I just got back from a fabulous week at the Write by the Lake writers retreat in Madison, Wisconsin. If you’re searching for conferences to attend next year, I highly recommend this program. I’ve gone the last three years. They offer a dozen different course options that provide intense study into a specific genre or practice for the week. Courses are for all levels from introductory to those with a full manuscript looking for a masterclass.
This year, I swayed from my usual path of nonfiction and opted for the course on picture book writing.
Here’s what I learned:
My instructor, Georgia Beaverson, had us do a writing prompt on the first day. We had to write down our first memory. The second day we rewrote that memory from another person’s point of view. She then made us edit our wordcount down by HALF (oh, the agony).
She said we could also try reworking the piece into different tenses, illustrating that a story can be told in many different ways, by different people, and sometimes reworking it can lead to great discoveries.
I’ve been working on my memoir for the last several years, and I’ve reworked some of my essays to be performed for adult storytelling. (I highly recommend taking a storytelling class if you have one in your area. I took one two years ago and it was wonderful!) What I learned by doing so was that moving around and utilizing the space I could tell in, I imagined new ways of describing the action or character emotions in my writing. Performing the scene helped me write a stronger scene.
In the picture book writing class, I adapted one of my essays to be told as a children’s picture book. The audience was entirely different, since I’d previously written and performed for adults. In this instance, I played up sounds, using onomatopoeia, stronger verbs, and I limited description where illustrations could play a role.
Using the same plotline, I now had three different ways of telling/performing the story.
Ohmygawd! Justin Timberlake was right all along!
The more you write, the better writer you become, and practicing different kinds of writing tools, genres, and craft elements are key. I was amazed at how each exercise in storytelling, whether on paper or a stage, shaped me as a writer. It was fun, challenging for sure, but rewarding across the board.
Sometimes when we’re stuck, we aren’t sure how to gain that forward momentum again. Whether or not you choose to pursue a different genre or space for your story, trying out different exercises can offer up different questions to make you think, explore, and get that creative blood pumping again.
Things You Can Try:
- Work with a critique group that has multiple genres – How will their feedback strengthen your writing? (Ex. Will listening to poetry help you improve your word choice and descriptions? Will the romance author help you write funnier characters or scenes?)
- Adapt your story into different formats (written, spoken, illustrated) – You may discover something new, or gain confidence in an area you previously felt uncomfortable in.
- Just play – Are you stuck on a scene? Is the writing starting to bore even you? Move around, make yourself do the actions! Try drawing it, what’s the action you want to portray? You don’t have to show this to anyone else, but practicing in new ways can help get you past writer’s block.
- Change the POV.
- Change the tense of the story.
- Change the audience you’re writing for.
- Read different genres. Listen to people tell stories. Note what draws you in.
How can you rewrite and/or adapt your stories
to learn something new about them?
Got an example?
Share your favorite way to practice writing.
Happy Weekend Everyone! Grab a cup of your favorite beverage and settle in. I’ve got your reading assignments right here!
Tickle Your Funny Bone
I highly suggest you all meet and follow my writers group facilitator, Heidi Blanke! I just convinced Heidi to start blogging, so please give her a warm welcome. You won’t be sorry as she is an excellent writer and always adds a good dose of humor to her work! Check out To Sleep……..Not!
Got a fear of flying? All those who wanderlust – no matter your preferred method of transportation – should check out She’s a Maineiac’s I’ll Take 30 Bags of Tiny Pretzels Please. Beware the monster on the wing of the plane. 😉
The fabulous Kait Nolan shared Morgan Freeman…on helium in this week’s Three Awesome Things.
Writing Resources and Posts to Make You Think
Tiffany Lawson Inman guest posted at Writers in the Storm with Want to Write Like a Bestseller? Write Naked First! The woman behind the Twitter account @NakedEditor, Tiffany offers advice on writing emotion, dialogue, and active setting.
Also on Writers in the Storm, Kait Nolan, self-publishing maven and ROW80 founder, shared 10 Reasons Why You Should Know How to Format Ebooks. It is a wealth of information with in depth tips and I for one really appreciated this post because she made digital formatting not seem so freakin’ scary. 🙂
Triple times the love – Writers in the Storm has had some awsome-sauce posts lately. Margie Lawson guest blogged Write the Hard Stuff – Facial Expressions. That is tricky! Thanks Margie, for the tips!
Kristen Lamb wrote an amazing post about “empathetic correctness” and what it could mean for writers. You must read Something Wicked This Way Comes & Why Writers Could Be In Great Danger. Very thought provoking and I’ve wondered the same thing myself.
Bob Mayer shared The 1 Thing Authors Need to Consider referring to Amazon and Hachette. Quality post with thought provoking questions about the nature of the writing industry.
What about educating those around you? Caitlin Kelly wrote The 12 Things You Should Never Say to a Writer.
What are your favorite books you’ve read? Deanne Schultz took her list and created The Top Five Ingredients of a Great Book.
G. G. Andrew also discusses What Good Books Do and takes us along for the ride!
Telling it like it is, Susie Lindau brings us Why Blog? And What the Heck is a Writers Platform? Happy 3 year blogiversary, Susie!
Jenny Hansen brought up a great point in her post, Do You Know How to Edit and Proofread? There is a difference you know.
Tawna Fenske compiled some amazing reader photos from the release of her new book in The Week You All Became Booksellers.
Do genre definitions confuse you? Marcy Kennedy to the rescue with A Crash Course in Thriller Sub-Genres.
Share a post of your own!
What’s on your must read list this weekend?
Many writers have been blogging about their writing process lately, and I got tagged by YA Fantasy author, Valerie Biel to do so. Valerie’s author of the young adult novel, Circle of Nine – Beltany—which is coming out this summer! Check it out!
For this blog hop, I’m channeling my inner “Dusty” from Twister, and sharing…
What am I working on?
I am working on a humorous non-fiction book called Oops Baby.
I’m writing it in the style of David Sedaris, with each chapter more of a humorous essay. All of them tie together in that they illustrate my attempts to fit in – “making pathetic look cool since 1985.” I am in the deep edits phase and have a deadline for sending it out in July, which means I’m going a little crazy right now.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Humorous essays are pretty common in most humor books/comical memoirs. I guess mine varies because it’s like Anne of Green Gables meets Saturday Night Live, and Anne is tossed into bizarre situational scenes like making an entire glacial replica out of cake or finding an evil donkey in her bed.
Why do I write what I do?
I firmly believe that everyone has a story. For years, I’ve wanted to share mine, but had always been told that since I’m not famous, who would care about me or what I had to say? So I started a fiction book. A paranormal YA book. When that didn’t work, I started a women’s fiction book. I made it about 35,000 words into that story before I gave up too. This cost me two years.
One year and one month ago, I quit my job and started writing a new book. My book. Now, with a new job, and just under half my chapters to finish editing, I feel like I’m on the right path.
How does my writing process work?
I’m a social butterfly when I’m in my element. I like connecting with people and need the recognition and motivation to keep going, so what worked best for me when I was writing the first draft was Twitter sprints!
I loved doing timed writing sprints and congratulating the other writers participating with me. A group of us connected weekly, if not daily, and all championed each others’ work.
A big A-Ha moment in my writing process was learning I don’t have to write linearly. I can’t. I get stuck and then don’t know where to go with my story. What I did this time was write a long list of story ideas for each chapter, and each day I just picked one. Whatever inspired me most that day. Then when I finished the draft, I arranged them like a puzzle, and looked for what was missing.
For editing, having a writers group has been priceless. I value and appreciate the honesty with which the women in my group generate critique. All of it comes from them wanting to help make each others’ writing the best possible, and that is a precious gift – to learn not just from what they say about my piece, but to each other, about all our works. I always leave with things to think about and ways to strengthen my writing.
I recently gained a new critique partner as well, and it is a joy beta reading for her and receiving her notes back to me. We write in the same genre, so of course it’s a hoot to help each other out!
Tag! If they would like to participate, I’m going to tag the following writers, and they can share their writing process if they want to:
My amazing critique partner and fellow Wisconsinite, Deanne M. Schultz.
The sassy and sensual erotica author, Kitt Crescendo.
and the philosophical, world traveler, Liz, of Be Love Live.
Why do you do what you do?
Last weekend I attended UW-Madison’s writers conference, the Writers Institute. The conference is in its 25th year and has definitely grown. It’s two and a half days long and they have so many classes, the first two days go from 8am – 8pm!
My brain is now leaking.
Honestly, I love attending writers conferences because they are so energizing. It’s the best feeling in the world to connect with your peers, learn about your craft, mingle with people who “get it,” and return home ready and raring to write!
Plus, this year I won 3rd place in the First Page Contest for nonfiction. *does Peanuts character happy dance* It’s been a long writing journey the past 4 years, and now I feel like I’m writing what I’m supposed to when I’m supposed to be writing it. So overjoyed.
I’d have been even more productive had I not forgotten where the parking ramp I parked in was and spent 45 minutes walking around downtown Madison in heels for a wind-about, nighttime stroll. Oh well, I was sitting most of the day, so the exercise was probably good. *grins sheepishly*
Here are my favorite takeaways from the conference.
1. From Opening Keynote, Nathan Bransford:
Rule #10: Keep writing.
Cultivate your failure. Be afraid of “If I don’t publish my book…” Use that to set deadlines, talk with other writers, be heard, find success stories, and write what you love.
2. From UW-Madison Creative Writing Program Coordinator, Ron Kuka:
Go through your pages like a camera. What does the reader see?
This may easily have been the best class on deep edits I’ve ever attended. Sharing examples of one page of work during four rounds of edits was so fascinating and he really nailed the points about giving our readers both a wide and close-up view of the story through all the senses.
3. From Author and Journalist, Roy Hoffman:
There is powerful emotion in home.
Roy’s class on Writing About Place was one of the most talked about sessions at the conference. He focused on adding details when writing about place to inspire memories and feelings in our work. I had a chance to chit chat with the Kentucky gentleman one morning, and he is so kind and supportive of writers. A great teacher.
4. From Debut Author, Dale Kushner:
Things around us beg to be experiences. Learn to relax and play to overcome block.
Second keynote speaker of the conference, Dale is a fabulously intuitive and spiritual writer. She recognizes that to be creative, we mustn’t lose our sense of wonder in the world. A poet and now novelist, Dale believes in learning from your writing and embracing the emotions that go along with that. Each revision we do teaches us more about our writing.
5. From New Yorker Cartoonist, Ken Krimstein:
Accept that you have no idea how good your work is. You never know what will sell, just do it, and do it, and do it.
Step into your artist’s pants.
One of Ken’s rules is to “knock dignity off its pedestal.” When it comes to writing comedy, you have to be willing to rework the rejections. Never try to explain a joke. If you have to explain it, it isn’t working. Write the draft and then color it in.
6. From Wisconsin Author and Keynote, Michael Perry:
Don’t overlook the exotic in your own backyard.
In both his keynote address and author panel at the conference, Michael Perry talked about the strength in writing what you know. He left his hometown in Wisconsin to work as a cowboy on the ranches of Wyoming, and he intended to write a book about that. As providence would have it, that book would never see print, but what would become his first book was the story about the people in his hometown, New Aubern, WI.
I had the pleasure of meeting Michael at a book reading last year, and I interviewed him on my blog as well. You can check that out here if you like. He is a delight to hear speak and a very humble man. 🙂
7. From Former Writer’s Digest Publisher and Author Resource Extraordinaire, Jane Friedman:
Seduce the agent into requesting your work. Make them feel special and say why you think your book is a good fit for them.
I had the pleasure of meeting Jane in one the conference’s new “Fireside Chats,” a small group Q & A session and got her view on trends in the publishing industry.
*Note to self: Check out wattpad. Have you all heard about this? It’s popular among young writers (teens-early 20’s) and allows you to post portions of your work at a time and readers can comment on the work and wait to read the next installments. Jane says it’s a more positive environment than Goodreads right now. And I LOOOOOVE Goodreads, but there are some mean folks out there leaving reviews without ever having read the books they’re reviewing. What do you guys know about this?
I also attended Jane’s class on writing queries and it was PACKED! She kept the class simple and said to lead with your strengths in your query letter in order to wow the agent.
8. From Creative Writing Educator and Public Speaker, Sue Roupp:
One word will unstick you.
First off, Sue has the greatest laugh ever. It’s big and bold and it fills the room with her excitement for storytelling. Sue taught a class on memoir writing and emphasized that you are the hero of your own story. Through you, the reader learns that it’s ok to fail, to learn, and to gain knowledge.
That’s what inspired me this past weekend.
Who or what inspired you this week?
There have been some great blog posts lately, all of which are motivating me to stay focused on my goals. I hope to be 3/4 of the way done with edits by my April writers conference. I’m also working on author branding and hope to create new business cards as well as start up a pinterest page. Any advice from you all is greatly appreciated.
I know many of you are hard at work on your own goal list: figuring out which conferences to attend, starting new novels, finishing drafts, or maybe just planning a romantic night out with your honey.
If so, I’ve got you covered! Pull up a chair, wrap your fingers around a mug of your fave beverage, and happy reading!
In Preparation for Valentine’s Day:
- Emma Meade interviewed erotica author Kitt Crescendo on her latest release (of the literature sort) in Blogger Pal and Author of Steamy Fiction. *Bring a glass of water to cool down after you read Kitt’s book excerpt!
- Shannon Donnelly guests at Writers in the Storm to answer What Makes a Romance? with seven tips for helping anyone on the fence about whether their book fits.
- Liz from Be.Love.Live. is celebrating February by Learning to Love Yourself Through a Photo a Day. She’s hosting a photo a day challenge to take 28 selfies that share something beautiful about you! Aww.
- Shameless plug: Stay tuned for a Valentine’s Day guest post from pet behavioralist and thriller writer, Amy Shojai, right here on the Happiness Project!
- Adam from Roof Beam Reader gives his take on the J.K. Rowling interview in J.K. Rowling Can Say What She Wants. Have you heard about this?! Rowling was interviewed (by Emma Watson, the actress who played Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter films) and commented that intended for Hermione and Harry to end up together in the end, NOT Hermione and Ron. It’s a fascinating conversation and I would LOVE to hear your opinions on it.
- Speaking of Harry Potter, author Ginger Calem’s daughter snapped the cutest picture of a Harry Potter fan ever. Check this adorbs out! And follow Ginger on Instagram!
Is this cute or the cutest?
- Piper Bayard and co-blogger/author, Holmes,
kidnappedinvited bestselling author Ellie Ann to their blog to discuss the Steampunk trend as well as Enhanced Books. Fab interview on these new medias. Steampunk and Books That Sing
- Julie Glover discusses the power of book’s first line with great examples from both classics and her own works. I love that she includes Daphne du Maurier’s wicked character Mrs. Danvers to illustrate! Kickin’ It Off Right: A Novel’s First Line
- Bradley Somer posted in Wordbitches What We Talk About When We Talk About Our Writing, which is filled with great tips for anyone who has, or wants to have, speaking engagements like book readings or presentations.
- Kristen Lamb shares Why All Writers Should Attend a Writers Conference which is full of useful networking advice, tools and updates on the publishing industry, as well as information about an upcoming online conference!
What goals are you working on? What are your Valentine’s plans? And what blog posts inspired you this past week? Feel free to share links!
I caught this video on Kait Nolan’s blog the other day and it really got me thinking. Kait commented she thought there was a lot of truth to the video in how any artistic person combats stress with pleasing others. Check it out:
I know I totally identified with how Charlie feels. There are so many writers out there, and we have one of THE BEST communities by far, but I do think there’s a competitiveness or a drive to be well liked. Whether in personality or writing style, we all want to be liked. And like Charlie shared, when someone doesn’t like our writing, by extension we perceive that they don’t like us.
Now, don’t ask me why, but my brain just has an
uncanny ability to jump around from movie to movie making references and quotes wherever I go. And when I watch a video about being scared by your fans, I don’t know about you, but my mind immediately went here…
Remember this film? Stephen King’s Misery was released in its film version in 1990 and won Kathy Bates an Oscar for Actress in a Lead Role. It was the first Stephen King book I ever read and I love the film version too! The premise for this book/film is writer Paul Sheldon, played by James Caan, is best known for his Misery book series. And Annie Wilkes, played by Kathy Bates, is his biggest fan. In a chance accident, Paul and Annie’s worlds collide.
Annie takes Paul into her home and cares for him while he’s recovering from a car accident. And during that time, she reads Paul’s latest Misery book, in which he kills off his main character – meaning the series is over.
Suddenly everything changes for Paul. Annie’s kind nursing ways turn into vindictive and vengeful abuse as she forces Paul to write another Misery book that will bring the main character back to life.
Of course, these are two very different extremes of fandom. On one side, we have the author’s perceived fear of the reader – “Will they like me? Will they think I’m cool? Will they want to read more of my work?” And on the flip side, we have actual FEAR of the reader – My life is in danger if I don’t write this the way the reader wants it!
I just kept thinking about these two extremes. We are fortunate to know that the instance in Misery is really rare. I hope so anyway! But what about the other side? To me, that internal fear is scarier, because I repeatedly deal with it. I’m an “eternal editor.” I re-started my last book project six times! Sometimes for good reasons, and sometimes not. I feared I would never finish my book, but I didn’t realize it was my fear keeping me from doing so!
With the next project, I’ve gotten much farther because I took Candace Havens‘ advice and now I don’t edit my first draft. And I don’t write linearly anymore either. I jump around. Tactically, these writing styles help me. But the fear? That’s mind over matter. At least my internal editor isn’t a sledgehammer wielding Annie Wilkes!
What are your thoughts? Do you think we as writers/artists/performers stifle ourselves when we’re afraid what the audience will think? What’s the best advice you have heard to combat fear?
You could win a FREE copy of the TUGG cd, Come Sunrise, by dropping a comment or tweeting this post about social media and the music industry! Go on, groove on over!
All this immersion in writing and meeting other writers has changed my thinking process. Time, for instance, has taken on a new meaning. How do I prioritize my time to the best of my ability while at work, so when I come home I can focus on my writing? How do use my time off and properly divide it amongst projects? I now think about writing as a second job, and if I want writing to one day be my only job, I need to devote my time and energy to it.
And speaking of jobs, I’ve had a few interesting ones. I’ll tell you I appreciate every one of them because I like to view the world as being full of experiences. Everyone has a story to tell, every situation has something you can learn from in it.
Babysitting was my first job, as I’m sure was many a first job for the average teenage girl. I was even properly trained in a hospital class, learned CPR and carried the number for poison control with me. The first family I sat for was full of devil children. They were very convincing sweethearts to start out with, and suddenly the nights would take a horrendous turn onto Evil Road. Evil Road is where bad things happen for no reason. For example, one minute the eight year old boy would be vacuuming the living room to help out his mother, and the next he’d be dumping his milk on the floor and stomping his sock feet in it. Evil Road is where you think the four year old has gone to sleep, but really she sneaked to her mom’s room and started watching Road House. Evil Road is where the three year old fools you with her red hair into thinking she is cute and angelic, but really she’s allowed to run around the house like a banshee at all hours of the night. What did I learn from this job? Tone of voice. I learned if you’re going to use the line, “Bryce, stop throwing soup cans at your sister!” you’d better say it with some gumption.
My next job was a little something I coined Cake Pan Dishwasher Extraordinaire! Sure I was only “hired” cause my dad owned the place, and sure he wasn’t actually paying me on a regular basis, and sure I lost a fair amount of skin cells from the bleach water, but it didn’t matter, I was helping out my Pop. It was quality time of undivided attention to me. What did I learn in this job? The art of dialogue. I learned if you’re going to have it, it better be good, and two-sided, otherwise your readers may end up putting your story down cause they have “errands” to do.
With all the people skills I was learning, I moved up in the job world, actually getting one that required legal papers and didn’t pay me in cash. I became a clerk at the local video store. This is where I got most my training. I got to know my characters, I mean customers, their likes and dislikes. I did endless amounts of research, sometimes six films a day, every genre! I also quickly learned that the video establishment I worked in and loved was haunted and my boss refused to talk about it. What did this teach me? Rising action and climax. The closer I got to learning about the spirit world, the closer and creepier the spirit world got to me.
When I moved away for college, I had to find a job that would help support me and allow for study time. I found two working in my college dormitory, one as a front desk assistant and one as a dorm housekeeper. I now know that:
- Front desk pizzas can solve any problem, no matter how drunk you are. 😀
- College dormitory bathrooms are THE nastiest places on earth.
What did these jobs teach me? Time management and editing is not beneath you. If you’ve spent the whole day researching and writing and the only time to clean your bathroom is at 2 in the morning, so be it! And if the supplies you are given to clean simply do not cut it to take out the
stains and clumps of hair information dump of words, then you need to get new tools!
Moving onward and off campus, I joked that I worked “part time all the time” as I juggled full time student with three part time jobs. I worked as a copy room slave in the English Department, a student worker in the Diversity Center, and as a clerk in a madhouse conglomeration of Gift Shop meets Rubber Stamping Store. To enlighten you on each of these varying titles, I spent my time in the English Department photocopying lesson tools and handouts, marking grade rosters, and endlessly fixing the jammed copier. I became quick friends with many of the faculty, who subsequently assisted my writing endeavors to take advanced classes without the prerequisite. Igniting a dwindling flame of the past, I was one of the “re-founding” members of the Diversity Center, a place on campus where students could go to learn about the diversity organizations on campus. I spent my winter break working alone in dusty old rooms, cleaning out storage areas and rearranging furniture to give the center life. Finally, job number three, in which I clerked and did odd tasks the owner hated doing inside a stamping/gift shop store. I did lots of things like vacuum the whole place using the small tubular attachment that required you to hunch over and slide the nozzle back and forth until it sucked every fuzz off the carpet (that’s the way Master wanted it). Once she made me work in the display window on one of the hottest days of summer using a pliers to chip off these old, now caramelized, strips that held tubes of twinkle lights in them. I was sweating, grunting, and getting slivers of plastic flying at my eyeballs when I looked up to see someone take my picture from outside! What did this menagerie of minimum wage paychecks teach me? How to make connections and build a foundation, and how to craft the perfect antagonist!
Wow, I’ve really learned a lot about writing from my past jobs. And I know I’ll never be done learning, which is a good thing. What are you learning about your writing process? What are you battling against? What helps you? What can I do to support you? Tell me, I really want to know! Good luck everyone and happy writing!