"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, December 31, 2013

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Richard Bausch: writing like your life depends on it

Human life is immense, as Henry James put it, and writing about any aspect of it is therefore a prospect that requires tremendous specificity. So you try not to be writing about what A 34 year old woman with a child and an absent husband might do, but about what THIS 34 year old woman with a child and an absent husband might do: so you have to make it up about her, the telling little details that give forth her specific nature; and making it up will show you things you didn't know you knew; you'll discover things about this immense life, and the knowledge will come from an otherness, a sense of something more in the lines, which is perfectly natural: The "unexplained knowledge," as Hemingway says, "which could come from forgotten racial or family experience," (racial in this sense to mean species-memory). He goes on to say "Who teaches a homing pigeon to fly as he does?" So, again, and I'm aware that I repeat myself: just keep it going, let it play out and try not to overworry the literary stuff, the sideshows. It's a story. Unfold the trouble and see where it takes you, and then go back and try to be very, very shrewd about what happened to you in the process--the lines, sentences, gestures, adumbrations, stops and starts, motions, and what happened to the people you've made up, and how all of what they went through felt in the nerve-endings. Say it all as specifically and clearly as you, with your own temperament, and your own being, can. That, to me, is writing like your life depends on it--not as some intellectual gaming (though there are some wonderful examples of just that in the world's store of fun reading) but as a revelation, tricked out of the dark by the very indirection that seems to ignore it, of your real being.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Find Words to Write By here. 



"Art is made by anarchists and sorted by bureaucrats." David Eggers

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Write it Down

One of my Facebook friends is going through a terrible tragedy--her husband has cancer and might not make it. She wants to write, but cannot.

In our loneliest, darkest times it's often hard to write. But here's a thought: don't write stories or edit, or   pressure yourself to work on a project during a crisis. Instead, use your notebook for small jottings and tidbits about what's going on. Capture the simple, but telling items on a bedside table or the strange cloud formation.  I suggested she might want to write down her husband's words or her dreams during this bleak time. Raw emotions and terrible sadness can be captured to be used later. I know this sounds rather mercenary, but it's worthwhile and it just might soothe.

For an example of capturing pain and transforming it into gold you might want to read A Three Dog Life by Abigail Thomas. No, it's not a dog story. It's a memoir about surviving grief and loss.

Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Quick Take: Say no

If I've said this once, I've said it 1,000 times. Yes, I'm echoing my mother. Plot events shriek a resounding "NO" to your protagonist. Doors don't open; they slam shut. Clues don't magically appear; they disappear. True love doesn't happen overnight; it must first fall apart.
Fictional plots punish the protagonist, over and over. Take that one to the bank. 

And while we're on the subject please skip eavesdropping of any  kind.
Overheard conversations were okay in the days of Nancy Drew, but these days readers are much more sophisticated.

Making it in Changing Times Conference

January 25

Tabor Space, Portland, OR

Keynote speaker: Karen Karbo


Information is here

Monday, December 02, 2013

How do you describe where you're from?

It's a great writing practice.Searching for the past, the haunts, the heart, the influences.

That's my middle-west--not the wheat or the prairies or the lost Swede towns but the thrilling, returning trains of my youth and the street lamps and sleigh bells in the frosty dark and the shadows of holly wreaths thrown by lighted windows on the snow. I am part of that, a little solemn with the feel of those long winters, a little complacent from growing up in the Carraway house in a city where dwellings are still called through decades by a family's name. I see now that this has been a story of the West, after all--Tom and Gatsby, Daisy and Jordan and I, were all Westerners, and perhaps we possessed some deficiency in common which made us subtly unadaptable to Eastern life. 
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Sunday, December 01, 2013


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

NaNoWriMo Tip # 14 Pull out the stops for the Dark Night of the Soul

Act 2 ends with the Dark Night of the Soul

Dark minded creature that I am, it's often my favorite part of the film or novel. In great television series you'll find them too.
It's the moment in the story where your protagonist, scarred and battered, needs to hit his or her emotional bottom. And the reader/viewer must too.

This is an all-out, deeply haunting crisis. ALL IS LOST, or appears to be. Your protagonist is facing his deepest fear. It is almost always a terrible and difficult test; one which prepares the protagonist for the final confrontation with the antagonist in the climax. Despair. Hoplessness. Doubt. Emotional gripping. It appears that the protagonist has lost everything or wonders if all has been worth it. This test brings understanding and often and epiphany. It makes way for the transformation that follows.

Dorothy locked in the witch's tower with that cruel hourglass running out.
In the  marvelous film the Station Agent Finn is in the bar getting stinking drunk. Walks home and passes out on the railroad tracks. 
Rose trying to free Jack as the Titanic sinks into the icy north Atlantic amid despair, chaos and panic.
In Toy Story Woody and Buzz fall into the hands of the sadistic Sid and seems like they'll never be reunited with Andy and moving day looms....  

Now you're at the climax of Act 2. Think of this segment of your story and as  the curtain dropping. Setting us up for the finale.

It's November 26....just a few more days o f writing,  and lot of Thanksgiving calories ahead of you....keep writing, keep trying...

My entertainment credo has not changed a whit. Strong combat and soft satire are in our story cores. Virtue triumphs over wickedness in our fables. Tyrannical bullies are routed or conquered by our good little people, human or animal. Basic morality is always deeply implicit in our screen legends. But they are never sappy or namby-pamby. And they never prate or preach. All are pitched toward the happy and satisfactory ending. There is no cynicism in me and there is none allowed in our work.” ~ Walt Disney.

Monday, November 25, 2013

NaNoWriMo Tip # 13 Bring Act 2 to a Boil

In the Act 1 you've introduced two big changes into the protagonist's life. These changes require the character to enter into the conflict, cross a threshold into the story. Some parts of the story such as the subplots might be simmering, but by the middle the plot should be cooking at a full boil.
Characters are best revealed by making decisions and discoveries and revealing secrets. Middles are where your character’s values are also revealed.
Middle chapters show the characters becoming more emotional, the struggle more personal. This forces the protagonist to confront inner struggles.
Act 2 is the best place to weave in backstory that is pertinent to the plot. Generally  back story is best use to explain why characters do what they do. Readers only need to know about the portions of your character’s history that are entwined with his or her motivation and core personality. 
I like to think of Act 2 as a long, wobbly bridge--the kind that spans an impossibly deep cavern with raging waters below. In Act 2 some of the characters don't make it across the bridge. 
In the second half of Act 2 things need to close in on your protagonist, time might be running out/
Other plotting tips as Act 2 boils away: 
It is usually a series of tests. During these tests the protagonist often makes mistakes.
The protagonist is bonding with his/her allies and also losing allies.
Things are starting to spiral out of control.
Things are growing darker and darker.
Often the protagonist crosses a moral line.
Are we having fun yet?  

 “As the writing progresses, the novelist begins to uncover connections and relationships that she had not realized in her outline or planning. The themes, major and minor, begin to appear in different forms. The writer must learn to capitalize on these from the Prince of Serendip, for through them she will discover what her novel is about.” Oakley Hall

Thursday, November 21, 2013

NaNoWriMo Tip # 12 The Midpoint is a Game Changer

Readers need to witness your protagonist surviving the midpoint reversal where EVERYTHING CHANGES.
The midpoint is like a second inciting incident. However, this time, instead of just reacting to the event, the protagonist moves forward with a new plan. A good example of midpoint shakeup is in the film Titanic when the ship hits the iceberg.

Here are some tips for the midpoint:
It needs to be a huge game changer.
It needs to raise the stakes.
Betrayal, loss, defeat, or a win, a secret or new information revealed locks the protagonist  into a new situation or dilemma.
The information gained now starts turning things in the protagonist's favor. 
It starts a chain reaction that leads to the climax.
Midpoint reversals work best when the readers don't see them coming.
They occur at roughly the 50% point in your story.
In a romance the lovers can finally make love or realize the truth of their feelings. In a mystery often a second body turns up, a major clue is uncovered, or the investigation heads into a whole new direction.
The midpoint will always require regrouping, recalibrating. 
Now the quest, goal is really personal and the stakes are higher.

Time running out is often a new problem that happens at the midpoint.

Tip for pitching your story: Mention the inciting incident, midpoint and climax.

Monday, November 18, 2013

NaNoWriMo Tip 11: Avoid flabby middles

     In a fiction manuscript, the middle, or Act 2 begins just after the first plot point and continues to the place in the novel called the Dark Night of the Soul.  Middles are the long, sometimes wobbly bridge that transports a reader from the opening of a novel or story to the climax. Middles are where most of the story takes place, including the subplots. And middles are also where writers most often get tangled or stuck.
            There are unhappy adjectives applied to the toil of writing middles—terrible, muddled, and deadly. The events in the middle must be substantive and layered, creating a deepening reality and series of complications. Many of the writer’s problems with writing center on these crucial concerns. Perhaps the chief mistake that beginning writers make is that the middle of the story doesn’t send the plot skittering off into a new direction somewhere in the middle. In other words, a big game changer/reversal is needed.

Beginning writers often don’t install enough surprises, twists, and complications that the reader hasn’t seen coming, but when they happen, revive the story, increase interest, and push it forward with renewed momentum. Because the ‘job’ of the middle chapters is to heighten the reader’s curiosity and involvement and hold him until the ending arrives.
            Then the other problem with writing middles is the writer’s mood—which is quite often flagging and sometimes desperate. One reason that writing middles is so difficult is that the writer has often lost momentum. Openings are fun to write and the writer is filled with promise and optimism. But of course, the confidence and push that ignites you in the beginning can wane as you hit the middle which has somehow morphed into a bottomless bog.  Doubts assail us and the tough questions about what the story is about begin to surface. So the task while writing the middle is twofold: you often need a means to revive yourself AND the story
In the middle chapters the protagonist’s motivations become more intense and personal, obstacles and setbacks increase and become more horrific. Middles heat up things, make the characters desperate, limit their options, and create unbearable pressures
Remember, middles increase stakes for your protagonist AND antagonist.  
More to come on writing middles in Tip# 12
         "The middle of a story develops the story’s implicit promise by dramatizing incidents that increase conflict, reveal character, and put in place all the various forces that will collide at the end of the story’s climax." ~ Nancy Kress

Thursday, November 14, 2013

NaNoWriMo Tip #10 Trust in your Reader

Trust your readers is advice that I have been giving my students and clients for twenty years now. Remember that each reader brings his or her knowledge and life experiences to the page. Trust they can interpret, surmise, understand human nature.

The less you trust that readers can follow your tale, the more often you state the obvious, or repeat key information, the harder it is for them “ to stay in this holy pocket of suspended disbelief.”

Tell the story; don’t give readers information for interpreting the story. This means you’ll be writing in scenes and your character’s thoughts won’t give away the store. (or insert favorite cliché here) This means we’re back to that oft quoted “show, don’t tell’ advice. Characters, action and dialogue carry the story.

So trust yourself, trust your reader.  Have belief in your craft. Shape a story that is clear,   compelling, with just enough twists and surprises.  Trust that your readers will pay attention. He or she doesn't need to be told everything, doesn't need instructions on how to think or view the characters or situation.  

"No one can write decently who is distrustful of the reader’s intelligence or whose attitude is patronizing." - E. B. White