Alarm clock photo from alan_cleaver2000. Author photo from Amanda!
What do you think? Can you find 15 minutes in your day to write? Can you rise a little early?
Alarm clock photo from alan_cleaver2000. Author photo from Amanda!
What do you think? Can you find 15 minutes in your day to write? Can you rise a little early?
Please welcome my friend and fellow writer Anthony J. Mohr to the blog today. This post made me laugh out loud--probably because I'm all too familiar with the sentiment behind it. And I've been an admirer of Anthony's essays about growing up in Hollywood back in the day when it was still truly glamorous for quite some time now. (He does write about other things, too, and just as gracefully.) Enjoy!
Sometimes (okay--all the time) when I’m writing, I wonder who will read my work. Not just whether the audience will consist of millennials or astronauts, but whether an old friend or a long lost crush will happen to see it thanks to a Google search or, better yet, because someone will tell her, “Hey, you used to know that guy Mohr? You’ve got to read what he just published in the Left Toe Review.”
That hasn’t occurred yet. Everything I’ve published seems to have vanished, passing by the earth’s seven billion souls without touching anyone. I understand. After all, how many people subscribe to the Left Toe Review? But I did make it, once, into the Christian Science Monitor and, twice, into Chicken Soup for the Soul. And still nothing from the long losts.
Twenty-five years ago, I walked by a news truck that was parked along a West Los Angeles street. When I stopped to see what they were doing, the reporter asked for my view on some issue of the day. Of course I agreed to say something on camera. I was a lawyer, then, and thought the exposure would land me a client. I answered the question; they broadcast five seconds of my brilliance; and that night, my phone began ringing. At least ten friends saw me. So did a potential client, who never paid his bill.
For years my friend Amber has been struggling to escape from her reporting job at one of those tabloids, the type that runs headlines like “Cheerleader Becomes Dear Leader’s Sex Slave.” Amber longed to write something meaningful, an essay that would spark debates across the chattering class. It took four years of research and at least forty drafts, but one of the nation’s most cerebral journals accepted her piece about – if I remember right -- the transformation of Asian society and its impact on post cold war diplomacy. The day it hit the newsstands, Amber stayed home by her phone, waiting to hear from the world.
Her phone rang once.
It was the wimpy nerd who had bothered her through high school, a kid who’d been too dense to take a hint. She hadn’t been able to shake free of him until graduation. Now, twenty years later, thanks to Amber’s assiduous efforts, he was back, still trying to cadge a date.
So I ask once more: why do I bother to write? Other than attaboys from close friends to whom I send links to my stuff, I’ve resolved to hear from precisely nobody. I use my imagination – the same imagination I call on to write -- in order to envision someone reading my story. I imagine that person showing it to her spouse, who at the end blinks back a tear or falls asleep thinking about my stunning last line instead of his kid’s dental bill. I refuse to imagine that person tossing my pages on the floor before he turns out the light.
Anthony J. Mohr’s work has appeared in or is upcoming in, among other places, California Prose Directory, The Christian Science Monitor, DIAGRAM, Eclectica, Front Porch Journal, Hippocampus, The MacGuffin, War, Literature & the Arts, andZYZZYVA. Three of his pieces have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. By day he is a judge on the Superior Court in Los Angeles. Once upon a time, he was a member of The L.A. Connection, an improv theater group.
Update, Winner Announced: The winner of Tam's book is.....Alexia Stevens! Alexia, I will give your name to Tam and she will make arrangements to get you the book!
It is my privilege to introduce you to my wonderful cyber-friend Tam Holland! She and I met on Twitter over a conversation about raisins. Yes, raisins. Rumor had it that eating raisins before bed prevented trips to the bathroom. Anyway, we've been buds ever since we debated that notion (I still claim it works). And once we discovered we each had a granddaughter about the same age, our friendship was sealed. And here's the exciting part--she has a new book out! It is historical fiction of the sort you've likely never read before and is already getting rave reviews. And.....drum roll....we have us a giveaway! Tam has agreed to give a copy of the Ebook to one lucky reader. So read her brilliant thoughts on Twitter and I'll give you details of the giveaway at the end. 6 Reasons Writers Need Twitter
I got on Twitter in 2011. Reluctantly. Up til then, I'd been looking cynically, judgmentally, unfavorably upon all of social media.
I've sent nearly 60,000 tweets.
Because Twitter rocks for writers. Here are six big ways it does.
1. Immediate support, instead of delayed rejection.
This is the thing that grabbed me first and hooked me instantly. Twitter is responsive, immediate, interactive. How much better does that feel to writers than what we've done traditionally: toiled away alone on a piece, sent it somewhere to see if someone liked it enough to publish it, waited forever to hear back . . . and then usually heard, "Sorry."
You know how much better instant positive feedback feels? Tons better. Life-saving, spirit-saving, enthusiasm-producing tons better.
On Twitter, when you follow and are followed by cool and supportive people, you will get immediate responses to the 140-character missives and questions that you send out. This feels wonderful. It feels like someone is listening. Like someone cares. Which can make all the motivational difference in the world to a writer.
I believe whole-heartedly that when you tweet authentically (as in, not just canned/automated tweets about your book-for-sale, and not in some "branded" form that does not really express who you are and what you're actually dealing with), you end up communicating on Twitter with wonderful, like-minded folks who become your tribemates. The people who say, "It's okay, I've been there, too," about the hard parts. Who say, "Want to meet for coffee?!?!?!" when they read you've just tweeted about landing in their city. (This has even happened to me at the Copenhagen airport during a lay-over on a flight from New York to Rome!) Who say, "I would LOVE to review an advance copy of your book, if you'd be willing to send me one." Who, like Charlotte, say, "I'd like to feature you on my blog." Folks with whom you become fast friends and meet in real life when you can. Folks who know you for how you tweet about your life, and like you for it. And you, them.
3. Creative play
Twitter was made for writers. Tweets are 140-character bits of writing. Over and over and over again. You can do all kinds of things with them. The possibilities are endless. Communicate with your friends in little "walkie-talkie" tweets back and forth. Or blast out your take on how things are going in any particular situation. Dream out loud. Send people inspiring messages. Chronicle something cool or interesting or frustrating. Participate in any number of "microfiction" groups -- like when I play along on Fridays with "Friday Phrases," using the #fp hashtag.
Aside from being fun as hell, what's also great here is that they are all easy, low-stakes, fast-paced ways to keep practicing and practicing and practicing the art of writing. And, because the character -length of tweets is relatively short, they are especially great brevity-training exercises.
4. Business opportunities
It's on Twitter where I've bonded with several fellow authors who publish serialized fiction at the very cool jukepop.com. (Check it out . . . vetted fiction of many different genres, which readers access for free and support with their votes.) JukePop itself has a strong, author-supporting Twitter presence, which is still relatively rare in the Old World publishing houses. Even better, many JukePop authors are also big tweeters, and support each other . . . offering words of encouragement, passing along news about your writing in their own tweets, and becoming "behind the scenes" friends who do even nicer things like reviewing and writing blurbs for your books and pulling for each other in life-outside-the-fiction activities.
For the three years before I began drafting The Road Presents Itself, I read about life in ancient Rome. Visual snippets of scenes would pop into my brain. I had a sense of many of the characters, and a bit of the plot.
But I had absolutely no idea about how the story was going to tell itself.
On the plane to the writing workshop where I was going to do drafting, I got the sense it was going to be the protagonist talking. He did. When Tiberius started talking through me as I wrote, he talked like a 21st century guy. And in the present tense. And often in sentence fragments. In a story that ripped along.
I'm pretty sure Twitter hatched that.
Because I think that two years of reading and tweeting tens of thousands of tweets changed the way my brain's neural pathways hear, process, and expect narrative.
I no longer care for, or even "trust," most third-person narratives. I just don't. Because so much of my writing and reading is social media-based -- where we read and write in the "I" -- my brain now resonates to "I," instead of to the removed "he" or "she" or "they" in older narratives. Now when I read most third-person fiction, I feel an impatience. (There are exceptions, of course.) But usually, I feel irritated that I don't know the imaginary person, the omniscient third, who's telling the story. We don't know THEIR backstory, their predilections, etc. They are god-like. Removed. They make choices about how the story goes, without us having access to knowing why. Which at this point in my life and writing career seems to bug the heck out of me. I'm looking for more transparency. When a first-person narrator is telling you the story, you are also knowing them through what they are doing themselves in the tale. This is what feels comfortable and right in narration to me now.
And there's more.
I no longer want to put up with being explained in too much detail what happened. That's right -- happened. As in, in the past. Already occurred. Which is what past-tense is. And, unfortunately, most fiction (especially historical) has too much detail for my mystery-based, thriller-based brain. What I want is characters I love, and a story that moves. That's it. The very fact that something's told in the past tense builds in a distance, a layer of removed-ness, that makes it feel far away . . . which makes me feel like I'm missing something. It's not happening now. It already happened. And inside, my brain asks, "SO?"
In short, writing in first-person present tense is the way fiction feels right to me now. It never would have, before. And that is because of Twitter.
6. The "traditional" business model
"Tradition" is in quotes here because selling your fiction via social media is still, of course, very new compared to the Old World models of publishing and publicizing. Still and all, there are already experts and ("experts") who will be happy to tell you the "ways you must" (read: traditionally) market your fiction on Twitter. With certain hashtags. Through certain groups. At certain times. With certain kinds of tweets. Etc. But because I am more of a "make up your own rules" writing and marketing gal, I'll leave that to them, and to you to find in ways that help you best.
You can follow me on Twitter @tamholland. I'd love to follow you back!
Tamara Holland is a writer, mixed-media collage artist, bartender and former post-conviction death penalty attorney. Her previously-published books include two non-fiction books about the art business, and a children’s book. For the past six years, her art company Bean Up The Nose Art has been where she’s played and marketed six greeting card lines as her own distributor and with national licensing deals. She tweets almost non-stop as @tamholland, and posts on Instagram as @tamholland123 and @tiberiusroad. She's the happy mother of two now-grown-up married people, and grandma of Zoe Rose.
And now, for the giveaway. All you have to do is leave a comment, answering the following: what's your favorite social media site? Add a few words about why if you like. We'll give you until next Monday, December 8th, to enter. I'll draw a name that day and let Tam know the winner!
Please welcome my friend, Kayla Dawn Thomas to the blog today. She is the author of Swept Up, and the newly released (today!) Narrow Miss. I love her thoughts on publishing the second time around and I know you will, too!
One Would Think
One would think that by the time she publishes her second book, the experience would be old hat. The writer could press publish on Amazon with a confident smile and stroll into the kitchen to pour a celebratory glass of wine. Maybe then she’d take a peaceful, barefoot walk on the beach hand in hand with her lover, the wind blowing gently through her hair.
Ha! I wish! I just released my newest project on Amazon, and I’m still in my pajamas at noon after being up most of last night fretting about it. Never mind that I published a novel last April, and it’s done quite well for a debut. Never mind that I had two delightful book signings this summer. I’m not trying to brag here, just point out that nothing has happened in my first year as a published author to strip me of my confidence as I prepared to launch the Jenna Ray series.
As I was polishing up Narrow Miss, I saw this video of Sandra Brown talking about how after all these years of writing bestsellers she gets more intimidated with each release. Great, that’s just what I needed to hear. But, after some thought and going through the process a second time, I understand.
The first time I published all I could think was, “What if everyone hates my book?” That didn’t happen, so I relaxed after a few weeks.
Now I find myself thinking, “What if this book isn’t as good as the first? What if I disappoint my readers?” That still remains to be seen, so until then I will sit on my yoga mat and breath into a paper bag.
There is an upside with the second book, as least in my limited experience. The process as a whole came easier. I was no longer doubtful about whether or not I could write a book, so the writing came easier. I knew my way around the Amazon publishing ropes, so formatting and uploading my work was simpler. This time around I knew what I wanted and needed from my team (my editor and cover artist), so I could communicate more effectively with them. I pump my fist at these victories.
Reflecting on these little wins pushes me to open a blank document and take a deep breath because it’s time to start again—type the words for the next piece, because I have to. Despite the anxiety and nausea every time (so far) that I release one of my babies into the world, I have to write. It’s the only thing that’s ever felt like my calling. Like Sandra Brown said, “I have a fire in my belly.” There’s something about knowing what you’re supposed to be doing. And if one of my stories gives just one person a release from this hectic world, then every moment was worth it.
Kayla Dawn Thomas is the author of Swept Up and Narrow Miss: A Jenna Ray Story, which releases today!. To learn more about her books and indie author life, please visit her website .
Stop your dirty little minds, this post is not what you think its about. And put your clothes back on! This is not about sitting at the computer writing while naked. No, its much more valuable, it is about no-frills writing can deliver action and excitement better than its ruffly, prissy sister. It's good stuff.
And, as excited as I am about sharing this post from my wonderful friend, fellow author J.D. Frost, I'm even more thrilled to announce the august news that accompanies this guest post: J.D.'s mystery novel, Dollface, was just published! You should take one second and go buy it right now. Seriously. Because I just finished it and the novel is a great read.
Okay, okay, on to the guest post, but read more about J.D. at the end.
In the opening of The Client, John Grisham uses sentences with no frills, just action and excitement. I call this non-decorative method naked writing. Let’s examine the first 40 pages of this great thriller. Follow along.
It begins with a description of the protagonist and his brother. Mark is 11. His brother is 8. That’s it. That’s the description. Does Mark have eyes as pale blue as the September sky or the deep rich hue of sapphires? We don’t know. Is he cute ... big? No clue. On page 24–twenty-four!–we discover the color of Mark’s hair with the following passage from Ricky’s viewpoint: “But he knew his brother was alive because he had darted behind trees for fifty feet until he caught a glimpse of the blond head sitting low and moving about in the huge car.” This sentence is a far cry from “He had blond hair.” Look at the movement. Nothing static. We have identified with Mark and Ricky. Things are happening. We don’t have time for looking in the mirror.
Is it hot? Cold? Is the book set in spring or fall? Don’t know. Number One in Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules of Writing is “Never open a book with the weather.” On page 7, the sun hid behind a cloud just before a sinister turn in the action. A little cliche but hardly noticeable. The sky darkens again on page 24. Why doesn’t he tell us that it is ... summer? Would it add anything? The cloud over the sun hints at a dark turn. The tension increases again when a cloud blocks the sun on 24. That’s all the weather we get. This is Mark’s story. A lot is going on! He’s not gazing around at the sky. Maybe you could make a case for the weather if Mark were 74.
And another thing: Where are we? Are we in New York? Los Angeles? Our first clue comes on page 15 with this absolutely great passage: “I’ve never shot this thing, you know,” he said almost in a whisper. “Just bought it an hour ago at a pawnshop in Memphis. Do you think it’ll work?” Brilliant.
So he gives us no description of Mark or Ricky. But he’s inconsistent! On page 28, he describes the bad guy–in detail. “The shoes were shark and the vanilla silks ran all the way to the knee caps ... The dark green suit had a shine to it and appeared at first glance to be lizard ... The hair was black and full, colored to hide a bit of gray, slicked down, laden with gel, pulled back fiercely and gathered into a perfect little ponytail that arched downward and touched precisely at the top of the dark green polyester jacket.” I love this. This is a bad dude! But why does Mr. Grisham give us more of this guy’s appearance than the main character? Maybe because this is Mark’s p.o.v. He is not in this scene, but this is his world and he is examining this man who has stepped into it. Luckily, we get to tag along.
I don’t propose we write without adjectives. Grisham’s sentences are full of movement and action, and the description we need comes from the movement of the characters through the scene. After I read this opening, I couldn’t help but continue. I hope this has been helpful. I have learned a bit. I thank John Grisham for giving us this great legal thriller. And may you write the stories in your head, my friends, exactly as they play in your mind. J.D.
J.D. Frost is the author of DOLLFACE. Two of his short stories have been published, one in NUVEIN magazine and another in CHRISTMAS IS A SEASON! 2009. He is a graduate of the University of Alabama in Birmingham. He lives near Huntsville, Alabama, where he is at work on the 2nd Moses Palmer mystery.
What do you think of J.D.'s naked writing theory? Do you prefer stripped-down scenes or more flowery ones?
Photos courtesy of the author.
Please welcome Angie Dixon to the blog today. We share a last name and also a passion for writing and creativity! I know you'll enjoy her post. (And be sure to check out the free report she's offering here.)
Being a Writer is More Than It’s Cracked Up to Be
by Angie Dixon
I’ve been a working writer long enough to know that I didn’t get exactly what I signed up for with this gig. I did get the people looking impressed and asking, “What do you write?” I got the people saying, “I’ve always wanted to be a writer.” I got the callouses on my fingers and palms from typing all day. I got some of the money and all of the satisfaction. I also got a lot more than I expected in terms of the way my writing has impacted my life for the good. I can say without a doubt that were I not a writer, my relationships, my relationship with myself, my spiritual life and my perspective on the world would be far different and far less than what they are now. Forget about the work for a moment. Let’s talk about the life writing gives us.
When I decided I wanted to write for Word Strumpet, the phrase “Writing is More Than It’s Cracked Up to Be” popped into my mind, and I knew I had to write it because I needed to know what that meant. It’s like Toni Morrison said, “If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.”
So I sat down to write about how writing is more than it’s cracked up to be, and this is what I discovered. I went into this post thinking along the lines of, “Writing gives you more than you signed up for.” But the truth is, I didn’t sign up for anything.
When I was five years old I decided I wanted to write a book. I took all the paper off the communal shelf and went back to my desk.
Mrs. Carnahan told me to put it all back except for one piece. My brave best friend, Mark, stood up and said, “She’s going to write a book.”
Mrs. Carnahan said, “Well, then, she’ll have to write it one piece of paper at a time.”
I did, many years later, write a book one piece of paper at a time. And another and another and another to the point that I say I’ve written 30 books but I’m sure it’s more like 35. I’d have to take a while and make a list and I just haven’t made the time to sit down and do that, so I say I’ve written 30 books.
In the course of writing approximately more than 30 books, along with millions of words spread across articles, blog posts, white papers, guides, manuals, comments, lists and even a couple of infographics and a comic strip, I’ve learned what writing is and what writing is not.
After writing this post, throwing out the original, writing it again, losing that original, and writing it five more times, I’m ready to tell you what it means that writing is more than it’s cracked up to be.
First, writing makes us special. It also makes us deny that we’re special.
Take just a second and picture your favorite author, or your favorite five authors. Now tell me this. Did you see names on book covers, or titles, or faces? I saw all three, for several favorites including Sue Grafton, Dean Koontz, business author Brian Tracy, self-help novelist Andy Andrews and a psychologist named Robert Cialdini, author of Influence.
Think about that for a second. I’m a very visual person. If you learn in another way, you may not think of faces when you call to mind your favorite authors. You may think of something they said or something you learned from them.
But you can think about an author and call up something specific about that author and his or her work.
You can only do that with people who are special to you. You can’t do it with the person who sat behind you in kindergarten, unless that person was a good friend or a sworn enemy.
If writers are special to us, that means that you, as a writer, are special.
We have trouble understanding this about ourselves, but that doesn’t make it any less true. It just makes it something we don’t want to believe.
Second, writing changes the world.
I was going to talk about how “writer” is the ungulate-Latin-Spanish-Indo-European-Swahili (or something) word for “world-changer.” You see, I have to exercise my sarcasm muscle once an hour or I get a really bad cramp, and I have to drive six hours tomorrow by myself. I don’t want to risk driving with a cramp, so….
What I’m going to say instead is that ideas change the world. What that boils down to is that thoughts change the world. As far as I’m aware, it is impossible to read without thinking. If you read, you create new thoughts. Those thoughts change your life, even in some infinitesimal (which is a really cool word) way.
Reading changes the world. Ipso lorem, ergo sum, e=mc2, QED, therefore and all that, writing changes the world. Since you are a writer, you change the world. Which, if you’re still thinking about it, makes you special.
Third, writing helps us fit into the world.
I’ve written an entire book, The Leonardo Trait, for “Leonardos,” or profoundly creative people, about the feeling of not fitting in the world and how to understand ourselves and find where we do fit.
I can boil down that entire “Owner’s Manual for the Brains of Profoundly Creative People” by saying this. Your creativity is what makes you an important part of the world, even when you think you’re a square peg because of your creativity.
Writing creates your place in the world, a place where no one else could fit because they don’t have the words you came to say.
Fourth, writing gives us a new Why.
This section and the first paragraph are the surviving remnants of the post I rewrote more times than I can count, but probably more times than books I have written. Probably not.
Writing becomes a part of your life in ways you don’t expect and don’t understand, and it indeed gives you a new “Why.” It gives you a new why for living, for caring and for doing. It gives you a why for loving and for giving to others. At the same time most importantly and least importantly of all, writing gives you a new why for writing.
That new why goes beyond the “I can’t not write” need to write. It goes beyond the love of writing, or the hatred of it that some writers feel. It goes beyond the words.
I mentioned this new why a moment ago. Whether you realize it or not, once you accept your writerness, your deep commitment to life as a writer, you write because you haven’t yet said the words you came to say.
Angie Dixon hates bios written in the third person. She is the author of “The Owner’s Manual for the Brains of Profoundly Creative People,” The Leonardo Trait. She would like to share more with you about what writing is cracked up to be in her free report Cracking Up? No, Just Being a Writer. You can learn more about Angie on her website, LeonardoTrait.com.
Please welcome guest poster Julie Duffy today. Julie and I connected on Twitter and I'm glad we did! She is a writer and also the creator of A Story A Day--the extreme challenge to write a story every day in May. (And guess what--you can start any time. If you get going now, think how many stories you'll have by the end of the month.) Please join me in welcoming Julie, I think you'll like her ideas for overcoming writers' block.
by Julie Duffy
Writer’s block can come out of nowhere. It can be temporary and related to one project, or it can be chronic, stopping you from writing anything creative. Sometimes, it’s important to figure out the underlying problems that are contributing to the block. Is it a technical problem with the work? Have you lost the plot? Do you hate the characters? Finding out the root cause allows you to start forming strategies for tackling the block. But sometimes you just need to knuckle down and do the work. For those days, here are 15 fundamental fixes to help you work through your worst writers' block.
Don't strive for greatness. Go for entertainment. Especially on a first draft. And a second. Save the sixth revision for making it perfect. For now it's enough to ask: is it fun to read (by that I mean enjoyable and entertaining, even if it's sad)
Take a look at something you've written before. Don't waste time worrying about what doesn't work. Start it again, rewrite it (or sections of it, if it is a longer work) without the use of 'cut and paste'. Just take another stab at it. Or retell a classic story, just to warm up.
Sometimes you literally have to put the pen on the paper and start making shapes. It doesn't matter what you write, but putting something -- anything -- on the page will snap you out of your terror. Keep the pen moving until you're thinking only about the story and not about yourself. Put your pen on the paper. Put your fingers on the keyboard. Make some words.
If you are horribly blocked, don't try to write a story as soon as you sit down. Free-write. Write about anything: about what you want to do, about why you hate your project, what you're trying to do with this story. You should either solve some of your problems or get so sick of listening to yourself whine that you decide you'd rather be writing a story than complaining any more.
Turn off the Internet. Yes you can. Unplug the router, if you're home alone, or turn off the WiFi on your laptop. If you can't pull the LAN cable out of the back of your computer without upsetting your techies, do the next best thing: turn off email notifications, Twitter pop ups and Facebook, IM or any other chat windows. Ignore your calendar. Set a timer or a word count and go. If you have an old busted laptop, use that and store your work on a USB key. Turn off your phone if it gets email alerts. Do whatever you have to do to kill all the distractions.
If a scene or a story is not working for you, try writing it (again) from a different character's point of view, or in a different voice. Even if you decide not to use the piece, writing it from a different point of view may show you why it wasn't working before, or why you were resisting working on it.
Here's a tip: you don't have to write your story in the right order. If you can't get excited about the scene right after the opening, leap over it and get into a meatier part of the story. Then at least, you'll know exactly what you need to set up in that ho-hum scene that you don't want to write today.
If it wasn't everyone would be doing it (and they're not. Trust me. Even though you know a lot of people who write, there are actually a larger number of people out there who aren't writing. Weird, but true.) Every professional writer who ever gave an honest answer in an interview has said some version of, "I just have to sit down and write, you know? It's a job." You have to take it seriously. No matter how much you love your job, there are days when you'd rather not be doing it. The same goes for writing. But you have to turn up anyway.
It is OK to be working on more than one project at once. Now, don't go crazy because you'll never finish anything if you keep abandoning projects when they get hard. But it is OK to switch between a project or two when you need a change.
If you're having trouble writing a lot, then don't worry about writing a lot (unless you have someone standing over you with a contract and a stop watch). Write as much as you can. Write a little bit more, then stop. If you can get away with it, don't make yourself sick of a story by pushing too hard.
If your story is stuck, maybe it's because your characters can't take that road trip you've been setting up. Even if you really, really wanted to write about a road trip, maybe you need to accept that this is not the story where it happens. Trying to write something when you know it's not working is a sure route to writer's block.
Make writing the first thing you do, before the distractions of the day get their claws into you.
The act of writing every day proves to yourself that you are serious about this writing business. Writing something as small as Twitter fiction (140 characters) on a busy day at least means that your imagination knows it can’t go to sleep. If you know you HAVE to write something today, your imagination and your subconscious will keep looking around for ideas. In the process you will pay much more attention to the world around you -- something that will pay off later, when you are working on another piece.
Use simple words. If you are trying to write something and it’s giving you trouble, just say it as simply as possible. Don’t worry about saying it in a beautiful way. You can get hung up on searching for the perfect word and it can stall your whole project. Come back and change it later if it needs changed (it probably won't.)
Maybe you've got high-flown ideas about writing what you think you 'ought' to be writing. Or maybe you've heard that a certain type of fiction sells better, or is better regarded, or is more likely to get you an agent. Maybe all these ideas have got you writing work that isn't you, that you don't love. Take some time out and write something with no thought of publishing. In fact, promise yourself you won't show it to anyone, that it's just for you. Above all, keep writing. Even if it's bad, even if it's just OK. Words on the page can be fixed. So stop worrying and write something!
What about you? What tricks do you use to jumpstart your writing?
Julie Duffy is a writer and the host of StoryADay May (Storyaday.org), a creativity challenge for short story writers. This article is an excerpt from her ebook Breaking Writers' Block: A StoryADay Guide.
I am thrilled to introduce you to my friend Lisa, a fellow Portlander. Her fabulous debut mystery, Kilmoon, A County Clare Mystery, just released last week. She's got an interesting take on how to get organized for a book launch. Take it away, Lisa!
by Lisa Alber
My debut novel, Kilmoon, A County Clare Mystery, came out on March 18th, and if anyone six months previously had told me how nuts the ten weeks before launch would be, I would have shrugged. No biggie.
Uh-huh, right. Come to find out that I have two things going against me when it comes to being a coolly together person:
* I suck at long-term planning and nit-picky organizational tasks.
* I’m a tad neurotic so I get overwhelmed and stressed out easily.
I managed to sail along in the land of delusion until January 1st hit, and then I panicked. I had less than three months until Kilmoon launched. How was I to begin the process of organizing myself, much less actually accomplishing tasks? I didn’t know where to start.
The extent to which I suck at organizational tasks and time management is outstanding. I really am a seat-of-the-pants, wing-it kind of person. But, and this is a big but, if you want to launch your novel with any kind of buzz at all, whether you’re self-publishing or going traditional, you have to have your shite together.
Lisa Romeo, my coach, specializes in writers. Hallelujah! The first thing she had me do was break down the zillions of to-dos zinging through my brain into five categories. These are your primary goals for the book launch. Priorities are good! For example, you might have:
1. Blog tour / book tour
2. Launch party
3. Newsletter/mailing list
4. Promotional giveaways (Goodreads, LibraryThing, Facebook parties, Twitter chats, etcetera)
5. Appearances and conferences
For each category, brainstorm every task you can think of. Go for it. No need to be organized yet. Remember that tasks often have sub-tasks, which have sub-tasks. List them all.
Here are some other tips and tricks that kept me sane:
1. Print out a separate calendar just for book launch tasks and then plan backwards. If you know when you want your launch party, then what are the goals leading up to that? Note the sub-task deadlines. Seeing the tasks visually was so helpful for me. This especially helped me keep track of deadlines for guest posts (blog tour category).
2. White board! I set mine up in the living room where I could see it every time I passed by. For each category, I’d list the tasks for that week. I’d get these tasks from my calendar and also my brainstormed task lists.
3. Each Sunday, look over your lists, revise your priorities as needed, and write out your next tasks for the coming week. You might find that creating a mailing list and a newsletter can wait until after the launch. Perhaps developing a new website has become more important. This is OK!
4. Cheat a little. There are always more tasks that come up along the way. I added another column on my white board for “miscellaneous.” This column might include random tasks such as updating your Facebook banner to include your cover art or ordering bookmarks.
5. Be realistic about how much time you have to devote to book launch tasks. You can’t do everything. This lesson was one of the best things I got out of coaching: let stuff go. I was batty enough as it was without trying to be Ms. Perfect Book Launch Mama.
6. Give yourself a mental high-five when you cross a task off your list. You’re doing it!
I’m here to tell you that if I can make it through launch, then you can too. I’ve found that most people are either less charmingly neurotic than I am, or more organized—that is, most have an automatic heads up on me. But I survived! And, my launch went well too.
You’ll learn some things about yourself along the way. I learned that I suck at follow-through and quick decision-making, but, hey, that’s OK. I’ll factor that in for the next launch. Next time, I’ll hire a coach four months ahead of time. That should do the trick, don’t you think?
Merrit Chase travels to Ireland to meet her father, a celebrated matchmaker, in hopes that she can mend her troubled past. Instead, her arrival triggers a rising tide of violence, and Merrit finds herself both suspect and victim, accomplice and pawn, in a manipulative game that began thirty years previously. When she discovers that the matchmaker’s treacherous past is at the heart of the chaos, she must decide how far she will go to save him from himself—and to get what she wants, a family.
“Brooding, gothic overtones haunt Lisa Alber’s polished, atmospheric debut. Romance, mysticism, and the verdant Irish countryside all contribute to making KILMOON a marvelous, suspenseful read.” —Julia Spencer-Fleming, New York Times & USA Today bestselling author of Through the Evil Days
“This first in Alber’s new County Clare Mystery series is utterly poetic … The author’s prose and lush descriptions of the Irish countryside nicely complement this dark, broody and very intricate mystery.” —RT Book Reviews (four stars)
Lisa Alber received an Elizabeth George Foundation writing grant based on Kilmoon. Ever distractible, you may find her staring out windows, dog walking, fooling around online, or drinking red wine with her friends. Ireland, books, animals, photography, and blogging round out her distractions. Lisa lives in the Pacific Northwest. Kilmoon is her first novel.
How about you? Have you ever used a coach for any aspect of your writing career? Please comment!
I promised you a guest post from Jeffrey Davis, and here it is. Jeffrey would be the first to admit that this post runs a bit long--but I want to tell you that it is worth reading every word! (I wrote a bit about Jeffrey, why I'm promoting his program and his upcoming webinar here.) Enjoy reading!
Out of Your Book Mess and Into Story
Sometimes I get flare calls.
An accomplished art critic calls and says she has a rough manuscript in the works and a book proposal her agent can’t sell. It involves renowned figures. Mounds of research. Book over 9 years brewing.
A business executive calls and says he has a book topic and concept and nearly a hundred blog articles circling around the topic. 2 years percolating.
An MFA grad and writing professor calls and says she has a nearly completed draft of her memoir. 3 years in the making.
Each one of these potential heroes is stuck in the middle of a creative forest.
Being stuck in the middle is frustrating and often lonely. You’ve gone beyond that first-love phase when you were struck by the initial inspiration. You’ve moved solidly into the “stand in love” phase. And how do you find your way out of this mess in a way that feels true and empowering - instead of just compromising?
No easy answers. But I will offer some ideas. We all need help, yours truly not excluded.
Draft to discover. Craft to design.
People get tripped up on drafting versus crafting. Writing is mostly rewriting. Still, drafting and crafting each are essential.
Draft to discover more of what you have to say, what your character has to show you, what that experience 12 years ago possibly means. Your own curiosity will drive you through the middle.
Drafting draws us deep.
To craft to design means you simultaneously learn the art of crafting experiences for readers.
You become a story architect who re-sequences drafted parts in ways to captivate readers. When you remember the captivating books that have cracked you open to new ways of imagining, feeling, and thinking, you can appreciate that those authors have absorbed craft knowledge in ways that let them design experiences for you.
Where’s the heart line?
At a certain point you have to ask, “What’s the heart of this book? What’s the heart of the Story?” You have to know your own heart connection. It’s the tender “why” that drives you to stand in love with this book through the difficult middle. It might be a personal story that you will never share with readers - although you might with a media interviewer when the book comes out.
But a Story, regardless of genre, also has its own heart line. One way out of the middle is to discover and trace the heart line.
A book’s “heart line” - versus the plot line - describes the movement from beginning to middle to end of what happens with the main character’s core yearning. Let’s break that down: Main character? Yearning?
Unless you’re truly exceptional at your craft, I’m only giving you memoirists and novelists one main character per book. The one who has the most at stake to lose. The one whose yearning we most clearly are drawn to care about.
Thought leaders, teachers, journalists, and other trade nonfiction authors, your hero is your targeted reader.
Yearning is what burns in the main character’s heart that he or she deeply desires to be fulfilled. In the film Thelma and Louise, naive and wide-eyed Thelma at first simply wants a taste of freedom away from her good ol’ boy husband for a weekend. In the course of the story, that want bursts into full-blown yearning to be free to be one’s true self.
Maybe your character yearns to feel at home in the world. Maybe he desires to fall madly in love again.
The reader of your trade nonfiction book on health might want to relieve her fatigue, but what she yearns for is vibrancy and vitality.
Your book’s core yearning is also your entryway into your readers’ hearts.
I’ve never been a woman married to a good ol’ boy, but I have felt stuck and compliant in relationships and have yearned for a taste of freedom - and my innate empathy goes out to almost any underdog. Thelma’s yearning becomes my yearning. Now I care and can be moved.
Shape the opening
Many first-time authors don’t want to mess with the opening. They want to start with the Big Bang of drama. But where to go after that? These writers often avoid the delicate art of establishing and sustaining tension.
Once you discover the yearning, you can play with designing your book’s first part laden with tension. Call it the Broken World or Ordinary World. Call it the Prevailing Problem. It’s the story architect’s entryway that situates readers into this world of characters or concepts you’re asking them to inhabit.
The opening subtly introduces the tension among 1) the character’s situation (she’s married to a dolt), 3) her percolating yearning (freedom!), and 3) her resistance (where would she go? what would she do?).
When you discover your character’s yearning plus the external situation and internal resistance that conflicts with that yearning, then you have the makings for unfolding tension in your readers.
Do you only get one yearning? Yes. For now. If your protagonist or reader has three or four or five yearnings, then you haven’t yet done the work of discerning and choosing. After a certain point, the book’s story deserves your decisiveness.
I’m not talking formulas, you rebels (myself included) reading this. I’m talking core, fundamental Story forms that move your readers with a rewarding experience. That’s the craft you’re devoted to learn, hone, and make your own once you’ve drafted to discover these elements.
What is the Tornado Moment?
We human beings are wired to be curious about and to desire change and also to resist change. Isn’t that funny? And irritating?
In a captivating memoir or novel, something surprising happens that changes the protagonist’s course of action. In a captivating trade nonfiction book, a radical idea or a provocative premise comes along to challenge and change the reader’s course of thinking.
Think: A tornado comes along and drops Dorothy in Oz: “We’re not in Kansas anymore.”
Think: After your character loses her mother, her father, and most of the rest of her family, she makes the craziest decision of her life: to hike the Pacific Coast Trail by herself. (Cheryl Strayed and her memoir Wild.)
Sometimes, this moment in Story is quiet. A decision. Meeting a stranger who becomes an ally. But it arises out of the causal sequencing of the Opening and it launches the character or the reader into the book’s fertile section - the Middle. The Quest.
Then you can better decide what stays in your book and what doesn’t. You clear the middle of clutter.
When if at all is the yearning fulfilled?
Stop the never-ending story. Please.
Look at your drafts and maps. At what point does the character fulfill - or not - that yearning? Dorothy awakens back in Kansas and realizes “There’s no place like home.” Sentimental, maybe, but it moves us. Thelma has her pal gun the convertible gas pedal and launch off the Grand Canyon cliff to reach mythic freeze-frame freedom. Yearning fulfilled.
Cal Newport’s So Good They Can’t Ignore You has a final section that recounts several hero stories of people who have followed their skills to find their passionate work. Yearning fulfilled.
Not everyone in a memoir or novel gets what they want. In trade nonfiction, you’re expected to fulfill your readers’ yearnings. So, if your book has essential concepts or steps, regard them as potential steps toward readers fulfilling their yearning. Then imagine the afterword you can offer.
Know who the real hero is.
It takes vulnerability and courage to send that flare that says, “I need help finding my way out.”
If you’re sticking it out and unravelling the inevitable creative mess of the middle, if you’re willing to finesse your craft on behalf of your Story and the readers who need it, then in my book you are a hero of the highest caliber.
Ultimately, though, you and I know who the real heroes of your potentially captivating book are: your readers. They’re the ones who will love your book in ways you never fathomed and who will be changed or awakened in ways, grand and small.
Your book becomes their magic tool that aids them on their own life’s quest. And that is a wonder.
Jeffrey Davis is founder of the Your Captivating Book Mentorship Program and author of The Journey From the Center to the Page. He and his team help smart-working people shape their Story - in books, platforms, and intentional lives.
Have you ever gotten stuck in the middle of a project before? How did you find your way out?
I'm sure just about all of us have witnessed the Tortured Writer Syndrome. Perhaps we've even experienced it personally.
The syndrome begins with a bit of writer's block, some rubbish first draft material, a savage critique or just some good ol' white page fright.
It then grows into the expectation that writing is a difficult, thankless task that requires many hours of hard work with inevitable disappointment at the end.
Eventually this syndrome can even turn the best of writers into a martyr to their craft as they face weeks, months or even years of frustration, without ever feeling the wonder, excitement and exhilaration of what it truly means to be a writer.
Where Does It All Go Wrong?
The process starts getting all twisted when we do too much thinking and not enough actual writing.
Instead of starting our day with a freewrite to get the words flowing (and get the rusty first 300 or so out of our system before we get down to business), we worry about what we're going to produce today.
We start wondering: What am I going to write about? Will it be any good? Do I have anything worth writing about? Will anyone want to read what I'm writing anyway? Within three or four sentences we've completely lost our motivation, stopping up our natural flow with so much negativity that it takes a phenomenal effort every day to overcome it.
Then comes the inevitable writer's block and other woes of the writing life which become self-fulfilling prophecies. If you believe writing is hard, then it most certainly will become so. Words have power, especially the ones we use on ourselves.
So many writers are in this rut, that they are in the majority - posting, tweeting and talking about their difficulties - when the writers who are prolifically enjoying their writing life are too busy writing to respond.
How do I know?
I'm one of those prolific writers. When my words are in full flow, it's easy to write over 1,500 high-quality words in an hour. I sit down to my computer each morning with a relaxed but expectant attitude.
I feel like Sharon O'Brien who said, "Writing became such a process of discovery that I couldn't wait to get to work in the morning: I wanted to know what I was going to say."
So what's the secret?
How Can You Loosen Yourself Up and Making Writing Fun Again?
Here are a few points to get you back on the road to an enjoyable writing life.
• Get the bilge out early. Start your day with a journal entry or a freewrite. If you're in any way nervous about what you're going to write, then set 15 minutes on a timer and pour your thoughts onto the page. Once you've got them out of your head, you'll be amazed at how much lighter and more confident you feel.
• Lower your expectations. You don't have to sit down at your computer and write a best-selling novel. Start writing something true - about yourself, or about life in general - and keep writing that truth until it turns into a narrative and that narrative finds a protagonist and then that protagonist goes on a journey. Allow the words to flow wherever they want to go. When you're finished, then go back and decide what to do with the end result.
• Enjoy the process. Putting words onto the page should be a cathartic experience. It's best done regularly, daily if possible, so that the words literally flow out of you. At the end of your writing day, look for one thing you especially liked about what you wrote, even if it was just a sentence or a word. Carry that positive feeling with you through to your next writing session.
• Ask for help. So many writers struggle with certain aspects of their writing. Don't let this hold you up. Get yourself a writing coach, a creativity coach, an editor or even just a good book on the subject. Invest in yourself. Show yourself that your writing is worth the extra time and effort. An outside perspective will usually pick up on where your problem lies - and you'll often be surprised at how easy the fix is.
• View your writing life as a journey. You're never going to know it all. Even the most experienced writers are still learning and honing their craft. Rather than looking at writing as something you will be graded on, view it as the narrative of your life. As you grow and change so will your writing. Get your story written now so the next story can appear and surprise you.
What about you? How do you keep your writing relaxed and fun? I'd love to read your comments!
Jessica Baverstock blogs at Creativity's Workshop where her Creativity writes in purple text. She offers creative coaching for writers. You can read her latest book De-Stress Your Writing Life for free as she blogs it over the coming months.
Please welcome guest poster Casey Stohrer to the blog today. Casey is a musician in Nashville and she so happens to be a student of mine, too. It's hard to predict which is going to happen first--acclaim as a writer or a musician. Either way, it will be well-deserved. Stay tuned to her up-and-coming career!
Serving the Songalso identifying your own stinky turds and turning them into manure for the promising flowers of your sick imagination (case in point).
I write essays, articles, poems, short fiction, long fiction, medium fiction, research papers for lazy, rich college students, you name it. I also started writing songs about six years ago. The dichotomy between writing fiction and music makes my brain do happy dances. It also drives me insane. Sometimes I have dry spells in my "regular writing" and switch to just writing songs for months, and vice-versa. There is enough of a contrast between the two forms that I can "steal ideas from myself” and keep things funky and fresh.
I joined a country-rock band by the name of Neo Tundra Cowboy a couple years ago. I had never played music in a band before. I had never played music in public before. I had never played bass before. Playing music, to me (and like most other musicians my age), meant getting high in my bedroom and recording my half-serious country songs on a ten-dollar computer microphone, and then posting them to Myspace. But I put myself out there, kept my mind open, and soon I got the call to join NTC and move to Nashville, the place where I always dreamed of having Dolly Parton beehive-hair.
I started to learn bass. I'd played guitar for years, but understanding the role of a bass was something else. Learning to play in a group was something I'd never even thought about. “A good musician knows how to play, but a great musician knows when not to play.” I've heard this saying a thousand times, and I can't tell you how true it is. Playing by yourself, creating anything by yourself, is of course the truest thing you can produce as a sentient being. You are uninhibited and natural. What you are trying to do is be as honest as possible. To yourself. And that is all fine and good. But creating is also an attempt to connect with other people, and that's when you have to learn how to cut and paste and rewrite and overdub. Time and space are intangible until they are needed.
How many times have you seen a crappy band play live? To me, a band is bad when the players have no regard for one another, and just (as I lovingly call it) jack-off all over the place. They seemingly have no idea where they are in the song. The guitarist might be soloing in a way that meshes all wrong with the melodies of the bass player. Or a drummer is playing too many fills, which interrupts the rhythm and throws off the singer. You can play the fanciest, most rippin' solo that anyone has ever heard, but if it doesn't serve the song, then what do you have?
The same goes for writing. James Joyce is a real badass, but sometimes I'm like, “Come on, man.” I like that heavy-hitting, stream-of-consciousness style of experimental writing, but I'm in the business of keeping things as simple as possible. I learned all my artistic philosophies through the Beatles and Charles Bukowski. George Harrison never ripped a 20-minute long guitar solo, but he was still in the greatest pop band of all time. Charles Bukowski never wrote like Shakespeare, but he is the most imitated poet of the 20th century. You know why? Because they knew how to serve the song (or poem). A great musician is not necessarily a technically-perfect performer, but they do know how to listen. A great writer knows how to read. Both Bukowski and George Harrison understood the need for simplicity, to allow negative space to give power to what is already there.
Neo Tundra Cowboy was in the studio last week, and we were recording a sad little country ballad with some honkytonk piano in it. Our guitarist Catfish was laying down this beautiful, jangly piano part, but the producer kept saying it was too much. After some more takes, Catfish had been reduced to playing just the root chords on every fourth beat. It sounded rote and boring on its own, but when the track was being mixed, it sounded perfect. It was just what the song needed to hold it together. Catfish didn't get to showboat on that one, but he didn't care, because the song got what it needed. So many bands have internal drama going on because the players get egos and think they deserve to show-off, all the while the song in question is hanging in the air, waiting for the poor silly humans to get over themselves.
I have stories and songs that hang in the air because I'm too stubborn and proud to change something I really like about them. And then they never go anywhere. The experts call this “writer's block.” Then they say to destroy the thing you love most about your creation, to “kill your darlings,” as you've heard hundreds of times. Then you drink yourself into a stupor and wonder how you came to be a masochist with no money. Then through this degrading process, your ego disappears and then there is nothing but the naked story, the simple root note, which is all you really wanted in the first place. All you had to do was sit back and listen.
It is my pleasure and honor to offer you this interview with Sandra Pawula. Sandra writes one of my favorite go-to blogs, Always Well Within, where I find spiritual wisdom and inspiration. She's a writer herself, so everything she shares speaks to creatives. Sandra has a new e-course that starts September 9th. I'm planning to sign up--it's just $21. Please check it out. And read her informative comments on easing stress below.
You've been writing a popular blog for quite some time now. What made you decide to offer an E-course?
The purpose of my blog, Always Well Within, is to help others tap into their own inner spring of true happiness and freedom. A blog post can inspire, encourage, instruct, and spark change. But, you can only go so far in a blog post.
I’ve already been facilitating online meditation courses for more than five years. It feels natural to extend that into an e-course via my blog so that I can support people to grow through a process of positive change that occurs over a period of time.
I’ve led a high stress life, and I know it’s not easy to turn stress around, which is the focus of my course. You need a more concentrated immersion and an ambiance of care and support, to begin to retrain these long-held patterns.
What is the greatest enemy to living with ease?
Your own mind. Marcus Aurelius said:
“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”
This hasn’t changed since the time of Marcus Aurelius, thousands of years ago, and it will never be different now or in the future. Yet, many of us suffer needlessly because we don’t realize we are responsible for our own thoughts, emotions, and perceptions and have the power to change them. Instead, we function on automatic and in a reaction-triggered mode, feeling like a victim of circumstances, relationships, and our own turbulent mind. This can adversely affect your mood, your body, and your overall sense of well-being.
That being said, it’s important to know that some people are genetically predisposed to having a stronger stress response or a weaker relaxation response. Some immune-related diseases may diminish your ability to respond to stress as well. Early nurturing or lack thereof can also impact one’s capacity for resilience. A series of strong stresses that arrive one after the other can also wear out your ability to cope effectively with adversity.
If stress plays a big role in your life, you may be dealing with a unique mix of factors like some those above. If so, it’s critical to take this into account, and at the same time to know it’s still possible for most people to see significant improvement through the mindful use of stress reduction practices.
Stress is endemic in modern life. Physical, emotional, mental, and circumstantial stresses will always occur in your life. But you can learn to intercede and diminish the stress response. The long-term impact of stress can be so debilitating it’s foolhardy not to do so. Stress can be a key element in the development or exacerbation of many disorders like heart disease, diabetes, depression, anxiety, skin conditions, and inflammatory bowel disease, among others. Not to mention it can totally wreck the quality of your life and relationships.
Is it really possible to reduce stress in our crazy new millennium lives?
Absolutely! More than 30 years of medical research has proven this to be so. Here’s one example of cutting edge research from the Harvard Medical School News, which provides an unequivocal yes to this question:
“A new study from investigators at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind/Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center finds that eliciting the relaxation response—a physiologic state of deep rest induced by practices such as meditation, yoga, deep breathing and prayer—produces immediate changes in the expression of genes involved in immune function, energy metabolism and insulin secretion.”
It’s true that our highly active digital engagement - even digital addiction - adds a new dimension to the activation of stress, but we can learn to disengage from time-to-time as part of our personal stress reduction strategy.
Can you share one tip for living with ease?
Breathe! It’s simple, it’s cheap, and it’s always available. Pausing to take a slow, deep breath immediately begins to change your biochemistry. It tells the brain that danger has passed, and it’s OK to relax. But, it's not enough to just breathe once! You need to learn how to breathe, and turn it into a regular practice.
And finally, since my audience is made up of creatives and writers, can you speak to the unique stresses that we face?
Stress takes on so many possible forms in a creative life: Fear of rejection and rejection itself, deadlines, an erratic work flow if you are a freelancer, resistance, lack of motivation or inspiration, finances, juggling your craft with a “real” job. These are just a few ways that stress can manifest for writers and creatives.
If you find stress creeping into your creative life, regular use of mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques will help tremendously. But, you also have to dig deep and be willing to look at what triggers you. Once you know, you can begin to deconstruct the old stories that keep you struck one at a time, or put practical strategies in place that head-off the stress response. Through doing so it will be so much easier to find your flow.
Sandra Pawula is a freelance writer and inner explorer. She writes about finding true happiness and freedom at Always Well Within. Her new e-course, Living with Ease: 21 Days to Less Stress begins on Sept. 9th, and you can register right now.
How do you deal with stress? Does writing ease it for you as it does for me? Please share!
Photo by hirekatsu.
Dear readers, I have a special treat for you: it's a two-part guest post on dreams and writing that will run today and tomorrow. I am thrilled to introduce you to Cindy Corpier. I met Cindy when I was a graduate assistant at the Spalding MFA in Writing spring residency. We were in workshop together and I loved the work she submitted, a lush and evocative chapter from a novel in progress. So I asked her to write a guest post. Be sure to read Cindy's bio at the end of the post, and come back tomorrow for part two.
by Cindy Corpier
In May, I graduated from Spalding University’s MFA in Creative Writing Program. During that residency, the wonderful writer, teacher and human being Sena Jeter Naslund lectured on “The Dream Element in Writing” and told us the story of an early dream that made clear her path as a writer. She also assigned us nine questions to answer about our dream lives and promised our answers would remain unread. Here are the questions in abbreviated form (and my immediate responses):
1. Describe the earliest dream you can remember. (Does adolescence count as early?)
2. Describe the most frightening dream you’ve ever had. (Easy)
3. Describe your most recent dream. (Search results: 0)
4. Describe the best dream you ever dreamt. (Rated NH: not for my husband)
5. Have you ever had a series of similar or recurring dreams? How have they varied? (All I could think of was the scene in “When Harry Met Sally”)
I know you’re thinking this is pretty standard stuff, but here comes Sena the Writer.
6. Have you ever dreamed about one of your characters or someone referred to in your writing? (Uh…not yet)
7. Have you dreamed about yourself as a writer? (Is this mandatory?)
8. What did or do you make of any of the dreams you described above? (My unconscious mind is mocking my writerly aspirations)
9. Would using a dream possibly enhance your current or future writing? (Pretty sure I should answer yes)
My initial panic caused me to procrastinate writing my serious answers until the last hour of the last day. Why? Because I don’t recall dreaming of my characters or myself as a writer. Maybe it has happened and the memory got deleted as do most dreams. I do recall a weird dream from the late 80’s about a shirtless Dick Cheney on a train and another strangely intimate one with Gene Hackman (Try not to judge).
The closest I’ve come to dreaming about writing occurred during work on a long critical essay about Michael Ondaatje’s novels. After weeks of cyber-stalking him by reading and listening to every interview I could find, I dreamed about him. He and I were in a sunny, cottage-style bedroom with lacy white curtains at the windows and a white iron bed covered in white eyelet. He stood looking at me from the window side wearing a flowing white shirt over loose dark pants. After a moment, he began walking around the end of the bed toward me and that’s where it ended. At the time, my essay’s deadline was fast approaching and my waiting reader was a teacher who knows Ondaatje’s work inside out. I wanted to produce an essay that lived up to my subject and that pressure built itself into an odd little REM sleep movie. I interpreted the dream as a signal I needed to finish my essay and move on.
But what if that level of focus is what leads to the best writing? What if instead of being mildly embarrassed by my Ondaatje dream, I should be excited by my unconscious mind’s engagement in the process? What are some ways that dreams fit into writing?
Come back tomorrow as Cindy explores dreaming further. Feel free to answer Sena's questions for yourself, they make a great writing exercise. Meanwhile, how do dreams fit into your writing life? Have you ever dreamed a story?
Cindy Corpier is a recent MFA in Fiction graduate from Spalding University. She lives in Dallas, Texas where she practices Nephrology. She’s never gone on a bad vacation, still believes she’ll one day speak French fluently and lives with an incredibly patient husband along with two fairly impatient orange cats.
Photos courtesy of Cindy Corpier.
Please welcome my friend and fellow writer Beverly Army to the blog today, as she makes us drool with envy over her vacation in France--and gives practical tips on how to maintain a writerly attitude while away from home.
Four Writing Lessons Travel Taught Me
I don’t know about you, but my guilt-o-meter bounces about when it comes to writing and traveling. On the one hand, there’s all that beautiful time yawning ahead of me, ripe for setting word after word after word. On the other hand, the adventures to be had! The extra sleep to sleep! The long, luxurious dinners to eat!
What is a creative person to do? How can a writer make the most of vacation without losing the groove, enraging the muse, ignoring the story gods?
I returned recently from three weeks in France. Originally my plan was to work two hours a day on my novel. But then I didn’t want to carry the keyboard for my iPad. And then the days were filled with adventures and late, late dinners that left me too tired to work. Instead, I gave myself permission to use the three weeks to fill my creative well. Let me share what I learned:
Embrace Being an Outsider (this isn’t permission to be an obnoxious! Manners matter! See the next paragraph!) I spent weeks before the trip planning what I would pack, checking the weather, reading posts from fashionable expats in Paris. I did not want to stick out as a tourist. I wanted to blend, to see the country as though I belonged.
But, here’s the wonderful thing about traveling: we do not, in fact, belong. When we travel, we are outsiders. We are foreign, whether we travel to the next state or another continent. We may have mastered the manners of a region (always, always say “bonjour” when walking into a shop in France), still, we don’t quite fit in.
During this trip, I realized that the not-fitting-in was like a pebble in my shoe. Awareness of my surroundings—the glow of the church in Auvers after it rained, the smell of the Canal St-Martin in the early morning, the taste of cheese (oh, the cheese!), the sound of a language I could just barely understand—filled me with new ways of seeing and describing.
Try a New Medium My observations and experiences were one way to do just that. For years I’ve messed around with paint, but the I’m-a-writer-not-a-visual-artist self talk limited me. I packed a watercolor journal and a small box of paints. While I didn’t journal every day, I did make efforts to paint frequently and to add little ink and wash images to the narrative pages. Journaling in a new medium helped me to see better and made me think about my observations in a different way. Score another one for filling the creative well!
Quiet Time Can be Lively Even the most adventurous, active vacations have some quiet time built in. I spent many hours on planes and trains during my trip. If I’d been home, I would have felt obliged to fill that time: run errands, write a new scene, or clean the house. But five hours in the quiet car of a train left me with little but my imagination. Sure, I read, knit, and wrote in my journal, yet I also indulged in staring out the window, imagining the inhabitants’ lives as we zoomed past farms and villages. The conductor didn’t scold me for being too noisy, but he might have if he’d been inside my imagination!
Love Every Language I can read French passably. I can be polite in French, even if I can’t converse about more than the weather. I embraced being an outsider, and at the same time, I wanted to communicate. That is, after all, the goal of every writer. I pulled out my high school French, and I made efforts. I bought and struggled through French fashion magazines. I thought ahead about what I wanted to say and practiced it. I asked my French-speaking pals to repeat words so I could understand the nuances of pronunciation. I listened with great care to conversation before I admitted how little I understood.
By loving the language of the place—which might mean a different language or simply a dialect or regionalisms—a writer can learn about her own language (ah, so that type of sentence construction is common in English, but not in French) and develop an ear for authentic dialog (a French speaker “takes” a decision; an English speaker “makes” a decision). Everything we learn about language emerges in our writing.
Travel and vacation are meant to recharge, and if that means not writing every day, accept it, and find your own ways to fill the creative well.
*humor me and let “traveling” and “vacation” mean the same thing. Even a staycation can be an opportunity to travel outside of regular routines!
What have you learned about writing from travel?
All photos by Beverly Army Williams. Top to bottom:
--View of Albi from the Toulouse Lautrec museum
--A Nutella crepe, enjoyed during the French tradition of "taking a pause."
And the winner is: Julie Schwartz! Congratulations, Julie, I've sent your contact info to Karen and she'll be in touch with you soon. (By the way I used this random name selector to choose.)
Please join me in welcoming my special guest post contributor, Karen Caterson, today. Readers of this blog know that Karen and I have been cyber-buddies for a long time. She did a wonderful interview with Emma Jean and she and I have taught a class together. Read to end of this post to learn more about a very special give-away Karen has arranged for readers of this blog!
I was born creative.
All my life I've shaped fabrics and fibers into clothes for stuffed animals, dolls, people, performers (wait! performers are people) - messed with color in textiles, glass, language (that's what writing is, right? playing with the colors of language) - imagined other worlds (and others' worlds - that's what you do as a listener, a reader, or a therapist, right?).
But despite all those years of creative play I only recently noticed the BIG connection between my creative output and my self-care practices.
(This may have something to do with the fact that, until recently, I've shunned consistency in many areas of my life. I still have a sign in my office that pays homage to this; it reads: I may be inconsistent, but not all the time.)
Here's the BIG connection I noticed: Self-care (substitute self-nurturing if you like) fuels my creativity! Big time!! There's an exponential relationship - have YOU seen this too?
When I realized that this connection existed I began to add to my self-care practices (I call these X-treme self-care practices). I now have quite a number of them, from some that you hear of quite often - using a gratitude journal, yoga and meditating, watching Groucho Marx movies - to some that are less commonplace: facial acupressure, tuning the chakras through sound, infrared foot massage, and whistling at the top of my whistler.
And I keep adding more! Sometimes it seems like there's not enough day for all my self-nurturing.
While it might seem counterintuitive to take time away from creating in order to boost your creativity, it works!
Self-care practices connect us with our bodies and the physical world - get us out of our heads (where many creatives spend a lot of time) - and re-energize us. Which results in more creativity.
When my creative work is supported by self-care my work is more focused, I'm less stressed, more inspired, and more energized.
And conversely, when I put off self-nourishing until after creating (or forget it altogether) I become scattered and less productive (my daughter insists that I add cranky to the list, but we know that's not true, right?).
The more we practice self-care the more we see our creativity flourish!
Fitting in enough self-nurturing - consistently - isn't always easy, though. In the creative rush to write or make art it's easy to forget self-care (heck, sometimes we creatives get so involved with our work that we forget to eat!).
For me the struggle is with scheduling. (I have a wee problem with rules and structure - see note about inconsistency above - so much so that I even thwart my own rules! Sigh!).
But I work with that struggle, and keep looking for ways to incorporate self-care into my life, because I've seen the difference it makes.
What fuels YOUR creativity?
Please comment on this wonderful post from Karen! When you do, you'll be entered into a giveaway to receive her fabulous new release, the Square-Peg Celebration: Stories of Acceptance & Grace package (MP3 and PDF), which you can read more about here.
I'll draw a name from those who comment on Wednesday, June 5th, one week from today!
And here, in her own words, is Karen's bio:
Hi, I'm Karen Caterson, aka Square-Peg Karen - I write a lot about celebrating your uniqueness, accepting yourSELF and X-treme self-care practices. Visit me at Square-Peg People (http://squarepegpeople.com) and let's get acquainted.
Photo by Lauren Caterson, Karen's talented daughter.
Today we have a guest post from mystery writer J.D. Frost. Regular readers of this blog will recognize J.D. as a loyal reader and commenter. J.D. is currently working on at least two, and despite my constant entreatries, he does not at the moment have a website or blog I can point you to read. I was thrilled when I read his guest post submission because he shares a lot of wisdom in it. So here you go:
by J.D. Frost
Television is more addictive than potato chips ever pretended to be. For a while we didn’t watch ours. I put it in the spare bedroom, nailed the door shut and taped black plastic film over the opening. You know how it creeps around the edges of the door, like that incessant fog in those late-night monster flicks. You can’t be too careful.
But somehow my wife saw an episode of Bones and, to my horror, she liked it! When Christmas 2012 came around, instead of an electric hand vac, I bought her DVDs of the first season. Now every night at ten—more regular than most things in my life—we watch an episode on her computer. We are now on season five.
At first, determined not to let those Hollywood tricksters take the edge off my piercing intellect (clearing throat), I only cast a sideways glance at the screen. I might as well have been staring at a swinging watch, for the show soon had me under its spell. That left me wondering how to elicit that same wide-eyed concentration from my readers. I flipped on my analytical switch and came up with a list.
♦Make your characters strong. Temperance Brennan, aka Bones, longs for a world ruled purely by science. Underneath, she is very fragile, but that is a side she steadfastly guards. Booth, her FBI sidekick, is a rock of reliability. He has a sense of humor, but is also quick with a gun and a business attitude when needed. Angela is socially wise; Hodgins is quick to anger, a bit insecure because of his small stature. As episodes progress, nuances emerge but the gist of each character is carved in stone.
♦Write in scenes. Charlotte has suggested this many times. When I think of scene in Bones, I think of locale: the crime scene, the lab, the Royal Diner.…
♦Write scenes within the scenes. After the remains are found, the arrival of Temperance and Booth is a scene within the scene. As they approach the body, they banter about something totally unrelated to the deceased. Keep in mind that though the location may be exotic and very busy, what we are really interested in is what they say.
♦Conflict—doesn’t every writer’s cousin talk about the importance of this? A famous writer, whose name I can’t recall, once said: Everybody wants something. A doorman wishes to leave early. A cook hopes his diners enjoy their food. The desires of each character influence how they interact with the major players. To generate sizzle put two major characters on a colision course.
Don’t feel too guilty about digging your TV out of the spare bedroom. If your partner screams at you, demanding to know why you aren’t writing, trying to earn that 7¢ ebook royalty, tell them it’s research.
J.D. Frost is a mystery writer from near the Rocket City.
Image by angelrravelor from everystockphoto.
This probably doesn't come as a huge surprise to writers. After all, communication is inherent in connection, and we're all about communication.
It's why we blog.
It's why we write novels.
It's why we read the writing of others.
Connection turns out to be a powerful theme in my novel, Emma Jean's Bad Behavior, and it is also the topic of a guest post that I have over at Pomogolightly, Beverly Army Williams' blog today. Hop on over there and give it a read!
Photo by pixelstar.
I've got another interview for you today. It is at my friend Patty Bechtold's blog, Living Deep Studio. I'm not exactly sure how I stumbled upon Patty--or maybe she stumbled upon me--but I am so glad I did. Patty brings a deep and gentle respect for self-development and creativity to all her work.
And this interview is a bit different (that's a really cool thing about the publicity I've done for the book--it has sorted itself out to be quite varied in its content). For one thing, it's in audio version so you can listen to the two of us as we talk. And for another, we talked more about thematic stuff--creativity and spirituality as it relates to the novel and, well, life.
Give it a listen, won't you?
Okay, it's not exactly everything, but it's a lot about what I learned in the process of getting Emma Jean out into the world. And it is--you guessed it--another interview. This one is over at Patrick Ross's blog, the Artist's Road.
I feel a bit smug about Patrick because I was one of the first to discover his blog, right after he returned from a cross-country road trip to interview creatives of all stripes. He's shot right to the top with his blog, being chosen last year as a Top 10 Writer's Blog. And it was all because of me discovering him. Actually, we all know that is not in any way true. It's because he writes an awesome blog, which always features thoughtful posts.
So head on over there today and read my thoughts on all aspects of the current publishing world, including the big New York houses, indie presses, and self-publishing.
And by the way, I just found out that I'm having trouble with comments going into a spam file. I kept wondering why I wasn't getting any comments and then I found a ton of them stashed there. So if you've commented in the last couple weeks and haven't seen it post, that's why. I now know to look in the spam file while Typepad works to fix this problem, so please, please, please feel free to comment again!
Please welcome guest poster Alene Snodgrass, who talks about the fascinating process of co-authoring a book with a homeless man. You may remember Alene from a guest post she wrote earlier this year. Welcome back, Alene, and congratulations on the successful launch of your book!
There, I said it. It takes diligence and discipline. You must create the quiet time to sit down and form those words that are stirring within your soul into something that others can understand and relate to. It takes focus.
Writing a book with a homeless man is even harder!
Once you decide to share book space with a co-author, everything changes. There are two voice styles to incorporate, two schedules to work around, two different ideas about the project, and two times the amount of coordination. Can you imagine how many more obstacles there might be if that co-author happened to be homeless?
Well, about a year ago, I met a homeless man.
As we passed, he walked up to me and began reciting poetry. It was beautiful. The tone and inflection in his voice were captivating. Come to find out these were poems he had written and memorized. I dutifully asked, “Is there any way you can write those down for me?” He did. And the rest of the story can be found in my newly released Kindle eBook Graffiti: scribbles from different sides of the street.
What transpired the months following was nothing shy of miraculous.
My homeless friend began bringing me writing after writing. Mostly poetry at first. When he found out that I am an author he started stretching his writing skills. He was shy at first thinking I was judging his grammar. I wasn’t – I was enthralled by his love for writing.
We didn’t know each other that well at the time so earning his trust was of most importance. As his trust in me grew, he began to branch out and write more about his life. There was hurt and pain. There was a life story that made me wonder, “How did you end up on the streets?” I asked for more. I stretched him to write more about his life.
I could see that there was so much potential and story behind that worn and tattered body. I continually encouraged him and asked for more of the story. Maybe selfishly at first, because I wanted to know more of his story, but seriously the more he wrote the more I wanted.
It was interesting that the more he revealed of his life; the more I realized we had so much in common. He from his dysfunctional family, which eventually led him to the streets. And me from my blessed family, which led me to help the homeless on the streets.
As I sat and stared at his writings, I knew our story had to be told.
However, we wanted to write less of our life story and tell more of our heart story. The story of how we decided to trust each other, step out of our comfort zones, and love another who was different.
In weaving those facets of our writings together Graffiti: scribbles from both sides of the street was born.
About Alene: Alene loves to tell the story. With a heart for the broken, Alene Snodgrass speaks, writes, and blogs about her real life experiences serving people in the inner city. Alene’s blog, PositivelyAlene.com, is where many come who are seeking and searching to be challenged to find their purpose through serving others. You can connect with her on Facebook or Twitter. Graffiti reached #7 in free Kindle rankings the first day it was released. Download it here.