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Takeaways from AWP 2017

—From Cathy

AWP17Thumbnail (1)The Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) Conference happened a little over a month ago (February 8-11 in Washington, DC), and in addition to all the books, journals, and souvenirs I dragged home, I also took a ton of notes during the sessions and readings, and finally dug them out. Here are some of the best quotes, overheard remarks, and tips, most of them without attribution. Some are true gems, so please enjoy these takeaways from some great conversations about writing and publishing.

Turning Flash Pieces into a Novel, Novella, or Memoir
(Panelists: Abigail Beckel, Kelcey Parker Ervick, Lex Williford, Tyrese Coleman, Tara Laskowski)

“Prioritize clarity over adherence to the form.”

“Flash eliminates all the boring parts.”flashfiction

Try writing flash stories and connecting them together for a novella or novel. This retains the strength of voice and character, and the overall tension of the book will join them and progress the story forward. (Voldemort is the big tension, little problems along the way are the smaller ones.) Tara Laskowski recommends The Desert Places as a great example of a hybrid text novel.

We All Have to Start Somewhere: How Bad Writing Gets Good
(Some raw language in this one. Oh, those bawdy writers.)
(Panelists: Melissa Stein, Richard Bausch, Tayari Jones, Natalie Diaz, Nick Flynn)

Fifty Shades of Gray reads like somebody shat it out.”

“Give yourself the freedom to suck.”

“You cannot fuck it up. You can’t ruin it. You can only make it necessary to do it again.”

“Your writing isn’t bad, it’s just off. Like a sweater buttoned the wrong way. Unbutton it. Rebutton it. It’s a perfectly fine sweater.”

Always read your work aloud.”

Recommended book: The Artist’s Way  by Julia Cameron

Distinguished Editors Panel, featuring Nan Graham, Daniel Halpern, Jonathan Galassi, and Erroll McDonald

“The author/editor relationship is like an arranged marriage.”

“Voice and territory, more than structure, are the criteria by which I judge a book. Structure can be fixed. But you can’t fix writing that’s not fresh, that’s been done before.”

You know a story is done when others you show it to disagree about what needs to be changed. If they’re all telling you a character isn’t strong enough or the pacing is slow, for example, believe them and fix the problems. But if they’re all telling you something different, it’s probably finished.

A Novelist’s Job: The Realities, Joys, and Challenges
(Panelists: Miranda Beverly-Whittemore, Nicole Dennis-Benn, Julia Fierro, Celeste Ng)

Being busy, working, having a job, makes you more productive in your writing.

Do not think about writing a successful book. Just “be true to the work.”

Do social media in an authentic way. Use it as a place of community. If you feed into that world, it will work for you too. Help other writers (with reviews, promotion, comments, etc.) and they’ll help you.61399611

On creating more spaces/avenues for writing to exist: “We’re all fighting hard for a piece of pie, when actually there is no pie. Your job is not to get your piece, but to make more pie.” –Celeste Ng

Also try to post enough to stay connected with people, but don’t make it seem like a sales pitch. Tweet an overheard conversation. Do a daily task, like Ellis Avery who posts a haiku every day. Another writer posts dog pictures (often with a link to his book) every day.

Loose, Faithful, and Literal: Adaptation from Novel to Screen
(Panelists: Christine Vachon, Neal Gabler, Magdalene Brandeis, Melissa Bank)

Screenplays make you focus on the narrative—how to bring character and plot into what can be seen and shown.

images“In a movie, action is always character.”

One panelist says she tells her students not to call themselves “filmmakers” but “storytellers.” Because there are so many different forms (like streaming services) today to bring stories to life.

A movie is a “jolt,” whereas a TV show is a life. Characters grow incrementally, and that’s a “novelistic sense of life in real time.”

NO screenplay should be more than 110 pages!

By the time the Q&A rolled around, it was apparent everyone listening to this panel was there to ask the same question: How do you get your screenplay seen? Sadly, the answers were pretty vague.

“If you’ve written ‘trash’ like The Godfather, you may be lucky enough that someone will turn it into gold.” —Neal Gabler

Write a two-page summary of why this should be made into a film. Send it to a producer you think would be interested. A 20-something intern will likely read it, and will pass it along (or not) to the producer. Melissa Bank, author of Girls Guide to Hunting & Fishing, sent a story to Zoetrope. They put her in touch with Coppola.

Ask yourself who’s your dream director? Actress? Work on those connections. “I wrote this for you and here’s why.”

“Great works rise to the top. Books come to our attention through coverage, reviews, agencies, recommendations. It just happens.”

Um, yeah. But how do you get your screenplay seen?

“It’s difficult to get things read, and to work with and without an agent. The only sure way to do it is to make the film yourself.”

Kirkus Reviews was recommended as the primary route for movie companies to see synopses of stories that might intrigue them.

Foremothers: Southern Women Writers
(Panelists: Charlotte Holmes, Cary Holladay, Lisa Parker, Lisa Roney, Adrienne Su)

A panelist talked about her mother, whose family moved from the south when she was young. The kids in her school couldn’t understand her because of her southern accent, so she stopped talking—for a year. She read books out loud, practicing in her bedroom, until she lost her accent.

Read Katherine Stripling Beyer, a writer similar to Lee Smith.

One panelist recalled how Lee Smith studied at the Sorbonne and loved to let people there hear her talk. She could see them taking her IQ down about 20 or 30 points as she spoke. Then she would say something that would “take them out at the knees.”

Live outside the world of your past, but find your background. You have to get away from it to look back and find your voice.

Recommended books:

The Dollmaker, Harriette Arnow

Killers of the Dream and Strange Fruit, Lillian Smith

Trampoline, Robert Gipe, on duality of Appalachia

Panel: Conversation with Ann Patchett and Emma Straub

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Emma Straub, Ann Patchett

“Don’t think, what type of book should I write? Writing is most successful when it sounds the most like you. When the voice is right, it feels alive.” –Straub

“Fiction is a way we can play out an alternate universe. Like in It’s a Wonderful Life. If I’d taken a left instead of a right 20 years ago…” –Patchett

Book lovers want something smart and funny. Where’d  You Go, Bernadette?, Cold Comfort Farm, The Vacationers…things they feel proud for having read. Makes them feel great. –Patchett

Ann Patchett talked about her bookstore, Parnassus Books, in Nashville. Her upcoming picks for best reads:

Lincoln at the Bardo, George Saunders

Chemistry, Weike Wang

Do Not Become Alarmed, Maile Meloy

Sing, Unburied, Sing —“a Beloved for this generation,” by Jesmyn Ward

The Leavers, “depressing but great,” by Lisa Ko

Patchett was asked about the new administration and one thing she’d advise writers and book lovers to do to resist and to make a difference:

“Open a bookstore. People don’t want to be alone. You can’t go to J Crew and come together. At a bookstore, everybody is welcome. And it feels wonderful to have community right now.”

 To the Finish Line: Completing and Promoting the Novel
(Panelists: Melissa X. Golebiowski , Cynthia Bond, J. Ryan Stradal , Katie Freeman, Carmiel Banasky)

“My goal is to get 50 rejections a year.”

Check out the Hot Dish reading series in LA. Maybe start something similar in your town?

The Ten-Year Novel:
On why some novels take so long to write, and what writers can do to sustain themselves. (Panelists: Tova Mirvis, Rachel Cantor, Rachel Kadish, Joanna Rakoff, Sari Wilson)

“It’s the persistence that makes you a writer.”

“My sense is that publishing has changed to the point that, a few years ago, an agent might say this book isn’t quite where I want it to be, but I’ll work with the author a year or so and get it there. No more. Books today need to be as finished and polished as possible before they’re ever sent out.”

cropped-gritlit-logo1Such Mean Stories: Women Writers Get Gritty:
Women writers of the south talk about “grit lit.” (Panelists: Luanne Smith, Jayne Anne Phillips, Vicki Hendricks, Stephanie Powell Watts, Jill McCorkle)
“If we think about the reader as we’re writing, we’re putting blinders on ourselves as writers.” –Jayne Anne Phillips

“There is true fear about the power of women.” –Watts

“In fiction, I love to have that alter ego character who rises up and defends herself.” –Jill McCorkle

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Jill McCorkle

“I’ve probably learned more from my characters than they’ve ever gotten from me.” –Jill McCorkle

On unlikeable characters:

By giving readers the history of unlikeable characters early on, they reveal a life, and it makes the characters human. So even if it doesn’t excuse their actions, it helps readers understand why they are the way they are.

Recommended story: “Lechery” by Jayne Anne Phillips

Recommended book: No One Is Coming to Save Us, Stephanie Powell Watts, E-Weekly Most Anticipated Book.

Next year’s AWP Conference is in Tampa. Go if you possibly can. You won’t regret it!

Spring Writing Contests

Going through some recent contest announcements and thought we’d share. Here are some writing contests coming up (some very soon), so get those fingers flying, and best of luck!and the winner

Writing Contest: Flyway

flyway.submittable.com/submit

Entry fee: $12

Deadline extended until April 27

Sweet Corn: A spring contest for short fiction and poetry, celebrates work that surprises, shocks, moves, or affects the reader while exploring human and natural environments. Submit up to three poems or a single short story of 5,000 words or less. First-place winners receive $500, publication in Flyway, and a box of organic Iowa sweet corn. Runners-up receive $50 and publication.

Editor’s Reprint Award 

www.sequestrum.org/contests

Entry fee: $15

Deadline: April 30

Sequestrum is accepting submissions for its second annual Editor’s Reprint Award. Open to reprints of fiction and nonfiction in any original format (electronic or print). Length and subject are open. One $200 prize plus publication. Minimum one runner-up prize including publication and payment.

Not previously published? No Problem! They always accept general submissions: www.sequestrum.org/submissions.

Writer’s Digest Annual Writing Competition

http://www.writersdigest.com/writers-digest-competitions/annual-writing-competition

Entry fee: Varies

Deadline: May 6, 2016

Big money prizes for this one, up to $5,000. Categories are:

  • Inspirational Writing (Spiritual/Religious)
  • Memoirs/Personal Essay
  • Magazine Feature Article
  • Genre Short Story (Mystery, Romance, etc.)
  • Mainstream/Literary Short Story
  • Rhyming Poetry
  • Non-rhyming Poetry
  • Stage Play
  • Television/Movie Script
  • Children’s/Young Adult Fiction

New Anthology Competition: Finding Mr. Right

findingmrrightsite.wordpress.com

Entry Fee: $5

Deadline: May 15, 2016

Finding Mr. Right, an upcoming anthology, is seeking true story essay submissions from female writers worldwide. In addition to paperback publication, cash prizes of $200, $100 and $75 will be awarded to the top three authors that win our judges’ hearts in the categories of “Love At First Sight,” “Near Mrs.,” “Stupid Stuff I Did For Love,” “Were You There Along?” and “Table For One.”

Raymond Carver Short Story Contest
www.carvezine.com/raymond-carver-contest/#.U1ec2_mSwSa
Entry Fee: $17
Deadline May 15, 2016

Prizes: $1,500 first, $500 second, $250 third, and two $125 (Editor’s Choice). Winning stories will be read by three literary agencies. Honorable mentions and semi-finalists will be listed online for up to six months. No genre fiction (romance, horror, sci-fi); literary fiction only. Limit 6,000 words.

Creative Nonfiction Prize
www.creativenonfiction.org/submissions/joy
Entry fee:$20
Deadline: May 16, 2016

For an upcoming issue, Creative Nonfiction is seeking new essays about JOY. Creative Nonfiction editors will award $1,000 for Best Essay and $500 for runner-up. All essays will be considered for publication in a special “Joy” issue of the magazine to be published in winter 2017.

Blue Mountain Poetry Card Contest

www.sps.com/poetry/index.html

No Entry Fee

Deadline June 30, 2016

First prize $300. Second prize $150. Third prize $30. Poems can be rhyming or non-rhyming, although we find that non-rhyming poetry reads better. We suggest that you write about real emotions and feelings and that you have some special person or occasion in mind as you write.

Commercial? Upmarket? Literary?

Of course we all know the differences, right?

Maybe.

Way, deep down.

But in case you’re curious to see them explained succinctly, in colorful little infographics with real-world examples no less, take a glance at these little gems.

Originally posted by Women Fiction Writers, who credit agent Carly Watters for their creation. God love them.

commercial fiction

upmarket fiction copy

literary fiction copy

Writerly New Years Resolutions You Ought to Try

Bystanders_SM

As we gear up for a new year, Tara Laskowski, author of Modern Manners For Your Inner Demons (Matter Press 2012) and the forthcoming Bystanders (Santa Fe Writers Project 2016) is kindly sharing some suggestions that will benefit your craft, as well as your karma.

Happy Writing in the New Year. Make 2016 your most productive—and more importantly, most fulfilling—yet.

Please welcome Tara to Write Despite.

***

Yep, it’s that time—to commit to something (or several somethings) that you’ll accomplish over the next year. To change the ways that you’re less proud of. To start over, reset, renew.

Only 8 percent of people are successful in achieving New Years resolutions. Perhaps this is because we dream too big and set ourselves up for failure? Whatever the case, I’m presenting to you some resolutions that I’ve tried in the past or would like to try this year. Some are bigger, and some are tiny—and achievable—I swear! I hope they spark some ideas for you and make your 2016 full of happy reading and successful writing.

Re-read a book you love. If you’re at all like me, you’ve got a stack of books somewhere that you want to get to, but can’t ever seem to. You can’t really imagine taking the time to go back and read something you’ve already read, even if you love it.

Well, give yourself permission to do it. For every two or three new books you read, re-read something you love. I have started re-reading The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis again, and it is giving me such pleasure to revisit these characters. Also on my list—Mrs. Dalloway, the Harry Potter series, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and The Secret History.

Subscribe to a literary journal. Lit magazines are struggling. They get more submitters than subscribers in many cases. Find one that you love, and buy an annual subscription. Then read it. If you find a story you really love, email the writer and let him or her know.

Swap favorite books with a writer friend. Ask your friend to name two books that changed her life (that you haven’t read yet.) Then give her two books that you adore that she hasn’t read. Read them. Discuss over drinks and sweets. Consider your life changed and enriched.

Write something outside your genre, just for fun. Normally write novels? Try flash fiction. Are you a poet, always a poet? Why not write a crime fiction story? Instead of science fiction, ground yourself in reality for a time. Pulling out of your comfort zone can get your brain thinking in different ways. A bonus: it also takes the pressure off and gives you the freedom to just explore for a while.

Several of the stories in my new collection exist only because of this experimentation. The story “The Monitor” was my attempt to write something with supernatural elements in it—a woman who starts to see a ghost in her baby monitor. The story ended up getting taken by Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. Another story, “Every Now and Then,” was the result of me messing around with writing modular stories—a form I’ve grown to love. If I hadn’t tried to break out of my writing comfort zone, these stories wouldn’t exist.

Review books on Amazon. This is a really easy and cheap way to show love to the writers you know and adore. There are many articles out there about why and how Amazon reviews are good for the writer. Take five minutes and write a thoughtful, honest review of a recent book you read and post it on Amazon—and Goodreads, too! I promise you that you will make that writer’s day.

Finish that one project that’s lurking behind you. Maybe it’s the novel you’ve been writing for seven years, or the story where the concept is great but you can’t get the ending right. Or the collection of short stories that needs three or four more to flesh it out. Whatever the writing project, make 2016 the year to tackle it. And then go for it. You can do it. I’m cheering you on!

"Tara Laskowski"

Tara Laskowski grew up in Northeastern Pennsylvania and now navigates traffic in the Washington, D.C. suburbs. She is the author of Modern Manners For Your Inner Demons (Matter Press 2012) and the forthcoming Bystanders (Santa Fe Writers Project 2016). Her fiction has been published in the Norton anthology Flash Fiction International, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Mid-American Review, and numerous other journals, magazines, and anthologies. Since 2010, she has been the editor of SmokeLong QuarterlyShe and her husband, writer Art Taylor, write the column Long Story Short at the Washington Independent Review of Books. Tara earned a BA in English with a minor in writing from Susquehanna University and an MFA in Creative Writing from George Mason University.

Writing Conference Takeaways

conferenceFrom Cathy

I recently attended a great writing conference in Washington, DC and swore I’d go straight home and compile all the information for Write Despite and post it ASAP.

That was in April.

But hey, I’ve finally done it.

At the Conversations and Connections: Practical Advice on Writing conference, I took pages of notes, and I highly recommend you do this too if you attend a conference yourself. I can’t believe what great little gems were included in my notebook and in the handouts from the sessions, all of which I would have forgotten about if I hadn’t re-read them, and then re-keyed them for all of you. So thank you. And you’re welcome.

From the panel Cross Genre: Tricks Fiction Can Steal from Nonfiction (And Vice-Versa)

This was a panel discussion with writers Roy Kesey, Tom Bligh, Kathleen Wheaton, and Eric Boyd. I took down some cool, inspiring quotes. Sorry I didn’t also take down who said them.

  • “Use truth in your story, and something will happen.”
  • “Pretend you’re in a bar, and write like you’re talking to the person next to you.”
  • “Believe that you’re writing the news of the world. Whatever you’re writing is universally shared. Believe it, and your writing will be richer.”Just Believe
  • “You can’t spell authority without ‘author.’ The reader must believe what’s happening. Do your best; let life do the rest.”

From Publishing: The Editor’s Panel

Editors included Rae Bryant, TJ Eckleberg Review, Sarah Boyle, The Fourth River and Pank, Mark Drew, Gettsyburg Review, Nate Brown, American Short Fiction, and J.W. Wang, Juked and Potomac Review

The panel was asked to tell us a bit about the nuts and bolts of submissions.

Brown: American Short Fiction gets about 8,500 submissions a year, 250 a month. Three editors decide on the stories, and all must agree on what they choose to publish.

Boyle: Pank reads July 1 to September 1 and in December. If a story gets two likes from our student editors, it goes to the genre editors, and they decide.

Drew: At Gettysburg Review, two editors make all the decisions, but interns pass them along first.

Wang: Initial readers look at stories, but I choose all of them, and therefore the editorial focus is very tight and distinctive.

What exactly are you looking for?

Drew: Openings are important, but the writing must be sustained. Language is the most important thing. It can’t be clichéd, and no grammatical errors. Interesting characters and compelling motivation are also big factors.

Brown: The sentence matters most. String enough good ones together, and the story will be published. I can’t care more about the piece than the writer does.

Wang: Voice. Must be confident and assured, so I can trust it to take me somewhere.

All agreed they want authority of narrative.

What if things in a story put you off, say an unlikable character or upsetting event?

WarningDrew: If it’s authoritative, I’ll stay with it. But it must be earned. Things like animals being killed in stories has been way overused.

Wang: Like it or not, every story is political.

Brown: The higher the moral stake, the better the writer must be.

Boyle: I won’t publish certain stories, such as those that contain violence against women, animals, or children. But it’s selectivity, not censorship.

From Scene-by-Scene: Writing the Irresistible Story

Panel discussion with writers Laura Ellen Scott, Jen Michalski, Lauren Foss Goodman, and Catherine Belle

The most important person to have in a scene is the reader. Bring them there. You want them to experience it, not just read about it, by:

  • Using their physical senses
  • Giving them a position, a point of view
  • Giving them some attitude
  • Not telling them everything; leaving something out, and leaving it up to them, so they have to make an investment

Quick notes on scene building:

Consider the large structure and the relationship of the scenes within it. Use the “Scene plus Sequel” pattern, which is:

  • Each scene includes a goal, conflict, and disaster.
  • Each sequel includes reaction, dilemma, and decision.

The job of a scene is to:

  • Advance the story
  • Show conflict
  • Introduce or develop a character
  • Create suspense
  • Create atmosphere
  • Provide information
  • Develop theme

Remember that:

A scene should start with action. Use it to differentiate your characters. They should each move and speak differently.

If you’ve set a scene somewhere unusual, really describe what it’s like. But if you’re at McDonald’s, leave out lots of description, because it’s unnecessary.

A character wants something to happen. Your job is to never allow this to happen until the end. The story is the struggle to get there.

Go paragraph by paragraph through your work and ask, What work is this paragraph doing for the story? If nothing, toss it. If something, refine it or maybe move it, based on the task it’s completing.

Tips for organization:index cards

  • Write and write a shitty first draft, then go back and craft it into something. Get organized by using index cards. Not only do they force you to be succinct, but you can color code them by theme, time, and character. Use them for a “reverse outline” (where you start from something instead of nothing). Then turn them around and shuffle them up to mix up the plot.
  • Use a word processing program like Scrivener. This solves organization problems. It gives you a binder, chapters, bulletin board of notecards, pictures that inspire your work, an archive for your research, tutorials, a note taking tool, etc., all for $40. Or you can try WriteWay Pro, WriteItNow, or yWriter5 (which is free!).
  • Try flow charts: Draw the structure to re-see your work off the screen and think about it differently. Use Google drawings, or mind mapping apps like Scapple and Scrivener.
  • Use a spreadsheet to create a scene list, or a “God’s eye view” of a story. Color code it.
  • Get project management apps like Workflowy and Trello.
  • Or use content curation apps like Pinterest, Scoop It!, Flipboard, etc., and social bookmarking apps.
  • Google Apps Suite is cloud-based and free, and lets you work from anywhere.
  • Try the snowflake method for designing a novel.
  • Stuck? Bored? Come up with new ways of seeing your story: Print it. Draw it out. Change the font. Read it out loud. Record it. Carry it around and touch it. And don’t forget to share it when you’re ready.

The Camera Doesn’t Lie

From Karen:

Okay, so these aren’t the most flattering photos, but they are pretty darn funny.

They were shot during my reading and signing at Tolland Public Library in Connecticut last week.  Many thanks to Kate Farrish for organizing.

It was a lovely event, lots of nice readers (phew) and a lively discussion. Those of you contemplating your first reading/signing events should know this: People are really nice at these things. No kidding. They’re there because they’re interested in writing and stories…and in your work! Many know how difficult the process is and admire your persistence and dedication.

The audience also seems to know when you’re bluffing and when you’re speaking from the heart. I received a few comments afterwards on how much audience members appreciated my warm and candid comments. THAT was nice to hear.

Questions I received touched on my writing process, how I got the idea for this book, what I’m working on now (a new novel) and how tough it is to break into publishing today. I answered as best I could, no whitewashing, just telling it like is. And that was the most fun of all.

I’ve added captions to these photos, illustrating a little—just a little—of what was running through my mind…

Will anyone show up?

Will anyone show up?

Hope the hands make me look like I know what I'm talking about.

Hope the hands make me look like I know what I’m talking about.

They're nodding and smiling. Maybe I should say that again.

They’re nodding and smiling. Maybe I should say that again.

You're going to give me money?

You’re going to give me money?

Guest Blog: Writing Tips from Author Kirsten Lopresti

Transparent_Christmas_Mistletoe_ClipartKirsten Lopresti, having just released her fab-tastic debut novel, Bright Coin Moon, offers up some tips for fitting writing into your holiday craziness. Please check out her website, and order a copy of Bright Coin Moon for yourself or any YA readers on your gift list. It’s a smart, funny, moving tale of a teenager caught up in her mother’s fake fortunetelling business, and her plan to become a Hollywood “Psychic to the Stars.”

Happy holidays, everyone!

How to Find Time to Write This Holiday Season

Kirsten Lopresti

Kirsten Lopresti

The holiday season is upon us, and if you are like me, your to-do list is sky high. So how do you find time to write? Here are five suggestions that might help you squeeze in a little more time.

  1. Make a plan. If you leave it up to chance that you will find some time to write each day, you probably won’t. Take a close look at your schedule. Can you write after dinner? During your lunch break? At your daughter’s dance class while you are waiting for her to come out? How do mornings work for you? Evenings? How do you realistically function with less sleep? Decide how much time you can give to your writing and exactly when you will do it. Try to stick to the same time each day if you can. If you make it a habit, it will become easier to sit down and begin.
  2. Give yourself permission to cut some corners with your holiday preparations. Shop online. Buy some cookies from the grocery store and attempt to pass them off as homemade. Splurge for a house cleaner if you have company coming. Do whatever it takes. You deserve some time to enjoy the season, too.
  3. Cut corners with your writing, too. It’s not an all or nothing thing. If you usually have an hour to devote to writing, during the holiday season you may only have half an hour. Accept this and go on.
  4. writing_letter_1207Don’t compete with others. This goes for your writing as well as for your holiday preparations. If your neighbor’s Elf on the Shelf gives surprise presents and bakes cookies and yours can’t manage to hang upside down from a new place each morning, try not to think too much about it. There are no set rules for holiday preparations. Make a priority list and write at the top, “Priority number 1: keeping my sanity.” All other priorities from two on down should bow to that one.
  5. If you’ve made a plan and a priority list and you still can’t find time to write right now, don’t beat yourself up. If you’ve seen the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, you may remember the scene where Walter meets the photographer. He’s sitting on the hill, waiting for his opportunity to film the snow leopard, but when it finally appears, he doesn’t take the shot. When Walter asks him why, he replies, “Sometimes I don’t.” He then goes on to explain that he’d rather be in the moment sometimes, even if it means missing a really great picture. So if you need a few weeks off, take it. It could be that enjoying the holiday season is exactly what you need to be doing right now.

A Novel November

October has a mere three days left, and you fiction writers all know what that means…

Yes, it’s NaNoWriMo time!

Nanowrimo logoNaNoWriMo—National Novel Writing Month—invites you … no, encourages … actually  it sort of demands that you write a whole novel in one month. It’s how I wrote a book, many years ago, and it’s one of the best things I ever did. And no, I haven’t sold the book. It’s still sitting in a drawer, grumbling  whenever I walk by, reminding me it exists and it still needs work and I need to dust it off and get over myself already …

But I digress.

My point is, I wrote a book thanks to this challenge. So did Erin Morgenstern (The Night Circus) and Sara Gruen (Water for Elephants), among others. And so can you.

For me, the best thing about NaNoWriMo was that it forced me to forge ahead with what the nano people call the “craptastic” first draft, and silence my internal editor. My first draft switched back and forth from first to third person, past and present tense, and included breaks in the story that simply said “Needs more dialogue here,” and “Set the scene!” and “Fill in with some back story.” I did go back and work on all these things later, but in the heated frenzy of creation, I didn’t want the deliberation they required to slow me down. I couldn’t, because the whole point of the challenge is to write a 50,000-word novel (a very short novel by industry standards) in the month of November.

tipsIf you’re thinking of doing NaNoWriMo, the Internet offers no shortage of advice. Here are a few tips of my own:

  • First, sign up on the NaNoWriMo site. You could do the challenge without signing up, of course, but why would you? The site lets you record your daily word count, rewards you with badges along the way, and offers up advice via newsletters and forums. It also lets you find a community of writers so you can…write-in
  • Team up with someone. Find groups in your area hosting events and write-ins and offering general support. Or just have write-ins with friends, live or via skype.
  • Set yourself up with a Dropbox account if you haven’t done so already. That way you can write from any computer, anywhere, and not have five different versions of your masterpiece floating around.
  • Get apps, if you’re into that, to help you along. Some of them are described here.
  • Do the math: 50,000 words in 30 days equals 1,666 words a day. (This little blog post is nearly half that already.) But if you’re the take-the-weekend-off type, that’s 2,500 words a day. If you’re the take-the-weekdays off type, that’s 5,000 words every Saturday and Sunday (November has five weekends this year). And if you write long on some days and short on others, just figure out what suits your work style best and stick with it.clock
  • Sneak in writing wherever you can—during lunch breaks and football practices, at the dinner table and in bed. Keep a notebook on every level of your house in case inspiration, or a commercial, strikes.
  • Give yourself permission to drop off the radar for a while. That might mean fewer social gatherings, school events, kitchen cleanings, TV viewings, or bedtime stories. Ditch the guilt. It’s only for a month, and then you’ll be back in your old routine—but, with any luck, still working away on your book when you can.
  • And most importantly, prepare to get blown away by this. Creativity, when a word count hovers and a deadline looms, can freeze you right into writer’s block. But if you’re open to it, it can surge through you—free up your inner artist and push you to imagine new worlds and take risks on the page. Let it. If you’re stuck, make notes, and move on. Because this challenge ends at 11:59, November 30, 2014. And you want to be typing THE END by then.the end

Are you up for NaNoWriMo? Let us know! We’d love to hear all about your progress.

You can get all the details here.

Write well, everyone—and write a lot!

―Cathy

Amazing (and FREE) Writing Opportunity!

MOOCHave you heard of MOOCs? The term stands for massive open online course, and the writing program at the University of Iowa is currently hosting one.

Iowa’s Writing University Open Courses website is offering a six-week FREE course, for beginners to experienced-level writers, called How Writers Write Fiction. Once you register for the class, you simply watch a weekly video or two and complete a writing assignment. Then you’re asked to read other people’s work and post your comments while they read and critique your pieces. Some big-name writers are running the show, including one of my personal faves, Mona Simpson, and I believe they will comment on a few assignments as well.

If you’re too busy to sign up, or aren’t sure about it yet, I’ll give you a recap of the first video I watched. This one featured author Michelle Huneven, who offered some great tips for fitting writing into your life:

  1. Turn your soul around. Make writing the priority in your life and everything else will fall into place.
  2. timerGet a good timer. Or use your phone. Decide how many minutes you can stand to write: 7 minutes, 12 minutes, 1 hour, 3 hours…and begin.
  3. Join a writing group. It just helps.
  4. Find a writer you deeply admire who’s maybe a little better than you are, and make a deal to swap writing on a regular basis. Saves you lots of time and makes writing a lot less lonely.
  5. Get plenty of exercise. Very important. No flabby mind, no flabby body, and they’re connected. Walk.
  6. Do something else creative. Cook, garden, play music, make pots, paint. Do something that’s not word-based. It gives the psyche time to range about, and it will sort things out for you that you can’t do with a direct assault.
  7. Bang out a really crappy rough draft of a story, chapter, scene, or article. Give the part of the mind that structures something the chance to organize.
  8. If you’re a novelist, write something short once in a while: an essay, a short story, an article. This is essential so you don’t forget how to finish something. A novel is a really long act of faith. Shorter pieces remind you of the pleasure of endings and keep you in practice to finish.
  9. Remember writing is a form of play. Get into flow. Remember you will get stuck, but you can’t force things. Solving difficult problems is the form of writing. It’s infinite. But remember to give yourself a little room. You have to work your way into flow. If you’re too stuck or going at it too hard, back off. Take a walk, cook a meal, play some music. If it’s still not working, try something else.

Great advice, right? I’m giving this course a try to see where it takes me. If you plan to sign up too, please drop us a line and let us know how it’s going. The second discussion is up now, and focuses on crafting beginning lines. I SO need help with this. I posted my assignment and within an hour had three comments on it. Fun, and hopefully very useful.

And hey, did I mention it’s Iowa for pete’s sake? And free???

To register, visit:

http://courses.writinguniversity.org/

Good luck, and write well, everyone!

—Cathy

20 Minutes of Inspiration

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Karen Baker

New writer Karen Baker recently stumbled upon the Write Despite challenge. Wrestling with a short story she needed to get down on paper, Karen says 20 minutes a day have made all the difference.

Please welcome Karen Baker to Write Despite.

 

I found Write Despite through a very dear friend of mine, who gave me the delightful news that her daughter-in-law, Karen Guzman, was having her first novel published. When I was Googling around one day, I decided to look Karen up and I discovered the wonderful treasure tool, Write Despite. It was the perfect nudge for me because it featured the 20-minute challenge right there in the first line on the front page of the website.

I have to say that Write Despite has come along at just the right time for me. I have had a story going on in my mind for some time. It is with me all the time like an invisible friend. One day I finally started to write it down. I thought if I could get it out of me, then my mind would have some space to be calm, and start a new story. I always feel like I am trying to help this character, as if she is a real person. The story is about Angie, a middle-aged married woman who is very unhappy and has a few health issues that she is consumed with—so much so that they are interfering with all of her relationships. They aren’t even life threatening, but she relies heavily on her pain medication and has forgotten the joy of living.

When a “health nut” outsider arrives one day, a new spirit of fun begins as one very interesting fact about who she is and why she is there is revealed.

The 20-minute-a-day challenge has really made a huge difference in my dedication to writing, because it keeps it simple and fun.  The time is perfect because with the busy schedules that everyone seems to have, 20 minutes of writing is manageable and feels like a huge accomplishment. Why, after 20 minutes, it leaves me wanting to write a little more. It’s similar to the feeling of when you’re reading a really good book, and keep telling yourself you’re going to read just one more chapter before returning to the dishes.

Thanks to Karen and Cathy for making writing fun and for demonstrating the possibility that dreams can come true.

 

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