Thursday, March 8, 2012

How to be a Crazy Writer in 5 Easy Steps

Erin Shakespear
 "Maybe you have to be a little crazy to write a good and original book." Patricia Lee Gauch

A few years ago I had the pleasure of listening to the speaker of that fantastic quote above,  Patrica Lee Gauch, at Chautauqua, New York (and I got to have lunch and dinner with her, too and have her as my mentor for the workshop...yeah, it was all kinds of awesome....and I am such a Fan Girl). She is the former Editorial Directer of Philomel books and an author herself.  I will never forget the experience.

Let me just pause here to say, that if you ever get the chance to listen to this lady speak, go. She could talk about what type of toothpaste she uses and the audience would be mesmerized. She is a brilliant speaker. And she knows her stuff.

I heard three of her lectures, all of them amazing, but the one she was most known for that week was called Going Crazy.

Here are some of her words that I managed to jot down when I wasn't stuck being mesmerized. Prepare yourself. These are really good...

"You're the director of the symphony of your book. Whatever shape or size. It helps to be a little crazy."

"A great book needs the wildness."

"There is no greater wisdom about living than a good book."

"Search for a truly original idea and then let go."

"Stay with a sentence until it gives up the rhythms you need."

"The other half of crazy is authentic."

"There is no room for competence alone."

"Being crazy may give you the permission to be original." 

See? What did I tell you? Brilliant.

So, maybe you're wondering to yourself, "How do I become a crazy writer?" I'm glad you asked. Here are my thoughts....

How to be a Crazy Writer in 5 Easy Steps

#1: Decide to write a book. (We'll start with a relatively simple one.)

#2: Push your ideas further. So, you start writing your book. You're coming up with characters, settings, plot twists and this is when you need to ask yourself, "Is there any way to make these things crazier? More unique? Truly different? Wild and extraordinary?"

Push your ideas!

#3: Brainstorm. Sometimes I have a hard time coming up with something new and different. However, if I write the word brainstorm at the top of a paper, it seems to give my mind permission to write down whatever floats across it.

Maybe you're trying to think of a quirk or flaw to give your hero or what challenging things should happen in your soggy middle or a surprise twist to throw at your main character....brainstorm. And let yourself write every crazy idea you come up with. The crazier the better!

#4: Don't play it safe. Do you ever find yourself looking at something you've written and a little voice in the back of your mind says, "It's too ordinary." Maybe your response is, "Nah, it's good enough."

Nooooooooooo! Don't ever settle for good enough. Good enough is the antidote to going crazy. Do not play it safe. Definitely stick with crazy and dangerous.

#5: Push yourself even further. Alright, you think you've got it figured out. Your ideas are crazy unique. Really? Have you really gone as crazy as you can? Think about some of your favorite books. Think about what makes them page-turners. Look at what's made them successful. Chances are it's because the author took a crazy idea and ran with it.

In Patty's lecture she illustrated this point with this comment...

"Dickens must have been crazy to go to those extremes. Didn't Dickens ever take a creative writing class? I mean, Charles, reign it in!" (that last part was heavy on the sarcasm)


Alright, there you have it. How to be a Crazy Writer in 5 Easy Steps. Ok....well...they aren't really easy, are they? Yep. It was false advertising. But if you're looking for an easy way to write a great book, you're a different kind of crazy altogether.

Patty ended her lecture with these words...

"I give you a mandate, GO THERE!" 


J. A. Bennett said...

LOVE This! It pays to be crazy! Who wants the same boring stuff? Great post Erin!

Alice said...

fun ideas. I'll have to try them.

Jon Egan said...

Loved that presentation, and you are definitely correct in saying she could give a talk about toothpaste! That "Crazy," talk is one that I reflect back on every time I sit down to write.
It's so appropriate for every genre, you are indeed a lucky girl to have had her ear for so long at the conference.

Imogen said...

I love this post! I am definitely going to push myself to be more crazy. So far I've completed steps 1 and 2

Anonymous said...

Great post, Erin! I loved this quote the most "Stay with a sentence until it gives up the rhythms you need." To me, there's more in that sentence than any graduate program could ever teach about literature or writing! I'll dwell on a sentence forever until I get the rhythm I was looking for--believe me, it's harder than it sounds! Pacing and reveal dictates my writing style sooooo much. So when I come upon a sentence or phrase or paragraph or chapter that needs a certain rhythm, I take my time in squeezing out every last ounce of emotion I could possible get from it all in an effort to produce the best possible work! It's hard work, but incredibly reward and satisfying when done right! :)

Daisy Carter said...

What an EXCELLENT list! And this Pam of whom you speak sound like the kind of woman I'd be willing to share a plate of chili fries with just to pick her brain.

The entire time I was reading this post, Phoebe Buffay was whispering "Yeah, crazy like a know, crazy straws?"

Erin Shakespear said...

Thanks everyone! :)

Jon, I know, right? I don't know how I got that lucky...

Daisy...ha! Love it. Crazy straws...