Friday, February 21, 2020

Staying Authentic with Your Intentions as a Writer--Not Always Easy?

I had a very lucky and much too fast beginning as a published author.  My first book, now long out of print, was a huge success--the press's best seller and winner of a prestigious award.  I was in my twenties, busy with a new  relationship and a new business, and fairly ignorant about what was happening.  It was just a fast train, I was on it, and I didn't know the writing life could be any different.  That first book landed me an agent who helped me with several others.  Out of it came a nationally syndicated column and good income for a number of years.

Some writers fall into success.  That's not to say we don't work hard, but the ride we're on might not align completely with our deepest intentions.  I was too young, truthfully, to care back then.  

A decade passed, a number of books, and I felt a little lost.  I didn't really like writing anymore. It was all about production--meeting other people's deadlines, following the publisher's marketing department's idea of what their audiences wanted.  

At some point, I got very ill.  I had to say no to the next contract and stop for a while.  That became a blessing in disguise.  Even though the money train passed me by, I got to think about what I really wanted to write.  What was truly authentic to me.

Deep inside the productive nonfiction writer was a novelist.  My first attempts at fiction were laughable, but I loved writing it. When it became serious enough, I went back to grad school to get another degree.  I started studying like a beginner.  

Each new journey in my writing life felt scary.  Beginning again isn't always fun.  I liked being an expert, well regarded, successful.  I lost my agent when I left, and it took years to get another one. But beginning again brought authenticity back to my writing.

If any of this resonates, and you are also taking advantage of winter days to reflect and review your writing decisions, asking yourself hard questions, you may enjoy checking out a small book that has guided me well each time I make a serious turn: Creative Authenticity by Ian Roberts.  

Roberts is a painter and a writer. He feels that by connecting to the core of your own authenticity, your work will have "strength and relevance."  I find his short, poetic chapters both inspiring and relevant to that risky beginner place of starting anew. (Click on the book title above to read more of his wisdom about creating well.)

If the new year has found you floundering, check out Roberts' wisdom this week.  It may foster more authenticity, and a stronger sense of communication with who you really are, as an artist on the page.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Really Good Creative Writing Prompts--for Exercising Your Inner Author

This week I've been teaching on retreat at MISA West, Tanque Verde Ranch, in the beautiful Rincon Mountains outside Tucson. Along with the workshops and coaching each day, I always offer creativity-stretching sessions before dinner. A perennial favorite at these retreats is freewriting hour.  

We gather before dinner to write from selected prompts.  Each gets ten minutes, and writers are encouraged to let the flow take them wherever it will.  Sometimes, the best ideas come from freewrites.  Even whole books can be born from a single freewrite.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Setting Writing Goals for the New Year: Three Different Approaches

I'm a goal setter by nature, so I enjoy the chance each new year to look at what I've accomplished in the past twelve months and think about where I'd like to be with my writing in the next twelve.  I've learned not to be too rigid with my writing goals: I don't know what I don't know, after all, and I may need to correct my direction if new ideas or information arrives midcourse.  

First thing in January is traditional for review and goal setting, but it usually takes me until February to really get a sense of what I want for the year.

This year I have a book with an agent, trying to find its home; another that's going to be re-released in a second edition; and a third in revision.  I sat down this week and envisioned what I wanted from each this year. 

Friday, January 31, 2020

Too Slow? Too Fast? How Are You Communicating? (And How to Tell When Your Pacing Is Off)

Storytelling is all about communication, right? You, the writer, have something to say. Ideally, you present it in a way that's authentic to you but also communicates to your readers exactly the meaning you're after. 

If you "talk" your story too fast, readers can miss the point.  Just like in real conversation, they may start to get confused or irritated, or disconnect entirely.

If you "talk" too slow, same problem.  They'll skip sections.  Ever do this yourself, when reading?  You know what I mean.

So skilled writers (communicators on the page) find a "pace" that fits their stories.  When the scene is tense, the pace speeds up.  When we're absorbing meaning, it might slow down.

Friday, January 24, 2020

How to Help Your Manuscript Submission Stand Out--Being Part of a "Discourse Community"

I often refer clients and students to Jane Friedman, clearly one of the most savvy publishing gurus out there today.  Friedman is the former publisher of Writer's Digest magazine, and author of The Business of Being a Writer, a primer on publishing that every hopeful author needs to read.

Friday, January 17, 2020

A Cool Character-Building Exercise from Comic-Artist Lynda Barry

January is often a good time to shake up the writing routine, examine different ways of approaching recurring problems in your book, get inspiration from those who bust the barrier, which is why last week's post from Mo Willems got me thinking about publishing in a new way.

This week, I'd like to welcome Lynda Barry, who has a cool idea about character development.  Check out this link from Lit Hub (if it doesn't work, go to lithub.org and search for her name). 

Friday, January 10, 2020

Best-Selling Children's Book Author Shares How He Busted Tradition and Won Anyway

Winner of three Caldecott Medals (the best win in kid lit), Mo Willems was rejected some billion times (his words) by publishers who said his work was "too unusual."  Listen or read this interview from PBS on how he kept his belief in his creative work and broke through the barrier.  Lots of great insights on putting creativity and joy into your work. 

Friday, December 20, 2019

Getting Away from Your Life to "Entrain" at a New Level: Benefits of a Writing Retreat or Class Away from Home

Winter is the time of year when I think about entrainment.  Entrainment, as it pertains to the writer's life, is the art and science of learning by proximity to writers who are working at a higher level than you.  It's skill by osmosis, by community.  For me, it's an absolute necessity.

Why?  Because we only know what we know.  We reinvent ourselves over and over, unconsciously, until we entrain with something moving at a higher skill level.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Interiority? How Much Should You Show or Tell about Your Characters' Inner Lives?

Interiority or "internals" is a fancy way to describe the reader's view into your characters' thoughts, feelings, and inner lives.  Some genres require a lot of this (memoir), some much less (thrillers).  Interiority is what makes a character real to the reader.  Skilled writers reveal interiority in several ways.  It's important to know what your genre requires and how to plant and build the interior lives, without having them slow the momentum of the story.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Can You Use Real Place Names in Your Books? Can You Fictionalize Details?

Maggie is writing a novel about a group of people living in a made-up place, based on a real location.  She faced a dilemma this month about how much freedom she has, as a fiction writer, to use real places in her story. 

"The reader knows my novel takes place in Minnesota," Maggie told me. "I want to reference lakes, counties and towns that one of the characters--a realtor--covers.  These places are my real-world reference points."  

My first novel was based in a real-life place--the Adirondack mountains of New York State--and included real towns.  I made sure I visited those towns, used accurate information, but I also fictionalized parts and said so in my author's notes.  I know many writers do this.  But it is a good question to ask.