"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, March 31, 2012

Thought for the Day:
The writer learns to write, in the last resort, only by writing. He must get words onto paper even if he is dissatisfied with them. A young writer must cross many psychological barriers to acquire confidence in his capacity to produce good work—especially his first full-length book—and he cannot do this by staring at a piece of blank paper, searching for the perfect sentence. ~ PAUL JOHNSON

Awoke to another morning of steady rain in Portland. Which makes it a good day to work at my desk ( since my garden is drowning)once the day's obligations are over. That said, here are few tidbits you might have missed that I want to pass along. How to get Media Coverage for Your Book by Ken Brosky is here. This article includes places to submit a press release.

For those of you writing nonfiction, here's a gold mine of fabuloso advice on that knotty topic Practical Tips on Writing a Book from 23 Brilliant Authors  over at  http://blogs.plos.org/neurotribes. Here is a sample from Carl Zimmer author of A Planet of Viruses, The Tangled Bank, and Brain Cuttings.
  1. Do as much research as possible away from the Internet — with living people, in real places.
  2. Be ready to organize vast amounts of data. Use a wall, or software like Scrivener.
  3. Be ready to amputate entire chapters. It will be painful.
And last, since I read a lot of cliched descriptions about body parts (don't you?) here is  helpful and detailed advice by Val Kovalin on How to Describe Eyes.

My Quick Take for the day: collect colors. Scrounge color charts in paint stores and hardware stores, art supply stores. Keep looking around and ask yourself the exact color of everything you see in nature, clothing, architecture.
Keep dreaming, keep writing, have heart

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Quick Take: Pacing
Here are a few basics about pacing: Opening scenes are usually longer than ending scenes which are chiefly focused on drama. No matter what genre you’re writing in, vary the length of scenes. Slow down when you want to emphasize something and you want the reader to experience the scene via his senses. Emphasis usually occurs at moments of most emotional impact such as after epiphanies or reversals, or after emotional connections such as in lovemaking. Speed past less important information such as transitions and moving your characters around in time and space. Slow down by inserting reactions and introspection after an emotionally intense scene especially if there has been violence or trauma. An exception would be in thrillers because often the protagonist spends little time reflecting on or reaction to the action. However, beware of nonstop thrills; suspense or action that never pauses numbs or wears on the reader. Most scenes need to build toward something-a reversal, a disaster, a confrontation or capitulation. All stories need pauses inserted  to vary the pace and tension, and slower moments for the reader to catch his breath or set down the book.
To speed up:
Short sentences.
Rapid-fire dialogue with little extraneous information.
Cliff hangers or other thrusters as the end of scene or chapter. (TIP: It often works best to write the complete manuscript, then in later drafts arrange these moments so that they fall at the end of scenes and chapters.)
Surprises at the end of scenes.

To slow down: 
In the middle of an emotionally-charged scene, give your character another task such as handling an object, recalling  or connecting the moment to a memory.
Lush descriptions.
Long sentences.
"It's hard for me to believe that people who read very little - or not at all in some cases - should presume to write and expect people to like what they have written. Can I be blunt on this subject? If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time - or the tools - to write. Simple as that." ~ Stephen King

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Harlan Ellison
Fell asleep to the sound of rain last night and this morning the sky is the color of a dusty chalkboard. When the rain started pinging against the windows last night J and I were watching a documentary on author Harlan Ellison called Dreams With Sharp Teeth.  He's complicated, funny, eccentric, prickly, brilliant and manic. A writer's writer according to his friend Neil Gaiman. I cannot recommend it enough. An excerpt from the film, pay the writer can be seen here on YouTube.

The only thing worth writing about is people. People. Human beings. Men and women whose individuality must be created, line by line, insight by insight. If you do not do it, the story is a failure. [...] There is no nobler chore in the universe than holding up the mirror of reality and turning it slightly, so we have a new and different perception of the commonplace, the everyday, the 'normal', the obvious. People are reflected in the glass. The fantasy situation into which you thrust them is the mirror itself. And what we are shown should illuminate and alter our perception of the world around us. Failing that, you have failed totally.” ~ Harlan Ellison

Thought for the day
I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we are reading doesn't wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for? . . . A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.~ Franz Kafka

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Wild Review
This is the sort of New York Times review every writer hopes for. You can find it here. Cannot be happier for homegirl Cheryl Strayed and the fabulous success of her memoir, Wild. 

And a review of Wild and a brief interview with Cheryl is also in this month's O Magazine.
Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart
Writing Prompt:

Thought for the Day
Like the combination of oxygen, hydrogen and carbon in the human body, craft features combine to form a sum greater than their parts—a sum that, in the end, cannot be divided.
~ Fred Leebron

Monday, March 26, 2012

Quick take:
The crutch words I spot most often are 'get' and 'got.' Followed by 'see.'
What are your crutch words?

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Summer in Words
Writing Conference 2012 Schedule
is posted here and here.
Registration opens March 31. You can now reserve your room at the Hallmark Inn & Resort, Cannon Beach, but be sure to mention the reservation is under Summer in Words to received a discounted rate.
"Make sure your vision is charged with desire. [...] We get the word desire from the Latin de sider, meaning "of the stars." Unless your vision is charged with desire, you have lost touch with your star and are bound to go astray. But if your desire is fully invested in your vision, then you cannot help stirring forces in the world to support you." ~ RobertMoss.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The fog has burned off and sun is blazing down here after a week of storms. If you know an author who has a book that is about to  published, to best support that author, pre-order it or buy it soon after it's release. Book sales near the release date determine future printings and publicity efforts. With that said, the lovely Cheryl Strayed's memoir, Wild was just released. I attended her launch on Wednesday night at Powells along with a standing-room-only crowd and listened to her read an excerpt and answer questions. It's about a solo trek along the Pacific Crest Trail, a journey was healing, difficult, and life changing.   You can find her appearances here. She's also been blogging at powells.com this week here.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

There are still spaces available in my Line by Line workshop on Saturday, March 24
There is also one scholarship available.
Please contact me if you believe you qualify.

The 10 Types of Writer's Block
And what to do about them. Here's the link to this fun and insightful piece.
It starts: "Writer's Block. It sounds like a fearsome condition, a creative blockage. The end of invention. But what is it, really?
Part of why Writer's Block sounds so dreadful and insurmountable is the fact that nobody ever takes it apart. People lump several different types of creative problems into one broad category. In fact, there's no such thing as "Writer's Block," and treating a broad range of creative slowdowns as a single ailment just creates something monolithic and huge. Each type of creative slowdown has a different cause — and thus, a different solution.
Instead of feeling overwhelmed by the terrifying mystique of Writer's Block, it's better to take it apart and understand it — and then conquer it. Here are 10 types of Writer's Block and how to overcome each type."

keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Quick Take: Just Say No
Well in Portlandia today it hailed, snowed, rained,and the sun made several curtsied appearances. Now dusk is falling and skies are cloud banked. I've been thinking about some of the manuscripts I've been reading lately and the role of planning in writing a longer story. As you plan your novel or screenplay  first block it into three acts. Then factor in a series of obstacles for your protagonist. He or she wants something--to rob a bank and get away with it, find true love, win the presidency.  The protagonist's desire is so enormous he or she is willing to be destroyed to obtain it. Your job is to thwart that desire. Again and again. When you add obstacles it also creates stops in the stories. Each of these obstacles should be mini dramas. All stories need these, not unimpeded or merely bumpy roads to success.

Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart
Your brain on Fiction

I've been lecturing and writing about this topic for years: Stories stimulate the brain. Metaphors like “He had leathery hands” rouse the sensory cortex.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Line by Line: How to Rewrite, Rework & Reword workshop
March 24, 9-5 Tabor Space, 5441 S.E. Belmont, Portland, OR Cost: $75
Every good writer is also an editor. The tough thing about self-editing is learning what to keep, what to lose, and what to leave well enough alone. For some this can be difficult because writers are extremely close to their work and read what they meant to write, not what's actually on the page.  This workshop will give you perspective on all that. We’ll cover the all-important level of line editing—or how to make each sentence and paragraph sing, how to choose words for potency and resonance, and how to transform clunky sentences and paragraphs into smooth beauties. We’ll be line editing examples throughout the workshop. The aim is to polish so the pages are not only easy to read, but a pleasure to read. Generous handouts and cheat sheets will be supplied.  We’ll cover:
  • Definitions of developmental editing, copy editing, line editing and proofreading.
  • The five steps of line editing and ways to analyze your work with an impersonal eye.
  • How to keep a close eye on word usage, looking out for misused words, overused words, crutch words, and words which do not belong.
  • We’ll chop clutter and excess prepositions, amp up language, learn where to place emphasis and word grenades.
  • How to spot flatness, lack of variety and lack of verve.
  • How to retool the language throughout so that it’s more evocative.
  • How to smooth out clumsy narrative and clunky dialogue.
  • How to correct basic grammar and punctuation problems.
This one is going to rock. Up-my-sleeve type tricks I've been wanting to share for years.
I also  have one scholarship available.
Please contact me to register.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The daffodils have been popping up all over town, the flowering trees are pale lavender and pink splendors and the weather is so erratic I cannot formulate an adequate simile. I'm not sure that I've ever used cornucopia in a sentence before. A written sentence that is. At least not in March. Maybe in November. And since spring has arrived, well sort of, in the midst of storms and rain and even snow, a cornucopia is certainly out of step with the season.

However, I wanted to express the riches I have to pass along.

First, check out Cathy Lamb's post about the realities (some harsh) about the writing life: Blunt Advice  if you Want to be A Writer. Cathy and I met for lunch a week ago and ever since I keep playing parts of our conversation in my head. She's a successful author and I knew her before she was published, so I know a bit about what it took for her to accomplish all she has accomplished and she inspires me with her life, her approach to writing, her large heart, and her success. For more about Cathy, please stay tuned because she's going to be speaking and teaching at Summer in Words this year.

Here's advice/something to chew on for authors and soon-to-authors from the Ceo of  Goodreads Goodreads’ CEO on Winning the Battle of Book Discovery
John B. Thompson sums up the challenge facing publishers and authors today: abundance has irrevocably changed the publishing industry, and it has made discovery the central problem facing the book business.
And please check out Stephen Pressfield  writing about the tension between art and commerce: Writing on Two Tracks  He writes: 

"Track #1, the Muse Track, represents our work in its most authentic, true-to-itself and true-to-our-own-heart expression.
Track #2, the Commercial Track, represents the response our work gets in the marketplace. In other words, points 1-2-3 above.
Track #2 counts for putting bread on the table and getting our kids through college.
Track #1 equates to our artistic soul.
The problem with Track #2 is that it also represents the siren song of riches and fame (or at least applause and recognition in the real world)."

"After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are things that we most need in the world." ~ Phillip Pullman

And before you get too discouraged:
Fun a fun take on book covers and Jane Austin Book Brawl Sense & Sensibility vs. Pride and Prejudice  here.

And file this under simple but true:
Thriller author Steve Berry's 8  rules for writing
1. There are no rules. You can do anything you want as long as it works.
2. Don’t bore the reader. You can bore the reader in a sentence, in a paragraph, by misusing words, poorly choosing words, using the wrong length, etc.
3. Don’t confuse the reader. Don’t misuse point of view. Don’t do too much at once.
4. Don’t get caught writing. Don’t let you, the author, enter the story. (E.g., “And he never would see Memphis again.” How would anyone other than the author know that the character would never see Memphis again?)
5. Shorter is always better. Write tight. It makes you use the best words in the right way.
6. Don’t lie to the reader. It’s OK to mislead, but don’t lie. If you say the character’s motivation is A and it turns out to be B (and you haven’t foreshadowed it at all), the reader will feel cheated.
7. Don’t annoy the reader. Don’t use names that are hard to pronounce or write choppy sentences throughout the entire book. It keeps people from getting close to your characters.
8. You must tell a good story. Bad writing can be forgiven with a good story. A bad story with the most beautiful writing cannot.

"A writer never knows if his perseverance is his terrible weakness or his greatest strength." Nathan Englander,  The Reader
Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The unsaid, for me, exerts great power . . .
~Louise Gluck

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

"Learn how to meditate on paper. Drawing and writing are forms of meditation. Learn how to contemplate works of art. Learn how to pray in the streets or in the country. Know how to meditate not only when you have a book in your hand but when you are waiting for a bus or riding in a train." ~ Thomas Merton
Overnight snow fell in Portland and of course people around here are tizzying, freaking a bit. But as usual, it's melting and the sky  sulks, in an undecided frame of mind.

I want to direct you to a definitive, helpful and practical piece A Definition of the Author Platform by the writer's friend Jane Friedman. All you'll ever need to know. Cross my heart.

Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

Monday, March 12, 2012

Writing Prompt:

Begin with a Name
Winds are high in Portlandia this morning, all the Douglas firs outside my window swaying, sky the color of pewter. My column about the all-important task of  naming fictional characters is now posted at my website here.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we're doing it.  ~ Neil Gaiman

Quick Take: Repetition

When I was a kid my third grade teacher was Mrs. Schultz. She was tall and broad shouldered with a mole on her chin and wore steel-rimmed glasses. She wore thick-soled shoes and lady-like dresses in muted patterns. She was stern, she was tough as a drill sergeant, and I learned many basic skills in her class that I still use today. When it was time to learn the multiplication tables she led the class through the tables over and over until I can still hear the refrain: “six times six is thirty-six; six times seven is forty-two, six time eight is forty-eight." Repetition sticks in the brain and hammers home ideas.

That said, one problem that I’ve noted often in manuscripts is excess repetition. Now, repetition is a great tool or technique in the hands of a crafty writer. It’s used in many ways, in many genres. For example, it’s used often by song writers when they repeat a chorus or refrain. Think about Lennon and McCartney’s Yesterday as an example, and how the key word and phrases are repeated so the effect is haunting.  

The things They Carried by Tim O’Brien is a fabulous example of effective extended repetition. Through repetition O'Brien gives the reader a potent, visceral sense of what it felt like to tramp through a booby-trapped jungle, carrying 20 pounds of supplies, 14 pounds of ammunition, along with radios, machine guns, assault rifles and grenades. . . .

"They carried USO stationery and pencils and pens. They carried Sterno, safety pins, trip flares, signal flares, spools of wire, razor blades, chewing tobacco, liberated joss sticks and statuettes of the smiling Buddha, candles, grease pencils, The Stars and Stripes, fingernail clippers, Psy Ops leaflets, bush hats, bolos, and much more. Twice a week, when the resupply choppers came in, they carried hot chow in green mermite cans and large canvas bags filled with iced beer and soda pop. They carried plastic water containers, each with a 2-gallon capacity. Mitchell Sanders carried a set of starched tiger fatigues for special occasions. Henry Dobbins carried Black Flag insecticide. Dave Jensen carried empty sandbags that could be filled at night for added protection. Lee Strunk carried tanning lotion. Some things they carried in common. Taking turns, they carried the big PRC-77 scrambler radio, which weighed 30 pounds with its battery. They shared the weight of memory. They took up what others could no longer bear. Often, they carried each other, the wounded or weak. They carried infections. They carried chess sets, basketballs, Vietnamese-English dictionaries, insignia of rank, Bronze Stars and Purple Hearts, plastic cards imprinted with the Code of Conduct. They carried diseases, among them malaria and dysentery. They carried lice and ringworm and leeches and paddy algae and various rots and molds. They carried the land itself—Vietnam, the place, the soil—a powdery orange-red dust that covered their boots and fatigues and faces. They carried the sky. The whole atmosphere, they carried it, the humidity, the monsoons, the stink of fungus and decay, all of it, they carried gravity. They moved like mules. By daylight they took sniper fire, at night they were mortared, but it was not battle, it was just the endless march, village to village, without purpose, nothing won or lost. They marched for the sake of the march. They plodded along slowly, dumbly, leaning forward against the heat, unthinking, all blood and bone, simple grunts, soldiering with their legs, toiling up the hills and down into the paddies and across the rivers and up again and down, just humping, one step and then the next and then another, but no volition, no will, because it was automatic, it was anatomy, and the war was entirely a matter of posture and carriage, the hump was everything, a kind of inertia, a kind of emptiness, a dullness of desire and intellect and conscience and hope and human sensibility. Their principles were in their feet. Their calculations were biological. They had no sense of strategy or mission. They searched the villages without knowing what to look for, not caring, kicking over jars of rice, frisking children and old men, blowing tunnels, sometimes setting fires and sometimes not, then forming up and moving on to the next village, then other villages, where it would always be the same. They carried their own lives. The pressures were enormous. In the heat of early afternoon, they would remove their helmets and flak jackets, walking bare, which was dangerous but which helped ease the strain. They would often discard things along the route of march. Purely for comfort, they would throw away rations, blow their Claymores and grenades, no matter, because by nightfall the resupply choppers would arrive with more of the same, then a day or two later still more, fresh watermelons and crates of ammunition and sunglasses and woolen sweaters—the resources were stunning—sparklers for the Fourth of July, colored eggs for Easter—it was the great American war chest—the fruits of science, the smokestacks, the canneries, the arsenals at Hartford, the Minnesota forests, the machine shops, the vast fields of corn and wheat—they carried like freight trains; they carried it on their backs and shoulders—and for all the ambiguities of Vietnam, all the mysteries and unknowns, there was at least the single abiding certainty that they would never be at a loss for things to carry."

Poets use repetition ( I hear America singing), ministers use it in their sermons (I have a dream), politicians employ it in speeches (Ask not what your country can do) to emphasize and stir emotions. Advertisers use repetition because it’s persuasive.
Repetition can be used in smaller increments as in repeating sounds as in alliteration, assonance, consonance, or rhyme. 

Thus repetition can add power, unity, and resonance to writing and can be pleasing to the ear. Mostly repetition is used for emotional and thematic weight.  However, when a writer uses the same vocabulary again and again, when details in a story are repeated, when themes are explored too often the reader becomes weary. One way to avoid too much repetition is to vary your language, and respect “word territory.” Another is to avoid redundancy which is another way of saying don’t repeat the obvious (small babies, friendly smiles, past history). Also, vary your sentence structures and try not to begin sentences with the same words or phrases.

The second way to avoid  unnecessary repetition is to keep in mind that when the writing is finely honed, readers will remember significant details so they don’t need to be repeated. Instead, try to build or layer details, so that you’re constantly adding to a reader’s understanding of a place,  person, situation, or relationship. 

The third thing is to remember that themes should whisper beneath a story. When a writer overemphasizes themes the story feels shrill and the reader feels bludgeoned by the writer. Think about it, when someone leans over and whispers to you the exchange is intimate, you pay attention. The moment has power.
Thought for the Day:  
"For a man who no longer has a homeland, writing becomes a place to live." -Adorno

Thursday, March 08, 2012

The first thing a writer has to do is find another source of income. Then, after you have begged, borrowed, stolen or saved up the money to give you time to write and you spend all of it staying alive while you write, and you write your heart out, after all that, maybe no one will publish it, and if they publish it, maybe no one will read it. That is the hard truth, that is what it means to be a writer.~ Ellen Gilchrist

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Quick Take:
When writing dialogue beware of "the truth serum effect." This means a detective or some other character with a need for answers starts questioning a second character.Which is when the second character starts blurting out truths and secrets as if he or she has been given an injection of truth serum.Fiction says 'no' to character's goals.Truths should be hard won. Answers evasive.A lot of dialogue is adversarial or a power exchange. Much of the time in your story world characters should not get along.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Writing Prompt

Thought for the day:
The contract between the author and the reader is a game. And the game . . . is one of the greatest inventions of Western civilization: the game of telling stories, inventing characters, and creating the imaginary paradise of the individual, from whence no one can be expelled because, in a novel, no one owns the truth and everyone has the right to be heard and understood.
Carlos Fuentes - Myself with Others: Selected Essays

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Quick Take
Fiction writers post this next to your computer in extra-large and bold letters:
Scene = Change
Good Advice, Bad Advice?
I've sorted through some of the common bits of advice aimed at writers at my website.
As a person who writes advice books I realize this can be sticky territory.Would love to hear about good or bad advice you've followed as well as your writing questions.
Bring them on.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Human language is like a cracked kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, when all the time we are longing to move the stars to pity. ~ Gustave Flaubert
Pimping Your Book, Indie or Traditional
Here's a link with some useful info on pimping your book by Holly Robinson. She's been published by major publishers and self published her own novel, so she's writing from a learn-as-you-go perspective. And best, the topics she covers are practical and not so much like real pimping. I, for one, will never wear hats with feathers.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Thought for the Day:
There are so many different kinds of writing and so many ways to work that the only rule is this: do what works. Almost everything has been tried and found to succeed for somebody. The methods, even the ideas of successful writers contradict each other in a most heartening way, and the only element I find common to all successful writers is persistence-an overwhelming determination to succeed. ~ Sophy Burnham

Thursday, March 01, 2012