Sunday, March 22, 2009


On the difference between motivation and inspiration.

Lisa Schroeder's post about motivation and inspiration, and whether they are the same thing or not, was interesting to me. Here's some of what said:

To me, motivation is what keeps you going - it's the force that keeps you moving forward.

When I'm writing a book, most of the time, there is motivation enough from inside of me to finish it. I love that feeling of accomplishment. I WANT to finish it. When we start out writing a novel, we have to be motivated enough to sit down and put words to the page consistently almost every day. And I think it is important to understand where your motivation comes from.

Now that I'm published, I'm motivated by having editors who want to see other things from me. And I'm motivated by wanting my career to grow.

Inspiration is more about the act of creating. When I talked about praying and hoping for inspiration, what I'm looking for are nuggets of experiences that speak to my heart and soul. That move me in such a way that I, in turn, want to work hard to move others with my words.

. . .

So, I look for things that touch me. That MOVE me. You know what I'm talking about here. It's that sunrise that takes your breath away. It's a music video like this one ["How to Save a Life" by The Fray.] It's holding a precious baby and watching as he reaches up and touches your face. It's watching a movie that moves you to tears. And then I take those feelings of joy/sorrow/regret/pain and try my best to drop them into my story.

On finding satisfaction in the writing alone

The ginormously talented Justine Larbalestier wrote a post the other day entitled "Make it the best book you can", in which she picked up on some of what Elizabeth Gilbert said in her TED speech, which I quoteskimmed in February. I commend Justine's entire post to you. (Hell, I commend her entire blog to you, but that's not the point.) Here, however, is the bit I quoteskimmed:

You can only control the book you write.

You can’t control whether you sell it. You can’t control how big the advance is if you sell it. You can’t control how much is spent promoting it. You can’t control how many copies Barnes & Noble takes or whether they take it at all. You can’t control whether punters buy it when it finally appears on the shelves. You can’t control the reviews. You can’t control the award committees.

Spending time and energy angsting about any of that stuff will only do your head in.

All you can do is write the very best book you can.

It will get published or it won’t. It will find its market or it won’t. It will sell or it won’t. It will win awards or it won’t. None of that matters if you’ve written the best book you can.

Books with huge advances and the biggest marketing and publicity budget in the world sink like a stone. Books with nary a sheckle spent on them take off out of nowhere. Books you think are terrible do great; books you worship sell fewer than a thousand copies. There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. Do not let it do your head in.

On understanding your characters

First up, a post from , who found writing advice in an inspirational email:

I receive daily inspirational emails from This morning, one of the comments in the email was "Sometimes, understanding their fears, Julia, helps you to understand their actions, as well as their pain."

I know what that means on a personal level, as far as people with whom I interact - but, it hit me (since I'm in the middle of revisions) that understanding my characters' fears (from protagonist to antagonist) will help me to make sure that the actions I assign to them are in accord with the fear and pain (or desire to avoid pain.)

As a writer, I know the reason for the character's action. But, in writing down those actions, it's not enough to just write 1) a cool scene, 2) move the plot along, 3) get to 70K, etc. - there has to be a valid basis in the psyche of my character for anything they do. And, I have to give my reader enough information that they will understand why that particular character acts in that way.

For example, it's necessary to be aware that I can't suddenly having someone run screaming from a clown, if I haven't set up their fear. Perhaps at a first grade party a clown trick went bad and scared them half to death. The motivational reveal doesn't need to be more than perhaps a sentence or a comment from another character - like, "Yeah, remember when that bozo dumped the whole ant farm on her? She itched for a week."

Fears and Actions and Pain... intimately intertwined.

On crafting villains

I've been listening to U2's new album, "No Line on the Horizon" in extremely heavy rotation whilst in my minivan. Great album, solid start-to-finish, plus it comes with excellent liner notes (I'm sick of opening those CD booklets to find nothing but photos, sometimes not even good photos - U2 provides lyrics and information about who did what on each track. Happy day!) My favorite tracks are 1 ("No Line on the Horizon"), 2 ("Magnificent" - as you probably guessed if you've read my "Music" line in posts this week), 3 ("Moment of Surrender"), 6 ("Get on Your Boots") & 9 ("White as Snow", the tune of which is based on O Come O Come Emanuel), if you care. That said, this bit at the end of the final track, "Cedars of Lebanon", caught my ear as potential writing advice:

Choose your enemies carefully 'cos they will define you
Make them interesting 'cos in some ways they will mind you
They’re not there in the beginning but when your story ends
Gonna last with you longer than your friend

On balancing craft and mass appeal, and on "boy books"

My friend put up a post earlier this week in which he quoted an answer he gave to a newspaper interviewer (whether the full answer ran in the publication is beside the point, as I believe you'll agree). Here's what David's post said:

I got a chance to really think about the art of balancing craft and mass appeal recently, when I was doing a newspaper interview and encountered this as the first question:

"The recent publishing trend in boys' books has incorporated toilet humor, blood and gore in an effort to gain boys' reading attention. Your Weenies series incorporates this type of humor. Despite what critics say, do you believe that these kinds of books have a place in reading today? If so, why?"

Yikers. That seemed to be a bit loaded, but here's my response:

My first story collection appeared in 1996, so I think I'm safely ahead of the bandwagon. I guess I'm ahead of the meat wagon, too, since there's actually very little blood and gore in my work. The stories have been called "Twilight Zone for kids," by more than one reviewer. While I do have some shocking endings, I tend to pull the camera away before things get graphic. I use some bathroom humor. I also use a bathroom. To deny this part of our existence seems a bit Puritanical. It's definitely not an either/or situation. I might have a story where a kid drops his pants and sits on a photocopier, but I have another that pays homage to Kafka's "Metamorphosis," and one that explores Zeno's paradox. I sneak a lot of philosophy into my work, in an attempt to justify the four years I spent getting a degree in it. The bottom line is that I've had countless teachers and parents tell me that one of my books turned a nonreader into a reader. As for the issue of quality, one of my stories was voted the best young-adult magazine story of 2005 by the Association of Educational Publishers . Others have been reprinted in textbooks. Teachers all over the country are using my story, "Predators," from The Curse of the Campfire Weenies and Other Warped and Creepy Tales, to teach Internet safety. I suspect that many of the critics haven't done anything more than glance at the covers. Admittedly, the Weenie theme suggests a certain level of frivolity. But while the cover gets a kid to pick up the book, it's the stories that hold the reader. And they do this not by virtue of the occasional splash of body fluid or whiff of gas, but by a richness of plot and wealth of ideas.

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