Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Advice from a Pro(crastinator)

Once again the Playground welcomes our favorite Bella -- last fall we coined the nickname School Bella just for for her -- from Romance: By the Blog . And because she's great about sharing her toys, the Playfriends are on her blog today. Y'all give a great big howdy to Michelle Buonfiglio.

I hate writing.

Yeah, I know that sounds totally bizarre coming from a woman who has the coolest job ever, reading and writing about romance fiction. But I do, indeed, hate everything about writing: the planning, the process, the editing.

Actually, I don’t mind the editing all that much, because I write “short.” Writing short, as those of you who do it know, requires lots of editing, and allows very little falling in love with one’s work. In fact, my rule of thumb is that when I’m certain I’ve turned a particularly nice bit of phrase, I know I should cut it, because I’m generally not as clever as I think I am.

Harsh? Yeah, that’s probably why writing bugs me so much, cause, like, really, why would I enjoy finding yet another reason to angst over my shortcomings?

Now, I once took a class on “getting into the habit of writing” with a pretty remarkable woman named Roseanne Bane who’s got a philosophy that really speaks to my hatred of writing.

Roseanne says that in order to create, one must destroy. Dancers destroy the placement of the air molecules through which they move, and musicians, pretty much the same, while fine artists destroy canvas, marble, various mediums.

What does the writer destroy? When a writer chooses a word or phrase or topic and commits it to paper, she simply destroys every other possibility.

And, holy God, how daunting is that? I mean, no wonder I put off writing; I’m simply afraid of making the wrong choice, missing out on the ideal word that would have made the piece I’m writing the most perfect I could produce.

So learning this, I know I have two choices: suck it up and toss some crap on paper to see what I can work out, or, my favorite, avoid writing altogether till I’m nailed to the Great Wall of Deadline.

Every time I do the latter – every stinkin time – I tell myself that next time will be different; I won’t spend most of the week reading books for fun, surfing the Inet for hot guy pix (like some of my faves here), or doing administrative stuff.

But then this blog came due, and…I’m guessin’ you can figure out how the theme developed from there, no?

What about you: What’s your favorite means of avoiding writing? What’s the piece of advice that gets you putting pencil to paper more often than not?

Thanks so much, Playfriends, for inviting me to share the day here at the WP! For my part in our Scavenger Hunt, here are my two questions:

1. At Romance: By the Blog: Name the 2 lead characters in the excerpt from Suz Brockmann’s “Force of Nature?” Click the link in the blog sidebar.

2. At : Where are Michelle and RBtheBook moving in late June?

Please email your answers to all four questions (the other two are at Michelle's blog site), with the word HUNT in the subject line, to the Playground Monitor. Two winners will be chosen to each receive a 12-pack of romances and a beaded paperback thong.


Caffey said...

Hi Michelle!!! Thats some interesting reading!! I know when I used to pain (watercolors, acrylics and pencils) that sometimes when I started the process, "what to paint" it would be frustrating, but once I found what I wanted to do (yep it took many trials and tearing up of papers) I could so get into it (and yep there were times I had to walk away to let go of it til I could calm down) but when I was done, it was so great to know I did this!! Do you get that feeling towards the end when you are finished with it? I'm not a writer, but I guess there's a little of an artist in each of us in a different way.
Great to meet you on here!

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

'morning, Caffey! Nice to meet you here, too, though I know I've seen you in cyberspace before.:)

I don't think you could have detailed my experience better (I have no artistic talent, btw), though usually months pass before I look at something I've written. Sometimes, I'll read a piece that I just knew was a dog when I sent it in and think, hey, that was kinda funny, or, yeah, I loved that book and showed why the author was great.

I love your idea of moving away from something, letting the ideas germinate. I alwaysalwaysalways forget that it doesn't have to be perfect the first time I write it.

Great way to start this convo, caffey, thanks.

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Oh, and thanks for inviting me to play today, Playfriends and WPers! Can I just say that I'm sinking into my best cyber-curtsy in deference to following Linda Winstead-Jones? Wow. Humbling. Yet another book on the TBR, and my husband will kill me if I bring another book into the house. But, if I sneak it in...

Portia Da Costa said...

Wow, what a relief! Someone who sounds as if they have the same sort of love/hate relationship with writing as I do!

I do love it... but I hate it too. Because it puts me through the wringer all the time, both in terms of craft and emotion. In about equal servings.

And yes, I totally get the 'destroying' all other possibilities thing when you finally have to commit to one word or phrase. But I think I learn to love my writing *more* in the editing rather than less. That's the part of writing when I either see the dross that should be ripped out, and feel much better for it, or see a little gem that I didn't realise was a gem when I was angsting over it in the first rough draft. Those rare, precious 'omigod, did I think that up?' bits... :)

My favourite avoidance... the telly!

The favourite bit of advice... when someone reminds me not to be afraid of writing, and to just write whatever comes to me, because it can always be improved later.

I love the Playground, and am about to blogroll it.

Now, back to RBTB!



Playground Monitor said...

Hi Caffey!

Like Michelle, I have no artistic talent and I think your example is terrific. I don't write novels; I write short stories and yes, it's wonderful to type "The End." Of course that means I have to start something else and then the whole love/hate process begins again.


Playground Monitor said...

The telly! Oh yes, Portia, I use that technique often. Oddly enough, however, I never turn on the tv during the day (unless the weather turns foul because we live in tornado alley) and I'm here all day by myself. I have been known to go out in 90 degree weather and pull weeds to keep from writing as evidenced by my nearly weedless flower beds and herb garden.

Thanks for popping by.


Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Hiya, Portia! Yes, isn't WP just a gem?

I agree with you about enjoying the edited product. I have a new editor -- uh, duh, new job -- named Rachel Cohen, who's also's Editorial director. I don't know if I'll get to work with her on everything I write, but I am now.

Anyway, she's already made my stuff better, plus, she's enthusiastic about the whole idea of it, so that's a big motivator to begin with.

mornin, Play. Thanks again for the invite! Weeding the garden to avoid. Hmmm. too much work. Plus you have to leave the house. I say, just pick up a good book. That's my favorite avoidance. :)

Smarty Pants said...

Morning and welcome, Michelle! It's great to have you back in our neck of the playground.

I am a big avoider. The playfriends will tell you that in an attempt to avoid my most recent WIP, I planned my wedding. My entire wedding from venue, clothes, bridesmaids, menu, cake, favors, invitations...I could pull an actual wedding off in a few weeks, I got so detailed. Sad thing is that I'm not engaged. But if DB ever steps up...I'm ready.

Normally, I just fall back on the tv or computer. This time I was extra desperate. :P


Problem Child said...

"When a writer chooses a word or phrase or topic and commits it to paper, she simply destroys every other possibility."

Ah, hell. Nothing like the pressure. I may never write again without thinking of that phrase. Sigh.

Julie in Ohio said...

Good Morning, Michelle & Playfriends!!

I'm not a writer but I am an expert on procrastination. Stalling the inevitable is a time honored tradition in my family. Television is always a good diversion especially on the weekends when all the old movies are on. Laundry. Vacuming. What are they?
Reading is tops on my list. You know how it is. "Just let me finish this chapter." (yeah,right)
I've even been known to resort to exercise in order to avoid doing the dishes. Only in the most extreme cases, however.

Right now, I'm online playing you all instead of working. See, it works everywhere.

Kathy said...

Welcome to the playground, Michelle! Wow! Destroying the canvas, destroying molecules, destroying possibilities. I'd never thought of art, dance, or writing like this before. But when you think of it, we are surrounded by endless possibilities and when we make the final choice, when we turn left rather than right we are altering our universe. Deep. (Cue Bill and Ted)

Seriously, this is a concept that I'll find hard to forget. What is your advice on editing? Since you write short, do you have any suggestions that would help someone who writes long? When is enough, enough?

Thanks for coming to play,


Instigator said...

Avoidance? I am the procrastination queen. Although, I find I can't read when I'm avoiding my writing because it only makes me feel more guilty. I get antsy and can't concentrate.

The playfriends all know that if I mention cleaning my shower... things are really, really bad.


Instigator said...

P.S. Who is that first hottie? I seriously need to add him to my hero file.


Michelle Buonfiglio said...

LOL on the Excellent Advanture, Kathy. The cool thing about the "destruction" advice is that it's really so positive. It says to a writer, "go ahead. Just make a decision and try it out already. It's not rocket science -- unless you;re Jimmy Neutron -- it's just about taking some chances. You always can erase."

Editing for me is always remembering Strunk and White's "Vigorous writing is concise." I look for those extra little words that aren't needed to make the sentence clear. Take that last sentence. Edit it to: I look for the words that aren't needed.

Another line I always wanna edit is: she'd never felt anything like it before in her life. How bout: She'd never felt anything like it?

I ask myself: Have I made this point already? (oops, edit to: have I made this point?) Are there two punchlines here and only room for one? Stuff like that. limits are 5-600 words for articles, because online readers don't like to click through too many pages. Having written for the Inet a couple years now, I've always shot for 400ish.

Here's the hellish part about writing for the Inet: I can't write a full paragraph to save my life. The Inet rule for journalism is "never more than two sentences. If you're not sure, make it one." It's all about readability on the screen.

Jules: you're my hero! Admirable avoidance techniques. I have much to learn from you, oh master.

Smarty Pants, that's the funniest story ever! Your future DB will love that he won't have to go through that process with you, and you 'll have much more time to get to know one another and read romance and stuff while you're waiting for the big day. :) Now, that's a HEA.

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Takeshi Kaneshiro, you little Instigator, you. He was the inspiration for the RBtheBlog Week of Wet. Nothing but hot, wet, nearly nekkid guys for a week. mmmmmm.

If you're ever that desperate to procrastinate, my shower needs cleaning. And my basement. And my kitchen. And I've got some books that need organizing...

Angel said...

I have some very similar issues with my writing. I put it off because I fear failing at it.

But I love having "written". And like Portia, I love the editing process, because I can take whatever I threw onto the page and make it better.

My favorite avoidance: mindless television and email. Like PM I don't read when I'm avoiding my writing, that's more like my reward. Otherwise it will just remind me that I'll never be published if I don't get my *ss in gear.

MaryKate said...

Mornin' Playfriends and Bellas.

I'm the complete opposite school. I'm the "get-it-over-with-already" school. I do all the stuff I hate first, so I don't have it hanging over it. Also, because writing is alot like a birthing process for me, I have to write, walk away and the re-read and edit.

I don't write that much, mainly just blogs and emails, in my personal life. But professionally I write a lot.

Michelle, whatever process you use for writing works for me, I love to read your stuff!

Portia Da Costa said...

Hey, Playground Monitor! Hope you like my story in Sex and Shopping... :)

Captain Jack said...

Why is there a treasure hunt and I wasn't invited? hiccup

See if I invite you aboard my ship. Ha!

I remain,

Capt. Jack Sparrow

Angel said...

He's back!!!!! Loved, loved, loved you in Pirates 3, Cap'n Jack!

Pat L. said...

Hi, nice prize.

How exactly do I get to Michelle's blog? Cant find it.

Playground Monitor said...

Pat... Michelle's blog is at


Kathy said...

Michelle, thanks for those examples. I'll remember that when I'm editing my ms. (That's what I'm doing right now so believe me your advice is worth more than gold.)

Jack! Jack Sparrow? You old sea dog, pull out your compass and we'll find treasure together. ;-)

(Shout out Instigator! I'm doing flips for you.)

Playground Monitor said...

Portia, I haven't got to your story yet but I'm looking forward to it. This is my first Black Lace book and your name in the table of contents was the deciding factor in purchasing S&S.


Smarty Pants said...

All right - it is FAR too quiet around here. Michelle, what can you tell us about your new Lifetime gig?


Portia Da Costa said...

Oooerrr... you decided on the book because of me? Hope my story lives up to expectations. Do let me know what you think.

amy*skf said...

Yikes--I once wrote an essay on how I avoid writing, luckily, I didn't avoid writing that.

Smarty Pants--you kill me.

And Angel and Portia--yes, I love having written something as well. But one of my biggest avoidance ploys is reading books on Writing!

Michelle, Ray Bradbury says, "You must be ready to kill your darlings." All those words and phrases we love so much--and of course you don't have the luxury of letting it sit and stew for awhile and then coming back to it to see it with fresh I should have done with this paragraph.

Pam said...

Good tips and advice, Michelle, and not just for authors or journalists; applies to business correspondence, also.

Angel said...

That's funny, amy*skf, because I read writing books to get back in the writing mood. They always inspire me to try again.

Aaarrrggghhh! Capt. Jack!

KimW said...

Welcome, Michelle! I'm a reader and for me, writing doesn't come easily. That applies to blogs, emails etc. I don't see myself ever writing a book. I took on a moderator job for an ebook club a few years back. Since I have to respond to the emails, I'm forced to write. I'm much better at it today. It also taught me to be tactful. I still am a bit shy when writing on blogs. I can never put my thoughts into words.

Playground Monitor said...

Oh my, Portia! Talk about customer service. Buzz, buzz. ;-)


cas2ajs said...

Welcome Michelle! For all your procrastination, I so enjoyed reading your post today. Another reader weighing in. I am on the shy side and I find that I am actually more comfortable with written communications. Possibly because with the written word, I usually have time to think and re-think what I've put down on paper before I actually send it. Once something's spoken out loud, there is no chance for editing it or taking it back. Thanks again for sharing your day with us.

littlelamblst said...

Hi Michelle,

I am a reader, however, Christmas Letter writing procrastination hits me pretty hard annually. Once I manage to get the first few paragraphs down things settle into a flow. It really seems to be the first paragraph or so that I feel blocked and the only way for me to surmount it is to slog through and then rewrite it as necessary.

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Hey, cas! It's interesting what you say about writing and being shy. Do you find commenting on blogs good for that?

I generally do email interviews with authors so they have time to "say" exactly what they mean, cause -- well, maybe not here in the sandbox -- but many, many authors are really shy, too. I found that shocking, and it was one of the reasons I started RBtheBook , to help them "talk" to readers.

Play, I've read Sex and Shopping, and agree about Portia's piece. Bella Kate Pearce has one in there, too.

Hey, kimw, I think you're doing a really good job of communicating here. :) I like that you feel you've gotten better; good for you for being able to give yourself props for that.

Hi, Pam. Business writing is writing short, isn't it. I was on a conference call today with my "big boss" and my supervisor. I mentioned to them about the brief e-newsletters I write, prefacing it with "now, I'm sure you'll never believe that I write short newsletters based on the emails I send." They broke into gales of laughter.

Seems I have a tough time writing brief emails. And I even edit them for length! But these Inet companies, man, the folks at them write the briefest emails on the planet. Talk about being unable to catch tone. It's frightening.

Hey MK. I still have to check out your blog. Does it have a name?

Hi, Smarty Pants. The gig? Well, it's really cool cause they're so excited about bringing romance to their online viewers. They've really been stellar with coming up with ways to improve Romance: B(u)y the Book, like the broadband interviews we're shooting at RWA in Dallas. They've got a real team attitude, and everyone comes up with ideas about how to add new stuff that viewers will like.

So, I'll still be doing a weekly Feature Review and AuthorView, and we'll be offering excerpts from every book we feature, which is a cool new development. There'll be big contests throughout the year, plus a new RBTB quickie newsletter.

So, we'll be shooting two days at RWA, like 26 interviews back to back. We've got some great ones scheduled like Susan Elizabeth Phillips, JR Ward, Suz Brockmann, Julia Quinn, etc.

I'm still not positive about the relaunch date, but I'm really hoping the romance community will jump on board, link to my section, send their readers so we can show Lifetime they did the right thing bringing romance to their online viewers. :)

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Good work LLL! I'm fascinated by Christmas/Holiday letters, and I can imagine the pressure involved. I'm too chicken to try it, so I'm in awe.

Karen G said...

When I was much younger, many moons ago, I wrote letters to all my relatives each month. Now I avoid it. My hand hurts when I do. I spend my time reading and surfing.

Smarty Pants said...

Well, its getting late and SP needs her beauty rest, but night, Bellas. Thanks for playing with us today! Come back tomorrow for our special celebration!!!