Sunday, April 29, 2012

Breaking all the rules

Remember reading all those teen magazine articles on how to combat frizzy hair? The tips were always the same: Don't touch your hair. Blow dry on low heat. Use such-and-such ridiculously expensive hair gel that you may or may not be able to track down in a drug store. Or you can use a drugstore brand that's cheap and easy to find but may or may not work quite as well. Whatever you choose. Oh, and my personal favorite: Don't wash your hair every day. That one meant that I could wake up early to shower  one day and sleep in the next.
Oh, but heaven forbid I shower seven days in a row or blow dry on high every day. No, that wasn't going to work. If I did that, I was convinced my hair would look horrible all day, and that would be a tragedy. Considering that 70 % of days are bad hair days for me anyway, I had many quasi-tragic days throughout junior high and high school.

Fortunately, none of them were quite this bad. (source)

I've always been sort of a rule follower. Okay, a big rule follower. When I was in high school, I would be caught dead skipping class without a legitimate reason. Even if I used the word legitimate very loosely and used an excuse along the lines of "it's the last day and we're not doing anything important." But I would never skip sporadically or just for fun.
Any time I set out to do something, I read every word of the fine print to make sure I'm not doing something wrong. When I was filling out my application for arts school, I must have read the instructions at least 400 times, reading and rereading to make sure I got everything just how it was supposed to be. Following the rules can be good because they're there for a reason -- usually for something good, like to keep us safe or out of trouble. But rules can be stressful too.
One of the crazy things about writing -- or any art in general -- is that it's so subjective that rules sometimes have to be tossed out the window. One person looking at your work might see something they love, while another person might see the same thing and hate it.
When I was in college, I had two professors who were about the same age. They were both married with elementary aged children, and had the same credentials/experience. Both of them mentioned the Harry Potter books in their classes; one of them thought they were brilliant, the other despised them. One thought they had brilliant prose, the other thought the writing was terrible. One thought they were inventive and complex, the other thought they were formulaic. The cliché that you can have five people look at something and get five different opinions really is true. Or, in this case, two people and two different opinions.

By the way, I now blow dry my hair on medium heat. No way am I leaving the house with wet hair OR blow drying it on low anymore. Lots of stress taken off of me just by breaking a so-called rule.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Emotionally connecting with an audience

Last night, as I struggled to keep myself from checking my e-mail every five seconds waiting for a possible reply from an agent, I settled down in front of the television. After a marathon of Killer Kids, a special about Casey Anthony came on. I had already seen it but was still trying to keep myself off my hotmail account, so I rewatched.
Back in July, most of my free time was spent watching the Casey Anthony trial. I laughed at the stupid questions her lawyer asked, cried along with her mother when she recounted the night her granddaughter disappeared, and felt like the world was going to end when Casey was acquitted. I was angry for a long time, but eventually recovered. From this, anyway.
But...why? Why was I so wrapped up in the murder trial of a victim and accused killer I never met? And while we're on the subject, why did my junior high friends and I spend so much time watching Titanic over and over and lusting after Leonardo DiCaprio? (Scratch that -- we STILL do that ! :])

My point can't emotionally connect with someone you don't even know, right? Wrong.

It's an artist's job to connect with an audience. There's a reason why Titanic is still popular today and why suckers like me will shell out a ridiculous amount of money this month just to see it on a screen as big as our wall. There's a reason why teenage girls (among others) stand in line for hours just to see a movie adaptation of Harry Potter or Twilight or The Hunger Games. There's even a reason why they stand in line to see the actors from those movies, or their favorite musicians or athletes. Every one of these people and/or stories has something an audience can connect with.

Back when I was younger, teenage girls swooned over Leo. Now, we still watch Titanic because Rose, like so many others, is trapped in a life she doesn't like and doesn't think she can escape. We swoon over Edward Cullen while reading Twilight but so many girls identify with Bella, who is awkward and has yet to find her place in the world. We watch The Hunger Games and marvel over the scenery of the Capitol, Suzanne Collins's beautiful prose and even Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth. But we also identify with Katniss, who initially struggles just to survive. We dress up in wizard robes and go to midnight parties, but we also identify with Harry Potter, who lives in a world that is so marvelously different from our own...but not as different as it seems.

Even the celebrities we read about in magazines appear to be like us. Taylor Lautner and Josh Hutcherson are swoon worthy, but appear sweet and down to earth -- something so many girls want. Female musicians like Demi Lovato and Katy Perry sing songs that other girls can identify with and project the image that they are "just like us." Maybe these stars' appearances are genuine, and maybe not. But they all have something that their audience can identify with. Because if you can't identify with someone, not only is that emotional connection lost but you feel isolated. Humans are social creatures, and there's nothing worse to most of us than isolation.

I'm always so baffled when people don't understand why someone connects with a celebrity they don't know or a movie character who isn't real. Sure, we have people we know personally that we can connect with, but it's not always easy. Everyone goes through times where they genuinely feel that nobody they talk to can understand them...but, as always, that book or DVD or CD is just one click away. If that celebrity or character didn't have something their audience could connect to or identify with, they wouldn't be that well-known in the first place.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Big Bang Theory and writing

My parents have a habit of unintentionally getting me into new sitcoms every time I come home -- or sometimes just at random intervals. When I came home for Christmas freshman year of high school, I started watching Reba with my mom. Since I've moved back home after college, I've started watching The Nanny with my mom, Frasier with my dad, and The Big Bang Theory with both of them.
The Big Bang Theory is right up my alley. Nerds and aspiring actors -- need I say more? But my favorite character on the show is, without a doubt, Sheldon Cooper. Sheldon is unlike any real person or fictional character I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. If he ever came into my work and I had to deal with him as a customer, I would probably quit right then and there. But as a TV character, he is absolutely fascinating.
In one of last night's episodes, Sheldon, a physicist and Cal Tech, was trying to solve a physics problem. Instead of doing what normal people do -- you know, spending some time eating, sleeping, and socializing in addition to solving the problem -- he goes at it head on. Sleep? Hygiene? Sanity? Forget all of that. Sheldon goes so far as to joining his neighbor Penny at her waitressing job so he can occupy himself with "menial" tasks and free up his mind to solving the aforementioned problem.
Sheldon is not crazy. His mother had him tested, he insists. But he is certainly dedicated, almost to the point that it makes him go crazy. That's how I've felt for the past few days. I hate sitting around waiting for something to happen and, even though I am working on other things and occupying my mind, I can't help but wonder: I am a writer...but will I ever be an author? If I give writing half the attention and dedication that Sheldon gives his work, I think the answer is yes, one day I will be.

But I still hate waiting. Even if I am working in the process.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

why a writer NEEDS to write

With any career -- especially those in the arts -- there are always misconceptions. I had a friend in elementary school who constantly heard people assume that her banker father was rich because he worked in a place with lots of money. As the daughter of a preacher, I've grown up with the assumption that I will either turn out "really good" or "really bad." And as a writer, there are plenty of misconceptions about me as well.
J.K. Rowling has been back in the news lately, both with the announcement of her new novel (which I can't wait to read) and the opening of Pottermore (which is an excellent time waster but a bit kiddish). Which allows me to recall a period in late July of 2007. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows had just come out and, like most fans, I was obsessed. I went to a midnight release party and spent that entire Saturday reading, only stopping for an occasional bathroom break, avoiding the internet, and even skipping church the next morning to finish reading (oh, I'm such a typical "really bad" preacher's kid!). And I don't even remember what brought the subject up but sometime a few days later one of my relatives said, in relation to the book, "J.K. Rowling will never have to write another book again!"


Now, I get what they meant. Ms. Rowling is way beyond financially secure. She'll probably never have to scrape together a few dollars to feed her family -- heck, she's richer than a lot of celebrities and, from what I've heard, the royal family in her native England. She doesn't need to keep working in order to make a living. But when you're a writer, you do need to write -- if not for your life, than for your sanity.

I can't imagine what would happen to me if I stopped writing. Even when I was younger and didn't have any aspirations to write professionally, I was constantly writing. And if I wasn't writing, I was reading. It was just a hobby back then, but it was still a part of me. I literally could not stop writing. Ever. Even if I was locked in a cell and never given another sheet of paper or pen again, the wheels of my imagination would constantly be going. They're constantly going as it is -- when I'm working, or trying to go to sleep, or even waking up in the morning. Sometimes they're churning while I'm supposed to be listening to the sermon in church (yet another "really bad" preacher's kid trait of mine). If I weren't allowed to write, or at least to create stories in my head, I don't know how I would function.

So, if they're anything like me, writers need to write. Even if they're one of the lucky few who hits it big with their writing, they can't stop writing. If you can't stop the creative juices from flowing without going insane...well, you just might actually be a writer.

Monday, April 9, 2012

working while sick

I really hate being sick, and I suspect I'm not alone. You have a million things to do, a million people to please, and you're going along just fine, until suddenly you wake up one morning and it hurts to swallow. Suddenly you have something to do here, an assignment there, and a shift to work until nearly 11 at night. And all you want to do is curl up on your bed and cough until your sides are sore.

I would love to be able to write more when I'm sick, but I usually spend about five minutes pounding out two or three paragraphs before I put a manuscript up. I really miss it and I have all these ideas itching to get on the page, but I'm just too tired and weak to put them on the page. The longer I feel bad, the more piles up. What might be even worse is the boredom. I don't have the energy to stay online or read for long stretches of time, and there's not much on TV on weekday mornings (though Hallmark has started airing Frasier reruns from 11 to 1 -- that's always nice).

But there are advantages. I've had the time to knock out 3 library books in the past week, including the appropriately named Fever which, like its prequel, Wither, was so intriguing I found myself forfeiting both TV and a nap to keep reading. I finished it in a day, a task I don't think I've accomplished since The Hunger Games. And hey, author Lauren DeStefano got the idea for the books while she was in bed with the flu. Maybe the next Great Story Inspiration will come to me during the next Dance Moms marathon or fitful nap.