"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.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

I'm a bit of a grinder. Novels are very long, and long novels are very, very long. It's just a hell of a lot of man-hours. I tend to just go in there, and if it comes, it comes. A morning when I write not a single word doesn't worry me too much. If I come up against a brick wall, I'll just go and play snooker or something or sleep on it, and my subconscious will fix it for me. Usually, it's a journey without maps but a journey with a destination, so I know how it's going to begin and I know how it's going to end, but I don't know how I'm going to get from one to the other. That, really, is the struggle of the novel. ~Martin Amis 

Monday, February 27, 2012

Things I Wish I'd Known
Here is a link to writerly advice written by Eric Weinstein. He writes:
"3. Follow the rule or break it, but do what you do for a reason. Insofar as there are rules for writing, they exist as a kind of temporary shorthand for experience—they’re meant to be followed until your own eye, ear, and experiences are sufficiently developed, at which point you become free to crash around and try new things. Whether you follow any given “rule,” however, or break it as part of a larger literary project, you need to understand why you’re doing what you’re doing. A great writer can break any number of rules—to again refer to Kurt Vonnegut, he once said that Flannery O’Connor broke almost all of the rules he’d devised for writing a short story—but this is because she has mastered them, not because she read about them that one time in Intro to Creative Writing and decided they were dull and stultifying.
There are a bunch of Zen-type aphorisms I can think of that point to this same idea. One involves the old saying that to the beginner, there are many ways to do something, and to the master, there are only a few; another is a Bruce Lee quote: “Before I studied the art, a punch to me was just like a punch, a kick just like a kick. After I learned the art, a punch was no longer a punch, a kick no longer a kick. Now that I’ve understood the art, a punch is just like a punch, a kick just like a kick.” The point, as mentioned in #2, is that there’s no permanent substitute for experience."

Quick Take
Avoid verbing that is changing nouns to verbs such as journal, parent, mother, gift, host, headquarter, author. (Headquartered at his Tuscany villa, James Toscani hosted a party to celebrate the cookbook he had authored. As his guests left the party, he gifted them all with an autographed copy of his book.) Ugh. 

 Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart
Thought for the Day:
"Editing itself is an excruciating act of self-discipline, mind reading, and stable cleaning. If it seems like a pleasure, something is probably wrong." ~ Arthur Plotnik
Thought for the Day
"Fiction and poetry are doses, medicines.What they heal is the rupture reality makes on the imagination.” ~ Jeanette Winterson

Sunday, February 26, 2012

One book for the rest of your life?
Question posed by the Huffington Post: If you only had one book to read the rest of your life,what would it be?
Your first 50 pages
Here’s a brief checklist of  elements needed in the first fifty pages of fiction (Act 1):
  • Hook created by an inciting incident that sets the story in motion, creates stress and change for a character, possibly the protagonist.
  • Sympathy and empathy for the protagonist established. 
  • Setting and other visceral details that build the story world so that the reader can settle into the story reality.
  • The central story question. 
  • The central conflict is introduced or set in motion. 
  • The cauldron is established, meaning that the place or situation that glues the characters together as the conflict boils over is somehow inescapable.
  • The first plot point.
  • (In most stories at least one subplot is also introduced in Act 1)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Can it be true? The Death of Chick Lit
As covered by salon.com's Laura Miller. She writes:
"Is chick lit dead? Less than a decade after commentators clucked at bookstore shelves lined with cartoon high-heels and pink cocktail glasses, the only debate that the once-flourishing genre inspires now is over when to run its obituary. Some say chick lit is well and truly defunct, while others insist there’s some life in the old girl yet. Since there has never been much agreement on what, exactly, chick lit is, perhaps the question can’t be settled.
One thing is for sure, however: A visit to any chain bookstore will testify that its heyday has definitely passed. “We’ve pretty much stopped publishing chick lit,” one editor told Jennifer Coburn, who wrote about the slump recently for the San Diego Union Tribune. Last year, the Independent newspaper in England reported on diminishing sales for such authors as Marian Keyes, although it muddied the water somewhat by including Jodi Picoult (who writes in a different genre, women’s fiction) among the sufferers."

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Thought for the Day:
"Imagination grows by exercise, and contrary to common belief, is more powerful in the mature than in the young."
W. Somerset Maugham

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Write from your starting point
A number of manuscripts I’ve read or worked on over that years have always haunted me. They were written by beginning writers although I’m not certain that they’d classify themselves as beginning writers.  I don’t have a clear definition for beginning writer, just like I cannot classify certain colors of the sky. As I look out my window now the sky is smoke colored. But how to name it?
      Some beginning writers plug away at their first story for 3 or 4 years. Some dabble; some earnestly apply themselves to the task and keep improving.
      The unpublishable manuscripts that I’ve read and wish I hadn’t often feature similar problems. Most are constructed from a grandiose plot, a bloated cast of characters, and innumerable subplots, and they’re usually written in a genre the writer doesn’t actually read much. Often these stories take place in far-away lands the writer has never visited and feature heroes that are as unlike the writer as raisins are unlike jalapeno peppers. These stories are usually doomed.
       Here’s the thing: Forget about the advice about writing what you know. Write what you can handle. Start with a comprehensible tale with a handful or so of characters. This  story should unfold in your imagination, as if you’re watching a 3-D movie. It needs a clearly-drawn dramatic question (Who murdered John?) and sharply-etched conflict. (John was murdered because Alex, the murderer, wanted his wife).
       Resist being high-falutin and don’t wander hither and yon. Don’t preach; don’t include stream of consciousness musings about the nature of creativity. Don’t put yourself in the story, especially as a talented but sadly overlooked writer unless you’re writing a memoir or essay. Don’t write a story based on a knotty topic you know nothing about and will take years of research. Most which you accomplish on the internet.   
       Write the simplest possible plot based on a timeless theme: forgiveness, justice, freedom, love. Write about emotions you understand, although they might be pitched higher than what has happened to you.
         Keep it manageable. And yes, high concept and simple can co-exist in your story. Craft beautiful sentences and breathe life into characters. Don’t keep adding until you’ve got a Gaudi-style behemoth.   

Monday, February 20, 2012

Fiction reveals truths that reality obscures. ~ Jessamyn West

Thought for the Day:  "It is important to have a secret, a premonition of things unknown. It fills life with something impersonal, a numinosum. A man who has never experienced that has missed something important. He must sense that he lives in a world which in some respects is mysterious; that things happen and can be experienced which remain inexplicable; that not everything which happens can be anticipated. The unexpected and the incredible belong in this world. Only then is life whole. For me the world has from the beginning been infinite and ungraspable." ~  Carl Jung

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Writing Life newsletter has been emailed today
If you did not receive your copy, please update your email address or check if your spam filter has blocked it.

As always, thanks for reading and please remember that my columns are copyrighted materials, Jessica
Thought for the Day
Every creator painfully experiences the chasm between his inner vision and its ultimate expression.  The chasm is never completely bridged.  We all have the conviction, perhaps illusory, that we have much more to say than appears on the paper.  ~Isaac Bashevis Singer
But It Really Happened
My column is up at my website explaining why sometimes life doesn't translate into fiction. It begins: "Being a writer can be a wonderful excuse for our less-than-noble tendencies to snoop, eavesdrop, and stand on the sidelines and report on the fray. But all this curiosity and awareness can lead to a particular catch-22 that exists for many fiction writers: do you write a story based on real events and people, and if so, how much can you borrow from reality? The short answers are sometimes and as little as possible except for creating a believable sense of place."

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Summer in Words 2012
As I've mentioned, I've been working on collecting an amazing group of people to inspire writers for our Summer in Words conference coming up June 15-17.
Without further ado:
Chelsea Cain, Sage Cohen, Jessica Glenn, Cathy Lamb, Yours TrulyNaseem Ratkha, Bruce Holland Rogers
As I said, amazing, and let's just add inspiring line up. 
More to come, as in workshop descriptions.
I'm getting jazzed about this year's conference....

Meanwhile, keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

Friday, February 17, 2012

You can hear a podcast/interview with me tomorrow:
On Saturday  (February 18) at 11 a.m. Pacific time.
I understand I'm talking about the writing life and writing after my head injury.
And because I had a head injury, I don't recall much of our conversation...so I'm going to listen too.
Link here or 

And let's all support public and independent radio.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Writing Technique: Flow

Style is the product of highly conscious effort that is not self-conscious.” Eudora Welty

            Some topics about writing technique simply don’t have much glamour or panache, but still the techniques are as vital to our work as oxygen is to lungs. So because most writers don’t consider it nearly enough, let’s discuss flow. Like other writing devices, flow is a nearly invisible factor, but when it’s employed, your writing will be seamless and smooth and graceful. But without flow your writing happens in fits and jerks, it flounders on the page, topics isolated like ice floes in a vast sea.
            Flow happens when ideas and stories have a fluidity, a connectivity, a cohesion.  Flow is consciously applied as a courtesy to the reader because readers deeply resent being lost of confused when amidst a page or story. Readers also hate to be jolted or to dangle, or feel a sense of disorientation.  Flow provides the map, flow connects the dots, flow grants readers firm footing. Flow aids the internal logic needed to make your ideas comprehensible.  Flow will move the reader from sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph, idea to idea, scene to scene, and chapter to chapter with grace and ease.
            An essential technique that creates flow is transitions and it’s shocking how often writers neglect to use them.  Transitions are the words, phrases, sentences or paragraphs used to bridge what has been said with what is going to be said. Simple transitions are generally, but not always, a subordinate clause placed in the beginning of a sentence or paragraph and used as a road sign indicating a change. Probably the most famous transition in writing is “meanwhile, back at the ranch.” It provides an easy shorthand and the reader knows, Ah, we’ve changed locales; we’re at the ranch again. Wonder how Ellie is getting along since Jed has been on the cattle drive for three months now.
            Transitions are handy devices because they can accomplish so much in only a few words. Their jobs are to signal: a change in time, a change in place, a shift in mood or tone, or a shift in point of view. Transitions also clarify relationships, emphasize, contrast or compare things, conclude actions or thoughts, and create associations.
            Jerome Stern offers his take on using transitions: “Dealing with transitions in time, space and point of view might not fit in with the romantic notion of the Writer as Tortured Genius, but notice how deftly, how invisibly, the writers you admire handle such matters. The more you recognize their craftsmanship, the more fully you understand what you can learn.”  If you don’t consciously use transitions, start now and in time they will come naturally. Notice how your favorite authors use them and emulate the methods that you find most effective.  
Today's Writing Prompt:
 Monet's Sunrise

Every Writer Has a Thousand Faces: Are you in it for the long haul?
Steady rain coming down here in Portlandia and I'm at my desk trying to keep my head above my own version of water. Here's a link to a thoughtful piece on the writing life by David Biespel. In this segment he's describing a workshop with Adrienne Rich and how she challenges the writers in the room.  Here is an excerpt: "If you only read one sentence in this book I hope it’s this one: A lot of the time just sticking with it is what this whole business of writing, making art, playing music, making songs, performing, and living a creative life is all about."

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Show, don't tell

Most readers do not pick up a novel or memoir to admire the writer’s clever phrases, but instead to experience vicariously something they cannot experience in real life. Your job as the writer is to make readers forget that they are reading, and give them the illusion of being in the story, seeing, hearing, smelling and feeling what is happening to people or characters. 
Show, don’t tell,” is advice so often given to writers that it’s practically written into law. Simply defined, show, don’t tell means that an accomplished writer will tell (explain) a little and demonstrate (show in action) a lot. But like all simple explanations, it can lead to confusion. All writing requires action, dialogue, summary, exposition, and description—a blend of techniques and delivery systems, all aimed at involving the reader emotionally. And all writing requires both showing and telling. Too much telling and the work is distant, static, emotionless, and lifeless on the page. Too much showing and the story can be too drawn-out or relentless. And contrary to conventional beliefs, it can also be flat and dull when overdone.
            Whenever possible, instead of giving the reader the directions or outlines of an experience, a writer places him in the midst of unfolding action. When the reader is watching a scene unfold he is worried and thus involved and can then draw his own conclusions and interpretations. Showing also requires that the writing is solid, not abstract, and this means that at least one of the senses is involved to create a specific realty.

Telling:   Alice looked at the men in anger.
Showing: Alice’s eyes smoldered.

Telling:   The house was rundown and shabby.
Showing: Weeds crowded the foundation and the paint curled around the sagging door and empty windows.

Tip: modifiers tell, verbs show.
Telling rather than showing breaks down into several problem areas:

Describing characters rather than showing them through action and dialogue.
Disclosing thoughts of non-viewpoint characters
Summarizing dialogue as indirect discourse instead of quoting it directly.
Using generalities rather than specifics.
Events that happen off stage but need to happen in real time. 
Information that is not delivered through a viewpoint character.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Folks--Please consider funding this imaginative, originatl and well- written tale by an unemployed and hard-working writer. Let's all support writers and artists, let's all be the writers and artists we are called to be.
Writing Prompt:
An essential skill in storytelling is to create a mood, atmosphere, or tone suggested by setting details and various levels of conflict. Mood and tone add to tension and impact. Write a scene or based on the mood from this photo.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Summer in Words 2012
Folks, I'm  finalizing (drum roll) the schedule for the 5th annual  Summer in Words 2012, but just wanted to let you know that the funny, smart, amazing and bestselling author Chelsea Cain will be our Keynote speaker. More to come as things shake down. Registration will open in March.

Dates are June 15-17.

Your workshop time will be spent at the Hallmark Inn & Resort, overlooking Haystack Rock and the wide, wide Pacific. You can book your room now at a reduced rate. Nearby in Cannon Beach you'll find great places to explore and wide beaches to stroll along.

This year's theme: Refinement, Resonance, & Resolve

Immerse yourself in a focused, intensive and exhilarating writing venture this summer. Well, it will be almost summer. Join us and experience the power of words.  Summer in Words will improve your writing and outlook. Really.  

Why consider Summer in Words?

  • Because you're serious about making breakthroughs in your writing. Under the guidance of published authors and writing coaches, you'll receive the individualized—and top notch—attention that you've always wanted.
  • Limited registration ensures that you receive a friendly, yet thorough and professional laboratory experience.
  • Critiques on your work will be insightful.
If you would like to stay informed on this program as well as others offered during 2012, please contact me at jessicapage(at) spiritone(dot)com 

Friday, February 10, 2012

I've posted an article about theme in fiction and memoir at my website. Here's the link. A longer discussion on the topic is available in Between the Lines:  Master the Subtle Elements of Fiction Writing.  

Thought for the Day
There's so much power and truth to be found in fiction. Here's some proof:
 "Grief can destroy you or focus you. You can decide a relationship was all for nothing if it had to end in death, and you are alone. Or you can realize that every moment of it had more meaning than you dared to recognize at the time, so much meaning it scared you, so you just lived, just took for granted the love and laughter of each day, and didn't allow yourself to consider the sacredness of it. But when it's over and you're alone, you begin to see that it wasn't just a movie and a dinner together, not just watching sunsets together, not just scrubbing a floor or washing dishes together or worrying over a high electric bill. It was everything, it was the why of life, every event and precious moment of it. The answer to the mystery of existence is the love you shared sometimes so imperfectly, and when the loss wakes you to the deeper beauty of it, to the sanctity of it, you can't get off your knees for a long time, you're driven to your knees not by the weight of the loss but by gratitude for what preceded the loss. And the ache is always there, but one day not the emptiness, because to nurture the emptiness, to take solace in it, is to disrespect the gift of life." ~ Dean Koontz,  Odd Hours

What do your stories teach about humanity?
Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart 

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Bonanza! 7 Free e-books for Writers:
Links brought to you by Jane Friedman, friend of the people.
Happy Tuesday everyone.
Quick Take: Make Speech Tags Invisible

It doesn’t matter if J.K. Rowling or other authors use lots of adverbs or colorful speech tags to describe how a character is talking, this sort of thing wears on editors and agents. The dialogue should imply the tone of voice, not the author’s instructors to readers. Use 'said' most of the time. The worst offenders are: stated, answered, explained, exclaimed, warned, recalled,  complained, suggested, interrupted, replied, announced, interrupted, replied, responded, muttered, whispered, insisted, concluded, observed, volunteered,  interjected, reiterated, guessed, snarled, hissed, chuckled,  murmured, growled, sobbed, smirked, shrugged, nodded, laughed, spat, stuttered, squealed, grumbled

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Thought for the Day:
Yes, I realize you don't know what I'm talking about, because beauty vanished long ago. It vanished under the surface of noise--the noise of words, the noise of cars, the noise of music--we live in constantly. It has been drowned like Atlantis. All that remains is the word, whose meaning becomes less intelligible with every passing year. - Milan Kundera from The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Biography of a Bad Guy ©
The more you know your antagonist, the easier it is to bring him to life.  Name:                                      Alias:     
Age:                                            Occupation:
Trauma, influences, or events from his past that turned him into a bad guy:
Psychological Profile:
Location of lair:
Motivations and goals in story:
Relationship to protagonist:
Rap sheet—criminal activities/back story:
Fear factor—how dangerous is he/she?
How far will he/she go to achieve aims?
Achilles Heel—a flaw or shortcoming the protagonist might exploit or can lead to his downfall.
Thought for the Day
Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue.  Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them.  And the point is, to live everything.  Live the questions now.  Perhaps you will find them gradually, without noticing it, and live along some distant day into the answer.  ~Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
Month of Letters Challenge
Sweetest blue skies again in Portland today. I have garden projects beckoning but I'm avoiding their call and finishing a project indoors. At my desk. Watching the wind make the trees dance.

I should have posted this yesterday but it was my birthday and as such required a celebration. I'm enclosing a link to the Month of Letters Challenge here because I think it's such a sweet and creative idea. You could write fan letters to your favorite authors. You could write to old friends,  your aunts and grandma and children who live in another state. You could write letters to your characters or in your character's voice.  If anyone wants to write me I can be found at P.O. Box 820141, Portland, OR 97282 and I'll write back.

And it's so much easier than NaNoWriMo.....keep writing--even the short stuff counts.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

In these days as spring is germinating below ground, stay focused on your writing goals, keep dreaming, have heart.