Friday, November 19, 2021

Two Amazing Resources for Writing Inspiration This Month


Two writing friends sent along links I have enjoyed so much, I wanted to share them as this week's post.

One is from the often-amazing Lit Hub. It's written by Rebecca Solnit and it's called "In Praise of the Meander," about a different way to shape your creative nonfiction. The link is here. If the link doesn't work, go to lithub.com and search for Rebecca's name. Highly recommended read! (Thank you, Colleen!)

The other resource came from a playwright friend who, like me, loves the writing of two British authors: Helen Macdonald and Jeanette Winterson. If you're also a fan, just imagine those two literary heavy-hitters in conversation!

Well, here you have it, in this podcast sponsored by The Guardian. The link is here. If it doesn't work, go to theguardian.com and search for either of their names. (Thank you, Barbara!)

Great input for your creative self this week--enjoy.

Friday, October 8, 2021

Can Self- or Hybrid Publishing Land You on the Bestseller List?

My indie-released songwriter friends never understood why writers are so hung up about self-publishing. Or the more recent hybrid version, where a publishing house helps you create the book and you fund it. Musicians have long separated from the labels and ventured out on their own, releasing their own CDs and working with indie distributors.

Even today, writers are told that unless we get an agent and go the traditional route, we'll never be taken seriously. We'll never make it as a writer, whatever that means.

I've played both sides of the court. For years, I went the traditional route--agent, large publisher, small press, radio and TV marketing paid for by my publicity budget with the publisher, even book tours back in the day. I also have self-published twice, creating a professional book with hired help (typesetter, cover designer) and promotion.

Friday, October 1, 2021

Alchemy of Place: How to Create Tension through Your Story's Setting and Atmosphere

Morning: writing at my sunny desk. Task: revise a stubborn scene. Advice from recent feedback: bring more tension and emotion into it.

Sunshine in our New England autumn today is no help. In my fictional scene, it's chilly rain in the northern mountains of New York state. While I sit comfortably in my chair, laptop in front of me, spicy tea and good music and sweet air at hand, my poor beleaguered character has just crashed her small plane--on purpose. She's bleeding, shaken, and starving. Around her is a circle of dark, forbidding mountains, misted by the rain.

Our settings couldn't be more disparate. Yet I'm trying to conjure emotion in hers and capture the desperation of this person who only exists in my imagination.

Friday, September 24, 2021

The Delight and Danger of Using Dreams, Journal Entries, Texts, Letters, and Other Passive Devices in Your Book

Ever been with a friend who wants to tell you a dream? It starts with a circus, then they're fishing off the coast of Mexico, then someone is in a diner listening to bad C&W music. On and on the telling goes, one weird scene after another. If you're like me, you begin to feel like you're watching bad home movies.

Dreams are super important in my personal life: I've recorded my dreams since I was in college and still do it faithfully. I know my dreams are often quite meaningful to me. But I don't impose them on anyone else. Hard to make sense of if you weren't there.

Have you also noticed that dreams aren't used a lot in published writing? Maybe because they are part of the backstory of a character's life, but a wobbly, illogical part of that backstory, which readers rarely can make sense of.

Friday, September 17, 2021

Don't Really Like Your Characters? Tips on Working with Unsavory--or Outright Bad--People in Your Stories

A reader once sent me an excellent question. You know those characters in your story--memoir or fiction, especially--who turn out to be less than appealing? People we'd normally avoid in real life (and perhaps have), but who somehow made it onto the pages.

"I have many stories in which the characters are not easily appreciated," this writer told me. "I am sure many of my stories will be filled with hints of resentment, bitterness and disdain. Many players acted badly, and hurt the lives of many people. I guess forgiveness is due, but the facts are the facts. How do I deal with that?"

Friday, September 10, 2021

The Surprising Benefits of Writing Every Day--Why Practice Gets Us Closer to Perfect

A writing colleague once said: "If I'm away from my book more than three days, it's like starting over again."

Have you experienced this? I have. It's no fun.

The desire in many creative artists--and why we're so frustrated when our regular lives interfere--is for a practice. Something that we can show up to every single day and feel connected with, some ritual that feeds us at the soul level. A practice we have permission for, with our other obligations, including family, friends, and work. That doesn't feel like we're stealing time from other, more important things.

I personally believe this is why Nanowrimo, or National Novel Writers Month, is so popular. We make a commitment to write every single day, about 2000 words. We join virtually with thousands of other writers in a strange and creative global community. We give ourselves permission to do this for one month (or, if you join nanowrimo camp in summer, more often). We don't care how rough the writing is--we just show up and do it.

Friday, August 20, 2021

Writing from the End: How Endings Create Satisfying Beginnings in a Book

Many years ago, I read a debut novel by M.L.Stedman, called The Light between Oceans. It taught me something important about endings and reader satisfaction.

The gorgeous title and very interesting premise called to me--a lighthouse keeper and his wife who live on a remote island off the coast of Australia find a baby in a boat that washes up on shore. The wife, desperately childless after three miscarriages, argues to keep the baby. The husband wants to contact the mainland and let them know, thinking that some mother there will be equally desperate. But the wife wins, they keep the child, and their world cracks in unexpected ways.

Although I love reading just for reading's sake, I have been reading as a writer for a very long time now. I have a writer's high expectations. I found the prose lovely, with generous use of images and tense character interaction. The setting of the rocky island and its isolation, the keen details about the lighthouse, were amazingly crafted.

Friday, August 13, 2021

Rest Breaks for Book Writers--Feeding the Inner Artist--and When to Get Back to Work

We packed up our camper van and headed to the beach for four days. The puppies are very happy in the camper; it's a contained space, so monitoring their housetraining is easier.

The first two days, I had planned to write. I was enjoying--so much--editing the final chapters of my new novel from my agent's suggestions. But, to my dismay, I could barely open my ipad or laptop. Instead, I found myself sitting in the sunshine, watching the dogs play.

I lay in our travel hammock and stared at pine trees, wondering where I was.

More important, who I was. Clearly not the writer I'd planned to be during this trip--far from it.

Friday, August 6, 2021

Approaching Summer Reading--Like a Writer

Back in the day, I came across a book on writing by the renowned teacher and author Francine Prose. Reading Like a Writer changed how I approached my reading. I still read for the pleasure of being immersed in a story, of learning, of becoming inspired. But now I took something else away from my reading time: techniques I could use in my own books as a writer.

Prose's book is one you've no doubt read yourself--if you haven't, be sure to!--and I learned much from her step-by-step unraveling of story.

It was a similar change in awareness that happened when I discovered storyboards and the five turning points of well-structured stories. I remember watching a film not long after my first storyboard immersion. My family grew very tired of my muttering "a perfect point #2" or "there's the all is lost moment." But my admiration for good structure and my new understanding of how writers achieved it did change my take-away from good movies.

Friday, July 30, 2021

When to Research, When to Write: How to Balance the Different Kinds of Book-Writing Tasks

Starting a new book is always a great adventure. The idea comes--so many different ways that can happen, from a dream, some intriguing research or a news article, a question ruminating, the image of characters, even a conversation playing in your head. Some writers begin with a storyboard, some with an outline, some launch right into scenes and chapters.

Most books require research, no matter the genre. Take my current novel, located on an island I once visited and never forgot. I spent a half day online verifying facts about the geography and climate, so I could pepper the narrative with realistic details (not quite as delightful as another visit but necessary). A writing colleague is working on Civil-War historical fiction--tons of research about place, era, clothing, even speech is essential to create a believable setting. Memoir might need rereading journals or diaries, interviewing family and friends. Nonfiction is often the most research-intense, with hours or weeks of fact-searching and checking to make everything accurate.