Confession: I’m a Method Writer. A Foolish One.

This weekend I was working on my manuscript when it suddenly occurred to me: I look like a complete moron when I write. I’m not talking about the way my lips move as I re-read my pages, or the way my eyes glaze over when I drift off into the Never Never Land of my imagination, or the awesome way my face screws up when I smash into a plot wall. No, no, no. Those are merely dull ticks and nuances, ones I’m sure most writers experience.

I’m actually talking about my “method writer” moments. You know, the times when I shed me and transform into a character to understand them better–portray them better–write them better. If there was a hidden camera in the room with me then…Oi vey! I’d be so mort-i-fied!!

method-writer

Let me explain what I mean.

1. I like to act out my dialogue

I have to believe that all writers are actors on some level. After all, we are creating new worlds filled with new characters with varying personalities. We have to have the ability to open our minds and become someone else for a spell.

Personally, I like to take my manuscript and pretend it’s a script, especially when I’ve hit a rough patch and I’m not sure how a chunk of dialogue sounds. I sit up in my chair, give a firm throat clear, and reach for my inner Meryl Streep. Then I begin to recite my characters’ words. I dramatically raise my voice when someone SHOUTS! Or lower it to a faint hush when someone whispers. I growl, I sigh, I mumble, I curse…Whatever the “role” calls for, I play it accordingly. And I’m confident my renditions are always worthy of an Academy Award. 😉

Fear not, Meryl. Your job is safe.

2. I like to pretend I’m a martial arts whiz 

Haiyah! KaBlam! Splat!

Everyone loves a good fight scene. However, mapping out a confrontation on paper isn’t as easy as it seems. What makes sense in my head probably doesn’t make sense in reality. That’s why I like to stand up and physically plan it out–strike for strike, blow for blow, kick for kick. For example, in one of my manuscripts, I had a villain who was nifty with a knife. She was very graceful and very deadly. And her fight scenes were particularly challenging. To choreograph them I’d go into the kitchen, grab a butter knife, and spin around my living room, pretending pillows and chairs were targets.

I know, I know, it sounds brutal. But I assure you, if anyone happened to walk by and peer in my window during those “violent” moments, all they’d see was an idiot doing a jerky, awkward dance with a butter knife in her hand…or maybe a spatula or fly swatter. Whatever. It was pretend.

What can I say? The most “fighting” experience I have is a couple of Tae-Bo workouts and movies like 300 and Rocky.

 3. Stellllla! Emottttion!

Now, this is where I’d be truly horrified if I had a camera recording me while I wrote. I’m sure the look on my face when I’m typing out a death scene, or a confrontation between two friends, or a girl being dumped by her knight in shining armor is priceless.

universal_emotionCringing, wincing, frowning. Perhaps gasping for air or pretending to weep. Sometimes I’ll go over to a mirror and study my expression closely to make sure I’m portraying a certain emotion “correctly”. Crinkled brow, wide eyes, slightly parted lips, etc. Once I’m satisfied I’ve nailed the right look, I’ll run back to my computer and describe what I saw in finer detail.

Oh, just wait. It gets better.

A lot of my brainstorming and scene plotting occurs while I’m driving to and from work. As I hit the road, I pull up my “book” playlist on my iPod, sit back, and let my imagination open up. Eventually, a song comes on that strikes inspiration. I eagerly crank up the volume and start creating a scene in my head, or embellishing one I’ve already written. While the song plays, I add depth to the scene–add emotions. Anger, sadness, heartache, whatever. When the song ends, I punch the replay button and listen to it again, this time adding more depth, more emotions…And you know what’s happening the entire time I’m doing this?

You got it. I’m wincing and frowning and fake weeping in my car while the buddy parked next to me at the red light is wondering, “What the hell is wrong with that chick?”

drive-ryan-gosling-21I really should invest in tinted windows…

4. To be zee character, I must speak like zee character…zee charicktah? Zee kareektah? Ah, crikey.

not-sure-if-speech-impediment-or-foreign-accentAs you can see, I’m fairly fluent in Accent. Give me any dialect and I can speak and write in it. Aye, it’s bloody hale ehzay, mate!

Okay, okay, I suck at writing with an accent. In fact, my ridikulos dialect skills was the original inspiration for writing this confession. I was working on some dialogue for an Irish fella in a manuscript and started saying his lines out loud to help myself “hear” his accent better. I was enunciating every word, every syllable, every letter. About three lines in, I abruptly stopped, horrified and amused by my lame attempt to mimic an Irish brogue.

Honestly, if my computer could speak, it would politely ask me what planet I was from since it failed to detect any similar linguistics on earth. I swear, I’m like Joey on Friends when after 20 hours of dialect lessons, his southern accent still comes out Jamaican.

I suppose if I must act like a fool to create a good story, then I’ll suck it up and do it. I’ll just always pray there’s no hidden cameras on me :-). So, how about you? Do you have method writer moments, too? If so, how would you judge your performance? Two thumbs up? Or get-that-camera-off-of-menow!?

Confession: I was a shameful closeted writer

Up until November 18th, 2010, my creative life was a quiet one. Very quiet. Well, practically non-existent to the naked eye. Besides my immediate family, nobody knew I dreamed of one day being a published author. I always wrote in the privacy of my bedroom; I saved my manuscripts under names like “Comparative Politics Study Guide 2” (no joke); and I never–ever–shared my stories or ideas with anyone. I was too scared, too shy. Worse, I was ashamed.

How could I declare to the world I wanted to be a writer? Me? What right did I have? I didn’t even have an English or writing degree. I majored in Business Administration with a concentration in Marketing, and that just didn’t count in the land of make believe. I knew–just knew–if I told people the truth, I’d be mocked and ridiculed. Everyone would judge me–laugh at me–tell me I was a wannabe that needed to go back to school and get the proper credentials.

knew it.

bullying_girlsSo I kept my mouth shut, my head down, and my writing dreams hidden. For. Years! Even after I landed a job as a copywriter at a Denver ad agency, I didn’t tell people about my creative aspirations.

Then on a sunny November morning I walked into work and everything changed. (Dun, dun dun…)

I grabbed a coffee, said “Hey” to a co-worker I only ever said “Hey” to, and sat down at my desk. Thirty minutes later, the computer systems unexpectedly crashed. With nothing else to do but look at a black screen, I swiveled around in my chair to chat with my co-workers…Well, co-worker. Mr. “Hey” was the only one there. I cringed and almost swiveled right back around, but then stopped. Why not talk to him? We’d only been working ten feet apart from each other for six months. It was about time I got to know him better. So, we started talking. For awhile, our conversation revolved around normal stuff (the weather, our jobs, our co-workers).

Then out of the blue, Mr. “Hey” asked me, “Jenna, what do you do?”

I stared at him blankly. “What do I do?” What the heck did that mean?

 He grinned. “I mean what do you do as a writer? What are your goals? I doubt you want to work here the rest of your life, right?”

I glanced around nervously. The building was still empty. Our bosses weren’t in yet. Nobody was. It was just me and him. I swallowed hard, unsure how to respond. This was the first time anyone had ever asked me that question. And it was the last one I wanted to answer. What if he judged me–laughed at me–told me I was a loser wannabe?

“I want to write books!” I blurted out before my lifelong fears could stifle me. “I want to be an author.”

To my surprise, he didn’t judge or laugh at me. And he didn’t call me a wannabe loser. Actually, he looked impressed.

Rather than feeling pleased about this, I felt weird, like an impostor. Mr. “Hey” didn’t know I wasn’t qualified to claim such a lofty ambition. He didn’t know I lacked an English degree. He didn’t know I had zero writing experience. He didn’t even know the only reason I’d been offered a writing gig at our company was because my resume included a summer internship at a prestigious advertising firm (and that internship had been in the account management department).

But, before I could confess any of this to him, Mr. “Hey” began pummeling me with questions: What types of books do you like to write? What genre? Have you ever written a book before? If so, what’s it about? I was so overwhelmed by his creative interrogation, I ended up answering him honestly.

“I’m working on a young adult manuscript,” I said.

He nodded thoughtfully. “That’s cool.” Cool. AKA, dumb. AKA, loser.

To hide my shame, I smiled and swiveled back around to face my computer. The screen was lit up. Relief coursed through me. Our systems were up and running again. I didn’t need to talk to Mr. “Hey” anymore. Our embarrassing conversation was over. I could now scurry back into my safe little writer’s closet and hide once again. Yet, as I opened my files and documents to start working, an inner voice said, “Be brave! Tell him about your story. Don’t hold back now.”

I spun back around. “My story is about…” and I gave him the one line synopsis.

His eyes went HUGE! I couldn’t tell if he was shocked? Confused? Amazed? Trying to refrain from bursting into hysterical laughter? Before I could figure out his wide-eyed expression, he leaned forward.

“Would you mind if I introduced you to a PR exec in Hollywood?”

Hollywood?

Yeah…

So, come to find out Mr. “Hey” was an up and coming screenwriter and he’d recently acquired representation in L.A. He had kept his starry success a secret because he was afraid everyone would clobber him–ask him for advice, listen to their pitch, help them find representation too, etc. But he didn’t want to help anyone unless their idea was worth helping. And, I guess in his eyes, my idea was.

Yeah…

Suffice it to say, I was stunned and, obviously, excited. But, more than anything, I was guilt-ridden. I couldn’t let this conversation go on until I confessed the brutal truth to my new bestie: I wasn’t a qualified writer. I didn’t have the right degree. I didn’t know what I was doing! You know what his response was?

“So what?”

Huh? So what? So what? No. I couldn’t accept his indifferent response. I couldn’t! Not when I’d always believed I had to have the correct credentials to join the official writer’s club. So–in a voice that flirted with desperation–I said, “But, trust me, I read. A lot! I’ve studied how it’s done!” (Yes, I actually spoke these words…*throat clear*)

Mr. “Hey” shrugged. “Well, you know what they say: the best readers are the best writers.” No, I didn’t know people said that, but I was happy to hear it, because I was the best reader in the world!

With my guilty conscience appeased, I gave Mr. “Hey” the green light to introduce me to his high-powered friends in L.A. And he did. By the next evening, I was on the phone with a PR executive reminiscent of Ari Gold.

(Two words to describe that 45-minute call: Heart. Attack.).

A few days later, I was on the phone again, this time with a big wig agent who’d represented writers like Nora EphronNora Ephron, for God’s sake. With no idea how I’d landed in the midst of such an elite group of professionals, I agreed to talk next to a producer based on Paramount Studios. That call led to a two-year option contract. (Meaning this producer had the right to make my story into a movie; but I made sure part of the deal was my manuscript had to get published first).

As you might imagine, my blood pressure was through the roof during this entire process. I felt like an adrenaline junkie; like I’d been set on fire and bungee jumped off of the world’s tallest bridge straight into an ocean of great white sharks. AHHHH!

Okay, let’s stop and rewind for a second, back to these phone calls I had.

During each of these petrifying conversations, I always did my best to play it cool and act like I belonged; like I totally deserved to be on the phone with these hotshots and I wasn’t at all scared to be speaking with them. Yet, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t silence my closet writer shame. I had to tell each of these men the truth, just like I did with Mr. “Hey”. After every pitch I gave, I always tacked on this quiet disclaimer: “Just so you know, I don’t have an English degree or anything like that.” Or, in other words, “I don’t know what I’m doing and I’m not technically qualified to be talking to you.”

You want to know their answers? Laughter! Followed by some version of, “I don’t care. What matters is you can write and you have ideas.”

I couldn’t believe it. All of this time…All of my fears…All of my shame. It was worthless! Unnecessary. I’d been hiding in a dark writer’s closet for no good reason. My hopes and dreams were acceptable. Accepted. I didn’t need to have an English degree to prove myself. As long as “the proof was in the pudding,” I’d be good to go.

biopic1_1384542409Alas, in the end, my optioned manuscript never went anywhere. It’s how the business cookie crumbles. Some projects fly, many flounder. However, I don’t regret a second of my roller coaster journey. Not. At. All! How could I? Not only did I receive valuable industry experience and in-depth feedback from multiple professionals in L.A. and New York (including extensive critiques from an agent at Writers House), but I received validation.

I am a writer.

I. Am. A. Writer.

It doesn’t matter I don’t have a degree in a writing field. It doesn’t matter I’ve basically taught myself “how it’s done.” If I have the passion, the skill, the ideas, and the determination, I can do this. I can write! And, yeah, perhaps this manuscript didn’t take flight the way I’d hoped, but I’m confident it will someday. More importantly, I’m 100% confident I’ll never–ever–again hide in my shameful writer’s closet. That door is locked and bolted. I couldn’t get back in even if I wanted.

untitled So, listen, I didn’t write this confession today to tell you I think English and writing degrees are worthless. Heck no! Trust me, I still wish I had that beautiful credential on my resume. Why wouldn’t I? Knowledge equals power, right?

What I am saying is that if you want to be a writer, don’t let anything hold you back. Not your lack of education, not your fear, not your shame, and definitely not that cruel inner voice, the one that whispers, “You can’t be a writer.” Believe me, you can. And you deserve to pursue your writing dream. Whether that’s as a novelist, a poet, a screenwriter, a journalist, a copywriter…whatever! If you want it, you go for it.

So go! Shout out and tell the whole wide world you’re a writer and you’re proud of it. You may as well. You never know who’ll be listening. I surely didn’t when I walked into work that November morning.

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Why I’m Scared of Writing

Photo credits: giphy

Friday Funny – a film versus a book

I feel like this week held a Hollywood-ish theme for my blog, Facebook and Twitter posts. So, I thought it would be fitting to have today’s Friday Funny revolve around that.

I present to you a film versus a book:

1517673_536649109767141_1898239510_nHope everyone had a great week! Any fun plans for the weekend? Mine is packed, unfortunately, so I’m probably not going to get as much writing done as I’d planned. Oh well, oh well. My goal next week is to cut out a lot of distractions and bear down on my NaNo manuscript. It isn’t going to write itself!

Weekly Roundup

Confession: I love when books are made into movies

Book Review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Query Letter Pet Peeves – Agents Speak

Confession: I love when books are made into movies

It’s true. I love it when a book gets adapted for the big screen. Gasp! Ugh! WHAT? Yeah, yeah. I know, I know! But, I’m sorry. I can’t help it. Whenever I find out one of my favorite novels has made it to Hollywood, my heart does a giddy leap and my feet do a happy dance.

Oh, and, er, I like Katy Perry, too…

*throat clear*

Yeah…Apparently, this is gonna be “one of those” confessions (brutally honest and slightly shameful). You better prepare yourselves…

On Sunday night, I watched the Golden Globe Awards (wow, two seconds in and already another confession: I love Awards Season; love the glitz and glam, the Red Carpets, the golden trophies, all of it!). Anyways, as I watched Sunday’s show, I realized how many of the films nominated this year are based off books (12 Years a SlaveCaptain Phillips, Philomena, Labor Day). How cool is that? Well, it was cool enough to prompt me to write about this debatable topic.

The moment I hear one of my favorite books is going to be adapted to screen, I think, “Yes! At last, I get to see this awesome story brought to life!” Then I proceed to tell everyone in the world about it. Like, everyone. Example: When I discovered The Book Thief was going to be made into a movie, I almost peed my pants (almost!), and then I went on to blog and Tweet about it, and share the news on Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest…

extra_2010082896270

I admit, I went a little crazy with the news. But, I couldn’t help it. The Book Thief is one of my favorite books of all time…Of course, it’s not the only book I’ve ever shouted, “Extra! Extra! Read all about it!” for. I’ve done this with countless novels, including The Mortal Instruments: City of BonesBeautiful Creatures, Catching Fire, Divergent, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Fault in Our Stars, The Help, If I Stay, The Maze Runner…Sheesh, there have been/will be a lot of quality books put on the big screen. And, yes, I plan on seeing them all (if I haven’t seen them already).

Unfortunately, not all book-to-film projects succeed. Far, far from it (don’t even get me started on Percy Jackson & the Lightning Thief or Eragon). That’s why I always try and keep a level head when I enter a theater to watch these adapted films. As I sit down and dig into my popcorn and Peanut M&Ms, I give myself a firm mental slap and tell myself, “Jenna, this isn’t the book. It’s the movie version of the book. Things are going to be changed and slashed and rotated and implanted and screwed up! So don’t get your hopes up.” And, thanks to that personal pep talk, I’ve saved myself from innumerable broken hearts and shattered dreams.

Now, I know what many of you are thinking right: A bad movie means bad press for the book, which means the book will lose readers in the long run. On some level, I agree with you. If a movie bombs at the box office, there will surely be people–many people–who’ll never read its book. But, if you think about it, even if a movie does an amazing job, there’s a good chance people still won’t read its book. It’s sad, but there are (and probably always will be) more people in this world who’d rather watch a two-hour movie than read a 400-page book.

So sad. So disappointing…

Okay, let’s move away from the negative and look at these positive facts:

First, movies raise awareness. How many people would even know about certain books if they didn’t have a movie made for them? We’re not all book nerds. Heck, I AM a book nerd and even I don’t always get the memo, not even for big blockbusters like Harry Potter (yeah, go ahead and mark that down as shameful confession #500 in this post). Movies help draw attention to good (and not so good) books and promote them to the non-reading masses. And, more and more often, they seem to spark an interest in books, especially in younger audiences.

Second, movies can make books more likeable. I can’t tell you how many I’ve read that I just didn’t like and/or didn’t get.

Then I saw their movie version and was like, “Ohhh. Got it!”, followed by, “Ohhh, I like it!” Sometimes, you just need to “see” a plot unfold, or “watch” a character develop, or “hear” a story told. And thanks to movie magic, those things can happen and book epiphanies can take place. Stories that didn’t translate so well on paper can be appreciated on screen (same story, different format).

Look, there are plenty of reasons to love or hate Hollywood for adapting our favorite books. Perhaps you think movie versions discourage people from reading? Perhaps you think a book should be left in its purest, most natural form; it’s a piece of art that shouldn’t be tainted with brutal editing and iffy casting? Perhaps you just don’t like movies?

Or perhaps you’re like me and you think movies honor books? Perhaps you think they take the characters you loved so much on a black and white page and give them life–moving, breathing, colorful life? Perhaps you think movies are a celebration–a giant congratulatory pat on the back to the author who wrote a great book–a double thumbs up for a job well done?

Okay, go for it: tell me what you think. Are you pro-adaptations? Or do you think it’s a crime against nature when Hollywood gets their hands on your favorite book?

Don’t forget to “Like” Jen’s Pen Den on Facebook!

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Writing, Awards and a Friday Funny

Congratulations! We made it through the week! This was my first one back to the 9-5 grunge since my two week holiday vacation. As you might suspect, I wasn’t looking forward to it. However, besides my car pooping out on Tuesday, it wasn’t too bad. In a way, it was nice. Most of my vacation was spent in my PJ’s sick and cutoff from the rest of humanity (unless you count the enthralling book characters that kept me company), so it’s been somewhat of a relief to be around my co-workers and friends again.

Even so, I’m happy it’s Friday. I have big writing plans for the weekend. I set some high goals for the year, so I need to hop to it, starting with my Nano project, Fallers. On the fun side of life, I’m having a little get together for the Golden Globes on Sunday. (Yes, I’m a sucker for the big Hollywood awards season). Unfortunately, I’ve been a slacker on seeing the big films nominated this year (the only one I’ve seen is Gravity (BTW, whoa!)). Oh well…What we really need is a big, glitzy broadcasted award show for book lovers. How awesome would that be? Can you imagine Rainbow Rowell or Gayle Forman or John Green walking up on stage to accept their award for “Best Contemporary Young Adult Novel”?…Yeah, someone in NY or LA should get on that–pronto! Authors deserve Red Carpets and flashing cameras and live TV audiences too…Of course, I’m not so sure how many authors would be in to that kind of thing, haha.

Anyways, back to today’s post. It’s Friday, so that means it’s time for a funny! This one’s dedicated to the new Nook I received over Christmas from my family. Now, I’m going to confess: I’ve never been a fan of e-readers. I’ve always been a physical book purist. The smell, the weight, the turning of pages…sigh. However, as times progress and more books are published in e-book format only, I’ve had no other choice but to adapt. And…I must admit…**pursing lips**…I…love it. There! I said it.

But my true love will always be physical books. Sorry Nook.

6fb7e3bb4d76d8ab134f8a76c8aa361b-1

Hope your week was nice, too! Have any fun plans for the weekend?

Confession: I can’t creatively multi-task

A couple of years ago, I met up with a friend for coffee to discuss our latest writing projects. This was the gist of our conversation:

Me: “I’m still plugging away on my manuscript. I’m about halfway done and hoping to finish in the next month or so. How about you?”

Friend: “Oh, I’ve got a handful of projects in the works.”

Me: “A handful?”

Friend: “Yeah, I always have a few. I tend to get bored after about 30 minutes and need to switch gears.”

Me:

Yeah, I didn’t get his response. Honestly, I still don’t. How can writers work on multiple projects at onceHow? To leap out of one world and into another? To burrow into the mind of one protagonist and then dig back out and burrow into a completely different one? To carefully thread one plot and then yank the needle out and start threading another?

How, how how?

I. Don’t. Get. It.

But, maybe you do? Maybe you’re like my friend and you enjoy hopping around from one writing project to the next? If so, then kudos to you. Seriously. I’m in awe of your ability to creatively multi-task, because I just can’t. And, believe me, I’ve tried. In the past few months, I’ve juggled various writing contests, NaNoWriMo, and two children’s books (my nephew’s annual Christmas gifts). And although I’ve successfully completed all of them, I can’t say I’m completely satisfied with them. I feel like each one was written with a touch of A.D.D. I’d find myself sitting at my computer typing away when suddenly my mind would drift off to “that one character from that other story” or “that thing that happened in that scene from that other story”…

Creative multi-tasking…I just can’t do it. I just don’t like it. I suppose in a way I feel like I’m cheating on my characters when I jump from project to project. I can hear each of their indignant voices yelling, “Hey! Where are you going? You’re supposed to be focusing on me!” But how can I when another character from another story is shouting at me to focus on them instead? It’s like I’m standing in a crowded room and everyone is waving at me. And I just don’t know where to look anymore.

Moms blog- hands raised“Me, me, me!”

Ahhh!

It’s finally gotten to the point where I need to step back, take a breath and return to my creative roots: One project at a time. ONE! So, that means my plan for the next month is to write a short ghost story for an open call submission.

That’s it!

I’m not allowed to think about any other project, not even my unfinished NaNoWriMo manuscript, Fallers–which is by far the loudest and most demanding voice amongst all my projects. But I have to ignore its beckoning calls and waving hands. I have to! Because technically–technically–there’s no deadline for Fallers. There is, however, one for this ghost story (early January). So, obviously, that needs my attention first and foremost. And attention it will get, starting this week!

How about the rest of you? Are you able to handle multiple projects at once? Or are you like me and need to focus on one project at a time?  

Confession: I’m a Book Lover Advocate

Last night, I took my 3-year old nephew to the Scholastic Book Fair at his pre-school. And it. Was. Awesome! Witnessing his vivid enthusiasm, listening to his incessant chatter, crouching on the ground next to him while he “read”…It was so, so, so cool. I was so proud and giddy and relieved to see him genuinely excited about books. And I was filled with newfound determination to keep him excited about them as he grows up. To be a constant book lover advocate around him and my other nephew.

1000249_10101282759371923_1382787765_nI’ve always been a book lover advocate (shocker, I know). It’s a task I joyfully take on everyday with everyone around me…Unfortunately most people aren’t interested in what I have to say. When I talk about books, people either politely smile and nod, blatantly ignore me, or point blank admit, “I don’t read. Reading is boring.” Reading is boring? I gasp inwardly. How…Just how? Don’t people understand reading is more than reading–more than black words on a white page? Reading is adventurous. Reading is life altering.

Reading is magic!

a788bc012941816bc7643c91e8a93f07I want my nephew to grow up believing in that. I want all children to grow up believing in that. I want my friends and family members and co-workers and acquaintances to believe in that. I want the stranger I’ve never met to believe in that. But the only way to achieve such a thing is to be a book lover advocate. To share my passion for reading via this blog, Twitter and Facebook. To suggest books to those I know. To suggest books to those I don’t know, like the woman in line behind me at the grocery store staring at the rack of newly released novels. To take my nephews and nieces to book fairs. To give books as gifts.

To do whatever it takes to silence the naysayers and eliminate the evil phrase “I don’t read. Reading is boring.” Those words shouldn’t exist!

So, who’s with me? Who’s ready to be a book lover advocate? It’s never too late to join the cause!

i_love_books_hooded_sweatshirt-p235143538784422779tdh0_210