Ditch Your Comfort Zone
Ms. Merman enjoyed a long and successful career conquering damn near everything as a triple threat performer. At the age of 71, she was well-respected but clearly delegated to the has-been pile. While most of us would have reclined on our hard-earned laurels, she took advantage of the late-1970s musical landscape, repackaged her signature songs and dragged her contemporaries into the Disco Age. Some said she was just cashing in but I see it as straight-up savvy and a willingness to push beyond boundaries. Check that fear at the door and listen to her one-take recording of “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” for a master class in reinvention, bravery and pure, campy goodness.
Sometimes You Need a Little Help from Your Friends
Writing seems like this tortured, solitary exercise until you realize that you actually want people to read your stuff. Actually, this want is more of a need because it’s nearly impossible for me to objectively critique my work. Even if you’re not at the sharing stage, just having compassionate writers-in-arms makes the whole thing so much easier. It’s amazing what a little constructive criticism can do and having someone say, “Really, it’s not that bad” can totally make your day! Besides, only other writers understand that hearing characters’ voices in your head is not an early sign of mental illness.
Sometimes You Must Have the Hard Conversation
Should I cut 20,000 words? Should I kill my darlings? Should I shelve the publishing dream? Becoming more proficient at this writing thing means being prepared to ask (and answer!) challenging questions. Whenever I get bogged down with lizard brain, I think of Sean Connery’s hard-boiled Irish policeman character, Jim Malone, in The Untouchables. In a critical moment, he asks Kevin Costner (as G-man Eliot Ness), “What are you prepared to do?” I’m not advocating taking a “Chicago Way” approach to writing, but it’s important to know how far you’re willing to go.
Know the Difference Between Homage and Thievery
I have loads of creative idols. I realize their work influences me on many levels and I work really hard at being aware of that in my writing. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery but don’t get it twisted–you will get caught. I would love for someone to say, “Her work is reminiscent of Norma Klein.” What I don’t want to hear is, “She totally ganked that plot from Just Friends!” This is particularly tricky in the worlds of parody, satire and fan fiction but everyone knows where the line is (if you don’t, ask somebody) and it shouldn’t be crossed under any circumstances.