Thursday, October 13, 2011

Lauren v. The Research Question

Let me begin by saying thank God for the internet.  Second, I'd like to thank Amazon for making so many of their writing books reasonably priced.  Oddly enough, Amazon also sold me the highlighters I use to signify important information, the post it note tabs that mark whole pages from which I plan to take notes, and the case in which I keep my glasses that make the reading of tiny tiny print possible.

Oh research...What can said about research?  I'm sure every college student that has ever penned a forty page paper is holding their middle finger up to the screen right now.  I don't like research any more than you do, college kid.  Research is one of those things in my life that I consider a necessary evil.  It's time consuming, sometimes boring, and other times it's extremely difficult.  It's also invaluable when writing about a subject on which you are not an expert.

Any amount of credibility in my writing is obtained through massive amounts of probing into very strange topics.  I happen to know a great deal about poisons, drug use, and secret societies as a result of dedicated examination.  This kind of information can be gathered in any way, of course.  Believe me, it can be tedious work to stare at a book for three hours and glean only a tidbit of knowledge.  There have also been times that I've ended up with a book that looks like it could belong to a college freshman in the first chapter of their critical reading text.  

I'm sure I'm flagged on some kind of list with the government, based solely on the books I've ordered from Amazon or rented from the library.  I have a book on my shelf that is called Murder and Mayhem.  If that's not suspicious out of context then I don't know what is.  I also have one called the Howdunit Book of Poisons.  Taken for what they are, they make sense, but from an outsider's perspective that is perusing my book shelves?  Not so much.  

There is the kind of research that comes from life experience.  Just as an example, in a book I wrote in the past, my main character was a swimmer.  I was a competitive swimmer for a very long time, so a little life experience came into play for that particular character.  I've also been in the medical field for ten years so I've accumulated quite a bit of terminology.  Living something for a period of time sometimes help to focus your creativity.  Prior to publishing Postmortem, Patricia Cornwell actually worked in a medical examiner's office.  Kathy Reichs, the woman whose series is the basis for Bones, is actually a forensic anthropologist.  Jonathan Kellerman, like his main character, is a Psychiatrist.  Everyone does their research, be it from a book or from life experience.

Another popular form of research for crime writers is the ride-along.  A ride-along is essentially what happens when a local police force allows a citizen to ride in their squad cars for a typical day in the name of investigative journalism or just in the interest of public relations.  I would love to do this, but the Pennsylvania State Police do not permit ride-alongs (not even for cadets that have yet to graduate from the academy!).  I fully intend to keep trying to find a way to make a ride-along happen, or at the very least, an interview.  

Now that you all know the history of research for writers (sorry if I bored you all to death), I will proceed to tell you my personal issue with research.  I do too much of it.  I use it as a stall tactic.  I talk myself out of writing about things based on my level of knowledge about them.  I'm one of those people that has difficulty suspending disbelief (in certain situations - while I do not believe vampires exist, I find them entertaining) when it comes to ridiculous events taking place in movies and television shows.  I, in turn, assume that every is like this.  

Given my history of over-analyzing and over-editing, I am paralyzed by the fear that if any of my facts are the slightest bit inaccurate that people are going to throw my novel in the trash and never give it a shot.  I told you I have writing issues!  I also tend to ignore the fact that I have, many times, gone with the ridiculous flow in books.  I don't honestly believe that the cities I read about in books are consistently plagued with new serial killers (seriously, why would anyone live there?).  I can't rationally accept that a witty and gorgeous female heroine foils the plot of the bad guys every. single. time.  I've never, in my history with books, thrown a book in the trash.  I've finished a book and declared it crap, but that's never been based on said book's basis in reality.

So, yeah, I'm Lauren and I'm a research addict and self-doubter.  Like I said, my struggle is not in the process of research.  My issues lie with when to stop researching and actually write.  Seriously, when is it enough?  At what point do I commit this knowledge to paper just to get it all out of my head?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Lauren v. The Muse

For as long as I can remember I've been inspired by a lot of different entertainment mediums.  Movies, music, and other peoples' words have always served as a catalyst for my writing life.  I'll easily admit that this pursuit of pop culture has turned me into a total junkie.  My ability to remember lines from movies and TV shows make me one annoying watching companion!  

You could certainly say I have a muse.  My muse is pop culture and any genre will do.  Sometimes it can be one song, a commercial, or entire television series that sends me into a writing frenzy.  There is no rhyme or reason to my inspiration either, but during those periods it takes everything within me to be sociable.  

Typically, when I find something inspirational, I launch into a frenzy of mass absorption.  I will devour any element of pop culture that I can get my hands on.  I'll read, watch movies, listen to my iPod, and I'll just write.  Let's not get it twisted here, I like TV for its entertainment value too.  I'm not writing this ode to entertainment to make an excuse for my avid viewing or my box set bullying.  I love me some TV, no lie.

When I finished reading the Twilight saga, (after the initial "what am I going to do with my life now?" reaction wore off) I wrote for days and days.  I wasn't writing creepy fan fiction about the future marital bliss, then eventual divorce of Edward and Bella because he decided to marry me, so rest assured.  Nothing I wrote about had anything to do with teenagers, vampires, or werewolves.  I wrote for six days, pretty much non stop and banged out about forty moderately sized chapters.  My husband developed the dusty appearance of neglect, my work backed up, and my eyes burned from constant exposure to only the light of a computer screen.  Despite this, I was exhilarated.  My joy had nothing to do with what I was writing, it was pure, undiluted inspiration caused by nothing more than an appreciation for a great series.  

Classical music usually is the catalyst when it comes to inspirational music.  Anything from Beethoven to Yo-Yo Ma to John Williams.  Anything orchestral will strike a chord within me (pun completely intended).  I'm a sucker for cello music and film scores (the theme to Jurassic Park will reduce me to tears every time I hear it).  Classical is usually my music of choice if I'm in the writing zone and it serves as a way to keep the creative juices flowing.

Any movies will inspire me, it just depends on my mood and how said movie hits me on a given day.  Home Alone and Indian Summer can usually choke a couple of pages out of me and the soundtrack to Braveheart will turn me into a typing fool.  I recently saw Wicked on Broadway and that amazing production has spurned a reemergence of my flash drive collection.  TV shows are the same way for me, and there's no pattern evident as to what show will affect me when.  It could be a single episode of Buffy or Gilmore Girls, or it could be my insane eleven seasons straight of SVU.

The downside of my particular muse is that it obviously is not a social inspiration.  Don't mistake what I'm saying, I obviously draw character inspiration from people I know, meet, or see.  Writing is solitary, though.  It can be lonely and isolating.  I'm pretty social by nature (I love to talk) so when I end up in one of my writing tornadoes, I tend to show up less.  I'm quieter, more introspective, and I sleep more.  As you can imagine, this solitude doesn't do much in the way of maintaining communication.  Luckily, I married a man that doesn't require constant attention.  I don't need to be right beside him at all times, but I think both of us like to know that the other is close by if needed.

To my other people, please keep in mind that this way my first love, my best friend, and in some instances my only friend.  Paper is kind and it's never busy.  Paper doesn't have kids or deadlines to meet and it is pretty much always willing to listen.  I ask of you, please be patient with me.  My idiosyncrasies are plentiful, but some of them can be fun.  The patience of my friends during my reclusive periods is what will keep me from being the crazy hermit alone in a cabin penning my fifteen volume manifesto.  So, thanks in advance.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Lauren v. Lauren

My history with writing is not unlike any other deep personal relationship.  There has been the inevitable periods of estrangement and the times of unbridled passion.  There's always the doubt, the fights, the horrific self loathing, and then the heartwarming moments where everything clicks.

When I speak, the edit button is usually dormant.  I typically suffer from word vomit, where I speak first and think later.  I'm not as free with my information as some people I know (and applaud), but it can be a little harsh at times.  I'm loud and profane.  There's also not usually an off switch.  When I write, the opposite is true.  There's a giant, bright red edit sign searing its way into my brain.  I've typed and deleted a sentence nine or ten times in the past.

For those reasons, I am calling this post Lauren vs. Lauren.  I'm constantly over-editing and over-analyzing everything I commit to hard drive.  I do this to the point that I become frustrated and have to walk away.  This behavior is not extremely conducive to a writing life.  I've actually gone back through a chapter to edit and have deleted an entire page.  I've handwritten chapter upon chapter and when it is finally committed to a word document, it looks nothing like what I'd previously written.

In my everyday life, it's inevitable that I'm going to piss someone off.  It's the opposite when I write.  I make every effort to not make waves.  I'll write something and find myself going back through it questioning whether setting a novel in Harrisburg is going to put people off if it's not exactly like "real" Harrisburg.  If I set a murder spree in the aforementioned fictional version of Harrisburg, is that going to affect tourism?  Are people going to be able to separate fiction from reality?  It may seem like a foolish notion, but how many people in the country have pursued careers in forensics based on what they see in CSI?

I also rarely let people read my stuff.  I think this is one of the reasons I'm making a commitment to this blog.  The more I get used to people reading my thoughts, the closer I'll be to actually opening myself up to the world of peer review in terms of writing.  My aunt, an English teacher, has been asking to read my work for years.  My denial of people has gotten to the point that my mother thinks that I've murdered her in one of my novels because I won't let her see them.  I will literally rather shut the computer down and lose my document than risk the person standing behind me being able to see what I'm writing.

I'm hyper-paranoid about my work.  I took a couple of creative writing courses in college, and all of the coursework was very well received.  I'm a storyteller by nature, I dream in vivid details and my memory is borderline photographic.  I have no issues with public speaking.  The idea, however, of public reading makes me absolutely fret.  I had a professor in college that used to read my papers to himself in front of me and then go over them with me.  Sounds helpful, right?  Wrong.  I'm sure that man thought I had some kind of condition because I spent most of my session with him in the hallway or the bathroom.  I simply would walk the hallways rather than sit there and wonder what he was thinking while reading my words.  I think I honestly thought that he was going to throw it back in my face and declare it drivel.  He didn't.  He actually always had really great things to say, but to this day I am still uncomfortable thinking about it.

It's not a lack of confidence.  I'm fairly confident about my vocabulary.  I think I write quite well.  I like words and word origins.  I have five different books about the origins of cliches and phrases.  I've got nineteen different dictionaries.  Believe me, I am in NO WAY an expert.  I have been corrected, more than once.  I correct people too.  I will own that.  People that don't know the difference between their/there/they're make me absolutely insane.  These damn little girls on Facebook that can't form a sentence to save their lives make my fucking eyes bleed.  I accept this about myself.  I'll own it as a character flaw.  I'm usually not trying to be an asshole, and sometimes I am.  A friend of mine points it out, so now I do it to her just to get under her skin.

I use writing as catharsis.  I've had a horrible headache all day long and as I write this, I can feel the tension melting out of my shoulders.  I'm smiling.  The sound of my dogs snoring and the weird reverberation in my television speakers is not bothering me.  I'm trying to make myself better and clear this terrible block I've been suffering from.  I hope you guys dig it. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

Lauren v. A Challenge

Hi!  I'm Lauren.  I work in the medical field as a Surgical Scheduling Coordinator (I schedule surgery for an outpatient surgery center and manage the OR schedule for eight different operating rooms).  My job consists of a lot of somewhat tedious data entry combined with a lot of numbers committed to memory peppered with with a ridiculous amount of problem solving.  I'm pretty good at what I do and I take pride in my work, but it is in no way my passion.

My passion is writing, and it has been since I was a kid.  I wrote my first book when I was seven or eight years old.  It was twelve pages on loose leaf paper that I later mounted to construction paper.  I bound the book with yarn and masking tape.  I took it to a sleepover and read it to the other eight year old girls.  I've been in love ever since.

I, of course, have fallen in and out of love many times.  I still do.  There are days of incredible joy and satisfaction.  There is painful self doubt.  There are periods of time during which I'd like to run, screaming, from the computer (or run over it with a lawnmower).  Sometimes I can sit down and write for hours and hours on end.  I don't sleep, I don't eat, and I barely speak.  Then there are the days (okay, months) laden with the absolute torturous hell known as writer's block.

I have an incredible ability to make blocks last longer than it would take your average person to read the entire Outlander series (Each book runs about 600 pages and there are 6 of them).  I fall into a block and won't let myself out of it.  I manage to convince myself that there must be a reason for the block.  Maybe writing isn't my destiny, and the block is the result of the universe trying to tell me something.  Call me ridiculous.  I'll own that.  When I've been blocked for weeks at a time, nothing that I have ever written is worth a damn to me.  At that point, I suck.  If only my passion were surgical scheduling.

I've called myself a writer for as long as I can remember.  I've had a long love affair with reading since I learned how.  I've been obsessed with words and language for a very long time.  I would love to learn every spoken language in the world, but let's be real, no one has that kind of time.  I would love to spend days devouring books about the roots of all words in our vernacular, but alas, life happens.  

The one good thing about being blocked, for me, is that I become a great deal more social.  I spend less time alone in my room or my office.  I also tend to read a great deal less when I'm blocked.  Reading other people's words just remind me that I'm not doing what I should be doing.

I do read more writing books when I'm blocked, perhaps hoping that someone has the perfect answer regarding how to rid myself of this particular albatross.  I research a great deal, as well, just in case. I like research because it often yields actual results and it makes me feel somewhat productive. 

I've decided to use this blog as a way to follow the advice of every writing book on the market.  They all say the best way to beat a block is to write every day.  They all spout the importance of committing something to paper (or hard drive).  One book I read asked me to sit down and write one page every day.  If I didn't use my page to actually write something of substance then I should use the time to fill that page with excuses as to why I hadn't written anything.  I can imagine the tedium of writing excuses day after day would inspire anyone to do the actual work.  For a little while, we're going to count this blog as my page.  Basically, I'm hoping to write my way out of writer's block.  If it helps me, that's fantastic.  If it doesn't, then at least I wrote my page.

Here goes nothing.....