Sunday, May 10, 2020

To All the Writer Moms. . . .

Dear Writer Mom: 

I know your life right now is one constant interruption. Little people have demands, and they begin the moment they wake up in the morning until the last bedtime story is read. And even then there is the cajoling to lie down, to be still, no more glasses of water, you just used the bathroom there’s no way you have to go again. . . . 

Your life is a marathon. You wake up every morning ready to sprint through the day (coffee is nonnegotiable). Maybe the baby will nap well. Maybe you’ll find an activity that’s exciting enough to entertain the preschooler for more than fifteen minutes. Maybe you won’t discover the school-aged children in the bathroom giving the dog’s fur a trim or the teenager after having given herself bangs in a fit of emotional angst. 

But even on the good days the time is never fully yours. There is the cooking and the cleaning up of toys scattered from one end of the house to the other and the laundry and the preparing of snack after snack after snack and the taxi service you provide, shuttling your kids from one destination to the next. 

But in the nooks and crannies of the day your mind slips to something else that brings you joy: words. So you think about your characters—what they are doing and saying in that very moment. They come alive in your mind. They speak to you and act out and you wish to God you could just sit down for fifteen minutes to get the words onto the page before they’re lost forever even though you know the moment you try someone will inevitably need your attention because you are Mom. 

Yet something burns deep within you, demanding you tell your stories, and it must be something larger than yourself because it would be so much easier to tell the Muse to go away. Leave you in peace. Come back in eighteen years when the smoke has settled. 

But it’s not that easy because you are Writer Mom, and while you live to put stories onto the page, you also live to love and care for your children, and this consumes your most productive hours of every day. It’s a monotony, sometimes, but they tell you this season won’t last forever. One day the house will be as quiet and empty and as clean as you always imagined it could be, and you will have as much time to think and write and plan and plot as needed. 

For now, Writer Mom, keep setting your alarm an hour early. Your characters are ready for you long before everyone else has started their day. And if you write by candlelight, then know that your characters will wait up for you. And if you can only write one or two paragraphs in a single session, write knowing you are still an inspiration. Do not compare your Writer Mom sprint with someone else’s Writer Mom sprint. Push away the thought that you could be doing more. You are enough. Your children need their Mom and the world needs your words. 

You can be both Writer and Mom. 

Besides, what is a more powerful example to her children than a mother working toward her own dreams and goals? 

Show us the way, Writer Mom. 

We see you.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Where Writers Fail

According to John Truby (The Anatomy of Story)

"Nine out of ten writers fail at the premise."

What is a premise?

The premise is your story stated in a single sentence. In screenwriting, this would be your "logline." 

The purpose of the premise statement is to present the central characters and conflict in order to give the reader a solid idea of what happens in the story.

Truby gives the following example for the premise of Casablanca:

A tough American expatriate rediscovers an old flame only to give her up so that he can fight the Nazis.

Here we have the main characters (an expatriate and a love interest), the central conflict (will they get together or won't they?), and the outcome (he's going to walk away).

The premise of a story is the foundation. Everything that will be developed within the narrative will serve as proof for the premise.

The success of any story depends largely on the premise because if, as writers, we can't boil the key idea down to a single statement, then it's likely we don't have a firm grasp of the overall point/purpose of the tale. 

The scenes may be in the right order, the climax might work, the characters may be well-rounded, and the writing is stellar, BUT if the overall premise is weak, the story is already lost. 

Nine times out of ten, the story is lost at the premise.

It's worth it, then, to give premises the attention they deserve--to nail down the key concept before the story words are even on the page. 


"A boy from a privileged, upper-middle-class family falls for a girl in a rehabilitation facility accused of murdering her best friend."

Be Brilliant!


Monday, March 30, 2020

The Creative Process

English social psychologist Graham Wallas, in his 1926 book Art of Thought, argues there are four stages to the creative process. 


This is an investigation stage. This is the stage where we’re gathering ideas. We’re reading, watching movies, thinking about the project, and taking notes. I liken it to the gardener who preps her soil for the growing season. It’s all of the groundwork that happens before a seed can be planted.


The second stage may look like procrastination on the outside, but might not be. Incubation occurs when we’ve gathered the information we need and now our brains are stepping in to process and make connections. This is the stage where the seeds are planted and the gardener is watering and making sure there’s enough sunlight, but, on the surface, at least, it doesn’t look like anything is happening.


After we’ve gathered the necessary information and our brains have finished processing it, we’ll have a flash of insight, where suddenly we know exactly what needs to happen or how to solve the problem. At this point, the seed is a plant, and it’s just pushed through the soil. The fruits of the preparation and incubation processes are visible.


The verification stage is where we bring our ideas to fruition. This takes a conscious, deliberate effort. It’s where we re-work the scene. Compose the poem. Write the article. The plant is now growing into something amazing.

What stage are you in?

They're all crucial to the process, but without verification, what was the point?

Action Required.

Be Brilliant!


Tuesday, March 17, 2020

(More) On Story

Story: the price a character pays for the lengths to which she'll go to get what she wants.

Story is about action.

Story is about struggle.

Story is about change.

And . . . 

"Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today." 
--Robert McKee

Be Brilliant!


Tuesday, March 10, 2020

What is a Storyteller?

A storyteller is someone who presents to us a series of events in such a way that we feel as if they are our events--that we are living the moments being described.

A storyteller is someone who both provides information and withholds it, dancing with the reader (or listener) until they're desperate to know how it all ends. 

There's a difference between a writer and a storyteller. 

I have read masterful strings of words and turns of phrasing that did not compel me to continue reading. I have read writing that was less than stellar, but it didn't matter because I was so engrossed in the story and what was happening that I barely noticed the words on the page. 

Can good writing be taught? Sure.

Can good storytelling? Perhaps. But storytelling is more about feeling than structures and rules.

It's the difference between sitting through a driver's ed class and getting behind the wheel of a Ferrari on a road course.

But don't take my word for it. 

As I was editing this post, Robert McKee tweeted this out: 

Be Brilliant!


Monday, February 24, 2020

On Waiting for Inspiration to Strike

"You don't need to wait for inspiration to write. It's easier to be inspired while writing than while not writing, so you don't need to be inspired to sit down and begin. You don't need to be 'in the mood.' I think you will benefit if you don't worry about moods: One, you will get in the habit of writing under any circumstances; two, since writing reflects your mental state, you will have a diversity of moods in your piece. The diversity will make your writing more interesting."

~Josip Novakovich~

Be Brilliant!


Monday, February 10, 2020

On Writing Without the Interference of Ego

It's inevitable, the more you write, that the more you will appear on the page in all of your variations.

But you are not the characters of your novels, and they should be allowed the freedom to flourish--to step out on their own and tell their stories.

In order to write them effectively you will need to get inside their minds, of course, but their minds are not yours. 

Cast your ego aside and write freely.

One of the best feelings (apart from writing "the end") is that moment when a character does something that wholly surprises us. Something that ties into the plot and narrative arc so perfectly it's almost as if it were imagined from the onset. Something unexpected, but was so clearly meant to happen.

These moments are magic, but they're unlikely to occur if you're writing through a filter of capital S Self.

For draft one, put away the writer to become the character.

And, as always, Be Brilliant!