Make Place a character. The only way characters can be compelling is if the space surrounding them is a character. Space defines the relationship with a character. Inject something of the characters in the place. Have tension and conflict exist between the person and the space. While we’re careful not to write a character doing something out of character, the same rule works for place. Don’t write something out of character for the place. Don’t invent a left turn for a real street if, in reality, you can’t make that left turn.
Make Place a character. The only way characters can be compelling is if the space surrounding them is a character. Space defines the relationship with a character. Inject something of the characters in the place. Have tension and conflict exist between the person and the space. While we’re careful not to write a character doing something out of character, the same rule works for place. Don’t write something out of character for the place. Don’t invent a left turn for a real street if, in reality, you can’t make that left turn.
Yesterday, Nancy Bell Scott of Old Orchard Beach, Maine wrote, "Lately my brain has been overwhelmed by the many thousands (millions?) of images online. An evening can be spent wandering around cyberspace and enjoying it immensely. But very often, the next morning, entering my studio, I'm utterly paralyzed. My husband has noticed what online exposure does to me, and he thinks it's making me nuts. He's a very perceptive, creative person. I'd love to hear your own (and others') thoughts on this and what to do about it."
FYI, we've put some of Nancy's paintings at the top of the current clickback.
Thanks, Nancy. It's all about procrastination. Hanging out at a cabaret or hanging on to a computer, artists will do anything to avoid going to their room and going to work. Fear of failure and fear of success are just two of the issues that lead to escapism. With the quality and variety on the Internet, today's painters face a hazard like never before.
Net Junkies are the new alcoholics. Artists who allow the Internet to take them where it will, throw in the towel of creative individualism. Too much non-directed exposure to the work of others humbles, discourages, and sullies our own best efforts. The result, if you stay at it long enough, can be rudderless dilettantism. But there's help. It's called NJA.
Net Junkies Anonymous knows that artists procrastinate in the name of research. They get hooked. The solution is to make research a process-driven activity. It starts with the easel station. Attend to your easel before you go near your machine. As you think of your needs, put notes beside your easel. Let your work tell you what you need to study. When the time is appropriate, take your list to the machine. Be efficient and cagey. The Internet is a great slave but also a cunning master. You have to go there on your own terms.
Straight out of AA, here are a few steps to recovery:
Make an inventory of time spent at your various stations. Admit that you may be doing harm to yourself. Carry your spiritual awakening to other Net Junkies. Use the greater power of art itself to restore your sanity.
PS: "What good is sitting alone in your room? Come hear the music play. Life is a Cabaret, old chum, Come to the Cabaret." (John Kander and Fred Ebb, from Cabaret)
Esoterica: One warm Thursday evening last August, my neighbor George held a party at his house because his Facebook friends had reached 10,000. Only a few actual people were there; the rest, I think, were virtual. For a while we looked at fractals online and drank lemonade. George has a couple of nice Rottweilers, Sally and Betty, with whom I like to chat, but that night I had to get back to the studio computer to see if my Twice-Weekly Letter went out okay.
We've talked a few times about audacity, which is a totally good thing unless you don't know what you're doing. Think of a surgeon giving someone an artificial hip with a load of audacity and no knowledge. It smarts, and besides, it causes you to walk funny. And then there's the system of "commit and correct," which is golden when you have something to commit to. Now here's another: TTS--the "Timid Test System."
When you're sitting back with a glass, looking at a work in progress, you're asking, "What could be?" With time and a curious mind, a few ideas pop up. This is when you need to go up to the canvas and lightly touch in your possible maneuvers. Having put something in, however meekly, gives an idea of just how great something might be later. Toward the final stage of the painting, you can put it in with audacity.
The "What could be?" question is a personal one. What you ask is your own business and the follow-up is in your own sweet time. It's your ability to make choices that leads to effective, professional and unique work. It goes like this: "In that area, in that place, I wonder what it would look like......
if that light over there really dazzled? if there were an extreme gradation? if darks were really punched in? if that colour were rethought and sophisticated? if that colour were intensified or changed? if curves took precedent over straights? if this were made to line up with that? if there were a further element of depth added? if that place could be better formed?
A few years ago, just below the parking lot at Moraine Lake in the Canadian Rockies, I was painting and scratching my head. A couple in a Lincoln with Utah plates pulled up, and, after watching me from the car for a few minutes, got out and came closer. "Very much in the style of Robert Genn. Did you know him?" said the man. I told him I did a bit and that I thought Robert was probably still alive. I asked the couple if they thought my style might be a little more timid than Robert's. "Yes," he said, "yours is really nice, really good, but he had a lot of verve and energy in his, don't you think?" I told them that like Robert I often put my verve and energy in later on. The couple watched me for a minute or so, then wandered down the beach. "Keep at it," said the woman as they left.
PS: "Start with a whisk and end with a broom." (John Singer Sargent)
Esoterica: Creativity means thinking on your feet, making adjustments and sorties as you go along, advancing commitment as well as erasure. Unless you express your wishes, however modestly or timidly, you may never know your power. Your general overall theme may be audacious, even simply audacious, but it is the final, well-planned flourishes that will help your work to fly.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Q & A About Keeping a Journal
Posted: 15 Aug 2010 11:02 AM PDT
Journaling is one of the most intensely personal activities you can indulge in and one of the most powerful self-care ones, plus it's a gold mine of material for memoirists. Because it is so personal, there is no right way to do it, but many beginners still have questions. Below are a few of the most common.
Do I have to write by hand? No. There is some evidence that writing by hand slows your thinking to an orderly pace, giving meditative-like benefits, but the edge is slight. If you are able to catch the gush of your thoughts better on a keyboard, go for it.
How should I choose a journal? It doesn’t matter if you use a hand-bound volume covered in Italian leather, a composition book from the Dollar Store, a folder full of loose paper, software like LifeJournal. or a basic text editor. What does matter is that you choose something you feel comfortable with, and then use it.
When is the best time to write? Many people prefer to write first thing in the morning, but that doesn’t work for everyone. Write when you can — during coffee or lunch breaks at work, on the bus, after dinner ...
How often should I write? To get the most meaningful results, you should write at least several times a week. In her multi-million copy best-seller The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron advises writing three pages, first thing, every day, and millions of people around the world follow this advise. She does not specify page size. If you skip a day or few for whatever reason, Just pick it back up and keep going as soon as you can.
How much time should I spend? As stated above, Julia recommends three pages. That may take ten minutes or an hour. Write for as long as you feel the urge and have the time.
What should I write about? Anything at all. You can keep a log of the weather, record your comings and goings, rant and rave. You can keep a gratitude journal. One key to using it for enhanced health and enlightenment is to focus on feelings, emotions and reactions. The more you get your inner thoughts on paper, the more self-aware you become, the more alternate perspectives you’ll find, and the more stress you are likely to relieve.
Should I share my journal? That’s a personal choice. If you think others might read it, you’ll filter what you write. You’ll gain the most insight if you keep it private. Hide it or keep it elsewhere if you don’t trust people you live with. Then always write the Truth as you know it, and watch that Truth transform.
What other tips should I know? Two key questions have generated huge pay-offs of insight for me: “Is this true?” and “What can I learn from this?” After I write one of those questions on the page, I just write down the answer without serious thought. Writing dialogue with people from the past — or even imaginary people — is also powerful for surfacing hidden thoughts and wisdom.
Another tip is to write as fast as you can without concern for punctuation, grammar or even making sense. Just get it on the page and don't let your inner critic stop you!
Do I need lists of topics to write about? No. But using them can seed some amazing essay material.
What if I lapse? My advice about writing in your journal is the same as writing life stories: Anything you write, anything at all, is better than writing nothing. Even if it is just a few paragraphs a couple of times a year.
Where can I find more information? My favorite websites about journaling: International Association for Journal Writing Writing Through Life Center for Journal Therapy
My favorite books about journaling: One to One, Christina Baldwin Journal to the Self, Kathleen Adams.
Write Now: if you don’t have a journal, find some paper or open a new file and start one. If you do have one. pull it out and write an entry.
I try to leave out the parts that people skip. ~Elmore Leonard
When something can be read without effort, great effort has gone into its writing. ~Enrique Jardiel Poncela
I'm not a very good writer, but I'm an excellent rewriter. ~James Michener
The beautiful part of writing is that you don’t have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon. ~ Michael Crichton
The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction. By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is you really want to say. ~Mark Twain
The wastebasket is a writer's best friend. ~Isaac Bashevis Singer
Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass. ~Anton Chekhov
Easy reading is damn hard writing. ~Nathaniel Hawthorne
Writing is turning one’s worst moments into money. ~ J.P. Donleavy
My first draft is not even recognizable by the time I get to the last draft. I change everything. I consider myself at Square Zero when I finish the first draft. It’s almost like I use that draft to think through my plot. My hard copy of each draft will be dripping with ink by the time I finish, and I’ll do that several times. ~ Terri Blackstock
Writing is Rewriting.
Amateurs fall in love with every word they write. ~ William Bernhardt
Proofread carefully to see if you any words out. ~Author Unknown
Keep working. Don’t wait for inspiration. Work inspires inspiration. Keep working. ~ Michael Crichton
I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions. ~James Michener
Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested. ~ Francis Bacon
A professional writer is an amateur who didn't quit. ~ Richard Bach
Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don't feel I should be doing something else. ~ Gloria Steinem
I always do the first line well, but I have trouble doing the others. ~ Moliere
You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club. - Jack London
There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein. ~ Walter "Red" Smith
When asked, "How do you write?" I invariably answer, "One word at a time." ~ Stephen King
When you sell a man a book, you don't sell him 12 ounces of paper and ink and glue; you sell him a whole new life. ~ Emerson
Manuscript: something submitted in haste and returned at leisure. ~ Oliver Herford
I write fiction because it's a way of making statements I can disown. ~ Tom Stoppard
You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you. ~ Ray Bradbury
When I stop, the rest of the day is posthumous. I'm only really alive when I'm writing.~ Tennessee Williams
Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader—not the fact that it is raining, but the feeling of being rained upon. ~ E.L. Doctorow
Writing a book is an adventure: it begins as an amusement, then it becomes a mistress, then a master and finally a tyrant. ~Winston Churchill
Words - so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them. ~Nathaniel Hawthorne
For me, a page of good prose is where one hears the rain [and] the noise of battle. ~John Cheever
Do not put statements in the negative form. And don't start sentences with a conjunction. If you reread your work, you will find on rereading that a great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing. Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do. Unqualified superlatives are the worst of all. De-accession euphemisms. If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is. Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky. Last, but not least, avoid cliches like the plague. ~William Safire, "Great Rules of Writing"
Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead. ~Gene Fowler
Every writer I know has trouble writing. ~Joseph Heller
If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that. ~ Stephen King
Writing comes more easily if you have something to say. ~Sholem Asch
All my best thoughts were stolen by the ancients. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
If you want to get rich from writing, write the sort of thing that's read by persons who move their lips when they're reading to themselves. ~Don Marquis
There are men that will make you books, and turn them loose into the world, with as much dispatch as they would do a dish of fritters. ~Miguel de Cervantes
A perfectly healthy sentence, it is true, is extremely rare. For the most part we miss the hue and fragrance of the thought; as if we could be satisfied with the dews of the morning or evening without their colors, or the heavens without their azure. ~Henry David Thoreau
You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what's burning inside you. And we edit to let the fire show through the smoke. ~Arthur Polotnik
If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. ~ Stephen King
Pen names are masks that allow us to unmask ourselves. ~C. Astrid Weber
A good style should show no signs of effort. What is written should seem a happy accident. ~W. Somerset Maugham, Summing Up, 1938
There is no way of writing well and also of writing easily. ~ Anthony Trollope
If I'm trying to sleep, the ideas won't stop. If I'm trying to write, there appears a barren nothingness. ~Carrie Latet
Many books require no thought from those who read them, and for a very simple reason. They made no such demand upon those who wrote them. ~Charles Caleb Colton
How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live. ~Henry David Thoreau, Journal, 19 August 1851
Write your first draft with your heart. Re-write with your head. ~From the movie Finding Forrester
Coach Sherrie says: I am thinking about my revisions. I have written approx. 3 drafts and I know I have a great story; I just am not sure HOW to tell it. My coach is suggesting that I meditate to get in touch with the finished story and the main characters and let THEM TELL ME how the story should be told. I will keep you up-to-date on how it goes.
Esoterica: By spreading yourself over several jobs at once, you amortize your creativity and give each work the advantage of contemplation over time. Amazingly, when you pick up a painting that has been abandoned for a day or two, you can often cut right to its problems and solve at least some of its weaknesses. This is also a good time to ask what more might add interest or depth to a composition. No matter how difficult the puzzle, you still have a fair degree of control. You need to keep your options open, ask "What could be?" and leave your lines in the water.
Recently, Judith Meeks of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, wrote, "I'll soon be chairing a panel discussion called 'Finding Your Voice.' In your understanding, how do we translate our life experiences into our paintings and express who we really are? We may have good work habits, but how do we become clear about what we want to say? And how much can be done with a conscious plan?"
Thanks, Judith. This is one of those sticky head-scratchers that can cause the loss of sleep. First off, and contrary to what I've said before, plans can actually derail the voice-finding process. Further, you have to know what you mean by "voice." Voice in style is different than voice in cause. Ideally, style develops over time. Cause is based on attitude and issue. With growth and development, causes change. A predetermined voice shackles creativity. To find your very own voice, I think you need to have a few things going for you:
You need to make stuff. Artists who put in regular working hours find their voice. Work itself generates clarity and direction. It's like invention--one thing leads to another. One must only lurk for voice. Unfortunately, along the way, most drop the ball. Like the dilettante inventor of the soft drink "6-up," they just don't stick around long enough.
You need hunger. It can be the hunger for knowledge or for self-knowledge. It can be the desire to find an antidote for some injustice or human miscalculation. Perhaps you need some inexplicable, deep-seated compulsion to keep moving forward.
You need curiosity. Wondering how things will turn out is more powerful than having a pretty good idea beforehand. Wondering if you can do it gives you reason to try. Curiosity is the main juice of "ego-force" that keeps you keeping on.
You need joy. You need to feel joy in yourself and you need to feel you're giving it to others. As Winston Churchill said, "You may do as you like, but you also have to like what you do." A disliked job is soon abandoned.
I'm writing you from a remote anchorage off Grenville Channel on the West Coast of British Columbia. I'm thinking human nature is a mighty puzzle. Every time I go onto one of these islands looking for something to paint, I ask myself the old "What's my voice?" question. One thing for sure, if I go ashore knowing what my voice is, it will be a weak squawk when I get to the spot.
PS: "Why this hunger to write--I always ask myself--if not the longing to discover what I believe? The pen divines my thoughts." (David Conover in One Man's Island.)
Esoterica: "What's my voice?" has to be asked by each individual artist. Committee-free, the artist needs to develop her voice as if on an island. To be a voice is to be a different voice, set apart, unique. How to find it? Go to your island, put in long hours, fall in love with process--your voice will come out of your work.
Creating Mini Bios for your Characters.I found this in some website, I cannot recall which one, but I find it helpful and insightful
1. WRITE MINI BIOS FOR YOUR DREAM CAST Make a list of characters you either might want to write about or have begun to write about. Three or four will do. Fill out a mini bio for each, listing the basics: age, name, marital status, family ties, occupation, appearance and general thoughts and feelings.
Now study each mini-bio, imagining that character as the star of your story. He will receive the most attention from you and the readers, the highest word count, the emotional arc (if there is one) and the climactic scene. How does the story change when you recast it?
1- What is this character's name?
2- What is her age and birth date?
3- What does she look like?
4- What is her astrological sign and does it matter to her?
5- What are her parents like?
6- Does she have brothers and sisters?
7- How important are her family relationships?
8- Where does she live ? (Urban? Small town? Rural?)
9 - Does she live in an apartment? House? What type or style? Did she chose the residence and why?
10- Does she live by herself? With others?
11- What are her important material possessions?
12- What are her hobbies?
13- What is her education?
14- What is her job? How does she feel about her work?
15- Is this a long-term career or just a job?
16- What does she want to be doing in 20 years?
17- If she has unexpected time free time, what does she do?
18- How does she feel about the opposite sex?
19- What is her relationship status? Single? Divorced?
20- Does she have children?
21- Who is her best friend? Why?
22- Who is her worst enemy? Why?
23- How would a former date describe her?
24- What one event has made her who she is today?
25- How does that turning point in the character's life relate to the other main character in the story?
26- What trait does she have that she wants to keep secret from the world?
27- What does she like most about her life?
28- What does she dislike most about her life?
29- What would this character die to defend?
30- What are her most likable and unlikable traits?
31- As the story begins what is her main problem?
32- What does she do that makes this problem worse?
33- Who is this person's love interest?
34- What qualities in the other main character are most attractive to this person?
35- What is her ideal happy ending?
36- What reaction do you want readers to have to her?
What Point of View Should You Use in Your Novel? (First Person? Third Person?) July 20, 2010 by James V. Smith Jr. There are several different points of view available to you when writing your novel (first person, second person, third person). Here are the advantages and disadvantages to each.
There are, obviously, several different points of view available to you—and, less obviously, several advantages and disadvantages to each.
First person First person POV refers to the I, we, me, my, mine, us narrator, often the voice of the heroic character or a constant companion of the heroic character. There I was, minding my own beeswax when she up and kissed me. I near passed out.
ADVANTAGES OF THIS POV: • It feels natural to most writers because we live in an I world. • You have to deal with only one mind: the narrator’s. • You can create a distinctive internal voice. • You can add an element of craft by creating a narrator who is not entirely reliable.
DISADVANTAGES OF THIS POV: • You are limited to writing about what the narrator can see or sense. • The narrator must constantly be on stage or observing the stage. • You can’t go into the minds of other characters.
Second person The you narrator, this POV is rarely successful, and even then works best in shorter books. For an example of second person POV, check out Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City. But know that most publishing professionals advise against using this tricky approach. You’re just standing there. She comes along and kisses you, and you nearly faint.
ADVANTAGES OF THIS POV: • It gives you the power to be different, even eccentric in the way you can speak to the reader so directly.
DISADVANTAGES OF THIS POV: • It begins to feel quirky, whether you’re reading it or writing it. • It can say to a publishing professional: “I’m a Jay McInerney knockoff. Reject me!”
Third person The he, she, it, they, them narrator, third person is the most common POV in fiction. It offers a variety of possibilities for limiting omniscience: information that the narrator and reader are privy to in the telling of the story.
THIRD PERSON UNLIMITED OMNISCIENCE: In this POV, the author enters the mind of any character to transport readers to any setting or action.
He stood stiff as a fence post, watching her come his way. What did she want? he wondered. She had decided to kiss him, no matter what. So she did. She could see the effect of her kiss at once. He nearly fell over.
ADVANTAGES OF THIS POV: • It can enrich your novel with contrasting viewpoints. • Both you and your reader can take a breath of fresh air as you shift from one character’s POV to another’s. • You can broaden the scope of your story as you move between settings and from conflicting points of view.
DISADVANTAGES OF THIS POV: • You can confuse yourself and the reader unless every voice is distinctive. • You can diffuse the flow of your story by switching the POV too often. (Notice how the last passage about the kiss jolts you from one POV to the other.) • It’s easy to get lazy and begin narrating as the author instead of as one of your characters.
THIRD PERSON LIMITED OMNISCIENCE: The author enters the mind of just a few characters, usually one per chapter or scene.
He stood stiff as a fence post, watching her come his way. What did she want? he wondered, as she approached. Then he saw the determination in her face. Good crackers! She was going to kiss him, no matter what. She did, too, and he nearly fell over.
ADVANTAGES OF THIS POV: • It has all the advantages of third person unlimited POV. • You can concentrate the story by keeping to major characters’ (and strategic minor characters’) thoughts.
DISADVANTAGES OF THIS POV: • There aren’t any, really; by imposing POV discipline, you minimize the downsides of unlimited omniscience.
If you want to get really complex, you can identify three or four times as many POV choices—but these are by far the most common, and will suit most any story.
These days I've been rededicating myself to less overworking and more understatement. In other words, trying to leave my work fresher, even at the expense of being incomplete. I believe it's an idea that a lot of us could profit by.
We all know the danger of keeping on going--adding detail or complexity when the idea we started out with is well enough expressed without the fiddling. In our innate human desire for perfection we can forget the hand of the artist, even the struggling hand, and the poetic justice of paucity. These elements have value for the second half of the creative partnership--the eyes of the viewer.
Here in Japan it's the principle of "Mujo" (moo-joh). It stems from the ancient Zen concept of transience and uncertainty. A related Japanese word is Mikansei (me-kahn-say-ee) which means "the state of being incomplete." In many ways, the western convention of abstract art fills this bill. In abstraction, you can't always tell exactly what it is you are looking at, and there lies its charm. Mystery builds viewer interest.
The Japanese are not always prepared to go that far. The suggestion of a waterfall or a few cursory brushstrokes indicating a tree or a flower may suffice to communicate a motif.
Here's how to put Mujo to work for yourself: Before starting in with the "busyness" of working, stop to think of the simplest and freshest way a passage might be conceived and executed. Very often a move up to a larger brush, together with a careful mixing of the desired colour, and an elegant, well-contemplated stroke or two can carry the day. Leaving a little primer showing through, or a slight error, a slub or a bump--so what. Even an inadvertent dribble-down or an indecisive painterly scrabble gives life where dullness might otherwise prevail.
We sometimes hear the argument that this sort of incompleteness or roughness only appeals to other artists. I don't think so. I find our world to be loaded and cocked with creator wannabees. We artists represent the last bastion of the hand of man. For others to see art in its freshness, failings and incompleteness may be the greater part of our winning hand.
PS: "The power of the mujo principle lies in quietly, serenely letting the viewer participate in the representation." (Boye Lafayette De Mente, from his excellent overview "Elements of Japanese Design")
Esoterica: Today I attended a show that included traditional flower arrangement (ikebana). Unlike the western burst of saturated colour and riots of variety--the whole garden in your face--Japanese floral designs tend to be sparse, subtle and simple. A single, tall orchid of an incredible, delicate colour set off by a few dry sticks that twist and struggle alongside, all set, off center, in a delicate and unobtrusive earthen vase. Such is the nature of understatement--an opportunity for the viewer to slow down, take part in, and love.
I am still writing my first novel, but this is what I learned in my MFA and from working with coaches: 1) First, just get it out there. Don't worry about mistakes, incongruencies, etc. 2) Revision is what makes a book great, rather than mediocre. Joyce Carol Oates, who has written more than 50 novels, says this. So does Stephen King and most likely, any writer who is worth their weight in gold. So, just keep writing until the end. You will probably find your story has changed by then, so making revisions before you finish would be a waste of time. Once the 1st draft is done, you can start talking to your characters and asking them what their story is about. All the best to you, Sherrie Miranda
The Ins and Outs of First-Person POV July 08, 2010 by Jessica Strawser In his session “The Pros and Cons of the First-Person Viewpoint,” blockbuster novelist David Morrell took an intimate look at this hotly debated POV.
—ThrillerFest 2010 (New York City) Blockbuster novelist David Morrell’s expert view, the biggest con of writing in first person is that it traps us in our own viewpoint (or our protagonist’s viewpoint). The reader can know only what we know as we come to know it, see only what we see. This can limit the means in which you can tell the story and have it still ring true for your readers.
Another con: When we select the first person we’re tempted to write as we speak. This can lead to undisciplined writing, potentially yielding rambling or flat, one-dimensional prose.
The tradeoff, though, can be authenticity. “There is no such thing as a third-person viewpoint in life,” Morrell explains. Which means you might say first person POV is the most true-to-life perspective from which to tell a story.
Another pro: First-person narrators can be unreliable narrators (and often the best ones are), leaving what happened open to interpretation—and, in the hands of a skilled writer, this can add amazing depth to a story, as evidenced so expertly in the best known works of Mark Twain and J.D. Salinger. Stories like theirs demand to be told in first person—in fact, Morrell points out they could not be effectively told in any other way.
His key takeaway? Write in first-person only if you have a compelling reason to.
Motivate Your Characters Like a Pro July 08, 2010 by Jessica Strawser In his session “The Psychology of Character Motivation,” Edgar-nominated author D.P. Lyle, MD, shared this invaluable exercise for developing your characters’ motivations as your story unfolds.
—ThrillerFest 2010 (New York City) Edgar-nominated author D.P. Lyle, MD, advises that to begin developing a character’s motivation, you should first decide where he or she falls—at the beginning of your story—in each of these key spectrums:
Tough Guy <–> Whiner Team Guy <–> Rebel Artist <–> Dreamer Smarty <–> Dummy Blooming Rose <–> Wallflower Grinder <–> Lazy Dog Goody <–> Baddy Believer <–> Doubter
Now, look ahead to where you plan for your story to end. Where will your character fall on all of the above spectrums, once the story arc has come to its close? Motivated characters all have one thing in common: They change. Use the above spectrums as a barometer to measure that change—and by the end of the story, the character should fall at the opposite end of most or even all of the above ranges.
Lyle illustrates this with his example of what he calls “the perfect thriller:” The Terminator. “It hits on every note in the right order perfectly, from beginning to end,” he says. “It is the greatest character arc maybe in the history of the world.”
To see why, perform the above exercise, measuring Sarah Connor’s character trajectory on all of the above spectrums. Through the course of Terminator, our protagonist changes from a whiner to a tough guy, from a team player to a rebel, from a dreamer to an artist, from a dummy to a smarty, from a wildflower to a blooming rose, a lazy dog to a grinder, a goody to a baddy (in a manner of speaking) and her belief system is shaken.
Now, try it with your own characters in your work-in-progress. How can their motivations be stronger?
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- I Don’t Feel Like Journaling Today by Sharon Lippincott Posted: 08 Jul 2010 05:54 AM PDT
I woke up this morning thinking I wrote a lot yesterday and the day before. I don’t have anything to say today. I can skip it. I don’t have to write everyday. I want to get back to my manuscript. I need to make nametags for the new class today.
In short, I itched to do anything but write in my journal. I’ve been lax about journaling lately. It’s so easy when I’m on fire with a new idea or picking at a knot of understanding. Other days it feels in the way. How easy it would be to fall away from the practice, and I don't want that to happen, because I do believe in the power of Practice.
Journaling is a Practice. Natalie Goldberg writes constantly about the importance of Writing Practice and her Roshi validated it as Natalie's Way. He put it on a par, at least for her, with “sitting” (in meditation). I also find that writing focuses and clarifies my mind. I know from experience that journaling often pays its biggest dividends when my thoughts are whirling and passion is high.
So it was today. Within the space of half an hour I came up with two new concepts that laser in on the lake of energy behind an inner dam of blocked vision that I hadn’t realized was there! A list of blog topics spewed out. Ideas for two new classes and books emerged in full focus and clarity. I could write the Table of Contents right now.
Yes, I’m juiced. I’m stoked. The time I invested in journaling will save that much time and more by smoothing the path of other things I do today.
What’s my bottom line here? Usually the days I don’t feel like journaling are the most important days to do it.
What did I do to get the pump primed, to make it work?
I sat down, picked up my journal, opened to the next empty page and wrote the date. (I write the date and also the day of the week — if I get mixed up on the date, that helps me untangle later by referring to a calendar, and it occasionally provides valuable context.) I wrote the obvious: “I don’t feel like writing today.” I began writing about what I’d rather be doing. On the second “rather” writer's rush set in. My concept expanded. It was still largely documentary, but new ideas poked up heads like sprouts in spring. Words flowed. I didn’t get close to any topic that will move my manuscript along, but a small resentment I thought of and captures proved to be a gold mine. Words are flowing, and the energy from focus on other projects will move the manuscript. Yes, this was time well spent.
Write now: Open your journal if you have one. If you don’t, open a new file or get a fresh piece of paper, and write for twenty minutes. Just write, about anything that comes to mind. Write about why you don’t feel like writing. Write about a dream project. Write about something that puzzles you. Just keep your finger smoving and see what surprises emerge.
Photo: Lee Coursey from The Heart and Craft of Life Writing
The Myth of Writer's Block: How to Get Unstuck and Stay Unstuck
You don't have to experience writer's block. Ever.
You don't have to sweat over the blank page. You don't have to chew your pencil (or fingernails) to the nub. You don't have to wonder where the next word is coming from.
Writer's block is a myth -- not because you won't ever feel stuck but because there's no reason for you ever to stay stuck.
Do you wonder where your next breath is coming from? Unless you suffer from some sort of lung disease, you rarely think about your breath. You assume it will come and it does. One breath and then another...and then another.
It comes because you let it, because you don't get in its way, because you're not thinking about it or worrying about it.
Words can be like that, too.
If you trust in your story, in its inherent wisdom, the words always come. The words always come because they're already there. They're there because, in some sense, your story already exists.
It exists in the same invisible realm in which your dreams, visions and ideas exist. And if you believe in that existence, if you trust in that existence, if you know deep in your heart that your story is already present and smarter than you are, you will never lack the words your story needs for its expression.
By the way, I use the word "story" in its broadest sense, to encompass all that you would write -- fiction or nonfiction, novel or screenplay, short story or poem. Everything you write, everything you experience, everything you share: It's all story.
So how do you get to that place where the story's words flow as effortlessly as your breath?
By writing. By writing without stopping...without stopping for any reason that could give your critical, judgmental, doubtful, cynical or analytical selves any opportunity for input during these initial, creative stages.
I call this nonstop approach "writing on the Muse Stream" because I believe that when we surrender to our Muse, creativity pours through us as effortlessly as water in a free-flowing stream.
It's natural to want to edit as we go, to want to stop to correct spelling, punctuation or grammar or to grope for the right word.
Don't do it. If you can't think of a word, leave a blank space or write xxx. If you don't like a word you’ve written, mark it in some way and move on. Don’t stop.
"Fine words," I hear you say. "But I'm still stuck."
You may be stuck, but you're not blocked. And you certainly haven't lost your creative ability.
You can't lose something that's an innate part of you, that's an innate part of everyone. Creativity is as natural as breathing and as long as you're breathing, you can write.
Here are seven reasons why you might be feeling stuck and some ways to get unstuck.
Are you discovering things about yourself or your beliefs through your writing that are making you uncomfortable? Is your story carrying you into new, potentially dangerous territory?
Fear will always block us from moving forward in our writing, if we let it. The only solution is to keep writing -- through the fear. Past the fear.
Your fears -- and all your emotions -- can be the most powerful components of your writing. Don't run from them. Write them.
When we assume that we're in charge of the story, that it has to look or sound a specific way, conform to a particular genre or format, or match a certain outcome or expectation, we're bound to get stuck.
Your story has its own imperative and its own wisdom. You override those at your peril.
Abandon control. Let your story express itself. Let your Muse have its way with you. Let the words spill out of you -- the words your story needs, not the words you think you need.
Write on the Muse Stream, and just keep going. If you find yourself getting stuck, simply repeat your last word or sentence (or any word or sentence). Repeat them over and over and over and over again until you find yourself back in the flow. And you will.
Rhythms & Routines
Human beings like routine. We like breakfast at a certain time and a certain kind of muffin with our Starbucks coffee.
As writers, we often prefer to have set writing times and patterns: writing in a certain room, using a certain pen and sitting down at a certain time.
Routines, however, can turn into ruts. What worked yesterday may not work today...or ever again.
If you're feeling stuck, you may well be stuck -- in a pattern that's not working anymore.
Try new rhythms and routines. Break existing patterns.
Go for a walk, do yoga stretches, take a shower or do something else unrelated to writing or to your current project. Drive to a scenic spot and write in the car. Write in the morning instead of the afternoon, longhand instead of on the computer, in a café instead of at home.
Find the rhythm and routine that works for you today, and be open to changing it tomorrow.
Whether in writing or in life, many of us are addicted to getting it right. Being perfect means we won't be criticized, judged or rejected. A perfect first draft means fewer revisions. Being perfect is, well, just a good thing to be. Isn't it?
I’ve got bad news: It will never be perfect. It may be excellent, accomplished, creative, innovative and insightful. But perfect? Not possible.
It's not possible because there's no perfect way to translate the intangible (ideas, thoughts, visions) into words on a page. There's no perfect way to describe a brilliant sunset or profound emotion in a way that guarantees each reader an experience identical to yours.
Do your best. But if you're intent on making it perfect, you may find yourself stuck on the same story -- or sentence -- for the rest of your writing life, never growing into something new.
Recognize that what appears as a block may be a matter of timing. If you've written as deeply into a story as you can and find yourself unable to continue, it may be that you need more life experience (or research) before you're ready to go on.
Instead of calling yourself "blocked," welcome the break -- to do research, to work on a different project or to get on with your life, trusting that you'll know when it's time to get back to it.
If you're feeling stuck, ask yourself whether the story is one that excites and impassions you, one that fires you up more than anything else you could be writing. Is it the right idea for you right now? Or is it just another good idea that anyone could write.
If you've lost the excitement (or never had it) and cannot rekindle your enthusiasm, consider that this may not be the best project for you at this time.
Lack of passion is a guaranteed recipe for stuckness. Passion, on the other hand, will always fuel your writing.
Respect yourself and your writing. Respect every draft. Every word.
The more you beat yourself up over your writing, output or creative ability, the more you're inviting the kind of paralysis that feeds writer's block.
Discard judgment and punishing discipline. Cultivate discernment and discipleship. Recognize that every word, draft and emotion is an integral part of your creative journey. Honor all aspects of that journey -- including the painfully uncomfortable ones -- and writer's block will become a myth for you, too.
(c) 2009 Mark David Gerson
Adapted from The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write (LightLines Media, 2008)
"Writer's Block" message pad available from TheDailyPlanner.com Writer's block cartoon by Rusty-Siccors
Posted by Mark David Gerson at 4:44 PM Labels: control, fear, muse stream, myth, passion, perfectionism, self-respect, surrender, writer's block
4 Tips for Making Time to Write by Victoria Lynn Schmidt, Ph.D
Learn how to set up a self-management gameplan to write your book with these four time-management tips.
If you have trouble with it, then tough. That’s right I said it—tough! Too many writers use lack of time as an excuse not to write. When you say you don’t have the time, what you are really saying is, Something else is more important right now than writing.
Is that really true for you? Are all these other tasks you’re completing, all of them, more important to you than writing? If so, then stop beating yourself up about not writing and put this book down. Writing has to be a priority for you, at least for the next 30 days. I know you’re probably thinking, “I have to feed my kids and take care of my family! How could she say this!” To this I would respond: You absolutely cannot say you don’t have the time unless you write down all of your activities for one week and prove it!
Remember in the last chapter where I discussed how you might have some new, extenuating circumstance holding you back right now? That is not what we are talking about here. We are talking about the regular routine—your daily, weekly, monthly, and even yearly priorities. We are talking about why you may have been stuck working on one manuscript for several years, never getting to the end. Or better (worse) yet, stuck writing the beginnings of several stories but never finding the time to finish one of them.
True, if your child had an accident and you have a lot more to do right now, that is a different situation but if your father needs daily care for the rest of his life … well, that has become part of your routine now. You have to accept it and find a way to live your life.
Many parents with a thousand things on their to-do list find time to write; writing is just number one thousand and one. Seriously. Nora Roberts had a lot on her plate when she started writing—and still does—and yet she’s found the time to pen over a hundred and fifty novels. How does she, or how does any author, take on the daily duties of life and of writing at the same time?
Successful authors manage their time, pure and simple.
Get a small notebook and take it everywhere you go. Write down everything you do and how long it took you to do it. In 90 percent of cases, free moments for writing will be found.
TIP #1: MAKE WRITING THE FIRST THING The easiest way to create a new habit is to make it one of the first things you do each day. As each new day progresses, you can be pulled in a number of different directions. There are simply too many distractions that come on once the day is set in motion, not to mention the fatigue that can overcome you after lunch.
What you resolve to do first thing—or at least third thing—in the morning, you will do. It is so much easier to sit down and write a page or two and then conduct your daily business than it is to check e-mail, pay bills, return phone calls, wash your hair, wash your dog, and get pulled into half a dozen different tasks, before trying to write a page or two. This is why many people exercise first thing in the morning. Well, for the next 30 days your exercise is writing. Time management is really self-management.
TIP #2: ADHERE TO THE PARETO PRINCIPLE Have you heard of the Pareto principle, or the 80-20 rule? It is the principle that 20 percent of your time and effort generates 80 percent of the results, or that 80 percent of what you accomplish is caused by 20 percent of your effort. Most things in life were found to be distributed this way (the distribution of wealth, the number of writers to the percentage of total books sold, etc.)
So, if 20 percent of your effort causes 80 of your accomplishments, wouldn’t it be great if you focused on that 20 percent of result-getting effort 100 percent of the time? Of course it would! Think of all the free time you would have if you only had to do a fraction, the most effective part, of the daily, too-often-unproductive grind. We all waste time and effort, every single day. We do things that will get us nowhere, things that won’t yield any value in our lives. This stuff takes up 80 percent of our effort, if we let it. (There are numerous books out on this principle if you want more information.) This means that as you embark on your BIAM, you must:
•drop all that busy work that gets you nowhere; •drop all the clients who don’t add to your business and do eat into your writing time; •drop all the negative writer friends who drag you down; •drop the agent who is holding you back; •drop all the manuscripts you don’t really love, those you started just because you thought they were marketable; •drop all your high expectations—you don’t have to have the cleanest house on the block (one writer was spending six hours every Saturday cleaning her house, and she had no kids or pets!); •drop whatever you find is within that 80 percent of wasted effort. Focus on that result-getting 20 percent of effort.
When you focus on things that don’t truly matter to you, you are working within the 80 percent of effort that won’t get you the 20-percent results you want. How could it?
We have so much more time available to us now than at any other time in history; it’s just that our thinking is flawed. There was a time when women spent ten hours doing the laundry by hand; now, we just pop it into a machine. Where did those ten hours go? Get a copy of PBS’s The 1900 House and see how people used to live.
Studies show we actually have too much time available to us, and we squander it.
We fill our days with meaningless tasks. Read Living the 80/20 Way by Richard Koch (www.the8020principle.com), and your eyes will be opened:"We have never been so free, yet failed to realize the extent of our freedom. We have never had so much time, yet felt we had so little. Modern life bullies us to speed up our lives … but going faster only makes us feel like we’re always behind."
Simplify your life and focus on the 20 percent of activity and effort that gives you 80 percent of happiness and results, at least for 30 days.
Don’t get confused here—this principle is not about being fast but about slowing down and focusing on what is important to you. If you want to go to the country (your goal), you can go via the quick, less scenic route or the longer, more picturesque one. Both routes fit in with the 80-20 principle—if you like to drive fast then take a fast route; if you like to enjoy the scenery then take the scenic route. You create your goal and then get there in the way that uses your skills and interests … your 20 percent.
If you force yourself to go via the scenic route when you really love speed, you will be unhappy because you won’t get there fast enough; thus, the scenic route becomes part of your 80 percent of wasted effort. The trick, then, is to know both your “to-do” and “not to-do” list, to know your wants as well as your don’t-wants.
TIP # 3: KEEP TRACK OF YOUR WRITING TIME Keep track of your writing time every day using the following Writing Time Tracker. Write in the number of hours you spend on each area, for each day, for one project over 30 days. You can also plug in word or page counts in “Totals.”
The final rows of each week can be customized. When you sit down to write, note the time and when you are done jot down how long you worked in each category. The “Miscellaneous” category is for research, reading, writing exercises, buying materials, and other writing-related tasks. Use the blank rows for other types of non-writing distractions that come up during your set writing time.
TIP # 4: DON’T ASK FOR TIME Find the time any way you can and take it. Of course I don’t condone lying or cheating to get the time you need, though some writers have stretched the truth a bit. Dr. Mira Kirshenbaum says: “Don’t ask for time for yourself. If you ask, people can say no. If you just do it, then you’ve done it and you’ve got it. Your being happy is the only change they’ll notice.”
The point she is making in the quote is that, while writing may be important to you, few people in your life will see it as important. Many will just see it as an unnecessary indulgence. Asking them to help you find time for writing just won’t work. Of course if you had a major circumstance or emergency these same people would give you all the time you needed, so the time is there. They just might not see writing as worthy of it.
You have to decide writing is worthy of that time, and then just take it.
One writer had more than three months of sick and personal leave saved up at his day job. His boss wanted him to use some of it before he lost it. He was afraid to take off, but he did and now has a small but steady writing career in the works.
“Work as if it doesn’t matter.” John Gray made this statement in his book How to Get What You Want and Want What You Have.When I first read this, I wondered how I could possibly do that because I care about my work!
One day when coaching a client I realized I was so intense on the listening that nothing else around me mattered. This is what he meant! This is being in the moment and not concerned about doing.
Being vs. Doing The concept of being vs. doing can be difficult to grasp. We think about what we want to do, but how do we just “be” as it takes not thinking. Activities that allow us to connect with our hearts and feelings help us learn how to “be."
A helpful tool is making a comfort list, things that bring joy and peace, keeping you “out of your mind!” The list may look like this:
Listening to music Walking along the beach Taking a warm bubble bath Reading a great book Listening to wind chimes Watching candles glow Listening to the silence Spending time at a bookstore Talking with friends Watching the sunrise Watching the sunset Having a massage Giving a hug Collecting your favorite things
The more we allow ourselves time for these comforting activities, the more connected we become with our center, creating a balance within ourselves. Being in the moment is realized as pleasurable.
Five Signs a Literary Agent is a Good Match For You Posted by Chuck Sambuchino
So you’ve got a great book and you want to get it published. You could try to simply market it, sell it and negotiate it on your own, but many new to the business simply don’t feel comfortable doing that on their own. That means that it’s time to find an agent but you don’t just want any agent, you want the right one. How can you know if a literary agent is really a good fit for you and the kind of work that you produce? Here are a five signs that things will work out between the two of you.
1. He or she commonly works with books like yours. Finding someone who is actually interested in the kind of work that you’re producing is essential. If you’ve managed to get an agent that commonly works with material in your genre, then you’re on the right track. He or she will have more enthusiasm and know more about what it takes to get your work in the spotlight than someone who doesn’t really focus on the type of work that you do. 2. He or she pushes you. The best agents shouldn’t just let you be lazy and do what you want. While there should be a balance of power, they should push you to work harder, get more done and actively market your work if you’re not already doing that on your own. There should be a great give and take between the two of you, allowing you to maximize your potential. 3. He or she is excited about your work. Someone who is not really excited about the things that you’re creating isn’t likely to do too much to make sure that they ever see the light of day. In fact, they may languish on a desk somewhere for months. If your agent seems genuinely enthusiastic about finding a publisher and marketing your book, then you’ve found a keeper. 4. He or she is there when you need them. If you’re new to the game, you likely have numerous questions about how the whole process works, what you need to do and the kind of deals you should be willing to make. Your agent should be there to help guide you through the process, though hand-holding can’t always be expected. Find an agent who isn’t always mysteriously “out of the office” when you call and you might have a long future of working together. 5. You actually get along. It might seem pretty basic, but some people assume that because it is a business relationship that they don’t need to actually like their agent. While it isn’t a necessity, this person is someone who is going to be representing your work and who will be tied to it for years to come—it’s much better to have that be someone you actually like and want around rather than someone you merely tolerate.
Anne Tyler's Tips on Writing Strong (yet Flawed) Characters by Jessica Strawser
With a body of work spanning five decades, a Pulitzer Prize and membership in the Academy of Arts and Letters, Anne Tyler is a testament to the best kind of longevity—and the purity of the written word.
Anne Tyler belongs to a disappearing generation of writers, those who came into their own in an era when it was more than enough to—well, to simply write. Intensely protective of her craft, she hasn’t given an in-person interview or participated in a book tour since 1977. In an age where writers are expected to lead double lives as self-promoters to enjoy any semblance of commercial success, Tyler carries on just as she always has, remaining steadfast in her singular devotion to her writing process. And she can get away with it, too, because she’s Anne Tyler—and she’s just that indisputably good.
If Tyler’s writing career sounds like a luxury, a lofty dream come to life—penning a well-received book every few years in the quiet of her home in Baltimore, eschewing the media in favor of the companionship of her characters—it’s one she’s earned. Tyler published her first book, If Morning Ever Comes, in 1964, prompting a New York Times reviewer to write, “This is an exceedingly good novel, so mature, so gently wise and so brightly amusing that, if it weren’t printed right there on the jacket, few readers would suspect that Mrs. Tyler was only 22. Some industrious novelists never learn how to write good fiction. Others seem to be born knowing how. Mrs. Tyler is one of these.” Somewhat amusingly, the exceptionally modest Tyler did not agree, and has since said she’d like to disown her first four novels—in her opinion, she began hitting her stride with her fifth book, Celestial Navigation, in 1974.
She released her favorite of her works, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, in 1982, and cemented her status as a household name in 1985 with the publication of her 10th book, The Accidental Tourist, which she is still perhaps best known for today. The story—centered around a neurotic writer who makes a living penning guidebooks for travelers who, like himself, want to avoid experiencing anything unfamiliar—affirmed Tyler’s reputation as a clever, charming storyteller. Her follow-up, Breathing Lessons, a simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking novel that takes place in the span of a single day, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1989. But having learned that talking about her writing was prohibitive to actually doing it, Tyler would not be coaxed back into the public eye. She found she could succeed best as a wife, mother and writer without it.
Her books are about families, and the complications therein—marital discourse, sibling rivalry, resentment and, underneath it all, love. Tyler’s eccentric and endearing characters are so intensely real, so thoroughly developed, they come to life on the page—both for her as she writes and for the reader, who suddenly can see a bit of his own mother, father, brother or even self in their blurted-out words, their unspoken impulses, their mistakes and, with any luck, their moments of triumph.
In anticipation of the release of her 18th novel, Noah’s Compass, which hits shelves in January, WD was granted a rare interview with Tyler, now 67, via e-mail—a format to which in recent years she has sporadically consented, deeming it less disruptive. She discusses her latest work, lessons learned through decades of writing, and her literary legacy.
IN AN INTERVIEW AFTER THE 2006 RELEASE OF YOUR LAST NOVEL, DIGGING TO AMERICA, YOU SAID, “I’D LIKE TO WRITE ABOUT A MAN WHO FEELS HE HAS NOTHING MORE TO EXPECT FROM HIS LIFE; BUT IT’S ANYBODY’S GUESS WHAT THE REAL SUBJECT WILL TURN OUT TO BE IN THE END.” IS NOAH’S COMPASS THAT BOOK? HOW DID THE STORY EVOLVE?
Surprisingly, Noah’s Compass did turn out to be exactly that book. That doesn’t always happen. Even though I never base my novels on real events, I do think they often reflect my current stage of life. Noah’s Compass began to take shape when I was in my mid-60s. Like [protagonist] Liam, I have begun to wonder how people live after they have passed all of the major milestones except for dying.
SOME OF YOUR MOST WELL-KNOWN PROTAGONISTS ARE MALE, AS IN NOAH’S COMPASS. HOW DO YOU GO ABOUT WRITING FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF THE OPPOSITE SEX?
I had a really good father, and two really good grandfathers, and three really good brothers—far more men in my life than women, in fact. Probably that’s why I don’t think of male characters as being all that foreign to me. The biggest stretch I’ve had to make is reminding myself that men need to shave in the morning.
YOUR STORIES OFTEN DEAL WITH MATTERS OF FAMILY AND COMPLICATED RELATIONSHIPS, AND YET EACH ONE SEEMS FRESH. HOW DO YOU ENSURE EACH BOOK CREATES A UNIQUE WORLD FOR THE READER TO IMMERSE HERSELF INTO?
Well, thank you, but I always worry that I’m not creating a unique world. With every novel I finish, I think, “Oh, darn, I’ve written the same book all over again.”
HOW MUCH DO YOU CONSIDER YOUR AUDIENCE WHEN YOU WRITE? AS YOU RELEASE A NEW BOOK, DO YOU IMAGINE YOUR READERS TO BE PRIMARILY NEW ONES, OR TO BE “CONSTANT READERS,” AS STEPHEN KING CALLS THEM, WHO HAVE GROWN WITH YOU? OR DO YOU NOT IMAGINE THEM AT ALL?
I’ve learned that it is best not to think about readers while I’m writing. I just try to sink into the world I’m describing. But at the very end, of course, I have to think about readers. I read my final draft pretending I’m someone else, just to make sure that what I’ve written makes sense from outside.
At that point, I seem to picture my readers as brand-new to me. They have the neuter, faceless quality of people in dreams. It comes as a shock later when a real-life reader writes to me and turns out to be a specific human being.
YOUR CHARACTERS SEEM SO REAL, IN PART, BECAUSE THEY’RE SO FLAWED. YOU’VE ALSO SAID YOUR CHARACTERS SURPRISE YOU ALL THE TIME. AS YOU WRITE, HOW DO YOU KEEP EVEN THE MOST FLAWED CHARACTERS ENDEARED TO THE READER, RATHER THAN INADVERTENTLY PORTRAYING THEM AS UNLIKABLE?
Sometimes I don’t manage to keep them endearing, and if that happens, I ditch them. It takes me two or three years to write a novel. I certainly don’t want to spend all that time living with someone unlikable.
YOUR BOOKS CAN BE LAUGH-OUT-LOUD FUNNY. IS IT YOUR OWN SENSE OF HUMOR WE’RE READING, OR DOES IT COME FROM SOMEPLACE ELSE ENTIRELY?
I’m not in the least funny personally. The funny things emerge during that stage that writers always talk about, where the characters take over the story, and more than once something a character has said has made me laugh out loud, because it’s certainly nothing I’d have thought of myself.
AT WHAT POINT IN THE PROCESS DO YOUR TITLES COME TO YOU? HOW MUCH IMPORTANCE DO YOU PLACE ON THEM?
I think titles are hugely important, but they don’t always come easily. Several times my editor, Judith Jones, has shot a title down and then I’ve spent ages finding a new one. Only one title—Celestial Navigation—came to me before I’d even written a book for it. At the time I was simply in love with the phrase; I even had a cat named Celestial Navigation.
IN WHAT WAYS DO THE LONGEVITY AND EXPERIENCE OF YOUR CAREER IMPACT THE WRITING YOU’RE DOING TODAY?
If anything, the impact is a negative one. I worry that I’ve done this so many times, pretty soon I’ll start “phoning it in,” as they say. (I love that phrase.) If that happens, I hope I will have enough sense to quit.
YOU SEEM TO VIEW WRITING AS SACRED, AND TO BE PROTECTIVE OF YOUR PROCESS. CAN YOU EXPLAIN WHY YOU FEEL IT’S SO ESSENTIAL FOR IT TO BE SO?
I’ve noticed that whenever I become conscious of the process, the process grinds to a halt. So I try not to talk about it, think about it, write about it—I just do it.
AFTER YOU’VE WON A MAJOR AWARD FOR YOUR WRITING—HAVING DESCRIBED YOUR REACTION TO WINNING THE PULITZER AS “FLABBERGASTED”—HOW DOES THAT AFFECT THE EXPERIENCE OF WRITING FUTURE BOOKS? DO YOU EVER FEEL PRESSURED FOR EACH BOOK TO MEASURE UP TO A CERTAIN STANDARD OR EXPECTATION?
Part and parcel of not thinking about the reader is not thinking about a book’s reception in general—the critical opinions or the sales figures. So I am spared that sense of pressure you’re talking about, although I admit that it’s a cowardly approach.
THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY HAS CHANGED DRAMA-TICALLY SINCE YOU RELEASED YOUR FIRST BOOK. WHAT IN YOUR OPINION IS THE MOST POSITIVE CHANGE YOU’VE OBSERVED OR EXPERIENCED? THE MOST UNFORTUNATE?
I honestly have very little knowledge of the publishing industry. I have been extraordinarily fortunate in having only one publisher in my career, and only one editor, and we have jogged along together without much incident of any sort. I believe I have been in the offices of Alfred A. Knopf only twice in my life.
THE EXPECTATIONS ARE INCREASING THAT YOUNG WRITERS TODAY DO SO MANY THINGS IN ADDITION TO WRITING—THEY ARE CALLED UPON TO PROMOTE THEMSELVES AND THEIR WORK, TO INTERACT WITH THEIR READERS ONLINE, AND THE LIKE. HOW DO YOU RECOMMEND THEY STAY TRUE TO THE CRAFT OF WRITING WHILE PURSUING SUCCESS IN PUBLISHING?
I think it must be very hard. Probably they’re not allowed to say “No,” as writers could in the past. And I’m always sad when new young authors write letters requesting blurbs. If blurbs have to exist (and I don’t believe they do), then it doesn’t seem to me that the writers themselves should be forced to solicit them.
YOU’RE ONE OF ONLY 250 MEMBERS OF THE AMERICAN ACADEMY OF ARTS AND LETTERS. WHAT’S IT LIKE TO BE A PART OF IT?
It is, without a doubt, the single honor I am proudest of.
YOU’VE SAID THAT WHAT YOU HAVE TO SAY, YOU’VE ALREADY SAID THROUGH YOUR STORIES. WHEN OTHERS LOOK BACK ON YOUR BODY OF WORK, WHAT DO YOU HOPE THEY HEAR MOST CLEARLY?
It’s not so much what they hear as what they remember experiencing that I have hopes for. I would love it if readers said, “Oh, yes, I was once an accidental tourist,” or, “I once owned the Homesick Restaurant,” and then recalled that in fact, that hadn’t really happened; they had just intensely imagined its happening.
The whole purpose of my books is to sink into other lives, and I would love it if the readers sank along with me.
THE FIRST NOVEL YOU SUBMITTED DID NOT SELL, AND YOU’VE BEEN QUOTED AS SAYING YOU’D LIKE TO DISOWN YOUR FIRST FOUR PUBLISHED NOVELS. TODAY, ON BOOK NO. 18, HOW DO YOU FEEL YOU’VE GROWN AS A WRITER?
More often now, when I finish writing a book, I feel that it comes close to what I envisioned for it at the outset. It’s not exactly what I envisioned, but it comes closer than my earlier books did. I’m very happy about that.
WHAT DO YOU PLAN TO WRITE NEXT? COULD YOU IMAGINE A DAY WHEN YOU MIGHT RETIRE FROM THE CRAFT?
Asking me that right now is like asking a woman who’s just had a baby when she plans to get pregnant again. I can’t believe I’ll ever write another book. And daily I imagine retiring from the craft. But I’ve been saying that for years.
This article appeared in the July/August issue of Writer's Digest.
"No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader." ~ Robert Frost
Robert Genn says:
Esoterica: I had tears last weekend in Canada's National Gallery. I was by myself in the room where the Group of Seven sketches are exhibited en mass behind glass. I always return to that room when in Ottawa. It's like looking up old friends. Curiously, some of those sketches always seem better than the last time, and some others don't seem as fine as I remembered. This recognition and its incumbent pathos trigger a sense of brotherhood and sisterhood, an understanding of my own shortcomings as well as a feeling of profound aloneness. Of the gentlemen exhibited there, only their strokes remain, and somehow, after all these years, those strokes draw tears.
"I'm currently working on a crime-drama and although I've mapped out exactly what I want to do I'm taking my time with writing, rewriting, and editing. I would like to send out some feelers to see if the idea is attractive to agents, but I'm worried they may ask for the completed novel straight away.
Is it ok to send out queries, then follow up with a synopsis and a few chapters with the promise of completing the book? Or do agents not like it when you are still working on a novel as you're in contact with them? Thanks."
"I thought I was through with my story despite my 5-6 readers telling me I wasn't. So I sent out 30 queries, the one bite I got said send the 1st 10 pages when the ms is "finished and polished." I stopped dead in my tracks. I finally had to accept that I was not done. I have much work to be done and have finally accepted that I will probably have to start over.
Bottom line is that you don't know what your story is going to be about until it IS finished. You can map out all you want, but as you write, things change. Your story is not about what you think it is about right now. Sooo, you would be lying if you sent out queries now.
All the best to you and all of you writers out there!"
Ten Most Helpful Things I Could Ever Tell Anyone About Writing “Do you have any advice for writers?”
The magazine interviewer asking me the question was a young freelancer who was working a novel. She had a hopeful look on her face and she half-reminded me of myself when I was setting out to write fiction.
What I knew about writing was mostly a distillation of a lot of classes, experience, trial and error, reading, luck and life, yet I had benefited enormously from writers who’d laid their gleaned bits of wisdom on the table for me to pick through. Writers like Dorothea Brande and Brenda Ueland, whose ingenious books-- Becoming a Writer and If You Want to Write-- I’d reread so many times the pages had fallen out. My answer to the young woman turned out to be a quickly conceived list of things that had been important to me over the years.
Later I decided to write them down, calling them The Ten Most Helpful Things I Could Ever Tell Anyone About Writing. The title is a little exaggerated, but the truth is that everything on the list has been invaluable to me. Some items are specific to the craft of writing, and some are about creativity in general. I’m passing them along with the idea that even if you’re not a writer, you might still rummage through this and find something useful.
I honestly believe that the quality of a writer’s work has a direct correlation to the quality of his or her attention. I have to remind myself all the time to show up in my moments with all my antennae switched on. Sometimes as a writing exercise, I walk around practicing paying attention. I try to really see the thing before me with new eyes, to find a fresh meaning for it, or a unique way to describe it. It helps if I pretend I’m brand new to planet earth, like I just stepped off the space craft. How would a Martian describe an umbrella? A dentist drill? A manatee? Whenever my mind slips out of its habitual way of perceiving life, my writing perks right up; I am given some realization, a little gift from the muses. As the composer John Cage said: “I am trying to be unfamiliar with what I am doing.” That’s it, exactly.
2.Ask: What does my character want?
For me that is the single most important question to ask when writing a novel. I need my main character to want something very badly, and I need to understand completely and utterly what it is. That’s because this thing, or tangle of things, will become the driving force of the book. Everything will spill out of it-- who the character is, the theme, the conflict, most of the forward momentum of the story. When Lily, my character in The Secret Life of Bees, first appeared to me, I didn’t start writing until I knew what she wanted. One day it hit me. Her mother! She wanted her mother. I began writing then, carried on the momentum of her desire.
3.Tap the River
The way I see it-- the well springs of the creative life are deep inside of us. It’s the place where images are bred, thoughts and feelings are converted into meaning, dreams are choreographed, myths congregate, and the soul talks. Some call it the subconscious, the matrix, or the source of our psyche. I picture it as an underground river, and as far as I’m concerned, the water is composed of genius. I try to dig down to it in a few places and lower my bucket. Which is why I write down most of my dreams. Dreams can be confounding, yes, but occasionally they drop something priceless into my lap. I got the whole ending of The Secret Life of Bees from a dream. I also create a collage for each book. Yes, I tear pictures out of magazines and collect postcards, choosing images that fascinate me, and then I paste them on a board, which becomes a loose story board for my novel. I could go on and on. There are a hundred ways to tap the river.
4.Find the Third Thing
When it comes to creative ideas, people always told me it was best to go with the first thing I thought of. I do see the wisdom in this; undoubtedly there are times when you need to stick with your initial instinct. When it comes to writing, however, I personally find that it’s not the first thing I think of that works magic, but the third. The idea that occurs to me first is usually something meant to jumpstart my imagination. Same with the second thing. I take them as “educational toys” for my imagination to play with. If I can hold these two, often opposing ideas in my head long enough, they inevitably generate a third un-imagined possibility. It might be a creative hybrid of the first two ideas or sometimes a completely new creation. The point is to allow a real evolution of your creative thought.
5.Allow yourself to write badly.
I can write some really terrible stuff. Every time I begin a book, a chapter, a paragraph, and sometimes even a measly sentence, I find myself temporarily writing badly. What I want you to know is that I give myself full, unqualified permission to do this. I love the freedom of writing badly. Perfectionism kills the spirit of writing faster than anything I know of. It’s best to just stop all that self-conscious struggling for instant excellence and begin. After a while, the bad writing will start to flip over into something much better, possibly even wonderful.
The word doesn’t have a great reputation. If you look it up, it says: To pass time without working. I believe in working hard. But I also believe there are times when my writing suffers from a lack of loitering. I try to go out to my dock every morning and just sit there, watching the wind blow. I can’t really tell you why this is crucial for my writing, it just is. Maybe it works because the imagination needs that little bit of downtime to browse around, to go off and play with an image without being rushed along. Maybe the mind simply needs a breather, some mindless diversion. I’m told that Einstein got his best ideas not while working, but while shaving, so there must be something to it.
7.Err on the side of audacity.
One day it occurred to me that most writers, myself included, erred on the side of being too careful in their writing. I made a pact with myself that I would quit playing it safe when what the story really wanted... what my heart really wanted, was to take a big chance. The best writing requires some daring-- a little literary skydiving. Look at your idea and ask yourself: how can I make this larger? The novelist E. M. Forster once said that a novel should deliver a series of small astonishments. After I finish each chapter, I read it with an eye toward figuring out where I’ve played it safe, where I backed off, where the small astonishment was lost.
8.Trust yourself, but listen to others (Certain Others)
As a beginning writer, I had to learn to trust my own creative instincts, but at the same time, gather a handful of trusted readers who would tell me the unmitigated truth. I had to learn how to detach enough from my work to listen genuinely to their advice and criticism, to see my work through their eyes. It is a difficult thing to sort out, but with practice I figured out how to stand by my best, most authentic impulses and words, while letting go of or revising the parts of my work that really were wrong, extraneous, unaffecting and plain mediocre. I eventually became ruthless about cutting my work. Sometimes it’s like pruning a tree-- the best work grows from the severed place.
Getting the pace of a story right keeps me up at night. I have a horror of sitting on a plane, next to someone reading my book, and seeing her flip over to see how many pages are left in the chapter. You want a reader so caught up in the spell of a story it would never occur to her to pull herself away and count how many pages she had to read before she could stop. A lot of the time the spell gets broken because the pace has bogged down; three paragraphs about the shape of the oak tree is enough already. Or it’s broken because things are moving so fast the reader doesn’t have time to enter the inner sanctum of the characters’ lives. I like the story to hurry slowly. I want the pace to clip along, but I also want to explore my characters, and render the world they live in with detail and layers of nuance. I think readers start counting pages when these two things get out of balance.
10.Find the symbolic core of the book (or let it find you)
By this I mean, see if there isn’t a powerful and compelling image that dwells at the heart of the story, and that functions symbolically, pointing to deeper meanings. A symbolic core in The Secret Life of Bees is the hive-- a community of females organized around a queen. In The Mermaid Chair, the symbolic core is a mermaid saint. I didn’t plan either of these. They more or less seeped out of the characters and the setting. The worst thing would be to force or impose something like this into a story. It has to develop organically, quietly. I’m simply saying you may want to try and notice this. It will find you if you let it.
Rule #1: There are no rules: How can there be when creativity is all about breaking new ground and breaking old rules? Rule #2: You're not in charge, so get out of the way and let your story have its way with you. Rule #3: Trust the voice of your Muse without judgment or censorship. Rule #4: Always go with first thoughts. Second-thoughts are self-censoring thoughts. Rule #5: Be in the moment: Focus only on the word you're writing. The next one will come if you don't worry about it. Rule #6: Go for the jugular: Write from a place of powerful emotion, especially the one you'd rather not write about. Rule #7: Love yourself and your words...every draft. Rule #8: Don't force your words into the straitjacket of your preconceptions and expectations. Free them to take on the form that is theirs. Rule #9: If you're feeling stuck, keep your pen moving. Write anything! Rule #10: Write: Commit to yourself as the writer you are. Rule #11: Set easy goals and meet them. Don't set yourself up for failure. Rule #12: Empower yourself: This is your creative journey. Don't let anyone else take charge of it. Rule #13: There are no rules. None. Never.
Rules for Living and Writing adapted from The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write
"If you want to make good use of your time, you've got to know what's most important and then give it all you've got." ~ Lee Iacocca
Coach Sherrie says: Know that I use good quotes whatever their source. Even if someone is not a good person, if their quotes help us, good people, then at least something good came out of their life. ;-) P.S. This is not very Kaizen. Maurer would say that thinking like this brings up fear. No matter what your goal is, it should be done one small step at a time.
How to Write a Memoir in Twelve Easy Steps by Lorilyn Roberts
All of us have lived through dramatic times of ecstasy and pain. For the sensitive and sensate person, memories of these events are etched in the psyche and have molded us into who we are. A memoir is a way to touch at the heart of those feelings and allow them to be shared with others.
A memoir is different from an autobiography because it takes a “snapshot” of certain events in a person's life. A memoir tends to read more like a novel. Usually a memoir is written in more colorful language than an autobiography and only relevant information is included—not everything about a person's life should be shared.
So how do I get started, you may ask? Here are twelve steps I followed in writing my memoir of adoption in Children of Dreams.
1. A memoir should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. There should be a problem, a conflict, and a resolution.
2. It might be helpful to pull out old pictures, diaries, and objects to bring to memory the experiences you are writing. If possible, go to the scene and relive the events in your mind.
3. Allow your feelings to flow freely from your mind and heart—they may be painful, terrifying, hurtful, crazy, or not understood, but to write a good memoir, you must bring the buried nemeses to the surface and write with passion.
4. Listen to music that will transport you from your surroundings to the time and place of the memoir. I like classical music, but anything that stirs your emotions and allows your mind to be absorbed back into that moment will work.
5. Don't do any major editing until you've written all that you can remember. Worry later about clean-up. If you edit too soon, you may change something that is important.
6. Expect to feel like you are going crazy. Your feelings may create powerful emotions that are buried deep, but when you write those hidden passions and distorted thoughts on paper, it can be cathartic. The story may even write itself and come to a resolution you never thought possible.
7. Make sure you validate facts. A memoir is based on truth, so dates, times, names, people, and sequence of events are important. Otherwise, your credibility may come into question if something you have written is shown not to be true. It may be necessary to change names or locations, and this is acceptable provided you put a disclaimer at the beginning.
8. A good memoir is rich in color—metaphors, similes, descriptions, dialogue, and feelings will make your memoir come alive.
9. After you've written around one hundred pages, take some time to reflect on what you have said. Then put it aside for a few days, don't look at it, and come back and re read it. It will be easier to spot things that need to be revised or rewritten. Save deletions for later.
10. Be kind to yourself. Writing a memoir is a very personal, gut-wrenching journey.
11. After you have written the rough draft and edited it as much as you can, including deletions, give your memoir to some trusted friends for feedback. You may see a pattern in their comments, and that's a good indication of what needs further revision. Don't be shy and seek a professional editor if needed.
12. Never give up. Never, never give up. Need I say it again? Never, never, never give up.
Why write a memoir, you may ask?
First, the memories are important to you. The intimate details will soon be forgotten if they are not written down. The memoir validates your experience and gives meaning to your life. Your memories become a treasured journey for others to learn from and enjoy.
A memoir can be a gift to your children, your parents, your friends, your country, and the world. Only you can tell the story that you've been given, and other people's lives will be enriched. Most of all, if you're like me, you will be set free from the past and empowered to write your next story.
You will be changed and healed in ways that would not have been possible without writing your story. Having gone through the journey twice, you will be wiser. Perhaps you will touch others in a way you couldn’t have imagined because the “gestalt” of your experience is universal. Most importantly, you will have accomplished what you set out to do, and that is to write your memoir.
I say it again, never give up. It will be worth it when you have finished. by Lorilyn Roberts
"Sara Smile" From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Story behind the Song By Daryl Hall
Written by Daryl Hall Recorded by Daryl Hall & John Oates
All of my songs are either autobiographical or sometimes I'll take bits of experiences or observations and put them together. This is one of the songs that is completely autobiographical.
I had a long relationship with Sara Allen and her family. I lived with Sara for 28 years. At the time I wrote this, we were living in a small apartment in New York City. We had no money, so John was living in the same apartment. This was at the beginning of my career with John (Oates) as Daryl Hall & John Oates.
I was on the road and inevitably, when I am on tour and writing, I tend to write about not wanting to be on the road. This is more than a love song. I like to call it a love postcard to Sara. It was like, "Having a shitty time on the road and missing you."
It's a very succinct and short lyric, but each phrase meant something to me -- and still does.
The song is about living our lives together, yet individually. It's about the essence of a relationship, and at the end of the day:
And when you feel you can't go on I'll come and hold you It's you and me forever
The song became the third single from our first album on RCA, "Daryl Hall & John Oates" in 1975. Its success came out of the blue. Our first two singles weren't terribly successful so this was our first bona fide hit.
The record got a lot of R&B airplay, beginning on a station in Ohio and spreading throughout the country. It was a big radio hit. I was most surprised when I heard it on pop radio once it crossed over, since it didn't sound like anything else being played on pop radio at the time. That attests to its permanence.
It's a heartfelt story. It's the real thing. Time has passed and I'm not with Sara anymore and I feel badly knowing that when "Sara Smile" comes on in the supermarket, Sara has to run out of the store. Songs remain but relationships change.
Baby hair with a woman's eyes I can feel you watching in the night All alone with me and we're waiting for the sunlight. When I feel cold you warm me When I feel I can't go on you come and hold me, It's you and me forever.
Sara smile, Won't you smile a while for me, Sara?
If you feel like leaving you know you can go But why don't you stay until tomorrow? And if you want to be free you know all you have to do is say so. When you feel cold I'll warm you And when you feel you can't go on I'll come and hold you It's you and me forever.
Sara smile, Won't you smile a while for me, Sara? Sara smile, Oh won't you smile a while, Sara?
Smile, Oh won't you smile a while, Sara?
Words and Music by Daryl Hall and John Oates. 1975 by Unichappell Music Inc. Copyright Renewed. International Copyright Secured. All Rights Reserved.
Creativity Coach Sherrie says: I don't know, but I'll bet Sarah stays and smiles and sings along. How many of us have a song to remind us of a relationship? To me, it is a testament that whatever their feelings now, they DID have real love for each other at one time. ;-) <3