Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Do you really want to hear the answer?

Advice is what we ask for when we already know the answer, but wish we didn't. -Erica Jong

Don't I know it! Up until my late 20s (yes, I know not that long ago, but stay with me lol) my life consisted of more 'wrong' turns than 'right'. I spent a lot of money attending a private university for a degree that I didn't plan on using (working three jobs at the same time to pay for it nonetheless). My choice of relationships?...well, let's just say I'm on my third marriage at age 33, so maybe not so great. And my resume reads like the employment section on Kijiji. I have seriously held thirty-four different jobs since I was fifteen. Do I regret any of it? Not one thing because I believe each wrong turn was simply a detour to discover some amazing things about myself and others as I struggled to find the right path to happiness (which started with the birth of my beautiful son.)

However, looking back (which I rarely do, I'm a firm believer in living life in the moment and not dwelling on the past), I see one commonality in all of my 'mistakes'. I knew they were mistakes but did them anyway. And I remember every time asking my family and friends their 'advice'. And then I promptly ignored it lol.

So, why ask if I wasn't going to listen? I'm stubborn and headstrong and like to be in control and do things my way. Simple.

When I first started writing, the same principles applied. I wrote safe, sticking within the realm of predictability and comfort. No wonder those manuscripts are still sitting in a desk drawer waiting to be rewritten. Then I started listening to the advice that I'd solicited and not surprisingly, things changed. The manuscripts got stronger and I was pushed past my own comfort zone-in a good way.

Readers want a story they can't predict from beginning to end. They want us to create impossible situations for our characters and lose countless hours of sleep trying to figure out a way to end the book with a HEA. And they want characters that they can love...or hate.

As writers we often know the direction we should take with a book-the one that will surprise readers, keep them reading long past midnight, but it's sometimes terrifying to go that way. Our critique partners tell us what they think, beta readers give honest feedback, but still we hesitate to take a chance on what we know will be a great story.

Why?

As was the case in my personal life, I think the same holds true for writing-we are sometimes afraid of the unknown or taking the risk or admitting that the path we were on wasn't the right one.

But, I think if we can learn to trust our instincts on our stories, we will succeed with these new, exciting twists and plotlines, because readers are craving them!

The best advice I received recently (and actually listened to) was from the beautiful and talented Victoria Curran who told me 'Trust yourself.' So, I do. Sure, self doubt sometimes rears it's ugly head, but I punch it in the face and continue writing:)

So, what advice have you been given in your writing career that has helped you succeed?

14 comments:

  1. Great post, Jennifer--we wouldn't be who we are without those "mistakes"--I think we learn more from those than our successes.

    I recently had someone tell me "write as if no one will read" because the panic was setting in. Helped me get back to why I write in the first place--because I love telling stories. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Great advice Anna! I really believe that if you write a story that you love, readers will love it too:)

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  2. I recently read "just write" on a post on Pat O'Dea Rosen's blog and thought that was just about perfect.

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    1. That's definitely my new motto lol:) Thanks Liz!

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  3. Jen - you just gave me a great piece of advice with "sure, self-doubt sometimes rears its ugly head, but I punch it in the face and continue writing." I can see that image so clearly because that's right where I am - middle of the book - feels like nothing's working and I wish I'd followed my original plan and gone into nursing. (My mother's doctor, trying to be supportive, invited me to watch him do a very small surgery on her arm and I tossed my cookies. So, nursing not a good idea.) I think I try to inject humor into my books to make up for the excitement that's lacking. Personally, I'm not very brave. I wouldn't deliberately make a mistake if I thought it would hurt someone else - or myself. I have absolute no thrill quotient in my nature. So - my characters tend to me more interesting (I hope) than heroic. The best piece of practical advice came from a correspondence course I took in my early twenties. I'm sure I've mentioned this here before, but my teacher said, "Write visually. The reader doesn't know what to picture when you write about a boat but he instantly sees a red canoe."

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    1. Okay, that came off sounding sanctimonious and wasn't at all what I intended. I have made lots of mistakes, I just try to steer by them if I see them coming. Better?

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    2. Muriel-I'm so glad you didn't pursue nursing and decided to write. Of course, I'm being selfish-I'm sure your patients would have loved you! Stuck in the middle can be the worse feeling ever! If you want to talk out your plot with someone to see if that helps, I'm free!! I have a story at a crossroads right now and I can't decide which way to proceed, so we could help each other:)
      Great advice! I have to make an effort to include vivid description. Sometimes, I think I'd be more comfortable writing screenplays.

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  4. My critique group keeps giving me the best advice. They keep telling me to "remember and ratchet up the ROMANCE".

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  5. Jennifer, I doubt anyone gets through life without making mistakes. Obviously none of yours landed you in jail or in a psych ward. (ha ha) Someone once told me that life is a maze and you bungle through it, taking some dead ends and some avenues that bring you good luck, or joy or sorrow, but all are important steps. I think you've found your path now. Love the post.

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    1. Thanks Roz! I just would have thought that there would be a limit to the number of mistakes lol-nope! I really do cherish each mistake though, as I've definitely learned a lot from them.

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  6. I'm not a writer, just a humble little reader who, oddly enough, likes to read about writers. This was well said and so true!! When we look for advice we sure do already know what the answer is. Are we looking for validation perhaps? Justification? All I know is from the perspective of a reader I say take a chance and write what you think seems right to you. And yes, we want books that make us think, wonder, discover and reflect; well, at least I do. I respect and admire writers for all of what you do to enlighten and entertain us. Keep doing what you're doing!!

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    1. Thanks for stopping by and commenting Laurie! It's great to receive input from readers:)

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  7. I really love this post, Jennifer. It's honest, wise and so, so true. No experience is wasted. And I totally agree with the need to break free from writing safe.

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