Thursday, October 18, 2018

On Showing Up--Writing Tip

Question: How long does it take to write a novel?

Answer: As long as it takes.

For some, maybe that's three months. For others, maybe it's a year. For others, maybe it's five years.

I worked on RISE off and on for several years. My (many) drafts weren't working, and the more I tried to fix what was going wrong, the more it became something I didn't really want it to be. I had my sights set on "high concept," but the "high concept" wasn't meshing with the kinds of stories I really like to tell: dramatic love stories.

So this summer I deleted everything in the manuscript (the fifth or sixth version of it, actually) that wasn't related to Nick and Fallon and the fallout from their kiss. (There wasn't even a kiss in one of the earliest versions!) At this point, I focused on telling their story.

If you would have told me going into it, though, it would take five years before I ended up with a draft I was satisfied with, I might not have had the courage to sit down and make it happen.

Just the thought of writing a novel--putting 50,000+ cohesive words onto paper--can be paralyzing.

But . . . it will help if you don't think of it as "sitting down and writing a novel." Just sit down and write that scene. Sit down and fill that page. Just sit down--get your butt in the chair. Start typing. Then show up and do the same thing the next day. And the next. And the next.

Soon you'll have those words.
You'll have your scenes.
You'll have your book.

Be Brilliant!


Monday, October 15, 2018

What Do You Want?

"Take your life in your own hands and what happens? 
A terrible thing: no one to blame." -Erica Jong

What do you want to do?

Be honest.

Because if you can nail down what, exactly, it is that you want, the "how" to make it happen usually takes care of itself. 

It's not hard to follow your dreams. It's actually harder to avoid all of the doors that the universe is opening up around you. 

The always brilliant Julia Cameron said: 

"Possibility is far more frightening than impossibility; 
freedom is more terrifying than any prison."

So I guess my next question is:

What are you avoiding?

And why?

Be Brilliant!


Thursday, October 11, 2018

On Reading--Writing Tip

Would you believe I have students who want to write but hate to read?

I know. 

I kind of want to shake them--to wake them up.

How can you possibly know what you want to write if you don't read? How do you know what's out there if you're not reading what's being published? How do you know what the trends are? How do you know how to structure your story or what readers expect if you're not reading in the genre?

For me, it doesn't add up. 

I love writing. I put a lot of work into the things I create. Some do okay. Some don't. Some fail abysmally. (Yes! I still get rejections. All the time.) But I can't imagine doing what I'm trying to do (that is, tell a solid story) without considering the background work. 

I'm not saying that writing can't be taught. It can. I have no doubt about that.

But I'm not sure good writing can be taught without good reading, because a lot of what we do as writers is picked up intuitively--by reading story after story after story after story.

I work with these students, anyway. I do my best to help them. There's a certain level of required reading in my classes, but I know it's not enough. So by the end of my time with them, I've more than stressed the fact that:

Good writers are good readers. They read widely. They read often. They read for reading's sake. They read for writing's sake.

What have you read, lately?

Be Brilliant!


Monday, October 8, 2018

Five Things Roger Sterling Taught Us About Writing (Throwback Post)

I'm a huge fan of the show Mad Men, and was so sad when it ended. I loved the character development and dialogue, and one of my favorite characters in the show was Roger Sterling. He showed up more for "quips" than conversations, but he was one of the most quotable characters in the entire series.

 So, without further ado, here are five things Roger Sterling taught us about the writing life.

"Nobody knows what I'm doing. It's good for mystique." (S2, E5)

The takeaway: Yes, you want to be a writer. Own it. Tell the world. That doesn't mean you have to give away your secrets. You don't have to tell Aunt Ida every last detail about your work in progress. In fact, I wonder if we don't lose some of the magic of the story every time we give a little bit of it away. There will be a time to promote yourself and talk about your work; I'm just not sure if that time is in the middle of writing it. Keep your words close to you.

The exceptionThis doesn't apply to brainstorming with fellow writers or agents or editors (i.e. people who can legitimately help you).  

Otherwise, assure them you're working hard and let their minds fill in the blanks. Writing novels is rarely as exciting as outsiders think it is. 
"I'm going to count to three, and then I'm gonna start saying a lot of words you don't like, sweetheart." (S4, E7) 

The takeaway: Spew the crap. All of it. Get your story onto paper as fast as you can and don't look back. Count to three and let it all out. Write now; revise later. 

"What do you think Accounts does, besides limit your brilliance?" (S3, E9)

The takeaway: You know that old saying about too many cooks in the kitchen? I think enlisting the help of friends, family members, writer's groups, editors, beta readers, etc. can be a good thing. With too many differing opinions, however, there are potential hazards. Feedback is great, but not at the expense of losing your story or voice. If you don't feel comfortable with a suggestion or see how it will make the story better, let it go. At the end of the day, it's your name on the cover. 

"My mother always said be careful what you wish for, because you'll get it, and then people get jealous and try to take it away from you." (S4, E6) 

The takeaway: If you're a writer, there's plenty of drama going on in your head at any given time. Don't compound this by letting outside drama in, tooThere are too many haters and not enough creators in the world. Stay away from the people who want to bring you down.

"Not to get too deep before the cocktail hour, but do I need to remind you of the finite nature of life?" (S2, E7)

The takeaway: You've got one life--one opportunity; don't squander it. If there's a book inside you, get it out. Don't look back five, ten, or fifteen years from now wishing you picked differently. Take the smallest, most manageable first step today. Your future self will thank you.

Be Brilliant!


Thursday, October 4, 2018

On Outlining--Writing Tip

To outline or not to outline. That is the question.

In novel writing, there are pros and cons to plotting, and pros and cons to pantsing (that is, flying by the seat of your pants--letting the plot surprise you as it emerges).

The best advice I can think of is to do what's right for you and your story at that moment in time. 

But what happens if you're a careful plotter--that is, you have your entire roadmap laid out--and your character suddenly takes a wrong turn? He does or says something completely unexpected--something that changes everything.

Do you let him keep going and "re-route" your path to your intended destination?

Do you make a hard U-turn to get him back on the straight and narrow?

I don't know. 

But I have to believe that the universe drops these little gifts in our laps along the way--that it nudges us in a new, more exciting direction when we least expect it--adding something to our narrative that we never could have envisioned when we began. 

So maybe a happy mix of the two? 

Begin with something like an outline--or at the very least a starting point and intended destination--and let those happy accidents color your story as the universe wills them into existence.   

And--as always--Be Brilliant!


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Monday, October 1, 2018

On Being Unrealistic

What if you were completely unrealistic about a deadline for one of your creative projects?

What if, for instance, it's Monday, and you decide you want to write 5,000 words on your manuscript by Friday?

"That's crazy!" you say. "There are kids and meals and jobs and pets and houses to manage. . . ."

But what if

There's this thing called Parkinson's Law--this law of productivity that says "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion."

This means that whatever time we allow ourselves to complete a project, that's the time it will take to finish it. 

So if we allow fifteen minutes to check our email, it will take fifteen minutes, even if we could check it and be done in three minutes.

If we give ourselves a month to get 5,000 words on the page, it's going to take a month. If we give ourselves a week. . . .

Do you see where I'm going with this?

So set that unreasonable goal. Even if you don't quite meet your benchmark, I think you'll be surprised at how much you can accomplish. Hint: it's probably more than you think. 

Fact: a tight deadline makes us more focused and productive. 

Let this work to your advantage. 

Be Brilliant!


Thursday, September 27, 2018

Character Motivation and Believability -- Writing Tip

One of the biggest challenges a writer will face is creating a believable character. To be believable, the reader has to understand the character's motives, and, if we want an interesting story, those motives are likely to be complex.

Complex motives are what creates interesting characters because these lead to interesting actions.

BUT. . . .

The motives still need to be believable. 

Make sure you know why your characters are doing what they're doing, and make sure there's a pattern of behavior. 

If Sam is going to steal a car, we need to know she knows how to hotwire a car or where to find the keys. We need to know she's pissed at the car's owner. We need to know that this behavior is exactly in line with who she is. 

Little seeds, planted throughout your narrative, bear big fruit.

Okay. That was corny. But you get the point. :D

Be Brilliant!