Things That Make Me Go “Whoa.”

I want to know that there’s something just beyond MY ability, that I can eek (sic) out one day that can move people like I’ve been moved.

–Ben Folds

Once again, we’ve arrived at blog day, but my first reaction is to say I’ve got nothing and see you next time. Not going to do that, however, as this is on my to-do list, so it is going to get to-done. This is one of the reasons I keep a list of writing related quotes on hand. That way, I always have something to use as a prompt, whether it’s strictly adhering to the original quote or using it as a jumping off point to something more loosely related.

Right now, still not sure in which direction I’m going to go, but I am going. The first time I remember being aware of Ben Folds was in my BFF’s car, on a long ago December 26th, at precisely 6 AM. Points to the DJ who cued up “Brick” at exactly that moment. From the first haunting piano notes, I knew I was listening to something special.

I didn’t know at the time that this was a song about an abortion from the viewpoint of a seventeen year old boy, nor that it was from the singer/songwriter’s personal experience. All I knew was that this was raw emotion, the very serious subject matter at odds with the beauty of the music, and played against the mood of the holiday season, the contrast was sharp. In short, it wakened that “how did he do that?” reaction in the story part of my brain.

My father was an artist all his life, and I remember, from a young age, being brought to art shows and museums, and noticing people with sketchpads or easels, in front of certain works. I wasn’t sure what they were doing -it seemed rude, from my four-ish year old perspective, to be in a museum and they’re paying attention to what they can do at home on their own?- so I asked. My father told me that they were copying the masters in order to learn how they did what they did. Centuries before YouTube videos, webinars, mass communications or even widespread literacy, this is how it happened. Try and fail and try and fail and keep eyes on the good stuff and try to figure out how the good stuff got good.

This is, as a matter of course, going to result in turning out a lot of crap along the way. That’s part of the process. As much as I would love to spit out a bunch of words and have them arrange themselves into timeless fiction while I sleep, that’s not going to happen. What is going to happen is that I need to treat this like any other form of education. I need to study the books in my genre that work for me, and figure out why they work for me. What elements of these books, these writers’ voices, etc, can I adapt to my own use? I  need to study books in my genre that do not work for me, and find out why they don’t work for me. Do I see any of my own bad habits there? How can I work on improving those? I  need to study books outside of my preferred genre, to see what elements in those books can enrich what I do and add something new to the time honored elements.

Sometimes, it feels like, well, work. Which it is, of course, for those of us for whom writing is a profession as well as a pleasure. When I feel a reluctance to get to the work, that usually means I need to reconnect. Which, for me, means a lot of reading, because story in, story out. Though I’m still reading a lot of realistic YA these days (because they seriously deliver the visceral emotion and make me want to step up that game in historical romance) I’ve missed the deep immersion of the older historical romances, so revisiting a lot of those, and will likely be doing a lot of rambling on that in the future.

So, these days, I have at least part of my brain in magpie mode. I want to be challenged in what I take in. Surprised. I’m listening to a lot of music on Spotify these days, sometimes dedicating time to read the lyrics (I love that feature) while listening to the music, and treating that as research. The way Ben Folds uses language – seriously impressing this gal who completed an English minor in two years without even trying (I honestly did take all the required courses merely because they interested me ;  go figure) and am now in a serious Damien Rice mode, because my heart is still dying a little from “Accidental Babies” and “The Greatest Bastard.” Lots of brilliant turns of language and emotion there, essential for writing romance.

I can feel the closing paragraph coming on here, the one where we restate the topic sentence (did I have one here?)  and leave readers with a takeaway. Not sure how well this is going to hew to that (look at me, using vocabulary words) but here’s what I’ve got. I want that “wow” moment. That “I never thought of that” moment. That thing where all I have to do is hear three piano notes and a whole movie plays in my head. Hopefully on my pages as well. Story in, story out, in all its forms.

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