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Archive for the tag “Creativity”

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!

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Deep in the Rewrite Trenches: A Little Inspiration from Author Richard Bausch

the-rewright-40x27-2015From Karen:

So I’m neck-deep in the third rewrite of my new novel. How’s it going? Slowly, occasionally painfully, and all I want is to be done with it. I’m fighting my usual impulse to speed ahead, and instead slow down and stay in the scene. I’m winning the battle—some of the time.

Ever been there? It’s not that I don’t like the story. I do, very much., I’m just not convinced that my skills aren’t doing it justice. And then there’s the old “Just because I like it, doesn’t mean anyone else will.”

At times like this, I like to hop onto the Facebook feed of my old MFA writing professor Richard Bausch. A master himself, Dick is also honest about how hard this is, and he doesn’t mince words. He sets you straight, in the best possible way. All these years later, I want to say, “Thank you, Dick. Your influence is still resonating and more important than ever.”

Check out some of Richard Bausch’s rewrite advice:

“In revision, try not to think of the long outcome much. Just concentrate on this morning’s work. Just be faithful to that. Try to be as good as you can be without straining it: “This morning, I’m just going to mess with this scene. See if I can get it right, or clearer, or sharper. I’m only going to think about that. And when I’ve put in my two hours, I’m going to forget about it and enjoy things without reference to the work. The work’s done for the day. And tomorrow, I’ll come at it fresh. I don’t have to write the whole thing in one morning, so I won’t think about the whole thing. Just this. This here, this morning’s work.”

“About the heavy doubt: it’s normal; it’s the territory, the province, the wallpaper in what Jim Dickey called the cave of making. It is your talent itself that produces it. So write through it. Do the work. If you let it stop you, if you let it make you hesitate, you’re making the first and most elemental mistake, and you’re acting like a dabbler, an amateur. This day’s work. Each day.”

 “Be patient, yes, and how hard that is, especially when it’s yourself with whom you have to be patient. It’s very hard, of course. But nobody ever said it would be easy. And one of the traps we fall into is thinking too much about the result–whatever we imagine or hope that might be. The real thing happening is that you are using your time in a way that answers you deep, no matter what fits it gives you, and it always feels better to have worked in a given day, no matter how badly the work seemed to go or how hard it was. To engage in the activity at all is to do something sustaining; and in fact it gives meaning to everything else. That’s why I keep repeating the mantra: this day’s work. Just this day’s work. Did I work today. If the answer’s yes, no other questions. It’s enough. Try to forget about it and go have fun–enjoy that most delicious feeling of wasting time when you have used it well earlier.”

“Someone told you somewhere, or inadvertently communicated to you sometime, that it would get easier? It gets harder, because you know more. Instead of putting down the first or second line that occurs to you IN REVISION, you think of fifty-five others that each have their advantages and disadvantages, and you start really getting down into the deeps of it, including what it is you are seeking in terms that have nothing to do with the STORY: you want others to know how deeply sympathetic you are to human troubles; you want others to have a sense of the sorrows you carry around like everyone else; you want others to know how much you know; you want others–even this–to see what you can do with a sentence, with your extensive vocabulary and your gift for metaphorical speech–and all of that has to be subordinated to the demands of the STORY that you are not even, quite yet, sure of. No, it will not get easier–its complications will change away from the ones you had when you were new; but these complications multiply, and exacerbate themselves as you grow. What you can do, simply, is accept this, and do the work. Even when it seems completely closed to you. Accept it as your destiny as an artist and go on with it. You’re not experiencing anything that everyone else hasn’t also experienced. Remember Joseph Conrad, having his wife lock him in a room and then shouting “Let me out. I’m a fraud. I never could do this.” And he was working on his twelfth novel.”

“I think that no matter how hard it is and no matter how difficult the subject, and no matter how dark your vision, writing a novel is always an act of optimism, even of faith–a generous expansion of one’s being toward something outside the self, and by definition, then, a giving forth for others of your kind. Inherently beautiful and valuable as an occupation, even if it takes years, and, yes, even if no one ever sees it. And, too, even if it is destined to be forgotten, to disappear. Wright Morris: two National Book Awards, one as a photographer, sixteen novels. Gone. Vance Bourjaily, Thomas Williams, William Goyen, George Garrett–one can’t find the books. And they were such wonderful writers. So, do the work for itself. And fuck all else. Make the record, and stop worrying about your place in the scheme of things literary.”

“I used to have terrible anxiety before I’d start a session of work–this was after Iowa, and I was thirty and should have known better. I’d pace and sigh and get a stomach ache, afraid it wouldn’t go well. Such a waste of energy, and what a lot of hell I put myself through, like some atavist cowering at a shape in the clouds. I should’ve been saying prayers of gratitude for the chance to fail my way toward something beyond me. Just for the happy fact that I had this work to do, and a place to pursue it, the need to try. I should’ve been celebrating that.”

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.

Q & A with Author P.J. Devlin

pag–From Cathy

P. J. Devlin tells stories about relationships. Whether writing of a witch, a dwarf, an elderly woman, teenagers, or indentured servants, her characters exist in the Philadelphia of her birth and share her love of the Wissahickon Creek. She is currently working on her third book with Possibilities Publishing Company.

wissahickon coverWissahickon Souls is Devlin’s historical novel set in the early 19th century, which follows the life of a free black woman born to free black parents in Philadelphia. 

Becoming Jonika is her coming-of-age novel set during the cultural upheaval of the late 1960s.

Please welcome P.J. Devlin to Write Despite!

jonika cover

 

 

What is your writing process like?

The genesis of each of my stories, including my novels, comes from an image. Most of these images have bounced around my mind for years before they emerge and announce themselves as ready to write. For example, the short story titled “Original Sins” (which will appear in my short story collection to be published summer 2016), developed from a visit I made as a teenager to a house where statues of saints appeared in every nook and cranny. That image stayed with me for more than 40 years before becoming a story (unrelated to that household except for the statues).

Once I have a story idea, I need to visualize the last scene. I think of my writing process as being a journey and I want to know where I’m going before I start. I’ve come to realize my best work results from thinking through the entire story by way of structure—especially the three-act structure.

When I know the story ending, I go to my white board and note the story’s theme, characters, plot, and initiating incident. Then I make three columns and label them: Act I, Act II, Act III. In Act I and Act II columns, I list scenes and turning points. In Act III I list the final complication scene and the resolution. For a novel, I make a list of chapter titles as points of reference to help with the forward momentum of the story. Then I start to write. While my initial thoughts about story scenes change as the story progresses (the value of the white board is that it’s easy to erase), I find the time I spend before I get going to be my most valuable investment in the finished product.

Do you write every day?

A writer whose name I don’t remember was asked that question in an interview I happened to hear. He said his practice was to write 5 hours a day 5 days a week. That’s the model I try to follow, although many weeks I write every day, especially when I’m working on a deadline – self imposed or for publication. I work best in the morning, but those mornings when something interferes—a doctor’s appointment, a household repair, it doesn’t take much—I know I won’t be able to focus later on. Those days I read instead of writing. I read craft books as well as fiction and nonfiction.

Favorite five authors or books?

I love Stephen King, especially 11-22-63, The Stand, and It.

I’ve read most of Jodi Picoult’s novels. She’s a great storyteller.

Donna Leon writes wonderful, rich mystery novels set in Venice, Italy.

Octavia Butler, the first black woman to write sci-fi novels, is one of my favorite authors. Kindred is an important novel, in my opinion.

And George Mason University’s Susan Shreve is a brilliant writer—Daughters of the New World, A Student of Living Things, Warm Springs, and A Country of Strangers are my favorites.

It seems you came to be a writer later in life. Why, and how did you accomplish it?

I’ve been a writer from the moment I learned the alphabet and put pencil to paper. My mother saved a little notebook in which I wrote stories in a baby scrawl when I was five years old. I’ve always known my destiny is to write stories. I wrote stories throughout grade school, high school, and college. But I’m a practical person and before I started my junior year in college, I decided what was most important was to be independent with the ability to support myself and my family whether or not I was married. I changed my major to economics then and studied to earn a BA, MA, and PhD. While my husband and I raised our four children, I worked for Fairfax (Virginia) County Government as a financial analyst and for five of those years, also taught Economics at Northern Virginia Community College. But I never lost sight of my goal to write fiction. As soon as I put in enough years to earn my pension, in 2008, I retired from Fairfax County and entered the George Mason University Creative Writing Program. I knew I had some talent but I was well aware I lacked skill and craft. To the extent I’m now a published author, the Mason faculty and the writers I attended classes with have been instrumental in helping me find my path.

In many ways my ability to live the writing life now results from my youthful decision to live the earning life. I’m awed and impressed by my young colleagues who manage to write while raising their families and paying the bills.

Why did you choose to go the nontraditional publishing route and not through an agent?

At writers’ conferences, I always attended sessions with agent panels and those about finding an agent. (I casually spoke to a few agents and found them to be lovely people). I also attended sessions with newly published writers who’d found agents and who spoke about their experiences. Each of these authors told of years-long (eight years or more from novel completion to publication) struggles to find an agent, for the agent to sell their book, and for the publishing company to include the book on its publication list for an upcoming year. A Caldecott Award-winning author reported that for a number of years (five perhaps?), the publishing house that owned the rights to her book dropped it from annual lists until she despaired of it ever being published. It eventually was published and won awards. I’ve spoken with other authors and learned of similar time-consuming and soul-stealing experiences with traditional publishing.

With my background in economics and lifetime of financial analysis, I spent some time considering the benefits and costs of pursuing the traditional publishing model versus self-publishing versus small press publishing and decided the small press publishing model offered the optimal solution for me. Time was and is my most precious resource and traditional publishing, even in the best-case scenario, requires more time from book completion to publication than I’m willing to accept. Furthermore, all publishing models, including traditional, require the author to engage significantly in the advertising and marketing of her book. For me, the reward-risk ratio excluded the traditional publishing model.

Fortunately, I met my publisher, Meredith Maslich, CEO of Possibilities Publishing Company (PPC), at the 2013 Fall for the Book Festival at George Mason University. I liked her business model and I respected her vision. Furthermore, PPC is a local publisher. PPC is hands-on and author-centric. Within one year of signing a contract, my first novel, Wissahickon Souls, was published. A little over a year later, my second novel, Becoming Jonika, was published. In July 2016, a collection of short stories, Wishes, Sins and the Wissahickon Creek, is scheduled for publication. It’s inconceivable that my work would be published so expeditiously following a traditional model.

What have been the best and worst parts of your publishing journey?

The best part of my journey is the respect, integrity, and commitment of Meredith Maslich, my publisher. In addition, Kirsten Clodfelter, a Mason MFA grad, has edited my novels and is a joy to work with.

I don’t know that I’d call it the worst, but certainly the hardest part of this journey is advertising and marketing. I’m no good at it. And since my publisher, PPC, is a young company, we’re struggling together to figure out how to get my work and other PPC authors’ work noticed by a wide audience. I admit that I don’t have the knowledge, skill, or even inclination to utilize social media as a means of reaching a wider audience.

What are you working on now?

I’m completing the final requirements for the upcoming short story collection—Wishes, Sins and the Wissahickon Creek. As soon as I can, I’m returning to the magical realism novel I’ve been working on. I can’t wait to get back to it.

What advice do you have for others (publishing, writing tips, inspiration, etc.)?

Writing is work. It’s often joyful, fulfilling, and gratifying. But it’s work. Some days each sentence is a struggle. But if writing is the work you love and the life you desire, then you have to go for it. I advise writers to study the craft—through books, conferences, and other writers. My breakthrough came after I studied story structure. One craft book I often refer to is Oakley Hall’s How Fiction Works. I believe a writer has to find her or his own inspiration. Mine is the little memo book with stories I wrote at age five, which my mother saved all her life.

My advice on publishing is that I don’t have any advice. My decision to go with a small publisher was based on a concept I learned in economics—optimizing my personal objective function. If you can stomach considering that concept, then figure out what’s your most important objective for your finished work and what you’re willing to sacrifice in order to reach that objective. Then go forth.

 

The Next Big Thing

From Cathy

Well, it’s been quite a month.

So again, please bear with me while I gloat—just a wee bit.

In addition to the short story in American Fiction Volume 14, I recently found out that…drumroll please…

My book is getting published!

A Hundred Weddings will be released in early 2016 through Marching Ink, an independent company run by publisher Samantha March. I could not be more excited, and can’t wait to hold this novel, at last, in my sweaty little hands.

And it should only take about four months. Well, four months and about eight years to write and edit and at least a couple of years and many attempts to locate an agent or publisher. But hey, who’s counting?

I have a brand new website up (although it’s kind of pared down at the moment) and an author page on Facebook. Please stop by and “Like” if you would. I can use all the word of mouth I can get.

I have to say that both of these pieces weren’t written—but were very much worked on—during our Write Despite year-long challenge. If I hadn’t been trying (and very often succeeding) to meet that 20-minute-a-day goal, these and other manuscripts would be far less publication-ready.

So keep at it, everybody. I wish you much success with your writing goals and hope you’ll let us know what you’ve been able to accomplish!

And by the way, Karen’s Fall for the Book reading at George Mason University was a blast. We had time to catch up and roam around campus in the rain. Here’s the proof:

IMG_0587

Write well everybody!

―Cathy

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.

Author, Author!

From Cathy

Last week I had the pleasure of attending two literary events celebrating new books by people I’m proud to call friends. They are both exceptional writers, and I was honored to have been asked to review at least parts of both of their books while they were being written. I’m even mentioned in their acknowledgements, which is so very sweet. (Although when I pointed this out to my teenage son, his only comment was, “But you realize the goal is to get your name on the front of the book, Mom, not in the back.” Alas, as they say, always an editor, never an author.)

Jenny Jackson, editor at Knopf and Doubleday, and author Katherine Heiny

Jenny Jackson, editor at Knopf and Doubleday, and author Katherine Heiny

In any case, Sunday, February 8 was the launch of Katherine Heiny’s Single, Carefree, Mellow at Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington, DC.

Katherine read from the story that hurled her into the literary world, “How to Give the Wrong Impression,” which was published in the New Yorker when she was only 25. After the reading, her editor, Jenny Jackson from Knopf/Doubleday, interviewed Katherine, asking all the key questions about her journey to publication, her work habits, her inspirations and roadblocks. It was an exciting, enlightening evening, and I was so glad to be a part of it.

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Book group loves Bright Coin Moon! That’s Kirsten on the far right.

Monday night I met with my beloved book group of a dozen years to gush over author Kirsten Lopresti’s young adult novel, Bright Coin Moon. We all agreed we were more than impressed by this gem of a book–lost in it to the point that we forgot it was written by one who actually walks among us, who lives close enough and is accessible enough to join us for salads and tequila chicken fettuccine at California Pizza Kitchen, and sign our books and answer our questions.

So add to these two books Karen Guzman’s lovely Homing Instincts, and you could say people are getting published all around me.

Am I happy for them?

Thrilled beyond words.

Am I jealous?

Yeah. A bit at least.

Am I feeling like I should throw in the towel because I haven’t accomplished this yet?

Quite the opposite.

Seeing that this can–and does–happen to wonderful, talented, deserving people is nothing short of…well, I would say, miraculous. But it’s more like a push from behind–or a grasp of the hand and a yank forward.

I’m not saying I’m as good a writer as them. I’m saying if I work hard I can be deserving of publication. I’m saying I shouldn’t expect it to not happen, but to just be bold enough to believe it might.

Scratch that.

Believe it will.

I’m trying. I hope one day to get there. I hope that for all of us.

Write well, everyone, and know that the promise of your words finding their way into the world is more than conceivable. If you’re putting in the work–every day–I have to believe it’s even pretty damned possible.

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.

Okay, this was fun

Karen’s official book launch was this Saturday–a quiet signing at Breakwater Books in Guilford, Connecticut.

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And damn it, I just had to be there.

I decided not to tell her I was coming, for two reasons: 1) I thought it would be fun to surprise her, and 2) If I had to back out at the last minute, I didn’t want to screw up her plans.

God bless my crazy friend who offered to tag along and ended up driving nearly the whole six hours from DC (I get a tad nervous in that NYC snarl, but she drives like a machine).

Much zaniness along the way, including a stop at the Pez Visitor Center. Yes, that’s the candy that pops out of the heads. Did you ever wonder what the World’s Largest Pez dispenser would look like? Wonder no more.

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So anyway, we finally made it to Connecticut and headed for Breakwater Books. Now keep in mind that, although Karen and I talk via electronics frequently, we hadn’t seen each other in person in EIGHT years.

So I walked in, and this happened:

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IMG_7278    FullSizeRenderFun, right? I thought so.

Karen invited us back to her lovely home afterward, and we all had breakfast with her husband and son the next morning, then hit the road before the snow started. Here we are outside the cafe at Lyman’s Orchard (a way cool farmer’s market store):

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The whole trip was way cool, and I’m so glad I was able to do it. This Saturday Karen will be giving her first reading in Mystic, CT. If you’re local (or if you’re into crazy road trips), go get a book signed and hear her read from Homing Instincts. You won’t be disappointed.

Congratulations, Karen! Hope to see you again before another eight years passes!

-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

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