Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Advice From a Neurotic

by JP Stone

A few weeks ago, my husband and I were watching CBS Sunday Morning and a commentator quoted the following:

Work like you don’t need the money, love like your heart has never been broken, and dance like no one is watching.

This quote is actually taken from Aurora Greenway, Shirley MacLaine’s nut-ball neurotic mother in Terms of Endearment, and while I don’t normally take advice from nut-ball neurotics, this one got me thinking, especially in terms of reading and writing romance.

Work like you don’t need the money:
You’ve heard the response of at least 30 authors on this one. We don’t—repeat, DON’T—write to make money. At least not initially. We can’t. Unpublished authors have zero monetary incentive to write—to slave away at their craft for years and years until they’re good /recognized enough to publish—while debut authors generally start out grateful for the mere pittance they’re offered.

So what is it that keeps us writing? What motivates us?

I can think of only one answer: We write because we have to.

That’s it. That’s the broad reason, though there are a thousand smaller reasons that fit under the “have to,” reasons such as:

•to feel some sense of controlling our world by controlling that of our characters
•to provide an escape for our readers
•to stop the voices in our heads by some other means than psychotropics, etc.

You get the point and you can add some more if you like, but I think we’d all agree that as writers, we have to write. It’s an instinct (or an infectious disease depending on how difficult the writing went that day).

So as writers, we all start from a place of working like we don’t need the money. See? Already we’re ahead of the game.

Love like your heart has never been broken:
As romance readers and writers in particular, I think we are all implicitly aware of the curative love is to all that is wrong with the world. Don’t believe me? Watch.

Solution to war, famine, poverty = love the side experiencing it. If everyone did so, the calamity wouldn’t exist.

Solution to personal unhappiness = stop thinking about yourself and focus on loving someone else. Sure fire solution to happiness.

Solution to the economic downturn = yes, love. Love someone else and stop obsessing over what you want, what you think you deserve and what you should be getting.

It’s basic, but something everyone tends to forget, particularly when the news channels keep pounding financial doom and gloom into our ears. But we, as romance enthusiasts especially, tend to be enlightened. We go to grocery stores and in addition to picking up milk, we pick up a novel about love. The escape we’re looking for (or trying to write) is an effort to turn our thoughts away from ourselves and focus outward and isn’t that far more pleasurable than focusing on dwindling retirements?

And by the way, isn’t that what romance writers are getting at in the first place with all those happily ever afters?

Dance like no one is watching:
When you start any creative endeavor, go at it as though no one is watching. In our case, write the first draft like no one is watching. I see no other way to maintain one’s integrity as a creative being other than letting go of how we’ll be received. This goes for any kind of artist but in the case of writers specifically, I think there would be a lot less cases of writers’ block if we all took this approach. And of course, there’s time in later revisions to tailor a manuscript to our audience (love others, after all), but as a writer, we’ve all experienced those moments in the fledgling stages where the words we chose were tainted by the awareness of how they would be read. And wasn’t it true that when we read that section later, it reeked? Wasn’t it a tedious thing to write in the first place?

So, write like no one is watching. Explore the far limits of your creativity. Venture into new grounds. Work without thought for result. Love without limits and dance to your heart’s content.

Now how about you? What’s the best advice you received/can give for all of the neurotic writers out there?

JP Stone


Marilyn Baron said...

I enjoyed your post and your advice. My advice would be to get it down on paper. Once you have a draft you can always go back and refine it.

Marilyn Baron

Cinthia Hamer said...

Excellent post, as always, JP.

I think I've always been blessed with the ability to not think about who my audience is when I write my first's only AFTER that, when I panic, and have to show it to someone (you for example). I get all gunched up inside.

And I must love it, because I keep going back for helping after helping. LOL!

Sandy Elzie said...

Good morning,

Great post. I think I write because otherwise my head would burst with all the ideas I atuff in there.

I love sharing and helpimg and interacting with people and sharing my stories is one way to be with people...some you'll never even get a opportunity to meet. I won't even get the chance, in most cases, to know if they liked my writing or not, but it doesn't matter since I'll write anyway.


Sally Kilpatrick said...

Thanks, JP--it's a great reminded not to let all of the "advice" and "guidelines" bog you down.

I think your advice about the first manuscript is crucial. After that, I'm hoping all of these craft books and workshops are going to help with the subsequent ones.

But, hey, to paraphrase the Beatles, all we need is love.


Debbie Kaufman said...

Morning from Washington, DC, JP. I'm afraid I write the first draft as if everyone were watching. Really slows me down! Trying to get over that!

Now, I'm off to the National Zoo to animal and people watch!

The Writers Canvas said...

Good post. Actually I'm trying a new approach with my WIP. I have a friend who is an actor/writer. By listening to him talk about his craft, it's helped my own.

Look at your first draft as rehearsal. Look at certain lines/scenes as an actor. In other words, you might use inflections or body language in 3 different ways. So why not write some things 3 ways? Obviously we can't write an entire book three ways but you can write a few sentences or lines of dialogue in different ways. Keep it in there, pick the best "take" when editing.

This is just one reason why I find it helpful to network w/other artists b/c their approach can help our writing.

Good post!


Crystal Kauffman said...

-We write because we have to.-

My favorite quote, which is Sydney Sheldon but was repeated to me by Susan Wiggs is, "If you want to write a book you might. If you have to write a book, you will."

It's so true.

Ana Aragón said...


Great post and one I needed today. I have been "stuck" not because I cannot write, but because I find any number of writing opportunities that don't move me forward in the WIP.

Partially, I think it's because I'm afraid if I get started, I'll drop the other balls I'm trying to keep in the air. But it's made me unhappy that I still have this book inside me that needs to be finished.

So, today, I'm going to recommit myself to the WIP--

And Crystal...your comment by Sydney Sheldon hits to the heart of why writers write...we have to!


Maxine Davis said...

I loved your post and have always loved that quote.

You've helped motivate me. We're taking a plane tomorrow so here lately, my stomach has been in such an uproar that I can hardly pack, much less write. BUT, while gone, I AM going to crank out a few pages. Thanks for the motivation!

Carol Burnside said...

I offer up another quote:

"Successful writers are not the ones who write the best sentences. They are the ones who keep writing. They are the ones who discover what is most important and strangest and most pleasurable in themselves, and keep believing in the value of their work, despite the difficulties." Bonnie Friedman

Susan May said...

Great post. If you want it bad enough you keep at it. Like anything you put one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward. Thanks for reminding us.

Dianna Love said...

I thought for a few minutes and couldn't come up with any inspiring quotes - love the ones posted. I feel for those of you "stuck" or working through a spot in your book. Just know that EVERYONE - even published authors - have tough times and get stuck or hit a spot that drives them crazy. So keep hammering at it and tell yourself you're going to get through this hard part and it will get better. The one thing I can tell you about writing and riding (motorcycles :->) is the more you do the better it gets.

It's like exercising your brain muscles - at least a little every day, even 100 words (10 sentences) will help free up a lot of kinks.

All good advice shared here. I enjoy getting my daily shot of upbeat inspiration. You're all very wise as well as talented.

I'm on the road early tomorrow to Cincinnati for Lori Foster's event this weekend so I may be MIA for several days. Have a great week and weekend.

Lisa Hendrix said...

I've loved that quote for years. But I'm afraid 'Aurora' stole it--though there are debates about whether it came from Mark Twain, Satchel Page, Glenda Jackson or some anonymous church bulletin. //g//

Wherever it came from, it's lovely, and you did a terrific job of tying it to writing and achieving your heart's dream. Great post, JP.

See you all in a couple of days.

Tami Brothers said...

Great, as always, JP!!!

Thanks for a bright spot in my day!


Mary Marvella said...

Even if I KNEW I'd never sell a book, I'd keep writing.

Your advice is wise for one so young.(Big grin for you)