Workshop Wisdom

I’m attending a writers workshop program on June 1. Check out the host studio tucked away in the lovely hills of western Massachusetts,

If you’re ever in this neck of the woods (and you’re a writer), check out Dori’s studio. Great writers (who are also super nice people) come together here to help each other. I took a workshop a couple of years back and loved it. Here’s the course I’m taking this time around:

The Psychology of Strong Characters, with Jacqueline Sheehan
The most memorable characters are driven by powerful forces of fear and desire. Jacqueline Sheehan is a New York Times bestselling author and psychologist who applies basic psychology to all her characters.  In this One-day workshop, you’ll learn to challenge your characters to take the necessary actions that reveal the white-hot core of your story. It’s a tall order, but that’s what all good stories are essentially about.

This couldn’t come at a better time for me.  As I write my way further into the new book, issues of how compelling and sympathetic the main character is have taken center stage. It’s been a while since I sat in a roomful of strangers and discussed my (and their) work. And while not all the points discussed will apply to me, I always leave these things with at least a few priceless nuggets of insight that help me look at my writing in a new way. I’ll post my best takeaways to share with you all next week.

Until then, write well.


Best of the Worst

bad writing

So Karen and I were talking about bad lines we’ve written, from mere foibles to grand catastrophes. We’ve been swapping short stories since the ‘90s, so we have a wealth of crap to draw from. “Remember that horrible story you wrote about the dead dog?” We howl with laughter. “Remember the one about the girl whose mother was a hooker?”

So here are a couple of our worst. Karen once wrote a story about a guy traveling with his dog. It’s a very somber, low-key, sad piece. Then he walks into a convenience store and thinks:

“And then I spot it behind the cashier: The Slush Puppy Machine!”

And from me, in a story about a kid having a bad day at school:

“He leaned his head against his locker door, barely resisting the urge to bang it.”

These were stories we submitted to workshops, so to know others actually read them is, to say the least, humbling. But, hey, here are some that actually made it into print:

From E.L. James, 50 Shades of Grey:

“Mentally girding my loins, I head into the hotel.”


“The muscles inside the deepest, darkest part of me clench in the most delicious fashion.”


“My inner goddess is beside herself, hopping from foot to foot.”

From Charlene Harris, Definitely Dead:

“The birds were tweeting and chirping, the bugs were buzzing, and the pollen-heavy air was full of peace as if it were yet another plant emission.”


“Lindsay was able to reduce boys to drooling idiots hyenaand keep them trailing after her like stunned hyenas.”

From David Baldacci, The Whole Truth:

“To say that this hit the earth like a molten-lava tsunami would have been the grossest of understatements.”

From Claire Delacroix, Unicorn Vengeance

“The feel of her tongue in his ear was enough to send Wolfram bursting from his chausses.”

And a page and a half later:

“The sight of her creamy flesh was enough to make him burst his chausses.”


From Jamaica Layne, Knight Moves (in which a knight is asked by a woman how he knew she’d had multiple orgasms):

“Your lady-softness told me herself when she was wrapped round my codpiece.”

Still want more?

Google “worst lines” and “Dan Brown.”

I’d post more of my own, but I’m too busy sewing my husband’s chausses—like a stunned hyena.

So I’ll ask you. I know we’re not alone in this. Give us the worst line (or lines) you’ve ever written—from a novel, a story, an essay, a lyric—hell, a book report for school. Come on, you know you’re proud of yourself. Post them here. We’ll send the winner a candy cane pen!



Getting Better All The Time

So I’m taking a somewhat different approach this time around. Eighty pages into the new tome, I’m rewriting. It’s a departure from the process I used with my first book, when getting that initial draft pumped out took precedence.

I’m taking this as a good sign. I’ve learned from my past errors. This time, I’m mindful of avoiding the sort of mistakes that I made in the first book. I’m keeping a much tighter rein on the narrative and streamlining “backstory” information judiciously into the flow. I haven’t written a single flashback. Not that there’s anything wrong with flashbacks… I think it’s just a matter of pacing and balance.

This early rewrite is just a structural sweep, a way to keep the train on the track. I’m not shooting for “finished draft” or anything crazy like that. Anyone else care to share lessons learned in early projects that benefitted later ones?


The Business of Rewriting

If I haven’t made this clear yet, novel #2 is requiring more thought and research than I’d planned.

That’s another way of saying the overwhelming problems of this first draft have left me with so many dead-ends that I now have one hell of a case of writer’s block. Also, I’ve gotten yet another rejection of novel #1 that pointed out some problems I think (I desperately hope) I can solve. So I’ve embarked on yet another rewrite of that poor, much-abused piece, which I’m kinda excited about actually. I feel like maybe, just maybe, I can actually FIX it.

Anyway, this led to a discussion with Spock (the hubby), who asked me the other day how the writing was going.

“It’s going,” I told him. “I’m in the throes of a major rewrite.”

He frowned. Spock

“A new version?”


“Is it a new version of the book, or are you changing the current version?”

“I have about 20 versions. Of course it’s a new version.”

“Then it’s not a rewrite. It’s a Parallel Path.”

Oh sweet mother. More Spock-Speak.

“And what does that mean?” I asked.

“It’s something we say at work.”

“Of course it is.”

“It’s a business plan where two separate paths diverge from a common starting point. So there’s no one ‘final’ version of a document, but separate ‘current’ versions that can lead off in any direction you like without affecting the original.”

I stared at him. “So basically, you Save As.”

He stared at me. “Well, yeah.”

“So I can change a character from a girl to a guy. I can switch point of view from ‘I’ to ‘she’ on a whim.”

“That’s right.”

And part of me was thinking, well duh. That’s what a rewrite is. But then again, it’s kind of freeing to view it this way. Like the sky’s the limit. The road is full of green lights ahead. And this is all documented in a business plan.

I started to think about my rewrite, and how it’s comforting, even exciting to begin a new version and take it where I want it to go.

“It’s a form of risk reduction,” Spock continued. “Also called variants. They come from a development plan that was started back in…”

“That’s enough, Honey.”


I did some research on the subject. Turns out Anne Tyler

Anne Tyler

(oh, how I adore her) loves the revision process and rewrites her novels in longhand. D. H. Lawrence wrote his second drafts without even looking at the first ones. “Books aren’t written,” Michael Crichton says, “they’re rewritten.” Stephen King says you should first tell your story to yourself, and then tell it to a reader: “Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.”

Friends groan when I tell them I’m rewriting this book again. But, like Anne, I LOVE rewrites. How often do you get to change the past? To dress someone in a different pair of shoes, send people off to live in a different region, choose a different friend or spouse or co-worker or soulmate for them, to let them say something the way you wished they’d said it the first time, or to take back what they shouldn’t have said at all?

For me, rewrites rock. And the best part is, I’ve already done the hard stuff. The stress of worrying whether a real story is there—the very thing that gives me writer’s block—is over. All I have to do is make that story stronger, more vivid, more nuanced and wise.

Easier said than done, of course. And tomorrow I may be heading back to that first draft of novel #2 again.

But not today. Today, I’m taking the parallel path, reducing risk…uh, embracing my variant…? If it doesn’t work out, I’ll just Save As one more time.

Save As

Am I alone in this? Do you rewrite despite? Please–enlighten me with your own business plans.