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Archive for the tag “Motivation”

Getting Close to Your Characters

Last week I was lucky enough to attend a fantastic workshop at the Writers in Progress studio in beautiful Florence, Massachusetts. Led by author Jacqueline Sheehan, the workshop was called “Getting Close to Your Characters.”

Anyone who’s struggled with bringing characters and their motivations (real and hidden) to life knows what we’re talking about. It ain’t easy.

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The studio described the challenge this way:

One of the main reasons why readers read is to slip inside the skin of another person. The most memorable characters are those we feel closest to: the ones whose feelings we feel and whose lives we experience…. But how do writers accomplish this intimacy while thinking about so many other things, like plot and pacing and character development?

Jacqueline keeps her workshops grounded in exercises and techniques that writers can immediately put to use. In fact, I went home and did exactly that in my novel draft.

We delved into point-of-view, motivation, physical setting, and verb tense as conduits to create intimacy between character and reader. I can’t put down all the good stuff I soaked up, but here are a few gems that REALLY struck me.

  • Characters need STRONG and CLEAR motivations in order to engage readers. Ratchet up the intensity of their desire. One common complaint among literary agents, Jacqueline says, is characters that are too PASSIVE.

So, the question becomes how we skillfully develop characters to SHOW the intensity of their motivation, and by extension, who they really are. Some techniques to get you there:

  • Engage the senses, make reading experiential. Sight, sound, and touch are of course important, but don’t forget the other sense. Smelling what a character smells, or tasting, gets the reader up personal and inside what the character is experiencing. Scent especially is a very primal sense, evoking memories and states of mind in an instant.
  • Let characters be vulnerable to pain. “Being stoic is not going to work,” as Jacqueline puts it. Show the reader how they react to fear, betrayal, abandonment, loss. “It’s very revealing how we respond to those hard things,” says Jacqueline, who, by the way, is also a psychologist. “Your core is revealed.” Help readers feel what your characters feel and they’ll go along for the ride.
  • Use powerful verbs! Brain imaging has shown that when you watch someone doing active things, the same part of your brain lights up as the person doing the action. So, if they leap, you take a mental leap. The same holds true for readers. So, don’t breathe heavily, pant or gasp or instead.
  • Use actions, not thoughts, to bring readers into a character’s mind. Watching someone throw a punch or flip the finger in traffic is a more telling display of their emotional state than saying their angry, even if they’re “quaking with angry.”

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  • A good tip—use verbs that are associated with sex; they’re already sensual and evocative!

–Karen

 

Summer Reading

summer-reading-006Summertime and the reading is good this year. We’ve selected our seasonal picks, and will surely be spotted toting them on vacation and to neighborhood parks. Here’s what we’ve chosen:

 From Karen:

My extremely well read sister has shamed me into reading Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. Okay, there are a few holes in my education. This is one I’m going to fill.

Then I’m onto two new novels that I can’t want to get my hands on. They’re from two of my favorite contemporary authors.

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From Cathy:

My book group never fails to steer me toward books I certainly wouldn’t choose for myself, and usually end up glad to have read. The one I’m reading now is no exception. Even though I’m not much of a nonfiction reader, Missing Man, about a spy who disappeared in Iran, grabbed me from the start. I’ll pass it along to the hubby too.

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After that somber read, I’ll need a pick-me-up. And my all-time favorite, Anne Tyler, is just the ticket with her latest–a modern-day version of Taming of the Shrew, coming out on June 21:

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What are YOU reading on the deck, at the pool, by the ocean? We need more ideas. Please leave us a comment and share your summer reading picks! (By the way, no need to insert your name or email address when you comment. Just type and hit Post.)

 

 

 

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

 

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

Stubborn Streak

There is something to be said for that stubborn streak your parents always complained about. “Muleheaded” was, as I recall, my parents’ fave term. That trait has gotten me into more than a few fights and through plenty of standoffs with my kids, and into a fair amount of trouble.stubborn It’s also gotten me published a few times. Here’s the thing with stubbornness: You can fall back on it when you really, truly believe you’ve got a winner. I wrote a story I loved way back in 1993. Yes, I’m old, okay? Let’s move on. In its early days, it went through workshops, incarnations, edits, and reviews by trusted friends. It tentatively made its way into the world and got rejected plenty. Then it sat in a drawer for about a decade and a half until I rediscovered it one day and decided it was worth another try. Back to editing and begging friends to read it. And cutting! This story is still nearly 6,500 words, but it used to be a whopping 8,000, until a writer friend gently suggested “You have got to CUT some of this bullshit.” So I did. In the last four years I’ve sent it out pretty regularly to more than 50 different magazines and journals. This month…drumroll here… It worked! logoI’m a finalist in New Rives Press’s American Fiction series! (Yes, that’s my big ol’ face right there at the top—so embarrassing.) All the finalists get published in the latest issue, along with three top prize winners judged by…drumroll again… Elizabeth Strout. Elizabeth Strout! Pulitzer Prize winner! Olive Kitteridge creator! Reading MY story! I’m a wee bit excited about this one if you can’t tell. So my point is, stubbornness. And a real willingness to listen to what others have to say and make the hard changes you have to make. The American Fiction prize winners will be announced by late September. And I was thrilled to see the publication date is October…a mere three months away! Then I realized it is actually October…2015. Ah well. After 21 years, what’s one more? Write well everyone―keep submitting! ―Cathy

Summer Daze

summerHi all,

Sorry for the lateness in posting.Remember when summers used to mean long, lazy days with nothing to do but read, run, play, hang by the pool?

Yeah, we barely recall that either. And even if we did, it’s a far cry from what we’re doing now, right? Here at Write Despite, we’ve been a wee bit busy. Karen is working on securing final changes and cover art (fun!) for her novel, which comes out this fall. I’m submitting, submitting the same story again and again and drumming up a very slow start to a new short story. Oh, and using every ounce of my energy to ignore my novel rewrite number 580,026. Hopefully we’ll have more on both of those later.

In other news, we’d like to announce the winner of the Hannah Barnaby book! Writingfamily is the winner of Wonder Show and will be receiving her copy shortly. Thanks to everyone who chimed in with comments.typewriter outdoors

Hope you’ve all been able to write up a storm this summer despite the kids being home, the sun calling you outdoors and vacations giving you a well-deserved break from the routine. If you’re struggling to fit writing into your days, remember our mantra here at WD:

It’s only 20 minutes!

Yeah, we know. But still, write well everyone, and enjoy your summer!

–Cathy

The Long and Short of It

Taking a break from the book for a while because … well, because I’m stuck. Discouraged. Not feeling it . But you don’t want to hear my problems. Neither does Karen. She told me to shut up and quit whining and go write a short story. Okay, she was much nicer than that, but I got the message.

A short story!!??

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This may seem like no big deal to you, but I haven’t written a story in years. How sad is that? I’ve been so caught up in the novel thing that the idea of shorter fiction hasn’t even been on my radar. If you want to switch gears and get a new outlook and rev up the energy again, though, I guess you really should consider going back to the basics.

I plan to start by reading stories, of course. I used to read short fiction all the time. Best American Short Stories is always on my Christmas list (thank you in-laws for making sure this is under the tree each year), but I confess I haven’t read a whole one in years. I’ll look through them now, though, since I’m one of those people who pulls inspiration from others (okay steals, if you like—I’m not too proud to admit it).

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Any other suggestions for where to find great stories? Do you read literary journals? The New Yorker? Alice Munro anthologies?

Anyone want to write along with me?

When we’re done, here’s a GREAT listing of pubs to submit to:

http://www.newpages.com/literary-magazines/complete.htm

So switch it up, hunker down, carry on, write it short–or long. Whatever moves you. As always, just write.

Oh, and I saw an amazing quote the other day. I’m not much for such things, but this one stuck with me:

“Imagine what you would do if you knew you could not fail.”

I know, right?

—Cathy

Go ahead, distract me

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Distraction is the enemy of the writing process, and it’s a wily enemy.

Because we do a lot of our writing at home, we are subject to a particular virulent strain known as Domestic Distraction (DD.) When we sit down to write (often hiding from our children and other family members) we can pretty much predict the ambush.

Actually, Cathy just sent me this email describing a recent writing session at her home:

“Well, right now I’m trying to work, and I have four kids running in and asking for popcorn and drinks. And one of them is 14! And the phone keeps ringing. And the dog is barking. I had a dentist appointment this morning, and now the renovators are coming in half an hour and I have to get the whole kitchen cleaned before they get here. How much writing do you think I’ve actually done today? Slightly less than tweet-length.”

Sounds about right. Sometimes it really is best to get out of the house to write. Go to a coffee shop. Try the library. Anywhere that the people won’t mean anything to you, and the surroundings will mean even less.

But if you can’t slip away, you might as well laugh. Here, in no certain order, are some of the recent issues that have had the temerity to disturb us at our writing desks.

  • The house is too cold. It’s winter. It’s New England, but seriously my fingers hurt.
  • The dog wants out. Now he wants in. Now he wants back out.
  • The neighbors’ kids are really into screaming. In their backyard. At full volume.
  • My 5-year-old has been too quiet for too long.
  • My 5-year-old has been unbearably noisy for too long.
  • Ah, the always inspiring: “Mommy, can you come wipe my bum?”
  • I need coffee.
  • I’ve had too much coffee.
  • Man, a turkey sandwich sounds good right now.
  • I’ll just check Facebook for a second

Care to share your own DD?

—  Karen

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