Thursday, October 29, 2009

Book Signing--Sunday, November 1, 2:00 p.m. at Hickory Stick Bookshop, Washington Depot, CT, for directions

Please join me!

Pushing vs Resting--Why We Need Both Will and Vision to Complete a Book

Today I am sitting still. I'm visioning, listening, waiting. It's the opposite pace of these last few months, when my novel Qualities of Light was released into the world. When a book gets born, there's nonstop activity.

Publicity, the book tour, interviews, good reviews if you're lucky. I've been deep in all of this. Today is different.

Outside my window are sunlit fields and the fiercely gold last-ditch efforts of three fading maple trees. Inside, a vase of flowers is catching the light. I haven't noticed this beauty lately, because of the pushing, the pace, the will needed to move my project out into the world. Like birthing, it takes that push. It's essential.

Today I am resting from the pushing, to let bigger visions filter in and bring their welcome creativity and renewal.

Balance of Visioning and Will
Visioning and will balance each other in book writing like two ends of a seesaw. If you don't have an initial vision for a book, you really don't create something that goes deep enough to touch readers, make them tell their friends and family and writing group about your writing, even change lives if you're lucky. Visions change as the book evolves. For Qualities of Light, I started with a vision of unexpected romance. As it evolved, as more characters got developed, the vision changed into healing of a family. Both stories made it into the final book. I like to think the pauses, the visioning I did, helped them weave together into a whole.

It's hard to book time for visioning. The sequel to Qualities of Light is cooking. It needs the visioning help to take it to the next step--I have a solid draft, some edited sections, but not a sense of the whole picture. While I'm working on my publicity, I can't seem to slow down enough to vision. I have to book a visioning day.

Today, the end of October in peak leaf-changing New England, it feels like a cycle shifting, a perfect time to vision. New possibilities, the season changing. Ideas are starting to come, faint pictures that will make a wholeness for this next book. I am committed to taking notes today.
I enjoy the golden trees, the flowers indoors. The pushing mind empties, the attention is freed up.

When You Know You Need Visioning Time
I usually don't accept the need for visioning time until I'm maxed. Yesterday it hit me as a wave of sheer exhaustion: I needed visioning time like oxygen. I'm very happy about all that's happened but the pushing it's required has stressed me way beyond my comfort zone. I'm grateful for the cheers and congratulations, but I'm an introvert (like many writers) and it wears me out after a while. I'm really excited about my booksigning this weekend, November 1, in Washington Depot, Connecticut, and my booksigning Thursday, November 5, at the Loft in Minneapolis. I'm really thrilled with the reviews coming out, the buzz happening. Releasing a book is the realization of a dream: wonderful, joyous, overwhelming. But it needs the balance of visioning. Otherwise we lose sight of why we're doing it. Don't we.

I was driving back from teaching a writing class when things reached critical mass. The cell phone rang, I couldn't locate my headset in time, and for some reason this felt like the last straw. I was on the very rainy Saw Mill Parkway, a twisty highway in western New York, and Chris Pureka was on the radio. Her melancholy voice perfectly reflected the rainy fall day. I felt myself let go inside. Let the call go to voice mail. Let myself just listen and drive, sink into the slow motion.

Then it happened. I suddenly got a picture, a new idea, a wholeness. As my pushing self let go of all the efforts, creative ideas came fast. Ideas to solve some dilemmas in my next novel, things I'd been struggling with.

Planning for Visioning
Take advantage of the change of seasons to set up a visioning time for your writing project this week. Maybe you've noticed the difficulty in talking yourself into this need--and the effect of dried up writing that comes when you don't have an overview of your project? And maybe you've noticed the serendipity that comes through, the originality, when you let yourself stop pushing and start visioning?

This week's exercise: Take your solo self and your writing notebook someplace for an hour, an afternoon, a morning or a day. Let yourself look at changing leaves or mountains or the ocean. Sketch, doodle, or write what comes. Take notes. Maybe you'll get the overview of vision, worth gold to the book writer.

Also: Write down what you'd really like from the project you're working on. What vision do you have for it? Why are you doing it, really?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Five Things You'd Never, Ever Do for Yourself

One of my favorite writing exercises is to list five things I'd never do, or I'd never make a character do, then write a scene imagining that very thing happening. It's an edgy exercise. But it always gets me out of a slump.

This past week, I did something on my list--stand in front of about 70 people and read from my new novel. The novel is edgy, and I'm always aware that the subject matter might be seen as, to quote my wonderful mother, "not my cup of tea." But it was what I felt compelled to write. I'm proud I pushed past my fears, that I did something that scared me. Because the results were so very worth it.

The picture above was taken by photographer Bruce Fuller ( see his amazing work at If you look closely, you'll notice I'm not fainting or stumbling over my words, but really having a pretty good time. You'll see people listening and not walking out in boredom or disgust (a common fear of authors at readings). It's a SRO crowd (the empty seat was even taken).

Most important to me, this photograph captures a moment where I was facing my fear and doing what was in my heart.

This week's exercise is about pushing past your limits and fears. Want to try it?

This Week's Exercise
Make a list of five of the most frightening or impossible things you can think of doing to further your creativity, your book, your writing in general. Buy an expensive pen or laptop you want? Take a workshop you can't imagine being brave enough to try? Spend a weekend at a writing retreat to get peace at last?

You can also try this with your character, especially a stubborn character who refuses to evolve. What five things would this person never, ever do? Have them do one.

Warning label: Results of this exercise might feel astonishing, freeing, and joyous. The process might make you tremble before it helps you fly.

But look at me, in the photo. I'm actually having a blast. No problem that I couldn't sleep the night before, worrying about every little thing. It was worth it. And afterward, I slept like a baby. Very satisfied that I'd tried something that a few years ago I would never, ever do.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Creative People Have Two Jobs

In a roundabout way, I learned of a new book on creativity: Ignore Everybody by Hugh MacLeod. Then I learned of some fascinating notes on the book at Derek Sivers's website.

Sivers is no slouch when it comes to creativity--he knows whereof he speaks, having created the awesome that helped so many independent musicians stay independent.

One of Ignore Everybody's main points is that most creative people have two jobs. Ouch, my friends say. Can't I make a living at what I love?

Well, yes, if you really really want to. That means (1) amazing luck, (2) incredible hard work, and (3) sometimes years of not earning enough to rent a teepee. I've watched so many writers quit their day jobs when The Book Idea comes along. I've watched them suffer with the pressure of trying to write to make that six figure advance, when they never wrote a word before. Better to take that pressure off your creativity, not flatiron your book into being. Books don't like that.

You may not like this post this week. You may be a worthy dreamer who hates your cubicle life and wants to break out into the wealthy world of published authors. Most of us aren't. We're midlist, which means our books sell OK but not enough to pay all the bills. The most I ever earned from royalties in a year was about $30,000. I loved my book which earned that, but it was written without the pressure to earn big bucks.

I was able to, because of my day job, stay creative. That's the point, isn't it? How to stay creative in a world that doesn't really like it.

That's why MacLeod's book is so timely.

This Week's Writing Exercise
This week's exercise is pretty simple. Read the book review for Ignore Everybody on Derek Siver's site then write your own list of what it takes for YOU to stay creative.

Is it about ignoring everybody?
Is it about paying attention to a few trusted people?
Is it about a room of your own, a la Virginia Woolf, or a kitchen table a la J.K. Rowling, or a great Internet cafe that keeps you bubbling with stolen dialogue lines?

Enjoy making your list. Let it simmer all week.

Responding to What's Out There--Writing Letters to the Editor

In my novel, Qualities of Light, there's a triangle of love interests. Boy likes girl, girl kind of likes boy, girl falls in love with another girl. Not so unusual these days. To make matters even more tangled (a key element of novels), the love affair begins during a family tragedy, an accident that causes the girl's young brother to fall into a coma. The accident, of course, is caused by the girl. Or so she believes. And her belief causes the main dilemma of the story.

Considering the questions exercise from last week, I was intrigued by this one, and it became the pivot for my book: Is love something you can expect, something you can delight in, when you are in deep trouble? When you have almost caused someone you love to die?

My novel has several layers of these kinds of questions. I enjoyed not knowing the answers, exploring the topics.

One topic that fascinates me is how gay or coming-out teenagers cope with their lives. So when a colleague pointed me toward an amazing article in last Sunday's New York Times magazine, I had to respond.

I decided to write a letter to the editor. My experience sparked an idea for the writing exercise this week.

Writing Your Passion
The article was called "Coming Out in Middle School" and author Benoit Denizet-Lewis interviewed some very interesting teens who did this and had various experiences. Molly, my heroine, struggles with the same issues real-life gay and straight teens face--acceptance and rejection, self-identity, the beauty of falling overwhelming in love at last. In writing the book, the struggles of my heroine and other kids like her became my passion. So I wanted to send a passionate response to this wonderful writer, Benoit Denizet-Lewis.

Letters to the editor are a chance for low-risk passion statements. They may never get published, of course, but they're a chance for you, the book writer, to get your ideas, thoughts, and words to readers who might not otherwise touch them.

My letter isn't a model of great Letters to the Editor, but here it is:

Dear Editor,
"Coming Out in Middle School" by Benoit Denizet-Lewis spoke eloquently of the challenges teens and pre-teens face when they discover they are gay. Finally our society offers support for GLBTQ youth, the necessary emotional shelter they need as they come to terms with who they are. I especially enjoyed reading the discussion of how old youth are when this awareness happens--much younger now, and thankfully much more supported.

However, the author did not cover a huge and essential aspect of teens coming out: What happens when a teen finds out they are gay because of a sudden love interest? I explore this topic in my new young-adult novel, Qualities of Light (October 2009, Spinsters Ink). Perhaps the teen has always dated boys and suddenly falls in love with a girl. What happens when the teen's friends, who are heterosexual, make fun of the new pairing? Is it safe to tell parents, who may not support the sudden change?

Unlike Denizet-Lewis's subjects, these teens may not know how to make the transition. When researching for my novel, I found few books treated this subject, few served as literary mentors for teens falling in love with their best friends, as my heroine Molly does. A vastly different experience than the gradual coming out of the profiled teens in Denizet-Lewis's excellent article.

It's timely that this article comes out at such a ground-breaking moment in our history, when states are legalizing gay marriage and accepting that love is love. What we need is more literary models for teens who experience the sudden awakening of the heart and wonder how to reorient their lives to its truth.

Mary Carroll Moore

Stand Up in Print--A Way to Practice Your Book-Writing Passion
Do you feel it's important to stand up for something in print, be heard--before your book sees its readers? Find an article to praise and comment on. Editors of publications like both. They work hard to find good material and they love it when readers notice that.

Scan your local newspaper or a monthly magazine this week and find something that connects with your book topic. Craft a response. Mention your book (in progress, if that's true). Send it off. See what happens.

PS Most Letters to the Editor can be sent by email nowadays. Just follow the guidelines--they usually need your name, address, and phone, although the last two items are usually not printed.