Saturday, December 28, 2013

2013: A Semi-Great Year in Review

Cartoon showing baby representing New Year 190...
Cartoon showing baby representing New Year 1905 chasing old man 1904 into history. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I detest the sort of “my year in review” columns in which the writer looks back and praises himself for his accomplishments or wallows in self pity for the things that didn’t work out. 
Like most writers, I have a propensity to do both and so I don’t like to reflect overmuch on my writing career. I’d rather let others do that if they are so inclined.

If writing is a form of communication (and it is), then it becomes more meaningful to the writer if it is sharedthat is, if it comes back to me in some form (sales, feedback, reviews, and did I mention sales?).  

Nevertheless, something needs to be said about 2013 because it was a year in which I met two very important writing goals: publishing my first novel and taking a full-time teaching position. 

Both goals were realized after several years of hard work, learning, and faith. And both experiences have turned out far better than I could have hoped. 

But whenever one attains a goal (let alone two), there’s a need to sit back on that lofty perch and ask, “What’s next?”   

Well, what is next?

Fortunately (?), I don’t have the time to luxuriate in much indecision. My teaching job keeps me very busy, which is good: I have the privilege of teaching online English courses to students who otherwise might not get to go to college at all, as well as members of our armed forces, many of whom do their assignments while being deployed. 

If writing is communication, then teaching is service. I get to communicate and serve, passing on subjects I’m passionate about and which may help others find their passion.

However, some things have fallen by the wayside due to my busyness, including my next novel. I had begun work on a sequel to The Power Club, but put it on the back burner after members of my writer’s group pointed out, rightly so, that it read too much like the first novel.

I'm simply not ready to tell the next step in Damon's storyor perhaps he's not ready to tell me.

Instead, I wrote a book which departs drastically from the concept of teenagers with super-powers. It is very different than anything I’ve written before, and, as of right now, it exists in one complete and very rough draft. I’m getting feedback from my writer’s group and revising it at a snail’s pace. It's been slow going as I take stock of what I have and decide what to do with it.

Living the writing life

Writing does not happen in a vacuum.Writers live lives—or they should if they hope to write stories that resonate with readers who also have lives. I’ve pretty much avoided discussing my personal life in this blog as I prefer to keep the focus on writing and the journey of writing. 

But writing and living are intertwined; when one suffers, the other usually suffers, as well. While I wouldn’t describe my personal life as “suffering” this year, it has be tumultuous. I won’t go into details; let’s just say that I enter this Advent season in sort of a lull, and that’s okay. Advent is a time when Christians look forward to the coming of Christ, metaphorically or literally (or both)—a time when new things can happen in our lives.

So, as I enter 2014, I have no idea what my life or my writing holds in store. I’ve never really had a plan for my writing career, just an ever-changing dream. Someone recently told me that the difference between a goal and a dream is that, with a dream you have no idea how you’re going to get there but that’s what makes the dream worthwhile.

My writing journey in 2013 has proven this to be true.

Happy 2014 to all my readers! Thank you for stopping by, and may your own dreams be worth dreaming.

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Saturday, December 7, 2013

What Writers Can Learn about Inspiration from Lorde’s “Royals”

I don't keep up with popular music these days, so it takes something unusual for me to take notice. One of the most popular songs in the country is “Royals” by Lorde—a song which qualifies as unusual for several reasons. First, the song was written and sung by a 17-year-old girl from New Zealand, a remote country not known as a hotbed of musical activity. Second, its lush vocal arrangement makes "Royals" an energetic confection with a timeless quality.

What made me take notice, however, were the enigmatic and somewhat pointed lyrics:

                And we’ll never be royals
                It don't run in our blood
                That kind of lux just ain’t for us
                We crave a different kind of buzz

Such lyrics made me think the song was an intentional jab at Britain’s Royal Family and/or the media’s obsession with them. The last thing I expected was for the song to have any connection with Kansas City’s hometown baseball team, the Royals.

Yet a Kansas City Star article today revealed otherwise. 

It turns out that the song was inspired by a National Geographic photo of the Royals’ celebrated third baseman, George Brett, signing baseballs for fans during the 1976 season. The team logo was, of course, emblazoned on Brett’s jersey.

“It was just that word [Royals],” Lorde is quoted in the article.  “It was really cool.”

Leaving aside the notion that the song may be a jab at anyone, this story illustrates how writers can find inspiration in the unlikeliest of sources. It also illustrates how new creative works can be made by drawing connections from seemingly unrelated ideas across the globe.

Inspiration is a tricky thing. It is often compared to a muse—the mythological beings (usually female) who inspired men to do great things. On the other hand, inspiration can be compared to genius, which, in the words of Thomas Edison, involves 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration. The first attitude treats inspiration as a magical quality over which writers have no control. The second attitude treats it as nothing special.

To me, inspiration is indeed special. It often comes unbidden when I’m not ready for it (usually when I’m driving), and yet it also comes from hard work. Lack of inspiration, in other words, is not an excuse to stop writing. Inspiration, I’ve found, often returns when I’ve made it clear that I intend to plow on ahead with or without its assistance. Perhaps inspiration doesn’t want to get left behind.

But, returning to “Royals,” the story of its beginnings reveals three important points about inspiration for writers:

1. Don’t dismiss any idea, no matter how trivial it may seem.

According to Lorde, it was the word “Royals” itself which got her creative wheels spinning. Words can be enormous sources for inspiration—they carry meanings which are both denotative and connotative. Words suggest other words. Words suggest ideas and connections. Go with it.

2. Be receptive to inspiration from unusual sources.

How a teenager from New Zealand got hold of a 37-year-old National Geographic is still a mystery, according the Star article, but it doesn’t matter. Creative inspiration can be found in anything. The legendary ‘60s band Buffalo Springfield took their name from a sign on a steamroller. Starbucks, the coffee chain, took its name from the first mate in Moby-Dick. Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry drew inspiration from his own experiences in World War II and as a police officer, and from the TV series Wagon Train. 

Finding connections between seemingly unrelated ideas is what creativity is all about.

3. When inspiration comes calling, roll up your sleeves and get to work.

“Royals” may have begun with a photograph, but it didn’t end there. At some point, the song had to be written, rehearsed, recorded, sold and marketed.

This is where many would-be writers run out of steam. The initial feelings of wonder and excitement generated by inspiration disappear, leaving them with the cold reality of hard work. The sad truth for some is that inspiration alone does not make dreams come true. 

Anyone can be “inspired.” Perhaps the ultimate lesson of “Royals” is that ideas are not enough. It’s what you do with an idea that counts.

Work Cited:

Liu, Kathy. "Yup, George Brett is Her Inspiration." The Kansas City Star 7 Dec. 2013: C3.

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Sneak Peak at My Answers for the Local Author Fair Panel

On Thursday, November 5, I will be one of four authors participating in the Local Authors Fair Panel through Woodneath Library Center, Kansa...