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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Quote of the Week

Everywhere I go I'm asked if I think the university stifles writers. My opinion is that they don't stifle enough of them. There's many a bestseller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.

~Flannery O'Connor

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Craft

Wouldn’t it be great if writing was like driver’s education? Pass one class and you’re set for life, with only minimal maintenance work required to be a competent driver. Well, maybe it would be great. I’m kind of glad writing is a continually evolving skill. All the writers I know constantly sharpen those skills with classes, books, critique groups, editors…the possibilities are as limitless as our imaginations. In the last six months I’ve attended a great conference, taken an online class, and corresponded probably thousands of times with my critique group. I’ve consulted my trusty reference books and even skimmed a few new ones. And every time I pay attention to the craft, I end up revitalized and inspired, which of course makes me write even more!

For those that have been able to ‘sharpen the saw’, what’s worked for you? What gave you an ‘a-ha!’ moment that changed your writing? Mine was the 2006 Surrey International Writers' Conference. The whole dang thing was amazing, but most especially the workshops, blue pencil session and general stalking of Jenny Crusie. :-)

If you haven’t thought about the craft of writing lately, I encourage you to take a class, go to a conference, read a great book on the subject…just remember to hone your writing tools with whatever means you have available. If you do, you’ll be in the driver’s seat.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Weekly Writing Exercise

Since this week's topic concerned creating a writing space - or learning to write in whatever space presents itself - this week's writing exercise will play with the same idea.

Use characters from your work in progress, or characters created specifically for the purpose of this exercise. Then send them on a scavanger hunt. Flex your creativity by deciding what items are on their list, but there's a catch. Only one item can be obtained from a location. So if - for a lame example - the list of items to be retrieved contains a golf ball and a golf club, your characters can get only the golf ball at Location A and must proceed to another Location to get the club.

While your characters move about town on paper, you are going to move about town figuratively. Write each items successful (or even unsuccessful) find in different locations. Example, sit in your kitchen to write the finding of item A, sit in your bedroom to find item B. If you can really move about town, "find" items in the coffee shop, the library, the park. Try to include elements of sound (music, water) or silence, or include fragrances, or even try changing shoes.

Once your characters have obtained all items on their list, YOU sit back and evaluate: was there any space easier or harder to write in? any "trigger" (music, silence, lilacs, coffee) that made a difference? Make note of these differences and use it those notes to help "decorate" your writing space - whether real or virtual.

Feel free to let us know what you've discovered about your writing process when you did this exercise.

Good luck and Get Writing!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Quote (s) of the Day

In honor of Vladimir Nabakov's birthday today:

The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible.
~Vladimir Nabakov


And in honor of Shakespeare's (supposed) birthday today, one of my favorite sonnets:

Sonnet 65

Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea,
But sad mortality o'ersways their power,
How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
Whose action is no stronger than a flower?
O how shall summer's honey breath hold out,
Against the wrackful siege of batt'ring days,
When rocks impregnable are not so stout,
Nor gates of steel so strong but time decays?
O fearful meditation, where alack,
Shall Time's best jewel from Time's chest lie hid?
Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back,
Or who his spoil of beauty can forbid?
O none, unless this miracle have might,
That in black ink my love may still shine bright.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Your Writing Space

Your Writing Space:

A very important aspect of writing is your surroundings when you write. Have you created a space that supports your creative nature? Do the things around you, the items in view, the chair you sit in, the smells tickling your nose support or inhibit your creative self? Have you ever thought about this? You should!

Now, admission time, I have to laugh a little at the topic I chose for my blog because I need to follow my own advice. My writing space is most often not inspiring in the least. My desk collects clutter faster than my floors collect my dog’s hair. (Trust me that this is freakishly shocking!) On it, in addition to papers from my children’s school, I see power cords to charge the multitude of electronic devices in our home. I have a sizable stack of papers that ‘must be attended to immediately’ because the basket I have in my kitchen for this stuff is towering and leaning into the toaster. My hands can instantly land on a variety of notes my children have written, like a recent one to my husband from our seven year old daughter, “Dad, I want a chocolate sundae with chocolate sauce. I do not like Greyson (her 12 year old brother) at all.” *sigh*

And this morning, where am I? I’m sitting at my children’s computer because the one my husband and I share has gone on the fritz. So let me look around and see what inspires me this morning. Ah, CD’s and DVD’s and Game Cube games are scattered everywhere. There are numerous action figures staring at me. Ah, there's Phil from Disney’s Hercules glaring at me. Here’s the boxed set of Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Oh…and a couple of iTunes gift cards. Could be useful. I wonder if the kids will miss these?

Ok, so you can see that I need to create a space that honors my writer-self. Everyone should. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Don’t over think it. The idea here is that you are a writer and if you treat your space (and time!) seriously, you will then take yourself seriously.

Some ideas are a clutter free desk. (The idea of this sends a flutter to my heart!) Perhaps a bulletin board above your desk with inspirational photos, quotes that speak to you, colors that make you feel good or maybe a mini collage of images that relate to the book you’re writing. Some people light a candle, usually the same scent. I know some people have the same drink at hand, whether it is water, tea, diet coke…whatever helps you feel comfortable and get into your zone.

Your space can be anything, but make it something. Create and honor your writing space. Honor your writing self.

Tell us about your space? Inspire me to spruce mine up, would you please?

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Friday Writing Prompt

Okay, so here's your task : )

Use two characters from your work in progress or characters you create just for this exercise. Or, because this bit of writing is just for you use characters from your favorite movie or television show. The only restriction is, these characters must somehow be a pair. They are either married, dedicated to each other, life partners, family, or best friends. This is important because...

These two people are going on vacation (and yeah, I kind of envy them!). They've decided to take a driving vacation to see the country(side). (They're fictional; they're not worried about the cost of gas.) So here's the catch. Character One wants to have a plan in place before they depart, preferably including attraction and hotel reservations. Character Two wants to get in the car and see where the road takes them.

Your task is to write the scene between the two characters as they discuss this difference in opinion and arrive at an agreement.

Good luck and get writing!!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Quote of the Day

It's none of their business that you have to learn to write. Let them think you were born that way.

Ernest Hemingway

Sunday, April 13, 2008

To Plot or Not to Plot, That is the Question

There is an age-old feud amongst writers: Plotters versus Pantsters. That is, should you plot out the course of your novel, or should you fly through it by the seat of your pants?

In my opinion, you should do both.

I've been on both sides of the feud. I wrote my first novel completely by the seat of my pants, blindfolded and with no map at all. There was something wonderfully spontaneous about it, like I was living on the edge all the time. Every time I sat down to write I was given a new surprise, a new twist that took my breath away. I loved the freefall of it.

But the novel took me five years to finish, and then another year of extensive edits to get it in shape to submit. Granted, that draft got me my agent. But the novel didn't sell, and a big reason, I believe, is because it still needs editing, and a lot of the stuff that probably needs to go is stuff I found while I was on my wild ride and refused to let go of.

When I started my second novel, I didn't want to lose that spontaneity, but I didn't want to take six years to write it. So I sketched out a loose outline using The Hero's Journey (a book by Chris Vogler - highly recommended) template. Then halfway through writing the book I realized that the story needed to start a lot later so I started rewriting the whole thing. I never adjusted my outline, and so once again I was flying virtually by the seat of my pants. That book remains unfinished.

With my third novel, my current WIP (work-in-progress), I decided that I wanted to finish it in less than a year. That meant I needed a strong outline, a clear road map of where I needed to go. I took a class in Plotting Via Motivation (with WriterUniv.com - also highly recommended), I drudged up all my old notes from various plotting workshops I'd attended at conferences and I dragged out The Hero's Journey. I put together a hero's journey template for my MC (main character) and even worked out a scene plot. I'm on track to finish the book within the time frame I've given myself.

The important thing is that even though I have this road map, I'm allowed to veer off it. That outline isn't chiseled in stone. Flights of fancy are of course allowed because characters aren't always predictable and sometimes things happen that surprise us. For instance, I just had a character pop up that I had not planned for or even heard of. But there he is. So I've got to adjust my scene to allow for him. There's still spontaneity. But I have found that spontaneity within a structure is ultimately much more productive - and time-saving.

Writers will debate plotting until they're blue in the face. Terry Brooks swears by outlining. Diana Gabaldon doesn't. Both are fantastic writers. You can't tell from the finished product whether a writer used an outline or didn't. (Well, sometimes you can, but that's a different blog).

It's all about which process works best for YOU. And it may even be dependent on the story. Maybe my first book needed to be written in that meandering, fly-by-night way. My current WIP needs structure. The important thing is to listen to yourself, to your characters, and decide.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Weekly Writing Prompt

Distractions, distractions -- they're everywhere, aren't they? I think we can all agree that being distracted from your writing is a Bad Thing - because then you're not writing, right? But sometimes, distractions can be Horrible Things (distracted driving, anyone?) And sometimes, distractions can be Pleasant Things (the suprising scent of flowers). You know, personally, what happens when you get distracted. What happens to the characters in your work in progress? Or, what might happen when a regular joe or jane gets distracted?

This week's writing prompt / challenge asks you to take a character - one from your work in progress or an entirely new character - and write 1500 words or more on what happens when that character allows him/herself to be distracted.

Happy writing!!

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Quote of the Week

You can't say, I won't write today because that excuse will extend into several days, then several months, then… you are not a writer anymore, just someone who dreams about being a writer.

Dorothy C. Fontana

Monday, April 07, 2008

Topic o' the week - Distractions

This week's discussion topic is about the little things that distract us from our writing. Not major life events, but mundane items that keep us away from our our love/hate relationship with the keyboard.

Most writers will tell you that the way to get something written is to simply put your behind in the chair and write the dang thing. Yeah, right. We know that it's harder than that. Spouses, kids, jobs, chores, Free Cell addiction...they all throw monkey wrenches in our best-laid plans to craft the world's greatest tome. What are some of the things that can motivate us to face the page and get going?

My own current work floundered for a year or so, until my amazing friends did something I couldn't - set a specific goal. 'First draft completed by year end', they said. After I was done laughing, I realized it would be do-able. I set a word count target per day. I wrote as much as I could on some days, and on others, well... I had to take care of kids, jobs, and life. Doing one hour sprints with my friends brought out creativity in me that I didn't know I had. I wrote over 50,000 words in less than eight weeks - and I have three busy boys, two jobs, and a husband (though he's a very supportive husband). Imagine my surprise when I finished two weeks ahead of schedule!

Your motivation could be a promise to submit to an agent, a deadline from your editor, a contest cut-off date, a looming holiday or upcoming birthday...whatever works for you, use it! Maybe start with fifteen minutes to write or journal. Then make it thirty. Then shoot for a one hour sprint, three times a week. Just keep going! If you love games, make the game your reward for writing a few hundred words. ( A word of caution...if your reward is one dark chocolate M&M per word, it'll only make your behind meld with your chair. I'm just sayin', is all.)

So, what are your distractions, and what motivates you to ignore them and face that empty page?

Julie


**A small plug here...the FTP members took an online workshop from Writer's University http://www.writeruniv.com/ called 'Defeating Self-Defeating Behaviors'. It's all about finding out what works for you to make your goals attainable. It's written and moderated by Margie Lawson. http://www.margielawson.com/ I highly recommend any Writer's University class!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Neo-Blogging 101

This is my first ever blog post, and I sorta feel like there should be fireworks and champagne. Or chocolate. Maybe some sort of tutoring manual to show me everything I'm doing right and wrong. Ah, well, I'm sure I'll learn fast enough.

Oh, and I'm really looking forward to being here on a regular basis!

Julie