Friday, January 22, 2021

Making Peace with Your Inner Critic: How to Stop Sabotaging Your Writing Life and Get Moving on That Book

If I had a way to capture the self-talk inside most writers' brains, as they sit down to do their writing practice, here's what I might hear:

“You need a lot more backstory here.”

“This section will take months of research. Stop writing and get started. It’ll be a good distraction.”

“You need to explain what your character is thinking here. Your writing isn’t good enough to just let the action show it.”

Friday, January 15, 2021

The Magic of Showing Up at the Page: How to Design or Refine a Writing Practice That Works for You

What's the difference between a writer who gets a book finished and a writer who never does? A writing practice.

Believe it--there's nothing more important.

Not talent, not a great idea. It's down to basics: putting self in chair, putting hands on keyboard or taking up the pen, and staying there past all the internal whining and doubt and misery to actually put words on the page.

But we all whine. We all get up and sharpen every pencil in the house sometimes, instead of writing. 
 
Or we toggle to Facebook and check our "likes." Or we watch the news, which is enough to put anyone off their creativity.

When this happens to me, as it has often in the past chaotic, upsetting weeks, I go to my bookshelves for motivation.

My favorite go-to books include Ron Carlson Writes a Story by Ron Carlson and Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. So this past week, as temps got wackier and the news more difficult to watch, I sat to read them again.

Friday, January 8, 2021

Strange Alchemy--Creating the Weave of Conflict, Character, and Place in Your Fiction or Memoir

In pre-Covid times, I regularly visited friends in Boston to hear the legendary Boston Cecelia chorus perform each holiday season.

At one performance a few years ago, I remember how a soloist with a particularly liquid voice sang a few pieces, then disappeared into the rows of the alto section. I strained to hear her voice rise above the other altos--but it was impossible to distinguish. She blended so well, the group became one voice. Then she came to the front of the stage for another solo, and we fell back in astonishment once again.

In a way, her ability to stand out as well as blend into a larger voice is exactly what writers are trying to achieve with the three elements of conflict, character, and place.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Writing about Tough Subjects: Award-Winning Debut Memoirist Shares Her Process

Katherine Quie's memoir, Raising Will, Surviving the Brilliance and Blues of ADHD, received three golds in the Independent Book Publishers and Midwest Book Publishers awards this year. These awards were hard won for this first-time memoirist on two fronts: in navigating the challenges of parenting Will, her brilliant son, a blues musician who struggled with ADHD, and crafting of her and Will's story in a way that would benefit others.

Friday, December 11, 2020

What's at Stake? How to Ratchet Up the (Necessary) Tension in Your Book

Stories tell about dilemmas--someone facing a problem, someone learning, someone solving a mystery, someone growing. Dilemma is that question or quest your book addresses, small or large. Whether it's the best method of growing a bonsai garden or learning who killed the victim in a murder mystery or figuring out a new identity after a great loss, dilemma, also known as the dramatic arc, forms the path your reader travels through your book.

Friday, December 4, 2020

Planning a Brighter New Year for Your Writing Life--Are You Ready to Look Ahead?

Hard to believe, but 2020 is almost behind us.

Quite the year. If your writing has benefited from the retreat of forced isolation, you're one of the fortunate ones. Others, I know, felt too flat with exhaustion and worry to nourish any creativity.

Looking back, it took me to midsummer to regain my stride. Changes in my work life from suddenly teaching on Zoom took vast amounts of learning and preparation time I hadn't planned for. I had to revamp all my class materials--not a bad thing, in the end. But it ate into my writing time.

I had to lean heavily on my writing partner and writer's group to get started again--we were all in similar places, so we helped each other.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Fostering Gratitude for Your Writing in Uncertain Times

Two of my private clients emailed me this week, saying they hated their books. I don't usually hear such strong statements, especially from experienced writers as these. But life, not just the books, had worn these two writers out. Family illness, the spread of covid, exhausting politics, and dread of winter combined with difficult revision tasks put them over the edge.

It wasn't that they really hated their books--I knew that, I'd read both manuscripts, and they were good ones.

Wordsmithing the Heck out of Your Revision--Ten Steps to Make It Shine

After the gathering stage, after the storyboarding and brainstorming your book's flow, after the first and tenth drafts are created, comes wordsmithing.

Wordsmithing is the final craft we book writers need to have in our toolbox. It's what makes the actual writing shine and sparkle.

Without the other steps, though, it's a wasted effort. I often think of it like putting curtains up on a framed house--window holes but no walls. The framing needs sheet rock, mudding and taping, sanding and painting, and glass in those windows, before the curtains go up.

Friday, November 6, 2020

How to Send a Manuscript to an Agent--and What to Expect Once You Do

If you've been writing like crazy during the past months of isolation, you may be ready to send your manuscript off to an agent or two in the new year. One of my long-time students is in that scary and exciting place, and she asked for any tips on how to go about it.

(I've written in many past blog posts about how to know if you're really ready. You can search for them on my blog if you want to read them again. Enter "manuscript" or "agent" in the search box.)

Friday, October 30, 2020

Writing Real-Life Characters: How to Get to Know the People You Already Know

I got an email from one of the students in my last online Afternoon Character Intensive. Since the workshop, he'd had a mini-breakthrough about his memoir--specifically the cast of characters he's trying to include. His mixed-up, even dangerous, family history means the players onstage are very individual, with quirks and tendencies. But he knew them so well, he'd not written that individuality onto the page.

It was hard enough coming to terms with their effect in his life. He wanted to write what happened, not who done it.

But he also knew that characters in memoir must be memorable--as memorable as those in a good novel--for readers to really grasp their importance and impact.

As he worked on one of the charts we use in the class to track key character arcs (growth of different characters who matter to the story), the breakthrough came.