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Posts Tagged ‘imagination’

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 lived somewhere else lately, on the border between Xsardis’ illuminescent forest and a place called the 17th Realm. Both have their own kind of a magic and, I admit, I have liked my fictional reality better than the real reality around me. Not that real reality is any too shabby. Life is brimming with potential. It’s just that, the potential… well, it alarms me.

Weeks of the final push on not one but two novels (yes, that’s right. I finished another one last weekend–just five days after bidding farewell to Rise of the Dark Sprite) have necessitated a blissful break from social engagements or even checking my email. And, while I thoroughly enjoyed this creatively-mandated repose, I can’t help but feel terribly, terribly behind. So I’m back to checking my email and blogging and banking and accomplishing little and big tasks alike. I’ve got a solitary day in which I am able to work before I pack up for a long weekend in Florida to celebrate my cousin’s graduation. Florida. Sunshine. (Why, yes, it did snow last weekend on the family farm.)

Meanwhile, I’m trying to descend slowly from the mountaintop of creativity, energy, and enthusiasm that led to so much writing. (Over the week, I set a personal word count record of well-more than fifty thousand words.) After five novels, I’m pretty used to this process (including post-novel depression which is, sadly, quite real). My mind knows better than to keep spinning, trying to improve characters and clarify plots. On the other hand, my creativity–and its mighty muses–are not so sure they are ready for a break. The result? With no other outlet for the imagination, creativity strikes my dreams and makes them… strange. Like last night’s, in which I escaped a war-zone only to be dragged across the border into a cult. It was not awesome.

(Blog Bonus Feature: If no one has warned you, fellow writer, about the vividness of your dreams and their ability to grip you long past the alarm clock’s interruption, consider this your warning. Also note that the same prowess that allows you to craft realistic characters can alter your loved ones’ personalities in the dreams until they utterly terrify or excite you.)

But I digress.

Life. It’s full of potential that manages to thrill and scare me simultaneously. But what kind of adventure would life be if it didn’t? Any good roller coaster has to cause your mind to waver on the border between certainty of your demise and certainty that you will fly. As for me, I plan to fly.

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I suppose anyone who knows me wouldn’t be surprised to discover that my personality type makes up less than 1% of the world’s population (according to this website). But I was. When I took the personality test during my morning of self-education, I was enthralled by the description of the INFJ group, to which I belong. A year ago I would have been surprised to read ‘Introvert’ at the beginning of my four letter code. According to the test makers, “Their easy and pleasant communication can often mislead bystanders, who might think that the INFJ is actually an extrovert.” In truth, not so long ago, I was deluding myself into thinking I was an extrovert. But mere weeks away from my twenty-second birthday, I am not as naive as I once was. I’m deep into the process of discovering who I am and who I will become.

I bobbed my head as the test described the INFJ with an emphasis on creativity, independence, passion, beliefs, conflict-wary(ness? Can I make that a word?), mental and emotional depth, warmth, and insight. And I solemnly agreed with the weaknesses: a tendency to back away from conflict, to be hard to understand, to strive for too much perfection in myself and others, and to feel disappointment keenly. Yes. I may be in the shining 1%, but we INFJs aren’t perfect–mostly because we try too hard to be.

Yet, all in all, I’d rather be the INFJ God created me to be than any other personality type. Someone “Brimming with desire to make the world a better place.” And someone who has “a unique combination of idealism and decisiveness – this means that their creativity and imagination can be directed towards a specific goal,” allowing them “to make a lasting positive impact.” Can you blame me? That sounds pretty sweet.

The test certainly won’t be right about everything,  but reading through the sections depicting how I am likely to interact socially and in my career have given me good deal of clarity for why I am scared of certain opportunities, why I relish others, and how I can pursue a more peaceable, meaningful future.

Until next time,

Your friendly, neighborhood author.

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It has been a ‘my-brain-is-on-overdrive’ kind of week. Not one, but four books on three worlds in five different novel sections simultaneously vie for the attention of my mind even as my return to business school has publishing racing through my neurons. If one of my students asked me what to do in a situation like this I would tell them, politely, that it was time to grow up and let all but the most important, most pressing story rest on a dusty shelf. If I have told you something like this, I have new sympathy. But the advice stays the same.

I am determined to capture just enough of each tale to write a few pages of the story and an army of bullet points as to where it is going. Then I am going to let those stories fade away as I return my focus to The Orion Records (both Mark of Orion and its sequel). I am hoping that this method will keep the creativity flowing, while slowly turning it in a more useful direction and preserving the beauty of the untold tales. In the past I have tried to cut out the irrelevant stories from my imagination entirely. This left me with a severe (and, as my deadline approached, rather terrifying) form of writer’s block. To this day, I have been unable to recapture that lost novel.

So this is my new strategy and my repeated advice: when you have more than one story vying for your attention hash out the important details and then force your brain to move on. It is a hard learned skill to know how to hold onto the right novels and let go of those whose turn has not yet come.

(Side note: it can be a very good thing to be plotting novel C while you are drafting novel B while you are editing novel A, but you had best be very careful when you introduce novel B and novel C so you do not overcrowd your brain and explode.)

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What should I be doing right now? Writing my midterm paper or a variety of other school/work projects. I tried this morning. And I got some good work done. But my heart and my mind and my creativity are always with this novel I am working on. It is not even a book I want to release for several years, but my imagination doesn’t seem to care.

So as I listen to Pandora’s ‘Film Scores Radio’, I compose my own tale. The characters, the voice, the adventure, the mystery all seems to be falling into place in a way that it has not since I wrote Issym (or maybe never). What a joy to write on days like these!

I love connecting creatively with my nephew Silas. My winter village is still up since I have been gone, the snow has lingered, and the basement is not quite ready to embrace my pieces. Silas and I walked its center aisle yesterday and he asked me questions about who lived in the houses. We imagined together and it was sweet and good. Some moments you just want to stay in forever and that was one!

And in other news, the Bangor Public Library has purchased two copies of the Xsardis Chronicles. Hooray! So if you have been waiting to read them, request them now!

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Every night for the last couple of weeks I put on some music and stretch before I go to bed. I push my muscles just past what is comfortable and, though it may hurt a little, the stretching feels good. My body is glad for the movement. If I don’t push hard enough or keep good form, the stretching really won’t do any good. If I push too hard (especially with my nasty muscles) I could seriously injure myself. The music is like my personal trainer, constantly reminding me to keep going.

The more I use my imagination the more I realize that it is a muscle like any other part of me. It feels really good to exercise it, but it hurts to push past the mental barriers. Music helps me get over the humps of distraction and boredom. If I don’t force my imagination to go deeper and work longer and steadier, I won’t get any better. And if I push too hard my brain goes into overdrive, burns out and I become a walking-zombie.

My imagination works all the time. While I eat, while I walk, while I sleep… like the energizer bunny it just keeps going and going and going. Since I’ve been majorly revamping the ending to Xsardis my imagination has been on a perpetual spin and I blame it for the constant headache that has lodged itself once again in the back of my mind (or maybe I should blame myself for not taking my vitamin D). Basically, I am that zombie. I think its time to learn my limits in how far I can stretch my imagination. I must find a way to shut my brain down at some point in the day. Although I’ve been getting really excellent work done–writing whole new sections that I wouldn’t even attempt before–I also need rest.

That’s my advice for all you fellow authors out there. Find boundaries or your imagination will burn out. And trust me, you don’t want to be a zombie.

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“I’m Jessie Mae,” pause for an answer. “What’s your major?” pause for an answer and a return question, “What’s your’s?” “Business,” pause for an answer. “Where are you from?” pause for an answer. Interject that I am from 20 hours away (without stops) in Maine. Sometimes we will delve a little deeper, depending on the situation and if the personalities mix or clash. This has been pretty much the conversation for the last three days between all the students. The shallow water is already getting old, but it will not take long before we will be in the deep end.

Once again I am surrounded by distinct characters: a photographer with a talent for acting (he had us all convinced that he was part of the senate here at CIU and the head of the cooking department. Everyone wanted to join even after we found out it was not real), a jersey girl, a sweet next-door-neighbor (who is coming over for coffee and Lucky Charms tomorrow morning before all of the freshmen head to some kind of beach/camp thing. I will be driving and she will be my co-pilot), an easy-to-get-along-with (blessing from God) roommate, a poet, a resident life director with a dry sense of humor that reminds me so much of my brother, Charlie… My mind is already percolating with new characters and plotlines and different twists on old ones. (That is what will make it so hard to stay focused on Asandra, which has a lot of editing left if it is going to be done by November.) I love drawing on inspiration of life! I love the feeling of imagination at work.

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