Friday, December 27, 2013

How'd You Do? Reviewing Your Year's Writing Goals--A Sure Way to Encourage Your Creative Spirit

Each month, I set goals with a writing partner who lives in another state; we used to be in the same writing group until I moved, and I value her feedback so we set up a monthly exchange by email or phone.  We look at what we've accomplished or learned in the previous month and think about what's next.

We also like to do this each December or January, reviewing our goals for the past year and thinking about how it went.  And what we want to bring into manifestation next.

Accountability is hard to come by.  It's easy to let writing slide to a back burner, rather than generating creative heat in your life.  These regular check-ins help me stay accountable. 

But they also show me--much to my own surprise--how much I actually grow as a writer!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Your Writing Voice: How to Develop It, Recognize It, Not Copy Someone Else's

One of my long-time students asked a great question this week:  how does a writer develop voice?  Voice is the elusive uniqueness that comes out in writing over time, the signature of the individual wordsmith.  We would never mistake a passage by Flannery O'Connor with one by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. 

What makes them different, distinctive? Each delightful in its own way?  That's voice.

The elusive hunt for voice is much discussed in writing books, classes, MFA programs.  One of

Friday, December 13, 2013

Strange Alchemy: How Place, People, and Conflict Intertwine in Fiction and Memoir

Boston's legendary Cecelia chorus performs only a few times a year.  Their concerts are well worth the time.  Recently I heard them in an old church in Brookline, Mass. 

At this performance, 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

Friday, December 6, 2013

From School Principal to Thriller Writer--The Grassroots Journey of Andy Rose

In 1967, Andy Rose started working as a fifth-grade teacher in the impoverished Lower East Side of Manhattan. The children in his classes were predominantly illiterate and presented many learning issues.  Andy immersed them in daily readings of literature, used humor and passion to motivate them.  He found them wonderful to work with--their spirit was indomitable--and thirteen years later, he became principal of the Norwood Public School in Bergen County, New Jersey.  He served as its chief school administrator until 2009.

During the last decade of Andy's career, he read the works of Nelson DeMille, Dan Brown, and John Grisham. Their thrilling novels provided welcome escape from his 24/7 responsibilities as leader of a public school district. When he retired, images and stories about teachers and school children filled his mind. Characters and an inner city school setting began to emerge. It felt natural to write about schools and to portray teachers, instead of James Bond, as heroes.

But a major obstacle:  Writing fiction was very different from writing reports for a Board of Education, press releases, and analytical articles for local newspapers.  

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Intriguing Structure of Claire Dederer's Poser--How to Link Different Topics, Timelines, and Themes in a Memoir

Author Claire Dederer came to book-writing after being a journalist for about twenty years, working as a reporter, critic, and essayist.  She began as a film critic then developed into a book critic and a writer on culture. Poser, her 2010 memoir, weaves together several disparate topics:  yoga, motherhood, the legacy of 1970s feminism.  I interviewed Claire this week to find out how she decided to structure Poser around all these themes.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Pros and Cons of the Workshopping Method--And How to Manage Feedback So You Keep Writing

We all have war stories from bad feedback.  If you've been writing and attending conferences or classes for more than a few years, you know the range of possible reactions to workshopping your stories:  from annoying to devastating, from "Let's ignore that comment" to "I'll never touch that piece again."

We're all searching for supportive (but not coddling) and careful readers who respect our ideas yet offer good ones of their own. 

Where to find this kind of feedback?  Some people get it from a writers group.  Some get it from workshops and classes.  Some exchange writing with a feedback partner.  Whatever works!  As long as the comments open you to new insights, keep you writing, keep you enthused and engaged with your own writing, they are useful.

But all of these methods are based on vulnerability--sharing ideas and images and attempts with people who don't see the full vision you do.  And most of these employ something called the "workshopping method," which has its pros and cons.  How do you set yourself up for success?  For the best possible outcome with the least risk?  It's not easy--but there are definitely things to embrace and things to avoid when workshopping your writing. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Crafting Your Book's Visual Map--New Ways to Use a Storyboard

Storyboards are a fast and easy template to check the strength of a book's structure.  More and more writers use them.  I hear about famous authors who now "design" their books via a storyboard.  It's a classy idea whose time has come.

Filmmakers will be yawning here.  Storyboards are the basis of most films--they are like cartoon boxes that show the scenes and can be rearranged to create the best flow. 

But book publishers use them too.  Twenty years ago, I hired on every six months to an all-day storyboarding session for a Midwestern small press.  Eight "experts" gathered in their conference room, bolstered by coffee and snacks and catered lunch.  A facilitator drew the empty cartoon boxes of our blank storyboard on one wall, gave us our topic, and off we'd go. 

Friday, November 8, 2013

Using an Image Board to Get Closer to the Meaning of Your Story

Guest Post by  
Memoirist and Singer/
Songwriter Elisa Korenne

Elisa Korenne entered the creative-writing world as a songwriter.  

She'd written a lot of prose up to that point, mostly in the form of academic papers, but it was songwriting that acquainted her with the thrill of word textures, imagery, and choosing the right word for the right moment.   In this guest post, she describes her writing process and how she uses image boards to get closer to the meaning of her story--and her songs.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Cyber Inspiration--Great Author Websites and Bios to Kick Yours into High Gear

Nicki, a blog reader from South Carolina, is putting together a website for her book.  She wondered about great author websites or tips for putting together an author bio.   

Both are an essential part of an author's platform, a requirement for writers today.   

If "author's platform" is new to you, here's the short definition:  The stage you'll stand on, as you market your new book.  If your platform is solid, if it's developed at least a year before you publish, you'll likely garner more of those reviews, bookstore sales, internet sales, and interviews that will put your book in the hands of readers.   

You'll need to show agents and publishers that you're standing solid.  An engaging author bio and website are also part of your submission package to agents and publishers.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Who's on First? Power in Characters and Power in Locations--How Good Pairings Raise Tension in Your Novel or Memoir

A writing rule I wish I knew when I started out:  to create tension in your scenes, two or more elements of power must be combined.  "Power" in literature means the ability to evoke change in the status quo.  If you play it safe, you'll keep this from happening with your characters or locations.   

Your writing will lack tension to drive forward, to become a page-turner, to irrevocably engage a reader's interest.

The writing rule about power is an antidote to the unconscious desire to play it safe--which many writers struggle with.  This rule reminds you to make sure each scene has at least two power elements.  Three is even better.  You want that itchy friction that keeps a reader wondering what's going to happen.   

Friday, October 18, 2013

Writing Emotions into Your Book: How Being a Good Observer Brings Your Characters--Real or Imagined--Alive

Emotions reveal us, but we don't often reveal our emotions.  Players on your page are the same.  They show us who they are via movement, quirks, gestures, what they notice around them, their history, and many other aspects--rarely through straight-out delivery.

So a writer has to both observe and write the signals of emotion.  Characters who are well observed come alive for the reader.     

But we writers get lazy.  Just as we take real-life friends and family for granted--and stop seeing their uniqueness--we can fall into routine with our characters.  We copy characteristics in people we know, or we use stock images for emotions without trying hard.  Our observations grow limited and (to the reader) boring and predictable.

This creates what's know as the "flat" character.  The antidote is to let yourself really observe, so you can see around the stereotype and create fresh, original characters.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Dialogue Do's and Don'ts: Crafting Lively and Believable Back-and-Forth on the Pages of Your Book

Writing dialogue should be easy, right?  Most of us talk.  We text, we email, we use words in conversation all the time.  We listen (sometimes) to other people talking.  Dialogue runs through our thoughts all day, every day.  So why isn't dialogue on the page just a matter of listening well and copying down what we hear?
Literature has different rules than real life--obviously.  Dialogue on the page has different rules than spoken dialogue.  It makes sense.  What we read must present high stakes, tension, and not give it all away--otherwise, why would we keep reading? 

Friday, October 4, 2013

If You Want to Quit Your Day Job and Be a Full-Time Writer . . . Is It Possible?

In 2004, I decided to leave my full-time editing job at a small publishing company in the Midwest, move to New England and go back to school for my MFA degree in fiction.  I'd been at my job for eighteen years, and it was a good job, with great people and tasks I enjoyed.  I'd learned so much working with the editing team, but I'd come to a place where I wanted very much to test the waters, see if I could create/write full-time, have as much space and energy as I wanted.

A collection of short stories and a couple of novels were simmering.  I also needed more advanced skills, so the MFA program felt like the next step.

Wonderful dream.  Instant upheaval.  Not only did I immediately lose benefits and salary, I had too much time on my hands.  That totally astonished me--that, left to my own devices with unlimited time, I fell into a rather uncomfortable state. 

Friday, September 27, 2013

Never Give Up! A Winner Tells You Why: A Guest Post by Memoirist Elizabeth diGrazia

Elizabeth diGrazia joined me last week on Madeline Island, where she worked on her storyboard for her memoir-in-progress--the same memoir that won her a recent place in the renowned Loft Mentor Series, sponsored by the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis.   

Being a Mentor Series award-winner means a year of close mentorship by a well-known writer, and Elizabeth was thrilled to hear that her manuscript won.  Here she tells exactly the process she went through and how long it took.  Her story is very inspiring to all writers, especially book writers, so I wanted to share it with you this week.

Be sure to check out Elizabeth's blog at WordSisters to read more.
I was a Loft Mentor Series finalist four times.

This doesn't count the many times that I submitted to the Loft Mentor Series and wasn't a finalist.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Some Notes from Bestselling Author Cheryl Strayed about Writing Wild

Bestsellers make me curious.  Sometimes they are worth attention, sometimes they are all hype and bad taste--a great example of the latter is 50 Shades of Grey, which sold 700 million copies for content instead of good writing.   

Then there are books that make it big and deserve it.  One of these is the memoir by Cheryl Strayed, Wild.

I read Strayed's Wild and her compilation of advice from "The Rumpus" column, Tiny Beautiful Things.  Both books were so well crafted, so engaging, I've become one of those readers who are eager to know more about Strayed's writing practice, her ideas, and her book structure techniques--anything I can absorb.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Writing Hopeful, Inspirational Books--The Story behind Nancy McMillan's March Farm

March Farm in Fall

Nancy McMillan had already fallen in love with the beautiful March Farm in Bethlehem, Connecticut, by the time she decided to write a book about it.  She'd met an author at a farm event who had written about a dairy farm in Eastern Connecticut, using photographs and narratives to document a year in its life.  

Nancy kept saying to herself, "Someone should do that for March Farm here in Bethlehem."
"You know what happens when you start saying that: you're that someone," she says.   

Nancy had already gotten a few articles published; she wrote a series of theater reviews for Warner Theater and essays for Edible Nutmeg.  And she was passionate about the locavore movement and sustainability.  So writing about March Farms fit her on many levels.

Friday, September 6, 2013

I Did Everything Wrong at First--An Interview with Award-Winning Novelist Lynne Spreen

After a lifetime as a corporate suit, putting all her creativity into keeping employees from fighting with each other, Lynne Spreen, author of the debut novel, Dakota Blues, was finally able to cut back to part-time and write. Unfortunately Lynne discovered that, for all her brilliance in composing corporate memos, she knew almost nothing about constructing a novel.  

She says, "Dakota Blues was my first novel and I did everything wrong at first, which necessitated having to go back and rethink everything a million times. Or at least it seemed like a million. Maybe only a thousand.  I spent years learning--attending classes, conferences, and reading books and articles." 

Dakota Blues went on to receive the 2013 Next Generation Indie Book Finalist Award for Women's Issues.

Lynne shares her experience as a new writer who battled the learning curve of a first novel--and came out successfully. 

Friday, August 30, 2013

Writing Strong Suspense: The Difference between Speed and Tension in Story

An Interview with Mystery Writer Hallie Ephron

The Boston Globe calls her novels "gripping" because of her real and nuanced characters, and Hallie Ephron's first love is mystery and suspense, although her last three novels cross over into women's fiction.   

She says she likes to write stories "inspired by personal experience with a creepy twist."  This week Hallie talks about the difference between speed and tension in story and how strong suspense comes from a combination of the two, engineered just right.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Are You Getting Enough Listening Time in Your Life? The Value of Silence for Book Writers

I've been reading a wonderful book this week, by writer Terry Tempest Williams, called When Women Were Birds:  Fifty-Four Variations on Voice. 

When Terry's mother died, she left the legacy of several shelves of journals, and she asked Terry to read them after her death.  Terry was astonished when she opened the first, the second, each journal, to find the pages were completely blank.  When Women Were Birds is a meditation on the meaning of this extraordinary experience--and also on the value of silence, the blank page, in the life of a writer.

I'm reading this amazing book while retreating at a cabin in the mountains.  I give myself this retreat time each August.  I allow myself as much silence as possible. 

Silence means hearing the call of two pairs of nesting loons from the lake down from the cabin, the loud red squirrels and Blue Jays, the creak of trees in the wind, and the crackle of the fire in its old stone hearth in our cabin's main room. 

Slowly, these sounds allow the silence in me to emerge.  And with the silence, an emptiness that makes way for new ideas.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Do Your Creative Brain a Favor: Write What You Love, Not What You Know

Guest Post by Rosanne Bane 
Rosanne Bane is a Creativity Coach and author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Solve Writer's Resistance (JP Tarcher). She's a veteran Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center and other art/writing centers. For more of Rosanne's brain-based advice for writers, visit her blog.

Some writers don't write because they don't know what to write. They've been misled by the conventional wisdom that you should "write what you know." How stultifying, how limiting, how uttering boring!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Guerrilla Marketing for Book Writers: Winning Ideas from Mystery Author Nancy Wood

It's been over a year since Nancy Wood's novel, Due Date, was published. It's been quite a journey for this first-time author, trying to figure out book marketing. 

If someone had told Nancy that she'd be spending as much time on marketing as she spent on writing, she says, "I wouldn't have believed them. But it's true. And, if someone had told me that I would enjoy book marketing, I would have looked at them as if they had a screw loose!"

But Nancy says that's true too, and an unexpected gift.  

Book marketing has been a lot of fun. She's met many, many authors, writing in a variety of genres, and has read dozens of amazing books. She's had the opportunity to cross-promote, helping other authors promote their books and be promoted in return. And she's been able to connect with readers as well.  

Friday, August 2, 2013

Finding Your Way to Great Characters--An Interview with Three-Time Novelist Jay Gilbertson

  Jay Gilbertson says he began dabbling in the mysterious world of novel-writing while running his hair salon in NE Minneapolis.  Though a voracious reader, he noticed that he had a large client base of single, beautiful, successful women who were not looking for a companion.
     They were content being single and many had forged strong relationships with their friends who really were family.  Jay felt there was not enough in the literary world that supported this and set about to create a series.  
Full Moon Over Madeline Island, though easily enjoyed as a stand-alone novel, is the third in his series.
  And yes, he says, there will be more.   

Last week Jay was interviewed in the Huffington Post, and he also joined me this week on Madeline Island, for our week-long book-writing retreat.  Here are some insights on how he brings his quirky characters to the page.  

Friday, July 26, 2013

Simple Tricks for Editing Your Manuscript's Prose--Five Steps from Pro Editors That Make a Scene, Chapter, Book Shine

Books enter our lives in distinct stages. 

First comes the wild idea.  It grows gradually in your creative self, until it feels like an elephant in the corner of a room, not letting you ignore it.  Until you're compelled to get it on paper.

You write for months or years.  You now have a huge file on your hard drive or piled on your desk.  You rework it, get feedback, rework some more.  Hate it, love it, feel neutral.

Finally, you're ready for revision.  Revision is essential; we know that professionals spend most of their book journey on this final stage.  But if it's our first book, how do we figure out what needs attention?  It reads OK, our writers' group loves it.  But we still sense the book isn't ready to go out to agent or editor. 

Without a plan, a map, revision can feel endless.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Steps to Self-Publishing: Is It the Choice for You?

In my thirty-plus years as a published writer, I've released my books in three ways: 
1. finding an agent and selling my manuscript to a major publisher
2. selling my own manuscript (sans agent) to a small press
3. self-publishing

Each has advantages and disadvantages.  We'll explore them here so you can make an educated choice about your own book.

Agented Manuscripts
My first agent signed me when I was a brand-new writer.  Because I knew virtually nothing about publishing, my agent educated me.  He had his "stable" of editors at the big houses and successfully pitched my books for me.  He looked over the publishing contracts and corrected any problems, so I got better rights and more money in my advance.  For the years my books were in print, my agent tracked everything, from submission to publication and eventually to serialization. 

Friday, July 12, 2013

Unusual Procrastinations, "Watering Dead Wood with Tears," and Other Ways to Stay Hooked on Your Writing

After thirteen books, I know all about falling out of love with my own writing.  I recognize my own stall-outs and tricks.  I've created a thousand exercises and ways to combat this, accept it, keep writing anyway.

This week I discovered an unusual procrastination--one that worked so well, I wanted to share it with you.
Writing a book is more of a marriage than a date.  You're in it for the long(er) haul.  You need to stay hooked.  Or else one of you--probably the book--will pull a Thelma and Louise.

Acedia--A New Take on Procrastination
On Monday I begin teaching at the beautiful and creative art school on Madeline Island in Lake Superior, where I spend three glorious weeks each summer and fall.  In these retreats, we do many different exploratory exercises, all designed to give the writer a new perspective on the book.   I've been exploring a new exercise called a River Chart.  I introduced my stubborn novel-in-progress to it this past weekend, and they hit it off really well.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Finding a Balance between Acceptance and Rejection--Seesaws in the Writer's Life

At a writer's conference recently, I sat in the audience and listened to a panel of four agents.  They fielded questions and then began to speak about the of-so-difficult process of acceptance and rejection.  Expect rejection as part of the journey, they said, in many different ways. 

Why does an agent "fall in love" with a book?  Why doesn't she or he?  What is the magic that makes the process work for everyone?

Friday, June 21, 2013

Complex Structures and Multiple Storylines--Authors Are Experimenting with Next Steps for Their Books

Have you noticed the trend?  Books are getting more complex--not just in their storylines but also in their structures.  Could be a reflection of how our brains are changing (see The Shallows:  What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr).  Or our desire to reinvent literature once more.

But what's best for your book?  Are you eager for the edge in structure or storyline?  Here's a short history of where we've been and a forecast of where we might be going, with some ways to analyze where your book fits into it all.

Multiple Narrators Become Woven Structures
Only fifteen years ago, when Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible was published, we were awed by a story told from six or seven viewpoints.  Each member of the Price family contributed their own version of the voyage from Georgia to be missionaries in the Belgian Congo. 

Friday, June 14, 2013

Privacy and Alone Time: Why Creativity and Good Writing Depend on These

Summer is a great time to discover new books.  A colleague recommended Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, by Susan Cain, for its unique views on creativity and the need for alone time to nurture that creativity. 

Alone time is a tricky subject.  It hints of antisocial behavior, even selfishness, but I find it's absolutely essential for my sanity, balance, and creative spark. 

Cain's book gave me enough scientific backing to accept the idea that I need to be alone a good portion of each day to hear myself and my story.  I'm not alone in that need, either!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Why Do Creative People Fear Routine? Getting Over the Internal Obstacles to Actually Finishing Your Book

My ideal writing day is open-ended.  I have nothing I even have to get dressed for.  I can be alone, noodling around my writing space, enjoying silence and letting my characters and topic talk to me without fear of interruptions.  I get to design my own play space and time. 

In this ideal world, the creative flow is strong.  It's unimpeded by plans, structure, or routine.  I write often and well, I never encounter doubts or blocks, and I produce amazing amounts of work and feel completely refreshed by the process.

A writing life without routine--that's what most of us dream of.  Because it's really the routine--the obligations and the demands--that gets in our way, isn't it.  If we were free to just write, we would.

Right?  Not really.  A great fantasy, but rarely true.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Placing Setting Details for Best Effect-- The Danger of Frontloading Your Story with Description

One of my online students is writing a very good mystery.  He has plotted it well, and he's working on developing the characters.

Last semester in the twelve weeks of my online class, I focused him on pacing.  What is the best pacing for a mystery?  What elements keep the momentum going, the tension high?  What drops tension, and even distracts the reader?

I asked him to study different aspects of pacing, such as dialogue, character description, and setting.  How is each used for best emotional effect?

This writer has improved tremendously in the months we've worked together.  But he still can "frontload" his chapters with too many setting details.  I wanted him to see how they slowed the pace of his story, and begin to choose the specific details that wouldn't derail his readers. 

Friday, May 24, 2013

Jonathan Odell on Living Out of the Imagination

I'm so pleased to have Jon Odell, author of The Healing and The View from Delphi, as guest this week.  Jon shares an unpublished essay that he prepared several years ago when he was working with fifth graders on "keeping their stories alive." He told me,"Kids are the real story experts and taught me more than I taught them. They caused me to re-remember and revise my recollections about writing."
In life, you can either LIVE OUT OF your imagination, or you can LIVE OUT OF your history. 

That's what adults do with much of our lives. We live out our history, doing the things that have worked once upon a time, obeying the rules, avoiding the things that didn't work and stubbornly refusing to imagine a new story for ourselves.     

Friday, May 17, 2013

Writing, Editing, and the Power of Three--A Guest Interview with Writer and Editor Jeri Reilly

Jeri Reilly is a writer and freelance editor. She is currently writing a book--a manifesto for baby boomers--with co-author Eric Utne. She blogs about word matters at and can be followed on twitter @jerireilly. She lives in Minneapolis and sometimes in Ireland.

Tell us about your background as an editor and writer.

I fell into editing because I was a writer. For many years I worked for a cultural organization where I wrote and edited all kinds of communications for management.  

One day I told my boss I needed to get some credentials--so that when I told this or that manager that they had to change a word or a sentence, I would know which rule to cite. So they wouldn't take it personally. My boss agreed, and so I flew to Chicago and took an intensive course taught by the managing editor of the Chicago Manual of Style.  

I returned to work elated: I had my University of Chicago Publishing School certificate, I knew my way around the latest edition of CMS, and I had a lovely box of (erasable) colored pencils for marking up pages.

Editing has given me a lot of freedom. It made it possible for me to live in Ireland after I left that full-time job. When I moved to a 200-year-old stone cottage halfway up a mountain, I brought my American clients with me, via dial-up internet. One of my writers, a memoirist, did not write on the computer but was undaunted by the distance between us.  

Friday, May 10, 2013

Famous Writers' Desks and Workspaces-- The Importance of Having Your Own and What It Means to Your Book Project

Writers can write anywhere--right?

If you're really creative, you don't need a specific space, a writing room, or even a desk of your own.  With our iPads and smart phones and laptops, our writing can be truly portable. 

We don't need to worry about finding a special spot to grow our books.

Right?  For me . . . Wrong.

Maybe when we're dabbling, maybe when we're still in the exploring phase, we can disregard the idea of having a "room of one's own," as Virginia Woolf famously said. 

But like the difference between a date and a marriage, books are a long-term commitment to your creativity, and they will thrive if we give them a sacred space to grow.  This is something I've known for a long time, but I had to relearn it recently. 

Friday, May 3, 2013

Atina Diffley, Susan Hodara, Rachael Hanel, and Eric Utne--Four Great Writing Tips from Four Memoirists

I've had the privilege of getting to know four excellent writers through my book-writing classes. 

Atina Diffley is the author of the Minnesota Book Award-winning memoir, Turn Here Sweet Corn:  Organic Farming Works (University of Minnesota Press) Susan Hodara is one of the authors of the recently released Still Here Thinking of You:  A Second Chance with Our Mothers (Big Table Publishing) and a journalist who covers the arts for New York Times and other publications. Rachael Hanel is the author of We'll Be the Last Ones to Let You Down:  Memoir of a Gravedigger's Daughter (University of Minnesota Press) and twenty other books.  Eric Utne is the founder of Utne Reader and is currently writing memoir for Random House with the working title Confessions of a Constant Seeker (on sale fall 2014). 

I asked each to share their favorite writing tip--something that has helped them during the process of writing their books.  They came up with four very different approaches (no surprise) and quite useful techniques for book writers at any stage.

Please check out their writing and enjoy their writing tips this week!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Update on Publishing Today: Interview with Nonfiction Authors Linda and Allen Anderson

Linda and Allen Anderson have an illustrious career as co-authors of fifteen nonfiction books, most recently the ASJA-award-winning memoir, A Dog Named Leaf. They both teach writing classes and work (Linda, full-time; Allen, part-time) on their current and future books--writing, editing, and marketing. 

With positive reviews from Publisher's Weekly, Library Journal, Country Living, Cat Fancy, Best Friends, plus dozens of other national publication, the Andersons' books have been listed in Hot 100 and Barnes & Noble Top 10, What America Is Reading.

Celebrities Tippi Hendren, Valerie Harper, Brian McRay, Dr. Bernie Siegel, Betty White, Dr. Larry  Dossey, Penelope Smith, and Richard Simmons are a few who have endorsed or contributed stories to the books.

The Andersons' work has been featured twice on NBC's The Today Show and on ABC's Peter Jennings Nightly News, and they have been the subject of numerous national magazine and wire service articles, including interviews for London newspapers and the BBC.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Seth Godin's FOMO--Fear of Missing Out: Jealousy and How It Affects the Creative Person

Way back when I was new to writing, I did an exercise from Julia Cameron's classic, The Artist's Way, called The Jealousy Map. 

Cameron worked for years with what she called "recovering artists," or writers, musicians, and other creative folk who were stalled out, not doing their art.  She proposed that jealousy often blocked us from reaching our fullest potential.  This translated into a kind of creative self-abuse.  Our Inner Critic got out of hand.

The Jealousy Map asked you to write a fast list of everyone you were jealous of.  From the local writer who just got a story accepted to your neighbor who was so creative to the last winner of the Pulitzer Prize. 

I went wild.  I had no idea how much jealousy lurked inside me!  My best friend, members of my writers' group, luminaries like Pam Houston (a short story writer I adored), and others got scribbled onto my paper.  Anyone I felt was "chosen" in some way, while I was not. 

Many on my list reflected areas where I felt less competent.  I envied writers with better skills and a longer track record in publishing, thinking it was luck that got them there.  I didn't know better. 

The exercise was cathartic.  By the end, I was quite ashamed!  What a terrible, mean-spirited person I was.  To be so envious of these other writers' well-deserved accolades and successes. 

But the exercise wasn't over. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

Making It Up versus Imagining It--Notes from Andre Dubus

Like you, I love good writing.  I adore books that let me enter a dream world and only surface reluctantly.  As a writing teacher, I study such books to find out why they hold me so completely.  The best of the best get reserved for my workshops as teaching tools. 

At my Madeline Island retreats each summer, we read sections from Andre Dubus's award-winning novel, House of Sand and Fog, particularly a pivotal scene that takes place in a revolving restaurant in San Francisco. 

Dubus chose the setting first, he told me at a writing conference in Manchester, New Hampshire, this past weekend.  He started with the revolving rooftop location and then built the event around it.  The event he chose perfectly reflects the disorientation of watching a cityscape go by.  The two main characters are revealing unsavory truths to each other, making a pact, about to get into trouble.  The scene even foreshadows a crime they will commit together at the end of the story.

Friday, April 5, 2013

The Art of Modeling--How Other People's Books Can Make Yours Better

When I was in graduate school, one of my teachers suggested a sketchy idea:  Read a favorite published writer and "model" them. 

She suggested it because I was way stuck--in a (to me unsolvable) problem with one of my chapters.  It needed a lot less imagery.  I love imagery.  So me and the chapter were at a standstill.  I was at a loss:  how to capture necessary emotion without the pictures?

Luckily, my teacher was a minimalist writer.  She was famous for this in her novels and short stories.  I loved them but they were like a foreign language.  She answered my dilemma with a list of books to find and read. 

Like her writing, most of the writers on the list were also minimalists.  A few occasional visual or sensory details.  Imagine Old Man and the Sea but in modern prose.  Sentences short and to the point, characters who didn't mess with thoughts or reflection. 

Friday, March 29, 2013

Co-Authors? How Successful Are Partnerships on Books--and What Are the Pitfalls to Watch Out For?

When my first book was contracted by a publisher, I was assigned an editor who also wrote for Men's Health magazine.  This editor, being a writer too, knew how scary it was to have a first book.  I knew very little about how to structure a book; my editor showed me the ropes.

Not long after that book got published, I got a call from the same editor.  Would I like to partner up with him on authoring another book? 

We proposed a topic that we were both passionate about.  An agent got interested and we signed a contract. 

The agreement for our co-author partnership was very like our author-editor relationship for my first book.  I would provide the "talent" or the content.  My co-author would help me shape it.  It was a journey we'd travel together--one of us deciding where to go, the other deciding how.

Friday, March 22, 2013

All about Publishing Excerpts from Your Book to Build a Platform: An Interview with Memoirist Mary Collins

I met Mary Collins in a workshop I taught at Grub Street writing school in Boston a few years ago.  Her writing--and her enthusiasm--stayed with me.  I was fortunate to have Mary join me again in an online class later that year and a weeklong retreat on Madeline Island in the summer.   

I watched her memoir take shape, change, and reform.  She is writing about her growing-up years in England, and her brother's untimely death.

Recently, Mary was honored by the illustrious Brevity  magazine when "Leap," an excerpt from her manuscript won second-place and was published by Brevity.  You can read it here.  
I knew Mary was keenly interested in getting her work out there, to build name recognition and a platform before her memoir is finished.  
Here's an interview with Mary, explaining her unique way of approaching memoir and how she won the Brevity contest.