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Finding Your Natural Writing Voice

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We all want it. We worry about whether we have it or not. We're pretty sure we need it in order to get published, yet we might not even know exactly what it is.  And it's almost for certain that we don't know how to get it.

So what is voice? 

It is your individual style, the unique way you put words together on the page.  My blog reads very differently than yours, or at least it better.  Have you ever read dull, lifeless writing (who hasn't)? It's a safe bet that writer is holding herself back from full expression of her authentic self.

Your voice can be sarcastic, funny, sardonic, sweet, hip, sophisticated....you get the drift.  One of the hallmarks of my novel, Emma Jean's Bad Behavior, is the main character's smart-ass sassy voice.  Open a page of that novel anywhere and you'll know you're reading me.  It simply sounds like my voice.  (And of course, that same voice proved to be too much for most agents, who felt that Emma Jean's voice was a bit too sassy.)

But what if you're struggling with voice?  If, no matter what, your writing comes out lifeless and dull?  Read on, because I've got some tips for what to do.

1.  Experiment with different genres and venues.  Blogging is for me, an incredibly natural medium.  I have no problem letting the words flow and when they flow, they sound like a reflection of me.  But I work with people all the time who freeze up in terror at the thought of putting a blog in the world.  Yet those same people may be perfectly at ease writing copy for their website. So try different arenas.

2.  Free write.  The rules are as follows: set a timer for 20 minutes, choose a prompt, and write.  When I say write, I mean write, without stopping or lifting your pen from the page.  Yeah, you'll get a lot of crap, but you'll also get to the good stuff.  Writing freely is one of the best ways to train yourself to access your natural voice.

3.  Write Morning Pages.  Popularized by Julia Cameron in her book The Artist's Way, Morning Pages are simply pages you write first thing in the morning.  Hence the name.  Morning pages (and other journal writing) help you establish an ease with pen and paper.  They help you establish a flow of words.  And ease and flow are paramount to a natural voice.

4. Emulate Others to Be Yourself.  This sound totally counter-intuitive, but copying a writer you admire can teach you so much about their style that it helps you develop your own.  Type a paragraph or page of your favorite author's work into the computer, which will incorporate that author's style and flow into yourself.  And once you understand it so intimately, you can dissect how that author did it and figure out how to do it your own way.  Note: this is a writing exercise, not an encouragement to plagiarize.

5. Work On Your Project Regularly.  Keeping a schedule and visiting your current Work in Progress (WIP) helps with your voice, too.  Voices get rusty just like muscles do.   Realize that encouraging your natural voice takes consistent time and effort.

Odds are good that you'll know your voice when you hit it.  And that, my dear readers, is cause for rejoicing.

Create a successful, inspired writing life:  Choose one of the recommendations above and commit to it to find your voice.

Have you found your voice?  Do you remember how you went about it?  Please comment. 

And please also sign up for my newsletter in the form to the right and feel free to share this post on social media.  Thank you.

 

Photo by gerbrak.


Call For Guest Posts

I'm going to be away the last week in April (at the Diamond writing retreat I'm co-leading) and the first week of May (in Maui, for a spiritual retreat with the women of my church.)

The Diamond retreat is at an old hotel that was once a stagecoach stop that does not have Wi-Fi or cell phone service, but the good news is that there 's a traveler's stop a few miles away that does.

The Maui retreat has no Wi-Fi.  Gulp.  I'll be without my computer for a week.  This is like saying I'll be without my arm for a week. 

But the point of all this is that I am going to have two weeks away from blogging.  And so I have had an idea.  I'm calling for guest posts.  I'm really interested in anything you have to say, but I'd especially like it if you wrote on this topic:

A Day in the Life of A Writer (or if you're an artist or creative, that's fine, too). 

Here's an example of what I mean in this post I wrote a few years ago.

I'm fascinated when I get to peek into the daily lives of other writers, and I think my readers will be, too. 

If you'd like to participate, email me at charlotte@charlotterainsdixon.com, putting GUEST POST in the subject line and I'll fill you in on the details.


Getting an Agent

I've promised to be forthcoming about every aspect of the process of getting my book published, so here goes another post on it. 

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Last week I off-handedly mentioned that I was looking for an agent.  Later, was speaking with my buddy Square-Peg Karen (keep an eye out for a cool collaboration we're working on) and she asked me for clarification about the publishing process. 

"Don't you usually get an agent before you get a publisher?" she asked.

Yes, indeed that is true.  At least when you are dealing with the big New York publishing houses.  Most of those folks won't even talk to you unless you have an agent.  Think of agents as the gate-keepers in an industry that is overwhelmed with authors trying to claw their way through the doors.

Twenty years or so ago, the big New York houses had their super-star authors, and then those on the mid-list, and then the ones they'd take a chance on, the books that might sell only a few copies but whose authors might eventually rise to the top.  Not so much anymore.  Due to the vagaries of the publishing world, the big houses really want a sure thing.

Like there are any sure things.

Enter the small publishing houses.  Once the big boys stopped taking so many risks, they opened the doors for small publishing houses to spring up and assume that role.  Then, with the advent of digital and Print on Demand publishing, it became even easier to start a small press.  And so the small presses of the world fill an important part of the overall publishing world.

And they don't require agents to submit.

The press (I'm getting close to being able to reveal the name) that is publishing my book doesn't offer an advance, but instead a much higher royalty.  The big boys offer an advance but small royalties.  I kinda like this arrangement because it means my earnings are proportionate to my efforts.  Sometimes with the big boys, your book gets lost and then you're stymied.  I've seen this happen to a couple of my good friends.

But back to my agent search.  Last week I corresponded with a lovely agent whose name I'm protecting because I'm not sure he wants to be inundated with submissions.  I had written him to inquire if I needed representation.  He asked me some questions and then got back to me, explaining that I'd already done the hard part, gotten the book accepted.  He further explained that it probably wasn't going to be worth my while or the agent's while to have him negotiate a contract.  And here's a nugget: most agencies have a minimum commission of $2500, which would be on an advance of $18,000.

So I'm abandoning my search for an agent for now.  The plan is to get good sales with this book and then leverage them to get an agent for my next novel.  Unless I decide I like the independent publishing route best, which is a distinct possibility.

I'm in contact with my editor, and once I get a signed contract, I'll be naming names.  Yay!

Do you have experiences, good or bad, with agents?  The publishing world?  Please comment.

Create a successful, inspired writing life: Think about what kind of publishing experience you want.  Do you want to have the control?  Or do you want to give it up to someone else?  We're lucky to live in a time when both options are possible.

Photo by brokenarts.  Plus, Typepad's photo editor is wonky which is why the image has so much room of its own.  And by the way, its an image of a gate.  You know, gate=gatekeeper=agent.  You probably got all that without me explaining it.


Scheduling for Writers 101

I'm writing this post for me as much as for you.   Pay attention, me.

How do you schedule your writing?  (I'm talking passion projects here.  For those of us who do writing for a living, we write all day, sometimes leaving little time for the work we love.  But everyone has challenges fitting their writing into their day, from the new mom to the executive.)

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For years, my fallback position has been to get up early and get to my writing first thing in the morning.    Writing novels and books is the most important thing to me, and when I focus on what's most important, magical things happen.  All my other to-dos fall into place.  And I feel good all day long.

I've established a pretty good schedule over the last couple of weeks.  (I have a new novel that is coming together and I look forward to getting up early and working on it.)  I've been rising early and going right to the page.

Most mornings.

The problem is, going to the page means going to the computer.  And going to the computer means that enticements beckon.

I'll just see if there's anything pressing I need to look at, I say to myself.

And you know what?  On the internet, everything is pressing.  And I get pulled in.  Yesterday morning an hour went by before I looked up and said, whoops.  I'd tweeted and pinned things on Pinterest and responded to emails.  My writing time was almost over.

And so I am doing what any self-respecting writer would do--confessing publicly with the hopes that this will remind me, in future mornings, to stick to my morning routine.

You may not have a morning routine that you dedicate to writing, but surely you have an allotted time at some point during the day.   Or someway that you fit it in.  Would you care to share in the comments?  Working together, we all raise each other up.

Create a successful, inspired writing life:  Look at your current writing schedule.  Is it working for you?  Why or why not?  Figure out how to make it work.  Or, if you don't have one, make one.  And figure out how to stick to it.

Don't forget, you've got until midnight tonight, Friday, March 23rd, to save $10 on my Cultivate Creative Ideas class.  You can find out more on this page.

 

Photo by sandralise.

 


A 5 Step Process for Dealing With Rejection

So, I'm looking for an agent.  I have an offer to publish my book and in the old days this would be a slam dunk.  I remember sitting in sessions at writing conferences hearing stories of people who got a contract with a publisher and were told it was a sure-fire way to get an agent.  Now, not so much.

Mostly they just ignore you. Baseball-sports-woman-441118-l

And it turns out that indifference is just as bad as rejection.  So I'm thinking a lot about rejection.  (And, for the record, I sent out my novel to a gazillion places before I got this acceptance.) 

It is important to remember that rejection is not just a mental and emotional response, but a visceral, physical one, too.  Here's how it goes for me:

It starts as a shimmery feeling all through me, then a surge of adrenalin and a punch in the gut, sometimes so hard it makes me want to double over.  This is no doubt a fight or flight response, and it is damned uncomfortable.

Then the head stuff begins:

  • I'm a failure
  • This is the one thing I love doing, and nobody will let me do it (note victim mentality)
  • All is lost
  • Now everything is ruined, even my Work in Progress (WIP)
  • No use working on my WIP because I'm such a failure

Sound familiar? 

After quite awhile of wallowing in this stage, comes the false bravado:

  • I will do it!
  • They can't stop me
  • Who are they to judge me?
  • I'll make it happen if it kills me

This is a semi-helpful stage because it indicates you're moving out of the wallowing, but be aware that false bravado is predicated on the empty space inside you that remains when your ego collapses.  And this is not the empty space the gurus speak of, it is the empty space that is hurting and scared.  Not a good foundation to build upon.

So what's a writer to do?  How in the hell does one deal with rejection?  Like this:

Feel your pain.  Our automatic response to an uncomfortable feeling is to run from it, or try to change it.  Don't.  Sit with it.  Feel it fully and deeply.  Ask yourself, what am I feeling right now and identify it.  One of the keys to dealing with hurt and rejection is allowing yourself to process it fully, which we don't do.  Because it is scary.  But then number two comes in:

Let go.  Oh lordie, it is easier to let go when you've processed something fully.  You can feel it.  But whatever feeling you are feeling is going to hang around until you've felt it, so don't think you can skip number one to get to the good part.  Huh-uh.  A handy visual for letting go: imagine your thoughts and worries as balloons and watch yourself release them into the air.  Feels good, doesn't it?

Affirmations.  They really do work to change your mindset, but not when you're busy trying to cover up stuff that is still clogging you up.  So do not skip to this step whatever you do.  But when you've processed and released, get you some positive statements to say to yourself.  It's like laying sod on a new field or planting new seeds.  Okay, I'll stop with the cheesy metaphors.

Begin the process again.  Get back to work on your WIP, or start a new one.  Here's your job: set your intention (sell my novel, get an agent, etc.), put it out into the universe, trust that the universe will act on it for you, and get writing.  Rinse and repeat as necessary.

Enjoy success.  Don't forget to celebrate even the smallest of victories along the way.  It is what makes living worthwhile.

 

Create a successful, inspired writing life:  Next time you get a rejection, remind yourself it is all part of the writing process.  And then activate the process above to help you through it.

I'd love to hear how you deal with rejection?  Do you scream and cry?  Throw things?  Or maybe you've developed some more useful reactions.  Please share them with everyone.  Fairly often the best part of my blog posts are in the comments, cuz my readers rock.

The photo is public domain from the Library of Congress. 


What Does a Writing Coach Do, Anyway?

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The recent news that my novel has been accepted for publication has inspired me.  As I mentioned in a post last week, it was the getting of clarity that I consider a key factor in this acceptance.  Last fall, I got crystal clear in my thinking about my goals and realized that I wanted to focus on writing books and blogging. 

And, of course, coaching.  I love working with writers and get really excited when I have the chance to coach. So last week I took a fresh look at my coaching packages and felt my heart drop. (I know, cliche, but I swear, I felt it thud.) Because they did not, in any way reflect the excitement I feel about coaching writers.  They looked dull and boring and I wondered why anyone would want to hire me.

And then I realized the problem:  I was designing my coaching around what I thought I should do and who I thought I should be rather than what I wanted to do and what I wanted to be.  I did the same thing last year around other aspects of my career. And it was time to apply the same clarity of vision that I used on other aspects of my career to my coaching.

So I designed two new coaching packages (with more to come no doubt) that reflect who I am and what I want to share with the world.  Check them out by visiting my new coaching page.

But, here's the deal.  Many people don't really understand what, exactly a writing coach does.  There are writing coaches, and writing teachers, and writing mentors.  So what's what?  And what does a writing coach do?  Perhaps a bit of explaining is in order.

I'm going to being by talking about the role of traditional writing teachers.  The old tried and true path for a writer was to get an MFA and then teach at a university.  This kind of teacher traditionally presides over classes that are given on-site, ones that meet several times a week, taking you away from your home and writing, but giving you lots of time to absorb good information on craft.  You might also take these kinds of classes at a community college, or some kind of community or private writing center.   Before a few years ago, if you wanted to get your MFA in writing, your only choice was to attend an in-person program at a university.

Next, let's consider the role of a writing mentor.  The writing mentor works with students one-on-one, generally offering lessons on craft and reviewing the student's writing.  The main difference is that the mentoring is done through email or snail mail, with occasional phone calls, and the student spends her time writing at home rather than sitting in classrooms.  One on one mentoring is one of the main hallmarks of the relatively new brief-residency MFA programs (I'm a graduate of one of these), which have become a common way to earn this degree.

Which brings us to the writing coach.  In order to investigate what they do, let's ponder the profession of life coaching.  Unlike therapists, who traditionally delve into your past in order to make a better future, coaches start from where you are, right now, assisting with goals, problems, obstacles, whatever  you need to help you lead a better life.  Thus, a writing coach focuses on problems and obstacles that might prevent you from creating your best writing life.

So which route do I follow?  In my role as a teacher at the Writer's Loft in Tennessee, I mentor students, as explained above, focusing mostly on the actual reading of the work. My writing coaching is a hybrid creature.  As a writing coach, I coach you to create a writing life that you'll love, assisting you with finding time and motivation to write and helping you to overcome the obstacles along the way.  And I also teach you craft and review your work.  So you get the best of both worlds, as far as I'm concerned.

For some people, attending traditional classes is the best way to go.  Others will desire the personal care that a coaching relationship offers.  I urge you to ponder all the options and decide which one works for you.  And of course, if you are ready to hire a coach, I'd love to talk to you.


Lessons Learned Along the Way

 

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So by now everyone in the North American hemisphere knows that I've gotten an offer to have my novel published.  (If they haven't, I'll do my best to make sure they do over the next couple of days.)  On Monday, I wrote an initial post about the news.  Yesterday, I wrote a bit more.  And today, I'm writing about lessons learned along the way.  Because, there have been many of them, starting with....

Determination.  First of all, let me explain.  I finished this book two years ago, maybe longer.  And I've been marketing it off and on since then, mostly to agents.  As a matter of fact, the publishing house that accepted me is the first publisher I sent it to. I've lost count of how many agents I've sent it to, probably at least fifty.  Yes, fifty.  I love this novel and I've been determined to have it see the light of day. So there you go, first on my list is determination. Never underestimate its power.

Clarity.  Last fall, I parted ways with a coaching program I had contracted with.  It wasn't working for me, and I had some chronic pain issues that made it difficult to keep up with the program.  This led to deep soul searching on my part.  Why hadn't the program worked for me when it was so very successful for others?  Which led me to the answer: because I was trying to be something I wasn't. So that made me think long and hard about what I was and what I wanted to be.  What did I love doing, above all else?  The answer was writing books and blogging.  From that moment on, I redoubled my efforts in both areas.  The results have been gratifying, with more traffic to this blog, and now, my novel about to be published.  Let me just tell you, clarity rocks.  Rocks, baby.

Discernment.  Along the same lines as above, I've had to gently learn the fine art of discernment.  This, not that.  That, not this.  Resist the latest bright shiny thing that is not exactly allied with my areas of interest and stay the course.  This means, to me, not buying the latest glitzy course in how to run some area of my business.  Instead, I'll put time into either my blog or my book.  (Or my coaching.  I do love coaching and teaching, too.)

Serendipity.  I think its important to allow for the unexpected to happen.  After I submitted to this publishing house last fall, I didn't hear from them.  Then I assumed that I wouldn't hear from them.  But then I did.  Never underestimate the unseen forces that are working on your behalf in the background.  And finally,

My spiritual practice.  This may well be the most important lesson of all, because it underlies everything.  Since I returned to church last year, I've learned a whole new way of thinking that makes everything better and easier.  It is based on faith--faith in our ability to create our lives, our health and our prosperity.  Some may sneer and call it all positive thinking, but that's their issue.  I say it's a lot more pleasant to think positive thoughts than negative ones, no matter what the outcome.

So there you have it--the lessons I've learned along the way.

Create a successful, inspired writing life: Identify the life lessons that have guided you.  Because once you've identified them, you can more readily call upon them.  Inner knowing is half the battle.

Would you be willing to share your life lessons in the comments?  We'd love to hear them.  And if you liked this post, please tweet it or post it on other social media.  Thank you.

 

Photo by austinevan


How I Finally Opened the Publishing Door

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The press that will print my book. Kidding.

On Monday, I told you that a small publishing house has agreed to publish my novel.  Today, I'm going to tell the story of how it came about.  (It feels a little weird to be writing so much about it, seeing as how all I know so far is that they have agreed to publish the book.  But I'm determined to share the entire process with you guys, so on I go.)

 Years ago, after I got my MFA, I returned to my alma mater, Spalding, to be a graduate assistant (also fondly known as a grad ass).  Part of my duties were to assist in the workshop.  I had the honor and pleasure of helping my dear former mentor Julie Brickman, but that's another story.   In that workshop I met a wonderful man named Dan, who lives in Key West.  He asked me to read his novel, Three Furies, which I did, and fell in love with.  I loved, loved, loved this novel and told him so repeatedly. (I'm not ignoring him by not linking to him, he doesn't yet have a website.)

Dan and I fell out of touch for a few years, but last Fall he wrote and told me the exciting news that Three Furies would be published by a small press.  He was excited.  I immediately looked up the press.  Turned out I loved what they said about publishing literary quality fiction and focusing on the "anti-heroine," as I previously noted.  I was pretty sure that fit my protagonist, Emma Jean, she who sleeps with handsome younger men, gets drunk on airplanes, and pretty much says whatever she pleases.  And so, on a whim, I submitted to them.

Now, the website information says they'll get back to you in six weeks.  Dan said he heard back from them in two weeks.  So when I didn't hear I pretty much forgot about it, figuring it was yet another no-go.  Until Saturday, when the cryptic email came saying that they want to put my novel on the list for 2013.

What's the lesson here?  Well, the obvious one is that who you know counts.  Please note here that I didn't ask Dan for a recommendation (though I've not hesitated to ask others in the past) and he didn't even know I was submitting to the same press.  But, I never would have known about this press if it weren't for Dan.  Networking is vital for sharing information.  Also, let me just say that I've had personal recommendations to agents that have put me on the top of their piles.  It all helps.

Tomorrow I'm going to publish my "lessons learned" post.  But another one that occurs to me as I write today is that patience is definitely a virtue.  I ofen joke that you could get married, have babies and die before hearing back from some of these folks in the publishing world and there's a ring of truth to it.  So don't enter this business if you're looking for instant gratification!

Create a successful, inspired writing life: Find a way to make some new writing friends.  Join a local writing group.  Start commenting on a forum online.  We're lucky to live in a time when it is easy to get connected.

Please comment.  How have you made connections in the writing world?  Also, if you liked this post, please feel free to Tweet it or share it on other social media.

 

Photo by rammag.

 


If I Can Do It, You Can Do It

As most of you know, I've written several novels and have been obsessively heavily marketing the most recent one, Emma Jean's Bad Behavior.

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Over and over again, I get the same response from agents:  We love it.  But...

  • But Emma Jean is too brash.
  • But Emma Jean is unlikeable (because she does what she wants and says what she wants).
  • But Emma Jean gets drunk on airplanes.

So on Saturday evening, when I got home from a day-long retreat and casually checked my email on my phone while talking to my husband, I found a message from a small publishing house to which I'd submitted.  I thought it was going to say the same thing as all the rest.  Because it started the same way:

Thanks for submitting your novel, Emma Jean's Bad Behavior to us.  We love it......

Wait.  There was no but.

I read further.

We love it and we'd like to include it on our 2013 publishing list.

Wait.  What?

It took me a minute to figure out what the email was saying.  But once I did, it dawned on me: they want to publish my novel! (I've re-read the email a million times since then, making sure I didn't misunderstand it or that the words didn't rearrange themselves on the screen.)

This is a small publishing house but one that emphasizes literary quality and, the part I love the most, the "anti-heroine."  That is our girl, Emma Jean.  I don't have any details yet, and I'll share them with you as I get them, too.  Let me just say for now that I'm very happy--Saturday night there was quite the spontaneous celebration around here!

I love this book and it makes me so happy that it is going to see the light of day at last.  This feels like a door opening to me--one I've been knocking on forever.  I'm going through it full force, and I invite you to come along.  I'll be sharing every aspect of the process with you over the next few months. On Wednesday, for starters,  I'll tell you more about how it came about.

Thank you for being loyal readers--blogging is as much my love as writing books, and it is wonderful to have an audience for my ramblings.  I appreciate each and every one of you SO much.

Create a successful, inspired writing life: No matter what your writing goals, keep at it!  Take another step toward your goal today.  If I can do it, you can do it!

Photo by ugaldew.


The Genesis of an Idea

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I needed me an idea.  For this very blog post that you're reading, in fact.

I have been posting on a Monday, Wednesday, and Friday schedule and that works well for me.  Doesn't seem to be too overwhelming for readers and it's not so far apart that you'll forget about me.  Usually, I have an idea in mind for my next blog post a day or two ahead, allowing it to compost in my subconscious.

But this time I didn't.

Which was somewhat embarrassing, seeing as how I just announced a class on ideas and people have started signing up for it.

Yikes.

But then I realized I could follow my own advice.  And so I did.  And here's what I did:

1.  Set an intention that I would find an idea.  I saw myself coming up with an idea.

2.  Filled the well.  I went looking for an idea, intention tucked firmly into my mind.

3.  Acted as if I had an idea.  I came back to this page and started writing.  And guess what?  It turned out that I did have an idea....about ideas.

And now you're reading the blog post that resulted.

This is but one idea in a class full of them.  To find out more, click on the page about the class.  And, please comment.  I'd love to hear how you cultivate ideas.  What do you do when you need an idea?

Create a successful, inspired writing life:  Apply the three-step process above to your search for an idea.  (And come back here and report how it worked for you.)

Photograph by rolve.


Writing the Discovery Draft

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On Monday, I wrote a post about writing as discovery.  And after I finished it, I intended for that to be my last word on the subject.  But then I started thinking (I do that once in awhile) about how writing as discovery impacts our works in progress.

Because it does.  And if you're not letting it, you should.

I've written a ton about the writing process over the years, and always, always, always, I emphasize that the first step is to write a rough draft.  Also known as a Shitty First Draft, courtesy of Anne Lamott, or a Discovery Draft, thanks to my friend Darnell Arnoult.

What is a Discovery Draft?

It is the first draft that you write to uncover the story.  Sure, you've done your prep work and you've written a loose outline or synopsis, so you're pretty sure where you're going.  But nine times out of ten, a character will walk on and demand a role, or suddenly your existing characters go off on a tangent you hadn't expected.  And then everything looks different, doesn't it?  You've got to allow these magical things to happen and you've got to write to figure these out how to fit these magical things into your story.  So, think of the Discovery Draft as you figuring out the story.  In successive drafts, you figure out how best to dramatically present the story to your readers.

How do you write a Discovery Draft?

After you've done your prep work, you have at it.  You start at the beginning and write to the end.  If you have ideas for changes, you make note of them, saving them to deal with in the next draft.  Let me reiterate: you start at the beginning and write to the end. You just keep going, through all changes and new ideas.   You write as if you've made the changes and keep going. 

Why?  Because once you get to the end of the draft, you're going to understand more about your story.  You'll know more about your characters.  You're going to know more about theme.  In short, you'll know a ton more about every aspect of your novel or memoir.  You'll understand things about it that never even occurred to you when you started out.

And then you get to start over again, this time with a clear concept of what your story is and how you want to present it.  So what are you waiting for?  Go to it!

I'd love to hear how you go about writing a Discovery Draft.  Please comment and share your experiences with us.

Create a successful, inspired writing life: Just do it.  Go write your draft, start to finish.

How are you doing with your flow of ideas?  I've just posted a new class that covers every aspect of ideas.  Check it out!

Photo by pll.


Writing as an Act of Discovery

Here's something I forget:

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 We write to figure things out. 

We write to discover what we know. 

We write to uncover what we don't know.

And yet.

We sit down to the page and think we have to be experts.

We sit down to write and think it has to come out perfect.

We sit down at the computer and agonize over every word.

When, really, the best thing to do is sit down and have at it, without concern or care toward what comes out.  Because writing is rewriting.  And the real work of shaping a story comes in the second, third, or ever fifth or tenth draft.  Which gives you a glorious excuse to throw caution to the wind and have a wonderful time writing what comes out of your head and through your fingers.

Don't expect yourself to know everything because you don't.  But you can figure out a whole heckuva lot by writing.  It's why we journal--to figure out stuff about ourselves.  It's why we write memoirs--to figure out stuff about our lives.  It's why we write fiction--to figure out stuff about the world.

I was interviewed on a radio show this past weekend (link is at the lower right, it's the Blog Talk Radio banner) and we talked about how when you are laboring over every word, you're clinched up, like you've made two fists and your entire body is tense.  When you're writing freely and easily, the exact opposite is true--your body is relaxed and so are you.  Isn't that a better way to go? 

What is your writing process?  Do you allow yourself to write freely or do you tense up and make certain every word is perfect before moving on?  Does your current process work for you?

Create a successful, inspired writing life: Choose a topic, any topic.  It might be something to do with your current project.  For instance, this morning I worked on backstory for my main character.  Now take pen and paper and write until you've exhausted everything you know on that topic.  And believe me, more will come to you as you write.

 

 

Photo by Gerbrak.


Tips on Writing, Prepping for the Novel, Part Five--Setting

Okay, in the last post in this series, I said it was the final article.  The end, finito, donezo.

Ha!

Because the other day, while working on setting in my own novel, the thought occurred:  I left setting out of my series on prepping for the novel.

Duh.

York_York_City_271079_l

This from a woman who wrote her MFA thesis on place.  (What Particular Country: Landscape as Character in the Work of Flannery O'Connor and Willa Cather, was the title, in case you're interested.  It wasn't as windbaggy as it sounds.)

I love setting.  I love place.  I love coming up with cities and houses for characters to inhabit and to create businesses for them to frequent and hang out in.

So here's what I recommend for you, in terms of figuring out places for your character live and work.  You want to be able to visualize them acting with the confines of a space.  (One of the biggest mistakes I see in student work is that the characters are unroote.  There's no sense of place, and so the characters become talking heads, floating about.)

At least, you should figure out  your character's residence.  Come up with an image of her house.  Tear images out of home magazines or catalogs and put them on your vision board.  You can also draw floorplans, which can help when you're trying to navigate your character. 

Know where your character lives.  This is somewhat of a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised how often it is missing.  I love a sense of place in a story, and it makes a huge difference.  The Northwest, where I live, is very different from the South, where I visit often.  (We don't have tornadoes or even much in the way of thunder storms.  Blessings to all of you who may be dealing with such today.)  A mountain town is different from a big city.  These are differences that impact how your characters think, and how they move through the story.

Know what the place your character work looks like.  Is it a home office?  In a high-rise downtown?  In a charming converted old house? I just read a memoir and the author thanked the local volunteer fire department for letting her write there.  Does your character work some non-traditional place?

Does your character have a third place?  The third place is the place we go for community after home and work.  It can be a coffee shop or bar, or a restaurant.  Figure out what it is and what it looks like, and why your character likes to go there.

These four areas of setting ought to get you started.  It can make a huge difference in a book to establish a clear sense of place, so don't hesitate to take some time to do so.

Tell me.  How do you come up with locations for your stories?  Have you ever started writing a novel only to realize you really need to deal with place?

Create a successful, inspired writing life: For each character of importance, decide where they live, what their house looks like, where they work, and if they frequent a third place.  Find images for each location.  Make notes.

 

The rest of the posts in this series are here:

Part One--Tools

Part Two--Idea and Process

Part Three--Character

Part Four--Story

 

Photo by bizior.

 


Blog Stop Book Tour: Utopian Frontiers

 

Utopian Frontiers A Story of Hope Cover Art

 

So, I volunteered to be a blog stop on the book tour for Utopian Frontiers.  I can't tell you how many times I've said I'd read a book for a book tour and then deeply regretted my rash decision.  Because, let us just delicately say that some books I've reviewed have been, um, less than stellar.  I say yes because of the old pull that books have over me--the enticing thrill of cracking open a book, any book, to see what's inside.  Few things in life are better than that.  Which is why a bad book is such a disapointment.

I'm happy to say that Utopian Frontiers is different.  While it is written to espouse a point of view ("It's not what you know or who you know, it's what you believe" is the book's tag line), it is well written, and therein lies the difference.   So many books with a purpose may have a good story line but it often gets buried under bad writing.  And then, no matter how much I'm interested in the cause behind the book, I throw it across the room.  So it was a pleasant surprise to crack open Utopian Frontiers and not be blasted out of my seat by bad writing.

The suthor of the book is Drew Tapley, who is a British writer living in Toronto.  Since the book info notes that it was created based on a project by M.H. Parsons and J.P. Roach, I suspect it was a work-for-hire deal.  At any rate, Tapley did a good job.   He's well qualified--he's got a Master's in journalism and has written for tons of magazines and trade journals.  I hope he's really successful with this novel.

Here's a synopsis of the novel:

What if there was a secret city at work on finding answers to the survival of humanity? Technologies beyond your imagination; a city expanding, recruiting and evolving. There is no government, no money, no bosses, institutions, cars or roads; and age takes on new meaning. This "facility" is one big research product in and of itself, and nothing else quite ike it exists on this Earth.

This is the city that Erwin Sharp and his family are drawn into on the fringes of a national park. They fall headfirst down the rabbit hole into a world of space probes, cancer cures, and a core myth that defies belief. They soon realize that some doors are only meant to swing one way.

This is a parable of trust and hope--a flashing beacon of hope in a world hell-bent on destroying itself. It is ultimately a story of ambition, of owning up to life, showing up and trading up. In a story that is as controversial as it is reassuring, sometimes it is possible to find something you always hoped existed, and in finding it, you confront your own truth as much as that of the world you live in.

What is inside the mysterious Hall 8, and what does that have to do with Erwin? And how is water the mechanism of peace or destruction? Thick with adventure, revelations and twists, this story shows how what we accept is only that which we've been conditioned to accept, and why an ancient Mayan prophesy doesn't actually mean what you think.

Because this book was written to a certain cause, there's a non-profit that goes along with it.  Learn more about their work at the book's website.  Here's a little bit about them:  UTOPIAN FRONTIERS FOUNDATION is a non profit organization dedicated to developing multi-media works intended to educate and provoke meaningful discourse on global environmental concerns. Related themes explore the relationship between humankind and technology.

For information about Utopian Frontiers, the book, the organization or the music, visit the book's site here. To learn more about the book and to get your copy, visit the book's Amazon page.  Check it out, you guys.

PS.  Sorry for the wonkiness with the first paragraph starting a bit lower than it should, I can't get it to move up higher without deleting the image, and that causes me to pick up my laptop and throw it across the room, just like I do with bad books, only its way more dangerous--to the room and the laptop.