Five Things on Friday: July 17, 2015

Ngfood_ngobj_food_228316_lIt's another Five Things on Friday post.  Admit it, you woke up this morning just dying to hop on over here and read the latest one.  Well, here it is.

What I'm Reading:  Still working on a couple of books from last week, including Leaving Time. Don't tell them, but its due today at the library and its going to be late.  I would say it is pretty good, but I'm skimming a bit here and there in order to get through it.  I've been doing that with books more and more lately.  The impatience of old age (see below).  I'm also still working on Alexandra Fuller's  Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness and I still haven't forgiven her for not having a website.   The lack of forward motion in that one has slowed me down.  I am, however, reading her most recent one, Leaving Before the Rains Come, which came in at the library and liking it better.  Because there's conflict aplenty, as in money trouble and divorce, and we all know that lots of conflict makes for great reading.

I'm also reading Stones of Consciousness, for research purposes, and Radical Acceptance, by Tara Brach.  Yeah, I've got a million books going at once.  I see a book I want to read and put a hold on it at the library and then all the holds come in at once.  Haven't quite figured out how to get the flow working better.

What I'm Thinking About: My novel, The Bonne Chance Bakery, which is currently being considered by a list of 20 excellent publishers.  Think good thoughts!  And I'm pondering my next novel.  I finally, as of yesterday, figured out a loose outline of the first segment.  I've been writing and writing, wondering how it would all come together.  More like praying it would all come together.  This is a testament to the idea that you should just keep writing, because it does work eventually.

What I'm Watching: I bet you're expecting me to wax poetic about some golden age of television show.  Ha! Not a chance.  I'm currently totally into American Ninja Warrior and America's Got Talent.  Summer nights, I need something light and frothy.  I also have the Woody Allen movie Vicky Christina Barcelona in the queue because we will be in Barcelona in September for a few days.

What I'm Complaining About:  Well, nothing at the moment.  It's summer.  Life is good.  Okay, maybe I'll bitch about the fact that my son's dog, who is here for the day, barks at EVERYTHING OUTSIDE THAT MOVES. And maybe some things that don't.  This is a dog who barks at jet contrails, after all.

What I'm Celebrating:  My birthday.  It's today.  I'm old.  And I love it.  As I always say, the alternative, being 6 feet under, is worse.  I take issue with all those people who say aging is awful. Yeah, the body has its issues, but the mind and emotions are better than ever.   I intend to live to be 100 and love almost every minute of it.

 That's it.  That's all I've got.  What's going on with you this Friday?

Photo by ngould.


Guest Post: 5 Apps for Writers

I would like to thank Charlotte Rains Dixon for having this guest post on wordstrumpet.com. I find her to be a phenomenal writer with a lot of wisdom to impart on her readers. In addition, the website is fantastic and I would recommend this article on basic writer mistakes, because it is important to review the fundamentals every once in a while. (Editor's note: I did not pay her to say this, I swear!)

Depending on your niche, freelance writing can be a very competitive career path or an extremely competitive career path. Either way, you need every edge you have that is coming out and that means to be a successful freelance writer these days you need to be in the know when it comes to apps and technology.

One of the benefits of having the smartphone you almost certainly need for your career is its customizability and versatility. Has your smartphone replaced your notebook and pen? Has your smartphone even replaced your laptop in certain instances?

Phone in hand

Here are 5 apps you should be using to make sure that you have the technological advantage in your freelancing career:

TeuxDeux

One of the best calendar and to-do list applications out there, TeuxDeux is great for freelance writers that have a lot of trouble organizing their busy lives and managing their deadlines. This app is probably the closest to pen and paper out there, and editing tasks is easy and moving them around is even easier.

This app is useful for the freelance writers who merely want to get other aspects of their lives under control as well, as the recurring tasks feature allows you to set up weekly tasks for yourself (for example taking out the trash or doing laundry). Great for carving out a balance between work and other things in your life, or for managing time and making personal business decisions.

Advanced English Dictionary and Thesaurus

Not too much needs to be said about the Advanced English Dictionary and Thesaurus app, as the value of a good dictionary is self-evident. While you can always look online for words, with this application you won’t have to worry if you can’t get a connection. Another bonus is that you won’t have to deal with ads, and this app goes a great deal deeper than most thesauruses out there. This is great to have by your side when writing on paper.

Evernote

Evernote is probably the best note-taking app out there in general, considering the great range of ways you can put notes into your device. In addition, writers will like that the account can sync up from anywhere you input information. This way, you won’t have to fish around for information you wrote on your phone late at night in a moment of inspiration when using your laptop. It even allows for alarms and different file types other than text.

While there are subscription options out there which allow for greater data usage within the app, a lot of users won’t need to bother with them and just stick to the basic application. Even if the limit is met for some users, the premium options are not all that expensive.

A VPN

If you are a freelance writer you will at some point deal with client data that is sensitive and should not be released to the public. If this data were compromised it would cost you the client and a good deal of your reputation, not to mention the time you already spent on the project. In addition to this, your own personal data is just as important to maintain your brand and your financial stability.

To protect this sensitive data, you are going to want to get a Virtual Private Network application on your smartphone. It will connect your smartphone to a secure server via an encrypted connection and guard you when you use public networks (where your important data is most vulnerable). In addition to this, it will mask your location data and your browsing to anyone who wants to take a look at what you are doing or any website with regional restrictions. This can be extremely beneficial to a journalist or a travel writer of any sort.

WordPress

WordPress has a mobile app, and of course you should be using it if you have a blog. You should most certainly have a blog. It is a way that you as a writer can connect with an audience all your own and a hub that people who are interested in your work can travel to in order to find your other work.

While no app is perfect compared to the website that it is based on due to the limitations of a smartphone, you can expect a great deal of options from the WordPress application. In fact, you won’t really be slowed down much at all other than having to deal with a smaller screen than you are normally used to and your typing speed on a smartphone. This is an absolute recommendation for any serious freelance writer.

Untitled

Thank you for reading, and keep on writing!

CassieCassie Phillips is a technology enthusiast and blogger. She enjoys writing about all kinds of technology and gadgets but has a special interest in internet security.

Do you use any of these apps?  Have any other favorites?


Inventive Writing Prompt Round-up #50

Here are the prompts for the week from my Tumblr blog.  Have at it!

#343 When the party ended…

#344  He walked and walked and walked until he couldn’t walk anymore because….

#345  A nun, a cowboy and a CEO dressed in a fancy suit walked into a bar.   You write the rest.

#346  What is your main character’s happily ever after? Does he or she attain it?

#347  Escape! You are free at last!  What have you escaped from and why did it bind you for so long?

#348  Happy Hour.  What does your character drink: wine, beer, hard liquor, tea, coffee, water?  And why?

#349  The best day of your life.

How's your writing going this week?  What are you working on?

 


Five Things on Friday: July 10, 2015

CaptainwithLieutenant
The tub wads, back when they were young, thin, and innocent

This series (we'll see how long it lasts) is my summertime whimsy.   I started it last week, with the inaugural Five Things on Friday post.  Here's this week's obsessions passions:

What I'm Reading.  Just yesterday, I started Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult, who is a New York Times best-selling writer.  I'll be honest, I've tried to read her books before and not been impressed.  But I was intrigued by the subject matter of this one, elephants, and put it on hold at the library.  After a long wait, it finally came.  It's been sitting in a stack for a week or so, and finally I started it.  Have to say, I'm hooked.  

I'm also reading Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness, Alexandra Fuller's second terrific Africa memoir.  I liked the first one (Don't Lets Go to the Dogs Tonight) better, I must say.  This one is quite episodic and is mostly based on conversations with her mother, who is quoted heavily throughout, which makes for an odd flow.  But I'm still enjoying it.  

Brief aside: can I just vent for a minute?  Because I consulted the Google for her website to link to, and all she has is a listing of her agent for speaking requests.  I'm sure she's a lovely woman, but honestly, could she not deign to have a website?  (The link I provided above is Wikipedia.) 

What I'm Thinking About.  Structure.  As in, novel structure.  It looms large at the moment for a couple of reasons.  One, because I'm embarking on writing my next novel and so far totally at sea about how the plot is going to come together.  And two, because structure is the topic of my upcoming France retreat.  I swear I've at least glanced at every book and website ever written on the topic.  But if you have a favorite one, please share it.

What I'm Listening To.  This goofy track from Tom Bird.  It is free to download and it supposedly has subliminal messages embedded in it, urging one to write.  In some weird way I don't understand, I swear it works.  Of course, those messages could be convincing me to do something unrelated to writing...excuse me, I must now go dance naked in the park.

What I'm Complaining About.  Besides authors who don't have websites, cats.  Two fat tabbies, to be exact.  My tub wads have taken to doing their business in inappropriate places, like the bathroom and kitchen.  We have no idea why.  Their kitty litter is pristine.  Maybe they are mad about the heat?  If anybody has any suggestions as to what their little feline brains might be thinking, please share.

What I'm Loving.  Qi Gong.  I've started practicing this ancient Chinese form off and on through the years.  Lately I've been doing the Spring Forest Qi Gong from Chunyi Lin and it is amazing. Soothing, energizing, focusing and I swear it is also helping all my stupid aches and pains heal.

What's on your mind this Friday?


What to Do When You Don't Know What to Write

Thoughtful-creative-moved-22614-lSo there you are.  You've cleared your schedule and made time to write.  The kids are farmed out, the dog is asleep, your partner is happily watching something stupid on TV.  You open a file, place your hands on your keyboard, and ..... nothing happens.

You don't know what to write.  And when you don't know what to write, writing doesn't happen.

This can occur whether you are starting something new, or in the middle of a writing project.  And no matter when it happens, it can stop you cold.  Maybe you're trying to parse out the plot of your novel, or maybe you're partway through and you thought you knew where you were going but suddenly you don't.

One of the single best pieces of advice I can give you, writer to writer, is this: always know where you are going next.  (My daughter-in-law drove up to Bainbridge Island last weekend to hear one of her favorite authors, Annie Barrows of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society fame speak, and guess what?  That's the exact same advice she gave.)  I'm experiencing this first hand as I get up and work on my new WIP every morning.  The days I know where I'm going next, my fingers fly.  The days where I'm not sure, I meander.  And on those meandering days I get nothing done.

But what if you find yourself at the page and you don't have a freaking clue what to write?  Here are some suggestions.

1.  Write about your project.  Don't worry about writing within the project, write around it.  I always keep a spiral handy for notes and "writing about" sessions.  These help me clarify where I am and can get me back to the project at hand.  I thought everyone did this, so much so that I'd never bothered to mention it--but then we had a long discussion about it in the writing group I lead and to most, it was a novel idea.  Go figure.  Anyway, for me, inspiration always comes through the writing itself.

2.  Use a prompt.  Yeah, I know.  But they work.  There are tons here and a million other places on the web.  The thing to remember about using prompts successfully is to not make yourself hew to them religiously.  By this I mean, use them as a starting point.  Doesn't matter if the prompt is about a cat and you write about dogs.  The idea is to get you getting words on the page.

3.  Fill out a character dossier.  This is another thing I thought everyone did.  Turns out, not so.  I have standard character forms I've developed from a variety of sources over the years--and I invariably find myself figuring things out as I write fill them in.  (If you need a template for that, just email me and I'll send you mine.)

4.  Remember, nothing is wasted.  Sometimes it is valuable just to plunge in.  Put your character somewhere and start writing.  It may not turn into anything at all, but then again, it might.  And even if you don't use it this time around, maybe it will work itself into your next WIP.  Who knows? The muse works in mysterious ways--but she's happiest when you meet her partway.

5.  Also remember that maybe something is wrong.  If you are in the middle of a project and you don't know what to right, consider that something isn't working.  Maybe you've conceived the scene wrong, or it belongs in a different place.  Maybe it needs to be in a different location or with a different set of characters.  In order not to get stuck here, either move on to a different scene, or write something else--play around with a short story or an essay, for instance.

6.  Make a list of what you know and don't know.  Approach this like free writing and set a timer, then write down every thing you can think of that you don't know.  Ask yourself questions.  Make odd connections.  See what comes out on the page.  You know more than you think, you just need to unlock it from within.

7.  Change up your routine.  I rarely listen to music while writing, but at the moment I'm listening to a soundtrack that purports to zap you into the right brain and allow the words to flow.  It seems to be working! (Though I must admit I found the bird calls on it a bit distracting at first.) I've written recently about how working outside every morning has improved my writing.  So try something different--it may give you inspiration, and that's really what we're talking about here.

8.  Write a description.  Some people love it, some people hate it, but writing it is good practice.  Maybe you'll actually use it somewhere--or maybe it will spark the words you're looking for.

9.  Walk away.  If all else fails, go do something else.  Take a walk, mow the lawn, pull weeds, something.  It amazes me how often I don't know what to write next, get up from my chair, and find myself running back to the computer because everything has clicked into place.

10.  Keep a writer's journal.  Carry a journal around with you and take notes.  I don't do this as often as I should but when I do, it makes me happy.  Write about the woman with magenta hair and tattoos sitting next to you at the coffee shop, make notes on dialogue.  You can do this quickly, in phrases and lists, or elaborately, whatever your pleasure.  Then when you're sitting back at your desk, despairing because you don't know what to write, flip through it for inspiration.

So....what do you do when you don't know what to write?  Please share in the comments.

Photo by corpitho.


Author Interview: Kayla Dawn Thomas

I'm happy to share an interview with my friend, Kayla Dawn Thomas, today.  Actually, Kayla and I have only met through social media (primarily Twitter and Instagram), but that is about to change. Because this summer, she and her family are visiting Portland.  And on July 23rd, the two of us will be doing a reading at a cool local bookstore, Another Read Through on Mississippi, one of Portland's happening neighborhoods.  I love this bookstore, and I love that the owner, Elisa Saphier, is a huge supporter of local authors.  So come on out and join us on the 23rd at 7 PM.  And even if you can't come that night, please do drop into the store if you live in town or are visiting. And now, without further ado, let's find out more about Kayla Dawn. KaylaDawn

Tell us a little about yourself. I’m a family, book, wine lovin’ lady. My husband, daughter, and I are living a mostly peaceful, quiet life in Eastern Washington (Go Cougs!) 

How and why did you get started writing novels? 

It was something I wanted to do since about second or third grade. That’s when the reading bug really bit me, and I wanted to make cool books like the ones I was tearing through. I wrote stories in one form or another all the way through high school. Some harsh college professors slashed my writing confidence, so there was about a decade where I didn’t write anything. Then one day in my early thirties, I started journaling. I was battling anxiety and depression. The idea was to work through that, but what ended up happening was a novel! My childhood dream came true in the midst of that darkness. It’s amazing how life works.

Please tell us a little bit about each of your titles.

Swept Up is my first novel. It was the result of scribbling in that journal. The process of writing broken characters and working them through healing, and of course, falling in love was very cathartic.

TS Cover finalThe Jenna Ray Stories have been a hoot to write. It all started when a Twitter friend posted a picture of a note he found in a library book that read: Have a stranger come to the bar-tell her he loves her-asks her to go to Chicago with him the next weekend-she doesn’t go. I let my imagination run wild and created a woman vigilante who’s life’s mission is to put an end to wandering penis syndrome (AKA cheating husbands). After writing Narrow Miss on a whim, my husband encouraged me to make it a series. Currently I’m working on the fourth installment. At the moment, I believe there will be five total.

 Tackling Summer is my newest novel. It’s very near and dear to my heart as it takes place on a cattle ranch very similar to the one I grew up on. It was fun to revisit childhood memories and the beautiful mountains that left their indelible mark on me. There are so many adventures one can have out in the sticks. I have a feeling there will be more books in this type of setting. 

 Why did you decide to go the indie publishing route?  Do you plan to continue in this arena? 

Ahhh, the million dollar question. First off, I’ve always wanted to work for myself. After doing LOTS of homework and realizing I could turn my passion for writing into a viable business, there was no question of the direction I would take. The idea of skipping over the gatekeepers and doing things my way was beyond exciting. At this time, I plan to continue with indie publishing.

 Who inspires you?  In the same vein, who do you like to read? 

 It’s tough to narrow down who inspires me the most! First off, my mom and sister. They are both successful entrepreneurs in different fields, and it’s been very inspiring to watch them grow their businesses. Toby Neal and Shanna Hatfield are the two female indie authors I want to be when I grow up. They’re producing great work, run impressive businesses, and are downright good people. They always make time to answer my newbie questions and have been so encouraging to me.

I read a little bit of everything except horror. I hate being scared and/or grossed out. I like happy endings. I turn to Shanna Hatfield when I want something light and friendly. Janet Evanovich is my got to when I want to laugh. Toby Neal and J.D. Robb/Nora Roberts oftentimes take care of my need for a mystery/romance combo fix. I guess there’s a common thread running through that list. I like a good love story, and they can take many forms.

 Writing plans for the future? 

I’m working on the fourth novella in the Jenna Ray Stories. I’m hoping to have that out in early fall. I’m also sketching an outline for a novel based around Webb Baker’s sister, Celeste, from Swept Up. I knew the moment I typed “the end” on that manuscript that Celeste had a story to tell.

Where can we connect with you? You can find me over at my website www.kayladawnthomas.com. My monthly newsletter is the best way to keep up with my new releases, sales, events, special giveaways. I also spend a fair bit of time on Facebook

Kayla Dawn Thomas writes general and women’s fiction, as well as chick lit novels and novellas. Her mission is to give her readers an escape, from a chronically busy, overwhelmed world offering them the opportunity to settle in and discover someplace new, maybe crack a smile, and find a little romance. She’s been a storyteller all her life. Before she knew how to write, she told stories to a jump rope. Thankfully that stage ended once she learned how to work a pencil. Now she’s blessed to be able to write full time and looks forward to sharing her crazy ideas with readers. Always a romantic, Kayla managed to marry her high school sweetheart. They have a very bright, active nine-year-old daughter.

When not writing or being mom, Kayla can most likely be found in a cozy spot with a good book. Reading, sunshine, and hanging out with family and friends bring her joy.


Inventive Writing Prompt Round-up #49

Happy Fourth of July to those of you in the United States!  I hope you have all the freedom as a writer that you desire.  Here is the latest collection of prompts from my Tumblr blog.  Have a wonderful day and be careful whatever you do!  (It is so hot here and has been for so long that it is dry, dry, dry and everyone is hoping people restrain themselves with the fireworks.) 

#337  She liked change.  She liked changing her wardrobe, rearranging her furniture, changing her job.  But most of all she like changing husbands.  However, this time ….. 

#338  Huh.  It was so puzzling.  She could have sworn she hadn’t forgotten to do that, but apparently she had.  

#339  The woman started down the path into the forest, then turned, smiled, and beckoned him to follow.

#340  What is the one thing your main character (or you) cannot live without?

#341  When the sun rose that morning and lit the landscape, it revealed what the dark of night had not showed. 

#342  In the United States, today is Independence Day.  What does freedom mean to your main character? What are the ways they are free? What are the ways they are not free? 

Are you celebrating today?  How's your writing going?


Five Things on Friday

Sunflower-remind-flower-81168-lIt's summertime, in case you hadn't noticed, and my brain is feeling lazy.  So, inspired by Tim Ferriss, who sent out a 5-Bullet Friday to subscribers (I'm one, though I have a little bit of a love-hate relationship with him), I thought I'd write a lazy blog post.  Besides, today is a holiday, or sort of one (for those of you not in the states, tomorrow is our Independence Day, more often known as the Fourth).  So here goes:

Book I'm Reading: Little Night by Luanne Rice.  Jury is still out on this one, a women's fiction novel to be sure.  I've read a ton of her books so I'm sure I'll end up liking this, too.  (By the way, she's got a nice piece on writing novels on her blog.)  And, since I'm feeling lazy, I'll add a couple more books I've read lately rather than write a whole post on this topic.  I finally got The Girl on the Train from the library, and read it in a couple of days.  The first couple hundred pages were fantastic, and then I got a bit weary of it all.  But read it as a primer on adding conflict--lots of it--to your novels.  Also read A is For Alibi by Sue Grafton (duh) for purposes of a structure discussion. This is the first book in the series that is currently at X, coming this summer, and it held up well.  I loved these books when I first discovered them and got to about F or G, before I got bored with the same set-up over and over.  But this series was groundbreaking in presenting a female private detective, and its fun to read a book set before the internet and cellphones changed the world.

What I'm Writing: My next novel.  It involves crystals and female correspondents of the journalist type and that is all I will say.  (The macaron novel is currently being shopped.)  Oh, and I'm managing to pen the occasional blog post.

What I'm Listening To: I don't listen to music when I write and I always feel a bit inferior when I read the elaborate play lists that other novelists compile for each book.  But I do love music, and in our kitchen the radio is always on (weird old-school habit I got from my mother) and it is always tuned to our local station, KINK-FM, which plays a fantastic variety of tunes.  Go to the website and stream it and you'll see what I mean.

What I'm Complaining About: The heat.  It was 97 degrees here yesterday, and that's after a couple of weeks of temps in the 90s, with more to come.  Bear in mind that I live in Portland, where the joke is that summer starts on July 5th, the day after Independence Day, which is always rainy. Not this year.  We've had a crazy warm and dry winter and spring and now a hot, hot summer.  Ugh.

What I'm Loving:  Getting up every morning by 5:30 and sitting outside on the deck writing.  It's my favorite time of day.

So, what's up with you this summer Friday?  Please share.  You can use one of my "whats" above or create your own. I'd truly love to hear what's going on with you!

Photo by remind.


Writing In the Summertime

Writingoutside
My outdoor writing space

It is hot here in Portland, mid to upper 90s all last week and more of the same this week, with temps predicted to reach into the 100s by the weekend.  We usually get some hot hot weather during the summer, but this is very early for a heat wave and it is lasting a long time.

My office is upstairs (I'm in process of moving it downstairs, but that project is taking forever) and that automatically makes it hot.  (We, like many Portlanders who live in older homes, don't have air conditioning.) But it also gets stuffy, the air stagnant, and because it is full of boxes (the afore mentioned moving project), its not a very inspiring space at the moment.

In self defense, I moved my computer and all my notes downstairs last weekend and then one early morning around 6 AM I got the idea to move my operation out back.  I set up on the outdoor table on the deck and listened to the birds sing and wrote my heart out.  I started out a few weeks ago setting my Iphone timer for 15 minutes and telling myself I was just going to write, simply as a way to get to the page.  But now, I think it is safe to say that these daily outside writing sessions are turning into my next novel--and that my daily writing practice has transformed my writing life.

Firtreeoutback
The tree above me

I now set up outside every morning and it has quickly become my favorite time of day.  It is peaceful and cool and quiet aside from the occasional dog barking and I am getting a lot of writing done every morning.  It is amazing to me what a change of venue can do for your writing.  Some people love to go work in coffee shops, but me? Not so much.  I'm far too distracted by people and noise and activity.  Besides, I do my best work early in the day, in my pajamas, and that doesn't work so well anywhere but home.

By 7:30 the sun hits my back and lights the screen and I can't see so well and I'm starting to flag anyway.  But the point of all this, besides encouraging you to look at where you write and how well it is working for you, is to share a few tips I've learned (relearned?) as I start writing a long project (i.e., a novel), again.  

1.  Call it Daily Writing Practice.   Some times the daily writings  are just random scenes, sometimes they actually turn into a scene for my WIP, and sometimes they become me obsessing about where I am in the WIP.  But gradually, the daily practices have turned into real, consistent work on my next novel, and the sessions have lengthened out considerably.  But at the beginning, I just called it daily practice and all I had to do was write something, anything for 15 minutes. Whether or not your writing sessions pertain to your WIP is up to you—but if it doesn't, that's okay.

2.  Keep a Writing Log. I've started a daily writing log, wherein I write about my feelings and thoughts on what I'm writing.   I wish I'd done this during the writing of my most recent novel, The Bonne Chance Bakery.  Now that it is finished, that novel exists in a sort of magical haze for me, and I've convinced myself that writing it went smoothly from the idea to the end.  But a few days ago, I opened, by chance, one of my daily writings from last summer--and read a whole long rant about how stuck and frustrated I was on the progress I was making.  Because, the thing is, when a novel is done, you forget the day to day grind that went into it.  Because the Bonne Chance was somewhat magical in origin, with the entire story essentially downloaded to me in the shower, it has been easy to forget the hard parts. Instead, I labor under the delusion that the writing of it was easy and sure in every letter and word.  While parts of it were, much of it wasn't.  And it is reassuring to remember that as I struggle to start anew.

For a look at how a major literary figure used a diary, check out this great Brain Pickings piece about the journals John Steinbeck kept while writing the Grapes of Wrath.

3.  Set Word Count Goals.  Once you get beyond the random daily writing practice (and its okay if you never do, truly), it is fun to set yourself some goals.  I was hitting 1K words a morning with ease, so today I notched it up to 1,500.  It helps to give me some kind of framework for what I'm doing.

4.  Give Yourself a Place to Go the Next Day.  If you are working on a long project, write a sentence or two about what happens next, so that you know where to start the next day.  If you are doing random writing, choose a prompt so that you don't go in search of one on the internet and get distracted.

 5.  Stay Organized.  For some dumb reason that I will probably regret, I like to save each days' writing in a separate file, labeled with the date.  I think I like to see the files pile up in the folder I've created for them.  What I will likely soon do is put all these pieces together into a file labeled "full manuscript."  But I am notoriously terrible at organization, so you can probably figure out your own system that works well for you.

Okay, that's it!  I hope you are making progress on your WIP or enjoying writing something.  Do you have any tips for sustaining a regular writing practice?


Inventive Writing Prompt Round-up #48

Ah, yes, better late than never.  It is Saturday, albeit nearly time for Happy Hour in my neck of the woods, and here is my latest collection of writing prompts for you.  I've not been dallying around, I've been teaching all day--a fine group of local students who showed up despite forecasted temperatures of 102 degrees.  The good news is that the temps haven't been quite that high and all the attendees were wonderful.  So here are the prompts:

#330 She grabbed the envelope, tore it open and then shrieked in ______________ (delight, horror, sadness, laughter, etc.)

#331  The explosion woke her from a sound sleep.

#332  I once knew someone who ate a candy bar and washed it down with a Coke every afternoon. This ended when he was diagnosed with diabetes.  And then there was the friend who I watched eat a whole half a pie one night.  He was a recovering alcoholic.

Does your main character have a sweet tooth?  How does this manifest in his or her life?

#333 Ocean or mountains? Which does your main character prefer?

#334  Life’s a bitch, and then you die.  True, or not true? What does your main character think?

#335  If your main character were to choose one word that would sum him or her up, what would it be?

#336  Choose yourself a council of mentors.  They can be dead or alive.  Write about why each one of them inspires you.  Now do the same for your main character.


Stupid Writer Tricks: 7 Crucial Mistakes Writers Make

Dunce-school-punishment-857281-hSometimes I like to tell myself stories, say, when I'm doing the dishes (which my husband might claim is rare) or putting on my make-up and drying my hair.  And it occurred to me recently, that a couple of my favorite stories fell into the category of colleagues doing Stupid Writer Tricks. (Because, in the stories I tell myself, I'm always the heroine who is five times smarter than anyone else--and of course, I never do any of these myself.  Nope, not ever.)

And then it occurred to me that these stupid writer tricks warranted a blog post.  So here you go.  In all seriousness, these are bad habits that can derail a writing career faster than my cats attacking their food dishes at 4 AM in the morning.

1.  Not utilizing the basic tools of the trade.  In the course of my travels through the writing landscape, I have come upon several practitioners of our craft who do not have word processing programs.  God only knows what they type on, but this means, at a minimum, there's no formatting and no spell check.  It also often means that others cannot open their manuscript.  It for sure means that their submissions to anyone anywhere in the entire publishing world will be ignored and they will be branded as an amateur.

2.  Ignoring conventions of genre and structure.  Like, writing a mystery without a murder. Or thinking that it really doesn't matter if their novel's characters don't want anything.  It does to matter, because, DESIRE MAKES THE WORLD GO ROUND.  And furthermore: yes, the conventions of literature apply to you.  No, your genius is not such that you can ignore them all. And if you persist in coddling your genius in this manner, guess what? The world will ignore your work.

3.  Ignoring the critiques of those whom you have entrusted to read your manuscript.  There's a fine art to taking criticism.  Sometimes, it is so clearly not applicable and that's fine.  Reject it.  But I've seen writers ignore advice that would have made the difference between a meh book and a wow book and that's just plain dumb.  Rule of thumb: if more than one person is bumping over something, consider changing it.

4.  Ignoring submission guidelines.  Years ago, at one of the first writing conferences I ever attended, an audience member inquired at an agent panel, "Does my manuscript have to be typed?" Sure wish I had a photo of the expressions on the faces of the agents there that day.  I don't think anybody these days is quite that stupid, but you'd be surprised how many people I know fail to follow the most basic of submission guidelines.  Bottom line is this: go to the website of the agent or publication to whom you wish to submit and DO EXACTLY WHAT THEY SAY.

5.  Not using social media.  Yeah, I know.  It's beneath you.  Tough.  Do it anyway. If you don't like Twitter, use Facebook, and vice versa.  If you don't like either, try Instagram (my current favorite).  Or Pinterest. Maybe you'll even be one of 10 people who like Google+!  Whatever, find something, anything that you like and work it.

6.  Posting all self-promotion, all the time.  I have a friend. She is the bane of all her writer's friends existences because all she does on social media is talk about her great she is and how everyone loves her book so much and how now she's appearing at this conference (where everybody loves her) and now she's reading at this event.  Barf.  I've got news for you--after awhile, nobody pays attention.  I know its a cliche, but what we want is to engage.  Start conversations.  Comment on what other people post.  Chat a bit. It'll get you way more followers--and it is way more fun.

7.  Not writing every day.  Because none of the above matter one bit if you don't.

Which of the above are you guilty of?  Okay, maybe you don't want to confess publicly.  So which ones are your writer friends guilty of?


Inventive Writing Prompt Round-up #47

It's Saturday, and you know what that means, don't you?  Darn right, it's time for prompts.  Here's my weekly round-up of them for you, compiled from my Tumblr blog.  And don't forget I wrote a blog post about prompt writing this week, which you can read here.  

#323  Country or city?  Which is your character most comfortable in? If its the city, show her on the farm.  If its the country, write a scene with him in the city.

#324  If your character could live anywhere in the world, where would that be?

#325  Write a diary of what you (or your main character) ate yesterday, and through this account create a window into the emotions and events of the day.

#326  She was tired of it all.  So tired of the pain, the distraction, and the anxiety.  So one day she ……..

#327  If your character was assigned to start making something right now, what would it be? Dinner?  A knitted sweater? A painting? A musical composition? What and why?

 #328  He sat across from the card reader, who spread her deck out on the table between them.   When she was finished, she gazed at the cards and gasped. She looked at him, once more at the cards, back to him.  “This is absolutely incredible,” she said.  “Because…..”

#329  “It’s not much further now,” he called, beads of sweat popping out on his forehead.

How's your writing going?

 

 

 


Book Review: Step Out of Your Story

Step Out of Your Story: Writing Exercises to Reframe and Transform Your Life by Kim Schneiderman

Bookcover1-194x300Once again, the wonderful folks at New World Library have offered me a book to review.  And once again, I'm making slow progress through it because I keep stopping to ponder and do the exercises. I found the receipt of this book particularly serendipitous because shortly before it arrived, I announced that I was pondering offering a class on a similar topic.  (And I'm, um, not anywhere near being done with that little effort.)

So, I bet you're dying to know what the book is about, aren't you?  It is called Step Out of Your Story: Writing Exercises to Reframe and Transform Your Life by Kim Schneiderman.  (While it cursorily discusses the various aspects of writing a story, this book is aimed at you rewriting your own life story, not the Great American Novel.)

Since I'm making slow progress through the book (a good thing), I decided to offer you and interview with the author, who can talk about it better than I can!  Here goes:

 What does it mean to “step out of your story?” and how does one do that?

As I write in the opening chapter of my book, “every life is an unfolding story, a dynamic, unique, purposeful, and potentially heroic story with bright spots, turning points, and abounding opportunities for personal growth and transformation.” Most people, when I present this idea to them, accept this to be true. And yet, many people don’t think about what that means. Until something happens that challenges their outlook on life, few take the time to explore the character they’re playing, what their story is about, who’s writing their script, and how the challenges they face can help them develop the insights and skills they need to move to the next chapter.

Stepping out of your story means being able to step outside your life to view it from a novel perspective, both literally and figuratively. That means seeing yourself as the hero of your story, and understanding how all of the classic story elements, especially your antagonists, might be conspiring to help you grow, as many protagonists do over the course of the narrative. Looking at your life this way can also help you embrace plot twists as opportunities to change your life.

Does how we tell our story matter? And if there are infinite ways to tell our stories, is there a best way?

Absolutely. Telling our story is a fundamental way that we come to know ourselves and make meaning of our live. We are constantly sifting through various competing narratives to make sense of our world for ourselves and others. Whether you consider yourself a heroic figure overcoming obstacles or a tragic victim of destiny often depends on how you choose to read the text of your life and the way that you tell your story. We might even describe suffering, in part, as the result of a storytelling deficit, a failure to find a good filing system that organizes the details of one’s life into a meaningful cause-and-effect narrative, which results in an incoherent or distorted story.

While there may not be a best way, there are certainly better ways to tell your story than others. My book proposes telling your story as a personal growth adventure, using the classic story structure to reframe challenges as stepping-stones to a more authentic self and richer life. The classic story elements - protagonist, antagonist, plot, climax, etc. - serve as the architecture of a story. Once we understand how each element of the story scaffolding supports directs and supports the protagonist’s character development, we can use “the story lens on life” to reconstruct a powerful, coherent narrative from the raw materials of our lives.

What does it mean to become a good reader of the text of our lives and how can that help us?

How we “read,” or rather interpret, our story affects how we feel about ourselves, which can influence how our lives unfold. For example, reframing the story of a cancer diagnosis as a tale of finding new sources of resilience and deeper connections with loved ones feels very different from telling the story as one of divine punishment or meaningless misery. In fact, studies show that a positive narrative, and the feelings they engender, can influence prognosis. Similarly, seeing a failed relationship as a lesson in intimacy, resilience, and humility will make us feel a whole lot better, and emotionally ready for our next relationship, than shaping the story as one of self-sabotage and personal worthlessness.

This interpretative lens implies that we value character development in ourselves as much as we value it in the books we read and movies we watch. It entails seeing every person and situation that shows up in your narrative as a personal growth opportunity and recognizing the subtle, often unrecognized personal victories that build character — such as facing a fear, changing an attitude, or kicking a bad habit. This is not necessarily how society traditionally measures success. But or psychotherapists and writers, these kinds of changes mark meaningful progress in someone’s lifelong development, whether that person is a client or an imagined character.

Here’s an example. Let’s say you’re unemployed, and you tell yourself the story that this is just another crappy situation that defines your very difficult life. You ask yourself, “Why does this always happen to me?” Then you finally land a job interview. What happens? If you haven’t eradicated your victim story, it may unintentionally seep out during your interview through your tone and word choice, or you may secretly sabatoge yourself. This may lead you to botch the interview, which causes more suffering and only confirms your negative story.

However, what if you saw the antagonist (in this case, unemployment) of the current chapter in your life (a chapter you might entitle “A Thousand Resumes”) as the necessary force that is pushing you to grow in new ways: perhaps that you are in fact ambivalent about this career path or that you tend to get easily discouraged. In a way, this antagonist is like a personal trainer, and this conflict is the force challenging you to develop your confidence or to become clear about your career direction.

Suddenly, as you exercise control over how you view your situation, the time between jobs becomes an invitation to work on yourself and build your muscles. Through this lens, you might say to yourself, “If I were reading this chapter in a book about the story of my life, I might appreciate that unemployment is nudging me — the protagonist — to get more organized and keep persevering in the face of adversity. I can choose to embrace that challenge, and forge ahead, or drain myself of valuable energy by sinking into discouragement.” Cast in this light, the power of interpretation via the story lens on life offers a powerful elixir for heartbreaks, disappointments, and existential angst.

Does putting a positive spin on your story make it less truthful?

We spin our stories all the time. Every time we open our mouths we make choices about how to tell a tale. Depending on your audience, we may emphasize certain aspects of the story over others, or omit certain details that seem irrelevant, inappropriate, or too complicated to explain. As we tell it over and over, we might remember certain parts we had forgotten initially, or new insights might lead us to spin the story in a totally different direction.

Is one version more truthful than another? Who’s to say? And how does one define truth? Is the objective experience of the things that happen - what I call the “outer story” any more truthful than the feelings we have about what happens - what I call the “inner story?” Some people tend to favor one of these two storytelling styles. But both are “true,” as far as they are meaningful, when it comes to understanding the totality of a person’s experience. That’s why for me, it’s less important whether a story is truthful, than whether it’s personally constructive.

Finally, there are ways to find the redemptive storyline without whitewashing over unpleasant circumstances, repressing feelings, or discounting important life lessons. By reframing your story as a personal growth adventure that identifies the ways you’ve grown as the protagonist of your narrative, there is room for all manner of feelings and experiences, which imbue the story with richness and texture. And the fuller the story, the more it approximates something resembling the truth.

Is there any research to support the efficacy of the third-person storytelling exercises in Step Out of Your Story?

A number of psychological studies in recent years illustrate that recalling past events or thinking about yourself in the third person helps you see yourself through kinder, more compassionate eyes. The reason is that the third person voice creates emotional distance between you and the circumstances of your life, enabling you to see the larger story with greater objectivity. For example, University of California and University of Michigan researchers used a psychologically distancing vantage point when asking participants to reflect on negative memories. Not only did participants report less emotional pain, less rumination, improved problem solving, and greater life satisfaction when discussing matters in the third person, they also gained new insights into those memories without feeling as emotionally overwhelmed. Similarly, in a Columbia University study, students were asked to describe recently upsetting thoughts or feelings, and these bad memories were recalled with less hostility by those using the third-person perspective. In an Ohio State University study, students who recalled humiliating moments in high school in the third-person narrative were more likely to describe themselves as having overcome obstacles than those who recalled similarly embarrassing moments from a first-person perspective. The study concluded that feeling like you’ve changed gives you the confidence and momentum to act in ways that support a perceived new and improved self.

It’s also worth noting that all of this research is aligned with narrative therapy technique known as “externalization,” which uses psychological distancing techniques to prevent people from over-identifying with their problems.

Do people need to be good writers to do the exercises you offer in your book?

No. As I tell my students, your masterpiece of living doesn’t have to be a masterpiece of writing. The exercises are designed for anyone who can compose a simple sentence. The goal is not writing well; the goal is self-discovery. The goal is to write powerfully and authentically. In my experience facilitating workshops, I’ve noticed that the written equivalent of stick-figure drawings may actually teach us more about ourselves than carefully crafted (and controlled) adult sentences. Words-smithing can be about the ego, which I’m trying to help people transcend via the third person narrative. That being said, people for whom writing comes naturally sometimes use the exercises as prompts to get really creative, and have subsequently written some beautiful pieces.

Obviously, no one can predict the future. How then is it possible to predict your own character arc?

One of the ways I help readers get a sense of their character arc is by completing a character sketch of themselves in the third person narrative, assuming the role of both author and protagonist. A character sketch is a technique that helps authors flesh out the personalities and interior world of the protagonist before embarking on a novel. It involves answering a series of imaginative questions that paint a holographic picture of how the protagonist might evolve over the course of the plotline. The character sketch presumes that the protagonist is the soul of every narrative and the engine that runs the story. So, too, I want my readers to understand more deeply who they are as evolving protagonists. The more they understand about who they are, what they’re made of, and what’s driving them, the more they’ll get a sense of where they’re heading.

How can the antagonists of our stories help us grow? Can’t they also bring us down?

Many of us don’t think twice about pushing ourselves to the point of pain and exhaustion at the gym. Yet when life pushes us to exercise our emotional, spiritual, and mental muscles, we often would prefer lighter, gentler, no-impact routines. However, until we are willing to build these character development muscles, we will remain somewhat stunted in our growth, unable to actualize the full strength of what we are capable of, whether in our career, relationships, or communities.

That’s why antagonists are an important part of our story. They are like the personal trainers who push us beyond our perceived limitations to develop our flabby, underutilized emotional muscles. As with a personal trainer, we might openly swear or grin through gritted teeth. We might assign the person sadistic aspirations, thinking the trainer wants to harm or destroy us. But if we read between the lines, whether we like it or not, our antagonist can help us strengthen the underdeveloped areas within ourselves. By definition, they force us to stretch beyond our perceived limitations to discover the true depth of our own capacity to love, succeed, and overcome obstacles.

That’s not to say that we should seek out conflict for personal growth’s sake or use character development as an excuse to endure chronically painful or unpleasant circumstances. Constant pain is a sign that something is amiss. Yet any workout should include a little discomfort so we increase our flexibility to handle more intense situations with greater degrees of ease. It reminds me of something a dance teacher once told me: “Sometimes, when you begin to stretch, your muscles scream ‘no, no, no’ — they don't think they can handle the tension because it's never been asked of them before. But as you gradually ease into the pose, they relax and discover an untapped capacity for elasticity.”

Why do you ask readers to focus on the current chapter, rather than asking them to reframe something that happened in the past or look at their whole life?

While exploring the influence of the past on the present can help us understand ourselves better, we can also get bogged down in old storylines — instead of visiting the past, we might pitch camp there or continue to circle the same old beaten tracks.

The present, however, is the place where change becomes possible. It is the precise moment in the story when you, as the protagonist of your story, can take action and grow. One of the foundational exercises I ask readers to complete is to name and describe the current chapter. From there, I help them reconstruct their story element by element. Eventually, they reassemble these pieces into an empowering new narrative about where they are and where they’re heading. And here is the beauty of this process: once we name our current chapter, distinguishing it from previous chapters within our larger narrative, we may see how the present moment offers possibilities to embrace a new reality and further develop our character. This new awareness can help us get a fresh perspective on areas where we might feel stuck, reframing life's inevitable trials and tribulations as purposeful experiences that won't last forever.

Kim Schneiderman, LCSW, MSW, is the author of Step Out of Your Story. She counsels in private practice and teaches as a professor and guest lecturer at venues including New York University. She also writes a biweekly advice column for Metro Newspapers and blogs for Psychology Today. Visit her online for more information.


Never Underestimate the Power of a Writing Prompt

Promptbox
The prompt box

I've been writing again--this morning, 2,000 words in an hour, words that came easily and almost effortlessly.  This, after noodling around, trying to decide which novel idea to pick up next.  (I've got four of them churning around in my brain.)  

I'm also a tad bit distracted, because my agent is sending my current novel,The Bonne Chance Bakery out to publishers this week.  No big deal. Not. (I don't expect to hear anything for quite awhile, because one thing I'm learning about this process is that everything takes longer than I think it will.  Sort of like home remodeling.  But I will keep you posted, I promise.)

Anyway, it feels so good to be writing again.  So freaking good.  And for it also to feel like I'm working on a project that is flowing, if you know what I mean.  I've made starts on the other novels and while I have made some progress they didn't quite have the feel of this one--the feeling that the story is right there at my fingertips, that my hands can't range across the keyboard fast enough. I get an idea for something else in the chapter and pause only to make a quick note because I'm going so fast I'll lose the thread otherwise.

That kind of writing.

And guess what? It all came from prompts.  I've written three chapters so far and when I looked back on them this morning I realized they had all started with a prompt.  I'm sort of like the Prompt Queen, because I push them on others so much (including publishing a weekly collection of them here), but sometimes I forget to use them myself.  (The shoemaker's children have no shoes.) But recently, in going through a cupboard in my office, I found a box of prompts I'd made long ago.  I rescued it and stationed it on my desk and I've been pulling prompts as starters for this novel.  Clearly, it's working.

Here are a couple thoughts on the process of using a prompt to make forward progress on a WIP: 

1.  Choose at random.  Close your eyes and metaphorically pull a prompt from whatever kind of prompt box you keep.  Or run your finger down a selection of prompts and use whatever one it lands on.  And then don't change your mind!  Just use it!  One of my best pieces--what will likely be the opening of the novel--came from a prompt I hated.  I almost put it back and chose another one, but decided to use it.

2.  Start fresh every day.  I've been easing myself back into writing the next novel.  If I think too hard about it, I freak myself out.  As in, this one has to be better than the last!  Now that I have an agent, everything I do has to be top notch! And so it kinda works better to pretend that I'm just goofing around.  I open a new file every day and I don't call it anything like a chapter.  I label it Daily Writing and then the date.  Then I write the prompt and go for it.

3.  Use prompts from previous writings.  (Can't call them chapters, remember.)  This morning I used the last line of the previous day's work.

4.  Let your brain wander where it will.  That's the beauty of prompts--yours may be about flowers in the garden and you end up writing about sailing on the sea.  That is a little less likely to happen when you're attempting to make forward progress on a long project, but your hands may still take you unexpected places.  Let them.  Those often turn out to be the jewels.  And God invented the delete key for those times when they don't.

5.  Do timed spurts.  I'm still a huge believer in this.  Set your phone timer for 30 minutes and when it goes off, get your ass up and take a stroll around your office.  Or do a couple lunges.  Or stretch.  It's important to get up.  When things are not going well, 30 minutes seems like an eternity and when I'm done, its, yay, now I can quit.  This morning, I promptly (ha!) thought, I'm going to do another one.  And then another.  2,000 words later I was a happy writer.

I think I'm going to add some prompts to my prompt box, maybe cutting up old manuscripts or cutting out lines from magazines.  I like having it sitting on my desk because then I, um, remember to use it.

So, I've probably asked you this before, but what the heck, I'll do it again: do you use prompts for your writing?


Inventive Writing Prompt Round-up #46

Herewith, the latest collection of writing prompts from my Tumblr blog, where I post a prompt a day. I hope they help you write tons and tons this week!

#316  They tell me I should never have let anyone know what happened.

#317  “Honey, I’m home!”

Your main character’s significant other just walked in the door.  How does she/he react? With joy or dread? Eyes lighting up or shoulders slumping? Excitement or fear? 

Write about their reaction and what happens next.  

#318  Does your main character like to pretend? Maybe he likes to pretend he is married to someone else. Or she likes to pretend she lives in Paris.  Or he likes to pretend he is happy.  Write about all the ways your character (and maybe you) pretend.

#319  “Why, I remember when you were just a little tyke,” she said. “And, um, look at you now.  What in the hell happened to you?”

#320  “All at once I hear your voice, and time just disappears.”  Bonnie Raitt

Whose voice does your main character want to hear? Who do they miss?

#321  Is your main character an outdoorsy type or one who prefers being inside?  If he’s an outdoorsy type, write about how he feels when forced inside.  If she’s an inside type, write about how she feels when she must be outside.

#322  She breathed a huge sigh of relief, because the thing she’d been struggling with was over at last.  Or was it?  Because all of a sudden….

How's your writing going?  What are you working on?


8 Ways to Blow Up Your Writing Brain by Journaling (+ Tips)

I'm an off-and-on journaler.  I've had periods in my life--long stretches, like ten years--when I got up every day and wrote in a journal first thing.  (And to prove it, I've got three huge tubs of them.) I've also had journaling droughts, where I don't actively write in a diary. Copy_reflexion_author_260936_l

Article after article suggests that journaling is good for you in a number of ways, including your mental health. Studies show that journaling is linked to reducing stress, helping to deal with traumatic events, and  increasing your physical health (it boosts your immune system and lowers blood pressure). It has even been shown to help in sports performance and reduce employee absenteeism.  (You can read more about these studies here.)  And that is all well and good--really good, actually--but the bottom line for me is whether or not journaling helps me with my writing.

And  I'm here to tell you that the times when I am writing in my journal regularly are much more productive and creative for me than the times when I am not.  I actually thing journaling is good for everybody from writers to visual artists to musicians to business people.  Journaling helps you sort things out, process life, and come up with ideas.  And I don't care what you do in the world, those are valuable processes for everyone .  For writers, one of the biggest benefits I see is that it helps us see life as story, and that stories abound in life.

But sometimes, I will admit, I open my journal and my pen hovers over the page and I can't think of anything to write.  So over the last few months I've been keeping track of the various ways I use my journal and I now present them to you.  I've also included some handy journaling tips at the end of this post.

So you can blow up your writing brain (I mean this in the best of ways) and your creativity.

Account of day to day life.  This is probably the most traditional kind of journaling, the kind of activity we used to call writing in a diary.  It can be a great starting point for a journal entry (see below).  Austin Kleon calls it keeping a logbook, and makes a case for doing it regularly. It is probably the kind of journaling I do least, but when I do do it, I love looking back on the accounts of my days..

Idea incubator.  One of the best reasons to keep a journal as a writer.   I think every writer should have some kind of notebook where you record ideas, things they've seen, books to read, etc., even if you don't actively write journal entries.  (You might like the bullet journal idea below for this.)  For a fantastic post on using the writer's notebook, check out this post.  I love it so much I'm going to print it out and put it in my bullet journal.

To sort things out.  This is the kind of journaling the mental health professionals want you to do, and with good reason--because it works.  Process your crap on the page and deal with it, instead of waiting for it to come out at an inopportune moment.  (Talkin' to myself here, too.)

As a vessel for the spiritual.  Those of us on a spiritual path know that writing in a journal can help you figure out your relationship with the divine, talk to God, converse with angels or spirits--whatever you desire.  I would go so far as to suggest that journaling can become a form or meditation or prayer.  I know it often is for me.  My favorite writer for this is Janet Connor.

As a bullet journal.  This is how I organize myself, and until I found this system I was constantly searching for the best way to keep my life together on paper.  (No, I do not use a digital system.  I hate phone and computer calendars.)  But the bullet journal is much more than just an organizer or planner--it can hold all your thoughts and ideas.  Mine has become a hybrid which I use for my journaling entries as well.  If you are interested in this system start with the original link, and then google "bullet journal."  You'll find a ton of helpful post and articles about it, complete with clever hacks.  I find mine works best, though, if I keep it as simple as possible.

Morning pages.  Julia Cameron popularized this version of journaling in her book, The Artist's Way, and it is a perennial favorite because it works.  The process is simple--you get up and you write three pages without thinking.  That's it.  You don't have to craft beautiful sentences or write about how your boyfriend stood you up.  Just write and see what comes up.  Not only is it helpful to get your ya-yas out, over time, certain themes will emerge that may help you see your life more clearly.

A space for free writing.  Sometimes you don't know what to write but you know you want to write.  Your journal is the perfect place for this.  Grab yourself a prompt and have at it.  Set a timer and write for 20 minutes without lifting the pen from the page.  Miraculous things will emerge.

A place to write about your current WIP.  I spend a lot of time writing about my current novel.  If I get lost in the plot, I write about where I might go.  I write about characters and their back story.  I write about the homes they live in and the places they work.  Writing in a journal is a godsend for helping you figure out your story.  You may want to keep a separate notebook for this, so you can easily access the information when you need it.

Those are just some of the ways I use my journals, and there are a ton more that I don't have room for--like making lists or mind mapping.  You'll come up with your own favorites.

Tips:

Start where you are.  I had a friend who found journaling a great help when she went through cancer, but then she stopped.  She wanted to get started again, but felt she had to commit to the page everything that had happened since she had last written.  Nope.  Just start where you are, with whatever you want to write about.

Index!  This sounds tedious and overly organized, but it is a lifesaver.  It is a key part of the bullet journal and I've started using it for my all my journals.   Label a page at the front or back of the book as an index, then number your pages and when you write something you want to keep track of, note it.  Oh, and I recently found the Leuchtturm journals, which not only have page numbers already printed on them, but also a pen strap and a gorgeous rainbow of colors! I can't wait to order one.

Keep at it.  As with everything we do, at first it can seem awkward and useless.  But the more you write in a journal, the more you'll see the various benefits and keep at it.

Maintain a list of prompts.  It's really helpful to have a page in your journal where you write down prompts and then if you don't know what to write about, there you are.  Feel free to use mine--there's a ton of them here.

If you really get stuck, go back to day before and write what happened. It's as good a starting point as any!

Do you keep a journal?  What's your favorite technique for journal writing?  Please comment!

 


Why Going to the Movies is Good for Your Writing

Pink-gold-mirvish-1852743-hIn my last post, I revealed the sorry state of my latest reading.  I've not read nearly as many novels as usual recently.  But one thing I have been doing is going to the movies.

If there's one thing I love to do on the weekends, it is to go to the movies.  I love, love, love it.  Love deciding what to see, buying popcorn and water (it used to be Diet Coke, but I've repented), entering the darkened theater and watching the ads that precede the film.  I love the trailers, and, oh yeah, the movie itself.  I love when the credits roll and you can sit and figure out who all the actors were that you recognized but couldn't quite put a name to.  And I love talking about the flick afterwards.

But we don't go to movies often.  There's always so much to do on the weekends--work around the house and the yard, for starters.  And nearly every weekend we have some kind of family dinner, which requires grocery shopping and cooking.

However, lately, we've been going to films on the weekend, mostly at small, restored theaters in town like the Academy and the Roseway.   We've seen movies old and new, because my movie taste is as eclectic as my reading taste.  And I feel like I've been inhaling story in all its aspects.

This is why its good for writers to go to the movies (or watch them at home, but that's not as much fun).  Because you will learn SO much about how to put a story together while you watch.  When I want to read about structure in the novel, I usually choose a screenwriting book, because these guys have it going on when it comes to structure.  Watching a movie helps me absorb and internalize it. When I read novels these days, I no longer read as a civilian.  I read as a writer, noticing everything the writer did as she wrote--how she plotted, and characterized and used dialogue and setting.  But because I don't actually write movies, I can watch them and just take it all in without stopping to think about every detail.  And as I launch into writing the next novel and trying to figure out what happens and how it all goes together, I'm finding that my movie watching habit is standing me in good stead.

(And I also highly recommend this book, which I wrote about in my last post.)

 Movies Seen

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.  J'adore.  Ditto for the first one.  Its a great series.  Funnily and predictably enough, the theater was full of old people.  I read that this movie hit #1 in the U.K. the weekend it was released, shocking the experts.  Because, yeah, there really is a movie-going audience beyond teenage boys.

The Graduate.  The Academy Theater is showing a bunch of old movies this summer, and we couldn't resist going to see The Graduate.  Dustin Hoffman looks about 10 in the opening sequence, but he was 30.  And Anne Bancroft, the "older woman" he has an affair with? She was 36.  I kept thinking what a great job they were doing with the period details--and then I remembered.  It was the period!

Big Eyes.  We watched this one at home, on demand which isn't nearly as much fun as going to the theater, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.  It's the story of how Walter Keane took credit for all those awful popular big eyed paintings in the 70s, when his wife was actually painting them.   What I loved was a bit at the end (not giving anything away) that said Margaret Keane, at age 88, still paints every day.  

Mad Max Fury Road.  You guys, this is a feminist movie.  I adored it! Some of the heroines are kick-ass old ladies.  So freaking cool.  As I watched it, I marveled at how they ever shot this thing.  Really fun and worth a couple hours of your time.

And, because this is a post about movies, I thought we ought to at least have a trailer.  But before you get distracted, what movies have you seen recently?

 


Books I Read In May

Nightingale_hc_lgI can't figure out what's going on.  I know I read a ton last month, but I can't seem to bring any of the titles into my mind.  (As soon as I press publish on this post they will flood into my brain.)  So here's a quick list of the books I remember:

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah.  This is on the best-seller lists and is getting a lot of buzz, and deservedly so.  It's quite good.  I learned history from it, too, such as the fact that gazillions of people evacuated Paris when the Nazis first occupied it.  And I was reminded of the hardships that Europeans faced during World War II.

That's the only novel I can think of that I read recently, and I usually inhale novels like crazy.  But, I have been dipping in and out of a lot of writing books.  I don't so much read them cover to cover, because they have inspiration and exercises in them that lead me to the page.

Wild Women, Wild Voices by Judy Reeves.  I wrote a whole review of this book here.  I'm still working with it for journaling ideas and I like it a lot.  Its not so much a book that's going to help you with plotting or characterization, but more the basic writing stuff, like expressing yourself on the page.

The Plot Whisperer by Martha Alderson.  This is a book that will help you with your plotting (and there's some info on characterization as well).  I bought it on a trip to Seattle and wrote more about it here.

Naming the World, edited by Bret Anthony Johnston.  This is most definitely not a book you sit down and read cover to cover, because it is a book of writing exercises.  (Although each exercise is preceded by an essay from the author who submitted it.)  Good stuff in here.

Into the Woods by John Yorke.  This is a book on structure and I am loving it.  I ordered it from a bookseller in England (through Amazon) and it took forever to get here and then my husband set the envelope aside under a pile of mail so it took even longer for me to actually find it, but it was worth the wait.  An amazing, excellent book on structure, and its readable, too.  I embedded a video below of him relating "how all storytelling has worked since the beginning of time" at Google UK.

All this reading on story structure has led me to another activity: going to movies.  More on that in my next post.  In the meantime, what have you been reading?

Previous months posts are (which I offer in case you need recommendations):

Books I Read in April (and Part of May)

Books I've Been Reading

Books I Read in January


Inventive Writing Prompt Round-up #45

It is sunny and hot here in Portland, hot like in the nineties.  Not my favorite.  My office is upstairs for the time being (I'm working on moving it downstairs) and it gets hot up here so I'll be driven away from the computer soon enough.  (I'm pretty sure we're going to see the movie Mad Max this afternoon--I've been a movie going fool lately, and besides, the theater will be air conditioned!)  But before I go, just because I love you so much and want to make sure you write tons this week, I compiled the latest collection of prompts from my Tumblr blog for you.  Hope it is lovely where you are and that you're having a great weekend.

#309 Viva la revolution! What does your main character feel strongly enough about to agitate for?  To take to the streets in rebellion?  To protest if it were taken away from him?

#310  She worked furtively on the project for months, hiding the papers she took notes on or the computer screen when anybody walked by.  In the end, when she finally revealed the project, it was for  __________________.  

Either her project works amazingly well, or its a huge fiasco.  Write about her project and its results.

#311  Main character (or you): primly tidy or near-hoarder? How does this make him or her feel?  

#312  Ever patiently, he sharpened the knife.

#313  “Why do people act like that?” she asked, watching as a group down the hill started to __________________.

#314  Although there was nothing wrong with his leg, he always walked with a cane.

#315  She poured cream into her coffee and gazed into the cup, hoping it would tell her a secret.

By the way, those last few prompts are from something I found when sorting through crap stuff in my office. More on that soon.  In the meantime, how's your writing going?

 


The Love-Hate Relationship With the Creative Process

MosaicHeartBeing immersed in the creative process--writing a novel, creating a class, knitting a sweater, planting a garden--is my most favorite thing in the world.

Until I hit a block.

And decide that the novel stinks, nobody will want to take the class, the sweater won't fit, the garden won't grow.  And then I hate the creative process.

I was reading about this very thing on another blog this morning when it hit me.   The tension between the love part and the hate part is what keeps us working at it.  If the creative process--say, your writing practice--was all good all the time, you'd get bored.  And if it was all bad all the time, you'd get frustrated and quit.

A well-known psychological principle is that of intermittent reinforcement, and that's what we're talking about here.  This principle states that reinforcement is doled out in an intermittent manner is far and away the strongest motivator.  Why? Because we never know what we're going to get, and we're always hoping for the good outcome--the wonderfully satisfying writing session as opposed to the time when you sit and stare out the window.

But we're also talking about tension, the lifeblood of all stories.  It's what keeps readers turning pages, the tension in the story itself and the tension the author has embedded in the story.  Without tension, or conflict, there is no story, its a simple as that.  Which is why, of course, the news is full of awful stories about horrible things happening.

While it is frustrating to hit the lows of the creative process, if you just remember that its all a cycle and the highs will soon return, I think you can ease yourself through the times you hate everything you create.  Remind yourself that the work would not be nearly so compelling if it were all easy, all the time.  

And take yourself back to the page once more.

How do you handle the lows of the creative process?

Photo by Carbon NYC.