Nancy: The Days That Make Writing Worthwhile

Why do writers write? It’s a question non-writers often ask us, a topic we sometimes approach with fellow scribes over a drinks at the bar during conferences, and one we sometimes ask ourselves – accompanied by gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair – when we’re having a dark night of the soul. (Writers suspect we have more dark nights of the soul than non-writers; non-writers suspect writers are just being dramatic when having what normal people call bad days.)

Bad things sometimes happen during those dark nights of the soul. Creativity runs dry. The writing stalls. Imposter syndrome sets in. Or maybe it’s always there, and this is just its chance to step out of the shadows and taunt us. The story dies on the vine. We question ‘why write’, as well as ‘why not quit’. Yeah, drama.

But it’s always darkest before the dawn, the sun also rises, there’s got to be a morning after, etc., etc., insert favorite cliche here. (That’s another writerly thing. Don’t worry, it’s just a placeholder we’ll fix in the rewrite.) When the words start flowing and the story gains new life after a few days or weeks or months of tough slogging, it’s nothing less than euphoric. There’s nothing like a day of story breakthroughs to make a writer say ‘I can’t quit you’ to writing all over again.

I had one of these wonderful days recently, but it only came after weeks and weeks of false starts and what felt like hour after hour of wasted time. Continue reading

Michaeline: Gordon Ramsay Crossover Writing Lessons, Part Two

A pastry chef rolling out a crust while a young girl looks on.

Put your heart into your work, and others will notice.

When Gordon Ramsay walked into the Hot Potato Cafe, little did he know that he’d be walking right out again that evening for the first time in the history of Kitchen Nightmares.

(Am I naive to believe that these shows aren’t totally scripted? Or am I just cute? Cue the dramatic music as we cross the suspension bridge of belief.)

Anyway, we’re at the Hot Potato Cafe, where Gordon is served frozen, half-warmed potato skins – a fitting metaphor for the owners and workers of this family-owned restaurant. Mistakes have left them hollow shells, their despairing wails echoing around the space their heart and their guts should be. “Help us, Gordon! We don’t know what to do!”

The chef is the owners’ niece. I can only assume that in an effort to save money, they brought in this young girl who has potential, but no formal training in cookery. She’s expected to follow the old menus and help keep the restaurant afloat. She says that the restaurant business isn’t her first choice of a career; she’s only here to help out the family.

Gordon storms out that evening because nobody seems to care if the business stays alive or not. And I think this is the first important lesson that this episode teaches: you can have money, you can have your basic materials and a venue, but if you don’t have the enthusiasm, it’s really hard to keep a business going. They beg him in the street for help, and he promises to come back the next day.

He creates a little excitement by having a baked potato contest. (Yes, I hear that bridge of belief creaking a little bit, but honestly, it’s pretty exciting.) The winner’s baked potato will make it on the menu that very evening, and bring back a touch of fresh, good cooking to the Hot Potato Cafe. Our young chef wins the contest, and she’s inspired to do a better job.

After a menu re-vamp, a free supply of Idaho potatoes, redecoration of the dining room and a good week-long pep talk, our cafe has its heart and guts back, and is ready to provide the best in potato dining in Fishtown. (See the menu for delicious chowder, that merges the cafe’s mission with the area’s history.)

So, this is what I learned: remember the enthusiasm that brought you to your art. Bring it back with short challenges, and then put your whole heart into your business.

The YouTube comments tell the story of what happened after Gordon Ramsay left. But that’s another story. For now, it’s enough to sit and write a little something that makes you happy, and represents what you really want to do as a writer. No half-baked empty potato skins. (If you do make literary potato skins, though, make ‘em fresh and beautiful and absolutely tasty. They have to work harder to impress, but they can outshine a plain ol’ baked potato when they are done with love and vision.)

Michaeline: Gordon Ramsay Crossover Writing Lessons, Part One

Gordon Ramsay with a lamb around his neck and shoulders.

Gordon Ramsay took this little lamb to school. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

WARNING: Profanity. (It involves Gordon Ramsay. What did you fucking expect?)

To a certain extent, art is art is art. Still, I was surprised how applicable some of the lessons Gordon Ramsay taught his restauranteurs were to the art of writing.

Here’s the deal: I’ve avoided Kitchen Nightmares and that kind of reality show because I heard there’s a lot of yelling, and humiliation just isn’t my jam. But I was feeling depressed, spending entirely too much time on YouTube, and the only interesting thing in my recommended feed was a clip from such a show. I’d seen Gordon Ramsay on things like Jimmy Fallon, so I decided three minutes of my time was not too big of a loss.

Dear Readers, three minutes turned into hours and hours of binge-watching over the last couple of weeks. Thanks to the miracle of YouTube, I’ve seen British Kitchen Nightmares, American Kitchen Nightmares, clips and full episodes, and an assorted chocolate box of Gordon Ramsay all over the modern media. And I regret nothing.

Yes, there’s yelling and sometimes humiliation. But there’s also a combination of mystery Continue reading

Jilly: Seeking Fashion Advice

Anyone else ready for a break from reality? I hope so. I’m in need of some super-glamorous, exceedingly outré wardrobe suggestions.

Alexis, the heroine of my fantasy WIP, accompanies Kierce, the hero, to a very OTT aristocratic celebration. Something as showy as the Oscars, hosted by royalty, but in a horses-and-swords kind of world. Alexis was raised in a monastery; she’s spent her whole life passing as a boy, so it’s challenging enough for her to have to act and dress like a female. To glam up, and preen, and flirt is her idea of a nightmare.

It’s mine, too, which may be why I’m struggling with her wardrobe.

Continue reading

Michille: Ambient Noise and Creativity

noiseI recently stumbled on an ambient noise website (Ambient Mixer) and found it helpful in my creative process. It blocked out the death rattle on our aging Advatium oven, the scritching and scratching of our highly allergic dog, and other aural distractions. I started to dig around for more sites that might have other ambient mixers that I could use and stumbled on a research study from 2012. Is Noise Always Bad? Exploring the Effects of Ambient Noise on Creative Cognition (Mehta, R., Zhu, R., & Cheema, A. (2012). Is Noise Always Bad? Exploring the Effects of Ambient Noise on Creative Cognition. Journal of Consumer Research, 39(4), 784-799). I’ll start with the conclusion:

“Results from five experiments demonstrate that a moderate (70 dB) versus low (50 dB) level of ambient noise enhances performance on creative tasks and increases the buying likelihood of innovative products. A high level of noise (85 dB), on the other hand, hurts creativity. Process measures reveal that a moderate (vs. low) level of noise increases processing difficulty, inducing a higher construal level [physiological distance] and thus promoting abstract processing, which subsequently leads to higher creativity. A high level of noise, however, reduces the extent of information processing and thus impairs creativity.” Continue reading

Elizabeth: Measuring Joy

img_1231As I mentioned back in my New Year’s post, my watchword for 2017 is Joy.  Now that January is over, it seems like a good time for a check-in to see how just how that’s been working out so far.

There’s always room for a story that can transport people to another place.” ~ J.K. Rowling

Discovery

January was a good month for new stories.  Maddie and Dan from my holiday Mistletoe Reboot story got another installment in their “is it over or not relationship”; Jack and his brother Nick were featured in my January Short story; and Katie and Grant made their way around London on a team-building treasure hunt in last Friday’s Random Word Improv.  Even better, as far as meeting some longer-term goals, Cassie and Nicolai traveled along with me on this week’s business trip and are slowly inching their way through Act 2.  All of that is definitely “joy” inducing.

“Life is uncertain, eat dessert first.” Continue reading

Jilly: Filling the Well

filling-the-wellWhat have you done to recharge your batteries/top up your creative well this week? I’ve spent most of the last three days with my nose in a book (well, pressed against a Kindle.) It’s been wonderful.

I had great plans to read and recharge over the holidays. That didn’t happen, because I used all my spare time to work on my Golden Heart entry. I wrote a new opening scene—it took multiple attempts before I finally found one I liked. I figured out an opening sentence that made promises about the story instead of just plunging into the action. I filled in plot holes. I checked the etymology of every significant word to make sure it was appropriate to my world. I tailored my metaphors. I wrote a new synopsis that reflected Alexis and Kierce’s relationship arc instead of wandering off into the mystery sub-plot. And then—yay!—this week, I uploaded the lot to the RWA website.

I have a lot of work left to do on this story, but I needed a breather so I decided to treat myself to the book binge I didn’t get in December.

Continue reading