Tag Archive: Caryn

No Pain No Gain: Persistence in Selling Your Manuscript

Persistence. KeyboardPersistence can be defined as the firm or obstinate continuance in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition.

It seems that whether you’re an aspiring writer, or one who’s well established, there is always self-doubt. Times when you feel that no one will love your story as much as you and your beta readers do. Sometimes there’s good reason, you’re being arrogant and stubborn and refuse to listen to professional criticism. Or you’re just going with your gut and refuse to waver, not arrogant, but maybe blind to the faults in your manuscript. We’ve all been there, in all those crappy places.

But persistence is one of the most important weapons in the writer’s armory. I keep telling myself that rejection builds character, pain makes us stronger. You know, no pain no gain? Well I’ve lived by that mantra at the gym all these years, now I just have to transfer that to my writing life. And I don’t think it stops after you’ve had your first success. Look at writers like J K Rowling and Stephanie Meyer. It’s almost like they have no chance of publishing another successful manuscript. No matter how good their new books might be they can never reach the popularity of what they’ve already published. Both of their series have reached exponential and legendary status and it is nearly impossible to live up to a legend, even your own, because it has taken on mythical standing.

So in order to develop this habit of persistence I’ve started something new. I’ve anointed Wednesday (Hump Day) as Submission Day, to keep me over the hump of getting a query started. I’ve committed to sending out one submission a week. It’s reduced my anxiety over hours of exhausting work and whittled it down to a simple task that keeps the rhythm going, especially because in most instances your submission will languish for months before you receive a reply, if you receive one at all. Maybe it ‘s just like throwing things at a wall, if you keep it up eventually the odds are that something will stick.

Here are some links for finding agents and small presses to keep those doors open and those submissions flowing. All are easily accessed online.

  1. Karen Fox’s Site
  2. Preditors and Editors
  3. Poets and Writers
  4. Agent Query 
  5. Query Tracker
  6. Writer Beware

And here is inspiration for being persistent:

  • “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”   Calvin Coolidge
  • “Ambition is the path to success. Persistence is the vehicle you arrive in.”   Bill Bradley
  • And lastly, I’m a huge fan of Chuck Wendig. I love his blog. He’s irreverent and blunt, and curses a lot. He makes me laugh and throw things. But everything he says rings true for me. Here’s his advice:

  IT TAKES THE TIME IT TAKES

Writing. Finishing. Editing. Publishing. Selling.

We want everything fast but sometimes it’s slow because it needs to be slow.

        I write fast. I can churn out a book that doesn’t suck in a month or two. I also write a lot. In just over two years I’ve published ten books — one of which was self-published. Some of these books seem well-regarded, though I can’t speak to their actual quality, only to their quantity. I had a short film show at Sundance. I had a script go through the Sundance Labs. Worked on games and transmedia stuff and now comics and somewhere north of 115,000 tweets. I’ll probably write diner menus and the product description on the back of a bag of donkey chow next.

It’s a strong quantity of words. Quality, I dunno. But definitely quantity.

And to that quantity I have been referred to at times as an overnight success, which is true as long as you define “overnight” as “a pube’s width shy of 20 years.”

Because that’s how long I’ve been writing.

Twenty years.

Read more here: http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2014/01/20/it-takes-the-time-it-takes/

The other day I watched The State of Play on HBO: Examining the Science of Happiness. It reminded me that it’s Message in bottle on beach. Creative hope and faith concept.not usually achieving the goal that makes you happy, or satisfied, it’s the journey. And that happiness is something you have to work at, you’re not at the mercy of your genes or your environment. In most cases optimism over pessimism is a choice. So I’m choosing to think positively and appreciate the wild ride I’m on. And I’m starting to see the results of my persistence. This round of submissions has produced more interest from agents and editors than I’ve had in quite some time. I’m hopeful, and don’t worry, you’ll be the first to know if I publish. So remember, don’t quit and enjoy the ride!

 

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writers-life/pain-gain-persistence-selling-manuscript/

Renewed Optimism: Pitching Your Novel

Isolated on white empty, half and full water glassesOkay, so I know I was being a crybaby about pitching my newest project at my last posting. I shouldn’t be. I’m old enough to handle pain and rejection. I had two babies without so much as a Tylenol. But when it comes to rejection, well, it’s always painful. I’ve talked about the biology of rejection before and I understand that some of it is unavoidable.

The other interesting research I stumbled upon is that once an optimist always an optimist. People who suffer traumatic injury, after an initial period of depression, always revert back to their hopeful personalities. So, in synchronicity with my research I awoke last Monday with my glass brimming over with optimism. I’m going to tell you what I learned in my most recent round of submission requests—okay, I just had a revelation. Submission is a terrible word. To submit is to accept or yield to a superior force of authority or the will of another person. I get that agents and publishers probably have their fingers on the pulse of the industry—the market, but how will they know when something new, something that will challenge the accepted genres, can break out and find a new audience? I’ve written before about crossing genres, breaking the rules, and coming up with something different and exciting and I’m sticking to it. I’ve been paralyzed before by experts who told me “don’t do this” or “don’t do that” because agents will reject you before you know what hit you. But I’m done with that and just like Kathy, I write the story I want and when and if an agent or publisher signs me, well then I’ll consider story edits.

What do you think woke me from my dread-of-submission-coma the other morning? I decided to sit down and read my most recent project from start to finish, looking for typos and other inadvertent mishaps. My sister had offered to proofread for me, but she’s been so busy lately that she just hadn’t gotten around to it. It had been months since I’d given it a full read, so I dug in last weekend, which just happened to be rainy and cold, my favorite climate for reading, and well…I found three typos and one place where I’d opened a car window twice. But the best part…I fell in love with the story all over again. I thought, someone else has to love this story as much as I do.

I began to search for agents and small presses who were interested in my type of story and quickly realized that there are tens of  thousands of literary agents and publishing houses out there, so to be put off by twenty or thirty who don’t embrace my vision is just plain stupid. “Buck up! Girlfriend,” I told myself. “There’s someone out there who will want your story.”

I sent out 9 queries to both agents and small presses and will probably try for a few more in the next few days now that I’ve got a rhythm going.

Here are my tips for submitting your manuscript:

  1. Read my posts on writing the perfect pitch and query for added tips to sharpen your skills.
  2. Do your homework. I thought querying small presses would be easier than querying an agent. Not so. Hone your pitch, synopsis, and query letter before you begin. You can trim and edit as needed, based upon each press’s requirements.
  3. Don’t fret yourself into inaction. The first hour I started this I was obsessed with proofreading, fearful of a typo or grammar error. Attend to detail, but at some point just let if fly. Give it over to the universe. If someone really connects with your story a typo won’t put him or her off.
  4. When querying agents, don’t let them intimidate you. They need you more than you need them. You’re selling your manuscript, you’re not selling yourself. This is just business, not a reflection of your self worth.
  5. Seek out fledgling agents. They’re hungry and looking to build their client list. Writer’s Digest often posts new agents and what they’re seeking. If you buy their book “Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents” you get a year membership to their newsletter for free.
  6. Check out these sites with “Agent Wish Lists” for additional leads.  http://agentandeditorwishlist.tumblr.com/   http://manuscriptwishlist.com/
  7. Strengthen your author platform. Some asked me about my followers: Twitter, Websites, etc. If you haven’t jumped into the online community of authors you might want to. Don’t overlook affinity groups on Facebook—special interest groups that might be a theme in your book. They provide support and can serve as beta readers and people you can ask for an honest review.
  8. Map out a marketing plan. No one has asked me for one yet but Sharon had to provide one on several occasions. Read her marketing post.
  9. Avoid the agent drama. Go online and look for small presses where you can submit without an agent. Although some of them aren’t so small. Harper Collins lets you submit without an agent through their imprint Avon Books.
  10. Keep the faith. Persistence pays off. After 5 years of continual rejection, Agatha Christie finally landed a publishing deal. Her book sales are now in excess of $2 billion. Only William Shakespeare has sold more. Dr. Seuss’ first book, And to Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street, was rejected 37 times. JK Rowling and Stephen King Writing have similar stories. The Help was rejected 72 times. For more on famous author rejections check out this site. “Publishing is even harder than writing,” according to Stephen King, “and the sad thing is, many writers bail out before they make it to this stage, sullenly stomping off to shove their manuscript into some drawer, never again to see the light of day.” Remember: Rejection is a test of one’s character. 

I’ll keep you posted on my newest journey to sell a manuscript. I haven’t quite arrived on the threshold to self- publishing, not yet. Maybe you’ll read about that in a future post. The worst part? Most reply with an auto message reminding you that due to the overwhelming number of submissions, it takes up to three months before they will respond. Maybe I’ll get a great birthday present in January, or a Valentine’s surprise, perhaps a reason to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with added enthusiasm and an extra shot of Jameson. I’m hopeful, thank goodness. Again.

 

 

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/the-road-to-publication/renewed-optimism-pitching-novel/

Moody Musings: Shopping My Novel. Again.

Isolated on white empty, half and full water glassesI feel a little down this week, or maybe I’m just being reflective. Perhaps it’s because the holidays are right around the corner, or because I’ve had a crappy few years filled with injury after injury. Being sidelined on my couch is good for writing but not so hot for the rest of my life. I know I’ll snap out of it. I always do.

Consequently, I’ve been thinking a lot about writing and concluded that it’s all about story. I know this is no great revelation and maybe it’s not so much a conclusion as an appreciation. As a writer I think about this all the time, whether I’m watching something on television, film, or reading a book. Stories fascinate me, like when you see something for the first time: your newborn baby, the Grand Canyon, a hummingbird… the awe, the wonderment, the thrill. I admire the imaginative minds that draw me into the story in the simplest of ways. How the writer found a story in an everyday situation and grabbed my emotions and tangled them into a knot and then either blew them up or slowly dragged me back to reality and sanity.

I saw two movies in the last several days: St. Vincent and Interstellar and realized that love is the theme I enjoy the most. Not necessarily a romance, but a love story. In St. Vincent it’s the love between a young boy and a cranky old guy next door who teaches him about life. I actually sobbed out loud at the end. Twice. In Interstellar it’s the love of a father and daughter. And I’m a little ticked off at writer and director Christopher Nolan, because he stole his theme from my first project as stated by one of my characters…

                 “There are fundamental forces of physics that bind the universe: electromagnetism, nuclear interactions, and gravity. But what binds us? Love. Love is powerful in small spaces, yet has profound effect on distance. Love defies time, outlasting both its source and its object. Love is faster than light, for light requires time in order to travel through space. But love reaches its object instantaneously. Love journeys forever into infinity.”

I’ll cut him some slack as I guess I’m not the first writer to embrace this theme. It really was a stellar movie, pun intended, and pretty much blew my mind. Being a die-hard science nerd, I totally embraced his depiction of black holes, worm holes, and the time-space continuum. I’d characterize it as “A Space Odyssey on Steroids.” It was a really wild ride. At one point I exclaimed loudly, “Holy Shit!” just as the movie went from ear-splitting noise to complete silence. Awk-ward…

Anyway, a few months back I announced that it was time to shop my newest project and I was girding my loins for the onslaught of expected rejection. Of course, then I was sentenced to three months of healing and rehab after rotator cuff surgery and I fell into a funk. It’s been six weeks and I’m finally able to type well enough to begin the process anew. Then I stumbled on a workshop titled “Publish Your Novel” at the Visual Arts Center where I’d just completed a workshop on Narrative. I was overjoyed! The instructor promised to hold your hand through the process, help you hone your pitch, synopsis, query letters. I quickly signed up, thrilled to have another set of objective eyes reviewing my cache of all of the above and felt a sense of relief at the approaching task.

I just received notification that the class was cancelled due to low interest and I plummeted back to earth. On my own. Again. I know. I’m whining. But sometimes the glass is full, sometimes it’s half empty and well, other times it’s dry as a desert. I just need to pull up my big girl pants (which keep getting bigger and bigger the longer I spend on this couch), fill up that glass with optimism and get the job done. I will.

So I’ll keep you posted this time. I’m thinking of trying a few Indie presses in addition to the usual cadre of literary agents. Wish me luck!

 

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/archive/moody-musings-shopping-novel/

The Artist as Master: The Fictional Process

This is my final post in this series. My intent has been to make the case for Fiction as Art. To that end I have expressed my thoughts on the definition of art, the search for aesthetic absolutes in fiction writingthe neuroscience of creativity, and finally, mastery of craft. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading as much as I enjoyed writing this series. 

The most creative imaginings in any media will never find an audience if the artist isn’t able to master the craft. A painter must transfer his image to the canvas, a musician must master his instrument(s) and a writer must master Young artist painting an autumn landscapethe written word on the page. Without mastery of the artist’s media the world will never enjoy and appreciate what the artist has to offer.

As a writer our task is to pen a vivid and fictional dream. Through our words we make the reader see the setting, characters, and events. We do not tell our reader but give them images that appeal to their senses. Anything that takes the reader out of this experience, awakening him from the “dream,” counts as a mistake and the writer must hone her skills to avoid these errors. Whenever the reader thinks of you—the author—or the writing, you’ve made a mistake.

Learning this craft takes many hours of writing, rewriting and editing. When I wrote my first novel I was possessedString orchestra performance with the story and wrote nonstop until I finished it with little care to craft. My proficiency level with the written word was of the college/masters thesis level and I figured I had sufficient vocabulary and grammar skills to complete the task. I consulted novels I had laying around for the proper way to write dialogue and I used many online resources to learn the fictional process. That’s when I discovered there was a lot more to writing effectively and efficiently than I ever imagined.

Frustrated young writer having writer's blockI won’t presume to tell you how to write and if you’re looking for guidance please read our archives as we have a host of posts to suit your personal style, most notably our pantser vs. plotter methodologies as we can count some of us on either side of the debate.

The more I explore fiction writing, the more complex and multi-layered it becomes. I’ve compiled a list of quick tips from countless sources to help you hone your craft and many are outlined in more detail in our archives, so feel free to browse.

 

Writing Tips

Before Your Write:

  • Read, a lot, especially in your genre.
  • Analyze stories you love.
  • Know the three-act structure.
  • Know the Hero Model.
  • Practice writing dialogue.
  • Cultivate your voice. Know your narrator. Practice in first and third person and past and present tense to see what feels right.
  • Consider your theme: life and death, redemption, sacrifice, rebirth, destiny? It should infuse your story with richness.
  • Decide on a setting that is vivid and realistic, even if you make it up.
  • If you’re using a real-life location, research it and see it for yourself if possible.
  • Don’t write for the market. Tell the story that’s in your heart.
  • Make an outline even if it’s sketchy. Some need it before they can write a single word, others not. It will provide you with a roadmap, should you get lost.

While You Write:

  • Exploit the human condition.
  • Use real life. Jot down anecdotes that get your attention. I got delayed in an airport recently and wrote down one of the funniest things I’ve seen in years. One of my characters will benefit from it.
  • Use unusual detail. Give your character a bizarre ailment or a crazy backstory. Your reader will remember a character has a lisp and couldn’t give a hoot about his hair color.
  • Characters are flawed. Tell us what’s bad about your hero and what’s good about your villain.
  • Remember that your reader likes to slip into your characters so avoid lengthy detail, which will make this more difficult. Rely on action and interactions to define your characters.
  • Use lots of obstacles. Make your characters suffer which will make the victory more satisfying.
  • Consider pace. I tend to write at a fast pace because I cut my teeth on YA novels. In order to keep teens tuned into your story you need to be plot and action focused. Description is the death knoll for a YA book. Use fight scenes, love scenes, think conflict, conflict, conflict!
  • Symbols and imagery can create a beautiful story but take care in crafting them and where you place them. Use alliteration, onomatopoeia, metaphor, and other literary devices to make your sentences sing and dance.
  • Focus on building tension, then give it an unexpected twist.
  • Consider subplots and tangents so that there’s a lot happening at once.
  • Throw in a red herring to send your reader down a dead end.
  • Blur the lines of your genre. A drama can have funny moments and a thriller can have a bit of romance.
  • Don’t underestimate the intelligence of your reader, let them follow the dots and trust that they will arrive at the destination.
  • Let readers use their imaginations. Provide a few choice details and let them fill in the rest of the canvas with their own colors.
  • Use descriptive words that engage as many of the readers’ senses as possible.
  • Remember your character must change. Transformation is key to any great story.
  • Make the ending satisfying. There’s nothing worse than sticking with an author for three hundred plus pages only to feel unfulfilled at the end. You need emotional and intellectual payoff. I’ve actually thrown a book at the wall under circumstances such as these. (Ill-advised if you’re using an e-reader.)

After You Write:

  • Don’t confuse rewriting with editing. Rewrite your story for accuracy in details, story holes and the like, then edit for grammar, spelling, and punctuation. The fewer typos in your final draft, the better.
  • Think lean and mean, cut every unnecessary word—kill those darlings!
  • Find beta readers: a critique group, a fiction workshop, or hire a professional. And listen to them!
  • Never send out a rough draft. I made this mistake big time. I thought I had a polished draft and got lots of interest from agents on the story premise but got killed by the same comment repeatedly: “No thanks, it needs serious editing.”

 But the most important tip of all is: Have fun! If you’re not enjoying yourself, fiction writing is not for you.

Good Luck!

 

 

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/artist-master-fictional-process/

Death: The Highest Stake for a Writer

I’m postponing the next installment on my series, Fiction as Art, as we’ve embarked on a Halloween themed week. 

Hand Inked Grim Reaper IllustrationThe Grim Reaper broke into my house on a frigid January night  when I was five and stole the body and perhaps the soul of my four-year-old brother. I had no understanding of death at such a tender age and society had no intention of explaining it to me. Consequently, I had a nightmarish fear of death well into my teen years, constantly looking over my shoulder for the arrival of the sinister harbinger of death, waiting for his scythe to slice my soul from my body and take it to…well… I had no idea where a soul went.

Most of us can describe the image of The Grim Reaper, having seen depictions of him in folklore and movies. It puts a human face on death as the black-cloaked, skeletal, scythe-wielding entity who collects the soul at the moment we die. He escorts our soul to the other side, acting as a guide, often called a Psychopomp, and helps us make the transition to the afterlife. Some accounts say he just touches the person to pop their soul so they don’t feel pain when they die, but most say he uses that sharp blade to slice the soul from the body. According to the Book of Revelation (6:1-8) he is considered to be the fourth horseman of the Apocalypse.

The Grim Reaper is known for not saying much, always having a grin on his face, able to turn his head completely around a la Linda Blair, vigilant lest someone try to cheat him. He rides in a rickety old coach drawn by white horses that makes a horrifying noise because of the stones he carries in it. When he takes someone’s soul, he drops off a stone. If we browse through medieval history we can see that the figure of death as a skeleton might be linked with the massive deaths that occurred between the late fourteenth to early fifteenth century as a result of the Black Death.

The biological definition of death is the total cessation of life processes that eventually occurs in all living things.  Life and death are inseparable and inevitable parts of this world’s existence. But we humans crave to know more, to understand what that means and thus, our obsessive fascination with death. We want a vivid picture, someone to come back and tell us what’s on the other side. Profound questions arise: Is there really a God, Heaven, Hell? Does Satan exist? We want to know what it feels like to die, what we will see, where we will go, if we’ll meet our loved ones again. And since most of us are terrified of death, we put a scary face on it, whereas we could have made The Reaper a friendly guide to help us make this important transition.

This fascination results in a fertile field for artists. The presence of this frightening entity has captured the imagination of storytellers, writers and artists for as long as man has existed on this earth. And as writers there is no greater stake in our stories than death, in all its scary and magnificent forms. Crafting the visage and the fear into a manuscript is an exciting way to produce tension because it is universally felt. Your protagonist must save the town, the country, the world, or even the universe from annihilation. She must reverse the evil antagonist’s plan to murder innocents and set the world on its path to destruction. Or, maybe she just saves one life: a child, a lover, a parent, a stranger. Your story can evolve from the result of an unfortunate accident, or death can be used as the ultimate sacrifice or punishment. Killing characters has become very popular in modern fiction, be it film, television or novels. TV actors often lament that they don’t get a script until the moment of the table read and they quickly go to the last page and read backwards to determine if they survive the episode. No one is spared theses days, not even a lead character. One of my favorite editors constantly quips when reviewing my stories: “Who dies? We’re writers! Someone must die!”

My first book, which morphed into a trilogy because I had so much to say, is the result of that first encounter with the Grim Reaper. I’ve always been interested in what happens to the energy in your body after death. The science of physics teaches us that energy cannot be created or destroyed, so it must go somewhere. Is it a cohesive entity? Is that what we call a soul? Is there someone or something in control of it? These questions have walked me down many pathways in my life as I explored, studied, and questioned religion, astrology, reincarnation, and the science of death. Unfortunately, I have no answers. No one does, and most of us rely on faith in some form to help us cope with the scary notion of death.

The concept of the Grim Reaper is a chilling reminder that death is a reality that we all must face. However, he can also teach us much. He reminds us that life is short and we should make the most of every moment. So, eat dessert, sing and dance every day, tell your loved ones how much they mean to you. Because one day, when you least expect it, he just might crook that bony finger at you and say, “Come, my pretty. Time’s up!

 

 

 

 

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/friday-inspiration/death-the-highest-stake-for-a-writer/

Imagination and the Unconscious: The Neuroscience of Creativity

This is the next installment in my series on Fiction as Art.

The other night, my writing workshop instructor handed out a reading assignment on crafting dialogue. Ho-Hum, I thought, I know how to write dialogue. But buried near the end of this article came a golden little nugget that blew me away. Paraphrasing the author, American novelist and non-fiction writer, Anne Lamott: The nature of most good writing is that you find out things as you go along. You create characters and figure out little by little what they say and do. You find them in your psyche. But this all happens in a part of you to which you have no access—the unconscious. This is where creating is done. I actually think I gasped.

Silhouette with idea concept designImagination is vital to the artist. The action of forming new ideas, images, or concepts of objects not present to the senses; creative power, vision, fascination, passion, curiosity… all of these contribute to the ability of the mind to be creative.

I thought about this all week and decided to do a little sleuthing about the part of the mind that imagines things. I stumbled on a YouTube lecture given at PopTech 2013 by Scott Barry Kaufman, Director of The Imagination Institute at the University of Pennsylvania. It’s on the Scientific American Blog Site entitled Beautiful Minds-Creativity. In it, he explains much of the brain science linked to imagination and creativity. I’ll attempt to highlight the essence of his speech and then give you some insights into how to access more of your creativity.

Now don’t go all googly-eyes on me. Having been a science teacher for many years I fully grasp the national, irrational, terror regarding math and science. But I’ll go easy on you, I promise, so hang in there!

Dr. Kaufman explains that creativity isn’t as simple as left brain—realistic and logical (the downer side) vs. right brain—emotional and expressive (the upper side), but instead is a function of how well we integrate our “Looking Out Network”, which manages outside stuff we don’t really care much about, and our “Looking In Network”, where we daydream, think about the future, and run an inner monologue of what we’re doing at the moment. Our Looking In Network is most active when we’re idle or at rest. I suggest we rephrase that old adage “An idle mind is the devil’s workshop” as “An idle mind is creativity’s workshop.”

In reality these two networks are antagonistic to each other, so being forced to focus on one, detracts from its counterpart. Dr. Kaufman makes a valid criticism of our educational institutions in that teachers demand our constant attention and therefore leave little room for students to look inward, consequently robbing them of accessing their creative network. The stream of clutter that constantly bombards us in everyday life is counterproductive to creativity and inhibits our imagination. He quotes Edgar Allen Poe—“…Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night.”

Dr. Kaufman has identified what he terms the Theory of Flow, which is when creativity is at its peak. You are away from the stream of daily clutter, focused inwardly, and your inner critic has miraculously vanished. You find yourself immersed in the absolute joy of working on a task, when you look up and realize you’ve been at it for six hours and totally lost track of time. You were in a flow state of creativity. And I don’t think any of us can deny the thrill of that experience. . . I’ve been there many times.

Additionally, he has observed that a large number of famous artists, be they musicians, visual artists, or writers, often access this state of mind more easily somewhat later in life, maybe in their 50s. The burdens on their left brain and their Looking Out Network have lessened—work is less stressful and demanding, kids are launched, finances aren’t so worrying, even to the point where some of their left-brained functioning has lessened due to the aging process. This frees up the right side to access more of its creative functioning.

Now, how does this all translate into amping up your creativity?

  1. The Pomodoro Method: Sharon’s recent post shows us how to free ourselves for precise periods of time to focus on the creative process and keep all other distractions a bay for that time period.
  2. Walking: There’s evidence that walking helps us think and is an excellent method for tapping your creativity. Walking is a simple task that requires little “looking outward” as long as you are in a place where you don’t have to concentrate too much. So avoid the busy street and look for a more bucolic setting. Let your thoughts drift and see what pops up. In general any mindless activity can work here.
  3. Sunrise and Sunset: When I’m heavily invested in writing a story I find it difficult to put it to bed before I go to bed. My characters talk to me and on many occasions I find an amazing plot point or insight pop into my head just before drifting off. This also happens as I wake. The trick is to write it down before it slips away in that stream of clutter as I look out at my day.
  4. Dreams: This is a continuation of the point above. When my story is so heavily on my mind it often permeates my sleep and I have vivid dreams that can take my story to a wild place I never imagined. I came upon the climax to my first book in just this way. Thus, I really get that creativity and imagination live in the unconscious. So keep that notepad on your nightstand to write down crazy thoughts.
  5. WOS Posts: We’ve written tons of posts on how to construct the right-write mood for accessing your creativity. Peruse our library.

In general, anything you can do to chase away the distractions that force you to look out will help you access that inner genius. Be childlike, jazz around. Children aren’t bogged down with the need to plan and they have few distractions. Being sophisticated and mature should play no role here, instead creativity requires inexhaustible imagination and the desire to just… make magic.

Up next: My final post in this series. The Artist as Master: The Fictional Process

 

 

 

 

 

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writers-life/imagination-and-the-unconscious/

The Art of Fiction: Where to Begin?

This is the next installment in my series on Fiction as Art. Thanks for all the well-wishes after my shoulder surgery. Typing one-handed is a bitch, however.
Super heroine character

“Ignorance is bliss,” my mother used to say. It turns out my lack of knowledge about writing was a blessing because nothing stood in the way of my creativity and the story just spilled out of me. Then I set my sights on mastering the skills I needed to polish it.

When beginning a story we often think in linear perspective, my protagonist starts here and winds up there. But I contend it is more of a loop: the state of perfection—to the state of imperfection—then back to perfection again. Typically a story has rising action, a climax, falling action, and a denouement. We throw in emotional, psychological, and physical movement, littered with metaphors, symbols or other representations to make the reader see what we mean more clearly, and dream up a killer setting that will whisk the reader away to a place he’s never been before.

Here are some ideas to consider when beginning your first novel:

1.  There’s Only One Story. It’s often said there is only one story: There is a journey. Life starts out fine, then a series of obstacles arise, life becomes terrible and the protagonist either steps up and clears the obstacles and life is good again, or she fails and life remains terrible. The Hero Model is the typical way many stories are written, resulting in the expected “happy ending,” but there is also the choice of an “unhappy ending.” Avoid the “nothing happens” ending at all costs! Read my review of Blue Jasmine. 

2. Know Your Genre. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was to know your genre. I hadn’t thought much about this before. I soon understood that there are specific tropes associated with various genres. But here is where I found this advice to also be dangerous. Yes, readers have certain expectations and when you deviate too far from them you can really upset your readers. For me, that would be Gone Girl. You can read my review here. Ms. Flynn had me captivated with her mystery, caught me off-guard more than once with her twists and turns, her divisive plotting, only to turn me off with the ending. Not that I needed a happily-ever-after ending. It was a modern day take on marriage, and we all know there are many unhappy endings is that regard, what really angered me was that there was no sense of justice. Both characters had done terrible things but in the end there was no accounting for either of them. A writer must ask the question: Would this really happen? I say no in the case of Gone Girl.

3. Truth and Honesty. I can’t see these characters resigning themselves to the denouement put forth in Gone Girl. Remember what I said last time about truth and honesty? Even in writing fantasy, where you ask your reader to suspend belief; convincing her it really happened, and what you’re proposing might be believable is paramount. You do this by a voice that expresses genuine emotions, by using precision of detail, you charm and lull your readers into suspending their beliefs. You use vivid detail, making your world come alive. And description is important, but treat it like 12-year-old scotch: sparingly and only on the proper occasion. Description works best when you don’t just describe a sunset you do so through a character in a particular mood.

4.  Consider Crossing Genres. On the concept of genre, I contend that some of the most provocative art, be it music, visual, or narrative art, is at its best when you blend genres. Remember, Tommy, the Rock Opera? Or Gone with the Wind, an Epic Romance? Magical Realism? Dark Comedies? Be brave and venture out of the trope-ish world of genre fiction. Know your genres and their tropes well, master them, then blend them! Break those rules!

5.  Write What You Like. It’s often thought that we write to express ourselves and we should write what we know. But I say no. We write because we have a story to tell and the expression part happens organically. I wrote my first novel, a fantasy about what life after death might be like, because at the age of five I always wondered where my four-year-old brother went when he died. Was that really the end of him? Or was he out there somewhere in a different form? Could he be reborn as one of my children? I found these thoughts scary and fascinating and resulted in a story about a young girl who dies and what happens to her on the other side of mortality. I had no theme, no important message to impart to my reader, that wasn’t my objective. Did I express my opinion now and again? Of course. But that wasn’t my reason for writing this story, it just happened. My conclusion being not ‘write what you know’ but write what you like. I love fantasy and magic and I’ve read a lot of it, so that’s what write what you know means to me.

And once again I contend that other than learning the fundamentals of freshman composition there shall be no rules, not absolutes. Of course artists study each other, deciding what they like and don’t like, mastering their craft, but essentially writing should be fun, exhilarating, revelatory! Those days where you forget to shower, or consume anything other than coffee because you can’t write fast enough. You look up and it’s 3 a.m. and you haven’t spoken to another human being and that’s okay. That’s what a true artist does. Immerses him or herself so deeply in the creativity that nothing else matters.

Just make sure that you remember to connect with the real world now and again…otherwise you’re getting creepy.

 

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Fiction as Art: Going Back to the Beginning

Back to square one.I reported last week that I’m taking a writing class, billed as “intermediate level” but after two meetings I’ve concluded that most of the participants are newbies. It’s forced me to reflect on how I wound up as a writer: a former science teacher/administrator who became possessed by the sudden and uncontrollable urge to write a fantasy novel.

I’m mostly listening in class, as students struggle with point of view, dialogue tags, too much description, too little description, grammar, tense and the other nuts and bolts of craft. At first, I found myself parroting all the “rules” I’d learned over the last few years: from editors, agents, workshop leaders, but I promptly shut up as I saw the looks of terror on people’s faces.

We read a lot of articles and short stories, and I understand the value of “reading about writing” and “reading good writing” but truthfully, I’d rather be writing. Perhaps it’s because that’s how I view learning: learn-by-doing has always been my mantra as a teacher and it served me well in the sciences. My classroom was a big, messy laboratory where we blew things up (before all that became illegal) tested our own blood (before that became unsafe) and a host of other activities where students had to problem-solve and critique their work and the work of others.

What I’ve gleaned so far is that this group has become obsessed with the “rules of writing.” They want to know what to do and what not to do. From my experience, books on writing tend to hammer home these points and I’ve fallen into that painful place many times. They also steal your confidence by reminding us how difficult it is to become a successful writer. But, the term successful can be viewed in a variety of ways.

I know some believe creative writing can’t be taught and I see the value of that statement. There are some writers in the class whose words are so truly beautiful it makes you want to read them twice, savoring the rhythm of the language and the pictures they paint in your mind. I do believe to some extent that writing is a gift, or more aptly that storytelling is a gift and the skill of writing can be learned. Not like the ability to draw, which I’ve been told by an art professor of mine is possible, although I’m not convinced, but more like a basketball player or stock market analyst, you take the talent and school it, hone it, making it the best it can be. Practice makes perfect?

Although I agree that some rules are necessary, like those for grammar, spelling, and formatting, one must be careful in the search for absolutes. Accepting that certain things must never be done in writing fiction or that others must always be done can stunt the creative process. This is a major complaint I have of the rules most agents tout. Never: start with a prologue, with dialogue, or the weather, or on the phone, with an alarm clock, in a car… the list is endless. Agents say they won’t read past the first sentence if you break the rules! Seriously. Come on! That’s ridiculous. And yet so many of us are fearful of that rejection. We’ll never get an agent if we break the rules! I’ve even written posts about making sure you follow these same rules.

With the ability to self-publish or find an indie press (sans agent) becoming so widespread (even agents are signing you and then publishing it themselves, so be careful!), for the first time we can write what we want without fear of being a rule-breaker. I understand that this may result in a lot of poor quality work out there and it may be difficult to rise to the top of the literary piles, but it does give one a sense of freedom to let the artistic juices flow and see what happens. I’m sure getting a great agent and a deal from a major publisher is still everyone’s pie in the sky dream, but it may never happen. And I’ve heard plenty of horror stories from friends who thought they had this type of deal and it turned out the book was never really marketed effectively and died a quick death.

So, what can we agree on? I’m going to explore this in upcoming posts. The first being my thoughts on the general aesthetic principles of writing fiction. Art has no universal laws, no limits, no restrictions, in fact what makes art stand out is the ability to break away from the mundane, to set your own artistic standards. I know it’s risky but isn’t that what readers are looking for? Something different? Unique? I find art mysterious, seductive, as it lures me into a strange new world. I’m going to explore this is in my upcoming ‘Fiction as Art’ series.

And I’m all about artistic mystery.

 

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Moody Musings…

IMG_0361As you know, I recently relocated from New York to Virginia and as is the case when most people move, I was looking for new opportunities to meet people, especially since I miss my evenings at the coffee shop with my old writer group and mostly communicate with them via computer. Luckily, I found this amazing place: The Visual Arts Center of Richmond. My sister took pottery-making there and also learned the art of glass fusion—cutting and melting glass to form dishes and decorative wall art. She’s subsequently taught me this skill and I happily spend two days a week at her studio creating beautiful things. This photo is of one of my recently completed projects.

Anyway, to my delight I discovered that they offer writing classes! Some on poetry, one on writing short stories, one on crafting narrative and even one on how to get published. “WAHOO!” I yelled to my computer screen. And so I signed up for the last two and attended the first meeting Wednesday night. The class consisted of ten wannabe writers and the instructor, who holds an MFA—youngish, maybe forty, and wonderfully enthusiastic. I felt a little out of my element as no one has written much of anything, even the instructor, so when I confessed I’d written four novels, there were too many wide eyes for my comfort level. But, what the heck, you can always hone your craft and I’m sure there is much to be learned from this lovely group of new people who share my passion and excitement for the art of writing. Perhaps I’ll even find a new writing group or a writing buddy with whom I can share a cup of coffee or glass of wine.

This was a new experience for me because I’ve never taken a formal writing class before, being mostly self-taught and attending the occasional writing conference. Although I wrote a post on writing prompts, I’ve never actually been in a situation where I was given one by an instructor. She asked us to write about a family story that has become legendary. I wrote for the allotted twenty minutes. It was hard writing under pressure! I was the only one who brought a laptop, knowing I wouldn’t be able write a lick longhand anymore and the rest of the group quickly admitted they wished they’d brought theirs.

I wrote about a time when my dad cut school, more to escape the daily beating he got because he had to travel through the Irish neighborhood to get to school and they didn’t take kindly to the Italians. Thus was his life in Hell’s Kitchen. His cousin convinced him to hitchhike to Long Island so they could earn some money caddying for rich guys. And yes, my dad scored big with The Babe, himself, and went home that night with more money then he’d ever seen in his entire life.

People volunteered to read. Some were great, some not so much. I didn’t volunteer because, well, I was really nervous. When everyone who dared had read, some said they didn’t have enough to read, all eyes turned to me. Okay, now I wished I hadn’t shot my mouth off about having written four novels. I feared they expected something spectacular, and I wouldn’t be able to deliver.

The instructor asked me how I felt about what I’d written. I admitted I was anxious about reading because I’d never, ever, read a first draft aloud to anyone and as I read, my voice bespoke my anxiety. We shared thoughts about the story and she asked if I wanted to take the story further. I said no, saying it was just an anecdote. We talked more about writing in general and then moved on to reading and discussing some interesting handouts.

Here are the highlights:

  • Two excerpts from the book Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott. The strange title? In the author’s words: “Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy.” Going to B&N today to check it out and will let you know my thoughts next week.
  1. Getting Started. (Chapter 1) Where the author suggested going back in time and writing down as many childhood memories as you can. Often this is a good place to find the inspiration for beginning your novel. And in fact, that is where I began. The death of my brother when I was five, he was four, had long lingered as a fascination about what might exist on the other side of death.
  2. Shitty First Drafts. Her advice? All writers write them and that’s how you wind up with good second drafts and terrific third (or tenth!) drafts.
  • Zadie Smith’s 10 Rules of Writing
  • The Story Spine by playwright Kenn Addams: A tool for creating well-structured stories.
  • An excerpt from How Fiction Works by James Wood on character development. You can find it on Amazon.
  • An analysis of the short story “The Country Husband” by John Cheever.

Lots to absorb and I left invigorated, having met some lovely people and thrilled with the opportunity to talk and share thoughts about writing. The group embraced me, even the instructor said she would love some help on writing dialogue and plot as I admitted to the group that those were my strengths whereas description was my weakness. They were all very interested in how I’d crafted my novels and I will be more than happy to share.

I don’t start the class on publishing until November, so stay tuned for more on that. But for now, I’m back in the writing circle of real live humans! And hopefully there will be some coffee and wine drinking in the very near future.

 

 

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Self-Editing Redux: Spot Checking

Oops!I’m in the final stages of polishing my latest manuscript and going through my checklist for those tiny little nits that always manage to slip through. Rather than doing a complete read-through for like the millionth time (which at some point becomes counter-productive because you know it too well), I pick random passages and scrutinize them for errors. I use the search function on Word (a total lifesaver) to see how many times I’ve walked on the dark side and which allows me to clean up blunders quickly. I’ve collected these little nits over many years, not like lice, which crawl across your skin surreptitiously and require toxic chemicals to banish. This is easy peasy, albeit a tad tedious.

Here’s my Quicky Checklist:

  • How many –ing and as phrases do you use.
  • How many –ly adverbs?
  • Too many short sentences? Trying linking them together.
  • Too many long sentences when you’re writing a dramatic scene? Break them up.
  • Are you using a lot of italics? Use them only when a character is speaking to him/ herself and when you really want to emphasize a word or phrase. If the writing is good you shouldn’t need italics for added impact very often.
  • Overuse of profanity? It loses its effect if used too frequently.
  • Overuse of: that, very, suddenly, really…you know your bad words… (check my list from the post below.)
  • Cliches? Use sparingly and in character dialogue only.
  • Too many passive verbs? Search for “was” “were” and phrases like “started to” “hoped to” “began to”. They’re the mark of weak writing.
  • Only one punctuation mark allowed when ending a sentence!!!
  • Overuse of dialogue tags. Abandon them when only two people are speaking and it’s obvious who it is. And make sure the name always comes first. Michael said, not, said Michael.
  • Make sure none of your dialogue tags use an action. He sighed, he laughed. They’re not dialogue tags.
  • Overuse of the ellipsis… Know the difference between hesitation, interruption and just drifting off. Look it up online if you don’t know.
  • Read aloud random dialogue sections to see how they sound. Or have a friend read with you. Wherever you stumble, revise. Did you use enough contractions? Because that’s how people speak. Is the dialogue indicative of that particular character? Assign certain expressions to individuals to set them apart which helps your reader easily identify them.
  • Flip through your manuscript looking for white space. Is there a lot? Hardly any? A paragraph that runs for a half page, or maybe even the entire page? Do you have pages where there are no paragraphs at all? Just dialogue? You’re looking to vary the beats and rhythm.
  • Are all your chapters approximately the same length?
  • Look for repeated words. Only one per page, please. Several pages is even better.
  • This final one is a biggy. Every writer learns this as the first rule of writing. SHOW DON’T TELL. And yet, I’m repeatedly reminded of this by my editor. It sneaks in, just like those pesky little lice. One of the best ways is to search out the word “felt” or “was” or variations of “to” as in: I was angry. I was sad. I felt morose. I wanted to cry. I tried to smile. None of these show us the emotion, they tell us. You’d be surprised how often this creeps into your writing. Frequently, I feel those are powerful statements, emphatic and simple. But they’re not. They’re never as powerful as showing the body language or inner monologue: the blood rushing, the pulse quickening, the sweat forming, the hands fisting, the teeth clenching, the jaw set; the glass crashing into the wall, splintering into tiny shards of angry light.

I’ve written on self-editing before, so for more detail check out these posts, one from October 4th and one from October 11th.

You probably won’t catch them all, but you’ll catch a lot. And then your editor will hit you with a hundred more. Just hope he doesn’t use a big stick. (That was only half a cliche, so it doesn’t count.)

 

 

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