Monday, November 18, 2013

Writing Advice: Be Like a Baby

I don't offer writing advice very often, and when I do it's simple: read a lot and write a lot. But it's a question that comes up in almost every interview. What advice do you have for writers who are just starting out?

So I decided I'd better come up with something exciting to say next time. I'm going to try it out here and you can tell me if I'm full of crap or not. Here's my big writing advice:

Be like a baby.

I'm not saying you should cry, need constant attention, or lose control of your bladder. This is how I mean it. Have you ever watched a baby learn how to walk? First, there's the stage of trying whatever they can to pull themselves to their feet. They grab, they cling, they push. Once they can do that, when they feel solid enough, they attempt a step. They'll probably fall, but they don't mind. Most likely, their plop to the floor will make them laugh. They'll fall on their butts countless times (or sometimes the other way, to hands and knees.)

It's serious business--hey, we all have to walk. It's a genetic imperative. But to them, it's mostly a game, the sheer joy of using their little bodies. It's part of their play. Babies learn by playing, and by seeing others walk, and with the patient support of their parents, but not by anyone teaching them to walk. This is something they have to figure out from the inside. How does that individual child gain control of his muscles? How does that unique feedback loop -- her brain to her limbs -- get created? No one else can do that for a baby.

Sure, sometimes they get frustrated. But mostly, it's a matter of sheer, relentless determination that finally gets them walking. They keep trying and trying, over and over again, without ever doubting that it's possible. Without second-guessing, without feeling that they're unworthy of walking, without worrying if someone else is walking sooner or better or faster. (Parents might worry about that, but that's another story.) Babies don't compare or compete or judge or blame or worry. They just keep at it, again and again, until they get it.

And, most importantly, they have fun while they're doing it. FUN. Let's not forget that part.

To be like a baby in our writing sounds simple, right? Keep at it and have fun. Simple, yet so difficult, because we're now in the adult world with all its complications. We tend to be smothered with doubt and self-criticism and fear and anxiety; or sometimes arrogance, ego or pride can get in our way. 

But if we can think of that baby we used to be, the joyful, cheerful, determined little being who kept trying and laughing and plopping onto its butt ... we can't lose. Along the writing road, many things can take away the joy you find in writing. Don't let it happen! Guard that joy with everything you have. It's the beating heart of your writing. As for persistence, studies show that more than any other quality (talent, intelligence, skill) persistence is the best predictor of success.You have to keep trying, over and over, just like that baby.

Be like a baby, joyfully persistent.

So there it is, my newly unveiled writing advice. What do you think? Does this image work for you?

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Wallflower Week: "Nobody Puts Baby in a Corner"

In honor of the wonderful Maya Rodale's newest book, Avon Romance has declared it to be Wallflower Week. It's about time wallflowers got their own week. To me, they aren't the girls nobody will dance with. They're the girls who are different, who don't quite fit in. I love wallflowers, maybe because I love people who stubbornly cling to their own uniqueness, no matter what pressure they're under to be like everyone else.  To me, the classic wallflower storyline will always end with the wallflower finally being seen and loved for her own enchanting and irreplaceable individuality.

So who is my favorite wallflower? Here she is: Frances "Baby" Houseman in the movie Dirty Dancing.

I've seen this movie probably fifty times, and I never get tired of it. Her older sister is the "popular" one, the one who does exactly what's expected of her. Baby herself is just starting to figure out what she cares about, and how she wants to live her life. The movie is about so much more than dancing. It's about injustice, and hypocrisy, and class inequality. Most of all, it's about a young woman discovering how much power she has when she finally claims center stage -- on her own terms.

So let's hear it for wallflowers! Who's your favorite? More importantly, how many times have you seen Dirty Dancing? ;-)

(Moment of silence for Patrick Swayze, who was smart enough to know that "Nobody puts Baby in a corner." Wallflower motto, perhaps?) 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Surviving the Fashion Freeze

The town where I live, Homer, like the rest of Alaska, faces some huge fashion challenges. First of all, it's cold for much of the year. When it's not cold, it's probably muddy. In mud season, you see a lot of these:

Sexy, right? Extra-Tuff's rock, but they're not exactly Jimmy Choo's. In Alaska, survival comes first. We dress for the elements. I'm talking layers, long underwear, snow boots, Grunden's oilskins, oversized parkas. Both men and women do plenty of work outdoors, which means Carhartt's are ever popular.

Here, "body conscious" involves conserving body heat, not showing off your hot bod. No wonder Anchorage was named the worst-dressed city in America last year.

But ... Homer, along with its daunting weather, also has an amazingly high concentration of artists and craftspeople. These creative types have managed to tweak our fashion with eclectic outfits and hand-crafted pieces.

Seriously, why not pair a home-made ruffled skirt with the inevitable mud boots? Carrie, our local clothing genius (who made my wedding dress) comes up with all sorts of interesting "recycled" clothing items.
In winter, you might have to layer them over other pieces -- the more vibrant the better. Bright colors are a Homer trademark ... and no wonder. Rich purple, sunshiny marigold, even spring green can do so much to lift your mood during those long dark nights.

Makes you want to knit yourself a scarf, doesn't it?

So there's a small taste of our homegrown Homer style. Of course, we're most famous for this:

But for the record, there's a lot more to the Homer look than a Salty Dawg t-shirt -- even though I love spotting them in random places around the country.

So what's your verdict? Are you thinking ... Project Run-away? Or book a ticket to Homer for next mud season?