How Needs and Wants Apply to Writing

 

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My writing expert a few years ago.

When my kids were in Catholic elementary school, a teacher explained the difference between needs and wants to them. I remember being impressed with how the teacher brought this lesson down to their age level and it was something that I hadn’t thought about explaining to my kids. Yet, it’s such a crucial life lesson. When you’re raising kids, they often have a lot of things they “need.” They want to fit in with their peers and when one friend gets the latest whatever, they feel they need it, too.

When my kids told me they “needed” a colorful iPod mini or a deck of Pokemon cards I could answer smugly, “Is this something you need—or something you want?”

I pretty much think they still believed it was something they needed.

I had a conversation with my son two years ago about needs and wants. I was telling him how I was struggling with a rewrite of a mid-grade novel but was beginning to have a break-through. I hired an editor to review my manuscript and the main thread of advice was to add depth to my main characters. I have a “good” protagonist and an “evil” antagonist. It’s a book about friendships and growth in character, yet my characters are pretty shallow and flimsy. My son—brilliant person that he is—suggested I look at their “needs” and “wants.”

Seriously? The child who “needed” so many material things is now lecturing me on “needs and wants?” Yes, he is and in literature, he explained, needs and wants take on a subtle but different meaning. I found a good article “What your character wants versus what they need” from the Novel Factory. Here’s an excerpt:

What your character wants
We all want something. Some of us crave power, others long for heaps of cash, others want five minutes of fame. Some of us dream of having a baby, or a picture perfect wedding. Then of course there are more specific goals, like to win Countdown, to meet David Attenborough or to bake the perfect flan.

At the outset of your novel, you need to establish what it is your character wants – what it is that they are pursuing? What do they believe will give them a feeling of satisfaction?

What your character needs
However, there is something else under the surface, and that is what your character needs.

There are very few things human beings actually need, in order to be happy, and most of the things we fixate on wanting only obscure the really important things.

The things we need can usually be distilled to one thing: love.

This bit of advice from my son was eye-opening. I truly love my kids and his interest and expertise as a Lit major have helped me.

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Back when needs and wants were simple.

Have you explained to your kids about needs and wants? If you’re a writer, how do you use needs and wants to enrich your characters?

 

Tips to Rekindle Your Creative Spirit

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Inspiring view along my morning walks.

I’m reading a few pages a week from Julia Cameron’s books. Who is Julia Cameron you ask? She’s a writer, musician and artist who encourages creativity for the rest of us struggling along our jumbled paths. I read something in the book Walking in This World  that helped me out and wanted to share it.

What’s ironic is that it’s the same thing I write about in my parenting tips for SwimSwam. Why don’t I take the advice I shout out to the rest of the world? Who knows?

It’s all about performance pressure and focusing on results rather than the process. When our kids focus on times, or we add performance pressure on them, they will struggle to improve. Likewise, if we are too focused on the number of “likes” and “clicks” on our writing, we lose sight of our creative spirit. We’re more worried about what people think of our work–rather than losing ourselves in the process and creating art.

This results in writer’s block, frustration, second-guessing our work and losing passion for what we’re doing.

What is Cameron’s solution to this? In her books, she has a number of suggestions that include writing morning pages, walking and making time for an artist’s date with yourself. Also, she suggests trying something artistic outside your chosen field. For me it’s getting out a sketch book and drawing from time to time. When I was a little kid, I wasn’t worried about what people thought about my artwork. I drew for hours on end. I found it scary at first to try and sketch again, but I reminded myself that nobody is looking at it. I won’t be looking at the number of “likes” and “retweets.” It’s a creative outlet just for me.

Another suggestion of Cameron’s to rekindle the spirit of creativity, is to use your talents to help someone else. Make a gift for someone, teach, volunteer, or do something for your community. It does make you feel enthusiastic after helping someone else and getting the focus off yourself and your end product. 

Thank you to my BFF Cindy for giving me The Artist’s Way five years ago and encouraging me on my current path.

Julia Cameron has been an active artist for more than thirty years. She is the author of forty books, fiction and nonfiction, including her bestselling works on the creative process: The Artist’s Way, Walking in This World and Finding Water. Her work has been translated into more than thirty-five languages and has sold more than four million copies worldwide. Also a novelist, playwright, songwriter and poet, she has multiple credits in theater, film and television.

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I find inspiration from my view.

How do you rekindle your creativity if you’re discouraged or reached a block? Do you have any tips to share with us?

Tips on How to Catch Typos — And My Three Worst Typos of All Time

images-3Some of my most embarrassing moments have happened with typos. I’ve been writing professionally since college graduation. I won’t mention exactly how many years that is. But, it’s plenty. Plenty of time to make a few mistakes.

1. I had a typo yesterday on SwimSwam. I left out a number on my tips.

My process begins with a small idea. Then I write a rough sloppy draft. Then I begin to hone it down into something tight and simple.  Along the way I cut out one tip that didn’t seem to fit. But, the story didn’t automatically renumber itself. Making a mistake like that on a busy forum like SwimSwam is decidedly embarrassing.

You can read that story here. 12 Parent Tips on How to Behave at Practice.

On the bright side, I got a RT by Natalie Coughlin. I was super excited about that, so the story still worked even if it was not perfect.

Natalie Coughlin

Natalie Coughlin

2. My second worst typo was in the 80s. I worked for a PR and advertising firm and I wrote eight newsletters a month, plus three or four press releases daily. It was a busy, intense job. I was in charge of a fundraiser for abused women which was held at a local country club. In my press release that ran just about everywhere — I mistakenly put in my own phone number instead of the club’s to RSVP! There was no taking that one back. I lived through it by hooking up an answering machine.

I felt humiliated though, when my co-workers relentlessly teased me.images-1

3. My all-time worst typo was when I had my own PR and advertising business. I had some super-duper clients including the hospital’s cancer center and a local branch of a major Wall Street firm. When the boss at the Wall Street branch was promoted to NYC to corporate headquarters, he still used me for all of his work. I was SO excited! Then I made a typo on a Power Point presentation. It was on the new logo he had me create for the Western Region of the United States of America. Ugh.

He was so angry with me, because I made him look bad. I’ll never forgive myself for that one.

imgres-2The thing with typos is your brain can trick you into seeing what you intended to be there.

My tips to catch typos are:

1. Read the piece from the bottom, sentence by sentence.

2. Read it out loud.

3. Put it away for a few days to get a fresh view.

4. Have other people proofread for you.

5. Don’t forget to proofread the title and headers. Numbers, too.

Kick It up a Notch! Or How to Build on Last Year’s Resolutions

This year I just might start swimming masters.

This year, I  might start swimming masters.

I sat down to write my New Year’s Resolutions story for my blog when I got distracted by checking out FaceBook. Just for a few mintues, mind you.

What did I see? An article written by a friend of mine, Susan Murphy, published in a local wellness and health publication, called Desert Health. She wrote about New Year’s Resolutions, too. You can read her article here. Susan’s a Ph.D., life coach, business advisor and author of several books.

images-2I tried a couple of her tips last January. I made goals that were small. They weren’t overwhelming. And, they were specific.

Too many people fail at their resolutions. Last year, I managed to make four of my goals happen.

My successes: writing, exercising and reading the Bible every single day. I’m proud to say I did it!  I also started bleuwater a year ago. I posted at least one story a week. It’s rewarding to look back on my work and know that I didn’t give up.

I also have a list of failures. But, I don’t care to discuss them right now.

So what am I going to try to do this year? As Emeril would say, “Kick it up a notch!”

I write my morning pages without fail. I have several writing projects I’m consumed with. But I want to do more. Make more progress.

My excerise is very consistent, but not challenging enough. I am getting stronger, but I need to kick it up. I walk several miles every morning and then in the evening with my husband. I am thinking about either joining a gym or swimming with masters.

What are your New Year’s goals? How did you do with your resolutions last year?

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If Ray Bradbury Were to Give You Advice About Life and Writing

images-2I was looking through my book shelves for summer reading. I picked up Ray Bradbury’s Zen and the Art of Writing: Release the Creative Genius Within You. It’s a small paperback book that has sat on my shelf, unread. I opened the cover and on page one the autograph of the author and the date May 1996 stared me in the face.

imgresThat’s the first time I heard Ray Bradbury speak — and the first time I asked him to sign a book. My daughter, who graduated high school last week, was three months old, and my son, a junior in college, was three years old. That’s a lot of years to have this book sitting on my bookshelf.

Yes, I’m now reading this collection of essays and remembering how inspiring his talk was. Earlier that same day in May 1996, I recognized Ray Bradbury at Las Casuelas the Original, a small Mexican restaurant a few blocks away from the Riviera Hotel, where he was speaking later. I introduced myself to him, as he ate alone, and I said I couldn’t wait to hear his talk.images-1

It was one of the first writer’s conferences I had attended, and I was kind of in a fog, having a newborn child and little sleep.

Ray Bradbury was amazing. He reminded me of a young child, finding wonder in the world. He had the ability to stay young at heart and observe the world as though seeing little things for the first time. I loved his story of how he wrote Fahrenheit 451 in the basement of the UCLA library at a rental typewriter for 10 cents for a half hour. He said he was literally a “dime novelist.” It gave me courage and the belief that we can do anything — if you want it badly enough.

“Garbage in, garbage out,” he said. He advised us to turn off the TV. Don’t watch the news. He said they were selling soap and there was little or no good news and it would rot our minds. Instead, “Read the Bible, a poem and an essay every day.”

How I’d wish I’d listened more carefully and followed that advice 18 years ago. How different would my life be today? The good news is, it’s not too late to start. And I’m proud to say, I started down that path yesterday.images-3

My all time favorite Ray Bradbury book is Fahrenheit 451. My son Robert loves this book, too. I took my son to meet Ray Bradbury during another local speaking engagement years later. Robert has a signed copy of Farenheit 451 that he treasures. Ray Bradbury was a very accessible and kind man, willing to share with all of us enjoying his gift and genius — and striving to be 1/100th the writer that he was. images-4

“What do you love most in the world? The big and little things, I mean. A trolley car, a pair of tennis shoes? These, at one time when we were children, were invested with magic for us.” — Zen and the Art of Writing