Friday, November 18, 2022

Vision versus Will--Why Both Are So Needed to Create a Good Book

I love summer and fall but I long for winter for its stillness. I'm best able to vision in stillness--and by that, I mean clearly see what I want from my writing and my life.

A good friend once shared that she sees vision as a counterpart to will. Will being the energy to push forward, to move, to make decisions, to set oneself in the chair and do the writing that's on schedule for that day.

Without vision, though, it's just typing on a page.

And that, truly, can be fine. Sometimes vision doesn't come in early drafts. Two of my favorite writers, George Saunders and Ron Carlson, write eloquently and knowledgably about the non-visioning phase of putting words on the page, how essential it is, how often it gets very messed up when visioning is involved. We stop to consider what we are saying, and we're lost. The editor mind steps in, the sheer flow of words gets stuck in analyzing.

But, equally, I find there's a place after the words are downloaded when the writer must step back and look at the vision. Really, that's what "re-visioning" is, right? The necessary act of seeing again. Of looking deeper.

Friday, November 11, 2022

Must-Have's of First and Last Chapters

Stellar first chapters are a bear to write. They are also essential if you want to sell your book to a publisher. Most "samples" of manuscripts include the first chapter.

Equally important are ending chapters. But for a different reason: your reader. If a reader is swept away by the last pages, they are more likely to (1) read the book again and (2) recommend it to a friend. Both huge compliments and great ways to get your book read by a lot of people.

Best way to learn how to write these two most-difficult parts of a book? For me, it's by reading and studying other writers. And by allowing the beginning and ending of your own book to evolve slowly--possibly out of step with the rest of the manuscript.

I also learned via two other methods.

Friday, November 4, 2022

Writing Tough Material? Five Tools to Create a Stand-Out "Container"

Few writers I know enjoy writing "tough" material: especially when it's either dry as dust or a slap of heavy emotion. How to package such material in a way that pulls a reader in and keeps the writing from constant trauma requires skill. 

Easiest way I know? Provide a stand-out "container" for that scene.

Friday, October 28, 2022

My Favs--A Short List of My Go-To Resources for Craft Skills, Inspiration, and Writing Community

For years, I've collected best resources for writers. I've used these in my teaching and coaching, and for my own education, inspiration, and craft refinement. Most of you already have sites bookmarked or books dog-eared in your writing library. Here are a few you might consider adding.

If you've been in my classes or read this blog for a while, you may recognize some of them. Worth a review, so set aside an hour or two today or over the weekend to browse these wonderful places and fill up on ideas and encouragement.

Friday, October 21, 2022

The Submission Game--How to Keep Playing It without Getting Gut Punched

Back in the late 90s, I was a prolific and published writer in the nonfiction genre, with a syndicated newspaper column and quite a few books behind me. I knew the game of submitting for nonfiction publication. I had had lots of practice over twenty years, knew how much was serendipity and meticulous timing, how much was networking and who you knew, how much was about the piece you were trying to sell.

Cancer took away a year of my outer life at the end of that decade, and while I was recuperating from chemo, I took a hard look at what I'd done so far as a writer.

You may have had these life-facing moments, often brought about by trauma, serious illness, and loss. You get a chance to ask: What have I been doing and what do I long to do, that I haven't yet?

My answer was fiction. I wanted to learn about it, write it, and publish it.

Friday, October 14, 2022

Some Favorite Writing Newsletters--and Sites to Explore--to Boost Your Creativity

Some days, I resent the flood of info that enters my inbox. I don't really want more input or stim--those days, I'm barely juggling my own life.

Then there are the quieter times--or internally less fertile periods--when I seek out other people's words for inspiration. I want to read how other writers have handled stuckness, too many ideas or too few, publication woes, and having enough time and space to write.

Dana, who reads this blog, suggested I share some of the newsletters and sites that I read regularly and find inspiring. You probably have your favorites, but perhaps some of these will be welcome additions.

Most newsletters focus on either craft or publishing. Some are geared to nonfiction writers seeking jobs and others are all about how to write better prose. I like a variety, but scan the list below to see what might appeal to you.

If any of the links don't work, just google the newsletter name or the author.

Friday, October 7, 2022

Three Aspects to Create Healing via Writing--and an Exercise to Try This Week

Writing being one of the healing arts is not a new idea--there's been research since the 80s on this topic. James Pennebaker, from the University of Texas, Austin, launched my personal interest in this topic when I faced a life-threatening illness in the late nineties. Reading his and others' books on healing via writing clued me into the amazing medical documentation that's accumulated.

A favorite book I've mentioned before on this blog is Louise De Salvo's Writing as a Way of Healing. De Salvo reviews the three aspects that actually make writing a healing experience. They are key.

Before I learned about them, I thought just processing (on paper, with a friend, with a therapist) was enough. I've journaled for years and believe in its power. I've done the Artist's Way morning pages and many other techniques. But I was very interested to hear from De Salvo's book that simply venting (into my journal, into a friend's ear) doesn't have healing effects.

Friday, September 30, 2022

Writing the Cross-Genre Book--Some Tips on How to Successfully Straddle Genres

Early in the writing process, an author faces their genre. What kind of book will this be? Agents and publishers need to know, but more importantly, the author must know because structure often depends on genre.

Sometimes the answer is very clear. Other times, not.

I remember a great email from a writer in Virginia who told me how confused she was about her book's genre. "I’m either writing a very boring memoir or some sort of self-help book which has stories to illustrate my points. Which should it be?"

Friday, September 23, 2022

Writing the Unsympathetic Narrator--So What If Your Readers Don't Like Them?

Last week, I talked about false beliefs, how they create character change and growth. As a character in fiction or memoir faces the limitations of their beliefs about a situation, themselves, or the world, they often find a bigger view. That gives them the opportunity to change, to learn stuff, to become a more authentic person.

Life is life, though. The opposite is also (sadly, often) true. We see the limits but we continue to embrace them. We may clasp even more tightly, fearing the unknown more than we detest our current situation. Character in fiction and memoir do this too, even more so. They become what's called unsympathetic.

Many writing books and many writing teachers have advised me to lean towards the more sympathetic character--if I want readers to engage in the story. I've found this sometimes true. If a character is really awful, or very stuck, and it's hard to get behind them, readers can detach from the story.

Friday, September 16, 2022

Your Narrator's False Belief--and How It Drives Your Story

Character in fiction and memoir is built on certain convoluted pathways. Because tension and conflict drive story, these pathways are often full of false beliefs or mistaken views of self and life that get examined as the story moves forward and the character grows.

As readers, we witness the journey: the narrator's relative ignorance or unconsciousness at the start of the book, maybe creating a life fueled by fear or anger; the changes as they grow more aware, shedding their limited views; the downslide of the tragic character who embraces their mistaken beliefs even more.

False belief makes a great structural model for story, both in memoir and fiction, and it's even applicable to nonfiction (the reader comes to your book with a limited view and uses your material to expand that view).