Tag Archives: tips

How to Find Inspiration—Fiction Therapy

Whether you’re wondering what happens next in your story, want to write your first novel, or are about to start on the next instalment of your long-running series, there are always times when you’ll need inspiration. And it is often surprisingly close by.

‘Be observant,’ said the dramatist, Lajos Egri, ‘and you will be forced to admit that the world is an inexhaustible pastry shop and you are permitted to choose from the delicacies the tastiest bits for yourself.’

It’s that easy.

Except it’s not.

It’s difficult to suddenly ‘be observant.’ You don’t have time to sit around looking at things. You have to pick up the kids, get to the supermarket, make dinner, finish off that last game of solitaire. And you have to write!

Hemingway noted that it was difficult to be observant, but he also recognized its importance for writers. Being observant, he said in his 1935 Esquire article, Monologue to the Maestro, takes practice. ‘You should be able to go into a room and when you come out know everything that you saw there and not only that. If that room gave you any feeling you should know exactly what it was that gave you that feeling. Try that for practice.’

You don’t have to memorize every object in a room. There are simpler ways to get inspiration for your writing from observing the world around you. It can start with your morning shower.

Try to use all five senses next time you take a shower. Notice how the water falls, how it splashes and goes off at different angles. How would you describe the soap smell? Does the warm water taste different from a cold glassful? Does the water feel warmer on your face than on your back or legs? And listen to the sound of the spray and how being in the shower can distort other sounds?

As your characters go about their everyday routines, try to pick similar moments in your day to gather details you can use in your writing.

Eating is another good opportunity to practice these kinds of observational skills. How do you hold your cutlery? How do you cut the food? Do you pile it all on the back of the fork or scoop it up? Stop just before you take a bite. Look closely at the texture, the shape and colors. Notice any aromas. Then, when you put that morsel in your mouth, take a moment to taste it before you bite. When you do bite, does it make a noise? Does it crunch? Do your teeth clack together? Does the food taste different when you start to chew? What kind of flavors are released?

After a while, you can start to make notes of your observations. Wherever you are, somewhere new or somewhere familiar, take time to look around and enjoy what author David Mitchell called ‘free gifts’ in a recent interview with the LA Times.

‘When I go to a place I get a number of free gifts … I’ll get five decent sentences … about the place; they’re textual photographs. If you get these free gifts, use them in the text, use them in the prose, use them in descriptions. Put them in and they’re lovely little things to find on the forest footpath of the story, of the book.’

If you do that, you too could become wonderfully eloquent when giving a simple piece of advice.

You don’t even have to go somewhere new to get your five sentences. Try to write a few lines about the room you’re in right now. Look around, in all the corners, under the furniture, to see if you can find something you’ve never noticed before. Or find new ways to describe how the seat feels under you.

Internal inspiration

It’s not only the external world that can provide inspiration. There is often a whole conversation going in inside your mind. It can be worth taking a moment to stop and listen in.

This is especially useful if you’re writing from a first person point of view.

Try to observe how thoughts arise in your mind. What are your thoughts like? Do you think in words? Do they come in complete sentences? Maybe you think in images. How could you translate them to the page?

Don’t try to change your thoughts. Your thoughts are not good or bad, they’re just thoughts. Sit there and listen. That too takes practice.

Look for moments of conflict in your own thoughts too. When you consider having another coffee, for example. Or should you write one more page first? Try to listen to that to and fro as your mind tries to rationalize the best choice:

‘I’ll get a coffee first, that’ll give me the boost I need to write this next page.’

‘Yeah, but if I write the page first, the coffee could be a nice reward.’

Try to observe this whole thought process and see if you can introduce that into your writing to make your characters’ internal conversation and inner struggles seem more realistic.

Sometimes, when you’re lacking inspiration, it only takes a sentence or two to give you that spark, to set you off again. And those couple of sentences can be right in front of you now. Just take a look.

Where do you look for to get inspiration on those difficult days? Do you have sources of inspiration that never fail? What other tips do you have to fill those blank pages?

Every month, I look at the many different aspects of fiction—character development, plot, story structure, etc.—and offer advice and tips to help you work through the problems in your novel.

I have adapted many of the concepts you’ll see here from proven techniques used in modern psychotherapy. Hence: Fiction Therapy.

By
Source: writerunboxed.com

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Sinking Into The Bog

In my last post (“Inspired to Emulation—or Preparing to Jump“), I talked about The Rule of No Rules, and how reading other writers you admire will provide the best writing advice you will ever receive.

Not long after the post went up, one of my favorite novelists, Adrian McKinty—who writes brilliantly about Northern Ireland during the Troubles from the perspective of a Catholic detective serving in the overwhelmingly Protestant Royal Ulster Constabulary—posted the following letter on Twitter. He composed it to an aspiring author who had asked his advice on this whole writing business. This is what Adrian wrote in response (the recipient’s name has been removed for the sake of privacy ):

 

 

I’m tempted to end this blog post here, because I couldn’t possibly say anything as perfect, but that would be cheating, or lazy, or both. So instead, I’m going to talk a little about my writing process, and in so doing I ironically intend to prove that Adrian is absolutely right—there are no rules. (Incidentally — for more on Adrian and his truly wonderful books, visit his blog The Psychopathology of Everyday Life.)

I’m currently writing a new novel, and for the sake of this post have been taking note of my revision process, which otherwise would go largely unanalyzed. I make no assertions that my way is the right way—in fact, I would like to begin with a contrarian point, that my way actually is slow, laborious, and not suitable for “mainstream” writers obliged to crank out one or more books a year. I will leave guidance on that front to those entitled to provide it. My way is simply my way, and I hope by discussing it I might help you shed light on your own, for better and/or worse.

Searching for a phrase that might describe my way of revising, I first came up with “descending into the text,” but that seemed so utterly hokey, so sniffily pompous, I discarded it immediately.

Instead, deferring to my recent research on all-things-Ireland, and hoping for a bit of ironic wit to cut through the humbug, I settled on the title above. It’s suggestive of a process of discovering something already there on the page, buried beneath some obscuring element, waiting to be unearthed. Although that does indeed resonate with some of what I mean here, something very different is at play as well. Creation, not just discovery, figures in.

What I discover as I’m writing a given scene or chapter is that the first couple of drafts only descend so far into the emotional, dramatic, and experiential truth of the situation. I sometimes describe the precess as working out a preliminary sketch then gradually, slowly, layering on the color.

Or think of it this way: I get the furniture arranged, I invite everyone in, and listen to the first things that pop into their minds (and out of their mouths) given my initial sense of where things need to go.

This will usually occupy me for a day or two. Often I will tinker with this or that, tightening the prose, trimming away the excess, eliminating repetition, correcting mistakes. Fiddling. Mucking about. Getting acquainted with the material.

Then I descend a little further. I often need time off—overnight will do, usually—to let my unconscious prowl around the situation I’ve invented, to notice what my conscious writer self has overlooked due to being preoccupied with word choice, sentence structure, punctuation, and so on. (William James was referring to this back and forth between conscious and unconscious effort with his bon mot: “We learn to ski in the summer, and learn to swim in the winter.”)

I notice that my characters are, as yet, largely functional—they’re playing their roles, not acting like real people in the situation with quirks, tics, contradictions, dual agendas, bad habits, emotional blind spots, and so on. I need to liberate them from what I want them to do and simply let them behave.

Step one, I imagine their appearance and physical nature more specifically, and look for what I missed so far—the torn pocket on a shirt, mustard stain on a tie, worn heels on the shoes, hair dye, a hand tremor, cologne or perfume. This almost always brings me closer to the character’s emotional and psychological specficity as well.

Step Two, I remind myself of each character’s Objective, Obstacle, and Action: what she wants in the scene, what stands in her way, what she does to overcome the obstacle to achieve her goal. I clarify and intensify the tension, and make sure I’m revealing through conflict, not straight narration.

Due to Donald “Master Don” Maass’s expert advice, I now also ask myself how each character hopes to feel by the end of the scene, and what happens to that hope, that feeling, given what happens. This helps me not only understand each character better, but to distinguish among them—for example, if I have friends or siblings or co-workers in the scene, this is usually where I begin to separate them more clearly in my mind.

Once I have that in hand, if the scene still feels unfinished, I take each character’s perspective and run through the scene from their point of view, then do so with each of the other characters. I listen for what each character would really say given what just happened. each character’s distinct rhythms, their idiosyncratic word choice (more on that below)—most importantly, I imagine more deeply what they would feel and what they would do, letting the dialogue, if any, arise from that.

On the issue of word choice specific to each character: One of the greatest techniques I ever learned in this regard I gernered from Joshua Mohr, another wonderful writer. He suggested setting up a dialogue grid, with each character’s specific or idiosyncratic verbal expressions, from certain words they “hit” particular hard or often, to regional dialect, to favorite curse words, to syntactical peculiarities—e.g., the subjectless sentence (“Going to the dance tongiht?”), the serial interrogatory (“Mrs. Hornby? You know the report you wanted me to write? About Chaucer?”)

If I’m still feeling like I’m not quite there, I remind myself how this scene fits into each character’s general Yearning—their dream of life: the kind of person they want to be, the way of life they hope to live. This scene is a moment in that pursuit—where does that moment fit in the general outline provided by the story, and the story within their lives. If I’ve associated the Yearning with an image, a symbol, or a piece of music, how does that get reflected here?

Similarly, what is holding them back from fulfilling their Yearning—what wounds, weaknesses, limitations, moral flaws are undermining their pursuit of their dream of life. How is all that reflected here?

Sometimes this takes deliberate effort, other times it’s an intuitive plunge into the scene. It may take one day, it may take three—but if I’m not getting it right by then, it’s time to move on.

As I continue into the story, my unconscious will continue providing me little insights—a change in an action, a line of dialogue, a description—and I’ll jot them down and slip them in where they fit, or make notes to myself to return to the scene and write the change in.

This sort of revising-as-I-go is contrary to the advice of many writers, who save this sort of revision for a second pass after they “have the story down.” But I don’t feel I’ve truly got the story down until I do this sort of sinking into each scene. Until then I’m just skimming the surface of events—and is that really the story?

This deeper exploration of each scene often feels like discovery, as though I’m finding what was already there but wasn’t yet aware of. And yet it is also creation, obviously, because I am inventng new details, adding touches I come up with on the fly. The test of truth to any created bit, however, is if it serves the story, rather than feeling jammed in or slapped on for effect. So in truth it is more of a back and forth between creation and discovery, and the bog I’m sinking into is my imagination.

Regardless, this effort typically also prompts me to go to my outline and make changes in the overall story—usually to upcoming scenes, but on occasion for already written scenes as well.

I know this all sounds laborious, and as already noted, it’s time-consuming. I can’t say I recommend it, and I envy those who can work well more rapidly. I’ve tried just plowing ahead, however, hoping to get a “lousy first draft.” Sooner or later it just feels wrong, like I’ve taken a wrong step, or have sold short the real possibilities in the story. I’ve ultimately had to accept that this is simply my process, and as I often tell my students, one of the most important things you will learn as a writer is how you work and coming to trust that.

Now, of course, we all develop bad habits, and shouldn’t allow them to undermine our work in the name of “owning our process.” But in the inevitable calculation of what is the best use of your time, you need to gauge for yourself whether that time is better spent moving ahead with your current way of doing things or better spent breaking down those bad habits, learning new ones, and suffering the inevitable struggles any such change in methods will entail. (Those who have taken the plunge into Scrivener have no doubt insights to share on this trade-off.)

Regardless, we once again return to The Rule of No Rules. You have to find your own way into and out of the bog, as both Adrian and I have advised. Sadly, there are no guarantees—or, as Adrian advised his fledling writer, “It’s just the nature of the beast.” There are simply the stories only you can tell, and that will have to suffice, as it always has.

What parts of your writing process would you change if you knew how, or could risk the readjustment time required? What do you think of Adrian’s advice to his fledgling writer—do you agree? Disagree? Something in between?

By
Source: writerunboxed.com

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to plot or not to plot…?

So much has been said and written about this topic, that it is almost fruitless to comment. All you need do is google the topic and you will find countless analyses of the benefits of one or another approach, or of each approach.  But beware, the writer’s subjective preference will often show, once you do this. For example, Kate Forsyth is probably on the side of plotting, as is James Patterson. And the genre chosen by the author to write in, will determine to a great extent, which approach s/he chooses. Fantasy writers and detective story writers will likely employ plotting as the favoured approach. However, not always. Kate Atkinson writes detective stories, but she is also great with character. She seems to bridge the gap between the two categories in a seamless way.

http://www.kateforsyth.com.au/kates-blog/writing-to-plot-or-not
https://writerswrite.co.za/seven-lessons-writers-can-learn-from-james-patterson/

Kate Grenville and many other writers, especially female writers, prefer writing in segments based on vivid characterisation and “zingy” writing. An example of this style of writing is Tirra Lirra By The River by Jessica Anderson (1916-2010). See my post on this blog about this book at:

http://anneskyvington.com.au/tirra-lirra-by-the-river-by-jessica-anderson/

I think that I belong to this latter group more than to the other group. However, I also think that one must adhere to each approach at different times of the writing process.

Kate Atkinson’s Detective Stories

Kate Atkinson’s Books

A balanced summary of the issue by Sulari Gentill can be found at: http://southerlyjournal.com.au/2015/01/29/discovery-through-story-3/

and by The Magic Violinist on  “The Write Practice” at: https://thewritepractice.com/plotters-pantsers/

It almost, but not quite, boils down to “female” versus “male” perspectives. This is not as sexist as it sounds, if taken in the Jungian sense of “eros” versus “ego” and “anima” versus “anima”. That is, we are all made up of two aspects, and we’d be advised to take into account both of these aspects when creating stories.

If you neglect the Apollonian side relating to “the rational, ordered, and self-disciplined aspects of human nature”, you will fall short of the desired end goal. And if you get caught up totally in the “Dionysiac lust and chaos, you might also fail to reach potential. See Wikipedia on this dichotomy of “the struggle between cold Apollonian categorization and Dionysiac lust and chaos”.

It is best, if at all possible, to remain with one foot in both camps, as does British author Kate Atkinson.

That is because both approaches can collaborate, like partners in a successful “marriage of equality” (in its broadest sense), in producing a brilliant work of art.

By Anne Skyvington

Source: anneskyvington.com.au

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‘How I fell in love with writing’ part 1

Let’s face it – our relationship with writing can be just like one with another human being. Most of the time you’re madly in love with each other, but there are also other occasions where you and writing go weeks without saying a word. Ultimately, it’s worth it – but like all relationships, you need to make time for each other.

Recently we were having so much fun with the idea of writing being the love of your life, that we thought we’d ask what everyone likes to ask happy couples: “How did you first meet?”

And so we put the call out to our wonderful community to let us know (in 100 words or fewer) the story of how your love affair with writing first began. We received hundreds of replies, and in the spirit of creative curiosity, over the coming weeks we’re going to publish a new heart-warming selection of them every Thursday.

So, on that note, here is the first collection of love stories – we hope it inspires and reminds you of why YOU love writing… Enjoy!


At a tender age I was told I wasn’t good enough for You. I was directed to another and handfasted to them for fifty years. I served them faithfully all that time but they discarded me for someone younger. But oh joy! I’ve found You again. Is it too late now that I’m in my twilight years? Can we find the love and fulfilment again?

“Yes,” You say, “it’s our time now and no one can take it away.”
– Anne Tavares


I was five years old. I grabbed a piece of paper and my mother’s red lipstick instead of a pen. I started writing a story about two friends. I remember seeing the imaginary world slowly building up in front of my eyes as I wrote. I didn’t feel butterflies in my stomach, nor did my palms get sweaty. In fact, it was the exact opposite. It felt like a soft hug, like seeing an old friend after very long time, like finally coming home. And from that time, I knew we were meant for each other.
– Tereza Kolková


As far back as I can remember, I’ve always been told I write too much. Teachers pointed out my assignments were too long; they warned me I would struggle with the mountains of homework in high school. They were right, but I keep writing too much anyway. Because there’s something intrinsic about putting pen to paper. Placing your fingers at the keyboard. It’s about making sense of the chaos of your own thoughts, or the world. Understanding the way you feel or what you want. Best of all there’s nobody else there. Just you and the page and the quietness. For me, that kind of escape hatch is priceless.
– Esme Wilmot


I found you in the lonely times. In the birds, the moon and the wind. We told each other stories, just to pass the time. When I was looking for a friend you came to me in rhyme. You were always ahead of me, knowing what comes next. You whispered great adventures to me, ones I rarely told. Slowly we opened up together, daring to be shared. You reveal the deepest parts of me, the sad and the bright. With you I become much more, it is you that holds my light.
– Bree Murphy


Dear Writing,

I don’t know the exact moment I noticed you, but I remember the tingle in my body that wouldn’t stop. I kept coming back to you if only to be near you – to feel the rollercoaster-like anticipation bubble in my stomach. I am drawn to do things for you like bring you coffee. I obsess to touch you and spend time with you. You are my focus, my obsession, the fuel of all my thoughts at the expense of keeping the secret of our affair. Do you love me? Yes or no?

Love,
You Know Who
– Tammy Breitweiser


A day like all the ones before. The heavy eyes. The churning gut. The lump in throat.

Knees under chin on the big rock behind music hall.

Dodging words hurtled by impulsive tongues.

The three o’clock relief.

Then safety. Hand poised over recycled paper. A present. The pencil a masticated mess from nervous teeth.

The pages fresh and clear; but for one, two, three droplets.

Each brush of lead a lightening of bones. A trembling of lips. A bitter comfort.

The paper; a friend. It hears the words and lets them be.

A becoming way for unburdening truths.
– Nicole Jacobsen


I must confess, I’ve always loved you, although you never knew. I felt unworthy of your affection, so I hid in the shadows.

It was tragedy that finally brought us together, me grief stricken, the weight of my cancer diagnosis weighing heavily around my soul. You allowed me to express my feelings without judgement, and later you were my oasis, the place I could escape to. I could enter a different world, away from my pain and fear. I still feel unworthy, but I no longer hide in the shadows. I embrace you my love, my writing.
– Josephine Ripepi


Kindergarten was tough. I couldn’t run fast like the other kids or jump the silver benches. However, one September morning while inspecting our rose bushes I found something special. I put it in an old jar Baba gave me and took it to school.

Mrs Linard made me put it on her desk while we learned to make sentences. Staring at it from across the room, inspiration hit. From a book’s back cover I found the correct spelling and competed my first story: ‘I got my ladybird.’ Putting those words together gave me a thrill I still get today.
– Greg Tantala


My love for writing was prescribed to me by a doctor.

Dr. Seuss.

Growing up hearing stories of the Lorax, Horton and the Cat.

All I wanted to do was grab a pen and do just that.

I haven’t stopped writing, I love it more as I grow.

Dr. Seuss showed me, through writing, the places I can go.
– Markos Hasiotis


It all started about ten years ago when I was nine years old, at school.

During my first creative writing class, our teacher was telling us about how we should use our imagination to write a story about a day at the beach, it intrigued me and as I started writing, it all came flowing in my head like I was living in my own private little world.

It gave me a sense of power as I felt like I could create my own world. That became my escape from reality…
– Hirsha Rewa


We met in darkness. Where there was no hope.
Where fear and regret laid waste to my heart.
You held me close as I slept. Even closer when I was awake.
You squeezed tears from my eyes. Forced the screams from my throat.

Stripped me of light.

And yet, it was you, Death, who showed me the way.
A new purpose amidst despair. One that would not break.
Words to tell your story. My story. Our story.

The day I lost my sweet love was the day I began to fall in love… with writing.
– Karen Liversz


A spell over me it did cast,
A love affair, forever to last.

Magical lands, just above the trees.
Oh please, let it be the Land of Do-As-You-Please.

Climbing higher, we went to the top.
Water! Watch out! It’s Dame Washalot.

His smiling face as round as the moon,
and Ol’ Saucepan Man with his metal spoon.

Down the slide we would go, me,
Fanny, Bess, Dick and of course Jo.

To my folks, forever grateful I will be, for reading me,
The Magic Faraway Tree.
– Robyn Noble


Forsaken first love. My infatuation with writing was buried since high school. I pursued her but she did not reciprocate. We eventually drifted apart.

When mid-life crisis hit, my old flame beckoned mysteriously through the form of a competition in my child’s school. Thought I would flirt with her, with no intention of winning her heart.

While having fun dating nightly with “writing” three weeks consecutively, our passion was revived and love blossomed. My late nights and persistence paid off as I arose triumphant, having stolen her heart and crowned the winner in the school’s short story writing competition!
– Yee Min Koo


Words lifted me out of the open boot of the family station wagon parked on the grass next to the airstrip. Hunched over the handmade book, jagged edged with a red cardboard cover, I wrote the title in lead pencil. ‘The Spring Fairy’ was eight pages of Twinke’s adventures before she and the forest went to sleep at the end of the summer.

My very first manuscript was finished whilst my family looked up at the aviation displays and ate the picnic lunch.

My seven-year-old mind happily glided through another world.

I’ve never landed.
– Melanie Ross


My lover is a mystery to me, still, after all these years. I first met her when I was 12 and she whispered a gentle song into my heart. I’ll never forget the lyrics she implanted into my young, restless mind. So soothing. So encouraging. I beseeched her for more, then she gave me a book. I recall every beautiful passage explaining the true meaning of love,- kind, forgiving, enduring. Although she has no face or name, my lover taunts and excites me with her mystery, which she has taught me is so very, very important, in eternal love.
– Claire Penhallurick


High School for me, as it was for many, a very awkward and confronting time. I struggled making friends and even when I thought I had I felt this unwavering feeling that I was an imposter and that I would be discovered for the fake that I was.

When things felt like they were becoming too much, and the walls felt like they were closing in I found solace in a piece of paper and a pen. I didn’t have to prove myself or be the best or try to fit in. It felt comfortable and real, and me.
– Dominique Bebbington


A friend bought me a journal and suggested I get to know Writing. Initially I started to see Writing briefly and sporadically. Yet as the years went by it grew deeper and longer. I felt I could open up and explore my feelings with Writing. My love of reading encouraged me further, to take the next step with Writing. I signed up for classes to teach me how to be better with Writing. It’s been a long road but we’re still together every day, either exploring our emotions or crafting beautiful new stories.
– Sumi Mahendran


It’s been three years. I know our break was my choosing, but I want you to know that I’ve changed.

Bumping into you again in the home office, I knew I’d let go of something real. How could I throw away all those nights of obsession we spent together through university? My fixation on you gave me a strange confidence fuelled by disinterest in the real world. I miss that. I miss you.

I know it may take a bit of work to get back to how we were before, but if you’re willing, I want to try again.
– Hannah Beazley


Writing and I were introduced to each other by three frenemies, Sleepless Nights, Silent Screams and Torrential Tears. Writing let me know early that he didn’t mind using the medium of letters to God in red pen and tear-crinkled paper. He was a good listener, he never got embarrassed by the frenemies being around, and he helped me find Emotions and locate Reason. I spoke to him of my fears and hopes and he helped me find the words to share them with others too. Then one day, I realised that I couldn’t live without him.
– Naomi Currie


I became entranced by the magic of the written word as a very young child as marvellous stories were read to me. I couldn’t wait to start school as I was told that it was there that I would learn how to write my very own stories. That first day when I walked into the classroom I was horrified to find a bunch of desks each with a ball of playdough on top! Thankfully my first school teacher was quick to recognise my desire and supplied me with “special” paper to practise my stories on. That’s where our affair began.
– Suzie Pybus


I opened an old basket trunk where my journals were stored. I had started at age 13 and dwindled off after I married at 24. I spent weeks reading journal after journal, watching my handwriting change and myself grow. Simple records of daily events gradually changed into descriptions of my thoughts and dreams. When I finished reading them, I realised how good writing had been in keeping my teenage self genuine and how reading the words penned from my own younger hand made me feel so good in the now! Writing is a kind and faithful lover.
– Bec Fletcher


We met as many writers do, enraptured by stories: the words, the sounds and the places they took me. Up the Faraway Tree, hunting tigers burning bright, to Prince Edward Island, and solving mysteries with Trixie Belden. Spelling, play-acting, reading; that’s how we became firm friends. At ten, I learnt to type on a clackety old Remington I found in the garage. My tiny fingers ached from making words appear on the crisp A4. I wrote a weekly family newsletter that even my teasing brothers liked. Glowing with happiness, writing felt like a beautiful hug from my mum.
– Janet Russell


Do voices keep you awake at night?

All shouting louder than the other in a crescendo to be heard.

You toss and turn, pull the blanket up and down, kick it off the bed with hands clasped into fists telling those voices that you’re tired and need rest.

But they want to argue,

“Her eyes are green not blue”

“He has a hook for a hand”.

I was six years old.

Putting pen to pad was to put a silencer on the voices.

These days they speak one at a time, because they know I’m listening.

Love? No, it’s possession.
– Cam Johnson

 

Source: writerscentre.com.au

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3 Questions Every Creative Person Must Ask

I’m starting to find that the same dilemmas come up again and again when I talk with a group about online media and marketing.

These are dilemmas that I can’t solve. They boil down to three questions you have to ask yourself—and be able to answer honestly—to find a path that’s your own, not mine.

1. Are you creating primarily for yourself or primarily for an audience?

Almost all of my advice is based on the assumption that you want to entertain, inform, or increase your audience. Not everyone is concerned with this, nor should they be.

If you’re producing work for an audience, it means:

  • playing by at least some rules of the industry
  • caring what others think of your work
  • interacting with your audience and being available to them
  • doing things not for your art, but out of service to your audience
  • putting on a performance, or adopting some kind of persona
  • marketing and being visible

If you’re creating for yourself, it means:

  • the act is worthwhile regardless of who sees your work
  • fulfillment comes from your struggle with the practice, not from distribution or feedback

Of course, you may be creating for both yourself AND an audience. But some artists who believe they are producing work for an audience aren’t willing to make the sacrifices required to do so. Which means there’s another level to this.

Are you:

  • creating for an audience
  • creating for an audience that earns you money

Once money enters the equation, you have to start sacrificing more of what you want, and bend to the demands of the market. (Or find a generous patron or foundation!)

What is it that you truly want out of your creative endeavors? Do you really know?

2. How much of yourself are you going to share? And which part?

Let’s assume you do want an audience (of any size). It necessitates some kind of persona. Deciding not to have a persona (removing yourself from visibility, Pynchon style) is a persona.

You can’t imitate someone else’s persona. You can only be yourself. Some of us think famous people are (or ought to be) aloof and distant, so we imitate aloofness, even when it has nothing to do with our personality.

After I give talks about digital marketing, relationship building, and social media, inevitably one person will come up and say, “I don’t want to be visible online. I just want people to read my stories.”

That’s a rather boring proposition in this day and age.

So you have to ask yourself—even if you’re shy or think you’re boring—what part of yourself are you going to share and put on display? It’s got to be something, so let’s make it interesting. Let’s really dive into the fiction of who you are OR aren’t. Make up something you can believe in, so others can believe in it, too. (That’s what we all want, most desperately. Meaning.)

3. What is your killer medium?

For me (personally), it’s not the book form. It’s the workshop or the conference keynote. It’s the ability to answer any question thrown at me. It’s my desire to be of service in a personalized way.

Speaking about writers specifically, the book is often assumed to be the most authoritative and important medium, but that’s only because we’ve all been led to believe that (through a culture that has created The Myth about the author as authority).

It’s a Myth, neither good nor bad. Just a belief system that, increasingly, we’re all moving away from.

Creative people too often pursue mediums that have been pushed on them by other people, and because it’s the well-worn path. Instead, follow the Apple motto: “Think different.”

By

Source: janefriedman.com

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Writing Backstory Through Dialogue

Backstory is one of the trickier elements of writing. We have to take our readers back in time to let them know some of the past, but how do we do it without interrupting the flow of the story? Jerry Jenkins is here today to discuss one of the more organic methods for including character backstory without grinding the action to a halt.

What are we to do now that the flashback has fallen into disfavor with today’s readers? Apparently they no longer have the patience for a sudden stop in the story so we can show how our character got where she is today.

Used to be you could invent something to remind her of her childhood or her relationship with her father or the first time she fell in love. Then you’d have her daydream or zone out and remember everything about some poignant incident from years past.

Well, I agree that got to be a clichè—always followed by someone somehow jarring her back to the present.

Regardless, we’re writing for people who get most of their information from screens, so what do we do?

Tell Your Story in Order

Gone is the luxury of taking the character (and the reader) back and rendering the old incident the way it happened. Readers want to read chronologically, and they don’t like the story put on hold to accommodate a flashback.

But we can’t ignore the past without throwing character motivation out with the bathwater. Our characters are who they are and do what they do because of who they once were and what happened to them then.

So what’s the solution?

Good news! You can include your character’s backstory without interrupting the flow of your story.

Backstory is the new solution, and I have to admit it’s better. It doesn’t slow the story, doesn’t force us to artificially create for our heroes a block of time during which they relive some powerful past experience.

What is Backstory?

Don’t mistake it for an abbreviated form of flashback. In its simplest form, backstory is everything that’s happened to your character before your novel opens. In essence you’re writing backstory when you identify a middle-aged man as “General so-and-so,” or a young woman as “Dr. so-and-so.”

Such people weren’t born with those titles and the roles they imply, so immediately readers realize these characters have pasts—and they can even imagine what they were like.

Does your character have a scar? That implies backstory. A limp? It will emerge whether it was congenital or the result of an injury or disease, but regardless, that’s backstory.

How to Write Backstory Through Dialogue

Flashbacks are obvious. They scream, “We’re headed into the past!” But backstory sneaks up on you. Use it over a flashback to avoid breaking the flow of your story. I’ve found the best way to manage this is through dialogue.

Backstory example (at an amusement park):

“You’re not getting me on that ride, Madison,” Suzie said, “Don’t even—”

“Oh, yeah. Sorry. Still having those dreams?”

Suzie looked away. “Not so much anymore, but once in a while.”

“You’d think after all these years…”

“I’d still rather not talk about it, okay?”

“Sure, sorry.”

See all we’ve learned from that otherwise innocuous exchange? Something years ago still causes nightmares. Naturally, we’ll eventually have to pay off on that set-up, and that’s what keeps readers turning pages.

Whatever the trauma was, you can hint at it like this more and more throughout the story, revealing more each time. Eventually something or someone from her past will show up and force the issue—and the whole story will come out.

But you see the difference? It’ll be onstage now, be recounted and explained now. Sure, it happened years ago, but it emerges as part of the current story. That’s subtly using backstory without resorting to flashback.

One More…

One of the best uses of backstory I’ve seen is from the 2016 movie The Magnificent Seven.

Denzel Washington stars as Sam Chisolm, a bounty hunter and leader of the titular seven. Ethan Hawke plays Goodnight Robicheaux, a sharpshooter.

They’re strategizing to protect a town and avenge a woman who saw her husband shot to death. Robicheaux nods toward the woman and says to Chisolm, “She’d be about the same age as your sister, wouldn’t she?”

“Uh-huh.”

Robicheaux says, “Just want to make sure we’re fighting the battle in front of us instead of the battle behind us.”

That’s it. That’s the backstory. We don’t know what it means, but we know we’re going to find out. They’re not going to set up something like that and not tell us what happened. We’re going to find that our hero, Sam Chisolm, was once a victim.

Is he really out to protect somebody out of a sense of honor, or is he out for personal revenge? That’s the perfect example.

Tell me in the comments below how you’ll use backstory in your work in progress. And feel free to share a favorite example of backstory you’ve heard or read.

By Jerry B. Jenkins

Source: writershelpingwriters.net

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Making a Living as a Life Story Writer

A business card left at a coffee shop that garners a $50,000+ writing gig. Same card, different coffee shop, that results in a feature story in a local publication.

No, it’s not the card that’s magic, but the profession it advertises: life story writer. Those were only two of the many strokes of good luck I’ve had since I started my career as a life story and family history writer nearly ten years ago. The genre, also known as personal history, serves a population of mostly older adults eager to preserve their stories without having to do the writing themselves. The books are intended for family and friends, not the wider public, so there’s no need for queries, book proposals, agents, or publishers—just a client willing to invest the time and money to record their cherished memories

Here’s how it works: I sit down with a client for a series of interviews in which we talk about their growing-up years, their parents and siblings and relatives, their first loves, their war experiences, their careers, their challenges and joys, their reflections on what it all means—in other words, anything they feel moved to talk about. In between interviews, I’m at my desk, shaping our transcripts into a compelling narrative that will, if I’m doing my job right, give future generations a glimpse of family members they may or may not have ever met.

This kind of writing does more than reveal the character of the narrator; it also brings to life long-ago eras. Think about it: The fifty years or so that separates the generation of grandparents from their grandchildren means that they will each spend the bulk of their life in two vastly different worlds—even if they live in the same town. It’s the difference between a horse-drawn plow and an air-conditioned combine, between a one-room schoolhouse and a middle school with a thousand kids, between an outhouse and a heated toilet seat. The world is changing fast; people who hire me want their descendants to know what the world used to look like.

Why has it been so easy to find clients and publicity? Two reasons. The first is a swell in interest in life stories. With genealogy the second most searched topic on the internet (I’ll leave you to imagine the first), with DNA kits topping the list of holiday gifts and shows like “Who Do You Think You Are?” topping the charts, it’s clear that people are curious about their roots. And because we’re storytelling creatures, it’s only natural that the focus should swing from data—birthdates, death dates, cemetery plot numbers—to what we really love: the stories that bring it all to life.

And the second reason I’ve been able to make a living as a life story writer? Supply and demand. There may be loads of clients wanting to hire someone to write their story, but there aren’t loads of writers to do so. I’m guessing that’s because most writers have never heard of this niche. What a shame. Not only is it a way to earn your keep by writing, but it allows you to connect with people on a level we seldom reach with any but our closest friends. All while helping to create something your clients will love.

By Amy Woods Butler

Source: fundsforwriters.com

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4 Ways to Create (And Maintain) a Writing Habit

When I wrote my first book in 2013, I was newly married and working a full-time job. While writing, that dream of every writer’s heart whispered to me every morning: What if this is what you could do to make a living?

As I’d done for decades, I silenced that voice of hope with a quick and definitive, “Yeah, right. Nobody’s even going to read this thing.”

However, I’d just read Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art. Spurred to fight Resistance, I wrote my 50,000-word book in six months by waking at 5 a.m. every weekday and writing for an hour — whether or not I felt like I had anything worthwhile to say.

I accomplished that by changing my mind-set. What I had once approached as a pastime turned into an obligation. Where once I’d wait (far too long) for inspiration to strike, I found W. Somerset Maugham’s words to be true: “I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.”

When I experienced the truth that a writing life is built upon writing—a novel concept, I know — everything changed.

When my hobby became my habit, my identity changed to match my expectations.

I no longer said, “I want to write.” I said, with confidence, “I am a writer.”

It wouldn’t be until years later — after I’d become a full-time freelance editor, author, and ghostwriter — that I’d learn the four-step habit-building process I’d unintentionally worked through.

And that education, ironically enough, would come through a book project I had the glad opportunity to assist with early on in its development.

Atomic Habits (for writers)

The subtitle for James Clear’s Atomic Habits, a New York Times bestseller, is An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones. Its tagline is “Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results.” Through many well-researched examples, Clear presents reason after reason why a 1 percent change for the better every day is more beneficial than striving for one defining moment, or, worse, stagnating.

He also offers clear steps on the process of building better habits. Essentially, you need to discover your cue, craving, response, and reward. (Atomic Habits goes in-depth on each of these steps, and I recommend picking up the book for a fuller understanding.)

How to create and maintain a writing habit

To transpose his ideas to the writing world, let’s consider how each step could look in your writing life. Each quote below is from “How To Start New Habits That Actually Stick,” an excerpt of Atomic Habits.

1. “The cue triggers your brain to initiate a behavior.”

Your cue could be the place you write, the music you listen to, or the tools you use.

My cue was just getting myself from my bed to my office chair in less than ten minutes every morning. If I could get myself in front of a keyboard before conscious thought (a.k.a. Resistance) entered my brain, I could convince myself, Well, I’m already here. Might as well write.

Author and podcaster Sean McCabe automates lights in his office to change to a certain color when he’s scheduled time for himself to write.

I highly recommend using one or all of these cues: writing in the same place, at the same time every day, while listening to the same kind of music. As you establish your writing habit through repetition, your body and mind start to correlate that place, that time, and that music with, Well, it must be time to write.

Now, pause here to consider what your cue could be.

2. “Cravings…are the motivational force behind every habit.”

Clear notes, “What you crave is not the habit itself but the change in state it delivers.”

In other words, I didn’t crave getting up at 5 a.m., at least not initially. I craved the sense of accomplishment from being a writer working toward a long-sought-after goal. To be honest, I also craved the moment I’d be able to tell friends and family, “I wrote a book.”

Your craving may be the same, but it could also be to make money or a living through your words, or to earn respect for your opinions or skill.

Now, ask yourself, “What change of state am I seeking as a result of my writing?”

3. “The response is the actual habit you perform.”

Writers ought to have only one response to their cues and cravings: writing!

Of course, being a writer today requires far too many extracurricular activities, like promoting your list or pitching agents, but the habit you must perform without fail to become a writer and stay a writer is to write.

Yet, I’m willing to bet, most of us struggle to do that consistently for a host of reasons.

That’s why following Clear’s four stages of habit-making — which loop back upon themselves — is so helpful.

4. “Rewards are the end goal of every habit.”

Once your cue has led to your craving, your craving has led to your response, your response leads to your reward. You finally get to enjoy the fruits of your labors.

These rewards can take a few forms.

Maybe it’s the endorphin kick when you finally figure out your plot or when one of your characters surprises you on the page.

Maybe it’s the realization that you’re doing what you’ve always said you’d do.

Maybe it’s being able to talk about your work-in-progress because you finally have a work-in-progress.

For me, my reward was Pavlovian. I used Scrivener’s word count goal feature to meet my daily word count goals. Every time I’d cross that number, Scrivener would give me a pleasant ding and a pop-up of congratulations.

Eventually, I craved hearing that noise.

For all of those early mornings, my habit loop wasn’t about writing a book and whatever rewards could come from publication. Rather, my habit loop was much simpler: I just wanted to hear that chime, signifying that I’d met my goal.

And, by just getting 1 percent better every day, I eventually wrote a book, published it, and then turned that work into a career in writing.

That whisper of fear I once had has been replaced with a daily shout of joy: This is what I get to do for a living. (And I have incredible clients to thank for that.)

If you’re ready to transform your writing hobby into a writing habit, I hope you’ll experience the same kind of identity shift.

You’re not going to write.

You are a writer.

By Blake Atwood

Source: thewritelife.com

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Why You Don’t Need To Put Everything In Your Book

One of the main reasons beginner writers don’t finish their books is because they try to put everything into the story.

If you want to write a novel, you need to follow some basic rules. You need to limit the number of your characters. You need to give them story goals. You need to limit the number of settings. You need to include necessary dialogue and leave out unimportant conversations.

If you don’t do this, you run the risk of overwhelming your readers. Readers who feel lost are likely to abandon your story and find another one where they feel more comfortable.

Too Many Characters

Readers read to live vicariously through a fictional character. You cannot expect them to fragment into 10 characters and empathise with everybody.

We follow the rule that you should concentrate on the four main characters, with special emphasis on your protagonist. Allow them to bond with this creation so that they can identify with them.

Suggested reading: The 4 Main Characters As Literary Devices

Too Many Settings

The same goes for settings. Readers like to feel that they know where the story takes place. They become comfortable with the world you’ve created. If you continuously add new settings, you will distract them and you will interrupt the flow of the story.

We follow the rule that you should introduce most of your settings within the first quarter of your book. You should also limit them to the worlds of the four main characters.

Suggested reading: 12 Crucial Things To Remember About Setting

Too Many Plots

Readers also don’t want to feel confused by too many story lines. Again, look at your protagonist’s story goal and use this to figure out your plot and sub-plot.

Readers are comfortable with one main plot and one or two sub-plots. Remember that this is not the only book you will write. Keep some of the plots you want to include for other novels – or maybe a sequel.

Suggested reading: 6 Sub-Plots That Add Style To Your Story

Keep It Simple

This does not mean that you are dumbing down your story, but you are following the rules of fiction writing. Choose your characters. Give them clear story goals. Write the book.

If you do this, you are more likely to be published. Editors are more likely to give you a chance. More importantly, readers are more likely to enjoy your book,

Good luck with your writing!

By Amanda Patterson

Source: writerswrite.co.za

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Keeping the Writing Love Alive

You are not alone.

This week is Valentine’s Day and, all over America, hearts and flowers are on many people’s minds. Perhaps you are worrying about your secret (or not so secret) love: your writing love. Have you lost that loving feeling? Do you find excuses to avoid your manuscript?

Cosmopolitan magazine is known for their articles on keeping love alive, right? So I looked up what they have to say.

Crazy Cosmo offers advice like “Flash Him,” “Do the dishes together,” and “Outlaw Grunge Wear.”

This is not helpful, even if we’re talking about a human. However, this gem made me smile:

Share a Secret Code
Pick a word that’s likely to come up occasionally in conversation (heat, midnight, bedroom, whipped cream…) and agree that every time someone uses it, you have to touch—anything from a kiss to a lingering thigh stroke under the table.

The Real Advice

Cosmo love expert, Esther Perel, had some real advice that can work for writers:

Forever used to mean “till death do us part.” These days, though, it seems many people interpret it as “until love dies.” It just takes work, self-awareness, and communication.

Here’s what long-haul couples [like you and your glorious manuscript] know:

1. They’re practical about what matters.

In other words, see your schedule as it is. Don’t try to shoehorn writing in without a plan. If there is literally not a single hour in your schedule, then don’t write that day…and plan for that. Or wake up an hour early. Give up your lunch break at work. But making a plan is better than feeling guilty over missing a vague goal.

2. They check in with each other…often.

Even if you don’t have an hour to sit down at your computer, do SOMETHING related to your manuscript every day.

  • Look up photos of your main characters and bookmark them.
  • Write down a description for something in your scene.
  • Do some research.
  • Write a snippet of conversation.

3. They take responsibility.

This is your dream. It is your responsibility to achieve it. To take the time and do the work. It’s hard. Some days it is wonderful and some days it sucks. But a dream is still important, and it is up to you to achieve it.

You can do this.

Ms. Perel made a point in her article that hit home with me. She recomends you work toward self-awareness to ensure that your relationship (in this case with your book) is successful.

In her book Loving Bravely, Alexandra H. Solomon writes about “relational self-awareness,” or recognizing how you act within your relationship. You know your vulnerabilities, strengths, and fears. If you want a long-term bond with the person you’re with, you’ll want to see evidence that they have self-awareness too.

4. They’re direct communicators.

I took a class once by Susan Squires where she talked about how to successfully talk back to your own brain. That you must ask yourself and your characters short, direct questions.

Not “so why does the hero fall in love with the heroine over coffee at her mother’s soda fountain?” Rather, you’d ask, “What most attracted the hero to the heroine in the first place?”

You can ask yourself a simple question, and your brain will actually work on it. Let your brain do the work it can do, instead of demanding a bunch of details. That’s how you get your characters to talk to you. Complaints and complexity never made anyone want to communicate better.

Perel says, “To get their needs met, lasting duos ask for what they want. They make requests instead of complaints. ”

5. They try not to feel entitled.

Relationships are not always easy, and if you think yours will be, then you are setting yourself up to be disappointed and resentful of your partner. You don’t want to resent your writing. You love your writing.

The article says, “You need to deal with your insecurities and find ways to feel good.” (Duh.)

6. They reinvent their relationships.

Instead of thinking of forever as being rooted in the same partnership until death, think of it as having two or three relationships with the same person throughout your lives.

This one is awesome. What I hear them saying here is:

It’s okay to change a process that isn’t working for you. Don’t cling to your old ways that aren’t working and do the whole “break up and get back together” dance.

Take the time to find out what work for you, so you can enjoy your writing time.

No article on writing love is complete without quotes, right?

Keep your writing passion (quotes)

“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” — Louis L’Amour

“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” ― Sylvia Plath

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” ― Anton Chekhov

“When your story is ready for rewrite, cut it to the bone. Get rid of every ounce of excess fat. This is going to hurt; revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but it must be done.” — Stephen King

“Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any.” – Orson Scott Card

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” ― Maya Angelou

“If the book is true, it will find an audience that is meant to read it.” — Wally Lamb

“I think all writing is a disease. You can’t stop it.” — William Carlos Williams

“I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.” — Anne Frank

and last but not least…

“I believe myself that a good writer doesn’t really need to be told anything except to keep at it.” — Chinua Achebe

So, I’ll leave you with that Achebe quote. The best way to keep your writing love alive is to NOT QUIT. Keep going, learning, doing, striving. At the end of that, you will have a book that you love.

I promise.

How do you keep your writing love alive? Do you have rituals or practices? Times of day when you write the best? Share them with us down in the comments!

By Jenny Hansen

Source: writersinthestormblog.com

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