Alison Holt BooksA little about writing and a lot about life
Being a writer isn’t easy. Most of us use our computer to write our great American novel. The trouble is, there are so many distractions on the internet today that many times what took us 3 hours to write ten years ago takes us six hours today.
We are distracted by
• Reading our email
• Answering our email
• Checking our social media
• Surfing the web
• Anything else that we can find to help us to not write
But honestly, there’s another, more insidious reason many writers fail to complete one book, one short story, or even one blog post. That reason?
THE SPOTLIGHT EFFECT
What exactly is this mysterious ailment? According to a study done by Cornell University, The Spotlight Effect is “An Egocentric Bias in Estimates of the Salience of One’s Own Actions and Appearance.” What does that mean in basic English?
• Most people think everyone is staring at them
When in Reality
• Nobody really cares or notices what you do, think, or say
How does this study relate to writers? Most writers freeze up when they start worrying about that next review. What will my readers think? I’ll be everyone’s fool. Everyone will say I should never have been a writer.
Honestly, take a minute and breathe. Now take a minute to set some goals. Decide to write 1000 words/day or 2000 or 3000. Then realize that if people don’t like what you’ve just published, that’s okay because you’ll already be off and running on your next project, on that next 1000 words, or half way into your next novel. Take control and silence your worst critics. Move beyond them, don’t listen to them, and don’t EVER let them stop you from attaining your goals and dreams.
I was talking to a friend of mine the other day who has worked patrol for the past twenty years. As usual, the conversation eventually got around to my writing. He asked me if I still wrote about what writers do that really bugs cops on the street. When I said I did, he said, “Let me tell you one of the things that drives me crazy every time I see it on some cop drama or read it in some book. I hate it when they walk up to a door to talk to somebody or to check on a possible victim, and when they touch the door, it just swings open.”
I knew exactly what he was talking about. Every time I see that in a movie, I involuntarily roll my eyes. It’s like a subconscious twitch, and when it happens, I have to keep my thumb from automatically clicking the “off” button on the remote control.
Writers, hear me on this, please. In twenty years of police work, there was only one time that I pushed on a door and it squeaked open for me. And honestly, that was on a house check a neighbor had called in and when I contacted the owner to come home to check things out, we discovered that her husband just hadn’t pulled the door shut hard enough when he left that morning.
I have however had to climb through windows, bash open doors (granted they were hollow core doors) with my shoulder, crawled in through the doggy door, and rooted around in the yard until I found the secret hiding place for the key. Use your imagination. It is so cliché for your character to push on the door, throw an astonished look at their partner, and slip in an already open door. Have fun with it. Have your detective do something outlandish or even illegal. But get your character into the house any way other than through an unlocked front door.
If you do, my patrol friend will thank you from the very bottom of his heart.
Now, as promised, I’ve been searching for some great gifts for families and friends to give to the writer in their life. I told you I would add a few to each post in the days before Christmas, so…here you go!
1. I love this one. There is nothing so important to a good book as a great first line! This mug features opening lines of some of the greatest works of literature from “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” to “Call me Ishmael” and 22 more. Check it out!
Great First Lines of Literature Mug
2. As an incorrigible tea drinker, this is an absolute must have, in fact, if any of my family is reading this, this is it!
Novel Teas contains 25 teabags individually tagged with literary quotes from the world over, made with the finest English Breakfast tea.
3. And there’s always the great chocolate inspirational flag. Who could live without this hanging in their front yard?
If we are lucky, there comes a time in a writer’s life when we realize that, although we love our readers, we can no longer write simply to try to please them. Writing for other people can be a strangling experience, one where the hidden demons of self doubt creep into our subconscious and whisper crippling innuendos of fear and incertitude. “They won’t like it if I turn my character into this.” Or “They don’t want me to start another series, they want more of this one.” Or “This book is no good, the reviewers will tear it apart.”
Those thoughts generate the greatest excuse not to write known to man; the fearsome “writer’s block.” In reality, I don’t believe in writer’s block, and neither do the men and women who write thousands of words day after day, writing through their hesitations and fears. What I’ve come to understand is that they don’t write for their fans or for a large audience of potential readers. Those writers have learned to write for no one other than for themselves. They have an audience of one.
And yet even with that audience of one, doubt and apprehension try to wriggle into the writing process. A true writer has to push those doubts way down into the dark recesses of their mind and simply put pen to paper, writing word after word after word, and always coming back the next day to resume the process. There is no place in our writing for doubt. We have to believe that the stories are within us, that the gift of words we’ve been blessed with will coalesce into brilliant, wonderful stories that will transport our readers into another world, another time, or another dimension.
The best advice I can give any writer is to put away your doubts, your fears of your audience and your fear of failure, and write. Remember, the best audience you have is an audience of one.
I absolutely love this time of year. The idea of dressing up my house with beautiful lights and wonderful smells is something I’ve looked forward to ever since I was a small child. I remember my dad pulling down box after box of tree decorations while my brothers, cousins and I worked to shove the tree stand onto the trunk of our newly cut Christmas tree. Our decorations certainly never looked like the designer trees you see in stores today. We were happy if the red puff-ball nose we’d glued onto our cardboard toilet paper roll reindeer stayed on and the strings on the handmade popcorn garlands didn’t break.
Fast forward to our busy hustle and bustle lives of today. So many people don’t have the time to make homemade decorations or to bake gooey double chip chocolate chip cookies. Heck, as writers, we’re lucky if we even have time to go gift shopping let alone do all the little extras that make Christmas so special for your family.
I know I sit at my computer eight hours a day, sometimes more, where I live in whatever fantasy world I happen to be creating that day. When people ask me “What do you want Santa to bring you?” my response is usually a blank stare and a mumbled “Can I get back to you on that?” Which brings me to the reason for this post. I thought I’d give my writer friends a list that they can print out and give to their friends and family of various items that might be appreciated by a writer. Some are whimsical, some are practical, but I hope something here might tickle your fancy. I’ll try to add three or four ideas to each new blog post I put up before Christmas.
1. The first item on the list is this wonderful clock that doesn’t let us procrastinate, get distracted, file our nails, walk the dog or any of one hundred other excuses we find to get ourselves out of putting words to the page. I personally love this clock…
2. One of my personal favorites are these coasters that make my imaginary friends legitimate.
3. And here’s one for the more practical minded. I have learned an incredible amount from reading Dean Wesley Smith’s blog over the years. He is considered one of the most prolific writers working in modern fiction. If you really, really want a gift that your loved one can consider a great investment in your life’s passion, ask them to buy you one of the many available lectures in his WMG Publishing Lecture Series. You won’t be disappointed. http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/lecture-series/
4. How about some help with your writing? Here’s one that I found especially helpful whenever I write about a character’s emotions. The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide To Character Expression Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi have done an excellent job of illustrating the importance writers taking their innate skills of observation and transferring them to their characters in ways that are compelling to read.
I know holidays can be stressful, but try to look at the positive rather than the negative and most importantly, keep on writing!
One truism I’ve found as a writer is it’s easier to let life get in the way of writing than to let writing get in the way of life. I’ve decided to turn that trend around and get back to the business of writing. Five years ago, I was easily writing up to 3000 words/day. My writing business was thriving, life was fantastic and I didn’t have a care in the world. Then, insanity struck. I bought a 100+ year old house intending to do a quick 1 year renovation while continuing to write. Five years later, I own a beautiful turn of the century home, but where in the time prior to my madness I wrote three novels in two years, I have only written one novel in five years.
Right now, right here, I am publicly declaring that my writing hiatus is over. I intend to write more now than I ever wrote before. The madness, the insanity that has been my life for the past five years is over. I’m a writer, damn it. I’ve known I was a writer from the time I was a child. The written word is my chosen form of communication and I WILL write.
So, anyway, if anyone is still out there…. I’m Baaaack!!!!
Thank you for visiting with me as I’m touring with one of my Alex Wolfe Mysteries, Credo’s Hope. I’m traveling across the country as I write this, meeting wonderful people and enjoying the many different cultures and personalities found in each of the charming regions I’m traveling through. Have any of you ever noticed how incredibly friendly the people of the Midwest can be? A total stranger in Oklahoma spent almost an hour of her own time helping me find a pet friendly hotel while a young man in Missouri ran through a farmer’s field after my Chihuahua who’d decided she wanted to take her own tour of the Show Me state. As I drove through the southern states, people with wide smiles and heavy southern drawls were only too happy to repeat themselves as many times as necessary to make themselves understood by my uninitiated ears.
One side benefit to meeting such an eclectic group of people is the shear number of interesting personalities and quirks I can use for new characters in my novels. Take for example the waitress in a small town in northern Texas. We’d pulled into a Mom and Pop cafe on the main street of town. What made this town unique was there were no McDonalds, Subways or Taco Bells lining the main thoroughfare. We had the choice of this clean little place with sky-blue naugahyde booths, old-fashioned music players on each tabletop, and hand printed, laminated menus or a dirty little greasy spoon across the street. We chose the Mom and Pops.
The waitress who met us at the door wore blindingly white polyester pants and blouse with a sky-blue trim that matched the color of the booths. She had a pretty, round face and a sparkling gleam of mischief dancing just behind her greenish brown eyes. Our conversation went something like this:
I pointed to the menu and asked, “So, what do you recommend?”
The waitress smiled, and instead of answering my question, asked one of her own. “You’re not from around here, are you?” She didn’t have the typical small town Texas accent, and if I had to place her, I would have said Valley Girl from California.
“No, We’re from Arizona. Why?”
We were the only ones in the dining room, but she still glanced around to make sure we were alone. Looking back at me, she raised carefully plucked eyebrows, silently expecting me to get her meaning. I raised mine in return, telling her I didn’t have a clue what she was trying to say. Very slowly, and with exaggerated meaning, her eyes slid to the greasy spoon next door. I followed her gaze, and for the first time noticed their parking lot. It was filled with cars and trucks and people standing around both inside and out laughing and jostling each other.
Just about that time, the owner/chef of our clean little diner stepped into the room and all of us turned toward him. The portly man had the same round face as the waitress, except where hers was open and laughing, his was pinched with an angry scowl and lowered, glowering eyes. He didn’t say anything to the girl, just motioned with a little waving flick of his hand for her to hurry up.
“Be right there, Uncle Brett.” She turned back to us as he retreated into his kitchen. Standing there with her pen poised over her notepad, she smiled conspiratorially at me, pointed across the street with her chin and said sotto voiced, “So, that’s what I recommend.” Her eyes sparkled. “They’ve got a killer chicken fried steak and Ms. Porter makes the most wonderful gravy in the world.”
I looked across the street at their full parking lot, then glanced at our lone car sitting in the lot of the cafe looking like a lonely fourth cousin at a family reunion. My attention shifted back to our waitress. “Uncle?”
She looked over her shoulder toward the kitchen, then leaned in to whisper, “He takes all my tips and keeps them for himself. I’m only here for another two weeks then I’m outta here.”
I nodded, stood up thanked her quietly, then sauntered over to the crowded restaurant where I had the most mouth watering chicken fried steak and gravy I’d ever tasted.
And that my friends, is exactly where I get the kinds of characters for my books, such as Credo’s Hope, that have my readers writing to say they wish they could actually be friends with my main protagonist, Alexandra Wolfe and her friends who help turn Alex’s everyday life as a detective upside down.