Archive for January 2008

The power of character names

January 25, 2008

This week I passed 125K words on The Affairs of Dragons. It has evolved considerably, in a number of different ways, from my original conception of the work — even if you don’t take into account the drafts that came before this one, which are numerous. Today, after mulling it over for a while, I have changed the name of an important secondary character: the character formerly known as Kelvin has become Morgan, for reasons which matter to the plot but would constitute a spoiler. I’ve given a lot of thought to the change, and to the new name, and I’m confident in the decision. But in the process I have discovered, more forcefully than ever before, the power of a character’s name.

Of course /what we choose to name a character/ is significant. Names tell us important things about a character even before we get to know him or her. A name conveys gender and culture of origin at the very least; a well-chosen name also brings with it resonances from its accepted meaning and real-life people who share the same name. But today, changing my character’s name changed his hair color.

This is making me crazy. There’s no rational reason for it. But Kelvin was always a blond, through all the drafts. Despite all the physical changes I have wrought in him in the course of supporting the re-backgrounding I did for this draft, his hair color remained the same. But while Kelvin was a blond, Morgan is inexplicably dark-haired.

What the hell is this? The only male Morgan in my experience is Morgan Freeman — and, yeah, he’s dark-haired…but the character formerly known as Kelvin has not changed race. Just his hair.

I am baffled.

a bit of perspective

January 14, 2008

This short film (click the title for the link) was developed by a man I don’t really know but already respect by hearsay, Ali Shehata. Wynette has worked with him; I think if more of our clients were like him, Wynette would still be in the business.

What I really know is that he has something insightful to say. Take a look.

Digging through the creative block: for entrepreneurs, too

January 13, 2008

I am just putting the finishing touches on my part of the task of filing corporate taxes for last year. Thank all the gods everywhere for accountants: this would be so much worse without mine.

Closing out 2007 finances has been a more complicated task than usual: part of the reason for this is the fact that Wynette is leaving Be Mused. By far the bigger part is that, as the business side of my and our creative life grew increasingly undefined, I grew very resistant to keeping up with the financial tracking, which has always been part of my share of the work. Oh, sure, I paid the bills on time and all that stuff — but the filing, the logging, even much of the decision-making for the next year wound up stalled in big piles on my desk in the office. That’s not typical behavior for me: I don’t really *enjoy* that work, but I generally don’t mind it, and I am reassured when I can account for all the mundane stuff.

It wasn’t until last night, when I discovered areas of my desk I haven’t seen in weeks, that I finally began to think about what was up with that. For most entrepreneurs, business life is their creative life. A business about which you care so passionately that you pour yourself into it: that is a creative effort at least as heartfelt as most novels. When a novelist develops resistance to moving forward in her work, we call it being blocked. But as far as I know, there are no such labels to describe the procrastination, anxiety, and avoidance behaviors that manifest in business people when something has gone wrong with their creativity.

But there was no question in my mind, once I looked at my situation in the office with my coach-eyes on: I have been creatively blocked in my business life. Something was wrong, and I was resisting moving forward. In my writing life, I’ve learned to recognize that a block is often a gift from my subconscious: unless there is something external going on, when I begin throwing up roadblocks on a novel, it’s because the muse has spotted something wrong.

I’ve been peripherally aware that something had gone wrong in the business part of my creative life, for months. After all, Wynette and I had individually and collectively informed the universe, as fall began, that we did not want any new clients just then. (The universe complied, of course.) As the year drew to a close, we began shedding pieces of our business strategy that we could see weren’t in line with our as-yet-hazy direction. But it wasn’t until Wynette decided to make the final break with the business that I was able to step back, look at the business as a whole, and begin to figure out why I wasn’t having fun anymore. At the time, of course, I didn’t think that was what I was trying to figure out: I was just trying to figure out how to structure an author services business that didn’t offer graphic services.

But why I wasn’t having fun anymore was actually the more important question. I have been figuring out the answer, lately; Be Mused had represented things Wynette and I are really good at, aid we could give independent writers and publishers in support of an ideal in which we both believe. But those services we offered were not things we love in and of themselves; we do them passionately in pursuit of our own publishing efforts — but that passion arises from our commitment to the novels we publish, not the tasks of editing and typeset and cover design. The part of aiding independent writers and publishers that I do love, the part I kept sneaking in around the edges of other work even when I wasn’t charging for it, is the coaching and creativity work I’ve been doing with writers, entrepreneurs, and other visionaries for lo these many years.

If there is a First Rule of Creativity, it goes something like this:

If you’re not passionate about the work you’re doing, and the job is a creative one, you are wasting your time.

This rule also covers the running of a business. It’s true because work done without passion is inherently not our best work: the person who is passionate will give that extra something that makes whatever they do shine.

I may be a very fine copyeditor, and an even better text editor — but those are not tasks that, in and of themselves, arouse my creative passion. So I will be taking Be Mused in the direction of the things I love: creativity work and development coaching. I’m better at those things, anyway, and they don’t make me want to let things pile up on my desk. And now that I’ve cleaned all the stuff I couldn’t seem to face off my desk, I’m ready to dig in and begin the site redesign that will reflect Be Mused’s new direction. I’ll let you know when it’s up.

If you find yourself letting things pile up, finding excuses not to do tasks you believe you should be doing, I suggest this is likely to be a message from your subconscious. Figuring out exactly what that message means may require some uncomfortable explorations in the territory inside your own head. But figuring it out may mean the difference between spending your days in joyous pursuit of your dreams — and dragging yourself through the motions, wondering who said this business thing was supposed to be fun.

Go have some fun. Be Mused. 🙂

A Man’s Gotta Know His Limitations

January 8, 2008

Anyone who’s ever held a phone conversation with me knows I am an inveterate multitasker. I’ve got to be, if I’m going to complete all my self-assigned tasks. While I’m on the phone with somebody– clients, friends, and family alike — if the conversation lasts longer than three minutes, chances are I’m doing something else at the same time. I’ve talked to clients while weeding my garden, driving to school to pick up my daughter, making dinner, and performing myriad other tasks that require half my attention or less. EVERYONE has held phone conversations with me while I did the dishes: I am the mother of two teenagers, a scratch cook, and wholly committed to organic food, and the dishes just never stop piling up.

However, I can’t hold the really intense conversations with clients that our creativity work necessitates while doing much of anything else: all of me goes into those conversations, and I am very nearly as oblivious to the outside world as I am when I’m writing. I probably shouldn’t even drive — and I generally don’t. Usually these conversations are scheduled, and I’m able to be safely ensconced in my office while we talk.

Yesterday, however, I had an Idiot Moment. I was on my way from Point A to Point B, in fact just pulling into the gas station to fill up, when my phone rang; the caller was a person I have just begun working with, who is working on the most challenging project anyone I know has had the guts to take on. The project is esoteric by anyone’s standards (yes, even mine) and my caller has taken on the challenge of communicating some mind-blowing ideas even though not a writer by nature or training. Last week we had an intense, wonderful session that led to a fantastic breakthrough in the structure of the project — but it was one of those breakthroughs in which you can see why your approach isn’t working, and maybe you have an idea of how to proceed instead, but that idea taps into challenging and scary territory. After a session like that, it’s normal to need to sit with one’s own ideas and feelings for a while before even attempting to move forward — and equally normal to feel the need to talk to one’s coach when the moving-forward begins again. Suffice it to say that I was eager for the next conversation, because I hate the feeling of leaving someone I’m working with at sea, even when I understand it’s a necessary part of the process.

Even though I shouldn’t even attempt to drive during such conversations, and even though every instinct I possessed shouted for me to just park the car while we talked, I was on a mission that was pretty important in the mundane sector of my life, and I knew if I didn’t keep moving forward I’d miss a deadline. So I decided to just get through the situation on force of will, pump my gas while holding this important and demanding conversation, and drive on to my next destination. My caller graciously offered to call back another time; but I didn’t want to leave the conversation hanging. I pumped my gas while talking and drove to my next destination, finishing our call in the parking lot before going inside.

But while I did successfully pump my gas, I failed to contain my wallet. I was too locked into the conversation. Because I was working without a headset and attempting to pump gas one-handed, I set my wallet on the roof of my car while I pulled out the credit card for the pump, and — wait for it — drove off with the wallet still on the roof.

Of course it’s gone. I should have known better. I should have understood and respected my own limitations. I can do two things at once, but I can’t do three — and I really can’t do anything else when engaged in intense creative work, whether it’s mine or someone else’s.

So, today’s lesson: understand and respect your needs and limitations. Creative work is not like the other sorts of work we do: it demands everything we’ve got. To give it less is to guarantee failure of some sort. All things considered, I’m lucky that my wallet was all I lost.

The Society for Free Range Muses: lessons learned

January 8, 2008

I touched on this in the previous post, but my keyboard runneth over as usual. Wynette and I founded the Society last year — and have decided that, for the time being, it should go dormant.

We both feel passionately about the importance of writers and artists of every flavor honoring their creative needs and taking control of their creative lives, and we founded the society with the nurturance of those ideals in mind. We can see so many good uses for a cooperative of artists who prefer creative control and blazing their own trails to the pressure and seemingly-unending heartbreak of trying to work within a faltering paradigm. More than anything else, however, it turned out to be a venue for a group blog in which a bunch of writers participated for a couple months. It very nearly morphed into a small press consortium, but in the nick of time we realized we really didn’t have time to run one more organization no matter how much everybody at MileHiCon loved the idea.

We are ending the group blog: we both felt it fulfilled an important need in some ways but derailed us from our responsibilities in others, and we have both finally understood the necessity of applying our energies (which are, sadly, limited by Universal Law) in the most effective ways possible. And for the time being the Society will be quiet, as Wynette and I make other adjustments in our professional and creative lives. But, like the Terminator, it will be back.

One of the most important things I learned from what we did with the Society was precisely what it is that’s so difficult about maintaining one’s own blog. I also gained a sense of how to begin correcting the problem. In essence, blogging is hard because it usually boils down to solo writing, when it’s supposed to be a social activity. Like all writers, I spend hours every day writing alone; regular blogging, done properly, fills the same slot in a writer’s social life as did the epic emails we all used to send one another before blogs became a Requirement. Or it attempts to, and that’s the problem: all too often it’s like shouting into a canyon. One blogs, and no one writes back. The emails I used to get from my writer friends were so much more satisfying.

The group blog we had on the Society site was different; it was truly social. We all posted in a common thread, talked about our writing lives, and discussed one another’s thoughts. It was no wonder Wynette’s and my private blogs languished.

So one of my goals for blogging this year is to do more in the way of starting discussions — and one of my great hopes is that you (yes, YOU) will chime in. Let’s talk about writing, publishing, creativity, and whatever else comes up. That’s why there’s a comments function. Please come by & toss ideas around with me!

Long time no blog…

January 6, 2008

It’s been such a long time it’s hard to know where to begin. Last year’s highlights:

Mercury Retrograde Press

Yes, it is what you think. I took the plunge and founded an independent press. We will be releasing our first two novels this year, and I am insanely proud.

Rachael’s Bat Mitzvah

Rachael celebrated her Bat Mitzvah in November. It was, without question, the Best Bat Mitzvah Ever. All business came to a screeching, or perhaps whining, halt for nearly two months while I devoted all available energy to supporting her through the process. Time well spent. Yes, I will be posting the rest of the pictures everyone shared! Shortly after I update my business websites, which are in dire need of attention.

Be Mused

My business and writing partner, Wynette Hoffman, and I spent much of our time and creative energies aiding writers and fledgling independent publishers in readying their creative efforts for market. We learned even more than our clients did, I think.

the Society for Free-Range Muses

This was a good idea, just slightly ahead of its time — as is par for the course with everything Wynette and I do. And it turns out that I’ve got so much to say on this topic that the only sane thing to do is to make it a separate post. You can read it here.
Other things that happened while I was away from my designated blog:

* Mark took a new gig, with LSI
* Mercury Retrograde Press hosted its first-ever Writers’ Retreat. I almost didn’t come home!
* Daniel played lacrosse, played Gus in a production of Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia, and drove himself to school every day. (!!)

It was a pretty interesting ride. This year is shaping up to be even more exciting. Some of the things I’m engaged in/looking forward to:

* my novel, The Affairs of Dragons, is scheduled for release this winter. I just passed 118,000 words, out of an anticipated 180-200K. Hey, I know how it ends!
* I will once again be serving as editor on Wynette’s next novel, the much anticipated Raised By Wolves: Treasures. As one of her alpha readers I have the privilege of knowing that this one is already even better than the previous two!
* I will be editing and publishing Larissa N. Niec’s debut novel, Shorn, which is scheduled for release this summer under the Mercury Retrograde imprint. I am unspeakably proud that Larissa chose to let me publish her work, which could have commanded Large Advances from Publishers Who Shall Remain Nameless.
* I am engaged in developmental editing for a couple of very exciting nonfiction projects of the New Age/self-help variety. More to come!
* more and more of the people I work with are getting serious about nurturing their creativity and learning how to manage their creative processes. We are having such wonderful, rewarding, intimate sessions together, and this is rapidly becoming my very favorite aspect of my client business.
* Larissa taught me how to knit at the Writer’s Retreat last year. After my triumphant completion of two scarves, I am knitting a sweater! (Yes, unreasonably excited about this.)
* Rachael is in the process of choosing and applying to high schools. Daniel has entered the serious phase of his college search. It is my job to act as facilitator in both of these endeavors — and to observe in awe how well they understand themselves, their strengths and weaknesses, their needs as students — and the process of courtship with schools, which has become a mutual-interviewing rather than a supplicant-based process for their generation.

I have days when I wish I were younger, which is really just a highly displaced way of saying I wish I were more decorative. It has taken me this long to get to the point where I could be living this life. No way would I go back in time!

Happy New Year, all. Having spent such a big chunk of last year making the changes that made everything I’m doing this year possible, I finally feel ready to be consistent about keeping the Outside World updated. Please check in and comment, because there’s a lot I want to chat about.