authors, beauty, Entertainment, Life in General

Between.

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We call them goals. Those things we work toward and sometimes achieve. These ‘goals’ can be benchmark moments, work successes, projects finished, even amount of money made, and they can be good to have, but they are not now. What is now is everything in between, now is life.

I’m thinking about that today because I just finished a first draft on a new book. That doesn’t mean anywhere near done, but it’s a goal reached. I need to give it another day or two before I can go back and edit more because I need some space from it, I need it to be new when I read it again. And I have a movie out, which means some promotion, but though the film is new to viewers, it’s two years old to me. (Yes fledgling filmmakers, it can take that long for post and distribution.)

If you think about it, we’re always between something. School years, relationships, holidays, vacations, meals, moves, birthdays, work projects, and even, or especially, the big one—birth and death. Now, being between doesn’t mean we’re waiting. If you think about it, there isn’t any such thing as waiting, you just are where you are doing what you are doing right now.

Me? I took a wonderful hike along a stream, made breakfast, will spend most of the day catching up on reading for fellow authors that I’ve promised notes to, snuggle with my husband, work in the yard, and right now, I’m talking to you. All of these are things for which I’m grateful, the book is waiting to be read, critiqued, edited, changed, and smoothed, but it is hovering out there, and while it floats, while it waits to be morphed into final form and read, I’m doing something else.

Mostly breathing, which is good.

Someone asked me in an interview recently what I liked specifically about acting and writing. My answer was the same for both—connection. I write to offer others a ride into a world they would never experience, and when someone grabs on and feels the wind in their hair, then I’ve done my job. When I’m on stage and the audience is leaning in, breathing with me, they are sharing the emotions and struggles of my character. It’s magical.

So with a film out and a book pending, I do not rest. Or rather, I gather my strength from nature, family, my husband/lover, the joy of cooking, planting, creating a life of beauty and happiness. Like everyone, I have had times when it was hard to be happy, when there was stress and pressure and people trying hard to tear me down, but they never do. At fifty-five I’ve been through enough crap enough times to know that that will pass. I know now that I will move on to something else, that all my worrying and unhealthy responses do not make the difficult times pass more quickly. All it does is make it seem to take longer, and I’m busy with right now.

When I first moved to LA, I was so broke I couldn’t afford a bed. I slept on a couple of coats piled on a hardwood floor. But everyday, I would take a walk, I would find a flower, even a pretty weed, and take it home and put it in a clear glass bottle that had once contained some fancy soda. I would watch the light through the windows move across the room. I would let the elegant notes of Billy Holiday and Sarah Vaughn dance through my apartment, and write, and revel in the time alone. That’s when I first learned to meditate, and that has enriched my life beyond measure.

I may have been between jobs, between friends and relationships even, but I was glad to be there. I remember one day in particular, I went to the grocery store with about twenty bucks for food and started singing along to the music they were playing. An older man joined in, and next thing you knew we were dancing (with our carts no less) in the aisles of Ralph’s. It still brings me joy to remember that moment.

That’s why I’m ecstatic to be here. It leaves me thinking, what adventures come next? What quiet beauty or exchange with someone will I experience today? At what do I choose to look? And more importantly, what do I see within it?

Look for the moon on the water, see the wind tremble the pines, enjoy the mischievous smile on a child’s face while they play, notice someone taking a moment to be kind, strangers conversing, laughing together, take in compassion and love and humour.

You have an infinite number of choices, but really, to be happy, what choice do you have?

 

Shari, April 3, 2016

 

 

 

 

Acting & Experiences, creating character, creative inspiration, mental illness, writing

Trigger Happy

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Did you know you have pathways in your brain? Learned reactions to physical and mental stimuli? Isn’t that fascinating?

Here’s how it works. When your senses perceive something, (and perceive is the operative word, as we all perceive things differently) Certain chemical and electrical responses trigger in you brain and receptors open up, creating a kind of path that becomes the path most traveled. These receptors create different physical results, fear, tension in the neck, nausea, well-being, whatever it may be. We learn these responses, in fact, we memorize them, and if we don’t alter them, we loose the ability to take the path less traveled.

Now, I’ve reduced this to a ridiculously simplified version of the science, but being neither a physicist nor a neurosurgeon, I have to use the cliff notes, as it were. And here’s where it gets interesting for writers, actors, and well…humans.

For both writers and actors, these reactions to stimuli are what we would call ‘character traits.’ As an actor, you can use this to develop a much more rounded character to fill out your role. As a writer, you can actually explain, or intimate how past reactions control your character now.

For a human, to change those patterns we have to un-program and retrain ourselves. And this is difficult, we’re dealing with long term chemical and behavioral training. Pavlov’s emotions, let’s call them. In the case of the famous doctor, he would ring a bell, and the dog salivates. In someone who was abused as a child, the sound of people shouting may trigger an intense panic that has nothing to do with the actual situation at hand.

Our triggers are many, but every once in a while, we hit one that rests at our core. For me, the idea that I never can do enough, be good enough, that I should have to take care of everyone and everything that comes up, and if I don’t, I’m not good enough, that I’ve failed, is a biggie. Of course, it’s impossible, I’ve set the stakes too high to ever win at that one, so that particular ‘bell’ is no longer useful to me. This response is too ingrained to fix with conscious reasoning, knowing I have this issue doesn’t stop the reaction. I’m a puppet and the strings are tight.

So I went to someone who could help. I worked with a woman who does a procedure called ‘tapping.’ She is a therapist, and versions of this therapy are used to help soldiers with PTSD and people with childhood traumas. We talk about what the frustration or feeling is, identify where it is in my body, name it, and then she proceeds to talk about it, by having me repeat and reaffirm a different thought process while ‘tapping’ at different random spots on my face, hands and arms. The tapping interrupts the programmed response, allowing new pathways to open.

It was amazing. And I think it helped me quite a bit. But the point of this blog is to talk about those pathways and how they define characters, just as they define us as people. Isn’t that what we want from our performance or our fictional characters? I know I want them to ring as true as possible, and to be distinct from each other.

Let’s take some examples. Let’s say I’m playing a character who has a certain phobia, say, fear of dogs. Now, something, at some time, triggered and trained this character to behave that way. So, when I create my history of the character, (and this is acting homework, it has nothing to do with what is written in the script) I would include one or more experiences where I was bitten or other wise frightened by canines, and my body learned the response of breaking into a sweat and tensing for battle every time I hear a dog bark.

Or…let’s say….I’m writing a character in a book who is loving and motherly. I create a history for her where she grew up around lots of siblings and extended family and there was constant laughter and noise. This woman would sit at a restaurant and hear children bickering at the next table and it would create a real warmth in her chest because her conditioned response to the sound is happiness and safety.

Those are simple examples, but do you see how this kind of thing is influencing your life? How can you use mental triggers to round out your characters? Try an exercise where you have two people meet, and they both have very different reactions to something that happens to them. If you stick with the ‘why’ they behave this way, you will find that they are distinct from each other, and it will open new avenues of how they understand, misinterpret, or relate with each other.

This process will also help you deal with difficult people in your life. On of the hardest things to do is to not take it personally when other people treat you badly. But it isn’t about you, it’s about them.

When people can sense the restrictions that their emotional past puts on them, they can sometimes, through exploring it deeply and feeling it fully, change it. This is called an epiphany, and it is one of the peaks of a character driven story. And that is a very useful tool. But stay aware, it’s not going to happen just because someone else tells them they are wrong. Oh no. People will die rather than be wrong, so they will fight to justify and prove they are right, even if it means continuing to be deeply unhappy. People have to come to life-changing revelations on their own, from inside.

So for today, be quiet for a moment and feel what’s going on inside, then ask yourself what that is, the first answer will not be the one, keep asking, and you’ll find it. Then notice how that reaction, physical sensation responds to different situations as you go about your day.

Fascinating stuff. I love acting and writing, but mostly I love being human and connecting with others. Wouldn’t it be lovely if we all understood the strings that bind and control us, because only then can we cut them and braid a stronger connection with ourselves and others.

If you stick with this, not only will your characters fill out, but you will begin the process of understanding that greatest paradigm in your life. You—and all that has gone into making you unique.

Hey, maybe you should write your story!

Shari, September 11, 2014

Acting & Experiences, Life in General, New Novels, writing

Hiding Behind the Real Me.

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The lady behind the ARC’s of Invisible Ellen

So…last Wednesday, I’m booked to do a radio show. It’s been set up by the Putnum publicity department in NY, and communicated to me by email. The show, “Connie Martinson Talks Books” is ‘taping’ in Santa Monica at 11:00 and she’s featuring me and “Invisible Ellen.” So, I put on some jeans and a comfortable, very wrinkled shirt, throw on some mascara at the last minute, (I hate makeup, but I don’t want to offend anyone) and make the drive. Parking is tricky, and I go the wrong way, and have to run back to make it to the studio on time. I rush in, sweaty now, and look around.

Cameras. In the back of my mind, a little buzzer is going off, Not Radio. Television.

I look down at my wrinkled shirt and almost clean jeans, realize I’m pale and shiny, will be totally washed out by the lights, my hair is frizzy and snatched back with a plastic clip, and all I can think is…. Perfect. As I’ve said, I’m an everyday philosopher, meaning that I say, ‘Oh well,’ a lot. And this one has an exclamation point at the end.

Oprah has her “Aha” moments. I have my ‘Oh Well’ moments. So I get miked up for sound, sit in the hot seat, chat with Connie, who, it turns out, shares an ice skating past in Lake Placid with me, (small world) and then we roll. We have a delightful thirty-minute conversation about my new book. She’s so complementary, has me read a page, ‘to show how well-written it is’ which is delightfully flattering, and then asks me to sign a book for her at the end.

I couldn’t be happier. After years of soaps and movies and modeling, to appear on a TV show where nobody gives a crap how I look, but is interested in how and what I write, is a major milestone for me. Not because of my attitude. I have always preferred to not wear makeup and be liked, or disliked as the case has often been, for who I am. I have spent a life time with idiot men telling me I was “smart for a women” and thinking it was compliment when I was twice as smart as them. And too much time dealing with and diffusing  women  feeling competitive with me because of how I looked. Insanity. Unworthy. Ridiculous.

We count as people. Our actions must speak louder than the surface. They don’t call me Shari Action for nothing. If something needs to get done, I’m usually the first to pitch in. Be it as a mom at school, or my charity, or speaking up for someone who can’t, I’ve just never been able to stop myself.

So much for that. But there is more to this story. As soon as I saw her, I realized that I had been on Connie’s show once before, years ago, and thank goodness, she did not remember either. It was for my third book, “The Man She Thought She Knew,” and the only reason Connie had me on was that she was friends with the publicist. I answered her incorrectly when she asked about a character, telling her that they weren’t in this book, (wrong) thanked her at the end of the show by calling her Colleen, and she definitely didn’t ask me to read from the book. Shhhh. So when she asked me this time, before filming, if this was my first book, I answered, “No I have two series, one is a woman named Calla-….uh, it’s a crime series.” Cutting myself off because I’m embarrassed that the light will dawn and the flattering, soft-filtered veil will fall.

It always does, eventually of course, but sometimes we find a few moments of forgiving grace. Yep I’ve got a past, and it’s back there,but as one friends said to me, “That’s what pasts are for.” We don’t need to wear our learning curves, but we can use them for traction.

‘Oh well’, and ‘Aha!’ They make a good combo, and both are welcome in my life now. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for those other moments, those mistakes, those embarrassing scenes, those times I fell on my butt on the ice in front of twenty thousand people. But you know what? I’m glad I did. I lived to tell the tale, as it were. And most likely, as it shall be.

So embrace your fundamental imperfections. Be human, let the wrinkles on your shirt and your face show. You earned them. And if, in spite of all that, you can hold up your book—or better yet, your life—and be proud, then you are a success.

In my case, it’s a success with some pretty scathing memories behind it. That’s me, Shari Action. If my life were a race, I’d look back and see lots of hurdles laying on their sides where they were knocked when I didn’t quite clear them. Look closer and you’ll see my cartoon outline in the brick walls I sped into and crashed through. You’ll see the indents where I gave up for a while and curled into a ball to rest.

The more I think about it, the more I think that the word ‘imperfect’ describes me best. It describes us all.

And isn’t that wonderful?

Shari, June 19th, 2014

Acting & Experiences, creating character, Entertainment, writing

Walking on Water.

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So, you want to write a book or make a film? Welcome to two of the world’s most popular clubs! We’re so pleased to have you as a member!! Ours is an inclusive club, one where the process means as much as the result. Where the novices are every bit as respected as the ‘successful.’ Are you ready?

Did you know that water represents the subconscious in your dreams, and in this blog, by the way.

If you just want to be famous, well, that’s a different organization. Not much value in the process there. I do not belong. You will pay dues for this club as well, make no mistake, though the monthly newsletter, “Pay Attention to Me!” is unreadable for anyone with creative aspirations. But, I digress.

There are two perspectives on ‘creative success’, at least two. The first is how we define ourselves to others, and the second is what brings us contentment.

So, if you are just starting out in…say filmmaking, you will probably be more focused on the world view of you, being recognized and lauded. Outward gratification. If you’ve been in the business for 30 years, you are more likely in a position to pursue projects that truly mean something to you, you may have more freedom to express your uniquely creative voice and not care as much how the world will perceive it. Inward gratification.

Ironically, perhaps, it is almost always those pure expressions and visions from the inside that strike us as an audience with the most force, and go on to stand as classics or examples of the highest quality.

If you want to make a film, write a novel or a screenplay, produce a play, or any number of other creative projects, what’s the first place to start?

Precisely because you are starting out, the tendency is to look out. What is popular? What will people like?  What will make me look good?

Whoa, put on the breaks, screech to halt, back up and let the engine idle for a minute. If it were possible to  know any of those things, every single book, film, play, and song would be a smash best-seller.

But they aren’t. Mmm…it’s a mystery.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. All you have to offer is you. The only thing that you can give—that no one else has to offer—is your voice, your vision, your work. Trying to reproduce someone else’s style, art, or visual expression will only create a cheap, and most likely inferior, imitation.

Obvious, right? So, how do you begin? Some of the best advice I ever got when I was first writing was, “Write what you would like to read.” Frankly, I didn’t have the skill to write what I truly loved at first, because I loved some of the very, very best. A good goal, but a difficult place to begin. So. As a warm-up, I chose to write what I loved on a lighter, entertaining level. My first books are designed and written to be fast-paced, exciting, funny, and page-turners with complex characters.

Now, what I want to write is different, I want it be original. I want to get into the brain of my characters and share their lives, thoughts and feelings, their very unique view of the world with you. And I want to do it with language that speaks beyond the definition of the word. I want to write mountains and tantrums and storm clouds and fits of laughter. I want to express the embracing arms of your own bed after a difficult day, the screaming inside when a bully gets away with it, a feather caught in an updraft.

So what is your goal? What do you want to read, see, hear? And more than that, how do you want to say it? I’ve offered exercises for writers, on starting characters, scenes and stories in different blogs, and some of them really work for me. Just scroll through my past blogs and you will find them.

Screenwriting/filmmaking is a different beast by nature of outlay. By that I mean both monetary expense and group participation. You need equipment to make a film, you need a crew, you need to feed that crew, you need to rent expensive editing facilities and experts in color correction, the list goes on and on. And, you may have a very clear vision of the shots you want and how to put them together, but you will still have a director of photography and an editor with brains and visions of their own. To ignore their contributions would be wasteful. Qualifier— though there must, on any film, be someone with final say. Too many cooks…. But be careful, very careful, not to let your ego deprive you of what your team has to offer.

You begin the film process by  writing—or finding—a script that resonates somehow for you, something that offers, maybe not a new or unique story, but at least a unique point of view. Next, you interview people until you find the ones who understand your vision and will support and add to it. That’s how you begin the long road of film production. And when you find those people, keep them close, pay them fairly, let them contribute, and  give them the credit they deserve. Conversely, if they moan, complain, talk behind your back, or otherwise hamper the overall production, cut them loose—with blessings. Just like in your life.

Both the arts of writing and filmmaking begin with a vision, one that should be your own, not a compilation of other’s people’s ideas. Learn from, borrow suggestions, and practice examples of the greats in your chosen field that you admire, of course!! If it weren’t for Tom Robbins, P.G. Wodehouse, and Jane Austin, I wouldn’t be a writer, because I wouldn’t love books and words so much. But I can’t be them, I can’t write them, I can only admire and gently reflect some of the things I learned from them.

Study your favorite filmmakers, directors, photographers, writers, set designers, and include them all!! Of course.

Then let it go and see what bubbles up. The ideas are there,  as is all your attention and research, under the water you’ve peered into so intently, but you need to be above that, walking on the water. You are an amazing creative force, the Great Spirit, (however you define that, Creativity, the Universe, or that somewhat polymorphic entity, ‘God’) made you unique and it is your journey. If you choose a creative life, your path is to unleash your power and your talent. So that we can all revel in it, and thank you for sharing it with us.

It’s all there, just below the surface, trust it, swim in it, and let it hold you up.

Shari, October 20th, 2012.

Life in General

The Sexual Orientation of Story Lines.

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It’s been ten years since I sold my first book to Simon and Schuster. “Loaded” was the first book I tried to publish, and I know now that it was no small feat to get that done. There wasn’t the self-publishing craze that there is now. You couldn’t whip up a few hundred mediocre pages, peruse the stock photo sites for a cover, and throw it up on Amazon to see if it would stick like spaghetti on the ceiling. In fact, they didn’t have Amazon. Ack! Egads! Life in a vacuum! Cats and dogs living together! How did we exist in such chaos? 

They did have something called the Palm Pilot, the first electronic book distributor, I believe. Loaded was in the top 50 for that when it came out. I guess it was a big deal, but I don’t really think anyone had any idea of how the ebook world would eat the hard cover book publishing industry, with ketchup and onions. Burp. Excuse me! 

On Christmas day I re-released Loaded as an ebook with a new look, and I’m curious to see how this big ol’ electronic publishing monster works out. It’s all new to me. 

It got me thinking about what’s gone down in ten years. My girls have grown up, one is in college, I re-married, and found joy in a relationship that is co-supportive instead of giving 85 percent of my energy to someone else, as far too many working moms do, my values have changed as a result, I want what I have now, not what other people think I should want, and my writing has matured considerably, how could it not?  

That said, I had to re-read and edit all four Callaway books, (yes, there’s a fourth, it will be released after I get the other three up and running!) and it was…interesting. 

Ultimately, I liked them, but I wouldn’t have written them now. Here’s the opening paragraph of Loaded—

I was staring down the vocal end of a forty-four magnum. Any second now, it would scream at me, shout, blow my fucking head off. I was scared, pinned down, trapped. In spite of being overcome with terror, I noticed how the night wind felt on my face; it made me feel alive and I wanted to stay that way.

Clearly, I was going for a big opening. I wanted the reader to see it, if you know what I mean, and then feel the moment as well from my character’s point of view. The Callaway novels are noted for their pace. I would literally read back what I had written, and if there wasn’t something exciting happening for more than say, two pages, I’d make sure it did. 

Loaded wasn’t the first book I wrote, mind you, just the first one I tried to get published. First I wrote two others, as exercises. Oh, I didn’t know they were exercises, I thought they would be brilliant best-sellers, but they are still somewhere in a closet. As my fabulous first editor Amy Pierpont once said, “I believe every book should be written, but I do not believe that every book should be published.”  That’s a philosophy that has vanished along with the independent bookstore, and I say a book is like a painting or a shirt. If you like it, buy it, who cares if anyone else thinks it’s good. I did, however, learn a lot from my ‘practice novels,’ and here’s what I can share about that with you. 

There are two basic types of books, in fiction, anyway. Feminine and Masculine. Now that doesn’t mean that the book is about men or women, the sex of the characters doesn’t matter, but a Feminine story is one that is character based, in which, we experience a character’s feelings and watch them work out relationships, or learn to love, or deal with old wounds, or find the healing power of family, or…well, you get the idea. A Masculine story is about a briefcase, everyone wants the briefcase, the briefcase will save the world, or make someone the richest SOB in history, everyone chases the briefcase, the briefcase falls into the wrong hands, we think we have the briefcase, but it’s the wrong briefcase! Things explode, cars are crashed, and then…okay, you get it. 

So, I wrote one book about people feeling and communing with nature and their inner selves, (Yawn for everyone but them). That was my Female novel. And then I wrote another book where everyone wants the precious object, which triggers a chain of events in which everyone chases, loses, and rescues the precious object. That was my Male novel, busy, and kind of heartless. (Lots happens, about which, we feel nothing in particular.)

I haven’t read either of them for years, but I’m pretty sure they’re both dead rotten. Not to say they didn’t have a couple of good ideas for characters in them or the occasional clever metaphor, but in my quest to produce a deserving, well-rounded book, I’m confident that I actually created something closer to ready fuel for a beach bonfire. (They were written on paper, remember that?) 

So I set out to write something that I would want to read. Something with big fat characters who have an emotional ‘arc,’ meaning they grow and change, and a twisted, skidding plot, with humor and action, a book that would be as much fun as a triple loop roller-coaster, with hooks at the end of every chapter and no waiting to get on it.

And now, reading it back, ten years later, I see that Loaded is what I would call a bi-sexual book. It has both Feminine and Masculine elements. Someone overcomes a personal obstacle, and a murdering SOB is brought down.

So…fun, and, I hope, a hell of a ride. 

Any way, Happy tenth, “Loaded.” Take a deep breath, close your eyes little book, make a wish, and blow out those candles.

I’m not sure, because if you tell, it won’t come true of course, but maybe, Loaded wished that a new generation of e-readers will choose to take a ride, strap themselves in and scream with their hands in the air. Provided they have a Kindle or Nook stand, of course, otherwise, they have to hold on. 

Happy reading. 

Shari December 27, 2012

 

 

Acting & Experiences, Life in General, New Novels, Theatre, writing

Want to Write Well? Learn to Write Badly!

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Here’s a shot of me singing ‘Mein Herr’ in Cabaret a few years back. I know, I know, I didn’t write that. But, I did have to sing the part, and here’s the thing; I’m not a singer.

Sure, I can carry a tune, and have a ‘nice’ voice, but compared to those who work at it, I’m weak. So, I had to work my solar plexus/abdomen off to get myself up to belting-it-out level.

It took about eight weeks with a vocal coach and a minimum of an hour a day practice, not counting the actual rehearsal times, to get there. When I was asked to play this part, I auditioned for the music director, the dance choreographer, and the director. Acting? No problem. Dancing? Done enough with my ice skating to fake the lead, (it’s the chorus that really dances). Singing? Wasn’t quite so sure.

However, when the musical director, who was blind, said I could handle it, I agreed to take the part. And I’m so glad, it was one of the best theatre experiences I’ve ever had. One of the best overall acting experiences actually.

But I had to start with an average talent and work on it until I could hold the solos and bring down the house. It took weeks of cracking notes and perfecting technique, and if I had only been as good as my audition, the show would definitely not have been a hit, in fact, I would have let a lot of people down. There was pressure to be, not just good, but exceptional. A pressure that all to often, writers put on themselves too early on.

We don’t start off being perfect at anything in life, especially not when creating the first draft of a new book. You don’t know yet if the idea will be good, if you’ll be up to the challenge, if this is an idea that will flesh out into a full-bodied epic with pith and wisdom and sentences that make you weep. Most people, I’m guessing, begin a book with little more than a basic idea and go from there. If we expected our first draft to be the opening night performance, (i.e. finished novel) we’d be so terrified, we’d never even start.

So here’s my first advice, go ahead and suck. Be bad, let the typos and the spelling, and the over-writing and the rambling go. Get it down on paper, or at least, in a computer, then you can go back, work it, get advice, have an editor work with you. We do this in every other aspect of life, we learn as we go, we improve and we step up, it’s the same in writing.

Don’t forget, you’ve got the rehearsal to perfect it, to get better, to polish and fluff and fill. If you are afraid to put something down that isn’t good enough or might need to be thrown out, you won’t have the joy of writing, of the process. And if you don’t love the process, do something else.

I mean, look at it this way—you might not be Celine Dion, but does that mean you can’t belt out one of her classics in the car? Of course you can, and I’ll bet you sound good in there!!

So start that story, create those characters, dream up scenarios and whole other worlds, because it’s fun!! And if it isn’t quite right, change it, start over, twist and shape it into something you do love.

Just remember this, don’t do it the way you think it should be done, do it from your heart and use your own voice, because it’s all you truly have to offer.

I ain’t no Celine, but with a lot of sweat and more than a panic attack or two, I pulled off Sally Bowles, and loved the experience, even if I wasn’t good when I started.

So just write it down, get your idea out of your head and into some workable form. Your idea will evolve and improve, I promise. Your words will smooth out, and the discordant notes will strengthen as you work on them. Have the courage to cut and change when needed. In a month or two, or six, or twelve, each to their own tempo, you will have a finished work that you can hold up proudly and say, “I wrote this!”

And if nobody else likes it, so what! Nobody can predict that, but like singing in the shower, it’s still really fun!

Shari, November 13th, 2012

Life in General, New Novels, Shakespeare

The Luxury of Editing.

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Hi Melissa, this one’s for you!!

We are the few, the proud, the writers. We write, we read back, we re-write, we edit, someone else edits, we re-write, some one copy-edits, we correct, we release our baby.

Yes, it’s a lot of work taking a book from inception to published page, but every time I get those manuscripts back from my various editors so marked up with red pen that they look like they have a bad rash, I have a similar train of thought. It goes something like this, “Oh my GOD!! It’s so much work! I’ll never get through this. Oh wait, maybe it’s not so bad, okay, I can fix that. I’ll insert here, delete there, change a few words, make a few corrections, fix the glaring hole in my plot, re-phrase some dialogue. Wow, lookie there, I’m done!” But no edit is complete until I drop to my knees and give thanks for my Macbook pro.

Imagine having to write with a typewriter and carbon-paper. Just think of having to retype every page on which there was a correction or a change. Or, going even further back, dipping a quill in ink and scratching out your manuscript on parchment by candle light. No wonder some books were so long-winded then, it was too much trouble to cut them! Now, we highlight sentences with a stroke of a finger, move paragraphs with a flick of the wrist, rearrange chapters and page breaks with a pudgy, chocolate-smeared thumb, and send our manuscripts flying through the air from our living rooms, without even having to dislodge our cats from our laps.

It’a brave new world. Though honestly, I think it took a lot more courage to pluck a goose feather from a large, angry, aquatic bird and make art with it. Shakespeare did it, sure, so did Marlowe, but I might have stuck with an easier profession, like, oh I don’t know, indentured serfdom, for example.

So here’s my editing process. Once I have the basic foundation of my book/plot. I start to write. Normally, I write a few pages a day, sometimes a chapter, depends on the length of the chapter. My Callaway Wilde books proceed at a frenzied pace, so the chapters are short and get shorter near the end as the pace builds. My new book, “Invisible Ellen” has more leisurely chapters, meandering along with her very unique thought process, it speaks more of her ‘watching the world go by’ life. Something always happens, mind you, I must forward the story in each chapter, it was grilled into me by my first editor a fabulous woman at Simon and Schuster named Amy Pierpont. Meandering and flowery descriptions be damned!

I do not edit as I go. I would never get anywhere. I compare this to life. Let’s say, for example, that you have a small run-in with someone in the carpool line at school, they insult you or disagree in a surprising and unpleasant way, you fumble through a reply, but it’s not what you wanted to say. Okay, that’s your scenario. It’s written down on the history/page of your day. On your way home, you edit. You think of all the things you could have said, the witty comeback, the insouciant non-chalance, the careless toss of the head, the unaffected, perfectly timed laugh. You are re-writing this in your head, and low and behold, you become the faultless heroine/hero you always knew you could be.

If only you’d thought of it the first time.

But we’re not all Shakespeare or Oscar Wilde. You can’t always perform perfectly the first time out. You have to get it out there first, on the page, or in your life. So, when writing, I do exactly that, I write, with mistakes. Then I put it away. Then the next day, the first thing I do is read back what I wrote the day before, making very minor changes as I go, things that won’t slow me down too much. I need to get a sense of the pace of what I was writing as well as the words and story. I might make a correction to glaring punctuation mistakes, or reinsert dropped words, sometimes I change up an overused adjective or make a judicious cut when the point has been made, and made, and made already. But only if I can do it quickly, big things I note, and return to later.

This puts me back in the flow of things, back in my character’s heads and the pace of my story. So I can start from where I left off and move forward to the next chapter. I do not ever stop and do a thorough line edit, not until I’m done with the first draft, it would break up my pace too much and the rhythm of the writing would become choppy and interrupted. Flow and pacing are very important. They keep a reader in your mood, your motif, your world.

Occasionally, I decide on a plot change, and then I will spend a day or two going back through the completed chapters making the necessary adjustments. That’s because I have to make those changes before I can move on.

I suppose we do this in life too. Hindsight, as they say, is 20-20. Too many people completely reinvent themselves without giving credit to the magnificent mistakes that got them where they are. Not me baby. I’ve got siblings. They will never let me forget that I almost wet my pants when my brother put a snake in my bed, that I fell down in front of 20 thousand people in a skating competition, that I was a cocaine addict when I was eighteen, that I was a bitch, oh, I could go on, but the list is so very, very long.

So books are our opportunity to correct ourselves, to say what we really wanted to say, to have the gift of a do-over, to inhabit a perfect world.

Deadlines aside, we’ve got all the time in the world to get it right.

And that, is not anything like life. We have a limited amount of time to get it right, to learn our lessons, to be kind, to be patient, to make choices that matter, so that in the end, we can look back and see not just the red marks, but the original beauty behind them.

So write your life today, re-read it tomorrow and see where you can improve it, make those changes, live a month, and look at the bigger picture, live a year and become a better person, live a lifetime and leave an epic.

And leave the red-marks. They are the places you took a chance, or you got tired and made a mistake. But most of all, they are the points where we were most human. Any dummy can screw up, but only someone willing to admit it can make it better.

So stick a red flag on my past, and look out for those sticky spots in the future, ’cause I’m not done messing up.

It’s how I learn.

Shari, October 26, 2012