Tuesday, March 24, 2009

In the Company of Writers

By Robin Kaye

I spent this weekend at a writer’s conference, which is one of my very favorite things to do. I find being in the company of other writers to be invigorating. We all suffer from the same mental problem – we have characters talking to us whether we wish them to or not. Now, to the normal people, this might sound as if we all need psychological help. I think that might be true to some extent. However, I choose to think of myself as a highly functioning insane person. Still, going to writer’s conferences confirms that I’m not alone in my insanity.

I recently read a book that I loved. It spoke to me. The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley is brilliant. The writing is beautiful, but the thing I loved most about it was that the heroine, Carrie, was a writer. I felt as if Susanna was writing about me--a much more successful version of me of course, a version who can afford to live and write in the place she’s writing about which is a dream of mine. Carrie is writing a historical novel about the Jacobite uprising in 1708. Carrie thinks the novel would take place mostly in France so she goes there, rents a place to live and begins writing the book. But nothing comes to her. Her characters aren’t speaking to her, even though she is writing and researching and doing all the right things. To me, it seemed as if she was just going through the motions--writing, but not feeling it. There is nothing more frustrating than to be stuck and not know how to make your characters talk to you. It’s like trying to find a light switch in a pitch-black room. You just feel your way around blindly with your hands out in front of you looking for a switch or a lamp while bumping into furniture and getting bruised and battered before you finally find the light.

I remember telling my husband all about The Winter Sea, saying it was the first book about a writer that was written by someone who knew writers. Which is weird, because all authors are writers but I hadn’t felt that connection before. I wondered why that was.

So I’m wondering, to all you writers out there, have you ever read a book about a writer you identified with? And when you get stuck and you’re going through the motions but your characters aren’t speaking to you, what do you do to turn on the light? And to those of you who are not writers, to all of you doctors, lawyers, teachers, publicists, astrophysicists, whatever your occupation, have you read books that you identified with? Have you found a book in which the writer totally got it?

17 comments:

  1. Hi Robin,
    Glad you enjoyed the conference. I haven't read a book about a writer that spoke to me the way the one you read did--except for King's "On Writing," which wasn't fiction of course. I don't tend to have the light switch in the dark problem. I have the opposite issue. My characters won't shut the BLEEP up and let me work or take care of kids or do the 3,000 other things I have to get done in a day before I have time to write at night. By the time I get to them, they've exhausted me! LOL

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  2. When I have trouble with my characters, it means I'm not in my 'write' mind... I'm not settling into the story, I'm fretting, not writing. I need to calm, and get into the flow, then it starts to come.

    Great post topic!

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  3. Well, mad as this sounds, if I'm really in trouble, I jump in the shower. (Don't get a visual here!)

    It works every time. I know another author who says it works for her too. Something about positive ions, but I do use a lot of hot water.

    I find writing by the lake at our cottage can also help, if there's no one using a darn chain saw.

    Glad you enjoyed the conference.

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  4. My characters speak to me sometimes, but it's more like I'm channeling them when I start to write.
    To be honest, I've never read a book that I totally identified with. Guess that's why I had to start writing....

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  5. Hey, Marie stole my answer!:)
    "On Writing" is an amazing book...I keep it on my shelf and read it once a year, because it's like having a conversation with one of my favorite writers. At one point, he says something about going to speak at conferences and having to pretend he doesn't put his pants on one leg at a time like everyone else, and I love the message there, that he's really just another writer, a regular person who just happens to be able to pull all this weird, great stuff out of his head and put it on paper. Anyway, that's the only book about a writer I ever really connected with, even though it's non-fiction.

    I still don't know how to flip the switch. Sometimes it's on, sometimes it's off, sometimes it sticks...the damn switch has a mind of its own!

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  6. Hi Robin,
    Interesting blog. The one book that jumped into my mind was Born In Ice by Nora Roberts. I totally identify/feel the hero, Grayson's angst. It's my muse-filler book. :)

    Diana Cosby
    www.dianacosby.comspetho

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  7. Nothing I could identify with as a writer, but I do remember hearing that Jude Devereaux used to (and maybe still does) to a cabin to immerse herself while writing. I *believe that's how she wrote A Knight In Shining Armor. Not certain on that, but I like the idea of total immersion. With kids and a husband who travels at times, it's not possible, but I do try to bury myself at my favorite diner or Borders to get into the story without other distractions. I put my earphones in, the classical music on and listen my characters.

    And it was a GREAT conference! Loved hanging out with Robin! :) Hope you can make RT, Robin!

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  8. Nothing I could identify with as a writer, but I do remember hearing that Jude Devereaux used to (and maybe still does) to a cabin to immerse herself while writing. I *believe that's how she wrote A Knight In Shining Armor. Not certain on that, but I like the idea of total immersion. With kids and a husband who travels at times, it's not possible, but I do try to bury myself at my favorite diner or Borders to get into the story without other distractions. I put my earphones in, the classical music on and listen my characters.

    And it was a GREAT conference! Loved hanging out with Robin! :) Hope you can make RT, Robin!

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  9. I loved "On Writing" too, but "Bag of Bones" clicked for me, and I hadn't written a full-length manuscript by then when I read it. (Maybe it was the inspiration I needed.) The protagonist is a successful writer who hits a block after his wife dies. When his publisher calls to get the status of his latest MS, the protag takes a MS out of his safe--something he wrote years before and stored away for "just in case"--and sends it in. I always thought that was brilliant, and when the day comes that I sell, I have 2 finished MSs already and I'm working on more.

    Fortunately I can't speak to first-hand experience with ghosts and dead bodies. "Bag of Bones" was a great book, and one I made the mistake of staying up 'til 2 a.m. to finish. Never EVER read Stephen King after 11 p.m.

    Great post, Robin! Keep up the good work!

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  10. Good morning, everyone!

    Marie- The conference was great and exhausting but sooo worthwhile. When my characters are talking I can't turn them off either, which is why I wasn't able to sleep a wink last Wednesday night. But sometimes, I show up and I write and write and write and it doesn't have that magic something I get when I'm channeling the characters. I end up deleting most of what I've written until the light turns on.

    Donna~ Maybe that's where the need for psychological help comes in handy. I love the phrase getting in my 'write' mind. I think that might be impossible with a 13 year-old interrupting every few minutes.

    Kendra~ I love King's 'On Writing,' I've told so many people to read it, it's an amazing book. It's nice to know that I'm not alone when it comes to the mystery of switch flipping. I realized a while ago that I have to be there in the chair (or in Starbucks) staring at a blank screen to be able to work when the switch is flipped. Until then, I go through the motions and bang my head against the desk.

    Diana~ I read 'Born In Ice' when I first discovered romance in 2000. I know, I'm relatively new to the genre. I'm going to have to pick it up again now that I'm writing and see if it strikes a chord. Any excuse to read one of Nora's books works for me.

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  11. Hi Judi~

    I had a great time hanging with you too! It was fun.

    I definitely see the benefits in escaping bedlam. Even after I drop off my dancer for the weekend, sometimes I call my DH and say, "I think I'll write at Starbucks until they close and then drive home." The only time my friends at Starbucks interrupt me is to offer me coffee and like last night, dinner (Thanks Tom!)

    Carla~

    I was living alone when I was 15 and my favorite english teacher, Ms. Connor lent me a copy of a Stephen King book of short stories. I don't think I slept for a week. LOL I want to read 'Bag of Bones' is it super scary? I really am a weenie when it comes to horror.

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  12. Hey Robin!

    I agree with Diana, Grayson in Born In Ice was a writer whose angst you could totally feel--and when he did finally find his groove, you could feel the words pouring out of him!

    Another book where I identified with the character was in The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff (just released in paperback late last year)--the main character isn't an author, she's a grad student, and goes on this quest to find out who her father is. I've never had to do that (hah), but the research she does in her town records reminded me of how immersed I would get in college when I was writing/researching about a topic I loved. (also, check out the cover it is GREAT)

    Another one that was a little over my head but very good too is "If on a winter's night a traveler" by Italo Calvino. It's a story within a story within a story (i think!) and it's all about the nature of reading and the reader... :) Very philosophical, but the other side of your topic--readers that read about readers and reading!

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  13. Glad you enjoyed the conference, Robin.

    Can't think of a particular book off hand. Let's just hope we never have a #1 Fan like the romance author protagonist had in Stephen King's book MISERY.

    LOL!

    Best--Adele Dubois

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  14. Hi hon! I would have SOOOO liked to join you at a conference. But I shall have to wait for DC.

    I loved your "stumbling about in a dark room" analogy. I do most of my writing in the "wee hours" so the only lights on are in my office. Lots of stumbling going on, but I find the silence works for me. It's like my characters know everyone's asleep, the dogs won't interrupt to go out, the phone won't ring, and I'm alone. They come and bear me company, stepping on stage to play out their stories for my entertainment.

    No books connected, really, although I've read several about writers (I even wrote one!) I have "On Writing" as an audio book (cassettes. Yeah, I'm getting old) and listening to SK (although I'm not a fan) really strikes a chord.

    {{{Hugs}}}

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  15. The fiction book I connected with most--like, Oh My God, that's ME!--was Susan Elizabeth Phillips' Breathing Room. It was not a comfortable experience. Fortunately, SEP handles the character with her usual humor and compassion. :-)

    The character is a writer, non-fiction, and she's stuck. The problem is lodged deep in her personality, and it was there that I felt connected to her.

    When I'm really and truly stuck, as Donna says, I'm not in my "write" mind. For me that means, I need to stop trying to fix the unfixable. Instead of fretting I need to accept whatever comes and be willing to feel however I feel.

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  16. Robin,
    Glad you loved the conference!
    It's funny, for me, I'm never drawn books with author heroines. I always feel as though the author is writing about herself, or projecting very directly, and I become highly aware I'm reading a book someone wrote, as opposed to getting lost in the story. Weird. Fine. I admit it. I'm nuts. :-)

    Boy, Michele Ann, I think I'm going to try your 'shower method.' I like it. Ions--bring 'em on! :-)

    Kris

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  17. Hey, Robin. I'm late but I was curious to see the comments. Last year I heard on the workshop cds or read that editors were saying writer heroines were cliche. Been done too much. Interesting considering we only came up with two. I read another one recently, Katie MacAlister's Men in Kilts but it doesn't really play that much of a part in the book.

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