Oh, yes it most certainly can!
Every single book I’ve ever written has a nugget of my life or the lives of people around me. Sometimes that comes in a form of a character’s behavior, a hobby, their career, but often in my books, it comes in the form of an incident.
An incident of the accidental and mortifying variety…
So let’s take a look at a couple of my favorites!
Falling in Fiji:
He shifted to cover his growing problem. A glance at Corrine confirmed that she was fully engrossed in an article in her magazine. Everett did a double take when he read the title. “You Did What?—Most Embarrassing Blunders from Loyal Readers.”
“What are you doing?” she asked as she folded the magazine in half.
He shrugged. “It seemed like an interesting article.” He leaned over and whispered, “What’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever done, Corrine?” He didn’t miss the goosebumps rising on her skin as he whispered low into her ear.
Her face turned beet red. With jerky movements, she shoved the magazine into her large purse. “I don’t even know you, and you want me to talk about my most embarrassing moment.”
“What better way to get to get acquainted?”
She turned in her seat as much as she could and crossed her arms. “Fine. You first!”
He’d gone and done it this time. He had a few embarrassing stories, but one stuck out in his mind. He’d never told anyone. “It just has to be an embarrassing story, right? Not my most embarrassing?”
Her eyes flashed, and the sly grin from last night spread across her face. “Oh no. You asked me about my most embarrassing moment. You want it? Give me yours.”
“And what if, Corrine Anderson, I give you mine and you choose to hold out once you have what you want?”
“That’s a chance you’ll have to take, Mr. Harden.”
Oh, the way she said his name like that. Formal, but not formal at all. Just to unnerve him, the way he unnerved her every time he used her full name. He liked it. He liked her. “All right, but I expect you to pretend you never heard this.”
“Oh, this is going to be good.”
“I got suction-cupped to my bathtub and couldn’t get out.” He gave her credit for not making a sound, although her mouth twitched.
“And how did you get out? Since you’re not still in said bathtub today.”
She let loose then, her light laugh dancing between them. Since she was already laughing, might as well go for broke. “And my sister.”
She laughed with her whole body. She slapped her hand down on his thigh and dropped her forehead to his shoulder. Damned if he didn’t have a stupid grin on his face. “Your laughter is detrimental to my ego.”
She wiped the tears coming from her eyes. “How old were you?”
He cringed. “Sixteen.”
“Oh my God! Wait, you still took baths at sixteen?”
“Often. I wrestled. My reoccurring shoulder injury made baths an almost daily practice.”
Her eyes roamed him up and down. “So they saw you?”
“Saw me what, Corrine Anderson?”
“You know what I’m asking.”
“I do. I just want to hear you to say it.” He smiled, unwilling to answer until she asked him the right question. He cocked a brow at her.
“Oh for the love of God. Did they see you…uh…your—?”
“Dick, okay! Did they see your dick?”
It seemed as though every eye on the plane locked on them. Corrine’s eyes widened. She slammed a hand over her mouth. A couple rows over, a girl asked her mother, “Mommy, what’s a dick?”
“Shhh. Don’t say that word, it’s naughty!” her mother replied.
“Thanks, lady!” the guy next to her yelled.
“Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!” She buried her face against his chest. When he started to laugh, she slapped his arm. “Don’t laugh!” she whispered furiously. “They all heard me!”
“Yes. They did.”
Her face went scarlet. “How much longer until we get there?”
He looked down at his watch. “Eleven hours.”
“I’m sleeping. For all of it!” She grabbed a sweatshirt out of her bag, balled it up, and tucked it next to her face as she turned to him and closed her eyes.
He pulled the sweatshirt away. “Oh…I don’t think so.”
“Give me that!”
He wedged the sweatshirt behind him against the window. “I didn’t get your most embarrassing moment.”
“Really? This didn’t qualify?”
“Well, that depends. Is this really your most embarrassing moment?”
Her eyes slid away. No. Not her most embarrassing moment.
“Now this I have to hear.”
“This is so unfair. Now you’ll have two stories.”
“It’s not my fault you couldn’t control yourself. Don’t worry. Something tells me I’ll make a fool out of myself somehow over the next week. Then we’ll be even.”
“That’s supposed to make me feel better?”
“That’s supposed to make you feel less alone.” He tipped her chin up when she ducked her head. “Tell me. Our little secret.”
She bit her lip and glanced around.
Everyone had gone back to their business. They sat silent, eyes roaming over one another. Until the guy next to Corrine started to snore like a buzz saw. They glanced over simultaneously to find drool running out of the corner of his mouth, down his neck, and under his collar.
Corrine shivered and leaned a little closer. “God, that’s vile.”
“Kind of makes you wonder what his most embarrassing moment is, doesn’t it?”
She gave him a small smile. “Okay. Let’s get this over with. I was on a field trip with my school to a water park. I went down their steepest slide. When I got up”—she closed her eyes—”I didn’t know I’d lost my bikini top on the way down. I stood there, not a care in the world, with everything hanging out. Well, what little I have, anyway.”
He glanced briefly at the soft swell of her breasts. “You have just the right amount.”
“Oh…well. I—” Her throat worked. He’d surprised her. Hell, he’d surprised himself. He was a flesh and blood male, though. Her curves had grabbed his attention from the first minute, but he hadn’t been bold enough to call attention to it.
Embarrassing Moment: For my brother who actually did get suction-cupped to the tub!
Sunset at Lake Crane:
The players took their positions. The team split into two. Half wore their current jerseys, while the other half wore their old jerseys to distinguish between the mock teams. They used scrimmages to keep their skills fresh. Everyone fielded balls, and everyone took several opportunities to bat. Grant noted any minor issues that needed tweaking before Saturday. This was the time to correct any bad habits, distractions, or physical weaknesses, and adjust them as necessary.
Wyatt favored his left leg after a rough slide into third over a week before. He could play, but not at a hundred percent. Eric maintained his stellar pitching arm even to this day. Kent goofed off in left field a little more than usual. Grant would have to speak with him. Dallas, their catcher, preserved his natural energy. So much so that he couldn’t keep his horny, wandering eyes off any girl walking past the baseball field. It was only a matter of time before his luck ran out. Grant hoped to get him through the season without an injury from something as lame as his thinking with his little head.
“Dallas. Get your head in the game or your ass will be in the dugout.”
Dallas’s head snapped back to his coach, a wicked grin splitting his face. “Yes, sir.” He saluted with his catcher’s mitt.
When Grant glanced up to the bleachers, there was Erynn, reaching toward her feet to retrieve what, he didn’t know. Her breasts pressed tight against the V-neck opening of her dress, drawing Grant’s gaze like a magnet. No matter how she strained, she couldn’t grasp the object and ended up knocking it to the ground inside the bleachers. She clutched the sides of her flowing skirt, lifting it a bit as she made her way down, one metal bench at a time.
At the bottom, she knelt on the lowest metal seat, reaching for the grassy area behind the first row of the bleachers. Her dress stretched across the most edible, round ass he’d ever seen. Thanks to a little clumsiness on her part, his eyes got the full tour of all her delectable parts.
The breeze lifted the back of her skirt, giving him a creamy expanse of thigh before she slapped her hand down to stop it. His mind flashed to a time when he nipped at those thighs and soothed the sting with his tongue. He adjusted his waistband as his pants grew tight.
Grant was so focused on his perusal of Erynn’s body that the sound of the bat making contact with the ball didn’t register. Only when Marcus yelled, “Grant, watch out!” did Grant realize Dallas, their best hitter, had swung early, sending the ball just outside the third base line where Grant stood as base coach.
He didn’t feel the pain as the baseball caught his left cheekbone. His vision faded to black as he dropped flat on his back. He opened his eyes a few seconds later. At least, it only seemed like a few, but that couldn’t be right. He looked up to the brilliant blue sky ringed by his players’ faces. The muffled sound of Marcus talking sounded far away. Erynn knelt in the red clay dirt, running her hands over him. He could have told her that if she wanted to help him, she could move those hands a bit lower. Yeah, that would be sweet relief.
He blinked a few more times and sat up. Red clay dust clouded the air from the accumulation of feet stirring up the third base line. The clashing voices of his team rang in his ears, as did Marcus’s authoritative voice and Erynn’s anxious questions. He ran a knuckle down Erynn’s damp cheek.
“I’m okay. Don’t cry.”
She smacked his hand away. “I’m not crying, you big jerk. Why the hell weren’t you paying attention?”
“Man, Coach, I could have killed you,” Dallas said.
“Nah, Coach is indestructible,” Josh said.
“Really? The way I see it, he chewed my ass for checkin’ out Carmen and Daniella. Then he went on to do the same thing and got himself knocked out.”
“Yeah, I saw him. He was checking out, uh, I don’t know your name. What’s your name?” Mike asked Erynn.
“Oh, I’m Erynn.” She reached out to shake Mike’s hand.
“Nice to meet you,” Mike said.
“Ouch, son of a—”
Marcus held the towel and ice steadily on Grant’s face. “Easy, you’re going to need stitches.”
“I’m fine.” Grant started to get up, but Marcus shoved him back down on his ass.
“Sit still for a minute. You’re not bleeding out in my new car.”
“My car is here,” Grant said.
“No. You’re not driving.”
“I can take you,” Erynn offered.
“Erynn can take me.”
“No can do. I have to fill out paperwork on the incident for the school anyway. Go ahead and take Grant’s car back to his house. I’ll bring him home when we finish.”
“Wait, are you staying with Coach?”
“She’s staying with me for the duration of her interview of our creative writing program. Get your mind out of the gutter.”
“My mind? You’re the one watching the wind blow her skirt up.”
“Apparently you didn’t miss it either, Mike.”
“Well, yeah, look at her.”
“Practice is over. I expect everyone back here right after school on Thursday,” Marcus said. The guys finally got the point and filed into the dugout.
Erynn clasped Grant’s arm. “Can you stand up?”
“Yeah.” He levered himself up to his knees and the world spun. Erynn held his elbow and waited. He took a few deep breaths before he tried again. He wobbled at first, but recovered and stood. He reached for his cheek where Erynn’s hand held the towel to his face. She peeked under the terrycloth and frowned.
He hissed at the sting and slid his hand up under hers to take the towel from her. They stood like that, just staring, her soft, warm hand cradling his, on the towel.
“Okay, guy, let’s do this,” Marcus interrupted. The intimate bubble burst, and Erynn looked away toward the stuff she’d left on the bleachers.
“I’ll see you at home later, I guess.”
He didn’t miss the hitch in her voice on the word ‘home’. “Yeah,” he rasped.
“Okay, well—um, good luck.” She marched away, muttering to herself.
“Come on, Romeo. Let’s get that ugly mug of yours put back together,” Marcus said.
Real Life Moment: Getting grazed in the cheek…happened to a guy I know 😉
Fun Fact: The above moment with the hit to the face…well, a hugely famous author read this book and actually told me that this injury couldn’t happen and not be bruised and awful looking a week later when I reference the injury later in the story. She said this happened at her nephew’s game and she knew for a fact that my account is inaccurate. What she didn’t consider is that I also had this experience and I knew for a fact that a week later it can almost look as if nothing happened. That’s the difference between a direct hit and a graze along a cheekbone that can slice the skin open.
This is a prime example of how writers write what they know. We observe. Sometimes at a distance with strangers. Sometimes we pull old memories from our memory banks. Everything we see shapes us and flows into our narrative making our characters come alive.
And often, in talking to readers, family, and friends, we borrow their memories and experiences for inspiration, too!
Go for a walk. Clean the kitchen floor. Scrub the toilet. Paint. Anything that gets your body moving and exercises your brain a different way.
I’m not kidding. Doing something tactile will unclog your brain. It will give you a chance to breath and think while not staring at your computer.
When we’re new writers we start out all excited and we love our work and think it’s the best thing ever written. Then we go to a writer’s group, or RWA meeting, and we learn all sorts of things about writing. We hear terms like GMC (goal, motivation, conflict). Passive versus active voice. Point of View. Word counts for different publishers and their lines. Do’s and don’ts when querying editors and agents.
The more I learned about writing, the harder it got. It’s like the old saying, it gets worse before it gets better. My brain filled with so much information, and often conflicting, that I could barely write. I literally had to take a step back. I had lost what excited me to write in the first place.
I liken it to the kid who loves hockey, until he has to practice every day and it becomes work.
I felt as though I was being bombarded by rules that were tying my hands. I really had to learn to consider the source and understand that their opinion comes from their experiences and who they write for, ie: a big publisher, a small niche publisher, indie, or any other publishing option.
I think the number one thing a writer needs to do is figure out what their goal is. What is it that you want from your writing? One thing I’ve always wanted was to hit a list and last week that happened. I hit the USA Today Bestseller list in a Christmas anthology. Woot Woot! But guess what. I had to do certain things to get there, so I made sure what I was writing was helping me achieve that goal.
As you can tell, I’m a goal oriented person. And that isn’t my only goal. I want to get to a certain point financially. I want to have a paperback shelved in Barnes and Noble. These are some of my goals. So, one thing I’m doing is querying editors and agents again. This means I need to look at some of the rules in involved in this type of publishing and it’s different depending on the line.
But this path might not be what another writer wants, so their decisions will be very different from mine.
And that’s okay.
Here’s thing. It’s important to know the rules and understand them. It’s important to learn about all these different things so we can make informed decisions about our careers. We have to do our research in both the industry and in the process. It’s important to try different writing programs. Different processes. And it will fuck with your writing.
For a short period of time until you really understand yourself and what you REALLY want.
Once you remember what put you in a room, alone, to write a novel about people who don’t exist, things will start to click again. You’ll learn that while spreadsheets works for one, it doesn’t for another. While Scrivener is a great program, it might not be the one for you. Point of View, Narrative structure, GMC, and other things necessary in making a book good, will become second nature. You will know if you want traditional publishing, indie publishing, or be a hybrid author (and remember, every couple of years, assess your goals, because they could change).
And most important, you’ll find your own voice and then can decide what rules to break. Bob Mayer always talks about the three rules of rule breaking:
- Know the Rule
- Have a reason for breaking the Rule
- Accept the consequences for breaking the Rule
If you don’t know the rule, how can you have a good reason for breaking it? I think the why is always important in anything. I was on the phone last night with a writer friend who asked me to read something. I asked her why she did something and her response was: I don’t know.
You have to know. No matter what rule you are breaking, know why and understand there could be a consequence to breaking that rule.
Treat writing rules as guidelines. Parameters that you might step outside when necessary.
You can also treat publishing rules the same way depending on your goals.
So, as a new writer, if you find yourself at the point where you feel stuck, whether it be in your manuscript, or your career, take a step back. Take a walk. Find that one thing that excited you. Find that goal. What is your pot at the end of the rainbow? Then, sit back down, push out all the advice, and write YOUR book.
I always say I’m the idea lady. You don’t like that idea, I’ve got another one. You don’t like that one? Let me reach in my back pocket and toss out another one.
It’s easier for me to come up with ideas for other writers because I really don’t have that much invested in it other than I want my friends book to be the best that it can be.
The only problem is that I can be seriously overwhelming. Brainstorming with me is not for the weak of heart. Casey has learned hone me in by asking me questions, which forces me to pull things in nice and tight. We enjoy brainstorming both in person/on phone, or in email. The nice thing about email is that you have a record of the conversation.
But it’s time consuming.
The nice thing about in person or on phone, you get to see the shiver moment.
But unless you record it, you might forget it.
As my friend Stacey Wilk learned, when you brainstorm with me, you need to say, “Jen. Just be quiet for one minute.”
Brainstorming is a talent. Really it is. I’m good at ideas. I’ve got a million of them, but that can be a weakness because I can take a story and toss it off in a million directions, getting lost in the details…because its not my story. My mind doesn’t see it any certain way.
The key to a good brainstorming session is to tell the other writer your expectations AND to always remember it’s YOUR story. Just like with critique, you need to find the nuggets that make sense for your vision and goal for your book.
If your the one giving ideas, remember, your job is to help the other author find that sweet spot. Help them muddle through all the unanswered questions that they need the answers for before they can start writing.
Brainstorming…the perfect storm!
We’ve all seen the articles for the various kinds of brainstorming: mind mapping, word clouds, lists/bullets, cubing, free writing, and umpteen others, and there’s nothing wrong with those, nothing about all, I mean, they are a huge help if you’re exploring your project or especially if you’re working alone. And we all know writing is almost solely a solitary journey.
But what I want to talk about is good, old-fashioned locking yourself in a room with a writing buddy and tossing ideas back and forth until you’ve forgotten to eat anything beyond cheese and crackers and at least one of you starts to smell like onions.
Okay, so maybe not that bad, but you get my drift.
No cell phone interruption, no social media, no drinking, LOL.
Just tossing out ideas. Ho-hum ideas. Laughable ideas. Often ridiculous ideas. Taking the nugget of a plan and asking a million “what ifs” and discarding them just as fast.
Two people, maybe three or four, the more minds the better unless, of course, you’ve got them all trying to yell over one another to be heard…all pinging off of one another with different life experiences, different tastes in books, shows, movies, different stories that each of them love to read, and all of them bringing a story, characters, and theme to fruition.
Recently, Jen and I were holed up in a hotel room, cheese and crackers at the ready, minus the onion smell, and pinging off of one another for hours. We tossed my novella into the ring for scrutiny, the mediocre story I had pieced together with dry-rotted, dollar store thread and threw every damn what if at it possible until only the characters and their careers stayed the same.
The mission, the character arc, the story arc all shifted based on our perceptions and our experiences. Every time we said, “What if he did this? What if she did that?” The other called into question why. Why would they do that? Why wouldn’t they just do A or B? Our life situations come into play. Maybe we’ve been in a similar situation and we know for a fact that the natural reaction is not what everyone believes it would be.
No ideas are bad. Ideas that don’t work still shape the character and the story by setting limits for where it won’t go. Those perspectives unlock avenues that you’ve blocked off in your mind. It’s like pulling in the lines of a massive circle, narrowing the space down at every turn until your character, your story, your arc, takes shape and flow in the direction of growth and resolution.
It doesn’t work with just anybody.
I firmly believe this. You need like-minded people. You need creative people who understand how solitary this whole writing process is. You need people who feed your creative soul. When you have that, you unlock something inside you that can’t be unlocked any other way.
How long has it been since you fed your creative soul?
What are you waiting for?