Wednesday, February 8, 2012

8 Writing No-Brainers that Require Brain Power


Waiting
You write, you wait. Wait for characters to talk, for an agent, for a house to call home, for release day, for reviews…
The publishing industry is a fabulous arena for learning to accrue patience.

“My point is that you do not need me or anyone else around to bring this new kind of light in your life. It is simply waiting out there for you to grasp it, and all you have to do is reach for it.” ― Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild

Beginning & Ending Well
Seems simple enough, right? But establishing a compelling hook from the start and memorable resolve at the end of a novel can be a lot trickier than it sounds.

“Almost a mathematical formula: Stability + Inciting Incident = Instability + Struggle to Resolve Instability = New Stability. Very succinctly, a story is a movement from stability to instability to a new stability.” – Les Edgerton, Hooked

“Actually, all good story endings and resolutions should involve both an element of win and an element of loss.” – Les Edgerton, Hooked

Tightening Your Core
The closer you get to the root of who you are the more equipped you are to flesh out relatable characters, engaging in a must-read story.

“Your problem is how you are going to spend this one and precious life you have been issued. Whether you're going to spend it trying to look good and creating the illusion that you have power over circumstances, or whether you are going to taste it, enjoy it and find out the truth about who you are.” ― Anne Lamott

Creating Strong Characters
Another no-brainer. A collective “Duh” resounds. But if you’ve written your share of novels as I have, you begin to feel the pulse of your characters. The folks in your novel come to life, and in this process, the in your face approach they use can wreak havoc on your determination to exude a confident character as opposed to an arrogant one. Show ‘em who’s boss. Characters, people as they are (see quote below), must remain likeable.

“When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature. If a writer can make people live there may be no great characters in his book, but it is possible that his book will remain as a whole; as an entity; as a novel.” – Ernest Hemingway

Checking Your Ego at the Door
Do it for the sake of your novel, so your own judgments don’t enmesh too greatly with those of your characters. You be you and let them be them. Do it for the sake of your own moral fiber. Rid yourself of the entitlement beast and the foolish notion there is a finish line to learning. That race goes on and on and on…

“Becoming a writer is about becoming conscious. When you're conscious and writing from a place of insight and simplicity and real caring about the truth, you have the ability to throw the lights on for your reader. He or she will recognize his or her life and truth in what you say, in the pictures you have painted, and this decreases the terrible sense of isolation that we have all had too much of.” ― Anne Lamott

Asking for Help
Again, not brain science. If we want to improve in any area of life it’s understood that it’s perfectly acceptable to ask for help. But I offer some warnings (some you can glean for yourself in the quote below). Be discerning. Not all writers are cut out to help you. Not all writers have the time. Not all writers know how to encourage and offer constructive criticism. Not all writers are as serious about the craft as you are. Hunt for a solid match.

“A group member should love reading and writing. She should be able to handle criticism of her work without becoming defensive or argumentative. Neither should she be so invested in what she says about another’s work that she takes offense if people don’t agree with her…A good writing group member should be generous…The most important thing a writing group member can do is offer consistently thoughtful comments about the other people’s work, things that let the writer know she has truly paid attention to what has been put before her. – Elizabeth Berg, Escaping into the Open: The Art of Writing True

Choosing Your Battles Carefully
Writing 101 lets us know conflict is a must. But as we advance in our writing skills we learn how to become selective and intentional about when and where to insert conflict into our work. Like everything…there is a time and place.

“Be careful that the scene adds something necessary to the story’s development: information, revelation, discovery, sudden change…Make that conflict rise, as all good conflict should. Don’t jump into it with people yelling, screaming, shooting, and having swords drawn.” –Elizabeth George, Write Away

Watching Your Words
One of my favorite pieces of writing advice is to be diligent about choosing the best words. One of my college professors also challenged me to be hard on myself as an editor. To this day I’m grateful he cared enough and he believed I’d listen.

My grasp of editing has evolved immensely from what I understood it to mean upon the completion of my first novel. Editing was a gentle sweep to the Shop-vac and Annie “Hard Knock Life” scrub down is today.

We must be intentional about weaving a story that has the inherent power to continue braiding in our reader’s minds and lives even after they close the book.

“Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.” ― Stephen King, On Writing

Which no-brainer requires the most brain power from you? Why do you think? (Or which quote is your favorite & why?)

*photo by flickr

23 comments:

  1. Hooking in the first chapter is tough for me. That could be taken so many ways! LOL

    I'm reading Hooked by Les Edgerton now! I am really enjoying and learning a lot from it.

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  2. All of Anne Lamott's quotes. I love that woman's insight.

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  3. Loving all of these quotes, but I've never read Anne Lamott and this one stood out:

    “Your problem is how you are going to spend this one and precious life you have been issued. Whether you're going to spend it trying to look good and creating the illusion that you have power over circumstances, or whether you are going to taste it, enjoy it and find out the truth about who you are.” ― Anne Lamott

    This speaks truth to me in so many ways.

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  4. I took notes on this one, Wendy! What a fabulous post! I haven't read Elizabeth Berg or Elizabeth George, so thank you for sharing their quotes.

    The no-brainer I always keep in mind is to respect the reader. They are much more savvy and sophisticated than we expect. Write for them. Write smart. Give them something that isn't dumbed down.

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  5. My fave one is Berg's because that's the one I understand most. The others I'm definitely still working on...probably not even close to yet. lol Great post, Wendy! As usual, much to chew on. :-)

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  6. Awesome! When I finished my first wip, I thought, it doesn't need editing. It's great the way it is. Ha Ha! :)

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  7. I love Edgerton's quote on endings. It's just that little tinge of loss in story endings that always grab me as a reader, and so I tried to incorporate that into my own novel too.

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  8. Waiting can be a challenge for me. I like to know what's next. Comes from being a take-charge eldest sibling I think. =)

    Another challenge is knowing when to say "enough." The recovering perfectionist in me can have a hard time letting a manuscript go and pressing "send."

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  9. Waiting is the hardest part for me, along with asking for help.

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  10. Oh, I really like the concept of tightening our core. Maybe because I'm a Pilates junkie, LOL. I never thought about applying that principle to writing. Very cool.

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  11. Ahh, this is so good! Yeah, waiting is definitely the biggest challenge for me. It doesn't feel like something that should require brainpower, but it really does...

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  12. The waiting part takes a lot of brain power. :) Love the idea that doing so is helping me accrue patience.

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  13. OH MY HECK, I'VE PRINTED THIS BECAUSE I AM IN LOVE WITH IT AND WILL READ IT EVERY NIGHT BEFORE I GO TO BED.

    No, seriously. Best post I've read, maybe ever.

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  14. love this, Wendy! And i've been thinking a lot lately about characterization, so I love what you say about creating strong characters (and what hemingway had to say).

    Excellent post, girl!!

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  15. Hmmm, thought I posted earlier, but it's not showing up.

    I've never read Anne Lamott, but LOVED this quote:

    “Your problem is how you are going to spend this one and precious life you have been issued. Whether you're going to spend it trying to look good and creating the illusion that you have power over circumstances, or whether you are going to taste it, enjoy it and find out the truth about who you are.” ― Anne Lamott

    This speaks truth to me in so many ways.

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  16. Yikes, Lindsay. Not cool, Blogger. Not cool at all. I've been hearing this on and off lately. It needles me to know I'm not able to know how others are choosing to communicate. I wondered though b/c # of comments haven't been reflective of stats. Oh well, so glad you came back, Lindsay!
    ~ Wendy

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  17. Did a little digging. Seems Blogger has been dumping random comments into spam. Huh. You, Lindsay are no spammer. I'll play around and see if I can't send some of those comments back to published.

    Thanks for letting me know.
    ~ Wendy

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  18. No spamming here! :P

    Thanks, Wendy. I hope you get it all worked out.

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  19. Jessica, You seriously crack me up. In plotting my next book I'm beginning to see more and more how imperative it is I nail the first chapter. It's making me nervous for when I sit to write the first words. Thankfully, I have about 30K to go on my WIP.

    Katie, I need to dine with her.

    Jill, Excellent point about not dumbing our work down. And you'll love Berg and George's books on writing.

    Jessica, Like cud. ;) Thank you for your words.

    Laura, Isn't it fun being able to laugh at ourselves?

    Joanne, Love that. The word tinge is perfect there.

    Keli, I joked with another author that I merely slip into a fanciful denial while I wait. Doesn't that sound nice? So not what I do. I suffer through the waits, but true to character, I try to learn along the way.

    Loree, I discovered something about myself recently. I can ask for friends to pray for loved ones rather easily, but it's difficult for me to ask for prayer. Curious to get to the root of that one.

    Sarah, Pilates kicked me good. I was in super shape whilst stretching into all those bendy poses and hedgehog rolls. Makes me miss it just talking about it. I ran today though. Do I get points for that? ;)

    Melissa, Yep, to make our time count, waiting is a mind bender at times.

    Stacy, It sounds nice just to be accruing anything, doesn't it? ;D

    Elana, If you're serious, I'm blown away honored and I'm taking you at your word (the second one) where you say you are.

    Heather, Yeah that Hemingway, he's good like that.

    Lindsay, Glad we got some of the mystery cleared up. I feel somewhat relieved. Hope it won't continue to happen. So cool how you kept coming back!

    Started a book tonight that's grabbing me: The Other Wes Moore. It deals with an issue I've flipped around in my mind since my early teens.

    I feel a future post coming on every time I sit to read.

    Off to write, then pick that book back up.

    Night.
    ~ Wendy

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  20. Ooooo, checking your ego at the door is great! Let the characters be themselves and you be you! I need more of that! Thanks.

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  21. All the quotes are fantastic, but this one is my favorite:
    “Your problem is how you are going to spend this one and precious life you have been issued. Whether you're going to spend it trying to look good and creating the illusion that you have power over circumstances, or whether you are going to taste it, enjoy it and find out the truth about who you are.” ― Anne Lamott
    I feel like this is where I am right now and am enjoying living this precious life and it's neat to think how that will play out in my writing!

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  22. "Do it for the sake of your novel, so your own judgments don’t enmesh too greatly with those of your characters. You be you and let them be them."

    Love this. Great post!

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  23. Sometimes the "no-brainers" are the easiest to forget. Sometimes I'm so overtired and/or over-focused, I can't even spell "the."

    I loved the Anne Lamott quote under "Tightening Your Core."
    Lot of truth in that one.
    And I forget it sometimes . . .

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