Dawn Colclasure's Blog

Author and poet Dawn Colclasure

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A small case of writer's block

One thing I once told myself could never happened actually happened. Because I am profoundly deaf, with no hearing aid (YET!), I figured I would never be able to enjoy something other parents of small children enjoy: Having their child tell THEM a story.

But my daughter, Jennifer, is VERY patient with me when she tells me her stories. She tells them the same way she talks to me: Very slowly, using occasional signs, looking directly at me and saying each word very clearly. Thanks to her patience, I, too, can enjoy "hearing" her stories.

Sometimes, she will write out her stories. Sometimes, she'll create little books by stapling pages together then drawing pictures to illustrate her stories. Or, sometimes, she'll just sit there and tell me her story.

And I love every minute of it. Yes, as a writer myself, I have to confess that my prodigy following in my footsteps of making up stories fills me with pride. But I really marvel over how well she puts together her stories and just figures it all out. Her stories have a beginning, middle and end. They have conflict and tension. They have subplots and good characterization (even with the antagonists). I have to credit her for being a very good storyteller for only being 6 years old.

Well, in her short time of writing stories, it appears that, today, Jennifer experienced something every single writer in the whole world experiences: Writer's block. Of all things!

After sharing with me one story she drew out, about a horse and a unicorn, she sat at the table with paper and marker and set to work on her next masterpiece. She got as far as drawing a horse (ANOTHER horse story!) then stopped, tapping her chin with her marker in that universal way EVERY single stumped writer will do.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

She looked at me and shrugged. "I can't figure out what to put in my story next."

I held back my laughter, instead letting my grin out. I shook my head, marvelling over the whole thing. Part of me was angry, wanting to whine, "She's too young to have writer's block!" Whatever happened to a limitless supply of creativity which only a child can possess? Whatever happened to breaking the rules or making up new things if only to keep the story going?

At the same time, I had to wonder. Was she already starting to censor her words? Was she already stopping in mid-story to correct any mistakes made so far? Was my own case of trying to figure out what should happen next in MY story, which I am writing now, starting to rub off on my child?

Still, despite these concerns, I found this situation humorous. How unusual for a child so young to have writer's block! Would she even understand what writer's block is?

Was it even writer's block?....

Noticing my reaction, Jennifer looked at me and asked, "What?"

Finally, I said it. "You're too young to have writer's block." And the laughter came.

She frowned at me. "But I'm not writing. I'm drawing."

I shrugged. "Same thing. You're still creating a story. You're trying to figure out what happens next in your story."

"I don't know what happens next," she complained.

"Just let the story play out in your mind. Think about what your character will do next." Then I corrected myself. "What your HORSE will do next." I didn't know what other advice to give her. Certainly not MY habit of pacing back and forth in the kitchen when I have writer's block. (Ha!) But this is another thing that I do when I get blocked. And, usually, it works. Or, sometimes, I'll shift the POV or act the scene out. But I thought maybe this piece of advice was the best one to give her for this particular occasion.

After some thinking, that lightbulb went off over her head and, once again, she was off. The next scene in her story involved a bear attacking the horse. Ah, the plot thickens.

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Friday, July 25, 2008

Make time, not excuses

It seems there is always going to be a writer somewhere saying, "I want to write, but I never have the time." I've already written countless articles and blog posts on HOW to find that time to write, so I'm not going to do a repeat on that here. Instead, I had to take pause over a comment one writer made about how these very same writers are quick to make excuses NOT to write, instead of making time to write.

Now this is true. There are writers who complain they don't have time to write yet, meanwhile, they're spending hours watching TV or chatting online or putting unimportant stuff at the top of their list.

There are also writers who say things like "I don't feel like writing" and use THAT as an excuse not to write. Or they think, 'Gee, my work sucks, I don't think I'll write today.' Or, "I got a rejection. I need to go curl up in a corner and cry."

The point is, if you want to write, write! Make time to write, not excuses NOT to write. Take the free time you have or the time you'd normally spend watching TV or fooling around on the Internet, and use it to write. Make time to write, and use it!

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Friday, July 18, 2008

In defense of e-queries

I am still trying to find a literary agent. I sent off a query package last week. Yes, you read that right: It was a PACKAGE. It was my query, synopsis, first three chapters and an SASE. All by snail mail. Costing almost $3. And I had to grumble over that, asking myself, "Do I really want to pay $3 just to be told 'I'm not the right agent for this'?" (That's actually a common response I have been getting. Sigh! I wonder if that's a new polite way of saying NO??)

I really had to think over that one, though. With the economy being in the kind of shape that it is, I have to be careful on what I'm spending money on. I mean, nowadays, people just can't throw money into the wind. Every penny we can save counts! So for this reason, I'm going to start just sticking with sending e-queries instead. The query I sent by post on Monday was my last snail-mailed query.

Of course, not everybody is so accepting of getting queried by email. I've seen quite a few agency sites that will NOT accept e-queries. Period. Too bad, I have to pass on those and try the agencies who do. (I have to wonder why it's so terrible to receive an e-query? I mean, if it's kept to one page, as it should be, then how is that any different than receiving a regular email? On that note, though, I saw one agency where the agent said sending an e-query was "unprofessional." I had to roll my eyes over that one. I also grumbled, "Sending e-queries isn't 'unprofessional.' You wanna talk unprofessional, pal? Fix your typos.")

I realize this means my query is going to HAVE to pull some muscle in trying to sell my story. It REALLY needs to be in the best shape possible. This is where a writer's skill with words must shine: The query must dazzle the agent! It has to be the best query you have EVER written and must contain EVERYTHING the agent wants to see in the query. (Some agents do specify what they want to see in a query.)

Just got to make sure the query doesn't end up reading like a "buzzword dictionary" or lose the agent in understanding just WHAT the story is about. Or make sure it's not cluttered with adjectives or stereotypical catchphrases. As long as the query is professionally written, edited and interesting, my gut tells me that should be enough to justify sending it by email instead of by post.

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Monday, July 14, 2008

Thank God it's...Monday?

Yesterday, I read in the newspaper that people in the workplace are more productive on Tuesdays than they are on Fridays. At first, I thought that made sense. Monday is a hard day to handle and Tuesday is a "second chance" to get caught up on ALL the things we couldn't get done on Monday. Then I thought, maybe it's because people just aren't very productive at work on Mondays because they're still trying to get out of the "weekend funk."

Not me. I LOVE Mondays. Fridays are the days that irk me, because there is JUST SO MUCH to do and it's like there's not enough time to get it ALL done before the day is out. Of course, I DO love Fridays for being the last day of my workweek, but it's Mondays that I look forward to. And, in fact, that I plan for.

See, over the weekend, I DO relax. But mostly on Saturdays. (Which is why you're likely to find me still in my jammies at noon and barefoot in the kitchen on a Saturday.) On Sunday, I prepare for another workweek, deciding just WHAT projects I will tackle and what kind of things I'll do. I'll plan it all out (though this time around, not saying "I'll do this on Monday and this on Tuesday, etc." because some tasks take longer than one day to complete) then, when Monday morning arrives, I get up and get to work.

Maybe I get excited about ANOTHER workweek upon me because I love what I do. I love writing and the work that comes with it. I love talking to new people, learning new things, challenging myself to manage my time better and, most important of all, I LOVE that satisfaction in getting something DONE.

Take today, for example. I queried agents, worked on the new book and tinkered with the Web site I'm building. If I find the time later tonight, I'm hoping I'll be able to fix up the interview I'm sending off to an E-mag but, if not, I'll tackle that tomorrow (in addition to a few other ongoing tasks). And that may not seem like a whole heck of a lot of work done, but given what I currently have on my plate and what time I have to do everything, it's enough for a day's work. I'm still satisfied with what I DID get done. And I totally understand how not everything can get done in one day.

Because, you see, there's always Tuesday to get caught up.


Saturday, July 12, 2008

I think I'm close

I think I'm starting to figure out how to write my next writing book. One thing that kept bugging me is that I am not as "established" as other authors of writing books, so how could I confidently say the things that I say without that to back me up? So instead of using the interviews I'm doing for this book to support what "I" have to say, I will use them as a means of sharing what PROFESSIONALS have to say. Sort of like, "OK, I talked to a lot of people in the industry about this particular topic and here is the summary of what they had to say."

I know I have to be careful that I don't have stuff in there conflicting something already said. But I think if I narrow their input down and organize each chapter properly, it could work in a way that won't lose readers.

Also, to avoid repetition, I can just break off everything to where an interviewee has their own section to discuss that topic.

Yes! I think that will work! After typing this, I'm beginning to understand this concept better and "see" the finished book better. Yes! That could work!

Now I just gotta make sure I keep my interviews going.

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Do we still love Poltergeist?

This week, I got back answers to my interview questions sent to Craig Reardon, who was a part of the special effects and makeup team for movies such as Poltergeist, Thirteen Ghosts, E.T., The Gate, and others. The chapter I was interviewing him for talks about just HOW these guys work together to "spookify" a haunted house movie. (Heh, I LOVE that word.)

I found out about Craig by accident. I didn't go through the credits of every haunted house movie, looking for the right person to interview. I did some investigating on the Internet. What kind of people were involved in spookying up stuff on those kinds of movies? It helped that I'd already interviewed two other people for this chapter. Their input was informative and helped me find the third person I wanted to include quotes from. During my search, I read that there were three people who were prominent in this field: Dick Smith, Craig Reardon and Rick Baker. So I checked them out on IMDB.com. I went through their credits and was pleasantly surprised to see that Craig had done work on both the movies Poltergeist and Thirteen Ghosts, two movies discussed in the book. Earlier, I'd done a poll on a message board to see which haunted house movies were the favorite among members, and Poltergeist was a common answer. (Even one of my two interviewees said he liked Poltergeist.) So it was settled: I would try to interview Craig for the book.

But it was going to take a little persistence to find out how to reach Craig. The man doesn't have a website! Or even a MySpace. *cries* When I was doing the chapter on the haunt industry, I found A LOT of people to interview through MySpace. (I guess part of the reason why it was so difficult finding them through Google was because I kept using the wrong search terms! LOL That's what I get for trying to write about something I'm not familiar with.) So I just kept searching and searching. I didn't have to wander far from IMDB.com, though. I found out there was a "Contact" section for Craig. At first, I was doubtful. Would he really include his contact info on there?? Well, it was worth a look. I was trying to contact him for the interview! So I clicked on that and it turned out I had to register with IMDBPro.com first, which is $15 a month. So I did that then clicked on the "Contact" feature.

WHOA. His email address, as well as other info, was right there. I was surprised to even see a phone number! (I wonder if it's his business phone number??) In any case, I was elated. I finally had a way to reach him! Yay!

So I contacted him by email to see if he'd have time for an interview. As busy as he is, he made the time. Awesome!! And now, almost a month after first contacting him, I have on my computer a great interview with Craig Reardon! What started out as an interview for my book turned out to be so much more. He had some very interesting things to talk about and some pieces of trivia for good measure! I'll admit, I was kind of sad, though. I won't be able to include everything he has talked about in my book. Just stuff for the chapter's topic. Sigh! There's some good stuff I know people would be interested in reading and I am loathe to keep it all "to myself." So I'm thinking, maybe I can try submitting the interview for publication? Maybe there's a site or magazine or newspaper who would be interested in running something like this? To be honest, I really don't know. I'd like to think so. After all, after over 25 years, Poltergeist is still a popular movie! So maybe I can find a way to get this stuff out there. That is, if Craig is totally okay with that. (I just sent him an email asking him for permission to do that.) And if so, I wonder next if there's a market for this?

I suppose it's something to think about, and look into. It really depends on if he is okay with me sending out the interview as an interview.

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