Category Archives: inspiration

2

What I did on my vacation

2 collageOver the years, I have developed quite an adventure lust,  journeying to such places as Greece, Turkey, Venice, Berlin and Prague, Israel, Jordan  and Australia.  Wherever I go I come back with a fresh perspective on our work and many times I return with ideas which I subsequently help develop into books.

This year was no different although our trip was a bit more exotic and adventurous than they have been in the past.  In mid-September, we went to Kenya on the east coast of Africa and journeyed on a nine- day safari.  We flew all over the country, from Nairobi where we visited Karen Blixen’s  home  (Out of Africa), to the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro, to the Mara and Mt. Kenya, and back to Nairobi.  We went on at least a dozen game drives, saw the great migration and experienced the thrill of a hot air balloon ride (with its scary, controlled crash landing).  Ultimately we returned with wonderful photographs and stories to tell.

3 collageAnd, as in the past, I came back with a couple of book ideas that I am actively pursuing—a book about what the world would be like without wildlife and another about giraffes.  I am really hoping that one or both of these come to fruition.

In the end, this vacation was restorative to my psyche and my creativity.  Vacations should do that for all of us—enable us to renew our energy, so to speak.

I’d love to hear your vacation experiences and what resulted from your time away.  I hope you will share those here.

0

Crazy genius

I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of the crazy genius. So many times we see talented, creative individuals struggle with mental health issues – depression, anxiety, addiction. Some of the most brilliant artists of our generation have had tragic endings to their lives, most recently and notably Robin Williams which brought the conversation to a much more mainstream place. That struck an emotional response with so many of us. He made us laugh, we loved him like a friend, he was so funny. And yet his personal demons ultimately got the better of him. The outpouring of support and willingness to talk about a difficult subject and offer help to those who need it was the best thing that came out of Williams’ untimely death.

I found this piece in Authormagazine.com by a freelance writer and it resonated with me. It talks about the links between creativity and sensitivity, as many artists have elements of both. It also highlights the fact that so much of the darkness we sometimes experience in our creative lives is normal. I like her line: “This buildup of feeling is where art is born”. It reminds me of a quote I once saw on my nanny’s Facebook page: “Life is beautiful, not easy.”

I have an interest in this subject and have worked on many books over the years that explore some of these dark issues. Perfect Chaos by Linea and Cinda Johnson was a dual memoir by a daughter and mother about a brilliant young pianist who suffers from bipolar disorder. The pair have worked tirelessly within the mental health community to raise awareness of the condition and reduce the stigma associated with it. And Come Back by Claire and Mia Fontaine was also a mother-daughter memoir that delved into the issue of child sexual abuse. It was a Target book club bestseller and has sold over 200,000 copies. These authors have shared stories with me and others of how their books have helped people who felt lost and hopeless. Ultimately they send a positive message about triumph over adversity that is both hopeful and inspiring.

So embrace your inner crazy genius and let it take you somewhere you’ve never gone before. That is often the place where great things can happen.

And if you or someone you know is feeling like there’s no way out, here is the number and website for the national suicide prevention line: 1-800-273-8255 http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

5

Why we do what we do

With my kids finally back in school and my twins finally starting Kindergarten, I feel like a new chapter of my life is beginning. And it’s one I’m really looking forward to. The focus is more on things outside of the basic needs of keeping small children alive, which in addition to working full-time, has consumed me in big and small ways for the better part of almost 10 years.

The last couple of years as my kids have grown and our amazing nanny and my supportive husband have enabled me to step up my work schedule, I’ve talked so many times to my kids (not to mention interns, editors and authors) about what I do, answered questions about what I like about my job (a lot — the creative process; working with smart, talented people; developing projects I’m passionate about; business lunches; the flexibility of my work schedule), what I don’t like (admin; industry challenges which include great books not selling or not selling well; commuting to NYC when I go in for meetings). I’ve also had many discussions about what my kids want to be when they grow up (so far, we have a pop star, a writer, a mom or Kindergarten teacher, and an undecided). There’s so much clichéd advice out there about doing what you love and doing what makes you happy, but it’s all so subjective and hard to articulate.

Now that it’s a new school year and my thoughts are with new beginnings, I wanted to share this lovely piece of writing advice from Elizabeth Gilbert. It’s not new or groundbreaking, but so much of what she has to say about writing and the life of a writer resonated with me. I especially loved the idea that you can begin a writing career at any age. It’s so true and how many jobs can you say that about?

So, enjoy the read, get inspired, and get to work on something you love. Let us know what that might be and what you want to be when you grow up, or grow old.

1

When all else fails…

So, it’s Tuesday night, you’ve totally blown past your deadline for posting to the blog, you’re completely blocked, and nothing on-line gives you any substantial ideas. What do you do?

 You do this:

2014-05-06-ColbyProcyk1

You’re welcome.

P.S. Now that you’ve wiped your eyes, get out another Kleenex and check out the accompanying article about how an animal rescue center has kids read to stray cats to help the cats get socialized for adoption, and how it helps kids become better readers, too. How warm is your heart now?

P.P.S. Interestingly, the program is based in Berks County, PA, which has a storied literary pedigree: John O’Hara, Wallace Stevens and John Updike all came from towns in Berks County. And it must be noted that the hub of Berks County is the city of Reading–okay, it’s pronounced “Redding,” but still…

2

Inspiration/Perspiration

I have ideas for novels all the time. ALL THE TIME. And especially when I’m cruising around the internet over my morning cup of coffee. Like this article about a 13-year-old falconress in Mongolia – I instantly thought, she would make for an amazing YA heroine. Or this article about a summer job pulling a rickshaw (comedic coming-of-age, right?), or this one about an asteroid hitting earth (A dystopia, but set in the past, not the future!).

But have I written any of these (obviously brilliant) books? Heck no! Because writing a book takes more than an exciting story idea – it takes a great idea, and a basic understanding of grammar, and a talent for putting words together. But most importantly, it takes plain old fashioned discipline. You have to come back to your manuscript day after day, week after week, until you’ve told the whole story, and then you have to keep working on the pages you wrote until you’ve made every sentence as good as it can be. And then you share your book with other people, and you turn their criticism into another revision. And all that (hopefully) happens before it even gets to your agent and editor for their feedback.

So for every book you see on the shelf, that’s hours and hours of patient, focused labor happening between the this would make an amazing book! moment and the first copy going home from a bookstore. That’s hours spent writing instead of sleeping, writing on vacations, writing in between doctor’s appointments or graduate classes, writing in airports or parking lots or coffee shops. Writing through writer’s block and hand cramps and carpal tunnel syndrome!

So if you like books – and of course you do, otherwise why would you be reading this blog? – then hug a writer today! Or buy them a cup of coffee, because they can probably use the caffeine.

Where do you find inspiration? 

 

4

The backstory

Backstory is important, you’ll agree.  It’s what gives depth and weight to a narrative, allowing us to understand motivations and giving us context.  A common error authors make is letting the backstory overwhelm the narrative.  Then, it’s pages and pages of genealogy or irrelevant details about, for instance, the hero’s years spent kayaking in the Pacific Northwest, even if the novel is a legal thriller set in DC and having nothing to do with water craft.  Well thought out and incorporated backstory, however, is a joy.

Always having been intrigued by the part of the iceberg that hides beneath the water (to mangle part of a Hemingway quote), I also like to know the interesting arcana about the books themselves.  I like to know what the author was thinking, why s/he made the choices s/he did, what weird circumstances were taking place in the author’s life during the writing of the book, etc.   Being on our side of the publishing biz, we know a lot of books’ backstories—some funny, some sad, some sexy, some…surprising—and I always feel that they add a dimension to the reading experience.

If you’re like me in this respect, check out this clever and informative Buzzfeed compilation of weird book factoids, creation tales, and trivia.  My favorite?  Nabokov, notecards and butterfly nets in hand while creating Lolita.

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve learned about a book you love?

7

Where book ideas are born

The story this last week of the missing Malaysian Airlines plane is everywhere and, as I write this blog, the mystery surrounding what happened is still very much a mystery.  In fact, right at the beginning of this sad occurrence I said to Miriam that it would be an incredible premise for a novel.  And then there were the other events of this week that were top of the news–the explosion in Harlem that destroyed two residential apartment buildings and the deaths at the South By Southwest Festival due do a car going out of control.  Those too, it occurred to me, as awful as they are, provide fuel for book ideas both fiction and non-fiction.

I often get my book ideas from the front pages of the newspaper; other ideas come from personal experiences or those of my friends and colleagues.  And then, of course, there are other sources as well like the Ted Talk by Steven Johnson which I ran across as I was considering all of this.

So many of my clients – especially those who write fiction come up with wonderful book ideas one right after the other and I so appreciate their creativity.  This has made me wonder more and more where all of these ideas come from.  And so, I ask you, dear reader, where do you get your book ideas—are they from unusual personal experiences or are they torn from the headlines of the news of the day?  I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Oh, and one more thing, it’s Miriam’s Birthday today so everyone please wish her a very happy  birthday!

3

Writing your way to a better idea

One of the hardest things for writers is the process of coming up with an idea. And understandably so. Finding a topic doesn’t just happen, and so when I had to write creative papers for my college courses, each one started the same way: with a brainstorming session.

The mind is a funny thing. Our brains are capable of making some astounding—not to mention bizarre–associations, and when you let your thoughts run wild, that random stream of consciousness is likely to result in some pretty interesting ideas. There are a million and one different brainstorming techniques out there. In fact, brainstorming has evolved to become a bit of a science—seriously just type the word into Wikipedia and see—but I usually find the simplest methods to be the most effective.

Freewriting is one such method. Even if you can’t think of anything to write at first, the simple act of putting pen to paper can get those creative juices flowing. Clear your mind. Let go. Write. It may take a while to get going, and you may only end up writing “I have no idea what to write” for the first ten minutes of your freewriting session. But that’s encouraged. The ideas will come if you let them, if you keep churning out sentence after sentence.

If you’re having trouble, try doing some more in-depth research on freewriting and other brainstorming techniques. I find instructive tips such as this one to be very helpful. Not every thought you have during a brainstorming session will be gold. In fact, most will be absurd or downright nonsensical. Just remember, it only takes one good idea for the whole brainstorming session to be worth it. Be patient and have fun. It works. How do you think I came up with the idea for this post?

1

Kickin’ It Old School

Over the past month we’ve had some scheduled upgrades and maintenance take place on our server. Sometimes this means that we haven’t had access to our email or –horrors!- the Internet for as much as three hours at a time! Work screeches to a halt, thumbs are twiddled, hair is pulled. How can we get any work done without WiFi?

Oh yeah. People used to work like this every single day. And I’m not even talking about prehistoric hunters and gatherers, or even hardy homesteaders proving out their land in the Ozarks. I’m thinking of the not-so-distant days before e-books and Kindles, before Outlook and Firefox, before Post-Its and Keurigs. The good old days of penciled manuscripts and ink-penned contracts! Ernest Hemingway scrawling in a Paris café, Margaret Mitchell pounding away on this typewriter and using her finished pages to prop up her wobbly couch (or so Wikipedia assures me).

I don’t know that the DGLM office will be investing in typewriters or quills any time soon, but we did find worthwhile ways to spend our analog time. Some of us caught up on reading submissions (on pre-loaded Kindles, natch). Some of us went through the ominous to-file stack that we’ve been ignoring since Thanksgiving. Some of us thought about blog posts we could write when the Internet returns…

What are your tips for non-digital productivity?

13

The psychology of writing

I have a very strong interest in psychology that goes back to when I minored in it in college. My list has been peppered with titles over the years that explore various issues in this area and I am always interested in seeing new ideas with a psychological bend.

I enjoyed this article in authormagazine.org by published author Jennifer Paros about the psychology of writing. She used her son as a jumping off point, describing how as a young teenager he decided he had an interest in writing. He was then hampered by a fear of failure, essentially. My 8 year-old has recently expressed a similar interest, so I told her the only way to become a writer is to actually write but when I ask her if she wants to, the answer is usually no. I’m  not yet sure where her reluctance is coming from, but I’m going to keep an eye on it and try to encourage her to keep working on it.

Ms. Paros talked with her son about what was holding him back to get him past his stumbling blocks and the writing became easier and more natural. Eventually the process of writing outweighed the insecurity of worrying about a possible negative reaction in sharing his work.

This is likely a common stressor for writers and everyone else. We all worry, some more than others, about what people think of us or if they will react negatively to something we’ve said or done. It’s the people who use their mental strength to overcome these fears that will likely have the most success in writing or anything else they choose to do, a topic generating a great deal of interest following my client Amy Morin’s recent piece about mentally strong people and things they avoid.

What’s your biggest fear as a writer? Have you been able to overcome your insecurities to find a successful path? Share your stories. There are lessons to be learned for all of us.