can be quite absorbing? I lost myself in them this week. From the Wednesday of pie making with my sisters to the Thursday of Thanksgiving and pie eating and super hero games to the Friday of Christmas Tree Hunting, this week went up there in my all time favorites list.

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Our house was constantly brimming with people. Like on Monday when new friends came over in staggered doses through the day. And on Wednesday when my sister’s buddy from New York arrived by plane to spend the holiday with us.

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Of course, the week would not have been complete without not one but two viewings of the new Disney epic: Frozen. You have heard the buzz by now. You do not need another person telling you to stop reading blogs and Facebook statuses and get to the theater, but–just to be on the safe side–I figure I should add my recommendation: go see Frozen. Not later on. Get up. Right now. And go to the theater.

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It took some doing after all that family and fun to turn my focus back to writing. A several day break left me with just enough time to finish NaNoWriMo–which I did. But not before attending a book signing at Lamb’s Book & Bible for Mark of Orion. It was a good week. And now I am glad for a day of rest! Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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