Jennifer's Journal


Sunday, August 13, 2006

Meditations for the Driven Writer

People will read stories only as long as they care about what happens to the characters; therefore, the writer's first task is to make readers like the hero...enough to want good things to happen to them, or hate and fear the villains enough to want bad things to happen to them.
…Phillip R. Craig

Make your villains human, the writing books advise us. Give them good characteristics because no one is all bad. It’s also suggested that the demise of the villain be the natural result of his actions rather than at the hand of the hero. Hmm. Popular fiction is the direct descendant of Victorian moral tales; the main point is the battle of good versus evil. Readers want to pull for the good guy and boo the bad. They need to feel that people can overcome the problems and difficulties in their lives by their own merits. The blacker we paint the villain, then, the more heroic the hero or heroine becomes when he or she rids the world of the evil represented. And the more hope that victory implies.

I will remember that writing advice is never set in stone but changes with the story, the genre, the times and a dozen other factors. We are the gods and goddesses of our stories; we decide their truths.


I love deadlines. I especially love the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.
… Douglas Adams

Nobody actually loves deadlines. I feel about them the same way I feel about mosquitoes and red wasps; they should be zapped whenever possible. Yet deadlines are what keep me plugging along on my current writing project instead of wandering off to scribble on other fascinating story ideas. They keep me on track, forcing me to finish books on time. I was made aware of this the other day as I tried to organize the fifteen quilting projects and five knitting projects I have going in various stages. These could have been stories! Okay, so I still don’t like deadlines. But I can see them come around without reaching for the bug killer.

I will strive to remember that everything has a purpose, and the fact that keeping my deadlines sacrosanct leads to more contracts with yet more deadlines is actually a good thing…


I believe all novels have already been plotted in the real life. In fact, life is a writer's first draft.
…Tad Wojnicki

Writers, as a general rule, aren’t good gossips. They don’t get out and about much so seldom hear any really juicy bits. When they do hear something, they can’t repeat it with any satisfaction because they seldom remember the names of those involved. What they can recall with blinding clarity, however, is the course of events and why they took place. It’s human nature rather than human beings that fascinates them. Like prospector panning for gold, their brains dump everything that can’t be used in some future story.

Allowances must be made for those who become irritated because we can’t remember names. Notes should be taken if all else fails. Wandering off in the middle of their tirade is really not acceptable behavior.


Writers write to learn, to explore, to discover, to hear themselves saying what they do not expect to say.
…Donald Murray

So often, we forget why we write. We stop writing for any reason connected to our inner needs and write for the perceived market, at our editor’s suggestion or to the guidelines of the publication team. This way lies madness. Or worse, burnout. We aren’t machines to produce ideas on demand. If an idea has no meaning for us, we might as well be writing a grocery list. It should come as no surprise then if our muse, bored out of her skull, wanders away.

Let me write what is real and true for me, the story that would make me shout and laugh with glee – if I weren’t afraid folks around me would send for the guys with nets.


When you write -- and especially when you write imaginative fiction -- you literally make something appear out of thin air.
…Al Sarrantonio

Copy cat writers seldom succeed. Run fast in the other direction from whatever is currently in vogue, be it serial killers, hit men heroes, cowboys, babies or smart-mouth chicks. Those stories were planned more than two years ago and will almost certainly be passé by the time your book is published two or more years from now. Originality is key. Think deep, think long, turn over mental rocks. Reject the weird, the taboo, the emotionally uncomfortable or anything that’s different merely to be different. Watch for the sudden thrill that signals personal discovery. You’ll know it when it comes.

Let me always play with ideas. They are toys of the mind.


A writer who does not write is a monster courting insanity.
…F. Kafka

Most writers, so they say, are manic depressive, or up and excited when writing, down and depressed when not. That seems something of an overstatement. Writing, when it’s going well, creates a state described as “flow,” one in which the present fades away, time collapses upon itself and pages stack up almost by themselves. This can be addictive fun as the brain produces endorphins for the sensation known as a runner’s “high.” When the writing isn’t going well, or no work is in progress, the withdrawal symptoms kick in. Crazy or just an addictive personality? Your choice!

I will resist my tendency to turn everyone into a writer for the sake of the pharmaceutical companies who need to sell their mood-altering drugs.


If you’ve ever taken pens, notepads and your laptop on vacation, you might be a driven writer. If you’ve sat jotting ideas at night in a hotel bathroom so you wouldn’t wake your sleeping companions, you can bet on it!


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