Thursday, October 1, 2009

Making it Work

When it comes to my writing, the oh-so-wise words of "Project Runway's" Tim Gunn often apply: "make it work."

If you've ever watched the show (a complete guilty pleasure of mine, for the record), you'll notice he says this to the contestants a lot. In fact, I've watched "Project Runway" so much that I can often guess, with great accuracy, when and to whom he'll say it. Sad, I know.

Back on topic, though...okay, okay, I know what you're thinking...

Yeah, that sounds great in theory, Christa, but how does that actually work in practice? Well, that's precisely what today's blog entry is all about—a few tools that "make it work" for me (and here's hoping they'll help you, too).

First off, the right attitude is a must. Sometimes as much as I love writing, it simply has to be done, even if I'm not really in the mood. Like anything really worth pursuing, it's a discipline, and I'm not always great with discipline. But nonetheless, I must forge ahead. That doesn't mean I shouldn't have a great atmosphere to complete the task in, though.

So I always make sure to have some great music playing in the background (Radiohead, Sinatra and the soundtrack from Julie & Julia have all been favorites lately) if I'm working at home. If I'm at a coffee shop, however, I'm at the mercy of whatever they're playing, which is always an important factor to consider.

As far as coffee shops go, the music at Starbucks is consistently good. Well, unless it's whiny songwriter's day. But in the case of the crazy coffee shop across the street from my apartment, The Black Dog, a place that smells like a pungent combination of hummus, B.O. and incense, the music is usually bad. Last night, they were playing Egyptian hip-hop. Now don't get me wrong, I'm all for diversity, but focusing wasn't particularly easy with those strange, pounding beats in the background at a volume my mother certainly wouldn't have approved of.

In addition to a great selection of music, I enjoy copious amounts of caffeine with my writing. Whether it's a caramel macchiato, a cup of cocoa or a diet coke with lime, it's makes the process go so much faster. A snack (something usually involving chocolate) is helpful, too.

Now that the atmosphere is right, I'm actually ready to write. So here are a few more things that often come in handy...

*A good thesaurus. I don't know about you, but I find it really annoying when authors use the same words, particularly adjectives, over and over again. My husband also shares this conviction and regularly points out how many times John Grisham uses the word "gawk" in his novels. I mean, really, what's so special about the word "gawk?" But I definitely have my pet words (every writer does), so a thesaurus definitely helps when you're stuck.

*A copy of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. Yes, there are probably an infinite amount of great books that'll help kick your writing into shape, but this particular tutorial has certainly helped me with everything from crafting great dialogue to solidifying my point of view.

*A green Pilot Precise V5 pen. Yes, I'm still a little old-school when it comes to editing my manuscripts (I chalk it up to my magazine-editing years) and will routinely print whatever I've got (on recycled paper, I promise) and do copy-edits with my favorite pen, a green Pilot Precise V5. I find that actually seeing it in print helps me catch things that I wouldn't otherwise.

*My hubby's .02. I am very blessed that I'm married to another fellow writer, and his input is absolutely essential when I'm writing because I trust him implicitly. In fact, he's the one who chose the crucial first line in both of my novels. Apparently, I'd buried the lead a few sentences down, and he was absolutely right on the money. Just because I cook his dinner every night doesn't mean he holds back on criticism, and it's exactly what I need.

*Trusted friends. It still amazes me how invested a few of my friends are in the stories I tell. They definitely have opinions and aren't afraid to share them, which is great feedback to have. When I'm having a bummer day or feel like I'm never going to finish my deadline, they pray for me, too, which makes all the difference.


  1. Great post, Christa! :o) As if our names weren't enough to have in common (I think I mentioned before that my maiden name was Christy Bannister) I am also addicted to Pilot Precise V.5 pens in green! It's been my favorite for years and years. Drives me crazy now because I can no longer find the single pens anywhere, and I always have to buy new 4 packs of all the colors just to get the green one! I use the others too for other stuff, so it's not like it's a total waste, but I confess I have to restock more often than necessary when my green pen runs out. Looking at a page full of red ink makes my stomach go queasy and sends my self-confidence plummeting to the floor. Green seems much more friendly and inviting. A "It's okay, take a deep breath, we can fix this" instead of a "look at all the things you've done wrong!"

  2. Oh my gosh, that's hilarious...another huge fan of the green pen, I love it. And that's crazy that your maiden name was thisclose to my married name. With that, writing and those green pens, we have a ton in common, huh?

    :) Thanks for your encouraging words as always....

    :) Christa

  3. "...a place that smells like a pungent combination of hummus, B.O. and incense..." OK, that made me laugh. Great post as usual!

  4. Thanks so much, BJ...always happy to make you laugh!!

    happy weekend,