Friday, February 27, 2015

The Positive Approach to Taking on Writing

Writers face a lot of obstacles to productivity, and I’ve offered some advice on breaking bad habits (like looping) and persisting in the face of interruptions and distractions. But there’s another side. You can take a positive approach to getting words on the page and moving your story forward. There are habits (like prepping with a sentence the day before) and technical helps (like setting a timer). But it is also good to recognize prompts that make it a joy to switch into storytelling mode.
I posted this on my Facebook page:
Writing peeps -- What gets you writing? What keeps you writing? (I'm tired of articles about the obstacles to writing and overcoming them. Looking for a positive approach for my next How to Write Fast blog post.)
And here’s what I got back:
Rhonda Lane I fall in love with the stories/project. If that doesn't happen, then I can't devote what it takes to writing them.
Anna Carrasco Bowling Reading a wonderful book, either new or a beloved favorite, or watching a movie that sparks my story brain always makes me want to get back to work and tell my own stories.
Experiencing someone who loves what they do and are good at it is like a shot of adrenaline.
Gail Chianese Make a challenge with a friend (sprint, commitment to do X number of words in the day) always gets me going. What keeps me going is the fun in telling the story.
Heidi Ulrich Sprints are great definitely, but what keeps me going is the characters. Sometimes I have to remind myself why I love them so much.
Anna Carrasco Bowling I agree with Heidi and Rhonda. If I'm in love with the characters, there is nothing that's going to keep me away from them. They'll call to me while I'm doing other things and spending time with them is the most natural thing in the world.
John Handy Bosma Mindfulness practices. (I can't say I write as you do, but that's what works for me when I remember. When I don't remember that, I don't write.)
Karen Anne Renwick A rigid-ish schedule. The Freedom app that blocks me from my Internet. I use it like a timer. When my Internet comes back, if I've worked hard, I get to surf for 10 minutes. Rinse. Repeat.
Gail Chianese Anti-Social is great too because you can block certain pages (FB, email, etc.), but still have access to the Internet (so you can listen to Pandora).
Jerry Hernandez My writing mentor told me to write every day, so that it became a habit. Then he beat me. I think it inspired a recent movie.
Jos Van Brussel Good books (written by better writers than myself), a complete absence of Internet, meditation, focus music, Scrivener, a lack of money, a wife standing behind me with a meat cleaver because of said lack of money (not necessarily in that order).
Julia Stitely Thomas If I don't sit down to write, I'll never find out what happens to my characters.
Some surprises. Some fun. Some great advice. What gets you writing and keeps you writing?

Upcoming classes

March 2- March 27 Novel in a Month (online)
March 3-April 7 Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing Workshop (face-to-face)
March 9-April 3 Career Planning for Writers (online)
April 15-April 29 Story Bootcamp (face-to-face) Westchester Community College
April 20-May 25 Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing Workshop (face-to-face) 
May 1-May 29 Bigger Stories (online) 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Four Ways to Trick Your Inner Editor - Getting your story out

To be a good writer, you need to have taste, a sense of how to tell a story elegantly, sensitivity to language, and intolerance of bad grammar and misspellings. To write a first draft, you need to put all of these aside and fill pages with words and ideas that vary from okay to atrocious. The paradox of productive writing is that the path to perfection (or even good enough) runs through recklessness.

How do you turn off the internal editor? There are a lot of ways. (I do not recommend alcohol.) Here are four approaches to try. One might work for you.

Let someone else write it - Not literally. But, if you can write your scene as a pastiche of a favorite author, your inner editor may focus on whether you are creating a good imitation more than on whether you are putting down wonderful prose. When I don't know how to write a scene, I often will take several stabs at it with pages that (to me) read like Edgar Allan Poe, Harlan Ellison, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Stephen King. It's play. It doesn't count. But it reveals ideas, plot points, and scenes I can use. And isn't that the point of a first draft?

Make a mess on purpose - Your inner editor will probably run for cover if you deliberately write purple prose, mixed metaphors, and stilted dialogue. Go for it. Just make sure you 1) have fun and 2) create scenes that move the story forward.

Defy authority - Unleash you Mr. Hyde by doing the exact opposite of whatever the inner editor is demanding. Go at it with an underground man attitude. Have complete disdain for the rules. The only correct answer to the question, "What are you rebelling against?" is "What have you got?"

Transcribe your characters - Write dialogue between the two characters in the scene. Forget narrative, tags, analysis, action, and description. You are listening from the next room and taking down every word.

None of what you write using these approaches will resemble final copy. That's not the point. In the first draft, your job is to get to know the characters and present a version of their story. It is not to create a wonderful reading experience. That's what revision is for.

Upcoming classes

February 25-March 11 How to Write FAST (face-to-face) Westchester Community College
March 2- March 27 Novel in a Month (online)
March 3-April 7 Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing Workshop (face-to-face)
March 9-April 3 Career Planning for Writers (online)
April 15-April 29 Story Bootcamp (face-to-face) Westchester Community College
April 20-May 25 Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing Workshop (face-to-face) 
May 1-May 29 Bigger Stories (online)

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Exposing Your Work to the World

When I was in grad school, there was a writer in my class whose work I never read. While the rest of us exchanged pages, the closest he could come to revealing his stories was reading them aloud to the class.

No matter how long the story was, he held all the pages in his hands, inches from his face, and drawled out each sentence. (The tales, inevitably, took place in the US South.) His performances, nonetheless, captivated everyone. He did all the voices of the characters and told them with an inviting cadence that was only broken by his nervously shuffling pages. Despite these limits, he was one of the best storytellers I've ever met.

You've never heard of him, and you should have. If only he'd been able to let go of those pages, you'd know how cleverly he constructed stories around fatal flaws, original sins, and all the deadly sins with humor and charm.

He could not accept criticism. He could barely accept praise. And, under no circumstances would he put those pages into anyone else's hands. It was all too personal. Too risky.

I was reminded of this when a writer I know, who had finished a novel, went back for yet another rewrite. In my opinion, she should let it go find its own truth in the world and begin something else. That's what writers who hope to have careers do.

It isn't necessary to gather up everything in your trunk (or on your hard disk) and send it off to magazines and book publishers. Some stuff should remain hidden (or maybe be burned). But most writers get better when they begin to hear what others think of their work.

I've had to hear quite a lot. From teachers who responded with red ink. Friends who couldn't get past the first page. Crit groups that came back with diametrically opposed advice. "Not for us" form rejections from editors. Rejections with handwritten notes (yes, I'm that old) in the margins. Editors who asked for revisions. And readers who sent notes. Each of these people contributed to helping me to share my work, to weigh and balance comments, to distinguish good projects from mediocre ones, to write better, and to be a better writer.

This is not to say that I have not had ups and downs, moments of despair, trips down blind alleys, and doubts. Even though you tell yourself people are responding to the work and not judging you, it can be hard not to believe you are being attacked, maligned, and found wanting as a person. In some cases, the feelings are right. There are critics who just want to score points, and trolls who find your existence to be intolerable. Take the risk anyway.

  • Put your work into someone else's hands and let them read it.
  • Join a critique group.
  • Enter a contest.
  • Pitch to an agent or an editor.
  • Submit your work to a publication.

Do this when it is as good as you can make it (mostly). Don't wait until it's perfect before exposing it to the world.