Words to kick-start the New Year

gears

Andy Dingley image

Silk’s Post #16 – I have this steampunk-inspired vision of what must happen this evening as the clock strikes midnight and the New Year comes into being.

A cosmic mechanical system of epic proportions groans into action, massive cogs aligning with each other, as the ponderous gears of time ratchet the universe forward one more click into 2013. Kaaah-klunck. Time moves forward and 2012 becomes the past, never to recur in this eternity.

The book of 2012 will close.

The year’s unfulfilled opportunities will forever remain blank pages. Its glories will become part of history’s recorded march toward enlightenment, and its iniquities will always be preserved in dark-stained chapters. A new book will open, its snowy pages inviting the world to fill them with more of the former and less of the latter.

Such an awesome and unstoppable force as the passage of time certainly requires a bit of ceremonial observance. We rise to the occasion with the spirited ritual of the New Year’s Eve Bacchanalia, followed by the sober ritual of the New Year’s Resolution. Writers are, it seems, enthusiastic participants in both.

At the risk of reprising a number of well-published chestnuts, I begin my list of favourite literary New Year’s quotes for your contemplation with a bit of ancient wisdom …

“A thing is never too often repeated which is never sufficiently learned.”   — Seneca the Younger

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language. And next year’s words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning.”   — T. S. Eliot

“We spend January 1 walking through our lives, room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched. Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives … not looking for flaws, but for potential.”   — Ellen Goodman

“I made no resolutions for the New Year. The habit of making plans, of criticizing, sanctioning and moulding my life, is too much of a daily event for me.”   — Anais Nin

“Time has no divisions to mark its passage, there is never a thunderstorm or blare of trumpets to announce the beginning of a new month or year. Even when a new century begins, it is only we mortals who ring bells and fire off pistols.”   — Thomas Mann

“New Year’s Day – Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.”   — Mark Twain

“Good resolutions are simply checks that men draw on a bank where they have no account.”   — Oscar Wilde

“Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbours, and let each new year find you a better man.”   — Benjamin Franklin

“Cheers to a New Year and another chance for us to get it right.”   — Oprah Winfrey

“No one ever regarded the First of January with indifference. It is that from which all date their time, and count upon what is left. It is the nativity of our common Adam.”   — Charles Lamb

“Tomorrow is the first blank page of a 365 page book. Write a good one.”   — Brad Paisley

“One resolution I have made, and try always to keep, is this: To rise above the little things.” — John Burroughs

“I shall stick to my resolution of writing always what I think no matter whom it offends.”   — Julia Ward Howe

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.”   — Albert Einstein

“Gimme one more chance.”   — Madonna, “One More Chance”

“Oh baby, give me one more chance.”   Jackson Five, “I Want You Back”

“Oh baby, baby, baby gimme one more chance.”   — John Lennon, “What You Got”

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something … Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it.”   — Neil Gaiman

“Write faster.”   — Silk Questo

To all my writing friends: may your gears mesh with brave ideas and your blank pages fill with beautiful words in the New Year.

OMG it’s Friday, my blog day!

Sorry folks, for the silence over the last three weeks. We got off the ship in Chile yesterday, with luggage and memories to last us a lifetime (the memories, not the luggage). I had lost track of what day of the week it was. Didn’t need to know. But I do have an excuse for not blogging since early December. I had to scramble for a Wi-Fi hot spot whenever we got on shore, and it was a challenge. The few times I did manage, was with iPhone in hand, and I hope to have your empathy for not writing a blog post on that tiny keyboard (sure, my teenaged granddaughter could have done it, but I wisely chose to leave her behind). The ship did have satellite Internet, but the connection was slow – like watching paint to dry on the wall. So I relied on ports of call and searching for hot spots in some pretty weird places.

IMG_1617

Shopping in Valparaiso, Chile

Do we love South America? Yes, passionately. All of it: Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Ushuaia (the southernmost city in the world), many others, and now Santiago. For all of its unique and quirky culture. The architecture, the art, and of course the shopping.

Fear not, I will not turn into a travel writer (the field is crowded as it is with excellent writers of the genre). But I did add a thousand and one stories to my repertoire of plot ideas. Who knows, I may dig some out for future novels. Not only stories. Character studies galore!

You have no idea.

So how about my writing? Well, I did make some progress (though less than I had planned). Found a lovely nook just around the corner from the ship’s extensive library and the excellent Barista Café. Met a former FBI person who generously agreed to be interviewed. He shared with me some awesome scientific info, tailor-made for my novel.

You have no idea. Truth is indeed often stranger than fiction.

And also on the theme of writing, we went to see Pablo Neruda’s beautiful house and gardens. What a treat. We like Santiago for many reasons. One is my passion for public transport in foreign places, and this city has an awesome subway. Emil and I are getting around this huge city for pennies a day. This is where you meet the locals and their culture. For example, you may like to learn that most people here are passionate readers. I know this, because I see countless people with their noses buried in books, whether in cafes, waiting for a bus, but especially on the subway. So there is lots of potential for our little writers group once we are published and our work gets translated into Spanish (and Portuguese in Brazil).

You should see the bookstores!

Two more days in 30C temperature, then it’s back to rain and full-speed-ahead writing.

But now we are heading for the bar to enjoy Chile’s national drink, the lovely Pisco Sour.

Priorities and the 80 Rule

Joe’s Post #15

life-balanceBalancing life and work can always be challenging. Balancing life and work and writing, even more so.

However, there’s a few times where writing or work simply has to, or at least should, take a backseat to life. That’s Christmas time for sure. Maybe a birthday or two. Maybe while on an epic vacation.

I have no regrets at all spending all of the last few days with friends and family. Did I get any writing done? No. At least not on my novel. (I honestly hadn’t even planned to get any writing done, so in one way, I achieved my goal!)

But here’s the thing. I call it the 80 rule.

dec 2012 620When I’m 80 years old and sitting on my porch, glaring at all those young’uns with their new fangled music and jeans so far down their legs they are now basically shoes, and I think back to things I regret, one of them will NOT be spending Christmas with my nieces and nephews, or driving over to see my friends and playing games with them and their children, or having coffee with people I love. That’s quality time to me, more important than doing the dishes, more important that checking my emails, more important than writing, even if I’m under deadline.

So writing, work, dishes, that freshly dropped poo in the backyard, they can all wait a bit. I have living to do.

% of Book Rewritten: 0%

Number of Turkey Dinners: 0 (I know, right?)

Pies: 0 (Another astonishing development)

Number of pounds gained from amazing non-turkey dinners: 1 (actually this is more amazing considering I was shoveling food into my face for about 48 hours straight.)

Does it make sense?

Xmas tree

Karalee’s Post #15

Yesterday was spectacular.

Christmas day.

If you celebrate this occasion, the above two words conjure as many different memories or expectations as there are people celebrating it, or not celebrating as may be the case. But hands down I’d bet the entire Christmas turkey that my family enjoyed, that a common thread in those memories include an inundation of the senses.

Turkey

For instance, the turkey.

As a child one of my strongest memories is running into the house after playing outside in the snow for a few hours and smelling the turkey still in the oven and the freshly cooked huckleberry pies cooling on the counter. And I can easily picture the golden brown bird resting on the counter and feel my mouth watering in anticipation of the first mouthful. As writers we have probably learned that the greatest trigger of memory is the sense of smell, but as children we learned that plugging our noses to obstruct the smell decreases the sense of taste of those “special” Brussels sprouts or broccoli passed around the table along with the turkey.

The dinner table is full of bantering as we fill our plates. Then there’s the inevitable exclamation of my mother’s at forgetting the buns warming in the oven or one of the vegetable dishes left on the counter in the kitchen.

All of this busyness is followed by momentary quietness as we eat.

Except it isn’t really quiet if you listen. There’s utensils scraping the plates, the clunk of wine or water glasses being placed back down on the table, the Christmas music in the background, someone coughing or sneezing, the chewing of food, a chair scraping the floor, a vehicle driving by outside, or snow (or rain) being blown against the window in the dining room.

And we smell, taste, and see the food as well as the room with its decorated table and special plates and candles. We look at each other and feel the companionship (unless someone fights over the second turkey leg) and the overheated house from cooking all the food.

It’s all part of the ambiance, the setting, the experience of the moment.

It makes me pause and remember that our writing needs all these senses; the sights, scents, sounds, tastes, and feelings whether emotional or physical.

And the reader needs to experience important moments in the fullest sense.

And of course, the moment must make sense to the plot.

Does your writing have these moments?

Christmas festivities have distracted our 5Writer’s group this week and I can guarantee all of us have had our senses stimulated too, whether dancing and eating on a cruise ship, running after grandchildren, or visiting with friends and family.

I challenge all of us to fill our writing with the five senses. I tend to use mostly sight and sound, but am going to be more cognizant of them all. There’s no time to go back and improve my story at this point as time is flying too fast to even smell the roses (I expect for all of us except for Joe who can have a bouquet in every room or one in all of his character’s hair or even squeeze the rose buds into gallons of perfume).

Wine glassI wish you all a wonderful holiday season, and I raise my glass to all of our senses that make our experiences possible.

Juggling all the Jingle Balls

Maui Jingle ball

Paula’s Post #15 – When we started out on this journey on September 5th, 2012, I never would have imagined that I would draw December 25th, 2012, – Christmas Day, – for my weekly blog post. Nor would I have imagined that I would spend this evening, Christmas Eve, pounding out this little post on my Mac, while It’s a Vey Merry Muppet’s Christmas Movie rolled in the background, entertaining one very special two-year old, my little baby grand-daughter.

But then again, life doesn’t always turn out quite how we expect, and our stories shouldn’t either.

Last week, Joe posted that he had completed the first draft of his novel. Joe posted that he was now going to take a couple of weeks off, enjoy Christmas, and worry about the rewrites in January. Joe posted he had 360 pages.

In the vault.

Done.

By last week, I had maybe a third of Joe’s output. Somewhere around 130 pages. I wrote a little comment on Joe’s post, something about being green with envy, (coincidentally, the same colour of the star of tonight’s little dramatic production, one Kermit the Frog).

Muppets

Joe’s post just brought home to me what I already knew: I’m playing ‘catch up’ and will be doing so until the end of this crazy journey. My goal not a polished third draft but a ragged, race-to-the-finish first draft.

I suspect I may not be alone in surging forward towards this more modest goal.

I suspect that, like many others, my schedule for this Christmas season will be unpredictable, just as it’s been for most of this 5writers journey.

My life’s just like that, and Christmas is no exception.

Christmas in our world is the most hectic time of all. Maybe your family is like mine: a blended family with kids and grandkids all over Canada and North America. Arranging Christmas is like playing poker and where the chips fall is just luck of the draw. This year, we drew into a Royal Flush. We have the joy of sharing the week before and the week after Christmas with two of our three baby grandchildren.

Two weeks of toddlers, 24/7, as the saying goes.

Hardly conducive to writing, with most of each day dictated by the play time, meal time and nap time of toddlers (which is pretty much all of the time, or so I’m discovering in my own, naive, ‘straight-to-grandchildren’ kind of way).

So my writing time this Christmas will be confined to a few stolen moments. I’ll be juggling all the Jingle Balls just to find the time to whip off a page or two each day. I’m trying to write at night, but most nights, I find myself nodding off at the keyboard, after just a few minutes. (A special salute to all the young mothers and fathers out there who somehow manage to raise children and pursue a writing career at the same time).

This week, unlike Joe, I’m posting that I’ve NOT completed the first draft of my novel.

But like Joe, I’m also happy to report that I am (mostly) taking a couple of weeks off to enjoy Christmas with my family. I’ll worry about the ‘and then what happened’ in the New Year, when the kids and grandkids have all gone home and it’s quiet again.

Joe’s right.

Spending time with family and friends over the holidays is more important than writing, even if the clock is ticking on this 5writers challenge. Just my opinion, but I feel that if you don’t think that way too, then maybe writing isn’t the best career choice for you. But that’s up to you to decide.

Right now, I have to cut this post short. Nana has cookies and milk to put out for Santa, and some carrots,, broccoli and pineapple (don’t ask) for Santa’s reindeer. I’m feeling pretty peaceful tonight, the tragic headlines of the last few weeks, the turmoil in the Middle East and the uncertainties of the ‘fiscal cliff’ seem very, very far away this evening.

I’m thankful for that.

I wish all a joyous holiday season and a very, very Happy New Year. I’ll check back with you then, since I’m pretty sure my next post day falls on New Year’s Day.

PS – The ‘reveal’ this week:

Words Written to Date: 42,665

Target Word Count: 100,000

Words short of Target: 57,335

Pages Written to Date: 153

Target Page Count: 400

Pages Short of Target: 247

Pie’s eaten (and to be eaten) this week – Many. I hope 🙂

Inventing Santa Claus

nast-santa

Silk’s post #15 —  The Christmas season does something crazy to the calendar. First of all, the days seem to rush up at you like a herd of galloping reindeer. Then they whirl by in a cloud of wrapping paper bits, carols, a cacaphony of greetings and conversations, and of course the intoxicating aromas of damn-the-calories holiday meals. Suddenly the season is gone and the needles are falling off the tree at the rate of a mountain cloudburst.

Then comes the clean up, which seems to take place in slow motion, unless you’re lucky enough to be in a hurry to get somewhere sunny like Hawaii, or snowy like Whistler.

The other thing that happens to the calendar is that the dates of the month become completely dominant … Christmas Eve on the 24th, Christmas Day on the 25th, New Year’s Eve on the 31st, New Year’s Day on January 1st (and all the other seasonal celebration dates that I can’t keep track of) … but the days of the week become completely eclipsed. For instance, for a working person today’s main feature would be that it’s a Monday. But this week, Monday means nothing and Christmas Eve means everything.

Maybe you can already tell where I’m going with this. I just realized this is Monday at about lunchtime, and Monday is my day to post on the blog. Uh oh.

So in keeping with the spirit of the season (and trying not to be grinch), I thought it would be jolly to explore Christmas from a fiction perspective. There have been many – probably hundreds – of enduring and mostly heartwarming stories written about the Christmas season, of course. In deference to those who take a religious view of Christmas, I won’t put the lovely Nativity story on the “fiction” list, but just by saying that, I’m sure I’ve given away my own perspective on this beautiful and powerful tale.

My own three favourites are literary traditions, written by The Greats: A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas; Dickens’ A Christmas Carol; and The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry.

But what’s interesting is how many of the Christmas stories, traditions and myths that have become staples of our modern culture have bizarrely mixed origins, with bits of folklore, religion, commerce and mass entertainment all thrown into the pot together. What has resulted over time is perhaps the ultimate, collaborative character development project ever.

I’m speaking, of course, of Santa Claus. The original Saint Nicholas and Sinterklaas were Christian religious figures, but in the merging of Christianity and pagan religions back in the olden days, the Norse god Odin (among others) got thrown into the character stew. Over time, a host of folkloric figures including Father Christmas, got written into the Santa Claus role, and eventually the inevitable happened. Santa, and his shifting story, got commercialized.

The Santa Claus we know today is really a creation of commercial artist Haddon Sundbloom, whose rosy-cheeked version of Santa was employed to sell Coca Cola in the 1930s. This put a modern spin on the jolly, pudgy 19th century Santa Claus character drawn by cartoonist Thomas Nast for Harper’s Weekly (image above). For many years, Santa Claus has been a seasonal department store employee. His original starring role in Santa Claus parades began way back in 1890, and has been fully commercialized by Macy’s in New York (who also cleverly helped establish the Christmas shopping season by scheduling Santa’s call-to-action appearance at its own Thanksgiving Day Parade). Santa’s career has now expanded to include personal appearances at shopping malls across the continent, accompanied by his own personal commercial photographer.

I was also surprised to learn that the eight tiny reindeer pulling Santa’s sleigh through the sky were more or less invented by an American reindeer breeder who was trying to establish reindeer herds for commercial meat production in Alaska. Seriously. This notion of sled-pulling reindeer was later popularized in the poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (most know it as “The Night Before Christmas” after its first line), by Clement Clarke Moore. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer was added to the team by Robert May in 1939 for the Montgomery Ward department store, who commissioned the creation of the character for a Christmas colouring book. Of course, it was Gene Autry, the singing cowboy, who made Rudolph truly famous in his 1949 recording.

This was a follow up to Cowboy Gene’s other famous Christmas song, “Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane)”, first recorded in 1947. Interestingly, the lyrics to this song nearly bring Santa Claus full circle, back to being a religious figure (or maybe a modern liberal, depending on how you interpret the third line) with this verse:

Here comes Santa Claus, here comes Santa Claus
Right Down Santa Claus Lane
He doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor
He loves you just the same
Santa Claus knows we’re all God’s children
That makes everything right
So fill your hearts with Christmas cheer
‘Cause Santa Claus comes tonight!

In that spirit, I will sign off with best wishes for a merry season, whatever you may be celebrating. I hope that, just for a minute before you go to sleep tonight, you find it in your heart to still believe in Santa Claus. I will.

The End of the Beginning

Joe’s Post #14

books doneTo quote my favorite quotable guy, “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” Churchill.

On Tuesday, I finished my first draft. A good landmark, for sure, but there is still so much work to do to turn it into a sellable product that it’s hard to jump up and down and celebrate. I mean there’s 3 back-to-back scenes set in a library for the love of Pete! As well, one of my main characters still needs work. And then there’s the whole pacing thing and making sure that if a sword is used to slay the dragon, that sword is introduced earlier in the story.

It’s the downside of only creating a limited outline before actually writing. What I ended up writing is basically a very detailed 346 page outline. But that’s my process. I love to discover parts of the story by actually writing it. It’s fun. Like Karalee said, it’s basically looking past all the flaws and just writing.

However, that process leads to some scenes that need to be expanded, some that need to be reworked, some new ones that need to be written and some that need to be 100% tossed out. It’ll be quite a bit of work.

Still, one advantage with completing the first draft before Christmas is that I think I’ll take Christmas off. Write a few more blogs, do some fun writing, more research on agents, prepare more queries for Desert Rains. I’ll put aside the stress for a week and enjoy life, turkey dinners and friends.

Come Jan 1st, though, it’s back to the book. The fun is over. The work now begins.

Complicated plots

Kathmandu wires in Nepal. Photo by David Greer

Kathmandu wires in Nepal. Photo by David Greer

Karalee’s Post #14 — Does your plot-line ever feel like this? Red herrings running out of control, sub-plots taking over, minor characters trying to bully their way into the limelight?

This picture shows a typical power pole in the city of Kathmandu, Nepal. My husband and I (with over a dozen other friends) went trekking in Nepal last year and when I saw this tangled infrastructure in the capital city, I was amazed that any electricity got directed to where it was supposed to go to.  Can you imagine if you were the actual electrician trying to figure out this mess? It appears that whoever shows up to try and fix someone’s electrical problem simply strings another line.

Never did I think I would use this picture to depict writing, but it does illustrate how we need to weave story lines together and then separate them as characters come and go and our timeline marches forward. What it also shows is the mess that can happen if no outlining is done (not even in the author’s head) or the writer allows the story to take on a life of its own.

Oh, it can be fun to let minor characters speak and become larger than intended, but how does the protagonist maintain his or her status? And how does a sub-plot remain in its place and not become the main plot? And if things get too tangled, how does the reader know what is happening?

For this project and others that I’ve done, I outline the main story line and what happens at the end of each of my three main acts. Some sub-plot ideas come to light during this process and I jot them down. After I’ve finished my outline in Scrivener (that is in table form and scene-by-scene as much as I know it at the time), I then unroll a large section of children’s play paper and stick it onto my wall right in front of where I write.

The paper is where my potential tangled mess of scenes and sub-plots get sorted. I draw a large bubble-type map of my characters and their inter-relationships with all the other characters, as well as writing down the time-line for my major climaxes since in mystery thrillers the timing is everything in many cases.

My bubble map expands. Character’s pictures get posted around the perimeter along with important research information I need to refer to regularly. Yellow post-it notes go up here and there and may move around. Lines are drawn between characters and notes made along the lines.

It can look quite complicated.

Of course, if something doesn’t work and needs to be changed, the bubble map is drawn in pencil. Much easier to change than those tangled wires in Kathmandu. But everything is there for a reason, each character has his/her role to play at the proper time and place. And like a game of chess,  it all makes sense.

More Kathmandu wires. Photo by David Greer

More Kathmandu wires. Photo by David Greer

It’s comforting too, having my story diagrammed in front of me and my characters doing what they need to do when it’s needed, and nothing or no one getting left out. Almost like an extended family.

I’m enjoying spending my days looking at my bubble map and putting the pictorial view into written words, making sense out of my potentially tangled world. To me, the time put into organizing my story is well worth it.

It  keeps me on track, and like the wires in Kathmandu, when the tangled mess is straightened out there are still many wires, but they are all headed in the same direction.

In story terms this is towards ‘The End.’

As for my progress, I am still on track to finish Act Two by January first.

Happy writing.

Reflection

Paula’s Post #14 Some sober reflection.

We 5writers have deliberately made a collective decision not to politicize this blog. This is a decision I whole-heartedly support. But I am a dual US- Canadian citizen and a grandmother (a young grandmother) and the tragic events in Newtown Connecticut have rocked me to the core. As a writer, I feel compelled to write something about the issue of gun violence.

I am not today, going to join in the debate over the proper interpretation of the Second Amendment. That is an issue for another day, for another forum.  But I must raise an issue that has weighed on my conscience since learning of the circumstances surrounding the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, and that is the suggestion that ‘media’ in all its many forms, may have acted, in part, as a ‘catalyst’ for these tragic events.

The past few years have been particularly horrific. Columbine, the attack on Congresswoman Gabby Gifford, the mass shootings at Virginia Tech, in a crowded theater in Aurora, Colorado and a shopping mall in Clackamas, Oregon. Now the crushing blow of the slaughter of 20 young children and 6 adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut,.

We are all asking one question?

Why?

Since Friday, I’ve watched the ‘talking heads’ provide commentary on CNN, the BBC and NBC. One fact seems clear: each of the young male shooters responsible for this carnage had been, to one extent or another, deeply disturbed. In some cases, mental health professionals have made suggested psychosis.

Many commentators have also decried the role of violent media on the minds of these assailants. Video and role-playing games, have, in particular been singled out as a potential trigger for these attacks. Whether an actual link can be established is still a subject for debate, but something that must be examined.

What about books?

What about fiction?

What about murder mysteries and techno-thrillers? What about the incredibly violent, (particularly Part III), of the Hunger Games Trilogy, a Young Adult Novel?

Did Agatha Christie worry about the impact of her novels? Did she worry they might provoke copycat murders?

I don’t know the answer to these questions. But I can’t help thinking about them.

I must.

The monkey see, monkey do trap

Andel I

Silk’s Post #14 — I can’t write and read at the same time.

This is different from the jokey problem of walking while chewing gum. It’s not that I can’t multi-task, god knows. That’s all I do is multi-task. In fact I think the only thing I do without the distraction of three or four other balls in the air is sleep.

No, my problem is: I mimic.

When I read a good action thriller with lots of short, punchy, three-word sentences, I begin to write short, punchy, three-word sentences. When I read literature with long complex sentences and five dollar words, I start writing unstoppable sentences that turn into paragraphs with a hundred commas. When I read Ian Rankin, I begin to write as though I speak with a Scottish accent, and when I read Bill Bryson I suddenly seem to sound funnier — and slightly, if awkwardly, British. (I only wish I could mimic Martin Cruz Smith).

You see my dilemma?

Writers – and the large galaxy of people who seem to make a pretty good living coaching writers on how to write – are always talking about how important it is to read, read, read if you want to write, write, write. Don’t any of them have my monkey-see-monkey-do problem?

But if I admit it (and you know that’s a writer’s way of warning you they’re about to admit something), I have a deeper problem with reading while I’m writing. It all sounds so much better than my own work. Probably not all of it really is better, but there it is in ink, on a page – and there’s my work in pixels, on a screen. Ink gives a certain je ne sais quoi to writing. A certain intimidation factor. For one thing, it’s no longer deletable, and that seems to add to its substance and legitimacy.

This second reading problem, however, is pretty clearly a psychological one. Writer’s self doubt. The remedy for it would seem to be getting published (though I suspect that from time to time even some well-respected, published authors still wrestle with the dark conviction that they’re actually frauds and it’s only a matter of time before they’re found out).

But back to mimicry.

Agents are always going on about how they’re looking for a fresh voice. By that, I’m quite sure they do not mean writers who’ve cleverly learned how to sound like other writers. (On the other hand, watch how a surprise runaway bestseller will send them scrambling to sign up exactly that … the next J.K. Rowling, for instance).

So what is “voice” exactly? This post is definitely in my voice. You can probably hear me speaking it, see the expressions on my face, and “read” my body language. The eye rolls. The resigned grins. The hand-wringing and the head wagging. The devilish sparkle in my eye. I actually find it easy to project my “voice” when I’m the first-person “protagonist” in expository non-fiction. I’ve been practising it for a long time as a writer in the commercial marketplace.

But applying this to fiction is a very different challenge. No doubt, there’s a little bit of the author in every memorable protagonist, but too much of the author on the page – as we’ve all been warned in the strongest possible terms – is one of the cardinal sins in fiction. “Author intrusion!” must be second only to “cliché alert!” as an often seen, and always dreaded, margin note.

Joe amused and intrigued us with his post about “becoming a 16-year-old girl” so he could write in the voice of his protagonist. And here’s where mimicry can be a boon. Observe, listen and learn from real life, and if you’re a good mimic you can become a character who is nothing like the real you. If you’re really empathic, you can begin to see the world through your character’s eyes and think with your character’s brain.

So this mimicry thing is actually a pretty useful skill. In the right circumstances.

The problem, for me anyway, comes when I’m reading another author and being sucked into the head of someone else’s protagonist while trying to write from the viewpoint of my own hero. It’s like trying to listen to two pieces of music at the same time. I lose my beat. And I’m guessing that when Joe was writing his YA fantasy, he didn’t have a couple of Jack Reacher thrillers on his bedside table for his nighttime reading.

I have heard at least one well-known author claim to eschew reading while writing, to keep the “voice pollution” out of his head. The question then becomes: when do you read if you’re writing all the time?

An interesting dilemma, this monkey-see-monkey-do trap. Can you read and write at the same time?  If not, how do you deal with it?