"Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart." ~ William Wordsworth

The Writing Life Too

And if you're reading this, it means you're not writing.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

An overcast sky this morning and rain is in the forecast. NPR’s Scott Simon is on in the background hawking then news. A story reports that the shoe repair business is booming in this economy and libraries are crowded, with library patrons displaying a special interest in investing and the economy. Daniel Schorr is reporting that Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal’s response to the president’s speech to Congress was a crushing failure and he (Jindal) should have stayed in bed. I’m still working on rewrites of my book—lagging behind because of reasons too boring to divulge and shocked that February is chugging to a close.

Since time is passing much too quickly and we haven’t had nearly enough time to work on our New Year’s resolutions, here are few cheery thoughts. First, Joe the Plumber had a book signing in Washington D.C. on Wednesday night. He was in town as part of the CPAC conference where apparently most of right wing fringe have gathered. I’m sorry to report that their keynote speaker is Rush Limbaugh. But back to Joe, who hired ghostwriter Thomas N. Tabback, and banged out the book in record time. Only 11 people showed up at the signing and he only sold five books, and the event was over in 55 minutes instead of the slated 3 hours. So perhaps the gods of justice have been at work after all.

And then today is Open That Bottle Night. Yes, the last Saturday in February is for opening a special bottle of wine you’ve been hoarding or wishing for a special occasion to pop the cork.

And here is another list of 100 books you should read in your lifetime---I don’t agree with all the books in this list although I’ve read a good portion of them, but then I fear I’m not as omnivorous as I should be in my reading habits. Compiled by the Telegraph (UK). Maybe it’s time to compile our own list, or perhaps the most overlooked books?

Happy writing and reading to all.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Morning is muted grey with rain and NPR is broadcasting more bad news about the economy. They’re reporting that the Philadelphia newspapers are filing for bankruptcy and the stock market is falling again (or would that be still?). I thought the Oscars were great last night although I would have preferred that Frost/Nixon win the statue. But then my picks rarely win so I’ll need to be content that 2008 was a fabulous year for the movies. Just call me psychic, but rumors are percolating that Rod (the f-bomb) Blagojevich is about to land a book deal. Apparently his agent has been pounding the pavement of NY publishing offices trying to land the most lucrative deal.

Just a brief political rant: Would someone please gather his or her courage and tell Bill Clinton to quit hogging the limelight? Is he trying to steal it from Obama or his wife? And we don’t need his report card grades on the new president’s first month in office or Clinton chiding him to sound more hopeful. As if an injection of optimism can transform a country that’s got about as much going for it as the Titanic. And if you aren’t worried about the economy here, pay attention to the mess that’s brewing in Mexico. Our neighbors to the south are in a world of trouble and the country is in danger of turning into a narco economy.

If you’re not familiar with it, there’s a great website called conversationalreading.com. It covers the book industry and lately has been running a series on publishing during the recession.

And here is a site for childrens' writers to check out. Although it focuses on writing in New England, it has great links and industry news.

Another great site in case you don’t have it bookmarked is the book blog at the New Yorker.

Here’s a lovely quote for you from Barbara Kingsolver: “Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don't try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It's the one and only thing you have to offer.”

Meanwhile, keep it lit, keep writing, keep dreaming.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The morning sky is overcast and rain is in the forecast. I can’t complain because we’ve had so much sunshine this winter and spring-like temperatures are on the way again with bulbs emerging from the ground all over town. I woke with the first line for my next book delivered in a dream—so I feel as if I was given a diamond necklace. Well, actually I don’t really like diamonds that much, so make that a pearl necklace.

I’m at the finish line with my book for Tarcher—Thanks, but This isn’t for Us which is going to be published in August. I’m working on the epilogue which is about living the writing life. You can learn about craft and technique until you’re blue in the face as my grandmother used to say, but if you cannot sit still day after day and write your heart out, these skills won’t matter much. So more than ever, I’ve been mulling over what it takes to crank out words on the page. Here are a few ideas for you:

Have a plan in mind when you start out on the journey of story. Writing with a plan is more like playing a game with rules than slipping into a straitjacket.Writers can be divided into broad categories—those that overwrite and those that underwrite and those that outline and those who don’t. Screenwriter and author Charles Deemer divides outliners and nonoutliners into forest people and tree people. Tree people sit down and write trusting that the story will emerge from their imaginings. Forest people are planners and outline the whole shebang before they write the first scene. Forest people often outline or create scene cards and character biographies. Tree people wing it.

There is no right or wrong way to write, no formula that works for everyone and every writer has a different means to tap into ideas and inspirations. The ancient Greeks believed in the capricious muses who bestowed gifts on artists and writers. But what I’ve noticed over the years is that the muse is much helped if you know your ending before you start writing because you’ll rewrite less.

Next, you need to learn how to edit ruthlessly. I cannot stress the importance of this stage of writing enough. If you don’t have an effective editing process, read books on the topic and research how other authors manage to shape early drafts into polished gems. It’s likely that you’ll need to rewrite or rework your manuscript three or four times.

When you revise you need to see your story with fresh eyes, analyzing its strengths and weaknesses with your inner editor {located in your left brain} handling most of the tasks. Start by analyzing the biggest issues such as the structure and viewpoint. Fix the plot holes and larger problems first and then keep honing in on smaller parts until you’re tightening paragraphs or dialogue, then fixing on a sentence level such as by amping up verbs. Don’t stop just because you give up or you’re so sick of your story that you feel like retching—keep at it until you’re proud of it.

Build a platform and have marketing tricks up your sleeve. These days all publishing houses require authors to be highly involved in promoting their books. And yes, this means fiction writers and memoirists, not just authors of how-to or inspirational books. Again, use the Internet to note what published authors are doing to push their books at readers. Authors are sending out newsletters, email blasts, writing blogs, booking on-line chats, and using MySpace. Almost all of these promo activities are done without the help or financing of the publisher. So keep your eye on these methods and find ways to build a readership before you get your first book published.

Create a project bible. There are hundreds of ways to write a book—some writers outline, some write scene cards, some talk into a tape recorder, some allow a story to emerge from deep within and write it in snatches while ferrying children to soccer practice. However, as you’re getting your first draft [and this works for fiction, memoir, or nonfiction manuscript] create a project bible. In this bible, you’ll want to jot down notes and ideas on plot or characters. Many writers get ideas in the middle of the night or on a plane flight, so carrying around your project bible is a handy way to keep tabs on things and record ideas before they slip away. It might include a list of scenes if you’re writing fiction along with bios of characters, including their key backstory and agenda in the story. Whenever your story falters return to these character notes and ask yourself if you know enough about what your character’s think, about how his or her past has shaped him or her.

Include research notes, information from the Internet, maps, photos, collages, sketches, questions you need to answer in the story. Also, project bibles are just fun to work with.

As another note, whenever I’m working on a book I also create a Word document I simply call EXTRAS. It’s where I cut and paste all the stuff I delete and other items that don’t fit into my project bible.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Morning sky looks like a dust storm in a Western. Years ago I was the Writing Expert at iVillage.com. In this capacity I taught hundreds of writers and learned a lot about what can go wrong on the page, especially when a beginning writer was typing away without any sense of using craft or any inkling of technique. I hosted twice weekly on-line classes, which has forever given me the ability to crank out about a hundred words a minute and also invited writing celebs to be my guests once a month.

Those on-line classes were focused around specific topics and were connected to the writing exercises that were assigned. The whole thing was a lot of fun, tons of work, and emotionally exhausting since an on-line community can attract angels and crazies. I was laid off from the gig after about three years when the dot com bubble burst, but I’ve never forgotten my favorite students and all I learned about teaching.

I wrote columns for the site and was also prone to posting writing tips at the site. This morning I ran across something I posted in April of 1999. I’m including it here because some techniques about writing are timeless.

Ever since last week’s character class I’ve been thinking about how to write compelling characters. Here are a few more tips: 1. Remember when writing fiction that readers are reading for emotion, not information. 2. E. M. Forster said, “The test of a round character is whether it is capable of surprising in a convincing way. If it never surprises, it is flat. If it does not convince, it is a flat pretending to be round.” 3. Whenever possible develop character and describe characters through action and dialogue. 4. Somerset Maugham suggested that it wasn’t necessary to list all a character’s physical characteristics, but just enough information to tell the reader whether the character is attractive or not. 5. Avoid writing scenes where your character appears alone. Since fiction is based on conflict, these lonely scenes are often static and without impact. 6. Major characters must possess a real or imagined fatal flaw. 7. Major characters must change over the course of the novel. 8. Remember that as in real life, first impressions are important. Bring your characters into the story with flair.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Morning sky is ashen with a light snow falling frosting the rooftops and last night’s full moon, which Native Americans called the snow moon, was huge and silver as I toddled off to bed. I think I’m finally over the bad cold virus that has invaded my body—if you’re thinking of visiting Portland this might be a time to change your travel plans. Everyone I know has been sick, and coughing and hacking and wheezing are the sounds in the air. Meanwhile, our state budget, like most places, is in trouble and they're proposing cutting days from the school year.

I wish governments would take global warming more seriously—aren’t the heat, drought and fires sweeping through Australia one of the shrillest alarms heard in awhile? I’m afraid to check on the death count, but my thoughts and prayers to people in Australia suffering from the heat and fires.

Here’s a quote for today From Annie Dillard’s Notes for Young Writers:
“Ignore your feelings about your work. These are an occupational hazard. If you are writing a book, keep working at it, deeper and deeper, when you feel it is awful; keep revising and improving it when you feel it is wonderful. When you are young and starting out, often it is better, however to write something else than to labor over something that was a bad idea in the first place. Write something else; then write something else; then write something else. No matter how experienced you are, there is no correlation, either direct or inverse, between your immediate feelings about your work’s quality and its actual quality. All you can do is ignore your feelings altogether. It’s hard to do, but you can learn to do it.”

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Pale grey skies again this morning—rain is supposed to be coming later today. Here’s an excerpt From the Daily Writer by Fred White: Cultivating the Writing Habit “Is it possible to generate a powerful desire to write? Yes, and quite easily, actually. Erasmus, the prolific Renaissance thinker, author In Praise of Folly, put is simply:’ The desire to write grows with writing.’ For many beginners, few activities seem more unnatural than filling pages with words day after day, year after year. But this is exactly what an aspiring write must learn to feel comfortable doing. Whatever you learn to do on a regular basis eventually becomes natural. If you want to become a prolific writer, you must write out of habit. The longer you keep writing, the easier it will be to make writing a habit.”

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Sky is pale blue again with an equally pale band of pink encasing the horizon. Yesterday the weather here was so soft and fine and springlike it made you giddy. I’ve had a bad cold lately, but dragged myself out of bed to trek to the grocery story and was so glad I went outdoors.

A good friend has been trying to sell a short story collection in the past year just as the publishing industry was on a downturn. So I just sent her an email to let her know that--Harper Perennial is declaring the year of the Short Story, and will be publishing a short story for each week this year. Some are heavy-hitters from existing collections, but they're also accepting new submissions (yippee!). Here's their special website, Fifty-Two Stories. I hope by now anyone who is unpublished and looking for a book deal is checking out publisher and literary agency blogs.

A few of my favorite short story collections are Amy Bloom’s Come to Me and Even a Blind Man Can See How Much I love You. Meanwhile, keep writing….
and local casting agents are looking for boys age six and nine for a movie being filmed here starring Brendan Frazier and Harrison Ford.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

"If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel's heart beat and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. George Eliot, Middlemarch