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8.03.2009

Answers! (Part Five: WRITING)

Today's Completely Unrelated Supplement: My Top Ten Crushes from Teen Movies


Crush #10: Mr. Coulson (Michael Vartan) — Even though it was creepy, because he was kind of her teacher.


I met my big deadline, so I'm back in the real world. I think this is a good week to dip into some writing questions. Might as well start with THE BIG ONE.

But wait!

Before I begin, a caveat. As enormously happy as I am to have received writing questions, I just want to make one thing clear: Like everything I say on this blog, take what I say with a grain of salt. I don't believe anything I have to say about anything (especially writing) is some kind of Great Truth.

I am a novice. I struggle — I struggle a lot — and I'm still learning. So please don't think that I believe I'm some kind of, say, Neil Gaiman. If Neil Gaiman gives you writing advice, TAKE IT.

My advice?

Well. Let's just say it's debatable.

But I do want to help! And I hope that maybe something I say helps someone. Somewhere. Sometime.

Okie dokie. Now that that's over with, I feel comfortable moving forward with today's question.


Crush #9: Cameron Frye (Alan Ruck) — Yes, I liked him more than Ferris. This probably doesn't surprise you.


Cassity (Hi! Lovely to find you in my comments!) asked:

I would love to write, but I am not very disciplined. I have a hard time making myself actually write. What do you do?



This was the first question I was asked, and it is — without a doubt — the hardest.

I have heard of (and personally know) writers who love nothing better than to sit down to a blank computer screen and have at it. Who have no problem filling every spare moment of their day with glorious, glorious typing. Who write several pages a day, multiple novels a year.

I am not one of these writers.

The truth is, I'm not very disciplined either, and I have a very difficult time making myself write. As ludicrous as it sounds, for me, the act of writing itself is the hardest part about being a writer.

Now . . . don't get me wrong. It's not that I don't want to.

I love stories. I love getting that first tick of an idea and rolling around in it. Letting it grow bigger and deeper and wilder. Dreaming up layers and twists and themes. Pulling inspiration from the world that surrounds me, both the real (neighbors, friends, strangers) and the unreal (television, cinema, novels). And above all, I love characters — creating them, growing them, and falling deeply in love with them.

Like all writers, I am an idea MACHINE. But how do I actually get these ideas out of my head and into the physical world?

With a great, big, ugly fight.

It's challenging to give advice on this subject, because what works for me won't always work for you. (I mean, let's face it. What works for me once rarely even works for me twice.)

But what you should know, first-and-above-all, is that I've found writing to be like any other type of exercise: the more often I do it, the easier it is to do it again the next day. And conversely, the more time I allow between writing sessions, the harder it gets to sit down with it again. The idea of writing gets more intimidating. More hopeless. More terrifying.

Sometimes, it also gets boring. I'll think about my project SO MUCH that I'll get tired of it. I'll convince myself that there's nothing worthwhile about it, and I start chasing the shiny new idea. And then that pattern repeats itself. And then nothing ever gets finished.

There is no great solution to these problems.

But here are eight things you can try:


Crush #8: Patrick Verona (Heath Ledger) — How can a girl resit the above scene?


(1) Obtain an ally, someone to FORCE you to write.

This says a lot about the kind of person I am that I'm actually listing this one first. It's not exactly something to brag about, but for me, it's crucial. I need people to expect something of me. Sometimes this is a family member (cough – Jarrod — cough) and sometimes it's a friend.

Usually it's both. And multiple friends, not just one. Like, an entire SQUADRON of friends, because I require a Stadium-Sized Cheering Section to perform. (I'm not proud to admit that, but there you go.)

Anyway, it's a good idea to get someone on your side. It could be anyone — in the writing community or out of it — but it must be someone who understands that writing is IMPORTANT to you, and under NO CIRCUMSTANCES should they allow you to dissuade them from forcing you to do it.

Yes. You read that correctly.

What I mean is, sometimes you need a stronger person to demand that you go write. And to DO IT NOW. And to NOT TAKE NO FOR AN ANSWER. If my husband hadn't literally pushed me into my desk chair and shut the door (while I was crying and sobbing and begging him to let me come back downstairs), I would have never finished Anna. Period.


Crush #7: Josh (Paul Rudd) — He was in college. And he listened to Radiohead.


(2) Schedule writing onto your calendar, like any other appointment or event.


I have heard this helps people.

Me? Not so much, as I am not the world's best daily calendar checker. I'm lucky to know what day of the week it is, let alone an actual date, let alone actual plans for that date.

But maybe YOU are great with calendars.

The point is to find a time for writing and then to stick to it. Schedule it in and don't erase the date or time for ANYONE. Writing is important, just as important as that dentist appointment you scheduled six months ago.

Don't belittle it. It IS important.


Crush #6: David (Kiefer Sutherland) — The only recorded case in history of a guy with a mullet who is also way smokin' hot.


(3) Create a writing pattern (every morning or evening, or so many minutes spread throughout the day).


This is similar to number two, and it's also related to my earlier idea that writing is like exercise, and the more you make it a habit, the easier it'll be.

Are you a morning person or a night person? If you write during your favorite time of day — the time when your brain is the most active — you'll have MUCH better results. But if your schedule is too busy to set aside one large-ish chunk of time, set a minutes goal. Start with forty minutes a day, broken up however necessary. And if that works for you, try bumping it up to an hour of writing per day. Or if forty minutes is too much, bump it down. Just find something that works. Keep trying.


Crush #5: Lane Meyer (John Cusack) — BEST. TEEN. MOVIE. EVER.


(4) Set reasonable goals, but go easy on yourself if you can't meet them.

I love goals and deadlines. I work SO MUCH BETTER with them. But, on occasion, I've turned them into my enemy. How? By beating myself up when I didn't meet them. Don't do this. Keep your goals reasonable. Adjust them if necessary.

And ditch them if they're making you upset.

I'm very hard on myself, and this has been tough to learn. I'm still working on it. But you know what? It's okay to fail sometimes. It's okay. It's okay.

Just keep trying.

Baby steps.

Just keep trying.


Crush #4: Mark (Ethan Embry) — Silly dreamy rocker boy. Remember the Gwar scene? SO AWESOME.


(5) Reward yourself with treats.


Yeah. I said it.

TREATS.

Meet a goal? Buy yourself a box of Godiva chocolates! Or a new album on iTunes! Or a night at the movies! Whatever makes your toes tingle. (Free things are great too — picnics by waterfalls, an afternoon with a good novel, a long bubble bath, etc. Kiersten sometimes rewards me with YouTube videos featuring actors with Scottish accents.)

Just set the reward ahead of time. That way you have something to look forward to, and you also won't get carried away when you get there. ("I know I said I'd only buy this one pair of shoes, but these blue ones are sooo cute too.") NO! DO NOT DO THIS. This leads to guilt, which leads to negative feelings associated with reaching your goal. Keep goal-reaching a celebration!


Crush #3: Cliff Pantone (Jesse Bradford) — If Jarrod and I could double date Cliff and his sister ("Missy, is it?"), we totally would.


(6) Freewrite before you write-write.

If the act of sitting down and writing a novel is too scary, start with some freewriting first. Have a second document on your computer where you can begin your writing session. Tell yourself hello and chat about what you want to write that day. Or freewrite about how terrified you are that you'll fail. Or about how freakishly horrible your novel is, how rock-solidly hard it blows, and how no one will want to read it EVER even if they are stuck on a desert island and their only choice of reading material is either YOUR NOVEL or a dermatologist's free pamphlet about psoriasis.

Eventually, you'll get so tired of your own whining that you'll actually go write something.

I know from experience. I have tens of thousands of freewriting words telling myself how much both my novels and me suck. That negative energy has to come out somewhere, and freewriting is a safe place to say the things you're most afraid of — and to wake your brain up in the process.




Crush #2: Duckie (Jon Cryer) –
Duckie REQUIRES a video. This is one of my favorite scenes in any movie EV-ERRRR. (Please ignore the Spanish in the first few seconds)


(7) Give something up.

If it's about time ("I'd love to write, but I don't have the time"), then break down your schedule, hour-by-hour, and find out what you're actually DOING with your time. Maybe there are a few hours of television you can cut out. Maybe you can cut back on your reading or time online. (I know, I know. But sometimes it's necessary.) Or maybe you need to cut back on the social engagements.

You don't want to cut out everything in your life that gives you pleasure, but you'll have to cut something. It stinks, but that's the reality of it.

[The wise-and-always-interesting John Scalzi recently wrote about this subject: "What You Have to Give Up to Write"]


Furthermore . . .


(AND THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT IDEA IN THIS WHOLE POST)


Crush #1: Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) — I mean, it's Lloyd Dobler. He's like numbers two through ten combined. Times fifty.


(8) If you want to be a serious writer, treat it like the job that it is.

Writing a novel — a publishable novel — takes work. Real, actual, hard WORK.

This requires an attitude adjustment from, "Oh, what a fun little hobby" to "I will DO this. Even when it gets hard, even when I don't like it anymore, even when I want to give up. I will keep working until I reach the end."

[Great article on the subject of hard work: "The Truth About Grit."]


One more. Because, I mean, come on. Lloyd Dobler.


The good news about all this?

Sitting down to write gets easier with practice.

A little bit.

(And then it gets harder, and then easier, and then harder, and then so impossible that you'll sink into a deep pit of despair and hate everything about your life and feel like the most miserable, wretched failure of all time, and then easier. And then hard again.)

I fight this battle every day. Sometimes I win, but most of the time I lose. But that doesn't mean I ever give up.

You have to keep trying.

Because in the end, the ONLY way to write . . . is to sit down. And do it.

29 comments:

  1. LOVE Lloyd! And you know what? I liked Cameron better than Ferris, too! HA! Great choice, great taste. I bet your novel has a great love interest! EEK! =)

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  2. I (heart) Stephanie.

    And I was all in a panic because I thought I hadn't rewarded you for this last goal, until I realized I sent you Irish-singer-music-video-featuring-strip-of-stomach.

    Whew.

    Also, I (heart) Stephanie.

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  3. Great writing advice. I'm always reward myself with treats once I meet self-inflicted deadlines!

    I love your list of crushes from teen movies, especially because I watched "Say Anything" and "Pretty in Pink" this weekend.

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  4. Thanks for sharing, even if you don't feel qualified to do so (though you totally are:P).

    I love that you never give up even though it's so hard for you. I told myself I'd never give up—and that's been a hard goal to keep some days.

    Writing is work, even for the writers who happen to write a ton of pages;) I just mess up all the time and constantly have to fix massive sections of my work...times that by 5 books...I gotta stop typing, I'm getting a headache.

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  5. Thanks for sharing your tips and tricks :D And the Duckie video especially! I too like Cameron more than Ferris.

    Congratulations on meeting your most recent deadline!

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  6. Cameron? Seriously? Patrick Verona all the way!! (Although Lloyd.....sigh). I kind of feel like you forgot somebody, but I have to do a little research and see...

    Anyway, love what you wrote about writing. Every word is true. Except that I reckon you win more than you give yourself credit for.

    Shelley

    Oh I remember now.....didn't you want Bill S. Preston, Esq. and Ted Theodore Logan on your list?

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  7. Stephanie,
    I LOVE your blog so much!!! When Mimi told me she had a crush on Cameron instead of Ferris I was just shocked. I had never heard such a thing. And I have to agree Better Off Dead is the BEST teen movie ever. Don't you think Matthew McFadyen looks like John Cusack? Also I am going to throw this out there, I think the next time you come to AZ we should hang out and talk about hot British men, books, movies and music.

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  8. lmfao lloyd dobbler, i'll have to watch the movie. but i do love john cusack, he was best in 'martian child'. my top crushes from teen movies also include heath ledger from 10 things(of course), shane west from a walk to remember and hugh dancy from enchanted/every other movie he has ever been in. hugh dancy= <3<3.
    is there going to be a part 6, because i await anxiously for every one of your posts:D

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  9. That was... um... really... uh... really good advice.

    Sorry. Very distracted by the boys. Although Patrick Verona deserves much better than #8.

    Mmmm.... Dobler....

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  10. One of my favorite quotes is ''writers are people to whom writing comes difficulty''.
    :)

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  11. When Ben and I got married, we didn't have any movies. So we went shopping for our favorites on our honeymoon. I bought "Sneakers" for him, and he got "Better Off Dead" for me.

    Your movie crushes made me smile. Who didn't love Heath Ledger in "10 Things" hmmm? And I liked Cameron better too.

    And your writing advice was right on. Such a great post.

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  12. Dear Stephanie, I found your blog through Meg Cabot's diary on her website when she gave that link out for your Meg Cabot book guide. Anyway, ever since then I've been reading bits and pieces of your entries because you are so funny! And smart. Plus, you have very good taste in guys (especially HBM), books, and movies. Good luck with your writing and I promise I will buy your books when they come out. ~ M.C. (Not Meg Cabot, unfortunately)

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  13. DJ FOX — *Cameron Frye high five!* And I can't wait for the world to meet my novel's love interest. He's dreamy! (Though, of course, I'm a wee biased. Tee hee.)

    Kiersten — You always come through for me.

    Mariah — You watched BOTH?! And that is why you are awesome. I'll have to do an imitation viewing this weekend!

    Natalie — I must confess, it's nice to hear you say that it's still hard work for you ;) Sometimes I reaaaally wish we could switch brains for a while.

    Sarah — *Cameron Frye high five!* And I probably shouldn't admit this, but I watched the Duckie video at least six times after loading it here.

    Shelley — How much do I love that you just typed out Bill & Ted's FULL NAMES?? (Answer: So much.) And yes. Cameron.

    Connie — YES!!! I mentioned the Cusack/Macfadyen thing here a few years ago!

    http://naturalartificial.blogspot.com/2007/09/long-post-about-dark-humorous.html

    And I'd LOVE to hang out with you next time I'm in Phoenix.

    bumblebeesies — Ooo, yes. Hugh Dancy! And yes, you MUST go rent Say Anything to meet the glorious, wonderful, most-perfect-boyfriend-ever Lloyd Dobler!! Also, thank you! There are many more of these coming. I'm rather longwinded, and it's taking me a while to answer all of the questions I received ;)

    Carrie — Yeah, he really does. But in a weird way, Patrick was almost too good looking for me.

    Anon — That's one of my favorites too :)

    Myrna — *Cameron Frye high five!* And Jarrod bought my copy of Better Off Dead (as a gift for me) too! How perfect.

    Mary — Wow, thank you so much for such a nice comment! Thank you, thank you, thank you :)

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  14. "I want my two dollars."

    What a good movie. I do not own that movie. Why don't I own that movie? I have a new mission in life. Find and purchase, Better Off Dead.

    Incredible writing thoughts. Nice disclaimer, but it's all good. This is VERY insightful and honest writing thoughts. I may have to get your list (writing, not the list with the guy from the cheerleading movie) tattooed on my arm. It's that good. Thank you.

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  15. OMG. THANKS FOR SHARING THE WRITING TIPS!!! actually, i wanted to ask u that Q (coz i AM not disciplined when it comes to writing). but Cassity had done it so i had to come up with another Q. but really, this post HAS MADE my day! (well every time i read your blog, it makes my day. but u know what i mean.. or you don't... oh whatever. sorry for ranting on your blog :D)

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  16. Thank you so much for this post!

    I've been feeling all down lately, because I feel like maybe I'm not supposed to write, because I have such a hard time making myself do the actually writing part of it. But knowing I'm not the only one out there is very encouraging! Thanks for the great advice, I'll be implementing it shortly....

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  17. How is it possible that as much as I love John Cusack I have never seen the movie Better Off Dead? Or at least I don't think I have??? I just added it to my netflix, so thank you!

    It should be so easy to find the time. Like just do it, dammit! But it's not really about the time. It's about fighting with the demons in our head, I think. The demons that say again and again, this sucks, what are you doing, this is crap. It's hard to fight those demons and write anyway. I mean, I hate fighting!!

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  18. Great writing advice here, Stephanie. I've never tried the reward method. It sounds very tempting :)

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  19. Great post, Steph. I'm having a really hard time focusing right now, but it would feel SO GOOD to get some writing done!!!

    As for the movies: Better Off Dead = the best :-)

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  20. I'm new to your blog, and this was the PERFECT post to read first (plus, I love the supplements--hilarious idea). I completely agree about writing getting easier the more you do it. On the flip side, if you fall off the wagon for even a few days, it's that much harder to get back started. I wish my brain were connected to some sort of word processing software that just wrote whatever I thought and edited itself into the brilliant novel it was born to be.

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  21. Ben — OR . . . if you tattoo the list with the guy from the cheerleading movie onto your arm, I'll tattoo "BEN IS AWESOME" onto mine. (And thank you & you're welcome!)

    Begy — You are very, very welcome! You're making me grin from ear to ear :)

    Nerd Goddess — Your comment makes ME feel better. It's always nice to know we're not alone. Good luck getting back into the swing of things!

    Lisa — Oh, I'm so glad you're going to watch it! It's hilarious in a terrible, terrible sort of way. (But a good terrible.) "But it's not really about the time. It's about fighting with the demons in our head, I think." — YES.

    Tone — Ooo, yes. Rewards are my one of my favorite parts of writing ;)

    Laini — Well, your not-writing excuse kicks my not-writing excuse's butt any day. But I know you'll get back into the swing of it soon, once things settle back into a rhythm. Then you won't be able to keep away!

    Robert — Hi! Thank you for leaving such a nice comment! And please, please let me know if you ever find that software. I WANT IT.

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  22. Thanks for the advice, Steph! It's very helpful. I especially liked the part where you can reward yourself with treats.

    And I was just thinking about this, even though it's a little random-- have you mentioned Jamie Oliver? Because he definitely has a place on my HBM list.

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  23. I love, love, love Lloyd Dobler. And I also think that Cameron is adorable.

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  24. Don't tempt me Stephanie. That would really get the word out of me being awesome. Important message to share with the masses.

    PS Have you seen the movie "Station Agent?" While not quite up to the level of "Bring it on," I just watched it last night again with Amy and Linus (wife and dog). Something tells me you'd like it. Good looking feller in there too, though more funny than a brooder.

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  25. hehe GWAR.

    Seriously... I thought I was the only person EVER who watched that movie.

    But I did--every day for pretty much my entire junior and senior year in high school.

    Man... now I needta watch it again!

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  26. Lexi — You're welcome! And YES. I DO love Jamie Oliver. Why is he so hard to find on television these days? He used to have so many shows!

    Anne — *Cameron Frye high five!*

    Ben — "While not quite up to the level of Bring It On..." HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! But man, that's been on my to-watch list since it came out. Thanks for the reminder :)

    Jamie — I know, right? It's been too long for me too! So brilliant.

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  27. Amazing list and great advice. Seriously, all of those boys are adorable...well, Kiefer's more badass adorable, and Michael Vartan is, in theory, a wee bit creepy, but I forgive him. I've also always had a closet Cameron crush over Ferris. However, though I swooned over Patrick Verona, I found Cameron James more adorable. What's with the cutie Camerons, eh?

    And as for the advice, the only reason I made it this far (chapter 13 of 18) in my novel can be summed up via points 1, 4, 7, and 8. Great list, and very true!

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  28. Donna — YES! Oh, I LOVE Cameron James! And thank you for leaving such a nice comment :)

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  29. Hi ... I realize I'm leaving a comment almost an entire year after you posted this ... but I just have to agree on so many of the crushes! Especially Mark from Empire Records ... I had the biggest crush on him in high school. :)

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