Tag Archives: writing

ERMAgawd: Why You Must Take Risks and Find the Funny

Ok, y’all know I love me a good writers conference. After I left a career in corporate sales to be a writer, I made attending writers conferences part of my ongoing education goal. I’ve attended at least one a year since 2012.

IMG_3837Well, this year something magical happened. I GOT INTO THE ERMA BOMBECK WRITERS WORKSHOP!

ERMA BOMBECK, FOLKS! ONE OF THE FOREMOTHERS OF FUNNY!

The Erma conference happens every two years, and the last two times I tried to get in, it sold out. No joke, this conference sells out faster every year, like in four hours or less.

So this year, I marked my calendar, I had my morning off, I was holding my credit card in hand with my laptop and my phone ready to GO!

And then, I flew to Dayton, Ohio and proudly wore my newbie sticker that said “Erma Virgin”. Yes, that is what they gave us. Be still my humor-loving, former Catholic heart. 

I’ve been to some stellar conferences and always left inspired, but there was energy like you can’t imagine at this conference. (In fact, the organizers said this was the highest rated conference to date!) I got my schedule, planned out where I was going to go, and then immediately threw that out the window, tried something new, made great friends, and gave it all my best!

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Oh NBD, just new friends holding up our Liza Donnelly (from The New Yorker) cartoons!

ERMAgawd, here’s why you should go! 

Taking risks leads to opportunities and learning lessons. 

You all know I like to say yes to new experiences, but being the newbie here, I was admittedly nervous.

A fair amount of the workshop focused on stand up comedy with the hilarious Wendy Liebman. Wendy’s been a stand up comedian for over 30 years. She’s performed on Carson, Letterman, Leno, Fallon, Kimmel, and been a finalist on America’s Got Talent.

 

It seemed like everyone was talking about the stand up classes. Everyone I met was trying stand up or working on their bits. But I had no intention of going. I’m not a stand up, so that’s not for me.

You guys all know I went, right? LOL

I had planned what workshops I was going to attend the night before they started, and that was the last time I looked at that list. If the stand up classes were getting all the buzz, then I decided to go and see what I could learn from them. After all, I like working in different formats because it teaches you new things about your writing.

After the first class listening to people tell jokes, my gears just started rolling and I spent that night coming up with some material. So the next day, I got up with a bunch of other brave, risk-taking people and did a minute of stand up. And I got laughs! Good ones! That is a very good feeling. One that I’m interested and willing to try again! All because of a risk.

A risk, and the ever delightful and supportive Wendy Liebman, who just happened to be on the same flight to Chicago as me, and who gave me wonderful feedback and encouragement while sitting at our departure gate despite the fact that it wasn’t even 6am yet. Bless you, you’re so kind and charming, and I’m eternally grateful.

Find the Funny 

The other classes I attended were about finding the funny, whether it’s using it to add heart or get through hard times. Or even just on Twitter.

IMG_3874One of my favorite workshops was with Lauretta Hannon, author of The Cracker Queen. She had a lot of great tips on being comfortable with writing your story, even the dark parts, while being ok with yourself in the process. I can’t wait to read her book after she shared some examples of how to use humor to write about the tough stuff, and also where to let the dark moments speak for themselves, because we know not everything we go through will be funny.

 

Both Lauretta and T. Faye Griffin, another presenter, reiterated that making people laugh is a gift. Some of the best writers out there have the ability to make you feel something or learn something, but do so through humor, and that is a very special skill.

It’s kind of mesmerizing to me how many different ways there are to be funny. You can do stand up, you can tell a story, you can caption a photo, you can come up with a punchy headline, you can tweet just to name a few. If there was one takeaway from this conference, it is that “funny” is all around us, and we have the skill to shape it.

I’m so grateful for this opportunity. The crowd at Erma is one of the most supportive I’ve ever seen, which is appreciated because I took one other risk while I was at the conference and signed up for Pitchapalooza, “the American Idol of books”.

In a room of roughly 100 people, I put my name in a hat that probably had at least 60 of those people’s names in it. Only 12 were chosen and I was one of them. I got to pitch my book for one minute to a panel of judges and get feedback on my pitch.

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I swear I thought the audience would hear my heart beating through the microphone, but I had practiced my pitch beforehand and gave it my all. I didn’t win the contest. (Way to go, Liz Dubelman, who did win! She was the first person to say hi to me at the conference, so I have a soft spot for her as a human being. Thanks!) I got really positive feedback and simple tweaks to improve my pitch, and was even complimented on my performance! And that’s a win in my book!

So there you have it, taking risks and finding the funny is what Erma is all about. I’m so glad I could attend and so grateful to the conference organizers, presenters, the keynotes (btw, I hope I wasn’t the only one who noticed all the female keynotes got standing ovations), and my fellow attendees. I’m still riding the highs and energized by all of you!

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What are you currently learning about your writing right now?
What’s inspiring you? 

 

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Little Prayers Poetry: An Interview with Susie Meserve

When it comes to choosing the next book to read, I’ll read anything. I love challenging myself to different genres and diverse authors. I think we learn about our world as readers, and writers, through different mediums and kinds of storytelling.

April is National Poetry Month, and I love exploring this genre because it reaches the reader in a way unlike any other written form. Many of my favorite writers began as poets, and there’s something to recognize about the talent and skill it takes to craft a poem that makes you feel something in a short amount of words and with little filler.

007-KLJ-WEB-Susie-Final-3372Susie Meserve is a poet, memoirist and blogger. Her first collection of poems, Little Prayers, was recently published by Blue Light Press and was the winner of the 2018 Blue Light Book Award.

I’ve followed Susie on twitter and her blog for years, so am happy to welcome her over to the Happiness Project to chat about her new book and why poetry matters today.

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JW: Welcome, Susie! 

Describe Little Prayers in three words. 

SM: Poetry about life.

SM.LittlePrayersFrntCvrWbWhat would you say are the themes in this collection of work? 

Death and rebirth, flight and return, the life of dreams, the fleetingness of time. And maybe, as Michelle Bonczek Evory suggested on my book cover, “the daily mundane.”

Your poems feature detailed captures of moments and objects, how we can find ourselves lost within those fragments. Is that where the title “Little Prayers” comes from, those moments? 

I think so, yes! This book had several other titles before Little Prayers—for a while it was called “Losing Paradise” (and a friend suggested “The Oracle”). When I stepped back and looked at it, though, I realized that while the poems were all very different thematically and structurally, there was this fleeting, temporary quality to almost all of them. I hope that doesn’t mean they’re not memorable, but they do seem to capture somewhat ephemeral snippets of time—a bird flying in the window, waking in the middle of the night, a session doing dishes, a little ruminating on California—in a meditative, quiet sort of way. So then I looked at the poem “Little Prayer” and thought, yeah, that’s my title poem. I just slightly changed it to indicate a multitude of prayers, not just one. I should add: I’m not a religious person, but my poetry chapbook (Finishing Line Press, 2008) is called Faith. I’m not entirely sure why. I think the act of writing poetry feels somewhat spiritual to me. And let’s face it, it requires a lot of faith—in something!—to be a writer in today’s world.

What does writing poetry compared to other forms of writing allow you to do differently? Do you think you can speak your truth, or Truth, more clearly? 

I love that you capitalized Truth, here, like the universal Truth. I don’t know if I believe in that concept, though. I actually think I can speak my own truth more clearly in personal essays like this one  and this one, where I’ve had to be deeply honest to tell the story. In poetry, I can speak multiple truths, in a sense. It’s all very sneaky. Poetry is absolutely my first love, and I think what I love about it is the unexpected. I just begin sometimes, and things surprise me, and then I have a poem (that may or may not be “true”). This can be very freeing—when it’s working.

Your poems include a variety of style and format. How do you decide what is the “right” format for your poem as you’re writing? 

Great question. This book consists of poems from over 15 years of writing, so it represents a lot of different styles as I tried them on over the years. For a while I was really feeling couplets, then these formless, no-stanza, rambling poems, then poems with numbered sections. I think the poem usually tells you what it wants. For me, a poem I want more control over—because it’s got a more intense, precise quality, maybe—will ask for couplets or tercets, whereas one that feels more free and easy—or unwieldy—might not want any stanza breaks at all.

What’s your best piece of advice for someone writing poetry?

I don’t use prompts, really (though I do like the prompts in the book The Practice of Poetry, edited by Robin Behn and Chase Twichell, excellent for beginners). My biggest advice is to READ. I think when you start to be able to identify the kinds of surprises other poets incorporate into their work, you start to incorporate your own. So reading a wide variety of styles and voices is just essential.

Why do you think poetry is important today? 

I think poetry asks us to tap into a different part of our brains than prose does. It demands and requires more intangibility. I remember well the time my mom told me she liked my poems but felt like she didn’t understand them. I told her she didn’t need to, that she should just appreciate what she got out of them. She told me later how freeing that was for her, that me giving her permission not to work too hard took away a lot of her anxiety and allowed her to just sit with the lines and enjoy them. I think that’s one of the things that’s hardest about poetry—we don’t always “get it” in the way we might, say, a novel or a memoir, and maybe that’s why people run away from it. We don’t want to feel stupid or like we’re missing something. We want clarity, answers. Because poetry often raises questions. But I think that’s a really good thing! Poetry can open us up to mystery and abstraction, which is good for our brains and our hearts. And the music of poetry—learning to hear it—is essential for anyone wanting to write or appreciate good writing.

What’s next on your writing desk? 

I’m most excited about a new poetry collection I’m working on. I’m writing a series of poems about infertility, pregnancy, and motherhood. They’re deeply personal, much more raw, and all linked thematically. I’m thinking of it a bit like a memoir in verse. It’s going really well. I’m super inspired, and just hoping it’s, you know, good.

I’m sure it will be! Thanks, Susie! 

***

In honor of National Poetry Month, Susie is giving away a free copy of Little Prayers to two lucky people who signs up for her newsletter before Sunday, May 6th! Sign up at Susie’s website to win!

You can catch up with Susie on Twitter @susiemeserve or on her website, www.susiemeserve.com, where she blogs regularly about writing and being More Than a Mother.

Read, Revise, Adapt: Why Writing Across Genres Can Benefit Your Writing

read revise adaptHey Friends,

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.

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Creating my thumbnail mockup of the picture book.

Using the same plotline, I now had three different ways of telling/performing the story. 

Ohmygawd! Justin Timberlake was right all along! 

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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.

Who’s Your Dream Author Panel?

James Rollins

Lunch with James Rollins at the Dallas / Fort Worth Writers Conference in 2012.

I’ve had the pleasure of attending several writers conferences around the country and met many great authors who I consider role models. I’m so honored to chat with folks such as James Rollins and Larry Brooks, to interview writing idols like Danielle Trussoni and Karen Abbott. I dressed alike with Jenny Lawson (AKA The Bloggess) and spoke Greek with Arianna Huffington. And I am beyond thrilled to welcome Nickolas Butler and Blair Braverman to La Crosse later this year!

Eventbrite, a company that hosts and assists with lots of great conferences and events – I’m attending several coming up including a travel writing course and a gallery reading with a medium! – asked the question “Who’s on your dream author panel?” 

I suppose it’s not practical to say ALL OF THEM!

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There’s little that fills me with as much energy as chatting with other authors. When you’re in a room surrounded by “your people,” it’s pretty awesome. And I’m grateful for every opportunity.

So honestly, many authors are on my dream panel. Those I’ve had the pleasure of meeting before and new faces as well. But if I had to narrow it down, then I’d pick from my favorite genre, memoir, and specifically those authors with the ability to infuse humor into the hardships they face.

So Universe, if you can somehow swing these folks to gather AND put me in the same room with them, I’ll keep my fangirl under control (or try to). 

David Sedaris – Me Talk Pretty One Day, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, Naked
Mindy Kaling – Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?
Mishna Wolff – I’m Down
Elaine Lui – Listen to the Squawking Chicken
Caitlyn Moran – Moranifesto
Haven Kimmel – A Girl Named Zippy
Kristin Newman – What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding
Kevin Kling – The Dog Says How
Roz Chast – Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?
Laurie Notaro – The Idiot Girl’s Action-Adventure Club

Ten is kind of a lot on a panel isn’t it? I don’t care. I like to dream big.

I’d love to hear the perspectives from this mix of essayists, memoirists, and graphic novelist. This panel would hold stories of coming out, cultural identity, race relations, immigration, surviving abusive relationships, feminism, dysfunctional family, living with a disability, caring for aging parents, and living paycheck to paycheck. Topics to make us feel less alone, walk in someone else’s shoes, and find the laughter in the end. Definitely my favorite genre to dive into.

Dream big! Who would be on YOUR author panel if you could choose? 

Monday Mashup: Writing Tips and Self Care for Writers

I did it again. I filled up my Facebook queue with saved links like Emily Dickinson filled her mattress with poetry slips.

I scoured the internet, so you don’t have to. 🙂

Here are my favorite links from the past couple of weeks.

Writing Tips and Self Care for Writers, Along With Some Food for Thought

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Self Care for Writers by paranormal/fantasy author, Jami Gold, is a must read for writers who like to go from one project to the next and need a reminder to schedule in some downtime too.

Illustrator Andrea Tsurumi shared You’ll Never Have Enough Time about carving out work time and space, avoiding burnout, and what going freelance really means.

If you’re feeling like Andrea from the last post, you’ll also enjoy 5 Tips for Making Writing a Daily Habit.

There’s lots out there about fair pay for writers right now and I thought this article on The Rich Writer Myth by Ros Barber was interesting. It’s written sharing examples of pounds, but I think you can convert it to dollars for us in the states.

Ros followed up her own article with one on The Guardian elaborating on the publishing industry with For Me, Traditional Publishing Means Poverty, But Self-Publish? No Way.

Because we can’t end on the bummer of bucks, or the misery of making moola, here are 20 Empowering Quotes By Female Authors That Are Perfect to Decorate Your Office With.

Self-Care and Body Positivity for All:

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This was my de-stress project this weekend. Adult coloring and playing with my art journal. 

I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time accepting compliments. I hear them and I immediately shrug them off or worse, name a flaw right afterwards. It’s something I’m working on. So of course, I saved this article on 7 Tips for Working on Your Self Confidence: Accepting That You’re Awesome.

And if you’re still feeling a little beat up mentally, here’s 6 Ways to Feel Better About Yourself Right Now. Read it, I’ll wait. … There now, don’t you feel better? 🙂

My facebook queue is always full of posts by Heather from Hiya Tootsie, and here’s one I wanted to share with you! What’s Luck Got to Do With It? 3 Ways to Honor the Work Your Dreams Require.

Are you constantly stressed from the day job plus the side hustle? This money saving blog offered all kinds of low stress money-making opportunities as well as a simple plan for setting money aside each month. How I Saved $1000 While Living Paycheck to Paycheck.

Because all bodies deserve respect, you should reward yourself by reading August McLaughlin’s How to REALLY Get Body-Positive. This post was blowing up my twitter feed and it’s worth reading more than once!

***

What are the posts saved up in your queues? Got any other good ones to share?
How are you practicing self care this week? 

 

 

 

 

 

Listen To Your Mother: Why I’m Bringing it to La Crosse

Listen to Your Mother is coming to La Crosse!

It’s safe to say I’m really excited to be bringing this national production that gives motherhood a microphone to my city.

If you haven’t heard about LTYM, it all started six years ago in Madison, WI with a mom and blogger named Ann Imig. She put the first show together in two months, folks! This woman is a woman after my gamechanger heart.

LTYMNow, La Crosse, WI is 1 of 41 cities across the country (and Canada) producing a live on-stage performance of original, true stories about mothers and motherhood!

Every city has a different show. Yet every city is recognizing the humorous, heartfelt, sometimes hurtful, hopefully helpful stories that come from our mothers or from being a mother.

But here’s another cool thing!

It’s really inclusive. So the show is open to women AND men. You can write about being a mother. You can write about your mother. OR you can write about the person who raised you.

Auditions are coming up all over! If you’re interested, check out the participating cities and see if there’s a show near you!

For my local friends, auditions are at the end of this month, February 20th, 22nd, and 24th by appointment. And the show date is April 30th. You can visit the Listen to Your Mother – La Crosse blog for full details. 

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Why am I so happy to bring LTYM to La Crosse? 

Because we have a bustling arts community here with so much talent. And I’m sure a lot of people with great stories! No prior stage experience is needed. But what I truly love is the mission behind LTYM, who is committed to sharing diverse stories from all kinds of people. That’s what I love about freelance writing, interviewing strangers, performing improv, and working with my writers group.

Plus, proceeds from every show go back to an organization that benefits women and families. I’m thrilled to be working with the local YWCA for our show, whose mission is to end racism and empower women and girls.

IMG_5865My Local Production Team: L to R – Beth Erickson, Me, Molly Hilligoss

My production team is amazing! I’m super proud to be working with Beth Erickson, owner and editor of Jobe Communications LLC, and Molly Hilligoss, diversity and social justice advocate from the local YWCA.

We’ve been waiting a long time to hear your stories!!

Seriously, this is us gathering last November for an early Thanksgiving lunch production team meeting.

LTYM production team dinnerSince I had just signed them up for a lot of work,
I thought the least I could do was cook for them.

You don’t have to be a professional performer or writer to try out. You could have been on stage 100 times or 0 times. We’ll cast our show based on the full spectrum of stories we hear – kind of like making a great playlist.

So start writing, La Crosse!

***

Everyone has a mother story.
What’s yours? 

“Read. Read Everything. Challenge Yourself.” Author Interview with Nickolas Butler

IMG_6763This past fall, I had the pleasure of meeting Nickolas Butler, author of Shotgun Lovesongs, at UW-Madison’s Weekend With Your Novel conference.

Nick is a talented and humble guy whose writing is truthful and poetic. He’s a graduate of the Iowa Writers Workshop and an advocate for aspiring writers everywhere.

Nick was kind enough to chat with me about his work. Because I’m a big fan of his book. 

And he’s giving a copy away to one lucky winner! 

*****

Me: Describe yourself in three words. 

Nick: Father, husband, friend.

What three words do you wish described you? 

Debonair, raconteur, smoldering.

Ha! Nice.
Describe your book in one sentence. 

“Shotgun Lovesongs” is a novel set in rural Wisconsin about the lifelong bonds of friendship, love, marriage, envy, and childhood.

book-shotgun-lovesongsShotgun Lovesongs tells the story of five friends discovering all the ways they’ve each changed, and yet how much they’re still the same. It’s a poignant and poetic look at growing up, surviving the messy bits, and owning your own life – good and bad. What parts of your life have you “owned” and what are you most proud of? 

I’m most proud of my family and the life we’ve built together, through some real challenges. I’m proud of my wife and her accomplishments, both professionally and in our community. I’m proud of my children, proud of the fact that I think they’re both kind-hearted and compassionate kids. I’m proud of my Mom, and her unflagging work ethic and generosity. Proud of my brother for being one of the best people I’ve ever met. My life has been extremely blessed. I feel very fortunate, every day.

“What parts of my life have I owned”? I think when I was about 27 or 28 I took stock of where I was, what I was doing, and just decided that I needed to work a lot harder at becoming a writer, at becoming the person I wanted to be.

Shotgun Lovesongs is written from five points of view. How did get into each character’s voice?

It was definitely a challenge. Some of the voices/POVs came very easily – Henry, Lee, and Kip. And I can remember finishing one of their chapters and having to transition towards Beth or Ronny, and just really taking about five minutes to close my eyes, and slip into another psyche, another character. And sometimes it was easier, and maybe I’d only need a minute or two. Other times I’d have to walk away from the computer and get a cup of coffee, sort of collect myself. But it was also a lot of fun because each character illuminates the others in the cast. If everything is working right, you should get a more complex portrait of a character.

Did you have a favorite voice to write in?

I’d say Lee, when it comes to “Shotgun Lovesongs”. He’s very observant, in some ways, he thinks about the world musically, lyrically.

As someone who works a full-time job and gets writing in as a “side-hustle,” I appreciated your story about working lots of odd jobs along the way. What were a few of them and how did you carve out time for writing? 

There were so many…

When I was working at Star Liquor in Madison, I wrote after my shifts were done, around 10pm. I’d get home and still be wired, and just write short stories or poems. The thing is: when you’re trying to break through, you have to carve out time as aggressively as you can. This means sleeping less. Socializing less. Watching less TV. If you want something bad enough, you’ll figure out how to make it happen.

You’re a graduate of the prestigious Iowa Writers Workshop. What tool or skill-set did you find most valuable from that experience? 

Iowa was definitely a life-changing experience for me in so many ways. But I think the thing that really pushed me forward was the competition; just going to classes and being surrounded by some of the world’s best young writers. I’d look around and think, I’ve got to get better. I’ve got to read more and work harder.

I think it’s hard to improve your craft without exposure to great writing – either through reading or through teachers or peers. I don’t think you can do it by yourself.

Your book is a love story about Wisconsin. What’s your favorite thing about our state?  

There’s a lot to love and I could literally go on for pages describing favorite cities, state parks, restaurants, sports teams, etc. But for me it comes down to family. I’m surrounded by family and that means everything to me. Family and friends.

Best piece of writing advice? 

Read. Read all the time. Read poetry and non-fiction and fiction and plays and screenplays. Read foreign writers. Read everything. Challenge yourself. Don’t discard any writing – there is something to be learned in everything.

Set a deadline for yourself. Write down your goals. Work when other people are sleeping.

book-beneaththebonfireWhat books are you enjoying right now? 

I’m about to finish Don Winslow’s “The Power of the Dog”, which is fantastic. Imagine George R.R. Martin writing an epic about The War on Drugs. Annie Dillard’s essays. I’m looking forward to reading Helen McDonald’s “H is for Hawk”. I’m rushing through both of Peter Geye’s novels, which are fantastic.

Tell us about your next project! 

My second book, “Beneath the Bonfire” came out in May and is still in hardcover and my next novel, “The Faithlessness of Men” will be published in early 2017 by Ecco.

Thank you so much for chatting with me, Nick! I can’t wait to get Shotgun Lovesongs into another reader’s hands; it really was a book that stuck with me awhile after reading it. 🙂

*****

photo-nickolas-butlerNickolas Butler was born in Allentown, Pennsylvania, raised in Eau Claire, Wisconsin and educated at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop. He is the author of the internationally-best selling novel Shotgun Lovesongs and a collection of short stories entitled,Beneath the Bonfire.  He is the winner of France’s prestigious PAGE Prix America, the 2014 Great Lakes Great Reads Award, the 2014 Midwest Independent Booksellers Award, the 2015 Wisconsin Library Association Literary Award, the 2015 UW-Whitewater Chancellor’s Regional Literary Award, and has been long-listed for the 2014 Flaherty Dunnan Award for First Novel and short-listed for France’s FNAC Prix.  Along the way, he has worked as: a Burger King maintenance man, a tutor, a telemarketer, a hot-dog vendor, an innkeeper (twice), an office manager, a coffee roaster, a liquor store clerk, and an author escort. His itinerant work includes: potato harvester, grape picker, and Christmas tree axe-man. 

He lives on sixteen acres of land in rural Wisconsin adjacent to a buffalo farm. He is married and has two children.

*****

Want to win a free copy of Nick’s book? 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

*****

Have you read Shotgun Lovesongs yet?
How do you aggressively make time to write, or read?

 

Stuff I Meant To Get To And Just Finally Did

18314760839_a7c49e4737_zI’m a fan of the ‘Save Link’ option on Facebook. Only I’m terrible at actually going back and looking at all those saved links.

At any given point and time, my laptop has at least 10 tabs open of blog posts waiting to be read.

So, in honor of New Year’s being just around the corner, and it being a time of year for renewal, I thought I better clear out my digital queue.

Here’s what I meant to read, and just finally did.

Self Care Tips and Do Good Ideas

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How My 2015 Has Felt

My year has been another one of transition and change. It’s been full of stress. And I’m not a good model for slowing down. These posts gave me some food for thought. 

In need of some manageable, quick tasks to help you feel refreshed? Check out 15 Easy Things You Can Do That Will Help When You Feel Like Shit.

Want to reduce your stress level by 68%? Who knew all you had to do was read before bed!

And then when you’re ready to reflect, make some new goals, and treat yo’ self, read 26 Things Every Person Should Do For Themselves At Least Once a Year.

Ready to put some good in the world? 15 Things For When the World is Shitty and Terrifying.

Writing Tips and Blogs to Read

typewriter gifThis year I became a freelance writer, writing both for local magazines as well as online sites. And I’m still plugging away at my book. Here’s hoping I can reserve more time to write in 2016. 

Struggling with some aspect of your writing? Watch out for these culprits: Doubtful Writing Habits You Should Forget About.

How to Be a More Productive Freelancer in 20 Minutes is both a funny read and good advice from the seriously silly Schmutzie. Read for a laugh, stay for the tips.

Jane Friedman is a stellar resource for any writer and she nails it with 5 Reasons You’re Experiencing Writer’s Block.

Now, need a kick in the pants to get going again? Advice in Six Words: 17 Inspirational Writing Tips.

Just For the Fun Of It

funny witherspoonIt’s not Jess Witkins’s Happiness Project without a little fun involved! 

Because it’s not time wasting when important questions are being solved. Which Jane Austen Heroine are You? 

I got Catherine Morland. No surprise there. 😉

Because this is so real it hurts: What Marriage is Really Like.

And lastly, this beautiful round up courtesy The Bloggess, who shared all three Bad Lip Reading versions of Star Wars in We’re Those People.

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Your turn! Show some linky love in the comments below to the posts you’ve been reading or feel free to share one of your own. Let’s keep the blog hopping non-stopping! Cheers, friends! 

 

 

3 Can’t Miss Tips from Weekend With Your Novel

pencil-878695_1920This past weekend I headed to Madison, WI for the university’s continuing studies program, Weekend With Your Novel.

If you’ve never attended one of the Madison writing programs, I highly recommend them. Their spring conference is great for writers of all stages and offers tracks on structure, revision, marketing, and publishing. In addition, agent pitches and panels abound.

If you’re up for more of a retreat that’s been called a “spa for writers” check out their Write by the Lake weeklong summer class. It was crucial to me and the plotting of my book this summer.

This was my first attendance at Weekend With Your Novel, a one and a half day workshop weekend devoted to the writing process. It largely consisted of honing in your craft and offering longer classes to dissect examples and ask questions of the instructor. It provided even more clarity to my book structure and characters. I loved it.

Here are a few of my favorite takeaways.

3 Can’t Miss Tips from Weekend With Your Novel

1. Aim High

I was most excited for a class on publishing excerpts of your work while writing your book, which was taught by UW-Madison professor and author Christopher Chambers. His first piece of advice was “aim high.”

If you are writing to pursue publication, then make publication goals for yourself. Where do you want to see your work? Of course you should be realistic, but dream big. The worst that can happen is they don’t publish you, but you’ll never know unless you try.

2. Redefine Failure

Simply put, failure is “something that happens, and it’s good for you,” said lunch keynote, Kathy Steffen.

Sharing one of the most frustrating failures I can imagine, Kathy talked about an online app project she’d written over 100,000 words for, only to have the app fizzle out. Imagine spending that much time and energy on something and then find out it wasn’t going to work. Ugh!

But Kathy also said you should give yourself a thousand second chances. Quit and come back the next day if you need to.

3. Get a Solid Structure

Where Write by the Lake helped me figure out my ending and timeline, Christine DeSmet‘s class on structure helped me figure out how I would plan the overall layout and what I needed to fill in gaps.

One of her tips: Keep your logline and central question at the forefront. Each scene should have them included. If it helps, have them typed at the beginning of each chapter. (You can always take them out later when submitting.) 

Another tip? If you need help creating tension or figuring out what the next scene is, make a list. What are the details you want in the scene? Making a list of what stories you want in the chapter, details you want to include, or elements of danger or trouble that will occur will help trigger your brainstorming and boost tension.

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Those were my favorite tips from the weekend. What are your most helpful tips for staying motivated and improving your writing? 

Any NaNo folks out there having fun,
or in need of a pep talk? 😉

 

I Said ‘Yes’ For a Week, and Here’s What Happened: 5 Lessons Learned

I want to talk to you about…my schedule. It’s busy. I work as a freelance writer, am a board member for my nonprofit writers group, helped found and organize a monthly feminist education series, participate in a book club, attend twice a week rehearsals, and work a 40 hour day job.

You know what? I love it.

Say Yes to the Work

Working lunch. Working on writing assignments over dim sum.

Last week was really hectic for me. I had places to be every night of the week. But I think it was one of the best weeks I’ve had in awhile.

Here’s a little rundown…

Monday night started with a board meeting for my writers group. We are going to be hosting the Feminism on Tap gathering in October and since I work closely with both groups, I’m planning it.

Tuesday was a special treat wherein I traveled a couple towns over to meet with New York storyteller and filmographer, Jen Lee. A dozen area “makers” – artists, craftswomen, writers – gathered to learn about her latest collaboration, The 10 Letters Project, a correspondence documenting the creative process and how we critique ourselves. I was invited to attend because another writer and I were offered the chance to emulate the project.

I spent six hours on wednesday night at the public library for a back to back film showing of Johnny Guitar, the 1954 film by La Crosse, WI born director, Nicholas Ray. I was representing Feminism on Tap and co-led a discussion after each viewing. (And during the second showing, I ate pizza with some of the library staff and wrote one of my freelance articles standing up in the library kitchen.)

10 Letters Project

Jen’s book with fellow storyteller/writer, Tim Manley. Everyone who attended also wrote their own anonymous letters and got to answer one anonymously too. Very cool experience connecting with other makers.

I hemmed and hawed most of Thursday over whether or not to audition for an improvisation group, but the writer I met on Tuesday and will be working with on the local 10 letters project was in the group and invited me to go. I went, expecting an audition and nothing more. It turned out to be a two hour improv workshop wherein I became a monster, a pterodactyl, an overtired mother judging a fake gymnastics tournament, and I pulled (imaginary) gum out of a guy’s mouth. At the end of the two hours, I signed up for the next rehearsal.

Friday afternoon I left work and headed to a dim sum shop where I finished my freelance assignments (due that day). Then I hit up the library book sale and came home with a bag of books just in time for date night with my husband.

Finally on Saturday, I attended the first rehearsal for the improv group, which started with a photo shoot for a newspaper article and show flyers. When I got home, my friend picked me up and we hit the shops so I could help her back to school shop for a family through the Salvation Army and find a wedding gift for her sister.

Wow. I’m tired writing this. 

It sounds exhausting. And it is a little, but in the best possible way. I’m a person that thrives on having lots to do. Too much time will make me bored and I will not leave the house or stop watching movies for days. You guys, I’m really good at watching movies! I can do it all damn day!

But here’s what this week of “YES” taught me. 

1. Saying Yes Leads to Amazing Opportunities

I made new friends and connections all last week. From future partners on events to kindred spirits in creativity. I’m looking forward to partnering with a new writer for our project, and through partnering at the library, I got valuable information about hosting film festivals that may lead to a future partnership. Whatever happens, the best part was it was all fun!

My book sale buys.

My book sale buys.

2. Saying Yes Gets You Out of Your Head

I can be a worrier. I overthink things. I love when I find something that takes me out of my head and makes me focus. I use to think only hard exercise could do this, but I was wrong. Improv allowed this. There’s no time to think in improv! I had to close my mind outside thoughts and completely be in the moment. I love making people laugh (that’s why I wrote a humor blog), but what I loved more and why I decided to join the group was because improv allowed me to get out of my anxious brain and just play. That’s a great life lesson.

3. Saying Yes Helps You Process Quickly

With a jam-packed schedule, I learned fast what parts of it I liked and didn’t like. I learned what my strengths and weaknesses are. I played a variety of roles – from the facilitator to the student – throughout the week. It helped me process where I am in my life journey and what I want to spend my time on.

4. Saying Yes Makes You Vulnerable

I was out of my element more than once last week, but I think that’s ok. I thought a lot about something a friend once wrote that moments in our lives where something big is happening cause us to panic about what we’re going to “give” of ourselves. What kind of impression are we going to make? What witty words are we going to say? But sometimes, those moments aren’t about us giving, they’re about receiving. What can we learn from this now? What am I listening to? What resonates? I took a step back a few times and reminded myself that I was in a “receiving” moment, and to enjoy the experience.

5. Saying Yes Makes Each Moment Matter

When time is precious and packed, then the things you’re doing with it have to be just as important. I’m glad I was able to still have a date with my husband and go out with a friend. You learn what things you’re willing to cut out in order to preserve others. Yes, I was busy. But I still spent quality time with the ones I love. In fact, I even called my mother. 😉

Tell me about a time you said yes and it led to something great. 

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