The Willing Suspension of Disbelief

A difference of opinion is no reason to eat my brain.

For many of us who read novels or watch movies in genres outside the realm of “this could happen in real life,” there is a willing suspension of disbelief before we enter the theater or open the cover of a book (or press whichever Kindle button). We’re excited. We’re ready to be entertained. And we participate in the experience by opening ourselves to what realists would call the impossible…

Tonight I am guest blogging over at Celluloid Zombie about the willing suspension of disbelief. Though Richard Lamb and I disagree on this topic (just one of many), he’s busy at work and will permit even someone he disagrees with to guest blog at his site. Lucky for me.

So jump on over with me to Celluloid Zombie and chime in and tell us your opinion.

Magpie’s Shiny Things: January 25, 2011

As you can see, my artistic ability has not progressed since Kindergarten.

Magpie’s Shiny Things is a new feature that will highlight links to cool places I’ve visited on the internet, inspiring blogs, yummy recipes, to-die-for products, whatever has caught my attention.

As stated in my post Procrastination, “I’m like a magpie, a bird prone to thievery, according to folklore, because of its penchant for shiny things. I can be in the middle of one task, when ‘something shiny’ catches my attention and I’m off on another adventure.” The promise of something new gets me every time.

My hope is that you’ll find something you like here, too. And who knows, perhaps with this feature as an outlet, I may find my way to a more focused blog. After all, why should readers have to guess which one of Margaret’s 17 personalities they’ll encounter on any given day? 😀

So, here, without further ado, I present my first edition of Magpie’s Shiny Things.

With snow and other foul weather preventing me from getting out for my daily walk or run, January was the perfect month for online exploration. (Yes, I know I could have exercised indoors, but in the spirit of full disclosure, I mostly sat on my growing butt with the laptop slow-roasting my thighs and watched marathon sessions of Criminal Minds. There, I’ve admitted it.)

One of my great finds this month was the blog Altared Spaces. You’ll find yourself breathing a bit easier after reading Rebecca’s posts. One of my favorites is Cinnamon Rolls Taste Like Gratitude. No, it’s not a recipe. Not of the food variety, anyway. It’s more a recipe for gratitude and thankfulness. Though it was written back in November for Thanksgiving, thankfulness is something we can practice every day. And tell me the gorgeous centerpiece in the photo below couldn’t be updated a bit for display on Valentine’s Day, a holiday when we’re thankful for those we love. Think candy conversation hearts in the vase instead of pine cones and “snowflake” hearts in rosy hues hanging on the branches.

The re-designed movie blog Celluloid Zombie is a frequent stop in my blog travels. Richard Lamb offers up wit, sarcasm, charming English spellings, and tons of great reviews that will have your Netflix list overflowing with celluloid goodness. What I especially enjoy are his fresh takes on oldies-but-goodies. The Gremlins Gag Reel reminded me how much I loved that movie in my youth and it made for a great movie night with my son. I had tons of fun trying to spot the gags.

Nathan Bransford is an author, former literary agent, and blogger extraordinaire on all things publishing related. His recent How to Use Twitter was a good reminder that I’m not quite there yet with my Twitter platform. Okay, not even close. I also owe Nathan a big thank you for giving me the idea for Magpie’s Shiny Things. He regularly posts a blog that links to all the great sites he finds. It’s one-stop shopping for those of us who don’t have a lot of time but want to keep up with what’s happening in the industry.

Michael G. is the blogger over at Sharing a Love of Teaching. He is a Grade 4 teacher in Australia, and from the posts I’ve read, a wonderful one at that. What I love about his blog is that it challenges me to think, and I usually end up rethinking my opinions on topics in education, bullying, etc. Everyone with a school-aged child in their life should read this blog. And everyone with a child who has a social media profile on sites like Facebook, etc. should immediately stop what they’re doing, sit their child down, and watch the video he shared in his post I Urge You To Show This To Your Kids.

Okay, I’ll sheepishly admit I was probably the last person in the world to hear about Ree Drummond’s blog The Pioneer Woman. But just in case your siesta under the rock lasted a bit longer than you’d intended, skip on over there as soon as you can. Ree blogs about cooking, photography, and homeschooling. My favorites are the recipes, with her hysterical asides, anecdotes, and self-deprecating humor. If you want to experience the feeling of “died and gone to heaven,” you’ve got to try the Pecan Pie Muffins.

Well, there you go. Hope you found something to love here. Let me know if you did. And please feel free to share your great finds, too, in the Comments section.

I’m off to discover more shiny things.

Procrastination

Happy Birthday to my Mom, a woman who never procrastinates.

Friend and fellow writer Deborah Atherton recently blogged about procrastination. I filed my nails for four days and finally read her blog. I’d been in a rut—nothing going on except the worrying that nothing was going on. In case you’re wondering, not writing was the nothing going on.

It’s quite odd to not get started on something you really want to get started on. It got me thinking about the cause, and it was at this point that I read Deborah’s blog and the article she refers to, which puts forth several good theories. When none of them resulted in an aha moment for me, I continued my pondering until some surprising conclusions surfaced.

For many years, I’ve fought the idea that a writer must write every day. As an unstructured person, I never did and it didn’t seem to be an issue. I chalked it up to personal preference and never understood why others made such a fuss. But suddenly, I’m rethinking that. I realize that for me it’s all about momentum, and that procrastination is a symptom of the loss of momentum, stemming, I think, from the dread of the effort it’s going to take to get back on track.

Case in point, last year I was in a regular exercise routine when August arrived and I jetted off to Scotland for two weeks. When I returned, I never resumed exercising. Just. Stopped. Completely. There were some attempts to restart but nothing took hold. Then, in April of this year, I decided to take the advice of Olympic Gold Medalist Jennifer Azzi, who recommends never letting two days pass without doing some kind of exercise. Almost seven months later, I have stuck to that. I exercise every day or every other day. Missing two days has happened only on rare occasions. Last month, I went on a two-week holiday to Italy. When I returned, and let me admit that re-entry was difficult, I realized that I wasn’t getting back to the routine and recommitted to Azzi’s principle.

I think we can all relate to how difficult it is to start an exercise routine when you’re not in shape. Writing is no different. When I’m engaged, the ideas are flowing along with the ink. Even if I miss a day, my mind is still simmering and “writing” in thoughts that will later be committed to paper. But when I’ve let it all go mid-novel, when I haven’t worked in weeks or months (or, dare I say, a year) and can’t remember where I left off, the thought of picking up the pieces is torture. I can’t just start writing at that point. I need to first find the novel on my cluttered desk, and reread it to figure out what the heck I was thinking, consult my notes about the various thoughts I had as I was writing, and then resume the work. Contemplating how much has to happen before I can dig in again is draining. It would have been so much easier to stay in the groove. I think it’s time for me to apply Azzi’s rule of exercise to writing. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

There was one more point that nagged at me. What is it exactly that takes me out of a task? I love to write, why would I stop? I feel great when I exercise, why would I stop? In the absence of a commitment to a principle such as Azzi’s, it comes down to something as simple as my personality type. I am a “putterer,” easily distracted. I jump from one task to the next. My friend Richard Lamb, who writes a regular movie blog (and even had posts ready to run while he was away on vacation…sigh) says I’m like a magpie, a bird prone to thievery, according to folklore, because of its penchant for shiny things. I can be in the middle of one task, when “something shiny,” as he says, catches my attention and I’m off on another adventure. He’s right. And so, it’s not the lack of desire for the task at hand, but the promise of something new that gets me every time and usually distracts me long enough to break my much needed momentum.

Lucky for me, the shiny bits this week were Deborah’s blog, Rich’s good example, and the memory of Jennifer’s sage advice. Let the writing begin anew.

Update 1/25/2011: See my new blog series Magpie’s Shiny Things.

1st Anniversary of My Blog

Today is the first anniversary of this blog and I’ve been thinking about all that’s happened over the course of the year. It reminds me of the importance of being open to people and reaching out to others. Nothing good happens if you sit alone in your home day after day. Read on to see what I mean.

In May of 2008, I was reading my Washington University in St. Louis Alumni Magazine when I noticed a blurb about a fellow alum who had just had a book published. Her name was Julie Compton, and though I didn’t know her at school, I was really excited about her news. I sent her an email congratulating her (this is the reaching out to others part), which set off a chain of events I never could have predicted.

  • Julie responded and we began an email correspondence.
  • I visited her blog and was inspired to start a blog of my own.
  • It was either on her blog or website that I noticed a link for Inked-In, a social networking site for writers, artists, and musicians.
  • I joined Inked-In and that site became the outlet for a lot of pent-up creativity, not to mention the exciting exchanges with other crazy, creative types.
  • In the meantime, I bought a copy of Julie’s book, Tell No Lies, and started reading. I enjoyed it so much, I sent her an email detailing my thoughts.
  • After several emails back and forth, Julie asked if I would be interested in becoming her beta reader. Hell, yeah!
  • Shortly thereafter, I found out that my novel, The Benefactor, was being considered for publication. I needed to get it in as good shape as possible before submitting it in its entirety to the requesting editor. Guess who helped me out with that. That’s right–Julie’s advice and editing tips were invaluable and will provide a foundation to make my next book better than it would have been.
  • Meanwhile, I was making lots of new friends at Inked-In. As a result of joining, I met a fellow novelist (and screenwriter) from the UK, Richard Lamb, with whom I am now collaborating on my next novel, a romantic comedy.
  • In his previous life, Richard was a graphic artist and he generously offered his assistance in coming up with the cover concept for The Benefactor.
  • As if things couldn’t get more exciting, I was talking to Jennifer Greenhill-Taylor, a new friend and one of the founders of Inked-In (along with Joseph Reed Hayes), and by the end of the conversation we had decided to book a trip to Scotland with some of our other writer friends. For ten days in August, I’ll be living in a former 17th century church that has been converted into a beautiful residence. It’ll be great to meet everyone face-to-face (Skype isn’t quite the same thing) and we’ll also do some planning and scouting for a possible group writing venture.
  • The months were quickly ticking by, and I suddenly realized I needed a website for my book launch. Once again, Richard stepped up and offered his assistance. I’m hoping to announce the new site by the end of the summer.

It has been a whirlwind of a year–a year that would have been radically different had I not met Julie Compton.

I’ve always been a bit envious of aggressive networkers. I just don’t have that in me. But sometimes a simple hello is all it takes to make new friends and spark a chain of magical events.

Beyond the Sea: An Inked-In Collaboration

This blog is a collaboration between Richard Lamb and Margaret Reyes Dempsey discussing their collaboration.

Or

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Other Writers

Margaret: It seems membership is increasing at Inked-In. I’m sure many people join just to see what it’s all about, as I did back in July. I never dreamed it would turn into a collaboration with a fellow writer on the other side of the Atlantic. I’m always up for a challenge, so when Richard said, “Hey, we should write something together,” I immediately agreed. We had hit it off socially and admired each other’s writing. He was a “long-winded” screenwriter who thought he might be better at novels. I was a “woman of few words” novelist who thought screenwriting might be a better match. (When it comes to talking, it’s actually the reverse.) In the end, we decided on a novel, hoping our styles would meet somewhere in the middle.

Richard: Truth be told, I’ve never been much of a collaborator. When I was at Art College and I found myself having to do a group project, I would invariably come to blows with everyone else and then lose interest because they weren’t doing things the way I thought they should be done. I wanted total autonomy over all my projects or I simply lost enthusiasm for them. I’ve always been something of a loner, most especially when it comes to creative endeavours. So no one was more surprised than I when I suggested to Margaret that we collaborate on a novel together. We’d met on Inked-In a few months earlier and quickly discovered that we had a lot in common, both personally and creatively. So as far as whims go, it seemed like a fairly logical one. Which is more than can be said for most of my whims.

Margaret: Of course, I had reservations. As similar as we were in some ways, we couldn’t be more different in how we approached the writing process. There were also difficulties (putting it very mildly) with misunderstandings due to American versus British English, not to mention the trouble you can get in with inflectionless forms of communication like online chat. What we did have in common, though, was the ability to duke it out and get on with the work. Well, eventually get on with the work, that is.

Richard: We came up with our idea in short order and quickly realised that we had something that was pretty original in its approach and execution. That gave us the initial buzz to get started and five months on we are still hammering away at it. Well, sort of. Maybe hammering isn’t the right word. Light tapping might be better.

Margaret: There were a few months when I was immersed in edits for my soon-to-be-released novel. But the real reason it took so long to get in the flow was the difference in our approach to writing. Richard is a spontaneous, “without a plan” kind of writer and I like to have a loose outline of where I’m heading (otherwise my finished project ends up looking like little Jimmy going from Point A to Point B in the Family Circus cartoons).

Richard: Okay, so there have been lapses in motivation along the way. On both sides. There have been times when Margaret has accelerated past me and times when I have accelerated past her. There have been many times when other projects have dragged us away (Margaret’s soon to be published novel is the prime example) and certainly times when we have become frustrated with ourselves and, from time to time, each other. However, I have not once lost interest in it and I have never really found myself wanting to reach across the Atlantic and strangle Margaret. Not in relation to this book anyway.

Margaret: In time, Richard began to see that his approach wouldn’t work in a collaboration. After all, we couldn’t read each other’s minds and the type of novel we’re writing demands consistency. We compromised by discussing individual chapters as we went along. Then we finished chapter four and got stuck again. Finally, Richard suggested that we plot the whole thing out so we knew where we were going. Wow, what a great idea. Wish I had thought of that. 😉

Richard: I’ve been surprised how easily we have worked together. We complement each other creatively and I’ve even enjoyed Margaret’s little brainstorming sessions, a concept which I have usually found extremely tedious in the past. In fact, we spent God knows how many hours brainstorming almost the whole thing over the last few days. It was exhausting but surprisingly satisfying.

Margaret: So, the last two days have been a whirlwind of activity. We spent hours on the phone plotting out the novel (me on my lounge chair sitting out in the sun on a mild New York spring day; Richard on his sofa under an English night sky). It was exhilarating and grueling at the same time. But in the end, we had something amazing that we both really liked. We’ll see where it goes.

Richard: I guess the secret of this collaboration’s success is the way in which we complement each other. Sometimes I need to be told to write less and sometimes Margaret needs to be told to write more. Together we find a common ground where I think something very special will be produced.

Note: Inked-In is an online social network for writers, artists, and musicians.