Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Robert Genn says "Leave Your Lines In the Water"

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.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Robert Genn on "Finding Your Voice"

July 23, 2010

Dear Sherrie,

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.

Best regards,


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.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Creating Mini Bios for Your Characters

Creating Mini Bios for your Characters.I found this in some website, I cannot recall which one, but I find it helpful and insightful

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?

37- Why should the reader care about her?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

JAMES V. SMITH JR. on Choosing Point of View

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.

• 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.

• 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.

• It gives you the power to be different, even eccentric in the way you can speak to the reader so directly.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

Excerpted from The Writer’s Little Helper © 2006 by JAMES V. SMITH JR., with permission from Writer’s Digest Books.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Robert Genn on "Leaving things incomplete"

July 13, 2010

Dear Sherrie,

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.

Best regards,


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.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Writing and Revising

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

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Jessica Strawser on First-Person POV

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.

Jessica Strawser on How to Motivate Your Characters

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

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

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Johnny Cash - Man in Black [A Tribute to Mr. Cash]

This song does what I want to do with my creativity: make a point in a way that you feel it and never forget it.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Mark David Gerson on "The Myth of Writer's Block"

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