Monday, July 27, 2015
Wednesday, July 22, 2015
I recently came through a spell where one of my characters didn’t want to budge. I knew something was up with her and instead of jamming any issue in her backstory, I waited her out. I asked some hard questions, and eventually, in time, I got to the juicy heart of who she is.
Here are twelve questions you can ask of your main character that have the power to open her up again…
What’s your problem?
Why do you look so tired? (Women, outside of fiction-land, I’d advise you never ask this question of another woman. We are tired. That’s why we look it.)
What are you running from?
What’s the worst thing anyone has ever said to you? (Bonus: do you believe it?)
If you could have a do-over for anything you’ve done in your life when would you choose?
If your friend asks your advice on an outfit that is undeniably weird, saying, “I don’t think this looks weird, what do you think?” how would you respond?
What are you most ashamed of?
What are you proudest of?
Who knows you best? Does your answer surprise you?
Who are you most protective of? Are they as protective of you?
What pisses you off?
What would embarrass you if everyone found out about it, though you secretly suspect you’re not the only one with this secret?
There you have it. Twelve hard questions that are sure to get your main character squirming, stirred up, or spilling the beans. Hoping for the latter.
Monday, July 20, 2015
One of the best pieces of writing advice I received in college was from a published author who visited, imparting us with great tidbits of wisdom. I specifically remember this author telling me and my fellow writing majors that you’re only a serious author if you make a commitment to write down your thoughts.
Message received. Take notes.
Over the years I’ve done just that. I haven’t let my thoughts fade into the dying world of ideas. Or at least I’ve tried hard to keep that from happening. I get my thoughts down.
Thought it would be fun to list all of the unconventional and creative places I’ve jotted down notes throughout the years.
On my hand
Journals (of course)
On magazine articles
On the back of photographs
Inside greeting cards
On my business cards
On a paper bag
And the latest place I’ve been taking notes over the past few weeks (and one of my favorites)…
Wednesday, July 15, 2015
As writers we can all slip into overwriting if we’re not careful. We might not even recognize when we throw down fancy words or shove superfluous descriptions into our prose. It sneaks up on us. Most likely, we overwrite when we exit the zone. We’re most vulnerable to overwriting when we have a word count in our heads that we must meet. It’s okay to have goals. It’s good actually and we all are guilty of overwriting at some point or another.
But here are some key identifiers to help you know when you’re beginning to let the quicksand of overwriting pull you and your novel under. I’ve also included some ways out—ropes to bring you back to solid ground.
The Thesaurus is Your New Best Friend
Don’t get me wrong, I love the thesaurus. I’ve even been known to read it on slow days or when I simply want to get my brain cogs turning again. However, if you are flipping the pages or clicking on Thesaurus sites every five minutes, I’m willing to bet you will discover overwriting when it’s time to edit. I’m all about finding the strongest word to exude a point, but I’m also a fan of getting the scene down with as few interruptions as possible during the first draft. Save the thesaurus for edit days.
Solution: Put any word down. The first one that comes to mind. Allow for weakness. Tell yourself it can be changed later. And don’t let the thesaurus tempt you to interrupt the flow.
Taking the Jaws of Life to a Scene
You haven’t quite figured out what should happen with a particular character or plot point, but you force it anyway. This isn’t just about throwing a word on the page, it’s about prying out something that’s a bloody mess and calling it a scene.
Solution: Take the necessary time to allow a scene to organically unravel in your mind. Take notes during the writing process. Be mindful when something feels forced and make a note on your manuscript so that you’ll be sure to change it later.
Turning into a Chameleon
You overwrite when you turn into an author chameleon. When you begin adopting the language of the book you’re currently reading you are inadvertently changing your author colors—and in turn changing the voice of the book. You are essentially losing your voice.
Solution: Glean from excellent writing. Appreciate it. Notice what is done well. But then imbue those lessons into your own rhythm. Keep your color by gaining confidence in your own voice.
Alice in Wonderland Mentality
You become Alice when you lose your focus and dull down your main character. Your MC gets watered down and is ultimately at risk of having her head chopped off all together (losing face).
Solution: Frequently review your main character’s internal and external goals. Reflect upon who your characters are, what they’ve been through, who they want to become, and what the story you’re writing about them would mean if they were to read it.
Skipping Down Rabbit Trails
Distracted by the beautiful rainbow. No, the waterfall. No, the scattering herd of deer…you completely lose sight of where you were headed with your novel. And you end up throwing down a bunch of needless bread crumbs in hopes to find your way back. You’ve entered the land of Plot Confusion and stop short at the sign that reads: Beware of Overwriting.
Solution: One of the best pieces of advice I read that helps keeps my plots in check is to create a back cover brief synopsis before you even begin to write a single word. It’s a structured way to maintain focus and to ensure your plot is moving in a sensible direction. It provides wonderful accountability. That way you can leave the breadcrumbs at home. There are signposts on the trees. You’re golden.
Monday, July 13, 2015
The motto for Wittenberg University, my alma mater, is “Having Light We Pass It On To Others.” I’ve been thinking a lot about that call to action. I especially thought of it a few days ago when I was notified that one of the students in my first writing workshop won a young author award for the story she wrote in my class.
I’ve learned a tremendous amount, culminating from my years as a creative writing undergrad and the past eight years I’ve spent immersed in the publication industry. I have so much to share—to pass on.
I’ve decided it’s a shame to hoard knowledge. In appropriate measure, in ways I hope will be received, I desire to impart the things that have shaped me as a writer. Those insights that have grown me.
With that, I can’t stress enough how more than anything else it is imperative that you, as a writer, search relentlessly for your own voice. Take your own road. Bushwhack if you have to. But carve out a path that makes sense for you and your journey.
And then one last thing, don’t stuff all the light down deep inside you. Pass it on.
Wednesday, July 8, 2015
If you’re a writer you’ve heard the expression write what you know. Actually, it’s probably been drummed into your head so much you might feel hammered down inside a box, inhibited by what you might dare tackle in your work. But I’m going to alter that advice today.
I’m going to suggest you write what you no.
There is an untapped power waiting in the areas you keep saying no to. What am I referring to?
Three areas in particular:
What you fear
What you believe you’re inadequate to write
What’s too painful
Write what you fear
And when you get brave enough to finally put it on the page, you might be amazed to find the thing isn’t so scary after all. Painful, perhaps. Powerful, likely. Worth it…absolutely.
Write what you feel inadequate to writeIf you don’t feel inadequate before beginning a project then you’re probably overconfident.
Every writer doubts their talent and ability to create. Anne Lamott says, “But it is fantasy to think that successful writers do not have these bored, defeated hours, these hours of deep insecurity when one feels as small and jumpy as a water bug. They do.”
Consider it a strong nudge whenever you feel this way. Pay attention to what’s playing in your mind. Maybe it’s that very slide show you’re supposed to explore in your story. Because insecurity or not, the show must go on and you are the ultimate director.
Allow your insecurities to point you toward the work you’ve been avoiding.
Write into the pain
No, it’s too painful. I don’t want to go there. I’ve already healed from that. What’s the point of diving back in? What good would it do?
Some of my favorite books depict characters enduring great tragedy. The Art of Racing in the Rain. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. The Book Thief. I’m reading Between Shades of Gray right now. It’s a poignant story about a fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl named Lina taken from her home and thrown into a cattle car by the Soviet secret police. This book is quickly becoming one of my favorites because of the beautiful risks the author takes, how she delves into an unimaginable hardship. Ruta Sepetys evokes a rich sense of empathy for the characters and invites readers into Lina’s harsh reality.
After I read Ruta’s bio I understood she had to write into the pain. Her own father was a Lithuanian refugee. Her bio goes on to state, “Ruta wanted to give voice to the hundreds of thousands of people who lost their lives during Stalin’s cleansing of the Baltic region.”
Write into the pain to give voice.
Paint your unique brushstroke on the canvas of human experience.
We come together in this. We grow. We change the world.
Next time someone tells you to write what you know, think about writing what you no instead.
I double dog dare you!
Monday, July 6, 2015
Whenever I’m in a pensive mood or in the midst of a creative spell I often fantasize about traveling somewhere.
Where you say.
My mind does its trusty thing and I end up swimming in the rich aroma of these fragrant flowers. Or I rest my head against the fine silk petals and drift off to sleep.
I love how my imagination takes me places. It’s been doing that since I was little.
Do you ever mentally transport to somewhere else when your mind needs a mini-vacation? Where do you go?
*Congratulations to the US women’s soccer team on the World Cup win! We are so proud of you.