Friday, December 7, 2018

Facing Writer's Block: Words of Wisdom from George Saunders

Some writers don't believe in writer's block--that stall out, mind- and spirit-numbing experience that occasionally visits us when we're plowing ahead on a book deadline or trying to bring a new character to life.  But I do.  I've had it, I've coached dozens of writers through it, and it's a real phenomenon.  

Recently, I read a wonderful interview in Lit Hub on the writer George Saunders.  You might be a great fan of Saunders, as I am (his collection of stories, Tenth of December, is some of the quirkiest, most amazing writing I've ever read), or his fiction might be new to you.  His opinion about writer's block is equally inspiring.  It's a bar set too high, he says.  It's about the writer, not the writing.  Always.

Ira Glass, the well-known host and producer of "This American Life," speaks of it as the distance between our taste and our abilities:

Friday, November 23, 2018

Slow Writing: The Pros and Cons of Writing by Hand

A reader sent me this link, a brief article by award-winning writer Annie Proulx on her five rules for good writing.  Even if you don't agree, the website (Writer's Write) is worth a visit.  But I like Proulx's work and I read her counsel, hoping for some inspiration for my current project.  It's always helpful to look into a respected writer's progress.


Of her five rules, two were about writing by hand.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Writing about People You Know: Do You Need to Get Permission?

A reader from Connecticut is finishing up her new novel this month, getting ready to send it out to agents.  She sent me a good question that often plagues writers right before their work goes out into the world. 

"I believe it was Barbara Kingsolver who said she sends her finished manuscripts to family for final approval," this writer wrote.  "If there's anything there that offends them she takes it out.  Since there are a few true intimate details in my novel that helped develop my fictionalized characters who were originally based on real people, I'm wondering if you have any thoughts on that."

Friday, November 9, 2018

When One of Your Characters Is an Institution: Writing about Racism, Politics, and Other Large Subjects

Tom is writing a novel about a fellow physician, but one of another race who lived in a time of great political and personal challenge.  He attended my weeklong retreat last January in Tucson and we worked together on building the storyboard for his book.  He has plenty of events to make the book tense and full of action (lynchings, KKK threats, and more), but one of his biggest concerns has nothing to do with any of the outer story.  He sent me a great question this week about racism and how to depict it in his story.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Famous Writers' Favorite Tips

I'm just back from a marathon teaching trip so this week's post will be short and sweet:  a wonderful article from the newsletter, BrainPickings, on famous writers' favorite writing tips, compiled by The Guardian.  (Thanks to reader Mary K. for the link.)  Enjoy!  

(If the link doesn't work, go to www.brainpickings.org and search for Jeanette Winterson.)

Friday, October 19, 2018

Exploring Theme in Your Story: How Wounding Event and False Beliefs Intersect with Theme

Theme answers the question:  So what?  That's pretty harsh, but it's what readers need to know soon after they pick up your book.  Theme is the meaning and the message, the purpose of your story.  Not just entertainment, although that is usually part of good writing.  But we look for meaning now, in our literature and in our lives, more than ever.  Publishers know this, agents know this, readers crave this.

Nonfiction writers can tell us the theme, or meaning, of their books.  They can stand on a platform and present the message quite frankly.  If you do that in fiction or most memoir, you alienate readers.  Characters and narrator can rarely be on platform and still keep readers involved in the story.  So theme is trickier for those genres.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Online Classes and How They Help with Feedback

I haven't always been a fan of online learning--for many years, I liked the face-to-face best, especially when it came to feedback on my writing.  But in the past ten years I've grown very fond of online classes and how they actually enhance writers' ability to give and receive feedback.  I regularly take them for motivation, accountability, and the helpful responses I get for my work-in-progress.

I think there's a great use for them, in the journey of a book, and that's often in the generative and early revision stages.  I don't find as much help when I'm closer to final revision, because seeing only parts of a manuscript is less helpful then.

Friday, October 5, 2018

To Storyboard or Not to Storyboard: How This Cool Planning Tool Compares to Outlines, Charts, and Maps

I'm working on my third novel, my fifteenth book, and I'm approaching it as many writers do:  from nowhere!  It's an exploratory process, and I don't really know what the book will be about.  I have a good idea, a handful of characters I already love (and hate), and a kind of plot.  But I do have my storyboard, and that's gotten me a lot further along than I would be without it.

You've probably heard of the plotter versus pantser continuum in writing.  Plotters like to know where they are going, in every degree, before they begin.  Pantsers are the opposite--they feel their way along, following the nudges and ideas that come as they generate writing.  I fall somewhere in the middle.  I don't think I would've gotten thirteen books published, fourteen written, without some planning.  But I also know I gained a tremendous amount by letting the muse direct some of my steps as I went forward.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Residencies and Retreats--How They Help You Start and Finish Your Book

As summer winds down, at least in this part of the U.S., I'm starting a new book.  Although I’m sad to say goodbye to the warm weather, our annual hibernation here in New England always brings me more time for writing and a chance to retreat.  

I love to retreat, either at home or for a planned get-away.  It's hard to imagine such dedicated time, but retreats can happen in small increments, and with planning, you can gift yourself with one during the next months.

Editor Beth Wright on How She Helps Indie Authors Win Awards

A few weeks ago, a former student, memoir-writer Mary Knutson, sent me an exciting email: "I can now put 'award winner' in my bio!" 

On publication of her indie release, Mary's editor had suggested four book awards to consider and the first announced its winners August 2.  As Mary scrolled down to see who had been chosen, there was her book!  She'd entered in three categories and won a Gold Winner Award in the Inspirational Human Relations category for the 2018 Human Relations Indie Book Awards.  She also won Silver Awards in the two other categories.  "So now I have three beautiful certificates to frame," she told me.