Unlike groceries, that nearly always have sell-by dates, books have long shelf-lives. Authors, on the other hand, may occasionally feel themselves and their writing go a little stale. Today author Joanna Campbell Slan shares some tips on keeping your writing fresh. Scroll to the bottom of the post for details on Joanna’s digital giveaway!
Like a lot of my author friends, I am an introvert. As the years roll by, I have become increasingly happy in the company of me, myself, and the characters I create. But to keep my work fresh, I realize that I need exposure to new situations. Recycling is great, but without an intervention, the people on my pages will start to resemble each other too much—and that’s a sure path to boring my audience.
Once in a while we all need to hit the refresh key. With that in mind, I decided to make a signing at a dollhouse festival do double-duty by people-watching during the event. With pen in hand, I paid special attention to mannerisms, both large and small, of the folks who passed by my table. Here’s a portion of my list:
• Twirling eyeglasses by the stem.
• Licking her bottom lip.
• Squinting and leaning closer to see.
• Walking with her weight on the balls of her feet, causing her to lurch forward.
• Flipping her head to swing her dangling earrings around.
• Wearing glasses on the tip of her nose and pushing them up frequently.
• Plucking at his chest with one hand.
• Rocking from one foot to the other, left to right, repeatedly.
I liked this exercise so well that I wanted more. More new stuff. More encounters with people outside my usual sphere of influence. That’s when the idea hit me: I’d make a late night run to the local Walmart. There I spotted three characters who are destined to appear in my next book:
• An anorexic-looking young woman was shopping with her mother. At first I thought the girl was wearing a gray-colored mask because her eyebrow pencil was badly smeared. On her feet were a pair of sky-high wedges, but they didn’t fit properly, and her toes hung over the front edge. Florida is ultra-casual, but she was dressed like a contestant on The Bachelor. She wore a pair of cream-colored, pencil-thin slacks, and a tightly laced corset.
• An older man rolled up behind me in a motorized cart. “Beep, beep,” he shouted gleefully, as he clipped my heels. When I jumped to one side, he grinned at me. His faded blue eyes twinkled as he adjusted his black baseball cap with an embroidered emblem that suggested he was a veteran. After the clerk filled his basket with a couple of plastic bags, his eyes slid left and right furtively. While I watched, he revved his motor and nearly bumped into another female customer.
• A gorgeous African-American man, who looked to be in his twenties, strode past me as I pushed my shopping cart toward my car. When he glanced up from his texting, he gave me a nod of greeting and a brilliant white smile. I caught a whiff of an expensive designer cologne. He wore fitted jeans, suede Hush Puppy-type shoes, and a black tee-shirt that hugged him like a second skin. In one hand he carried an iPhone and in the other a bag from an auto parts store.
Encouraged by all this new material, I decided that total immersion was in order. I accepted an invitation from my friend Carol to be a guest in her home outside of Providence, Rhode Island. On the plane ride here, I made the decision to give myself over to new experiences. The first night of my visit, I let her husband choose a dish for me from a local restaurant. He ordered calamari. I’d had octopus one other time. I didn’t like it then, but what the heck? I swallowed my objection and waited for my meal.
When it came, I tasted it cautiously, only to discover that I loved it. As I put my folded napkin next to my empty plate, I also patted myself on the back. I had transitioned from being an observer to being a participant in a new environment.
I decided to write this blog post, as a way of reminding myself how grand it can be to step outside of my routine. I’ll never be a social butterfly. I enjoy my solitude too much. But it’s clear that being jostled out of my comfort zone will be good for me and my writing.
What have you done lately to shake up your work? To get out of your writing rut? To change up your characters? Have my experiences given you any new ideas?
Laurie Schnebly joins us on Wednesday, June 8
Joanna Campbell Slan is the nationally bestselling and award-winning author of 30 books. Her most recent titles are All Washed Up (Cara Mia Delgatto Mystery Series #3); Glue, Baby, Gone (Kiki Lowenstein Mystery Series #12); and Happy Homicides 3: Summertime Crime (an anthology of cozy mysteries by a dozen authors). See all her work at http://bit.ly/JCSlan or contact her at JCSlan@JoannaSlan.com
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All Washed Up (Book #3 in the Cara Mia Delgatto Mystery Series)
Half-drowned immigrants. A dead store owner. An attempt on a woman’s life. Despite all this, shop owner Cara Mia Delgatto still tries to do what’s right by returning a vintage Lilly Pulitzer to its original owner. As a result, she risks everything– including her son’s life. With a plot echoing the weighty decisions of today, and a revelation that lays bare the intrigues our nation’s most exclusive town, All Washed Up is a fast-paced, clean read, that sparkles with a cast of strong women. As an amateur sleuth, Cara Mia proves her courage. As a woman friend, she’s without equal. And as a crime-solving granddaughter, she’s not afraid to back up her grandfather when he’s in a tight spot, because that’s what women do…we take care of those we love. In this third book in the series, Cara’s romantic problems come to a nasty head, while her relationship with her sister grows more toxic. But throughout all the drama, Cara proves herself to be a woman you can count on in a tough situation. Of course, you can also count on her to come up with yummy recipes and terrific ideas for recycling.