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I'm surprised for two reasons: 1) I've read so many articles about the quirky rituals practiced by writers, such as those mentioned in Debra Eve's article that inspired this series, that I assumed nearly all writers had some sort of ritual. 2) I have several rituals of my own.
There. I've said it. I may turn out to be the only TeachingAuthor with regular writing rituals. If that's the case, so be it. Since I'm the one who suggested the topic, I feel obligated to be honest. Even if it means confessing that my ritual includes prayer, something I don't typically talk about on this blog.
I still remember the first time I heard an author admit that prayer was part of her daily routine/ritual. It was at one of our Vermont College residencies, and someone asked a highly-acclaimed visiting author about her writing routine. I was floored when she told the crowded room that she started every day with prayer. I'd been doing the same for years, but I'd never dreamed of admitting it in public, or hearing a fellow writer admit it. I guess I'd been raised to believe prayer a private matter. Even now, I feel a bit uncomfortable discussing hear. Oh well.
My writing ritual, which has evolved over the years, currently goes something like this:
I light a candle and say several short prayers, including one that my work will be a blessing on the world.
I pull up the music files on my computer and play some classical music to drown out other sounds/conversations going on in the house.
I open my Daily Tracking Log file on my computer and record my start time.
I set a timer for however long I want the current writing session to last.
I recently added another step to this opening ritual after starting a 100-day, one hundred words a day (OHWAD) writing challenge. I read about OHWAD on a friend's Facebook page. The challenge is to write at least 100 words every day for 100 straight days--I'm currently on Day 36. If you miss a day, you have to start back at Day 1. So I've added a step to my writing ritual that includes looking at my previous day's ending word count in my Project Log and calculating my goal for today's writing session. (While my minimum is 100 words, my goal is often for 200-300 words/day, or more.)
My closing ritual includes recording my ending word count in my Project Log, noting my end time in my Daily Tracking Log, and blowing out the candle, if I haven't already done so earlier. (Don't want my office to get smoky.)
Interestingly, I don't close with a prayer. However, I might add one now after reading about this closing ritual in Eve's article:
"J.D. Moyer jots down ideas for the next day’s session and says a prayer of thanks (even though he’s an atheist)."
If an atheist is willing to publicly admit that he prays as part of his writing ritual, I guess I have no reason to feel embarrassed. J
We all want to write vibrant, lively, realistic characters that leap to life from the page. We want our characters well-rounded and interesting. We want our characters to each have their own “voice.”
In pursuit of this worthy goal of creating a realistic character, we write lengthy character histories, we write journal entries from the point of view of our character, and we fill in character worksheets.
Yet sometimes we do all of these things – we endow our character with personality, background, depth, and breadth – and still, our beta readers say they just don’t “connect” with the character.
In other words, they didn’t care about the character.
How do you take your well-rounded character and carry him over that giant chasm that separates “realistic” from “relatable”? How do you give him the traits that will make a reader stay up all night with him, anxiously turning page after page just to know if he achieves his goal?
The answer is simple:
To be relatable, a character needs to be vulnerable.
Obviously, the concept of creating vulnerability isn’t a well-guarded secret in the writing world. If you’ve watched your share of Disney animated features, you know that almost no Disney character is entitled to grow up with both parents. (Of course, this truism isn’t limited to Disney – Harry Potter, Bruce Wayne, Peter Parker, Luke Skywalker, and Katniss Everdeen have all lost at least one parent.)
Vulnerability gives a reader something to root for. Vulnerability opens a character up to empathy.
So if this rule of endowing a character with vulnerability is so simple, why aren’t all of our characters sympathetic, relatable heroes?
The reason may be that – like many concepts in writing – creating vulnerability in a character is much easier to understand than it is to execute. Here are a few things to consider when thinking about your character’s weaknesses:
Vulnerabilities should directly relate to your character’s goal and motivation. In the Hunger Games trilogy, Katniss’s loss of her father is more than just a personal loss – it sets in motion her strong desire to protect her family. It also influences the actions she is willing to take to obtain her goals. Having lost her father in a mining accident, setting off an explosion in a mine is not a tactic she can endorse.
Your reader will relate more to a character’s fears if they share those fears themselves.Harry Potter is thrown into an unfamiliar world and learns immediately that someone very powerful and evil wants to destroy him. Part of why readers find him so relatable is that we all fear the monster under the bed – the unseen thing that wants to harm us – and Voldemort embodies that perfectly.
A loss that creates both a weakness and a strength can be especially compelling. Luke Skywalker learns that his father was a great Jedi. Knowing this makes the fact that he never knew his father all the more painful. Yet Luke has this incredible legacy that empowers him. (And when Luke ultimately learns that his greatest nemesis is actually his father, this vulnerability gains a whole new level of uniqueness and complexity.)
What do you think about creating relatable characters? Do you have an approach to ensure that your characters have a balance of strengths and weaknesses? Please share your thoughts in the comments!
Julie Eshbaugh writes fiction for young adults. She is represented by Adams Literary. You can add Julie on Goodreads and follow her on Twitter and Pinterest.
What is it that makes a “page-turner”? What indefinable, shivery quality does a book possess that makes you unable to put it down?
On a personal, subjective level, that “it” quality differs from reader to reader. But I would argue that on an objective, craft-oriented level, all page-turners have one quality in common: narrative tension.
What is narrative tension? I personally define it as the unbearable need to know what happens next. Some of the best works of commercial fiction are rife with narrative tension, which I believe contributes to their commercial status. For works in the thriller or suspense category, pinpointing the source of narrative tension is relatively easy: Whodunnit? Will the protagonist survive? Will s/he save the day? But what about books that fall outside that genre?
Any book, regardless of genre, can have narrative tension. How? When the stakes are clearly defined, but their outcome is left uncertain. For example, let us discuss Harry Potter. Earlier books in the series were finely crafted middle-grade mysteries within a fantasy framework (The Prisoner of Azkaban is one of the finest examples of a mystery, full stop), but as the books progressed, they still retained narrative tension. How? Because we know the stakes (Harry must defeat Voldemort) and are unsure of the outcome (how he will do it). But each book itself also contained micro-environments of narrative tension: how will the Trio get out of their scrapes this time? or when will Ron and Hermione finally get together? In my opinion, all of these elements combined contributed to the series’ popularity; so many of my fondest memories from high school are me sitting with a circle of friends on the terrace during lunch, passionately discussing and speculating what would happen in the next book. Tension breeds anticipation, and commercial works like Harry Potter, Twilight, The Hunger Games, The Da Vinci Code, The Lovely Bones et al are examples of how that can drive success.
So how to craft narrative tension in our own work? By posing story questions. I’ve mentioned story questions before, and I think they are fundamental to crafting a book you don’t want to put down. Most often, the story question can be boiled down to What does the protagonist stand to lose?–on both an intimate and a broader scale. What does the protagonist stand to lose if s/he _____ in this scene and how does that contribute to what s/he stands to lose overall?
Any time the reader is left wondering or asking questions, narrative tension is created, which leads to anticipation and unease, for which the only solution is to read on. There are many ways to leave the reader wondering: by ending all the chapters on cliffhangers (The Da Vinci Code), by slowly layering secrets and deceptions that are begging to be answered by the book’s end, (Charm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn), by calling into question whether or not a killer will be brought to justice (The Lovely Bones), etc.
Is there a trick to writing commercial fiction? Personally, I don’t think so. But I think you’ll find that most bestselling books are masters of walking the high wire of tension, whether the book is literary or YA or romance.
What do you guys think? Do you think narrative tension is a thing? Let us know in the comments below!
S. Jae-Jones (called JJ) is a writer, artist, and adrenaline junkie. Before moving down to grits country, she was an editor at St. Martin’s Press in New York City, where she read and acquired YA. When not obsessing over books, she can be found rock climbing, skydiving, or taking her dog on ridiculously long hikes. A southern California native, she now lives in North Carolina with her doctor Bear, a stuffed baby harp seal named White-Harp, and a husky-dog called Bentley. Other places to find JJ include Twitter, Tumblr, and her blog.
I do have a few elements I return to, though: light, movement, and time.
1) Light – Sometimes I light a little candle before writing. A flickering light sets my mind at rest, somehow. I have a lantern given to me by a dear writer friend that I love to write by.
When I’m lazy but still want that flicker, I light my little febreze fake candle:>) Excuse me: Febreze Flameless Luminary.
And when I’m super-busy, I just write by a window, with the blinds slatted upward so I get glimpses of trees and sky, but not distracting cute bunnies in the yard.
2) Movement: When I’m frustrated with my writing, I move. Can’t think of the right word? I’ll pace around the kitchen/dining room circle, or go walk Capt. Jack (when it’s not 20 below zero), or even just stand up and do 30 squats.
Photo: DuBoix, courtesy of Morguefile
3) Time: Deadline-setting is really my only consistent ritual. I learned to be a writer in tiny bursts while blocking out life stresses. I still write best in small, intense chunks. No matter what kind of project I'm working on, I start the same way. I look at the clock. I look at the project. Panic shoots through me at my day's to-do list. Then I breathe and set a timer. “Rough draft of this poem. 20 minutes. Go.” Even if I have 3 straight hours of writing time, I probably work on 3-5 different projects during that time, each with its own deadline.
So, there you have it. Three sort-of routines. It would probably be simpler if I just started with a mug of cinnamon tea every day or something:>)
The other night, I asked Twitter what I should write about for my post this month, and someone said she wanted to hear about the pressures and problems of being a published author — as opposed to tips on how to get published.
It’s a good topic, but before I get to the real meat of the discussion, I’d like to preface it with what looks like it’s going to be part one of ???:
This is something I talk about frequently, but in private, in small, safe places with people who I know won’t say, “I’d give anything to have your problems” or, “Well, at least you’re published.” As if that makes the struggles any less challenging or real. Believe me, I remember what it’s like to want someone else’s problems–what I saw as desierable problems–and I know how blessed and fortunate I am to be able to have writing as a career! It’s very rarely an easy career, though.
And the truth is, it’s a lot simpler to talk about challenges I’ve been through, like hundreds of rejections, or writing seventeen novels before INCARNATE was picked up. It’s not always comfortable talking about those things, because I remember the anguish and struggle of being in the middle of all that. But I believe it’s important to talk about them, especially now that I’ve come out on the other side of them, because they’re encouraging stories for others in those same places. It shows them that I survived, and they can, too.
Now that I’m published, it’s a bit different. After all, this is something I want to keep doing, struggles and all. This is the career I wanted. There’s not really another side where I talk about the difficulties but tell people I made it through. And looking at publishing as if it’s one huge thing that will (hopefully) last the rest of my life, that’s pretty overwhelming. It’s much more manageable to break problems into smaller bits and look at them individually.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There are a lot of good things about being published. Too many to name. (This is probably another reason why authors rarely talk about how difficult it can be — they don’t want to come off as ungrateful. I certainly don’t!) But it’s not all sunshine and flowers once that first contract is signed. For me, writing actually got a lot more difficult.
Which, at this point, is another post, because this one will soon get unwieldy . . .
(But, with that in mind, I want you to know something: I am surviving. And you can, too.)
Jodi Meadows lives and writes in the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, with her husband, a Kippy*, and an alarming number of ferrets. She is a confessed book addict, and has wanted to be a writer ever since she decided against becoming an astronaut. She is the author of the INCARNATE Trilogy (HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen). *A Kippy is a cat.
Well over a year ago, I had a lovely Skype chat with one of my writer friends. We got to talking about book ideas and how we both have dozens squirreled away. Some of these ideas are floating around in our minds without an ounce of documentation. Others are a couple bullet points in a word doc. A few are just clever titles in need of characters and plot, while some might already have a handful of chapters captured. Which to focus on next?
I began speculating about the right “follow-up” for my career after the TAKEN series. My writer friend wondered which of her story ideas she should run with while her current novel was queried. She was even kind enough to pitch a few of these ideas to me.
I instantly knew which was most appealing to me as a reader. I knew which sounded the most similar in style/genre to the book she was querying. I knew which was best aligned with current trends. (It’s worth nothing that the story was different for each of these three scenarios.) But screw the trends, right? Never write to trends. And who cares how I react to my friend’s ideas, because guess what? She’s not writing solely for me.
At the end of the day, the only thing you can do is write the story you’re most excited about. The one you find most compelling. The idea that haunts you, keeps you up at night, refuses to be ignored. There’s one story kernel in every batch of ideas that always does this—sort of rises to the top and waves its arms like a madman—so pick that one out of the bunch, and start writing it.
I think we sometimes focus on this “Which book should I write next?” question because our end goal is to share that story with others (aka: Sell The Book). Naturally, if we’re going to face the blank page and spend several long months in WIP-land, we want to make sure we’re at least writing something sellable. Or something that appeals to a friend/agent/editor/teen and so on. We go looking for validation before we even begin.
But I’ve finally learned that this doesn’t matter. At least not as a be-all, end-all. Because here’s the hard truth:
» The novel you query might not get you an agent.
» The novel you put on sub might not get you a book deal.
» The second novel you put on sub might not get you a book deal.
» The novel you submit as your option under contract might get rejected.
» No matter how far into this game you are, there is never a guarantee that the next book you write will be published.
So why the heck wouldn’t you write the book that wants to be written? The one you care most about? The one that you want to tell more than anything in the word, regardless of trends or genre or audience or theme or style or length or similarity to your previous works?
Write the book that’s in your heart and write it exactly as you see it fit.
Do this and you will never regret telling that story, even if it doesn’t get picked up. Because if you’re proud of your novel—if it’s filled with characters you love and a world you created and a story you couldn’t not tell—it will always, always be worth it.
Erin Bowman is a YA writer, letterpress lover, and Harry Potter enthusiast living in New Hampshire. Her debut novel, TAKEN, is now available from HarperTeen, and FROZEN releases 4/15/14. You can visit her blog (updated occasionally) or find her on twitter (updated obsessively).
Yes, Darcy! I want to share the story of the Oldest Wild Bird in the World with a special child(ren). "On Dec. 10, 1956, early in my first visit to Midway, I banded 99 incubating Laysan Albatrosses in the downtown area of Sand Island, Midway. Wisdom (band number 587-51945) is still alive, healthy, and incubating again in December 2011 (and in 2012 and in 2013). While I have grown old and gray and get around only with the use of a cane, Wisdom still looks and acts just the same as on the day I banded her. . .remarkable true story. . . beautifully illustrated in color." -- Chandler S. Robbins, Sc.D., Senior Scientist (Retired), USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD. CLICK BELOW to view the story of the 63-year-old bird in your favorite store.
Thank you to all my readers! You’ve been terrific in supporting the Fiction Notes Blog. Thank you for nominating it for one of the Top 10 Writing Blogs of 2013. We won!
Each year, the Write to Done blog opens for nominations for the best blogs and this year, there were 1100 entries. The award is for Writing Blogs, not for writing about freelancing or business-related posts. At least half of a blogs posts needed to be about the writing process itself. And that’s exactly what Fiction Notes tries to do.
I get up early and exercise, sometimes taking a two mile walk, and sometimes going to the gym to bike and lift weight. Home again to get ready for the day.
I actually go to an office to work–lucky, I know. In the attic of our blue Victorian house–Mims House, in the Quapaw Historical District of Little Rock–I flip on my computer and get busy. I sort of ease into the day by answering email, checking stats on my blog and other business activities.
Then, I try writing for a couple hours. Lately, I’ve been using a Mac App called Freedom, which turns off access to the Internet for a specified length of time. When I’m disciplined enough to do that, I get in a couple hours of writing. But my stomach always interferes–lunch time.
Mims House. I work on the 3rd floor of this Victorian House in the historic Quapaw District of Little Rock.
After lunch, on a good day, I’ll get in another couple hours of work. But usually there are more emails, responding to Re-tweets and such. I also allow some afternoons to go to marketing tasks: creating marketing materials, writing blog posts, or responding to questions or requests for speaking. Or, I may use the afternoon for research on topics related to my current writing project.
In other words, my natural rhythms are to be most alert and productive about mid-morning. I can and will work other times, but I don’t feel as productive. Afternoons, if I try to do too much editing, I get sleepy. That’s when it’s best to keep the mind in motion by researching or other tasks. Editing tasks are essentially boring for me, which is why I’m not great at grammar and I need those of you who are grammar witches.
I leave the office about 4 pm and do whatever errands need to be done–grocery shopping, dry cleaning, miscellaneous shopping, stop by the library, etc. Then home to fix supper. Evenings, I read. And I read almost anything. Currently reading a couple sff novels, a business book on marketing, and looking for a book about the health benefits of juicing.
It’s a rhythm that fits me and my work. What sorts of rhythms fit your work? When do you work best? When do you produce the most writing? When do you edit best? It’s worthwhile to notice and plan around it.
The happiest I’ve even been was departing before dawn to the bus station in Madrid. The tiny bread shop and the tobacconist were still dark. The wet pavement gleamed when a city bus heaved past. Ahead of me lay unknown towns and countrysides that matched names I knew only from a map, and a new friend who was herself departing just then from across Madrid clutching a plastic bag like mine that was filled, like mine, with an egg-and-potato sandwich and a tangerine. The world was doors opening in all directions. I felt free, and awake, and full of laughter. Writing has often been just like that for me.
It’s the feeling that we are at the top of our game and building on this solid draft, we can accomplish something unique, special, earth-shattering.
We need that hope at the beginning, or else we wouldn’t start. We know that it will be long and involved and at times discouraging to dig into this story and start messing with it. We know that the results are uncertain. We need that hope.
When Pandora opened the forbidden box, she released all the world’s evils. It sent the world into despair. But then, Pandora opened the box once more and found Hope waiting. Though Hope seemed weak, it was the strongest of the things released that day.
Hope, not optimism.
Optimism is a general outlook on life, or is based on positive thinking. Hope is an emotional response, in our case, the response to a specific task of recasting a story into a stronger form. It is based not on positive thinking: I know I can do this revision well. For me, it’s based on my hope that the writing process will come through for me again.
Hope, not despair.
Despair has enough play in the life of a writer: witness the steady stream of rejection letters that we receive. It’s enough to send me into a writer’s block. But when I face my story, I forget all that. It belongs to the world of submissions and that’s not the world that concerns me when I?m revising. While revising, my loyalty is to the story, the characters, the language–what does this story need to come alive? How can I tell this now familiar story in the strongest way possible? I hope that the process will reveal the best way to tell this story.
Not false hope.
Am I indulging in false hope? No. False hope would be based on laziness, unwillingness to try. I approach revision with an open attitude and try to find ways to work with the story better. I use a variety of writing strategies to find new ways into the story. I may fail, yes. But my hope is based on process, work, past experience of struggling through difficulties in telling a story.
Here is hope: When I look at my story I realize that there’s one more thing for me to try. Hope sends me forward into revision.
Over at the Write to Done blog, they are taking nominations for the Top Writing Blogs of 2013. If anything here at Fiction Notes has been helpful or touched you this year, I’d appreciate a nomination. If you’re looking for great articles about writing, here are the 2012 winners.
Writing is generally considered a low risk profession. But there are several serious--and even terminal--diseases to be on the lookout for. Here are a few that affect me.
1. Obsessive Compulsive Editing Disorder (OCED). I edit everything from the back of cereal boxes to notes from my kids to whatever novel I'm reading. I wish I could turn it off, but there doesn't seem to be a switch. It's almost impossible for me to read a book without a pencil in hand to add a comma here or delete a word there. I hate it. I just want to enjoy the story.
2. Unintentional Analytical Plot Predicting Syndrome. (Also known as Beat Beating.) I can't watch a movie or TV show without analyzing the plot and trying to predict the ending. My husband asks me why I even bother watching any more because I always know what's going to happen.
3. Author Attention Distraction Disorder (AADD, also frequently referred to as "crazy"). I'm constantly distracted. Not by shiny toys and squirrels, but by everything inside my head. "Mom, this is really important. I have to have one hundred..." One hundred. Yes! That's it! What if my main character lives a hundred miles away? That would put enough strain on the relationship to make the scene work better and lead right into the climax. But then the villain... "Mom? Did you hear me?" "What? Is someone talking to me?"
4. Blood Shot Twitchy Eye Syndrome. Some call it insomnia, when you wake up in the middle of the night because you just had this great idea and you can't go back to sleep because scenes and dialogue keep playing out over and over in your mind. Please just make it stop!
5. Acute Hyper-Friendlessness Complex (AKA: Loner's Disease). I've always been an introvert, but since I started writing, it's blossomed into an epidemic. A single person epidemic. How can I have time for friends when I have scenes to write, edits to make, and research to do. I've already got hoards of voices in my mind, why do I need more? Come on people! What's more important here? Real life or the fictional world I've created in my head?
What disease do you suffer for the sake of your art?
First drafts never come easy. They rarely turn out exactly how you’ve planned them, if you’ve even planned them at all. The other day, fellow pantser and Pub Crawler JJ posted about endings being one of the most challenging things for her, and offered useful advice on how she deals with the inevitable wall blocking her way to the goal.
I’m the total opposite. I always know my endings. I know from the start how everything will turn out, which characters, if any, will die, and what kind of world order will be in place. If I don’t, then I have no will to write. I can have the perfect world constructed, but if I don’t have an ending to suit a story, I may as well have never created it.
But this far from makes things easier, nor does it make them necessarily harder. It’s just a different way of writing. Beside my shining, glittering, golden ending is a looming pit of darkness in need of filling. It’s true, the edges are faintly lined with tentative opening chapters, and there are some generic filler ideas peeking through the gloom, but mostly it’s a pit of darkness.
The most effective method I’ve found to defeat the pit of darkness is by making mistakes.
This is something we’ve all heard before: You’ll never learn until you’ve made mistakes. And it’s usually followed by sagely uttered words about knowledge gained in how to avoid them. But here’s an idea. If you’re writing your first draft and you start making mistakes, don’t fix them. If you’re in a place where your ideas aren’t set in stone anyways, you have nothing to lose. Explore the notion that the mistake you made is actually the right answer.
Here’s an example of what I mean. A few months ago, I was writing a wedding scene. I was writing it out of sheer desperation because I had no idea how to progress the story even though my ending looked so beautiful in the distance. The bride had recently lost her parents under suspicious circumstances, and was unhappily getting married to a man who employs her very close family friend. Naturally, this family friend will be present at the wedding. The bride needs all the support she can get, especially since she’s pretty much getting married against her will. The family friend hates the groom despite working for him, but will be there because he knows that the bride will need a friendly face in the crowd. Let’s be honest here; the only reason this character exists is because she needs an ally.
It wasn’t until weeks later that I realized I’d totally forgotten to include him in the wedding ceremony. And the reception. And all the subsequent scenes of the bride feeling abysmally lonely. In other words, a character whose sole function of being a person’s support system collapsed into a heap of moot possibilities.
I couldn’t believe my stupidity. I mean, this guy was best friends with her father. He’s known her since she was born. This was going to be his shining moment. What the frak was he doing that was more important than the wedding?!
I was about to go all the way back to the beginning of the event to start writing in cameos heavily featuring trivial exchanges and encouraging smiles when I started thinking…
…What was he doing that was more important than the wedding?
That one mistake, followed by that one question, ended up giving me enough fodder for ten thousand words of new plot and created a conspiracy theory that will last me the entire story.
I can’t even imagine the story anymore where the family friend is present at the wedding. I can’t stop the eye-roll when I think about how useless he was. And you have to be a pretty damn useless character for a writer to forget about you completely during a scene where you should be excelling at your purpose.
This is what I mean by making mistakes. Rather than fixing them, explore them.
Obviously, some mistakes lead to plot holes, and this way of writing is mostly beneficial to people who don’t plan details. But even so, it’s easy to get stuck on a concept just because you feel you have no choice but to keep it. In some ways, committing to these kinds of mistakes is the equivalent of murdering your darlings before they’ve even been created. Sometimes choices are hard to come by. Other times the imperfect human memory hands them to you so elegantly you think you made the mistake on purpose.
In any case, next time you realize you’ve made a huge error, try to think of its possibilities before chucking it. You may have subconsciously created a better situation for yourself.
After all, most great things are discovered by accident.
Biljana Likic is currently revising her first novel. She’s in her fourth year of university, where she can’t wait till she’s out so she’ll finally have all the time in the world to write. You can visit her personal blog and follow her on Twitter.
Have you ever been writing and everything is coming along smoothly until…it isn’t? Some people might call it writer’s block, but I don’t actually think writer’s block is a thing. There are, of course, many reasons someone might be unable to write, including depression/emotional issues, lack of time, etc. but when “writer’s block” means “I don’t know how to proceed forward,” then I have a few tips.
I am one of the rare people who finds beginnings and middles fairly easy to write, but endings? Endings are the bane of my existence. I generally know what the ending ought to be, but how to get from the middles I’ve written to the words The End is something I find myself having to sit down and think through again and again. For me, this “roadblock” generally happens around 60,000 words.
When this happens, I usually have to take a step back and whine and complain about how hard writing is. After whining and complaining for a bit, I revisit my manuscript and read the story so far. At this point, I’m trying to read as a reader–not as a writer or an editor–the person who asks, “And then?” If I don’t know the answer to “And then?”, it’s time to sit down and tell myself the story.
What does that mean? It means I take a notebook and a pen and write down the most simple, bare-bones story of my novel. I’m not trying to think like a novelist; I’m trying to think like a storyteller. Imagine you’re around a campfire and your annoying little brother just asked you to “Tell [him] a story.” Okay, so you’re going to tell him the story of what you’re working on. No beautiful prose, no deep character motivation, just what happens, pure and simple.
When you take out the quirks of what makes a novel a novel and not a simple story, you’re left with action and character. In other words, you’re left with what is essentially a fairy tale. As Philip Pullman says in his introduction to Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm*, “Swiftness is a great virtue in a fairy tale. A good fairy tale moves with a dreamlike speed from event to event, pausing only to say as much as is needed and no more.” So you start telling your brother:
Once there was a young man whose family business was killing zombies. Business was good until one day, a rival family of zombie-killers stages a coup, killing the head of the Protagonist’s family and becoming the unparalleled resource for zombie hunters. After coming home from school, the Protagonist finds the bodies of his mother and father slain in the kitchen, their throats ravaged and their eyes cut out, as though they had fallen prey to a zombie attack.
“What does the Protagonist do?” your little brother asks.
But the Protagonist knew that this was not the work of zombies; Zekes kill mindlessly and without prejudice, driven only by a primal hunger nothing but human flesh could satiate. A zombie would not savage the throat person without consuming the rest of him, and the taking of eyes was a hallmark of the rival zombie-hunter family. So the Protagonist set out to avenge the deaths of his parents, and to bring glory back to his family name.
“Then what happens?”
The Protagonist needed resources, so he packed up what few things he needed: food, weapons, and the name of a young woman who could bring him to the head of the Enemy. But as soon as he set out from his house, he’s set upon by a horde of zombies.
“And then?” your brother asks breathlessly.
The Protagonist fights his way through the horde of zombies, but it’s too much: there are too many, and too few of him. Just as things were starting to look dire, he’s saved.
The young woman. She arrives to save his butt, having heard of his parents’ murder on the news. She tells him that she knows the truth of what really happened, and that the Protagonist must follow her, or be killed in the same way as his family.
And so on.
I’m a pantser by nature, so outlining a book before I start writing doesn’t work for me. But there comes a point where pantsing doesn’t work so well, and I need to have a roadmap of where I’m going. (Again, for me, this usually happens around 60,000 words.) Sitting down and telling myself the story of what happens in my novel clarifies the plot for me. In reading the story I’ve told myself, I can start to pick out scenes that I need to write next, and even scenes that I’ve forgotten to write and are crucial to the plot. At this point, I can get back to work and flesh out my bare-bones fairytale into a book.
Of course, this doesn’t work for everyone. But sometimes, when my critique friends and authors are stuck, I’ll often ask them to tell me a story. Tell me what happens in your book. I’ll keep asking you “And then?” until you get to the very end. Sometimes my authors and critique friends don’t need to get to the end; just the act of telling me the story has broken them out of their rut.
So what do y’all think? Do you think telling yourself will help? Let me know in the comments below!
*I adore Philip Pullman, not just because he wrote my favourite novels of all time–the His Dark Materials trilogy–but because he is exceptionally wise on what makes a good story. He retold many of the famous tales from the Brothers Grimm, adhering to his principles of swiftness and economy. Even without the quirks of prose, his voice shines through, which goes to show that the voice of the storyteller is a much purer, simpler thing than people realize.
S. Jae-Jones (called JJ)’s emotional growth was stunted at the age of 12, the age when adventures were imminent and romance just over the horizon. She lives in grits country, where she pretends to be an adult with a mortgage and a car. Other places to find JJ include Twitter, Tumblr, and her blog.
It's the start of a new school year here in the United States. Many students have been back to school for several weeks already, and almost all will have returned by the end of this week. Below, I share about a writing challenge some of you, our readers, may be interested in. But first, I want to announce our own new beginning here on the TeachingAuthors' blog.Jeanne Marie posted a few weeksago that she's stepping away from blogging with us for awhile. We will miss her unique perspective as a working writer and teacher who is also the mother of young children. We hope that she'll be able to rejoin us again in the not-to-distant future. Meanwhile, we're happy to welcome back JoAnn Early Macken!
If you're a new reader here, you may not know that JoAnn was one of the founding TeachingAuthors. She is the author of the nonfiction book, Write a Poem Step by Step (Earlybird Press). Her most recent picture books are Baby Says, “Moo!” (Disney-Hyperion), Waiting Out the Storm (Candlewick Press), and Flip, Float, Fly: Seeds on the Move (Holiday House). JoAnn's poems have appeared in a number of magazines and anthologies, and she has also written more than 125 nonfiction books for young readers. If you'd like to know more about how JoAnn became a TeachingAuthor, check out this blog post. You can also read more about JoAnn on her website.
With JoAnn's return, we're modifying the posting schedule a bit. JoAnn will return to her former Friday posting spot, which will allow her to participate in Poetry Friday. And Jill will take over Jeanne Marie's Monday spot. We hope you enjoy our new rotation!
Now, for a "new beginning" opportunity for you, our readers: Today I discovered that award-winning author Laurie Halse Anderson has shifted her annual Write Fifteen Minutes a Day (WFMAD) challenge from August to September. If you've slacked off in your writing over the summer, or you've been in a slump and you'd like some help getting back into a writing routine, I recommend you join the challenge. You can work on a project of your choosing, or write responses to one of two prompts Anderson provides each day. She also provides bits of inspiration each day. In today's post, Your Abundance of Time, she shares a link to an interesting article about why we allow the Internet to absorb so much of our valuable time.
I'm headed off later this afternoon to one of the highlights of my writing year: the Whispering Woods Picture Book Writing Workshop/Retreat. I'm one of the facilitators, along with my author friend Linda Skeers, so obviously I'm biased, but I urge all of you to someday try an away-from-home writing workshop/retreat. It can be nothing short of life changing. Briefly...
1. You get to focus solely on your passion – writing for kids – in a warm, friendly, no-distractions atmosphere.
2. You make new friends (the importance of friendship and support from other writers is crucial, at least for me).
3. Your work is read and compassionately critiqued by people who understand how tough it is to put yourself out there – they're doing it, too.
My first writing retreat was one sponsored by SCBWI-IL. Technically, it wasn't a workshop, but it was the first time I'd spent an entire weekend focused on my writing, so I'm counting it. I met amazing writers at every turn, people with whom I felt an instant rapport (Esther!). I made a connection with a sweetheart of an editor. But the best, most affecting thing about that weekend? I came away feeling like a writer. For the first time. (People who don't write might not get that, but I know most of you will.) It was almost as though I'd finally been given permission to take my writing seriously. I know, I know. Nobody has to GIVE us permission to follow our dreams, but with a busy husband and three active kiddos, it was way too easy to put my "little hobby" on the back burner. The positive feedback I got on my writing made me realize that a career in children's books wasn't a fantasy.
I've heard great things about on-line workshops. And sometimes those are the best option – maybe the only option – for writers who cannot get away. (I wish the internet had been around when I was starting out!)
I've also heard (or read about online, anyway) writing workshop horror stories about nasty critiquers and jealous/pompous/frustrated instructors, but I believe (hope!) those are rare (or nonexistent) at workshops centered on writing for children.
So if you can swing it someday, go for an in-person workshop. Do your homework first, of course. Look for online reviews of whichever one you're considering. Talk to others who have attended, if possible. Then, when you feel ready, take the plunge.
Truthfully, I get as much as I give at Whispering Woods. Talking about writing all weekend, reading dozens of quality picture books, reading and critiquing the work of others....All that concentrated picture book STUDY improves my own writing as much as I hope attendees are improving theirs.
I love it when everybody wins.
(photos were taken by me on the grounds of the retreat facility here in eastern Iowa where Linda and I hold our workshop)
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I am just back from an amazing week-long conference about writing and indie publishing. It was held on the Oregon coast and at one point Dori Butler, Carol Gorman and I took advantage of the setting and went on a hike. It became, for us, a metaphor of the writing journey that we all take and the journey we were taking as writers that week.
We hiked Cascade Head Nature Conservancy trail. There is a three-mile hike that is open year round, but there’s also a shorter trail that only opens after July 15. The road to this upper trail is a gravel road that winds through magnificent forest land. And that’s how the metaphors began.
Stop and ask for help. The road to the trail is not well marked and we were in totally unfamiliar territory. When you are venturing into new writing lands, stop and ask for help. We knew we had passed the road, but hadn’t seen it, so we stopped at a local restaurant and the waitress kindly drew us a map that we confirmed with our Google Maps app.
Keep going. The road was steep and curvy and was often uncomfortably close to a steep drop-off. After some miles of climbing, the road dipped and headed downhill. We were confused and became more and more uncertain. Finally, someone said, “We should turn back.” No. We couldn’t give up yet! We decided to go on and around the next bend–yes, around the next bend–there was the parking area for the trail head. Are you tempted to stop writing? Take that next step: submit the manuscript, write that last chapter, keep going. You don’t know what is just beyond the bend.
Carol Gorman and Dori Butler at trailhead of Nature Conservancy Cascade Head trail, outside Lincoln City, OR.
No one around. It was early morning, foggy. A lonely road, a quiet space. Writing can feel lonely, too. We work and work and if feels like no one cares. But, remember this: there was a path. Clearly someone had gone before us and surveyed this land, decided it was worth the conservation effort, built and groomed a trail. Writing may feel lonely, but others have gone this direction before. And there is a promise of a fantastic view at the end of the trail. Keep going.
You can’t see clearly in the fog. Now, this wasn’t just any old fog. It was foggy enough that you couldn’t see more than a couple hundred feet. As with writing, we only saw the immediate surroundings, the long views were closed to us. That didn’t mean it was scary or ugly. In fact, the fog held a peculiar beauty, diffusing the light, creating an almost cozy atmosphere that sheltered and protected. It was a space in which you could keep going by focusing on the task in front of you.
Fog hung over Cascade Head all morning.
Spider Webs. Wow. At the edge of a grassy pasture, foxgloves glittered in the fog. A spider web was hung with water droplets like a Christmas tree hung with lights. We stopped to look closer. Likewise, in your writing, enjoy the journey of writing a story. Don’t just look for the finished book or the pay check at the end. Instead–stop and look for spider webs. (Don’t you think that is much better than, “Stop and smell the roses”?)
Stop and look for spider webs.
Honor our differences. We all carried cameras and when we found this rope looped around a branch, we snapped away. Then we compared and each of us had a different view of the rope and tree–just as each of us carries around a different view of story.
You may not know when you reach the top. Because of the fog, we weren’t sure what we were supposed to see and where we were supposed to go to see it. We reached a pasture and thought it was supposed to be the top, but we didn’t know. Sometimes, in our writing careers, we reach a certain point and look around, only to be puzzled. Is this the top? Why can’t we see any clearer?
Darcy and Dori, Writing Buddies.
Paths diverge and converge. Several times there was an obstacle in the path–a fallen tree, a mud puddle–and we had to choose to go right or left. Our paths diverged and converged. As writing buddies, this has been true, too. Over the years I’ve known Dori, we’ve had periods of intense conversations and back and forths, and then the ebb and flow of life takes us different directions. But always–we are writing buddies and we work to have our paths converge, even if only for a week’s retreat.
Timing is important. We were disappointed not to be able to see the ocean from the top of Cascade Head, so a couple days later, we had some free time in the afternoon, instead of morning. We decided to head back to Cascade Head and try again. Sun shone brightly in the valley, but we saw a cloud hanging over the top of Cascade Head. Was it thick fog again? We pulled into the parking area and it was almost raining. We hesitated. We had been out there once; would we find nothing but fog again? Like in our writing career, you just have to try. You have to write that next novel or story, and you can’t give up. We climbed out of the car and took off.
This time–Wow! The view was amazing.
On a clear day, the coastland stretches into the distance, a sight worth the trouble of going back again and again until the view is clear.
Dori Butler and Carol Gorman. Great writers, great friends.
This week, I have been Frederick. The classic children’s book talks about a mouse who watches all the other mice gather seeds and grains for the winter, storing them away for the cold days. Frederick is a gatherer, too, but he gathers the sights, sounds, tastes, smells and feel of summer. When dreary days of winter come, Frederick is ready with poetry to remind the others that good days would come again.
My daughter delivered her second son, my fourth grandchild this week, and I’ve concentrated on just living. On being a Frederick who soaks up life at it grandest and stores it in the depths of my heart to be brought out in a written form when needed.
Here are some of the images of the week:
Mr. GFR weighed in a 7 lbs, 20.5 inches.
Big brother marched into the hospital and literally charmed the entire nursing staff. They were all hanging over the desk to get a look at his fedora and glasses.
Mr. EIR stole the show from his little brother.
And while the household slept, I took early morning walks, just rejoicing in the richness of our lives.
Heron on the Lake on the day that GFR was just two days old.
Sometimes, every once in a while, it’s good to be a Frederick! When is the last time you just lived and enjoyed the fullness of life?
Happy Friday! I don't know about you, but I've bookmarked Mary Ann's Wednesday Writing Workout. What a fun exercise! Now, back to the topic of favorite craft-oriented books. We all have our personal favorites, of course, and there are certainly enough out there to satisfy everybody's tastes. I hadn't even heard of Carmela's pick, Mary Oliver's A Poetry Handbook, but I'm going to have to try to find a copy. I'm more familiar with the terrific books on Mary Ann's list, although I've never had the pleasure of reading Marcia Colub's I'd Rather Be Writing. These two are going straight to my (ever growing!) "must read" list. For my own list, I'm going to stick to those books that deal with writing fiction.
When I feel the need for a writing boost, there are books I go back to again and again. But if I were going to be stranded on a desert isle with only three books about the writing craft to read while awaiting rescue (and praying for a cookbook to wash up: 500 Ways to Cook Coconuts), my picks would be:
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne & Dave King. This little gem was first published in 1993, but it's no less relevant now than 20 years ago. It's packed with information that vastly improved my writing. Vastly. And it's written in a friendly, chatting-over-the-back-fence style that appeals to me. So many illuminating examples are sprinkled throughout – good, bad, hilarious, and cringe-inducing – that there's no way you can read it and not come away a better writer. How many writing sins did Beginner Me commit? That's for another post.
Telling Lies for Fun by Profit, by Lawrence Block. Reading these essays is like picking the brain of a warm and witty, well-published favorite uncle who's willing to cut through the baloney and give it to you straight. He covers every topic I can imagine about writing and the writing life. From selecting a pen name (or not) to speeding up your writing to creating believable characters to "the perils of icebox thinking." I'm not kidding. It's ALL here. An often eye-opening read.
For my third choice, I’d have to go with Stephen King’s On Writing. Half memoir, half instruction manual, candid and, by turns, heartbreaking and funny, this book gives me hope that success can happen for any of us willing to work hard and BELIEVE. And who doesn’t need that?
Many, many other books on my bookshelves beckon, but these three remain my faves. Since I never studied writing formally, they pretty much provided my writing education, helped get me where I am today. How could I not love them?
I am very grateful to the person who planned the new rota for An Awfully Big Blog Adventure. She gave me the hard-to-forget day that is the “first of the month”.
Along with remembering the blog-post comes remembering a rhyme, and making sure I’m there before himself.
PINCH, PUNCH! FIRST OF THE MONTH!
It’s gentle fun, the way we play it, but it isn’t always so for authors.
Writers get plenty of pinches and punches and have to get used to them or give up, I guess.
PINCHES are the tiny moments when something nips at your confidence unexpectedly. They are the moments that make you feel silly and/or needy for even having had expectations.
For example, there are the following:
The Prod of the Poisonous Pen: That negative phrase in a review that brands itself across the brain for far too long afterwards.
The Pinch-You-in-Passing Person: This is the librarian or teacher who dismisses your latest book while oozing & enthusing about another book or author. “What we’re really looking forward to . . . “ (And to dismiss a book is to dismiss the writer, my friend.)
The Nip of the Book-Non-Buyer: This one picks up your book, sniffs, and puts it down. The extreme version takes your book out of their child’s hands and offers them one by a tv tie-in or celebrity.
The Sad Smile of the Un-Chosen:There are lots of awards around now, and I am very glad of that for many reasons.Occasionally comes the good moment: one’s book is chosen and listed and one is very grateful and happy. Then comes the down-side when one is not THE Chosen. Even when you didn’t expect to be, it might have been nice to be Surprised.
Ah well. Just a mini-pinch, because it was an honour all the same. Though pity that stoical author whose serious novel on a heart-felt theme was pipped at the post by an amusing book about a farting bear. To those who have to smile bravely in public when such announcements are made: we salute you!
In lots of ways, pinches are good for the writer as a person. They are the moments that remind us not to get too grand or vain about our work, to think about others. The moment might smart but the pain can be licked away.
PUNCHES are the serious stuff, the blows that can knock a writer down.
The worst is when a book that one’s heart and soul has gone into goes Out of Print. This news is often discovered by chance. It rarely comes from an editor or the publishing house.
My toughest Out of Print moment punched out at me from nowhere, just as I was setting off on a very happy tour of school visits. The eager bookseller rang to say that, if I agreed, the publisher’s warehouse would release ten of my last twenty “author copies” of a title for her to sell at the event. I rang the warehouse, feeling sick in the stomach, mumbled my agreement and smiled all the way through the tour.
Inside, I was hurting. What I knew was that now that title had gone out of print, the rest of the series would go too, like a run of dominoes.
The fact wasn’t anything special. Lots of people go through it, sometimes as they are still writing the series. The moment was just one of those re-shuffles, those occasional clearing of the lists, aka the wiping of my entire backlist. That was a punch, that was, and I wasn’t wearing my iron corset that day.
I’ve learned to have that trusty garment ready more often. Even in the fine world of kindle and e-books and being in charge of your own publishing destiny, I’m sure pinches and punches happen.
“Courage!” is all one can say, and perhaps remember that at least we mostly live where many of our words can be published without truly serious or vicious reprisals . . .
Enough. End of this rambling. The sky grew darker than I expected when I began.
Meanwhile, back to more comfortable territory.
I’m ready for tomorrow, as long as himself doesn’t read this post over my shoulder and as long as Blogger scheduling works around 6.30am.
For what I’ve found out, while researching this saying, is that the words should be delivered between dawn and noon, and with an extra line for luck.
A PINCH AND A PUNCH! THE FIRST OF THE MONTH!
WHITE RABBITS AND NO RETURNS.
Wishing you No Returns, especially from your books.
In the space of a week, I’ve gone from the heights to the depths.
First, the good news.
Last week, I was thrilled to learn that my book, Wisdom, the Midway Albatross was given a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly. This book has defied all the odds–just as Wisdom has done.
“. . .Pattison writes crisply and evocatively, and her closing notes provide a wealth of information and resources for readers interested in Wisdom and her fellow albatrosses.” Publisher’s Weekly 2/18/13
The story is about a 60+ year-old albatross who lives on Midway Island and survived the Japanese tsunami. For over 60 years, she has soared over the North Pacific, only coming to shore to breed. Scientists estimate that she has hatched over 35 chicks, including one each year for the last five years. Last year’s chick was named Wonder and this year’s chick–just a couple weeks old now–was named Mana’olana, Hawaiian for Hope. Yes, a 62-year-old bird just hatched a new chick!
After the 2011 Japanese tsunami, I heard her story of survival and within six weeks, I had contacted scientists, researched her life and times and written her story. I contacted about twenty publishers and none would publish it. I decided to work with my long-time friend, wildlife artist Kitty Harvill to publish it from my own imprint, Mims House. Now, I’ve been in this business long enough to know that it would be a long hard road. But it was an important story, one I couldn’t let go.
It won the Children’s Book category of the 20th annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published award, a $1000 cash prize. So, I submitted it to Publisher’s Weekly for review and it earned a Starred Review! Right now, it is an Amazon bestseller (for the spring season, the ebook version is only $0.99).
The starred review was especially nice, because it was a validation of all the work we had put into the book. Go look for yourself: self-published can be quality.
Next, the Bad News
Publishing has weird math. 9 months + 5 revisions = NO.
The rejection I got yesterday was shocking and painful.
For nine months, I have been working with someone on a project and it has developed in amazing ways. The critiques were spot-on and I revised like crazy. I deleted chapters, added chapters, rearranged chapters, deepened characters, searched for ways to add humor. Then, I did it again: I added a character, took out a subplot, deepened characters and searched yet again for ways to add humor. I expanded the climax scene, set it up better. I created a stronger emotional arc, added a stronger villain. I revised.
I love this story now.
It was rejected.
The world tilted for me yesterday.
Nine months. Three major (huge, gigantic, difficult, rewarding) revision and a couple more minor ones.
Yet, the moon rose as usual, I slept.
The sun rose as usual, I got up and showered and ate breakfast.
I have already queried someone else and will send it to them today.
I am raw. I feel wounded. A trust betrayed. A grieving because they couldn’t see the story in front of them; they only saw what they would have written, if only they were writers.
Are they right? Are they wrong?
I don’t know.
I only know that this is a heartbreaking week, but last week was an uplifting week. This is just the heights and the depths of our profession; somehow, it feels normal. And regardless of the reaction of others to what I write, my job is to plod along putting one word after another.
Writers need to be a part of the wider reading community, not just the writing community. Yes, you need to do it as part of your book marketing, but it’s also a way to widen your outlook about literature in general.
I recently judged the state level of the Letters about Literature writing contest for the Center for the Book. It was a fruitful day for me as a writer, because fellow-judges were librarians and teachers. Mention a recent title and you got an avalanche of opinions. What a refreshing day!
Input from the wider reading community is crucial for writers to maintain a balance. We sit in our caves and focus on the production of words to the exclusion of readers. Listen, there are lots of passionate readers out there.
The Letters About Literature contest asks students to write a letter to an author and explain how and why the author’s book impacted their lives. Wow. The range of books represented, the variety of authors and the passion of the students reminded yet again why we do this. Yes, to us and to us alone, it is the process that matters the most. But when our books go out into the world, it is the reader that matters. Connecting, angering, tickling, disgusting, enraging, delighting–our books should evoke something in that reader.
By stepping out of my writing cave and into the judging today, I was reminded that I do this for myself AND for the kids who read what I write. Today–I salute those readers. Thank you for caring so much about literature, for allowing words to touch you in deep and lasting ways.
Keep your students reading all summer! The lists for 2nd, 3rd and 4th, include 10 recommended fiction titles and 10 recommended nonfiction titles. Printed double-sided, these one-page flyers are perfect to hand out to students, teachers, or parents. Great for PTA meetings, have on hand in the library, or to send home with students for the summer. FREE Pdf or infographic jpeg.
See the Summer Lists Now!
I just got home from ten days in Europe and I am ready to write. Why?
Because getting out of my writing cave makes me bump up against people, against history, against emotional struggles.
Belzec Death Camp Memorial, Poland
One place we visited is a memorial for the Belzec (Bee AWA zhek) Death Camp in eastern Poland, the first and worst of the Nazi camps which tried to exterminate Jews, gypsies and handicapped people. Over 600,000 people died here in 1941-1943. Then, the Germans flattened the camp and planted trees, in an attempt to hide what they had done.
This is history and deep emotions rolled into one poignant visit. For example, there was only one survivor of the camp–only one!–and his stories are heartbreaking. One quote was from a young boy who had entered the gas chambers and was heard to cry out, “It’s dark, it’s dark. Mama, haven’t I been good?” His last words.
For a writer to experience a sobering memorial something like this is to plumb the emotional depths to which a character might be forced to go.
Barn Swallow Nest
One place we stayed was a horse farm in eastern Poland and one morning I walked out with my camera to see what was around. Under the eaves of the horse barns were nest after nest of barn swallows. I like trying to find the small, hidden things to photograph, because as a writer, it reminds me to pay attention to the landscape, to notice the “telling details” that could make a story come alive.
"Beware of Dog" in Polish
I snapped this photo while we were stopped for a break along a country road. Writers need to remember that there are common emotions and thoughts across all languages and cultures, they are common to humanity. Fear of dogs is one of those things.
Window in Zamosz, Poland
And you can find beauty across the world, too, beauty in the common things of life such as a window.
The trip was amazing: as a writer, the trip reminded me that stories are universal, that evoking emotions–both happy and sad–is universal, and that beauty is found in the common things of life.
This is where Lil Wayne heads after his Bay Area concerts, where Robin Williams voices his animated characters, where Journey and Aerosmith and the Grateful Dead recorded bestselling albums.
I walked in feeling awestruck, certainly, but secretly I was slightly cocky. After all, when I read to our boys growing up, I tried to be mesmerizing, right? They seemed into it. And when I read in church, I strive for reverence and excellence, and people seem to appreciate it. So it couldn't be that hard to read my own writing aloud, right?
Director and master voice actor Paul Costanzo gently but firmly led me through a session that lasted two hours, giving perfect examples with his beautiful voice, using inflection, pacing, intonation, and pitch to add meaning and depth to my writing. At times I swear he sounded more like a Bengali-American woman than I did.
Paul Costanzo (left), director and voice actor, and sound engineer Alberto Hernandez (right) steered me through my recording session.
Thanks to today's experience, I certainly won't listen to an audio book in the same way. The thought, care, and talent that voice actors put into reading our novels make the purchase of an audio version well worth it. Their voices add a whole new dimension to our stories, as I sensed while listening to the audio version of Bamboo People, voiced by Jonathan Davis.
"To me, phrasing a piece of copy requires the same sensibility as phrasing a line of music," said Costanzo in an interview with the Mill Valley Literary Review. "The job of the narrator is to get the words off the page and into the theater of the mind of the listener, and the way the words take shape off the page has a profound impact on what the listener can envision."
I hope I managed to accomplish a bit of that in my own narration. The audio version of OPEN MIC releases 9.10.13, the same day as the anthology, so I guess we'll have to wait and see. In the meantime, I'm browsing libraries and bookstores to find some good audio books.
Periodically, I have to refocus. What am I doing with my time? Is that what I want to do with my time? What have I accomplished this year? It’s one of those times for me and I need to refocus big time.
It’s easy to be swept up in Social Media: Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, YouTube, and even dipping my toes into doing a podcast for the Ultimate Shrunken Manuscript. My head is full of social media how-tos and tips. This fall, I am planning a series, 30 Days to an Author’s Platform. (If you have questions or suggestions, please add them to the comments!)
But I haven’t written much fiction lately.
The reasons are complicated:
I am feeling vulnerable, worrying that the publishing world doesn’t like my stories and won’t like this next one, if I write it. (How many of you are with me on THAT one?)
The industry is changing in confusing ways. Possibilities abound that even a year ago were unthinkable. Read this interesting post about the emotional stages a writer goes through on the journey of becoming an indie writer or a hybrid writer. (Is that a new term for you? A hybrid author is someone who publishes with traditional publishers and self-publishes other stories. I am already a hybrid author–where do I go from here?)
Of course, there are personal and family situations ongoing that always affect our writing. But that’s personal.
But in the end, writers write.
If I am a writer of fiction and nonfiction, then I must write. Forget the fear, forget the market, forget the personal issues. What story must I tell next?
But, what if I wanted to cross genres and write an adult novel instead? What if I wanted to write a mystery, instead of fantasy? What if I wanted to write a picture book that I know no one will buy, but I just want to tell it? No, no, no. Wrong questions.
What is the next story that I need to tell? Tell it. Get the words on paper.
THEN, worry about marketing and the reaction of the world to what I write. Come on, Darcy. Write. And if YOU need a cheerleader, I say this to you, too. Write!
What I’ve Done to Get Back to Writing
My writing office in the attic of a 3-story Victorian house.
But you want something practical? OK, here’s a couple things I’ve done.
Encourage writing by changing the environment. Cleared off my desk. Instead of a crush of papers and notes about social media tasks, there’s nothing there but what I need to write fiction.
Encourage writing by changing the environment. I have also decided not to check email or online accounts in the mornings.
Encourage writing by enlisting friend’s help. I decided to attend a Master Class in July, partly to reconnect with some writing friends and get pumped up with new ideas. I expect that I will be challenged, provoked, angered, delighted and more. I will come back writing stronger than ever.
Encourage writing by setting goals. I plan to have a new series plotted by September 1.
Encourage writing by learning/trying something new. Because I want to write a series, I have bought a couple new books and I am working through the worksheets. Karen S. Weisner’s book, Writing the Fiction Series: The Complete Guide for Novels and Novellas has worksheets that lay out the process of doing a series. Are they perfect? No. Are they useful? Definitely. I don’t have to think as hard about structure and what to do next. It automates the process, so I can focus on the stories. The worksheets are getting me going and will keep me going for a while. And I’ll try her other book, First Draft in 30 Days.
Asking for encouragement. Ok. Encourage away. And encourage ALL your other writing friends this week, too. I am sure they need it, too. Just like you do. We can do it. Let’s write!