Writers Musing

The aspiring writers who follow my blah-g often ask what I’m inspired by. The answer? A lot. Inspiration comes in any number of forms and if you pay close enough attention, most mundane aspects of life can spark the idea for a new character or a dramatic scene. But looking around with intention takes some effort and isn’t always a quick fix for when you need to feel inspired fast. The most fool-proof method in finding that creative spark when you need it is to simply pick up a book and read. Read everything: fiction, nonfiction, poetry. Read interesting blog posts and the inside of book jackets; read technical descriptions on boxes and definitions of scientific words. It will all inform you and may lead to something valuable in the next piece you’re working on. When I need that extra oomph on a particularly dry creative day, I turn to my journal where I store quotes by writers I respect. This always does the trick. And more often than not, these quotes are just as much about life itself than the act of writing alone. I’m sharing 25 ah-mazing quotes on writing, creativity and life by writers I love in the hope some of these words will help you the next time you sit down to create.

 

1. Anne Lamott from her book Bird by Bird

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”

 2. Zadie Smith, author of White Teeth

“Try to read your own work as a stranger would read it, or even better, as an enemy would.”

3. Donna Tartt, Pullitzer Prize winner and author of The Goldfinch

“Storytelling and elegant style don’t always go hand in hand.”

4. Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, acclaimed novelist, short story writer and speaker

Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche

5. Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love and The Signature of All Things 

“Creativity itself doesn’t care at all about results – the only thing it craves is the process. Learn to love the process and let whatever happens next happen, without fussing too much about it. Work like a monk, or a mule, or some other representative metaphor for diligence. Love the work. Destiny will do what it wants with you, regardless.”

6. Tina Fey, comedy writer and author of Bossy Pants

fey

7. Kurt Vonnegut, author of Cat’s Cradle and Slaughterhouse-Five

Vonnegut

“To practice any art, no matter how well or how badly, is a way to make your soul grow. So do it.”

8. Diane Ackerman, author and poet

ackerman

9. Judy Blume, author of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. 

“Each of us must confront our own fears, must come face to face with them. How we handle our fears will determine where we go with the rest of our lives. To experience adventure or to be limited by the fear of it.”

10. Joan Didion, author and essayist

didion

11. Amy Poehler, comedy writer and author of Yes Please

Poehler

12. Anne Lamott from her book Bird by Bird

“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

13. Nora Ephron, journalist, essayist, playwright, novelist, all around ah-mazing creative force 

Ephron

14. Jim Thompson, author and screenwriter 

“There is only one plot—things are not what they seem.”

15. James Baldwin, author of Giavanni’s Room

baldwin

16. Joan Didion from her book Slouching Towards Bethlehem 

“I have already lost touch with a couple of people I used to be.”

17. Ray Bradbury, American science-fiction author 

“Let the world burn through you. Throw the prism light, white hot, on paper.”

18. Alice Munro, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature 

munro

19. Raymond Carver, poet and novelist, author of What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

“You’ve got to work with your mistakes until they look intended.”

20. Mark Twain, American humorist and writer 

“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” Ha!

21. Margaret Atwood, acclaimed novelist, poet, essayist and environmental activist 

atwood

Atwood

22. Zadie Smith

“Tell the truth through whichever veil comes to hand – but tell it. Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never being satisfied.”

23. Jeanette Winterson, author of Written on the Body and Gut Symmetries 

“If you continually write and read yourself as a fiction, you can change what’s crushing you.”

24. Ray Bradbury

“To sum it all up, if you want to write, if you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool that god ever turned out and sent rambling. You must write every single day of your life. You must read dreadful dumb books and glorious books, and let them wrestle in beautiful fights inside your head, vulgar one moment, brilliant the next. You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads. I wish for you a wrestling match with your Creative Muse that will last a lifetime. I wish craziness and foolishness and madness upon you. May you live with hysteria, and out of it make fine stories — science fiction or otherwise. Which finally means, may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.”

25. Nora Ephron, Wellesley College Commencement Address, 1996

“Whatever you choose, however many roads you travel, I hope that you choose not to be a lady. I hope you will find som away to break the rules and make a little trouble out there. And I also hope that you will choose to make some of that trouble on behalf of women.”

The last two may have left me with a tear in one eye. Leave me with some of your favorite quotes on writing and life below in the comments.

 

TTYW,

Lisi

Building Books

Hi friends. I promised I’d read you an excerpt from Judy Blume’s Forever…, my favorite banned book in continued celebration of Banned Books Week, but I’m holding off on that until next blah-g post. One of your comments on writing caught my eye and I’m addressing it today since I’m also neck deep in my own process finishing the Dirty Book Club.

Here’s what Lydia said:

Lisi you always give the best advice…
I’ve been writing a book since March and I’m only on Chapter 4. My process is pretty slow, but I want to get it moving a least a little bit. If I can’t think of anything for my current chapter, I write little bits and pieces in my notes. I also feel like my writing style is inconsistent. I try to use descriptive words here and there, but it seems too sporadic. Plus my witty retorts and personalities for the characters remind me of “The Fault In Our Stars” and feel too dated. How can I find my own style of writing without letting the books I read influence it too much? 

 

Lydia, I feel your pain here. Based on what you explained is happening it sounds like you may not have started with an outline. WRITE AN OUTLINE FIRST. Is there a specific message or idea you want to explore? Is the book plot or character driven? Have you thought about how you want the story to resolve? Characters and some plot lines will probably end up changing along the way, but get down the basic skeleton of where you want the story to go. It’s a must. It will save you days if not months of agonizing over the turns you want to take in your book.

As for your descriptive words feeling a little sporadic, are you peppering in adjectives or are you fleshing out a scene based on the senses? Show, don’t tell. Give your reader a feel for the scene by describing the taste of air on a muggy day, the smell of a character’s home, or the texture of the worn-in hoodie she always wears.

Develop your characters as much as possible. Get to know their dark secrets, their driving motivations, their quirks, worries and fears. If it helps your mind to stay organized, create a doc for each character and include everything about him/her down to their favorite snacks, sayings and what nervous ticks they have. All of this will inform you while you’re fleshing them out. It will also make it easier to imagine what your characters might do in the situations you’re creating for them, which will help with your momentum.

I’d usually say to read as many books as possible by your favorite authors to get familiar with the tone and structure of stories you like, but you’ve mentioned you might be too closely mimicking another writer’s voice. While you’re honing your craft and finding your voice, this isn’t the worst thing in the world to do. You come with an entirely unique set of experiences and will approach TFIOS diferently than John Green did writing it. Even if you’re basing some characters’ personalities off of the ones he’s created, you’ll naturally insert your own twists, which will engender new variations. Play around with that. See which parts of them you like, which parts can be edited back and try to develop what will make your characters complex and memorable.

With all that said… four chapters since March? You’re doing great! Keep it up and let us know how the book is coming along soon.

TTYW,

Lisi

Banned Books Have More Fun

banned books week

What does a book have to do to get banned? For censors, it’s usually that the content is too controversial. Maybe the book isn’t exactly “age appropriate.” Fortunately, the best way to sell a book is to ban it first. We are in the midst of Banned Books Week, the annual celebration of the freedom to read. From coast to coast bibliophiles are fighting against censorship and pushing for their right to read… anything they want. I’m in full support. So much so that I’m putting myself on blast and posting my favorite controversial book. Judy Blume’s Forever…

Blume is best known for her Young Adult fiction so this may come as a surprise, but over the last 40 years her books have been banned or challenged dozens of times over. In fact, Forever… is among some of the most frequently challenged books at libraries since its publishing. Blume’s novels were groundbreaking and went where other YA authors never dreamed. Several of her books are on the list of all-time best selling children’s books and she’s earned too many awards to count, possibly thanks to censorship itself. Forever… is truly ah-mazing but whatever you do, DON’T read it… You’ve been warned.

 

forever

Next week I’ll be posting a video of me reading my favorite excerpt out of Forever… 

TTYW,

Lisi

Letter Have It

 

writing

I will share my opinion whether you ask for it or not. So imagine my joy when PaShai and Emma wrote to me and ASKED for advice. Yes, my friends, dreams do come true.

From PaShai:

Hi Lisi Harrison! I’ve read all your books about 300 times each! I’m not like any other girl that you have met. I have sickle cell anemia. And it is a very disturbing disease that triggers your back with excruciating pain..and if I don’t get it treated I could have a stroke or worse. Please Ms.Harrison you’re my only hope to accomplishing my dream. I want to talk to you about what kind books I would enjoy writing and what I would want to do with my first novel.

To PaShai:

Thank you for reading my books 300 times. I read your letter 301 times, so there! 🙂 You sound like an incredibly brave person and I love your ambition. You should write that novel and I hope you enjoy doing it. But I can not be “your only hope” in accomplishing that. So I am respectfully returning all that hope you just sent my way so you can pin it on yourself instead. Only you can write this book. Only you know what you want it to be about. YOU! Write about something that speaks to your interests. Create characters who work through the kinds of issues you struggle with. Not necessarily someone with sickle cell anemia. That might be too exact. But you know what it’s like to feel pain. You know how it feels to have different challenges than your peers. You know how hard it is to stay strong when all you want to do is kick something and cry. So create a character who feels those things and then add a few things that you can’t relate to so you can have fun living as someone else for a while. That’s one of the best things about writing fiction. Your world, your rules. HAVE FUN!

Chapter One

From Emma:

Hi there! I have just finished the book Pretenders, and my family and friends are so relieved. They say these past few days they haven’t seen me at all, because I just had to finish the book soon because I was just so engaged and interested while reading this. You are now one of my all time favorite authors, and I can not wait until License to Spill comes out! I also had a question or two about writing. I have actually been working on a couple of books and I was wondering if you had any tips or tricks for any young aspiring writers? Thank you so much for being an amazing writer! Write on! (Get it? Whoops I’m corny).

To Emma:

Thank you Emma. License To Spill comes out June 24th. YAY! Tips and tricks for writing, huh? I wish, sister. There aren’t any tricks. You have to write every day. It’s that simple. Read books in the genre you are writing so you can see how other people do it. Keep a notebook with you and write down amazing details you stumble on during the day. It’s these details that will bring your writing to life. And read about writing. Books on the actual craft are very helpful and inspiring. Most of all don’t try to sound like anyone else. It’s your voice we want to hear because no one sees the world like you do. Now hit it.

Journaling Ideas

TTYW,

Lisi

 

Guest Post on the Office Elf Blog – Writer’s Life

Lisi is submerged in The Dirty Book Club so I’ve written you all another novel-length guest blog post over on the Office Elf blog. One of the blog commenters, Kimberly, asked me a few questions about my own creative path and how I came to work with Lisi. Read about the adventures toils mundane experiences career path of one young writer here.

Lisi will return next week!

xx

Alisha, Office Elf