Wednesday, April 30, 2014

How I find inspiration

Inspiration comes in so many forms. Sometimes it strikes when you least expect, in a way that you never would've guessed.

For me, I have several tried and true methods of inspiration. Listening to music is a primary one. Sometimes it will come as a feeling I get, inspired by some great lyrics combined with an awesome melody. Other times, a song will convey a story that will get my wheels turning and I'll wonder how it ends or how it could've gone differently. Sometimes I'll allow myself to zone out in the car and just listen. That's usually when the ideas come.

I am also an avid lover of dance. My favorite genres are contemporary and ballet. One of my short stories, The Water's Edge, was inspired by a contemporary dance performed on So You Think You Can Dance. Not only was the choreography beautiful, but I felt very personally connected to the theme. I can't reveal the routine, as my short story has a twist that would be ruined if I did so. However, it's happened more than once that the movements of a particular routine or the story the dancers convey inspired something in me that I wanted to explore through a story of my own.

And of course, there's the obvious muse that every writer succumbs to whether they like it or not, though I suspect that few actually reveal. I'm inspired by my personal life. Sometimes things happen in our lives that just don't make sense and as writers we feel compelled to analyze them in a way that we can understand. At times, it's easier in writing than in life to wrap up a problem in a little bow and round it out with a nice, satisfying resolution. I can only speak for myself, but I believe that these stories are usually the ones closest to our hearts and I think as a reader, you can almost tell when this is the case.

The tricky thing about inspiration is that you can't summon it. You can't say, "Okay I'm ready to write, let me go get some inspiration and I'll start outlining tomorrow." It strikes when you least expect it, whether you're ready or not. Sometimes I'll be in the middle of a story and I'll feel it pulling at me to pay attention. I'll swat it away and tell it to wait its turn; I'll get to it once I'm finished. Inevitably, I always take a break to write it down, afraid that it will drift away and get lost somewhere. Generally, the ideas that refuse to be ignored turn out to be the best ones.

Does anyone else have tried and true inspiration tactics? What works for you? Let me know in the comments!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A word on rejection

As we all know, rejection is a part of life. A LARGE part of life. Whether hunting for a new job, pitching a story or an agent, we're all bound to face it eventually.

Personally, I sometimes wonder if the ever-present possibility of the short, impersonal rejection letter is what makes a writer, well, a writer. Let me explain.

Back when I was in school, before any of the creative writing students had put ourselves and work out there for the world to see, we were told that we would need to develop a thick skin. We decided, as a social experiment to poke a little harmless fun at the process. Instead of ripping up our rejection letters and lighting them on fire, we preserved them, kept them in binders. Heck, some of us even framed them and stuck them on the fridge. We wore them like war badges.

Once, I decided to pitch a story to Glamour magazine. I knew it was a long shot, I hadn't really seen anything like what I was pitching in the magazine before. But I felt like I should go for it. If nothing else, at least I could say I'd once pitched to them. When I received my rejection letter post card, I put it on Facebook along with a sarcastic comment on the nice personal touch (they had addressed it to "writer"). To my amusement, none of my fb friends picked up on the joke. Instead, they all congratulated me! I guess getting anything from Glamour magazine is better than nothing at all. (Note this is no disrespect to the magazine. I'm a monthly subscriber and read them almost religiously.)

But when it comes down to it, what is a writer without rejection? How would we ever improve without it, how would we ever grow? In a world full of "yes" would you ever push yourself to your breaking point? Could you ever achieve the masterpiece lying inside of you? Would you even try? If every pile of crap that landed on a publisher's desk landed a huge book deal, what would be the point?

So I think as writers we need to stop and savor the rejection that comes our way. In the end, it will make our successes just that much sweeter.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

How I accidentally wrote a new adult novel

I'm somewhat embarrassed to say that I've only recently discovered the emerging literary genre of new adult fiction. I'm more embarrassed to admit that I've accidentally written one.

What is new adult, you ask? Let me go back a couple of years ago to a fiction writing class I'd had in college. We had each just begun outlining our novels and I had grappled with the idea of a protagonist in her later teens just on the cusp of adulthood. Could I do this? Since young adult fiction had been (and still is) so wildly popular to all ages, I knew just how many stories were out there about young girls in high school. But a girl entering college? No one was doing this.

Would anyone want to read my story about a girl trying to "figure things out" in the adult world? Would younger audiences relate to her? I didn't think an older demographic would fit my story, but there didn't seem to be an in between.

I'll have to change her age, I thought to myself. Set the story in high school. Still, I felt that I was betraying my creative instincts. After all, everyone tells you to write the story you want to read and I wanted to read about this girl just beginning college. This was what I knew, and what I felt inspired to write.

It was around that time that I realized how many of my friends were reading YA novels. I thought, surely if my friends 18-22 were reading YA novels then why wouldn't they appreciate stories that centered around someone going through some of the same things they were? So I decided to follow my gut and write about a young dancer beginning her freshman year at the Juilliard School of Dance and her best friend who's struggling to find her dream career.

Believe me, in no way was I thinking I'd be starting a new literary genre. On the contrary, I was going in circles trying to figure out a way to sell this story once it was done. Would I promote it as YA or would it be women's literature? How could I find my niche in those ginormous markets?

Fast forward 3 or 4 years later and imagine my surprise when I learn that while I was muddling through my fifty-some revisions, a new genre has popped up out of the wood work: a genre highlighting those in-betweeners, the ones that have left their adolescence behind but not yet fully embraced adult status.

Sarah at has a great couple of podcasts in which she goes more into detail on the characteristics of the trend. You can listen to them here. 

So that's how I accidentally wrote an NA novel. I just wish I could say I thought of it first... ;)