Monthly Archives: January 2017

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the myth

The Myth of the “Real” Writer and How to Fight It

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Are you a “real” writer? One of the myths I most detest is that writers must meet some sort of litmus test to be “real”.  I first happened across the philosophy of realness for writers several years ago. A “manifesto” written by an information marketer-cum-writer claimed you must write every day to be considered a real writer. While I noticed the author toned down some of the more elitist bits as the years rolled on, he still stands firmly behind his ideal that real writers don’t write for accolades, fame, or fortune. They write for the sheer joy of it.  In fact, he writes, “Real writers do not begin their day with aspirations of seeing their words in print.”

Oh, shit. I’m not real.

I sit here, checking my hand for solidity, expecting at any moment for my edges to begin to blur as I ghost away into thin air. Firmly, I plant my feet into the floor of my writing space, hoping the myth is just that — a widely held, but false, belief. I mean, I’d really hate to disappear before dinner.

The Myth You MUST Ignore

All kidding aside, if you want to be a writer, ignore self-promoting manifestos, egocentric pronouncements, and the urge to tailor your writing style to someone else’s definition. Just be yourself. I DO begin my day hoping I’ll see my name in print. I DON’T write every day. Sometimes, life, the universe, and everything gets in the way. And guess what? Sometimes, I don’t write for the sheer joy of it, either. Sometimes, I just write for the paycheck.

But even when I’m writing about something that’s not on my Favorites playlist, I’m still honing my craft. I’m working; I’m writing. That makes me a writer: the myth, the legend.

Follow This Advice

If you suspect a writer of setting out a list of rules to define you, close that tab, turn that page, press “stop”. Being a writer is hard enough without having to navigate through a some arbitrary nonsense to see if you make the cut. Writers need to pull together, not develop self-righteous rules to define the unwashed masses and keep them out of the tribe. We’re creatives, for goodness’ sake! That means the lot of us represent a profusion of diversity. Ernest Hemingway wrote drunk. Issac Asimov did not. Some wrote every day; others when the mood struck them. Virginia Woolf wrote in the morning; Franz Kafka by the light of the moon. Was one more real than another? Uh, no. Of course not.

Check this out: One blog post here says that most writers — “good” writers — write at night. Yet, here there’s a post that claims there were more morning writers than night owls. The problem with the myth is the claim by the author of the first post that to be a good writer you must write at night. Nonsense.

Of course, night writing is fine. There are pros. There are cons. But, if you write in the morning does that mean you’re not a good writer? Hell no! Try telling that to Stephen King, who writes most mornings.

Dispel the Myth

As a writer, a real one, you have the power to dispel this fiction about having to do this, that, or the other thing a certain way, at a certain time, perhaps while holding a blue pen and drinking chamomile tea or rotgut whiskey, in order to be a real writer. You write. You’re real. You have my deep and unending respect. Now, go out and spread that myth!

 


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getting things done

Getting Things Done: For Writers

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Getting things done is a critical element to your success as a writer. The better you are at conation (a fancy word for the art of doing things), the more likely you are to achieve your writing goals. The first step in getting more done well is to understand your style of conation.

Human instinct researcher Kathy Kolbe developed conative theory in the 1990s. Through rigorous testing, she proved the efficacy of the theory in the fields of education, government, and business. Afterward, Kolbe’s book, Conative Connection, an acclaimed bestseller, helped laypeople increase productivity by uncovering their innate “doing” styles. There are four distinct styles; each of us has an instinctive preference for one of them. She offers a test on her website for $49.95, but you might find your style by reading through the following descriptions.

The Four Styles of Getting Things Done

The Quick Start:

If you’re a quick start writer, you’ll just jump into a new project with little or no research or guidance. You’ll create your story through trial and error, writing on-the-fly and by the seat of your pants. You love spontaneity, and you’re flexible and full of ideas.

The Fact Finder:

This type of writer will carefully research each element that goes into the creation of a story. First of all, you’ll know the ins-and-outs of grammar, diction, flow, plot line, storyline and more before ever putting pen to paper. You plan beyond your story’s completion by researching how to publish a novel. You’re precise, thorough, and love detail.

The Implementor: 

The world of concrete objects fascinates this type of writer. As an implementor, your interests include the equipment used to craft your story: books, pens, pencils, paper, computers or software. You might set up an author website in advance of writing your first book. You take a very hands-on approach to writing and you are serious about craftsmanship.

The Follow-Thru:

Follow-thru writers seek advice from published professionals and buy materials and programs that can help them reach their goal of publication. Ultimately, you’ll proceed in a very logical way, completing and mastering each step before moving on to the next. You are happiest when methodical, focused, and structured.

Getting Things Done the Write Way

No matter which of these categories describes you, all can lead to success as long as you choose wisely. Writers that ignore their innate style of getting things done often struggle to follow the programs or methods of others.

Embrace your style of “doingness”. If you must have a mentor, find one whose conative style matches yours. For example, I’m what is good-naturedly known as a “pantser” in the writing community, because I write by the seat of my pants. My style of conation most closely matches the “quick start” example–I often begin a story with no earthly idea of how it’s going to end. A person of my nature is doomed following a writing method that requires tedious outlines. I’d never get anything written and I’d end up frustrated and discouraged.

On the other hand, even seat-of-the-pants writers have method to their madness. If I choose a fellow quick-start writer as my guide, I’ll find it easier and more enjoyable to make progress.

Ultimately, you have the power to choose your own writing destiny. Don’t fight your natural style of working: work with it. Instead, learn its pros and cons. Then, focus on the benefits of your style — play them up! Finally, don’t let someone convince you their style of getting things done is the right way. Do it your way and you’ll be headed for success.

 


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boredom for a good idea

This Little-Known Trick Can Generate a Good Idea for Your Next Story

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Ever needed a good idea for a story and felt completely stumped? You know the feeling, that agonizing hum of dead air between the ears when you most need inspiration? If you’re a writer, this happens to you sometimes. There are lots of ways to jumpstart your idea factory (I’ve written about some here and here and even a few weeks ago, here), but there was one thing I’d neglected to try.

Boredom.

Ennui: The Surprising Catalyst for A Good Idea

Yep, good, old fashioned, bored-out-of-my-gourd tedium–the kind you may have experienced as a kid sitting at the grownups’ table. I say “may have” because if you’re young enough, you probably had an electronic device that countered any hint of lassitude — and possibly a good idea or two as well.

If you were lucky, as I was, to be born straddling the line between analog and digital worlds, then you had plenty of time to experience soul-sucking boredom. Doctors’ visits, grocery shopping with your mother, and (dare I say it) church services. During interminable drives to some unappreciated event, I’d look at the car window and imagine the other cars as horses in a race with ours. Ours was white with a black hard top — a beautiful steed. Or, I’d gaze up at the clots of cottony cumulonimbus and see what I could make of them. Sometimes, I’d have a good idea for a story, because even then I was a writer.

Then I grew up. I got an iPhone. An iPad. A computer. I have apps, games, and unlimited data — boredom doesn’t stand a chance. Unless, of course, I forget to take my digital nanny with me as I did last week.

I was invited to one of those long, dull, speech-giving, ceremony-having kind of events with lots of downtime between speakers. Out of politeness, I accepted, even though I didn’t know a single person there. I had a plan. I’d just mess with my phone during lulls. I got there on time, settled into a far corner, and waited for the evening to commence. Within minutes, tired of people-watching, I decided to check the news. In a moment the terrible truth dawned on me. Somehow, inexplicably, I’d left at home the one item that was as much a part of my daily outfit as shoes and underwear.

Not a good idea, I thought to myself as I slumped lower in the velvety grip of the auditorium chair. I sighed and stared at the ceiling, noticing the ceiling lights in their neat furrows. That wasn’t interesting. I gazed out at the night through the only window, watching the telephone lines holding back the encroaching roadside woods  like velvet ropes at a nightclub.  A coincidental line of red cars drove past slowly, like engine-stoked corpuscles meandering through a vein. Behind them, a sleek dark coupe with blacked-out windows followed, nose-to-tail with the last car.

I startled myself out of my reverie. I just had an idea for a story. Not just a good idea — a great one. I looked around to see if anyone noticed, but they were all sunk in their digital domains or chatting lightly with neighbors. I relaxed back into my slump and let boredom overtake me again. Three fully-fledged story ideas danced in my head by the end of the evening. Thank goodness I had a napkin and a pen in the car so I could write them down before I forgot them.

The moral of this story is that boredom is okay. In fact, it’s a good idea. I’ve found tapping back into that childhood fount of creativity produces more and better ideas than I’ve had in a long while. I still get inspiration online and from audiobooks and other sources, but I don’t rely upon it any longer.

Plus, I no longer dread those occasional device-less moments. In fact, I intentionally strand myself electronically at times when I’m feeling low on creativity to get back in the flow.

I challenge you to give boredom a try — it just might be the beginning of a beautiful new relationship with your creative self.

See you on the next page!


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opening lines

3 Templates for Opening Lines that Ensnare, Captivate, and Enthrall

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Sometimes, the hardest part of writing a story is crafting opening lines. The way you begin your story, whether it’s a short story, novella, or novel determines whether the reader will take your literary hand and follow you deeper into the web of your imagination or shake off your grip like it’s covered in cooties from 7th grade study hall.  Good authors know how to draw a reader in; great authors spend time doing just that with the very first sentences of their stories.

Writing Opening Lines Destined for Greatness

First lines are specific to your story, your genre, and your style. That being said, there are guidelines that can help you craft a blockbuster of a line for your next literary creation. But first, a warning: Don’t get too wrapped up in details. You’re a writer, a creative, a wizard with words. Examine the rules, yes, but follow your gut. Getting too bogged down in the “do’s” and “dont’s” of writing can put a kink in your creative flow and have you frozen, pen just above paper, waiting for some universal nod to proceed. Don’t overthink. That’s rule one. Now, here are three more guidelines to set you on a path to hooking readers and reeling them in with your next story. These happen to be my favorites; there are plenty of other ways to write great opening lines.

Simple Twists

Sometimes easy does it. You’ve heard of the KISS principle? Keep It Simple, Stupid? These opening lines will whack you upside the head with brutal simplicity, albeit in a good way. Take this well-known literary example:

“It was a pleasure to burn.” 

One of my favorite stories, Fahrenheit 451 shows us a grim future where people are kept manageable through lack of knowledge. In this dystopian imagining, a fireman is a person whose only job is to burn books to deny the population the knowledge contained within. Of course, you don’t know this when you read that sentence.

That first line is uttered by Fireman Guy Montag. Although the sentence has only six words, they’re strung together in a way that can’t help but capture your attention. Is the speaker literally taking pleasure in being burnt? You’d have to read on to find out!

Cards on the Table

This kind of opener plunges your reader headlong into the action. The trick with these kind of opening lines is to suck readers in so fast they’re hooked before they know it.  A great example was crafted by contemporary author Donna Tartt, in The Secret History. She writes:

 “The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation.” 

Oh my. Bunny is dead. The narrator must have something to do with it, too, as he bemoans the gravity of the situation. Why would it have taken him weeks after a death to determine there was a problem? Must. Keep. Reading! The author has cleverly exposed the premise of her story, which centers on a murder, while providing just enough question to keep readers engaged.

Moody Settings

Literal writers  might find themselves drawn to opening lines that create a mood. Some are long, like Charles Dickens’ offering in A Tale of Two Cities:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

Some are short and sweet, like George Orwell’s opener for 1984:

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

The mood set by Dickens is of confusion and wonderment. It permeates the novel and gives the reader a good idea of what they’re in for. Orwell’s line lulls us with a simple description of a spring day, then slaps us with the jarring bit of information about the clocks’ unusual timekeeping. Again, he keeps this kind of reality/unreality juxtapositioning going throughout the story, making his first line a great sample of what’s to come.

I couldn’t help but include a the opening line from my upcoming novel, Salt in the Blood, since it fits this category:

“It was an airless, peculiar night when the shadows first arrived at Harrow House.”

I intended to set an ominous tone for the reader and pique their interest with the mention of the shadows. Did it work? Are you intrigued?

Use one of these formulae for your next story and see what you come up with. Remember, don’t try too hard to fit your first line into a template; these are guidelines. Let your creativity loose and see what you can dream up!

See you on the next page!


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what to write

What to Write in 2017

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New Year’s resolutions: Most are compounded in a surfeit of sparkly-eyed impulsiveness brought on by a combination of alcohol and hubris. What results from unattainable goal-setting is soul-sucking emptiness accompanied by a “why bother?” attitude. And, if you’re a writer, a few ill-chosen goals can completely derail you–heart, soul, and ambition. None of us wants to chase words around the page to end up with an unsellable article or unworkable storyline.

So forget resolutions for 2017. Instead, determine what to write. It’s not even a goal, really. It’s more of a quest–a bit of inner research to help organize the numinous threads of creative genius lurking beneath your surface.

Because it’s there, I promise. If you’ve got a passion for writing, that creative vortex is in there, churning with ideas for stories the rest of us can’t even begin to imagine. You only need to coax it out.

What to Write, Really

So let 2017 be the year you decide what to write. Do you have the makings of a non-fiction writer? Then choose your niche. Will you write about travel, finance, hearing loss, Komodo dragons, or how to get an automobile loan? What topics fire your passions? What subjects make you want to Google search until your fingertips bleed?

Feeling fictional? What’s your genre? Are you ready for romance or do you fancy a bit of post-apocalyptic drama? Some of you lean toward the cerebral buzz of a technological thriller while others feel more at home in worlds of swords and sorcery. Which are you?

Discovering what to write is as easy as getting a cup of coffee or tea (tot of whiskey optional) or other beverage of choice and spending a nice afternoon with your feet up thinking about it. Don’t stress. Don’t force it. Just daydream and write down the thoughts that float into the periphery of your mind.

You’re not searching for a specific idea, although one may come to you. Instead, you’re searching for the word to place on the blank line:              I write ________________.

Books for children under 8?

How-to articles on woodworking?

Historical romances?

The crucial part of the formula is to be true to yourself. Don’t force yourself to write a certain type of article or story because you think it makes money. Good writing can make money. Stilted writing, even in a “money-making” genre or topic, makes none. So, if erotica is not your thing, do us all a favor and stick to a subject that is, even if it happens to be “steampunk vampire medical romances.” You’ll find your tribe, your niche, your avid readers, no matter how broad or narrow your genre. Same thing goes for you non-fiction writers. If writing about industrial laser diodes makes you want to poke yourself in the eye with a fork, then leave off and find something that will stimulate you to excel at your craft.

So, what kind of writer will you be in 2017? I can’t wait to find out!

 


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