EGJ’s Answers to GoodReads Questions:
How do you deal with writer’s block?
First: I listen to Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones on CD. Natalie did a tenth-anniversary version of Writing Down the Bones as an audio book, where she reads the book (the first book she ever wrote) and then comments on her own writing from the perspective of someone who has had ten more years of experience. She speaks directly to the writer in all of us, to our fears and faults, our insecurities and doubts, our soaring creative spirit and our earthbound reality issues. She is eloquent and inspiring. This book is healing for me in many ways. It never fails to bring me back to myself and back to my writing.
Second: I take a time-out from the book I’m working on / having trouble with, and focus on music. A) I play my guitar, sing, write a song. B) I go to iTunes and create a soundtrack for my book as if it were a movie. I focus in on orchestral pieces that embody or support the “feel” of the story arc and add a more modern tune at the beginning and end (like a credit roll song).
This helps to clear my mind–concentrating on something that is not writing but still creative–and when I return to my book I have a fresh perspective AND a soundtrack to play while I’m writing that is wonderfully inspiring. It very effective for getting the creative juices flowing again! If you are a writer or an artist try this the next time you get stuck!
Envisioning your book as a movie helps in other ways too. Thinking in the visual mode makes for great, concise descriptive passages and snappy/lively dialogue. And, of course, it is a lot of fun!
Third: I hit the road. If the first two don’t do the trick, I plan a road trip. Getting out of town, taking myself out of my daily routine has never failed to get me unstuck. New surroundings and new experiences inspire me to write new thoughts. I take my laptop, but almost always end up just writing in my journal. There is something about putting pen to paper that creates that “flow” we all love as writers. It’s very organic.
I come home refreshed and ready to work. And now, with AirBnB.com it is easier than ever to get a place for a few days without breaking the bank. And who knows, you just might be inspired by the people you’re staying with, in addition to the beauty that surrounds you. I highly recommend it!
Fourth: This one is the most radical and for me the most foolproof method for getting out of a rut. I stop reading books! Yep, you heard me right. Stop. Cold turkey! Here’s why it works: You see, I’m addicted to story (most writers are), and if I can’t get my fix through other people’s books I will get it through my own! It WORKS EVERY TIME! PS: No TV or MOVIES either. Cold turkey means eliminating all forms of story in my life so that my only outlet is my own stories!
What’s the best thing about being a writer?
Well, okay, that’s not THE BEST thing but it’s a nice perk! So is not having to wait for a coffee break to have a cuppa joe.
The best things about being a fiction writer are:
FUN: Building whole worlds using nothing but a vivid imagination.
LOVE: You get to fall in love over and over again with each new character.
FREEDOM: Which to me means waking up in the morning and asking yourself, “What do I want to do with my time today?” and having the answer be, “I want to work on my book.” And then being able to do so!
PERSONAL GROWTH: Always learning new things, expanding your world and opening up to new and different points of view when researching for a story, is a wonderful, never-ending source of education and intrigue.
COURAGE: Having a book out in the world challenges you to push past your comfort zone and can even teach you that you are braver than you think.
TOUCHING PEOPLES LIVES: Having readers write you to say how much they love living in the worlds you have birthed, or to let you know that your words helped them get through a difficult time in their lives, makes it all so worth it.
INSPIRATION: Being a writer means opening up to inspiration and letting things come through. Once that portal is open, it can inspire you in many other ways. It can ignite your soul.
GRATITUDE: I love my life and I am so grateful to be able to create freely (and to live in a country that allows full creative freedom).
What’s your advice for aspiring writers?
Aside from the usual (hone your craft, etc.), my top 4 best pieces of advice (for fiction writing) are as follows:
Don’t intrude upon your characters. Let them tell you what they want to say and do. Don’t force your opinions on them. Let them have their own unique point of view.
Know the difference between Active and Passive Voice. Active voice draws the reader into a story, passive voice makes the reader feel like an observer. In passive voice, the subject does not do the action, the action is done to the subject. In active voice, the subject is engaged in the action. Tip: Look for the over-use of the word “was” or “were.” They are red flags for passive voice.
Write what you don’t know. Everyone tells aspiring writers to “write what you know,” but I would change that to “write what you want to know” and do the research! When I start a novel, I spend three-quarters of my time researching and a quarter of my time writing. Writing what I already know is a “safe zone” that, for me, gets boring fast.
Show Don’t tell. This sounds like good advice but as a young writer, when I was just starting out, I didn’t really understand exactly HOW to accomplish this, let alone master it. Until I heard Natalie Goldberg’s explanation of Show Don’t Tell, I didn’t truly GET IT. So for those of you who are writers and still struggle with this, here is Natalie’s very clear and easy to understand explanation:
“There’s an old adage in writing ‘Don’t tell but show.’ What does this actually mean? It means don’t tell us about anger, or any of those big words like honesty, truth, hate, love, sorrow, life, justice, etc. Show us what made you angry. We will read it and feel angry. Don’t tell readers what to feel. Show the situation, and that feeling will awaken in them. Writing is not psychology. We do not talk about feelings, instead, the writer feels and threw her words, awakens those feelings in the reader. The writer takes the reader’s hand and guides him/her through the valley of sorrow and joy without ever having to mention those words.“
What are you currently working on?
In addition to the re-release of The LightBridge Legacy Book I: The Secret half, which has a new name, a fabulous redesigned cover, and a few great new scenes, I am also working on the final edits for LightBridge Book II: The Hidden Gates (which should be released summer 2017).
I will be putting the finishing touches on my Christmas book, The Saint of Carrington, which will be published Nov. 1st, 2017, which I am very excited about, AND a bit nervous about as well, because it is such a departure from my normal writing style. It is set in the late 1800s and I wanted to write the story as if the book had been written and published in the 1800s. So it is very different from my other books. My UK Editors called it an “aspiring classic.” We shall see how it does out in the “real world.”
And finally, I have begun writing a wonderfully fun new series called The Dragonbond Books, about an orphaned boy who is raised in the basement apartment of a 200-year-old library in Boston, and on his 9th birthday, inherits a dragon egg along with a book written in an ancient language that depicts the proud lineage of his ancestors; a people they called the Dragonbond Tribe. I am having a blast writing it. It’s basically a “boy and his dog” story but the dog is a dragon and they get into all manner of mischief together.
How do you get inspired to write?
Dreams are a huge thing for me. I write while I’m sleeping. A great many of my stories have come from dreams. And when I am steeped in the writing process, I often fall asleep working on the story and dream entire scenes that go into the book the following morning.
Also, doing research for a story or a character is a powerful way to get inspired. I do tons of research before and during the writing process. I really enjoy it because the story becomes real to me and my fictional characters come to life with real-world details.
If possible, I go and role-play my characters out in the world. I once wrote a story where the main character was handicapped, so I rented a wheelchair and spent an entire day in it. I went to the mall and learned not only how difficult it is to get around (how many places you just can’t go), but also how incredibly different people treated me. What an amazing lesson that was! And when I was ready to write that character into my story (in his POV), I had a bit of firsthand experience to draw from that added depth to the character’s inner life/emotions.
Where did you get the idea for your most recent book or books?
The LightBridge Legacy came from a reoccurring dream I had as a child where I was in possession of a magical device that could take me anywhere (or when) I wanted to go in the blink of an eye.
The Saint of Carrington came from a conversation I had while working in the theatre. We were talking about Santa Claus and I said,” my parents never told me that Santa Claus didn’t exist so I still believe.” I was in my early-twenties at the time so everyone laughed, but I wasn’t actually joking. When I got home, I jotted down the idea in short story form, about a town that has lost its faith and a boy who has lost his father, and how they together learn to believe in Christmas (and Santa Claus) again.
The Dragonbond idea came from a long-standing desire. I always wanted to write a dragon story. Then one day I wrote the line: My name is Secret.” and that is how it started. A boy named Secret and a Dragon named Zeek. After that, I was hooked. It doesn’t take much. I am a nerd through and through.
Elayne G. James is the author of the adventure/ fantasy coming-of-age series, The LightBridge Legacy, a new holiday novel titled The Saint of Carringtion.For more info visit: http://www.ElayneJames.com