Friday, July 13, 2018

How Close Are You to Your 10,000 Hours? Viewing Writing as Practice

On our fridge we have a New Yorker cartoon.  A dog is sitting on a mountain ledge at the feet of his guru.  The caption reads:  "The bone is not the reward--digging for the bone is the reward."  I keep it there to keep me humble.  About my writing, and my 10,000 hours.

A past MISA student sent me a great article about this (thanks, Tom!).  As a beginner so many times during my life--in writing, in playing a musical instrument, in kayaking, in painting--I know well the impatience we can have to have it all now.  To be good enough immediately, to show unexpected genius, to land that incredible deal, because we have such innate skills.  We want to not practice writing, we want to just be a great writer.  Right?

Moving from Writer to Reader View: Revision Steps to Make Your Book Stand Out

Books enter our lives in distinct stages.  First comes the wild idea.  It grows gradually in the inner room of your creative self, until you can't ignore it.  You have to get it down.  This burst of energy propels you through an important starting gate--past ideas ruminating inside to ideas on the page.  Maybe they're externalized for the first time, and they generate other ideas.  You write for months, years, whatever it takes to shape your vision.  This initial timeline is very individual:  if it's your first book, you may need a lot of time to dream.  Or, if it's been generating inside for years, it may come forth in a mad rush.  

It's exciting, this idea to vision stage.  And eventually, you have a draft.  It's way rough (I love writer Anne Lamott's name for it:  shitty first draft), but without it, you ain't got nothing, as they say.  So you start here. 

Friday, July 6, 2018

Fueled from Within or Without--How Does Your Narrator Move the Story Along?

As I often do when I need a jump start into a new book I'm writing, I signed up for an online class this summer.  My class is good, with writers of varied skills and experiences, all exploring new narrators, characters, plots, and other ideas for their next manuscript.  

Our instructor assigned us a well-reviewed contemporary novel to read and analyze during the course:  Chemistry by Weike Wang.  It's generated a lively discussion, because, well, the narrator isn't lively at all.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Backstory--A New Take on Its Usefulness in Memoir and Fiction

I "grew up" as a writer in the era of NO BACKSTORY ALLOWED.  I was given examples of stories and books that had zero backstory and engaged readers completely.  So I worked hard to eliminate any pesky references to the past--whether summarized as backstory (background of the story) or presented as flashbacks in scene.

I got published, and all was well in my writing life sans backstory for many years.  Flash forward to my MFA experience and advisers who began to cure me of my antagonistic attitude towards stalling out scene with flashback or inserting large swaths of the past as summary.  These writers hinted that backstory was important, even as an explanation of character motive.  Why people do what they do was becoming more interesting to readers than what they did.

Friday, June 22, 2018

100 Things about Writing a Novel--Wisdom from Alexander Chee

I've long admired the novelist Alexander Chee, not just for his writing, but for his approach to writing.  It's sensible, it works, and he shares his tips and ideas generously.

I'm taking an online course with Grub Street to kick start my next book, and the instructor, Alison Murphy, shared a wonderful article from the Yale Reviewwhere Chee offers 100 things he's found about writing a novel.  The insights are so useful, and not just to novelists but anyone writing a book-length work, that I thought I'd share as this week's writing exercise.  

Click here to read the article.  (If for any reason the link doesn't work, go to yalereview.yale.edu and search for Alexander Chee. Enjoy!

Friday, June 15, 2018

Querying Too Soon: We've All Done It, Here's How to Avoid the Temptation

You've been working hard on your manuscript and it feels in reasonable shape.  Plus, you're reading articles and books about writing the perfect query letter.  A sort of urgency, maybe even FOMO (fear of missing out), is growing inside.  Is it too soon to begin the query process?

An all-important question.  I can almost predict when a writer will ask it.  What stage of manuscript, what stage of experience.  I've asked it myself many times--because it's almost impossible to know when is too soon, when is too late.  I'll share some of what I've learned in my own publishing journey and advice from those who have an inside view.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Battling Your Inner Critic or Making Friends with It--What Keeps You Writing the Most?

Everyone faces the Inner Critic, no matter how experienced they are.  Professional writers, even those who have published widely and won awards, might give it names.  Sue Grafton calls hers "the ego," the part that's always concerned with "how are we doing?"  I think of mine as an elderly, worried aunt, trying to keep me safe. Some Inner Critics are funny, joking with you inside your head as they mess with your mind--maybe teasing you about taking writing so seriously.  Most are discouraging, even menacing.  

But rarely is this inner voice truthful--its job is to sabotage all efforts to create art, to do anything with our writing that takes us out of the known and acceptable.  

So why is such an obstacle there, in the first place?  Is there a chance we, ourselves, create that critical voice? And is there any way to make friends with it, silence it enough so we can keep on writing?

Friday, June 1, 2018

How Do You Procrastinate? Tips to Recognize How You Avoid Your Writing and What to Do about It

Many writers I talk with are masters at procrastination, yet they manage to complete and publish books regularly.  What's that about?  

Here's what I've learned:

* they've also mastered a particular kind of self-talk
* they use routines or disciplines
* they work with self-imposed or other-imposed deadlines
* they promise themselves rewards when they meet a writing goal  

I know about these. 

Friday, May 25, 2018

Interview with Chris Jones--Behind the Book: Eleven Authors on Their Path to Publication

I'm always fascinated with how debut authors make it into print.  And I know and respect Chris Mackenzie Jones from my years of teaching for the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, where he works.  So when his new book came out last month, I was keen to find out how he did it.  Below is an interview with Chris which explains his idea for the book, how he found an agent and publisher, and what happened during the editing process.

Tell us how you came to write this book.  Did you see a need for it? Was it a subject that fascinated you?  
In my almost nine years at the Loft Literary Center, I've run into hundreds-maybe thousands-of aspiring writers. I've listened to their ideas, questions, confusions, and doubts. And one of the things that became apparent to me over these years is that there are blind spots for most writers as they try to publish a first book.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Charts and Lists: The Fun of Organizing Your Story Structure

This week, I've been studying a page from the book-structure chart used by mega-successful author, J.K. Rowling, for her Harry Potter stories.  You can access it here.  The chart is handwritten and hard to read, but it's fascinating to see what she uses to keep an overview of her story.  (Thanks to Rita, one of my private clients, for sharing the link.)

So many published writers, when interviewed, talk about the need to organize their story structure.  Storyboards are useful to a point.  But charts and lists come in very handy when the first draft is complete and you're on to revision.