Thursday, September 15, 2011

Writers Need to Enter the "Zone" by Jim Ingraham, Guest Blogger

I'm so pleased to introduce Jim Ingraham to my blog today. Jim is published by Five Star/Cengage, so that already tells me he brings us a top-notch story that's well-written and well-edited.

Reading Jim's bio from his website increased my interest in checking out his work. He has a well-rounded background in the military and in education, but that's not all. Who couldn't love a writer who says this about his life experience:

"I have been a skip chaser in Detroit and New York, a cello player in the Michigan State University Symphony Orchestra, an extra in two movies in Los Angeles, a portrait painter, a piano player in bars in Detroit and Providence, Rhode Island. I've been in jail in Japan and kicked out of mansions in Beverly Hills for party crashing. I was a paper boy on the waterfront in Portland, Maine, where my series character, Duff Kerrigan, now lives and works. I twice ran away from home and was expelled from high school for knocking down a priest who belted me in the back of the head for not doing my homework. At another high school I earned letters in football and basketball. I sang in a cathedral choir and in the a cappella choir at Michigan State University. I wrote the English lyrics of a Rachmaninoff lieder for Bethany Beardsley's senior recital, and I wrote the fight song still used by South Portland High School's football team in Maine."

I'm already a fan just from that bio.


Writers Need to Enter the "Zone" by Jim Ingraham, Guest Blogger

I have just spent three hours finding the right words for a paragraph in a novel I have been working on for years. In those three hours I typed probably five hundred words and kept thirty-six. I hear about writers turning out 1500 words a day. I don’t envy them. I’d love to find that many right words in a day’s working session, but I never do. Sometimes I grind out as many as fifty. Sometimes I delete a week’s worth of words I was once content with.

No editor will care how diligently I turn out what I accept. No reader will care whether I used this phrase or another. But I care.

Writing is a challenge. Accepting that challenge every day for three hours is the joy of my life. Nothing, except sharing my life with my family, gives me greater pleasure than finding the right words to express my idea.

I want other people to mirror my pleasure, but I don’t expect them to. I write because I love writing, not because I want to please anyone but myself.

I’m often asked how I make up a story. When John Steinbeck was asked, he said he didn’t know, although he had written some good ones. I know how I go about it, but I don’t recommend my method to anyone.

I believe that successful writers have to be functionally schizoid. To enter the ‘zone,’ which lies beyond the concentration barrier, you must at least partially abandon the world of reason and enter a world of your imagination. To some, this is a sanctuary. Many writers become jittery and anxious when they don’t have a story to go to. When they can enter their make-believe world every day, they’re happy. I am one of those.

I build a story as I would make an abstract painting. I start with a scene that promises conflict. Necessarily it contains characters who do things and say things. I then seek motives based upon what they have said or done—it doesn’t matter: I don’t have a story in mind. If I were building an abstract painting, I would have no idea what the final product would be. But every line, every splash, every color would influence what I could follow up with. So in building a story, everything in the beginning chapter has an influence upon what I can add.

The binding factor is motive. I ask the characters what they would do. They make choices which influence or even determine what another character will do. Sometimes I have to modify what is in the opening to make sense of what has come later. I don’t have a story in mind until I’ve gone past what I think is the middle. And then it’s only a vague and sketchy thing. I have no idea how the story will end. I read what I have written more than a hundred times to learn what’s going on with my people. I become frustrated. I’m ready to throw what I have out the window, convinced that I can’t make anything worth reading out of it. But I study what I’ve written and find threads I did not develop, actions I didn’t see the implications of. Ultimately I learn what the story is about and I bring things to a conclusion.


Thanks so much, Jim, for being my guest today. I'll hope you'll visit us again when future books are released.

To learn lots more about Jim and his novels and short stories, visit his website. Some of his titles are now available for Kindle. Sahara Dust will be available October 12th but can be pre-ordered now. The synopsis is on the Five Star website.


Margot Kinberg said...

Pat - Thanks for hosting Jim.

Jim - Thanks for sharing the way you go about writing. I think you have a point that writers really do have to be able to step inside their own made-up worlds to really make them believable for others. That's a really interesting perspective and I hadn't thought of it that way, but you've got a point. I wish you much success with Sahara Dust.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Jim and Pat,

I very much enjoyed reading this post. It's great to learn more about Jim, a fellow Five Star/Gale
author. And, Jim, you do have a very colorful and interesting past. I agree with you completely that writing is challenging and takes time and effort to get the words right. Like you, I have to get in the zone to write which means that the characters and their story have to live in my head for quite a while before I consign them to Word. Best of luck with your new novel.

Jacqueline Seewald

Kathryn Elliott said...

"I believe that successful writers have to be functionally schizoid." Preaching to the choir, Jim - preaching to the choir! Thanks for sharing, terrific insight.

Anonymous said...

What a fascinating and varied history, Jim, and I bet your life story could be a bestseller. "From Jail to the Symphony." Sounds good, doesn't it?

Best wishes for your new book.

John Paul McKinney said...

Thank you for the helpful post. I found it encouraging to know that a highly succesful author still spends hours searching for the right words and still gets discouraged. I think I'll keep this one to re-read when I hit those bleak moments. Thanks again.

Dean K Miller said...

Thanks Pat for introducing us to Jim. I find his technique intriguing and one I can relate to.

Jim Ingraham said...

Thank you Margot, Jacqueline, Kathryn,Brenda, John Paul, and Dean for your comments. Hope I have been of some help. Yes, I do get discouraged and convinced that I have no talent, more often during a week than I like, but I soldier on, and things seem work out. Bless you all, Jim Ingraham

John Paul McKinney said...

Oh my gosh. Put this in the "small world" category. I hadn't read Jim's bio before I commented, just his post. Now I see another reason why I liked it so much. It's the MSU connection - Go green. When I was at MSU (1966-1998) I knew Ed Ingraham, professor in Math at that time and later Dean of International Studies. Since it's not a common name and both from MSU, I just wondered... any connection?

Jim Ingraham said...

No, John. No relation. I left MSU in 1951 and enrolled at NYU and NYU graduate school. Thanks for asking. Good luck with your writing. Jim Ingraham

Simon Hay Soul Healer said...

HI Jim. Love the bio & the interview. I wish I could grind out 1500 words/day, but I delete more words than I keep. After many years of writing I can finally see improvement. I like that. Thank you Pat.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Jim, thanks so much for being my guest today. I hope you'll come back again for your next release.

Thanks to everyone who stopped in today. For those who need a little training in writing every day, check my post tomorrow about signing up for NaNoWriMo. I did it! Now I want you to join me.

Pamela S Thibodeaux said...

Great post! I absolutely love when the words are flowing 'bout near perfect - of course that's a rare but happy thing LOL - most of the time I struggle to find the right one - not as easy to turn off that internal editor anymore


Maggie Toussaint said...

Hello to Jim and Pat,

Great post! I enjoyed reading through Jim's bio, and I know that a book written by him reflects his experiences and keen sense of world order.

Jim, I think we met at author day in 2008 at Five Star?

Pat, I love the hummingbird border of your blog page. It brings a smile to my face.

Enjoyed the fun! Maggie

Maryann Miller said...

Really enjoyed the post, Jim. I agree about getting in the zone. on some days, I may churn out more words per day than you do, but I don't always keep them all. LOL

Loved your bio, too, and really enjoyed Sahara Dust.

Damyanti said...

Lovely guest post, Jim. This is what Robert Olen Butler calls 'dream-storming'! This is my method of writing too, only I'm scared it might not work when I step into a novel!

Thanks for hosting, Patricia, and it is lovely to be at your blog!
Join me at the Rule of Three Writers' Blogfest!