Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Protect Your Candle

With Lisa Scottoline at the MWA Symposium
 By Pat Remick

One of the most inspiring speeches I've ever heard about writing was given last month by Mystery Writers of America President and New York Times best-selling author Lisa Scottoline, who talked about how difficult it is to keep -- and nurture -- a dream when you are over the age of 12.

She was speaking about being a writer, of course. And as part of her presentation on "How to Write a Novel" at last month's MWA Edgars Symposium, she said that dream is our candle and we must do everything possible to protect it. We can't let people blow it out, take it away from us or diminish it.

Scottoline's story of living on credit cards to be a writer and stay-at-home mom is well-known. She believed in her dream, worked hard to achieve it and now is the author of 18 novels and two non-fiction books. She says we all can be published writers, too, if we "protect the candle."

That means even if we have day jobs and other responsibilities, we must make writing a priority and find time wherever and whenever we can to devote to our dream. To help illustrate her point, she said she declines luncheon and other fun invitations that might interrupt her work because writing is her job -- and it comes first.

And, as she notes, if you write 1,000 words a day, you'll have a novel in a couple of months. Even if you write a page a day, you'll have a novel in a year.  In her 42-page "Lisa Scottoline's Handy-Dandy Author Kit" distributed at the Symposium she included this inspirational advice from Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland":

"Begin at the beginning," the King said gravely, "and go on till you come to the end; then stop."

But in the process, do you "protect the candle"?  Do you say "no" to people and activities that can interfere or distract you from your writing?  This includes your family. Do they understand how important it is for you to invest in your craft and your dream?  Protecting the candle means doing so against everything and everyone.

I wish I could say I am successful at this, but Lisa Scottoline has shown me I need to work much harder.  I can say with certainty that when she finished her hour-long presentation, I wasn't the only one in the room who wanted to run home and get back to writing.

Along with inspiring us all and providing the name and contact information for her agent, she also discussed premise, voice, point of view, setting, time, starting your story, telling your story, ending and getting published.

I urge every one of you -- whether published or unpublished -- to spend $10 for the DVD of her speech or $9 for the CD by going to this link. You won't regret it.

And please don't forget to protect your candle. You won't regret that either.


Joyce said...

She's an excellent role model, isn't she? She told a similar story when she was the keynote speaker for the Pennwriter's Conference two years ago (when Annette was chair).

I'm guilty of putting writing on the backburner when there are other things going on. I've got to work on that.

Annette said...

I absolutely ADORE Lisa. She was back in Pittsburgh last month and it was great to get to talk to her again.

I, too, fall victim to letting the family and friends distract me from my writing. I think I'm getting better, but it's a struggle. How do I tell my 91 year old mom "NO"? I can't. So it's a matter (for me) of blocking off time each day. If Mom has a doctor's appointment in the afternoon, I keep my morning clear for writing.

Thanks for the reminder, Pat (and Lisa!) to make writing a priority.

Elise Harman said...

Thanks for posting this article. It came at just the right time.


Elise Harman said...

Thanks for posting this article. It came at just the right time.


Patg said...

So many great writers talk about how easy it is to distract them from the 'page'. It's almost as though we 'don't' like what we are doing. I think it is because we are our own bosses and feel we can get away with anything.
One should keep a mental whip handy.

Ramona said...

I attended one of Lisa's book talks in the Philly area, several years ago. My tummy hurt for days, from laughing, but she was certainly an inspiration.

I am wondering about this candle thing. Do we go out and actually buy a candle? Light it when we work? See how fast we can burn that puppy down?

Oh wait...she meant is as a metaphor. But I still may buy a candle.

Christian Hollingsworth said...

Protect the candle. I adore that phrase. What a great role model, as Joyce pointed out, for all of us to learn from.

I let people distract me from letting my candle burn bright - and that's often a great failure. I need to stick to those passions, and let them shine.

Jenna said...

Good advice. Hard to follow. Or maybe I should say hard to balance. Because there are times when you have to say no, because you have to write, because if writing is your career - or you want it to be - then you must add words to the manuscript. But there are also times when you have to say yes, or when you can't write - the kids are sick, mom needs to be taken to the doctor, it's time for vacation or a party or work... and at times it's actually much harder to have a good attitude about stopping the writing. I feel guilty when I don't write. It's my job, I should be doing it. But I can't always. Sometimes, something else is more important. So I guess what I'm saying is that going too far in one direction is just as bad as going too far in the other.

Jenna said...

Yes, I'm a Libra. In case anyone wondered...

Kaye George said...

Excellent advice, and I love her writing. She's doing everything right at this point!

Ramona, I wouldn't dare light a candle anywhere near my desk. A paper pile might topple over and burn the house down. But it's a nice idea. I wish I could.

PatRemick said...

Lisa truly was an inspiration! I hgope we can all protect our candles!

Kellie M. Rix said...

Thank you for sharing this. I second Elise's post - it came at the right time. Thank you.

Leslie Budewitz said...

Thanks for the post, Pat. Always a timely reminder.

Ramona, for years I literally lit a candle when I wrote, to set the mood and trigger my subconscious. But the current cat likes to sit on my desk, so now I just leave it there, unlit!

Annette, I have a similar challenge w/an elderly mother & I think "it depends." IF she needs extra ears at a medical appt, you gotta go. If she needs a ride to a p.t., can you write while you wait, or does she live in a place w/a van service? If she wants to go out to lunch b/c she doesn't get out much, you may need to compromise -- when, how often, etc. Different Qs have different answers, and thus, different boundaries, in my experience.

And I gotta honor them and get back to the page this minute!