Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Eight Tips for Bigger Stories (and Upcoming Online Courses)

I prepared this handout for a Bigger Stories presentation at Fiction Fest. Now I'm sharing it with you.

Tips for Bigger Stories
By Peter Andrews
1)   Hook yourself first - Make sure you react viscerally to the concept. If you don’t need to write it, I don’t need to read it.           
2)   Push your premise – Don’t be satisfied with the first idea that catches your attention. Poke at it. Raise the stakes. Test different settings. Find the character who will change the most.
3)   Listen to your characters – They may be willing to go further than you are. And they probably offer a distinct point of view at no charge.
4)   Escalate – Raise the stakes. Increase jeopardy. Torture your protagonist.
5)   Read your work aloud – Readers want fresh, authentic voices. Reading out loud makes it easier to see if it sounds like you or someone you think you should be.
6)   Answer the story question – An ending is disappointing if you can’t tell if the protagonist succeeded. Oh, and make sure it is clear, one way or the other. Make it pay off.
7)   Make it emotional throughout – Otherwise, write nonfiction.
8)   Be courageous – Find what scares you and do it anyway.  Don’t worry about being nice or reasonable. Don’t worry what your mom will think when she reads it.
"Go big or go home." – Max Adams
"A writer is someone who has taught their mind to misbehave." -Oscar Wilde
How to Write Fast workshops
Lowcountry RWA 3/3/14-3/27/14
Black Diamond 11/4/13-11/17/13
Yosemite 1/6/14-1/31/14

Applications and Tools for Writers
Savvy Authors 11/18/13-11/24/13
Write Flash Fiction!
Savvy Authors 12/2/13-12/22/13
Bigger Stories
Lowcountry RWA 5/5/14-5/30/14

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Key to Writing Fast: Show Early and Often - Guest Post by Hillary Rettig

It is my pleasure to welcome a guest post by Hillary Rettig. Hillary is the author of The 7 Secrets of the Prolific: The Definitive Guide to Overcoming Procrastination, Perfectionism, and Writer's Block. Hillary has taught writing and work productivity at Grub Street Writers, The Mark Twain House and Museum,,, and many other venues. For more information on Hillary and her work, visit

There are lots of techniques that will help you boost your writing tempo, but one of the best is probably to show your work early and often:
  • Show drafts.
  • Show chunks (paragraphs and pages).
  • And even show individual sentences and clauses. ("Hey, what do you think of this metaphor..." Or, "Super proud of this one...")
Show them to: critique buddies, workshoppers, editors, sympathetic friends and family members who get what you're doing and support it, and your social media lists.

The reason "showing" is such a powerful productivity enhancer is because writers with perfectionist tendencies tend to be terrified of having their work seen and judged, and so they create a "wall" between themselves and potential readers. They hide behind that wall, endlessly writing and revising, but never finishing or submitting or publishing--and sometimes they don't even write at all, since not-writing is an even more effective strategy than not-finishing for remaining unseen and unjudged.

And the more these writers hide, the taller and stronger the wall gets, until the idea of publishing seems truly terrifying and insurmountable.

In contrast, showing early and often helps "soften" and eventually eliminate the wall. And that tends to speed up the entire writing process, from conceptualization and drafting through to revising, submitting, and publishing. (The core reason this technique works, by the way, is that it helps you heal from any shame and ambivalence you have around your work.)

And this is all, of course, congruent with 21st century marketing via social media. We're long past the days when writers sequestered their work until it was fully polished and edited. These days, readers want to share your process via social media, and maybe even be included in it.

So, show your work early and often. Just be careful whom you show it to, however, because you don't need callous or clueless feedback. (Maybe no social media at first, until you get more resilient.) And extra points for telling your "showees" what response you want: e.g., "I know this is a draft so I don't want detailed feedback on grammar and syntax. But let me know if the general idea works for you." Or, "I really dig this metaphor I came up with!!! Just wanted to share it with you; no reply needed."

Eventually, you'll probably come to enjoy showing, and the resulting ongoing dialog with your community--and you'll probably also write faster than you ever dreamed possible.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Fast-Tracking Memoirs - Four things to avoid

About every two weeks, I write a new Adventures in High School (AIHS) post for Blame it on the Muse. (The fourth, Odd Odyssey, went public today.) A blog entry every other week isn't much of a burden in itself, but it does add to my load and I mean to be efficient. I've already come to some conclusions on what not to do.
  1. Don't work from an outline. I tried this, and I found myself fretting about how little I had to say and the things I couldn't remember. What I discovered is that the act of re-envisioning moments from high school filled in details and provided answers I couldn't imagine in the abstract.
  2. Don't be clinical. Memoirs may have many qualities, but, above all, they must be emotional. My chief guide to exploring a memory is not the shape of the story or its completeness or the lesson learned. It's my visceral reaction.
  3. Don't pause. Memoirs have the quality of stories told aloud. Even more than for other works, it is essential to keep moving forward in the telling of the tale. In fact, I've found dictating (using Dragon Dictate) helps me to catch the nuances of the best anecdotes.
  4. Don't worry about the facts. Searching for names, exact addresses, and other details is a distraction (and often a sly way to dodge an unpleasant or embarrassing bits of the story). Take care of these later on. Or even ignore them. This isn't journalism. And, if you really name names, you might make enemies. Feel free to bend, embroider, exaggerate, and lie.
These are pitfalls to avoid so you can gain productivity, but there are some steps you should take, too. Edit the piece down to the essentials. The temptation is to tell the whole story. Almost always, this means beginning too soon, throwing in less interesting explanations and digressions, and carrying on well after the natural ending. Memoirs are not documents of record.

Memoirs are perspectives. They have a point, which might not be obvious before the draft is completed (and which may necessitate a lot of rewriting so it is clearly and elegantly included).

I think a good memoir also is a nod to why the experience matters in retrospect. Presumably, the writer knows more now, and that should be part of what is between the lines. For instance, in my AIHS posts, the actual experiences often included pain, discomfort, and distress. If these moments had been captured immediately, they would have come off as whines or lamentation. Today, they're just funny.